Title: Some Friggin 17-Year-Ol' Genus
A/N: For the Numb3rs Oneshot Callenge. Thanks to curtisbrothersfan for the idea!
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. I'll negotiate in good faith, though.
Six shot glasses were lined up on the bar in front of Charlie, upside down to signify the fact that they were empty. Approaching his brother, who was draining the seventh, Don counted them and shuddered. Charlie had gone through six straight shots already? Larry hadn't been kidding when he said this was an emergency.
The diminutive physicist, perched uncomfortably on a stool next to Charlie and nursing a soda, looked toward the door and saw Don headed their way. He sagged in relief.
Don sidled up to the bar and stood next to Charlie. The bartender, polishing the wood nearby, looked at him questionably. "I'm okay, thanks," Don said, and the man looked at Charlie.
"If this guy's a friend of yours, you'd better pour him outta here before the after-work crowd comes in. I'm cutting him off, anyway."
Don smiled at him. "Thanks. I'll handle it." The bartender 'harrumphed' under his breath and moved a little further away.
Charlie tried to line his now-empty seventh shot glass up with the others, and succeeded only in knocking two of them over. Larry started to rearrange the dead soldiers and Don grabbed Charlie's wrist with one hand, and grasped the shot glass with the other. He spoke quietly — the bar was virtually empty in the early afternoon, and he didn't have to raise his voice. "Buddy, I think you've had enough."
Charlie allowed him to pry the shot glass from his hand and then used it to trace Don's arm for awhile, until he finally figured out there was a body attached, and it belonged to someone he knew. As he lifted his own head to look at Don, he swayed dangerously on the stool, and Don saw Larry's hand hovering protectively over Charlie's back.
Charlie smiled happily. "Donnie! Don. Donster. Don-de-don-don."
Don smiled indulgently. "Hey, Charlie. You okay there, Bro?"
Charlie dropped his hand from Don's arm and looked at it in confusion. "Thaw I 'ad a dink," he slurred. He whipped his head around to look at Larry, and his entire body followed. He spinned off the stool and bumped hard into the bar, rattling the empties. The bartender frowned down at them and Don moved quickly to grab Charlie's upper arm and steady him.
"Come on, Charlie," he said soothingly. "Let's go home."
Charlie tried to jerk his arm away, but only hit himself in the head with it when he did. He glared at Larry. "U take mmm dink?"
Larry slid off his own stool and looked with dismay at Don, then Charlie. He had no more idea how to communicate with a drunk than with a three-year-old. Both possibilities were outside his realm of expertise. Nonetheless, this was his dearest friend. "Charles," he began, "Of course I did not help myself to your beverage. I believe that if you had not consumed quite so many yourself, that would be clear to you. We should return to campus."
Don, at first mildly entertained by Larry's attempt to reason with Charlie, suddenly looked at him sharply. "Does he have more classes today?"
Larry raised a hand to scratch his head. "Yes. Wait. No. What day is this?"
Don wondered how to tell if Larry was drunk -- or just Larry. He indicated Larry's glass with a toss of his head. "What's in that?"
Larry twisted his face in concentration. "A cola of some sort, I believe the gentleman said."
"WANMOR!", Charlie suddenly yelled, scaring the life out of Don. "GIMMENOTHER!"
Don started to pull on Charlie. "You push," he instructed Larry. "My car is right outside." He smiled at Charlie. "Hey, Buddy, let's go to my place. There's more there. Okay?"
Charlie, confused by all the hands on him and by the fact that his legs seemed to be missing, stumbled after Don. "Waa," he mumbled. "Wha?"
Don extricated Charlie from the stools and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "It's okay, Buddy," he soothed, steering Charlie toward the door. "We're going to a party at my place."
Half an hour later, Don felt like he was stuck in a live rendition of "Hansel and Gretel", as he tried to coax Charlie up the stairs to his apartment. Taking his brother home in this condition had not seemed like a good idea, but he hadn't thought about getting him up the stairs alone, either. Larry, after helping maneuver Charlie into Don's SUV, had gone back to CalSci from the bar, promising to come over as soon as he was finished with his afternoon class. Halfway up, Don paused, panting, and thought about stringing beer cans the rest of the way to his apartment. Maybe Charlie would follow them like a bread-crumb trail.
He had his arm around Charlie's waist, and the younger man shifted in a half-hearted escape attempt. "U prommiss," he pouted. "'Arty."
Don tightened his grip. "It's a private party, kid," he breathed, as they started back up the stairs. "Just you and me, okay?"
Charlie giggled. "'Kay!", he sang, and giggled again. "Me-n-donnie, Donnie-n-me, purple socks . . ." Don let his brother rant happily. When they finally reached the door to his apartment, he leaned him against the wall beside it, as if he were a sack of groceries, and fished in his pocket for his keys. Charlie started to tilt, and Don reached out a hand to grab his jacket as the door swung open.
"Come on, fella," he coaxed, and managed to park Charlie on one of the barstools at the kitchen counter, just a few feet from the door. He was suddenly very glad he had a small apartment. When he was reasonably sure Charlie was settled on the stool, Don moved directly into the kitchen, to the coffee pot. There was still some left from the morning, and he quickly poured a large mug and placed it in the microwave to heat. He started a new pot, and finally turned back to face Charlie at the counter.
Charlie's eyes were closed, but when he sensed Don looking at him, they opened. He tried to sit up straighter on the stool. "I. Would. Like." He tried to speak slowly and distinctly. "A. Beer. Now."
Don leaned on the counter. "I'm making some of those fancy hot drinks they serve in nice bars, okay, Charlie? You'll like it."
Charlie started to move, intending to stand up. He pushed against the counter and rose a few inches from the stool, then crashed back onto it. "Ull geddid," he mumbled, and started pushing again.
Don sighed. He grabbed his brother's hand. "Just a minute, Charlie, just wait." Charlie stopped moving and looked at him expectantly. Don turned and took a step to open the refrigerator, and grabbed a beer. He put it down full in front of Charlie. Maybe he wouldn't be able to open it. He leaned on the counter again. "What happened, Charlie? Larry just said you learned some 'disturbing news' and went ballistic." Charlie blinked at him, hand gripping the beer bottle. Don amended his question. "Well, 'ballistic' is my word. But Larry did say 'disturbing news'."
Charlie put the unopened beer bottle in his mouth and tipped it, then brought it out and looked at it in confusion. "Mussbe 'side down," he muttered, and turned the bottle over.
The microwave dinged and Don turned back to it. He opened a drawer under the counter and grabbed a bottle of aspirin. With his back to Charlie he crushed two with the back of a spoon, and mixed the powder into the warmed coffee. When he turned back around to put it in front of Charlie, his brother was trying to find a way to get the bottom of the beer bottle in his mouth. Don almost laughed out loud. Charlie finally turned it over again and thrust it away from him, in Don's general direction. "'Sempty," he complained.
Don gently took the bottle and put the mug in front of Charlie. "That's okay. Your . . . mixed drink is ready."
Charlie picked up the mug, Don watched him swallow and hoped he hadn't made it too hot. He moved to put the bottle of beer back in the refrigerator. Suddenly, he heard a crash, and turned to see Charlie standing – or more accurately, weaving – and the stool on the floor behind him. While Don watched, Charlie sprayed a mouthful of coffee all over the kitchen counter, and it ran in rivulets onto the floor. "Thish ish COFFEE," shouted Charlie, angry, and he hurled the nearly full mug at Don.
Don had no difficulty ducking the drunken throw, but still hunched his shoulders a little in reaction to the sound of the mug shattering against a cupboard on the other side of the kitchen. He looked at Charlie in shock, and his brother kept shouting.
Charlie gripped the counter as if it were the rail of a moving ship. "NOT STUPID!", he protested. "May . . .maybe not some friggin' 17-year-ol genus, bud I'm NOT STUPID!"
Don crept carefully through the coffee toward the counter. He had no idea what Charlie was talking about, but he didn't need an angry drunk throwing things at him. "Charlie, Buddy, nobody said you were stupid…"
To his horror, Charlie started crying. Things were getting worse – Don wanted the angry drunk back. "N-n-not stupid," Charlie sobbed, and he wrenched his hands from the counter. Disconnected from all things solid, Charlie listed a little, then tried to take a step and fell solidly on his rear end. Don saw him disappear under the counter and rushed to the other side. Charlie, sitting miserably on the floor, was crying in earnest now. "I coodn gedid," he wailed at Don, and started hiccupping. "St- st- st- u- pid…"
Don crouched beside him, awkwardly placed a hand on his shoulder. "Come on, Charlie, it's okay. You're all right." In answer, Charlie gave up on all words, and his crying increased.
Don had done his share of time with drunks. He'd been around criers before. But this was different. This was Charlie, who normally nursed one beer for an entire week, and hadn't cried in front of him since he was 10, and a neighborhood bully had beaten him up in an alley just for fun. He had gotten close, but he would always run away, up to his room, before the tears started. He hadn't even cried at their mother's funeral. Now, Charlie cried as if his heart was broken. Don didn't think about doing it, he just found himself sitting on the floor next to him, holding Charlie, letting Charlie's head burrow into his shoulder, feeling the spot get warm with tears, and whatever was running out of Charlie's nose – whiskey, probably. Without thinking about it, Don began to rock them both a little. Eventually, Charlie's crying lessened, and his head began to loll on Don's shoulder. He became concerned that Charlie would fall asleep there, so Don pulled them both up. Charlie leaned against him and hiccupped.
"Come on," Don said, "it's time for bed." Charlie was finished talking, and he let himself be led down the hall to the bedroom, let himself be pushed down on the bed, let Don take off his shoes and jacket and lay him gently down. He closed his eyes, still hiccupping. Don stood and stared at him a while, then quietly turned off the light and left, closing the door behind him.
Almost two hours later, after the coffee and the shattered mug were cleaned up and Don had checked on Charlie four times, Larry called. "Don. I've just finished my last afternoon class. Do you need me to stop and get anything?"
Don considered. "Larry. No, I've got it covered. Charlie is sleeping, You don't need to come all the way over here – can you just tell me what happened?"
Larry clucked. "Charles didn't say anything?"
Don snorted a little. "Charles said a lot of things, none of which made sense. He threw a mug of coffee at me, and yelled something about a friggin' 17-year-old genius…"
"Oh, dear. Did the mug hit you?"
Don smiled into the phone. "Nah. He throws like a drunk."
Larry chuckled. "The genius in question is Mark Adelman."
"A doctoral candidate at Princeton, of all places. Long heralded as the 'next Charles Eppes'. The Clay Mathematics Institute announced today that it will be rewarding one of their million-dollar Millennium Problem prizes to young Mr. Adelman."
Don searched his memory. "Millennium Problem sounds familiar," he said.
"I'm sure it does," answered Larry. "Clay identified seven mathematical problems, heretofore considered 'unsolveable', and created a 7 million dollar fund. Significant research into each of these problems, quantified research that results in solving a problem, is subject to a million-dollar prize."
"So Adelman solved one," Don guessed.
This time Larry sighed. "Not just any one, Don. P vs, NP."
"Holy shit," Don breathed reverently, and Larry didn't protest.
Rather, he offered a dry, "Quite. Charles read the documentation, and it's an extenuation of his own theories. He really came quite close, several times."
"And we all asked him to stop," Don finished.
"Yes," Larry agreed. His voice took on uncharacteristic force. "Don, I don't believe we were wrong to do that. We valued Charles as a person more than the answer to this problem. He was losing himself – we were losing him. It wasn't worth the price."
Don had been wandering around the apartment while they spoke, and as he rounded the corner from the living room, he was just in time to see the bedroom door open and a blur rushing into the bathroom next door. He frowned. "Okay. Thanks, Larry. I think he's…experiencing some consequences right now. I've gotta go."
"Oh, dear. Well, I'm free this evening, Don. Please call if I can help in any way."
Don thanked him and flipped his cell shut. He laid it on the kitchen counter and started for the bathroom, the unmistakable sound of vomiting reaching him in the hall. He stood in the doorway and watched Charlie bow to the porcelain God, retching until there was nothing but dry heaves to show for it. He stepped silently inside and lifted a wash cloth from the towel rod, soaked it with cold water and handed it to Charlie. He moved behind him to sit on the edge of the bathtub while Charlie gratefully sank his face into the cold cloth. "Want some 7-Up, or crackers or something?"
Charlie abruptly took his face out of the cloth and leaned forward over the toilet again, and retched miserably for several more minutes before he risked leaning back against the tub. Don absently rubbed his shoulder. "Maybe not yet, huh?"
Charlie just sat silently, face buried in the cloth again.
Don left his hand on Charlie's shoulder, and squeezed a little. "Larry told me what happened," he said.
Charlie's voice was muffled in the cloth. "Llrrzz," he said and Don frowned.
"What? I can't understand you."
Charlie lifted his head carefully. "It's all I ever was," he repeated. "The smart one. The one who would accomplish great mathematical things. I'm nothing, now."
Don squeezed his shoulder again, this time more tightly. "Buddy, you can't believe that. Your brain . . . your brain has always been phenomenal, I'll give you that. It still is, you'll never convince me otherwise. I've watched it work for years, and sometimes you scare me with that head of yours, Charlie."
Charlie started to shake his head, groaned and stopped. "Scares me right now, too," he mumbled, and sank into the cloth again.
Don laughed. "I'll get you something as soon as you can keep it down." He started absently rubbing Charlie's shoulder again. "Charlie, I'm sorry."
"For what?" His brother sounded confused.
"For not letting you know, not making you understand after all these years, that you are so much more than your genius. Charlie, the only thing more impressive than your IQ is the size of your heart. You were a loving kid, and you've become a kind and generous and loving man. I'm proud of you. I am." Don was starting to get embarrassed. "Anyway. I guess I should let you in on that every now and then."
Charlie raised his head. "Thank . . .", he started, and then Don could see him turn green even sitting slightly behind him. He leaned over and helped Charlie hoist himself up, barely assuming the position in time to keep his pyrotechnics in the toilet bowl.
Don wrinkled his nose in distaste and rubbed circles on Charlie's back. "There's only one thing you can't do, Little Brother," he said, not sure Charlie could hear him over the retching. "You damn sure cannot hold your liquor."