Megan felt the tension fade from her muscles as she pulled the blue Toyota into a familiar street. It still amused her how comfortable she felt in her boss' childhood home and how she could feel safe just heading towards it. Of course, the knowledge that Larry would be there helped quite a lot. She smiled at the thought of being with him again as they hadn't seen each other for weeks, not since she and Don had gone undercover on the Jimenez case.
The mere thought of the case was enough to return some of the tension to her body. It had been long and hard and ugly. They'd known going in that the ring was involved in the child slavery racket as well as drugs, but it wasn't until they'd got inside that they'd realized quite how bad it was. Glancing to her right, Megan sent a worried glance at her partner. Don had buckled himself in and then drifted off, or at least pretended to do so, she wasn't sure if he'd actually be able to sleep after what they'd discovered, but he definitely appeared to be. It was difficult to tell, however, as her eyes kept getting drawn towards his hair. His curly hair, to be exact, which was currently being whipped about in the breeze coming in through his open window.
Don had already been badly in need of a hair cut when the two of them had been assigned to help a combined FBI-DEA taskforce by going undercover and he hadn't had time to get one since. She remembered her own surprise when she'd noticed it starting to curl and going by the looks on both David and Colby's faces when they'd met up briefly to pass on information, neither of them had known Don had the same hair as his brother. She had no doubt all the teasing the three of them had refrained from then would come spilling out tonight.
The thought made Megan smile as she turned onto the road Charlie and Alan lived on. As she approached the Craftsman, she could see both Colby and David's cars parked on the side of the road. Alan and Amita's cars were already on the driveway but pulled up far enough to leave just enough room for them.
"Here we are," Megan announced as she turned into the driveway and killed the engine.
Don's eyes opened almost instantly, indicating that he hadn't really been asleep, but otherwise he made no move to unbuckle his belt or to get out of the car.
"What's wrong?" Megan teased, a smile entering her voice. "Afraid of what everyone will say about your hair?"
Don turned to scowl at her, but the effect was ruined by the tiredness in his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something but then his expression altered as he sniffed the air appreciatively. A second later, Megan caught a whiff of the delicious smells emanating from the house and coming in through the open window. After weeks of bland food, this was heavenly and her stomach growled in approval.
"Another country heard from," Don laughed as he finally unbuckled his belt and opened the door.
Megan laughed as well as she followed suit. Later she was never quite able to figure out what happened next, but one minute she was closing the car door and the next an arm snaked around her chest, trapping her arms just seconds after she'd noticed a masked man in the car window. A startled grunt from the other side of the car told her Don had been attacked as well. Seeing more motion in her window, she opened her mouth to cry out, hoping to alert David and Colby as to what was going on. Before she could utter anything, though, a wet rag was clamped over her mouth and nose.
With fatigue already dulling her senses, it took Megan longer than normal to realize just what she was inhaling and by that point it was already almost too late. She desperately tried some of the self-defense techniques that she'd practiced so often the moves were almost second nature by now, but between the chloroform and the exhaustion, they had all the effect of a child hitting an adult and she heard the man holding her laugh as she slipped into oblivion.
The pounding pain in her head was the first thing Megan became aware of as she slowly drifted back towards consciousness. The next thing to penetrate was the complaints from her back followed by the cold. It took her a few seconds to realize that this was because she was lying on what felt like a concrete floor.
What was going on?
The memories of the end of their undercover operation came back to her but didn't explain what had happened as the raid had gone quite well and the DEA had taken everyone in for further questioning. So then what? She and Don had gotten into their undercover car in order to join the rest of the team at Charlie's place for a celebratory dinner.
Charlie's place. All at once, Megan's memories of the attack rushed back but it didn't make things any clearer. Who were those men and why had they grabbed them? It had appeared to be an ambush, but that didn't make any sense. Both she and Don hadn't been at the Craftsman for weeks, there was no way for anyone to know they'd be there tonight. Well, if it still was tonight. Knowing it was necessary even if it would hurt, Megan slowly opened her eyes. As expected, the light in the room stabbed at her eyes, but she was soon able to make out her surroundings.
She was in a medium sized room with concrete walls and floor. There were no windows and only one sturdy metal door and Megan mentally groaned at how much more difficult this would make an escape attempt. Three bare bulbs hung from the ceiling, casting their seemingly blinding light around the room. Just above the door, a camera was attached to the ceiling where it could observe the entire room.
Megan's mind was already analyzing whether they'd be able to hide themselves from view if they were pressed up against the wall next to the door, even as she continued to scan the room. The thought left her as she spied her boss lying on his side on the floor next to one of several chalkboards.
"Don!" Megan called out, hoping he was okay. "Don?"
Not seeing the slightest reaction, Megan pushed herself to her feet, trying to suppress her worry. He'd probably just been exposed to the chloroform for longer than her, or he was just more affected by it. There was nothing to worry about. Despite those thoughts, she heaved a sigh of relief when she reached his side and found a strong and steady pulse.
"Don," Megan said again, shaking him slightly.
A moan was the only response she got, but it added to Megan's relief. Continuing to shake him lightly, she looked around the rest of the room. A table was placed across from the chalkboards and on it were what appeared to be several unopened cartons of chalk and two blackboard erasers. It all looked more like something she'd expect to see in Charlie or Larry's classrooms than in a basement meant to hold federal agents. There were two uncomfortable looking chairs beside the table and nothing else. Not a single clue to tell her who might be holding them and why.
A slightly louder groan drew Megan's attention back to her partner and she could see his eyes fluttering behind his lids.
"Come on, Don, you really need to wake up here," Megan stated, knowing the best way to rouse him was to awaken his protective streak. "We're in trouble."
"Huh?" Don muttered as he rolled onto his back and opened his eyes before slamming them shut again as he cursed.
"I didn't know you had that in you," Megan teased.
"We were abducted outside your brother's house, remember?"
"Yeah, now I do," Don replied as he tried opening his eyes again, slowly this time. "Don't suppose they made any stupid mistakes?"
"Nope, concrete with no windows and just one door, metal not wood."
"Oh, and they're watching us."
"This day just keeps getting better and better," Don stated as he sat up and glanced at the camera. "Audio?"
"I don't know," Megan answered as she observed him while he scanned the room, checking to make sure he was okay. "Did you notice anything special about the men who attacked you?"
"I hardly saw them at all," Don admitted grudgingly. "They seemed to come out of nowhere."
"Yeah, same here. They were wearing masks though and dark military style clothing."
"I just don't get how they knew we'd be there. Were we followed at any point?"
"No, I thought of that too."
The sudden sound of footsteps outside propelled the two of them to their feet and they turned to face the door just as it opened. In stepped two large masked men in the same dark clothing as before, though Megan couldn't see anything distinctive about their apparel, so instead she noted their skin tone, eye color and height. The good thing about the fact that they were wearing masks was that it probably meant that it was not their intention to kill Don and herself.
What surprised Megan was that neither of the two seemed to be carrying a weapon of any kind, not even a knife. It wasn't that she wasn't glad for this, but normally the people they interacted with felt it necessary to have guns aimed at them all the time. The next man to step into the room also appeared to be weaponless and wore a gray pinstripe business suit instead of the military clothing of the other two, though he still sported a mask. His whole demeanor was also different from the others, whereas they were alert and clearly prepared for anything, his body language clearly showed how uncomfortable he felt standing so near to the other two. He was clearly not the man in charge.
"Dr. Eppes, can I say what an honor it is to finally meet you in person?" the man said in a genuine tone.
Megan only just managed to contain her surprise and shock at the title the man had used to address her boss. Surely he didn't think that Don was Charlie?
"I have heard so much about your work, though I must admit to not understanding the actual math itself so much. What you manage to do with it, however, is nothing short of astounding."
"Uh, thanks," Don replied, shifting uncomfortably and Megan fought the desire to look at him, not wanting to make it look like they were conspiring or at all surprised by what had been said.
They actually thought that Don was Charlie! Megan couldn't quite believe it, although with the longer hair Don looked a lot less like a federal agent and it brought the resemblance between him and his brother out more than normal. For the first time since the Jimenez undercover operation had started, she was thankful for it. Although she had hated every moment of it, if it hadn't been for that, these men would already know that they had grabbed the wrong man; Don's gun and badge would have given it away in a heartbeat. As it was, neither of them even carried their own wallets or cell phones as they'd only just finished the op. Ice flowed through her at the thought of Charlie getting kidnapped.
The question was why. Megan could see someone going after Charlie as revenge against either the work he had done for the FBI or the NSA or, as much as the thought chilled her, for something Don had done. The only problem with those scenarios was that in those cases the men would have a much better idea of who Charlie was, or Don if it was a matter of vengeance against him. These guys didn't seem to have the first clue that they'd kidnapped the wrong brother, so they'd never seen a photo of Charlie, or at least not a good one. It almost seemed like they'd gotten a description of Charlie, one that Don matched at the present with his curls, and knew where he lived.
Megan wasn't sure whether their clear lack of organization was a good thing or not. Less experienced criminals often fell into one of two categories: those more likely to make stupid mistakes which would enable them to escape, or those who panicked and got violent when they realized exactly how much trouble they were in. She sincerely hoped that the lack of guns was a good indication that they weren't part of the latter kind.
"What-" Don began, hesitating briefly, swallowing and glancing at Megan before continuing. "What is going on? What do you want?"
"We need you to do some math for us," the man explained.
"Yes, we know you're real good at coming up with equations for all kinds of problems."
"Expressions," Don corrected automatically.
"They're expressions, not equations. And it depends on what you're talking about."
"That's not what I heard," the man argued. "I've heard that you tell your students that everything is numbers, everything is math. I've heard that you tell them that it's just a matter of knowing all the variables. Are you saying you lied to your students, Professor?"
"Uh... ah, I-" Don began.
Megan's mind raced as she tried to process this new information. Obviously someone in this group had taken the time to stake out Charlie's classroom, or someone already knew Charlie. The question was, why hadn't they given the others better information, or at least a photo of their target? Perhaps they assumed it was unnecessary. Hopefully these guys were making as many rookie mistakes in the other parts of their operation as it would make it easier for David and Colby to find them if they did. Unfortunately she knew they'd need as much help as possible as they'd be coming at this case from completely the wrong angle, not thinking they'd been kidnapped as the result of a case of mistaken identity.
"Now look here, Charlie- may I call you Charlie?"
"I suppose," Don said, licking his lips nervously, his eyes darting back and forth between the three of the men. "Who are you?"
"How about you call me Wesley?"
"Now, as I was saying, Charlie, we just need an equ- sorry, expression from you. That's all. As soon as we have that, you and your girlfriend are free to go."
Megan was grateful for the weeks of undercover work she and Don had just gone through as it helped her maintain the worried expression she'd adopted. So, not only did they think Don was Charlie, but they assumed she was Amita! This confirmed once and for all that they hadn't possessed any photos of their intended targets ahead of time. Although Don could currently be mistaken for his brother based on a bad photo, there was no way she resembled Amita, no way at all.
Wesley indicated and one of the two men with him stepped back through the door only to reemerge two seconds later carrying a large cardboard box. The box was carried to the table and placed upon it. Making a show of hesitating first, Megan slowly walked towards the table when the man had retaken his position at the door. She peered into the box and saw that it was full of pages and pages covered with numbers, files and several blank notepads. Digging around, she also found several pens, pencils and, ironically enough, two graphing calculators. These men really didn't know Charlie very well if they thought he might need these.
"And if I refuse?" Don inquired.
The edge of uncertainty and fear in his voice nearly made Megan cringe and she was glad her hair was hiding her face from the gazes of the three men. She'd never before heard that particular mixture of emotions in her friend's voice and the sheer wrongness of hearing it there now affected her more than she'd thought it could. Even knowing it was an act didn't help much.
"I really would suggest that you cooperate," Wesley replied, the subtle nuances of his body language telling Megan that he felt pretty uncomfortable with what he had to say next. "It really would be best for everyone involved that you just do as we ask of you. My- ah, associates, are rather determined and do not like to be crossed."
"Your associates?" Don questioned, his voice trembling slightly and Megan knew they'd never realize he was really fishing for more information rather than just being overwhelmed by the situation.
"Yes," Wesley merely stated before he turned his attention to Megan. "They could make this quite uncomfortable for both yourself and Miss... Anita, was it?"
"Amita," Megan corrected, hoping they didn't know Amita's last name or their cover would be blown instantly if they stopped to think about how little she looked like a woman of Indian descent.
"Miss Amita," Wesley repeated, smiling at her before returning his attention to Don.
"Le- leave her out of this," Don stuttered as he took a step forwards.
Megan schooled her face into a terrified expression as she moved to stand behind him, her right hand moving to his upper arm and clutching the material of his shirt. Cowering really wasn't in her nature, but the weaker and more frightened they thought she was, the less likely they were to consider her a threat. It was clear she had merely been grabbed as she'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time and they thought she might provide additional leverage against Don. It was also the reason why Don was acting more submissive than Charlie ever would. It was clear these men didn't know the mathematician, so if they could lull their captors into thinking they were meek, then so much the better.
"Like I said, all we want is an expression," Wesley repeated, his eyes all but begging them to cooperate. "If you do that for us, then we can all part company as we are. There really is no reason for things to get nasty."
"What... what is it you want me to do?" Don inquired, making no move to go look in the box.
"Just to bypass a new security system."
"What type of system?"
"It's better for everyone if you don't know too much."
"No, yes, I mean," Don began before he paused as if to collect himself. "I need data to work with. The more information I have, the more likely I can do what you want."
"Everything you need is in that box," Wesley stated before he turned to leave.
"Wait," Megan said, stepping sideways just enough to be standing next to Don. "What about if we need to, uh, use the facilities?"
"Just wave at the camera," Wesley informed her. "Someone will be watching it at all times and will come down to take you to the toilet. Food will also be brought down later on. Is there anything else?"
"No," Megan whispered, eyes wide.
The two of them stood there as the three men left, closing the door behind them and locking it tight from the sound of the bolt sliding home.
"Well, there is one good thing," Megan said after a few moments of silence.
"And what is that?"
"We now know that they aren't listening to us."
"How do you know that?" Don questioned, looking at her.
"When I woke up I was lying over there," Megan explained, indicating the spot. "When I saw you, I called out your name. There is no way they could have missed it if they were able to hear us."
"Maybe they just weren't watching."
"No, they had to have been, they got here minutes after you woke."
"Point," Don agreed as he turned around and started to move the boards. "So we're able to speak freely without needing to worry about breaking our covers. You get anything else from them?"
Megan watched him as she listed what she'd noticed, sure Don had already figured out most of what she'd picked up on. It took her a few seconds to realize that he wasn't just making a show of setting up his workspace, but that he was using the opportunity to arrange the boards so that he'd have his back to the camera as he used them. This would make it harder for whoever was watching them to see how much they were talking to each other. Stepping forwards, she arranged the two chairs so that one of them also had its back towards the camera, with the other one on the opposite side of the table.
"Did they take your watch too?" Don asked as he joined her at the table and started unpacking the box.
"Do you think it's a deliberate attempt to keep us in the dark about how long we've been held captive or just plain greed?"
"I'm not sure," Megan replied, frustrated. "On the one hand they seem like amateurs and yet someone did go sit in on one of Charlie's classes."
"Which is the worrying part. What happens come Monday morning?"
"What do you mean? Surely you don't think Charlie will go teach his classes, not with you missing."
"No, but he'll probably ask Amita to take over for him."
"Ah," Megan said, not having thought of that one. "Then we'll just have to make sure we get out of here before Monday then."
"Easier said than done," Don responded, shoving the now empty cardboard box to the floor before he ran a hand through his hair. "Any ideas?"
"Not yet," Megan admitted. "What about the math they want?"
"I can make it look like I'm working on it, but it'll only buy us so much time."
"Then we'll have to make it be enough time."
Megan looked up from the files she'd been flipping through to watch Don with the same surprised fascination she'd felt when he'd first started writing on the blackboards. Although she figured everyone on the team had watched Charlie at work enough to know what a proper math expression looked like, she doubted any of them could copy it as competently as Don could. He'd just had far more exposure to it than she, Colby or David could ever hope to have.
Don had started by copying what appeared to be the main algorithm of the security system in the upper left corner of one of the boards and outlined it. He'd then gone on to write other equations underneath it, all full of the symbols Megan was used to seeing in Charlie's work. It was with a start that she realized they even seemed to be appearing in the same part of the equation that she was used to seeing them. At some point he'd circled a few lines of calculations and drawn an arrow which indicated one of the other boards. That board he'd covered with a series of what appeared to be calculations necessary to come up with some figures he required on the first board.
All in all, it looked very much like the boards in the office Charlie used or those she'd seen in his classroom. The thing that had caused Megan to smile more than once despite the situation was the fact that Don was slowly getting himself covered in chalk dust. It had gotten on his hands from a mixture of handling the chalk and the rather violent erasing he'd done earlier, and from there it was slowly being transferred to his clothes as he constantly pushed up his sleeves. She was surprised that he didn't just roll them up as normal, but figured he didn't want to fall into old habits or let them see that he was far more muscular than most college professors.
Carefully sliding the piece of paper she'd jotted a few notes on underneath the files and papers strewn across the table, Megan got to her feet. She approached her partner and slid an arm around his waist when he paused to consider what he'd just written. It was amazing how easy the display of affection came now, after weeks of practice. Although they'd originally gone in as brother and sister-in-law, they'd quickly altered the dynamics of their relationship as it became apparent Jimenez's cousin wouldn't respect the absent husband figure as he'd taken a shine to Megan. Since they hadn't wanted to reveal how capable she was of taking care of herself, they'd decided it was best if Don appeared to lay a claim to her as it was clear the younger man was afraid of him. The knowing leers they'd received and the complete lack of questions about how Don dared touch his brother's wife just went to show what type of crowd they were dealing with.
The end result of it all was that Don's seemingly absentminded kiss to her cheek appeared perfectly normal, as if they did it every day.
"Any ideas yet?" Don inquired.
"No, but I'm going to go to the bathroom, see what else I can see of this place."
"Okay, be careful."
"Always," Megan replied before she indicated the board. "How about you? How long do you think you can keep this up?"
"As long as we need it," Don replied, glancing at her and she could see the worry and anger in his eyes. "The question is how long they'll let me keep up the act before they demand an answer."
Megan knew there wasn't much she could say to that, so she gave him a hug before she moved towards the camera and waved at it, making sure she had a slightly scared expression on her face. Less than two minutes later, she heard footsteps outside before the door was opened. Outside stood one of the two men who'd entered the room first the last time around. A quick glance at his blue eyes told her he was the one she'd dubbed Henchman 2, stubbornly refusing to go along with Don's Moe and Larry, though the glare he'd shot her when she'd inquired if that made him Curly had definitely been worth it. No, to her the brown eyed one was Henchman 1 and the blue eyed one Henchman 2. It would look more professional in the report they'd have to file when they got out of here.
Henchman 2 motioned for her to step out and Megan did so, making sure to leave as much distance between them as possible. He quickly closed and locked the door, the fact that he didn't appear to have any qualms doing so with his back turned to her proved that they were buying her act and she was severely tempted to knock him out and open the door. The only problem was they had no idea where they were and if someone else was currently watching the camera, if so they wouldn't get very far. No, they needed a plan before they tried anything and in order to plan properly, they needed more intel.
"That way," Henchman 2 said, pointing towards a wooden staircase a few feet away, laughing as Megan jumped and squeaked when he gave her a little push.
Secretly glad that it hadn't been necessary for her to make that noise in front of Don, Megan moved towards the stairs and climbed them. At the top was a door which opened to a hallway in what appeared to be, at first glance, a perfectly normal home. Towards the right was a front door and a staircase leading upstairs, while towards the left the hall seemed to spill into a large kitchen with an island workstation in the middle. Across from them was a dining room and, beyond that, a living room. Instead of a large table to eat at, though, the dining room had been converted into what appeared to be some sort of command center. There were several screens, one of which showed Don working at his blackboards downstairs while the others displayed scenes from outside. Wesley was sitting in the chair before the screens and he glanced up at her briefly before he turned his attention back to Don, clearly fascinated at the nonsense he was writing.
"First door on the left," Henchman 2 said as he closed the door through which they'd emerged.
A quick glance back towards the left, showed Megan she'd missed the door in the hallway before the kitchen and she walked towards it. The toilet was close enough to the kitchen that she was able to see the night sky through the kitchen windows as she opened the bathroom door. She was also able to see the lights of a neighboring house and it was with a start that she realized they were being kept in a residential area. She smiled to herself as she closed the bathroom door and used the opportunity to relieve herself.
This was fantastic news. It meant that they only needed to escape to the nearest house in order to reach a phone and call for backup. Now they just needed to know if anyone else was on the premises and they could try and make a break for it.
"Over here," Henchman 1 called out from the kitchen as she stepped back out into the hallway. "Take this."
He was holding out a tray with sandwiches and two bottles of water. Megan stepped forwards to take it and then let herself be escorted back to the basement door by Henchman 2. As she moved, she saw Henchman 1 wander into the living room and drop into the sofa in front of the TV.
"I've got dinner," Megan said as soon as the door was locked behind her.
Don looked over and gave a strained smile before he moved to clear some space on the table so they could sit and eat.
"It should be safe, right?" he asked.
"Yeah, they want you able to work, Wesley was glued to the screen, watching you."
"At least someone will appreciate my work," Don replied dryly, careful to keep a frustrated expression on his face as he was the one facing the camera. "Anything else of interest?"
"Yes," Megan stated, selecting a ham sandwich before informing him of her findings between bites.
"So you think it's just the three of them?"
"It would appear so."
"Let's wait a while and then you can pretend to need the restroom again."
"Don't drink too much of that water then," Megan said wryly.
"Then, when you're up there, I'll pretend to have a breakthrough."
"Causing Wesley and his remaining man to come racing down here."
"Exactly. You take care of the guy on you and I'll take the other guy, I doubt Wesley will be much trouble."
"He'll probably run back up the stairs."
"Straight to you."
"Yeah," Megan agreed with a smile. "You want to lock them in here?"
"Why waste a perfectly good prison and risk them getting away?"
"Good point. So what do you want to do in the interim?" Megan asked, the boards where now nearly full of equations, side calculations or lists of numbers with headings she recognized from one of the files.
"Well, when we're done eating, let's make a show of copying everything I've got down on paper so we can erase most of it and I can continue making up nonsense."
"Okay," Megan replied, grabbing another sandwich.
Megan was just trying to decide whether or not to tell Don that he'd gotten chalk dust not only in his hair, but on his face as well, when she heard the footsteps. The slight shift in body weight indicated that Don had heard it as well, but he continued on as if he hadn't until the sound of the bolt being undone echoed in the room. He turned around to face the door as she slipped her notes into a file before rising from her seat.
When the door opened, the first thing Megan saw was the Smith & Wesson, the second thing she saw was that the man holding it was not someone they'd met before even though he was dressed in the same mask and dark clothes as Henchmen 1 and 2. He was shorter than them and burlier. He was followed by Henchman 1, who now was also sporting a Smith & Wesson, and another man they had not yet seen. Like Wesley, he didn't wear the military style clothing, but instead wore an outfit more like a street thug who thought himself important.
The realization made Megan's stomach sink even as she spotted another Smith & Wesson in his belt. So much for her hope that they belonged to the group of new criminals more likely to make stupid mistakes, this sudden shift in behavior definitely indicated that they could and would get violent when they realized exactly what was going on. As the best way to prevent them from realizing just what was going on was to keep up the charade, Megan whimpered and shrunk back, placing the table between herself and the door.
Don, similarly, managed to pale and he hastily stepped backwards, his eyes going wide even as his mouth opened and closed soundlessly.
"Dr. Eppes," the man said, the distain in his voice obvious as he studied Don, not even bothering to glance at Megan.
"No, wait, stop!" Wesley's panicky voice preceded him into the room. "He's been working, ever since he regained consciousness, he's been working!"
"Then why are the boards so empty?"
"They copied it down onto paper, I think he needed more room," Wesley explained as he approached the table and grabbed one of the notepads, showing it to the other man. "See."
"I see numbers and squiggles, is this what we're supposed to use?" the man demanded, two quick steps bringing him close to Don so he could grab the front of his shirt and shake him. "Well? Is it?"
"I- ah," Don began, somehow managing not to strike out at the man, the odds weren't in their favor. "Not yet. But soon."
"Soon? How soon?"
"I- I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?" the man roared, shoving him back and Don stumbled and fell.
The act was so good that Megan wasn't a hundred percent sure that he hadn't actually tripped instead of merely pretending to.
"I can't predict it. It's too variable. I need to-"
"What you need to do is get me what I want," the man declared as he pulled the Smith & Wesson from his belt and aimed it at Don.
Despite the fact that all of her instincts were screaming at her to do something, anything, to help her partner, Megan forced herself to remain where she was, eyes wide with horror and whimpering pathetically. He wouldn't shoot Don, not only did it not make any sense for him to do so, but it was what his body language was telling her. The man's eyes were excited, but he didn't strike her as the type to do his own dirty work. He was a bully, one who enjoyed terrorizing others and was currently enjoying, and lapping up, the performance she and Don were putting on. To interfere would be to shatter his little fantasy and to enrage him, at which point anything was possible. So she could only watch in horrified fascination as Don cowered away from the gun pointed at him.
"Oh God, oh God!" Wesley exclaimed, backpedaling quickly, clearly not wanting to be anywhere near the weapon.
"I- I- I-," Don began. "I am."
"How long?" the man demanded again.
"A day," the man repeated in disbelief before he looked at Wesley.
"It's a high-tech security system," Wesley stated as he dropped the notepad back onto the table. "State-of-the-art. It wasn't designed to be easy."
"She said he was a genius."
"Even geniuses need to work at it. He's been working non-stop, we've got it on tape if you want to see."
"Fine," the man relented, putting his gun away before he turned to look at Don again. "But you'd better be making progress. I'll be back in the morning to check."
With that he stormed out of the room, followed by Wesley and the other two. Megan waited a few moments before she rushed to Don's side and kneeled down, hugging him tight and trembling. They sat there for a while, clutching at each other and acting suitable traumatized before slowly pulling apart. She read the intention in his eyes seconds before Don reached out and kissed her, knowing it would be expected of them as boyfriend and girlfriend.
"This alters things," Megan said as they slowly got to their feet, still supporting each other.
"Not if he really is going, but it definitely limits our window of opportunity."
"They're armed now."
"Will that make it too dangerous for you?"
"No, not if they treat me like the last time."
"I think we should still do it," Don said as he led her to a chair.
The longer they pretended to be affected by what had happened, the less likely everyone was to expect them to do anything. Regardless, Megan wondered just what Charlie and Amita would say if they could see the way they were acting now. Although not trained to deal with this type of situation, Charlie was still an Eppes and had his brother's stubborn streak and pride. Once she was seated, Don walked back to the board he'd been working on and picked up a new piece of chalk. His first few attempts had to be erased as he made his hand shake too much, but he finally got back into the flow of things and Megan opened the notebook Wesley had shown the other man and started copying over what Don was working on.
They waited for what they thought was about two hours before Megan once again approached the camera and waved at it. As before, the response was quick, only this time it was Henchman 1 who stood on the other side of the door to escort her up. Like earlier, he had a Smith & Wesson tucked into his pants but didn't seem to think it necessary to actually take it out.
Megan walked quietly up the stairs and went straight to the bathroom. Inside, she pressed her ear up against the door and waited until she heard Wesley call Henchman 2 (named Greg apparently) to join him. She allowed enough time for them to get to the bottom of the stairs before she flushed and stepped out into the hallway. Henchman 1 was standing lazily against the wall beside the door and motioned her towards the stairs.
As she moved to step past him, Megan brought her hand up, striking him in just the right place to knock him out instantly. She grabbed him as he started to fall and lowered him to the floor before grabbing his revolver, checking it automatically before moving towards the stairs.
"FBI, freeze!" Megan ordered as she stopped at the top of the stairs and pointed her gun at Wesley, who was halfway back up them already.
"F-F-FBI?" Wesley stuttered, his eyes wide as he stared down the barrel of her gun.
"Yeah, you screwed up big time," Megan informed him. "Hands up where I can see them, then turn around slowly and go back down the stairs."
"But... but, that's not possible!"
"I said put your hands up where I can see them, turn around and go back down the stairs."
"How?" Wesley asked as he raised his trembling hands and did as he was told.
"You grabbed the wrong brother," Megan informed him as she slowly followed him. "Don?"
"I'm good," Don called back. "You got Wesley?"
"Yep, we're coming down now."
"Don?" Wesley parroted helplessly, not understanding.
"Wesley, meet Special Agent Don Eppes of the FBI," Megan introduced as they reached the bottom of the stairs and found Don standing over the downed form of Henchman 2 next to the blackboards. "Dr. Charlie Eppes' older brother."
"Yeah," Don confirmed as he stepped forwards and pulled the man's mask off with his left hand, his right holding the gun he'd taken from Henchman 2.
Wesley didn't so much as make an attempt to stop him, instead cringing away from the gun and flinching as his features were exposed to the two federal agents.
"But, but... Elaine didn't say anything about a brother!" Wesley exclaimed.
"Elaine?" Don asked.
Wesley's eyes grew large as he realized what he'd said and he shook his head stepping away from both of them.
"We don't have time for this now, Don," Megan stated, knowing the look on his face and hoping he'd drop the matter for now.
For a few seconds she wasn't sure he would, but then he nodded and followed her out of the room. Megan locked the door and they quickly ascended the stairs, guns drawn and easily falling into their usual pattern when sweeping a building. They found Henchman 1 exactly where she'd left him and they ignored him for the moment in favor of clearing the house. Once they were sure there was no one else around, they returned to the man's unconscious form.
"What do you want to do?" Megan inquired.
"I'll take him downstairs, we can't just leave him here as he may wake up and I don't see anything to tie him up with."
"You want to wait outside for backup?"
"It's probably best," Don said as he put the gun at his belt and leaned down to grasp the man's upper body, dragging him towards the top of the stairs. "We don't know when the other guy will return or who he'll have with him."
"I'll find a phone."
"Already got one, Moe was carrying a cell."
"Okay," Megan said, keeping an eye on the monitors as Don dragged the man down the stairs, the loud thumping of his shoes on the steps informing her of their progress.
Wesley had been pacing the room but quickly moved to the back of it as he heard Don approaching. He continued to cower there as Don dragged Henchman 1 into the room and dumped him near the door. The other screens showed no one outside, so as soon as Don returned, they exited the house through the kitchen door and ran towards the woods at the bottom of the garden. They could have gone to one of the neighbors, but there was no real point waking them when they already had a cell phone. Besides, unusual activity at the neighbors could well spook the other man when he returned and neither of them wanted to take the risk of letting him escape. Not when he might go after Charlie later.
"Who are you calling first? Charlie or David?" Megan asked as they hid behind some shrubs.
"David. Charlie and Dad will most likely be at the office with him and Colby."
"You know his number?" Megan questioned in surprise as he started dialing a number which wasn't the FBI call center.
"Yes, I know all of yours exactly for situations like this," Don replied. "Hey David, it's me."
Megan blinked in surprise before she turned back towards the house to keep an eye out.
"Yes, Megan and I are fine.
"It's long story, but first, is Charlie there?
"Good, now listen carefully, David, Charlie does not leave the building, do you understand me? No matter what he says or does, he stays inside, even if you have to cuff him to a desk. Got that?"
Megan had to choke down a laugh at that mental image and hoped, for Don's sake, it didn't come to that or that Charlie didn't learn of that particular order.
"Because he was the intended target, Megan and I were grabbed by mistake.
"Yes, they thought I was Charlie and Megan, Amita. Which reminds me, better send someone to get Amita if she isn't there already. Just in case.
"Good, now, Megan and I managed to get out and are-"
The sound of a car approaching drew Megan's attention and she ignored the conversation in favor of it. Since it was only just dawn, there shouldn't be too many people about, so it could be their fourth man returning to inspect the progress Don had made with the math. The car, however, drove past the house without slowing and pulled into a driveway several doors down, the garage door opening by remote signal.
"Don? Megan?" Colby's voice drifted over to them from the direction they'd heard some noise and both Don and Megan relaxed, lowering their guns.
"Over here," Don replied as Megan turned back to observe the house.
"Told you it was this direction," Colby said.
"Yeah, yeah," David replied. "The last time you said that we ended up in the wrong part of town an-"
Megan looked back over her shoulder to see what was wrong and found both David and Colby standing a few feet from them, staring in disbelief at Don. It was all she could do not to outright laugh at their expressions.
"What?" Don demanded self-consciously.
As she'd seen it all happen slowly, both the growing out of his hair and the accumulation of the chalk dust, Megan had lost sight of just how different from normal Don actually looked. Instead of the usually well presented and tough federal agent, he now looked like- well, honestly, he looked much more like Charlie or one of his distracted colleagues than himself. His dark curls were all over the place and covered with chalk dust. His hands and sleeves were also liberally coated with the stuff and there were also streaks of it elsewhere on his clothes. There was even a smudge or two on his face that she had conveniently forgotten to tell him about.
Megan grinned broadly at the two younger agents before relinquishing her spot to another agent who had arrived.
"Is that a revolver?" David asked, finally recovering enough from the shock to notice the weapon his boss held.
"Yes," Don confirmed, placing it in the bag one of the other agents held out and accepting the Glock and Kevlar Colby handed him.
"Thanks," Megan said as she followed suit, the feel of her own gun a surprising relief. She wasn't aware of how wrong the other gun had felt until now, not that she'd really had the time to think about it earlier.
"You get Charlie to stay?" Don demanded.
"Yes, though the credit to getting him to remain there voluntarily goes entirely to your father," David admitted. "I'm pretty sure I would have had to resort to the cuffs if he wasn't there."
"I can't believe you told him to do that," Colby grinned. "So, what do we have here?"
"An unknown number of criminals wanting Charlie to create an expression to bypass some sort of security system," Megan explained. "We saw five men and know that there is at least one more woman involved, there may also be others."
Both David and Colby's faces hardened as they listened and Megan could see anger in the faces of some of the other agents as well. Charlie had become one of theirs and none of them liked it when someone messed, or intended to mess, with one of theirs.
"We managed to lock up the three that were present when we broke out in the room they locked us in," Don continued. "The other two men we saw will be back sometime in the next few hours."
"Can the three break out?" someone asked.
"No, there are no windows and there is no way to break the door down from within," Megan stated. "They aren't going anywhere."
"How do you want to play this?" David asked.
"I think we can go inside as long as there is no way to tell things have changed from the outside," Don said. "Once we have the other two we can start seeing about interrogations and tracking down Elaine and whoever else may be involved."
Don and Megan hadn't gotten more than a few steps away from the elevator when Charlie spotted them. Or he spotted her, because when he got close, he froze in his tracks with a shocked expression on his face. With the ambush and everything else that had happened at the house, Don had completely forgotten about his appearance and neither she nor the others had thought it necessary to remind him of it. Something they'd be paying for later if the scowl he threw at her was anything to go by. The expressions on the faces around them, however, more than made up for whatever Don would do. Not only had Alan and Amita joined Charlie in stunned shock, but agents all along the office were peering curiously in their direction.
Not to mention that this gave her the opportunity to bribe a member of the security staff for a printout. You never knew when something like that could come in handy.
"Donny!" Alan cried, recovering before the others and moving to hug his son. "You're all right? We were so worried!"
"Dad, I'm fine, we're both fine," Don replied, quickly pulling back. "You might want to close your mouth Chuck before you start collecting flies."
"Don't call me that!" Charlie replied automatically and Megan smiled at how well ingrained the response was. "What- what happened to you?"
"I think he's talking about the chalk," Alan offered as he ran a hand over his eldest's forearm, coming away with a fine layer of white on his palm.
"Oh, that, I was using the blackboards."
"Blackboards?" Charlie questioned, lost.
"They wanted him to come up with an algorithm to crack a security system," Megan explained.
"You were writing math equations on a board?" Amita questioned, eyes widening even further.
"No, I was writing what looked like math equations on blackboards," Don corrected, a smile crossing his face as he looked sideways at his brother. "And generally trying to imitate Chuck's ability to get the dust everywhere."
"Hey!" Charlie protested as his father and girlfriend laughed. "I don't get it everywhere!"
"Well, that explains the chalk marks on your face," Alan said.
"Chalk marks on my face," Don repeated before rounding on Megan, eyes narrowing.
"Larry!" Megan called out, grateful for his miraculous timing.
"Megan," Larry replied, his face lighting up as he saw her and he pulled her close for a rare public hug. "Are you uninjured? David said no, but I admit that I can't quite believe it."
"I'm fine," Megan assured him, savoring the feel of finally having him with her again. "I've missed you."
"Me too. Oh my."
Megan pulled back enough to see that her boyfriend had caught sight of Don. "Amazing how similar they look right now, isn't it?"
"Indeed, I confess I had never noticed the resemblance was so striking. Did you know his hair was curly?"
"No and I think he's quite upset his secret's out," Megan laughed.
"Oh dear," Larry said, but Megan could hear the laughter in his voice as they rejoined the group as they moved towards the war room.
"Charlie, do you know an Elaine at CalSci?" Don asked.
"Elaine? Yes, of course, Dr. Elaine Caldicott, she's the newest professor of education. Why?"
"She may be involved. How new is she?"
"Uh, three, four months now, something like that," Charlie looked to Amita for verification and she nodded. "Do you really think she's involved?"
"Wesley, one of the men, mentioned an Elaine," Megan explained. "They also knew what you said to your students in class."
"Elaine sat in on one of Charlie's lectures at the beginning of the semester," Amita said, eyes widening.
"She did?" Charlie questioned.
"Yes, I remember thinking it was a little odd as I hadn't heard she was into advanced math, but I just assumed she was curious."
"You couldn't have known," Megan stated, seeing the guilt enter her eyes. "You can't question every action people take. But it's good to know as it gives us a starting point."
"Are those the men who took you?" Alan suddenly demanded, looking back towards the elevators.
Megan and Don turned to see Wesley and the others being escorted towards the interrogation rooms.
"Yes," Don confirmed just as Charlie took in a sharp breath, his eyes widening. "What?"
"The last man, I've seen him before, on campus."
"Me too," Amita said, swallowing. "Caldicott said he was her younger brother."
"And she came to California to be with her brother," Charlie added.
Since she was still watching them, Megan saw the moment Wesley looked in their direction and caught sight of them. The sudden sharp widening of his eyes marking the moment he got a good look at Charlie. Then the agent escorting him noticed where his charge's attention had drifted and stepped into his line of sight even as he escorted him into the nearest available interrogation room.
"Beer, David?" Alan asked from the kitchen as Don let him inside.
"Yes, please," David replied as he looked about. "I'm the last one?"
"Only just," Don informed him as they moved to the table where everyone else was sitting with a drink and nibbling on chips and an assortment of nuts.
"Don't eat too much of these," Alan warned as he came out of the kitchen with David's beer. "The lasagna is almost done."
"Thanks," David said as he took the bottle and looked at everyone else. "Did I miss anything?"
"Nah, not really," Colby stated before he looked sideways at Charlie and Amita. "Though those two have been looking at the photocopies you made them."
"Photocopies?" Megan asked, not really having paid them much attention now that she was finally able to relax with Larry.
"Yeah, he wanted to see what Don had written on the boards."
"What? Oh, no, Charlie," Don complained, leaning forwards and trying to grab the papers, but failing as the younger man pulled them away. "What do you want with those?"
"I just wanted to see what you thought a good expression consisted of," Charlie explained, a huge smile on his face. "These have been very enlightening."
"Let me see," Alan said, walking around behind his youngest to see. "Huh, that actually looks real."
The surprise in his tone caused the others to laugh even as Don dropped his into his hands and made an inarticulate noise at the back of his throat.
"He did a brilliant job," Megan stated, feeling she should help her partner out. "I was nearly convinced and Caldicott's men definitely thought it was the real deal."
"That's 'cause he created proper equations," Amita explained. "All of the symbols used are ones that can be used in math, they don't normally get used together like this, but they are used. He mixed algebra with calculus and game theory, but there is nothing in here that isn't used in some branch of the field."
"And not just that," Charlie added. "There's actually something interesting in here."
"Very funny," Don growled.
"No, Don, I'm serious. See, this part right here," Charlie insisted and Amita nodded her agreement.
"Wait, wait," Colby interrupted, incredulous. "Are you saying Don actually stumbled his way onto something real?"
"Well, it's not fully polished or workable as it is, but it definitely could become something."
Megan simply looked between Charlie's earnest face and Don's disbelieving one for a few seconds, thinking of Shakespeare and monkeys with typewriters, before she threw her head back and laughed.