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29 December 2010 @ 11:59 pm
Numb3rs Fic: Ashes Remain Part 2  
Posted to numb3rs_slash


Title: Ashes Remain Part 2
Pairing/Characters: Charlie/Billy, Don, Alan, David, OCs
Rating: PG13
Spoilers: Man Hunt, the Fifth Man
Summary: A simple speech turns deadly and leads to a dangerous web of intrigue
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ


Part 1

Morning brought breakfast, which Charlie managed without the oxygen mask - switching to a nasal cannula - and another guilt-ridden visit to Billy's room.

Once he returned to his own room he was surprised to find David waiting for him.

"Charlie! How are you feeling?" David asked, offering a friendly smile.

"Charbroiled," Charlie joshed. "You coming to check on me?"

David shook his head, his expression turning somber. "Actually I'm here in an official capacity. I need to ask you a few questions about what happened."

Charlie looked confused. "I gave Agent DeWinter a complete blow by blow yesterday."

"I know, but I have some specific questions for you today." He drew up a chair and sat beside Charlie's bed. "What can you tell me about Dr. Celina Wu?"

"Dr. Wu?" Charlie blinked at him a few times. "Why her?"

"Because she's one of two people who went missing after the fire," David told him gently.

Charlie paled. "Missing? Who's the other?"

"A student named Evan Coulter."

"Evan..." Charlie flashed back to before the fire, before the presentation. He'd spoken to Evan then and later gotten his help when the smoke started, but past that he couldn't remember seeing the young man. With a start he realized he hadn't seen Celina since the beginning of all the troubles either.

"You know something, don't you?" David prompted.

"Yes. No. I'm not sure." Charlie shook himself, trying to regain his composure. "I just know that they were there when the fire alarms first went off and stuff, but I don't recall seeing them afterwards. Then again I was busy running around and it was hard to see in the smoke."

"You're not wrong," David reassured him. "No one else we questioned remembered seeing Evan or Dr. Wu leave the hall with the other people who were rescued. The crime scene crew have been over that hall with a fine-toothed comb and they're sure there was no other way out."

"There has to be," Charlie stated firmly. "I know they were there and I know that was the only door anyone could get out of."

"Unless they were in on it."

A wave of shock staggered Charlie and he had to put his head back against his pillows until it passed, leaving him with a pervasive sense of nausea.

"No..." He shook his head. "I can't believe..."

"We don't have any proof yet," David told him. "It may also mean they were the targets of the attack - or more likely one of them was and the other got in the way."

Charlie perked up. "Celina... I haven't seen her for seven years, but I remember there was a big fuss over who her father was in China. Apparently he was someone who worked for the government and it was uncovered that he was doing some pretty heinous stuff. Not quite Mengele bad, but..."

"Enough that it would rile up some political dissidents," David supplied for him. "We show her husband as a Dr. David Wu. He's flying in from New York. Who's her father?"

"I think his name was something like Huo-Jian Han. Or Han Huo-Jian if you use the standard of putting the family or last name first."

David made a note. "Was she involved in Chinese politics in any way?"

"Not that I'm aware of. I think she came to the US to get her degrees and get away from China for good."

"And Evan Coulter?"

"He's not one of my students, but he is a grad student. I think he's from USC so I probably know him from the Center for Theoretical Physics Cal Sci runs in partnership with USC. Larry would know for sure if he's a part of that group."

He leaned back against his pillows, suddenly very tired.

"That's enough for now," he heard David saying. "Get some rest."

"Yeah..."

He was vaguely aware of David leaving, but very much aware that he felt exhausted from just the small exchange. Before he drifted off he noticed a nurse above him.

"Let's switch you back so you can breathe a little easier." Once she replaced the nasal cannula with the oxygen mask he took a deep breath and let his eyes fall closed.

+

Getting released from the hospital just meant Charlie shifted to spend his time in the burn ward with Billy rather than in his room.

Alan tried to talk him into going home to rest, but Charlie was determined not to leave until waiting hours were over.

Don was more understanding, bringing coffee and food and making him eat until 8PM hit and the nurses chased him away.

At home everything seemed like it needed the use of his gauze-wrapped hands and arms. Even though his skin was more singed than burnt it still hurt to use them and was frustrating not to be able to do things for himself.

He wanted a shower, but couldn't soap himself up nor did he want to wash away the salve and topical painkiller keeping his burned scalp from bothering him too much.

"I hate this!" Charlie scowled. "Everything hurts, it all makes no sense and I want Billy home!"

He sank down on the couch only to have Don sit beside him, a brotherly arm around his shoulders.

"I know, Buddy. This sort of trauma is hard to deal with. It all seems so random - who gets hurt and stuff. But you're strong and Billy? He's made of steel. You'll both get through this, just you wait and see."

"I just want to know why," Charlie bemoaned. "We're a bunch of mathematicians and scientists. Who'd want to kill us?"

Don took a hesitant breath. "I don't think they wanted you dead. I mean, I know I'm not working the case, but all signs point to them wanting to terrorize the crowd, not kill them. It would have taken less than five minutes to fill the hall with enough smoke to asphyxiate everyone, yet you guys had almost 20 minutes of air since the smoke was so slow. And the bombs? They would have taken a lot of effort to make them go off. People were rattling those doors like mad before the firemen told them they were rigged. Clearly he didn't want them to go off else they would have."

"So was it all a diversion?"

Don shrugged his shoulders. "All we know is we've got two missing people where we should have a few dozen dead. The Bureau's working on putting the pieces together. Try to be patient."

"I can be patient with the why," Charlie said, gazing down at his bandaged hands. "But every minute Billy's in that... that thing..." His eyes welled up and Don pulled him in close. "It hurts to see him like that," Charlie whispered, pressing his eyes closed and finally letting the tears fall. "It hurts so much..."

+

They had to be cleaning the glass hyperbaric chamber every day because every day Charlie came and pressed his hand onto the glass to try to get close to Billy and the next day his handprints were missing again.

The doctor had told him Billy had woken up once or twice, but the pain was so extreme they'd decided to keep him under until he'd healed further.

As much as Charlie missed that smile, those blue eyes twinkling at him, he would rather have Billy blissfully free of pain than even a moment of him back where it hurt to be alive.

"The doctor says he's healing well."

Charlie didn't even look up at Don's voice behind him.

"He'll have scars."

His fingers dragged over the glass where the skin on Billy's forearms had been lost.

"We all have scars in this line of work."

As the nurse came in to tell him his time was up, Charlie stood and walked away instead of waiting for her too polite voice to tell him yet again that he needed to go.

"He didn't get hurt in the line of duty," Charlie huffed, letting the anger rise in him. "He got hurt because I wanted him at my speech."

Don reached out and stopped him before he could make it to the elevators, making Charlie look at him.

"He got hurt because of who he is. There was a dangerous situation and he took control. It's what he's been trained to do in law enforcement: save lives. On duty or off; it doesn't change who we are, the oaths we took, the reasons why we do this."

Charlie's shoulders slumped. "At least tell me we know more about what happened."

Don hesitated. "I can, but you won't like it."

Charlie met his eyes, tired but determined. "Tell me."

"We found Evan Coulter's body. Apparently there was a trap door system in the stage. We think whoever was behind this brought Celina and Evan down there in all the smoke and just camped out, waiting for the police to leave. There was food, water and even a portable toilet and an oxygen tank down there. They could have stayed there for like two or three days, waited until the coast was clear, then snuck out."

"So Evan's dead then. Do they think he was in on it or just a victim?"

Don's expression was sorrowful. "We found twenty-five grand in cash in his apartment. So yeah, we think he was involved. He just probably had no idea what he was getting into."

"So he helps someone grab up Celina while the rest of us are panicking." Charlie let out a puff of air in exasperation. "I didn't even think to make sure everyone got out, to do a count or anything!"

"You did the best you could in chaos! You and Billy saved everyone you could see. How were you to know that two people out of all of those had disappeared in a hall where every exit was blocked?" He gave Charlie's shoulders a squeeze. "Don't be too hard on yourself. And try not to think about the case too much. Just focus on Billy. He's going to need you when he gets out of here."

Charlie glanced back to the room they'd just left.

"You were never any good at accepting help when you were sick," he said. "What makes you think Billy's going to be any better?"

"I changed when I got stabbed," Don said quietly. "This? This will change Billy, trust me. Looking that close at death? Losing that much of your ability to move? He'll need you, believe me." He slung an arm over Charlie's neck and tugged him towards the elevators. "And I know you're going to take good care of him."

+

Finally seeing Billy out of the hyperbaric chamber was nice, as was having his burns covered now that they were healing nicely, but Charlie still felt like he couldn't touch his lover anywhere.

It hurt to think there were freckles that were forever destroyed, never to return, and that Billy's strong arms would be marred by the damage for the rest of his life.

For now though Charlie just wanted those red lashes to open, those lips to part and to hear his name in Billy's distinctive voice. He'd fantasized Billy waking so many times and so many ways, it was hard to wait for it to happen.

When it finally did, it wasn't a storybook ending. Billy's singed strawberry-blond eyebrows knit together, forehead creasing in obvious pain as his breathing became more irregular.

Charlie pressed the button for the nurse and she was there in an instant.

"Hurts..." Billy ground out, the agony so clear in his voice it cut through Charlie sharp as a blade.

"I'm upping your pain meds now," the nurse told him, adjusting the dial on his IV. "Try to just breathe. They'll take effect quickly."

Billy's eyes opened to slits, wavering on the edge of consciousness.

"Charlie..." he finally managed, bringing a tearful smile to Charlie's face. "You okay? Everyone get out?"

"I'm fine, everyone's fine," Charlie lied, keeping an encouraging smile on his face. "You rescued them all. Just rest and heal. You're going to be fine." He reached out his hand and cupped it close to Billy's face without touching. Billy turned into his palm and brushed his lips against it in the barest suggestion of a kiss.

"Scared..." Billy was clearly slipping away now that the morphine was taking effect. "Thought I'd lose you..."

And then his eyes fell closed and Charlie felt alone all over again.

"I thought I'd lost you too," he whispered,more to himself than anything.

"Dr. Eppes..." The nurse, whom he'd gotten used to seeing on his visits, bit her bottom lip as if hesitant to speak. "I know it's not my place..."

"Go ahead, Nina," Charlie told her, reading her name tag. "It's okay."

"It's just... Agent Cooper's going to be on serious pain meds for a while, but at some point the doctors will pull back on them and he'll have clarity again."

"I hope so," Charlie said, not getting her point. "I'm looking forward to it."

"It's just..." Her eyes went to the floor. "If I can tell you're lying about everyone not getting out okay? And I don't even know you? Then you might want to work on a better lie, because he's going to figure it out pretty quickly if even I can see it."

Charlie took a deep stabilizing breath.

"Thanks for letting me know."

"You're welcome."

She exited the room, leaving Charlie alone with his thoughts and lies.

+

"Is this really necessary?" Charlie asked, settling himself down across from the camera in the interrogation room. It felt strange to be on the other side of the glass, being the one being questioned.

"I told the Assistant Director that I already questioned you, and DeWinter did too, but he wants an official statement on record like everyone else's." David shrugged in apology. "I'll ask DeWinter to try to get through the questions as quickly as possible."

"You're not doing the debriefing?" Charlie asked, suddenly uncomfortable. Arthur DeWinter may have been a federal agent, but he wasn't one of Don's favorite people at the Bureau.

"Nope, sorry," David told him. "Since Don's off the case - family involvement, you know - the case ended up in DeWinter's hands. We're just on loan to him while Don's taking time off so we can figure out what happened to you and Billy."

"Can you at least tell me if there's been any news on Celina Wu?"

This time it was David's turn to look uncomfortable.

"I'm not sure I'm allowed to tell you."

"I have a top security clearance," Charlie reminded him, trying to stay tactful.

"You're also involved," David tossed back. "I tell you what: I'll check with the A.D. and see what he'll release to you and Don, okay? For now, just try to think of anything about Celina's past that you haven't told us yet. Every little bit helps, you know?"

"I realize that," Charlie said with a sigh. "I just wish I'd gotten to know her better. The years... They just kind of got away from me."

David patted him on the shoulder. "They have a way of doing that - to all of us."

Arthur walked in with an armload of files, acknowledging David with little more than a nod and a grunt-like noise as he went about unloading his burden onto the table.

"I'll come look for you afterwards," Charlie told David as he headed out.

"You do that." With a nod he was gone and Charlie felt suddenly nervous facing down the grumpy and graying agent across the table from him.

"Dr. Eppes," he began, still shuffling his papers to get them in order, "Can you confirm that seven years ago you worked on a project for the government code named 'Broadleaf' with several other scientists including Dr. Celina Wu?"

Charlie blinked in surprise. "Yes. Broadleaf was classified at the highest levels, how could you know about it?"

Arthur finally met his eyes. "You'd be surprised how fast things get declassified when national security is at stake."

"Do you honestly think Celina Wu is an enemy of the state?" Charlie was aghast. "Because that's insane! She's a good person! She left China to get away from all the politics and bullshit and all that! She loves the United States and she's worked hard on all the government projects I've been involved with her on. She's not the enemy!"

"No, she's likely not," Arthur agreed. "But if that's who has her? Then we need to know what she knows because if she talks? Then she really does become an enemy of the state."

+

The last thing Charlie expected on his next visit to Billy's room was to find him sitting up and joking with the nurse who was feeding him pudding.

"Charlie!" Billy's face lit up, but his eyes still held the glassy haze of heavy drugs and his smile was far too loose for someone in that much pain.

Charlie quickly put his jacket and satchel down and went to Billy. "You're awake! How are you feeling?"

A goofy grin crossed his lover's reddened face. "This morphine? It's good stuff."

"I'll bet," Charlie said, risking a gentle threading of his fingers through Billy's hair. "As long as it keeps you from hurting."

"Oh, it still hurts like a mother..." He interrupted himself and looked over to the nurse. "Sorry, ma'am."

"It's quite all right. I've got three teenaged boys," the middle-aged nurse said with a kindly sigh. "I've heard it all and then some."

"How about you?" Billy asked, gesturing vaguely with his gauze-wrapped hands and arms towards Charlie's own bandaged appendages.

"It's nothing, really. Minor compared to what you went through."

"How's your head? Those sparks had to have done some damage."

Charlie had arranged for outpatient follow-up treatment so he'd been able to take a shower then go in and get the salve and topical pain reliever put on his scalp to tone down the pain in those singed spots.

"Everything's healing just fine, just faster than you, that's all." He tilted his head, allowing some of the sorrow to seep out as he gazed at his beloved. "It's been hard, waiting for you to heal. But I know you; you're strong. You'll come out of this even stronger when it's all done."

"With such faith in me who am I to let you down?" Billy joshed. He moved his hand so that both his and Charlie's were right next to each other in an approximation of holding hands despite the gauze between them. "I'll be fine. And I'll be home in no time. You tell Don and your dad I'm still up for running the grill for Don's birthday in July."

The mention of something so normal, so everyday, and yet forever changed by Charlie's memories of flame and smoke and burns, just made him burst into tears - his defenses caught down.

Billy delicately enfolded Charlie into his chest, wrapping his bandaged arms around him as carefully as he could.

"It's okay," he whispered, his words only for Charlie's ears as the nurse tactfully withdrew. "I know you were scared. I was scared too. But give it time. Us Coopers are too stubborn to stay down for long."

"It's stupid," Charlie managed between gasping sobs. "I feel like I'm grieving for the parts of you that are gone forever, like I'm kicking myself for never counting all your freckles. Now I'll never know how many you used to have before... Before..."

"Hey, shh..." Billy pressed a gentle kiss to Charlie's forehead. "They come and they go, so counting doesn't mean anything, but..." He waited until Charlie looked up enough to catch his eyes. "If you feel like doing a complete inventory once I get a clean bill of health? I won't get in your way."

Billy's chuckle was infectious and finally Charlie joined in despite the tears still shining brightly in his eyes.

"You know I love you, right?"

Billy just smiled serenely in response.

"I think I just proved I'd give my life to save yours so if that doesn't say I love you? Nothing does."

+

Don went back to work after a week, even if it was desk duty until his team was done being on loan to Arthur to work on the Wu case. If it bothered him, he never said, and he was always the one to pick Charlie up from the hospital when his visiting hours with Billy were over.

Alan brought him in each morning and returned around lunchtime, packing lunch for Charlie and himself and a few treats for Billy to supplement his hospital fare.

Where Charlie had a hard time hiding how upset he was from Billy, Alan was upbeat. He brought games, challenged Billy to chess in which Alan moved the pieces for him, and read Garrison Keillor aloud to make Billy chuckle.

By Charlie's request nothing was said of Celina or Evan to Billy and the ruse was kept up, mostly by avoiding the issue of the event. If Billy knew something was up, he never let on to Charlie.

Charlie's bandages came off just before Billy was given the all clear to recuperate at home so he set himself to the task of handling Billy's release paperwork while Don waited to drive them both to the Craftsman.

Billy was only alone with Don for a short while, but as soon as Charlie returned with the forms to sign off he could tell the mood in the room had shifted, both men equally somber.

"I didn't have to tell him," Don explained, his voice quiet. "He already knew."

"Sorry, babe." Billy looked to Charlie, apologetic. "You're brilliant, but you're a lousy liar."

Charlie's eyes fell. "You really did save everyone. We just didn't know they weren't there to save anymore."

"Yeah, I get that." After a second's silence, Billy turned back to Don. "Tell DeWinter he's welcome to have me come in for a debriefing. I don't know anything about the two people missing, but you never know, right?"

Don just nodded. "I'll bring the car around."

He walked out, leaving them in awkward silence.

"I didn't want you to feel responsible, not while you're going through all this..." Charlie waved a hand at Billy's bandaged appendages.

"Charlie..." Billy beckoned him closer. "You can't think like that. Our focus was on getting people out of the smoke alive. There was no way we could have known it was a cover for a kidnapping." He gingerly laid his wrapped hand over Charlie's. "You don't need to protect me - from anything. I can handle it. So no more lies? No more covering up the truth?"

Charlie wouldn't meet his eyes.

"I can't promise you that."

Billy patted his hand and offered him a crooked smile. "Just think about it then. For now? Let's have you forge my signature so we can get me out of here."

+

"If I'm healed enough to change channels on the TV then I can make my own sandwich."

"Nice try." Charlie stuck his head out of the kitchen, calling back to Billy who was settled on the couch in his usual spot. "I'm not risking the wrath of dad by letting you in the kitchen while he's gone." It only took a matter of seconds to finish making sandwiches for both of them and put them on a platter for the coffee table. He added two glasses and a pitcher of lemonade then carried it out to the living room.

Billy quickly swept aside the magazines and mail there to create a clear spot for the tray.

"Fine," he huffed in a good-natured manner. "I'll take it up with Eppes Senior." A pile of new mail that had been pushed to the edge of the table fell over just as Billy picked up a glass. "Shoot. Sorry..."

"It's nothing," Charlie told him, picking it up and gathering up the stack. "I need to go through this stuff anyway." As Billy poured lemonade for both of them, which was precisely the way he'd show off his ability to use his hands again, Charlie flipped through the mail - his attention subtly on Billy's efforts versus on reading the return addresses on his mail.

One caught his attention by feeling different. The paper was heavy, expensive and a creamy ivory color that looked a bit like parchment. Opening it up, he found it was a funeral announcement and invitation to a memorial service for a recently deceased colleague.

"You okay?" When Charlie looked up he found Billy gazing at him in concern. "Is it someone you knew well?"

"No, not really." Charlie's mind raced, even as his expression was as if in a daze. "But we've worked together over the years, on teams, projects..." He dropped the mail and dug his cell phone out of his satchel, calling the Bureau's LA switchboard. "Hi, this is Dr. Charles Eppes. I need you to connect me to Agent Arthur DeWinter immediately. Thank you."

Billy sat up, on full alert. "DeWinter?"

"The Wu case," Charlie explained.

"Yeah, I figured as much, but there hasn't been any movement on that case in weeks!"

"I can't take the chance this isn't related," Charlie told him before turning his attention to the phone. "Agent DeWinter? Charlie Eppes. Listen, I might have something for you on the Celina Wu disappearance." He picked up the funeral announcement. "I just got word that Dr. Antoine Purelli died." Charlie paused a second, gathering up his strength. "Dr. Purelli also worked on the Broadleaf project."

+

"This meeting is classified; no one outside this room is to be let in on what I'm about to tell you."

Roger Dawson from the NSA was a thin gaunt man of abnormal height and while Charlie had thought he looked pale when they worked together seven years ago on Broadleaf, the years since had left him more gray and drawn than he remembered.

"We appreciate you reading us in," Arthur said, gesturing to the agents working the case. Charlie, Don and Billy had been allowed in as well, ostensibly since Charlie would now require protection, same as the other scientists.

"Broadleaf was executed seven years ago at the behest of the United States Government," Roger began. "We knew who the nation's worst enemies were, but we also wanted to find out which individuals had the capacity to grow into serious threats over time. The scientists and mathematicians involved were charged with creating a computerized assessment program to figure out which targets were likely to become serious problems in future decades. While the results were turned over to the Department of Defense and the Congressional subcommittee that authorized the project, the names of the scientists involved were only known to the NSA."

"Or so you thought," Charlie said, bitterness in his tone. "Celina's missing, Antoine is dead and we don't know if Dr. Alvin Fischbech's death last year was related or not."

"We do now." Roger's tone was dark with meaning. "We recovered Dr. Fischbech's old laptop from his widow. She hadn't done anything with it since he passed away. Our techs were able to reconstruct from deleted information what he was doing on the computer before he died." He paused for a second, zeroing in on Charlie. "He was doing Internet searches on you and all the other scientists who worked on Broadleaf - every last one of them."

"So you think he was involved?" David asked.

"No, we think that someone got to him and made him believe they were killing off the Broadleaf scientists. Once he went online to check to make sure you were all alive, all they had to do was check his history to find the names of everyone involved."

"But he'd deleted them," David pointed out.

"Yes, but our techs said that they clearly weren't the first to undelete those same records. Someone else got to them first and then they got to Fischbech to shut him up."

"So everyone who worked on the project is vulnerable," Billy pointed out.

"Yes, so until we figure this out, we've moved everyone into protective custody, save Dr. Eppes here." Roger gestured to Don and Billy. "Apparently the Eppes household comes complete with two agents, so there's no need to remove Dr. Eppes unless he wishes to go into protective custody."

"I don't," Charlie stated flatly. "But I do want to find out who did this, who's got Celina."

"We all do," Don said, glancing up and down the table at the determined faces lined up there. "The sooner the better."

+

Billy tugged on his arm as they rose to leave the briefing.

"You know you'd be safer in protective custody."

"I feel safe with you," Charlie countered. "And Don."

"Don's not around full time."

"You are," Charlie argued. "You've still got a while before you're cleared to go back to work."

"Yes, that's because I'm not up to full speed, which means you should have a regular agent on you as well. I'm not happy about Dawson thinking Don and I are enough."

"I told him you two were enough. Besides, whoever took Celina had a shot at me and didn't take me; they just took her. Clearly they didn't want me."

"Is that what you think?" Billy pulled him aside. "You know for a genius you can miss some pretty obvious stuff right in front of you." He took Charlie by the shoulders, making him look at him. "You showed up to your speaking engagement with an FBI agent who barely took his eyes off you. You know if you had disappeared in that hall I'd have torn the place down until I found you. The only way this guy got away with taking Evan and Celina is because they didn't have anyone with them that day to miss them."

Charlie felt a little chill as the truth of the matter hit him. Billy may have let him out of his sight once the troubles began, but he was never out of contact for long.

"So you think he planned on taking us both."

Billy looked at him, his expression grave. "I think Evan got 25K for delivering two Broadleaf scientists at once and got killed for failing to deliver on the second one: you. The moment Evan saw the two of us together backstage he knew there was no way in hell I'd let you disappear."

"It was the first time two of us had been in the same place in years," Charlie mused. His eyes lit up. "We can use this! We can draw out the guilty party by finding an excuse to get two Broadleaf scientists together. They won't be able to resist!"

Billy shook his head vehemently. "No. We are not using you as bait. Not a chance."

"I don't have to actually be there," Charlie assuaged. "As long as they think we will be, they'll show up."

"We could set some agents up in disguise to look like you and one other scientist." Billy gestured to Arthur to head back over in their direction and got a finger raised to ask him to wait. "Who do you think would be the easiest to fool someone with?"

"Dr. Sally York. She's got this crazy frizzy gray hair that obscures most of her face and huge glasses that she kind of drowns in. You can hide an awful lot behind a wig and glasses, plus she was our computer scientist. She took all the data and algorithms we came up with and coded them into the final program. If anyone knows the most about the system, it's her."

Arthur finally arrived, a questioning look on his face.

Billy looked from Charlie to Arthur.

"We've got an idea..."

+

Charlie paced the living room of the Craftsman, wearing a path in the rug as he waited for word from Arthur on the sting operation.

"It should be done by now," he complained.

"Well, criminals tend to be a bit unpredictable," Billy teased. "If they weren't they'd be in the first place we looked for them, every time."

"I ran the numbers," Charlie muttered to himself. "Statistically he can't avoid this rare opportunity to get to two of us at once."

"Unless he smells a rat, which could happen."

"He's had Celina for months now. If she was going to talk, she would have already."

"If she's still alive," Billy said gently.

"I have to believe she is." Charlie was adamant. "You don't snuff out a mind like that capriciously." He tried not to think of Alvin, but knew that would have been Billy's counterargument had he offered one. Wisely he'd remained silent. "I just want word that it's over, that our doubles fooled him and they've got him in custody."

"We all want that, but for now? How about a drink?" Billy rose and headed for the kitchen.

The shattering of the glass patio door was almost loud enough to cover the shot, but the second shot rang out loud and true.

Charlie watched in horror as Billy's body arced back as the bullets hit and then fell to the ground.

"No!"

He lashed out at the strong arms that grabbed him, trying to tear the black ski mask off the attacker to see his face. The prick of a needle slid into his neck and almost immediately his body stopped responding, falling lax as the world swirled into grayness before his eyes.

Another shot, shouts, doors opening, blurs of black, gray and colors before his eyes as he struggled to keep them open.

"Grab that needle! We need to get him to the hospital ASAP."

Charlie felt strong arms reach for him again only these he knew. Billy's red hair blurred in his vision and his warm voice rumbled under his ear as Billy lifted him up and held him in his arms.

"I've got you. Just hold on..."

The scenery changed from the Craftsman to a typical black SUV then movement then more movement as everything became white - a hospital.

"He... He shot you..." The words were as confusing as Billy standing before him, looking fine.

Billy opened up his shirt to show him a kevlar vest underneath it. "I was ready for him. So were the NSA and FBI agents staking out the house. Don't worry. We got him. It's all over."

Then someone put an oxygen mask on his face and it didn't feel over at all, it felt like it was starting all over again.

"Shh..." Billy's voice came to him out of the encroaching darkness. "It's okay. I'm right here with you."

And with that blackness came, but it was a peaceful blackness, one that told him he was done.

+

Charlie woke to a familiar freckled smile above him and the sight wiped away all the tension and grief that had been swirling in his dreams before he woke.

"Hey..."

"Hey back..."

Billy held Charlie's hand tight in one of his own. Charlie's eyes skimmed down the burn damaged skin of his forearms to Billy's hand. "That doesn't hurt?"

"No," Billy told him. "It may not look pretty, but the doc says I'm about as healed as I'm going to be as far as nerve endings and muscles go. And if I can still pick you up and carry you to the car in less than five seconds flat? I think I can go back to work." He reached with his other hand to cup Charlie's face. "Of course now I don't want to, but thankfully the Bureau's bought my explanation that you'll require follow up security while you recover at home and have assigned me as your personal bodyguard for the time being."

"You don't think there's any danger, do you?" Charlie asked, suddenly worried.

"No, we caught the guy and he coughed up Celina's location in return for taking the death penalty off the table. She's back with her husband already."

"That's great!" Charlie enthused. "I was sure she was dead or at least tortured."

"Well, she's going to need a lot of therapy, having been held captive for that long, but she seems like a tough lady - much like Sally York."

"Dr. York's a hoot," Charlie said. "I liked working with her."

"You might get another chance. It seems the FBI bug's bit her as well and now she's interested in seeing if her research can help the Bureau as well. We hooked her up with Larry and Amita for the time being."

"How long have I been out?" Charlie asked.

Billy's happy expression vanished, darkening instantly.

"A while."

"How long?" Charlie asked, not accepting the pat answer.

"The doctors said your system reacted badly to the sedative they used on you. It's a rare case, but..."

"How long?" Charlie repeated.

"Three days. You've woken up a few times, but you never seem to remember it. The doctors said your short term memory might be shot for a while, but that you'd recover - in time."

Charlie drew in a shaky breath. "Three days? I missed three days?"

He curled in on himself slightly and Billy was there immediately, drawing him into the circle of his arms, offering the safety and comfort there.

"Better three days than the rest of your life."

Charlie's arms went around him and his hand grazed lightly over where there had to be bruises from where the bullets hit the kevlar vest on Billy's back.

"It's the rest of our lives that I was trying to save."

Billy pressed a kiss into his curls.

"That? Is settled. You, Dr. Eppes, are stuck with me."

Charlie let his head fall against Billy's chest, allowing the steady heartbeat beneath soothe him.

"Good. You're not going anywhere. I won't let you leave me."

Billy tightened his arms around him.

"Can't imagine ever wanting to."

+

"Tired?"

Charlie looked up from his math journal as Billy sat on the edge of the bed and put it away in his nightstand drawer, already overstuffed with months of math journals.

"Kind of, I guess. It seems weird to feel tired when I didn't do much save wander around the house all day..."

"Recovery can be boring, but it's necessary. Speaking of..." Billy offered him a weak smile. "I go back to work on Monday. Doc gave me the go ahead."

Charlie let his fingers skim down one of Billy's marred arms.

"I know you keep telling me it doesn't hurt anymore, but it makes me so sad that one horrible person ruined you."

"Hey, I'm still me!" Billy countered. "I've just got a few more battle scars."

"And a few less freckles," Charlie mourned.

"Well then..." Billy drew back the covers and slid into bed beside him. "We should plan a vacation with a lot of sun so I can make some new ones."

"Don't I get to do my inventory first?" Charlie teased, his mood lightening as Billy drew him close, their bodies tangling together. "For statistical accuracy of course."

"You do, but during the daylight to ensure that accuracy that's so important to you as a mathematician," Billy teased back. "But for tonight? I thought I'd try proving to you that - like the doctor said - I'm back in perfect health and ready for anything." His voice lowered into a seductive rumble as his hand slipped beneath Charlie's t-shirt to find the warm skin of his back. "How about you? Are you ready?"

Charlie closed his eyes for a moment, shutting down the memories as they invaded: the smoke-filled hall, Billy in the hyperbaric chamber, the news of Evan's death and Celina's kidnapping, the attempt to kidnap him from his own home and finally Don taking him back to the scene of the crime. He'd stood amidst the rubble and had Don show him the trap door to where the perpetrator had hid away while orchestrating the whole attack.

The fire that erupted with the chandelier had expanded quickly and the hall's ornate ceiling wound up blackened, entirely destroyed. Sparks had evidently fallen and started up smaller fires amongst the seats, making the wine colored upholstery of the chairs that hadn't caught fire look more like blood against the blackened remnants of their neighbors. The acrid stench of soot pervaded the still air; detritus thick on the floor darkened his shoes as he shuffled through the former orchestra pit.

In the debris he spotted a colorful corner of the conference program, but the rest had been reduced to ashes.

The traitor was in custody, Celina was home with her husband, Evan had been mourned and buried and in a few days he'd be back to work the same as Billy.

As hard as it was to close this chapter of their lives - especially with the visual reminder Billy would carry on his body for life - it was time to end it and move on.

"Yes," he told Billy, placing a tender kiss on his lover's lips - this time without fear of hurting him. "I'm ready."

=
 
 
 
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on January 1st, 2011 07:35 am (UTC)
Confession
Another late birthday fic /hangs head/ but at least it's a lot longer than I expected! LOL

I know t_vo0810 likes my Billy/Charlie SHH (Safe Harbor aka Harborverse) universe, but I really wanted to do something outside of that verse for her gift so I could do more H/C without it being a ridiculous amount in one universe.

This ended up a lot more angsty than I had thought and along the way it grew a casefic! I rarely am this out of touch with my stories, but most of the time I was writing this I had no idea where it was going. I just trusted in the muse that it would be worth it in the end. I don't think it has the flow of some of my other series, but I did work in some nice H/C IMHO.

The names of the OC agents, scientists, relatives and hall, as far as I remember, were all made up save Mengele. /shudder/ DeWinter was pulled from the pilot episode, but I gave him a first name and such. There is a joint Center for Theoretical Physics , but it's with Cal *Tech* and USC. I would assume the government does research like that in Broadleaf, but that particular program is just a fig newton of my imagination. ;-)

A wave to all my ficfinishing cheerleaders who encouraged me to get this one done when I signed up for it.

A huge hug to T for being so patient about her birthday fic. I'm so glad you like it! /smishes/

Very special thanks to First Readers melissima and bientot for their assistance with this fic.

Thanks,

Emma DeMarais
lilacs_roseslilacs_roses on January 1st, 2011 08:53 am (UTC)
I loved this, Emma :) Everything about it was just really well done. I wasn't really into the Billy/Charlie pairing until your SHH story either so I'm glad you continued with something along these lines :)
ladygray99ladygray99 on January 2nd, 2011 09:13 am (UTC)
I loved this. I love the way you write Billy/Charlie to start with and I was nearly biting my nails at the end there. When Billy was shot my heart stopped. This was exciting case fic with H/C sprinkles on top.
devon99 on January 2nd, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
Sweetie!! What an absolute nail biting treat of a fic this was to read this morning:) I loved it. It was so exciting, the pacing was fabulous and squee h/c!!

No-one writes these two like you do.

Perfect.

Happy New Year.