Disclaimer: I do not own Numb3rs. :( But Anna, Laura, the high school staff, and the plot line are mine. Happy reading!
As the door to his apartment opened, Don Eppes sighed. It had been a long three days and he was exhausted. They had been working a double homicide - a married couple - and had only just caught the suspect today. At least there was enough evidence to put the guy away for life. All Don wanted to do now was grab a drink, park himself in front of the TV and forget about everything.
He turned on the TV, only to be greeted by the news on every channel. Go figure, he thought. It's like the world wants to up my stress level. But he settled back to watch it anyway because he had nothing else to do.
"And in other news," blared the news reporter,"a tornado touched down in north California earlier today, tearing up half a school, a neighborhood park, a few houses, and injuring an estimated seventy people…There were no fatalities but there were some critical injuries…"
Don didn't hear any more. His mind had already taken him back to high school, to one of the worst days of his life. His body shook as a shiver ran down his spine. And unbeknownst to him, fifteen miles away, watching the news after a hard day at CalSci, his brother Charlie mirrored his actions. That horrible day ran through both of the Eppes son's minds.
"Will you please go away, Charlie," asked a sixteen-year-old Don Eppes in a gruff voice as his twelve-year-old younger brother followed him down the hallway. Why does he always have to do this?
"But, Don, I…"
He couldn't stand it anymore and whirled around on his brother. "Why do you have to follow me everywhere? Do I look like I want you here? Get lost, Charlie!" He almost gave in at the sadness and hurt on his brother's face, but his stormy soul wouldn't have any of that. He stalked off to his classroom, leaving Charlie there.
Why does he have to be here? Don thought, irritated, as he walked down the corridor. Deep down, Don knew that he shouldn't be this angry with his brother. And really, it wasn't even about Charlie. It was the simple fact that he was tired. He was tired of always having his brother near him. He was tired of his parent's constant stream of 'Take care of Charlie' and 'Watch out for your brother' comments. Something in him had just snapped when he felt his sibling's presence behind him.
Don was starting to feel the tendrils of guilt sprouting inside of him as he sat down in a desk towards the back of his English class. The bell rang and the last few kids slunk in as class began. The guilt hit him full force right then as he remembered that Charlie had only been walking behind him because that was the only way to get to his math class.
What have I gotten myself into now? Don wondered. Good job, Eppes. Way to go. You try to protect your brother from exactly the kind of thing you just said to him, and now he won't trust you anymore. After that he started thinking of ways he could make it up to his little brother after school, cheerfully tuning his teacher out, who was talking exuberantly about subject clauses.
About halfway through the lesson, the tornado alarm suddenly blasted on and the teacher's speech on predicate words was cut off. The principal's voice was abruptly made known over the loudspeakers.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a drill! I repeat, this is not a drill! There is a very large tornado making its way towards the south end of the school. Everyone please listen to your teachers and try not to panic. We are doing our bes…" Principal McKinney's reassurance was unexpectedly cut short and there was static coming from the system.
Everyone, despite what the principal had just asked, started panicking and yelling as their instructors ushered them into the hallways, away from doors and windows. People were pulling out cell phones and some were even crying uncontrollably. The whole building was starting to shake and the noise of debris smacking the outer walls was extremely loud. Teachers had to practically force the teenagers onto the floor and into position.
Don was huddled up next to three of his other classmates. Two of them were girls, one blonde and one brunette, and the other was a guy that Don had only talked to a couple of times. The dark-haired girl had tears rolling down her face as her friend kept repeating to her that everything would be okay, that her brother would be fine.
Brother. Oh my gosh, my brother! Amidst all of the turmoil, Don had completely forgotten about his younger sibling. He smacked himself mentally. Then his brain caught up with the action going on around him and it hit him hard. Charlie's class is in the south end of the building! Don felt like all the air had left his lungs as he crouched there horror-struck.
All of the sudden, the building gave a huge shudder and ear-splitting noise like thunder swept over them. Small pieces of the ceiling and dust went everywhere. The shouting and crying increased in volume. Then, as suddenly as it had started, it was over.
A white cloud of fine dust settled over the now quiet group of students. One by one the teachers started to pick themselves up and make sure that their students weren't injured. The chatter began to spread again as people wondered what was happening in other parts of the school.
Don was silently freaking out. What if the tornado had hit the school? What if his little brother had been seriously injured…or worse? He was so wrapped up in his morbid thoughts that he didn't realize that Anna, the light-haired girl from his class, was shaking his arm, asking if he was okay. He jumped slightly at the touch of her hand and realized his apprehension must have been written all over his face.
"Are you okay, Don?" Anna asked for the second time. She was clearly worried about his mental state because this time she crouched down in front of him and looked him in the eye. "Donnie, talk to me," she implored, trying to make him get to his feet.
The dark-haired teen looked at Anna with a lost, overwhelmed look on his face. "Anna, it's Charlie," he breathed in a hoarse whisper. "Charlie was in the south end."
Anna's face paled as she grasped what he was saying. All of Don's friends and classmates knew who Charlie was. It was true that most of them picked on the kid, but some of them who really knew Charlie cared about him and Anna was one of those people.
The blonde gave Don a quick, reassuring hug. "He'll be fine, Donnie," she said. "You'll see. When we get out of this mess, he'll be there waiting with that huge, idiotic grin on his face, okay?" The words sounded weak even to her ears but Don gave a small faltering grin of his own anyway.
"Yeah, I suppose you're right." Don picked himself up off the floor and followed Anna and the rest of his class to where his teacher was gathering everyone together and performing head-checks.
The vice-principal showed up just then. He had a bandage around his upper arm from where a large piece of debris had snagged it. He was also covered in dirt like everybody else. He explained to the group in the hallway that the building on the south end of the school had, in fact, been hit by the tornado and the gym had been torn in half.
Everybody sighed in relief when it was announced that there where no fatalities. "However," stated Mr. Parker, "there were some students who suffered injuries and some of those people were in critical condition. Ambulances have been called and those students will be escorted to the nearest hospital. Paramedics are looking at the students that had minor injuries. We are gathering all of the remaining faculty and students in the auditorium. If you believe you have a sibling or close relation to someone who might have been injured, you may come see me and I can tell you if you are allowed to see him or her. Any questions?" He surveyed the group of students over the top of his cracked silver-rimmed glasses. "Good. Now, everybody head to the auditorium and if you need to see me, you can."
Don felt a wave of anxiety almost knock him over when the vice-principal mentioned the students with critical injuries. It can't be Charlie; it just can't, thought Don, as he made his way to Mr. Parker. I can't let what I said to him be the last thing he remembers about me.
"My name's Don Eppes," he announced to the older man once he got within speaking range. "Is Charlie Eppes on that list?" Don's heart was beating a million miles a minute. But it nearly stopped dead in his chest when Mr. Parker quietly said, "Yes."
"Is he your brother?" The teenager nodded his head mutely. "Well, he's not one of the students listed as critical, so I believe you'll find him out with the paramedics. I'm sorry, but I don't know what exactly is wrong with him. But I can assure you that if it was extremely serious, he would have been taken to the hospital immediately." Don just nodded again, gripped with panic and fear over what could have happened to his brother.
He was also furious with himself. As he made his way down the main hallway towards the entrance, he stopped suddenly in the exact spot where he had snapped at his younger sibling earlier that morning. It seemed like a lifetime ago even though it had only been a couple of hours. Why do I always have to screw things up between us? Don glared down at the floor that was now strewn with bits and pieces of plaster and glass. Then a horrible thought occurred to him. What if he doesn't want to see me? What if I hurt him too much this time? I had absolutely no reason to say what I said and I probably wouldn't want to see me either…
"Hey, aren't you going to go see Charlie?"
Don jumped and spun around for the second time that day as a gentle hand came to rest on his shoulder. It was Anna again, and she was giving the same look as before.
"Anna? What are you doing here? I thought you had gone to the auditorium."
Anna just raised an eyebrow in return and gently turned him towards the front doors. "And I thought you were going to go see your brother," she answered lightly. "I would have thought you would be there already." Anna turned to face him. "What's the matter, Don? Charlie needs you right now."
The teen didn't raise his head and he felt his cheeks burn with shame for what he had said. "I really messed up, Ann," he whispered. "I said some pretty bad things to Charlie this morning and I don't know if he wants me around right now."
Anna shook her head as she spoke. "Oh, Don, if Charlie is hurt then he's going to want you there. He's four years younger than us and he's probably worried sick about you. I don't think it matters to him right now what you said." She gave him a push between his shoulder blades. "Get going, Donnie."
Don gave her a grateful hug then sped off towards the doors. "Thanks, Anna. You're the best!" he called over his shoulder.
As soon as he made it past the front door, the young teenager skidded to a stop.
The whole left side of the school was now strewn across the front lawn. Desks and tables lay fragmented and sections of walls were now flat on the ground. Don was surprised and relieved that there had been no fatalities, because the damage was extensive.
Don quickly evaluated the situation, scanning the wreckage before him. The ambulances were to his right and the lawn was buzzing with paramedics, children, administrators, and panicking parents. Then he saw the distinguishing head of hair that set him running.
As he neared the ambulance that his little brother was currently sitting in, Don could hear the medic trying to calm Charlie down in placating tones. "Charlie, I need you to calm down now. I need you to let me look at your arm to see exactly what is wrong with it. Can you do that for me, Charlie?"
The young boy only shook his head and seemed to draw into himself even more. When he spoke, his voice was full of worry and fear.
"I want to see Don. Where's my brother?"
The teen finally ducked past the last few people and rushed to his brother's side, totally focused on just knowing his brother was going to be okay. Once Don saw the expression on Charlie's face when his little brother looked up to see him, he knew that he would always remember it. It was an expression of total trust and unmatched love for his older brother. Don knew right then that anything he had said earlier had been totally forgotten. Charlie needed him right now.
The teenager could tell just by glancing at him that his little brother had a broken arm. Don shuddered to think what else might be hurt that was out of sight. The right side of his face was bruised and he had a split lip.
Don pushed is body up onto the back of the vehicle next to his brother and carefully pulled the younger boy into his chest, making sure that he wasn't holding too tightly in case Charlie had any other injuries.
"Oh, buddy," Don sighed out, "It will be okay, it's alright, and you're safe now, okay?" He felt Charlie nod against him. Tears started to fall unbidden down both of their faces.
"I was so scared, Donnie," Charlie sniffled into his shirt. "I thought I was gonna die and not get to see you and Dad and Mom ever again…" He gripped his older brother's arm tightly with his uninjured hand.
"No, buddy, no." The older boy drew back from his brother so that he could meet the younger boy's gaze with his own. "It didn't happen, Charlie. I'm not going to let it happen. I'm here with you. Okay?"
The curly-haired genius nodded his head then leaned into his brother once more. But the gesture came with consequences. Charlie grunted in pain as his right arm was jostled against Don's side. Instantly, Don was filled with panic.
"Charlie! Buddy, I'm sorry. Where does it hurt? Are you okay?" His little brother just nodded silently, his eyes screwed shut against a wave of pain.
"My arm hurts a lot, Don. And I twisted my ankle really bad when I fell." Hearing this, the paramedic, who had been standing by while the brothers talked, moved in to check out the areas.
"Honey," she said gently, "my name is Laura and I'm going to look at where it hurts now, okay?" After getting conformation from the younger boy she began to gently prod his ankle in different places then check his arm. "Yes, it looks like your arm is broken in two places, one is up here," she pointed to a spot above his elbow, "and the other is your wrist. I'm assuming you used this arm to break your fall?" Charlie nodded his head in agreement. "I thought so. You also have a badly sprained ankle. Now, can you tell me if it hurts anywhere else?"
Watching his brother, Don could see that the adrenaline was beginning to wear off and the exhaustion was starting to set in. The young boy's eyes were starting to drop closed every so often.
"My side hurts from where I landed on it," Charlie sniffled. As he said this, the kindly medic lifted up his shirt.
What Don saw made him draw in a breath sharply. Charlie's whole right side, from his chest to his hip, was black and blue.
Laura whistled softly as she took in the sight. As she soothingly started rubbing his shoulder, she caught Charlie's eyes and spoke softly. "Charlie, honey, you are going to have to go to the hospital, okay? I can't fix what's wrong with you here," she gestured vaguely around her, "so the doctors at the hospital will make sure you are taken care of. Is that alright with you?"
Charlie nodded slowly but was looking at Don with a mournful expression. Laura saw the look and quickly amended her speech. "Your brother can come with you in the ambulance if you want him to."
The little boy's curls bounced a bit more enthusiastically this time.
The paramedic gave a short laugh and helped Charlie onto the gurney in the back of the vehicle. Once he was situated, Don climbed in behind the two of them and then they began their travel to the hospital.
As his eyes tracked his brother's every wince and movement, Don couldn't remember a time when he had felt this much panic, this much worry, for his little brother. Sure, Charlie had come home with bruises and black eyes before, but this was different. This wasn't something he could have controlled or dealt with afterwards. It made Don, for the first time in his life, feel extremely helpless. Wrong, Eppes, said some part of his brain, all you have to do is comfort him, show him that you care. Be there for him.
With that thought in mind, he reached out for his little brother's uninjured hand and squeezed it gently. When he did this, the younger boy looked over at him and flashed his genuine Charlie smile.
This made Don grin too, but the smile slid off of his face as he remembered that morning. "Charlie, I'm so, so sorry. I didn't mean anything I said this morning. I didn't mean to hurt you; I was in a bad mood. I know that's a bad excuse, but I really…"
"Donnie, you're babbling."
Don couldn't help it. After a few stunned moments, he burst out laughing at the very Charlie-like phrase. "I know, Chuck, but I really…"
"It's okay, Don. It wasn't your fault." Don looked into his brother's eyes as Charlie said this and he knew then that he was forgiven. "I love you, Donnie," Charlie said softly. "Don't you ever forget that."
The teenager felt tears well up in his eyes once more as the ambulance pulled to a stop and the doors swung open. " I love you too, buddy."
Special Agent Don Eppes leaned back into the driver's seat as he turned off the engine. It seemed all roads lead to his brother's house.
After coming out of his thoughts in his apartment, the FBI agent had felt the overwhelming need to see his brother safe and unharmed. So he had grabbed his keys and driven to Charlie's house, wondering if his brother was even home or still at CalSci.
But his musings were put to rest as he pulled up to the old Craftsman house. The light wasn't on in the garage, but Charlie's Prius was parked in the driveway. Suddenly, Don felt rather foolish for coming there on a whim. Oh well, might as well go see Chuck anyway.
He opened the front door quietly and shut it behind him. Off to the side he could see the TV was on and the news was playing on the screen. In one of the armchairs sat Charlie, his eyes fixated on the floor, and looking like he'd rather not be thinking about what was on his mind.
Don walked over and knelt down in front of his younger brother. "Charlie, are you okay?"
Charlie looked up, startled out of his memories. "Don? What are you doing here?"
Don shrugged and stood up, then sat down in the chair next to Charlie's. "I saw the news." He glanced over. "I had to see you. I couldn't stop thinking about…" he faltered, "…you know."
A shiver ran down the mathematician's spine. "Yeah," whispered Charlie softly, "I know."
They sat in silence for a couple of minutes.
"I'm sorry, Charlie." He wasn't just talking about that day. Don was sorry for every time he hadn't been there for his little brother.
Charlie gave his brother the same look he had given him on that horrible day. The same look of trust and love. "I know, Don. But you shouldn't be."
Everything was forgiven.
Let me know what you think! Big thanks to Little Miss Bump for beta'ing. :)