Title: Grudging Gratitude

Author: Mooncat

Summary: A few missing scenes to Sniper Zero. Yeah, I know. Another one of those. It still may be a little different. Don's POV.

Warnings: None, though there are nightmares mentioned.

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of 'Numb3rs'.

Copyright: Sarah Diaz, 2007

Grudging Gratitude

Something was up, Don could tell that the minute he got into the car with Charlie. His little brother seemed even more agitated than usual and that was something to say. He doubted that it was about the crime though. After all, there hadn't even been a body this time. For once, the sniper had luckily missed his shot and only gotten his victim in the shoulder. And while he knew that his brother was very sensitive, one of the reasons why Don tried to avoid taking Charlie to any crime scenes or let him get too much of the grueling details of a case, he couldn't believe that his brother would get so riled up over this incident.

Conclusion: Something else must have upset his little brother. Or someone.

If it was someone... Don would have to have a word with that someone.

Concentrating on driving, Don watched out of the corner of his eyes Charlie shift in the seat beside him, took in the irritated drumming his fingers produced. With a frown he tried to think back over the past hour, detect what could have put his brother into this state of irritation. Whenever he couldn't avoid calling Charlie to a crime scene he made an effort to always keep an eye on his brother but he never could keep him in his line of sight all the time. He had a job to do, after all. Hence the reason why he also assigned an agent to be with his brother all that time unless he was himself with Charlie.

Charlie may be a consultant for the FBI but he was still his little brother. So yeah, he was probably over careful with his security. Don knew that - and couldn't care any less about that. Professionalism be damned, family came first.

Not coming up with anything that could have set this off, Don frowned over to Charlie as they came to a red light. "Hey, Buddy, everything all right?"

Charlie started a bit. "Hmm?" He turned his head to Don. "Oh - yeah. I'm fine."

The drumming never ceased. If anything, it increased.

"You sure?" Don asked, knowing only too well that nothing was fine when his brother used that tone.

"Yeah," Charlie replied impatiently.

The light turned green and Don continued to drive. Deciding to change tactics to get to the bottom of this problem, he nodded slowly. "Okay." He dragged the word out, deliberately let it hanging between them.

Charlie shifted uncomfortably.

Don drove calmly and waited.

It took Charlie four minutes and twenty-seven minutes to crack. "It's just - Edgerton said something..." He sighed. "I dunno - it just made me thinking."

Edgerton. Right... he and Charlie had staked out the place from where the sniper had made his shot. He had seen Charlie and Edgerton coming out of the building. And now that he thought about it, Charlie had had that look in on his face, as if something had truly bothered him. Don carefully filed that information away.

"Yeah? What did he say?" he wanted to know, sounding only quizzical though. He knew his brother would only clam up again if he showed too much interest in just what Agent Edgerton had said to Charlie to have him this upset.

Charlie shrugged, shifting some more. "Nothing. He just..." He shook his head. "He criticized me!" it suddenly burst out of him, looking outrageous.

Ah... no wonder that didn't sit well with Charlie. Being a genius, he wasn't too accustomed to being criticized and when he was, he usually didn't take it well.

"Yeah?" Don replied simply, letting the unasked question hang in the air.

Charlie nodded forcefully. "He thinks I'm not capable of figuring this sniper out as long as I've never shot with a rifle. He claims I can't understand it and figure out the right shooting place if I've never experienced the aftershock of firing a rifle, the surge of adrenaline, the nervousness."

Don had to do everything to keep himself from swerving off the road. Edgerton had what?!?

"And then he gets offended when I notice that he seems to enjoy his job an awful lot, making me look - I don't know... superficial and righteous," Charlie huffed, his fingers picking up even more speed in their nervous tapping.

Clenching his jaw, Don worked hard to un-grind his teeth. "He told you all that?"

Charlie nodded.

Keeping a tight grip on his steering wheel, Don forced himself to relax. "Don't think too much about it. I mean, you've helped catching rapists, bank robbers, kidnappers, killers and forgers. All of them without actually ever having had to do the same things as they did in order to figure them out."

Again Charlie nodded emphatically. "Exactly! Thank you! Not to mention that I may not have been able to indicate the exact spot he shot from but I was always right within a few feet from the original spot. Besides, figuring out why he picks the victims he does has nothing to do with how it feels to shoot, right?"

"Right," Don agreed heartfelt, momentarily forgetting to remain dispatched. "And even if it were of importance, that's why I asked for Edgerton. He's here to get into the sniper's head, you're here to figure out the pattern."

Perhaps it had been a mistake to ask for Edgerton's help. On the other hand, his experience as a sniper was invaluable to this case. Well, once he'd start to give them something and would stop wasting his time by doubting and challenging Charlie's every statement and conclusion.

Beside him, Charlie fell silent again. But at least he had stopped shifting around all the time. The nervous finger tapping was still present though.

Instead of getting on Don's nerves though, it only increased his irritation at Edgerton. Who the hell did this guy think he was to go criticize an official, high paid consultant of the FBI who happened to be one of the world's top mathematicians? And what right did Edgerton have to go tell his little brother to learn how to shoot?!

Not one, and Don had every intention to make that clear to one Agent Edgerton.

Don waited until Charlie was long gone home. He waited until the energetic buzz died down and most of the agents had gone home.

Don waited until he saw Edgerton call it a day as well and head out. Quickly finishing off the file he had been working on, he got up, grabbed his jacket and hurried after Edgerton. He made it into the elevator just in time.

"Long day," Edgerton said after a moment.

Shrugging into his jacket, Don nodded. "I just hope we catch this guy soon."

"He's got to make a mistake at one point. Soon probably. He's not that good to continue much longer like that," Edgerton mentioned calmly.

"That would be good," Don replied. "If Charlie's right though with his assumption on the sniper then we better don't count on that and see to it that we get him before he strikes again."

The elevator came to a stop on the parking deck and the two agents stepped out.

"That would be most fortunate of course," Edgerton nodded. "Though I really don't think our sniper is as good as your brother makes him out to be."

Don stopped and turned to him. They were out of the FBI-building and Edgerton had just given him the right opportunity by referring to Charlie as his brother and not as his other consultant. It was perhaps thin but it was good enough for Don.

"We will see. In the meantime I'd appreciate it if you'd restrain yourself from deriding Charlie's work or opinions," Don told Edgerton in a low voice.

Edgerton stopped and frowned at him. "What?"

Calmly and firmly, Don met Edgerton's dark eyes. "Charlie is a mathematician, Edgerton, a very good one. I brought him into this case because the past showed that he's able to see patterns and connections in a perpetuator's behavior no one else can see. He's here to find the sniper's pattern. You I brought in to get a better incline into the sniper's head and motivation. I don't expect you to give me equations that lead me to this sniper any more than I expect Charlie to tell me how our guy has prepared himself to take his shots or what a rush that gave him." He stopped and gave Edgerton a hard look. "Have I made myself clear?"

Edgerton held his eyes for a long moment before he gave the tiniest of nods. "I guess this is about my brief conversation with Charlie this afternoon?"

The temper Don had kept a tight lid on so far rose a little, making his eyes flare up with anger. "You had no right to judge him just because he never held a weapon in his hands in his life. He's a professor first most, a theoretician. His weapons are his outstanding intelligence and chalk and it's sure not his job to know how to shoot." He took a step closer to Edgerton, glaring right into his face. "And I'm glad for that. I don't want him anywhere near weapons and I sure don't like it when one on my team goes and tells him he's wrong because of that fact, or even worse: not good enough." His hand fisted but Don restrained himself from giving into that temptation. Instead, he stepped back again, never breaking eye contact with the other man. "You're entitled to have your own opinions, Edgerton. Just keep them to yourself from now on and leave my brother alone."

Thus said he turned and strolled over to his SUV without another glance back at the FBI's best sniper.

Don was perfectly aware that his behavior had been far from professional. While he had the right to reprimand one of his consultant for deriding his other consultant, his little talk with Edgerton had gone far more private than that. But really, that guy had it coming.

No one messed with Don's little brother's head.

"I need to learn how to shoot a rifle."

That's what Charlie had said. Those were the exact words his little brother had said, words he had never expected to hear from his baby brother.

Words, he never had wanted to hear from Charlie.

"You... you gotta teach me."

And if it hadn't been bad enough to hear those first words, Charlie had to go and say this.

He was supposed to teach Charlie how to shoot? He was supposed to dirty his own brother's innocence like that? He was supposed to drag his little brother into the violent world of guns and rifles? Of death and blood?

Had Charlie any idea what he had asked there of Don?

He couldn't do it. He just couldn't.

And yet, he had given in, hadn't he? Here he was now, handing Charlie a rifle, explaining him how to hold it, where to put his fingers, how to aim.

How to shoot.

How to kill.

No! No... it was just a paper target. It was just a one-time occurrence. A field experiment. Charlie would just make his damn shot, get his oh so precious data, and then they'd be out of here, never coming back. Hopefully forgetting that this incident had ever taken place.

Not that Don had even the slightest doubt that he'd ever forget the sight of his baby brother holding a rifle in his arms and carefully taking aim.

It was a sight that made him sick. He hated that sight.

Too bad he was pretty sure that it would follow him into his nightmares.

"No! I need to learn this!"

Of course.

For the tiniest of moment, Don had allowed himself to blissfully forget just how stubborn his brother was. Once he had made up his mind it took a Herculean effort to change his mind again. In short, it was pretty much impossible. Not to mention that Charlie had always been a perfectionist. He would obsess himself into a state where nothing else counted until he had mastered or finished what he had set out to accomplish. And of course he had to do that again with learning how to shoot a rifle.

Feeling sickened more and more, Don found himself teaching his little brother the 'empty breath technique', talking him through the shot. How had they ended up here? How on Earth had Charlie managed to talk him into this bullshit?

It was typically Charlie. He'd give his brother his puppy dog eyes, talk about logic and numbers and reason and already, Don found himself having no choice than to agree to whatever insanity Charlie had put his mind to at the moment.

Their father always preached to Don that Charlie couldn't say 'no' whenever Don wanted something from him. But this went both ways - no matter how old he grew, now matter what a hardened FBI-agent he'd become - he was still powerless against his baby brother's pleas. Only difference was that he was supposed to always give a good example, to know to do the right thing. Because Charlie looked up to his big brother.

Ugh, Don was so sick sometimes to always have to hear this from his father. Charlie was almost thirty for Heaven's sake! He was his own man, damn it, a grown-up with a well-paid job, three doctorates, a higher security level of the NSA than Don had himself and owner of a house. He taught hundreds of kids the ways of math and brought them from school and college life into the real world. He consulted various agencies on who knows what projects.

But sure, Don could still screw him up by giving the wrong example or that was at least what their father thought.

Then again... perhaps their dad was right. Wasn't he here, showing his brother one of the very essential things in Don's life? What kept him alive, enabled Don to do his job so others wouldn't get hurt? Were they here because always seeing his brother with firearms for the past twelve years had brought Charlie to want to be able to shoot as well, just like his big brother?

No! No, this was all Agent Edgerton's fault. If he hadn't opened his stupid mouth and put this damn idea into his brother's head they wouldn't be here now and Don would never have had to hand Charlie a rifle and teach him how to handle it.

A job he seemed to have done well enough, he thought bitterly as he checked Charlie's last shot with his mini telescope. It was a good shot. Hell, considering that it was only his second shot ever, it was actually an amazing hit. A tiny part of Don was proud at that. Most part of him though just felt like throwing up. What if Charlie ever had to...

No, no, no...

He couldn't think like that. Charlie was a professor, a mathematician. He didn't believe in guns. This little excursion would hardly change that.

God, he hoped not.

But... at least now, if Charlie ever had to shoot in order to save his own life, he may be able to do it without hurting himself, perhaps even be able to come out of it alive.

On the bottom line, that was why Don had agreed to do this in the end. Because he knew his brother. If Don would have refused, Charlie would have gone to someone else. Hell, he probably would have gone straight to Edgerton. But that was the least Don wanted. Who knew what that guy would teach his brother, what he'd tell him? No, if anyone was going to show Charlie how to shoot it would be him so he could make sure that Charlie learned it right - and that even if Don took him to the shooting range, he didn't want to ever see Charlie with a gun or a rifle ever again.

It was just wrong.

Charlie was grinning, analyzing the aftereffects. Don wasted no more time. Charlie had managed to make a satisfying shot so now they could bail out of here. They couldn't get away fast enough from here in Don's opinion. He took the rifle, secured it and walked away. Without further protest (thank God!), Charlie trailed after him, excitingly talking about his success.

Don told him that it was beginner's luck. He needed to get Charlie down. He didn't want his brother to ever hold a rifle in his hands again. But he knew better. The shot had been too good to be just beginner's luck. His brother had a good aim, even during his first shot. With a little training Charlie would probably be quite a decent shooter. But Don wouldn't allow that. He was the one with firearms, Charlie was the one with chalk.

That was how it was and how it would always be.

At least, that was what he prayed for.

Don just couldn't get his heart to slow down. Every time it did calm a bit, he just had to flash back to that terrible moment when he had seen Charlie standing there in plain sight, totally unaware of the fact that he presented the perfect target among all the agents swarming over the place, and he knew, knew, even before the first shot had barely missed Charlie, that their sniper was going to kill his little brother, and already, his heart would beat fast and painfully hard against his chest again, turning over his stomach.

Not that there was anything left in his stomach to throw up. He had done that already, the first moment he had been alone. And again and again.

God... he had almost lost Charlie. His little brother had almost been shot today.


If... if one of those shots had hit...

He would never have forgiven himself, Don knew that without doubt. If... if Charlie... if Don had lost Charlie... His life would have been over as well. He soul would have died right along with Charlie and then again when he would have had to go to his father and tell him that he had gotten his baby brother killed. And after that it would only have been a matter of time before his empty body would have followed his brother into an early grave. Be it because he got careless or because he would have drowned his sorrow and loss in any ways he could find. One way or another, Don wouldn't have survived Charlie for long, he knew that. Not even his guilt of leaving their father without at least one son alive could have prevented that fate.

It didn't matter that Charlie had been so unbelievable stupid to come to that possible crime scene. It didn't matter that David had been even stupider to listen to Charlie and bring him along to a place where a sniper most likely was still at loose. It didn't matter.

Don was the one who brought Charlie as a consultant to the FBI in the first place and it was Don who had asked him onto that case. Don who was the team leader and in charge. Don who was responsible.

And it was only pure luck that his baby brother wasn't lying in the morgue now. What had Charlie said a few months back about the statistical likelihood of someone aiming a gun at his head, firing and surviving it? Don hadn't thought much about it until now, never truly have gotten Charlie's horror at that incident.

Not anymore though.

Now, he had seen someone aiming at his brother and pull the trigger. Statistically speaking, Charlie should be dead now. Hell, statistically speaking it was probably even more unrealistic that two brothers survived such an unlikely incident in such a short amount of time in-between.

Trembling, Don had to bite back a laugh. Was he really considering statistical probabilities here?

That was so... Charlie.


Not even trying to stop himself, Don got up from the sofa and tiptoed upstairs to take a peek into Charlie's room.

Yes... yes, it wasn't a dream. He was there in his bed, sleeping restlessly, breathing.


Don found himself able to breath normally again, his heart slowing down once more. Carefully, he closed the door to Charlie's room again and with a sigh, leaned his forehead against the cool wood.

After the shooting had been over, Don had had only one conscious thought: get Charlie away from there. He should have stayed, coordinated the securing of the scene, taking statements, do his job. But he hadn't. He had gotten Charlie off the floor, had dragged him over to his SUV and had driven his still shaking brother straight home, only remembering his duties once he was absolutely sure that Charlie was fine. Shaken - and that served him right - but otherwise fine.

Thankfully, their father hadn't been home when they've gotten there. Don would have had no idea how to explain to his father what had happened and he knew that if their dad had seen them coming home like that, both of his sons deathly white, both of his sons obviously shaken, both of his sons with terror in their eyes, both of his sons shaking with the aftereffect of the shock - there would have been no way in hell to make him believe that nothing had happened and that everything was okay. But Charlie and Don had agreed that it wasn't necessary for their father to ever learn just what had happened today - how close he had come to loosing his youngest son.

It was for the best, Don was sure of that.

Once he had been sure that Charlie was safe and had made him promise to not even think of leaving the safety of their childhood home again that day, Don had finally gone back to the scene and from there to the office to do his job. Not that he had done a too good job the rest of the day. He just couldn't concentrate.

All the time he felt the terror of those few minutes, the longest in his entire life, haunting him. He closed his eyes and he saw Charlie going down, having no idea if it was because he had gotten down like Don had screamed to him or if it was because he had been hit and was already dead. He hadn't known. Charlie had been hidden behind the car, he had no clear view on his brother and for agonizing ninety-three seconds Don hadn't known if his brother was still alive or if he had already lost him. Everything had happened so fast but at the same time, it had felt like an eternity. Don had felt like caught in a nightmare, trying to reach Charlie but just never managing to get close enough. Trying to reach him in time, but failing, always failing.

It wasn't hard to figure how the real nightmares would look like once Don had to succumb to his exhaustion.

Seven times. Seven times Don had needed to call his brother, to hear his voice, make sure that yes, Charlie was alive and that he was still safe at home.

It was ridiculous. He was a FBI-agent for God's sake, not some inexperienced civilian! He was shot at at a regular basis, watched friends and colleagues get shot at as well, women and men that were under his command. He had seen men die under his command. This shouldn't have thrown him as much as it had, he shouldn't be so affected by what had happened.

But he couldn't help it.

This was different. This had been his brother, his baby brother, the brother he was supposed to watch out for, to protect him, to keep him away from harm. Charlie, his little brother, the brother he had had no idea that he loved him this much, needed him so much. Not until that horrifying moment where he hadn't been sure if Charlie was still alive or not.

Of course Don loved Charlie. He was his brother after all. But he had never realized or acknowledged that his love for his brother ran that deep, that his need for his little brother was so overwhelming. That loosing him would mean to loose himself.

That realization came as another shock because really, Don had never expected that his brother had somehow become that important to him. For years they barely had had contact with each other and while they had seen more of each other in the year after their mother's death Don wouldn't have described their relationship as especially close. Then again, ever since Charlie had started to consult for the FBI on a regular basis, they had gotten closer again, getting to know each other better after years of estrangement, something Don was extremely happy about. He just had no idea just how close they had become in that short amount of time, not until a few hours ago. It was a good thing, of course, and Don loved it...

But what did that mean, now? Would he be able to do his job if Charlie continued to consult for him or would his worry for his little brother's safety drive him to be too careful? Would he hesitate to push Charlie for results too long and a victim would have to pay for that hesitation with his life? Could he work with Charlie again? Bring him to potential danger ever again by consulting him on a case?

On the other hand, was he really willing to give up on the improved relationship with his brother by refusing to work with him again? If it kept Charlie safe? Yeah, in a heartbeat. But had he really a choice? Charlie was stubborn and he did like to help on these cases, Don knew that. Plus, he was an official consultant for the FBI and not just the Bureau for that matter. The brass had seen the improved success-rate with the mathematician on board, was in fact already testing some of the programs and methods Charlie had used to help them to potentially put it to use on an every-day basis, like the one with which Charlie had helped them catch the serial rapist. Don doubted that the higher ranks would simply let go of such a valuable source just because Don had suddenly gotten squeamish.

And if Charlie continued to consult on such violent cases like he had lately, then Don would be damned to entrust his little brother's safety on such cases to anyone else than himself. He knew his fellow team-leaders were capable and good agents, all of them - but he trusted not one of them with his baby brother's life.

So he would have to find a way to get over this terrorizing fear. And he would need to have a word with Charlie, set some ground rules. Never, ever again could Charlie be so careless and come to a crime scene before it had been cleared, put himself right into the line of danger.

He had already berated Charlie because of that and he had seen that Charlie had taken that to heart even though he had not said a word in return. His brother knew he had made a mistake and Don suspected that that had almost more rattled him than getting shot at. Charlie truly hated to be wrong or even worse, to make an actual mistake.

Hopefully, that would be enough to keep Charlie from ever doing something so dense again.

With another sigh, Don pushed away from the door again. After another moment of hesitation, he gave in into his urge and took another peek into his brother's room, reassuring himself for the umpteenth times that Charlie was okay. Having a nightmare, by the looks of it, but otherwise fine.

Shaking his head, Don closed the door and slowly moved to his old bedroom. Usually, he would try to rise his brother from the nightmare. Not tonight though. He needed Charlie to be afraid. So he would never risk his life again like he had today. And not just his own life - Terry and David too had risked their lives as they rushed to Charlie's aid, exposing themselves. Yeah, tonight, Don would leave Charlie to his nightmares - as he was left to his own of a universe where Charlie hadn't dropped fast enough, where the sniper had hit his target and where Don had failed to keep his brother safe. A universe where Charlie was dead.

Heavily, he laid down onto his old bed, staring up at the ceiling. As soon as he had been able to, Don had left the office to head straight back to Charlie, no longer able to keep himself from seeing for himself that the nightmare he had lived through that day was over and had ended well, with the sniper dead and Charlie unharmed. Thankfully, his dad hadn't questioned his unannounced showing up or his late question if they minded if he stayed the night. It had happened in the past quite a few times, making Charlie joke more and more about the fact that Don practically already lived at home again rather than the tiny apartment he paid rent for. Plus, Don had drunken one or two beers too many, well aware that his Dad would suggest for him to stay the night anyway.

And Charlie... Charlie had just looked relieved when he had heard that his brother was staying. Perhaps because he too had feared the nightmares likely to occur that night. If he had gone to sleep at all which, knowing Charlie, probably wouldn't have been the case. But Don had slipped him a mild sleeping powder earlier that evening. He wanted Charlie to sleep, to rest. It hadn't been hard to see that Charlie had suffered a light shock and Don knew that the best medicine for that was sleep and rest. Plus, Charlie would have to give his statement tomorrow. Don had managed to stall it for a day, but tomorrow, they would have no choice and he'd have to bring his brother in. Terry would perform the interview and Don knew he could trust her with Charlie - but still, it would be easier for Charlie to relive that terrible moment if he had gotten some sleep, even if it was plagued by nightmares. Hence the sleeping powder.

He too should get some sleep. Don knew that. His day would be busy as hell, tomorrow. He'd have to take statements, report to Merrick, talk to David about his carelessness to bring Charlie to the scene...

Oh yeah. And he needed to have a brief talk with Edgerton as well, something he wasn't looking forward to at all.

Still... he wasn't sure if he was ready to face his own nightmares and see Charlie dying time and time again.

In the end though he had little choice as at some point, exhaustion overtook him and dragged him into the land of his nightmares.

Quietly, Don approached the sniper. "Agent Edgerton?"

Edgerton looked up, face unrevealing. Big surprise there. "Agent Eppes," he replied with a small nod.

"You're leaving soon, I've heard?" Don said after a moment.

Slightly raising an eyebrow, Edgerton gave another tiny nod. "Back to Quantico for the moment."

"Your expertise was a great help in this case," Don rattled down his standard farewell to outside experts. "We do hope that if we ever need your help again that we can count on you again."

"Naturally," Edgerton answered calmly, emotionless.

Uncomfortable, Don glanced towards the interrogation room in which Charlie gave his statement right that moment. Right. Taking a quick look around to make sure that no one paid them any attention or was in hearing range, Don turned back to Edgerton, dropping the agent in him and turned to only be a brother. "Listen Edgerton, I'm aware that you probably don't think that much of me or my brother, especially after my little outburst a few days ago, but for what it's worth, I wanted to thank you," he said bluntly, his eyes briefly flying back to the interrogation room. "If it weren't for you, my brother most likely would be dead now, or if not him, then one of my men," he added quietly, openly meeting the other man's gaze. Taking a deep breath, Don struck out his hand.

Edgerton glanced at it, raised his eyebrow a little higher, but took it to Don's relief.

"Thank you for saving Charlie's life," he repeated while sharing a firm handshake with Edgerton.

The other agent gave a small smile as he released Don's hand. "Agent Eppes, believe me, there's no need to thank me. I just did my job."

Don nodded. He knew that. It didn't change the fact though that Edgerton had been the one to take out the sniper before he could hit his target after all. Effectively saving Charlie's life. Don was no fool. He knew only too well that without Edgerton, chances to reach Charlie before the sniper got him for good would have been slim to nonexistent. Even with not being that good of a sniper, Charlie, even being down on the ground, had still been an open target. Sooner or later he would have hit Charlie and Don would be minus a brother. Don hated the fact that out of everyone, he owed Edgerton his little brother's life - but that was how it was and as long as Charlie was alive he didn't complain and sucked up to what he had to do. Like thank Edgerton.

"Besides, Agent Eppes, you're wrong if you think that I don't like you or your brother," Edgerton continued.

Don gave him a confused look. What?

"Actually, I have most respect for you and your brother," Edgerton continued, sounding almost amused. "You are a very good agent, Agent Eppes, and an even better brother and I respect that. It would be an honor to work with you again." His dark eyes slid to the interrogation room and actually softened a bit. "As for your brother - he is a very exceptionally man, Agent Eppes. His methods are unique but no doubt very resulting and effective. He would be an asset to every team and personally, I do hope I will have the opportunity to work with him again. I for sure will keep his name in mind, should I ever need help to find another evasive sniper." His eyes went back to Don. "You can be very proud of him."

Don was too buffed to give any other response than the truth. "I am."

Edgerton nodded. "Charlie told me that you took him to the range so he could experience how it is to shoot a rifle."

Charlie had? Why would Charlie tell that Edgerton? And when had he done that? Silently, Don nodded, still anything else than comfortable with Charlie anywhere near firearms.

"How was he?" Edgerton asked curiously.

Don shrugged. "Not bad for a first time," he answered evasively.

"That doesn't surprise me at all. He is the type to give an excellent shooter," Edgerton nodded and gave Don a look. "I can understand that you want to keep your brother away from the life we live, Agent Eppes," he said quietly. "And it's an honorable attempt. But perhaps, Agent Eppes, you should think over that again. Due to his work, Charlie already is part of that life. Not to mention that according to my information, he has worked on quite some sensitive cases and projects this past decade. Which means he has enemies. As have you." He made a pause and Don had to fight against the urge to squirm under the agent's penetrating gaze. "Wouldn't it be better he knew how to protect himself and take care of possible threats than have no protection at all?" Edgerton asked softly after a moment.

Don stiffened and his face closed off. No one, especially not this man who barely knew him or Charlie, told him how to treat or handle his little brother. "With all due respect: Charlie has been fine in that decade. He doesn't believe in guns and I sure as hell won't force them on him."

Edgerton shrugged, again with that ghost of a smile on his face. "Then I'll tell you what I told your brother: Guns aren't ghosts we choose to believe in or not. They are real and they are deadly. But as you know very well, they can also save lives." His eyes moved past Don and he grew more serious. "Just think about it, Agent Eppes. Now, I've got some more things to clear out before I leave." He turned back to Don and this time smiled for real - if perhaps a bit sarcastic. "I'd like to say my goodbyes to your brother later, if that's okay with you. Agent Eppes," he added with a nod and turned, walking away from Don.

Not sure if he was more frustrated or irritated by the sniper's behavior, he turned to look into the direction Edgerton had looked at there in the end - and saw Charlie, thanking Terry and heading towards Don, a little worse for wear, but otherwise okay. At least Don hoped so.

"Hey Buddy," Don greeted him quietly and quickly shot a look at Terry who gave a small nod and smiled. Don relaxed. "Everything okay?" he asked, turning his attention back to Charlie.

Charlie nodded and gave him a weak smile. "Yeah," he said quietly. "Though it's been strange to be on the other side of the mirror for a change." Then he took a deep breath and met his brother's concerned eyes. "Look Don... I'm sorry for yesterday, okay? I - I wasn't clearly thinking when I came to the scene apparently. But I honestly never thought I'd be in any danger - or would put someone else in danger. I... I'll try to think more clearly in the future. And to wait for you or Terry to give me the green light to come to a scene." He broke his eye contact with Don and looked down at his feet. "That is - if you want me to continue to consult for you," he added, almost in a whisper.

Flabbergasted, Don stared at the bowed head of his little brother, blinking. Had he imagined or had Charlie not only just apologized again but also admitted that he had been wrong? If you knew Charlie, that was something of a small miracle. Of course, his brother annoyingly was almost never wrong so he did lack experience with that. For a moment longer Don took that in, processing Charlie's words, wondering if Terry had anything to do with them or if it was just Charlie.

Not that it mattered.

Grinning, he gently gave Charlie's shoulder a shove, causing him to snap his head up and look wide eyed at Don. "Come on, Chuck, you think you can get out so easy?" Don shook his head. "You're right, what you did yesterday was stupid."

Charlie frowned. "Well, I don't think stupid would be the right word for it, it's more..."

"Stupid," Don nodded and gave him a hard look for a second before softening it up. "And just for that I'll put you on some of our cold cases." He smirked. "You'll love it. Tons and tons of data to process. Not that I think it will bring something, but hey, it's worth a shot, isn't it, Charlie?"

"Data?" Charlie echoed, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.

Don's grin widened. "Yeah, you know... Protocols, reports, lists - all that stuff you love so much. And boy, you know how it is with those embezzlement cases... it just piles and piles..."

"Embezzlement?" Charlie repeated, his voice taking on a higher notch.

"Hmm, got a couple of cases we never really had time to look much into it. But I'm sure with that killer mind of yours we'll have solved them in no time, right Charlie?" Don said, his eyes twinkling.

Charlie took a step back. "You know what, Don? I think I remember just now that I'll be very busy in the next few weeks. There are two big seminars I have to prepare and also a test for three of my classes. Plus Larry is constantly on me to help him with his equations in his newest project. And there are a few ideas I had for my own work that I need to follow. So... I really don't think I've got time right now to work through so much data for you," he finished his rant, shaking his head. "Sorry," he added, not sounding sorry at all.

Laughing, Don reached out to grab the back of Charlie's neck and drew him closer, ruffling his dark locks.

"Hey! Stop that, Don!" Charlie protested, fighting against Don's hold of him.

Don eased up his grip and let him go. "Just go down to the archive before you leave. I'll give Harry a call so he'll know what to give you," he told his brother, acting as if he hadn't heard Charlie's long protest. He knew well enough that Charlie hated those embezzlement cases as they usually bored him to death while giving him a lot to do at the same time. But hey, if it were one of his men that had screwed up, Don would have banned him to do desk duty for a while. That would hardly work with Charlie though. So the cold embezzlement cases it was. "Give him my best, Chuck," Don added smugly.

Huffing, Charlie straightened up again, running a hand through his locks, pouting. "I really don't think..."

"You'll have time," Don interrupted him, smiling.

Charlie gave his brother a smoldering look but then shrugged miserably as he gave in. "I guess I can sneak in a minute or two for them here or there," he grumbled.

"I'm sure you do," Don nodded. "But don't take too long. You know, we'll never know when the next case comes in for which we could use your numbers mojo," he added, more softly.

Charlie looked at him at that, holding his eyes for a moment, before he visibly brightened. "Yeah sure. Though given time I could probably work out an approximate schedule as to just how often and in which intervals such cases come up. If I'd have a list of what cases came in over say, the last five years and on how soon you've solved them and how much time laid between them then..."

Rolling his eyes, Don gave the back of Charlie's shoulder a slap. "Sure you can. Just concentrate on the cold cases for now, okay Chuck?"

Charlie glared at him. "Don't call me that!" he growled.

Don just grinned. "Sure, Chuck. Now, I think there is some new data waiting for you."

Shooting another death glare at his big brother, Charlie trotted away towards the elevators. Biting back another laugh, Don was just about to turn away when he saw Edgerton join Charlie at the elevator. Tensing, Don watched them talking, surprised to see that in no time, Charlie seemed to have forgotten his grudge and talked animatedly to the sniper who in turn looked much more friendlier than he had ever since he had gotten here. Soon, Don could even hear Charlie laugh out loud as he shrugged, smiling. The elevator arrived and the two men stepped inside, vanishing out of Don's sight, leaving him behind with a feeling of unease.

He respected Edgerton, he truly did. And it wasn't that he didn't like him exactly. Plus, he owed that man Charlie's life, something that would always keep Don in Edgerton's debt. A small price for his little brother's life and Don was honestly grateful for that. But he just really didn't want the sniper anywhere near his little brother. Somehow, Edgerton was able to influence Charlie like few people could and that apparently even without trying to do just that. Plus, Edgerton lived by some standards that were only too familiar to Don - but not to Charlie and that was good so. He feared that if Charlie spent too much time with the sniper, Edgerton would drag Charlie even more into things that were just not meant for his baby brother. Like learning how to shoot.

But Edgerton would leave soon, probably still today and hopefully, Charlie would forget all about Edgerton or his sudden need to learn how to shoot. It did look as if he had learned a few lessons during this case though, which was good.

And he wasn't the only one, Don thought with a sigh as his mind brought back the image of Charlie going down.

His father was right. And perhaps even Edgerton, as much as he hated that.

He needed to be much more careful with Charlie's life from now on.

Without dirtying Charlie's innocence though.

The End

(Author's Note: Well, I do hope that you haven't gotten bored too much about reading yet another story to Sniper Zero. But come on, that episode just was too good and I really needed to write this one down, 'cause the bunny to that story was driving me crazy. There are more bunnies hoping around in my head, perhaps even one or two for a longer fic, and as I really like it here in the Numb3rs fanfiction world I think I'll stay for a while. Thank you all for encouraging me after I've posted Hidden Talent last week, glad you liked it and your reviews really spurred me on to go write my second Numb3ers-fic. Hope you enjoyed it!)