Take a Long Line
Genre: Crossover between Numb3rs and Supernatural (Winchester "reality", Eppes POV), drama, character study, some angsting, totally "gen"
Disclaimer: The Eppes boys aren't mine. The Winchester boys aren't mine. The FBI is definitely not mine. Them's the breaks. No harm, no foul, eh?
Don, Megan, Dean, Charlie, Sam, Alan, David and Colby (eventually) -
for part one mainly D&D - no romantic pairings
Spoilers: I can only speak for this chapter so far for Numb3rs mainly "Protest", for Supernatural mainly "Skin", "The Usual Suspects" and "Night Shifter", maybe vaguely "In My Time of Dying"
Other notes: Big thanks to Rinkle for the quick beta. Nonetheless, all mistakes here within are mine and mine alone. It's worth noting that we are both Australian, so apologies for any hideous unAmericanisms this contains. Title and lyrics are from "Take a Long Line" (Brewster-Neeson-Brewster) Any feedback on the fic would be appreciated. Thank you kindly.
found him with his head inside a tin-pot crown
Told him his feet stank and took him downtown
Called him agitator, spy and thief
Shut him up in solitary third degree
"Real baby-faced killer, isn't he?"
Megan's voice has that familiar wry, amused tone, designed to tell suspects that she's got their number, but Don knows her well enough to hear the tension underneath. Behavioural psychologist or not, Megan sometimes allows cases to really get to her. It's usually when she can't get a handle on the mindset of the suspect and this one has really messed up every profile she has tried to throw at him.
Deciding not to answer, Don just takes a sip of his coffee as they both stare through the glass at the suspect in the interview room. She can't resist prodding again. "Want me to take a crack at it? Seems to think he's a real ladies' man. Might let something slip talking to a woman."
Don turns to her, raising an eyebrow. Megan has never really had any qualms about letting men underestimate her because she's a woman, and yet she seemed to react instinctively when this suspect tossed a little cheap innuendo at her - quickly, coolly and thoroughly shutting him down with a few well-chosen words as she slapped the cuffs on him. His only reactions were a shrug and an easy-come-easy-go smile and now Megan knows she miscalculated on that one. She almost desperately wants a chance to make it up, but Don shakes his head slightly, almost imperceptibly. When Megan is on her game, she's one of the best players around, but the frustration currently emanating off her is never a good sign.
Besides, Don wants to take this interrogation himself. Every agent in the building would love to be the one to take this bastard down, but Don's lead agent on the team that made the arrest. Rank hath its privileges. It takes only one glance to let Megan know the way things are going to be and she hands him the file, visibly repressing a sigh. Without another word, he opens the door to the interview room and strides in.
Megan's "baby-faced killer" line really isn't so far off. The prisoner looks up, eyebrows raised and feigning attention, like he's just some high school kid who's been called up to the principal's office for some high-spirited prank. As masks go, it's a good one. Don doesn't bother with a verbal greeting. He takes his time sitting down at the desk and carefully placing the rather hefty case file in front of him. He opens it, making a brief show of shuffling through the papers on top (careful not to displace the photos immediately underneath). Then, looking up to meet the prisoner's eyes, he sees the smirk he was thoroughly expecting, but also a faint edge of curiosity that his opponent doesn't quite manage to hide.
Time to get this show on the road. "Let's gloss over the fine print for the moment and just go for the headlines, shall we?" Don taps the file in front of him. "St Louis. Baltimore. Milwaukee." It's a simple opening gambit, but the key to this is going to be adaptability and manoeuvrability, not overthinking the gameplan from the start.
Don Eppes leans back in his chair, folds his arms across his chest and tips his head to one side.
Dean Winchester allows his eyebrows to twitch briefly and then, with "casual" deliberation, he mirrors Don's pose perfectly.
A gauntlet thrown down and picked up. But still the suspect says nothing. He has no intention of giving an inch. His type never do.
There's no denying that there's a real mystery to uncover here. Something very complex is going on beneath the surface of all this. Don has read through the file and knows that Winchester isn't stupid. Dangerous, unpredictable and often reckless. But definitely not stupid. So there has to be a good reason that, knowing full well that he's on the FBI's radar, Dean Winchester brazenly walked into the Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard to collect a passport under the pseudonym of Ronald Belford Scott.
But this current staring contest is going nowhere, so Don sucks it up and gives a little ground.
"So, what's your story?"
Winchester shrugs. "Your headlines. How about you tell me the story you want to run?" Another smirk. "And I'll just add my eyewitness details."
That was quite neatly blocked, but Don's got more where that came from. "Well, they say a picture paints a thousand words." He opens the file and starts spreading the most gruesome of the crime scene photos from the three cities mentioned out on the table between them.
Winchester's eyes briefly flicker down to each one, noting what it is but giving it no consideration, then return to his interrogator to maintain a steady emotionless gaze. When Don's tableau of photographs is complete, there is a beat or two before the suspect shrugs.
"And thousands of words later, I'm still waiting on you to say something."
This time it is Don who maintains the silence.
Winchester releases a brief chuckle and shakes his head ruefully, trying to pretend that breaking the silence, as he's about to, isn't a concession. But it really is. Still, he does manage to maintain a façade of disinterest as he looks over the St Louis photographs, deliberately pointing to each one with a casual, "Haven't been there," before stopping at the last in the sequence, one where the victim was tortured but survived. He slowly draws back his hand and again locks gaze with Don who picks up that photo and hold it up to him. "And this one?"
Dean Winchester leans forward to scrutinise it. Then asking permission with another flicker of his eyes, he makes a show of taking the photograph by one corner and turning it to look at it from every angle, before offering another shrug.
"Been there. My brother has a college friend who lives there."
"Would that be the college friend that you tortured within an inch of her life?"
"Never tortured anyone." Calm, collected, matter-of-fact, he tosses the photo back onto the table.
"That's not what she says."
The eyebrows go up in cool surprise. "She still say that?"
Don doesn't answer and grits his teeth against the little smirk of triumph that slowly spreads over his opponent's features.
"Maybe you managed to intimidate some witnesses into changing their story, doesn't mean we haven't got enough evidence to nail you."
Winchester leans back further in his chair and spreads his hands as far as the handcuffs will allow. "Evidence, huh? Gotta all be circumstantial."
It's true. "Oh, yeah? Why?"
And now he leans forward, emphasis in the words as well as the gesture. "Because I didn't torture anyone and I didn't kill anyone." Although said clearly, there's also resignation, as if he's explained all this before to no avail. And he has. The transcript from his "confession" to the Baltimore PD is also in the file and it's hands down the most bizarre piece of bullshit that Don has ever read in a statement.
The protest of innocence is no more believable now than it was then, and Don snorts as he too leans forward. "Then you have to be really unlucky for us to have linked you to so many violent, gruesome deaths."
Suddenly, the rhythm is broken, as Winchester laughs. A quick burst of what seems like genuine amusement. "Yeah, tell me about it."
But there's no way that Don is going to let the suspect set the pace of this interrogation. It's not going to get diverted or derailed now. Not bothering to hide his disgust at these horrors being trivialised, he immediately hits back, "So, torture, murder, people's lives - it's all just a game to you?"
To Don's surprise, Winchester reacts almost as if he's been slapped. The humour is instantly wiped from his face and for an instant he stares at Don who is almost as shocked to see his words produce this kind of response. Although they were almost a reflex reaction, Don believed them as he spoke them. He's never doubted that he's dealing with a psychopath here, someone to whom human life means nothing.
He barely hears the soft, quiet "no" in response to his question. Both of them seem to be on the back foot for a beat or two and then there is a flicker of a smile from Dean Winchester, sad and slightly self-mocking. The words are almost whispered, barely carrying. "Doing a job that's life and death, day in, day out... kinda find yourself laughing at things..." The sentences aren't finished. He shrugs and looks away.
Don continues to stare silently for a second or two. It's all he can do not to blink. But, no. No. It was a good performance, Don will give him that, but there's no way this bastard is going to sucker Don Eppes into identifying with his sick mindset in any way. And it's opened up a new angle.
"What kind of job are we talking here? You kill for a living?"
Winchester's gaze whips back around and his eyes harden instantly. "There's killing and there's killing." There's no humour at all in his voice now. "I've never killed anything human."
Feeling his foothold strengthen, Don snorts again. "Oh, yeah? So what does and doesn't fit your definition of 'human'? Blacks? Hispanics? Arabs? Jews?"
Once again, a smile slowly spreads across Dean Winchester's face, but this time it's a complete sham. Despite the sneering derision in his voice, his eyes blaze with true fury. "Yeah, that would just fit nicely with the 'Redneck White Trash' profile you've got on file for me, right?" He leans forward again, really getting into Don's face this time. "Last Fed I talked to, talked that White Supremacist crap about my dad too."
And these last words are very carefully measured and slightly bitten off, the anger cold and cutting at first, but the heat rising with each syllable uttered.
Don's turn to play Mr Cool. "You're saying it's not true then?"
"It's. Not. True." Each word precisely spoken, like a nail being driven home.
Again, as if inexplicably, the momentum is suddenly gone. Leaning back, the smirking high school prankster returns. "Why don't you take another guess? You guys capable of coming up with more than one idea at a time?"
But Don isn't fooled for a second. Winchester really wants off this topic. He brought his father into it and that's where he made his mistake. Even the most soulless bastards need something or someone to believe in and Dean Winchester's file shows only two personal connections. There's been no sign of the father in over two years and the prevailing theory is that he's probably dead. The brother, on the other hand... The pattern of recent sightings is fairly constant. Odds on, little brother is around somewhere.
It's time to take everything up a notch, up several notches. Don levels a steady gaze at Dean Winchester, sees his opponent's eyes narrow slightly. It seems that they both realize the point that they've come to, so he might as well be direct about it.
"So where's Sam?"
It's acknowledged with a slight leaning back in the chair, but even though a light chuckle is brushed over it, the tension remains constant.
"Was wondering how long it'd take you."
"Look, no offence, but you aren't the first Fed I've done this dance with." A shrug and like flicking a switch, it's back to playing the nonchalant wiseass. "Mind you, last one didn't spend so much time buttering me up. He was more a 'wham, bam, thank you ma'am' kinda guy. But I like your way better. A little slow dancing first. Maybe you could buy me a drink or two later on. Makes me not feel so cheap, y'know?"
The last thing Don wants is to lose the intensity. "Oh, you're a cheap, miserable little piece of shit, make no mistake."
But that just earns him another look of amused surprise, so he goes again for the only trigger that's had any effect so far. "And it seems that the only thing that you give a damn about is your degenerate, psychokiller family."
"You know nothing about my family."
Still trying to keep up the momentum, Don opens his mouth to list details, but Winchester cuts him off.
"Oh, yeah, you've read a file. Believed every word of it too, I'll bet, but you don't know a single goddam thing."
"I know that you've left a trail of death and mutilation in your wake. Somehow wherever you go, every horror imaginable follows. I know the casualties include your brother's girlfriend in Palo Alto, his college friend in St Louis, your accomplice in Milwaukee."
"Hey! Your side killed Ronald. No way that's down to me!" And it sounds like this wiseass psychopath is actually insulted by the accusation.
"But you never looked back, did you? What's one more death, after all? You just continue on your merry little tour of destruction and mayhem. Seems the only one safe from you is that brother of yours." And now Don throws in a carefully calculated shrug of his own. "But maybe not even him, huh?"
For a second, Winchester looks as though he's about to leap across the table and wrap his hands around Don's throat, but instead, he takes a deep breath and again speaks in distinct, deliberate words.
"You know nothing about me. You know nothing about Sam. And for all your files and FBI databases and whatever other shit you've got there, you don't know anything about what's really going on out there in the world, Agent Mulder." He flicks a hand dismissively at the file on the table. "You think that's me? That's my life? That's just some fairytale you and your buddies have cooked up. Made the story up to suit yourselves and never asked whether it's true or not. And you never will. Of course not. It's an FBI file, like it's gospel or something. Hey, who needs the actual truth when you've got a file to believe?"
And Don's mind involuntarily goes back to other FBI files that he has and hasn't read. The file on Matthew Stirling and the bomb attacks that he was accused of - which were actually (if unknowingly) instigated by an undercover FBI agent. The FBI file on Don's own father that he's only read the bare minimum of, because he's never wanted any more direct conflict between his belief in his father and his trust in the integrity and competence of the FBI - not any more than there has already been. And when some at the FBI had questioned his father's integrity, Don instinctively knew who to look to for the truth. Family.
And dammit, when he now looks across at Dean Winchester, for a brief moment what he sees is an angry, frightened kid, determined to protect his father's integrity. Desperate to shield his little brother. Hell, it's been easy to forget up until now, but this guy sitting across from him is actually younger than Charlie. Not that his age should mean anything. No, this "kid" is old enough to take full responsibility for what he's done. Stick with the facts.
The facts of the case file are brutal. Black and white. How could they possibly have been distorted? Don closes his eyes for a second and, uncertain himself whether it's genuine or for show, he lets out a small sigh. Then, opening his eyes again, he puts every ounce of earnestness that he possesses into the tone of his voice.
"Okay, tell me what the truth is, then."
The reaction is pure, genuine surprise. Dean Winchester evidently has his own preconceived ideas about how the FBI works and how its agents are supposed to act and, apparently, Don just broke pattern. You'd think that it'd be difficult to make a smile both rueful and cocky at the same time, but Winchester pulls it off effortlessly.
"The truth? What was it that Jack once said? You can't handle the truth."
Don snorts again, because this guy really is his own worst enemy. "Okay, so you sit there telling me that we don't know the truth, but you won't tell us what the hell you think the truth is. What do you expect from me?"
Winchester just shrugs again, like none of this matters. Don knows that it's done to annoy him. It's working.
"Tell me what you are doing in my town."
A look of appraisal (as if Dean Winchester has the right to sit in judgment of anyone) and then he seems to come to a decision and leans forward again, but this time the stance seems earnest, conspiratorial.
"Okay, you'll never believe me, but here goes nothing. Y'know those unexplained fires you've been having? Three deaths in a week so far, right? And I'm guessing your Fire Department can't identify a source. That'd be enough to make it a mystery for investigation, surely? Even if you don't know for sure that it's arson - and murder."
"That was you?"
"No!" Winchester throws himself back in his chair, tosses his hands up in a gesture of derision, as if Don is clearly too stupid for him to be bothered continuing this conversation.
And although Don feels like he's setting himself up to have his chain yanked, he has to ask. "Then how do you know about them?"
"Sam saw them happen."
"What?" That resolution to not react was slipping. "What do you mean he saw them? You're telling me he was there? Where were you?"
"No, he wasn't there. When the first one happened we were in Oregon. Well, driving out of Oregon, actually. Sammy got the vision about two hours before it happened, apparently."
"Vision?" Don now has a very real appreciation of how those cops in Baltimore felt. No wonder they roughed this guy up a little. Just when you think you might have made a breakthrough, he dumps this crap on you.
"Yeah. He, y'know, sees stuff and then stuff happens. Usually stuff involving someone dying. And it's either tied up with a certain yellow-eyed demonic son of a bitch, or one of a bunch of kids with psychic superpowers. Turns out, this time it's a chick with freaky firestarter powers. Took a few days investigating and Sam getting slammed with three more of his psychic migraines, but now we've got a lead on her."
"A lead?" And now Don tastes a whole new flavour of disbelief. "You talk about this as if it's a case."
Dean Winchester gives him the most penetrating look that any suspect has ever given him. "That's because that's what it is."
And in that moment everything both crystallises and gets totally blown away. Could this guy actually think he's hunting down evil, maybe even saving the world? For a moment, Don can practically see Megan pacing through the office, gesturing with her hand, as she expounds on some "vigilante model" for the case. But, no. That doesn't fit with the gruesome torture crime scenes in St Louis. Those murders were committed by someone who thoroughly enjoyed and extended the suffering involved. Precisely the sort of monster that any self-respecting vigilante would take great pleasure in taking out...
No. Not possible. But the facts of the matter are that the killings in St Louis were stopped and someone was buried there as Dean Winchester.
One thing that has continually baffled the Bureau's top profilers in their analysis of the Winchester file is the pattern of variation in some of the truly bizarre crimes it contains. Credit card fraud and certain types of vandalism seem fairly constant, but many of the "crime sprees" attributed to the Winchester brothers seem location specific, certainly most of the killings, like the St Louis murders. There's almost always a bizarre "signature" MO which is remarkably similar to each case in that location, but which radically changes when they move on to the next location. Serial killers just don't change their signatures like that, not usually. Some have just decided that the Winchesters are "unique" in this way, probably the sort of case some psychology academic could build a whole career around. Because if you assume that the Winchesters did commit them all, then it defies any other simple explanation. But if you apply the "vigilante model", then maybe things start falling into place...
But just one minute here! The guy is talking about evil killer psychics. People who burn other people to death with the power of their minds, for God's sake! That's just totally deranged. Or is that what Winchester wants them to think?
"You're saying that someone is killing people by setting them on fire psychically? Do you actually expect me to believe that?"
"And do you actually listen to the answers when you're asking questions? I'm pretty sure I said something like, 'You'll never believe me, but -'. Look, you asked for the truth. You're getting it. What you choose to believe, I got no control over."
"Maybe you should start worrying about what a judge and jury will believe."
Another smiling shrug. This guy's apparent lack of concern is quite mind-boggling. "When the time comes."
"And what about your brother?"
Winchester's flippancy disappears instantly and Don restrains his own smile. Once again, back to this, but it might be the only leverage he has to work with. And the suspect's reaction is so consistent, it's unquestionably enough for a breakthrough.
Dean Winchester says nothing in reply, but watches him like a hawk, as Don continues to weave the tale for him.
"What about when Sam is standing in front of that judge and jury, facing the death penalty on numerous counts. We've got two suspects in every case, and only two, and the fact of the matter is, if one of you shoulders the blame, both don't have to go all the way down. You're not stupid. You know that the way that the evidence is stacked, the only one with a remotely salvageable case is Sam. So how about you tell me everything about every one of these cases?" He taps the file. "And yeah, I'll throw the book at you to the full extent of the law, but everything, everything possible will be done for Sam."
For a second or two neither of them dares breathe. Don knows exactly what instinct led him here. As he watches Winchester's eyes widen slightly, the faintest puff of air breathed through his teeth, Don knows he's got him. He really has got him. But the realisation twists his gut rather than bringing any sense of satisfaction. Don knows how and he knows why and he knows. There's no triumph here, only a defeat. Defeat staring at him like a man betrayed.
It's Don that breaks the eye contact between them this time. Looking back down at the file, he taps the document twice, the gesture pretending to be emphatic.
He looks up when Winchester starts speaking again. The tone manages to be flippant, but stumbles ever so slightly over the first word, belying the façade of unshakability that he's trying to put forward.
"Nice try, but you don't have Sam. And even if you did, you'd never let him go. You couldn't. You'd lock him up and he'd be an easy target... No, you've got nothing."
Don sighs, theatrically. "And here was I thinking that you actually cared about your brother." It's just a tokenistic comment, really, and they both know it. After where that last exchange took them, Don needs a break to take stock of things. So he's going to concede this round, but he's throwing a token punch to assure his opponent that the fight will continue.
But Winchester gives a reply that appears to be more of an answer than the comment deserves. Don honestly doesn't know if what he sees in that steady gaze is defiant challenge or grudging respect., but there is no doubting the earnestness of Dean Winchester's words or the significance he gives them.
"What's the point in saving the world, if you can't even save your own family?"
Don raises his eyebrows. It's a brisk counter, but there doesn't seem to be any real impact. He's not even sure where it was aimed.
But it's definitely time to end this round. He wordlessly picks up the photos and places them back in the folder, knowing that Winchester is still watching him for a reaction. Don won't give him the satisfaction just yet. He stands and walks to the door. He needs time to get his breath back. Have the people in his corner help him analyse how the bout is going, where he let his guard down, what new moves he can try. He can see that his opponent wants to keep going, but this is Don's arena. He sets the rules.
Dean Winchester pulls out his most annoying smirk to date. "That it? Hey, can I get a coffee or something during the break? Maybe a magazine to read, if I'm gonna be on my own in here? Or maybe send in Long Tall Sally to keep me company?"
He's still speaking as Don puts his hand on the door, goading him for a response. Patience has never really been Don's strongest suit, so he tosses back a smirk of his own. "Don't worry. I'll be back shortly."
Winchester glances at his watch and chuckles. "Oh, I wouldn't bet on it."
Don turns fully to give him a hard look and the knowing smile that greets him has a dangerous edge to it. Despite the alarm that begins to sound at the back of his mind, Don forces a derisive snort as he exits the room.
Megan catches his eye as soon as he closes the door. He knows what she's going to say and tries to pre-empt her.
"Hey, Long Tall Sally."
"Yes," she says dismissively, "that was a good one." She's not going to be swayed from her purpose. "You almost had him."
He raises his hands, strangely more defensive here than he was in the interview room. "Yeah, I know. Can't win 'em all on the first round."
Megan doesn't accept his mock surrender. She knows him too well. Her gaze is too piercing. "You pulled back."
"He called the bluff."
She doesn't buy his denial for a second and their gazes remain locked until his ringing phone drags his attention away.
His brother's voice is more than welcome. For the first time since they arrested Dean Winchester, the tension eases. Don even laughs a little as he asks, "What can I do for you, Charlie?"
Less than five minutes later, he runs from the office, Megan hot on his heels, both desperate to reach CalSci before it's too late.
"What's the point in saving the world, if you can't even save your own family?"
He's going to kill Dean Winchester. He really is going to kill the bastard. Slowly.
But first things first.
And it can't be too late.
It just can't.
Take a long line
Take a long line
Reel him in