Pairing/Characters: Robin Brooks/Don Eppes, Charlie Eppes, Nikki Betancourt
Spoilers: "Cause and Effect" (sort of)
Summary: Why can't Robin find Don? What's happened to him, to his team?
Notes/Warnings: Unbeta'd. Um, possible character deaths.
When Robin woke up, in her own house, in her own bed, on a fine breezy Los Angeles morning, there was no signal that anything was about to go wrong. No chill, no inexplicable depression, no nightmares. In fact, she smiled all through her shower, drying her hair, and putting on her makeup because of a shamelessly domestic dream in which she and Don had wandered through the courthouse shopping for sofas and curtains.
The ring on her finger sparkled.
Everything seemed full of hope. Even the normal choking smog had been brushed away by the wind, leaving the sky a clear, high blue. Robin walked into the last day of a painful prosecution knowing she'd be victorious.
There were two reporters waiting outside the courtroom when Robin emerged. Sentencing wouldn't happen until tomorrow, so there's no way she'd answer questions right now. She pulled out her cell phone as if she’d just received a call and headed with purpose down the center of the hallway.
“ADA Brooks! What do you have to say about the FBI raid on the compound in Sun Valley?” The voice was eager and male, and the young Hispanic reporter all but shoved a microphone right up her nose. She frowned at him and gestured to her phone. Kept walking.
A tap on her shoulder. This reporter was female, more straight-laced, and with a camera in tow. “Ms. Brooks, you’re engaged to Special Agent Don Eppes. How do you feel about what happened early this morning?”
Don? Robin’s heart skipped a couple of beats, before she noted that they used the present tense. She slapped her hand over her phone. “Get out of here before I call security. I’m on my way to an important meeting and I do not have time for this.”
As she scurried into the nearest jam-packed elevator, the younger one shouted after her. “Any truth to the rumors that L.A.’s terror alert level has gone up?”
How the hell should I know? Robin adjusted her purse, ignoring the looks she the other occupants gave her, and skimmed through her voicemail. A couple of quick notes from her secretary, a meeting that had been moved, and nothing else. Nothing from Don or anyone on his team.
No news was good news. Right?
Robin headed straight for her car in the underground lot. It was true that she had a lunch appointment. It was also true that right now she wasn't in the least hungry.
Before starting the engine, she checked two web sites on her phone. The news site had a small headline about an explosion, but nothing interesting--it barely mentioned the FBI. The city's disaster preparedness website also showed no change.
Her phone beeped as she drove out of the parking garage. A text message from--of all people--Charlie.
#See the news? Don not picking up. U know anything?#
Robin’s stomach plummeted. She hooked her Bluetooth headset over one ear and speed-dialed Charlie’s cell.
“Eppes.” He sounded a little frazzled.
“Charlie, I just got your message. What’s going on? I’ve been in court all morning.” She turned out onto Temple and headed towards Wilshire in the bright wash of sunlight.
“You don’t know either?” Charlie sighed. “Usually Don calls to let us know when there’s going to be something freaky on the news, so we don’t jam up the FBI phone lines calling him. But he’s not picking up on his cell or at the Bureau, and neither is anyone else. I tried Colby, David, Nikki, Liz….nothing.”
Robin rubbed between her eyes. “Some reporters cornered me a few minutes ago, asking questions about an FBI raid in Sun Valley.”
“Yeah.” It sounded like Charlie was typing on a keyboard. Googling, probably. “That’s what’s been on the news, a big explosion in Sun Valley. LAPD says it was a meth lab and the guys running it blew themselves into tiny bits trying to shoot at our guys. But from the footage I've seen, it looks like they’ve got a good three miles blocked off, which is much bigger than a normal perimeter. I suppose Don could be running some kind of retrieval operation, right? Too busy to pick up his phone?”
That was actually pretty rare, in Robin’s experience. “Sure, Charlie. I'm headed to the Federal building. Why don't I let you know what I find out?"
“Sure. Okay. I'm, uh, I’m supposed to be in the lecture hall right now. Thanks, Robin, okay?”
"No problem." She couldn't exactly say that it helped to realize that her soon to be brother-in-law seemed far more freaked out than she was allowing herself to be. Or how much that helped her maintain what calm she still had.
There was a lot of traffic around the Federal building. No sirens, though, no flocks of SWAT teams or bevies of ambulances or swarms of helicopters. Robin walked right into the lobby and no one questioned it; but when she stopped at the front desk to get her visitor’s badge, the stocky young woman there frowned at her request and checked the computer.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Brooks, Agent Eppes isn’t available. May I take a message?” She smiled cheerily.
What the. . . ? The front desk didn’t take messages. Usually, they didn't even know when an agent was out in the field. Robin had come here multiple times and found herself cooling her heels in the break room on Don’s floor, or laying out what she needed to David or Liz (or, God help them all, Charlie) so that no time would be wasted waiting for the boss to get back. Robin tucked her ID, complete with her status as a Los Angeles ADA, back into her purse. “What about Agent Sinclair? Or Granger? I believe the information I have may be of materiel interest to one of their current cases; it doesn’t matter who I give it to.”
The receptionist looked at her. Robin gritted her teeth; doubtless the woman recognized her not only as an ADA, but as Agent Eppes’ fiance. Word never traveled faster than in a closed building like this.
“Okay. Tell Agent Eppes that ADA Brooks needs to speak with him as soon as possible. It can’t wait till tomorrow.” Robin stood there, watching, until the receptionist had carefully written the message on a notepad and nodded to her.
Then she walked out into the courtyard and made a couple more calls.
It was still brilliantly sunny as Robin drove up over the Hollywood Hills into Burbank, and then up further into the mainly residential area at the foot of the San Gabriels, a little network of streets that called itself Sun Valley.
She had just passed the industrial parks on Hollywood Way when she found a roadblock. Burbank PD and LA County Sheriff’s vehicles were parked across all lanes, emphasizing the prohibition with pale red flares burning in a dotted line across the asphalt.
Robin pulled her car onto the shoulder. An officer tapped on her window. “Ma’am," he said when she rolled it down, "this area’s been blocked off until further notice. You’ll need to turn around.”
“Why?” Robin shaded her eyes and peered past him. “What’s going on?”
“Meth lab exploded,” the officer told her. “We’ve got a bunch of people checking to make sure we haven’t had too many contaminants released into the air and water because of it.”
Robin knew the stats on such things. It was rare that such an explosion wouldn’t simply incinerate the worst of the contamination. Meth labs were far more dangerous when they hadn’t blown up yet. “Who’s in charge here? Is it a multi-agency emergency response thing?”
The officer shrugged. “FBI’s running point, but yeah, multi-agency.”
Maybe, just maybe, Charlie’s optimism was sound. Maybe Don really was wrapped up in a rescue project. “Can I speak to someone from the FBI’s command team?”
The officer’s dark eyebrows drew down in a scowl. “You’re a reporter, aren’t you? Get out of here. Now.”
Robin didn’t move, and kept both hands on the wheel. “Please. I need to speak to someone in the FBI.”
“You have information?”
She nodded, emphatically. And he bought it. A few feet away, with his back to her, she could hear him asking questions on his radio. About areas to meet, ETAs, a security check.
No one spoke for the next several minutes, although the guards both kept a sharp eye on her. Robin sat in her car with the door open and texted Charlie, asking if he could use his math to figure out which way the wind was blowing today and whether it would be likely to spread an airborne contaminant of some kind. There didn’t seem to be much smoke or dust in the air, even though the explosion couldn’t have happened more than four or five hours before.
She turned on the car radio and hopped through frequencies until she found a news broadcast. They didn't mention Sun Valley, or any kind of emergency or health hazard.
Robin stood up and headed for the barrier. Agent Nikki Betancourt ran down the hill and stopped just short of the police barrier, pushing a hand through thick, sweat-streaked hair. No obvious signs of soot or anything else. Her eyes were slightly red, her expression drawn, but Robin had seen that kind of exhaustion on Don’s team before, especially after an overnight stakeout. “What are you doing here, Brooks?”
Robin shrugged. “I couldn't get through to Don, or any of the rest of you, and I’ve got reporters asking me pointed questions about whatever you were doing up here this morning.”
Nikki took a slow breath, then turned her back and just stood there.
Robin gave her a minute. She needed the same, enough time to steady her breathing and try like hell to hope for a happy ending. “Nikki—what happened? These guys tell me there was an explosion.”
“There was.” Nikki’s voice was flat, and she didn’t turn around. “I can’t tell you very much. You should tell the reporters that you’ve got no comment, and send them to the FBI for the full runaround.”
“What happened?” She could ask this question all day if she had to. She would.
Nikki’s shoulders hunched. Then she turned around and planted herself right in front of Robin. “I don’t know. Not the specifics. I was down here helping set up a perimeter. There was an explosion.” She swallowed hard. “Wasn’t a meth lab. I don't know what it was. But it must’ve been hell. The rest of the team, they’re either injured or under observation.” She must have seen something in Robin's face, because she reached out to rest a gentle hand on her arm. “I’ve talked to Don, I think he’s okay. But Colby—Liz—“ Suddenly the look on her face made more sense. Not a lack of sleep as much as a burden of grief and worry and sudden responsibility.
“Where?” Robin asked.
Nikki's gaze flickered to the guards nearby. “UCLA.” She walked away.
Charlie called while Robin was driving back across the city. “The wind pattern today would be ideal for dispersing a contaminant,” he said, solemnly. “The central and east San Fernando Valley would get it first, and then downtown and into Hollywood. I checked with the city, and there’s no warning. There can’t be a problem. Even a possible problem, even just a threat, would trigger all kinds of safety protocols, and if one agency fell down on the job, someone else would pick it up.”
“Meet me at the UCLA medical center,” Robin told him, not able to find words to soften or explain what she thought she’d learned. “The research building. That’s where Don is, and probably everyone else except Nikki.”
There was silence on the line for two or three minutes, and then Charlie hung up.
It took three hours to get admitted into the bio-containment area at UCLA. Two of those were spent convincing a series of administrators, federal personnel, and hush-hush guards that they should be allowed inside and given access to information.
Robin was glad she’d asked Charlie to come. His combined NSA and FBI clearance opened more than one door that had seemed entirely closed, and his math, which graphed the possible current contaminant pattern, impressed the hell out of the director from the Center for Disease Control.
The one problem was that Charlie’s fast talking got him first visitor's rights with Don. Robin paced the room outside, considering that it had been a good ten hours since she’d eaten, and that the sun was going down outside. A lot can happen in ten to twelve hours, especially if you’re talking about poisons or toxins or bioweapons.
When Charlie came out, he didn’t say anything. Just walked to a chair, sat down, and curled up with his knees to his chest, staring at the floor.
When he didn’t move, Robin went to him, touched his shoulder. “Charlie.”
He looked at her with dull eyes. “You can go in if you want to.”
The walls of the isolation and observation rooms were stereotypically white. She’d expected to have to wear a protective suit, but instead a triple-glass wall separated her area from a small room equipped with a cot and toilet and chair.
Don was sitting on the cot in dark blue scrubs. He stood up and smiled when he saw her, that eye-crinkling real smile that meant he was terrifically glad to see her. He came over and leaned against the glass. “Hey, beautiful.” His voice was muffled by what was basically a phone system, translating sound but allowing no air into or out of the isolation room.
“Hey.” She wasn’t sure what else to say. He didn’t look poisoned or sick; his color was good, except for a darkening scrape along one bare forearm. “I couldn’t find you. Suddenly you’re top secret?”
“Not me. Just the stuff that terrorist cell we were after blew into the air this morning.” He looked at his bare wrist, and turned the aborted habitual motion into a shrug.
“Are you okay?” It wasn’t until she asked the question that she realized how terrified she was of the answer.
He shrugged again. “We’re supposed to get the next set of labs back in an hour or so, and we’ll probably know then. I feel okay.”
Robin flattened her hand against the glass, and instantly felt silly. Don smiled, and lined up his hand with hers, on the other side.
“They wouldn’t tell us anything. Even Nikki just gave me hints. How’s everyone else?”
Don drew a deep breath and searched her face as if he weren’t sure what he was allowed to say. What he should say. “Liz and Colby and David were all close to the blast." His voice gave a quiet weight to each name. "They haven’t told me, but I think Colby--Colby might be dead. I saw him at the scene, after."
He broke off, paced across the little room and back again. "The others, well, they’re beat up and concussed and probably got more than lion’s share of whatever stuff got spewed out. I should’ve been with them, I was hanging back to keep an eye on the perimeter.”
Robin closed her eyes. This was so much worse that she’d imagined, except for Don standing whole in front of her. “I’m glad you were. Don, if there’s danger, why hasn’t there been a general alert? A few muddled news articles have come out, but nothing about contamination. Charlie says the danger could be high.”
Don glanced away. At a camera in the ceiling, Robin realized. Then he bent forward and spoke quietly. “You should get out of town. Before anything happens to stop you. Take Charlie and Dad with you, and Amita.”
“Before what happens, Don?” All the panic she'd been carefully corralling since the first question in the courthouse thrashed against the restraints of reason. “What’s going on? It can’t be that bad. Nikki wasn’t wearing protective gear when I saw her up there.”
Don's eyes widened. That was his own personal code for panic. “You didn’t go up there, Robin, you didn’t.” When she nodded, he looked at the floor. “Fuck. Fuck.”
“What else was I supposed to do?” she demanded. “No one would tell me if you were alive or dead. I had to do something.”
He stood there for a moment, looking at her with eyes as weary and old as stone. “You should go.”
It was final, cold. The voice he used to shut her out when things were too raw, too hard to be dealt with yet. She knew how this worked. It'd be one thing after another, today; and he'd avoid her touch, avoid being around her more than he had to be. And then it would be tomorrow, and he wouldn't have to hold it all so tightly together, and she would be the only world he recognized.
“All right, " she told him. "I’ll see you tomorrow."
He nodded, still gazing at her. “Tomorrow.”
It wasn't until she was back in the waiting room that Robin realized just how different tomorrow might be. Charlie handed her his iPhone, covered with a blaring news report about a bio-terrorist attack and a city-wide lock-down. Not a toxin after all, but an airborne bio-weapon.
Each was hustled into a private isolation rooms, and Robin didn't hear about the death toll mounting until someone thought to bring her a radio the next morning. She didn't know that Nikki and Don were on that list until the doctor came in to give Robin her own prognosis.
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