Omi as always
For Steve who survived a car smashing into him as a pedestrian
And in memory of Lora who didn't
Please support pedestrian advocacy and drive carefully
"A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend" - Willow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I do not own the characters Don, Charlie, Alan or Terry nor do I have any rights to anything related to the TV show Numb3rs. I plead fair use and claim only my own writing and characters.
Charlie is easy to find.
His world is small.
Home. Cal Sci. The Bureau Office from time to time. Charlie doesn't go many places.
But Don can't find Charlie right now.
And he needs to.
For Charlie's sake.
"Eppes," Don answered the phone, distracted by the case file in front of him. "Yes, that's me."
Terry and he had been discussing a case and she waited patiently for him to get off the phone so they could continue their discussion. When Don fell silent on the phone she looked at him closely. His expression had changed from one of annoyance to... Terry couldn't quite tell but whatever it was wasn't good.
"Where is he now?" Don paused, listening. "Okay, thanks for letting me know. I appreciate it."
Don hung up the phone and sat with his hands in his lap for a moment.
"Don?" Terry nudged him a little when he didn't respond. "What is it?"
"It's Charlie." Don said seemly unable to shake out of the daze that had settled over him.
"He was involved in a bad accident. There was a fatality."
Terry's eyes widened in panic. "No, not Charlie."
That thought seemed to startle Don back into the present. "No, no. Charlie was a passenger in a vehicle that struck a pedestrian. The pedestrian died at the scene." Don finally turned to look at Terry. "That was LAPD. A detective saw Charlie's name on the witness list of the Vehicular Manslaughter charge and recognized it. He called me to make sure I knew about the accident and about... Well he was concerned about how Charlie reacted to it. He said Charlie... I just have to go find him."
Don got up and grabbed his coat and car keys.
"Who was driving the car?"
"Laura, Larry's girlfriend. Larry was apparently in the back seat going over some papers for a presentation they were headed to and Charlie was up front and saw everything."
"Poor Charlie." Terry said sadly.
"Yeah, I've got to go find him. He's got to be in a bad way seeing death that up close and personal. Cover for me, okay?"
Terry barely had time to nod before Don was out the door.
The screech of the tires.
The look on the woman's face... Her face... The terror there when she realized...
The sound of the body (oh god, it wasn't a woman anymore it was a body) hitting the bumper then rolling up the hood to hit the windshield.
The awful silence afterwards.
And the blood...
The blood was everywhere.
There was blood on me.
There was blood on my hands.
It's still there.
I can't see it.
But I can feel it.
I know it's there.
Don called all over Cal Sci while he searched the house for Charlie, starting with the garage.
If there was ever a time for Charlie to revert to P vs. NP it was now, but there wasn't even a single chalkboard set up in the house or garage. Somehow, that unsettled Don even more than if Charlie had been there lost in equations.
He enlisted Cal Sci campus police to help search the school once Charlie's office and classroom were shown to be completely devoid of any signs Charlie had been there recently. His calendar listed a presentation in L.A. but nothing after that.
Don had hit the speed dial button for Charlie's cell phone so many times now he could do it without looking.
He drove up and down the streets between Cal Sci and the house hoping for a sign of Charlie's bicycle.
Don finally ended up at his own apartment, knowing that Charlie almost never used his spare key, just because he'd run out of ideas. Still no sign.
Don was starting to worry. It was getting dark and not only did Charlie not drive he was likely in a state of shock as well. Don worried about him wandering into traffic and ending up in an accident himself.
Don sat in his apartment and put his head in his hands. He had to stop and think like Charlie to figure out where he might be.
He'd already called the LAPD and Larry. Laura had been charged and released and Larry had taken her home in a cab. Charlie had not stayed after he'd given his statement and Larry did not know where he could have gone without a car.
Without a car.
Don had just assumed that one of the officers gave Charlie a ride to where he wanted to go but Charlie was more likely to just walk out without saying anything to anyone.
Don got on the phone quickly. "I need the exact location of the accident."
Fourth and Cherry.
I'm never eating anything made with cherries ever again.
I can't live without the number four but now four and fourth mean something else. Something other than two plus two or two to the second power or twenty-five percent...
Four stands for four valves in a heart that's no longer beating.
Four limbs all broken.
Four pints of blood splashed all over the car.
Don found Charlie where he most feared he would be. The scene of the accident.
He was sitting on the sidewalk staring at the intersection where he'd watched a life end so tragically.
Charlie was in shock so deeply he didn't recognize or acknowledge Don's presence at all.
Non-verbal and non-responsive, Don had no choice but to take him to an emergency room.
He stood nearby while the physicians and nurses started working on him. Charlie's eyes never wavered from their glassy stare off in to space, as if he was still seeing the intersection even now, indoors.
A nurse finally forced Don out of the room and he had to pace the waiting room alone, not wanting to worry his father with this news just yet.
After an interminable wait, Charlie's doctor came to see him, telling him he could take Charlie home. Armed with instructions on how to care for him and several prescriptions, he went back into the emergency room to collect Charlie.
He looked wan and unsteady, eyes still glassy but he recognized Don right away and responded when his brother embraced him.
"I was worried about you, buddy," Don said trying to catch Charlie's eye.
Charlie just stared down the hallway.
"I'd really like to go home now, Don. Can you take me home now, please?"
"Sure, buddy. Car's right outside."
Charlie allowed Don to lead him out to the car but bristled at getting in.
It took Don a split second to realize why Charlie wouldn't want to sit in the passenger seat.
"Look, buddy... You're tired. Why don't you lie down in the back seat while I drive, okay? You can put the center lap belt on and you should be fine.
Charlie nodded almost imperceptibly and got into the back seat, doing as he was told.
Once Don shut Charlie's door and headed around to the driver's side he let out a long sigh. At this rate, Charlie was never going to get a driver's license, poor guy.
Don managed to get Charlie home and then up to his bedroom, shaking his head in warning at his father to say nothing. Alan tried to protest but read Don's 'leave it be for now' expression well enough to allow Don to settle Charlie into bed without intervention.
Don got Charlie a glass of water and counted out the proper number of pills based on the paperwork he'd been given.
"Okay, Charlie you need to take these so you can get some rest."
Charlie just stared out the window.
"Charlie..." Don nudged him and he jumped.
"It's okay, buddy. I just need you to take some pills then you can go to sleep."
"Sleep?" Charlie laughed in a way that made Don feel sick inside. "What makes anyone think I can sleep after... after..." Charlie's voice got soft. "After what I saw today."
He hung his head down and Don could tell he was struggling with his emotions.
"Here... These will help." Don managed to get Charlie to take the pills and finish the glass of water.
Once he finished, Charlie stared out the window for a while and this time Don let him. He knew if he could be patient, the drugs would have time to work their magic and send Charlie off to sleep. Don knew from experience that sleep was the best respite from horrific visions of human agony.
After a while, Charlie's eyes started to get heavy and he lay down on the bed, letting Don pull the covers over him.
Don sat on the bed next to him rubbing his back in small circles. It occurred to him that that was something his father had done for him when he was very young, even before Charlie was born, and it always felt soothing to him.
He kept doing it even after Charlie's eyes closed knowing it would take him a while to drift off completely.
"Don?" Charlie's voice was so tiny Don almost didn't hear it.
"Yeah, buddy, I'm here," Don whispered.
"I saw a woman die today."
"I know, buddy. That must have been really hard on you."
"She looked so scared and then..."
"Shh... You don't have to talk about it tonight. Just rest."
"Don... You see dead bodies all the time. You've seen people die. You've even killed people, shot them dead. How do you... How do you deal with it? How does it not get to you?"
"I never said it didn't get to me, buddy, but yeah, I've seen a lot of death in my line of work. You know how I deal? I've got you and Dad to keep me sane. Honestly, Charlie, I couldn't do it on my own. You have Dad and I to help you. You're strong Charlie and you'll figure out how to deal with this. For tonight though, don't fight it. Just rest and things won't seem so bad in the morning."
Don leaned over and gently brushed the curls away from Charlie's face, watching the last glimmers of pain fade as sleep began to claim him.
"But if I'd..."
"Charlie, it was a horrible accident. Don't beat yourself up over what did or didn't happen. No one can change what you experienced but Dad and I can help you through what comes next. Don't worry. Dad and I are here for you."
"Promise?" Charlie sounded like he did when he was five and Don promised to protect him from the monsters in the closet.
"Promise. It's what big brothers and dads do best."
With that, a weight seemed to lift and Charlie sighed deeply, finally letting himself fall asleep.
Don got up quietly and settled himself into Charlie's easy chair for the night.
A promise was a promise and he promised Charlie he'd be there.
And he was.