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 places and organisations are used in a fictional sense. Original characters and the storyline are mine however.
The fugitive quickly darted away, breaking out from his concealment at the approach of the two Los Angeles FBI agents. If he'd stayed where he was they may have actually passed him by but they weren't going to complain. Daniel Collins was quick on his feet and disappeared rapidly into the shadows of the large building.
Without hesitation Don went after him and Colby Granger followed close behind, working hard to keep on his boss' heels. Since his return to active duty Don Eppes had shown the results of the intense physiotherapy on his right leg after the trauma of the twin bullet wounds. Months of running had honed his fitness and now he was a good match for Colby for flat out speed and endurance. Colby had been surprised during their first foot pursuit a month or so ago and had been working on his own fitness since, his pride not wanting the older man to beat him in this area.
It took a few moments for the dimness inside the open building to resolve itself into more than just shapes and shadows after his eyes adjusted from the bright sunlight outside. Don was just ahead but the fugitive had already vanished from view. His boss broke left around a pile of crates, waving his right hand in clear indication for Colby to go right. Obediently dodging right he ran down the line of crates and caught a hint of movement at the bottom in the deeper shadows near the middle of the building. It seemed that the owners of this warehouse relied solely on the natural light allowed in by the few translucent panels in the roof rather than using the sodium lights he could see suspended from the rafters as they were not switched on. That left the warehouse a mass of shadows.
Colby slowed and swung wide around the corner not wanting the leave himself open for a possible ambush. The fugitive was just up ahead, clearly a sprinter though and not a distance runner as he was slowing markedly. There was still no sign of any weapons in Collin's possession even after he'd glanced back to see the agent closing in on him. Desperately the fugitive took another turn down another alley of crates, stumbling and nearly falling but somehow keeping to his feet. Another glance back and the expression became nearly panicked but still no weapon was produced. There were no obvious bulges indicating that Collins had any weapons either. Colby made a decision as the distance closed even further and shoved his gun back into its holster; he couldn't shoot at an unarmed man anyway.
Taking deeper breaths and willing his legs to a new burst of speed to increase his momentum he closed up the last few yards. Reaching out for the man's shoulders he threw his weight forward and brought them both crashing to the ground. Colby's landing was softer than the fugitive's, his bodyweight helping to drive the air out of the man's lungs and almost instantly take all resistance out of him. There had been no fight, the fugitive had only run away from them and now that he was caught he slumped to the floor and cooperated as Colby cuffed him. Patting him down carefully he found his initial assessment correct, Collins was unarmed with not even a pocket knife in his possession.
"You done?" Colby asked before he pulled the man up.
"Yeah, yeah." Collins gasped out still winded from Colby's landing on him. He cringed as the agent shifted. "Please don't hit me."
Colby gave a brief laugh as he got his own breathing under control. Collins had offered no resistance aside from running from them. In those circumstances he was more of a 'don't-run-from-me-you'll-only-go-to-jail-tired' kind of guy, he had no intention of taking out any frustrations from the chase on his prisoner. He rolled the man over and up to a seated position as he prepared to help him to his feet. "Not gonna hit you. Get up."
Pulling him up smoothly he marched Collins back the way they'd come towards the sirens he could hear pulling up outside. That would be the LAPD back-up they'd requested when the foot pursuit started. They hadn't expected the man to actually run from them; the go-between had been interviewed by their team a number of times over the last few days without incident. The rest of the gang had been rounded up this morning and with David running point on the case Don had taken Colby with him to arrest Collins. Colby figured word of the rest of the gang's arrest had filtered down to Collins with the usual speed of word on the street and he'd realised his number was up, rabbiting upon sight of them. Not involved in the violent side of the crime Collins was however responsible for delivering messages that allowed the gang to operate, hence he was a target to be caught in the same net and fully understood he would be going down for the same crimes as an enabler.
Colby didn't mind the run, it was better than the brief gun battle they'd been involved with earlier in the day when one of the multiple raids went south. Fortunately no-one on their side got hurt and just one of the gang members caught a minor flesh wound and was already out of hospital and back at the field office being interviewed. Pulling Collins around the last corner and spotting the waiting uniforms he decided he could blow off his planned afternoon run now that he'd had his exercise for the day. Besides he was likely to be working late on all the paperwork anyway.
Five minutes later the prisoner had been handed over and transported from the scene by one of the black & whites to be delivered to David at the field office. Don had not yet appeared so Colby tried his cell. No answer. He dialled a second time and still there was no answer, the call now going to message bank after only a couple of rings. Perhaps Don had dropped the phone somewhere inside the warehouse while running after Collins, he was sure he'd not seen his boss lose it earlier. Asking the second LAPD officer to wait as they would need a lift back to Don's SUV Colby headed back inside, turning left to follow Don's path. Seeing a lone worker he questioned the boy and was told a man had run through maybe ten minutes earlier and had seemed to be heading towards the old office area at the back.
As he approached the partially demolished area he tried Don's cell again. This time he heard the ring from up ahead indicating he was on the right track. The sound of the cell was coming from an area that had a lot of demolition debris scattered around. Concerned that Don may have tripped or fallen and injured himself he picked up the pace. He rounded a pile of wood to see a figure through an open doorway. It was darker in here, the offices had ceilings and as they were in the process of being demolished no lights remained to illuminate them. It was only the limited ambient light that made its way through the empty spaces where windows used to be that enabled him to see. Pushing deeper into the series of interconnected offices he reached his boss and called his name only to instantly stop and put up his hands.
Until Colby had spoken Don had seemed locked in place, braced up against a wall with his Glock in hand. Upon hearing the junior agent he had suddenly reacted, bringing the gun up before backing away along the wall.
It was only a moment later that Colby realised that the weapon was not actually being pointed at him; Don was waving it back and forth in front of him as he retreated. Finding the door to the next office Don was through and running. Unsure exactly what was happening Colby went after him only to once again pull up short. This next office was the last in the series, the door that once led out was boarded up and there was no other exit but back the way they'd come, an exit that Colby was now blocking. Don was turning on the spot; a look of desperation on his face as he sought escape, the intact window of this office removed the only other option.
"Don?" Colby called after another heart stopping moment as Don's gun tracked across him. The only reaction was his boss backing away until his back hit the wall. "Don?"
"No!" Don suddenly called out. "Don't!"
"Don't what? Don, it's me, Colby."
Don slid along the wall until forced to stop by the corner. Pressing himself back firmly he continued to shift his wide-eyed gaze around the room seemingly seeing nothing, perhaps not even Colby. Or, if he did, there was no recognition. His weapon continued to move in an arc from side to side as if to fend something, or someone off.
"Just go. You don't have to do this!" Don said as his face suddenly screwed up as if he were in agony.
Abruptly it all came crashing back to Colby and he realised what was happening. The setting was all too familiar to him as he remembered that day all those months ago, a day he'd found his boss severely wounded on the floor of another warehouse, another partially demolished office space. He also remembered running into that warehouse after the sound of two closely spaced shots and racing up the stairs to see Don flat on his back and covered with blood. That had not been the worst of it, the man Don had chased from the scene of the drug raid had been standing over him pressing the muzzle of a gun against his forehead. Colby's heightened senses had clearly picked out the finger tightening on the trigger. There'd been no time for anything else, certainly not the warnings that the book suggested should be made. Colby had immediately opened fire, three shots straight into the man's head. Even if Don had only recalled hearing the one shot, he'd actually fired three times until sure that the man was going down. He relived the moment that he'd run over to his boss and pulled the body away only to believe for a moment he'd been too late, the ashen face making it appear that Don was already dead. A jagged breath had followed and the relief had been incredible even as he'd called for urgent assistance.
Blinking he forced himself back to the present, pulling himself away from the nightmare of trying to stem Don's bleeding as he waited an eternity for the EMTs. Now he understood what was happening, Don was trapped in a flashback. The circumstances of today's chase and the familiar surroundings of the abandoned office area had sent Don spinning back.
Adopting a soothing tone Colby took a cautious pace forwards. Still unsure whether or not Don could see him he kept his hands up in an effort to appear as non-threatening as he could. He repeated his earlier words. "Don, it's me, Colby."
"C-Colby?" Don's voice came out with a quaver. "He's here."
The gun tracked back across him as Colby realised Don could see him but definitely didn't recognise him, perhaps even thinking he was the drug dealer that had attacked and tortured him. Colby barely managed to breathe as he realised just how much danger he was in, Don could easily firm his aim and pull the trigger before he would be able to move out of the way. Why that hadn't happened already he didn't know, perhaps it was the fact that Don had been disarmed and helpless back then, perhaps due to the flashback he felt that way now and didn't actually realise he was waving his gun around. Colby held perfectly still as the gun moved on before coming back on its return arc.
"He's not here, Don. It's just me and you." Colby started, managing somehow to keep to the soothing tone even as his adrenalin fuelled system urged him to get the hell out of there. "No-one is going to hurt you."
"Colby, hurry. Please hurry." Don started, softly this time. The tone changed, dropping even further. "Don't kill me."
Colby felt a chill as he understood he was hearing what must have been Don's thoughts at the time he was being attacked. He'd read his boss' statement and had even gone to a couple of therapy sessions with him and had not heard anything as raw. His boss had been strong during those sessions, detailing what had happened and his belief that he was going to die but he'd not broken like this. Don said he hadn't begged for his life during the attack and Colby firmly believed him, but clearly his thoughts had been there at some point even if not vocalised. Colby's respect for Don rose even higher that he'd kept it together during the rest of the assault.
"Don, I'm here. I'm here, let me help you." He soothed and risked a new step forward even as the Glock continued moving. A new jolt of adrenalin surged through his system at each pass. "No one is going to kill you. He's gone. He's dead and can't hurt you."
A deep sigh and the gun lowered slightly and stopped its swinging track as Don seemed to relax. "Get it over with."
Colby remembered that, Don's last words to the man before his own gun had been put to his head in preparation for the killing shot. It was clear that Don hadn't heard his words and was slipping deeper into the flashback. He had to get the gun away now, in this lost state Colby had no idea what Don might do next, he may even turn his weapon on himself. Already re-enacting the emotions of that day Colby didn't see it as a great leap for Don to re-enact the physical side as well.
He moved in the last three steps as quickly as he could, catching at Don's wrist as the gun came up towards the movement. Moving to the side slightly he forcefully twisted the gun away risking breaking Don's fingers in the process. Achieving possession of the weapon without the sound of breaking bones he tossed it to the floor behind him to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. Don suddenly started to fight, kicking out and trying to pull away. In a sudden flash of inspiration Colby reached out with his free hand and slapped Don firmly across the cheek, hard enough to snap his head to one side. Colby hoped he'd made the right move as Don froze; the torturer had revived Don a number of times by aggravating his shoulder wound and slapping him. A slap now might bring Don around again, snapping him out of the intense flashback.
Don blinked and looked straight at him, seeing him for the first time. "Colby?"
"Yes, Don. I'm here. You're safe."
"Oh, God." Don suddenly dropped as if strings holding him up had been cut.
Colby moved in closer attempting to catch his boss as he fell, managing only to slow the fall. Don ended up sitting on the floor leaning back against the wall with Colby crouching in front of him, hands on his shoulders. His breathing deep and ragged he remained that way with his eyes closed for nearly a minute. Suddenly the eyes flashed open and a look of horror passed across his face. Don moved, reaching quickly towards his ankle where Colby knew he had his back-up weapon holstered. He couldn't help the flinch and the desperate grab at Don's right arm to prevent him reaching the weapon. In almost the same move he twisted his own hip away to remove his holstered weapon from the equation in case his boss tried for that next.
Don jerked back, flinging his arms wide to break Colby's grip before bringing them up in front of him, palms outwards in a classic surrender pose. "Oh, God. Colby, no! I almost-" He cut himself off. "I didn't want to-" He stopped again, staring at his junior agent with the look of horror still on his face.
"It's alright, Don. I know."
"Take it." The leg was thrust out exposing the holster.
"It's alright. I trust you." Colby said even if his reactions a moment ago seemed to belie that. He was starting to realise he'd misjudged what Don had been trying to do.
"Take it!" Don repeated, almost shouting in desperation.
Staring at him a moment longer Colby finally nodded, placing his hand on Don's shin before moving to the holster. He hesitated again and looked back up at his boss, concerned that completely disarming Don could throw him back into another flashback. Seeing the still desperate expression he went through the motions, slowly and carefully removing the small back-up. Don immediately relaxed as the weapon was tossed away to join his primary.
"I'm sorry." Don apologised, much calmer now. His hands dropped to his lap. "I don't understand what happened."
"I do." He'd seen this sort of thing happen before back in Afghanistan. A similar circumstance and environment could at times trigger such powerfully all consuming flashbacks in soldiers who had otherwise apparently recovered from a traumatic event. Some of those soldiers had not survived the experience, others had not been able to cope and had taken their own lives or had to be returned to the States for psychiatric treatment. Unlike many of those soldiers Don had already had therapy and had seemingly reconciled what had happened to him back in that other warehouse. Colby hoped that his boss had sufficient coping mechanisms in place to recover from this. "You just had a flashback."
"It was so real. I could have killed you." Don stated, his gaze resting briefly on the two weapons lying on the floor across the room.
Hollow reassurance wasn't going to help anyone. Colby was blunt in his reply as he looked Don in the eyes. "You could have. But you didn't." He added pointedly.
"I was there, Colby." Don said, insistently this time as he tried to make the junior agent understand his point.
"Don, I know. I also know you didn't shoot me. That's all that matters."
"How, Colby? How did this happen?"
"Didn't Bradford talk about this?" Colby asked and received a hesitant nod. "You didn't think it was possible, right? Don, you're not going crazy and you're going to be okay. These things can happen given the right circumstances. Think about it, we are in an old warehouse, we were chasing an offender and we were separated. This place is almost exactly like that warehouse back then, you were bound to have some reaction."
The senior agent leant back and closed his eyes for a long moment, thinking that over. Eventually he looked back up. "Colby, I-I don't know. I think I, I think I need to see Bradford. Now."
"I think that is a good idea." Colby reinforced gently. That was always the biggest step, acknowledging that help was needed. He backed away before standing, not wanting to loom over Don and looked at the discarded weapons on the floor as his boss made it to his feet.
Seeing where his gaze was directed Don's hands again came up, palm outwards. "No, Colby. I can't."
Colby frowned for a moment as he looked back at his boss. That presented a problem, one he knew that Don wasn't considering. They were going to go back out to a waiting LAPD officer. That officer would automatically look them over for weapons and would wonder at Don's empty holster. Don did not need that sort of embarrassment. He tried to explain. "Don, there's a uniform waiting for us. I trust you."
Don shook his head. "I don't trust me."
Thinking on it a little longer he came up with a solution. Keeping his movements careful he picked up both weapons before unloading the smaller one and sliding it away into a pocket out of sight. The larger Glock he cleared slowly and methodically, making sure that Don could see every step. Leaving the slide racked back for the moment he unloaded the magazine, dropping the rounds into another pocket. He held the weapon out to Don to inspect. "Clear?"
"Weapon clear." Don responded, automatically using the range terminology after using his fingers to check the chamber was empty and no magazine was in place. The procedure was second nature after years of training and practice.
Colby then showed him the magazine, the orange colour of the magazine follower visible even in the dimmed light. At the nod Colby released the slide lock allowing the slide to move forward before pressing the magazine home. Don finally understood what Colby was doing. Reaching for his belt he took his spare magazine out of its pouch and handed it over. With an encouraging smile Colby then offered the Glock and a few seconds later it was reluctantly taken. It took Don's shaking hands a couple of attempts but it was finally holstered and to all appearances everything was perfectly normal.
"You good?" Colby asked as Don wiped his hands on his jeans. "The uniform's going to drop us back to your car. After that I'll get you to Bradford. You have his number?"
"Speed dial." There was the slightest quirk of the lips, an almost invisible hint of a wry smile.
That gave Colby a new flush of relief. Don had been in regular contact with his therapist, gone were the days that he thought he could tough everything out on his own. This should make things much easier. Colby remembered that those that sought help were far more likely to get over the renewed trauma than those who didn't.
"When you're ready." Colby said without pressure as he stepped back to give Don some space.
Years of experience worked for Don as he took a few deep breaths and settled his tight professional mask into place. Squaring his shoulders and straightening his back he was once again the boss and in complete control even if it was only superficial. Even his voice was strong and back to its normal, commanding tone. "Let's do this."
They exited the offices and started towards where they'd come in. Usually he walked to Don's left, but now he moved up to walk alongside his right. There was acknowledgement in the form of the slightest of nods as Don understood and approved. Colby's proximity would make it harder for Don to access his empty gun and at the same time make it harder for him to reach Colby's that was still loaded. Colby really did trust Don and knew that now he was back to himself there was no more danger but the extra reassurance his positioning offered would help his boss keep his façade in place.
Rounding the last stack of crates Don's stride didn't falter, he continued on towards the officer, the very picture of confidence. Colby was unsure what would happen next, the officer had already pulled open the front passenger door in the clear understanding that the senior agent would ride up front with him as the junior would have to ride locked in the cage section. True to his façade however Don settled into the front seat leaving Colby to open his own door and climb into the back.
A few minutes later they were back where they'd started, the black & white was driving away, already detailed to attend a new job, and Don was digging into his pocket for the keys to the SUV. Tossing them at Colby he pulled out his phone and was deep in conversation by the time he put his seatbelt on. Colby started the vehicle up and waited for confirmation of his destination. A tap of Don's hand on the phone and a wave out the side window in the general direction of Bradford's office across town gave Colby all the information he needed. Bradford would see Don immediately. Taking the quickest route he had them pulling into the small lot beside the building forty minutes later. Still on the phone Don pulled his holster off his belt and handed it over, no longer needing to maintain that illusion.
As Don headed in Colby pulled out his own phone and made a quick call to David telling him that they were running out another inquiry and would be a while. It was only a stopgap, at some point notification would have to go in about Don's episode but it could wait for now. It was likely that Bradford would in fact handle that as it would be far better coming from him. Confident that everything would work out given sufficient time Colby made himself comfortable and settled back to wait.
A/N: Okay, so a little more psychological whump, but I think he is on the mend and perhaps not as broken as I'd originally thought.