Chapter 20

Don couldn't believe that Charlie had been home from the hospital for three days, and he hadn't been by the house to see him yet. He also couldn't believe how difficult it was to work with the FBI's in-house "experts". He had spent three hours today arguing with a mathemetician over…well, he didn't really know. They were speaking separate languages at the time. The guy was a pure research scientist, didn't know how to present his findings or teach worth a… He clutched the file tighter as he opened the front door to Charlie's house. Maybe he could help him decipher whatever was in this guy's report.

"ABSOLUTELY NOT! I cannot believe you're even considering this, Charlie! You heard the doctor – it could take weeks to build your health back up after this pneumonia!"

"But Dad, I talked to Dr. Stevens today and…"

Uh-oh. Sounded like something was heating up in the kitchen besides dinner.

"I said I don't want to hear this, Charles Edward. Where's your brother? He said he'd be here for dinner tonight."

"I DON'T KNOW!" Charlie through over his shoulder as he entered the dining room and dropped a napkin full of silverware onto the table. He spotted Don, frozen in the living room.

Great. Couldn't even escape, now.

Charlie looked at him a moment, then spun around on his heel. "Dad. Dad!"

"I said not now, Charlie."

Don saw his brother slump into the door frame as if he needed something to hold him up. He started toward him, heard a quiet ,"It has to be now."

He saw his father approach, wiping his hands on a towel. "You see, you can't even stand up long enough to fight me on this." His voice had gentled. He took Charlie by the arm to lead him to a seat, but his brother jerked away and repeated himself, more loudly this time. "It has to be now."

Alan put one hand on his hip, ran one hand over his head. "Why, son? You haven't done any consulting out of the L.A.-area for 18 months. That's why you've got that fancy firewall security system on your laptop, so that you can consult electronically. What's changed?"

"Everything." Now Charlie wanted to sit down. He passed through the dining room into the living room, brushed past Don, fell on the couch. His father followed, shooting Don a quick smile and greeting on the way past.

Don turned in time to see Alan sit in the chair facing the couch.

"Make me understand," he said. "I want to understand, Charlie."

Charlie shrugged. "Me, too," he finally said.

In the silence, Don could hear the clock on the wall ticking. He joined his brother on the couch. "What's going on?"

When Charlie didn't say anything, Alan did. "Your brother wants to go consult somewhere."

Charlie rolled his eyes. "It's not that simple, Dad."

Alan held up his hands to indicate he would say no more.

Charlie turned to Don. "I've had an agency ask me to be part of a fact-checking team. Their in-house mathematicians, engineers, physicists — they're among the best in the field. But they've had a lot of challenges lately. They just want some consultants to come in and go over the data, the way it was gathered…"

"All right, Charlie, I get it. People always want you to consult. And you have been, with the FBI, with other agencies that send their data here or to your computer…"

"I know. But like I said, there would be a team of us. We really need to be in the same place. Just for three months. It's a short-term contract."

"But your health…"

Charlie was still talking. "It's not just that they asked for me." He looked from Don to his father, then to the floor. "I need some time. I need to get back to my work. I'm afraid…I'm afraid of what will happen if I spend the summer here. No Amita. No teaching. No reason to leave the garage…"

Alan raised his voice again. "Is that some sort of P vs NP threat?"

"Dad…" began Don, but Charlie interrupted again.

"It doesn't start for almost a month. I would have time to build up my strength again. And I talked to Dr. Stevens. He said he would find me a referral in Cleveland, someone to follow my case." He turned to Don. "And I'll have my secure laptop, you can still e-mail me if you need something for work. It's not like we'll be chained in an office 24 hours a day."

Don didn't know what to say first. Finally, he settled for the first thing that he thought of. "Cleveland?"

"The Glenn Research Center," supplied Charlie. "They've been developing some new technology…"

Don's eyes widened. He looked at his father. His voice was tinged with awe when he spoke. "Glenn Research Center? Isn't that NASA?"

Alan straightened in the chair. "How high is your security clearance, exactly?"

Charlie smiled. "It's not that big a deal. I mean it is, but I could pass that up easily enough." The smile faded as his eyes moved from his father to his brother again. "Please. Understand this. I don't need anybody's permission to go, but I don't want to hurt you, either. I know you both worry." He seemed pensive, then added, "Actually, I kind-of count on that."

They were silent again. Don looked at his father. He smiled at him. "We have to let him go, Dad. He needs this."

Alan sighed, stood to go back to the kitchen. "I know," they heard him mumble. "But I refuse to be happy about it."

Charlie and Don both snickered, and Don felt the file in his hand again. Turning to his brother, he said, "Two things."

Charlie waited.

"One, I won't just e-mail you if I need something for the office, okay? I need to hear from you, Charlie. I'll miss you."

His brother smiled shyly. "Thanks. Me, too. What's the second thing?"

Don raised his hand, dropped the file on his brother's lap. "Can you tell me what the hell this says?"

A/N: That's it, folks, my second fanfic. Thanks for all your kind reviews, and I hope to have more for you soon!