Late Night or Early Morning?
by atrum infractus
Full Summary: Missing scene(s) from Sniper Zero (not another one, I know). Charlie deals with the anxiety of nearly being shot and insomia all at once, and ends up at a coffee shop with Don in the wee hours of the morning.
Disclaimer: I don't own Numb3rs. Never have, never will. End of story.
Charlie Eppes shut his eyes tightly and pulled the covers tightly around himself, despite the fact that it was warm in his room. Closing his eyes wasn't helping at all. All he could see was his brother's face, eyes filled with worry as he shouted a warning.
The mathematician took a deep breath, heart beat accelerating. After that, he had been shoved to the ground by David Sinclair, who had fortunately been close enough to pull him down. Besides scraping his hand, no permanent damage was done.
Well, besides it was ruining a peaceful night's rest.
Charlie exhaled deeply, allowing himself to recall the details for nearly the hundreth time that day. Don yelling for him to get down...utmost confusion as he glanced up from his work, startled to hear such urgency from Don...someone else screaming a warning before pushing him to the ground, landing with a painful thud...the deafening crack, followed shortly by the crash of shattering glass that rained down over him...
He had wanted to throw his arms around Don and say he was truly sorry, an emotion he rarely felt with his brother. After that moment passed, of course, he had found himself feeling incredibly stupid for nearly becoming the sniper's next victim.
Kicking off his covers, Charlie turned over so he was flat on his back, just breathing the warm night air that leaked in through the open window. Breathing...something most took for granted, the rhythmic pattern all of mankind follows. Yet, even at his young age, he was lucky to be doing it right then...
Don had always been lucky to be doing it. He had faced countless guns, and he wasn't sitting in his bed at- what time was it anyway?- 3:45 in the morning, still shaking over a near-death experience. Don wasn't scared of what was keeping Charlie up.
But you just do the consulting, came a voice from deep inside of him. It sounded a little too much like a combination of his father and his good friend Larry Fleindhardt for comfort. Theoretically speaking, nothing bad is supposed to happen to you, because you just do the stuff behind-the-scenes. No one's supposed to know about you. And they're definitely not supposed to shoot you.
Charlie sighed, sitting up. Trying to sleep was pointless. It was obvious that his mind was active- for once not on mathematical ponderings, though. He was dwelling on the icy feeling of fear that had gathered in the pit of his stomach. It was not nearly as soothing as his equations, that was for sure.
He suddenly became aware that there had been a strange sound repeating through the dark. Frozen, and somewhat terrified, Charlie listened as the sound repeated itself. He heard the sound three more times before releasing the breath he hadn't been aware he was holding; he had left his cellphone on vibrate after considering that having it on ring-mode could possibly scare him from a deep sleep, something he hadn't wanted to experience after the day's events. Unfortunately, he had forgotten to factor in the possibility that someone would call, and he certainly hadn't expected to be awake.
He quicly stepped out of his bed, and hastily began shuffling through his backpack after flipping on his bedside lamp. He discovered the cellphone laying right where it should be, in a pocket on the outside of his bag. Flipping the phone open, he read the caller ID.
Who else would be calling this late (or was it this early?) besides Don? He had a knack for calling people when they were still awake, no matter how late it was. Charlie hit the Send button. "Hi, Don."
"Hey, Charlie," his brother's voice flooded through the phone. "Hope I didn't wake you up..."
"I was already up," sighed Charlie, glaring at his bed as if it was responsible for his insomia. "Not my choice, of course. But what's up? Why're you calling this late?"
"Well, I'm sitting outside your house," said Don. "I didn't want to wake Dad up by knocking. Can you let me in?"
Charlie frowned at the phone before glancing out his window. Indeed, Don's SUV was in the driveway, a shadowy figure in the window. "What happened to your key?" he asked.
He could hear Don's aged car seat emit a few squeaks as his brother shifted around. "I may have lost it," he finally admitted. "Besides, would you really want me to just barge this late? Now, would you just open the door?"
"Alright already, give me a few moments..." Charlie closed the phone and softly walked down the dark hall, taking extra heed to be silent as he passed Alan's room, though he heard a small break in the snores as he slipped by.
Once he got downstairs, he pulled the front door open to see his brother's darkened figure already standing there. Charlie flipped on the porch light and slid outside, shutting the door behind him. "Hey," said Don.
"What're you doing here?" asked Charlie, staring at his brother, completely stunned.
Don shrugged, shifting his weight. "I couldn't sleep," he admitted. "Why, am I not welcome now that it's your house?" he added teasingly, lightening the mood considerably.
"Yeah, but I have a right to ask questions around four in the morning." Charlie folded his arms over his chest, leaning against the doorframe. "Besides, that still didn't explain what you're doing here."
"I just ended up here," said Don flatly. "If you actually drove, you'd know how you just end up places."
It took a lot of strength on Charlie's part to keep from rolling his and giving a sarcastic response. Instead, he merely nodded his head. He had been around Don, Terry, and the rest of the FBI enough to learn their strategies on the best way of extracting intelligence from people, and silence seemed to be one of the top picks.
Indeed, their theory was correct. After only what Charlie counted as twenty seconds of silence, Don sighed. "Do you want to go see if some place decent is open, maybe get a cup of coffee? I have to wake up in two hours."
Charlie managed a grin. It wasn't exactly needed data on what was bugging Don so much, but it could be a further "investigation". And, come to think of it (though he usually enjoyed his herbal tea- nice and easy with no hard kick), coffee didn't seem so bad. "Sounds good," he said with a nod. "Amita's always told me caffeine's the alternative to sleep."
"And how right she is."
Fourty minutes later (and after leaving a note for Alan), Charlie found himself seated in a darkened, almost deserted coffee shop, with a steaming cup of cappucino before him. The small shop smelled strongly of coffee; the dim lighting gave a very warm feeling to the room. Charlie sat with his hands around his cup, enjoying it's ability to warm his hands.
Charlie jerked his head bolt upright to look at his elder brother, surprised at the ammount of nervousness in the man's voice. Indeed, Don did not look at all comfortable; in fact, quite to the contrary, he looked a bit worried as he glanced around the table, avoiding his little brother's eyes. He brought the cup of steaming coffee to his lips, but it appeared that he was merely drinking to have something to distract him.
"Of course I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?"
Don shrugged, looking all the more uncomfortable. "Just..today, it was a hard day, you know?"
A hard day? Who was Don kidding anyway? A hard day was realizing your mic wasn't on after the first half of the lecture when you realized that people were complaining, not finding another means of entertainment. A hard day was fifty-six essays to read and grade with ninety-four mid-terms to grade when the teacher aids had the flu. A hard day did not entitle nearly getting shot and, not to mention, shown up by some old guy that used to be a sniper for the military.
"Yeah," he agreed reluctantly, even though he believed his brother had made a huge understatement. "Hard day."
Don's face softened; Charlie hadn't seen this phenomenon occur since their mother had died. That time, he had shocked Alan and Charlie by taking his little brother in his arms, allowing the youngest to cry all he needed to, but never shedding a tear himself. What did it mean this time?
"Charlie- if you need to talk-"
"No," said Charlie hastily. "I'm fine."
Don considered him for a few moments. "I got shot once."
"I already know that, Don."
"Besides that time."
"What?" This was not something that came out in the normal conversation. Charlie sat up straighter and eyed his brother suspiciously. "When?"
"Remember when I came home that one time, with that nasty cut on my shoulder?" Charlie nodded, brushing a curl from his eyes and taking a sip of his drink. "Well, that wasn't from getting run over by a mad bicyclist. A bullet grazed my arm in a shoot out." He shook his head. "I hardly even cared. I was only thinking, Mom is going to kill me..."
Charlie laughed. "Mom never believed you," he told the older man. "I can't believe you didn't tell us that you got shot."
"Yeah, but I didn't sleep for a week. That was the first time I had ever realized someone could want to hurt me...besides you, when you tried to beat me up on the front lawn, senior year," he said with a mischivious gleam in his eyes. "But that was the first time it was serious, you know?" Besides giving a him a dissaproving look, Don otherwise ignored the smirk gathering on Charlie's face. "It's alright if you're scared, Charlie."
"I'm not," he said defensively, wishing he wasn't lying through his teeth. "I'm fine."
Don's eyes glazed over as he took a drink of his coffee. "You know, there's fine, and then there's fine. Maybe you're...I dunno. Maybe you're trying to- uh- Terry is better at this sort of thing..."
"What?" said Don indignately. "It's the best thing I could come up with this late, especially under the influence of a latte."
The look on his brother face was pretty much shocked. "What?"
"I said, you're wrong," repeated Charlie. "You said 'late'. Theoretically speaking, it's actually early, as it is A.M. hours."
They stared at eachother for what seemed like forever. Charlie took this time to study the angles of Don's face. To his surprise, it wasn't as familiar as he would have liked it to be; not as unfamiliar as a stranger's, but in this light, it wasn't far from it. There were aspects that he felt he was seeing for the first time; gentle lines of worry, darker patches of soft skin directly below his eye...Charlie couldn't remember ever seeing before. Or maybe he saw it, but he just tried to ignore it.
He didn't see it again that night. That weary, weather-beaten face suddenly dissapeared, replaced with a set of dancing eyes and a smile. "Do you ever stop thinking?" he asked teasingly.
"No," Charlie said honestly, taking a long sip of his coffee.
"Figures," said Don shaking his head. "I've been meaning to ask you something, Charlie."
The smile had faded, and the tone had grown serious. It couldn't possibly be about the day's events...or could it? Would Don actually dare bring that up in detail? "Okay," said Charlie, unsure as to if he was truly okay with it.
"Don't look so worried, I'm not announcing some relative died or something," said Don, waving away Charlie's grave expression. "It's just something I've been thinking about..."
"What?" Charlie was much more keen to pursue some of his brother's mindless ponderings rather than a potentially serious discussion.
Don met Charlie's gaze and held his eyes. "Why do you help the FBI out, Charlie?"
The mathematician was caught completely off-guard. He nearly upset his coffee in his stunned state. "What do you mean why?"
"Exactly what I said," Don explained patiently. "Why do you help us out so much?"
Charlie pondered this for a moment before speaking again, looking deeply into the contents of his half-filled cup. "I-I've never really thought about it before," he said finally. "I suppose I like helping out. Math is usually so..." He was finding words to describe the things Don wanted to know difficult to find deep within him, and even harder to summon to his mouth. "Math is usually one person or people who are actually interested. Consulting for the FBI not only allows me to show others how we're surrounded by numbers, it lets me work with people. And there's always the added plus of helping out the country."
Don nodded slowly. "Yeah," he said slowly, taking a deep sip of his drink. "That makes sense."
Silence fell, and both brothers continued to sip their drinks. "Why'd you ask?"
The agent shrugged. "Something Dad said earlier got me thinking," he said. "I just wanted to make sure of something..." He trailed off.
"Nothing," said Don hurridly, draining his last bit of coffee. "Now let's go get some of the hard stuff so we can keep up- I have to do paperwork today, and I don't think anyone'd appreciate me sleeping on it..."
"Where to?" asked Don, sliding his key into the car and firing up the ignition. "Home?"
"Cal Sci," corrected Charlie. "I have to be there in two hours anyway."
Don nodded. Ten silent minutes later, the car pulled to a stop in front of the college. Charlie found that he didn't want to leave just yet; he really wished he could just sit with the air conditioner blasting against his knee for a few hours, safely in the presence of his brother.
The feeling passed quickly as reality hastily settled in, and he found himself reaching for the car door. "Thanks for the coffee," Charlie told his brother.
A grin graced Don's face. "Nothing helps cover up no sleep like caffeine," he said with mock seriousness. "Trust me, I figured that one out a few years ago."
"Thanks for sharing that with the rest of the human race, then," said Charlie, amused.
"Nah, everyone else has figured it out. You're the only one still sipping herbal tea." Don made a face, just considering the drink, and Charlie chuckled. "Anyways, I'll give you a call if I need you later."
Charlie nodded. "I'm free."
"And- we're not going to tell Dad about today- well, yesterday, are we?"
Charlie grinned. "Only if I can soften him up with your 'mad bicyclist' story first."
Author's Notes: This fic is very old, written around Christmas last year. I was waiting for some of the Sniper Zero alternates to die down a bit before I posted, and now here it is! Not my best work, but as always,please review.