Author's Notes: Who knew "Claddagh" wanted to be a series? Apparently, it does. So here it is, the second installment of what is now the Claddagh Series. Post-Janus List.
The rays of sun leaking between the shade and the window sill struck him in the face. His foggy brain struggled into gear, and he pried his eyes open, squinting against the offending light. The unwelcome ache in his head and the dryness in his mouth told Don Eppes that this was the closest he'd come to a bona fide hangover in a long time.
Alan had gone to bed last night leaving his sons to finish off the sake. In actuality, it had been Don's doing more than Charlie's. Don didn't think Charlie had ever seen him drink quite that much, but the younger brother hadn't said anything. He'd simply made sure Don got up the stairs to his old room safely and gotten to bed.
Don had hoped that when he woke up, the past several days would have been a bad dream. Nightmare, more like. How could this have happened? How could he have misread a member of his own team so badly? He'd taken Granger under his wing, groomed him, mentored him . . . given him a second chance after the first screw-up with Dwayne Carter.
He rolled onto his back and rubbed his hands over his eyes with a groan. How could he trust anyone again?
A soft tap sounded on his bedroom door. "Don?" Charlie called softly before cracking the door slightly. "Are you awake? I brought you some orange juice."
Don squinted at his brother through his fingers and groaned again. "No, thanks, Charlie. Just some aspirin and some water." He paused a moment. "Maybe some coffee when I come downstairs."
"Are you gonna be okay?" Don heard the concern in his brother's voice.
"Sure. I'll be okay," Don said. "Eventually," he added in a softer tone.
"Aspirin and water it is." Charlie closed the door softly, leaving Don to get his act together and face the day.
Showered, shaved, and slightly more presentable than when he had gone to bed the previous night, Don came down the stairs. Alan was in the living room reading the morning paper. Charlie had a cup of coffee, a piece of dry toast, a glass of water, and two aspirin laid out on the table. Don gave his brother a small smile. "Thanks."
"You want me to come to the office with you today?" Charlie asked.
Don pursed his lips and shrugged. "Not sure what you could do. But thanks for the offer."
"So what happens now?"
"We start doing a deep background check on Granger, see how deep this thing goes. We'll also probably start pulling all the case files he worked on, see if anything's been compromised."
"It wasn't your fault, Donnie." Alan had put his paper down and removed his reading glasses and was eyeing his son. "You know that."
"Yeah, well, we'll see what IA has to say about that." Don popped the aspirin in his mouth and chased them down with a gulp of water.
"Internal Affairs?" Charlie was worried. "They couldn't really hold you responsible, could they?"
"He was part of my team. Somewhere along the line, I'm responsible."
Charlie was speechless.
"Hey, don't worry about it. Worst case scenario, my team gets taken off field duty during the investigation and we eventually get reassigned."
"You mean split up?" Charlie asked.
"It's a possibility."
"But not a probability." Charlie was clearly looking for reassurance.
"I'm going to do everything I can to see that it doesn't happen."
"Don, if you need me to do anything—give a statement or review case files or—or call some of my contacts at the NSA or—just—whatever—I'll—"
"Look, Charlie, I appreciate it. Just let me get through today, okay?" He gave his brother a halfhearted clap on the shoulder.
The shrill ring of Don's cell phone interrupted any reply Charlie or Alan might have made. Don unclipped it from his belt and checked the caller ID screen: Megan Reeves. He snapped the phone open, dreading anything his second in command could have to tell him this early in the morning.
"Don? It's Megan." Her voice sounded thick, her tone weary.
"Megan, what's up?" Don's brow knit in concern. What's up? was such a simple question for what he knew was only the beginning of a long, painful investigative process.
"Where are you?"
"At the house."
"How soon can you be at the office?"
Don suspected the question did not bode well as he checked his watch. "Give me half an hour?" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his father's and his brother's eyebrows shoot upward. To get to the office in thirty minutes, he'd have to push all the speed limits and hit all the lights green.
"The sooner you can get here, the better."
"Why? What's wrong?"
"IA is here and they've been asking for you."
Don checked his watch again. "Already? It's only ten after seven."
Megan sighed. "I know. And Homeland Security has been calling, as well as the NSA."
Don ran a hand across his forehead and closed his eyes. He wasn't sure if those two little aspirin were going to do him any good at this point. Maybe he should take something stronger. "Damn it," he muttered under his breath. He could forget about running to his apartment for a fresh suit.
"Yeah. I've been running interference. I sent David down to records to start pulling old case files and get him out of the line of fire for the time being, but we could really use our fearless leader here."
Fearless leader, Don thought ironically. No time to be afraid. Too much to hold together for that.
Don strode to the door and grabbed his jacket. "I'm on my way." Flipping his phone shut, he clipped it onto his belt.
"We'll save you some dinner," Alan called, and Don knew his father was being optimistic.
Don shook his head as he pulled on his jacket. "I won't be back this evening, so don't wait up."
"Call me if you need anything," Charlie called after him. Don waved a hand and was out the door. There was no way he was going to call Charlie in on this unless absolutely necessary. Granger had already put the rest of their careers at risk; Don would be damned if he'd risk Charlie's career as well.
The morning was every bit the nightmare Don expected it to be. As the leader of his team, he spent most of the time in meetings with departmental higher-ups, lawyers, and the internal investigator, Sheila Irwin, reviewing the cases that would have to be pulled to determine what evidence would no longer be admissible in court and which cases would be re-tried, and more importantly, what information regarding local and national security might have been compromised. Two years' worth of investigations was a hell of a lot of ground to cover. While he was locked in the closed-door sessions, he knew Megan had started on the preliminaries of the deep background on Granger. If she eventually got assigned to do the deeper check, she'd have someone from IA working with her, checking and double-checking her work. Don could not wait to get to his own desk, to do something productive, to have something at which to aim his energy and his anger, rather than repeat himself again and again to pencil pushers who had no idea what this sort of betrayal felt like.
When Don came out of these meetings, he spent much of his time on the phone. He was not too distracted, however, to notice that Megan kept herself glued to her computer screen or buried in files. This was to be expected. The fact that she would not make eye contact with Don when he spoke to her was not.
"That Irwin is a piece of work," Don muttered to Megan as he passed her desk. He knew he should be more politic in his bearing, but after three hours of arguing in circles, during which the woman issued veiled accusations of conspiracy on his part, Don felt his restraint waver. What he really wanted was a punching bag. "She actually accused me of being in collusion with Granger because I stood up for him after we collared Carter.
Megan sat at her desk, peering at her computer screen through black-rimmed glasses. A cold cup of coffee sat ignored on her desk. She paused in her typing but did not meet Don's gaze. "The woman's an idiot," Megan replied, and Don was surprised by her lack of tact. "I told her that we had no idea he was withholding information, and when he finally did come forward, you gave him a royal chewing out and pulled him off the case. I told her to check Granger's file for the reprimand."
"You spoke with Irwin before I got here?" Don did not like the sound of that. How could he defend what was left of his team if he wasn't there?
"Not officially," Megan said. "It was just 'girl talk'." The last two words were laced with sarcasm.
Having been in meetings all morning, Don felt the need for a diversion and decided a fresh cup of coffee was in order. Noticing the film on the surface of Megan's coffee, he pointed to the cup. "Do you want some fresh?"
Megan looked at the cup, then up at Don. She seemed somewhat preoccupied, and though they were just starting their rough ride, distraction was not a good thing. She took off her glasses and sighed. "I need to talk to you." The tone in her voice made Don uneasy.
"Okay. Join me for coffee." He nodded his head toward the break room as he picked up her cup.
"No, we need to talk someplace private."
"Did you find something in the background check?"
Megan shook her head. "It's not about— I just— We need to talk."
Don's facial expression became neutral as he covered the apprehension growing in his gut. He'd lost Colby; now he was going to lose Megan. All he needed was for the SAC to transfer David, and Don's team would be completely dismantled. Don looked at his watch. "It's almost 1:30; we can have lunch in the park."
Megan nodded and gathered her things.
Don paid for their hotdogs and sodas. He and Megan wandered to a bench away from the more heavily traveled pedestrian paths, in the shade and seclusion offered by the lush greenery. They ate quietly; small talk seemed pointless and the current situation was oppressive, almost overwhelming. But Don knew that being overwhelmed was not an option. He had to pick up the pieces of their broken team. Megan and David and even Charlie were counting on him to make things right.
"Hey, have I told you it's good to have you back?" Don said.
"It's good to be back," she replied, but her words lacked the energy to convince him they were true. "Really," she added. "I missed . . . I missed having a team I knew I could count on."
A long pause stretched between them. Don watched a father teaching his young daughter to rollerblade. The child was clad in knee pads, elbow pads, and a helmet as she held stiffly onto her daddy's hand. "So," Don said by way of an attempt to start the conversation.
"So," Megan replied just as vaguely, still failing to meet his eye. She seemed to be watching the same family.
"What did you want to talk about?" With everything that had happened since her return, it could have been anything.
"It's been a rough couple of days, hasn't it."
"That's an understatement."
The awkward silence fell again. The father scooped his daughter up under her arms as she landed on her behind.
"I'm so sorry, Don. I had no idea."
"Sorry about what?" Don shifted his gaze from the child to Megan, whose voice had become nasal and quiet.
She looked at him now, her eyes begging forgiveness. "I should have known. I should have picked up on something, I should have—" Her eyes darted away from his as she redirected her focus to the leaves behind his shoulder.
Don shifted in his seat and placed a comforting hand on her arm. "Hey, it's not your fault. I'm the team leader. If it's anyone's fault, it's mine."
The corner of her mouth quirked wryly. "I see those therapy sessions are doing you a world of good."
Don smiled sardonically, but the smile quickly faded. "I should have given him his walking papers after the first run-in with Carter."
"He was part of the team. You gave him a second chance because you're a good leader and you know people make mistakes."
"Thanks. But this . . . " He shook his head slowly as his eyes wandered to the bright flowers lining the path to their bench. "This is enough to make me start questioning my own judgment."
Megan quickly reached out and grasped his hand firmly, almost desperately. "Don't. Don't do that, Don. We need you to get through this. We can't lose you, too."
"I'll do my best," Don said with a sigh, returning her grip.
"I'm serious. I can't do this by myself. Larry's go— . . . unreachable, Colby's a traitor . . . And after that assignment . . . I just . . . "
Don had a general idea of the nature of Megan's recent assignment with the Department of Justice, but he did not know the specifics of what had happened. Whatever it was had dimmed the enthusiasm he'd come to appreciate and rely on in his profiler. "Do you want to talk about it? The assignment?" he asked, somewhat awkwardly but as gently as he could. This was her area of expertise, not his. Still, focusing on someone else's problems meant he didn't have to think about his own.
Megan shook her head as she ran a hand through her hair. "I can't. Not yet. I just . . ."
"Am I going to lose you?" Don prepared himself for the worst.
"I don't . . . no, but I can't lose you, either." Tears came to her eyes and she swiped them away. "Damn it. I promised myself I wouldn't let this happen."
A sense of helpless frustration crept up on Don. This was Megan sitting with him, one of the toughest, smartest, strongest women he knew. Still, he knew that her emotions were running close to the surface; her assignment had gone badly, Larry was in a monastery, and Colby was a double agent for the Chinese. If she needed to cry, he was damn well going to let her.
She tried to chuckle through the tears. "If my father could see me, crying like a little girl. In front of my boss, no less."
"Hey, no." Don angled his head to catch her eye. The pain in her gaze tore at his heart, and he pulled her into his arms, hoping that the embrace would give her comfort and strength in spite of the helplessness he felt. "If you need to cry, who am I gonna tell? You'd beat me to a pulp with that Krav Maga as soon as you were done."
Her arms wrapped around him, and he felt silent tears soak into his shirt.
"But we're not going back to the office until my shirt is dry. Tear stains are a dead giveaway."
That did bring a laugh, but the grip on him tightened. "I'm sorry," she whispered into his shoulder.
"Nothing to be sorry for." He stroked her hair softly.
After a few moments, he gently pushed her away. He searched her face for some reassurance that he wasn't alone in this. Uncertain of what he found there, he thumbed away a fresh tear as it rolled down her cheek. She gave him a soft, watery smile of thanks, then leaned into him with a grateful hug. He returned it in kind.
"I told you," he murmured, "I take care of my own."