Disclaimer: Numb3rs isn't mine.
A/N: Written for Team Schmoop in the August 2008 Numb3rs Write Off 'Free For All' round, using the theme of "Discover". After reading this fic, please go rate it at the link provided at the end. Title, and lyric, from the Jeff Buckley song (of course).
This fic isn't exactly constrained to a certain timeline, it jumps all over the place but it would behove you if you went into the Season 1 mindset for most of it. Mucho reference to "Counterfeit Reality" and "Identity Crisis".
Oh, and an extremely exuberant Happy Birthday! to my friend H – hope your twenties are as excellent as your four college years are bound to be.
Five Times Don Surprised Charlie
(And One Time He Didn't)
«And in this half-light, where we both stand
This is the half-light, see me as I am»
"You and Don lived together?" The words were out of Charlie's mouth before he could help himself and he looked away to the side in embarrassment. He kept his eyes on anything save on the auburn haired 'Secret Service agent lady' who'd gone from being just a law enforcement officer working alongside Don's team on a case to being… his brother's ex-girlfriend.
"In Albuquerque." Agent Hall sounded as surprised as Charlie felt, giving him the confidence to meet her eye to eye on one common ground at least – that Don had the ability to shock them so in one fell swoop. "You didn't know? He didn't…?"
Charlie wasn't sure if it was due to habit, or just plain old built-in mechanism, but he instantly rose to defend his brother although he wasn't quite sure from what."You know, we lost touch for a while… so… He may very well have told me but umm…uh…," Charlie paused, floundering. There was a reason he liked sticking to blackboards and left the social interactions to others more capable. Hoping his mother would forgive him for lying to a lady, he continued: "You know what? I didn't put that Kim together with you Kim."
"Yeah, it's alright." Agent Hall replied in an accepting tone. Apparently, the woman got over surprises much quicker than Charlie did. "I know how Don is."
Charlie didn't bother responding. At least one of them could say they knew Don, too bad it couldn't be him.
An hour and a bus ride later, Charlie walked through the doors of his home. Don and Agent Hall were on their way to San Bernardino to talk to a potential counterfeiter, with more than little thanks to Charlie's mathematical expertise.
Having solved one problem, he was now free to focus on solving the other – and a trip to the basement was needed for the latter, which is where his father found him twenty minutes later, pillaging quite unashamedly through a box of his brother's old stuff from when he'd moved back to LA.
"Hey Charlie," Alan called out but his tone immediately changed as he cleared the staircase and saw just what exactly his son was doing in the basement: "You sure you want to be looking through that stuff?"
"Dad." Charlie was never one to be deterred from his mission and he held aloft a picture. "Do you recognize this lady?" His father hadn't ever mentioned Kim before and Charlie found himself hoping that it was because he didn't know either. Misery loved company and in this instance, so did ignorance.
"Uh yeah. That's Kim, isn't it?"
"That's Kim Hall," Charlie added pointlessly.
"She and Don lived together in New Mexico and… uh…" Charlie decided to voice what had been bothering him throughout about this whole thing, in spite of the little white lie he'd told Kim about not associating her with the Kim Don should have mentioned. : "He never told me about it."
"Well, you know your brother."
"Yeah," replied Charlie in a tone which belied his words. That phrase – knowing his brother – seemed to be plaguing him today and each mention re-iterated just how wide the gulf between him and Don really was – or had been, Charlie hoped.
As Alan walked back upstairs with a parting note about putting the boxes back where they were and joining him for dinner, Charlie slowly started putting back the pictures he had taken out, even as he noted that in each, Don looked happier and more relaxed than Charlie had ever seen him since he'd moved back to Los Angeles.
Thinking back to his last conversation with Don, in which he'd been so utterly smooth with his "So. You and Kim. Kim and you," interrogation, Charlie remembered the look in his brother's eyes when he'd asked if his relationship with Agent Hall had been a serious thing – a look that seemed to be gauging just how much Don wanted to reveal to his own brother.
Finally having put back all the pictures, Charlie idly wondered if Don would have even bothered to inform him if he'd gotten married, or that Charlie was now an uncle.
Eyes catching the white of an envelope shoved into a corner of the tiny box, Charlie couldn't resist his curiosity and he pulled it out.
His fingers closed around the diamond engagement ring he now held in his palm.
With his nose buried in a notebook filled with scribbles which could only belong to a physicist whose name was Fleinhardt, Charlie blindly fumbled for the light switch on the wall. Since winter was approaching and rapidly cutting the daylight hours shorter and shorter, even the solarium needed help in the illumination department these days.
Fingers finally finding the small, plastic lever, Charlie flipped the switch, not looking up as he tried to decipher his friend's writing as he made his way down the hall, treading a path he could follow even in sleep as he headed downstairs, his mother's calls to him rapidly approaching critical mass.
With his mind noting the fact that the voice belonged to neither his mother nor father, Charlie looked up. Seeing his brother's faces inches from his own as Don stood in front of him, he jerked back in surprise. His feet tangled and he ended up a heap on the floor, looking up open-mouthed at the cause of all this havoc in a previously tranquil house.
"Charlie, I know I haven't showered all day and my car is a bit of a hot box but seriously, I don't smell so bad that you prefer the floor."
"Don." Mental faculties catching up to the visage in front of him, Charlie endeavoured to stop his imitation of a gaping fish.
"Charlie," replied Don solemnly even as the smile on his face belied his tone. Holding out his hand to his brother who gratefully accepted, he helped Charlie to his feet. Larry's notebook lay forgotten on the floor between them.
"What are you doing here? I don't remember being told you were coming," commented Charlie even as he racked his brains for any memory of his parents mentioning a potential visit from Don in the last few weeks. He knew they talked to Don about once a week or so but since he was so busy with his professorship at CalSci, their parents often had to act as message bearers between the brothers, mostly nothing more than a "say hi" or "has Charlie gotten a hair-cut yet?"
"Yeah, it was a sudden thing. Couldn't resist some home-made turkey."
Everything fell in place in Charlie's head as his eyes widened with understanding, remembering the holiday weekend that currently allowed him to work more hours in the solarium than usual. "Right. Turkey. Thanksgiving. Missed mom's cooking, huh?"
His brother smirked. "Yeah, that too, but the turkey I was referring to is standing right in front of me." Clasping a hand on Charlie's shoulder as he moved past him in the hall, Don added: "Mom's calling you, better move your behind; I'm going to take a shower before dinner."
And just as suddenly as Don had appeared, he went away, leaving Charlie alone in the hallway once again, trying to decide whether his brother had meant what Charlie just thought he'd meant.
"I'm telling you Alan, it was truly a series of unfortunate events. Never before have I been so mortified, and I hope, with every essence of my being, never to go through something like that again," bemoaned Larry.
For his part, Alan did a commendable job of keeping a grin off his face. "Come on, Larry, it couldn't have been as bad as you say it was."
Larry held up his index finger as he took a seat at the dining table. "Oh trust me, it was. The passing of time may have eased the sting of the memory slightly, but it is still considerable."
Charlie chose that moment to come in from the kitchen, oven mitt clad hands holding a pan between them. He placed the hot utensil on the metal holder on the table and as he took off the mitts, added his two cents: "Larry's pretty much on the mark with this one, Dad. You should have seen the scene he made at the airport when he found out his baggage hadn't been loaded onto the plane from LA."
"And this was the time before we had laptops clutched to our chests all the time. All my notes, my slides, had been had been in the bag I'd checked it because I didn't want the burden of a carry-on. Not only am I older now, but hopefully wiser too." Clasping his hands together, he murmured: "I think I would have preferred to walk through the revered halls of Harvard naked than show up unprepared as a guest lecturer again. Oh, the mortification." Larry dropped his head onto his arms on the table, unaware that Charlie and Alan exchanged amused looks at his expense.
"Aren't you guys talking about, what, over six years ago?" asked Don as he, too, came into the dining room from the kitchen, only he was carrying a few bottles of beer, and a glass of milk for Larry.
"Yes, and it stills haunts me." Larry's voice was muffled as he'd yet to lift his head from his arms. "It's going to haunt me till my dying day, I'm sure of it."
"Larry and I'd been invited by Harvard to give a lecture on Probability Applied to Physics," Charlie added for Don's benefit. "We were cutting it kinda close with getting to Boston, though. Not only were we flying on the day of the lecture but because of the weather, we were delayed. I think we landed two hours before the lecture and then the whole luggage misplaced episode happened. We reached Harvard twenty minutes before we were supposed to go onto the podium."
"Needless to say, it was a while before Harvard invited us again – or rather, me." Larry looked up and immediately went for a bottle of beer Don had placed on the table, completely and deliberately by-passing the beverage which was his colour of choice. This time, all three Eppes men exchanged amused looks. Don shrugged and went back into the kitchen for another bottle of beer with Charlie following to take out the garlic bread from the oven.
"Hey, wasn't this the lecture when you had a twenty minute battle with someone in the audience when it was time for questions to be asked?" Don asked as he pulled open the fridge door and enjoyed the waft of cold air that immediately struck him.
"Yeah and of course, it was the guy I went to Princeton with, Marsha-." Charlie paused and looked up, ignoring the fact that his oven-mitt clad hands were still in the oven, having yet to extract the tray with the garlic bread. "Hey! How did you know that? I don't remember mentioning it to you."
"Charlie - oven, tray, hot!" Don reminded him succinctly.
"Huh? Oh, right." Charlie pulled out the tray and placed it on the grill.
Satisfied that his brother wasn't about to burn his hands or more importantly, burn the garlic bread, Don replied: "You didn't mention it to me, I knew because I was there."
"You were?" Charlie's brow crinkled in confusion even as he tried to remember Don ever attending any of his lectures prior to his having started consulting for the FBI.
"Yeah. I was in Fugitive Recovery at the time, which was why I was in town. The job was done but Coop had wanted to visit a few friends and family, we weren't supposed to report in until the next day and I saw a flyer or something announcing that the super-duper Professor Charles Eppes was due to give a lecture." Don closed the fridge door and grabbing a piece of garlic bread, popped it into his mouth. Mouth still full, he continued: "I figured I might as well go see the geek in action. Of course, I didn't understand a word of whatever you were saying, but seeing you get all riled up in the end because of the guy was worth it."
Charlie was still in shock, but managed to phrase an important question: "Why didn't you come see me after? I didn't leave Boston until two days later."
Don shrugged and moved towards the kitchen door, having safely finished the garlic bread to escape the wrath of his father: "Felt kinda outta place amongst all the brainiacs. Besides, you were busy and Coop and I got called out for another job pretty soon after."
Don disappeared through the swinging doors, leaving a stunned brother in his wake.
It was the height of baseball season and with it came flu season. Six year old Charlie Eppes had had the misfortune of being struck down with fever from both. Not much of a baseball player himself, seeing as how he wasn't even enrolled in Little League, it didn't stop him from being passionate about the sport, if only for the sole reason that his big brother played, and played well.
It was the day of the District Championship for the ten and eleven year olds. Don and his team were in the finals and even his big brother hadn't been able to fully hide his excitement over the fact in the days leading to the big event. Since Charlie had yet to shake off the fever and cold, he'd been forced to stay home along with Margaret while Alan had driven Don to the baseball field and stayed to support his son throughout the game.
It was getting late in the afternoon and a stubborn Charlie, who'd managed to have his way, was perched on the living room sofa awaiting the arrival of his father and brother, instead of resting in his bed as he should've been. The game should have gotten over by now, and unless the post-game celebrations continued much longer than expected, Don would be home any minute now.
Perhaps it was because of his excitement that made time pass by so slowly, or maybe an error in calculation due to a lethargic mind but Charlie felt as though he'd aged a few good, and much needed, years as he waited for his father and brother. Worn out as he was, he fell into a light sleep on the living room couch and it was only the loud slamming of car doors in their driveway that alerted him of Don's arrival.
Had he been awake, he would have noted the fact that the car had already been parked in the driveway for a few minutes before Don, or Alan, had gotten out and when Margaret had come from the kitchen to look outside through the windows, she'd smiled a sad smile and retreated her steps, deduction allowing her to know the outcome of the game before any words were spoken, or any expressions read.
Charlie hadn't been so fortunate and was as full of energy as a six year old with the flu could be when the front door opened and his father preceded his brother into the house. Sitting up and jumping off the sofa, it was only by a miracle that his feet didn't tangle in the blankets and he didn't end up flat on his face on the floor – as it was, it wouldn't have elicited a laugh out of his brother today.
"So, so, so? How was it? Didja hit a home run?" Charlie was spouting off the questions even before Don had shut the front door close. He came to a halt in front of his brother as his sluggish mind noticed something amiss. "What's wrong? Didn't they give you a cup or a medal or something?"
Don smirked, but the humour didn't reach his eyes. Passing by Charlie as he headed towards the stairs, he ruffled his little brother's hair and replied: "We didn't win, Chuck. I'm gonna go take a shower."
"But…," Charlie voiced even as Don bounded up the stairs. "You were supposed to win!"
Either his brother didn't hear him, or didn't bother replying, but no response came from upstairs, leaving Alan to fill in the silence: "It happens, Charlie. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."
Charlie turned to his father: "But Donnie was so good."
Alan shrugged and moved forward, lifting Charlie up and placing him back on the couch before burying him under the blankets that had fallen to the floor just a minute earlier: "You and I, and a lot of other people, know that Donnie is a very, very good baseball player. But it's a team sport, and the other team was both good and had a very lucky day." He kissed his son on the forehead and ran a hand through his hair. "Why don't you sleep for a while before dinner? Don's not going to be in the mood for company for a little while so we should give him a little space today, huh kiddo?"
As Alan moved towards the kitchen, Charlie buried himself deeper into the blankets, whispering to himself: "But he was supposed to win."
"Baseball? Does the FBI have a team?"
"We have a whole league – LAPD, Sheriff's Department-"
"DA's got the killer squad and now that Crass is in San Diego, you guys don't have a power hitter."
"What about Don?"
"Charlie, where are – oh, there you are." Alan strode through the doors of the solarium even as he turned up the collar of his shirt and started loosening his tie. "Just wanted to let you know you're going to have to fend for yourself if you want dinner tonight – Stan and I are going for a movie and then trying out that new Japanese place near the Rose Bowl."
Charlie looked up from the notebook he was writing in while consulting sheaf of papers filled with stats. "Uh… sure. I was in the mood for pizza in any case. You have fun."
Alan paused in the doorway. "Hey, isn't Don done with that case of his? I heard on the news that they caught the real guy, the music teacher?"
"Yeah, Don and his team arrested him last night," Charlie replied.
"Well… why don't you call him? See if he can join you? Knowing him, he's probably still beating himself up for putting the wrong man in prison last year."
Charlie paused in his calculations and looked thoughtful. "Huh. Sounds good. I'll just call him and ask."
"Oh and Charlie? Try and eat something more nutritious than a pizza, alright?"
Charlie just smiled and picked up his phone and finding that Don wasn't answering his cell, called on the office number.
"Special Agent Don Eppes' desk, this is Agent Sinclair."
"David. Hey, it's me Charlie. Is Don around?"
David's tone immediately changed from a professional, solemn tone to one of casual familiarity, especially the familiarity one formed with a person to whom you lost a large amount of money playing poker. "Oh, hey Charlie. Don's already left for the day; I think he's headed for the batting cages."
Charlie's eyebrows arched in surprise. "The batting cages? Really?" Last time he'd checked, Don had been so adamant about not getting involved in the sport again to the point that none of his friends knew about his pre-FBI baseball career. Such a turnaround was… unexpected, to say the least. He knew he, and their father had included, had pushed Don about joining the league but to be honest, Charlie had never expected Don to listen to them. "Are you sure?"
"Well, it's either that or the shooting range. You can call Terry and ask if Don's with her because that's where she was headed."
Charlie had already stood up halfway through David's reply and had been headed towards the corridor. "Nah, that's alright, I think I know where to find him now. Thanks."
With that, the young mathematician snapped his cell-phone shut and called out. "Hey Dad! Can you give me a ride?"
Which was how, fifteen minutes later, Charlie found himself watching his brother through a chain-link fence as a machine threw ball after ball towards them.
"I think the FBI might have a new power hitter this season."
Charlie smiled as he watched his brother not swing at yet another low and outside pitch which had been his weak spot throughout his baseball career. "I think so."
It was getting to be quite late but Charlie wasn't tired. Sitting as he was in the hard, wooden armchair, his physical self was more inclined to protest the uncomfortable furniture and the lack of movement rather than the absence of sleep.
However, Charlie was in no mood to pay his body's demands any mind. His attention was focused on the man in front of him. He didn't even move his head to see who had entered after the tell-tale swish of the sliding door interrupted the rhythm of the room's sounds. He remained just as he was as the nurse quietly went about her routine, moving silently around his brother's hospital bed, checking Don's vitals, making sure he hadn't shifted the sling on his left arm and shoulder in his drug-aided sleep.
"He's doing just fine. We're monitoring him carefully so you should get some rest." the nurse whispered for Charlie's benefit. "There's a very comfortable couch in the waiting room down the hall that you can use."
"No, that's alright," Charlie responded. He hadn't said much ever since the mugging a few hours ago, the reason why he and his brother were here in the first place, rather than at home.
"If that's what you want. Is there anything I can get you? Something to drink, maybe?"
Charlie shook his head. "No, thank you." He was quite content tracing the valleys between Don's knuckles on his brother's right hand as it lay motionless on the bed, the only form of contact between them.
The nurse paused before sliding the door open to leave and said quietly, careful to not give Don any cause to wake up: "I heard what happened from the head nurse. It's amazing isn't it, what our loved ones will do for us when we're in trouble? How surprising it is to know just how much we are loved through their actions?" The nurse probably meant her words to be rhetorical but Charlie smiled and curling his fingers tighter around his brother's hand, simply answered:
"Amazing? Yes. Surprising? It's the one part of my brother that doesn't surprise me."
Khatum (The End)
This fic was written for the Angst vs Schmoop Challenge at Numb3rs Write-Off over at LJ. After you've read the fic, please rate it by voting in the poll located here: http / www . livejournal . com / poll / ?id 1247870 remove the plethora of spaces, please (Your vote will be anonymous.) Rate the fic on a scale of 1 - 10 (10 being the best) using the following criteria: how well the fic fit the prompt, how angsty or schmoopy the fic was, and how well you enjoyed the fic. When you're done, please check out the other challenge fic at Numb3rs Write Off. Thank you!