Summary: The first bomb is located.
Disclaimer: I own Ava. And Matthew. And Angel. That's it.
Ava was dialing her phone even as she raced down the stairs.
"Tony!" she shouted as soon as he picked up. "We were wrong! I need you to go back to the puzzle. There should be a number somewhere on the Coke machine."
He grabbed the magnifying glass and started going over the picture again. "You think the target is an individual machine?"
Ava nodded, forgetting that he couldn't see her. "He's going after the kid who just wants a Coke and a smile."
"I've got it!" Ava listened as Tony relayed the number to someone else. "Chloe's running it through the company's system," he told her. "We should have it any…Got it!" he yelled. It's two blocks north on South Central!"
By that time, Ava had reached the bottom of the stairs, and she catapulted out of the building, Jack only half a step behind her. Curtis yelled something about redirecting the bomb squad, but the two agents simply turned north and ran as fast as they could.
Truth be told, Ava hated running. She had hated it since she was a little girl, and had always avoided it like the plague. Even now, when she was in great shape, her mind quietly reminded her that there were a thousand other things she'd rather be doing. But every time that little voice spoke up, the picture on the puzzle flashed through her mind that little kid on his bike – and it made her run faster.
Buildings flashed by in a blur as the soda machine finally came into view. Ava's eyes locked on it immediately, fear choking her when she saw three kids standing around it. They were young – no more than twelve – and they each had a bottle in their hands as they talked and laughed.
She heard yelling, and it took her a moment to realize that it was coming from her and Jack. Both of them screamed at the top of their lungs, waving their arms as they tried to warn the kids. But they just stared at the agents like they were crazy, probably wondering why two adults were running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
Ava breathed a curse as she realized that the kids were not going to move. She didn't have to look at her watch to know that there wasn't any time to wait for the bomb squad – that machine was going to explode, and it was going to happen any second. She could feel Jack as he caught up to her, both of them running headlong towards the machine. They moved as one, both knowing that their priority was no longer the bomb, but the saving of lives. The kids seemed to realize that there was going to be a collision, and they started to move their bikes out of the way. But they moved too slowly, and Ava and Jack bowled into them, carrying all three away from the machine and down to the sidewalk.
At that proximity, the explosion was deafening. Ava's ears felt like they were going to burst, and she tried to cover them with her hands even as she made sure that the kid beneath her stayed on the ground. Fire erupted from the machine, singeing her hair and making her skin burn with the heat. Shrapnel flew everywhere, the bottles of soda shooting out onto the sidewalk and into the street; pieces of plastic were turned into daggers as they hurtled through the air in every direction.
One such piece embedded itself in Ava's left calf. She screamed in agony when it happened, the plastic feeling as though it was on fire as it ripped through her muscles. Clutching her leg, she rolled to her side, but nothing could alleviate the pain.
As the debris finally settled, Jack looked up at the sound of Ava's cries. His eyes traveled down her body as he looked for the source of injury, and he stopped when he saw the blood oozing through her hands. He scrambled over to her, ignoring the exclamations of the kids they had just saved.
"Fuck," she gritted out, curling into a ball, her hands still gripping her leg.
"Let me see it." When she continued cursing instead of answering him, Jack took her face in his hands and forced her to look at him. "Ava, I need to see it."
She nodded, slowly taking her hands away. Part of the machine was embedded in her leg, part of the large 'C' still visible. Jack examined the area carefully, wincing every time Ava took in a sharp breath. He didn't think the wound would be difficult to take care of, but he knew that it had to be causing her a lot of pain.
Her eyes met his, and he could see how much it was taking out of her to not just collapse into tears. "The kids?" she asked.
Jack looked over at the three they had knocked down, and then looked back at her with a smile. "All accounted for," he said quietly.
Sirens wailed in the distance, and Jack heard footsteps behind him. Turning, he saw that Curtis had arrived with the cavalry.
"Is she alright?" he asked.
Jack nodded. "She will be. Where's the ambulance?"
Without hesitation, Jack lifted Ava into her arms, letting her head rest against his shoulder. Her leg was still bleeding, but her cursing had stopped, and he couldn't help but notice how little she looked cradled in his arms. Shaking his head, he tried to dispel that image. Ava was anything but weak, and she would bounce back from this just like she did with everything else.
“That was a pretty powerful bomb to put in a soda machine,” Curtis commented as Jack set Ava down in the back of the ambulance.
“We’re lucky no one was killed,” he muttered. “Are there any other injuries?”
“A few cuts and bruises. A couple other people got hit with shrapnel. Nothing serious, though. This early on a Saturday morning, not that many people out.”
“Lucky,” Jack repeated.
Ava shook her head. “Not lucky. He planned this. Just like he plans everything else.”
“This is going to hurt,” the paramedic said, pointing to the piece of plastic sticking out of her leg.
“It already hurts,” she muttered. But she tightened her grip on the lip of the ambulance door and closed her eyes.
Jack turned his head as the paramedic removed the shrapnel, and Ava cried out in pain. He had no problem with the sight of blood – God knew he had seen enough of it in his life – but he knew that Ava didn’t like people to see her vulnerable. His phone rang then, pulling him out of his thoughts.
“It’s Tony. What happened?”
“We didn’t get to the machine in time. It blew.”
“No. A few injuries from the blast debris, that’s all.”
Jack could practically feel the deep breath that Tony took before asking his next question. “Ava?”
“She’s okay. She took some shrapnel to the leg, but the paramedics are stitching her up now. I’m sure she’ll be up and running any minute.”
The other agent sighed in relief. “I’m starting to think that trouble follows her wherever she goes.”
“At this point it doesn’t have to follow her,” Jack pointed out. “It seems to know where she’s headed, and it lies in wait for her.”
Tony started to say something else, but Jack was no longer listening. A boy standing at the edge of the blast zone had caught his attention, and he watched him closely. He couldn’t have been any older than eight or nine, and his eyes searched the scene as though he were looking for someone in particular. What really interested Jack, though, was the small box that the boy held in his hands.
“Jack? Are you even listening to me?” Tony asked.
“I think we just found our next clue,” he said, already striding over to the boy.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ll call you back, Tony.”
Without another word, he closed the phone, hanging up on Tony. When he reached the little boy, he squatted down so that he was eye level with him, giving him a gentle smile.
The boy looked at him warily. “Hi.”
“What’s your name?”
“Are you looking for someone, Matthew?” He nodded. “Why don’t you tell me their name? Maybe I can help.”
The little boy frowned, as though he were trying to remember. “It’s a pretty name. I think it starts with an ‘A.’ Amelia…Anna…Ava…Ava!”
Jack nodded, his smile widening as he tried not to show his excitement. “Ava? Was the last name Connolly?”
Matthew’s whole face lit up. “Yeah! That’s it! Do you know her?”
“I do. Come on.”
He stood up, leading Matthew past the policemen, and over to the ambulance. The paramedic was just finishing up with Ava’s leg, the bandage taking up more than half of her calf. She looked up as he approached, frowning in confusion when she saw the little boy.
“Ava,” he said. “I’d like you to meet Matthew. He’s got something for you.”
“Are you Ava?” Matthew asked.
She smiled, sliding out of the ambulance and squatting like Jack had done earlier. “Yes I am.”
“Did you get hurt?”
She shrugged. “It’s nothing major. The nice EMT patched me up, and I’m okay now.”
“Do you know who made the Coke machine blow up?”
“Not yet. But I plan on finding out.”
“I think this might help.” Matthew held out the box he was carrying. “A man asked me to give this to you.”
Ava made sure that her smile stayed on her face as she took the box from him. “Thank you, Matthew. That was very helpful of you.” She glanced up at Jack. “This man is going to ask you a couple questions, okay? Just about the man who gave you the box.”
Matthew nodded. “Then can I go home?”
As Jack led Matthew away, Ava and Curtis stared down at the box in her hands.
“The next clue?” he asked.
Without waiting for his response, Ava lifted the lid of the box. She saw Curtis wince out of the corner of her eye, as though he were expecting another bomb to go off. But she was almost certain that she was starting to know Angel – and he wanted them to follow his twisted little path of clues.
She sat down on the pavement, spilling the pieces out in front of her. Curtis sat down too, his curiosity getting the better of him. But he knew not to disturb her while she put the puzzle together – he might end up being more of a distraction than a help.
A small voice in the back of her head wondered at the fact that the puzzle wasn’t that difficult to put together. It worried her for a moment, but she quickly forced it to the back of her mind again. Angel didn’t want to tangle her up with a puzzle she couldn’t put together. The challenge began after the pieces snapped into place – because he knew that even with the image, the picture wasn’t complete. It lacked context, and any number of wrong guesses could be made.
As the last few pieces found their way home, Curtis scooted a little closer, leaning in so that he could get a clear view of the picture. He frowned in confusion.
“A storefront?” he asked.
Ava shook her head, pointing at the object reflected in the front window of the store.
“It’s not the store. It’s the building across the street.”
“Do we know what that is?”
She nodded. “That clock? It’s the one outside the city court house.”