Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Numb3rs or the characters therein. All characters are fictional, and should not be associated with any other person- real or imagined.

Author's note: Well, it looks like I've completely lost an audience. But it's too late for me to turn back now. I'll keep posting out of courtesy to those who have been sticking, and keep writing for myself. There are notes in my profile page if you are interested in where I'm going, though I really hate to explain. I think it ruins the story to know what will happen next. Oh, and this is not a plea for more reviews. I am honestly fine with the amount I receive and am grateful. Last, I am posting this as complete, because I'll be renaming this as part one and will start the second part when I can.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

All he wanted to do was explain to the judge that his honor had made a terrible mistake, that Melinda Thompson was not his son's mother- that a wonderful woman named Margaret Eppes had born Donny thirty-five years before.

That's all, not much more.

Alan wanted to tell him that the world must have turned right-side down and was no longer balanced, to ask the judge for the directions to the exit, because somehow he had stepped into an alternate universe where insanity ruled and nothing made sense any more.

Really, that's all Alan wanted to do.

And Alan wanted to add that he was a good father, that unfortunately he had made some mistakes of his own while raising Donny, but he had always been kind and loving, never abusive; that he would just like to leave the court room with everyone having the clear understanding that he was taking his youngest son home so that they could take care of his eldest one, something he had been doing with his wife and then on his own, off and on and quite well for thirty-five years.

That had been what he'd planned to do.

Not stand up and start screaming at the judge that he "must be mad! Mad!"

Certainly, he had not intended to backhand the bailiff when the man had taken hold of his arm.

Nor had he planned to turn over the heavy oak table in front of him. How could he have even anticipated he'd have the strength necessary to do such a feat?

It had most definitely not entered his mind to rush the judge and yell at him to take it back, to tell everyone present that woman was not his son's mother.

Why, he had only wanted them to talk like two reasonable people, as if they were old friends.

Not yell at the man behind the bench as if he was the devil himself.

Only-

He hadn't behaved the way he'd wanted, nor had he spoken the way he should have.

So, when he was thrown to the ground by two officers of the court and handcuffed, pulled to his feet and was headed in the direction of the jail, it should not have surprised him.

Only, like every other event in his recent memory-

It did.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Charlie sat stunned, his mind slowly starting to rise above the courtroom and into the freedom of the sky beyond, until the crash of the table in front of him weighed him down and he was jarringly brought back to reality.

He jumped out of his chair, knocking it over in the process, eyes wide at his father, who was held on the ground and handcuffed.

Charlie ran to Alan's side, kneeling, trying to talk the men into being more gentle, to take it easy, that any man would have behaved the same way if they had gone through what his father had been through. Yet they ignored him, roughly pulling Alan to his feet and walking towards the side door, Charlie up on his feet and following them.

Johnson rushed the bench himself, begging Salem, "Your ruling was too much for him to take. My client has been walking on the edge of an emotional breakdown for weeks- don't put him in jail and make it worse."

"The man just tore apart my courtroom, Johnson; I can't just let him walk out of here." Salem looked at the men who were tidying up the place, placing Johnson's documents in a neat stack on a side table and turning upright the one Alan had tipped over. Really, he had to admit, they would be back in order within a few minutes.

"This is that law enforcement officer's family- you just have to have some pity for them," Johnson pleaded, remembering Salem had told him that he'd had a brother who died while serving and protecting.

Salem gave Johnson a scowl, but his words belied the sympathy he felt for Alan and Charlie. "Get him calmed down. If he'll come apologize to the court, I'll just fine him." He nodded towards a court officer to relay this message to the ones who had escorted Alan from the room.

Johnson thanked him, grabbed his papers from the side table and shoved them into his attaché case, and left through the side door, jogging up to Charlie and Alan. Still in cuffs, Alan sat in the corner of a wooden bench that was carved into the wall of the courthouse, placing him and Charlie in a niche. One court officer stood to the side, making sure Alan would keep himself under control.

When Johnson sat down at Charlie's left, Alan immediately leaned towards him, spilling accusations of fraud and deceit. The court officer moved a step closer, but no further when Johnson held up a hand and mouthed that he would be fine.

"Alan," Johnson whispered harshly, "if you don't calm down, you're going to wind up in jail. Is that what you want?"

The mention of jail made Alan snort. "I've been to jail before- back when I was protesting this same asinine government that has decided to place my son in the care of that bitch."

"Sh!" Johnson waved his client's voice down. "Do you really think your sons want to see you in jail?"

This question served to quiet Alan. He looked guiltily at Charlie, who appeared frightened and concerned about his father. Taking a deep breath, Alan addressed Johnson again. "What happened in there? I think I must be going insane, because I swear I just heard that fat, old judge call Thompson Donny's mother."

Johnson slouched, laying his head back against the dark wood of the wall behind him. "You heard correctly, Alan. Salem did say Thompson was Don's mother, and according to the documents that Fairfield filed, she really is."

Alan's legs began to quiver. He grabbed Johnson's suit coat, pulling his face to his own. "That's not true," he stated quietly but firmly.

Johnson squirmed in his grasp, finally tugging himself free and dropping back against the wall with a thud. "I-I- I'm afraid it is, Alan," he stammered, swallowing nervously. "She adopted Don and now she is legally his mother."

Both Alan and Charlie stiffened in their seats, staring at Johnson in shock. Minutes passed and then Charlie managed to ask, "How is that possible? Don is a thirty-five year old man. He's only a child in her mind, not in reality."

Johnson cleared his throat. "In California, it is legal for one adult to adopt another, as long as certain guidelines are followed."

"But I'm his father," Alan snapped, "How the hell could she do that without my permission?"

"She didn't need your permission, just Don's. The same rules that apply to the typical child adoption do not apply to ones concerning adults."

Alan was furious. He spat his next words at Johnson. "So anybody who wants to can just walk into a courtroom and adopt whomever they want?"

The court officer turned towards Alan, frowning. Johnson leaned towards his client, warning him to maintain his control. "If you will let me explain..."

"Fine!" Alan sat back, glaring at him. "It'll be nice to know you're good for something." Charlie waited silently, wanting to understand how someone like Thompson could be granted the legal right to possess his brother as her son.

"Okay, then," Johnson began, trying to explain, "in order to adopt another adult, all you have to do is write up a contract of adoption and file it as a petition with the court. Then you have a hearing, like the kind we had today, only the proceedings and the paperwork are confidential, just like when adopting a child."

"And Thompson wouldn't need my permission to do any of those things?" Alan asked.

"No, like I said, only Don's permission would be required. That's probably why she took him last Wednesday; for the amount of time they were gone, I suspect Thompson took him to a notary public and had him sign the adoption contract as well as papers giving Fairfield power of attorney- that way, Don did not have to attend the hearing, which, according to the papers Fairfield submitted in court, occurred on Friday."

"But couldn't they have notified me as a person of interest," Alan asked, "so I could contest."

"I'm sorry Alan, but the birth parents don't have any say-so about their grown children agreeing to be adopted by someone else. Unless..." Johnson looked away.

"Unless what?" Charlie prodded him.

Johnson hesitated, coughing with embarrassment into his closed fist. "The birth parents only have to be notified of the hearing if the prospective adoptee has a mental illness and has been attended to by the adoptive parent at their residence. In that case, the local government center for the developmentally disabled would also have to be informed so an investigation could be conducted as to whether or not the adoption would meet the needs of the proposed adoptee."

"In English, please," Alan said irritated.

"If Don were mentally incapacitated"-

"Which he is," Alan interrupted.

"And he had been provided medical or psychiatric care by Thompson and was living at her home"-

"It wasn't great, but he had," Alan said.

"Then the court would have had to notify you and the local social agency that protects those with disabilities before the adoption would be approved."

"So why the hell didn't they?" Alan demanded.

Charlie knew. He remembered their last hearing and his heart sank. "Dad," he said slowly, taking over from Johnson. "We screwed up."

"What are you talking about, Charlie?"

Charlie sighed, closing his eyes and banging his head against the wall once, leaving it there so he could stay attached to his surroundings. "Last week, when Thompson's lawyer asked the court to clear up her relationship with Don, we thought she was trying to establish herself as his physician. But she wasn't. The whole purpose of bringing it up was to prove she wasn't his doctor and she'd never provided him with medical or psychiatric care." Charlie opened his eyes and stared at his father. "All the time we spent telling Don to say she wasn't his doctor, we were doing exactly what she wanted us to do. If she was never his caretaker, then the court did not have to contact you or social services before the hearing to adopt."

"But even if the court refused to recognize her as his doctor, Don is still mentally incapacitated," Alan complained. "They should have notified me."

"No, Alan," Johnson began again, "at our last hearing, the judge threw out that ruling. Don was declared competent until another evaluation could be completed."

"She worked fast," Charlie noted, puzzled, "to get the hearing during that small window of opportunity. I can't understand how she could do that."

Johnson replied, "She must have had her plans laid out a long time ago. Adoption papers are complicated; Fairfield had to have worked on them for quite a while before they were filed and the hearing date was set." Johnson shook his head wearily. "I think we now know why she influenced this court to get us a quick hearing date; first because she needed to get him out from under the conservatorship, and second because hers was coming up and she couldn't risk waiting for another one, because by that time Don might not be so compliant to her wishes and could have refused to sign the necessary papers."

"I still don't understand," Alan continued to sound angry, "why Salem would allow Thompson to adopt Don. He knew we were filing new papers and that the new evaluation was going to declare Don incompetent. Why didn't he make her wait until after our hearing?"

Johnson replied, "Salem had no knowledge of what Thompson was doing, because she adopted Don in the county in which she resides."

"But Don lives here in L.A.," Charlie pointed out.

"That's true," Johnson said, "but the law says an adoption can take place in either the county in which the adoptee lives or in the one the adoptive parent lives. Of course, it was to Thompson's advantage to adopt Don in her own. That is why I called Nevada City this morning- that's where the county seat for Nevada County is located, the county in which Alta Sierra lies. I thought I could find out some information about the adoption."

"And did you?" Alan asked with no real hope that his lawyer had.

"No," Johnson admitted, "As I mentioned before, adoption proceedings are confidential. Everything I've told you so far is based on my knowledge of the law and the papers Fairfield filed for our hearing."

Charlie sat forward, leaning on his knees. "Could we appeal the adoption based on fraud or something like that? I bet if the Nevada County courts knew that Don had been under a conservatorship, they would reverse it."

Johnson didn't think his clients understood the hopelessness of the situation. "Charlie, they probably knew."

Alan and Charlie raised their eyes, surprised.

"Look," Johnson proceeded, "Fairfield is no fool. He had to know they would ask about Don's mental competency and that it would be illegal for him to hide the fact that Don had previously been assigned a conservator. If he'd done that, I'm sure we could get the adoption thrown out; but if I know that, so did he, and I'm positive he wouldn't have taken that risk. It would have made more sense for him to show the Nevada County judge the transcripts from our last hearing, which would have been evidence that the L.A. court had declared Don competent and had not recognized that he had ever been provided medical or psychiatric care by Thompson. The transcripts would have even provided a reason for Don wanting to be adopted by Thompson- his family had illegally placed him in a mental institute. I would suspect the judge thought Don was trying to get himself out from under his controlling father."

Alan's lip trembled as he realized an entirely different court had decided he had behaved like a monster towards his son. Charlie slipped his hand into his father's in an attempt to reassure him that he knew differently. Johnson added, "I'll bet if we investigated, we'd find that Fairfield did something that prevented Dr. Fillmore from giving me his evaluation of Don earlier than he did. Because Fillmore submitted it to me in the afternoon, I was not able to file your petition until later in the day. But the adoption proceedings were in the morning, so even if the judge in Nevada County had been cautious and called L.A. to see if we had filed a new petition, he would have been told that we hadn't, throwing out the last reason he would've had to disapprove the adoption. I'm afraid there is nothing we can do about it. The only ways left to reverse the adoption would be for Don and Thompson to both agree to dissolve it, which I doubt she would do, or for Don to file in civil court for a hearing, which would take a long time, and in his current condition, I don't think he will do."

Charlie faced Johnson again. "If we can't have the adoption thrown out, then we have to appeal the judge's decision today, only I guess we'll have to file under my dad's name again. I'm mean, so he can assert his right as Don's only biological parent."

Alan nodded. "Charlie is right. I don't want to hurt Megan, but I guess I have no other choice. As Don's brother, I would suppose Charlie has fewer rights than Thompson, now that she's legally his..." He couldn't complete his sentence- it was too horrible of a statement to make. "We'll have to appeal and tell the judge Megan acted alone in anything she did to get Don into the institute."

Johnson stared in disbelief at both men as they continued to talk about their options; his clients really did not understand the enormity of what Thompson had done.

After a few minutes of discussion with his father, Charlie told Johnson, "I guess we agree that we should appeal- but maybe we should hold off before coming back to court. That way Don will have time to get more of his memory back and he can testify against Thompson."

"Yes," Alan said, feeling more positive about the situation, "and by then, Don might be able to reverse the adoption, so Thompson won't have any right to ask to be conservator."

Johnson thrust into their conversation. "We can't appeal."

Confused, Charlie asked, "What do you mean, we can't appeal? You told my dad yesterday that if Thompson stopped our petition, we could go to civil court and appeal.

"Yes," Johnson said, "I said that we could appeal if she stopped your petition. But she did more than stop yours- she won her own."

"So we can't appeal the judge's decision?" Alan asked skeptically.

Johnson shook his head. "We can, but it would be pointless. There is no way for us to win."

Alan lowered his brows. "Why not? Surely I have more rights as Donny's biological father than she does as his adoptive one?"

"Alan," Johnson said forcefully, knowing he needed to get through to his client, "you...have...no...rights." Seeing the confusion that resided on the Eppes' faces, Johnson continued, talking slowly, "The adoption contract between Thompson and Don is very explicit. It not only affords her the legal rights of being Don's mother, it severs all ties he has to his biological parents." Johnson leaned towards Alan, "As far as the law is concerned, you have no legal ties to Don."

Alan could hardly breathe when his attorney finished by emphasizing-

"I'm sorry, Alan, but as far as the courts are concerned-

You are no longer Don's father."

Alan moaned, barely breathing, his facial ticks rebounding across his features, pain searing into his soul from the double-thrust of wickedness Thompson had used to gut his heart. He finally managed to cry, "She stole my son... Charlie, she stole your brother."

Charlie gripped his father's hand tightly, nervous energy swirling through his body, saying with fear clinging to his words as his voice pitched higher and higher, "I still think we should appeal. It will give Don the time he needs to remember, and then he can"-

Johnson broke in again. "Charlie, I don't think your brother is going to get better while living with Thompson."

For the first time, Alan and Charlie's attention was sharply focused on the ruling the judge had made about assigning a conservator and not the horror of discovering Don had been adopted by Thompson. Charlie swallowed dryly, "What do you mean, while living with Thompson? If we appeal right away, won't they leave Don with us until the next hearing?"

To their horror, Johnson told him, "No. I guess in all the commotion your father caused, you failed to notice Thompson and Fairfield leave the courtroom with a court officer by their side. I would assume she requested the escort in order to pick up Don without interference from you two."

Alan did not move, shock enveloping him for exactly thirty seconds; then he lay into Charlie, his lips pressed against his youngest son's ear, his hands grappling with his shirt.

"Charlie, please run home as fast as you can"-

You have to hide your brother."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Charlie raced.

He felt as if he were in the park again, running to catch his brother.

But this time, he was racing in a car, ignoring stoplights and cursing cabdrivers, fists thrown in the air at him, a woman who jumped back on the sidewalk, and a delivery truck that careened out of his way.

Charlie raced.

He put all the laws aside and pressed his foot to the gas, zooming in and out of traffic, going up through the parking lane around a slow-moving boat and back into the proper lane again, where he needed to be, so he could get home quickly to his brother.

Charlie raced.

When he pulled in front of his house, he parked halfway up the sidewalk, leaving his door open, running through the haze that surrounded his home, left from that morning's storm, which had moved triumphantly on long before.

Charlie raced.

In through the front door, up the stairs and into Don's room, where his second place award sat waiting for him on his dresser, Larry slumped in the recliner and staring at him with tearful eyes as he explained that he'd tried to stop her, but there was a police officer by her side and legal papers and nothing he could do.

Charlie stood in front of his dresser, his mind lost in a fog. He picked up the three pieces of chalk, rubbing them between his fingers.

"Don insisted I take those from his front pocket," Larry explained, "and leave them there for you. He said you'd know why."

Charlie broke the chalk into pieces, crumbling it into dust, knowing Don was letting him know that he had chosen where he wanted to be.

And that place was nowhere near Charlie.

Charlie had raced after his brother, but this time Don had not stopped.

Larry tried to soothe his friend, but Charlie could not hear his words. His mind was starting to separate from the world around him and numbers were slowly latching onto his thoughts, sucking him dry of all emotion. He walked away from Larry, his friend continuing in his attempts to comfort, but all Charlie could hear was the sound of a low, long siren that began to fill the air, a vehicle on the alert that danger was at hand.

Charlie went to the top of the stairs, barely able to see his surroundings, everything blending as the numbers settled around him, carefully constructing a new bubble about his body, the sound of the siren becoming higher in volume the further he went down the stairs, until he was in the entryway to their home and realized it hadn't been a siren at all.

His father was on his knees before him, forehead bent to the ground, two hands gripping his head, a low, long keening sound starting from his diaphragm, deep in the wells of his soul, passing through his body and out through his quivering lips, wailing for the son he had lost.

Charlie sank down beside his father, his arms around his shoulder.

But he was silent.

The numbers had finished their construction.

Charlie was his own little bubble again and he began to float away.