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NUMB3RS: Blood and Gold (5/24)

Master post is here.





oooooooooooooooo

Chapter 5: You're Missing

Charlie: We've got problems.
Don: Why? What, the math doesn't jive?
Charlie: The math always works.
--"Bones of Contention"

"Aren't you done with your notes for class yet?" Charlie asked, propping his chin in his fists and gazing at Amita across the dining room table.

She favored him with a smile that had only a hint of exasperation. "It's the first time I've given this particular lecture, and I want to make sure I get it right."

"It's a grad level course in combinatorics, Amita. You know the subject backwards and forwards and upside down."

"Yes, but it's different when I'm teaching it. I have a hard time keeping in mind what it is that the students know and what they don't know; I don't want to assume they're up to speed and then find out they're totally lost."

"I'm lost," he said in a mock-serious tone, looking at her silky black hair and the way it hung across the long column of her neck. "Lost in you."

She looked up at him from beneath her lashes. "Charlie, give me another half an hour, okay?" The look she threw his way could only be described as smoky. "Then I'm all yours."

He swallowed at the promise in her tone. "Okay," he agreed quickly, holding his hands up. "I won't make a peep."

Just then, his cell phone rang, and he frowned as he noted the time. It was after 10 P.M., kind of late for someone to be calling. Then he noticed the caller ID, and he understood. Sighing, he flipped open the phone. "Don?"

"Yeah, Charlie, it's me. I need you to come into the office right away."

"Do you know what time it is? I'm sorry, but unless this is really urgent, I have an early class, and…" And I was hoping for a little quality time with my girlfriend before going to sleep, he mentally added.

The reply was terse and pointed. "Liz has been abducted."

His heart dropped like a stone. "What?" Across the table, Amita looked up at him, her soft brown eyes shadowed with concern at the tone of his voice.

"I'll give you the details when I get to the office. Just get down there as fast as you can, okay?" Don's voice was brusque and tense, not surprising considering the information he was relaying.

"Yeah, sure," he said, standing up and moving towards where he'd dropped his car keys next to the lime green bowl on the table in the foyer. "What do you want me to do?"

In a few sentences, Don sketched out the location where his team had been and a description of the vehicles that had driven away. "I'm calling in to have a technician start pulling feed from traffic cameras in the area. I want you to run some kind of search through them for the vehicles we saw."

"I, uh, don't think that Foothill Boulevard is likely to have a lot of cameras," Charlie said hesitantly, fingering his keys. "San Bernardino County doesn't have nearly as many as L.A. County, and -- "

"Yeah, I know, but that's what we have to work with." The words might have been desperate, but the tone was confident. Don was counting on him here. "Look, we know who the guys are who have her; maybe we can dig up some information on where they're likely to be going and try working the traffic cameras from that angle."

Charlie strode back to the dining room and lunged for the pad of paper and pencil on the table. "Okay, what are their names?"

"Well, the head guy is named Hector Simeon."

Don said a few more words, but Charlie wasn't hearing them. "No, no, no," he cut his older brother off. "That's not possible."

"What you do mean, it's not possible?" Don asked sharply.

"I mean exactly what I said. Hector Simeon is in the San Fernando Valley tonight meeting with his subordinates."

"Look, I think I had enough time to identify the guy while he and his men were holding us at gunpoint."

"What?" His blood ran cold at his brother's words. "That's not possible," Charlie repeated, letting the wave of fear wash over him and move on. Don was safe, or he wouldn't be calling.

There was a moment of silence. Then Don's voice came back on, much more wary than it had been. "What are you talking about?"

He put a hand to his forehead, ignoring Amita's puzzled look. "Don, I was at your office this morning putting the final touches on an analysis that your boss asked me to do. There's a Salvadorean gang that -- "

"Yeah, believe me, I know all about them." Don's tone had gone from angry to discouraged in the blink of an eye. "So you were in on this, too?"

Charlie furrowed his brow. "What do you mean, 'in on this'?"

"I mean every other damn agent in the office was out in the Valley tonight except us. And yet we're the ones who encountered Simeon."

Charlie sank into a chair, a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Don, I -- I'm the one who told them to go there. My social network analysis combined with a space-time path geovisualization put him with a cadre of his closest associates at his second-in-command's house near Van Nuys." His voice started to rise. "They even did surveillance later in the day that confirmed it. I don't understand what could have happened."

He heard a burst of static that represented Don's exhalation of breath. "Something went wrong, is what happened."

"Not with my analysis," he said firmly.

"Charlie, it happens, okay? You're not perfect, much as you might like to think so."

He ignored the jibe. "No, it's not okay. If something I did led to Liz getting kidnapped -- "

Amita's gasp startled him, and he looked up, realizing he hadn't told her the reason for Don's call. He nodded grimly at her, and she put a hand to her mouth.

Don was speaking again, and he forced himself to pay attention. "Look, Charlie, we can analyze what happened later. Right now, we need to focus on finding her, okay?" This time, there was a hint of desperation in Don's voice, something that he wasn't used to hearing from his always-confident brother, and he felt a chill run down his spine.

"Okay," he replied, trying to project a confidence that he didn't feel at all, trying to compensate for Don's faltering with some bravado of his own. "I'll meet you at the office, and we'll track down the vehicles that you saw. We'll be there in half an hour."

"Thanks, buddy. I'll see you then." The call disconnected, and Charlie stared at the phone for a moment.

"What happened?" Amita asked, rising to her feet and closing her books.

He suddenly realized that he didn't know. "He didn't tell me the details, just that Liz was abducted by the same man who, according to my analysis, is supposed to be seventy miles away and in FBI custody by now." He slowly folded the phone shut and swallowed. How could he have miscalculated so badly?

"Charlie, we don't know what happened. You can't blame yourself," she said, coming over and putting a hand on his shoulder.

At any other time, it would have amused him at how Amita could read him like a book. Instead, he added bleakly, "Yet."

"Come on," she said, shaking him gently. "We're meeting Don at the FBI office, right?"

He finally turned to look at her, and the concern and determination on her face only made him love her more. "You've got class to prepare, you don't have to -- " he started.

"Don't be silly," she answered, sliding her hand down his arm and tugging him to his feet. "It's not just anyone who's in danger here. It's a friend."

He nodded slowly. "Yeah," he replied, the implications suddenly washing over him. If something happened to Liz, he didn't know what it would do to Don. He had no idea how strongly his brother felt about her, but the fact that the four of them had been spending time together spoke volumes. Don had never been one to talk about the women in his life -- even the one he was engaged to -- much less go on double dates with his little brother. Even their father's initial skepticism at Liz's relatively young age had faded away once he saw how much happier Don was when she was around. And now if she was hurt....

Charlie shook his head. Nothing was going to happen to Liz. They were going to find her and Simeon and put him away, and everything was going to be just fine.

He repeated that to himself like a mantra as they climbed in the car and started down the 110 towards downtown. They would get to the FBI office. They would find Liz. And then he would figure out what the hell had gone wrong with his analysis.

oooooooooooooooo

The drive back to L.A. had taken an eternity, even with the phone calls to Charlie and to the office and then back to David to check on things at the crime scene. The crime scene. Don was trying not to think about what other crime scenes were being created right now, wherever Liz was and whatever they were doing to her. He figured that the longest he had managed to go so far without thinking about her was five minutes, based on his ritualistic checking of his watch and the cold reminder that every time he saw the hands had moved, it meant more time had passed with her in their power. Fifteen minutes before they'd left Fontana, forty-five more driving back downtown, and now another fifty minutes in the office. Closing in on two hours that she was missing. If time had crept by on their drive out, it was leaping forward now, mocking him with every minute that passed.

He didn't have to ask himself why they had taken her. That was obvious, much as it scared him -- she was the only female in the group, the most vulnerable and easiest to control. The question was, why had they gone through the rigmarole of forcing him to choose one of his team members first? Megan would have an explanation, he knew. He'd thought of calling her on her cell despite the fact that it was two in the morning in Washington, demanding that she come back here right now and help him understand what was going on, help him find Liz. Now he was hoping desperately that Charlie would have some magical equation that would point them right to where Liz was, so that he wouldn't have to spend any longer than he already had wondering where she was, and what in the world was going on with the FBI and Simeon, and why the hell hadn't they taken him instead of her, and what the fuck was he going to do if anything happened to her?

Instead, he was pacing a tight path between the war room, where Charlie and Amita were scribbling on the transparent chalkboards, and his own cubicle, where Colby was compiling a list of Simeon's known associates and their addresses. It wasn't taking too long, considering that Charlie had been using a similar list that morning. And as agents started to trickle in from what had been an only mildly-successful bust, they were able to add information regarding who had been taken into custody and who was still out there. He was starting to feel the weight of their looks, as inevitably they turned in his direction once they heard the news that Agent Warner was now the target of a missing persons search. Apparently the look on his face was scaring them all away, for no one had dared to approach him except the members of his own team.

Then half an hour or so after he and Colby had arrived, David came out of the elevator. Don frowned. "What are you doing here?"

Isn't it obvious? the look on David's face said, but he answered, "We agreed I would be more helpful down here than pointing out where the techs should be dusting for prints, considering they're going to wipe down every surface anyway."

"All right," Don said, glad to have one more person that he could count on here by his side. "Go see if Colby needs any help, okay?"

David hesitated for only a fraction of a second before moving towards his former partner. Don watched him go and sighed. He knew he should be doing something more useful than telling his team members to ask each other what to do, but he was absolutely mentally drained. And the only thing that was distracting him from thinking about Liz was the occasional flashback to hard concrete under his knees and cold metal at the back of his neck as he waited for a trigger to be pulled. Under normal circumstances, it would be as much as he could handle trying to deal with the aftermath of that.

But these were far from normal circumstances.

As he paced back towards his desk, the phone at his belt rang, and he automatically reached for it and flipped it open. "Eppes."

"Don?"

The breath whooshed out of his lungs. "Liz?" he demanded.

Her voice had never sounded more beautiful. "Yeah, it's me."

He came to a dead stop at the opening to his cubicle, aware of David and Colby looking at him. "Where are you? Are you okay?"

"I -- I'm fine. I'm actually -- well, I'm at home."

Don furrowed his brow. "What?"

"I had my driver's license on me, and, well, they left me at my condo."

"Oh, man." He brought a hand up to cover his eyes. That was a message, loud and clear. They knew where she lived and they wanted him to know it, too. "Keep your door locked and don't let anyone in but me, okay? I'll be there in fifteen minutes." He moved quickly to his desk and pulled the car keys out of the top drawer. Culver City was normally far more than fifteen minutes away, but in the dead of night and with sirens blazing, he could be there in no time at all.

"Don…." Her voice was hesitant. "Bring some bags and stuff for evidence, okay?"

His blood froze. "Oh, God," he said, leaning on the desk with one hand and bowing his head, horrible images coming to mind before he could stop them.

"No, no, it's not that," Liz rushed on. "Not -- not a rape kit, just some bags and fingerprint materials. They grabbed my arms a couple of times, and they weren't wearing gloves. I think I might have a couple of hairs on me, too. It wasn't just Simeon -- there was someone else in the car who I couldn't see, but we might be able to identify him from this evidence."

"You're sure?" he asked tightly. "They didn't hurt you?"

"They didn't assault me, no. I'm fine, Don. Just -- " Her voice broke for an instant before returning as strong as ever. "Just hurry over here, okay?"

"You bet. I'll be there as fast as I can." Don hesitated, aware of the two listeners behind him. Aw, to hell with it. "I love you," he added quietly.

He heard a sharp intake of breath, followed by, "I -- I love you, too," in a tone of surprise.

"I'll be right there," he repeated and flipped the phone shut. He turned to find his two teammates absorbed in finding something fascinating to look at on Colby's desk. If he hadn't been so frantic with worry, he would have found their transparent attempt at offering him privacy to be amusing. As it was, it was just this side of aggravating. "That was Liz," he said unnecessarily. "They, uh, they returned her to her house."

Colby's eyes widened, and David asked quickly, "She's okay?"

"Yeah, she says she's fine." He tucked the car keys in his pocket and looked up at them. "I need one of you to come with me to help collect evidence, and the other one to keep following up on the traffic cameras. Start at the closest intersection to Liz's place and work backwards; see if you can find where the trucks that they made you guys load split off and where they ended up." The two agents paused, as if waiting for further instructions, and he waved his hands at them. "You two figure it out," he said. "I've had enough of making decisions for one night."

Colby nodded. "I'll do it," he said. "You go," he said, tapping David's shoulder.

David was looking slightly uncomfortable. "Don," he said hesitantly. "Should, um, we have a female agent come along with us?"

Don blinked. Why would they -- oh. "No, she said they left her alone."

"Thank God," the other man muttered.

"Yeah," he agreed in the understatement of the year. Grabbing his windbreaker off its hook, he said, "Let's go."

oooooooooooooooo

In the end, it was more like twenty minutes, because David wouldn't go over eighty despite the fact that there was only a handful of other cars on the road. Don barely waited for the Suburban to come to a stop outside the row of townhomes before he was climbing out and striding to the front door. Knocking hard, he called out, "Liz, it's me. And David."

There was a shadow behind the curtains, and then the door opened. Liz was standing there, still in her tactical gear except for the vest, her hair a disheveled mess and her wrists marked with red scratches that made his blood boil. Without thinking, he took a step forward and reached for her, and she held up her hands. "Don't," she said softly. "Not until you've bagged the evidence."

But I have to touch you, he wanted to say. Instead he reached out both of his hands, willing her to understand what he wanted. She put her hands in his, and they closed their fingers around each other, conveying their relief and shared fear in that simple touch instead of the embrace they both needed, their mutual gazes conveying their emotions as well as any words would have done.

After a moment, Liz stepped back, motioning them both into the condo. David shut the door behind them and gave her a warm smile. "You sure you're all right?" he asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine," she said, nodding. "I'll be a lot better once I can change my clothes. I stink."

"You're not the only one," David said with raised eyebrows. He held up the plastic bags in his hand and the latex gloves in the other. "You called for some hair removal?"

A faint smile crossed Liz's face, and Don could have hugged his teammate for taking the light approach. "Yeah, a little on the shoulders and maybe on my back."

"Coming right up," David replied easily.

They took turns examining her for evidence, David staying within her line of sight as much as possible, Don making sure he was in her view at all times. He wanted so badly to pull her to him, to bury his face in her hair, to wrap his arms around her and never let her go. It was hard to believe she'd only been missing for two hours.

But a lot could happen in two hours.

"So what happened?" Don asked softly, his eyes locked on hers.

She swallowed. "It's probably easier if I tell it all at once at the office."

His brow furrowed. "What, you think you're going back in?"

"Yeah," she said in a tone that implied, Duh.

Don shook his head. "Not tonight. You can go in the morning and give a statement then. You've been up for -- " he checked his watch -- "almost twenty hours, you've been through a traumatic experience -- "

"What, and you haven't?" Liz retorted. At his sharp breath, she continued, "I didn't mean it like that."

He was about to bark back a reply when he remembered that they weren't alone. So he took a deep breath and said, "I just think that you need to rest and come back in the morning when your head is clear."

"And I think I need to do this now, while it's fresh in my head," she replied, eyes flashing.

"Liz, I don't -- "

"Do you know why I was the one they took?" she snapped, taking a step back so that she was facing both of them at once. "Do you?"

Don exchanged a look with David, who had an uncomfortable expression on his face. "There's lots of possible reasons," he started.

"But there's only one that matters." She took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. "He saw the way we were looking at each other, Don. He saw how concerned we were about each other, and he decided that the best way to hobble the team was to keep its leader too busy looking for his girlfriend to focus on the stolen goods." Her gaze shot to David's. "Tell me that isn't what happened."

David reached up and rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, we figured that wherever they were going to stash the containers was where they were going to bring you."

"Well, it wasn't."

"Wait, hold on a second." Don held up his hands. "Are you telling me that we should have focused on finding some -- some cargo rather than on you? That's not going to happen, no matter what you mean to me." Ask Ian Edgerton, he thought, remembering the lengths he'd been willing to go to bring back Megan.

She stared at him for a moment. "No, that's not what I'm saying. I just…." She pinched the bridge of her nose in a way that Don recognized as the signal of an oncoming headache. "I wish they hadn't taken advantage of me like that. Of us like that. That's all."

Don let out a sigh. "Yeah, well, me too."

There was silence for a few seconds. Then, "How much more?" she asked David.

"I think I've got everything, unless there's somewhere else you can think of."

Liz looked down at herself for a moment, holding her arms out from her sides. Don swallowed, trying not to think about Simeon or any of his men putting their hands on her. "No, I think that's it."

"Okay then." David backed towards the door. "You still want to come down to the office tonight?"

"Yes," she said firmly, looking at Don. "It's what makes the most sense."

He stared into her eyes for a moment, marveling at her strength. All he wanted to do was sweep her into his arms and carry her upstairs, investigation be damned. Then her words came back to him, and he straightened his shoulders. He wasn't going to let himself be manipulated by some street thug, and he was proud of Liz for refusing to, either. "Yeah, I agree."

David looked between them for a moment. "Why don't I go warm up the car?" he said. "You come out whenever you're ready."

Don felt the corner of his mouth turn up. Since when does a vehicle need to be warmed up in L.A.? he thought. Aloud he said, "Yeah, we'll be right out," never taking his eyes off the woman in front of him.

The front door hadn't even closed all the way before he had his arms around her and she was embracing him so tightly that he thought he wasn't going to be able to breathe. Then they were kissing hungrily, ardently, his hands burying themselves in her hair and hers sliding underneath his FBI t-shirt and up his back. He'd never felt this before, this almost painful desire to bury himself in her and erase the rest of the world, never felt that if he kissed her hard enough and touched her passionately enough, he could take back what had happened earlier tonight and wipe away the memory of the choking fear he'd felt, first for himself and then for her.

But then, never before had he almost been killed in front of the woman he loved and then been utterly helpless as she was taken away from him.

Liz finally drew back, her chest rapidly rising and falling, and Don realized that his own lungs were starved for air. He leaned his head forward, resting his forehead against hers, reveling in her breath warming his face and her hands now gently moving over the outside of his shirt. She was here, she was alive, she was safe. They were both safe.

Don stroked down her back and closed his eyes. "I love you," he whispered. There was a pause, and he lifted his head, opening his eyes to stare into hers only inches away. Speaking more haltingly, his heart in his throat, he said, "I -- I didn't know it until today." He raised a hand to touch the side of her face. "But I do."

She tilted her head up to capture his lips with a sweet kiss that was in stark contrast to the heated passion of a moment ago. "Sounds like we have a lot to talk about," she said when they drew apart.

"Yeah," he agreed, giving her cheek one last caress before letting go and stepping back. "But first we have some work to do."

Liz reached out to take his hand, and that was how they walked out to the Suburban. David didn't say a word when both of them climbed into the back seat, just turned the key in the ignition and drove them away.

Chapter 6

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
msgrahamcracker
Jul. 22nd, 2010 06:18 am (UTC)
The reunion scene between Don and Liz was...well,...it was hot! I loved it.

It's past 2am and I have to get up in three hours, but, I'm going for one more chapter tonight.
zubeneschamali
Jul. 25th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
Ahahaha! I mean, I've been in that position of staying up even later just to read one more chapter, so I'm glad to get the chance to do it to someone else, LOL.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )