This story is based off of a scene from the movie August Rush. It is set around the time Margaret died. Enjoy!
As always, I do NOT own Numb3rs.
Charlie stood motionless in the garage. He had been writing furiously on the chalkboard when he suddenly had a strange feeling in his chest. Unsure as to what was wrong, he took a break from P vs. NP. He was still standing in the middle of the garage when the door opened and Don walked inside.
"Charlie? Can I talk to you a minute?" Don's voice was low, strained with emotions.
Charlie turned silently toward his brother. He took a small step back when he looked at his brother fully. So much time had passed since he'd really looked at his brother. Charlie wondered when Don had begun to age.
Don reached out and put his hand on his brother's shoulder. "Buddy, please, come inside. Mom really wants to see you. She's been asking about you."
Before Charlie could answer the same way he had for months – "No, I can't" – Alan walked into the garage.
Don turned to the door and frowned. He had just been inside. What was his father doing out here already?
"Boys... your mother... I-I-I went to check on her. She... she's gone." As Alan spoke the words, his tears came, as if saying it made it final.
Don's mouth hung open as he took it in. Finally he closed his mouth and bowed his head. "Damn it," he muttered.
Taking a moment, Don gained control of his emotions in minutes; though, inside, his pain was consuming him. Realizing his family would be grieving, he turned to Charlie. He reached out to him when Charlie's face paled considerably.
"Buddy?" Don reached out to touch his little brother supportively. Charlie's eyes got big as he stepped out of Don's reach. Looking panically from his father to brother, Charlie felt his eyes fill with tears.
"No... No!" With a brief look at the chalkboard, Charlie's anger rose. Seeing the insufficient white numbers stretched across the board, he wiped them away furiously with his hand. Then he punched the board so that it fell to the floor with a loud clatter.
"Charlie, please." Though his grief was strong, Alan came over to his youngest son and touched his elbow gently. Charlie turned to look at him and stared up at his father, his eyes full of tears.
"Why, Dad? Why did she have to die?"
Alan's heart went out to his son and he felt his own tears fall faster.
Hearing himself speak the word, the reality of what happened struck Charlie with a hard blow. He doubled over, holding his knees as the sobs tore out of his mouth.
"No! No! No!" Charlie cried as the tears slid down his face. His pain came over him in waves and he had to hold his stomach.
Don and Alan watched Charlie, feeling helpless. Alan's face grew wet with his own tears, and soon he found he couldn't stay.
"I can't do this..." Alan turned and walked away, leaving the garage.
Don watched his father leave, understanding how he felt. Unsure as to what he should do, he moved to his brother's side and put a hand on his brother's back. As if it were a great weight, it caused Charlie to fall to his knees on the floor.
Too scared to touch his brother again, Don left his brother to his tears. He had to leave anyway, since his own emotions were beginning to get the best of him.
Charlie's sobs built up until he emitted only guttural howls. His breathing was erratic, and his heart felt like someone was repeatedly stabbing him in the chest. Unable to contain his sorrow, Charlie cried for hours nonstop.
Eventually his tears were spent, but the sobs still came. Making high-pitched whimpers, Charlie sat in the middle of the floor, rocking back and forth. He had no knowledge of time. When a strong pair of arms wrapped around his waist, he couldn't understand who it would be since Don and Alan had to be grieving, too. But in the hours that had passed, Don and Alan both had stopped crying long ago. Don had been horrified to find his brother still crying.
Don pulled Charlie to his feet, literally having to hold his brother up since Charlie was too distracted with his grief to stand.
"Sh, sh, Buddy," Don spoke near his brother's ear. Charlie gulped in a loud, shaky breath.
"Sh. Easy, easy." Don rubbed a hand across his brother's back, while the other wrapped around him, holding Charlie up.
Charlie reached down and found the end of Don's dress shirt. He methodically clenched and unclenched his fist around it. He wrapped it around his fingers, getting enough that he had a handful. As though he still was unaware of who was holding him, Charlie released Don's shirt, turned, and looked up. He was surprised to find Don was the one keeping him up, since all Charlie felt like was falling down.
"Buddy?" Don asked, wondering if his brother was okay.
In a rush, Charlie knew that Don was hurting too, so he shouldn't be looking to him for comfort. He shouldn't cry to his brother, when Don had reason to cry, too. He didn't deserve comfort now, now when Don and Alan were hurting just as much. But it was something he desperately needed. So he pushed closer in his brother's arms and buried his face in Don's chest.
Don's arms encircled his brother's frail form and held on tightly. Don cupped the back of his brother's neck with his hand, holding Charlie close. As Charlie sobbed, Don kept him steady as he comforted his brother with all the strength he had.
After that, the two drifted farther and farther apart. It began after their mother's funeral. Don was still quick to comfort his brother, but once the funeral was over, Don spent more time away from his family. Resentment of his brother's absence forced him to stay gone. Don couldn't quite hold on to his grief. Grief made him feel weak, for then he'd cry so hard he'd make himself sick. It wasn't a good look for an emotionally disconnected FBI agent. The only emotion he was good at holding on to was anger. Anger looked strong, and the most anger he felt was toward his brother. Charlie's absence had cut him deep, knowing he and Alan had to take care of Margaret and Charlie at the same time. Charlie was perfectly healthy. Why should they have to take care of both? Why couldn't Charlie take care of himself? Cancer was the only one to blame for their mother's death, but in his fight to remain in control, Don could put some blame on his brother. Maybe if Charlie had been there, had helped, maybe Margaret would have lived longer. Those thoughts kept him away, while his anger festered.
But then it had been a month since Margaret's death, and Don knew he couldn't stay away forever. So Don reentered his family's life, but his obvious resentment over Charlie's time spent in the garage soon became evident.
Charlie had grown more secluded in himself, and less in the garage. He returned to the real world, spent time in the house, and slept in his bed. He was back to working at CalSci, but he still found it difficult to breathe every time he thought of what he had done in the garage. Under the false impression that solving P vs. NP was directly related to curing cancer, Charlie worked fervently, forever forcing himself to continue to work. Maybe somehow he would solve it. Every dead end, every missed step, Charlie pushed himself harder. Time was not on his side, nor his mother's, so he worked day and night. It was why he virtually gave up food toward the end. Food was a distraction he could live without. When time was running out, he didn't have time to stop and eat a sandwich when he could be working.
Now that his mother was gone, though, Charlie could see his many errors. It was obvious that solving P vs. NP wasn't going to save her, even though he never did solve the problem. As time caught up with him, Charlie could hardly believe he had missed three months – the last three months – of his mother's life. The two had been inseparable nearly all his life. She had even gone so far as Princeton with him. Charlie had only spent time away when he decided to study abroad. Even then, he had called and visited often. And when he was finished, he came home and lived with his parents again.
Time away from his mother had been foreign to him, yet Charlie had found it so easy when he forced himself to believe that he could save her by solving a math problem. He had been so wrong. The only thing he could have really done to help her would have been to spend time with her, never leave her, never make her worry about him. But he hadn't done any of those things. As he saw the error in what he had done, Charlie found it hard to forgive himself, as he partly blamed himself for his mother's death.
Though the two brothers had similar feelings, when Don spent more time with Alan and Charlie, he never picked up on it. Blinded by anger, Don held the belief that Charlie didn't think what he'd done was wrong. Though Don never bluntly said how he felt, there were little hints here and there.
One night they were all sitting in the living room. Alan was looking for an old photo of the four of them. Knowing where it was, Charlie volunteered to go get it from the garage.
"Don't forget to leave," Don had called after him in a bitter tone.
Charlie had stopped as he passed through the swinging door of the kitchen. His eyes closed as the blow struck him, adding to the fuel he had already been using against himself. It was obvious to Charlie that Don was blaming him, too. It made it that much harder for Charlie to forgive himself.
Weeks after the comment, Don came over in a foul mood. Work had been harder than usual, and it was the second month anniversary of their mother's death. He had thought his family wasn't home when Charlie walked into the living room, where Don was sitting on the couch. Still unable to let go of his anger, Don was disgusted by the sight of his brother.
"Damn. Thought I'd get a chance to relax," Don muttered as he stood.
Charlie's eyes glistened as he watched his brother stand and head for the door. Soon his hurt turned to anger. He was so angry at himself. If Don couldn't forgive him, couldn't even stand to be alone with him, Charlie knew he must be to blame. Knowing that he had contributed to his mother's pain, Charlie couldn't live with himself.
Crossing in front of Don, Charlie faced his brother. Don stopped, impatiently looking down at his brother.
"Hit me," Charlie ordered as he stood in front of Don.
"What?" Though Don was angry at his brother, he didn't resort to hitting family.
"Hit me." Charlie reached out and pushed his brother, goading him to do it.
"Charlie, I'm not going to hit you."
So Charlie pushed him harder. "You want to do it, so just get it over with!"
"Hit me!" Charlie cried as he shoved his brother in the chest. He desperately wanted Don to hit him, for maybe then he would stop punishing him with his words. "I need you to hit me!"
Pushing Don farther toward the wall, Charlie began to strike out with his fists. He only hit his brother in the chest, not enough to hurt his well-built brother, but enough to provoke Don.
"Charlie, stop!" Don shouted, but Charlie just shouted in return.
"HIT ME!" Charlie pleaded angrily as he got in his brother's face.
In a reflexive action, Don pulled his fist back and then brought it across his brother's face, hitting Charlie in the mouth. Charlie's body whipped to one side, then returned to the straight position. Blood spilled from his lip where Don had hit him. His jaw stung. But Charlie just laughed.
Don stood, eyes open wide, in shock. His fist barely hurt from the punch, but his stomach was in knots. Never in his brother's 28 years had Don hit him. Sure, they'd had their wrestling matches before, but Don had never struck him. He was always the one who protected Charlie from such attacks. The reality that he had just done that to his brother was enough to make Don sick to his stomach.
Charlie smiled as he wiped his hand across his lower lip. It came back bloody, but he didn't care. He raised his head and looked at Don, a smile of relief on his face. Don's mouth hung open in shock as he watched Charlie.
"Thank you," Charlie told him, then turned and walked away, and out into the garage.
Don found it hard to move as he watched his brother leave. He couldn't understand why his brother had said "thank you," of all things. When realization struck, his breath caught in his throat.
As the weight of what he'd done hit him, though, he sank to his knees. Don held his hands clasped behind his head as he doubled over on the floor and a sob built up, then escaped. For the first time since the day his mother died, Don cried as the anger left him. His body shook as he realized what he'd been doing to his younger brother. His anger had led Charlie to even believe he was to blame for their mother's death. In his heart, Don had always known it wasn't true, that it was just the anger talking, but how was Charlie to know that when all Don showed was anger toward him?
Knowing the error in what he'd done, Don sobbed as he sat on his heels. As his stomach heaved, Don lowered his head to the floor. Miserable, he cried, until he finally cried his guilt and anger away. Then, he stood and knew what he had to do next.
Charlie sat alone in the garage. He didn't have it in him to work at the chalkboards anymore. He had spent so much time in here, it made him sick to think about it. He stared at the wall in front of him. His chin was smeared with blood and the first signs of a bruise beside his mouth were beginning to show. He didn't care, though. Charlie knew he deserved to be hit. If he had been thinking about it, he should have stuck around and made Don hit him again. He deserved a full beating for what he'd done to his mother.
To Charlie's surprise, Don entered the garage and sat across from him. It took Charlie a moment to look at his brother, and when he did, he was a little surprised, since he found his brother's eyes red from crying.
"Buddy, look at me," Don said softly when Charlie looked at him, but then turned away quickly after. Slowly, Charlie brought his eyes back on his brother.
Don leaned forward in his chair as he kept eye contact with his brother. "I am so sorry I hit you." To his own surprise, Don's eyes grew moist again as he thought of what he'd done. He had a feeling that one action would haunt him the rest of his life.
"Don't be, Don. I deserved it," Charlie said, barely looking at his brother.
Charlie flinched at his brother's shout. Having caught his attention, Charlie now couldn't take his eyes off his brother's stormy face.
"No, Charlie, you didn't deserve it. Hell, I have no idea why you spent so much time away from Mom, but no matter what reason you had, you did not deserve to be hit. I've been so mad, but for no reason! Charlie, I've been blaming you because I had no one else to. Since you spent time away from Mom, you became any easy target for the blame. But I was wrong to do that. I shouldn't have added to the blame you'd already been putting on yourself."
Don stood and Charlie watched his brother with wide eyes. Don came close to his brother, sitting in front of Charlie on the couch.
"Buddy, I was wrong. You're wrong. You have to believe me. Mom never once blamed you for being away. She understood. She did! Dad and I might not have, but she did, and that's all that matters. She never complained about you being away. She might have been worried, but she was worried about me and Dad, too, and she saw us all the time. Buddy, Mom would have worried no matter what, and that worry did nothing to her health. It's how she always was. I know you feel like you're to blame, and I'm mostly responsible for making you feel that way. But, Buddy, please, listen to me. Her death was not your fault. Your time away didn't contribute to her death... This was not your fault."
Charlie stared at his brother, tears filling his eyes.
Sniffling, Charlie focused on his brother's concerned eyes. "Really?"
Don closed his eyes a moment and a sad smile crossed his face. "Really, Buddy. Really."
Charlie nodded as he turned his head to look away. The tears began to fall from his eyes as his brother's words surrounded him. He had been so sure Don blamed him, so he knew he had reason to blame himself. But now Don was telling him all these contrary things, making him question his anger toward himself. His lower lip quivered.
Don studied his younger brother as Charlie looked away from him. When he saw his brother's lip quiver, Don reached out and gently turned his brother's face toward him.
"Buddy, you're allowed to forgive yourself," Don said softly.
Charlie met his brother's eyes, as if wondering if there was really truth in what Don said. He found no lie in his brother's eyes. Charlie shivered as he stood and walked away from his brother.
Don frowned as Charlie moved away from him. He stood from his crouched position and waited for his brother to make the next move.
Charlie pressed a hand to his bloody mouth as he paced in a small line. Tears continued down his face, and every once in a while, his body would shake as a shiver passed through him. The idea of forgiving himself had become foreign to him. He was so convinced he deserved this punishment, deserved to be physically hurt. To suddenly change sides didn't seem possible to him.
Don took slow steps toward his brother. As he came to Charlie's back, he reached out and gripped his brother's shoulders gently.
With the feeling of Don's hands on him, Charlie turned and faced his brother. His swollen lip stuck out farther than usual, but the first thing that caught Don's attention was the large amount of tears in Charlie's chocolate-brown eyes.
"Buddy, please. It's not your fault."
Charlie shivered again as he looked away from his brother. He focused on a point farther away and stared at it as he spoke to Don.
"I... I have to go. I'll be back later, I think."
Don frowned. "Where are you going?"
"I just... I have to go." Charlie pushed past his brother and headed for the door.
"Charlie, wait!" Don called, but Charlie had already left the garage. He followed his brother into the house, wondering where he was going.
Charlie stopped only in his room. He grabbed a pair of his swim trunks and a towel and then got in his car. He walked past Don once more, ignoring the fact that his brother was talking to him. He drove to the YMCA, where the family had a membership. He headed straight for the locker room, changed, and went to the pool.
For once, the pool was empty. There were signs on the wall that warned people not to swim alone, but Charlie had the urge to swim. He needed to be completely consumed by something. He needed the guilt to wash off. He needed to feel something.
Heading for one side in particular, he stared into the deep end of the pool. A good eight feet deep, Charlie held no fear of its depth. Breaking the rules, he dove in with a plop, practically still standing.
Arms held high above his head, Charlie let himself sink to the bottom. Closing his eyes, he enjoyed the feeling of the water surrounding him, more than a bathtub could ever give him. Relaxed, he kept his eyes closed as he moved slowly down, down.
Don followed his brother to the YMCA, surprised to find that was where his brother was going. He knew Charlie used it for the indoor track, but he didn't know what else his brother did. Trying to stay out of sight, he followed his brother, until he found Charlie heading to the swimming pool.
Frowning, Don quickly moved to the edge of the water and looked down. Seeing the head of curls floating high above his brother's head, he felt concern when his brother didn't move from that position and swim. Only seconds ticked by, but the time seemed far too long for Don. Quickly, he stepped out of his shoes and tore off his dress shirt, exposing the white t-shirt underneath. Too impatient to wait on his brother to make a move, Don dove in headfirst, cutting through the water with his hands.
As he moved through the water, he pushed it away with his arms, keeping his eyes open as he focused on his brother. Seeing Charlie's eyes closed, Don felt pushed to swim faster. He kicked hard and soon he reached his brother.
Charlie's eyes opened wide as arms encircled his waist. Surprised to find his clothed brother in front of him, Charlie fought to get away. Quickly, he pushed off the bottom of the pool and relaxed, allowing himself to rise to the surface faster. Don followed close behind.
As Charlie reached the surface, he swam to the edge of the pool and used his upper body to get out of the water. He sat on the edge, his feet still in the water. His teeth chattered in the cold difference from the pool to the air outside, and he considered going back.
Don surfaced and looked around for his brother. When he found Charlie, he swam over and did the same. It was a little more difficult for him with the weight of his dress pants. He sat next to his brother and looked at him with an angry look, but his was returned with the same thing from Charlie.
"What the hell were you doing?" the two said simultaneously.
Charlie took over speaking first. "What are you doing here? I told you I'd be back later. And what the hell was that all about? I was just swimming!"
"No, Charlie! You weren't swimming! That's the problem!"
"I was going to be! Damn it, I just wanted to be alone for an hour! You couldn't even give me that?"
"You had three months to be alone!"
Both of them were silent. Don had just finished telling his brother that he wasn't responsible for any part of their mother's death, trying to make Charlie feel better. And then he just threw it all away.
"Asshole," Charlie cursed, then dove into the water. This time he swam the length of the pool. He swam long and hard. He swam one lap, touching the wall near his brother's feet, but just swam another. Back to back, without stop, he swam four laps. He took his anger out on the water, hitting it with his hands, punishing it with his kicks. He swam to the point of exhaustion, which Don picked up on fast.
As Charlie neared him for another lap, Don reached into the water and grabbed his brother's foot when Charlie turned to swim again.
"Charlie! Stop!" Don shouted loudly, making sure his brother heard him.
Still, Charlie fought to swim, barely able to catch his breath. As he swam in place, he began to wear out, and he began to sink into the water, his right foot still above the surface.
Don let go, but he kept an eye on his brother, making sure Charlie didn't go any farther. Charlie surfaced and Don reached out and pulled him from the water.
Charlie kneeled on his hands and knees and spat water out onto the cement floor surrounding the pool. He heaved in each breath, it having been so long since he'd been able to take a full, deep breath. Don moved to his brother's side, and began patting his brother on the back.
Exhausted, Charlie lay on the floor, his forehead resting on his arm. The tears returned and he let out a sob, surprising Don.
"Charlie?" Don spoke, touching Charlie's back lightly.
"Buddy, look. I... I didn't mean it. I was just worried about you. And when I get worried, I get angry, and I took that anger out on you, the same person I'm worried about. I just... I don't know, Charlie! But, I didn't mean it. I really didn't. I was just..." Don paused and ran his tongue over his lower lip nervously. "I was scared. All I saw was you getting lower and lower, and you weren't doing anything. It seemed like a lot of time had passed, and I couldn't wait, Charlie! I had to do something."
Charlie remained still on the cement floor, breathing heavily as he regained his strength. Don stared at the back of his head, waiting for some sort of a response.
"Please, Buddy. Believe me. This... what happened to us, it wasn't your fault. None of it. Mom got cancer, and the cancer killed her. That's all there is to it. Nothing you did was going to change that, and nothing you didn't do contributed to it."
Charlie took in his brother's words as his tears began to dry. The only water that remained was from the pool. He shivered at the coldness of the air on his skin. When Don didn't speak for a long time, Charlie wondered if he was even there still. Too tired to look up, Charlie continued to lay face down. Then a warm towel covered his bare back, and he could have fallen asleep there. Instead, he held the towel together around his shoulders and sat up. Turning, he looked at his brother, who was waiting for him to respond, concern radiating off him in waves.
"It's okay, Don," Charlie said softly. He knew his brother hadn't meant it. He was just mad. But as he swam, he had fought his anger in the water, leaving it behind when he left the pool.
"Are you okay?" Don asked. He reached out and cupped his brother's chin, running his thumb over the purple bruise by Charlie's mouth.
Charlie reached up and took his brother's hand in his. "It's okay, Don. I'm fine."
"Fine?" Don was suspicious.
Charlie looked away a moment. "Okay, not fine. I haven't been fine in a long time... but I'm getting there."
Don smiled. "I'm glad to hear it."
"I'll be right back." Charlie stood wearily and went to the locker room to change. Putting on some dry clothes, his hair still hung damp. Since Don had given him one of the towels from the gym, Charlie handed his towel to Don, who still wore his soaked clothes.
"Here," Charlie said as he gave the towel to Don.
"Thanks." Don smiled.
With his hand on his brother's back, Don led the way outside. Each went to their own car and drove back to the house. Charlie arrived first and went to his room. Don followed soon behind and walked inside, his wet clothes still clinging to him. He had driven home with the heat turned up in his car, hoping to be warm and dry soon. He hurried upstairs so he could change.
When Don finished changing, he heard a strange noise that startled him. Recognizing it as coming from his brother's room, Don slowly opened the door and peered inside.
He found Charlie sitting on the bed, his back turned to him. As Don neared, he found Charlie holding something in his hand. He identified the noise he heard as his brother's cries. Don stood beside his brother, trying to see what was in his hands.
"Buddy? Are you okay?"
Charlie heaved a deep breath as he fought to stop crying. "I miss her."
Charlie passed what was in his hand over to Don. Then he laid down on his side, holding the blankets tightly in his arms.
Don looked down and found it was the picture Alan had been looking for a couple weeks ago. The picture had been taken at Don's 30th birthday party. Margaret and Alan had thrown a big party for him at home, with only close friends and family. They had gotten Aunt Ida to take a picture of the four of them together. Don and Alan had their arms around each other, and Margaret and Charlie were posed playfully hugging and laughing. All four had smiles on their faces, no fear of cancer there to spoil their happiness.
Don looked up from the photo and over to his brother. Charlie was obviously fighting his tears as he took in deep, shaky breaths. Don sat on the bed beside his brother. Reaching out, he placed a hand on Charlie's shoulder.
Closing his eyes tightly, Charlie recognized the touch. In his mind, he tried to imagine that it was his mother's touch. But he soon found he couldn't remember what that felt like, which only upset him more.
Watching his brother, Don's heart went out to Charlie. He leaned down and gripped his brother's shoulder.
Reaching up behind him, Charlie grasped his brother's hand as a tear spilled down his cheek.
"It's okay, Buddy. We all miss her."
Charlie sat up, his back against the pillows. Don looked at his brother, concern in his eyes once more.
"Will it stop?"
Don thought for a moment. "I... I don't think it stops. But I don't think it's suppose to. It's just supposed to hurt less."
Charlie nodded sadly. "I'm ready for it to hurt less."
Don gave his brother a sad smile. "I know. I am, too."
Charlie stared off in the distance. Bringing his brother back, Don moved closer to his brother on the bed. He wrapped his arm around his brother.
"I'm here, Buddy, and so is Dad. We'll get through this, together."
Charlie managed a smile. He leaned his head on Don's shoulder. Don pressed his cheek to the top of his brother's head as he held his brother with one arm.
"Thanks, Don." Charlie gave his brother a genuine smile.
"You're welcome, Buddy."
Don patted his brother's knee and got up to leave. He was at the door when Charlie spoke.
Don turned. "Yeah, Buddy?"
"You know I love you, right?"
Don smiled. "I know. I love you, too, Buddy."
Charlie smiled, too, and laid back down.
Don quietly closed the door behind him. "More than you know."