Run the Numbers
When Charlie opened his eyes it took him a few moments to focus. He turned his head, which was throbbing horribly, and saw Don sitting there with his head resting on the bed next to him holding his hand. Charlie gave his brother's hand a squeeze and Don stirred lifting his head. When he saw his little brother looking at him he smiled and said, "Hey buddy, welcome back. How are you feeling?"
Charlie just stared at Don with an almost blank look in his eyes. He seemed to be trying to process everything that had happened and suddenly his eyes flew open wider.
Don put a hand on Charlie's chest to keep him down.
"Dad's OK Charlie. You saved him you know. The doctors said that if it had been even a few hours later that he wouldn't have made it."
Charlie tried to sit up but his head was pounding furiously and he sank back down onto the pillow and said almost pleadingly
"Really? He's OK?"
"Really. He's ok Buddy."
Then Don looked at Charlie in a way that Charlie had never seen before.
"I'm so proud of you Charlie. You saved Dad, you saved me and you kept that data out of the hands of some very dangerous people because whatever you did to that disk made it erase itself as it displayed the data. You really saved the day little brother."
Charlie smiled weakly and closed his eyes. He loved hearing his older brother say that he was proud of him but he couldn't really appreciate it because of the torment he was feeling over what he had done on that dock.
Charlie slept fitfully for the rest of that day with Don never leaving his side except when he went to see their father. By the end of the day Don had arranged to have both his father and his brother in the same room.
Don noticed a hollow almost haunted look in Charlie's eyes whenever he was awake and assumed it was due to the trauma of everything that he had been through over the last few days. His sleep was plagued by nightmares so the doctor had prescribed a mild sedative for Charlie so that he would get some rest.
Charlie took the sedatives but they didn't stop the dream, they only kept him asleep so that he was forced to relive it over and over. By the second day in the hospital he refused to take them.
Charlie was ready to leave the hospital several days before Alan although their father was recovering at a very good rate. Alan noticed a dullness in youngest son's eyes that wasn't there before all of this had happened and that concerned him.
While Charlie was down in the X-ray department getting a few more tests before he was released, Alan spoke with Don about it.
"Donnie, stay close to Charlie. He is going to need to talk to someone about this. Maybe you should stay at the house for a few days until I come home."
Don had been in and out of the hospital and had not seen as much of his brother as his father had over the last two days but he too noticed Charlie's melancholy.
"Dad he's been through an extremely traumatic experience. It's not unusual for him to be reacting this way. I'll talk to him and check on him frequently but he might take offense if I try to baby sit him."
Don went by the house several times since Charlie had gone home to check on him and the thing that bothered him was the conspicuous absence of any kind of mathematical work. There was always something that Charlie was working on cluttering up the living room or den but when Don wandered through the house and garage; every white board, every black board, every desk and tabletop was completely devoid of Charlie's work. He was beginning to wonder if he should have tried to stay at the house with his brother as his father had suggested.
Three days after Charlie had been released from the hospital he was due to return to teaching classes but didn't show up at school. Don held hope that getting back into teaching and his school routine would help to snap Charlie out of the depression that he seemed to have fallen into and was disturbed to find that Charlie was not at school when he came to his office to meet him for lunch.
Don went straight to Charlie's house and found him in the kitchen puttering around re-organizing the cupboards.
"Charlie, what are you doing? I thought you were going back to school today."
Charlie avoided looking at his older brother and said, "Yeah, well I had a lot of things I needed to do around here. Dad is coming home tomorrow and I need to get this place ready."
Don frowned and said, "Get the place ready? Charlie, the house is fine. It's not like Dad is going to be an invalid you know. What's this really all about?"
Charlie was nervously moving around the kitchen trying to avoid his brother's questions.
Don knew what was happening and said, "Look Charlie, you've been through hell and you need to talk to someone about this."
Charlie stopped what he was doing but kept his back to Don "No I don't." he said quietly.
Denial was one of Don's personal specialties and he knew all too well that Charlie was avoiding dealing with the things that had happened to him. He also knew that if Charlie didn't talk about what he had experienced that it would eventually eat him alive.
"Charlie you were injured, kidnapped, you watched Dad get shot, were forced to do something against your will and then lived through an intense fire fight. There isn't a human being on this planet who wouldn't need to talk about that. Charlie, what you are feeling is normal."
Charlie started taking things out of the cupboard that he had just finished loading but didn't answer Don.
"Charlie this isn't going to go away until you talk to someone!"
Charlie stopped and put his hands on the counter to keep them from shaking.
"I don't want to talk about this! I don't want to think about… "
Charlie lost his voice for a second then finished in an almost throaty tone.
"...about what I did!" Don frowned in confusion and almost missed what his brother said just above a whisper. "… but it's all I can think about."
Don walked over to Charlie and took him by the shoulders turning him around so they were face to face. There were tears staining his face.
"Charlie what are you talking about? What did you do?"
Charlie couldn't seem to look Don in the eye so he looked down at his hands. They were trembling and he closed them into tight fists.
"I can still see the blood...
Don still wasn't sure he understood what Charlie was on about and said, "Whose blood Charlie?"
Charlie seemed to deflate and whispered, "The man I killed."
Don let go of his brother and said, "Do you remember what I said to you when you woke up in the hospital?" Charlie didn't answer.
"I said that I was proud of you, Charlie; and I meant it. You acted as courageously as any agent I have ever worked with and you don't have any training to deal with that kind of situation. Charlie you did what you had to do! That man that you are so concerned about killing shot and almost killed Dad. He tried to shoot me and he would have if you hadn't intervened, and he would have killed you too. Charlie you didn't do anything wrong!"
Charlie looked up at his older brother and couldn't stop the fresh tears that fell as he said, "I know…" then he pointed to his head. "… up here."
Charlie stepped over to the kitchen window and once again turned away from his brother. "Don, I..."
Charlie sighed heavily before continuing
"I put my hands on that gun and pulled the trigger and the direct result of that action was the death of another human being…"
He paused and put his hand on the window looking up into the azure sky for an absolution that he was unwilling to give to himself. Then he continued. "…and it doesn't matter who he was or what he did! I killed someone Don; and I feel wrong."
Charlie's voice rose as he spoke and it took on an almost pleading tone. "I just can't reconcile the undeniable fact that a person, no matter how bad he was, is now dead and I am the reason he is!"
Don understood what Charlie was feeling. He remembered the first time he had shot and killed a man but unlike Charlie he was a trained FBI agent and that was part of the territory of his job. He also knew that his brother's mind worked differently than other people and that maybe talking about this would not really help Charlie.
Don stepped over to the window and put his hand on Charlie's shoulder.
"How many times have you told me that numbers are everything, that every situation, every action can be turned into an equation?"
Charlie held very still for a moment. He wanted to believe Don; he wanted the pain in his heart, the guilt and the feeling of horror to go away.
"You need to turn what happened on that dock into an equation and run the numbers, Charlie."
Charlie turned and looked up at Don with a glint of hope in his face and asked, "Why?"
Don touched Charlie's chest and said, "So that you will know in here that you weren't wrong. When you fell off the roof and couldn't remember your own name you still remembered the numbers Charlie. Numbers are who you are; it's what's in your heart. Just run the numbers Charlie and you won't feel wrong anymore."
Don's words echoed in Charlie's head all evening and he fell asleep on the couch just before midnight. The same dream that had plagued him for the past week resurfaced in his mind as he relived the shootout on the dock.
As Charlie lay in the darkness of the living room thrashing in his sleep he heard the sound of a gunshot and his eyes flew open. He sat up abruptly covered in sweat and breathing hard. His hands were shaking and he looked down at them. He knew that his mind was just playing tricks on him but they looked as though they were covered in blood.
Charlie got up and paced the room trying to calm himself down and began wandering through the house with the sounds of that day ringing in his head. Before he realized it, he found himself out in the garage looking at a blank blackboard and Don's voice floated to the surface of his mind
'Numbers are who you are; it's what's in your heart. Just run the numbers Charlie and you won't feel wrong anymore.'
Charlie reached up and touched his chest where Don had placed his hand, then looked up at the blackboard again. He hesitated for a moment before he picked up a piece of chalk and started writing.