Title: Snowing on the Beach
Rating: PG/K+ (May go up later for language/violence)
Author's Note: Thanks a bunch to everyone who reviewed! It always feels wonderful to get commentary. And, as always, big kudos to LOTRseer3350 for Beta reading- she is a magician that makes mud puddles into readable…sort of…fiction
Again, if you read this, and you don't mind, I do shamelessly love to receive any and all comments, especially critique. No one is a perfect writer!
I'm sorry it took me so very long to update! It's the usual excuses- working, more working, you know the drill. Still, I know that it's a very poor excuse. But then again, there's been ChainFire and Harry Potter and many other tantalizing distractions!
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with the T.V. show numb3rs, nor do I own any characters, concepts, or anything else relating to the show. I'm simply borrowing some of them because I was too lazy to make up my own. Don't sue me- I'm a Red Sox Fan and a liberal!
Snowing on the Beach
Charlie shook his head, closing his eyes as the unfamiliar ache of failure washed over him.
"There's nothing here, Don." He spoke the words with shame flavoring his soft voice. There was always something there- a solution to every equation, even if it was imaginary. But with the sparse information he had, there was no deduction- no pattern or process that he could possibly compute. Nothing. Lily's words from the proceeding nights were uncomfortably ringing in his mind. There is no solution.
"Don't worry about it Charlie," his older brother peered at the mess of numbers and symbols scrawled across the whiteboard as though willing them to move themselves into proper formation. "I didn't expect you to find anything. I just…It was wishful thinking on my part."
"There's got to be something there!" The young mathematician lashed out, smashing his hand against the surface he had been working on, leaving a smudged marker handprint. The disappointment in his brother's voice had hurt- the feeling of letting down one who depended on him for answers, elusive answers. Charlie felt like a magician who had reached into his hat for a rabbit and realized that he had no hat- lost. A failure.
"No Charlie, there doesn't!" Don stood up from the swiveling chair that he had been lounging on and cleared the distance between himself and his brother in a few swift movements. Carefully, he detached Charlie's hand from the dry-erase marker he had been clutching, and pulled him away from the board. Methodically, the older man picked up a few available napkins that had been lying on his desk and grabbed at the mathematician's marker stained hands, trying to gently scrub off the ink that covered it. At first, the younger man tried to pull away, but Don's iron grip made it impossible to do so.
"Charlie, look at me." He refused, gazing back at the handprint among various matrices and an exponential function that didn't solve correctly.
"Now." Maybe there was another variable in the function. Or maybe it wasn't exponential. Maybe it was linear or quadratic or…
Don's hand seized his chin and forced the younger man to meet his eyes. "Charlie, we're dealing with a bunch of mini-Charlie characters. They're smart, and you're smart, and maybe you've become evenly matched. But there's a time when you simply don't have the right tools to give yourself an edge, and if you try to push forward without it, you'll only go in circles, exhausting yourself completely. And you can't do that, because we're going to find the right tool. And when we do, I'm going to need you." The frank sincerity that only an older brother could possibly display was enough to break the vicious cycle. Charlie let himself fall into Don's chair was a vague nod.
"Now I want you to go home, have a good meal, and get some sleep. Regenerate." Don smiled softly as a few dark curls fell into his younger brother's face untidily. Nothing more then a child sometimes, but now and then, a man whose utmost determinacy matched his own.
"But nothing. You need to get some rest. If you really want to help, you can take Lily with you, and see if you can get her to do the same."
"You need it as much as I do." Charlie gazed up defiantly, studying the creases of fatigue that had settled in around Don's intelligent eyes.
"I'll come by…soon. I just want to finish a few thing up, tie some loose ends. Then I'll be home. I promise." Charlie smiled tiredly, knowing how long "tying loose ends" would take his brother.
"Be at my house before ten." he said, a challenge in his voice.
"midnight." Don recognized the argument.
"Nine." Charlie pouted.
"Ten, and that's my final offer. Believe it or not, you aren't mother and I don't have a curfew." The older Epps brother laughed and ruffled his brother's curls, antagonizing him. The mathematician rolled his eyes.
"Hmm?" The younger man stood up to leave, his eyes a question.
"Be a little easier on Alex. He's just doing his job. And stop telling him incriminating stories. I could swear, he spent his entire briefing period staring at my forehead. I think he was looking for a certain formula."
Charlie smiled, truly smiled, eyes sunny and mind carefree, for what seemed like the first time in years.
"We could use her as bait." David rubbed his eyes, willing himself home and fed. Hours of following dead ends were wearing on him.
"What?" Terry looked alarmed. She wondered if her companion's fatigue was catching up with him.
"They made a mistake with the second attempt. But I don't think it was a mistake, I think it was a ruse. It's too- hair brained- to really have been serious. Which leads me to believe that there's something cooking that's going to be served up really soon. So why don't we get her in an ideal kidnapping situation, say, a big funeral, or something, and get teams ready to pounce when they try something."
"No! Absolutely not!" Don glanced worriedly at the clock, praying that his brother wasn't waiting up for him. The hour hand seemed to have replaced the minute hand, and it was rapidly heading towards the twelve. "First of all, they're not going to send the real brains to take her out. They're going to hire out or something, like they have in the last attempt, and probably in the first, since I don't know many mathematicians who shoot shot-guns. Secondly, I'm not putting her well-being in jeopardy like that!"
"We can't cloister her here forever." David pointed out.
"No…" Terry trailed off, glancing at the still present hand-print in Charlie's equations. Don caught her line of sight and shot her an "I'll tell you later" glance.
"What do you suggest then?" David challenged, missing the exchange between his colleagues.
"We know it's this group of gazooks who are running the show. Let's get a warrant and pay them a visit. We're bound to find some trash lying around." Even as he said the words, he knew that they weren't true. The worst kind of criminal wasn't the guy in the ski mask who goes "bump" in the night. The worst were the ones who managed to stay silent.
"That's useless. We have almost nothing that would get us the warrant in the first place, and even less of a chance of finding anything." David made the words sound patronizing, almost condescending, on purpose, to demonstrate to his counterpart the true foolishness of his plan.
"I just want to get out of this with the girl intact, physically, and well, mentally, as much as that can be accomplished.
"Good luck with that one." Terry replied, almost lazily. Her eyes were half-closed and shutting fast.
"What if we had a big funeral for my mom, with lots of baubles and ribbons and stuff? That would lure them towards me. And then you could catch them." All three agents jumped visible inches out of their seats. Lily was standing in the doorway, her face utterly devoid of emotion, her eyes focused on Don. She was in running pants and a tee-shirt, and the redness in her face, a stark contract from the paleness of her other features, suggested that she had been running.
"Lily, what the-"
"How did you?"
"I ran here, and I used Charlie's access pass to get in. The guard at the door recognized me." She said it all in one breath as though impatient to get it out of the way.
"You took Charlie's access pass?" Don breathed in sharply, anger coming to his head in fast rushes. H
"No. He gave it to me."
"He gave it to you?" the agent looked nonplussed as he repeated the words.
"Did you tell him what you intended to do with it?"
"No." Don wondered if stress headaches could kill.
"You asked him if you could take his access pass to the FBI headquarters in Los Angeles and he handed it to you."
"Yes." Terry and David looked vaguely amused. Don was ready to shoot someone.
"You should do the bait idea though. It's your best bet." The older Epps brother wondered for a moment how much of the previous conversation Lily had overheard and how she felt about being labeled mentally "un-intact". It was surreal, having her there all of the sudden.
"You ran here in the dark? Do you know how dangerous that is? There's a group of people on the loose who very probably want you dead, and you're out running in the middle of the night? How can we keep you safe if you refuse to heed our warnings?"
"I never asked you to help me keep you safe." It wasn't a complaint, or a whining retort. It was just a comment.
"Wasn't Alex at home?"
"And he didn't stop you?" Lily shrugged.
"He didn't know I was leaving." Don decided that he was going to have a long talk with a certain agent later that evening.
"You can't just throw away all our efforts. There are people working for hours to try and keep you safe, and you just ignore them. How is that fair?"
Lily ignored him and walked into the room further. Her eyes held nothing- they were focused and intense, almost the same as they looked while she was spinning.
"I'm going to compete in regional finals in a month. That's going to be open space, tons of crowds, and almost no security. If they have to wait until then to try and kidnap me, then they will, but that's going to be a good chance for them." She was frank and cold, and left no question in her intentions. She was going to compete if she had to hold a hostage to keep them from preventing her from going. Still…
"Well, if it's not safe then-"
"I'm going to compete in regional finals in a month."
"This is a lot more delicate then just planning something like an ambush that and carrying it out." Don protested. "It's not really legal, and it's dangerous and you know nothing about the sort of work that we do. You have no idea what that kind of operation would entail. It's not all fun and games and pointing guns."
"I don't want to live my life wondering when someone's going to turn around and shoot me."
"Well you shouldn't have to. We've put protection on you and we're working our butts off to get you assailants off the street, but you have to work with us here." Don began to wonder if this "Lily" in front of him wasn't just a bad hallucination.
"Don, I can't start over if I'm cooped up inside some building trying to hide from someone. I can't sleep, I can't breathe. I've been dancing to make everyone else happy, but it's become a cardboard motion. I can't take this. It's not just wondering when someone's going to try and kill me that's my problem. It's that I wish they'd hurry up and get on with it.