Quantum Entanglement

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)


Author's Notes: Thanks to Canthlian for beta reading and to Nicole D'Annais for helping me with a structural issue despite the fact that she isn't into CSI:NY, Numb3rs, or the centaur universe. Thanks also to James Walkswithwind, as this is once again set in hers and Wolfling's "Horses of Different Colors" universe. Despite that fact, and the fact that this series is a spin off of Myths and Revelations, I've tried to make The New York Connection stand alone as a series.

DEDICATION: To Aurelia Priscus and James Walkswithwind, who were with me during the drive back from BASCon during which we went through fandoms methodically searching for someone to pair up with lonely!Don. This pairing didn't come up during that discussion, but the discussion was nonetheless the beginning of the existence of The New York Connection.


Don pushed aside one picture in the stack only to reveal another. Teenagers. Children. Babies. Victims, all of them. Here, in Charlie's space, surrounded by chalkboards covered in equations and pin boards covered in layers of paper and pictures, there was no escaping.

No matter how lost in the math Charlie became, he never seemed to lose sight of the people. He went to extra effort to give them faces, even when there was nothing faces could contribute to his calculations. He wondered about their lives. He got attached.

Staring at the hundreds of victims to whom Charlie had given faces, Don couldn't help but think of the times they'd argued about his own detachment. Charlie hated it, he knew. He hated it when Don talked in terms of games and tactics and the next move. He hated the 'us' and 'them' mentality of law enforcement. He hated the way Don could, at least from Charlie's perspective, set aside one victim in favor of another.

He'd blamed it more than once on Don's differing nature. After the first couple of times, Don let that go. If it was easier for Charlie, let him believe it.

Don wasn't sure he wanted his brother to really understand the truth, anyway. That if you gave the victims faces you had to give them families, too. And that if you weren't careful, those families started looking too much like your own family. And one day you end up doing something stupid and getting someone killed because you weren't thinking about what you were doing. Because you were thinking about what it would mean to those families, instead. Or you froze up, because what if it was your father, brother, son, lover? Don didn't want Charlie to think too hard about the fact that families could be more dangerous than they were supportive.

Don dropped the picture he was holding and turned away from the boards and their faces and left the garage, flicking the light off as he went.

The house was echoingly empty with both Charlie and their Dad out for the night. One out with friends, the other on a date. Don couldn't help but smile a little at the thought of his Dad dating. It was human nature, he guessed, to always be looking for companionship.

Not just human nature, Don reminded himself. He dropped down into the living room couch and leaned his head back on the cushion, staring at the ceiling, the beer bottle hanging half-forgotten from his fingers. But the search is a little more straightforward for them, isn't it?

"Stop now," Don told the ceiling. "Before you get really depressed."

Briefly, he considered watching TV until his family got home. But waiting up smacked of overprotectiveness and Don was half afraid that Charlie would want to talk about work, about using the algorithms he'd developed for Don to help other people, like he had half a dozen times before. He wouldn't mean to be cruel about it, but he'd almost certainly remind Don of the hundreds, the thousands, of dead kids...and Don didn't want to have another argument about life and death and what they could and couldn't do and how he could be so cold about it.

There were times when Don thought maybe he'd gotten himself in over his head when he claimed the Eppes family as his own.

No, he wouldn't wait up.

Instead, Don drove back to his apartment and ordered Chinese food on his way there. He parked and jogged down the block to retrieve it. The hostess with whom he exchanged money for food smiled at him, greeted him by name, and asked him in mildly awkward English if everything was okay, because it'd been more than a week since he'd been in last and that usually meant something was wrong.

"Everyone came home safe," Don reassured her, "but there were some long nights in there."

Relief eased her expression as she handed him his paper bag of food. "Good night!" she said cheerfully. Don tossed her a smile and a wave and pushed the door open on the night.

It was the warmth of the bag of food and the faint, not-quite-contained scent of the Chinese that hurried Don's steps more than the chill of the night. He jogged up the stairs to his apartment instead of taking the elevator, impatient to be eating. Maybe the elevator would have been marginally faster, but it wouldn't have felt like it while he was waiting. Besides, as often as Don had used them, he'd never liked the feeling of the floor dropping out from beneath his feet as the car rose.

In the kitchen Don discarded the paper bag, fished a pair of lacquered chopsticks out of his cutlery drawer, and carried one of the cartons over to the phone with him. Lifting the receiver, he wedged it between ear and shoulder and punched in a number from memory.

The noodles were thick and hot and the little shreds of vegetables and pork were just as good as Don had been imagining. His mouth watered even as he ate and he had to swallow suddenly when the ringing on the other end of the phone stopped and a woman's voice said hello.

"Hey, Sherrie," Don said, automatically smiling even though she couldn't see him through the phone.

"Don! I wasn't expecting to hear from you so soon. Is something wrong?" Sherrie's voice was warm and concerned. Don wished he could tell her it was nothing, but she'd known him for too long for that to fly. His visits were directly proportional to his mood and lately he'd been making more time to get out of the city than he used to.

"Nothing serious," he said, as lightly as he could. It was true, as Don defined serious. No one was dead or hospitalized or missing, anyway. "But I just came off a case and I could use a little time to stretch my legs. I don't suppose the place is available tomorrow?"

On notice this short, the chances were good that it wouldn't be. But Don knew that Sherrie had a soft spot for him. If she could make it work, she would. Don stuffed some more noodles into his mouth while he waited through a long pause and the sound of paper rustling.

"Someone's taken the morning," Sherrie said at last. "But he says he ought to be done by 2:00. You mind coming around in the afternoon?"

Don swallowed. "Afternoon is fine." A little bit of the tension in his shoulders eased. "Thanks, Sherrie."

"You want someone to talk to when you get here?"

Did he? "I'm not sure," Don said after a moment. "Maybe."

"I'll wait at the house. If you want to talk, come on by. Otherwise, just leave a message on the board to let me know you've arrived." Sherrie's discretion was faultless, as always.

"I'll do that," Don said. "Have a good night."

"You too, Don."

He hung up the phone and finished the box of noodles standing there, leaning against the kitchen counter and staring into space. The apartment was quiet, but not quite as quiet as Dad's--Charlie's--house. After all, no one had ever lived here but Don. This apartment had no one to be empty of.

Still, he took his General Tso's chicken into the living room with him and turned on the TV while he ate. It was tuned to the news. Don found the remote down between two of the couch cushions and flipped around until he found some sports. There was always sports on somewhere.

But it wasn't necessarily a sport that he cared about, so he turned the TV off when he was done eating. The chopsticks clattered into the sink loudly. Both empty boxes went into the garbage and Don cracked open the window next to the cooking area just a little before he padded into his bedroom.

He shed his clothes, kicked them into a pile in the corner of the room, and went to his dresser to retrieve boxer shorts and a t-shirt. He crawled into bed and settled down on his side, back turned to the digital clock on his nightstand.

L.A. was never really a quiet city, not even at night, but normally the hum of cars in the streets and the faint yells and the distant sirens and the occasional sharp noise that could be a car backfiring or could be a gunshot formed a sort of white noise for Don. But that night all of those noises were connected to people and lives and there were faces behind Don's eyelids that he remembered from Charlie's piles of paper.

***

Don slept in until almost noon the next day and when he finally hauled himself out of bed his head felt like it was full of cotton. Too much sleep, or not enough. It was hard to tell sometimes. He made coffee on autopilot, stirring in too much sugar, and managed to wake up enough to drive without contributing to the city's accident statistics.

On the way he surrendered to the call of the drive-through and got a little styrofoam container of chili. He knew from experience that going for a really good run without having eaten that day was a bad idea.

Sherrie was waiting for him at the house when he got there. She didn't seem too surprised to see him, either. "Hey, Don. You want to chat here or out in the park?"

Don looked past the house and considered the rolling fields and strategically placed lines of trees. It wasn't much of a park, not as a city dweller defined 'park'. There were no playgrounds or picnic tables or leveled and marked sports areas. Sherrie's park was more like a private nature preserve.

"Out there, I think," Don said, nodding to the fields. "I've got that itch under my skin."

Sherrie grinned and leaned forward where she sat on the steps of the house. "I love this part."

Don shook his head, smiling a little, as he untied his shoes. He hopped on one foot for a moment, pulling off his shoe and sock and setting both aside before repeating the procedure on his other foot. Jeans, underwear, and shirt followed, carefully folded and set aside.

When he was down to his skin he relaxed and concentrated for a moment. The shift was seamless though Don was never quite sure how it managed to be so smooth. You'd think gaining a few inches in height and a couple extra feet would be more disorienting.

But the truth was, he felt a little more grounded the moment he got into centaur shape. Maybe it was just that his equine body had four feet to plant on the ground, but Don didn't think so.

"Why don't you ever keep your shirt on?" Sherrie asked curiously, standing up and retrieving his clothes. There was a cubbyhole for them just inside the door, Don knew. "Most centaurs who come to the park only take off what they need to."

Don shrugged. "I liked having the wind and the sun on my skin when I'm running. Besides, I sweat more in this form. Why dirty clothes I don't need to?"

"Makes sense," Sherrie said. She paused to duck into the house, presumably tucking his clothes away. When she emerged she shot him a hopeful look.

Smiling, Don held out a hand. "Come on up." Grinning, Sherrie gripped his arm at the elbow and let him help her jump up and get her leg over his back. She shifted, settling herself comfortably just behind his withers, and rested her hands lightly on his waist. Don twisted around to look at her over his shoulder. "All settled?"

"Yup," Sherrie said comfortably.

Don set off at a brisk trot, just enough to warm him up. His hooves struck the ground with a satisfying rhythm. Sherrie was good rider, shifting her weight to where it was most comfortable for him at any given moment, but she had the bad habit of trying to signal him with her legs and seat.

"I'm not a horse," he called back over his shoulder.

"Sorry!"

The signaling stopped. For the moment.

Don let himself shift up into a canter, stretching his legs out and leaning into the wind a little. The ground raced by under his feet. Sherrie's land wasn't big enough to run in a straight line for very long, so Don carved out a slow arc through the grassy field, giving himself time to sort out his thoughts before he dropped back down to a walk.

"You ready to talk now?" Sherrie asked gently.

"There's not really much to talk about," Don said. "I guess I'm just feeling a little bit...isolated right now."

When Sherrie spoke Don could hear her frown. "Has something changed? I know Alan has started dating--"

"It's not Dad," Don interjected. "Hell, I'm happy for him. He's been so sad. It's good to see him getting out and having a life again. And before you ask, it's not Charlie, either. He's seemed a lot more cheerful since he started this," Don waved a hand inarticulately, "this 'math of the brain' thing, as Larry calls it." Don chuckled. "More tired, but more cheerful, too. I swear, I don't know when he sleeps."

"Then what's different?" Sherrie asked, voice rich with confusion. "You've seemed pretty well settled with your family since you got back from Albuquerque."

Don ran a hand through his hair quickly. "I am. Believe me, I'm done with running away. It's just... Listen, a couple of months ago I went to this conference in New York. I ran into another stallion while I was there."

"I'm assuming you worked it out, since you're still in one piece," Sherrie said wryly.

"Yeah, we did. More or less. But that's not why I mentioned it." Don paused for a moment. "This centaur. He had a mate. A man. A human man, who knew all about centaurs and didn't seem to have any trouble with our differences. He understood, Sherrie."

"That's not that unusual." Sherrie sounded a little bit defensive. "There are plenty of us who understand all about centaurs."

Don resisted the urge to rub his forehead. Instead he started angling back towards the house. "You know about us, Sherrie. That doesn't mean that you understand. Not like this. Hell, if you need an example, look at Charlie and my Dad. The herd fostered me out to Alan and Carol Eppes when I was nine years old. They've known me for 27 years and they still haven't figured out that they belong to me."

"Part of that is probably because you were fostered out so early," Sherrie pointed out. "At nine, I'm guessing you'd only just started playing the dominance games that would eventually lead to challenges. It's easy for us humans to forget about those instincts when we're not seeing them demonstrated every day."

"Yeah, I know." Don sighed. "I'm just saying, meeting these two reminded me that there isn't anyone in my life who understands me like that."

Sherrie was quiet for a moment. "If you want to be with someone special," she said eventually, "you've got to work for it, you know. You've got to be willing to give people a chance. You're a smart, attractive guy. You can't tell me you haven't had offers."

"Sure. But the minute I start getting close to someone, I start getting protective. And the more protective I get, the harder it is to convince myself that a little companionship is worth the risk my job means for them."

"It's their choice to take that risk, Don."

He snorted. "Now you're thinking too much like a human again. I'm responsible for my people."

"Sometimes people die," Sherrie said softly. "Do you seriously think that I regret the time I had with Alex before he went?"

"No. And I know that as well as you do." Probably better, Don added silently. "But that doesn't mean I have the right to put them at unnecessary risk."

"Since when is your own happiness unnecessary?"

He rolled his eyes a little. "I'm not unhappy. Just a little lonely sometimes. It passes." Or at least, it got easier to ignore.

They arrived back at the house and Sherrie slipped from Don's back without being asked. She stepped away and tilted her head to look up at Don. "You're lonely, so you come out here to be alone?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"No," Don said. "I come out here because I like to run. And to work over that obstacle course of yours a few times. Speaking of which..." he trailed off.

Sherrie waved him off. "No one else has the place booked until tomorrow. Wear yourself out."

Don took off for the obstacle course at a gallop, just thinking about running and the ground under his hooves and the scent of dirt and trees and crushed grass in the air. He hardly slowed down when he reached the start of the course, instead running through it at top speed and coming out the other side panting a little.

Trotting back to the beginning, Don looked over the course and shook his head a little. "I know this thing too damn well," he said to himself. Maybe he could convince Sherrie to change it up a little. It had to be years since she'd done that last.

Still, he put himself over it a few more times, slower than before, trying to treat each familiar obstacle as if it were new. It was still good exercise and...well, it was what he had.

***

By the time he'd finished up at the park, showered, eaten dinner, and made the drive back into L.A. it was getting on to 2:00am. Don briefly considered heading back to his apartment, but by the time he actually climbed into bed it would be 3:00 and he usually set his alarm for 6:30 anyway. What was the point? So he headed in to the office. It wasn't like it was the first all-nighter he'd pulled.

The building was damn near dead at this time of night--morning?--but the guard on shift gave Don a friendly nod. Up in the break room Don washed out the coffee carafe, wondering briefly if whoever always left it with a half inch of coffee in the bottom ever wondered who cleaned it out damn near every morning. They probably thought janitorial did it. As if their job descriptions covered coffeepots.

Don stood and waited for the coffee to brew, just enjoying the smell of it and the relative quietness of the building. Sometimes it was easier to work in the middle of the night like this, without a hundred things demanding your attention. Just the case and a cup of coffee.

Settling down behind his desk, Don set his coffee down and ignored the stack of paper in his inbox, instead pulling open the bottom right-hand file door in his desk and retrieving a thick folder.

Carlos Esteban, murdered INS agent, 1996. One of his first cases. His first ever unsolved case. He hadn't been the lead agent, of course, but it hadn't seemed to matter. Still didn't, really.

As he had the last few times the folder had found its way onto his desk, Don flipped it open to the list he'd printed out of the last year's worth of INS cases Carlos had handled. A waste of time, most likely. Half these people had had their immigration denied and were therefore completely unreachable, even by phone. The FBI wouldn't be too happy with Don for wracking up an international phone bill on a case so cold it was on ice. The other half had no reason to remember the INS agent who had handled their cases ten years ago. They probably hadn't even met him more than twice.

But every other lead had come up cold, every suspect had provided an alibi, and the murder was still unsolved. There wasn't much left to check but this.

So Don sipped his coffee and booted up his computer and shuffled through the folder to find the file for the next name on the list. Evander Stefanos. Emigrated to the U.S. from Greece in 1996. According to the file, he'd lived in the U.S. on a series of work visas for a couple of years before he'd applied for--and won--a green card through investment. There was an address and phone number listed, but Don wasn't betting that Stefanos could still be reached at that number. Fortunately, with the FBI's resources at his fingertips and the information provided in Esteban's files, it wasn't too hard to track down the people who's cases Esteban had handled.

At least, it wasn't usually too hard. Two hours later, Don was still frowning at his computer screen. Evander Stefanos appeared to have completely dropped off the face of the Earth shortly after his green card was approved. That was odd. Why work so hard to get into system if you weren't going to take advantage? Unless--

Ten minutes later, Don had his answer. Evander Stefanos and his partner, Robert Davies, had been killed in an apparent home invasion in February 1996. Don sighed and leaned back in his chair. Another dead end. Literally, this time.

Stretching, he rose and took his coffee mug back to the pot to refill. He was stirring sugar into the dark liquid when it hit him. February. The same month Esteban had been murdered. In a completely different state, sure, but the anthrax letter that had killed Esteban had been forwarded from New York; he'd recently moved.

Returning to his desk, Don double-checked the dates. Esteban was killed just three days before Stefanos and Davies. Worth checking out for the timing alone, Don decided, picking up the phone.

Unfortunately, the NYPD didn't seem to agree. He got bounced around from department to department, detective to detective, each of them passing the buck to the next. The detective handling the case couldn't be reached, his partner was on his way out the door and who remembered one of a hundred home invasions gone bad anyway? The chief of detectives at the time had retired, the files were in storage, and who would pay for them to be shipped? The criminalist who'd processed the evidence had transferred...it went on and on.

It was a quarter past four in the morning and Don was staring at his empty mug, wishing he dared leave the phone long enough to go refill it, when the line clicked, telling him that he'd finally come off of hold. Again.

"Detective Taylor, NYPD CSU."

Don shook himself a little and calmed his voice as much as he could. A frustrated Fed was just entertainment to a lot of cops. "Detective, this is Special Agent Don Eppes with the FBI. I'm following up on a cold case and I've uncovered a possible connection to an NYPD investigating from 1996."

"I'm afraid that's a little before my time, Agent Eppes." For a change, there was honest regret in Taylor's gravelly voice. "I was a junior member of the unit at the time; other CSI's cases would have been outside my purview."

"I know," Don said. He rubbed his eyes with forefinger and thumb and hoped he didn't sound as tired as he felt. "I'm just trying to find someone who is willing and authorized to dig up the files and fax them out to me."

"Fax them out-- Where are you calling from?"

Shit. He hadn't mentioned that this time around, had he? "I'm sorry, Detective, I should have mentioned earlier. I'm calling from the Los Angeles field office."

"It's what, four-fifteen in the morning there? I thought you said this was a cold case." Despite the question, Taylor didn't sound skeptical. More...curious.

"It is," Don admitted. He considered his coffee cup again. Was it worth gambling that Taylor would wait long enough for him to retrieve a refill? Better not press my luck. "I've been working it whenever I have a little free time. I wanted to run down the New York connection while I had a chance."

"At four in the morning," Taylor said, amusement coloring his voice. "You're as bad as I am."

Don was startled into a laugh. "Hey, it's not exactly a nine to five kind of job, is it?"

"No, but most people have other things to do when they can't sleep. Or so I'm told," Taylor said dryly.

Don turned his coffee cup around on his desk a few times. "It's not so much that I can't sleep as that I don't see the point right now. And it's not like I can work this case on company time."

"Ahh. One of those," Taylor said knowingly.

"One of those what?" Don prompted, frowning a bit.

"Cases that stick with you despite the fact that everyone else has shrugged and filed them."

Don's frown eased into more of a rueful expression. "Yeah, I guess so."

"So, why don't you give me the run down on this one," Taylor said briskly. "I'll see what I can do."

Don paused, considering his coffee cup once more. "Listen," he said abruptly, "if I run to the break room to refill my coffee mug, will you hang on until I get back?"

"I've got ten folders that live on the edge of my desk, waiting for a moment of insomnia, Agent Eppes," Mac responded.

Which was more of an answer than 'yes' would have been. "Thanks," Don said, and gently set the phone down on his desk so it wouldn't sound like he'd hung up.

Scooping up his mug, he half-jogged to the break room and poured himself another cup of coffee. He grabbed a couple of packets of sugar from the dish and threaded his way through the cubicles and back to his office, where the receiver lay waiting on his desk top.

Maybe there was hope yet.

--End--