Disclaimer: The following story is a work of fan fiction. The author is making no money from it. NUMB3RS, its characters, settings, etc., are the sole property of its creator's and CBS television.

Perceptions of Reality

By Xanthia Morgan

Chapter One

"You don't know anything about life, Charlie! You haven't got a clue what goes on in the world unless it smacks you in the face! You spend your time in your ivory tower building your aerodynamic go-carts and teaching your classes while the rest of us are out dealing with life and all that comes with it! You don't even have your own place! Instead you're still living with Dad, letting him take care of you! God, Charlie, grow up! You can't live this kind of life forever! Expecting everything to be handed to you because you're smarter than everyone else! Some of have to work for what we get, Charlie. Some of us have to make it on our own!"

December 27

Professor Charles Eppes sat in his empty classroom and let the words flow over him again and again like so much poisoned water. He didn't need to be in class, the school was on winter recess. But he'd come in to be alone. He'd come to get away from his father's covert looks and meaningful throat clearings that all but screamed "I'm here if you want to talk about it". The truth was he didn't want to talk about it. He wanted to think about it. And the best place for him to think was here, in the silence of an empty campus amid the familiar and comforting scents of books and chalk dust.

The argument had been unexpected. He and Don had been able to work around each other pretty well in the past few months without exchanging words but he should have known it wouldn't last. He'd been helping Don a lot lately, maybe too much. He knew this last case he'd helped out on had been at the request of Don's Bureau Chief, not Don himself. Maybe that's what did it. Maybe being put in his shadow once again put Don over the edge. Charlie didn't know for sure. He only knew that once again he'd managed to anger his older brother without really being sure how he'd done it; one minute they were sitting around after Christmas dinner and the next they were screaming at each other.

"Do you have those new numbers for me, Charlie?"

"There aren't any new numbers. I told you that what I gave you was all I had."

"Well, when you work it up again, let me know. Briggs wants an update."

"Look, Don, I need some time away from this, I need to get back to my research. I can't be of any more help in this case anyway, I told Briggs that two days ago. You've got all the information I have."

The truth was, he hated this case. He wanted nothing more to do with the pictures and the crime scenes. He'd become somewhat – not used to it, he would never be used to seeing the horrible ways people could kill each other – resigned to the fact that if he was going to work with the FBI he was going to see things he'd rather he didn't. But this last case, it was too much for him. He couldn't even look at the badly beaten bodies, the terror filled faces, frozen in death. He was losing sleep and he had a huge consulting project due the end of January. A project he hadn't devoted nearly enough time to.

"You said you'd help out, Charlie."

"I know, and I have. You have all the data I could put together. There's nothing left for me to do. And I need to get back to my project, it's important." Did he dare tell Don the truth? That he couldn't handle the details on this one? He took a deep breath. "The truth is I can't deal with this one, Don. I just … I can't do it. Not this time. I need to get away."

"Get away? You need to get away? My God, Charlie, what do you think this is? What do think is going on here? Don't you think that there are times I wish I could get away? This is what's going on out there, Charlie!" Agent Don Eppes grabbed a stack of crime scene photos from his briefcase and threw them at his brother's face. Five men, one not much older than Charlie, had been brutally beaten then strangled to death. "You don't just get to 'get away'! And this is what's important! Not how fast some prototype can go or how many points you can score on Tempest!"

"I don't play Tempest," Charlie said, trying to fight off the anger that was building inside him. "And the project I'm working on isn't about vehicle prototypes, it's about…"

"It doesn't matter! It doesn't matter what it's about because it's about nothing! Your work is always about nothing! And for someone who's supposed to be so smart you sure as hell don't see it!"

"What do mean nothing? What the hell do you know about it?" Charlie shot back. "You don't even know what I do! My research has very important, real life applications! Applications you don't hesitate to use when it suits you!"

Maybe that's what had done it. Maybe by alluding to the fact that he sometimes felt Don only brought him out of mothballs to use him had been the final straw. But Don had been angry before that. Charlie buried his head in his hands. He just didn't know. Besides, he had bigger things on his mind now than Don. The ringing of his cell phone some time later brought him out of his reverie. He looked at the overseas number on the caller i.d. and closed his eyes. He'd been expecting this call as much as he'd been dreading it. With a sigh that was as much regret for the project that was now going to be even more overdue as it was for the sleep he knew he wouldn't be getting, Charlie answered. Real life had come calling, and in a very big way.