The Cycle of Violence

While working on an unrelated case, Charlie accidentally views the contents of one of Don's sealed FBI files - and learns a horrible secret about Don's past that he's kept hidden even from his family. Don didn't quit fugitive recovery: the FBI transferred him to Quantico to recover after he was kidnapped by an escaped serial killer.

When I first began posting this fic, it was with some serious and continuing doubts about the content of the story, and the portrayal of that content. I had a plot and premise I loved, but I wasn't sure how to tell the story. Thanks to all of your comments, I was able to figure it out. This is not something I could have done on my own, so if you find yourself enjoying the fic, pat yourself on the back! THANK YOU.

The first chapters have undergone some re-writing. Specifically, chapter 4 has one scene added, chapter 5 has been vastly re-written and split into two chapters (5 and 6), and chapter 6, while unchanged, has become chapter 7. Chapter 8 is currently being written.

The present-day portions of the fic are laid out in a linear fashion, but the story of Don's kidnapping and its aftermath are not. That part of the story will unfold as Don works through the current case. Don't worry, we will end up finding out how Rogerson snagged him in the first place.

Outline/warnings/random disclosures:

Language: Yes, the characters talk. ;) Sometimes, they even swear.

Violence: I should establish up front that this is not a "torture-porn" fic. It's written with affection and caring for the characters and for the spirit of the show Numb3rs. I love me some angst, drama, and hurt/comfort dynamics and there will be liberal doses of that within. As fair warning, this story contains adult language and somewhat graphic references to torture, rape, and the death penalty. Much like Numb3rs itself, I've no intention of flinching away from those subjects, but I don't intend to wallow in the actual crimes over much. It's the reactions and relationships that I'm interested in.

Angst and emotional hurt/comfort: Everywhere the eye can see. If I didn't make you tear up at least once, or at least get a little mushy inside, I didn't do a very good job.

Sexual content:Story assumes healthy Numb3rs canon relationships in the form of Don/Robin and Charlie/Amita. No graphic/adult content or pairings with titles like Billy/zoo monkey/Alan.

Ownership: I own a Kia subcompact running on three whole cylinders. I do not, unfortunately, own Numb3rs or anything remotely connected to it. (Wait. I own the DVDs, does that count?)

Chapter 1

FBI OFFICE, CONFIDENTIAL COMMUNICATIONS

Charlie didn't even notice the name on the sealed report until he'd skimmed several paragraphs in search of the key data points. It was all one blur of death and cruelty and emotionless reporting of facts, and he struggled to surpress a sense of irritation. Irritation with the judge for making him use his security clearance to do freshman data entry, irritation with himself for this - what was it? Burnout? The uncomfortable realization that no mathematician, and no FBI agent could stop this stream of reports from being reality?

His eyes stopped scanning the document and blurred so badly he had to struggle to focus on the name. Eppes.

Special Agent Donald Eppes.

He gulped, and within seconds realized that the nausea in his stomach wasn't going to be ignored for long. He closed the file, locked out his computer terminal, restarted the machine, and raced for the bathroom.

He was still gagging and retching on the floor when David entered. Charlie realized his eyes were filled with tears, and he hoped it was from the nausea and not his emotions, because he couldn't feel any of them. "Charlie? Hey, Charlie." David knelt down beside him and put a soothing hand on his back, rubbing gently.

"Rough file, or bad lunch?"

Charlie wished he could answer, something humorous about the lunch, but his voice wasn't working. David wrapped his arms around him and pulled him into a firm hug, and Charlie collapsed against the agent, unable to fake bravado. The tears were real now, an unstoppable sense of wrenching grief for the Don Eppes he didn't know and hadn't been there for.

FBI OFFICE, WAR ROOM, FOUR DAYS EARLIER

"Our guy is an oddity among serial killers in that he doesn't favor a certain victim demographic." David motioned at the thirteen photos on the large screen. "Male, female, black, white, Asian, American, foreign, long hair, short hair - it doesn't seem to matter to him at all. They're all under forty, and that's about it for physical constants."

"And he just had to come pay us a visit here in LA." Don paced across the room war room, frustrated.

"Well -" started Charlie, uncertain. "Why is it worse that he's here instead of Portland?"

Don sighed, coming to a halt in front of the screen as it displayed the grim record of a serial killer's path through what once were living human beings. "I don't need you to tell me that statistically, we don't get these people on the first go. I don't want this guy killing people in my city, you know?"

Charlie sat, unsure how to respond. Instead, he started sketching out notes to himself; lines of inquiry, statistical approaches, potential ways to approach the complex mathematical problem that was tracking and identifying a serial killer. It was territory he'd covered before, himself and a multitude of others, and he caught himself longing for a truly new problem.

David approached Don and sat on a table near his path. "I found out something interesting when the Portland office was briefing me earlier."

Don stopped pacing and focused on David, raising his eyebrows in silent question. "As head of the LA Violent Crimes squad, you've closed more serial cases than any single agent in FBI history."

A smile entered Don's eyes, a thank-you that might not have reached his face but was none the less sincere. "We," he corrected. "This teamhas closed more serial cases than any in FBI history." He eyed Charlie, who was already scribbling in furious concentration while monitoring the goings-on in the room. "Keep going."

"Well, preliminary profile on this guy shows he's highly consistent despite his seemingly random choice of victims," said David. "All of his victims have one thing in common, they're survivors of sexual or physical abuse, and all of them have been involved in jury trials which resulted in their abuser going to prison. They were beaten and raped while they were held captive, but he doesn't follow the typical pattern of escalating to strangulation or any other hands-on sado-sexual murder. He seems to go to great lengths to make the killing humane and painless. All of our victims had heavy doses of sedatives, painkillers, and muscle relaxants in their bloodstream, and they were executed with a single gunshot to the base of the brain stem with no signs of struggle or distress. Medical examiner's consensus is that the victims were either completely calm or unconscious when they were killed."

Don frowned at the pictures, all of the dead faces reflecting an expression of relaxation, even peace. "So he essentially tortures them for two weeks, and then euthanizes them? Usually your humane killers have some sort of savior complex going on, but that doesn't mesh with sexual assault."

"Still, that's a special kind of cruel," commented Nikki. "Picking people who've already been through that once in their lives, and making them relive it?"

"Dunno," said Colby with a frown. "What if sadism's not the motivation here, what if he thinks he is saving them somehow?"

"How about a revenge motive?" asked Liz. "Punishing people for standing up to their abusers?"

Don nodded. "We should check that angle. Maybe he's an abuser, goes to jail for killing his wife, gets out, starts looking to recreate her murder?"

"Charlie, three of these victims including the two discovered in the LA area were identified as part of this case by a CATCH search. I know you've worked on that system, let me know if you can come up with any way to refine the results. Colby, you and David work on putting together a profile on this guy. Nikki, write out the victim profile, get with LAPD and LA County missing persons, let them know I don't want any 24 hour reporting delay. If someone else gets snatched, we want to know now. Liz, you meet up with the press and beg them not to release details, I don't want copycats in this."

Everyone nodded in acknowledgement of Don's orders, and Charlie held up his hand. "I'd like to approach this as a predictive data mining exercise. If we develop a set of data points linking all of our known victims, we can add in past cases with similarities and potential future targets. We can take advantage of existing machine learning frameworks used to anticipate terrorist strikes and with enough data, we should be able to start forecasting future victims. We should start to see a pattern emerge that can lead us to future victims before he targets them."

"Okay," agreed Don.

"Do we know for certain when he started killing?" asked Charlie.

David shook his head and pointed at the board. "Sheldon Trudeau was our first known victim in Atlanta five years ago, but who knows how many people he's killed and when without local authorities attributing it to him or submitting the data to CATCH."

"Okay," said Charlie, studying the case notes. "I'd like to review and map all homicide cases with certain specific data points in common, going back at least ten or fifteen years. I know that's asking a lot and it'll take a lot of manpower, but I think it's important."

Don and David exchanged glances. "You got it," said Don finally. "Tell me how many people you need, I'll put together a tech team."

DON'S DESK, FBI OFFICE, THREE DAYS EARLIER

Charlie tapped lightly on Don's desk. "Thanks for the huge team. It's making inputting all this data a lot faster."

"Sure hope it works," said Don. A few years ago Charlie would have mistaken the harshness of his words for something it wasn't, but he didn't misinterpret the strain in his brother's voice.

"I think it will," said Charlie gently. "Maybe not in time, but it will." Don nodded. "Hey - some of these past case files I'm running into, they're sealed. They fit into our search pattern, and I think it's important to include them."

"What, you think our killer -"

"The cases aren't important because we think that he committed these murders, but because of significant correlations in some of the data points like MO, or victim selection. We're trying to seek patterns based not only on his behaviour, but on the behaviour of others like him. It will allow us to more accurately map his actions in the past and forecast who he'll choose to target next."

"It'll take a court order," said Don. Charlie didn't bat an eyelid, and Don nodded. "Okay. I'll have Robin call you for a list of the cases you need access to, and she'll work on convincing a judge."

EPPES RESIDENCE, TWO DAYS EARLIER

Don was sitting on the couch with a beer, to all appearances relaxing until Charlie realized he was sitting alone with the TV off. "Case bothering you?" asked Charlie.

"Nah, not really." He took a swig of beer. "If there's a top ten list of signs you've been in the job too long, getting a serial case and having your first reaction be 'oh, come on, not another one' should really be on it."

Charlie sat. "Maybe I shouldn't feel guilty then. Because - I have to admit, my reaction was that this was a pretty boring problem, and I feel terrible about that. Or maybe even worse, I don't feel terrible about it, I just know I should."

Don gave him a dry grin. "Another entry on that list should be having your first thought after you shoot someone be dread at all the paperwork and questions you're gonna have to go through." The levity left his face entirely, and he picked up the file folder that was sitting beside him. He pulled out the sheet with the faces of all thirteen of the victims. "You know I've killed as many people as he has? How's that supposed to feel, huh?"

"I think that's a side of you that's a stranger to me," said Alan, startling them both. He was leaning against the doorjamb, holding his own beer while he listened quietly. "Maybe it's just because I'm your father, but I simply can't look the Don Eppes I know in the eyes and see a man who's killed thirteen people. I see a gentleness in you that makes that almost impossible for me to imagine, so I have to just tell myself there's another man in there somewhere that I don't know."

"Well - dad - I don't know what to tell you. I mean - that was me. There's - there's not some other guy in here, I promise."

"I know," said Alan. Seeing the slightly hurt expression in Don's eyes, he became thoughtful. "I didn't mean to imply that there's part of you I don't love. Just some parts that I don't understand."

Don nodded. "Let's say I put a gun in your hand, and you have one second to use it before someone kills Charlie, or me, or any one of the people you care about. Would you sit yourself down for a nice moral dilemma, or would you pull the trigger?"

Alan's eyes darkened, disliking his answer. "I would pull the trigger."

"That's me, dad. That's sometimes how I come home alive, too."

"Then I'd sit myself down for a nice moral dilemma," said Alan dryly.

"Well, there is that." Don smiled faintly. "That's why so many of those reports I was complaining about are filled out by psychologists."

"Speaking of psychology -" Alan indicated the file. "What do you think of this - this killer of yours?"

A flash of defensiveness crossed Don's face. "He's not mine, dad. What - you think one number connects us? Am I a serial killer in your mind now?"

"No," said Alan, holding up his hands to stop Don. "No. Figure of speech, Donnie."

Don relaxed with an awkward frown on his face, looking away. "You don't need to worry about any of us becoming his next victims, if that's what you were asking."

Alan sighed. "I was actually trying to make light conversation with my son about his job. You know, like normal families do?"

Don stood and headed for the door, stopping to grab his coat on the way out. "Well - I guess we aren't a normal family then, right?"

Alan looked after the departing agent with a deepening worry. "Charlie?"

"No idea," said Charlie, a knot in his own gut. "He seemed fine at the office." It was Alan's troubled expression that was scaring him, not Don's almost typical irritability. "You think something's wrong?"

Alan shook his head. "Probably nothing. He just reminded me of a time - never mind."