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.
It was close but David managed not to pull his trigger. Mitchell shifted slightly, gun now pointing away from Don but not quite far enough.
"Don't shoot!" He repeated.
"Put the gun down and step away." David ordered as he sensed Colby come up beside him.
Eyes flicking nervously between the two agents, before shifting to the other officers and then up at the hovering helicopter Mitchell seemed to come to a decision. His hands came up, one still holding the stolen Glock but it was pointed harmlessly off into the trees. "Don't shoot."
Colby moved forward another aggressive pace, his Springfield raised and steady. "Drop the gun. Now!"
Mitchell's Glock suddenly tumbled from his fingers as he finally moved, taking a long step away from his hostage. Colby moved in, closing the gap with David about to follow. That all changed an instant later, without the support of his captor Don suddenly tilted alarmingly sideways before overbalancing and falling. David left Colby to the arrest as he lunged forwards in an effort to catch his boss. He was too late, Don landing on his side, eyes closing.
David was momentarily distracted by the sound of another body falling. Glancing over he saw that Colby was taking no chances, shoving Mitchell to the ground to control him. He saw deputies running in and turned back to his boss, everything else was under control.
Don lay still, eyes closed and didn't respond to David's gentle squeeze at his shoulder or the repetition of his name.
"Get the EMTs out here!" David yelled without looking up.
"They're on their way, Agent." Grealy responded quickly. "I'll give them our new location."
David remembered that the sheriff had called for an ambulance to be sent to their general area back at the crash scene. They'd all had a fair idea it was going to be needed. Without acknowledging the response he kept his attention on Don, trying to ease him into a stable position. That's when he saw what was restraining his hands; the flex-cuffs were not something he was going to be able to unlock with his key. A hand suddenly appeared in front of him holding a multi-tool.
"Here." Grealy offered.
Taking the tool David flicked out the pliers and was able to wedge the jaw between the plastic and Don's wrist so he could use the wire cutter to snip through the tough tie. A quick repeat on the other wrist and Don was finally free. With gentle movements David got Don settled into the side stable position touted by all the first aid courses. He knew that Don was lying on his injured side but didn't try to change that, he remembered from those same courses that it was often best with certain chest injuries to let the victim chose their own position and that it was usually injured side down. Whatever it was it seemed to be working, Don's colour improved and his breathing was steady.
"David, how is he?" Colby's tight voice demanded.
Looking up he saw his partner had secured the other offender and was handing him off to the locals. Another couple of deputies were fussing over Troy's body, the rifle and Glock recovered and cleared.
"He's out." David answered. "Ribs, head. I don't know what else. Where's that EMT?"
"He's coming, Agent." Grealy reassured. "He's coming."
David's cell rang. Automatically answering the call it took a moment to identify the terse voice.
"How's Eppes?" Edgerton demanded, voice raised over the noise of the helicopter.
"He's alive, but hurt. EMTs are on their way."
"I'll get the pilot to land. We'll take him in."
He'd been here often enough to recognise where he was almost before he was fully conscious. Resting back on the surface that was not quite as comfortable as his own bed or the couch at Charlie's, Don enjoyed the lack of pain. He ached dully over most of his body and his head was throbbing but the sharp stabbing pain in his side had gone. Don remained still, recognising that some of that pain would return if he tried to move. There were quiet voices that he couldn't focus on well enough to understand but he didn't really care. He drifted back off, lulled by the sounds.
The next time he woke it was as if he'd had a long sleep. He still ached and he was reluctant to move after a brief automatic stretch but felt remarkably rested. Unable to help it he stretched again, his entire upper body was stiff and he needed to loosen up knowing it would be worse if he didn't. A half-caught breath escaped him as pain from his ribs stabbed at him.
"Just relax son, you're going to be fine."
"Yeah." Don dragged his eyes open and looked around to find his father standing beside him. It explained the dry warmth he'd felt around his right hand. As he noted it his father released him after a momentary squeeze, aware of how he felt about close personal contact especially in public.
"You're back in LA, in hospital." Alan explained.
"Figured that." Don replied wryly. It was kind of obvious. His smile took any sting out of his words. A glance at the clock on the wall showed it was mid-morning. Based on how he felt it had to be the next day.
Alan looked over suddenly at movement at the doorway. "Oh, hey. Your wiseass brother's awake."
Don followed his father's gaze to find Charlie walking in. The aroma from the coffee cups in his hands was pure heaven. "You got one of those for me?"
"Now Don, I don't think the doctors would approve." Alan said as Charlie approached.
"The Doctor's not here." Don found the remote and got the bed to start rising so he could sit up a little. Some coffee would do him a world of good. "C'mon Chuck."
"No can do, Bro'." The worry that Don had seen on Charlie's face in that first instant was long gone. His brother made a show of sipping at his own coffee as he handed the other off to their father. "Seriously, are you okay?"
"You tell me. I just woke up."
"I think your brother's going to be fine." Alan said in response. If his eldest son was able to joke around and demand coffee then he really was going to be okay.
"Who's the doctor around here?" A pleasant female voice inquired from the door. A woman wearing the regulation white coat and stethoscope that identified her calling walked in, reaching for the chart as she stopped at the foot of the bed. "I'm Doctor June Blackmore. I see you are a frequent flyer, Agent Eppes."
That got Don a little on guard, not all of those visits were known by his family, although the last had been a good one. "Er, yeah, I guess. What's the tally this time?"
"Well, let's see. You have some lacerations and bruising around both wrists, they tell me you were bound with flex-cuffs." Receiving a nod she continued. "There is also some soft tissue damage, along with various contusions and abrasions to most of your upper torso that look like you took a beating or two judging by the different ages of the bruising. We also have a seatbelt mark and some other deep bruising on your chest from an unknown foreign object, care to elaborate?"
It was going to come out anyway, if it hadn't already. "Gun butt."
"That would do it." The doctor nodded. She finished checking the chart and hung it back over the end of the bed after adding a notation. Blackmore tilted her head slightly to one side as she continued with the list. "We can also add deep bruising down most of your right side and two broken ribs but fortunately no complications there. They told me something about a car?"
"Yeah. I was shoved in front of one. It didn't stop." Don didn't blame the driver for that. Considering the circumstances, the driver not stopping had been the most correct thing to do. It had hardly been their fault anyway. Although, he added wistfully to himself, the driver could maybe have swerved a little further to the side.
"Hmm. Then we have some heavy blows to the head, a concussion and a laceration there as well to round things out." The doctor waited.
After another glance at his closely listening family Don elaborated. "Ground, fists and gun again."
"You were in the wars, weren't you?" Doctor Blackmore said, taking it all in stride. But then, she'd obviously read his history and knew such things weren't all that unusual for him. Don found himself liking her even if he'd never dealt with her before.
"Something like that."
"Well. It was starting to accumulate into something a bit more serious with the delay in treatment and escalation of injuries but now that you're here it's nothing that some time and rest won't mend. We'll keep you in for a couple of more days and after that we'll see." She glanced over at the door. "You have some visitors waiting; we'd been expecting you to wake about now. They've insisted that you would want to see them. Feel up to it?"
Knowing who they were he wanted to see them too. He was fully awake and the pain meds were keeping his headache at a manageable level. The rest would be fine if he didn't move too much or breathe too deeply. "Sure."
David and Colby wasted no time coming in, both with their own cups of coffee in hand. His mouth started watering at the aroma but still no-one offered him any. He had a fair idea where some of his headache was coming from, caffeine withdrawal. It had been some time since that nasty cup of instant. He lost his train of thought on that as David and Colby both started speaking. It was a few minutes before he was able to ask how it had all ended; he was somewhat fuzzy on the details. He remembered David and Colby appearing on the road and then the ultimatum given to Troy but nothing after that.
"Troy Walden is dead. Sniper shot." David announced bluntly. "Mitchell Harris is in custody."
"Who were they?" Towards the end he'd been starting to doubt his earlier assessment that they weren't the murderers they were up there hunting.
David saw the real question but asked one of his own first. "What'd they tell you?"
"That they were two-bit robbers. Gas stations, that sort of thing."
The relief supervisor nodded. "That's exactly what they were. They'd been in the area for a few weeks, knocking over gas stations and some small ma and pa stores. Sheriff Grealy has made some inquiries since and it seems they'd been in the business for a couple of months a little further north, doing the odd job before moving on. A few weeks ago they seemed to have decided to make a career of it, going on the road and going from robbery to robbery. They'd always used some violence but things were starting to ramp up fairly quickly, the victims sustaining more injuries when they went full-time. We're thinking they were about to take things to the next level."
Thinking quickly on it Don came to the same conclusion, from what David was saying there was a clear pattern of escalation. Even in his isolated case things had gone bad to worse as they had no problems with physically abusing him in an attempt to get what they wanted. At the end it was clear that they were prepared to take that final step. He found himself reconsidering the last point; Troy was certainly prepared to kill whilst Mitch was not quite there, yet. Unfortunately Don felt reasonably sure that given enough time Mitch would have followed Troy's lead all the way.
"What about the case?" He wasn't asking about the robbers, that was done, all bar his statement which he would give later. He needed to be brought up to speed on the investigation. There were murderers to catch.
Alan opened his mouth to protest but another voice interrupted him.
"Been working on that while you've been napping, Eppes." Edgerton answered as he strode in through the doorway. He moved straight through the group surrounding the bed until he was standing next to Don. "Here, thought you might like this."
Ignoring the twinge of his muscles Don eagerly took the offered paper cup. A long sip and he was feeling infinitely better. "Thanks, Ian. And, thank-you."
The sniper grinned. "Always fun working with you and your boys, Eppes." He took a sip of his own coffee as he finally acknowledged everyone else. "That shot was not as much of a challenge as I'm used to, but I make do."
"Well, challenging or not I appreciate your making do."
"No problem, Eppes." Edgerton inclined his head as he accepted the thanks. He got down to business. "Now your other crew, they are going to be a challenge."
He wasn't going to bother asking who had called Edgerton in; he'd probably just heard about the case and called himself in. Putting that aside Don remained on track and asked how the investigation was going.
"Still early days yet. I've worked the two dump sites but haven't come up with anything yet. Waiting on some of your brother's math-voodoo to get things rolling."
Charlie looked up at the reference, a slight smile crossing his face before he became serious. "I've not got very far on that, the two data-sets not enough to give me the numbers I need." The expression on his face showed that he understood just where those data-sets came from and what it meant if there were any more.
"We understand, Charlie." David spoke up. "Whatever you can give us."
"I know, David. I've got a few ideas I'm working on." He patted at the laptop bag hanging over his shoulder. Don figured he'd been working on it while waiting for him to rejoin the land of the living. He'd come a long way over the last five years, no longer escaping into useless math when stressed. "One of those is going to involve an inverted analysis of–"
"Charlie!" Alan cut in, resuming his aborted protest. "I don't think your brother's in any state for that stuff now. That goes for the rest of you."
"Dad, I'm fine."
"No, you're not fine."
"You just said-" Don started to argue, remembering his father's first words to him when he woke.
"I don't care what I said. No more work today." Alan said firmly. He glanced pointedly at the three agents. "Agent Edgerton, David, Colby, I appreciate you getting Don back in one piece but he needs his rest now."
"Okay, Mr Eppes." David answered. He glanced at his watch, unconsciously copying one of Don's habits. "We better get back to it."
"Keep me in the loop, David." Don ordered, ignoring his father's frown. He was going to be back on deck, well enough to ride a desk and direct the investigation anyway, in a couple of days. He needed to be updated with everything as they found it.
"Uh, yeah." David acknowledged with a sideways glance at an unhappy Alan.
"See ya, Don." Colby contributed as he followed his partner to the door.
"Catch you later, Eppes." The sniper added with a quick lift of his coffee.
Don relaxed; Edgerton wasn't scared of his father. He'd be kept up to date. There was work to be done.
"Is it safe to come in yet?" A familiar female voice inquired.
Don's face softened into a smile as Robin walked in. She came to his side and carefully took his hand. He realised he should probably say something. "Hey."
"Uh, Charlie? I think we need to, uh, we need to," Alan repeated himself and trailed off.
"Go outside?" Charlie finished.
"Go outside. Right." Alan nodded and headed for the door followed by Charlie in a completely transparent attempt to give his son and girlfriend some privacy.
The moment they left Robin bent and kissed Don lightly. "You know, you promised me once you'd keep out of trouble." She reminded him as she pulled back, a gentle smile on her face.
Don remembered. It had been after his second encounter with Nelson. "I said I'd try."
A/N: All done, thank-you for all the reviews, they are very much appreciated. See you all next time.