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NUMB3RS: Blood and Gold (20/24)

Master post is here.





oooooooooooooooooo

Chapter 2: Empty Sky

Alan: You save all the dirty jobs for yourself.
Don: I do what has to be done - it's not like I like doing the dirty work.
--"Take Out"

As soon as Colby and Theresa walked in, Don was on them, assigning Theresa to getting Charlie and Amita any further data they might need and sending Colby to get started on tracking down the whereabouts of Hector Simeon. They'd gotten a good handful of tips on the FBI hotline overnight, and David would be helping him sort through them as soon as he got in. Don had already taken a crack at John Madreno, their suspected smuggler, without much luck, which probably explained the frustration Colby could see clearly written across his face.

At the same time, Don hadn't even raised an eyebrow when the two of them walked in together. Not that Colby was surprised—Don couldn't exactly complain about his co-workers getting involved with each other, after all. But there wasn't a wink or nod of approval, either, and he wasn't sure if that was his boss being professional or disapproving.

Not that it mattered. As Theresa had reminded him again that morning, it wasn't like she was permanently posted to L.A.

He didn't give her a goodbye kiss or a lingering touch or anything more than a look that said Thank you as he told her he'd see her later, and she gave him one of her warm smiles and moved off to the conference room.

For the next few hours, while Colby sorted through recordings from the hotline and traced down reported sightings, he was able to put Theresa and last night from his mind. He could do his job and compartmentalize his emotions just fine—the last two years had taught him that, if nothing else. He hoped they'd be able to catch a few quiet minutes together later on; another overnight visit so soon might be asking a lot, but he wasn't going to object if the opportunity arose. That probably accounted for the smile that seemed to keep creeping over his face when he wasn't paying attention.

David arrived some time after eight and started dividing up the work. From the sidelong glances he kept getting from his partner, it was clear that David thought something was up, but he wasn't going to pry about it. Things weren't completely fixed between them, even if they were on the right track.

They were done by ten, a whole pile of nothing sitting on the desk between them. None of the tips had panned out, which they rarely ever did. Still, they had to be sorted through, especially for a case as urgent as this. Colby wasn't looking forward to telling Don about their lack of luck, but he volunteered to be the one to do it anyway.

Just as he'd risen from his seat to go and find their boss, the man himself came striding towards them. It only took a second for Colby to see that something was wrong: Don's jaw was set tightly, his eyes practically shooting sparks, and he was looking around the office as if afraid someone was watching. When he reached their cubicle, he said in a low, tight voice, barely looking at them, "Conference room. Fifth floor. Now."

Colby opened his mouth to ask what was going on, but Don had already swept past them, headed for the glassed-in room where Charlie and Amita were working. He stared after him, puzzled. "Why the fifth floor?" he asked rhetorically.

David spoke up behind him. "It's got walls, not glass," he said. "No one can see in."

Colby realized it was true, and his stomach dropped like it hadn't since he was confronted by Don months ago in this same office, even if there was nothing for him to be nervous about now.

David's hand on his shoulder steadied him in more ways than one. "Look, he's just as pissed talking to them," he said, nodding towards where Charlie and Amita were being addressed. "It's not you, man."

Drawing in a deep breath, Colby nodded. "Thanks," he said softly.

They walked down the stairs in silence, catching up to Liz along the way. "What's going on?" Colby asked.

"Beats me," she said. "Don came back from a meeting with the assistant director and he was spitting nails. I hope they're not still giving him crap about us."

"Me too," David muttered from behind him, and the butterflies in Colby's stomach started to settle down.

They entered the empty conference room and took seats around the table. Charlie and Amita followed a minute later, and they all exchanged glances and shrugs that indicated they had no more idea what was going on.

Then Theresa came in, eyes downcast, with Don close on her heels, and Colby felt a chill run down his spine. He recognized that look. It was the same one that had been on his face when the game had been up, when his team had taken the bait and turned on him and he couldn't quite hide the nerves and fear at being caught out.

He had no idea what it meant to see it on her face, but it couldn't be anything good.

"What's going on, Don?" he asked, unable to keep his voice from cracking in the middle.

Don's expression was still all tight anger and betrayal, and again the déjà vu was enough to get Colby's heart rate speeding up. "Sit down," he said, pointing to the chairs around the table.

Everyone except Theresa was already seated, and she lowered herself into a chair at the head of the table before folding her hands in front of her.

Don paced back and forth for a few steps. He had to know everyone's eyes were on him, but he looked like he was trying to figure out how to phrase something. Finally he blew out a breath and walked to the windows, the panorama of downtown Los Angeles spread out before them past the half-open blinds. Staring out the window, he said, "I was looking through some HR files this morning. We still don't know how Hector Simeon's people found out our raid in Fontana was coming, and we have to consider the possibility that it was someone inside the FBI."

David groaned, but when Colby looked at him, his lips were pressed together and his head was shaking back and forth. Not again, Colby could read in his expression, and he looked down at the table, unable to meet anyone's eyes in case they were thinking the same thing while looking at him.

"The good news is, I didn't come across anything," Don said, turning around, arms folded across his chest. "Not that might explain the raid. But I found something else that I sure didn't expect." He rolled his shoulders back and said, "I was curious about this agent who's been dropped into our laps. No offense to any of my team, but I've learned to be suspicious about people when I don't know their backgrounds."

Colby looked up and caught Liz's eye. He could tell that she was resisting the same urge as he was, to look at Theresa at the head of the table. Her eyes narrowed slightly in question, a Do you know what this is about?, and he gave a tiny shake of his head. Her mouth twitched in a rueful smile, and she looked away.

"What are you talking about?" Charlie asked calmly, the one of all of them who had the most experience dealing with Don in difficult moods.

Don let out a breath. "I'm talking about the person from Internal Affairs who's been working in our office for the past two months, keeping an eye on us, or at least one of us, for some unknown reason. I'm talking about Theresa Pennington."

That time, Colby couldn't stop himself from turning his head to stare at her. "What?" he demanded harshly.

She was looking down at her hands. "That information isn't supposed to be available to anyone outside the Washington office," she said quietly. "How did you get it?"

"Oh, no, you don't," Don said, moving forward to stand over her. "I'm asking the questions here."

Theresa slowly rose to her feet and lifted her head, inches shorter than Don but retaining a commanding presence nonetheless, and Colby wondered where the friendly, easy-going woman he'd gotten to know had gone. "I'm sorry that you're upset, Agent Eppes, but it isn't anything personal."

Colby let out a loud snort, and Don's eyes flicked over to him. "So tell us, exactly what are you investigating here?" Don took a step closer. "Or should I say, whom?"

Theresa looked him back in the eye. "I can't answer that."

Don raised a hand as if to strike her, then pulled it back into a clenched fist as if he had just realized what he was doing. "You damn well can talk about it and you will," he ground out.

"I can't," she said, shaking her head. "You know how it works, Agent Eppes."

"Right, I know how it works." Don ran a hand over his mouth and took a step back. "Someone in Washington thinks they know what's going on in the field better than the people who are actually out in it, and they send someone to spy on us all to justify their story. And the thing is, even if there's nothing worth writing a report about, the word has gotten out." He made a sweeping gesture to encompass the room. "We're all being investigated by Internal Affairs. That goes in a logbook somewhere, even if it's a positive outcome, and we can't do anything about that."

"I'm not here to put a black mark on anyone's record," Theresa said.

"Then why are you here?" David snapped. His voice was as close to a growl as Colby had ever heard it, and only his own stomach churning at the betrayal being played out before them kept him from appreciating his partner standing up for him.

Theresa pursed her lips. "It's called Internal Affairs for a reason, Agent Sinclair. It stays confidential and internal to the organization."

"Who are you here for?" Don demanded again.

Colby was speaking before he knew it. "Take a wild guess," he snapped out while staring at Theresa. "It seems pretty obvious to me."

She looked at him for the first time, and he wasn't sure if it was genuine regret in her eyes, or if he just wanted to see it. "Colby, I'm sorry," she said quietly. "This isn't—it's not what you think."

He snorted again. "You have no idea what I think."

"It's not too hard to figure out," she said almost gently, and that snapped something inside of him.

He pushed the chair back abruptly and took a few steps forward until he was standing at the head of the table, Theresa in between him and Don. "So tell me," he said softly but with underlying menace, "have you been sending back good reports on all of us? After asking about how we're all getting along and adjusting to being a team again?"

Theresa licked her lips and looked away. "I can't talk about it."

"Can't or won't?" Colby shot back.

She let out a small huff of breath. "I know how it looks, and it's more than a little ironic, but you have to—"

"Oh, I am well aware of the irony," Colby snapped back. "Believe me, no one in this room is more aware of the irony than I am." He took a step closer, looming over Theresa like he had been so careful to avoid doing ever since they'd met. "And no one in this room knows better than me the lengths you might have to go to in order to fulfill an assignment." He paused before adding in a low growl, "No matter how distasteful those lengths might be."

"Colby, no," she started in a low tone, but he turned his back on her, on all of them, staring out the window at the freeway below. He felt eyes on his back, but he was suddenly clenching his jaw tight to keep it from trembling, and there wasn't a force in the world that could have made him turn around at that moment.

"He's not the only one you've been reporting on, has he?" Liz's voice was dangerously low. "Quite a coincidence that you should be assigned to this team right after we were all deemed to be incapable of working with everyone else. Those questions about Don and I, how we met and how we get along on the team? That had nothing to do with your so-called interest in Colby, did it?"

There was no reply, but that spoke volumes in itself.

"I'm gonna ask you again," came Don's voice, the tension and anger coiled in it like a whip. "Who are you investigating?"

Theresa's voice shook a little in reply, but it carried a hint of steel that told them she was not backing down. "I'm sorry, but I can't comment on an ongoing investigation."

Colby would have felt sorry for her if he hadn't been so furious and hurt.

"Get out of here, Pennington." The crack of Don's voice was a tone Colby hadn't heard since he was sitting on the wrong side of an interrogation room, and he couldn't stop a sudden flinch at the memory. "I don't care who you're working for or what your assignment is, you stay away from my team."

For a moment, no one moved. Then Colby heard Theresa draw a deep breath, turn, and walk out of the room. The door closed behind her.

And the back of Colby's neck started to prickle as he felt everyone else turn to look at him.

"Hey, guys." It was David's low voice. No one else spoke, but he heard the door open, and from the shuffling noises behind him, he figured they were all leaving the room. He heard Don softly say, "Be there in a minute," and then the door shut again.

Silence fell.

Colby finally turned around to see his boss standing with his back against the door, regarding him with something best described as angry compassion. After a moment, he spoke with an undercurrent of fury in his voice. "I swear to you, Colby, I had no idea—"

"I know." He cut him off with an upraised hand. As he lowered his hand to his side, his fingers curled into a fist almost by themselves.

Don cleared his throat. "Neither did A.D. Wright," he added. "I had a few words with him earlier when I found out."

Under other circumstances, he would have been amused at the idea of Don yelling at his boss. But at the moment, all he could do was give a tight nod.

A few more seconds passed. Then Don leaned forward and put his hand on the doorknob. "Come out whenever you're ready," he said quietly. Then he turned around and left, pulling the door firmly shut behind him.

oooooooooooooooooo

Don ran a hand through his hair and dropped into his chair, forcing himself to sit for at least sixty seconds. He was still livid from finding out that the young agent they'd all taken a liking to -- some of them more than others -- wasn't here by accident or with friendly motives. On top of the existing concern that he wasn't fit to lead this investigation, as Megan had told him the previous day, now there was this. Apparently people even higher up than the suits in his own building were casting doubt on his competency, given the internal investigation that was underway.

Don supposed that from a purely objective point, he could understand -- they'd spent two years with a member of their team pretending to spy for a foreign government, and no one had suspected a thing. Could they really be competent FBI agents if that was the case?

But what really burned was that no one had brought this up to his face, or to any of them. Instead they were being investigated like they'd done something wrong, the same way that agents who were suspected of being on the take were examined. He wasn't wrong about what he'd said earlier: there was something being added to each of their files, and even if it was complete and utter exoneration, it was still on the record, and there was nothing they could do about that.

After everyone left the conference room, he'd essentially stood guard until Colby had composed himself enough to come out. Charlie and Amita had returned to the codebreaking with a vengeance, Amita offering to cancel her noon class and Charlie persuading her to go teach it and come back, arguing that the break would do her some good. David had volunteered to give John Moreno a shot, and Don had agreed, trusting the younger agent to put his anger to good use rather than lashing out at the suspect. Just in case, he asked Liz to go along, although she didn't look much cooler-headed herself.

Don thought for a moment about the confrontation in the conference room and the ways that everyone had reacted. He couldn't help but be proud of his team and the way they'd all pulled together to defend Colby, assuming that IA's interest was in the man who'd been basically holding a second job while being an FBI agent. Whatever lingering awkwardness remained among them, it clearly paled in the face of an outside threat, whether the assumed attack from the Chinese that had actually been the Iraqis or the internal threat of investigation. They'd gone through whatever Colby's outside activities had cost them and come out the other side stronger for it.

Now, though, things from the last few days kept popping into his mind. He kept trying to get the timeline straight, trying to remember when Theresa had first slinked her way onto his team compared to when various events in the Simeon case had occurred. Had Pennington insisted on being the one to debrief Liz after the disaster in Fontana because she wanted to get as much information out of her as possible about the team? Had that been her way of gaining their confidence and trust and gaining easier access to all of them?

Then there was Pennington's night-owl tendency, a charming character quirk that suddenly had a darker side in his mind. Had her eagerness to be in the office after hours made it easier to gather information from their personal files and notes? Their computers were all password-protected, but for all Don knew, Internal Affairs had ways of getting around that. The thought of their personal things being rifled through made him angry all over again.

And worst of all, had she come on to Colby merely as way of getting information about him? It had been obvious to Don's trained eye that the two of them had gone to someone's place together last night, but since he'd basically given Colby his blessing the previous day, there wasn't anything to say about it. Both of them were perfectly professional in the office, and he had started to be happy for Colby when he'd gotten the news that made it all fall apart.

Thankfully, Don had had somewhere for both him and Colby to direct their anger, and the interrogation of the men who had gone after Megan went much better than he would have expected last night. They'd confessed to going after her out of revenge, following her from the FBI garage to the shootout in the truck yard as well as earlier tailing her car from the airport and trying to shoot out her tires on the 110. In both cases, they weren't trying to kill her, at least not immediately, but to kidnap her so that Kassim could take his time getting his revenge.

Don really hoped Megan never saw the transcript of that interrogation. Or Larry, come to think of it; physical force might not be the man's forte, but given his store of scientific knowledge, Don was sure the physicist could come up with some nasty revenge of his own.

There was one piece of crucial information missing, though, and as hard as he tried, neither he nor Colby could get the men to admit how they'd known to watch for Megan at the airport. She had been called away only the previous day, and since Liz had been taken by mistake, the Iraqis hadn't known at that point that Simeon was delivering them the wrong person. They'd gone after Joseph Beachy when they thought he had their target in his hands and let her go, but that had been only hours before Megan was arriving at LAX. How had they found out where she was?

As soon as they wrapped up the interrogation of Kassim and his men, Colby had asked to take a turn with Madreno. Don shook his head almost immediately, and Colby glared back. "Why not?" he demanded.

"Because you need a break," Don said. "It's two in the afternoon, you need something to eat, and you need to step back for a moment. Trust me, I'm going to do the same thing."

Colby shook his head grimly. "The last thing I need is to step back, Don," he said. "I've got to keep moving here. We still need to find those RPGs, you know."

"Yeah, I think I remember that part," Don snapped back. He instantly closed his eyes. "Sorry," he said, rubbing a hand over his jaw. "This is where I reiterate the part about taking a break."

"Suit yourself," Colby said, starting to move towards the interrogation rooms.

"Granger," Don said firmly, waiting until the taller man turned around. When he did, exasperation and impatience written all over his face, Don pointed at the chair in front of his own desk. "Have a seat."

"Don -- " Colby started.

"Now," Don ordered, letting a little of the authority that he didn't usually have to draw on creep into his tone.

Colby almost huffed as he sat down, but he did so without further complaint. "If this is the part where you tell me not to take it personally -- "

"You have every right to take it personally," Don said, lowering himself to sit on the edge of his desk. "God knows I would. If it is about you, that is."

Colby scoffed. "What else would it be?"

Don looked at him for a moment before replying, "We already made that assumption once in the last few days," he reminded the younger agent, and from the flush on Colby's cheeks, Don knew he took the rebuke. "The more I think about it, maybe her investigation had nothing to do with you. Maybe it was about me and Liz."

Colby shifted in his chair. "Then she's not exactly practicing what she preaches, is she?"

"If it was her job, then she didn't have a choice about who she investigates," Don reminded him. "But she did have a choice about who she spends her time with off the clock."

"If it wasn't part of the investigation," Colby shot back.

Don sighed. "Look, Liz mentioned that Theresa was asking questions about me and her. That could be what this was about, making sure that I'm not taking advantage of her or something."

"Maybe," Colby replied, the doubtful tone of his voice indicating what he thought of that.

"Hey," Don said, leaning forward a little to make sure he had his agent's attention. "I already filed a grievance on behalf of all of us, but if you want to do one, too, I'll support you. No one came to us and said there was a problem, no one asked us any questions instead of sending someone to spy on us. That's not the way it's supposed to work."

"No, it's not," Colby agreed. He drew in a deep breath and let it out. "Let me get back to you on that, okay?" He looked up at Don with a rueful half-grin. "After I get some lunch."

Don couldn't hold back a returning smile, and he clapped Colby on the shoulder as he moved away. At least that had diffused the situation a tiny bit, which was really all he could hope for right now.

Chapter 3

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
msgrahamcracker
Jul. 24th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
Oohh, I really like an angry, indignant, offended Agent Eppes. Gets my blood pumping. And, darn it, I didn't want to be right about Theresa. Poor Colby.
zubeneschamali
Jul. 25th, 2010 02:11 am (UTC)
Poor Colby

Indeed. :(
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )