Reality of the Present
by Valerie Vancollie
valeriev84 at hotmail dot com
Spoilers: Sacrifice, Under Pressure, Black Swan, When Worlds Collide
Note: This fic was written for the gen round at Numb3rs Write-Off, an LJ community. I was a member of Team Angst and choose the word prompt 'puppet.'
"I'll just be a minute," Alan said as he got out of the car.
"Take your time," Don replied, getting out to stretch his legs.
They'd been driving since early morning and this was their first real stop but for the brief one they'd made to fill up the tank before hitting the highway.
Don watched his father walk towards the restrooms before he leaned back on the car and turned his face towards the sun. He'd taken two days off from work after his father's friend had bailed out on their plan to go fishing in the mountains. Charlie was in the middle of grading and compiling final grades and Alan didn't want to waste the extra hotel room they'd booked.
Given the hectic schedule lately and Megan's recent resignation, Don had needed little convincing that a long weekend away was just what he needed. Besides, it had been a very long time since he and his father had done anything together alone. It would be good for both of them.
A shriek of delight drew Don's attention towards the roadside diner. It was surprisingly good looking for an establishment on what passed in these parts as a main road. If it weren't for the fact that they'd had the sandwiches Alan had prepared, he was sure they'd have decided to have an early lunch here.
Towards the far side of the diner, at the edge of the forest, was a small playground. At the moment it wasn't particularly busy and he could easily pick out the little girl he'd heard. She looked to be about five or six with light blond hair pulled into pigtails. Currently she was amusing herself on the low slide, climbing up and sliding down it over and over, no doubt ruining the pale pink dress she wore in the process.
Closer to the diner, two other children played on a seesaw. The first was a boy of nine or ten with the same straw colored hair as the little girl. He couldn't instantly tell what gender the third child was as his, or her, dark hair was at that longish length currently so popular with children of both genders. The clothes gave nothing away either.
Don slowly let his eyes wander over the parking lot as his mind wandered. They were probably another two hours drive from the hotel and they should arrive with plenty of time to do some afternoon fishing. He didn't particularly enjoy the sport, but it would be relaxing and would allow him and his father to talk. He was also planning on swimming at some point if the water was sufficiently warm. If not, he could perhaps finally start that book he'd been meaning to read for months now.
As his eyes landed on a dirty white van, Don was abruptly pulled from his thoughts as his instincts flared to life. He frowned as the van slowly made its way between parked cars. There was nothing about it to suggest anything abnormal; just another driver seeking food or a restroom. So why did he feel something was wrong? He tried to shrug off the feeling, reminding himself that he was on vacation.
"Perhaps Dad is right, I really am wound too tightly," Don muttered to himself as the van pulled into a empty spot.
He was starting to see dangers that weren't there. Was that why Wright had granted his time off so quickly despite the short notice? Was it that visible even to his boss that he needed a break? Or was it merely that Wright felt recent events warranted his taking some time off?
His eyes still on the van despite his thoughts, Don could clearly see movement in the back of the van through it's dark tinted windows. His instincts flared within as they had when he'd laid eyes on Meechum during the meth lab bust. Stepping away from the car, he reached for his gun only to come up empty. Cursing himself for letting his father convince him to leave his weapon behind for their trip, he briefly hesitated. If he was right and something was up, it would be unwise to approach unarmed and alone.
As Don watched, the rear door of the van opened and two men jumped out. The first was of medium height with shaggy reddish-brown hair, while the second was tall and muscular with short black hair. Both were dressed in jeans and tees, nothing to attract suspicion from the casual observer. He, however, was not a casual observer and instantly noticed the telltale bulge of a concealed weapon on the tall one's person.
Instantly, Don's phone was in his hand and he dialed 911 even as he made his way towards the diner, pretending to be a harassed businessman. They seemed to be heading towards the diner as well.
"911, what is the nature of your emergency?" a cool, feminine voice asked.
"This is Special Agent Don Eppes of the L.A. office of the FBI, call sign 3695. I need backup immediately at the Kennywood diner, crime in progress. At least three suspects, one of which is definitely armed, not sure about the rest. Suspects have a dirty white van, license plate 3XK-497, Californian-"
Don broke off as he suddenly realized that he was wrong in thinking that the two men were heading towards the diner. No, their attention was focused slightly towards the left of the diner... towards the playground.
"Hello? Agent Eppes, are you still there?" the woman asked, her voice slightly more stressed than before. "Backup is on the way. ETA is eleven minutes."
"Kidnapping, it's a kidnapping!" Don informed her as he shot forwards, using the cars as cover.
The whole thing would be over and done with before the first squad car got here. The question was, what could he do, alone and unarmed? Shouting would only alert them to his presence and give them the advantage. If the target was an adult it would be worth it, but the kids, they wouldn't know what he meant or be able to react quickly enough even if they did.
The decision was made for him as the two men reached the edge of the playground and, with a squeal of tires, the van suddenly shot forwards. Shoving the phone into his coat pocket, Don abandoned his cover and ran forwards, hoping his approach wouldn't be noticed until he was close enough to do something.
A scream filled the air as the shorter man grabbed the girl's arm and roughly pulled her off the slide. As the man turned, he caught sight of Don.
The taller man spun around, eyes widening as he saw Don bearing down on him.
"FBI!" Don identified himself even as the man reached for his weapon.
Just as the gun came into sight, Don tackled him, sending them both tumbling to the ground. They grappled in the dirt, each fighting to subdue the other and get at the gun. Although the man clearly worked out, Don had the advantage of years' worth of training and managed to gain the upper hand. Grabbing the gun, he half dragged the man to his feet and brought the weapon to bear on the second man.
"FBI, freeze!" he called out, making the smaller man stop next to the open rear doors of the van which had pulled to a stop again.
"Mike?" the man asked even as Don realized that he couldn't be much more than eighteen years old.
"Shut-up!" Mike snarled.
A sudden tensing of his muscles was the only warning Don got before the man attempted to wretch free from his hold. The knowledge that he was outnumbered made Don jerk the gun back towards the man in front of him and pull the trigger, hoping to disable at least one of the men. Seconds later, Don cried out as a searing pain shot through his torso, sending him to the ground. Even as he fought to stay conscious, he recognized the feeling. It was the pain of a bullet tearing into him.
Had he shot himself? No, it wasn't possible, the gun hadn't been aimed at himself. He wasn't sure it had been aimed at Mike, but it hadn't been aimed at himself. He was sure of that.
An explosion of sound around him alerted Don to what had happened. There was someone else with a gun. The kidnapping attempt had turned into a shootout. The little girl, the other two kids! The fear of them getting hit by a stray bullet was enough to force him to shove the pain aside. He forced himself up on one elbow and started to scan the ground for the gun, only to drop down into the dirt again as he was kicked savagely in the ribs.
Don bit back a cry as pain exploded in his chest once more. The kick had probably broken a rib or two and he could feel blood running down his chest from where he'd been shot. He hoped it hadn't hit a lung, it didn't feel like it but you never knew.
A cry of pain and the sound of a body hitting the ground forced Don to attempt to move once more only to freeze as a hot muzzle was pressed into his neck.
"Don't even think about it, Fed," Mike growled.
Don froze though he'd been able to move his head just enough to see the van and part of the diner. Both were riddled with bullet holes and there were two bodies. The first was the teenager who'd grabbed the little girl. The bullet hole in his neck and the blood pooled around him making it obvious he was dead. The second body was that of a man dressed entirely in black, slumped against the side of the diner.
"Jesus," the voice came from the front of the van.
The owner of the voice stepped into Don's field of view, a gun in his hand, as he opened the door and got out. He drew in a sharp breath as he saw the boy, rushing towards him.
"Screw him; he's dead! Help me with the Fed," Mike ordered.
"He saw us and heard my name. Besides, would you rather tell MacKenzie that Shawn's dead with or without him?"
Don felt a mixture of ice and relief flood through him. They were taking him with them. He was in no condition to resist them or potentially even to survive for long without medical attention. Yet as long as he was with them, he'd be close to the little girl and, hopefully, be able to keep her safe.
'Everyone has their limits, Don.'
The voice sounded suspiciously like Megan's.
He grunted and fought to stay conscious as the two men jerked him upright. Well, unless the cops arrived in the next minute, injured or not, he was all she had.
"Not so tough now, are we Fed?" Mike sneered maliciously as he jammed the gun into his back. "Into the van!"
Don staggered forwards, his attempts to catch his breath thwarted by the searing pain in his chest and the protestations of his abused ribs. Mike didn't give him any chance to try anything, simply shoving him forwards. A blow to the back of his head sent him down once more just as soon as he'd gotten in.
The van roared to life again even before Mike managed to get the first door closed.
The panic in the voice propelled Don to lift his head just enough to look out the rear of the van before the second door was pulled shut. For a split second he caught a glimpse of his father's ashen and horror stricken face before he was lost from sight.
A sudden turn sent Don slamming into the side of the van and everything went black.
Alan sat in shock in the chair one of the waitresses had guided him to.
He could still hear his desperate shout as he had run after the van he'd watched his son shoved into at gunpoint. His bleeding son.
It was unbelievable, what had happened. He'd only been gone a short while! Yet, somehow, it had been long enough for Donny to get shot and abducted.
"No! My baby, that's my baby they took!" a shrill voice screamed to his right.
Alan forced back his own tears as he turned to look at the woman. She must be the mother. Someone, he wasn't sure who, had told him that Donny had been taken while trying to stop a kidnapping. Tried to stop those men from taking a little girl off the playground. A vaguely familiar looking man was attempting to calm the woman while two children huddled behind them, clutching onto a second woman. A nanny, perhaps?
Tremors ran through his hands and Alan turned away from the scene, unable to bear their pain in addition to his own. He hadn't succeeded, Donny had tried but he hadn't managed to save the little girl. And now he was gone too. Taken by killers. He'd seen the body, slumped against the wall of the diner. A bodyguard, apparently.
"Mr. Alan Eppes?" a voice inquired.
"Yes," Alan replied, looking up at a middle-aged cop with salt and pepper hair.
"I'm Captain John Edwards, I need to ask you a few questions about what transpired.
"Oh, okay," Alan blinked before standing up.
"I was told that you are Special Agent Eppes' father."
"Yes. He was on vacation, we were going fishing."
"Okay. Did you see what happened?"
"No, not really. We had stopped here as I needed to use the restroom. Donny had gotten out of the car, to stretch his legs I think, we'd been driving for a while."
"I see. You were in the restroom the whole time?"
"There are only two toilets, one of which was filthy and the other in use. I had to wait. I was just washing my hands when the gunshots started."
"The waitress said she saw you run after the van," Edwards stated. "You came out despite the gunfire?"
"I got down at first, more out of instinct than anything else, I think. But then... then I realized Donny was out there and I just couldn't stay inside, not knowing if he was injured or not. I was so afraid he'd been shot. I was right."
"You came out in time to see him?"
"Just to watch him forced into the van. The man behind him had a gun and Don- Donny was covered in blood," Alan choked, tears finally breaking free.
The vision of Don's pale, pain lined face swam suddenly in front of him. He didn't think he'd ever seen his son's eyes quite like they'd been then. A desperate mixture of shock, horror and pain.
"Mr. Eppes? Sir? Are you injured?"
"What? Oh, no, sorry."
"That's okay," Edwards said kindly. "I know this must be hard on you, but I've got just a few more questions that I need answered."
"Sure, anything. Anything that will help you get Donny back."
"Did your son have his weapon on him? His service gun?"
The question took a moment to sink in, but when it did, it hit Alan with the force of a physical blow and he staggered back. "No. I- no," he moaned, his hands coming to his face in horror. "No, no he didn't. I- we... we were on a fishing trip. I, I asked him to leave it behind. I don't like guns. He wanted to bring it, but I convinced him not to."
The knowledge that his request, his insistence, had left his son unprotected was too much for Alan and he sank back into the chair. If it hadn't been for him, then Don would have had his gun with him!
"Mr. Eppes, Alan, don't blame yourself."
"Don't blame myself?" Alan demanded, the horror turning to anger. "It was because of me that he was unarmed!"
"There is no guarantee that things would have gone better if your son had been armed," Edwards explained bluntly. "The bodyguard had a gun and it got him killed. Trust me, what if scenarios won't change anything and are, ultimately, harmful. Events transpired the way they did and now we need to act accordingly."
"Do you have a son? Children?" Alan asked.
"What would you feel in my place?"
"Guilt," Edwards admitted reluctantly.
Don groaned in pain as he slowly swam to awareness. His entire chest was on fire and his head throbbed incessantly. The pain was distracting him enough that it took him a moment to realize that there were hands on him and another moment to figure out that they were patting him down.
The memory of exactly what had happened suddenly came rushing back to him. Don opened his eyes to slits just as the questing hands discovered an object in his coat pocket. He had a second to remember that he'd stuffed his phone there before it was withdrawn and Mike cursed loudly.
"Get off this road!" Mike yelled at the driver as he jabbed the power button on the phone before he pulled his gun out and smashed the mobile to pieces. "He called the cops."
"Jesus! How do we get to Eagle's Peak now?"
"We don't. He could have given a description of the van. We need to get out of sight and call MacKenzie or we'll lead them straight to the cabin."
MacKenzie, there was that name again. He was obviously the ringleader of this particular group. So why hadn't he come along on the raid? Was he too afraid to be caught? Mike, though, didn't strike him as the type who'd risk his neck for a coward. Nor did he seems stupid enough to fall for a lame excuse meant to cover up cowardice.
Through narrowed eyes, he could tell that Mike's right sleeve was torn and soaked in blood. Underneath it, a bandage was wrapped tightly around his upper arm. So, he'd been injured in the firefight. Without moving his head, he tried to look about for the little girl, but he could only make out a faint hint of pink towards the right.
"I know a place we can park," the driver stated, pulling onto a side road. "MacKenzie knows it too."
"Good. Get us there and we'll call him. He can come pick us up."
As they talked, Don slowly moved his hand along the floor of the van, desperately seeking anything he could use as a weapon. Mike must have caught the movement out of the corner of his eye as he whirled around hit him in the chest.
"Don't even think about it, Fed!" Mike snarled.
Don bit back a scream as the fire in his chest increased and then he fought to breath, gasping. Dimly he was aware of a child's sobbing. When he'd regained his breath, he glanced in the direction of the sound to find the little girl curled into a small ball against the side of the van next to the spare tire.
"We can't have you causing anymore trouble than you already have," Mike stated, drawing Don's attention back to him. "This wasn't meant for you, but it'll have to do."
As he said this, Mike got up and grabbed a small box from the passenger seat. Coming to sit next to Don again, he opened it and drew out a filled syringe. The sight of it was enough to spur Don into motion but Mike had been expecting it and he pulled his gun out and brought it up against his head.
"You've got a choice, Fed, the needle or the gun."
Furious, Don glared at the man but didn't move as he clumsily injected the contents of the syringe into him with one hand. Instead of it knocking him out as he'd expected, he wasn't even aware of the drug's effects at first. It was only slowly that he felt a sort of lethargy creep into his limbs, making him feel even weaker than he already was.
Mike observed him closely for a few minutes before nodding his head in satisfaction. He then reached behind him and grabbed a first aid box, setting it down beside him. Returning the gun to the small of his back, he pulled out a gauze pad and threw it at Don before getting to his feet once more. He walked towards the front of the van and squeezed between the two seats, sitting down next to the driver.
Don frowned in confusion at the man's sudden change in attitude but then shrugged it off. If he was happy to leave him conscious he wasn't going to complain. He took the gauze and pushed it firmly against his injury, gritting his teeth at the pain it caused. Then, slowly, so as not to attract any unwanted attention, he turned himself to face the girl. She was still huddled in a ball watching everything with large blue eyes. The action caused his head to spin and he realized that the drug really did leave him unable to do much that could threaten the two kidnappers.
At least not physically. That didn't mean he was helpless. First, however, he needed to check on the girl and make sure she really was alright. From his current position, he couldn't see any injuries but he wanted to be sure. Planting his feet on the floor, he used them and his right arm to move forwards, knowing that he couldn't keep the gauze in place and truly crawl at the same time. He'd covered about half the distance before his actions were noticed.
"Oh, look, he's trying to gets to Evans. What will that accomplish, Fed?"
"I thought you gave him the tranquilizer?"
"There wasn't enough in it to knock out an adult, idiot. It was intended for the girl."
"Don't worry. It'll be enough to keep him calm in his condition," Mike stated as he turned forwards in the seat, pulling out his cell.
"You gonna tell him about Shawn on the phone?"
"Of course not. Now shut up, it's ringing," a pause. "MacKenzie? It's Mike. We've got a serious problem."
Don only listened long enough to ensure that they still intended to go to Eagle's Peak, wherever that was, before tuning most of the conversation out and concentrating on his task. He had to find a way of leaving an indicator behind for his team or they'd be liable to loose the trail with the van. Although the little girl might, potentially, have the time it would take to trace them through Shawn's body, he definitely didn't. Even if they decided to bind his wound, he was in urgent need of a trip to the hospital.
While he couldn't reach up and feel his back, the fact that it didn't really hurt to slide across the floor indicated that the bullet hadn't gone straight through and was still lodged within him. Don knew that while this meant he was bleeding less, it was actually a bad sign. The bullet was a foreign object that carried germs that could cause an infection.
The girl's whimpering increased as he got close to her and she tried to shrink into herself.
"Hey, sweetheart, it's okay," Don whispered, praying that Mike was too distracted to pay any attention to him. "I'm not one of them. I'm a cop."
"Police?" she questioned, looking at him.
"Yes, sweetie, exactly."
Slowly, Don moved the rest of the distance to her and held out his right hand. She hesitated briefly, regarding him, before throwing herself at him. He grunted and bit his lip to prevent from calling out as she jarred his ribs.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, frightened, pulling back.
"Hush, it's okay. It was an accident," Don reassured her, pulling her closer so he could see her. There seemed to be a dark patch of skin on the left side of her face. "Are you hurt, sweetie?"
"He hit me," she said, glancing towards the front.
Don bit back his anger, not wanting to scare her again. "That was very bad of him. What's your name?"
"Emma," she whispered, keeping her voice as low as his. "Emma Evans."
"It's nice to meet you, Emma. I am Special Agent Don Eppes."
"That's a long name."
"How about just Don, then?"
"Okay, Don. Can I show you something?"
"Sure," Don replied, glancing about and trying desperately to find something he could use.
He had to find someway of communicating with his team! Between his call to the police and what his father had seen, they were sure to be looking for him already. He just had to hold on until Meg-
Don's train of thought suddenly broke off as it hit him that Megan wasn't there. Not anymore. She had quit, resigned, and moved back East to get her degree. The realization that his partner wasn't there to lead the team to find him hit with a near physical force. Megan was gone, just like Terry and he did not yet have a new partner. Neither David nor Colby had enough experience to head a case like this, he knew it and Wright would know it. So who would be put in charge? On who was not only his life but that of this little princess depending?
Chances were that Wright would assign the case to one of the other SACs, given that the suspects had abducted a federal agent. So, either Pullman or Franklin, as Jeffreys was in the middle of a huge case with the DEA. Both were good men and excellent agents or they'd never have made SAC, but he didn't have much experience working with them. Though he knew they'd do their best to find him, he suddenly felt adrift. Somehow knowing that one of them was in charge simply didn't give him the same level of assurance as knowing Megan was in command.
What a time for this to happen!
"You need to look," Emma declared, raising her voice slightly and tugging at his arm.
"Sorry, what?" Don asked, dazed.
Why hadn't he thought of this before? Megan had left three weeks ago. It should have sunken in by now that she wasn't there anymore.
"Look," Emma wiggled a little and pulled something out from behind her.
It took Don a moment to realize that she was holding a monkey puppet. It's arms and legs were ridiculously long compared to its body and it was wearing a pink dress, but the face was definitely meant to be a monkey.
"This is Peecho."
"Peecho," Don repeated, staring at it.
"She was on my back when they grabbed me and I hid her cause I don't want them to take Peecho!"
On her back? Don glance at the 'hands' of the puppet and saw that there were pieces of Velcro there, allowing the hands to stick together. Unlike a regular doll, the puppet was entirely made up of fabric, similar to a stuffed animal, so there were no hard parts and he could easily see how Emma had hidden him from view.
The idea struck Don suddenly. Quickly he glanced down at the spare tire set into a depression in the floor. He'd dismissed it earlier as he knew he didn't have the strength to lift any of the tools, but he could easily hide something like Peecho underneath the tire. As Mike had suspected, he had given the cops a description of the van and its plates, so they'd be looking for it. If he could hide Peecho under the tire, then he'd be there for David or Colby to find when they found the van.
"Sweetie, can I see Peecho?"
"Why?" Emma demanded suspiciously, clutching the puppet tightly.
"I-" Don began. "I need her help... I have a mission for her."
"Yes. And it will mean that the bad men can't hurt her. See, we'll put her down there."
"Peecho be safe?"
"Okay," she said reluctantly, handing him over.
Gently, Don took the puppet and put it down on the other side of him, where Mike wouldn't be able to see it if he turned around. The man, though, seemed to be in the middle of a heated argument with MacKenzie but he wasn't taking any chances. This could be Emma's only chance. He carefully brought his right hand up to the gauze, freeing his left hand. He dipped a forefinger in some of the still drying blood on his shirt and brought it down on the puppet's dress.
"Sh, it'll help us," Don whispered as he saw Emma ready to protest.
For a brief moment he thought she would cry, but then she closed her mouth and pushed her face against his arm. Quickly, Don wrote five words out in shaky block letters, not wanting to risk adding anything else as the van slowed and left the road for what seemed to be a dirt track.
Done with his message, Don glanced up and made sure neither the driver nor Mike were looking before he grabbed Peecho and leaned forward as far as he could. With Emma's large eyes on him, he shoved Peecho out of sight under the tire without making any noise. Mission accomplished, he leaned back against the side of the van and tried to ignore the pain that flared in his chest with each bump they hit. He returned his arm to Emma's shoulder and whispered comforting words to her as he tried desperately to think of anything else he could do to get her to safety.
"Sinclair," David barked into his phone to be heard over the sirens as the squad car that had been waiting for them sped along.
"It's Pullman, where are you?"
"We just got off the chopper and are heading to the scene now."
"Good. I just got off the phone with the man in charge. It seems the little girl that was taken is Emma Evans, daughter of Congressman Richard Evans."
"What?" David replied, surprised. "So this is political?"
"Potentially. The Congressman hasn't yet received a ransom demand but that could simply be a matter of time. The locals have already contacted the media and issued an Amber Alert though we are trying to keep the details under wraps at present."
"That's not going to last very long."
"I know. I want you and Granger to take over at the scene, coordinate with the locals and get everything setup in the event that the kidnappers do attempt to establish contact."
"Will do, Sir."
"Call me back when you've had a chance to look at the scene yourself."
"Was that Pullman?" Colby asked when he hung up.
Don tried to force his sluggish brain back into some state of alertness as he heard the sound of another car approaching. The van had come to a stop some time ago and both the driver and Mike had gotten out, but not before threatening to shoot Emma if he tried anything. He wasn't sure if he believed the threat, they had kidnapped her for some reason other than being a means with which to control him, but he wasn't willing to risk it. Besides, he'd heard them prowling around the outside of the van the entire time.
The drug he'd been injected with had also slowly started to affect him more and more. Although it had been intended for Emma, the fact that he'd lost a lot of blood made it have a much greater effect on him than it otherwise would have.
He shifted slightly as the car pulled to a stop outside and a car door slammed.
"Where's Shawn?" a new voice demanded.
Emma jerked against his side and let out a small noise of fear.
"What is it, sweetie?"
"Martin," Emma whimpered.
"You know him?"
"He worked for Papa. I didn't like him, he was mean."
"What did he do?"
"Bodyguard. But Papa fired him. Said he was bad."
Well, that explained why MacKenzie wasn't there for the kidnapping; he would have been recognized. But what did the man want? Revenge? Money?
"WHAT?" MacKenzie's voice thundered and Emma shrank against him, shivering.
"Hush," Don whispered, wishing he could do more than merely try to comfort her.
"He was shot, killed," Martin's voice drifted in. "The bodyguard killed him."
"It was supposed to be a quick in and out," MacKenzie argued. "It was Luton's day on shift, the man's far to slow to realize what was going on."
"There was an unexpected factor. A Fed."
"There was an FBI agent. He attacked us while we were grabbing her."
"An FBI agent? Where'd he come from?"
"I don't know, but we have him."
"You-" MacKenzie broke off, furious. "Let me see him!"
Don tensed as the door to the van was wretched open. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the light but when they did, he found himself looking at a man of medium height with short reddish-brown hair and light brown eyes. His stomach clenched as he realized that the man looked far too much like the dead Shawn to be a mere coincidence. Nor could he imagine the man looking quite so pissed if the two weren't related.
The next few minutes were a blur of pain and nausea for Don as MacKenzie and Mike grabbed him and bodily threw him out of the van. He heard Emma screaming for him and felt the drug in his system as his surroundings blurred and what little strength he had vanished as he attempted to ward off the blows MacKenzie threw at him.
Finally the pain seemed to stop and he was able to concentrate on dragging breath into his tortured lungs. He had definitely broken another rib or two and from the way his lungs ached he wouldn't be surprised if one of them was punctured as well.
"Don! Don! Dooon!" Emma's shrieks drew his attention and he opened his eyes to see the driver carrying her, kicking and screaming, towards an SUV with dark windows.
"We need to get out of here!" Mike insisted, talking to MacKenzie who looked ready to attack him once more. "Once we get back to the cabin you can do whatever you want with him, but we need to get away from here now!"
"I can't believe you botched such a simple job."
"This is not my fault!"
"Shut up and get him in the car while I take care of the van."
"Coming," the driver replied. "How're we gonna get him in there?"
"Drag him," Mike stated, grabbing one of Don's arms.
"This isn't what I signed on for," Logan complained as he grabbed the other arm.
The moment he was partially lifted off the ground, Don felt the nausea from earlier return and the world started to go white. The last thing he remembered before collapsing was the bile in his throat.
"No, Charlie, I won't do it," David snapped, glaring at the younger man and wondering how he had gotten out here so quickly. "I will not risk getting myself pulled off this case just so that you can know details you are not allowed to."
"I don't want to just know them," Charlie retorted, enraged. "I need data to help Don!"
"Data which I don't know. Each agent gets assigned certain tasks, you know this. The information you need was collected by someone else. The only way you would get access to it is if Pullman were to let you and, since you've lost your security clearance, he won't. So don't ask me to break the law for details which won't let you help your brother. I will not be pulled from this case for that. I will not be prevented from helping Don for that."
Charlie could only stare in stunned silence as David stormed away across the parking lot.
This couldn't be happening. Don was gone, taken with a little girl by men who had already proven they were more than willing to kill and he wasn't allowed to help! Surely they weren't going to risk his brother's life by not using his expertise?
For the first time since he'd sent the e-mail to Pakistan, Charlie truly regretted his decision. He'd often thought of it since that day, normally when he saw Don and wasn't able to ask him about his work, but he hadn't regretted it. He'd been sad it had come to that, unhappy at being excluded from helping his older brother, but it had always been worth it.
Now... now, however, it wasn't.
Charlie's eyes were drawn back towards the dried blood on the ground.
Not if it cost Don his life.
Don awoke to the sound of someone whimpering and calling his name, pleading with him to wake up.
"Don? Don? Please Don, wake up. Wake up, Don. Don?"
"I'm here. Sweetie, Emma, is that you?"
"Yes," the word was followed by a hiccup. "I thought you were dead!"
"Oh, no, I'm not dead," Don replied, horrified that she'd had to endure that.
Slowly Don opened his eyes and saw that the wetness he'd felt on his face were her tears as she was sitting next to him, leaning over his face. It took him a moment to realize that pressure he felt against his head was her hand in his hair.
"You were so still and you wouldn't wake!" her tone was accusatory as she rubbed at her face with her free hand, the other one still petting his hair.
"You're hurt," Emma hiccupped again. "Martin kicked and hitted you."
"Yes," Don replied, knowing it was futile to pretend given what she'd seen. "Where are we?"
They seemed to be in a small room with concrete walls and floor. There was a door at one end but no windows. The only light came from a bare bulb in the ceiling.
"A tiny house," Emma said, wiping her nose on her sleeve. "In the woods."
'Tiny house' probably meant cabin. Though if her family had bodyguards it could mean anything from a cabin to the Craftsman.
Not seeing anything of interest in the room, Don took stock of himself and found that someone had crudely wrapped more gauze around his chest. The red stain that showed through, though, indicated that it hadn't entirely stopped bleeding.
Colby was out of the car before it had fully stopped. He quickly made his way through the police and firemen already onsite. He stopped short as he caught sight of the van. It was scorched black in most places and some of the windows had blown out with the heat. The entire thing was also dripping with the water used to dowse the flames.
"Oh, man," David uttered as he came up next to his partner. "I hope they haven't washed away all of the evidence."
"Not everything," Colby stated as he indicated a spot to the left where an area of ground was marked off with orange traffic cones.
They headed towards the spot together. As they drew closer, Colby felt his gut clench as he recognized a pool of vomit within the cones.
"That doesn't look like pea soup," David said.
It was all Emma Evans had eaten at the diner before going out to play with her brothers.
Colby swore as he caught sight of what could only be traces of blood mixed in the mess.
"It could be from a wound in his mouth," David said.
Colby sent his partner a disbelieving look before walking along the perimeter. "We got some good tire tracks. Perhaps we can narrow down the make of the vehicle?"
"Now who's being optimistic?"
"Sinclair, Granger!" the shout had the two of them turning towards a cop they recognized from the diner. "The firemen are sure there won't be any further flames. We've got a forensics team on the way but I thought you might want to have a look."
"Yes, thank you."
Colby pulled a new pair of gloves from a pocket and snapped them on before approaching the van. Despite the fact that the fire was gone, the stench of burnt rubber and smoke still clung to the air. Being careful to grasp a corner of the doors unlikely to have been used, he opened the rear of the van. He sighed in relief as he saw that only a small portion of the interior had gotten wet or suffered fire damage. There was still a chance they'd get something useful.
"I'll take the front," David said.
"Sure," Colby took another moment to inspect the rear of the van.
There wasn't much to see. The bullet holes left by the shootout at the diner stood out against the otherwise darkened interior. Just behind the driver's seat was what appeared to be an emergency first aid kit. He'd bet anything the dark smudges on it were blood. Had one of the kidnappers tended to Don's wound? Or perhaps his own? Briefly he wished it was a serious wound if it were the latter case, but then he dismissed the thought. On the right, the floor of the van dipped slightly to hold a spare tire and the necessary tools with which to change a flat.
The van had probably once contained some type of carpet, but it had been stripped away to reveal the metal underneath. Several other dark smudges decorated the floor, the pattern indicating that someone had crawled or been dragged across it. A small pool of blood in the middle and against the right side indicated spots where the person had remained stationary for a while.
A sharp intake of breath caused Colby to glance up at his partner's face as he scanned the back of the van. Their eyes met in a moment of silent rage, each promising vengeance for their boss before they turned away by silent agreement and continued with their work.
"Christ," a cop said as he glanced in over Colby's shoulder.
Colby glanced at the man before turning on his flashlight and getting in. He carefully avoided the blood smears, but made sure to inspect every inch of the floor and every blood droplet. Don would have done everything possible to leave them a clue, they just had to find it.
It was just as Colby was starting to loose hope that a flash of pink caught his eye. Instantly he moved the light back above the spare tire and he saw it again, a pale strip of pink below the rim of rubber.
"I think I've got something."
"Not sure," Colby stated as his hand brushed against something soft. "It feels like a piece of cloth or something."
Slowly he extracted it, making sure not to catch and tear it on any of the tools littering the floor around the tire. He blinked in confusion as he saw he had hold of something dark brown with pink cloth.
"A puppet!" David said, excitedly. "It must be Emma's."
"A puppet? What, like a doll?"
"No, it's an animal figure that you can stick your hand in and make it look like it's speaking. Haven't you ever seen one before? Though I have to admit to not having seen one with clothes before."
"No," Colby replied as he found the head and realized the long stripes of brown were actually supposed to be its limbs. "Where'd you see them?"
"Linda had one as a child. What?"
Colby put his flashlight in his mouth before laying the puppet down and carefully smoothening out it's frilly dress to see what it was that he'd caught a glimpse of. As he did so, he sucked in a breath around the flashlight. There, written in blood on the fabric were several words:
MACKENZIE - BOSS
"What is it?" David demanded, squeezing between the two seats to see.
"He wrote it in his own blood," Colby whispered, horrified.
"What do you suppose the line means?"
"Separation, I guess. It's probably not as important as the rest. What the hell is Eagle's Peak?"
Liz tried not to glare at Pullman as she filed into the briefing room together with several other agents. She wanted to be out in the field with Colby and David looking for Don, but had been denied permission to do so when she'd asked.
"We have some new information," Pullman stated as soon as everyone was seated. "As we'd feared, the suspects have abandoned the van and attempted to torch it to destroy any evidence. Luckily for us, it was spotted and the fire put out before the van exploded. A local forensics team is at the scene as we speak and will be rushing the evidence back to us for processing."
The slight murmur of discontent from the other agents told Liz that she wasn't the only one displeased with this new development. Before they'd had a good chance of catching these guys quickly. They knew what they were driving and the general area they could be in. Now, however, they could be in any vehicle. Yes, they could have left fingerprints and DNA samples, but both of those took far too long to process. Time was not on their side for this one. Not only were the first 48 hours critical in any kidnapping case, but Don was injured; seriously if the blood puddle was any indication.
"There is, however, some good news," Pullman continued, silencing everyone with a glare. "Agent Eppes was able to leave us some clues."
As he said this, a photo was brought up on the screen to replace the map that had shown the location of the van.
Liz's eyes widened as she looked at the large, unsteady letters written in blood on pink fabric.
"This fits with what we have," an agent said.
"What does?" Pullman questioned.
"Shawn. Although we have yet to identify the body we have, his watch bears the inscription 'To Shawn, with love, Marty.'"
"Good. I want you to continue to work on identifying the body. Peters, you take the name MacKenzie, see if it means anything to the Congressman. Warner, I want you to take Eagle's Peak; find out what it is. Samuels, we got some tire thread impressions from the scene, narrow down what type of vehicle the suspects could have changed into."
Liz quietly got up and hurried after Peters. The best place to start was to ask Evans if Eagle's Peak meant anything to him. It could be some kind of codename for a project he'd been involved in.
The pounding of feet on stairs was the only warning Don had before the door slammed open and MacKenzie strode into the room. His expression was just as brutal as before as it gazed at him and he could see the rage there. Then, before he could say anything, MacKenzie looked from him to Emma where she sat pressed up against him. His expression shifted and Don felt sick to his stomach at what he saw there.
"What do you want?" he demanded, hoping to get the man to focus on him once more. He'd gladly undergo another beating if it meant he didn't touch Emma. "The FBI will require evidence that she's still alive if you want to even hope of getting a ransom."
"I don't give a damn what the FBI wants," MacKenzie declared, walking further into the room, his gaze still fixed firmly on Emma. "Her father will pay."
"Get behind me, sweetie," Don urged, trying to push her back.
With a glance at the approaching man, Emma readily shifted behind him, though she was unwilling to move out of physical contact.
"Maybe he would have," Don agreed. "But the FBI is involved now and they'll be watching his every move. He won't be able to come to a meet without their knowing."
"Who said anything about a meet? Evans will have to wire the money straight to my account."
"And what's to stop you from simply vanishing with it?"
"Well, see, that's the plan. I have no intention of giving the Congressman his daughter back.
Congressman? Don shoved the thought aside as his fears were confirmed.
"What is this about? Vengeance because he fired you? I hope it was worth it, after all, it cost your brother his life."
Don's guess was confirmed as those enraged eyes finally left Emma and latched onto him once more.
Oh, this was going to hurt.
"I've got it!" Liz declared as she rushed into the conference room where Pullman stood next to a map of the area they were searching.
"Eagle's Peak. It's the name of a cabin owned by Nicole Lenfant about ten miles East from the diner."
"Nicole Lenfant? Do we have anything on her? Is she involved?"
"I've got someone looking into her now, but I do know that she's the sister of Sabine Lenfant who married Patrick MacKenzie and together they had two sons, Martin and Shawn."
"Martin, Marty. That's it," Pullman exclaimed, grabbing the sheet with the address she handed him as he dialed.
Liz dropped into a chair, finally daring to hope as she watched the SAC relay her information on to David. For the first time since she'd been denied permission to join David and Colby she was thankful for it. The need to actually be out there, looking for Don directly, had been nearly overwhelming but she understood, logically, the reason to keep people at the office. The distance was simply too great to have people constantly trekking back and forth, even with the use of the chopper. Luckily she'd been able to help locate her former lover even if she couldn't aid in the raid itself.
The fact that it could already be too late for him nagged at the back of her mind, but she refused to acknowledge it.
She couldn't acknowledge it.
Colby glanced at the cabin and the surroundings through the binoculars.
"See anything?" David asked from next to him.
"No. Wait, scratch that. There's movement in the kitchen. I can see two people there now. They seem to be preparing something to eat."
"A late dinner?"
"Looks like it."
"Either of them MacKenzie?"
"No," Colby growled. "He must be elsewhere."
The 'with Don and Emma' hung in the air between them.
David took a quick look through the binoculars himself before signaling for the others to move in. There were three teams, one for the front entrance, one for the back and the other to make sure no one tried to escape via the garage and any vehicles parked there.
They managed to approach the cabin unnoticed and kicked in the door, catching Mike and Logan completely off guard. Leaving the others to deal with them, David and Colby penetrated further into the cabin. A quick movement seen from the corner of his eye had Colby diving to the side seconds before the glass above his head exploded. David fired back, driving MacKenzie further down the hall but his angle was wrong to actually hit him.
Colby used a mirror in the hall to watch MacKenzie's progress as he retreated, trying to decide on the best course of action. Seeing him move to open a door under the staircase forced his hand. Chances were that door led to a basement which was probably where the man was keeping Emma and Don. Signaling to David, Colby stepped out into the hall and fired a continuous spray of bullets. He caught MacKenzie across the chest, sending him against the opposite wall.
Cautiously, the two approached the man, covering each other.
"He's dead," David declared, checking his pulse.
"Shall we?" Colby asked, indicating the door.
As he'd expected, a staircase led down to another door. Despite their desire to rush down the stairs, they followed their training and entered the room as they'd been taught, sweeping the corners.
Towards the back of the room, Don lay propped up on one arm, looking directly at them. His shirt was torn and soaked in blood, the pieces held together by a bloody gauze band warped around his chest. As he recognized them, relief spread across his face before his arm gave way beneath him and he sagged to the floor. The moment Don slipped down, the frightened form of Emma Evans became visible from where she was hidden behind him.
"Don?" Emma questioned, her large eyes shifting worriedly between the newcomers and him.
"S'okay," Don said, his voice hardly audible. "They're good guys."
"Don!" Colby explained, snapping out of his shock before he rushed to his boss' side.
"There's only room for one of you in the chopper," the paramedic stated.
"You go with him," David decided.
"What about you?" Colby asked.
"Pullman put me in charge of this raid, I need to stay here and make sure everything gets processed correctly. I'm not having either of the two surviving guys walking away from this due to sloppy work now."
"Okay. I'll let you know as soon as there's any news."
"Sit down, Charlie," Alan said wearily.
His son's constant pacing was making him even more nervous than he already was.
"What is taking them so long?" Charlie questioned, turning to look at his father before taking two more steps forward and spinning about in exactly the same spot he'd done countless times before in the past few hours.
"I don't know," Alan replied, wondering how many times his youngest had asked him that question.
He'd lost track of that somewhere around one am. It was now nearly four.
"I mean, shouldn't they at least know something by now? Is it too much to ask for them to send someone out with some news?"
"Sit down, Charlie."
"And why can't anyone tell us how long this is going to last?"
"Surely they should know how long an operation like this is supposed to last!"
"Here, Alan," Liz said, holding out a cup of the coffee she and Colby had collected.
"Thanks," Alan replied automatically. He took a few sips, hoping to dispel some of the cold that had settled over him shortly after this whole nightmare had started.
"Come on, Charlie," Colby said, putting down the two cups he held, catching the mathematician's arm and steering him towards a seat next to his father. "Sit down for a bit, you'll wear yourself out otherwise."
"I couldn't help," Charlie suddenly stated, deflating into the chair. "Don was taken and I couldn't help him. I wasn't allowed to. If I hadn't sent that stupid e-mail then we would have gotten him back sooner. He would have had help sooner!"
"You couldn't have known what would happen, Charlie," Alan stated, placing his arm around his youngest. "You did what you felt you had to and I'm proud of you for that."
"What if Don dies as a result?"
"He won't die," Colby declared.
"Colby's right," Liz added. "Your brother's a fighter and the most stubborn man I know. He won't give in this easily."
Alan snorted. "He's definitely stubborn. Can't get him to change his mind once it's made up."
"Agent Eppes' family?"
Charlie shot to his feet. "Here, we're here. How is Don? Is he going to be all right? What about the bullet?"
"Agent Eppes is going to be fine," the doctor stated, unperturbed, glancing at Liz and Colby before focusing on Charlie and Alan. "The bullet entered his chest on the right side and grazed his lung before it hit one of his ribs and ricoched upwards. Luckily it didn't hit anything vital before coming to a stop. It would appear that it was already traveling at a reduced velocity when it hit him. The fact that it glanced off his rib, however, did make it difficult to find the bullet. It thus took us a while to locate and remove it."
"What about his lung?" Alan asked.
"Since the bullet only grazed it, it didn't cause as much damage as it could have, though it did cause some tearing of the tissue and bleeding which we had to repair. Your son also had several other broken or cracked ribs as well as significant bruising across his entire torso. It would appear that he was beaten repeatedly."
"What about drugs?" Colby inquired. "He mentioned something on the chopper."
"It seems that he was given a low dose of a tranquilizer to make it easier to control him. I have taken blood to be analyzed, but from the symptoms I don't expect any problems."
"What was it you had to show me?" Pullman asked as he entered the office of the forensic supervisor.
"One of my men just finished analyzing the bullets from the shootout during Emma Evans' kidnapping."
"Well, we know how Agent Eppes got shot," the man stated, handing Pullman a folder. "The bullet pulled from his wound matches the one that killed Shawn MacKenzie."
"Yes. They were fired by the same gun."
"The bodyguard shot Don?" Pullman questioned, incredulous.
"It would appear so. Eyewitness reports said the man opened fire on the kidnappers as Agent Eppes was fighting with one of them. It would appear that he was trying to help him."
"But ended up shooting him instead. Michael Weston did have a wound on his upper right arm. It could well have been caused by a bullet. Christ, shot by someone on our side. Thank goodness it wasn't a fellow agent or cop. Thanks for informing me."
"Will he be all right? Agent Eppes?"
"Yes, the doctors expect him to make a full recovery."
"I'm sorry, I was told it was okay to come in."
"Congressman Evans," Robin said as she pulled away from her boyfriend and turned to face the man and his daughter. "No, come right in. I was just on my way out."
"Come by after work?" Don asked as Robin squeezed his hand.
"I'm sorry," Evans reiterated as he entered the room, Emma in his arms.
"It's alright. Hello, Emma."
"What do you say, Emma?"
"That's okay," Robin assured him as the little girl merely hid her face behind her puppet.
"A lovely women," Evans commented as Robin left.
"Thanks," Don said, looking at the man for the first time.
"Don!" Emma exclaimed, her head shooting up to look at him, her eyes wide.
"Hey there, sweetheart."
"Remember, be careful, he's hurt," Evans warned as he lowered his daughter into the chair next to the bed.
"Don," Emma repeated as she reached out a small hand to touch him. "Are you okay?"
"I'll be just fine," Don assured her with a smile.
"Agent Eppes, I'd like to formally thank you for all that you did for my daughter," Evans said. "You went above and beyond the call of duty, on your vacation no less, and risked your life to keep her safe."
"It was nothing, Congressman," Don replied. "I am merely sorry I wasn't able to prevent her from getting kidnapped to begin with."
"Please, call me Rick, and I disagree with you. It was certainly not nothing. I don't know many men who would take on three opponents unarmed the way you did. Nor intentionally provoke them in order to distract them. I am also grieved that you were injured not by one of the kidnappers but by one of the men I paid to protect Emma and her brothers."
"I was sorry to hear what happened to him."
"Why are you in the hospital if you're okay?" Emma questioned.
"Because the place I was hurt still needs to heal some more," Don explained. "I see you found Peecho again."
"Yes," Emma rubbed her face against the puppet before holding her up proudly. "See? New dress."
"It's a very pretty dress," Don blinked as he caught sight of a gold star sewn into the dark blue material.
"Peecho is now an agent, just like you. Agent Peecho."
"I believe you told her something about a secret mission," Evans clarified, catching Don's bemused expression.
"Ah, yes, I did. It's nice to meet you, Agent Peecho," Don stated as he took one of the puppet's arms and shook it.
"Silly," Emma giggled.
"I think we need to go now, Emma," Evans said.
"Agent Eppes needs to rest to heal properly," Evans explained before turning his attention back to the injured agent. "If you ever need anything, anything at all, please don't hesitate to contact me."
"That isn't necessary," Don protested. "I was just doing my job."
"Nevertheless, should you ever require something, I will be more than willing to help," Evans insisted.
"Thank you," Don merely replied.
Evans smiled as he gave a curt nod, recognizing that while Don hadn't said yes, he hadn't said no either. "Goodbye and I wish you a swift recovery."
"Bye, bye," Emma waved over her father's shoulder.
"Bye," Don replied, smiling as he watched father and daughter leave.
Although the next few weeks would be hell and the desk duty when he was finally allowed back to work boring, it was worth it to see Emma safe with her family again.
Shifting slightly into a more comfortable position, Don reached for the TV remote only to have his gaze settle upon the telephone next to his bed. Until now he'd completely forgotten that he'd missed a promised call. They'd both known it was bound to happen at times due to the nature of his work, but he'd still insisted they try to remain in regular contact. Carefully reaching, he lifted the receiver and dialed before settling back down with a slight wince.
"Don! You don't know how good it is to hear your voice."
"Huh?" Don blinked, surprised. "You knew I'd miss some calls."
"Didn't they tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"The kidnapping made the news," Megan explained. "The national news."
"Think about it Don, the kidnapping of the only daughter of an upcoming politician would have been enough to warrant coverage, but the fact that a Federal Agent attempted to intervene only to be kidnapped as well? There is no way that wouldn't have become a hot news item. Especially not considering the fact that a bodyguard was also killed in the process."
Don groaned, rubbing his face with his free hand. "Do I want to know?"
"Depends on the news channel," Megan replied, a teasing note entering her voice. "You see, you're either considered the brave hero who rushed in to help or an idiot for not waiting for backup."
"I did call the cops, but they weren't going to get there in time."
"Hush, I know. Colby told me. From everything I've heard, I think I would have done the same."
"I missed you, when it was happening, when I was hurt and trying to keep her safe and hoping they'd find us in time. Your absence has been felt many times, but this time was different. Before it was always a bit surreal, like it hadn't sunk in fully despite your empty desk. Like you were just taking some time off. This time, though, it really hit home. You weren't there."
"Don, I tried, I really did but it just wasn't possibly. Not long-term, I-"
"I know," Don interrupted quickly. "I just had to say it. I know and respect why you had to leave, but I just needed you to know."
"I understand," Megan said after a brief pause. "It was all I could do not to get on a plane and fly straight back to L.A. when I heard. I knew I wouldn't be able to help, wouldn't be allowed to as a civilian, but the urge was there nonetheless."
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