Sorry for taking so long guys. I've decided that this will be the final chapter – my muse has apparently run off with the muse for NSITH and Exchange Program, and a new one has taken their places. And, I move interstate in three weeks, so not much time for writing. Meep.
Hopefully this leaves you all with a satisfying end to the story, if there's something that I forgot to address leave a message and I may be able to put up an epilogue, or some one-shots into this verse. This chapter contains one particular scene that has been in my head ever since deciding that it would be CE – the (brief) meeting between Ian and Yardley.
Also, for those wanting to know what Charlie and Amit look like in this verse, follow the link in my profile to my DeviantArt page. I've got illustrations for a few of my stories posted there, including one of Amit and Charlie's first visit to the FBI office, and one of Don and Zillah from Zillah Chronicles.
Dysgrammatophobia: Due to my habit of disappearing for a month or more at a time, I tend to avoid cliff-hangers – but couldn't help myself here. Glad you liked them.
Ddee: I changed my name over on AFF. Couldn't be bothered here, as could cause too much confusion.
FoxxyGoddess: Yeah, I'm a definite Ian/Charlie shipper. Tried CC, but couldn't keep it up. If you know what I mean *grin*
Flitwick: I think it's improved the more I wrote, hopefully you agree. It seems that it's mostly Numb3rs fans who dislike having show-quote fics, in other fandoms they go over pretty well – hence why I didn't keep going with them here. If people aren't enjoying something, time to switch methods. Hope you like the final chapter.
To everyone else who didn't get a direct response: Thanks for taking the time to review, that's what eventually gave me the kick I needed to finish it off. Hope to see you again in other fics I write.
Chapter Thirteen: Wrapping up. In which the tale comes to a conclusion.
Colby paused and glanced at the other two men. Edgerton had moved quickly, circling around and up a hill slope to set up a better shot in case things went south. Don was on the phone, calling in backup. Neither seemed to have heard the faint gunshot.
Shrugging, Colby returned his attention to the task in front of him. It was probably just someone out hunting.
He carefully ignored the little voice in the back of his head saying, hunting what?
It took about half an hour, but in the end McHugh was talked down and taken back to town. He was with local officers giving his statement, and the three agents were headed back to the ranch to collect Charlie and the car. Upon reaching it, however, all three men paused in their conversation.
The car was right where they'd left it, but Charlie was nowhere to be seen.
"It's been nearly an hour," Colby said, looking at his watch. "Think she got bored and headed back by herself?"
"We would have seen her on the road," Don shook his head.
Ian looked up from where he'd been studying the ground, face expressionless.
"I don't think she's been back here. There's a lot of activity, but I don't see her tracks going back to the car."
Don immediately pulled out his phone and dialled her number. After a minute, he hung up in disgust.
"Message bank," he bit out.
Colby stared at the ground, remembering the gunshot he'd heard earlier, but didn't say anything. He missed the calculating look Ian sent his way.
"Well," the sniper turned his eyes back to the forest, "we know she was headed back here. Let's move on out, see if she's still on the path for some reason."
Ian led the way, with Don following and Colby in the back. The youngest agent was torn between hoping that Charlie was okay, and resenting the fact that it was going to be Ian saving her.
After about ten minutes of walking, they heard the sound of laboured breathing. Rounding a corner in the track, they saw a man leaning against a tree, bleeding from a stomach wound. Colby recognised him as Yardley, Graybridge Pharmaceutical's hired gun, and he was obviously fatally wounded.
Yardley sneered and raised his gun, but Ian was faster. Without breaking his stride, he put a bullet between the man's eyes and continued walking as though nothing had happened.
At that, Colby swallowed hard. Sure, he'd heard all the stories about how ruthless the sniper could be, but he'd never seen the man in action. He obviously didn't care much about the sanctity of human life if someone got in his way.
Don had flinched a little, but kept walking. He understood well the need to get to Charlie, even if he would have been reluctant to kill someone to do it.
Ian ignored the reactions of the other men, far more concerned with Charlie's safety. He stepped up to the edge of the ridge where he could see signs of a scuffle and looked down, too scared even to swear. Lying several feet down was Charlie, eyes closed and not moving.
Without pausing to think, Ian quickly climbed down and crouched by her side, checking for vital signs. He let out a sigh of relief when he found even, if shallow, breathing and a steady pulse. Carefully he ran his fingers over the back of her head and frowned when he found blood.
"Charlie!" Don let out a cry as he scrambled down. He was only slightly reassured by Ian's grim smile.
"Vital signs are good, but she banged her head. We're gonna need Rescue."
"Colby's calling them," Don muttered as he gently took one of Charlie's hands.
Ian gently stroked his professor's face with one finger, then sat back on his heels to wait.
At Don's insistence, Charlie had been airlifted back to a hospital in Los Angeles. She's woken briefly before the paramedics arrived, but had fallen unconscious again fairly quickly. Don had flown with her in the helicopter, while Ian and Colby drove back. Ian hadn't objected to the arrangements, knowing that Don needed to keep Charlie in his sight for a while, and that she'd need her family and friends around her while she recovered. Not that he'd be leaving her any time soon of course – he counted himself in the former category.
When Ian arrived at the hospital, he quickly found Alan at reception, filling in Charlie's paperwork. Though they hadn't been introduced, Charlie had shown Ian a few photographs of her father which she kept on her computer.
"Mr Eppes?" Ian asked softly. Alan's head jerked up, then his eyes lowered again when he saw that the newcomer wasn't a doctor.
"That's me. Who are you?" Alan responded gruffly, allowing his contrary side to come through.
"Ian Edgerton, Sir. Charlie's been staying with me for the last few weeks."
Alan paused and looked him over again. When Charlie had said that she was staying with a friend, he'd assumed that it was a friend she knew through her academic circles. This man, dressed in camouflage gear and with a familiar 'Federal Agent' air, was not what he'd had in mind.
"Oh," Alan muttered. "She has, has she?"
"Yes. I've been taking care of her, and will continue to do so until she decides to move on." Ian had a firm yet calming manner that managed to sooth Alan's worries. Don had already told him that it was his fault that Charlie had been walking back by herself, and that Ian had had her safety in mind at all times. While he'd never imagined his daughter with someone who killed people for a living, Alan could already see how the two would complement each other.
After looking at the younger man for a minute longer, Alan nodded.
"Well then, you'd best get back to her bedside. She'll be wanting to see you."
"Yes Sir," Ian quirked a smile, then made his way to Charlie's room. At least her father seemed to approve – now to make sure that Don was on side.
Charlie was discharged the next day and relocated back to the Craftsman. She'd been diagnosed with a mild concussion, aggravated by shock and exposure, and was going to be just fine. Ian had to return to Quantico, and the doctors wanted her to stay close for a few days to make sure there were no hidden problems, so Alan was in his element taking care of his youngest child. Charlie had already made it clear that she was following Ian back as soon as the doctors let her on a plane.
"How do you feel about that?" Amit asked Don as they lay curled around each other in bed. The agent didn't answer for a few minutes, opting instead to trace invisible patterns on his lover's arm. "Don, talk to me. Bottling it all up won't do you any good."
"I know," Don sighed. "I don't want her leaving again. We haven't talked about what happened before she left last time, not really. And I'm scared that if she leaves again, she won't come back."
"So what are you going to tell her?"
"That I hope she's happy and stay safe," Don whispered. "If I try to keep her here, she'll just fight harder to leave. This way… maybe she'll come back, and at least she'll keep in touch now that we know where she's staying."
"Good," Amit smiled and softly kissed Don. "Now get some sleep. We both have work tomorrow."
This time, Don and Alan saw Charlie off at the airport. Alan fussed over his little girl, and Don made Charlie laugh by pulling faces behind their father's back.
At the other end, Ian was waiting for her. The car ride back to Ian's was spent going over the recoil of various weapons, and stories from Charlie about how sweet Larry and Megan were as a couple. There was also a fair amount of speculation about Don and Amit's relationship.
When Charlie finally made her way to the living room, she stopped in her tracks. The walls and ceiling had been coated in Blackboard paint. She turned and looked at Ian in confusion.
Ian smiled down at her, then handed her a new packet of chalk.
"You were running out of window space." A grin spread across Charlie's face as Ian bent down to kiss her. As her arms wrapped around him, he pulled back briefly.
"Welcome home, Professor."