t_vos_fics: don/charlie (love unraveling)
[personal profile] t_vos_fics
Written for Numb3rs_Novella



 
Title: Love Unraveling
Pairing/Characters: Charlie/Don
Rating: NC17
Word-count: ~90K
Spoilers: Season 1
Summary: If Charlie is going to get Don to stay in LA, he has to show Don that he can be a better brother. 
Warnings: Consensual sibling incest, Sexually explicit scenes
Author's Notes: This story begins a few months prior to Season 1 and ends with the last episode. 


 

Charlie sits quietly at his desk in the dwindling light, watching the shadows of students passing across his shaded windows. Troubled, he glances back down at the notebook spread out in front of him. It’s all there in graphite and paper. Don is going to leave again. He started this predictive analysis in hopes of soothing away the sense of dread that has been creeping into his mood lately. Instead it confirms his worst fear. Probabilities indicate that Don will move on to another posting sometime in the next couple of years. Charlie will have to cope with loosing bits of his family over and over again until he is the only one left behind.

 

Squeezing his eyes shut, Charlie concentrates on breathing slowly, relaxing his hands flat against the cool surface of his desk.  It was this way almost his whole existence – Don breezing in and out of his life, a longer absence between each subsequent visit. He never stayed as long as this. Last night, his dad dismissed Charlie’s concerns during dinner, certain Don is home for good. ‘Permanently relocated. Don’s own words,’ he reassured and brooked no further discussion. Charlie nodded in agreement and changed the subject, trying to shove down the apprehensive feeling that had gained strength all day. 

 

Charlie isn’t able to shake that nervous feeling. He notices how Don seems increasingly restless, irritable even. Not at all settled and content in his job or his life. Boxes remain unpacked at the house and at Don’s apartment – just stuffed into closets and convenient corners for later. That doesn’t look like the behavior of someone ready to settle down permanently.

 

Turning back to his equations, Charlie resists running through them one more time. The results are always the same. Don’s pulling away again. He comes over to the house less and less and barely speaks to Charlie when he does visit. His dad recently told them both that he’s ready to date again. Alan is better now. He’s starting a new chapter of his life, and Don won’t have any reason left to stay. Charlie suspects he’ll continue to distance himself until he finally transfers to another office. Don’s always looking forward to the next big thing. Or maybe he’s just looking to get away from home. Away from Charlie.

 

Charlie reaches over and plucks the Bucky ball off his desk. Rotating it in his hands, Charlie tries to slow down his thoughts. He doesn’t understand. Why won’t Don talk to him, explain what he’s done to make it so hard to be around him? Don avoids him more often than not and gets annoyed with very little provocation from what he can tell.

 

Charlie feels his face flush, swallowing around the lump of guilt in his throat. He knows why.  He tries never to think of it, but he knows. He behaved badly after his mother’s cancer failed to go into remission. He didn’t care that he left Don to manage their sick mother and grief-stricken father on his own. Charlie had buried himself in his work because he couldn’t face it. His brother had every right to be disappointed in him, ashamed even. At the time, Charlie had been bewildered by what was happening. He'd felt like that same bumbling thirteen-year-old prodigy he’d once been –  that kid who was so tired of stumbling behind his brother and his peers in every way but math. He became obsessed with racing so far ahead of everything that nothing could touch him, not pain, not hunger, not even loneliness. 

 

When confronted with watching his mom grow weaker, he panicked at the thought of losing everything. The only place he’d ever felt he belonged was with his family, and she was the one person who understood and accepted him best. She was his touchstone, and he needed to save her.  His retreat into math had been a betrayal of his own logical mind. He’d believed that as long as he was clinging to the unsolvable, he could keep her within reach, stretching out her time here like light slowing as it approaches a black hole, but never passing through.

 

Something deep inside him cracked the day she died. He would have broken irreparably if it hadn't been for Don. Don had held him together until he could stand on his own again. Don’s always been good at that. That’s why Charlie needs him to stay.  Don’s his standard - the point of reference Charlie uses to measure himself and all others.

 

Charlie smiles a little as he hears his mom’s voice echo through his mind. ‘The answer isn't always mathematical, sweets. Sometimes, you have pay attention to your heart.’ He craves Don to be his constant, as unfailing and enigmatic as pi. Don’s presence weaves inexplicably in and out of his life, an unseen thread detectable by its effects. But Charlie needs more now. He wants Don at his side, not just a phone call from a far off place.

 

Charlie puts down the model and distractedly toys with the hem of his shirt. Don sent him this shirt emblazoned with the pi symbol for his twenty-fourth birthday – 'I saw it and immediately thought of you, buddy.’ The amusement had been clear in his voice even from three hundred fifty three miles away in Albuquerque. It’s been a long while since he’s heard Don sound like that, upbeat and affectionate.

 

Lately, Don seems to mostly vacillate between neutral and irritated, but his resentment is always just underneath, ready to resurface. If he is going to get Don to stay in LA, Charlie has to show him that he can be a better brother.

 
 

 

 

Charlie’s stomach rumbles loudly as he rechecks the last of his extreme gravity vehicle equations. With any luck, his father is downstairs right now putting the finishing touches on dinner. Charlie stands up to stretch out all his kinks when he freezes at the sound of Don’s voice.

 

Don’s here? He smiles and shakes his head. Don and his unflappable radar for brisket. Charlie quickly grabs his books and makes his way downstairs. As he nears the bottom, Charlie listens as Don explains to their dad that he is here only for a quick shower and a change of shirt. Charlie’s shoulders fall. That case is running him ragged. If only Don would let him help.

 

Pasting a cheerful expression on his face, he rounds the corner and enters the living room. “Hey, Don. What’s going on? What are you doing here?”

 

“Just making sure you don’t take complete and total advantage of dad.” Don says, throwing a distinctively unimpressed look. He turns and continues his way upstairs.

 

“Are you kidding? Uh, he wouldn’t know what to do without me.” Charlie replies, trying to lighten the mood.

 

Charlie sees the exhaustion visible in Don’s face, hears the frustration in his voice. His case isn’t going so well then. Spotting Don’s case files on the table, Charlie wishes there were some way he could help.

 

Actually, it’s a perfect opportunity. Charlie slowly unrolls the maps and begins surveying the data points.

 

Over the past 4 months, Charlie has tried to reach out to Don several times using a number of different approaches, including assisting him with some of Don’s tamer financial cases. He thought that once Don noticed how useful Charlie’s math could be, he would let him in to his world a little more. Charlie scoffs to himself. Don is as resistant as ever. Doesn’t matter if it is professional or personal, he has to be in complete control over it, only allowing Charlie little scraps of access here and there. Like that is going to deter Charlie from wearing down the wall between them.

 

He just needs to find a solid starting point of commonality. Then Don will see.

 

Don returns, looking refreshed and more relaxed. That is until he spots Charlie with his maps. Charlie practically sees the calm evaporate from his face in a flume of aggravation.

 

 “Charlie, what do you think you’re doing?” He pushes Charlie firmly away from the table as he rolls the maps back up in tight vigorous motions.

 

Charlie ignores the question. The answer is entirely self-evident. “Crime scenes? What kind of crimes?”

 

“Get away from here. These are confidential case files.” Don waits until Charlie has stepped back and then grabs his tie off the table. Striding over to the mirror, he jerkily buttons his cuffs and adjusts his tie.

 

Well, that worked well. He looks even tenser than when he came in. Charlie watches his brother for a few minutes, trying to think of another approach. His eyes are drawn to Don’s dark hair, still soft with moisture, curling almost delicately around his ears. Charlie swallows reflexively as his gaze drags down the lines of Don’s shirt, studying the way the material hugs Don’s damp skin in meandering paths curving from shoulder to waist. Shaking himself from his reverie, Charlie crosses his arms and looks down, concentrating on finding a different tactic.

 

“He just looked at the map. I made sure he didn’t go through anything else.” Alan adds in the quiet lapse. 

 

“Good,” Don replies sternly.

 

Charlie makes cautious steps back into Don’s orbit, leaning against the doorjamb as Don finishes adjusting his collar. “Thirteen crime scenes spread over a contained region. You guys are analyzing the significance of those locations?”

 

“Yeah, it’s called predictive analysis. The FBI pioneered it. I trained in it at Quantico, and it doesn’t work on sado-serial crimes. There’s no way to predict the location of the next attack.” Don explains. Charlie hears the exasperation dripping from his voice loud and clear.

 

Wincing, he tries again. “You know, I helped you on that stock fraud mess. And the IRS extortion case.”

 

“Yeah. This is different. It’s not about numbers.” Don states walking away.

 

Charlie knows he meant to signal the end to the conversation. Muttering mostly to himself, he turns his back on the room. “Everything is numbers.”

 

Gazing out to the backyard, his attention catches on the sprinkler outside the glass French doors. He watches as the sunlight shimmers in the spray of water, and lets his mind slip into the smooth, fluid comfort of simple calculations regarding the spray’s trajectory. An idea bubbles to the surface, taking shape as his thoughts are propelled forward. He knows exactly what to do. Now to convince Don.

 

“Don. Hey, um, can I show you something really quick?” Charlie bounces eagerly over to Don, coaxing him toward the doors and ignoring his resistance.

 

“No, Charlie, I got to get going.” Don sighs, pushing Charlie’s hands away to evade his persistent grasp.

 

“I know, I know.” Charlie gazes hard into Don’s eyes, a stubborn set to his jaw.

 

“Charlie - “

 

“I know. Just come with me. Come and hear me out. Hear me out, come here.” Charlie bounces on his toes once Don relents and quickly leads him to the view of the backyard.

 

“Check this out. You see the sprinkler, yeah?” Charlie falls easily into teacher mode, his enthusiasm spreading to his hands.

 

“Yeah, I see the sprinkler.” Don glances through the door unimpressed.

 

“You see the drops?” Charlie can’t keep the cheer out of his voice. This is going to work.

 

“Yep, I see the drops.” Don barely glances over, checking his watch.

 

“Even using math, there’s no practical way to predict where the next water drop will land. There’s too many variables. However, say I couldn’t see the sprinkler. From the pattern of the drops, I could calculate its precise location. It’s not about predicting the next site. It’s finding what the sites have in common. The point of origin.”

 

Don hesitates, an incredulous look blooming across his face. He leans forward, vibrating with sudden intensity. “Charlie, you’re saying you can tell us where the killer lives?”

 

Charlie swallows sharply, takes a small breath before leaning forward as well. No wonder Don is such an effective agent, especially in interrogations. He found himself resisting a shiver the sole focus of all that pointed interest. In that moment, Charlie would promise Don all the answers in the universe.

 

Charlie pauses, unable to tear his eyes away from Don’s own. “Yeah.”

 

*

 

The next day, Charlie wakes up and bounds out of bed without the assistance of an alarm. He feels energized and more encouraged than ever. He had been relieved that Don had gotten over his agitation so easily once they began working on the case. Don even hung out for a while and ate dinner with them after letting the office know he wouldn’t be back in for the night. Charlie is certain this case is exactly what they needed. Don will see the inherent value of math – and maybe even of Charlie – in his world.

 

Charlie arrives on campus quite early, eager to run his equations. FBI agents are already there waiting on Charlie to deliver the redacted copies of the case files. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Charlie reassures them he is well-rehearsed in the application of proper security protocols and hustles them from his office. To avoid interruptions, he relocates to his favorite workroom where only his teaching assistants will know where to find him. Headphones in place, Charlie slides deep into thought as soon as he feels the chalk in his hands.

 

*

It takes a little over a day to work the bugs out of his algorithm and get the results he needs. Charlie is working feverishly the next afternoon to double check and triple check his results as Amita prints the maps. His discussion with Larry earlier had yielded its typical results - illumination couched in a fair amount of quixotic musings. Charlie is touched at Larry’s gentle prodding to reconsider consulting for Don in exchange for loftier mathematical pursuits. He understands his friend’s concerns, but knows Larry is missing some key points that Charlie hasn’t yet shared. And then all at once, Charlie realizes his own similar error. He is missing an important variable - how the perpetrator is choosing his sites. How he is choosing to spend his time. After that, the calculations practically solve themselves. Charlie is beaming by the time he reaches the end of his analysis for the fifth time, more confident than ever that his hot zone approach will be successful.

 

“Someone is very pleased with himself.” Amita giggles as she re-enters the classroom with maps in hand.

 

“Is that it? You got them all?” Charlie eagerly waves her over and extends his hands to check the print-outs.

 

“Yes, Charlie. I have them all. We should get going. I think they were expecting us 5 minutes ago.” Amita piles the presentation materials into neater stacks for transport.

 

Checking his watch, Charlie lets out a frustrated groan. “Yeah, okay. But let me run through the materials one more time. I want to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything.” He methodically flips through the nearest stack, making sure the data tables and graphs were in proper order. Amita’s hand lands softly on top the stack.

 

“You’ve checked your materials three times already. You included everything but the kitchen sink. Seriously, Charlie, I’ve seen grad students be less meticulous with their dissertation. Better to be on time, right?” Amita hands him the set of rolled maps, smirking. “Or as close to on time as a genius professor of applied mathematics gets.”

 

“Yeah. Right. Okay.” Charlie slides some of the materials into his satchel and gestures to Amita to grab the laptop bag. Spinning on his heel, he hurries out the door, counting the number of maps in his arms. He slows his steps as he reaches the sidewalk. Rubbing the back of his neck, he turns around and grins. “I just realized I don’t know where you parked today.”

 

 “I was wondering when you would realize that.” Amita points across the street, chuckling quietly. “I’m in the parking structure today. Come on, let’s go show those Feds how it’s done.”

 

*

 

The visitor check-in procedure takes even longer than expected, and Charlie’s vibrating with nervous energy by the time they board the elevators.

 

Amita leans over into Charlie’s space. “Are you okay?” she murmurs softly.

 

“Yeah. Fine.” He turns to look her in the eye as the elevator stops at another floor and more people got on. “Why? Do I seem weird to you?”

 

“No, I was just checking.” Amita bites her lip, but Charlie could still see the amusement curling at the corners.

 

“Am I missing something? Do I have something on my face?” Charlie smiles uncertainly.

 

“No, not at all. Sorry.” Amita shoots him a sympathetic look. “It’s just in the few years you’ve been advising me, I don’t think I have ever seen you so… apprehensive?”

 

Charlie groans and swipes his eyes. The elevator stops and lets off a few more people. He checks his watch again. “Is it that obvious?”

 

Silence lingers on, and Charlie can feel panic lodging in his chest. He turns to face Amita. 

 

“It is that obvious. Oh god. I was really hoping I was covering better than that.”

 

“Charlie, remember what you told me the first time I led a class? You said I should let them see my passion and enthusiasm for the subject matter. That people can’t help but respond to someone who genuinely enjoys teaching what they love. The same certainly applies here. And a room full of professional agents surely can’t be any worse than an auditorium filled with freshman.”

 

“Except freshman aren’t licensed to carry,” Charlie bemoans.

 

Amita giggled. “Don will be there. I seriously doubt he would let anyone draw down on his brother.”

 

Charlie chuckles, feeling some of the anxiety release. Watching the number of Don’s floor flash above the elevator doors, he bounds out as soon as the doors open. “Yeah, well, Don’s a lot harder to impress than a bunch of bored eighteen-year-olds.”

 

They round the corner, and Charlie scans the mostly empty bullpen.  He sees Terry step out of the conference room and wave them in. “We’re in here, Charlie. Ready when you are.”

 

He charges into the debriefing room, maps spilling out of his hands onto the table before he even comes to a stop. Charlie’s unsurprised to see the entire task force is gathered and waiting for him, including Assistant Director Walter Merrick who glances at his watch and crosses his arms the second he sees Charlie. He glances anxiously over to Don.

 

Don approaches and murmurs soothingly, “It’s all right. You all right?”

 

Charlie swallows thickly and nods. Just focus on the math. “Hi. All right. Amita, can you put the first map right up here, please?” Charlie speeds to the front of the room to begin clearing space.

 

Amita stretches to pin the oversized map to the board. Don steps up to assist her, and Charlie watches Don’s eyes track the little strip of skin showing between her shirt and her capris. Amita also noticeably catches Don’s glance and smiled in greeting. “Hi.”

 

“Here, I’ll help you with that.” Don returned her smile.

 

Charlie feels his stomach clench and keeps looking between them and his notes.

 

“Thanks,” demurs Amita turning to face Don.

 

“How you doing?” Don smiles again. Charlie’s eyes follow Don’s hand for a moment as it lands on Amita’s arm. He looks away once he's noticed Amita’s smile growing even wider.

 

“Good. Nice to see you again.”

 

Charlie grits his teeth, inhales sharply through his nose, and jumps straight into his presentation without any introductions. The butterflies in his stomach have vanished.

 

“Okay. This map was generated by an equation.” Charlie erases a nearby whiteboard quickly, intent on getting their attention right away. He hears others speaking, but ignores them. “I’m writing the equation here in abbreviated form. I’ve pinpointed the area most likely to be the perpetrator’s residence.”

 

“You got they guy’s address?”

 

“Not the address, no.” Charlie immediately recognizes Merrick’s sarcastic voice. He is all too aware of Merrick’s opinion of him. They are not exactly mutual fans, having clashed previously on the financial cases. Groaning mentally, he turns away from him to the group of agents. “An approximate base. Um, okay, I’m using some of the same techniques that physicists use to find black holes, which can’t be detected in any way, um, other than the effect that they have on objects around them.”

 

Merrick interrupts again. “Black holes?” he asks skeptically.

 

“Walt, he based his work on FBI theories of serial crime.” Don’s voice sounds defensive even to Charlie. He sees the tension in the room ratchet up a notch as he looks around the room. Merrick is scowling, Don won’t make eye contact with him, and some of the agents in the back are outright snickering now. Visions of high school dance through Charlie’s head.

 

“Okay, uh, Professor, why don’t you just walk us through it?” Walt gestures begrudgingly for Charlie to continue.

 

“Amita, can you put up the enlarged version? The first point, really, to take into account is that, when picking places to attack a victim or dump a body, the perpetrator will choose sites that appear to be selected at random. He doesn’t want you to make any conclusions about where he lives, what areas he frequents.”

 

“Right.” Don nods his head encouragingly. Charlie knows he almost has the room convinced, he just needs to give them something more concrete than theory.

 

He tosses Amita a grateful smile. “Let’s do an elementary demonstration. So can you help me just move this back? And let’s slide this over to there.” Charlie has the others slide tables away from the center of the room and then points to a handful of agents. “Can you five... one, two, three, four and five please come up here? You know what? You guys, too. Just, please, distribute yourselves randomly across this area right here.” He gestures to the center of the room. Amita gives him a wide-eyed look.

 

Terry is the first to wander uncertainly into the center of the room. “You mean, spread out?”

 

“Like this?” Walt asks in an unimpressed tone.

 

“That’s exactly right. But look what you’ve done.” Charlie walks through the group of agents, gesturing at their distance from one another. “You have distributed yourselves at equal intervals. While true random patterns will include clusters.”

 

“We’re spaced too evenly.” Terry nods, excited comprehension dawning across her face.

 

“Exactly.” Charlie rewards her with an eager smile. “It’s pretty difficult to consciously pick a random sequence. Your target tried. But like you, he wound up with roughly even spacing.”

 

Terry’s excitement spreads across the room. “In trying to avoid a pattern, he wound up with one anyway?”

 

“Yep. Locations purposefully distanced from a site not on your map, but clearly marked in the perpetrator’s mind. Namely, his residence. The equation reveals the probability that each area has of being the subject’s base. Yellow’s the hot zone.”

 

Terry nodded at Charlie and then turned to Don. “I had a feeling about Silver Lake.”

 

“I estimate an 87% chance he lives in that area.” Charlie caps his marker happily. Many of the agents begin to walk closer to the map, murmuring to each other as they point. They know Charlie is leading them in the right direction – their own leads back him up. He can feel their approval. They all get it. Charlie shoots Don a happy look.

 

Merrick clears his throat as Charlie wraps up his talk. “You know, I don’t know a lot about mathematics, but this doesn’t make any sense to me.”

 

Scratch that. Everyone who’s not a pompous ass gets it. Charlie darts his eyes quickly and then pulls at the lottery ticket from Merrick’s front shirt pocket. “It makes more sense than this.”

 

“You can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket.” Walt replies, snatching the ticket from his pocket and waggling it.

 

“Yes, this is truth. However, the odds of this one being the winning ticket are one in forty-one million.” Charlie scribbles the odds onto the whiteboard, hiding his smirk. “Which means, if you bought twenty tickets every week, you would win the jackpot once every forty thousand years.”

 

He hears a smothered chuckle behind him and turns to see Don scrubbing his hand over his mouth to hide his amusement. Charlie meets his eyes briefly and revels in the feeling of triumph.

 

David hangs up his phone and calls out across the room. “Agent Eppes, we've got the dead girl's car. It's in a parking structure in West Hollywood.”

 

Don stands up and points to a couple of agents. “Let's go.” He turns back briefly to Charlie. “Test it. Run it against cases from the past that have been solved. Miller, pull some files for him to work with.”

 

Charlie resists the urge to pump his fist into the air. Bouncing up on his toes, he pokes at Merrick’s lottery ticket again. “Ever play craps?” he asks before throwing a wink subtly at Amita.

 

Merrick grunts and leaves the room without another word. Charlie beams at Amita, no longer able to hide his joy. He knows it’s just a matter of time now. His math will prove itself to Don, and he’ll finally see how indispensable Charlie could be.

 

*

 

Two days later, Charlie storms into his workroom and furiously erases his boards as he blinks back his tears and throws himself into his chair. He doesn’t care that he is soaked to the bone. None of it makes any sense. He knows his equations were right. He knows it. He just can’t wrap his brain around why they failed to produce the perpetrator.

 

Charlie shifts uncomfortably in the chair, his wet clothes sticking to his skin and his hair dripping into his eyes. He ignores his cold discomfort. Don’s voice strained with resentment still r,ings in his ear. His talk with Larry at the arcade hasn’t helped at all. His mind is so crowded with emotions that no matter how hard he tries, the answer won’t come. His math has never let him down. Not like this. Not when he is so sure of it.

 

Grabbing the top file, he begins to re-check his calculations, desperate to find something he missed. He hasn’t missed anything. His fingers curl as they touch on the crime photo of the first victim. Her bruised face, her hollow eyes staring back up at him. He pages through each photo, stilling when he sees the last victim - the one who had been murdered. Shame floods through him.

 

He hasn’t just let Don down, he has failed these women. These women, their husbands, their children, their fathers and mothers… they don’t deserve what happened to them.

 

Larry’s advice earlier at the arcade returns to him. He reminded Charlie that working on criminal cases isn’t about numbers and elegant solutions. They’re messy and unpredictable just like human behavior. Larry asked if working on a case like this is worth all the pain and disappointment. Charlie doesn’t have an answer. Looking at these pictures…These families deserve more than he gave. They deserve justice. They deserve someone like Don who will fight for them, who craves to give it to them. Justice is as much a part of Don as math is a part of Charlie. Is it worth it? Don is. Don is worth any pain he has to endure. If he can help Don, then it’ll always be worth it.

 

Charlie shoves the file back onto the pile and stares out the window. Watching the rivulets of rain gliding down the window, Charlie thinks again of the sprinkler. He is certain his theories were accurate, but he is missing something. Charlie groans in frustration as he rests his head in his hands. He has to find a way out of all this emotion, back to the numbers, back to his work. It is the only way to fix this.

 

*

 

The rain hasn’t let up at all for his bike ride home. Charlie lets himself in quietly into the backdoor of the Craftsman house, trying not to slip. His sneakers squeak loudly as he cautiously makes his way across the kitchen’s linoleum floor, leaving an evidence trail of muddy rainwater behind him.

 

“Charlie, is that you?” His father calls from the living room.

 

“Yeah, Dad. It’s me.” He calls back irritably, and then softly adds under his breath, “Who else would it be?”

 

His father pushes through the kitchen’s swinging door. “Aw, Charlie. You’re making a mess. Just - just stay where you are and let me get some towels, huh?” Alan walks out through the swing door again while Charlie lays his sodden satchel on the table. Don appears through the door next, a beer bottle gripped loosely in at his side.

 

“Charlie, are you nuts or something? Riding in this weather? You’re lucky you weren’t run over. Why didn’t you call for a ride?” Don huffs.

 

“Felt like riding,” Charlie mumbles as he struggles to pull off his sodden shoes without slipping. He removes his dripping socks, keeping his head ducked.

 

“Ok, here you go, my boy. Now go ahead and put all your wet clothes and things in here and I will take them out to the garage to wash.” Alan returns, laying a plastic clothes basket on the floor next to Charlie and handing him a couple of bath towels. Then he bends over and drags a worn beach towel across the floor to mop up the expanding puddles.

 

Don moves forward, taking the towel from his father’s hand and placing a hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright, Dad. I’ve got this.” He squats down to finish cleaning the floor as Alan groans and straightens his back, placing his hands low at the base of his spine.

 

“All right, then. I guess I will go heat up the shower for you. No sense in you catching cold. I swear, for a genius...” Alan leaves, grumbling to himself, as Charlie stands motionless, feeling chastised and all of eight-years-old.

 

“You going to just stand there and drip-dry, Chuck?” A small smile graces Don’s face as Charlie finally turns to look at him.

 

“Ah, no. No.” Charlie’s shoulders droop in relief. Don isn’t mad about Charlie’s failure earlier. Charlie understands more about office politics than Don probably realizes. He knows Don put his reputation on the line throwing his support behind Charlie’s hot zone approach. He wouldn’t blame Don if he was angry. Charlie feels disappointed enough for the both of them.

 

He strips off his drenched jacket and shirt, lost in thought, as he methodically undresses and drops each item of clothes into the basket with a wet splat. He tries to think of what to say to Don. Opening his mouth and taking a breath to speak, he glances over his shoulder and freezes. Don is on his knees, staring up at Charlie with the strangest look, his hand still and the towel still clutched in his grip.

 

Charlie’s eyes widen as a flush of heat flashes through his body. Time seems to stall for a moment, Charlie watching Don watching Charlie. Water trickles down his shoulders and back as Don’s gaze slides up the tracks, resting a moment on the curls that cling messily to his face. All at once, time lurches forward, and Don breaks his gaze.

 

Jerking a towel off the counter, Charlie wraps it around his wet boxers and drapes the second one over his head to wring out his hair.

 

“I, um, I’m gonna go… see if that shower is ready,” Charlie squeaks. Don turns away and briskly wipes up the water from the floor.

 

Halfway up the stairs, Charlie shakes his head, trying to clear away the buzzing in his brain.  He feels tired and energized at all once, but oddly enough no longer feels a chill. Turning towards the bathroom, he knows a hot long shower will help clear his mind of this strange night. A good night’s rest and he will be back to normal in the morning. He’s sure of it.

 

*

 

Charlie leans back in his chair, rubbing his eyes and checking his watch. It is almost time for his late morning class, but he really wants to wait for Don a little longer. The high from working side by side with Don through the night is fading fast, and the FBI’s coffee lacks the octane of its CalSci counterpart.

 

Last night passed in an odd blur, a result of too much work crammed into too little time, but completely worth it. By the time other agents arrived in the morning, both Don and Charlie knew they were on the right track.

 

When Charlie finished his shower the night before, he was stunned to find Don and their dad waiting for him with a hot cup of tea and a bowl of soup. Charlie muttered a soft thank you as accepted the bowl. He ate slowly, working up the courage to apologize to Don. But the words stuck in his throat alongside bits of carrots and celery because, try as he might, he couldn’t apologize for math that he knows is right. His equations should have yielded useful results.  Thankfully, Don was already thinking along the same lines and told his father as much without Charlie having to defend himself hardly at all. One inspired discussion later and Don was driving them both back to the FBI offices in the middle of the night to expand the algorithm’s scope to include a dual hot zone approach for both residence and industrial areas.

 

Within a few short hours, Charlie’s computer program was identifying and printing new maps for dual hot zones just as Don’s team arrived in the morning. After a hurried debriefing, Don corralled his team for a run at the most likely suspect in the newly identified industrial zone.

 

Charlie checks the time again. Only a couple of hours have passed since Don had left. Charlie really needs to leave now for Cal-Sci if he is going to be on time for class. Still, he hesitates to leave, hoping that Don will stride in any minute, whole and satisfied with the work they did together, as a team.

 

“Dr. Eppes? Dr. Eppes.”

 

Charlie turns to find a young agent waiting expectantly at the door of the conference room. “Yes. What is it? Did they catch him? Did they make an arrest?”

 

“Agent Eppes wants me to drive you down to the crime scene, sir. I’ll explain on the way.”

 

Charlie gathers his belongings and hurries to follow the young man out the door. “Crime scene? Did you say crime scene?” The agent nods and gestures Charlie into the elevator.  Charlie swallows thickly but nods in return, certain that Don wouldn’t send for him unless the scene is secured.

 

*

 

As the car pulls into the industrial park, Charlie surveys the barely controlled chaos of paramedics, crime scene techs, various agents, and the coroner’s van. His breath stutters in his chest as he catches sight of the body bag being wheeled toward the van. Even though his escort has already assured him that Don and his team were fine and the kidnapping victim was successfully rescued, Charlie is not ready to witness the live and up-close aftermath. Steadying himself for a moment against the car door, Charlie climbs out and looks around quickly, searching for his brother.

 

“Hey, Charlie.”

 

Relief floods through him as he finally spots Don across the lot, but it’s short-lived. Charlie’s eyes are drawn to a spatter of crimson across Don’s bright white shirt. He immediately looks away only to be confronted by the coroner’s stretcher being wheeled around his path. His eyes skitter around the scene, skipping off one sight to the next. There’s no safe place to rest his gaze. The violence of the day’s events are evident everywhere he looks.

 

Don places a reassuring hand on Charlie’s shoulder, guiding him away from the coroner’s stretcher. “Hey. Come here,” he soothes, sliding his hand down Charlie’s back.

 

As they walk together, Don’s hand doesdn’t withdraw until Charlie relaxes a little leaning into Don’s side. Charlie feels an absurd swell of gratitude and finally meets Don’s eyes.

 

“Something I wanted to show you. The suspect, Haldane, lived in Century City, but he just moved there three weeks ago. Look where he used to live.”

 

They both round the corner of a nondescript work van, and Charlie follows Don’s line of sight to a parking permit sticker on the van’s rear fender that indicates he resided in the Silver Lake neighborhood. A look of vindication crosses Charlie’s face as he nods to himself.

 

“That’s why we couldn’t find him in the first hot zone,” Don explaines, his voice heavy with apology.

 

“He was there, but he moved.” Charlie rocks toes to heels and nods. He knows they understand each other – the words unnecessary.

 

Don nods in return and pats Charlie’s shoulder fiercely. “That’s a hell of an equation, Charlie.”

 

“Thank you.” he replies softly, turning away from the intensity of Don’s pride. It is almost too much. His heart quickens for moment, and he lets his gaze be drawn over to the disorder of the scene as he gathers himself. Everywhere he looks is heartbreaking – from the victim crying to Agent Sinclair’s hand being bandaged to the body bag being loaded into the van.  The tragedy of the whole situation strikes Charlie, dampening his feeling of triumph.

 

He feels Don grasp his shoulder tightly again and pull him into his side. “Come here,” he whispers as he wraps his arm around Charlie’s shoulder and walks him back to his car.

 

Charlie ducks his head in response, trying to hide his smile. Glancing up at Don one more time, he mumbles “Everything is numbers.”

 

“Yeah, Charlie. I am beginning to see that.” He smiles, tilting his head in acquiescence.

 

A small smile blooms across Charlie’s face. “Then that’s a start.”






 

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