Chapter 28 – Everything is Numbers
A/N: And now for the final chapter…
See Chapter 1 for disclaimer
Thursday, May 23, 2014, early evening
Charlie pulled up outside the Jazz Steps Dance Studio with an almost giddy sense of excitement. The pieces of his life seemed to be falling back into place. Even the act of driving around town after years of confinement was exhilarating. Since his release from the hospital, his days had been full; he'd been on the phone or the computer when he hadn't been sleeping, and yesterday, the day after the presentation, he'd spent almost all day with Amita. He adored his niece and loved spending time with her; they'd sat and played with his old abacus for hours when she came to visit on Sunday. He had his home back, and his father, God bless him – was still there for him, just as if he'd never left. Alan had fallen asleep in his armchair with the paper last evening, and Charlie had just sat there looking at him, with tears of happiness in his eyes – he'd missed him so much, and could scarcely believe that he got to see him, every day now. He gave him a quick hug every morning in greeting, just because he could.
The nights weren't so good yet; the darkness reminded him of the basement. He couldn't go to bed without a glass of water on the nightstand, and as soon as he fell asleep, the nightmares would take over. The nights made the days seem so much more wonderful, however, and each night was just a little bit better than the last. Still, there was one piece of his life missing – a big one. There was no one he had missed as much as his brother, and in spite of all the good things that had happened to him lately, none of them would mean much if he couldn't have that one piece back – the chance to work side by side with Don again, to be part of his team. He had a feeling that Don had asked him to come here this evening not just to see Charlotte, but to talk, and he had an even stronger feeling that today might be the day that Don asked him to come back to consult.
He parked the car and looked around the lot, anticipation doing some dance steps of its own inside his gut. Don's SUV wasn't there, but he hadn't even had a chance to ponder whether he should wait outside or in, when it pulled up.
Charlie got out of a vehicle with a grin, and met them in front of the studio. Charlotte was hopping with excitement. "Unca Charwee! Unca Charwee!" she squealed, cavorting around his legs in a pale blue leotard and pink tights. Don smiled, and Charlie grinned back. Don's smile looked a little strained, and it made Charlie wonder what was happening at the office. He couldn't wait to find out.
"Better get in there," was all Don said. "They're big on discipline here; they don't like it when the students are late."
"But she's three," Charlie protested. "How serious can this be?"
Don mouth quirked ruefully. "She can actually join the competition team next year, if we let her. Trust me; to the teachers in this place, it's serious."
They stepped inside, and Don nodded at the woman behind the desk, and signed Charlotte's name on a roster. "This is my brother," he said, "he's here to watch."
The woman looked Charlie over carefully, and nodded. Charlie couldn't resist dropping a hint as they stepped inside. "Man," he murmured teasingly, "this is almost as hard as getting access to the FBI offices." He grinned at Don, expecting him to smile back, but all he got was a quick twist of the lips, and averted eyes. Don bent quickly to take off Charlotte's sneakers, pulled white patent leather shoes out of her dance bag, and slipped them on her feet. Charlie caught a glimpse of metal pieces screwed to the toe and the heel of one her shoes as Don deftly strapped it on her foot. His eyebrows rose. "You sure seem to have the shoe thing down. What is that, a tap shoe?"
Don nodded. "She has tap first, then ballet, then tumbling. It's a combination class, about twenty minutes of each. I can handle the shoes, but when it comes to the rest of it – the costumes and stuff, well, that's all Robin."
Charlie glanced around them. They were in a common area with benches, and around them were four large windows that looked into four classrooms. There were only two other observers; apparently, most of the parents dropped the students off and left. He noted with satisfaction that it would be a relatively private place to talk. As he watched, an older girl sailed by one of the classroom windows in a wild, contorted leap. Charlie's eyes widened. "Wow."
Don glanced at the window, as he ushered Charlotte toward the door to her classroom. "Yeah, that's one of the competition teams, some of the older students. They're pretty good. The teacher keeps asking if we want to put Charlotte in the mini competition program next year, but it's a big commitment. She's already going two nights a week, and with our schedules – well, it's hard to get her here as it is." He lowered his voice, as Charlotte trotted into the room, and he closed the door behind her. "Robin likes the idea, but me, well, I'd rather get her into baseball."
"You mean softball."
"Baseball," Don said firmly, but there was a teasing twinkle in his eyes. Finally, he looked like he was relaxing a bit.
Charlie looked through the glass. "Won't she be distracted, if she knows we're watching?" he asked. Even through the glass, he could hear the metallic sounds of the students' tap shoes, and the teacher's voice.
"The smaller kids' classroom has a one-way mirror, just for that reason," said Don, his eyes on his daughter.
Charlie dropped another hint. "Just like the FBI offices." He glanced at Don with a grin, but Don ignored him, his eyes still forward. Charlie's grin faded at bit, but then he shook it off, and faced the window. "Probably wants to work up to it," he thought. "Be patient."
The teacher had lined the children in two rows; thirteen little girls and one boy, and then she stood on one leg, and pointed her other foot. She raised her leg up and down in an exaggerated motion, tapping her toe on the floor. "Okay, now, remember what we learned the last time. Right - Toe, heel, toe. Left – Toe, heel, toe. Toe, toe, stomp. Toe, toe stomp… good, okay, again. Now, toe, shuffle stomp. Toe, shuffle, stomp. Good. Now let's add the music."
Charlie watched Charlotte, musing. "She's one of the best ones," he said with pride. "You know, there's a mathematical aspect to this. Dancing and listening to music helps develop the areas of the brain that process mathematical concepts."
Don smirked a little. "Great. Now Robin has another reason to push for dance."
The teacher started the music. "Okay, class, and five, six, seven, eight -,"
"Nine, ten, 'leven, twelve!" chirped Charlotte in response.
"Charlotte, no talking," warned the teacher.
"Sirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sisteen," lisped Charlotte, giggling, and Don and Charlie exchanged a grin.
"Se'enteen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty!" Charlotte ended triumphantly, and broke off into peals of laughter.
"That's my niece!" exclaimed Charlie proudly.
Don sent him a wry look. "She listens like you, too."
Charlie chuckled and shot him a sideways glance, as the teacher started the music again. "Five, six, seven, eight -,"
Don glanced at him again, and Charlie could see a hint of speculation in his eye. 'Here it comes,' he thought to himself.
"Charlie, I know I said we could come watch Charlotte a couple of days a week, but I'm not sure I can make it next week," Don said. "We caught a hot case – I'm not sure how long it's going to last, but Dad said he'd bring Charlotte to class. He does that sometimes, when Robin and I both get tied up."
Charlie nodded, expectantly. 'That's his lead-in. He's going to ask for help on that case…' "Sure," he said. "No problem." He waited, but Don just nodded, a bit wearily, and turned back to look through the window.
Charlie stared at him uncertainly, his smile fading. "Uh, what kind of case?" he prompted him. He could feel his gut doing an odd little apprehensive flip-flop.
Don kept his eyes on Charlotte, and shrugged. "Just another case. Trust me, you don't want to know."
Charlie swallowed. "Yeah - yeah, I do want to know."
Don glanced at him, a little uncomfortably, and then looked away again. "Charlie – just drop it, okay?"
Charlie stared at him in disbelief for a moment, then managed to collect himself, and turned to look back through the window, but the view didn't register; his mind was numb from a suffocating sense of disappointment. He'd been so certain, so sure that Don would want him back, and he didn't at all. Hell, maybe Don had wanted him out of there even before he'd gone into witness protection, and couldn't find a good way to tell him. Charlie thought back, his heart twisting, to those days, some of the best of his life. The growing sense of closeness, the camaraderie – had it all been a lie? Or perhaps it had been real, but Don had grown away from him, had moved on… Charlie couldn't decide which was worse. All he knew was that the bubble of hope that he'd been riding on for the past two weeks, as he picked up the pieces of a shattered life, had suddenly burst.
"So," said Don. "How is Amita?" He still looked uncomfortable, and was keeping his eyes forward. He was obviously trying to make conversation, but it was strained – like talking to a stranger.
Charlie swallowed, cleared his throat. "She's – she's good. She went back to Boston this morning, but yesterday, she was in talking to Dean Wilson about the possibility of coming back to Cal Sci."
Don raised an eyebrow, and glanced at him. "So what'd he say?"
Charlie stared through the window. 'Why are we talking about this,' he asked himself, 'when you don't really care?' He watched Charlotte for a moment before he answered, trying to relax the lump in his throat enough to talk. "I don't know. I mean, Cal Sci's interested, but she's not sure if or when MIT would let her go. It's complicated."
He could feel Don's eyes on him, but this time, he was the one who kept his eyes forward, his face closed. It hurt too much to do otherwise – to look at the brother he had once, and see a stranger in his place.
Sunday, May 26, 2014, late afternoon
Don sat slumped on the sofa at the Craftsman, one arm slung over the back, brooding. He'd taken a couple of hours off the case to show up at the Craftsman with Robin and Charlotte for Sunday dinner. It was a hell of a case; someone – they suspected a gang of youths – was spree-killing homeless people, beating them to death for the sport of it. He and the L.A. team had been working long hours; the gang had been careful in the selection of their victims and locations and so far, no one had spotted them – but then, the victims were homeless. There would be a lot more outcry, a lot more vigilance if the deceased had been some of the more affluent members of society.
They had a few leads from street people, but it was hard to tell if any of the information was of any value – their informants' perceptions were skewed by alcohol, drugs, mental illness, and hysteria. They needed a way to filter out the 'noise,' as Charlie would have put it, and pare the information down to real hard leads. Their resident consultant, Mike Stillman, was working on it, but Don could tell he was floundering; he had yet to come with any kind of approach. Charlie would have completed an algorithm by now.
The case, as bad as it was, was only a small part of his sour mood, however. The bigger reason for it was Charlie, himself. Don's meeting with his brother at the dance studio had seemed to start out well, but it had rapidly fallen flat. After a short exchange, the conversation had trailed off. Don had tried to get him to talk about Amita, but his brother had given him the briefest of responses; just enough information to answer his question, and then he'd seemed to close up, and seemed more interested in Charlotte than he was in talking to Don. In fact, Charlie and Charlotte were together now, the two dark curly heads bent over Charlie's abacus across the room. Not that Don begrudged their relationship – he was, in fact, glad for it, because he was beginning to fear that if it weren't for Charlotte, he'd have no excuse to see his brother at all. It would be nice, though, if he and his brother could connect on something – anything. They weren't all that hot on conversation – never had been. They needed something to talk about, a reason to converse. It really didn't matter what it was – somehow they communicated thoughts and feelings through the subtext. The problem was, they weren't talking about anything now, and Don didn't know how to fix that. Well, he did, but he didn't want to go there. Charlie was obviously perfectly happy with his current life, and he didn't apparently didn't need or want to consult again.
It was true, said a little voice inside his head, that Charlie had asked him about his current case at the dance studio, and had made an offhand remark or two about the FBI offices. Maybe that meant he was interested, said the voice, but Don squelched the idea. Charlie didn't give up on anything that he wanted that easily, and he hadn't said anything about the case since, so he had probably just been making polite conversation. Even if Charlie would consider coming back, it wasn't in his best interests. Consulting for law enforcement had almost gotten him killed, not once, but twice. By not bringing up the possibility, Don was doing him a favor. That was his decision, and he was sticking to it, no matter how painful it was.
He listened to Charlie's voice float across the room. "How much is this many, and this many?"
There was a hesitation, then Charlotte crowed triumphantly, "Five!" Don's gaze rested fondly on her dark curly head. She was extremely bright, more advanced than any of her peers at preschool, but she was no genius, thank God. He couldn't imagine what his parents had gone through to raise Charlie, and he was having a tough enough time dealing with that one particular genius already. He watched them for a moment, then sighed, grabbed the remote, and flicked on the sports channel.
In the kitchen, Robin bent and rummaged in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. "Are you sure you have a pepper? Oh, there it is." She straightened, closed the door of the refrigerator, and headed over for the sink, waving a green pepper at Alan. "I've got it. What's for dinner? It smells great."
"Stuffed shells and meatballs," said Alan, as he bent and opened the oven door. "Although I may go straight to that cake you brought – it looks wonderful." He straightened, closed the oven door, and glanced at her. "So, what's eating Donnie?"
Robin put the pepper on a cutting board, and began to chop. "Well, he's got that case –,"
"Yes, the murders of those poor homeless people. That is a horrible thing."
Robin shot a glance over her shoulder, and her voice dropped conspiratorially. "But if you ask me, I think the situation with Charlie is bothering him as much, if not more."
Alan sidled over to her, and dropped his own voice, with a puzzled look. "Situation with Charlie?"
Robin nodded with another glance at the door, and lowered her voice further, to a near whisper. "Don was going round and round over whether he should ask Charlie to start consulting again. He really wanted to – I think he loved working with Charlie, and to tell you the truth, I think those two have a hard time connecting without some other excuse to talk, like work."
Alan grimaced and rolled his eyes. "Tell me about it."
"But," she continued, "he wasn't sure if it was the best thing for Charlie – with Charlie's recent success in the academic world, and his relationship taking off with Amita, plus everything he'd been through recently – well, anyway, Don couldn't decide if he should ask him. He talked to me, he talked to his rabbi, and we both told him that he should let Charlie make the decision. So I think he might have asked him last week, when they went to watch Charlotte's dance lesson, and Charlie must have turned him down. Don refused to talk about it when he came back, which was suspicious in itself, and he's been really down lately, and grumpier than a bear."
Alan's brow furrowed. "That's odd. I remember; Charlie left the house that night in a great mood, and came home looking upset, himself, and he's been brooding ever since. After what he went through though, I just figured he was still healing, mentally, and didn't think much of it. The even odder thing is, I can't imagine him turning that offer down. He loved working with Don, too, and he's always had a tough time saying 'no' to his brother. Something doesn't sound quite right, there."
Robin looked at him. "Maybe you should talk to them. I can't get Don to open up on it – maybe he'll talk to you."
Alan pursed his lips, and nodded. "Sure. It wouldn't be the first time I had to knock the two of their heads together." He smiled at her, and winked. "Let's get this dinner on, shall we?"
Alan's first opportunity came after dinner, and he pounced on it. Charlie was helping him clear dishes, and the two of them were alone in the kitchen. "So, I have to admit, I'm a bit surprised you aren't taking a look at this latest case of Don's. Of course, it's understandable; you're still recuperating, and you've been very busy – but I've never known you to be sensible before, when there was a case that could use your help."
Charlie straightened from placing a dish in the dishwasher and stared at him, sourly. "What, are you trying to rub salt in the wound?"
Alan quirked an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
Charlie scowled, and put another dish in the rack. "I mean he hasn't asked me. When we went to Charlotte's dance lesson last week, I hinted about the office and any open cases until I was blue in the face, and he told me to 'just drop it.' I think it's pretty obvious, he doesn't want me back – probably never wanted me there to begin with."
"Oh, now, Charlie, that's not true."
Charlie sighed. "You know, I never really knew if he kept me around just because of the math and the help I could give him, or because he liked working with me. I think it's pretty obvious now – he's got another math consultant, so he doesn't need my help from that standpoint. The only reason he'd ask me to come back would be because he really did like working with me. Apparently, he didn't. Or if he did, he's moved on. He's married, Dad, he's got a family, a bigger job; he's got his own life. He doesn't really need me anymore."
"Charlie, it's not just a question of need, with Don. You're not just another consultant to him; you're his brother. Have you ever considered that he might have had second thoughts about dragging you into that world again, after what happened to you?"
Charlie stared at him and his scowl faded a bit. "Then why wouldn't he just say so?"
Alan sighed. "Probably for the same reason that you won't come out and tell him what's bothering you."
Charlie was silent for a moment. "I don't know, Dad," he said doubtfully.
Alan's eyes narrowed, speculatively. "Don't know what? Whether you really want to go back to that or not?"
"No!" Charlie looked shocked by the question. "Of course I would go back. I miss working with him – I miss him." He looked at Alan earnestly. "Dad, when I was lying there, in that basement -,"
Alan raised a hand as if to ward off the image and turned his head, but Charlie moved a step closer, and continued, earnestly. "I had a lot of time to think. At the time, I'd thought I'd pretty much screwed up on everything that mattered – my papers, my relationship with Amita, and my chance to work with Don ever again. I asked myself if I could pick one, and only one, which one would be enough to make me happy, all by itself, and the answer was working with Don. The other things were wonderful, don't get me wrong, but I felt if I never got that chance again, that would bother me the most."
"Hey, Dad, we're getting ready to go! I have to get back to the office!" Don's voice floated through the kitchen door from the other room, and Alan set down his dishtowel.
He smiled gently at Charlie, and shook his head. "Then why don't you do something about it?" Then he turned and headed into the other room, leaving Charlie staring after him.
Don and Robin were gathering up Charlotte and her toys, and as Don bent to pick up his daughter, he flashed Alan a look of apology. "Sorry we can't stay longer – I need to get back to the office," he said, and Alan saw his eyes travel over his shoulder as he heard Charlie push through the kitchen door behind him. "We'll see you guys later, okay?"
Charlie nodded, and said quietly, "Thanks for coming." Two dark pairs of eyes rested on each other for a moment, and Alan could read identical expressions in them – uncertainty, hurt, frustration. Robin filled the silence with a wave, a thank-you and a good-bye, and headed out the door, and then Don nodded, curtly, and followed her. Charlie retreated to the kitchen again, his shoulders slumped, and Alan followed the others to the front door, where he watched his older son's retreating back with an assessing stare. He apparently had some more work to do.
Monday, May 27, 2014, noon
Don stepped out of the conference room, and headed wearily for his office. He'd been in late the night before, and early that morning, as had David and the L.A. team. They'd just gotten done with another fruitless meeting, and a sense of deep discouragement pervaded him. They were spinning their wheels on this case, and getting no traction.
He stopped short at the door of his office as a familiar figure, seated in a chair, smiled at him. "I brought lunch," said Alan, holding up a sack. "Chicken burritos, from Agave Azule."
Don's stomach growled as he walked past the sack and smelled the aroma, and he took a seat behind his desk. He took a proffered burrito, and began to unwrap it. "Thanks. I left home without a lunch today – how'd you guess?"
Alan grinned, and gestured with his burrito. "Oh, let me see – you're working long hours, meeting yourself coming and going, you're pre-occupied, and oh yes, you're just getting back to normal after Charlie's – situation. Wouldn't surprise me if you're forgetting to eat."
Don took a bite, and chewed appreciatively. "Yeah, well, the case is a nasty one, and we're getting nowhere." He sighed, and dropped his voice. "Between you and me, our math guy is decent, and he's thorough, but he sure isn't anywhere near as fast as Charlie was." He shrugged, and spoke around another bite. "But then, even my best consultant – the one up in Vegas – doesn't measure up to Charlie, and I can't really expect them to. There are only so many certifiable geniuses running around."
Alan eyed him. "So why don't you ask Charlie for help?"
Don scowled. "Come on, Dad, you're starting to sound like Robin. You know why."
His father looked suspiciously innocent. "No, I don't."
Don's eyes narrowed. "You think after he spent five years in witness protection and two weeks in captivity, and nearly got killed twice as a result of his consulting activities, that I'm going to ask him to come back to that stuff?"
Alan raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that his decision to make? You could at least ask him."
Don's scowl deepened and he bit into his sandwich. "Yeah, well, I'm not. And anyway, he's not interested. If he was interested, he'd be pestering the hell out of me, and he isn't – he barely speaks to me anymore. He's moved on, Dad, he's got a new life – all that stuff going on with his papers, he's going to be traveling with that, and going back and forth to Boston, I'm sure, to see Amita. He doesn't need this anymore."
Alan pursed his lips. "Well, yes, you're probably right, he doesn't need – this." He waved a hand in the general direction of the office. "What he does need is you."
Don snorted softly. "No, he doesn't, Dad. He's made that pretty clear. I tried to talk to him the other night at Charlotte's dance studio, and it was like talking to a stranger. He made a few polite comments, then clammed up and spent the rest of the time watching her dance lesson – he wouldn't even look at me." He ran a weary hand over his face.
"I think you're wrong," said Alan mildly, munching his sandwich. "In fact, I know you're wrong."
"Oh yeah?" challenged Don. "And how do you know?"
"Because I asked him," said Alan simply. "It's really not that hard. Why don't you try it?"
Thursday, May 30, 2014, noon
Don pulled his SUV at the curb outside of the Craftsman, turned off the ignition, and just sat for a moment.
He'd spent the last three days pondering his conversation with his father. Alan hadn't come right out and said it, but he'd seemed to insinuate that he'd talked to Charlie, and that Charlie had indicated that he'd consider a return to consulting. The flash of hope that had shot through Don at that moment had almost changed his mind on the spot; he had the urge to take off right then, go find his brother and beg him to come back. As the afternoon had worn on, however, doubt had returned. Even if Charlie wanted to come back, was it the right thing to ask him? And if he did really want to come back, then that might mean he would want to take a shot at a relationship, whether or not he consulted. If that was true, they didn't really need to work together. They could do some things outside work, maybe take in a ballgame, or even get away for a weekend and go camping…
As the week had worn on, though, reality had intruded. Who was he kidding? He barely had time to pee, much less go on a camping trip, and he was sure Charlie's schedule was just as busy – especially on the weekends, when he'd be trying to see Amita. They were both tied up with work, and Don had to fit his family into the plan now, too. These days, the only real shot they had at spending time together would be to work together.
A part of him argued that working together was no basis for a relationship anyway, but he knew that was wrong. The years he'd spent working with Charlie were some of the best of his life, and at least at that point in time, he thought that Charlie had felt the same way. Maybe Dad was right, maybe he still did.
It was that thought that drove him out to Cal Sci to seek out his brother – that thought, and necessity. The case had finally reached the point of critical mass. In an abrupt reversal, after ignoring the situation for days, the community had taken up the cause of the homeless victims, and protests and rallies were being held by community leaders and politicians. The change of heart was primarily due to the fact that the story had found its way to the national news, and the local politicians were raising a ruckus to get their faces on the national media. That very afternoon, the governor and a state senator had come to the FBI offices and met with Wright, and had insisted on putting some of their own people on to oversee the case, so now they had stuffed shirts sitting in every meeting, poking their noses into every decision. It was a circus, an impossible situation. Don had finally decided to ask Charlie for help – at least on this case. They could play it by ear, he told himself, see how it went. And maybe, if it went okay, Charlie might take another one…
Charlie's car wasn't at Cal Sci, and Don had wavered in the parking lot for a moment before taking a deep breath and heading for the Craftsman. His brother had probably gone home for lunch. Sure enough, when he pulled up outside, the blue Prius was sitting there. Still, Don hesitated.
The day was significant. It was May 30, five years to the day since Charlie had been shot in the front yard of the Craftsman. Don's eyes strayed to that spot in the yard, and then drifted to the water bottle, the one he'd found on the floor of the basement, which still sat in his cup holder. A little voice inside his head almost convinced him to turn around and go back to the office, but he slowly climbed out of the SUV, and grabbed the water bottle on the way.
He didn't go straight to the house, instead he drifted over to that spot in the front yard, remembering how he had stood there the morning after the shooting, how it had looked, with Charlie's blood staining the grass. He heard the front door open and light footsteps on the front step, but he didn't look up until Charlie stood right next to him.
There was concern on his brother's face. "Everything okay?" he asked softly.
Don looked at him. "Just recollecting," he said, and a confused look passed over Charlie's face, then it cleared as the realization dawned on him.
"Oh." He said nothing for a moment, and their gazes both drifted about the yard, out toward the street. Remembering.
Don lifted the water bottle. "I've been meaning to give this to you – I've been carrying it around in my SUV for a couple of weeks now." Charlie's forehead puckered in confusion, and Don went on. "When we found you in the basement, there was a bottle of water that had rolled a couple of feet away from you. You were lying there as though you were reaching for it. I probably should have turned it in to evidence, but there were other bottles there." He felt suddenly foolish. It was just a bottle of water, after all. "I, uh, thought maybe you'd want it."
Charlie gazed at it, and then looked up at Don somberly. "Thank you," he said quietly. "Actually, that means a lot," and Don's feeling of embarrassment faded. He held out the bottle, and Charlie took it, and somehow, the gesture felt like a handshake, an acknowledgment – as if he'd asked a question, and Charlie had answered it.
Don swallowed. "So, uh, we've got this case -,"
Charlie nodded. "The murders of the homeless people."
"Yeah, well, my math guy's not doing too well with it, hell, none of us are, and we, uh, well, I was wondering…,"
"If I could help you out on it." Charlie's finished the sentence; his voice was even, his dark eyes unreadable. 'Oh, hell,' thought Don, 'he's going to say 'no,'' but before he could even finish the thought, a quiet smile lit Charlie's face. "I thought you'd never ask."
His grin broadened, and excitement glimmered in his eyes. "I've already been working on it, with what I know from the news – wait here, I'm gonna grab my stuff -," and he was off, his lean form flying up the steps. Don just stood there, grinning stupidly, waiting. The sun seemed suddenly brighter, and old memories faded off into the shadows.
Charlie came dashing back down the steps a moment later, breathlessly trundling his computer case and a briefcase. "Sorry that took so long. I had to put away that bottle somewhere safe." Don grabbed the computer case and turned, and they fell into step together, heading toward his SUV. "Anyway, so I've been looking at the locations," began Charlie, but Don cut him off.
"Hold on, here, Chuck, before you get started, you need to understand the situation," Don interjected, but he had to grin in spite of himself. Charlie looked as ridiculously happy as he felt. Don tried to wipe the smile from his face, tried to look serious. "There's going to be a roomful of politicians there this afternoon; and they're going to start scrutinizing our every move. You can't just waltz in there and take over – they don't know you and they're probably not going to understand where you're coming from. To them, this is not going to be about math, or numbers."
Charlie looked up at him, grinning mischievously, and the sunlight glinted in his eyes. "Everything is numbers," he said softly.
Don shook his head, fondly. There was no argument for that, he thought to himself. Instead, he smiled at his brother and threw an arm over his shoulders, as they walked toward the SUV.
A/N: Thanks so much for your time, attention, and reviews and comments. Obviously, I've left some openings for a sequel – Ramon Jimenez is in Mexico, but is still at large, and I've given Jim MacDonald reason to hate Don, Charlie and Amita.
I also have a couple of very old plot bunnies that I've been meaning to get to, so I'll have to decide which comes first. Thanks so much again for reading this.... Serialgal