Title: The Limits of Infinity
A/N: Oneshot - featuring The Charlester.
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. By now we should all know this. Frankly, if I owned them, the rest of you would never see them.
Charlie stood over the koi pond in the near-dark, barely able to distinguish the shape of the fish, and contemplated sticking his head under the water.
He had been out here for almost 30 minutes, and his heart thumped as loudly and sporadically as it had when he had arrived. The weight of his guilt had sent him into an arrythmia he deserved.
He sighed, shivered, and took his hands out of the pockets of his jeans, so that he could wrap his arms around his ribcage. It wasn't just that he was cold. He was honestly afraid his heart might leap out of his chest and splash into the koi pond.
Nothing in his past equipped him to deal with this.
For as long as he could remember, he was the one everyone talked about. The delivery varied: There were hushed, awed whispers; snarling, envious grumbles; confused and plaintive questions; quiet and serious murmurings in the night. Whichever approach was taken, Charlie was always the subject. His gift, like the numbers he so adored, was infinite - any everyone knew it.
His parents concentrated on his education so much that they may have neglected Don, a little. When he had gone to high school and college with kids up to six years older than he was, the less charitable of them had tried to beat the genius out of him. His students read his biographical information in the "Introduction of Faculty" newsletter each semester, and spent the first week of class afraid to speak out loud. Highly competent federal agents exchanged looks of despair when he began one his convoluted explanations of theory. This...all of this, Charlie was used to.
It came as somewhat of a surprise to him that he was more than used to it. He depended upon it. He had always been the youngest, smartest person in rooms full of smart people. He liked it that way. For such a smart person, he was completely unable to process what had happened.
First, his girlfriend had been invited to co-author some prestigious research with the head of the Division - during Amita's first year of teaching. Her first year.
Then, his father's business - started more as a retirement hobby than anything else - made such a name for him, Alan spent half his time traveling, now.
His brother had told him, in the strictest confidence, that he was considering accepting the position of Assistant Director of the L.A. FBI offices - the youngest man to ever be offered the job.
Now, his best friend had announced that he was spending the next six months as a payload specialist on a space shuttle mission. A friggin' space shuttle mission!
A koi made a tiny splash, and Charlie took it as disapproval. "It's not that I don't think they deserve these things," he defended himself to the fish. "I do. They do. All of them." He sighed again, and hung his head. "It's just that I don't understand how I got at the end of the line."
He remembered Amita's sweet sympathy, when he had first learned that Larry was truly going where no man had gone before. Even Don had been attentive, lately, and the nicer they were to him, he worse he felt. They thought he was just sad, because his best friend would be gone so long. Maybe they even thought he was a little frightened, because, as he had told Larry, "people die on space shuttles". They gave him way too much credit.
He couldn't stand it himself, the fact that he was jealous. Who knew what they would think of him?
Lost in his thoughts, Charlie jumped when he felt a strong hand on his shoulder, and heard Don's voice. "Hey. Charlie."
He silently blessed the darkness and didn't turn around. "Hey."
His brother spoke softly, as if the darkness called for a certain reverence. "What are you doing out here so long? You can't even see anything."
Charlie shrugged, although Don probably couldn't see it. "Nothing. Thinking."
Don laughed. "Only you would describe your thinking as 'nothing', Charlie."
Charlie took a step closer to the pond. One more, and he would swim with the fishes. "My thinking is not that impressive," he pouted.
Don sounded confused. "Right now? Or in general?"
Don was silent a moment. When Charlie didn't continue, he asked. "What do you mean?"
"I think I've reached the end of my usefulness," Charlie was surprised to hear himself say. He wasn't surprised anymore that he felt that way, he was only surprised he was admitting it to Don. He had felt too safe in the dark. "I'm...like a birthday candle, or something. The flame bursts bright, but it doesn't last long."
Don tugged on the back of Charlie's t-shirt. "Come in the house and tell me what the hell you're talking about."
Charlie took the fatal last step, teetered on the edge of the pond, and felt himself wrenched back at the last second by both of Don's hands. He stood with his back flush to his brother's chest. Don had one hand in front of him, on his arm, and the other draped loosely across one of Charlie's shoulders. "Charlie. Suicide in a 12-inch-deep koi pond in front of a federal agent is not a good choice."
Charlie stepped out of Don's grasp, sideways, and hit the end of a bench that fronted the pond. He sank onto it and felt the dampness of a recent rain soak through his jeans. "Go away," he said miserably. "I'll be in later."
Don came a little closer to the bench. "I'm not sitting on that wet bench," he stated, and waited in silence again for Charlie to respond. Finally, deciding he wasn't going to, Don sighed and casually dropped a hand on the curly head. "He'll be back before you know it."
His hand slipped off when Charlie ducked his head. "I know," he whispered.
Don crossed his arms in the dark. "So. I heard you talking to the koi."
Charlie groaned. Great. Just what he needed.
Don continued. "You're not at the end of the line, Charlie. You define the line. Is it so bad that someone else gets to take a turn?"
"I'm sorry," Charlie mumbled. "I don't like that I feel this way any better than you do. Maybe if everybody wasn't taking their turn at the same time..."
Don chuckled. "Charlie, for a genius, you can be such an idiot." Again, Charlie didn't answer, but stared guiltily at feet he could no longer see. Don leaned over a little, and spoke very quietly. "Don't you see what you're doing? This is your 'P vs. NP', this time. This is how you can make yourself not think about things like missing Larry, and how far you want to take things with Amita. I know you, Charlie. In your heart, you're proud of them. You're not threatened, or jealous. You're just scared."
Don straightened while Charlie considered that. He stamped his feet in the grass a few times. "Come on. It's cold out here. And I left my beer inside."
Charlie stood uncertainly. "My ass is all wet," he said unhappily.
Don laughed again, and put a hand on Charlie's back to encourage him toward the house. "I know, genius. What are the odds of that, anyway? Sit on a wet bench, and..."
"Shut-up," Charlie interrupted.
Don moved his hand up to Charlie's shoulder and squeezed as they made their way cautiously across the dark lawn. "You know you don't have to be scared, Chuck. I'll always have your back."
Charlie marched silently toward the house, letting himself feel his brother's hand on his shoulder, letting himself believe his brother's promise. Odds were, trusting Don on this one was a better option than dunking his head in the koi pond. He took a shaky breath. "Thanks, Donnie. You're a good brother."
Don squeezed Charlie's shoulder again. "See? You're still the smartest one in the room."