Dark Justice

by Valerie Vancollie

valeriev84 at hotmail dot com

Characters: Charlie, Don

Rating: PG-13

Summary: Charlie's math leads a case to an unexpected and unwanted conclusion.

Time: Season 3 (i.e.: Don's been back in L.A. for four years)

Spoilers: Judgment Call, Backscatter

Disclaimer: I do not own Don Eppes, Charlie Eppes or any other of the Numb3rs characters, items or situations. I only lay claim to the original aspects of the fic.

Charlie Eppes had always found numbers to be infinitely easier to understand than people, even back when he'd still been a student learning new mathematical concepts from his tutors and professors. Those theorems and postulates had always made sense on some level, like he was trapped inside an onion and each new lesson served to peel away yet another layer of the ignorance shrouding him so that everything became clearer; more logical. The new concepts served to help clarify the numbers and equations already racing through his mind at light speed.

People, however, people had never made much sense to him. Sure, Charlie could quite often quantify their behavior and discern patterns in it, yet there was always something indefinable there, something unquantifiable. Larry's elusive 'human element.' Often it wouldn't matter in the grander scheme of things; his equations would work with sufficient data as this factor would fall into place simply because it wasn't isolated and the manner in which it affected the other variables would be enough to make the entire expression function as it was supposed to.

Despite this, the indefinable element remained and continued to stump Charlie. He'd see it when otherwise smart students made stupid decisions; when logical people made illogical choices when it was statistically obvious that an unfavorable outcome was only to be expected.

Don had once accused him during an argument of having a black and white view of people. The comment had cut deep as he considered himself to be an expert on the complex. After all, he dealt daily with exceedingly complex formulae that required strict attention to detail as the slightest mistake could throw the entire calculation. It had taken weeks for his brother's true meaning to filter through his irrational anger at what he'd perceived to be an insult to his intelligence and abilities.

People were more than mere static numbers, they had a fluidity to them that had to be taken into account when dealing with them. Charlie had also been forced to realize that there would be times when he'd be unable to use his math to deal with them, not because of a discrepancy of skills on his part, but due to a definable lack of data. He simply didn't possess all of the information necessary to accurately predict someone's behavior most of the time.

Even armed with this knowledge, however, Charlie still was unable to comprehend certain human choices as they defied every moiety of logic and sense. Like how a mother could one day suddenly kill her own children, how someone could kidnap and brutally kill little kids, how a man could beat his wife simply because she was five minutes late with dinner. Or how someone could stand by a killer.

Yet now, watching as two FBI agents escorted his brother out of the interrogation room in cuffs, Charlie became forcefully acquainted with the illogical. He'd seen the evidence--circumstantial as it was, the sheer quantity of it made it statistically unlikely that all of it wrongly pointed to the same conclusion--and seen Don's face when confronted with the accusations. Although the agents questioning his brother wouldn't be able to tell, he knew his big brother well enough for his eyes to tell him all that he needed to know.

He had killed them.

Don had murdered ten innocent people. Minimum.

At least they were considered innocent by the justice system. Charlie refused to believe that they were actually innocent. Don wouldn't do that. He wouldn't kill innocents. The courts must have been wrong: the juries deceived or the defense lawyers too slick or the criminals themselves too good at covering their tracks. Criminals; that's what they were, each and every one of them. Not victims, never victims. The authorities simply hadn't been able to prove it and they had escaped justice. At least until his brother had caught up with them, had made them pay for their crimes and to ensure that they never harmed anyone ever again.

That's the way it must have happened.

The fact that all of the deceased had been acquitted of serious crimes or had been clever enough to not leave enough evidence for the case to even go to trial, despite the fact that the agents involved knew it was them, was what had originally started the current FBI investigation. An agent had been going over a brutal serial rapist cold case that had been bothering her as she knew who was responsible but had never been able to prove it, only to find that her suspect had been murdered in a way that was slightly similar to the death of a vicious drug lord the DEA had been fruitlessly chasing for years.

A lot of digging in her spare time and a healthy dose of intuition had led Special Agent Jessica Higgins to discover six cases in the L.A. area spanning a four year period where a person suspected of being a dangerous criminal had been murdered. The immediate conclusion reached by the Bureau agents had been vigilante. They were dealing with someone displeased with the justice system. Charlie had heard more than one agent murmur some level of agreement with the perpetrator's assessment as the cold case files were gathered and pictures of the crimes and their victims surfaced. Not that he thought any of them would have acted the way Don had, though the thought may have fleetingly crossed the minds of a select few.

There had been some skepticism at the beginning of the case, though, as the similarities between the various murders had been tenuous at best. There was no single concrete connection to tie all of the cases together. He'd come in on the case when Megan called him asking if he could do what he had done when they were investigating the murder of Judge Trelane's wife. He'd run a Baysian filter on all the murders in the L.A. area in the past ten years and those murders had come out together along with another one that Agent Higgins hadn't flagged. When the expression was run on all murders in the Western United States, another three had stood out along with a few that were suspicious, all but one of which were from New Mexico with the last one from Eastern Arizona.

The case had stalled there for a while as there was almost nothing further to go on to figure out the elusive pi. While all the murdered people had been investigated at one point or another, the authorities looking into them had included everyone from the FBI to the ATF to the local police. There had seemed to be no commonalities between the cases beyond the vigilante theory and the clustering of locations.

Not wanting to see the emotions on the faces of Don's agents as their boss was taken away, Charlie turned his back to the bull pen. Right now they'd probably be feeling anything from shock and disbelief to horror to anger and betrayal, and he couldn't deal with that at the present. He was still far too busy processing the new information he had just learned about his big brother. Besides, whatever any one of the special agents were feeling right now, it would slowly morph into pity and suspicion as far as he was concerned and he was in no hurry to help speed the process along. The inevitable would occur as surely as Larry would forget one of his students' appointments this week, but he'd rather it not happen sooner rather then later.

Charlie took several deep breaths before stepping up to the white boards Don's team had been using to investigate the murders. Pinned along the top of both were two sets of photos of the deceased, the first of them from shortly before their deaths, the second straight from the crime scenes. Forcing down the bile that rose, he looked at each picture once more. He'd seen them a dozen times before during the course of this long and drawn out investigation, but this was his first look at the corpses knowing that it had been Don, the big brother who had always looked out for and helped him, that had killed these people.

As Megan had noted early on, death had been dealt swiftly in each case. There had been no unnecessary suffering, no torture or other attempt to cause pain. Nor had there been any signs of hesitation. The killer had known exactly what he wanted to do and how to do it. The method of death differed, which had been interpreted as being a means to avoid detection so that he wasn't recognized as a serial killer and hunted as such.

Serial killer.

The words hit Charlie with all the force of a bulldozer. His brother, Don... Donny, was now considered a serial killer by the FBI. One hand flew to his mouth as he forced himself not to throw up even as he took two unsteady steps to the nearest chair and collapsed into it.

How had things come to this so suddenly? One day he was hard at work attempting to provide his big brother and his team with some sort of lead on the Vigilante Killer as they seemed to be hitting dead end after dead end on the case. Other than Megan's profile, all they knew was that the man must have some sort of special training as he was clearly comfortable around weapons and knew how to kill and leave no proof of his identity behind. The next, he made a breakthrough that had placed the FBI on the path that had ultimately resulted in the arrest of his brother.

Megan had said that the man considered his actions to be justified and, if not done in service of the government, then in the name of the victims. He was patient and highly intelligent, able to choose his victims carefully and then meticulously plan out his attack before executing it. She also strongly believed that, unless they caught him, he would continue killing as he had successfully gotten away with doing so for nearly seven years. If they had managed to track down all of his victims, if not then he could have been at it for longer.

Charlie laughed aloud at the surrealism of applying her profile to Don. He had spent weeks in this very room with his brother and the rest of the FBI team, working on this case, speculating as to the possible motives and drives of the murderer, attempting to figure out his next target. While the entire time their man had been sitting with them, seeming to aid them in their search.

Don had given nothing away, done nothing to make himself suspect. He had seemed to be his normal self other than being a little distracted at times, seemingly absorbed by the photos on the white boards. Now Charlie wondered what he'd been thinking then, had he been remembering the night he had killed them? Waiting in the dark for them to come to him so that he could ensure that they never hurt anyone ever again? Did he talk to them? Let them know why he was there? Or did he simply kill them?

The image of his brother killing anyone not immediately threatening his life or that of a fellow agent or victim chilled Charlie to the core and he shoved it aside. Instead he concentrated on the skill with which Don had done it all. Never had anyone suspected that there might be a connection between the deceased, never had anyone suspected that the murders were anything more than isolated events somehow relating to the deceased's shady pasts.

Never until Agent Higgins came along.

Briefly an irrational anger shot through Charlie. Despite the fact that he had liked the confident woman instantly, he now hated her with a passion. She was responsible for the crumbling of Charlie's safe world. For ruining his brother's good name and for potentially sending him to jail.

The rage abruptly left him as he remembered all that he had done to bring the case to the present situation. Each roadblock he and the team had hit had only furthered his resolve to catch this killer. The mere mention of this case being put aside like each individual murder had fueled his drive as surely as it had irritated his brother's team who had grown used to solving each case they got before moving on to the next.

Charlie had been determined to prove that math could reveal the identity of the perpetrator who had managed to outmaneuver all of the traditional investigative methods. Little had he known at the time that the whole situation was simply a horribly warped case of the sibling rivalry that had existed between him and Don since he was little. The customary triumph that normally rose within him when he bested his brother was conspicuously absent.

'Oh, Don,' he thought. 'Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you make me stop working this case when I started to close in on you?'

But Charlie already knew the answer to that. Don knew that he wouldn't have given it up and that ordering him to do so would have been useless. If he'd refused to back down when the Russian mafia could attack him for his involvement in a case, it was a given that he wouldn't let go of a case just because Don wanted him too.

Not without a good reason.

So why hadn't Don told him the truth? Why hadn't he explained that to track down this killer, to solve this case, would be to catch him? Didn't Don trust him enough to admit the truth to him? Did he think that Charlie would consider it more important to solve this riddle which had stumped authorities for seven years than to help his big brother? That he'd put professional pride before family ties?

Or was Don ashamed of his actions? Charlie paused to consider this option for a moment before tossing it. If Don was ashamed of what he'd done he wouldn't have kept on doing it, he would have halted it after the first time. Nor would he have walked out of the interrogation room the way he had, making the accompanying agents look more like escorts than guards. There would have been some indication of it, at least to someone who knew him as well as he did.

No, it was probably due to Don's inability to admit he needed help, much less ask it of his family.

Well, able to ask for it or not, Don sure was going to get his help now. Charlie was resolved to do all that he could for his brother. He knew the evidence against his brother was still tenuous at best and that the agents had originally hoped to wrangle a confession out of the killer by playing on the fact that he clearly believed his actions to be just and probably noble. Don hadn't budged however, knowing perfectly well what they had on him and what they didn't. All of which left Charlie with several options he could employ to aid his brother's case, though he'd promised himself never to use his precious numbers for this type of situation. But things were different now. Larry's elusive human element was definitely acting on him, influencing his actions.

But why shouldn't it?

Don had protected him from bullies and anyone else out to either use or hurt him ever since he was a child and it was high time he returned the favor.

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