Title: An Elegant Solution

Author: Beth Pryor

Summary: Don and Charlie discuss their new work arrangement following their first major case together. Set immediately after the Pilot.

Disclaimer: Numb3rs belongs to the good folks who created it and put it on the air. I'm just borrowing their characters and injecting my own dialogue.


An Elegant Solution

An elegant solution, often referred to in relation to problems in disciplines such as mathematics, engineering, and programming, is one in which the maximum desired effect is achieved with the smallest, or simplest effort accomplished with the least possible waste of materials.

Don Eppes ran through the door, weapon drawn. His tactical team was right behind him as he rounded the corner. He saw an ankle and a foot sticking out from the edge of the kitchen where the cabinets ended. Quickly, he ran forward to the woman. The plastic bag over her head was fogged with condensation, and her mouth, pressed tightly against the plastic formed a tortured "O" that reminded him of that painting, The Scream. He reached for the knife strapped to his leg and sliced through the thin film. He fell backward when he realized the woman's identity. It was his mother, her eyes wide and fixed. He reached for her hand to feel futilely for a pulse he knew would not be there, but just before he could find her wrist his eyes flew open.

He glanced wildly around the room, trying to get his bearings and finally realized that he was in his old room, upstairs in his father's house. He raked his hand through his hair and scrubbed the sleep from his eyes. Even though he hadn't slept properly for about a week, he wasn't too excited to try it again after the shock of the nightmare. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and padded out into the hall toward the bathroom. Before he got there, though, he noticed that a light was still on downstairs. Thinking that someone must have left it on by mistake, he headed down to extinguish it. However, when he reached the bottom of the stairs, he found Charlie sitting at the dining room table. Ordinarily, that wouldn't seem too unusual for his brother, but what bothered Don tonight was that Charlie wasn't doing anything. There were no papers, books or computers occupying him. He was simply sitting in silence, staring out across the room.

"Hey, Buddy," Don said softly as he approached his brother. "Couldn't sleep?" Charlie shook his head but didn't turn to face his brother, so Don took a seat in the chair beside him. "Yeah. Me neither. Mind if I join you down here for a while?" Don waited for Charlie's answer, but all he got again was a head shake.

He decided to try another approach. "You know, Terry told me one time about something she read in a Harry Potter book." Charlie looked over at him quizzically. "I know, but just listen. She said they have this potion for dreamless sleep, so that if you really need to sleep and you don't want to be troubled with dreaming, you just drink this stuff and you're out. Sometimes I could use that."

Charlie smiled a little. "I know what you mean. Even with Ambien you get sleep, but the dreams are sometimes really out there."

"How are you doing?" Don asked his younger brother.

"I'm ok." Charlie lied.

"Obviously." Don smirked back. "You're a terrible liar, Charlie. Always have been. Your heart is just too pure to pull it off."

Charlie scowled but answered him without addressing the sarcasm dripping from the last remark, knowing Don was just looking for some sort of reaction from him. "No, honestly, Don. I'm ok. I was just thinking about something Larry told me. It actually helped me with the case."

Don's eyebrows raised. "Oh yeah, what was that?"

"He told me that the reason I couldn't get my head around the logistics of the forming the equations at first was because I was looking for an elegant solution. He said that human behavior is rarely if ever elegant and when dealing with human problems there is always pain and disappointment."

"Well, yeah. That's generally true. But pain and disappointment isn't all that there is. Like today, when we found the perp and saved that girl. That makes it worth it, you know?

"That's just life, Charlie. Even if things go wrong sometimes, it doesn't mean that we should just stay locked in the house forever. Haven't you ever felt that way about choices in your life? It's really awful and sad when things change or end, but you wouldn't give up the good times you had before everything came to an end. Like when you break up with a girl or leave a job or move to a new town ..."

"Or Mom," Charlie whispered.

Don swallowed before he answered his brother. "Yeah, Buddy. That's exactly what I'm saying. I mean, that's like saying if we'd have known that we were going to lose her so soon, we would have loved her less so that it wouldn't hurt so much."

"That would be ridiculous!" Charlie exclaimed.

"Yeah, it is."

Charlie digested what his brother had said before replying. "But, Don, you can't, we can't save everyone. How can you possibly reconcile that in your mind?"

This was part of the reason that Don didn't want Charlie working on this type of case. He was terrified that his brother wouldn't be able to compartmentalize his emotions and that the stress of it all would just be too much for Charlie to handle. Don looked his brother directly in the eye. "I can't Charlie," Don honestly admitted. "I try to focus on the people we do save instead of the lives that won't ever be finished or dreams that won't be fulfilled because I didn't figure out the puzzle in time. And most days, that's enough to keep me going."

Charlie held his brother's gaze and asked back, "And what happens on the other days?"

Don broke the stare but tried to smile at Charlie. "Don't you worry about that, Buddy. I'm fine. I've been doing this for a long time. What you do really helps us, but I just don't want you to get too involved, you know?"

Charlie grinned genuinely at the older man. "You know what you just proposed there, Don?"

"What's that?"

"An elegant solution. You want me to take the information that you give me, generate equations that produce algorithms without becoming emotionally involved."

"Well, yeah."

Charlie's expression faded into one of sadness. "I'm afraid that you just made an exquisite argument for why that isn't really possible, Don."

Don sighed. "I know, I just want to…"

"Protect me."

"Well, yeah!" Don was filled with hopeless exasperation. He was losing this argument.

"Could I propose a possible solution to this dilemma?" Charlie asked after a few seconds of thinking. Don apprehensively agreed. "How about I'll help you find the bad guys when I can, and you'll let me help you on those bad days that you don't want to talk about?"

"Charlie, I can't let you in my head. Sometimes it's just too dark in there." Don didn't want his brother to understand the horrors that he had experienced in his career.

"I'm not saying you have to tell me about what's wrong, just that you'll let me be there for you when you need help."

Don considered this option, realizing that it would be nice to have someone to depend on but still railing against the idea that the person could possibly be his little brother. "I don't know, Buddy."

"Don, you've spent your entire life protecting me and fending for yourself. I'd just like the chance to help you for once. That's all."

Charlie's sentiment was so blunt and so simple but yet so extremely heartfelt. Don knew that he shouldn't refuse his brother, and to be honest, he didn't want to. He mulled it over a bit longer before giving Charlie his answer. "You know, Chuck, that doesn't sound half bad," Don smiled.

"So, we've reached a solution?" Charlie asked excitedly.

Don chuckled at his brother's enthusiasm at the prospect of being a part of Don's life again, "I don't know how elegant it is, but I suppose we have. Why don't you try to get some sleep now, though?"

Charlie shook his head, "I just don't think I can."

Don agreed that he wasn't ready to try either. "How about you make us some tea and I'll find something on TV?" Charlie jumped up and headed to the kitchen while Don made his way to the television. He switched on the set and flipped through until he found a rerun of an old sitcom that he was pretty sure they'd both enjoy. Then he turned toward the kitchen to help Charlie all the while realizing that it was going to take him a little while to get used to things the other way around. But, Charlie was an excellent teacher, so if he needed instruction, he knew where he could turn.