In His Head
Notes: This takes place mostly pre-series, but the end bit takes place right near the end of Sniper Zero (aka the episode which is as close to Charlie whumping as we really get).
He wants to listen, but sometimes it doesn't matter what he wants.
Sometimes the numbers are all he can take in.
Don doesn't really miss Los Angeles, even if he didn't go that far. Charlie's all the way in New Jersey, but they would have taken him anywhere.
He's happy though, happy enough he pretended like he didn't notice how hard his parents had to try to be excited--a little hard to appreciate a sports scholarship with a prodigy in the family. Don understood that.
"I wanted to go to Princeton," Jennifer tells him, leaning back in her chair and chewing absently on a painted nail. It's been three weeks since he met her, and he can't quite remember why he thought asking her out would be a good idea. Her friend, Karen Glass, just snorts and knocks back another shot.
She's a few years short of twenty-one, but she's got something about her that kept the waiter from asking for ID. Don tends to stay away from girls like her, but he can't deny he doesn't really want to.
"My brother goes there," he says off-handedly, doesn't even mean to, doesn't know why he does. He's promised himself that Charlie isn't going to shadow him all the way here.
"Really?" Karen asks, all bright eyes and even perfect teeth. "We should double date sometime."
Don smiles wryly. "He's thirteen," he says, and wishes it was pride he was feeling.
His first memory is of the driveway, and the many equations written on it blue chalk that he's not even sure how he knows, streaming out of him like they've been inside waiting all the time.
He doesn't even realize it's not supposed to happen like that for years.
There was an old creek in an abandoned field a couple of blocks from his house. The summer he was seventeen, his friends used to dare each other to jump to across.
Don didn't join in at first, but it wasn't peer pressure that had him doing it in the end.
He was having a bad day, and maybe it wasn't the conventional kind of fun, but sometimes you need to put yourself through something just to see if you survive. Sometimes you have to do something because you want to see if you can.
He makes it easy. It's a little disappointing, even, because he doesn't feel like he's accomplished anything at all. Then he turns around, and sees his brother trying to leap across.
He only doesn't fall because Don catches him by the hand and pulls him the rest of the way over. Don feels terrified suddenly, in a way he hadn't when he'd jumped across himself.
"Charlie!" Don yells. "What are you doing? You could have been hurt!" Don doesn't loosen his grip, just holds on a little tighter instead, and gives him a quick shake.
Charlie just nods, dazedly. "You're right," he agrees. "It's actually an anomaly that I'm not."
Don lets go at that, anger melting into confusion and a little hurt. "Then why the hell did you do it?"
Charlie blinks up at him shrugs. "Because you did," he says.
Most people have to learn things, but numbers came to him on their own. He's just wired that way. Equations overlay every single event or person he meets, probabilities and percentages.
He doesn't even own a calculator.
When Don tells him their mother is dead, Charlie doesn't even turn around. P vs NP. Don guesses all those numbers must mean something, but he doesn't care. He takes an eraser off one board and starts erasing the rest.
That finally gets Charlie's attention. "What are you doing?" he asks, like he's just woken up.
"This means nothing!" Don shouts. "Our mother is dead!"
Charlie nods. "I know," he says. "The chances she wouldn't be were less than two percent."
Don makes a sound of frustration and pulls one of the boards straight down to the floor. It crashes with a sound like movie made thunder and raises a cloud of chalk.
"You have to stop that," Charlie tells him desperately. He raises his hands to his ears and closes his eyes, whispers a list of numbers.
"She's dead," Don says, hands falling uselessly to his side. "Do you understand that?"
"I know," Charlie says. "I knew the moment she told me what was wrong."
"But she wasn't dead then," Don says. "You don't give up that easy!"
"That's why I'm trying to solve the impossible," Charlie says quietly, with such exhaustion it makes Don's heart ache. "But I'm too late. I knew I would be."
"Charlie," Don starts, unsure what to say after that.
Charlie drops to his knees, and starts writing on the floor of the garage, retracing from memory all of the equations that Don had erased. "There is an answer," Charlie tells him. "Everything has an answer."
"This was never going to save her," Don says.
Charlie isn't listening to him. "I'll find it," he says, "I'll find it, you'll see."
He's never once wished he was just like anyone else. He wouldn't part with his gift for anything.
It doesn't mean it isn't a little hard to bear.
Don's hands are still shaking when he pulls into the driveway, and the thing that bothers him the most is that now Charlie's are still. "You ever do that again--" he starts, feeling that old anger and panic, remembering the moment he spotted Charlie in the line of fire.
Remembering a little further back too, when Charlie had leapt across a chasm his length and half again just so he could be on the same side of it as him.
"I won't," Charlie says quickly. "And I think it's best we don't tell Dad."
Don lets out an exhausted laugh. "He'd kill me," he says. "So yeah. We'll keep this between us. For now. You do something that stupid again, it's out of my hands."
"It wasn't stupid," Charlie argues. "I needed to be there to know where he was."
"Yeah, well, he found you first," Don snaps. "Snipers tend to have that as an advantage."
"I was just trying to help," Charlie says tiredly, and he's staring at the front door now, but Don has his suspicions it's not what he sees.
"I know," he says. "And I appreciate it, but you're not an agent, Charlie. Next time, you stay in the car."
"Bullets go through windows too," Charlie tells him.
"Which side are you arguing for here?" Don asks.
"Point taken," Charlie nods. "I'll shut up."
Don sighs. "You sure you okay?" he asks.
"I'm fine. He didn't even graze me," he says. "Statistically--"
"Charlie," Don interrupts. "Don't."
"I'm just saying," Charlie says. "Statistically we're both already dead."
Don doesn't know why that had to be the thing they'd finally have in common.