Santa Ana Wind, Part II, Sean

A/N: This is the second part of the Santa Ana Wind series. It picks up directly where Part I left off. Again, I want to thank betas Alice I and FraidyCat for their devoted efforts to keep me straight. The whumping picks up significantly in this section of the story - be forewarned.

Disclaimers: I do not own Numb3rs or any of the characters, and do not hope to profit from this story. Any resemblance of original fictional characters to real people is purely coincidental. This disclaimer applies to all chapters in this story.

Chapter 1

Sean Moran sat on the floor of his apartment, rocking, the blinds drawn. The place was filthy, and reeked of urine and rotting half-eaten food. He'd just taken another hit – he needed double what he was taking just a few weeks ago, and had added a booster, another drug to heighten the effects. The dosage he was now on was approaching toxic levels for even an experienced user, but life was unbearable without it.

His mind raced like a cancerous rat in a cage – a sick lab experiment completely out of control. He'd been avoiding Dillon; his older brother had nothing but censure for him these days – wanted him to go into rehab. No freakin' way. Not now. Not so soon after Tommy…

He moaned, and shot to his feet, the rocking translated to pacing. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't erase the visions of Tommy's last moments – his desperate exit from the construction office, the standoff and the sickening sound of gunshots, the jerk of his body and the subsequent horrifying drop into the open grave. Then, following that, the memory of the FBI agent Eppes, running forward, his face dark with hatred. He'd ordered his team to kill Tommy, Sean was sure of it, because of his little puke of a brother. Eppes still had his brother, and he'd taken Sean's. It wasn't right…

He moaned again, louder, almost a yell of animal grief, and pulled at his stringy hair with both hands; standing in place and twisting from side to side. It was unbearable – and there was only one way to make it stop. Retribution – revenge for Tommy. There would be no rest until the Eppes brothers were gone. He paused, his hands fisted in his hair and stood still, just breathing for a minute, then turned with sudden purpose. A moment later, wearing a jacket and his gun in the waistband of his jeans, he left the apartment with a slam of the door.

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Charlie sat slumped at his office desk, his mind reeling, playing absently with the office badge. He shook his head in bewilderment. He'd thought everything had been settled with the paperwork issue – hell, he'd even taken the hit himself from a discipline standpoint, and had asked for the letter to be put in his file. How could Don think he wasn't taking responsibility for this, that he wasn't taking it seriously? He'd obviously eroded his brother's trust to the point that Don just didn't want to deal with it anymore – the problem was, if Charlie could no long work on cases, there was no way to prove himself, no way to win that trust back.

The cases themselves were challenging and rewarding, but that wasn't the big issue. The larger concern was his relationship with his brother. It had been non-existent before they'd started working together, and Charlie had no doubt the progress they'd made would slowly start to crumble without that stimulation, that common connection. Especially considering the way this new phase in their lives was starting off. He'd feel resentful, and Don would feel guilty – and those feelings would make it even harder to find common ground in the relationship. It would make things uncomfortable, and it would be easier for Don to stay away… he could see the end already, and he felt as though he'd just lost his best friend.

He heard Amita's soft voice from the doorway. "Hey," she said, and he looked up at her. Her face was filled with concern. It was just after noon, but the sky was gray outside, and the room dark. "Do you want the lights on?"

Charlie looked back at his desk, and pushed himself up in his chair. "Yeah, go ahead."

She flicked the switch and walked over to stand behind him, massaging his shoulders. They were still tight, tense from his many hours of being bound, and he took a deep breath as her fingers searched out the taut bundles of muscle, kneading his shoulders like a cat. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he said. "Just a bad morning."

She leaned over and caressed his ear lightly with her lips. He felt a tingle run down his spine. "I bet I know a way to make it better," she murmured.

He turned a little and glanced at her sideways, with a small smile, but it looked sad, and it made her want to change his expression. She brushed his lips with hers.

Charlie closed his eyes and kissed her back deeply, circling his hand behind her head, his fingers entwined in her soft hair, trying to drown his sorrow in her lips. For a moment, he'd almost succeeded; then the sound of a throat clearing at the door brought them both apart, guiltily.

Colby shifted the box in his arms, freeing one hand to scratch the back of his head, embarrassment on his face. "Hey, I, uh, sorry to interrupt – I'll just drop these off…"

Charlie looked at him, puzzled. "What are they?"

Colby regarded him with a bit of a smirk. Amita's kisses must have fried the professor's brain, he thought. "The Moran files. Remember, I said I'd get you the data."

"Oh -," said Charlie, blankly. Don must not have told them yet, he thought, and the thought that immediately followed was, 'Why not?' Hope rose in him – maybe Don had second-guessed his decision. "Okay."

Colby set the box down with a thump. "We've been pulled off the Moran case but I figured it wouldn't hurt for you to take one more look while we go on to other leads. Just don't talk to them or let on to anyone but us that you're looking at this stuff. They're threatening a harassment lawsuit." He headed for the door, and paused on the way out, with a wicked grin. "Okay, carry on."

Amita looked at Colby with a blush and a smile, but when she looked down at Charlie, she realized she'd lost him. He was staring at the box, his mind obviously miles away.

Charlie barely felt her squeeze his shoulder, or heard her bemused good-bye. He originally had wondered if Don had second-guessed his decision, but he knew, deep down, that he hadn't – the greater probability was that Don simply hadn't told Colby yet. In truth, he knew that even if Don still wanted him to consult for his office, Charlie wouldn't have been allowed to do that on this case – his kidnapping made it too close, too personal, a conflict of interest. He felt guilty about even looking at the box that the files were in, much less at the files themselves – the Bureau wouldn't want him on this, Don definitely didn't want him on this, on anything, for that matter – but he knew, he knew, the Morans were involved somehow. If he didn't make the link, no one would.

He stood slowly, fighting the little voice in the back of his head that told him this was a huge mistake, and walked toward the box of files.

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Don headed wearily for his SUV late that afternoon, his mind on his conversation with Megan. David and Colby had just gone home; there had only been the two of them still in the office at the end of the day, and he'd decided to tell her about his decision concerning Charlie. He hadn't intended for it to be a discussion; he'd figured it simply as communication of his decision, and it never crossed his mind someone might argue with his logic. She had though – very gently, but she had. She did agree Charlie had a disturbing tendency to get lost in the excitement of what he was doing, and he wasn't always thinking about his surroundings. She didn't however, think that Don had the right to make that decision for him – if Charlie wanted to take the risks, she said; then he was an adult, and should be able to do that. She insinuated Don was making an emotional decision based on the events of the previous weeks, and that he should wait, give it some time, maybe even try Charlie on another case or two before he made a final call.

She had made her case quietly and remained calm even when he got irritated, which had irritated him further. He'd ended up restating his ultimatum a little angrily, and shortly after, she'd left, with no more arguments. He had sat there, trying to calm down, knowing his angry reaction only gave her argument more weight – it appeared he was being too emotional. Now, moments later, he was still thinking about it as he trudged through the garage. She sure wasn't making this any easier, he thought glumly, as he slid into his SUV, and pulled out of the FBI parking lot.

He'd been through that intersection hundreds of times – it was only two blocks from the FBI building, and no matter whether he was going to Charlie's house or his apartment, he always started out that direction. He wasn't sure later if the familiarity of the surroundings dulled his perception, or if the discussion with Megan was still on his mind, but when the light turned green he stepped on the gas without a second look. A split instant later, he caught a glimpse of the truck bearing down on him to his left, but it was too late. He didn't even remember the impact.

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Charlie was working furiously when Megan called. After Colby had dropped off the files and Charlie got a look at the huge pile of data, he immediately linked into the LA office website of the FBI via secure remote access, looking for the Moran files. His password was still working; that was a good sign. Maybe Don had changed his mind. He wasn't about to call and ask, however, and he downloaded the case files into his computer, fighting the uneasy feeling he was doing something he wasn't supposed to. To his great relief, he found that all of the data Colby had just delivered was already in some form electronically – it would have taken hours to input all of it. Everything was there, multiple bank accounts, accounts from the Moran businesses, tax records, even charitable contributions. It would be good to look through the hard copies too, but the data was what he needed to get started.

He took a break to teach his one class that afternoon, and then went back to work, developing search parameters that might find links between the data – links that might not be apparent to the human eye. He'd finished downloading the data to his computer and really had no current need for the FBI website, but it was still a bit of a shock when, late in the afternoon, the system suddenly shut down. He frowned and tried to re-enter, but the message came back: "User ID Not Recognized." With a sinking heart, he realized Don must not have changed his mind after all – Charlie suspected his password, at least as far as the LA server was concerned, had just been revoked.

That suspicion was confirmed when Megan called his cell phone, a few moments later.

"Charlie, I just left the office," she said. "Before I left, Don talked to me about his decision concerning your consulting work – I'm sorry."

Charlie's heart dropped. It was true then, and final, if Don was announcing it to his team. He mumbled an acknowledgment of her apology; then hit 'save' with a dejected stab of his finger, and logged off, staring sadly at the blank screen in front of him, as she continued.

"Colby and David left before I did; and Don hadn't told them yet. The reason I'm calling is I remembered Colby was going to deliver the Moran files to your office, so I called him. He said he dropped them off earlier. He was going back to the office to talk to Don, to explain that he didn't know about the decision, and then swing past your office to get them. I told him I would call you to tell you not to bother to start on them. Hold on a minute – I've got another call coming in – it's Colby."

There was click, then silence as Megan switched to the other call, and Charlie waited, still hunched in front of his computer. After what seemed an eternity, the phone clicked again, and Megan said, "Charlie, where are you now?"

"I'm still at my office," said Charlie resignedly, missing the new tension in her voice. "Colby can swing by and get the files – I'll wait."

"No, forget about that right now," she said tersely. "Charlie, I want you to stay calm, and listen to me. Don's been in an accident – just a couple blocks from the office – Colby had gone back that way, and he's on the scene."

The world froze for a moment. Charlie sat paralyzed; Megan's voice seemed as though it was coming from another planet, otherworldly, but with odd clarity. "How – how bad?" he stammered, as he felt an icy shock go through him.

"He was unconscious – he's on his way to Huntington – but listen to me – don't go anywhere, I'll call Larry and have him drive you, okay? Charlie?"

Her words went unheeded – Charlie was already dashing out of the office as she spoke. She heard the slam of his office door, and then nothing but silence.

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End Chapter 1