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NUMB3RS: Blood and Gold (18/24)

Master post is here.





oooooooooooooooo

Chapter 6: Human Touch

Don: Don't underestimate how great it is to have somebody to come home to talk to.
--"Two Daughters"

Charlie pushed open the hospital room door with his elbow, each hand occupied with a coffee cup. "Knock, knock," he said. Behind him, Amita used her free hand to open the door a little wider. They'd been hanging back in the waiting room, wanting to give Larry time with Megan before they barged in, but curiosity and the approach of the end of visiting hours had motivated them to finally come forward.

He was relieved to see Megan's smiling face as she beckoned him inside. "Hey, you guys. Come in."

They entered the room and Charlie handed one cup of coffee to Larry, who was seated at Megan's bedside, hand intertwined with hers. "Thank you, Charles," he said, reaching awkwardly across his body with his left hand so he wouldn't have to let go with his right.

Charlie pulled up the other chair in the room for Amita and took a position at the other side of Megan's bed, leaning against the wall. "So how are you doing?" he asked. Now that he was closer, he could see that her face was flushed and there was faint bruising across her forehead. Probably a result of the airbag, he thought, trying to calculate the force with which she would have impacted but quickly realizing he had no idea how fast she would have been driving.

After receiving Larry's frantic phone call and forwarding the message on to Don, Charlie and Amita had dived into Beachy's datebook, focusing on the identification sequence for the buyers and tracing them throughout all of the coded entries. Larry's arrival had set them back a bit, since Charlie had to attend to his friend as he paced back and forth, alternating between worrying that he'd abandoned Megan and that he hadn't left quickly enough. Fortunately, it was only another fifteen minutes before Don called with the news that she was safe, if injured, and they'd promptly driven Larry to the USC Medical Center, concern for their friends overriding the urge to finish the rest of the decoding.

"I'm fine," Megan replied, her voice strong. "A little banged up, but not bad."

"What about your ankle?" Amita asked, gesturing at her left leg, which was propped up on pillows, the ankle surrounded with icepacks.

"It's broken," she said with a sigh. "They're going to wait until the swelling goes down more before putting on a splint. Otherwise I'd already be on my way out of here."

"It's amazing to what extent the human body is both fragile and resilient," Larry said, taking his eyes off Megan to glance Charlie's way. "To impact a light pole at forty miles an hour and come away with a few small broken bones…" He trailed off, shaking his head.

"It wasn't that fast by the time I hit," Megan replied. "Besides, I was kind of going sideways at that point. I think there were some pretty good streaks of rubber burned into the concrete."

Charlie recognized the strategy that Megan was employing: it was the same way that Don downplayed an incident or shrugged off an injury as no worse than he'd experienced before, neither of which tended to be very comforting. But for Larry's sake, he'd play along. "So, uh, did you know who they were?"

She shook her head, dark blonde hair brushing against her shoulders. "I didn't get a good look at them."

Before Charlie could reply, there was a knock at the door, and he looked over to see Don poking his head in the door. "Hey, Megan," he said, his expression a mixture of relief and concern.

"Well, it's about time," she teased, gesturing for him to come in. "Colby left a while ago and said you were going take care of a few things before stopping by, but I didn't think it would be hours."

"Yeah, well, I wanted to be able to give you something when I came," Don said, stepping into the room and holding the door for Liz behind him. "Hey, Charlie," he said, nodding at him, and then down at Amita as she looked up. "Amita. Larry."

He sounded and looked exhausted, and Charlie felt his heart go out to him. Don always pushed himself and his team hard, but this case was something else, and Charlie knew that part of it was his fault. If he hadn't balked at returning to the FBI after his stupid mistake, they might have deciphered the code that much faster. Amita had pointed out to him in the waiting room that if he hadn't come back when he did, Don and his team probably wouldn't have gotten to Megan so quickly, which was also true. Still, he couldn't help but wonder if Don's burden would have been eased, however slightly, if he hadn't momentarily refused to help, and that wondering was wearing away a tiny hole in Charlie's insides.

"Well, I don't see any flowers," Megan was saying, "so what have you brought me?"

"The four guys in custody," Liz said, a hard gleam in her eye. "We haven't identified them all yet, but we did get one."

Larry gripped Megan's hand more tightly as he turned around to look at the two agents. "And? Who are these miscreants?"

Don let out a short breath, his jaw tightening. "The driver's name was Ahmed Kassim," he said. When no one in the room responded, he added, "He had a brother named Sami."

It took a second for Megan to react, but then her eyes widened as her jaw dropped. "Oh, my God," she said quietly, her eyes closing.

"Who is that?" Larry's tone was as demanding as Charlie had ever heard it from the physicist. Amita looked at Charlie, but he gave a shrug, not comprehending any more than his friends did.

"The Republican Guard," Megan said, eyes still closed. "Last year, the Iraqi woman who was murdered." She opened her eyes and stared across the room at the blank white wall on the other side. "Sami Kassim was the killer, and I shot him on the front lawn of his mosque."

"All this time?" Larry sounded incredulous. "He's been plotting his revenge all this time?"

"We'll find out in the morning." Liz's voice was like steel. "And believe me, we will find out."

Charlie was surprised that they were planning to wait to start interrogating the gunmen, but looking at the two agents, he could see that they probably wouldn't be intimidating to anyone in their current condition. "When do you want us in tomorrow?" he asked Don. "There's still a lot of code to work through."

Don ran a hand over his jaw. "How early can you be in?"

He looked down at Amita, who shrugged and said, "Neither of us has class, so how about eight?"

"Earlier if you can," Don said. There was no apology in his tone, just the order of a leader of a team who still had a long way to go.

“In that case, we should be going,” Charlie said, pushing himself away from the wall he’d been leaning against. “You take care, okay?” he said to Megan.

She smiled and cast a quick, fond glance at Larry. “I’m in good hands,” she said.

They said their farewells and slipped out into the hallway. “You think Larry will be all right?” Charlie asked. The physicist hadn’t said more than a few words during their visit, and he’d hardly taken his eyes off of Megan. It had to have been a shock to have found himself in the middle of a potentially violent situation like that, and then to have Megan be injured as a result of it.

“Yeah, I think so.” Amita slipped her hand into his as they walked down the corridor. “For one, he doesn’t know how to work on P vs. NP.” Charlie gave her a sideways look, but she was saying, “And for another, I think Megan grounds him. It’s one of the reasons they get along so well.”

“Yeah?” He tugged on her hand and pulled her closer. “And why do we get along so well?” After the darkness of the last few hours, he felt the need to lighten the mood, at least between him and his girl.

“Well, you love me because I’m smart and beautiful, and I love you because you’re brilliant and cute,” she replied in a matter-of-fact tone as they came to a stop in front of the elevators.

“Cute, huh?” He pressed the down button and a ding! immediately announced an available car. They stepped inside, and he was pleased to find it empty. “I’ll show you ‘cute’,” he said, advancing on her. The doors closed as Amita giggled, and the ride down to the parking garage passed much faster than he would have liked.

Fortunately, they had the whole ride home and as much time as he needed afterwards to persuade her to find some other adjectives.

oooooooooooooooo

The elevator doors slid open, and Colby stepped out into the quiet bullpen. He automatically checked the clock and saw that it was already after ten. Hopefully the paperwork wouldn't take too long, because he needed to get home and get some sleep before another day of non-stop work began. The four men awaiting interrogation were going to have some pretty angry FBI agents talking to them tomorrow, and he intended to be first in line.

He'd been stricken when he first saw Megan against the white sheets of a hospital bed, remembering the last time he'd sat there after Crystal Hoyle had so nearly taken her life, and then how Megan had returned the favor when he was recovering from his own near-death experience. She'd been the only one on the team to spend more than a couple of minutes visiting him, and he found out later that she was the one to lead the charge to rescue him. He owed her more than he could ever say, and now knowing that she'd been hurt because he'd been egotistically assuming everything was about him made it worse.

Of course, when he saw her, she'd gently teased him about that very thing in a way that made it clear she didn't blame him at all. She was fine, just a broken ankle and a couple of scrapes, and she wouldn't be staying more than one night. He figured there'd be an unmarked car outside her apartment for a few nights just in case, but for now, she was safe.

And so was he.

Colby dropped into his chair, struck by the sudden realization. He'd been going around feeling like he had a target on his back for the last few days, and now it appeared there hadn't been any need for it. He leaned his elbows on the desk and put his head in his hands, drawing in a deep breath. It really was all over.

He heard footsteps on the carpet behind him and turned his head, expecting to see David. But it was someone much shorter standing there, arms folded across her chest, light green eyes coolly regarding him. "So, Granger, how often do you refuse medical treatment after being shot?"

Theresa's voice was slightly exasperated, the continuation of the brief argument they'd had when he'd shrugged off the paramedics a few hours earlier. Sure, if it wasn't for his vest, he'd have gotten drilled through a lung, but all it was going to leave was a bruise on his torso. Don had eventually accepted that he was fine, but Theresa had been like a bulldog until he'd finally snapped at her to leave him alone. She'd glared at him before stalking off, and he hadn't seen her since.

Which mean there was something else that he hadn't shrugged off and hadn't gotten to discuss with her earlier. "I don't know, Pennington, how often do you run forty feet out in the open when two guys with automatic weapons are within spitting distance?" His heart had nearly stopped when he saw her heading across the open expanse of concrete. Sure, it had been a brilliant move to take advantage of the distracted gunmen, but he had the feeling that if he hadn't kept their attention on him, she would have been a sitting duck.

And that was worth a few days of aching ribs.

Theresa looked back at him steadily. "Only when I trust the people who have my back."

Colby swallowed. For a while, he'd lost that complete faith in his colleagues, after they'd handcuffed him and interrogated him and sent him off to prison without apparently blinking an eye. Not that it had been easy for them, he knew, but they'd never seemed to doubt his guilt, or at least he hadn't seen any signs of it at the time. The only good thing about this nightmare of a case was that it had confirmed that he could trust his teammates to watch his back.

And here was someone who'd been working with them, with him, for only a handful of days expressing that same kind of trust. He didn't quite know what to make of that.

"So what are you doing here so late?" he finally asked, leaning back in his chair.

"Finishing up some e-mail, trying to find out what I can about the guys we caught tonight." She took a few steps into the cubicle and dropped into a chair. She looked tired, with shadows under her eyes and strands of brown hair that kept falling into her face no matter how many times she tucked them behind her ear. "How 'bout you?"

Colby jerked his head towards the computer screen. "Paperwork."

"Ooh, fun," she said in a dry tone.

"Totally," he agreed, eyebrows raised. "The highlight of any day."

The corner of her mouth quirked up, and his face relaxed into a grin. Her smile grew a little wider and her eyes dropped to the floor as her head turned away slightly.

Usually when Colby read body language this closely, he was interrogating someone. And usually what he would read from this particular text was that the other person was nervous. But the half-smile on her face made it pretty clear this was a good kind of nervous. Which promptly spawned a knot of nerves in his own stomach, followed by a swift lick of his lips.

Theresa had turned back towards him, and he realized her eyes weren't meeting his, but were a few inches lower: right where his tongue had just shot out to moisten his lips. And the mental debate he had started with himself was suddenly over. "So, uh, when you're done with that e-mail, do you want to go somewhere?" Smooth, Granger. Dwayne would be laughing his head off at that one.

"No, I thought I'd sleep at my desk tonight. Five or six case files work great for a pillow." Her eyes were a little too wide to be serious, and it only took a few seconds before her straight face dissolved into a smirk. Colby shot her a look of mock anger that faded into the same smile she'd brought out in him a few minutes ago.

Then Theresa was taking a deep breath, her expression suddenly turning serious. "Actually, I -- I wouldn't mind giving you a ride home," she said. "If you need one."

She knew damn well that he didn't need a ride, considering it was his Suburban they'd driven in to find Megan. So Colby felt his heart beating a little faster as the implications of what she was saying sank in. "Yeah, I -- that would be good," he answered. He slowly sat up in the chair and then leaned forward, resting his arms on the tops of his thighs, not taking his eyes off of hers as he raised his eyebrows in a query. "As long as I can get a ride back in the morning, too."

A slow smile spread across her face. "I think that can be arranged," she said, leaning forward so her posture mimicked his.

They stared at each other for a moment, and Colby felt the slow rise of electricity in the air between them. He was about to reach out to touch her cheek when she blinked and drew back a little, the smile slipping on her face. "You should know, though," she said, rubbing her hands over the tops of her legs. "I don't know how long I'm going to be in Los Angeles. It’s kind of a temporary posting."

Then he did reach out to cup her face in his hand, his palm covering her cheek and his fingers sliding into the hair over her ear. "It's just a ride home, Theresa," he said softly, though the look he gave her meant that he knew it was little more than that.

She leaned slightly into his hand. "And a ride back in the morning," she added.

A smile curved his lips, and he stroked his thumb across her cheek. "And a ride back in the morning," he echoed, his low voice becoming a little gravelly.

Her eyes briefly closed, and then she reached up and wrapped her small hand around his. "Better get those forms filled out, then," she said, nodding towards the computer behind him as her eyes twinkled.

Colby paused for only a moment before leaning farther forward, pulling Theresa slightly towards him. When their lips met, he closed his eyes, breathing in the softness of her mouth, her slight intake of breath, her warm skin beneath his fingers, all of the ways he hadn't allowed himself to get close to someone else for years.

They drew back and looked at each other. "Give me half an hour," he finally said, tracing his fingertips lightly down her cheek before drawing his hand back.

Her answering smile was nothing short of seductive. "See if you can make it twenty minutes," she said before rising from the chair and walking out into the silent bullpen.

In all of his life, Colby Granger had never filled out paperwork so fast.

oooooooooooooooo

Don tilted his head back and forth, cracking his neck. The elevator pinged as they descended to the hospital's parking garage. Visiting hours were long since over and even his FBI badge had been unable to gain them more than fifteen minutes of additional time. Larry had refused to budge from the room, but Don and Liz hadn't been able to refuse the nurse's request to let the patient rest. Megan had surgery scheduled for tomorrow and a few days of rest before she'd be back in the office, but she was lucky to be as unscathed as she was.

He let out a sigh and dropped an arm over Liz's shoulders. She leaned slightly into him and said, "We did good today, huh?"

Don nodded slowly. "Yep, got some bad guys and saved the girl."

Liz promptly tapped his ribs with a fist. "Hey, what's that for?" he asked, straightening up.

"You know Megan would kick your ass if she heard you calling her a damsel in distress," she retorted. "Guess I gotta be her stand-in."

"Yeah, I suppose that's true," he admitted The elevator slowed and the doors opened. "She was certainly doing a fine job of defending herself."

"Glad we showed up when we did, though." Liz shuddered as they started forward. "Not like she had a spare clip in the car, and her ammo couldn't have held out too much longer."

Don shook his head. Not to mention the fear she must have felt, not knowing if anyone was going to find her in time. "I still can't believe Megan was the target all along. I mean, who would have thought it, you know?"

"I know. Hey, at least it means I can go back home now," she said, reaching up to smooth a strand of hair that had come untucked from its pin.

"Wait, what do you mean by that?" Don stopped in his tracks, and a second later, she came to a halt as well. "Liz, Simeon still knows where you live. I'd be surprised if he hasn't connected you to Tabackian yet. You might not be part of his deal, but you're still on his list."

Liz put her hands on her hips. "And how is that different from, say, last week? Don, he didn't see my name on my license, he wasn't paying attention to where we were going. He's got bigger concerns right now than chasing me down."

"We can't risk that," Don said, coming forward and reaching out to lay a hand on her arm. But she stepped back, and he let his hand fall.

"So what, you're going to keep me under witness protection or something? You have no idea how long it might take to catch this guy, and I can't be living out of a suitcase indefinitely."

"Look, I know you want to get back to your own place, sleep in your own bed," Don said, running a hand through his hair. He opened his mouth to say more, and then stopped.

If he hadn't been watching her so closely, he would have missed the tiny flinch she gave when he mentioned her own bed. His tired brain struggled to think of what the problem could be, and then it hit him. It was the little detail she had neglected to mention to him in person but that he'd heard while she was giving her statement: Hector Simeon had handcuffed her to the headboard of her bed and left her there. Just thinking about it made his jaw clench in anger with the promise of giving it but good to Simeon when they finally caught up with him.

He also suddenly realized that Liz was trapped: unwilling to go back home, but not thrilled about him telling her what to do, either. He supposed in her place he'd be just as upset about not having control, but he had to make her understand the situation. God, what a mess.

He reached out and put his hands on her shoulders, softening his voice. "Listen, why don't we compromise? We'll go back to your place, and I'll stay the night."

Liz's lips tightened, and she looked down. "Yeah, sure. That'd be fine."

Stung, Don took a step back, dropping his hands to his sides. "I don't know what to tell you, Liz," he said, a hint of exasperation slipping into his voice. "You think I'm being overprotective, fine. But I'm not going to let you out there on your own as long as Simeon is out there, too."

Somewhere above them, tires screeched in the garage, and they both took a few steps to the side out of the main passageway. Liz let out a sigh. "It's just -- Don, we're around each other twenty-four hours a day right now. Don't get me wrong, I like you and I like being around you, but that's a bit much to take. I need a few minutes to myself now and again, you know?"

Don pursed his lips, fighting down the defensive reaction to his partner's request to be left alone. "Yeah, I know what you mean," he said as lightly as he could. "It's like, I love Charlie, but if I had to be with him 24/7, I'd probably end up shooting him."

Liz chuffed out a breath. "Right."

Silence fell, and he thought about what they'd just said. Thing was, if they were ever going to take this relationship beyond regular sleepovers, they would be around each other most hours of the day. Okay, so Liz probably wouldn't be on his team, so they wouldn't spend all day together in the office. But take today: Don hadn't seen Liz from the time they parted ways upon entering the bullpen until she burst into the war room with the bad news about Megan. So what did that mean in terms of her needing to be alone?

"Liz, d'you -- " He paused. Do you ever think about what it would be like to live together? Do you want more out of this thing between us than great sex? Do you ever worry that we're not going to last beyond the next few months?

She had lifted her head to face him, the uneven lighting of the parking garage putting her features in shadow. Don bit his lip. They were not having a conversation like this in a parking garage. "D'you need to stop by my place and pick up anything before we go?"

She looked at him for a moment longer, as if hearing the questions he hadn't asked. Then she said, "No, I'll just stay at your place. It's easier."

He nodded slowly. "All right." Cautiously, he reached out and brushed the backs of his fingers across her cheek. "We're gonna get him, Liz. Soon as we find the RPGs, Simeon's next on the list, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to find them together."

Liz nodded. "I know." She gave him a wan smile and then turned away.

They didn't say another word as they went to the car and left the garage. Liz was leaning against the door, eyes closed, and Don let her sleep, or at least pretend to, allowing her as much space as was possible inside the confines of the SUV.

Once this case was over, he was going to take some time off and persuade her to do the same. Conversation had never been Don's strong point when it came to relationships, and it one of the reasons he and Liz got along so well: she was the same way. But at some point, the things that were unsaid were going to be louder than what they did say, and he was determined to head that off before it could happen. She was probably the best thing in his life right now, and there was no way he was going to screw that up.

End of Part 3

Part 4, Chapter 1

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
zubeneschamali
Jul. 25th, 2010 02:10 am (UTC)
I was grinning like a fool with Colby and Theresa.

:D I had fun with that one.
msgrahamcracker
Jul. 24th, 2010 12:31 am (UTC)
I really like Colby and Theresa, so I'm just a teensy bit afraid she's not who she says she is. I hope I'm wrong.
zubeneschamali
Jul. 25th, 2010 02:11 am (UTC)
I didn't originally intend for them to get involved, but it just kind of happened as I wrote...glad you like them!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )