Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Those other people do.…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Don left the vehicle running.
After he had careened to a stop as close to the Math & Sciences building as he could get, he simply threw open the driver's door and jumped out at a dead run. He left the SUV idling at the curb, barely thinking to apply the emergency brake as he got out.
He rammed through groups of onlookers in front of the building as if he were a tackle creating a path for his running back. At least one student sprawled to the cement in a cascade of books from the assault, but Don didn't care. At least, he wouldn't have cared, if he had even noticed.
He pulled open the glass door so hard it threatened to break off its hinges. Campus Security was milling about on the ground floor of the building, doing its best to try and maintain some form of order. Don's badge was displayed on his belt, and he easily got past them, into the stairwell that led all the way to the roof of the three-story building. Clusters of students and teachers dotted the way, looking frightened, speaking in hushed tones. As he took the stairs three-at-a-time, Don's heart constricted proportionately according to how close he got to the roof. Finally, out of breath, he reached the small landing and access door.
Two LAPD officers stood before it, blocking his way. One noticed his badge. "We haven't been told to expect FBI on this. It's a simple jumper."
Don wanted to shove him through the concrete. "He's my brother," he growled instead. "Let me out there."
The officers, both young, looked at each other. The youngest paled a little, and the older one looked back at Don. "The first officers on scene are out there, with some friend of the…your brother. He hasn't let anyone near him."
"He called me," Don tried to explain.
The officer looked hopeful. "He did? Your brother?"
Don shook his head impatiently. "Larry. His friend. Please. Let me try. I'm an FBI agent, it's not like I don't know what I'm doing."
The officer nodded once to his partner, who followed his lead as he stepped aside. Now that Don had access to the roof, and Charlie; now that he had taken five seconds to think; he put his hand on the doorknob and hesitated. This was his brother. His baby brother. His knees almost buckled.
Finally, he twisted the knob and pushed through. Some part of him sensed the LAPD officers looking at him, some part of him registered Larry's whispered, "Thank the Lord," but most of him was focused on Charlie. His brother was almost directly opposite the door, arms outstretched, humming, walking the very edge of the flat roof as if it were a balance beam. Don swallowed painfully, and took a position about six inches closer to him than he had allowed Larry to come.
He called gently across the roof. "Charlie? Hey, Buddy. Can I come over and talk to you?"
Charlie had been looking at his feet, but at the sound of Don's voice he turned his head toward him and smiled. At the same time, one foot slipped and his arms flailed, and Don started running. Charlie had regained his balance before Don got five feet, and he held out his hands in a command for Don to stop. "Stay there! It isn't safe out here. Don't come any closer, Donnie. I mean it."
Years of training kicked in and Don was able to stop. He was almost close enough to reach Charlie, if he stretched his arms as far as he could. Almost. He tried to smile at him. "You're right, Charlie. Why don't you come over here? I'd like to talk to you."
Charlie blinked seriously at him for at least 30 seconds, then took one step towards him. "Just a little," he said. He smiled again, and it was disarmingly wide, and bright, frighteningly Charlie. "The thing is, Don…" He half-turned and waved an arm to indicate the air around him. "…I can fly. The Wright Brothers had the correct idea all along, their math just wasn't advanced enough. I've worked on the calculations, and I can do this. I'm glad you're here to witness my first flight."
Don's panic grew. "Don't you have to build some wings, or something? Come over here, and I'll help you."
Charlie frowned a little. "No. No wings." He suddenly looked like he was going to cry. "I just need to know where the sky starts. I think I can touch the sky from here, but I don't know where it starts." He tilted his head toward Larry. "He won't tell me. Do you know, Donnie? When I reach as high as I can over my head, am I touching the sky?" He was demonstrating the posture, and leaning too close to the edge for Don.
He glanced at Larry briefly, then back at Charlie. What the hell had happened? Had Charlie been drugged, or something? When Larry had called him 15 minutes ago, catching Don on the way home from the office, he had only garbled that Charlie was on the roof, and Larry was afraid that he was going to jump. Don could still hear the horror in his voice, as he begged him to come to CalSci. He could still hear Larry's sob when he assured him he was only minutes away. There had been no explanations – maybe Larry didn't have any to give – and Don had no idea what they were all doing in this nightmare. In his ignorance, Don said exactly the wrong thing. "Buddy, please…I need your help on a case."
Charlie brought his arms down and wrapped them around his stomach protectively, battling some pain Don did not know about. "No…no…I can't do that anymore. I was wrong. I was too late."
Don mentally kicked himself. The last case Charlie had consulted on had gone sour fast. The outcome wasn't Charlie's fault. His calculations had been accurate, and certainly faster than they would have been coming from the in-house experts. It had just been one of those things. Two young children had been kidnapped, and the parents had waited too long to call the authorities. While Charlie's applications had eventually shown them where to look, what they had found there were only bodies. To make it worse, Charlie had identified the most likely suspect – and he had escaped the net they had thrown out for him. Nothing about the case had gone right.
Don rushed to reassure him. "That's not true, Charlie. You did your best, we all did. Sometimes it just doesn't work out."
Charlie's words started to speed up. He stammered a little. "I t-took too long," he repeated. "With, with that case. I took too long with Amita, too, and sh-she left. I th-threw away all that time with Mom, and couldn't finish, couldn't solve it…I can't do anything right. Dad wants to move out, I'm so horrible, and I c-can't find enough time to do wh-what you all want." His voice grew a little more desperate, twisting the knife in Don's heart. "Now I can't figure out where the sky is, and no-no one will help me…" He screamed, then, tilted his head back and screamed at the elusive sky whose origin he sought. "WHY WON'T ANYONE HELP ME?"
Don risked another step while Charlie wasn't looking. He was so close, now. "Charlie, Charlie," he soothed. "I want to help you, let me help you. Let me come get you. We'll go for a drink, and talk about it."
This time Charlie's mood bounced to giggling. He unwrapped his arms and began pirouetting around the edge of the roof as if he were an airplane. "Can't drink, Don, I'm flying tonight!" He stopped so close to the edge that his toes were hanging over the edge. He still held his arms out, and looked seriously at his brother. He spoke solemnly, as if he were telling him a secret. "I believe I can fly."
He turned his entire body toward the edge and started flapping his arms. Don strangled on a "No…", launched himself toward Charlie and grabbed the edge of his t-shirt.
It ripped away in his hands when Charlie stepped over the edge.