Author's Note: Well, I had to write this fic because I was trying to figure out how Charlie would see his mother's death. I think his reaction to his mother's passing hasn't been explained in the show. They talk about what he did, just not why. So this is about what Charlie was going through. The style of the piece 'emotional Photoshop.'
Disclaimer: Only this story belongs to me, the characters and premise belong to the Scott brothers and CBS.
I couldn't get to use the equal sign, so I wrote it out in the equations. If you know how to do an equal sign, PLEASE let me know!
An explanation of the math: It's pretty simple, so you can just read the fic and pop back up here is you have issues with it. The math equations are: f(x) equals -lxl. It's a function (if you don't know what that is, that's fine) and it equals the negative of the absolute value of x. So you take x, make sure it's positive (with the absolute value) and make that negative. This is so that it will end up negative when you don't know if x is positive or negative to start out with. The other one is f(x) equals infinity. I can't make an infinity sign on the computer, so I just wrote it out. It looks like a sideways eight.
The dust from the chalkboards drifts around the room and Charlie times how long it takes them to fall to the ground, calculates their velocity just to double check that gravity is the same as it was the hour before. He is not either floating or falling, those are his feet in dirty socks standing on the attic floor and nothing is moving.
The piece of chalk in
his hand is worn to a nub; he is almost out. The chalkboards have
shifted from forest to lime green from the amount of times he's
written on them and erased and repeated the process, one two three
four five six seven times. Charlie doesn't care about one two three
for five six seven now. He's staring at motes of dust and holding
the last link to sanity in his hand that he will ever hold and Charlie contemplates zero.
"She's not, right?"
"She's going to die, Charlie. She's not coming back."
"No, I know—I know that. But she's not going to be gone."
"Wake up, Charlie! She can barely—she can barely breathe anymore. She's not going to last much longer."
There is one chalkboard that is still forest green, he lives in suburbia and the closest thing he's ever come to a forest is the back yard. He thinks he should travel someday; statistically it's highly probable. He thinks he should explore forests so that he can compare the colours of leaves and grass to his chalkboards and then he remembers where he is now and thinks he might not ever move again.
There is one chalkboard left, an empty chalkboard and on it he writes x equals 0 and then he cries because he does not want his mother to die.
Don tries to get him to go to the funeral. Walks in the dusty attic air and sees his brother, his brilliant naïve annoying baby brother scribbling away on a chalkboard like that's the only thing in his world.
"We have to go now, Charlie."
Don is wearing a nice black suit and a dark blue tie. His face is pale with grief and fatigue, the skin around his eyes is red and Charlie wants to reach up and stroke Don's face, stroke the pain away but that's what Mom would have done (but it's not because Mom equals 0 and how can nothing touch someone? How can he imitate nothing?).
"I can't stop now, I'm right in the middle of something. I recalibrated the number sets I was using to get my best-fit line, and—"
Don stares at him as he rattles on. His eyes are red and his hands are shaking and he would be angry at Charlie, filled with rage at how insensitive Charlie is, how selfish and self-centered and cruel. But he is empty inside. All that Don can feel is loss, a black hole in his chest that sucks up his rage and fury. He stares at Charlie and walks away without saying a word.
Charlie's voice trails off, and he thinks of sound waves and the dynamics of the room, the shielding and absorbing qualities of wood and he tries not to shake, tries not to think the words funeral and death and gone and mom, mommy mommy mommy.
"He's been up there for weeks, Dad. This isn't healthy, for you or him."
"He's doing the best he can, just like we are."
"The best he can? He's not doing anything! He just stays up there, starving himself, working on that fucking math probl—"
"Watch your language! I will not have you swearing in our—in our—in my house."
Larry comes over sometimes, and sits in one of the broken chairs and watches Charlie write. Tries to figure out what he is thinking, what jumps of logic Charlie is making—or if indeed there is any logic at all behind the formulas that have been condensed into symbols representing other formulas condensed into symbols. He'd tried to explain it once, but it hadn't made any sense.
Now Larry just watches and wonders if Charlie will ever stop writing, will ever stop mumbling to himself and leaving grey streaks in his hair when he pushes it back behind his ears.
They'd been friends since Charlie had first walked into Larry's advanced physics course and sat in the center of the front row. He'd been overly eager, unconsciously nervous, and so smart that it made Larry ache with jealousy. Charlie could do far better and more useful work in his early twenties than Larry ever would.
Their friendship had never been troubled by this creeping jealousy, this pervasive envy that twisted casual comments and observations. Charlie was such an innocent, so painfully trusting. It made Larry hurt to think ill of him.
The man he sees now is a far cry from the gawky teen that Charlie had been. His hair is greasy and chalk-stained, his clothes dirty and stained, fast food wrappers and soda bottles litter the floor.
Larry can't see the Charlie he knew in the man he is watching. He sees nothing in his eyes but desperation and focus. He sits and watches Charlie mutter to himself and prays for his safe return from wherever he has taken himself.
Don carries the dinner tray he prepared up to the attic. He knocks quietly on the door and maneuvers the tray to get at the doorknob. "Charlie? I've got some food."
The room is quiet. The omnipresent sound of chalk on blackboard is absent. The sun has long since faded away and Charlie hasn't bothered to turn on the lights.
"Charlie? Are you in here?" He sets the tray down and flips the switch, his FBI experience preparing him for dozens of tragic scenarios. Charlie is sitting in the middle of the room, his shoulders uncomfortably hunched, curls of hair in his face.
"I tried, Don, I tried to wake up and accept what was going on and that she's gone but she's not, it doesn't work, because—because I feel her, I feel it so strongly that I can't feel anything else at all and it hurts, it hurts so bad I can't stand it!"
Don takes a step into the room and looks at the small chalkboard Charlie has sitting in front of him. On the top there is x equals 0 that has been crossed out. Beneath it is written
f(x) equals -lxl equals -infinity.
"What is that, Charlie?"
Tears stream down his face as he traces the chalk figures with his fingers. "This is what I thought death was. A zero, a nothing, an absence. I thought she just—wasn't, anymore. Then I realized that wasn't right, and so I made death a function—f(x), and if you make the absolute value of x negative, then you don't have nothing, you have an absence. There's a negative, a vacuum. It's that, or it equals negative infinity.
"I just—I just can't figure out which equation it is, Don, whether it's a finite amount of loss or whether it's infinity. It can't be, though, can it? This can't just go on forever, right? Please, Don, this can't go on forever…"
He cries and traces the letters and tries to quantify his tears and his loss and the aching in his chest but all he finds is a larger well of sorrow than he thought he could hold inside himself.
"You made our mother into an equation, Charlie. You can't do that to her—you can't make her into numbers! She was a person, she was your mother and you—you just stay up here, pretending you can solve everything but you can't! You can't do a goddamn thing! Look at me, Charlie! Fucking look at me!"
He does and he keeps crying and his fingers keep tracing the equations and Don hates him, hates his numbers and his long curly hair and his baby face and his graceful fingers and most of all he hates him for hiding from her death, from pushing Don into the center of the family and making Don take care of Charlie and Alan, making Don the good son, the responsible son when all he wants to do was cry and make it all go away, to pretend it isn't real.
He picks up the chalkboard and pounds it against the wall until it cracks, the pieces falling out of the frame and hitting the floor. Charlie sits on the floor, his hand frozen and his eyes panicked.
Charlie examines the pattern of chalkboard pieces on the floor and mourns that they are broken. He has had enough of breaking, he is tired of being broken. He is tired of beating himself against a math problem he knows he can't solve, he is done distracting himself from grief.
Don was right. Charlie can't do anything. He can't solve anything. He picks up the pieces of the chalkboard and wishes that they were sharp enough to cut through his skin, to solve himself by making himself f(x) equals -lxl. But they are dull and already covered with the equation of his mother's life and death and Charlie doesn't want to use her to hurt himself.
He sits down on the floor, the dusty trash-strewn wooden floor and holds himself as he cries. His body shakes with the force of his tears and he clenches his jaw to keep the sound contained. He has never been so truly alone before, and so he cries silently until he can't cry anymore.
"There's just one moment in my life that I want to take back. To change it. Other moments, I know why I did what I did. I can explain them to myself. But this one, Donny boy. I'll never forgive myself.
"Charlie walked downstairs—a few hours after you stormed out. He has such a funny walk down the stairs, you know? He sways to the sides, always, is his problem. Like he's drunk, or he just got off a horse. So he comes down the stairs and I'm sitting in my chair, drinking a beer and staring at the television. I wasn't watching anything, just staring at the screen.
"So Charlie comes down the stairs and he stands at the bottom. He just stands there and it takes me a while to look up—I was a little tipsy, you know. Trying to drink my mind away, so I wouldn't have to think about your mother.
"And I look up and I see Charlie standing there, swaying, like he's about to fall over and I know he's been crying because his eyes are all red and he gets so blotchy. And he stands there, looking at me, so helpless. Like he was a little boy again and he needed his dad. But not like that, at the same time. Like he was so sad—ah, Donny boy, I don't know. Like it had finally hit him.
"He was closer to your mother than I was sometimes. The two of them would just sit together, being quiet with each other. I couldn't understand that. I can't figure out what's going through his head unless he draws me a diagram or something.
"He didn't go to his math problem, that P equals VP, or whatever it was, he didn't go to do that because he thought it was more important than your mother dying. He did it because he didn't know how to handle it. He hid himself with his numbers—or maybe they hid him.
"I think losing her—we almost lost him, too. We came close. And that night, when he came downstairs to find me—I don't know, Donny boy. I was tired. Tired of trying to understand him. Tired of having to deal with him. I stood up and he stepped towards me, like he thought I was going to hug him or take him to the kitchen and make him eat some real food, not that junk you kept buying him.
"But I didn't. I got up, and I put my beer on the table, and I walked out of the house.
"He's not as naïve as you think. He's not such a stranger to the world as you think he is. He sees the same world as you—I don't know how it is that he stays so young inside. Don't try to rid him of that, Don. Don't hurt him like I did."
Charles Eppes knows many, many things. He knows that there are few people in his life who understand him when he talks and even fewer who can understand him when he is silent. He knows how tenuous his hold is on himself, on Don, on his father. He lives his life trying to make up for his time in the attic, trying to make them all forget how weak he was, how fragile. How he failed them.
He still has the forest green chalkboard that shattered. He keeps it in a wooden box under the bed to remind himself of his mother, of death, and broken things.
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