Hello again! This is the long story I've been telling you about. I am SO excited about this. I think it'll be one of my best, if not the best, Numb3rs story I've done. I must warn you, though, that it shows just how dark and twisty I can be. That's not a good thing. Some scenes will be scary, or disturbing. But that just means the angst will be that much greater. Also, I have to warn you that I am an education major, and I will be starting toward my bachelor's degree as of August 25. I doubt I will be able to update fast at all, so it will be a slow-moving story. If I ever get to a point where I absolutely cannot focus on writing and have to focus only on my schooling, I will pass it along to another writer, if they would do that for me, or I will put the story on hold. I hate to do that to you, but I had to write this story. I will do my best, but school comes first.
Now, to end on a higher note. I hope you enjoy this piece. It is inspired by a brief scene from season one of the TV show Bones. I do not own Numb3rs, or Bones, and make no profit by writing this story. Also, the title is taken from Dr. Seuss' quote "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." He gets the credit for that, I just switched a couple words. The only profit I get is the lovely reviews you will send me. Right? Right? Enjoy!
Charlie's legs twitched as he sat on the airplane, preparing to land back in California. He had spent three months away from home, on an assignment from the NSA. He laughed. It was true what they said about them. "Never say anything." Charlie had had no idea where he was going until they arrived in El Salvador. Even then, he wasn't positive why he was there. It wasn't until he was settled in his tent that he was told his job, and he was ready to leave right then. But he had stayed, and he regretted it now more than anything else.
When he told his family he would be gone so long, Don picked up almost immediately what he was doing. He knew that Charlie was on an assignment, and it made Don worry. Charlie tried to reassure him, but he didn't know how exactly at the time, since he didn't know what he'd be doing either. Charlie hated that he had left his family for so long, but that's how long the job had taken, among other things.
Don. Charlie smiled at the thought of his older brother, and he was thankful that it didn't hold that heartache and fear it had over two months ago. Stop thinking about that, Charlie. You know what that will do.
Charlie had to shake him from where the thoughts were leading him. He had been told not to think about it. The less he thought about it, the less likely he would have another panic attack. So Charlie just let himself that he should be happy he would be returning home, and would finally see his family again. He hadn't even been able to contact them in a couple weeks. He let them know when he was returning home, but that was the extent of it. Charlie had never spent so much time away from home, at least with so little contact.
Charlie wanted nothing more than to hold onto his family until his arms couldn't hold them any longer. However, he was supposed to act normal, as if everything were fine. He was tired of never saying anything, but he knew he could do it. He'd done it before, he'd do it again.
As the plane touched ground, and Charlie left the plane, he put his acting skills to work and put a smile on his face.
Don hated to admit it, but he had really missed his brother. It had been three months since Don had seen his brother, and two weeks since he'd heard from him. Don remember after Charlie had barely been gone a week, and he had told Don and Alan that he wouldn't be in contact until further notice. The silences scared Don the most. He wasn't sure what his brother was doing, and even tried to figure out. He didn't have the clearance for it, though. So he had to be like his father, and simply wait around to hear from Charlie.
Charlie had never contacted them by phone. Don wasn't sure if that was for security reasons, or if it was just Charlie's preference. Either way, Don would have liked to hear his brother's voice. Charlie's voice said more than his writing. Don could read his brother's emotions in just Charlie's voice. He knew what every stutter, every pause, and every tone meant. Not hearing Charlie's voice only made Don worry more, because he had no idea what his brother was feeling. Charlie always said he was fine, but sometimes Don knew that to mean the exact opposite. He had no way of telling the difference, and that scared him.
Now, Don was standing in the airport, waiting for his brother to arrive. His father was standing beside him, nervously checking the window a few feet away, and then his watch. Don tried to calm his father, but Alan was too eager to see his son again.
When he saw the swarm of people coming toward them, Don's smile grew. He searched the crowds, searching for that one head of curls.
"Don!" Alan pointed out Charlie, trailing the group of people. Don had to put a hand on his father's arm to keep Alan from running to Charlie. However, when Charlie saw them, his own face broke out into a grin, and he ran to them.
"Charlie!" Alan took only one step, and Charlie was in his arms.
Charlie ignored all he'd been told. He could not act normal. He couldn't act like he hadn't missed his family more than anything in the world. He needed them, and he was going to show it all he wanted.
"I missed you, Dad."
Alan smiled, feeling tears of joy in his eyes. "I missed you, too, son."
Charlie managed to push himself away so he could look in his father's eyes. He smiled. "I love you, Dad."
Alan actually gasped. As much as he knew his sons loved him, he hadn't heard them verbalize it in years.
"I love you, too." Alan hugged Charlie once more, then Charlie took a step toward his brother.
Don smiled brightly. "Hey, Buddy."
Charlie stared openly at his brother a moment, taking him in. He searched for any sign of injury, and was pleased when he didn't find any. After standing still, he launched himself in Don's arms without warning.
"I love you, Donny."
Don wrapped his arms tightly around his brother, after the initial shock. He held his brother tightly, having missed him. "I love you, too, Buddy."
Don started to push back, thinking the hug should be over, but his brother simply held him tighter. Don frowned in concern, but held his brother with more strength. One shudder escaped Charlie, and Don noticed. He moved his hand up and down his brother's back, and held him tightly. His brotherly instincts went up, and he felt a strong need to protect Charlie.
As Charlie finally stepped back, Alan did not miss the exchange. He shared a look with Don, one that held the same concern. However, once out of Don's arms, Charlie's smile returned and he picked his luggage back up.
"Let's get something to eat. I'm starving."
"Sounds like a good idea." Don winked at Alan, and Charlie noticed.
"Nothing, nothing," Alan replied, suppressing a laugh.
"How does Mexican sound?" Don asked.
"Sounds great." Charlie nodded, looking between his father and brother. They were up to something.
"Have you been eating okay? You look thin."
"I'm fine, Dad. Stop worrying."
Don was happy to hear Charlie say that. Having read his brother's voice, Don truly believed his brother was fine.
Charlie felt safe and happy when he got in the back seat of Don's SUV. He rested his head against the seat, closing his eyes in comfort.
"So, how was your... trip?" Alan wasn't sure how to ask.
"It was fine, successful." Charlie knew he couldn't say much past that, so he didn't even try.
"That's good. That's good." Alan managed a smile.
Don looked in his mirror at his brother, catching him with a furrowed brow. Concerned, Don glanced from the road to his brother. Soon the furrow was gone, and Charlie's face was a mask of calm.
When they got to the restaurant, Charlie wondered why they didn't wait to be seated. He clearly remembered seeing a sign that said to wait for a host to seat them. However, when they reached the back room, Charlie finally caught on when he heard the unmistakable sounds of his friends.
"You didn't," Charlie accused, already smiling. Don and Alan let Charlie take the lead, grinning like fools.
"Surprise!" Megan screamed, the only one paying attention. All chatter ceased and everyone turned to look at Charlie. Finally, the others joined in with their surprises and rushed to greet Charlie.
"You shouldn't have," Charlie said as he shook Colby's hand, then David's. Megan enveloped him in a hug, and soon Larry and Amita followed.
"Yes, we should have! We missed you, Charlie," Megan replied enthusiastically.
"It's been weird without you, man." David clapped Charlie on the shoulder, not even noticing the small whimper it emitted from Charlie.
"I've missed you all, too. It was weird being away so long." Charlie smiled, masking the pain.
"So, Whiz Kid, what were you doing?"
Charlie's smile vanished. Colby's question could not be answered truthfully.
Don saw his brother's face and elbowed the agent. "Come on, Colby. You ever heard of what NSA stands for?"
Colby looked confused, and Megan, David, Charlie, and Don filled him in together.
"Never say anything," they said in unison, then laughed.
"I've missed you, Charles. I must say, it shows on your students' faces, as well. They'll be happy to have you back for fall semester."
Charlie smiled. "I missed you, too, Larry. It'll be good to get back in the classroom."
"All right, all right. We can catch up later. Let's eat!" Don finally got the group to sit down. A few waiters came by, and Don ordered almost everything on the menu, it seemed to Charlie. Everyone made small talk, catching Charlie up to what he missed while he was away. No one mentioned what Charlie could have been doing while he was away, and no one asked him. Charlie preferred it that way.
When the food arrived, everyone stopped talking. Charlie wondered if his assumption was right, and Don did order everything on the menu. The table soon became covered with food, barely leaving room for their drinks or plates. As a waitress placed a hot pan of salsa in front of him, Charlie's eyes widened. He had seen a pan that looked almost identical to that one, but it had been used for a completely different purpose.
Once the waitress stepped away, Charlie's eyes became fixed on the pan. His breathing came out in quick puffs through his nose, and he fought to remember what he'd been told to do.
"Charlie, you can't keep having these flashes. When you start to remember what happened, think of something else. What do you love?"
"Numbers," Charlie answered readily.
"Recite numbers in your head. You can't keep having these panic attacks. You're beating your body up. Don't remember. Push it away with numbers. You can do that."
So Charlie tried to ignore the flashes of memory when that searing hot pan had been used to break all of his toes at once. He ignored the pain that went along with it, and his toes instinctively curled in his shoes. He recited the numbers of pi in his head, trying to get rid of the memories, since his breathing was speeding up even more.
Unaware of the world around him, Megan had moved to Charlie side after seeing his unfocused eyes, heard his fast breathing. Again, all talking ceased as everyone turned to Charlie. Don and Alan rushed to Charlie, as Megan tried to coax Charlie out of his daze.
Rubbing his arm, Megan talked to Charlie. "Charlie, come on now. You're okay. Look at me. You're okay."
Alan had taken Charlie's hand and was squeezing it tightly in his. Don watched with concern and fear as he stood beside Charlie.
Charlie's breathing began to slow, and when he felt hands on him, he jumped.
"Easy. You're okay," Megan soothed again, seeing the light flick on again.
Charlie looked around, seeing that everyone was watching him. He had to put his mask on quickly, and finally turned back to Megan.
"I'm okay. I'm sorry. It's silly..."
"You're sure? It seemed pretty serious to me," Colby said, worried for his friend.
Charlie managed a laugh. "I'm sure. It was the salsa... I had salsa with every meal for over two months. I just didn't think I'd have to see it again so soon. I was fighting nausea."
Don stepped forward then. "Oh, Buddy, I'm sorry. I had no idea where you had gone. If I had known... you should have told me! We didn't have to do it here. We should go."
"No! Don, I'm okay. Really. Let's just have a good time. I'm sorry I worried you."
"It's okay," Megan said as she stood to go back to her seat. She had a feeling it was more than nausea that had bothered Charlie, but she wouldn't push it.
The rest of the meal was spent happily enjoying each other's company. Charlie began to tire, having gotten up early for his flight. Alan picked up on it and soon the group dispersed.
"It's really good to have you back, Charlie." Amita hugged Charlie on her way out.
"You, too, Amita." Charlie smiled, never sure what was friendly and what was romantic.
Everyone gave their goodbyes to Charlie and soon they were back in Don's SUV. Charlie let his eyes close in the back seat, and in the short time it took for them to get home, he fell asleep.
When Don pulled into the driveway, he turned around to speak to his brother. He hadn't gotten a word out when he saw his brother sound asleep. He smiled at first, then frowned when he noticed the way Charlie was sleeping. He had his arms held protectively against his stomach, and his legs were bent. It appeared he was going for the fetal position, but it had failed due to the seat belt.
Don searched his brother's body, looking for signs of injury. It was impossible to tell, for the only skin exposed was his neck up and his hands. Charlie wore jeans and a light long-sleeved shirt. Don wondered if that was a coincidence or if Charlie had planned it that way.
"I'll get him up," Alan said as he got out of the car. He opened the back door and reached in to shake his son from slumber. Don continued to watch Charlie, wondering what the reaction would be.
"Charlie? Charlie, wake up, son." Alan reached in and shook Charlie's shoulder. Charlie whimpered and curled into himself as best he could.
"Charlie!" Alan said louder as he shook his son again. Charlie woke up with a start. It took him a minute to realize where he was, and when he did, he quickly unfastened his seat belt.
"I'm awake," Charlie announced and was surprised to see his brother looking at him suspiciously. It made him wonder if he'd done something in his sleep. He quickly smiled and got out of the car, knowing Don's eyes were still on him.
Charlie took his luggage inside, and breathed in deeply. Home. He had missed it. He walked down the hall, sure to look at the wall of photos. He was happy to see his mother's face again. He had missed it.
"Welcome home, kiddo," Alan said as he passed his son. He patted Charlie's arm and went into the living room. Charlie smiled as his father walked away, and saw his brother coming up behind him.
"Hey, Charlie, can I talk to you for a sec?" Don asked.
"Sure." Charlie let Don lead him into the backyard. Instinctively, Charlie headed for the koi pond. He realized how much he had missed the fish then, as well.
"Charlie, did... did anything happen on your trip?" Don asked, a little unsure.
Charlie looked at his brother blankly. He didn't react, and he was proud of him for it.
"Look, I know, 'never say anything,' and all that, but you know you can talk to me, right? I wouldn't say a word."
"I know, Don. Nothing happened. I mean, yeah, I saw some bad things but... it's over now. I'm okay." Charlie smiled convincingly.
Don smiled in return. "Okay, Buddy. I just worry about you."
"I know." Charlie squeezed his brother's shoulder as he returned inside the house. He went upstairs, dragging his luggage behind him. He set his luggage down on his bed, then sat beside it. He flopped down on his bed, thankful to have his own room back.
Charlie heard the shower running as he made his way back downstairs. His father was watching the nightly news, so Don must have been in the shower. Charlie went into the kitchen, and found on the dining table his brother's badge and gun. His eyes fixed on the badge, and he stiffly moved to sit in the chair closest to it. Tentatively, he reached out and touched the badge, closing his eyes, remembering how one so similar had felt.
Charlie shivered, remembering how he had felt thinking his brother had been captured. He had no explanation, no understanding of how it had happened, but the fear was there. Charlie frowned, remembering how it felt as he traced the badge with his fingers, reading the badge without sight.
"What are you doing?" Don asked as he came into the dining room. He didn't mind his brother looking at his badge, but the way he sat there with his eyes closed and a frown on his face made Don worry.
Charlie jumped, startled out of his memories. "Uh, nothing. Nothing." He tried twice, making sure his voice sounded stronger the second time.
Don ran a towel over his damp hair as he walked up to his brother. He stood over Charlie's chair, looking down at the badge in Charlie's hand.
"Everything okay?" Don asked, tilting his head so he could see his brother's face.
"Yeah. Fine. Everything is fine." Charlie put on a fake smile.
After hearing his brother speak it, Don wasn't sure he was happy being able to hear his brother's voice again. Because this time, it was obvious that Charlie was anything but fine.
First chapter! Woot! Did I spark your interest yet? Mwahahahaha! I hope you liked it. For future reference, I don't know much about the NSA, or what they do, so if the case I present doesn't make sense, either let me know what's wrong with it, or go along with it. LOL I don't claim to know this stuff.