I hope you enjoy this story. It's based off the episode In Plain Sight, but you can read this without seeing the episode. As always, I don't own anything Numb3rs related, except for the stories I write based on the show. Enjoy.
Charlie Eppes walked enthusiastically down the hall of CalSci. Beside him was his brother, the reason for his cheerful mood. Catching Charlie by surprise, Don had stopped by to see if he would like to go out to eat, nothing work-related involved. It wasn't like his older brother to take him out to eat for no reason, so Charlie jumped at the chance. He had to cancel his lunch plans with Larry, but he knew his friend would understand. He and Larry ate together nearly every day. Lunch with his brother was a rare occurrence.
Since both brothers had plenty of time today, they weren't too picky on the place they chose. The first place they came upon they stopped at, even though it seemed crowded, judging by the parking lot. Still, the brothers got out of Don's car and headed to the door.
"So do you have any new cases to work on?" Charlie asked his brother, making conversation.
"No, not really. It's been strange. We've had a quiet period lately. I don't know what the deal is," Don replied.
"Think we finally made a big enough dent in the world of crime?" Charlie smiled teasingly.
"Never." Don shook his head. He wished that was why there'd been a lull in cases.
Charlie held the door open for his brother and then followed him inside. They made it inside just in time to avoid the rain, which now came pouring down in large drops.
"That was close, huh?" Don said as he looked out the window behind them.
They waited to be seated and Charlie scanned the area. He had never been in this restaurant, so he let his eyes wander. Don was busy talking to someone he knew, so Charlie took his time getting a feel for the place. He spied a familiar looking form in a corner table in the back of the restaurant. Taking a step forward, Charlie sought a better look. As though the man sensed his eyes on him, he turned and looked at Charlie, making eye contact.
Charlie flinched. His eyes got large as he stared at the man, who now was standing up, about to walk toward him. In a moment of panic, Charlie turned and ran past his brother, and out into the rain.
"Charlie!" Don called, surprised when his brother seemed to fly past him without any word of explanation. Don quickly scanned the room to see if he could find what set his brother off. All he saw were people sitting, enjoying their meals, and a few who were just getting up after finishing theirs. He was confused as to why his brother ran off.
"I'm sorry, Mark. I have to go," Don said, barely taking the time to get the sentence out before running outside after his brother. He stopped just outside the restaurant to look around for his brother. Already Charlie was out of sight, so he just had to choose a direction and go with it. Deciding that straight ahead would make the most sense, Don ran ahead of the restaurant. Immediately he became drenched with rain. Ignoring it, he chased after his brother.
Charlie ran blindly away from the restaurant. He narrowly missed being hit when he ran across the street, but he hardly noticed. Adrenaline pushed him to run, and he kept going until his legs started to weaken. Seeing an alleyway, Charlie ran to it, feeling that would be the best place to hide.
Breathing heavily, Charlie bent at the waist, holding his knees. His legs started to shake after the exertion of running so far and fast. His heart beat fast as it pounded in his chest. Exhausted, Charlie sank to his knees, water soaking through his jeans as he knelt.
Frightened, Charlie stared at the ground in front of him as water dripped off his curls and off his nose. As he thought of his reason for running, Charlie shivered from head to toe. His eyes glazed over with tears as he thought of the reasons he ran so long ago.
"If I ever see you again, I'll kill you. Understand?"
Charlie choked out a sob as the voice returned. He had managed to bury it down deep after he'd heard the words for the first time when he was 13. It had taken years to get the man's face out of his head, but somehow he had managed to keep him locked away, so that he couldn't haunt him any longer. When they had worked on the case with the pedophile and his daughter, old memories had surfaced. But once the case was over, he was able to forget again... until now.
"Charlie!" Don screamed, having no luck in finding his brother. The rain made it difficult to see and hear. Don paused in running, taking the time to scan the surrounding area for any signs of his little brother. Concern set in his stomach, feeling like a heavy weight. Frantically, Don moved his head back and forth, looking in all directions for his brother.
This time the scream was heard by Charlie. He walked toward the edge of the alley, and found his brother not too far away. He raised his hand to get his brother's attention, and, relieved, Don saw him.
Knowing his brother saw him, Charlie backed into the alley again. Resting his back against the brick wall, Charlie tilted his head up to stare at the rain falling on him. It wasn't long before his older brother joined him.
"Buddy, are you all right?" For now, Don let the concerned brother part of him take over. He'd let the anger show up later.
"Yeah... I'm fine."
"You're soaking wet. Of course you're not fine. What the hell was that all about?"
"Nothing. Let's just go." Pushing the fear back down where it belonged, Charlie stood and started the long walk back to Don's car.
Stopping his brother, Don reached out and grabbed his brother's arm. "Wait one second. I just spent the last ten minutes chasing after you in the rain. I need more of an explanation than that."
"Don't touch me!" Charlie screamed as he flinched, the fear resurfacing. When Don let go out of surprise, Charlie backed away from his brother. He stared at Don as he walked, then turned and ran back to Don's car.
Sighing, Don paused a moment before running behind his brother. He kept some distance between him and his brother, realizing that there was something Charlie needed to work out, maybe for himself.
Charlie ran once more, but his heart wasn't quite in it this time, for there was no fear behind it. This time, he was just running to get back, and to get away. In a short time, Charlie had returned to the parking lot where Don's car was. As he blindly rounded the corner between Don's car and the one next to it, he didn't realize there was someone in the space between cars until he'd ran into the man.
"Charlie Eppes. It's been a long time," Russ Cartman said as he took hold of Charlie's wrists.
"L-let go of me." Paralyzed with fear, Charlie could only stand there.
Still holding Charlie's right wrist in his hand, Russ used his other hand to reach up and grasp Charlie's chin, turning it to the side. Charlie flinched, shutting his eyes tightly. Russ brought his mouth close to Charlie's ear.
"Remember what I told you?" Russ whispered.
Before Charlie could respond, Don showed up. For a moment he stopped in his tracks, surprised to find someone touching his brother.
"FBI! Get your hands off him." Don reached for his gun, but before he could, Russ opened his car door and got inside.
Ignoring what just happened, Charlie quickly got in Don's car. He kept his head hung low, so he didn't have to make eye contact with Russ, who, instinctively, Charlie knew was watching him.
Don followed his brother in the car, shaking off the raindrops that clung to his hair. He turned to his brother, who he could tell was upset.
"Charlie... Buddy, who was that?" Don tried to be gentle, so as not to further upset his brother.
"It was no one... I want to go home."
"Okay. We'll go home then."
Don decided that when they got home he'd call his team to let him know he wasn't coming back in for a while, if at all. He had a feeling that Charlie and the man they just saw had a history, and not a good one at that. Don understood that was why Charlie had run away, but why he was afraid of the man still puzzled Don.
The ride home was silent. Charlie kept his face turned away from his brother, afraid that Don would see the signs of fear in his eyes. Once again, Charlie fought to keep Russ out of his mind and locked away. But it seemed the more he had to do it, the harder it became.
Soon the brothers reached home. Alan's car wasn't in the driveway, so Don pulled on up to the garage. Charlie got out immediately after Don stopped the car, and ran to the door, unlocking it quickly. Leaving the keys in the door, Charlie jogged up the steps to his room.
Don followed his brother at a much slower pace. He stopped to take the keys out of the door, and then went up to his old room for a change of clothes. He changed into a pair of jeans and a Stockton Rangers t-shirt. When he came out of his room, he stopped at his brother's closed door. When he didn't hear anything, he moved on to the steps.
Just as Don was coming down the steps, Alan walked through the front door, the paper bags in his arms full of groceries dripping with rain. Don hurried to his father's side, taking a bag.
"Donny. What are you doing home?"
"It's a long story. Here, let's get these bags to the kitchen." Don turned to take the groceries to the kitchen, leading the way.
Alan followed cautiously, wondering what was going on. He set the paper bags onto the kitchen table. Quickly the two put away the groceries, then Alan turned to Don, expecting an answer as to what was going on.
"So, what's the long story?"
Don bent over, placing his hands on the table. He shook his head before raising it to meet his father's eyes. "I went to CalSci to see if Charlie wanted to go out for lunch with me. He did, so we stopped at a restaurant. Before we could even be seated, he bolted outside. He didn't stop running for a long time. It took me a while to find him. When I did, Charlie was obviously upset, but wouldn't tell me why. He got mad when I touched him, and ran back to the parking lot to my car. When I caught up to him again, there was a man who had a hold of him. He was gripping Charlie's chin and wrist. I yelled at him, and the guy got in his car and drove off."
"Who was he?"
"That's what I'd like to know. I memorized the license plate. Megan is looking up the owner right now."
"I wonder who it could be. I imagine that's why he ran off. He probably knows the man. But why would he be so scared?"
"I don't know." Don looked down at his hands, then straightened. He turned to leave the kitchen when his cell phone started to ring.
"It's Megan." Don flipped open his phone. "Hey, Megan. What have you got? Russ Cartman? No, it doesn't sound familiar to me. Thanks. I will. Bye."
Don turned to his father. "Does that name sound familiar to you?" It wasn't until he had completely turned that he noticed his father's pale complexion.
"Dad? Who is Russ Cartman?" Don demanded, knowing there was something going on.
Alan sighed, wringing his hands. "Remember the child pornography case? The one with the little girl that Charlie got all worked up over?"
Don started getting a sick feeling in his stomach. "Yeah. What about it?"
"Well, the reason was because of a little girl he knew when he was younger. She only lived a couple blocks away from us. Her name was Jessica Cartman. Russ is her father."
"What happened to her?" Don asked, fearful.
"I don't know. Charlie told me that he suspected something was going on between Jessica and her father, some sort of abuse. Charlie beat himself up over it because he didn't save her."
"What? You think maybe he tried?"
"I'm not sure. You need to talk to your brother about this, not me."
"Okay. Thanks, Dad."
Don had a bad feeling about this guy. He wondered if Charlie would be willing to open up about it.
Charlie was sitting in his room on the floor, still in his drenched clothes. Every once in a while, the cold would reach him and he'd shiver. Then he'd just go back to staring at the wall in front of him as he got lost in thought. It was like a battle in his head. All he had to do was push Russ Cartman out of his mind, lock him away. But this time his mind wasn't winning the war.
Don knocked on his brother's door before entering. When he did, he was suddenly alarmed because he didn't see his brother in the room.
Due to one of Charlie's shivers, Don caught sight of his brother, who was in the corner of the room beside his bed. Don stepped into his brother's line of vision, and Charlie looked up at him, surprised.
"Buddy, why haven't you changed? You're soaking wet." Don reached down and grabbed onto his brother's arms, pulling Charlie up. Once again, Don got the response of flinching away out of Charlie. Concerned, Don watched his brother cautiously as he went to his brother's closet to pull out some dry clothes.
"Here. Get dressed before you get pneumonia or something."
Charlie silently took the clothes and left the room and into the bathroom. A few minutes later, he returned and sat on his bed.
Don sat beside his brother, careful not to touch Charlie for fear of scaring him.
"Charlie... Who is Russ Cartman?"
Upon hearing the name, Charlie turned his head. He didn't want to talk about this.
"Buddy, did he hurt you?"
A muscle twitched along Charlie's jaw line. This did not make his battle any easier.
"He... he hurt Jessica."
Don nodded sympathetically. "I know, Buddy. He shouldn't have done that."
"It wasn't one time either, you know? It was constant. Jessica would come to school and she'd have a bruise on her face. Or, we'd meet at the park, and she'd have welts on her arms. And then when her dad... when Russ came to pick her up, he'd put his hand on her shoulder, tight. It was like he was showing ownership. And then Jessica... she'd look at me with these eyes that... that told me everything. She wanted me to help, even if she'd never say it out loud. I knew. Her eyes said it all. But I was scared. I couldn't help her."
Charlie swiped away a tear quickly, before his brother saw it. He kept his face turned away from Don, so he wouldn't see.
"Right before... before they moved, I was 13. I couldn't take it anymore. When I went over to say goodbye to Jessica, she had a black eye. She thought we had said our goodbyes the day before, so she hadn't tried to hide it. When I saw it, I went crazy. As soon as I saw her father, I charged at him. I managed to knock him to the ground, but before I could get in my first punch, he grabbed me by the arm. He twisted it behind my back and led me inside to one of the back rooms. He shoved me..."
Don had already felt himself getting angry, ready to go find Russ Cartman himself and beat the man. But when he heard his brother's abuse, he was prepared to leave immediately, even before the story was finished.
Charlie wiped his eyes again as more tears fell than he could hide. He cleared his throat roughly. "He shoved me against a wall. I was stunned, scared. I was still mad at him, but I really hadn't thought so far as him fighting back. He pushed me down on the floor and punched me in the stomach a few times, knocking the air out of me. While I was immobile, he pulled me up onto the bed, tossed me like I weighed nothing. Anyway, he grabbed me behind my neck, pulled my face close to his so I could look at his eyes, eyes so full of hatred." To this day, Charlie shivered at the remembrance.
"He told me quietly, in a voice that scared me to death. He said, 'If I ever see you again, I'll kill you.' And I believed him."
Embarrassed, Charlie covered his face with both his hands, shaking his head. "I couldn't even look at Jessica. I just ran out of the house, without a second glance. I ran home... and I never said anything about it... until now."
Don reached out and gently placed his hand on his brother's arm. Charlie flinched, but allowed the touch.
"I'm sorry, Buddy."
Charlie straightened and wiped his eyes. "Don't be. It was a long time ago."
Charlie tried to shake it off like it was nothing, but Don knew it was much more.
"That's why you ran today. You thought he was going to kill you?"
Charlie paused before answering. His face scrunched up as he began to cry. Tears already spilled from his eyes. With a sob, he answered, "Yes."
"Charlie... Why didn't you say something sooner?"
"Because I believed he was going to kill me, Don. I knew it. When you're 13, you don't exactly feel up to telling on a grown man who threatened to kill you. Today... I just flashed back to that day. In my heart, I knew that if he ever saw me again, he was going to kill me."
Quietly, Charlie said under his breath, "And I was right."
"What did you say?" Don asked angrily. He got off the bed, and knelt in front of his brother, forcing Charlie to look at him.
"What did he say to you today? Charlie, what did he say?"
Charlie shook from the fear. "He asked me if I remembered what he told me."
"That sounds like a threat to me. I'm going to go call David..."
"NO!" Charlie grabbed onto his brother's arm tighter than he ever had before. He couldn't let Don go after Russ. He didn't care that he was grown up now. He didn't care that his brother was an FBI agent. He didn't care that he may never see Russ Cartman again.
He was still scared of him.
Don stopped. He eased back down onto the bed once his brother released the death grip on his arm. Charlie hugged himself as he trembled.
"Don't go after him, Don. Please."
Don sighed. It was his big brother instinct to attack when someone attacked his brother. And with Charlie sitting beside him, radiating fear, Don's big brother side was going crazy. He had to do something, but his little brother was telling him not to. So how could he?
"Okay... I won't go after him."
Charlie sighed with relief. "Thanks."
He looked up at his brother, managing a small smile.
"Buddy, you know that's hard for me to do, right? I can't just listen to you tell me about how someone hurt you and shrug it off."
"But, because you asked, I won't do anything about it. Buddy, you have to promise me, though, that if you ever see Russ Cartman again, and if he ever lays a hand on you, let me know. Okay?"
Charlie merely nodded. Desperately needing his brother's word on the subject, Don tightly placed both his hands on each side of Charlie's face. Don brought their faces close as he stared in his brother's eyes.
Charlie's tears that he'd fought overflowed and spilled down his face. "I promise, Don."
Don gave a small smile, pleased that he got what he wanted. He looked at his brother for a moment, watching the trail of tears. Unsure if his brother would allow it, Don enveloped his brother in a supportive hug. Charlie was hesitant at first, but – knowing that if there was one person he could trust, it'd be Don – he soon accepted the hug gratefully.
"You're okay, Buddy. You don't have to share this alone anymore."
Charlie nodded as he closed his eyes. He sank into his brother's shoulder, allowing himself a moment to enjoy the safety in his brother's arms. Not giving himself much time, Charlie pushed out of his brother's arms.
"I'm okay, Don."
"You sure?" Don asked, watching his brother carefully.
"I'm sure... Thanks."
"That's why I'm here, you know?" Don smiled as he got up. He stood over Charlie for a minute, then extended his hand to his brother. Charlie smiled and accepted it. Don pulled his little brother to his feet.
"Come on. Let's see if we can get that lunch." Don put an arm around his brother's shoulders, and together they went downstairs. Charlie smiled up at his older brother, once again surprised with how lucky he was to have an older brother like Don.