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Title: Unraveling, Chapter 17
Author: dragontatt
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: Neither Shelter nor Without a Trace belong to me. No profit is being made from this work of fiction, and no disrespect is intended.
Word Count: 4355



Shaun had to hand it to Larry. Once that man got it in his mind to do something, it got done, in a hurry and right the first time.

Maybe that’s part of why he’d resented Larry’s place in their lives all these years, ‘cause Larry was so unlike his real dad. His real dad had been a dreamer, a soft spoken poet who’d won his true love’s heart in college with some well-recited verse, and then proceeded to die tragically young, leaving her nothing but a pile of half-finished manuscripts, a house payment they’d barely been able to afford even when it was the two of them working, and a young son to raise on her own.

Shaun remembered him in bits and pieces mostly, a smile on Christmas morning, a snatch of a bedtime story that had been invented on the spot just for him, his laugh when Shaun brought home a particularly painful knock-knock joke from kindergarten – it wasn't much to hold onto, but it was enough to foster in Shaun a perhaps unfounded but deep-seated hatred for Larry on sight, when his mom’s boss had first shown an interest in his new secretary and offered to take both her and her young son out to dinner. Larry’s ill-chosen ‘breaking the ice’ gift didn't help any either - the plastic army men were the lame, knock-off kind, and Shaun mumbled a pained ‘thank you,’ while glaring resentfully at the discount store price tag still on the package.

He’d hoped at first that Larry would just sort of disappear, but a little over a year after that first painful dinner, Shaun was pushed into service as ring-bearer at Victoria and Larry’s wedding, an expensive, tasteful affair mostly filled with guests Shaun had never met before. He suffered in silence at the reception, gritting his teeth in a hard smile as the older women patted him on the head and told him how lucky he was to be getting a new daddy – it was like they thought you could just buy a refill at the store or something. Shaun quickly lost his patience and hunted around till he finally found an empty table in the dimmer recesses of the ballroom and he crawled under it with a small plate he’d pilfered full of cake and tiny, fancy cookies, and a glass of punch, determined to stay there forever.

His mom told him later she’d had to check under twelve tables before she found him, curled up on his side with a huge glob of frosting smeared on one cheek and red stains on his new dress trousers. “Here he is,” she’d called out softly. Larry had bent over and peered under the table, getting on his knees to pick up Shaun as gently as he could, and carry him out to the car. After he’d laid him down in the back seat for the ride to the hotel, he’d smoothed the hair off Shaun’s forehead and wiped away the frosting. She always had a smile on her face when she told Shaun that story, like she thought it meant Larry already loved him like a son or something. Shaun had always thought it meant Larry didn't want frosting on the fancy upholstery of the rental car, ‘cause that way he wouldn't have to pay for any damages.

He’d tried to get along with Larry, for his mom’s sake if nothing else, but there was always this strange sense of wrongness whenever they did father-son type things together. Like it was the right thing to do, but the wrong father or something…whatever. Shaun figured maybe the guilt was proof he should never treat Larry like a real father, and so he didn't. A few years later, after Gabe was born, it was even easier to be aloof, ‘cause that little nagging thought that maybe Larry was lonely too finally went away.

And so he went through his teenage years being civil to his step-dad – yes, and polite. But he never really felt affection for the man, or love – why should he? He had his mom, and he loved her and Gabe, and the memory of his father with all his heart and for some reason he felt that had to be enough – maybe that was all he deserved for some reason. So he ignored Larry for the most part, and figured by now they’d both learned to deal with it. No harm, no foul, right?

But now, here Shaun was asking him for yet another favor – how many was that in the last couple of days anyway – and here Larry was helping out again, no hesitation, and no expectations – that was the thing that finally made Shaun slow down for a second and think. Larry had never expected Shaun to love him, never demanded he treat him like a “real” dad, he’d just sort of quietly hoped, and he’d given up intruding in Shaun’s life long ago, but he always stepped up to the plate when asked.

Shaun closed his eyes and wondered, just for the briefest moment, how he would feel if Cody was as hung up on who was his real dad or his step-dad or his whatever-the-hell-Shaun-was-to-Cody-anyway as Shaun had always been to Larry, and his heart sank. He shuffled his feet on the sidewalk and transferred the phone from one ear to the other. After all this nightmare was over, and things got back to normal – this thought was accompanied by a brief glance up, into the hazy blue Los Angeles sky - he was going to have to sit down and have a long talk with Larry, apologize for few things – for a lot of things actually.

He let out a loud sigh and stuffed his free hand further into his front pocket. He hated waiting like this, he hated needing other people’s help, most of all he hated how empty and scared he felt inside.

Larry’s voice spoke up in his ear, “Shaun, you still there?”

“Yeah, I’m here, Larry.” Shaun stood a little straighter and his eyes darted from side to side.

“Sorry that took so long, some asshole was trying to give me the runaround, but I finally got him to stop jerking me off and I got you just the thing that you need.” Larry sounded triumphant, like he used around the dinner table when Shaun still lived at home and he’d closed some business deal that could mean a promotion or a bigger car or a fancier vacation in the coming year.

Shaun grinned, in spite of himself. Yep, Larry could be a bit of a shark and even more of an asshole sometimes, but somehow he always came through in a pinch. “Tell me what you got.”


----


Martin rushed past Danny before Danny had even gotten all the words out of his mouth, and headed out of the apartment and down the hall. Danny followed a bit slower, phone squished between his shoulder and his ear as he scribbled a few lines in his notebook in an unusually sloppy hand.

“So you’re sure that’s all your mom knew, right?” He paused a second to listen before shouldering the apartment building door open. He squinted into the afternoon sunshine and stepped out onto the front stoop. He left the door resting lightly on his hip and glanced at Martin, who was talking to the two uni’s. Danny figured he was probably telling them to take the contents of Wes’ trunk in as evidence. Then he said a few words to Jeff the super, who just nodded and turned to hurry into the apartment building. Jeff slipped in through the door that Danny held open without a word. Danny smirked; guess Jeff didn’t want to risk pissing Martin off anymore than he already had today.

“Okay, thank you Ashley, you’ve been a big help. One more thing, if Shaun calls you or comes back to your place, do not tell him what you just told me. It could put him in real danger, and we don’t need another person to worry about. You understand me?” He knew he sounded stern, but he knew Martin would never forgive either of them if something happened to Shaun on top of everything else.

“Oh, I won’t.” She sounded a little scared as she went on, “But what should I do if he does come back?”

Danny glanced over his shoulder at Martin, who was now on his own phone, talking a bit animatedly to someone. “What you should do is tell him to call Martin as soon as possible. That, and stay out of trouble.”



----


It had been nearly two hours since Jeanne called, and every second that had ticked by reverberated in Zach’s brain like a trip down a long, empty tiled hallway where every tiny noise echoed back from all directions. The silence that filled the cabin was deafening in itself, but the noises inside Zach’s head were the ones that were going to drive him crazy if he didn’t watch out.

He lay as still and quiet as possible, trying to radiate an ‘I’m not here, I’m no one, ignore me’ vibe, unconsciously holding his breath every time Wes – and to a lesser extent Tony – so much as twitched. The atmosphere inside the cabin so tense you could almost see it – it was like a thin layer of foggy glass covered everything inside, and no one wanted to move or speak or even breathe for fear the glass would shatter into a million pieces, sending razor-sharp shards flying everywhere.

----


Wes could feel how oppressive it was inside the tiny cabin, how the atmosphere had grown steadily thicker and heavier ever since they’d moved in. If he’d been the type to suffer from claustrophobia he would have gone bat-shit insane two days ago. But fuck cabin fever, he didn’t give a crap about any of that nonsense. All he wanted was his stuff back and if he didn’t get it soon, someone was going to pay, and pay dearly. There’d been twenty-seven hundred bucks in the box that stupid cunt and her asshole boyfriend had taken, not to mention the pot and the ‘scripts. He bared his teeth in a low growl, adjusting his position angrily on the lumpy couch. He was lying on his back, one arm flung over his eyes and the other hanging down on the floor. He was pretty sure Tony and that dumb kid thought he was asleep; they were being as quiet as a couple of little mice just to make sure he didn’t wake up. But he wasn’t asleep, oh no, he was waiting, he was trying to remain calm and he was waiting. He was going to make himself wait until he just couldn’t wait anymore, and then, well, Wes wasn’t quite sure just what was going to happen then, but he knew it was gonna be really, really ugly. He grinned - that’s the part he was looking forward to the most. His hand, the one that had been resting so gently on the floor suddenly clenched, seemingly of its own volition,n and squeezed into a fist so tight that a couple of his joints popped – the unexpected noise was so loud in the quiet of the cabin that it echoed off the walls and made Tony jump.


Wes grinned - What a pussy - and then he forced himself to wait some more. It wouldn’t be long now, no matter what happened. It just couldn’t be.

----

Jeanne heaved a small sigh as she sat quietly on the edge of the lumpy, unfamiliar bed, hands folded neatly on her lap, and looked around. She was in a tiny, filthy motel room and the only light came from an ancient fixture on the wall near the door – the bulb was yellowed with age and randomly flickered every few seconds. She looked away and closed her eyes, the movement causing a sharp pain to flare up her forehead. The wall behind the headboard shook again, as the pipes inside gurgled in a valiant attempt to supply water that was anywhere close to actually hot for Alan’s shower.

Jeanne sighed and looked back toward the door. I should just leave, now, while he’s still in the shower. Just take the stuff and go, then call Wes back once I’m safe. Or the cops, maybe. She glanced at the box on the foot of the bed. Inside it was everything that was left of what they’d stolen from Tony and Wes’ place, including the drugs. They hadn’t smoked too much and they hadn’t spent too, too much, she thought before glancing down at her hands where they held onto each other tightly in her lap, and at the unfamiliar ring that shimmered on one finger.

She brought her hand up close to her face, her gaze blurring as the tiny diamond drew nearer. She traced the gold band gently with one finger, and felt a tiny smile twinging on the corner of her mouth.

God, what kind of person am I? She glanced toward the door again, and thought Five steps, it’d only take me five steps and I could be out the door.

She dropped her left hand back down to her lap with a sigh and moved her right hand over to gently probe her mouth. Her lips were still swollen, although the cold Pepsi can that Alan had gotten her from the vending machine after he smacked her had helped somewhat with the pain – she’d wrapped it in a washcloth and pressed it to her face, breath coming hard and fast through her gritted teeth while Alan had held her gently, rocking her and telling her how sorry he was, how much he hated hitting her, you know I hate to hit you baby, I won’t ever do it again, not unless you provoke me, cause you know you always provoke me, right honey, why do you do that, why do you act that way, and Jeanne just nodded and murmured soft affirmatives and made up her mind to leave him as soon as she got the chance.

So why was she waiting, sitting and rocking on this mattress that felt like it was filled with mounds of gravel, in this filthy smelly hotel room that reeked of cigarette smoke and other people fucking , instead of running and trying to find a way to save her brother’s life? And her own.

Was it all because of this goddamn ring? She glared down at it, the tears in the corner of her eyes blurring her vision and threatening to spill down her cheeks any second. She sat up taller, and pressed her feet resolutely to the floor, feeling her thighs tense in anticipation. She took a deep breath, and -

The pipes in the wall gurgled and shook violently once last time as Alan turned off the water. She could hear him draw back the shower curtain, and step out onto mat, bathroom floor creaking alarmingly. “Honey,” he called out, “I’m hungry, let’s go hit a drive through or something, okay?”

Jeanne let out another sigh, and tried to force her body to relax. Her thighs were trembling and she tried to blink back her tears, finally resorting to rubbing the back of her hand furiously across her eyes. “Sure thing, babe,” she called back, and was surprised to hear how steady her voice was.

She looked back at the wooden box on the bed, and then at the door and grimaced. Five steps, five million. What’s the difference?

----

Victoria sat at one end of the couch in the living room of the beach house, and Larry sat on the other. Cody was stretched out between them, his head nestled in Victoria’s lap and his feet pressed against Larry’s thigh. She smoothed one hand softly over Cody’s blonde head and patted him gently on the back before looking up to meet Larry’s worried gaze.

“He’ll be okay,” she said softly. “This is all just really hard on him.”

Cody had had an unexpected and uncharacteristic meltdown earlier, refusing to turn off the TV and get ready for supper when Victoria called him, and when Larry came to get him, he’d actually yelled, “I don’t hafta do what you say, you’re not my daddy,” before bursting into tears and running down the hall.

Victoria had hurried out of the kitchen and headed to the bedroom Cody used whenever he spent the night. Cody had been lying facedown on the bed, the pillow that was squashed firmly over his head muffling his sobs but Victoria could tell he was crying by the way his shoulders shook uncontrollably.

“Cody, honey, it’s going to be okay.” She’d sat down next to him, and put one hand gently on his back. “I know you’re worried about Zach, and that you miss him and Shaun very much. But it’s going to be all right, didn’t Shaun’s friend promise you he’d find Zach?”

Cody had wailed, “I know, but what if he doesn’t? I want Zach to come home now,” before scooting over a little closer to her.

Victoria had lain down next to him, propping her head on her arm. “I know you do, we all do. That’s why Shaun had to leave you here, so you’d be safe and sound while he went out to try and help Martin find Zach.” Whether Martin wants his help or not.

Cody lifted the edge of his pillow and peered out at Victoria. “You mean like I had to help Martin about that pick-up?” He sniffed loudly and ran the heel of his palm upwards over his runny nose.

“Exactly,” Victoria said with a smile. “That’s the kind of thing an FBI agent does – he finds all those little bits and pieces that different people know, and he puts them together to figure out the truth of something. And Martin is really good at that sort of thing.”

“I guess so.” Cody had sounded uncertain, but at least his tears had slowed some. “But…” he said softly, then stopped.

“What is it, dear?” Her heart ached just to look at Cody, and she wasn’t sure how best to help him.

“Why didn’t Shaun wanna talk to me when he called earlier? I got to the living room real fast when Larry said it was him on the phone, I wanted to say ‘hi’ but he hung up before I could.” He sniffed again and closed his eyes, his lower lip quivering.

“Oh, Cody, I’m sure Shaun didn’t know you were waiting to talk to him. I know he would have loved that, but he’s in a hurry. These men that have taken Zach, these bad men, they aren’t the type to wait around if they don’t get what they want. So we need to get Zach away from them as soon as we can, and that’s why Martin and Danny and Shaun are all out doing what they can.” She put her hand on his shoulder, rubbed his back in a tiny comforting circle and asked, “Do you understand that, Cody?”

“I – um, yeah, I guess. I like being here with you, Grandma Vicky, I just miss ‘em is all.”

“Oh sweetie, I know that. Come here.” She pulled him closer, maneuvering until Cody’s head was resting on her arm and giving him a gentle hug. “We love having you around, you know that. But we will be so glad when Zach and Shaun are back, and safe. Maybe we should have a big party to celebrate when that happens, what do you think?”

“A cook-out? On the beach?” Cody asked, with what was possibly enthusiasm.

“Oh, of course, how else would we celebrate?” She smiled down at him and went on, “You think you’re ready to eat now?”

Cody shook his head and looked at her guiltily. “I’m not really hungry. I should prolly go say sorry to Grampa Larry though, huh? He didn’t do anything but I was mad anyway.”

“I’m sure Larry will understand, he’s worried too.”

“Maybe we could all just go watch some cartoons together or something?” Cody blinked and looked away.

“I think that’d been a good way to spend some time,” Victoria had said, relieved that Cody still wanted their company, and so the three of them had watched some old Bugs Bunny, and Tom and Jerry cartoons, Cody snuggled between them on the couch until he finally fell asleep right before Scooby Doo came on. Victoria gladly turned off the TV – cartoons had never been her favorite – and slid softly over to the far end of the couch and guided the snoozing Cody over so he was sleeping with his head on her lap before looking at her husband.

“Do you really think what Shaun’s doing is a good idea? This whole thing is so hard on Cody.”

“I don’t know if it’s good or not, but I really don’t think either of us could have talked him out of it, do you? Seems to me only one person could have stopped Shaun from going out to find Zach on his own.”

“And who’s that?”

“Well, Zach of course –if somehow he’d been able to leave a message saying I need you to take care of Cody for me, then Shaun would be doing that right now. It might drive him crazy, but he’d do it. But as it is, all he can think about is getting his family back together, and that means finding Zach, so we have to help him by watching out for Cody.”

He reached out and took his wife’s hand, squeezing it gently. “Everything will be okay. Shaun’s always been a determined young man, and I know I wouldn’t want to bet against him.”

----

Martin had paused, halfway into the SUV, one leg inside the driver’s compartment and one elbow resting on the roof. Danny jogged down the sidewalk slowly - he could tell from the expressions on the other man’s face that the conversation he was having wasn’t going well and he didn’t want to get caught in the middle. He slowed down a few feet away and quirked an eyebrow at Martin, who just shook his head slightly and turned his head.

“Yeah, I’ve got it. Yes. Talk to you later.” He tucked his phone into his jacket pocket with a sigh.

“Who was that?’ Danny leaned against the SUV and ran one hand wearily down his face, barely holding back a yawn.

“Jack – I figured a preemptive strike might be in order before Detective Cooper called to bitch about me.” Martin smiled sheepishly and rolled his eyes.

“Well, don’t worry if he does. You didn’t shoot anybody, and besides we’re in a hurry – I’ll back you up.” Danny opened the passenger door and climbed in.

Martin climbed the rest of the way into the vehicle and pulled the door closed with a muted thump. He turned the key and the engine roared angrily to life. “Glad to hear it, but truthfully I don’t care if Cooper, or Jack, or whoever is pissed at me. I made a promise to Shaun and I intend to keep it, no matter what I have to do.” He pulled away from the curb after a cursory glance over his shoulder.

There it was again, that tone, that something in Martin’s voice – the one that made Danny glance over and wonder, yet again, exactly what kind of relationship Shaun and Martin had in college. Close friends to be sure, but was there anything more to it than that? He opened his mouth and paused, uncertain if he should bring it up now – or ever.

Martin made a left at the light, and headed back toward the police station. “So I asked Jack to check out that town while I had him on the phone. Alturas is a little town pretty much right below the Oregon border, between some national forest and the Warner Mountains.”

“Warner Mountains? Never heard of ‘em.”

“They’re not very big, I guess. That’s where this cabin is supposed to be, near some place called Fandango Pass, according to what Ashley passed on from her mom.”

Danny huffed out a little chuckle. “Love the name. So I guess we’re heading there?” More flying, no doubt, and Danny suppressed a tiny shiver.

“Yep, as soon as I can figure out how to talk Detective Cooper and his superiors into letting me commandeer one of their helicopters,” Martin said in determined tone.

“Maybe you should just threaten to shoot one of ‘em,” Danny quipped before he could help himself. Oops.

Martin threw a stern glance at Danny before looking back out the windshield. “Listen, if you’re not comfortable with the lengths I’m willing to go through to find Zach, then I can just leave you at the station with Officer Perky while I go find that cabin myself.”

“Hey man, I never said I wouldn’t back you up, believe me, I’m fine with the way you’re handling this case so far. We’re partners, right?” Danny stared at the side of Martin’s face until the other man finally relented, looking over for just a second, and nodding.

“We are, but it means a lot to hear you say it.”

Danny smirked as he stared at Martin - Martin’s cheeks were pink, and he was obstinately refusing to look his way again even though they were sitting at a red light. I should just let him slide on that one Danny thought. But not on everything and with a wide smile that showed off his beautiful white teeth, Danny said, “Oh, and by the way, if you’d have seen her up close, like I did, you’d know they weren’t all that perky.”

Martin blushed even redder, and squinted his eyes closed and looked away. But from the tiny snort, and the shaking of his shoulders, Danny was pretty sure he was laughing, and after a few seconds Danny was laughing too.





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