Ninety Minutes

by Mapu

Disclaimer: CBS and the creators of Numb3rs own the rights to the series and characters and I thank them for both.

Warning: There are themes involving child abuse and abduction in this fic. If that bothers you then I'd recommend you not read it.

Note: This story is set when the Eppes boys are in school aged, before the series and is inspired by an actual event. What Charlie does in the boot/trunk of the car actually saved a woman's life when she did something similar. When I heard about it several years ago I thought it very brave and incredibly smart.

Thanks to Elaine an Angela for their work and suggestions that made this better.


(Minute 0)

Some days were worse than others, and today it was bad. His little brother was at his most annoying, and Don was furious with him. The kid just hadn't shut up about integration and Fubini's theory since he'd figured out how it fit together the night before. All the way to the store he'd talked about it. While Don had been trying to find the things on Mom's list he'd talked about it. While Don had paid for the items Charlie had rambled on about the theorem, earning them both some very strange looks from the guy behind the counter. Now on their way home Charlie was still going on and on about the stupid thing. What annoyed Don the most was that he had once thought he really understood the concept himself, having covered the base material in class a year ago, but whatever he'd learnt or understood in order to get through the Calculus section of his previous year's math exam was lost to him now. Charlie on the other hand would never lose his understanding of concept that last night's epiphany had given him.

"This is so brilliant, Donny. I can see dozens of applications where this could be useful." Charlie gestured widely with both hands. "Using this you could calculate the..."

"Charlie, shut up!" Don snapped before the ten year old could start listing applications.

His brother stopped speaking and looked up at him in confusion. "Is something wrong, Donny?" Charlie asked, his hands dropping to his sides.

Don sighed, trying to keep the recent promise to his mother to not get angry at his brother so much, but finding it very hard. "Nothing's wrong."

Charlie shook his head. "Something seems to be wrong with you."

Don knew it wasn't what his brother meant but Don's insecurities were already awakened and he lashed out. "Wrong with me! There's nothing wrong with me. You're the one with the problem. Why do you have to make a big deal out of every little math thing?"

They had stopped walking, Don because he was angry and Charlie because his brother had. In his anger Don didn't notice the car that pulled up to the curb nearby.

"I'm sorry, Donny."

"You're always sorry, but you keep doing it. You're so annoying!" Don threw up his hands in frustration, and then continued on his way leaving his younger brother looking after him with sad eyes.

He'd only gone a little way when he heard Charlie call him again. "Donny?"

Don ignored the call and kept walking.

"Donny!" Charlie shouted his name but this time there was terror in his voice.

Don turned and was shocked to see his young brother struggling against a strange man wearing a stocking over his head.

"Hey! Let him go!" Don shouted, running toward them.

Before he could reach them the man had shoved Charlie into the trunk of a car and slammed the lid shut. The younger boy was screaming hysterically for Don to help him. Don tried tackling the stranger but the man was ready for him and landed a solid blow to the teenager's gut. While Don was doubled over from the pain of the first hit, it was followed with a knee to his face. Don grunted and fell, momentarily stunned. By the time he was able to stand again the car was accelerating away.

"Charlie!" In horror Don realized his brother was gone. Charlie had just been abducted.

Don ran to the nearest occupied house and banged on the door until the owner came out. "What's going on out here?" the over-weight and very angry home owner demanded as he opened the door.

"Please, you've got to help me. Call the police! He took Charlie! Please help me."

"Police? Hey, kid, you're bleeding, are you all right?"

"No, call the cops. A man, he just took my brother. I tried to stop him but he's gone."

The large man's face paled and he swore. "Sit down, kid, before you fall down. I'll call the cops."

Don dropped down onto the doorstep, his legs not able to support his weight any longer. He couldn't believe this was happening.


Don heard the home owner's call to the police and felt a little relief that at last someone was going to come. Hang on, Charlie, help is on the way. The thought of Charlie locked in the dark trunk of a car brought tears to Don's eyes. His kid brother was afraid of the dark. There had been dozens of times that Charlie had awakened him in the dead of the night and all but begged his older brother to come with him down stairs. Even in the safety of their home Charlie didn't like the dark. Don knew his younger brother must be terrified being alone in the dark and not knowing what this man wanted from him. Don tried not to think about that, but once the thought came to him he could think of nothing else. Charlie, so young and innocent, would have no idea what was happening… No! No, that was not going to happen.

(13 Minutes)

Charlie was terrified. The car had been driving for a while and Charlie could tell they were moving pretty fast. His heart beat painfully in his chest and his breath caught in short sharp gasps that didn't seem to give his body the oxygen it needed. It was so dim in the trunk that Charlie could barely see his hand when he put it near his face. The only light came from the occasional application of the brake. He didn't have a clue what was going on or what he was supposed to do; all he knew for sure was that he wanted to go home. The trunk was large but it was dirty and smelt terrible, and unknown items poked into him from all sides. Charlie shifted position trying to clear a space. Why had this happened? This man, whoever he was, had hurt Donny. Charlie had heard his brother's grunt of pain from inside the trunk and knew that he'd been hit. The man had obviously wanted him and he'd hurt Donny to do it. Donny had been hurt because of him.

Trying to take a deep breath, Charlie ran through some basic number sets in an attempt to calm his mind. It seemed to work and at last he was able to breathe properly. It helped to close his eyes and pretend that it wasn't dark. Don had taught him that.

"What would Donny do?" Charlie asked into the darkness. Donny always knew what he was doing; even in a situation like this Charlie had no doubt that his teenaged brother would handle it better than he was.

A conversation he'd had with his older brother months ago came back to him. Don had been impressed by, and told Charlie about a woman who'd been kidnapped and had managed to get herself rescued by attracting people's attention. Moving as quickly as he could, he pulled himself over the rubbish in the trunk until he was as close to the brake lights as possible.

It was hard work. Twice his hands slipped over the edge of the light assembly, cutting his fingers and palm painfully, but he managed to pull the assembly free of its mounting. Charlie was grateful for the light flooding in, and slipped his hand through the opening as far as it would go, waving frantically.

"Somebody, please see me!" Charlie silently begged. Shame washed through him as the tears fell. Donny wouldn't be sobbing like this. He'd be brave. Donny was always brave, but Charlie wasn't brave, he was frightened and the tears kept coming.

(21 Minutes)

Don had never been so afraid in his life. The police had come and taken him to the station while they called his parents. They'd asked him a lot of questions at first but now Don sat alone at one of the detective's desks, an open but untouched can of soda in front of him. Don stared mindlessly at the beads of condensation slowly forming on the can's surface. Don both wanted and dreaded his parent's arrival. He wanted the comfort his mother's arms would bring but then he knew he was going to have to tell them that he'd left his brother alone and unprotected. He was going to have to tell his parents how he'd let Charlie be taken.

"Donald Eppes?"

Don looked up at the tall dark man who stood by the desk. Don nodded. The man gave him a slight smile and took a seat next to him.

"My name is Agent Parks, I work for the FBI's missing person's bureau. I need to talk to you about what's happened to your brother, if you think you can speak with me."

Don tried to answer but his throat was closed up and all he could do was nod.

"Your brother's name is Charles, right?"

Don nodded his head. "H…He likes to be called Charlie."

"Okay, Charlie it is. Tell me about him."

"He's ten. He's really smart, at least with math. He's not so smart in other ways."

"In what ways is Charlie not smart, Don? Can I call you Don?"

Don nodded. He found himself relaxing around this man. Even though he knew he wasn't in trouble he'd been nervous being in the middle of the police station. "Charlie's different. Special. He's just a kid but he goes to high school with me. He… he doesn't really fit in, but he never seems to notice. I don't understand him. He's so smart but he spends half the time in his own world and never sees what around him. Man, he's in high school but he's still afraid of the dark!" Don's eyes met Agent Parks' compassionate gaze. "The man who took him, he put Charlie in the trunk. He'll be so scared. It's all my fault."

"This is not your fault, Don. You have to know that."

Don shook his head. "No! We had a fight and I left him. I just walked away. Then he called me and I ignored him. When I looked back he was being taken, and I couldn't stop it. It is my fault!"

Agent Parks gripped him firmly by the shoulders and stared into his eyes. "This is not your fault. Brothers fight, that's natural, and little brothers can be annoying. We're going to do everything we can to find this guy and get Charlie back. Okay?"

Don nodded, wanting to believe. Agent Parks seemed to understand what it was like to have a brother. "You have a little brother?" Don asked.

"Worse, I am a little brother!"

Don smiled a little.

"Tell me about this man. Was he tall?"

Don thought about it. "Yeah, like you, but he was white, kind of pale. He was really strong. Muscly. He had a stocking over his head so I couldn't see his face, but I don't think he had much hair. Pretty sure he had a beard though."

"That's great, Don. What about the car? Do you remember anything about it?"

"It… It was an old '72 Chevy Impala, light blue. It had a lot of rust. I'm sorry, I didn't read the license plate. I should have read the license plate!"

"Don, it's okay, you were thinking about Charlie. I understand that. Think about the car: anything else you remember?"

"Yeah, there were flags all along the bumper. Not just American ones, all different sorts. I wish I'd read the plate."

"Donny!" His father's call brought Don to his feet and seconds latter he was engulfed in hard embrace by both parents.

"Donny, sweetheart, are you all right?" his mother asked, gently touching his bruised check and the rapidly blackening eye.

"Mom, Dad, I'm so sorry," Don cried into the comfort of his father's shoulder.

His father's grip was firm but Don could feel the older man trembling in fear over his lost son. A muffled and deeply pained "Thank God, you're safe," was muttered into his ear. At that moment Don would have given anything to have his brother back if only to ease his father's heart.

(23 Minutes)

The car slowed and turning to the right went up a slight incline before stopping. The engine died and Charlie heard the rattle of a chain and rollers. He knew he was in a garage and in moments the man would be back to open the trunk. Running a quick calculation in his head he guessed he had at best seventy seconds to prepare himself.

He pulled his arm back through the hole and fumbled around in the dark for anything he could use to defend himself. By touch he recognized a jack strapped into its recess. That was no good, it was too heavy and bulky for him to use as a weapon.

He remembered helping Don and his Dad work on their old car.

"No, Charlie, not like that. The tire-iron goes in behind the jack so it won't come free," Don had said, taking the metal bar from him and showing him how to slot it into place.

Charlie felt behind the jack and his fingers closed around a metal bar. From outside the trunk he heard an enraged yell.

"You little brat! Look what you did to my car!"

Charlie quickly pulled the tire-iron free. The trunk opened. He got a single look at an angry face. Bordered by thinning red hair and a rust-coloured beard the blue eyes glaring at him burned with rage, and Charlie swung the bar with all his strength. He hit the man's head who fell out of sight with a grunt of pain. Charlie didn't stop to think about what he'd just done. As fast as he could he climbed out of the trunk. Stepping past the fallen man Charlie ran for the garage door and struggled to open it. It was too heavy to lift.

A large hand grabbed the back of his neck and rammed his face against the door. Charlie cried out in pain and fear. The stranger drew him back then shoved him to the floor, crushing him down with a knee to the back. Charlie could taste blood in his mouth and knew his lip was split.

The man leaned over him and Charlie could see a smear of blood on the side of the man's face where he'd hit him. It made Charlie sick to think that he'd done that.

"That hurt, Charlie. I think you need a lesson in respect."

It scared him that this stranger knew his name but he didn't have time to think about it. Vicious cuffs and thumps began to fall against his back and head. He tried to roll away from the attack but the blows followed him. Curling his body into a ball and protecting his head with his raised arms was the best he could do.

The man was yelling at him between each strike him but Charlie was in too much pain and too afraid to really hear or understand what he said. The beating ended with the man's boot coming down hard against Charlie's right leg and the boy felt something snapping. Moments later fire lanced up his right leg and Charlie cried out. His last conscious thought before he passed out was regret that he'd annoyed Donny ... again, and that this time he'd never get the chance to make it right.

(29 Minutes)

"Agent Parks, we've got a credible lead in the Eppes case. A woman driving on the Ten saw something suspicious. She believes she saw a child's arm waving from a hole in the trunk of a car and followed it. She just called it in. The car matches your description. It pulled into a residence, and we have a file on the owner. Both the residence and a matching vehicle belong to Sean McNeil, aged 33; he has a rap sheet as long as your arm, including charges of vagrancy and assault against a minor."

Agent Parks was already pulling on his coat before the officer finished speaking.

"All right, call a judge and get me a warrant. Pull that file. I want to read it on the way. Let's move, but tell your people on the scene nobody goes in till we know what we're dealing with. There's an ten year old kid in there and we want him out safe."

Don watched as dozens of officers streamed from the room. Until they started leaving Don hadn't realized how many there were. Agent Parks stopped briefly beside him and his parents.

"Please save my son," Don's father pleaded.

Agent Parks nodded his head. "I intend to, sir."

(34 Minutes)

Charlie knew he hadn't been unconscious for long; his body still throbbed with fresh pain from the beating, and his mind was cloudy. He suddenly realized that it was the painful act of his feet being tied tightly together that had caused him to wake. Then he realized his mouth was taped shut and his hands were already tied firmly above his head to some kind of bar. His arms stretching above his head pulled painfully on his sore ribs.

The stranger finished tying him and sat back observing Charlie for a long moment. The gaze frightened him it was totally devoid of warmth but held an oddly possessive glow. Charlie shuddered as the man's gaze slowly travelled down then back up the length of his body.

"I was right to pick you, Charlie. You really are a unique individual."

A slow hand followed the path the eyes had taken, and Charlie squirmed in his revulsion to the touch. The hand stopped in the centre of his chest and moved in slow circles. Charlie could feel his heart rate increasing. He didn't really understand what this man was doing but he knew it wasn't right and he desperately wanted him to stop.

As if hearing his thoughts the man's hand lifted from his body.

He gave Charlie a cold smile. "We shouldn't rush this, Charlie. We are going to spend a long time together, getting to know each other. You're special, Charlie, and I want our time together to be special too."

The man's hand brushed over Charlie's hair and a frown crossed his face. "Your hair's too long. A boy your age should have shorter hair. Maybe we will fix that, but for now, you stay where you are. I'm going to get cleaned up a little and take something for this headache." He patted Charlie's cheek and smiled at him almost fondly. "You've got a surprisingly good swing there, kid. You rest, and when I come back we can start getting better acquainted."

The man stood, gaving Charlie's body one last long appraising gaze. Smiling to himself, left through the door that Charlie guessed led to the house. As soon as he was gone Charlie put all his effort into breaking free. He used all his strength to pull and twist at the ropes binding his hands, ignoring the burning pain his effort brought him. Tears of frustration and fear fell uncontrollably but still he fought against the ropes. His bonds showed no sign of weakening but that didn't stop him. Don would never give in so Charlie decided he wouldn't either.

(62 Minutes)

The door from the house to the garage opened and Charlie screamed, or tried to but the tape over his mouth muffled the sound. He put a frantic burst of energy into his attempt to free himself even though he knew it was useless. A shadow fell over him and he froze for a moment then collapsed, terror stealing the last of his strength from him. Charlie shut his eyes tightly trying to imagine himself somewhere else, somewhere safe with Donny and his parents.

"Hey, Charlie, calm down, it's all right now. We arrested the man who took you. It's over."

The man's voice sounded different, and despite Charlie's terror, curiosity won. Opening his eyes he saw a different man from the one who'd taken him kneeling on the ground beside him. This man had kind eyes. Behind the new man several others in police uniforms moved through the garage. The man in front of him was dressed in a business suit and he didn't seem at all worried about the police so Charlie guessed he had to be some kind of detective. Some of his panic ebbed.

"That's better. I'm going to take that tape off your mouth now if that's okay?"

The man didn't move toward him, patiently waiting until Charlie gave a feeble nod of agreement before slowly reaching over him and removing the tape. Charlie tensed at the touch but even though taking the tape off was not pain-free he could tell this man had tried not to hurt him.

"There you go," he said once the tape was clear. "I'm Agent Parks with the FBI, and you're Charlie Eppes, right?"

Charlie nodded.

The FBI man looked up at the ropes that bound his hands and frowned. "I'm not going to be able to untie those ropes, Charlie. I'm going to have to cut them free. Is that okay?"

Charlie tried to answer but no words would come. He nodded.

Agent Parks reached into a pouch on his belt and pulled something out but the way he held his hand blocked Charlie's view of it. He caught only a slight metallic gleam as the agent reached up to his hands. Within seconds his hands were free to fall back to his sides and Charlie wrapped them around his sore chest.

"Those cuts don't look too good. We're going to have to get a doctor to look at them. Are you hurt anywhere else, Charlie?"

Charlie nodded but again couldn't seem to make the words come. He pointed to his right ankle.

Agent Parks turned to look and a frown crossed his face. When he looked back at Charlie there was concern and sympathy in his eyes. "That is definitely going to need medical attention."

Using his knife again the FBI agent freed Charlie's legs. The movement hurt his injured limb. Then the realization that he was at last free flooded through the boy. Relief, gratitude and the trauma of the last hour fought for dominance. Unable to contain his conflicting feelings Charlie was helpless to stop the tears and he began to cry in harsh choking sobs.

Agent Parks moved slowly, obviously trying not to frighten him, and gently pulled him into a comforting hug. At first Charlie resisted the unfamiliar body but his need for comfort overpowered his resistance and he gripped the man's shirt tightly, pulling himself into the embrace as he struggled to regain control. It wasn't as good as a hug from Mom or Dad and nowhere near as good as one from Donny but… Donny!

Charlie stiffened and pulled back abruptly. Agent Parks let him go instantly and didn't try to hold him.

Charlie tried to talk but his first attempt failed. He grimaced and, balling his hands into fists, slammed his frustration into the ground beside him. The impact served to send twin spikes of pain through his swollen wrists but it also freed his tongue.

"Donny? Is Donny all right? He hit him. Where's Donny?" Charlie began to ask frantically.

"Donny's just fine. He's got a bruised eye but he's fine. He's the one who raised the alarm about you."

"He's all right?"

"Yes, and you'll see him, and your parents, when we take you to the hospital. They've been very worried about you, Charlie. They are going to be very happy to see you."

Agent Parks watched him expectantly. Charlie didn't know what the man was waiting to see but the news that he'd soon be back with his family, even if it was at a hospital, was the best news Charlie had heard in a long time. He felt a smile begin to form on his face and after a moment Agent Parks returned his smile.

A man and woman wearing paramedics arrived and stood behind Agent Parks who glanced up at them.

"Charlie, these are paramedics; they are going to check you out and get you ready to go to the hospital, okay?"

Charlie nodded enthusiastically. Hospital meant seeing his family. Hospital meant seeing that Donny really was all right. This was definitely okay with him.

Parks stood, letting the medical people take his place. "You're a hell of a brave kid, Charlie," he said.

The comment surprised the boy and he looked up at the man, noticing for the first time how tall Agent Parks was. I want to be tall like that, Charlie thought. "I only did what Donny would have done."

"Well, you did good, kid, both you and your brother."

"Agent Parks? You've got to see this, sir," a uniformed officer said taking the agent's attention. Parks nodded his assent to the policeman. Before he left to see what the other officer wanted to show him Parks gave Charlie a parting smile. "I'll come by the hospital and see you later, Charlie."

Charlie nodded.

(81 Minutes)

"Eppes family?" The young doctor wearing blue scrubs asked as he stepped into the waiting area.

As one Don and his parents rose and walked quickly to the doctor. "I'm Doctor Tod Kelly, I examined your son Charles." The doctor addressed his comments to Don's parents. "In time Charles is going to make a full recovery but he has suffered a severe beating, several cracked ribs and a broken tibia in his right leg."

"Did you examine him for… for…" His father seemed unable to say the words but the doctor understood the question.

"We've given him a cursory examination only, but there is no indication of sexual assault and the information he gave the paramedics and police at the scene confirms that no molestation had yet taken place. From what I understand, Charles injured his assailant who retaliated with the beating, then tied him up but hadn't gotten a chance to cause any more damage before his arrest."

"Can we see him?" his mother asked.

"Certainly, he's been asking for you. We'll be taking him over to x-ray and he'll have his leg put in a cast in the next hour or so but you're welcome to wait with him."

The doctor led Don's parents away but Don didn't follow. He couldn't. Don couldn't bear seeing Charlie beaten and battered, and knowing that the injuries were a result of his having let the kid down so badly. Charlie relied on his older brother to keep him safe, and he had failed. Don couldn't face the accusation and betrayal that he knew would be in his brother's eyes.


Don looked up to see Agent Parks approach him. Parks nodded toward where his parents had gone. "Why aren't you in there?"

Don dropped his head. "Charlie won't want to see me. Not after what's happened."

Agent Parks led Don to a set of chairs in a quiet area and gently pressed him into one. Don rested his elbows on his knees and dropped his head into his hands as Agent Parks sat next to him.

"I know for a fact that your brother does want to see you, Don. Asking after you, where you were and if you were okay, was the first thing Charlie said when we found him."

Don's head snapped up at the mention of the scene and he shook his head in disbelief. "How could this happen? I only walked away for a minute. I didn't mean for this to happen."

"Don, I told you this before, this is not your fault. In fact from evidence collected at the scene it's clear that McNeil had been planning this for a long time. Actually, it probably saved Charlie's life that you were there and reacted as fast as you did. That helped us find him in time."

"Why would he pick on Charlie?"

Parks sighed, "You said it yourself, Don, Charlie's special and this guy was out purposely looking for special kids, kids that had something about them that made them different. He's a very sick man, and he's going to prison for a very long time."

Don felt a chill come over him. "He'd done this before?"

Parks nodded slowly, "We found evidence at the scene that links him to a number of other child abductions."

"What… What happened to the other kids?" Don asked but sensed that he wasn't going to like the answer.

"Don, what I'm about to tell you is going to be hard to hear, but since this case is going to hit the media anyway it's important you know the real truth. The other kids haven't been and aren't going to be found alive, Don. We found evidence… partial remains at the scene, which we think belong to McNeil's other victims."

"What type of remains?" Even to his own ears Don's voice sounded strange.

"That's not really important, Don. What's important is that your brother needs you. He trusts you and believes in you and he's going to need your strength to get through this."

"Please tell me. If it's on the news I'll find out anyway."

Agent Parks nodded but still hesitated for a moment. "There were a number of sealed jars hidden in his garage. He appears to have stored the hands of his victims in them."

Don felt dizzy. "He was going to cut off Charlie's hands? He was going to kill my brother?"

"I'm sorry, Don."

"Are you going to tell Mom and Dad this?"

"Yes, that's why I'm here. They need to know, and Charlie too when he's stronger. Will you sit with Charlie while I talk to your parents? This is going to be just as hard for them to hear as it has been for you."

Don shook his head. "Harder. I'll look after Charlie, even if he hates me. I won't leave him alone again."

"Don, talk to your brother. He told me he did what he thought you would have done. That saved his life. He doesn't hate you. He believes you saved him, and he's right."

Don didn't really accept the FBI agent's words but felt heartened by them all the same. He stood and followed the man toward the area where Charlie was. Don's father appeared from behind a curtain.

"Donny, I was just coming to find you. Charlie's been asking for you."

"Mr. Eppes, could I talk to you and your wife for a moment, sir?" Agent Parks asked.

His father looked doubtfully toward the curtained area and for a moment Don thought he'd refuse.

"I'll stay with Charlie." He looked toward the Agent then back to his father, "It's important, Dad."

"All right." His father led Don into the room formed by the curtains where Charlie lay.

(90 Minutes)

Charlie looked dreadfully pale and incredibly small on the treatment bed. One foot was elevated and swathed in a thick splint bandages. Bruises covered nearly his entire face and Don could see his lip was split. More bruises showed on the part of the thin chest not covered by the hospital sheet.

"Oh, Charlie…"

Don was only vaguely aware of his father insisting his mother go with him to talk to Agent Parks and of the pair leaving him alone with his brother. Charlie's dark eyes filled with tears as he looked at Don's face.

"I'm so sorry you got hurt, Donny," Charlie muttered.

The statement broke Don out of his shock and he moved forward. He sat in the seat that his mother had just left. Charlie turned his head to watch him, and Don smiled.

"Me hurt? I've barely got a bruise." Don pointed to Charlie's swollen face. "Now, that is going to be a first-class shiner."

Charlie lifted a hand to touch his own bruised face. "You think so?" He sounded almost impressed with Don's assessment of his injury.

Don reached over and pulled Charlie's hand away from the damage. "Hey, leave it alone, you'll only make it worse."

Don didn't let go of the hand he'd captured. He stared at it for a while. Horrible images of Charlie's thin, fine fingers floating lifelessly in a jar as part of some sicko's macabre collection made him feel ill, and he had to swallow hard to avoid the nausea. Charlie's fingers tightened on his own.

"Donny, are you all right?" his little brother asked in worry.

At the simple question Don wanted to both laugh with absurdity and cry in distress but he did neither. He stared at the hand in his for a long time, recalling how his brother's hands always seemed to be in motion, twitching and tapping with every thought that flashed through the boy's mind. They were at their busiest when Charlie tried to explain a complex mathematical theorem, constantly moving and twisting as though trying to physically manipulate the numbers in his head.

Suddenly, more than anything, Don wanted to hear Charlie talk about math.

"I'm sorry, Charlie. I was in a bad mood earlier. I wasn't listening. Could you tell me about integration and convergence again? Fubini's Theory, wasn't it?"

"I thought you said that was annoying you?" Charlie seemed thoroughly confused.

"No, it doesn't annoy me. Tell me about it."

"Well… well I was thinking that you could use it in a lot of ways. Like to…"

Charlie's fingers twitched within his grip and Don smiled.

His eyes caught on the clock set against the wall above Charlie's bed. It was a shock to discover that barely an hour and a half had passed since his brother had been taken. Don knew that their lives had been changed forever in that incredibly short time span, but as he half listened to Charlie's animated chatter he was pleased to realise that not everything had changed.

The fingers twitched again.