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[personal profile] aleo_70
Title: Choices
Author: [info]aleo_70
Rating: PG 13+
Genre: Gen
Characters: Don Eppes, David Sinclair, Colby Granger, Charlie Eppes, Alan Eppes, OMCs - Scott Nelson and Paul Nelson
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.  Anything you don't recognise is a product of my imagination.
Spoilers: Arrow of Time, Fifth Man, Pilot.
Warnings: violence
Word count this chapter: ~3260
Word count total: ~44,000

Summary: Making a choice is one thing, surviving the consequences that follow is something else altogether.  Third instalment of Nelson series following Flight and Crosshairs - Brad escapes but danger for Don comes from an unexpected quarter.


CHAPTER ELEVEN

The remainder of the day and the next passed slowly.  Don found it fortunate in a way that he was ill enough to spend most of the first one dozing following the exertion of the long drive to make the call.  His injuries continued to be tended by Paul, the young man demonstrating he had impressive skills in his chosen field.  The bullet and knife wounds remained clear of any obvious infection and aside from the lack of effective pain medication or blood transfusions Don was sure he could not have got better medical care at a hospital. 

Brooding, Nelson spent most of his time staring at him with a dark expression.  Whenever Don needed to move from the bed Nelson managed the handcuffs, ignoring Paul’s constant assertions they were no longer necessary.  At least he allowed Don the use of his left hand during his trips to the washroom.  Nelson no longer checked Don’s messages, taking the phone from Paul when the younger man had tried to maintain the earlier routine.

For his part Don only spoke when absolutely necessary and then only in hushed tones to Paul, Nelson’s warning all too fresh in his mind.  Despite being hyper-alert to Nelson’s every move he tried to rest and recover from his injuries in the hope that Paul was right.  By the end of the second day he felt better and Paul had removed the extra bandages and tape that kept his right arm bound to his side even if it was still semi restrained in a sling.  Physically he was improved but emotionally he was struggling so that small freedom meant a lot.  He knew the dark thoughts that were running through Nelson’s mind and the decision he felt it more and more likely the man was working towards.  Unwilling to risk tipping Nelson over the edge there was nothing he could do but wait. 

It was early in the morning on the third day and he was sleeping lightly when he woke suddenly.  He opened his eyes to see the older man standing over him, silently watching him.  This was the first time Nelson had approached him other than to manage the handcuffs at his son’s request and Don could not help the apprehension that flooded through him.

Paul, who had taken to sleeping in the other easy chair, also woke suddenly.  He sat up, rubbing at his eyes, “Dad?”

Nelson didn’t react to the question; instead he pulled the cuff key from his pocket and undid the cuff locked to the bed frame.  He stood back, clearly waiting.

Moving carefully to avoid aggravating his injuries but mostly to avoid in any way appearing threatening Don sat up before slowly swinging his legs over the side of the bed.  After slipping on his shoes he lifted his wrists expecting to be re-cuffed in the assumption they were about to take another trip in the car but Nelson simply pointed to the door.  At the clear command Don got himself up and started limping painfully to the door, stopping with his left hand on the handle.  A glance back showed Nelson waiting close behind him, his expression blank and unreadable.  Turning the handle he stepped out onto the porch, noting that the dawn was approaching.  He hoped desperately that he was still misjudging the situation and they were actually going for another drive to make a phone call.

Using the handrail he managed to get himself down the stairs and started towards the car but angled away as Nelson suddenly came between it and him.  He kept walking, moving now towards the east and the lightening sky.  With deepening dread he realised he would not be seeing the day the dawn heralded.  He had only taken a few more steps when a warm hand touched his bare shoulder and he stopped.

Finally Nelson spoke, “Go inside, Paul.”

“Dad, you can’t,” Paul started, his voice coming from the direction of the cabin door.

“Go inside,” Nelson repeated, firmer this time.  “This is between me and Agent Eppes.”

Don didn’t move, didn’t turn as he listened to the sound of Paul reluctantly returning inside the cabin and closing the door.  He owed the younger man for his care but he found himself unable to give him his due.  It was more important to him in what he considered to be his last moments to gaze on the lightening sky, to appreciate the beauty in the subtle tones of greys and purples, the faintest tinge of red on the horizon and the winking of the last few stars in his field of view.  He struggled to get his breathing under control, to draw in deep draughts of the fresh and new morning air.  He was clad only in boxers but it wasn’t the temperature that made the tremor run through him as Nelson moved closer.  He fought to show no outward reaction.  Nelson had spent two full days deep in thought, there was nothing he could say or do to change the man’s mind now that he’d obviously made his decision.  All he could do was see this through with as much dignity as he could muster.

He couldn’t help the flinch though as the hand touched his shoulder again, a push to indicate he should continue walking.  He moved and this time the hand remained in place steering him as they went around the end of the cabin and a short distance into the brush before pulling back as they stopped.  There was a long pause before there was a new gentle pressure.  Another tremor went through him as he closed his eyes briefly.  He needed a deep breath, needed to savour the cool air before he could ease himself down.  As he settled on his knees he found it easy to block out the pain in his thigh as the muscle stretched and pulled apart the barely healing wounds, it no longer mattered. 

Instead his focus returned to the sky, noting the reds were slowly gaining prominence even as the actual sunrise was still some time away.  After an eternity during which the reds had turned to orange Nelson suddenly moved, unexpectedly coming around Don’s left as if to stand in front of him.  At the first glimpse of the man in his peripheral vision Don squeezed his eyes shut, hanging onto that last sight of the sky.

“Look at me,” Nelson finally said.

Don refused to acknowledge the order.

“Agent.”

“No,” Don managed.  He didn’t want to open his eyes, didn’t want to see what he could imagine was facing him.  He fixed the last sight of the dawn into his memory and managed a few more words, “Let me go in peace.”

“You killed my son,” Nelson stated, his tone flat.

Don heard the lack of emotion but didn’t react or respond.

“I want this.  I can’t think of anything but this,” Nelson continued before falling silent again. 

He wondered if the man was expecting him to interrupt, to perhaps present his argument again as to why he shouldn’t pay for what he’d done.  Or perhaps he was expected to beg.  Even though the warning not to speak to Nelson was no longer relevant he stayed silent, focusing on the image in his mind so intently it was as if his eyes were still open to see the splendour.

“But what will this achieve?  How will this bring my son back?  How is this justice?”  The emotion that had been lacking moments before was now there in spades.

At the unexpected words Don caught his breath even as he refused to hope.

“I knew what my son had become, I knew what might hap-,” Nelson’s words choked off before tumbling out in increasing speed.  “I tried to save him.  All this was to save him, to protect him.  In the end, I brought you to him as you’d told me I would.  I caused all of this.  Everything that has happened between you and me and him has been my own doing!”

Don could not find it in him to counter Nelson’s words.  It was all true.  He tried to grasp at the soothing image in his mind but it was falling apart and he felt the loss of it all too strongly, unwilling to open his eyes as the alternative would be worse.

“My son is dead.  You killed him.  I want to kill you, I need to kill you but how can I?  I will be as you said, a murderer.  My son was a murderer.  Paul was right, you had no choice, it was him or you and I forced the confrontation.  You pulled the trigger but I am just as responsible.  I am going to have to live with that for the rest of my life.  I can’t also live with this.  Look at me, Don Eppes!  Look at me and tell me you are sorry, as sorry as I am for saving your life in that plane wreck.”

Reacting to the use of his name his eyes opened before his thoughts caught up.  Nelson was standing in front of him but he was surprised to see no weapon in the man’s hands.  Instead they were hugged tightly around his chest in a desperate attempt to give himself some comfort.

“I am sorry,” Don admitted, finding his voice.  But even under the threat of execution he could not leave it at that.  He dug into a reserve of strength and continued on, his words strong and clear, “I did not want that, but I had no choice.  He gave me no choice.  Do whatever you must but that will not change.”

Nelson stared down at the kneeling agent for a long time.  “No, nothing will change.  I -.  Paul?”

“Dad.”

Don couldn’t help but turn as Nelson started away.  He saw Paul standing a short distance away, between them and the side of the cabin.  It was impossible to know how long he’d been there, how much he’d heard but it didn’t matter.  Nelson swept Paul into a bear hug and suddenly his shoulders shook violently as he finally broke down and sobbed.  Don had to look away and lost himself in the colours of the dawn, the oranges turning golden at the horizon as the red blush climbed overhead. 

A hand touched his shoulder and a chill like a deluge of ice water sluiced through him.  He shuddered, snapping his eyes closed.

“Hey!  No.  It’s alright, it’s just me.”

His head jerked up at the young voice to find it was Paul beside him.

“Come on, let’s get you back inside.”

The younger man helped him up, lifting slowly and gently as Don struggled to get his feet under him.  His injured leg gave way but with Pau’s support he was able to hobble back around to the front of the cabin.  But the time they’d managed the stairs he was sweating with the effort, everything focused on one step at a time.  Paul helped him not to the bed but to the table and got him seated.  After a long moment he jerked his head up and searched the room but there was no sign of Nelson.  His head dropped as he slid back into a haze, deep in contemplation of the worn surface of the table.

“Here, I made coffee,” Paul said placing a steaming cup on the table in Don’s easy reach.  “I need to look at you but I think you need this more.”

Still in a haze Don reached for the cup but the dangling cuff around his left wrist skittered across the table and the shakes suddenly hit hard.

“Hey,” Paul soothed.  He abandoned his own coffee and reached out his hand to cover the agent’s.  “You are okay, it will be okay.”

Uncomfortable at the contact Don jerked his hand away and shoved it under the table as he found the sight of the cuffs disturbing.  The shakes eased slightly and he recognised them as the reaction to his near miss even as that knowledge didn’t help any.  He felt a hot flush of anger and spat out, “Why do you care?”

“I lost my brother, I nearly lost my father.  You helped bring him back.”

Unable to follow that logic Don blinked.

“You didn’t fight him, you didn’t push him.  That forced him to work it through, to come back to himself.”

Don could only shake his head.  He’d spent the last two days helplessly waiting under the imminent threat of death knowing that his slightest word could make Nelson snap.  The shakes increased again and he needed to move, to pace, but he was barely able to sit in the chair.  He could only remain seated even as his right knee jiggled uncontrollably under the table.

Paul rose, seeing the agitation and took back the untouched cup he’d offered.  “I think you need some tea.”

The younger man returned to the kitchen, busying himself at the stove heating water again.  Don tuned him out as he tried to settle himself.  Shutting his eyes he returned to the image of the dawn and slowly the shakes eased.  He concentrated on breathing deeply and evenly, working through mental exercises Bradford had shown him to settle his roiling emotions. 

He had no idea how long it had been but when he opened his eyes he saw Paul was waiting silently in the seat opposite drinking from a mug.  Lowering his gaze Don saw a cup of tea sitting on the table in front of him.  His hand still trembled but he was able to keep the cuff from clattering as he lifted the cup.  He managed a sip finding it tepid, black and far too sweet.  He pulled a face and went to put it down but Paul held up a hand.

“Drink it, you need it.”

“Why are you looking after me?  He needs you,” Don stopped himself in surprise at his own concern.  Nelson had almost killed him, had forced him outside with clear intent and...

“He needs to rest,” Paul explained.  He cocked his head, a slight smile crossing his face, “You are so alike, you know.”

“No.”

“Yes, you care for others before yourself.  Even though he wanted you-” Paul’s voice broke as he remembered all too well what his father wanted for the agent.  “He let me look after you, let me fix you up.  You knew that was what he needed, a reminder of who he was.”

Don didn’t believe it but it didn’t matter.  He finished the now cold tea before looking up again, “What now?”

The younger man’s confidence evaporated and now he looked down, “We need to wait for Dad.”

“You could let me go,” Don said before he realised it.  His back was to the door but it felt like a magnet pulling at him.

Paul glanced to the door and the freedom it represented.  “No, I can’t.  Not yet, but we will.  Dad will.”

That was something else that Don didn’t think he could believe, much as he wanted to.  His head dropped as he contemplated the couple of escaped tea leaves in the bottom of his cup.  There was no escape for him any time soon that he could see.  He could only hope that Nelson finally breaking down meant he was over his murderous mind-set and would begin to think clearly again.

“Come on,” Paul said gently.  “I need to check your leg.”

Not wanting to accept help he made it to his feet and across to the bed mostly under his own power.  His leg had stiffened earlier but getting to the bed from the table had been easier than walking back into the cabin had been.  He needed a hand to ease down which Paul provided without comment.  The younger man worked at his leg and Don saw that the partly healed wounds had pulled apart and had bled but it perhaps wasn’t as bad as he was expecting.  Working quickly Paul got them redressed and bandaged.  He was given some water after refusing anything else, the way his stomach was feeling he knew that or sweet tea was all he could tolerate.  Finishing the tumbler he lay back and closed his eyes, concentrating once again on his breathing as he tried to relax.

There was movement beside him and he jerked back to awareness, realising he’d fallen asleep.  It wasn’t Nelson as he’d feared but Paul bending over his leg to check the bandage.  Seeing he'd woken Paul stepped back.

“How are you feeling?”

Far from good but, “Better.”

Paul looked at him a moment longer as if unsure which question the agent had answered, “Do you feel up to some food?  Or juice?”

“Juice maybe,” Don finally decided.

As Paul went to get the drink Don got himself up so he was sitting on the edge of the bed.  He gave it a moment before standing, he was pushing it but the blue sky he could see through the window was drawing him.  He limped over to the window and gazed out on the day seeing it was well towards midday, confirmed by a look at his watch.  He was disappointed that he’d spent so much time asleep to miss so much of the day he’d thought he’d never see.  Paul appeared at his side and he took the offered tumbler, sipping at the juice without tasting it.

The day called at him and he remembered the chairs on the porch where he could perhaps sit for a while, “Can I go outside?”

Paul seemed to understand the request for what it was, a need to be outside and hesitated but then he glanced back at the doorway to the rear of the cabin and shook his head.  “No.  I’m sorry, but if he came out and couldn’t find you, I’m not sure what he might do.”

Don closed his eyes for a moment in disappointment as it had only been a small thing he’d wanted.  But, there was something else he wanted, something that had been promised.  He opened his eyes and turned to Paul, “Can I have my phone?”

“I don’t think-” Paul started.

“I have a brother.  I have a father,” Don interrupted bluntly even though it reminded the younger man that he no longer had his brother.  “It’s been two days since that last call to David and they will think I am dead by now.  You say I saved your father, let me have that in return.  Let me speak to my father.”

Paul looked once again to the open doorway as if that would give him guidance.  He looked back at the agent and made his decision.  He went to the doorway and after a final glance back ducked through, returning quickly with the cell.  He was surprised to see the agent hadn’t moved.

Paul turned the cell on and muffled the message beeps before holding it out.  “You have to be quick.  I won’t let you stay on long enough to trace us.”

Don nodded.  He would take it, the call to his family more important to him right then than escaping or being located.

With Paul hovering uncomfortably close Don dialled his father’s cell

“Don?”

Don’s throat suddenly seized as an unexpectedly intense wave of emotion rolled over him on hearing his father’s voice.  Tears pricked at his eyes as he found himself struggling once again to control himself.

“Don, is that you?”

.

Next chapter - here
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