Disclaimer: The boys aren't mine. They belong to CBS. No profit is made from this fic.
WARNING: Contains some light swearing, along with sexual assault of a minor and attempted suicide. If you get squicked out at any time, you are free to leave.
A/N: An expansion of the 'code' spoken about in my other story, Sniping Equations. Takes place a few months after the end of that.
Also, anyone interested in the position of Beta for the sequel to SE?
"Did you hear about that new study about parallax measurement?"
Don stifled a groan. In the past few weeks, Larry had been at Charlie's side almost constantly, and the two of them were always having the same conversation about how to measure the distance between the stars. Honestly, Don was sure that he had learned more about physics in the last three weeks than in the five years of high school science – mostly through sheer repetition. It was really starting to piss him off, and he could only imagine what it was like for his father.
Part of him wished that Edgerton was around. He still didn't entirely approve of the relationship, but the sniper had an odd way of calming his brother. Unfortunately, he was out on assignment, and Charlie had been anxious ever since he'd gone. The conversations about parallax measurement had started a few days after he'd said goodbye.
Don shook his head firmly to clear it. That was probably just it, Edgerton had been gone for a long time, and Charlie was probably feeling insecure. Don didn't really know how to make things better, so he decided to leave the professors to their discussion and went into the lounge room to watch TV with his dad.
Several hours of pointless TV later, they finally heard Charlie get up and leave, presumably headed for the garage. Don heaved a sigh of relief and started for the kitchen, followed by Alan. The pair paused in the dining room though – Larry was still sitting there, looking lost in his thoughts. After a moment, he seemed to focus on the other men and offered a wan smile.
"I apologise for inflicting our conversations on you so frequently of late, but Charles feels better in safe surroundings."
Don furrowed his brow in confusion, and this time really looked at Larry. The physicist looked as though he'd been listening to someone's nightmares for the last five hours, not talking about astrophysics, and Don suddenly wondered what the conversations were really about. After all, he tended to block them out after twenty minutes or so.
"Larry," he started slowly, "that parallax measurement thing…" He trailed off, but Larry's expression told him to keep going. "Is that… some sort of code between the two of you?"
The professor sighed and seemed to deflate.
"I promised that I wouldn't talk about this unless you directly asked. But I think Charles has been trying to make you ask – subconsciously, anyway."
"Ask what?" Alan looked just as confused, and Larry indicated that they should sit.
"This is quite a long story, and parts of it are going to be quite uncomfortable for the two of you. However, it is necessary for you to hear it all before trying to speak to Charles." He pressed his fingers together in front of his face, trying to decide where to start. It was quite a complicated tale, after all.
"Sixteen years ago, I was feeling a little down. A veritable genius was transferring to the school from Princeton, and it looked as though I'd have no contact with the exceptional mind to start with. It seemed that he was more at home with mathematics than theoretical physics, though I hoped to work with him in the future.
"So I was taking a hike through the grounds, along a path that I hadn't used often before. It opened up near an embankment underneath a bridge, and I decided to climb up. About halfway there, I raised my eyes and saw a young man – well, a boy, really. He couldn't have been more than fourteen. He was very thin, and pale, with a mop of curly black hair. I recognised the young genius instantly." Don nodded, also recognising his brother from the description. Larry took a deep breath, knowing that he was about to devastate both men.
"The boy had climbed over the guard rail, and was mere seconds from letting himself fall."
Alan let out a strangled cry, and all colour had faded from Don's face. Charlie had tried to kill himself? How could they have not known?
Larry paused to let them regain their bearing, before continuing.
"At first the boy just stood there, looking at the horizon, and I was so terrified that I couldn't move. Then he dropped his head, and our eyes met. In that instance, I could see in those expressive eyes – he didn't want to go. If I could offer him another route, he'd take it. He just needed someone to reach out and help him down."
"What did you do?" Alan whispered, though Don had an idea. Larry gave a small smile, and shrugged.
"I did the first thing that came into my head. I asked if he was aware of how to measure the distance of the stars."
"Parallax method," Don said softly, and Larry nodded.
"The boy stared at me for a moment as though I'd grown an extra head, and I thought maybe I had at first. Then he started to talk, after a moment he started edging along the bridge toward me. I climbed the rest of the embankment as we kept talking and discussing various aspects of the stars. Eventually we ended up seated together on a bench a few feet away, still talking. We spoke about physics and mathematics for about an hour, before the boy felt safe enough to start broaching other subjects."
"Did he say why?" Don asked, a little afraid of the answer. He and Charlie hadn't spoken that often at that time.
"Now that," Larry sighed, "is a sad tale. I'm afraid that this won't be easy for either of you to hear, even after all this time has passed."
"Maybe not," Alan acquiesced, "but I think we need to know."
"Yes," Larry slowly nodded. "I think Charles needs you to know as well."
Charlie pushed his mashed potato around with his fork. He wasn't particularly hungry, really, but his mother was worried about him. He'd been so excited when he was accepted into Princeton, and now… he wasn't. All he wanted now was to go home.
He didn't have any friends here, but he hadn't exactly been Mr Popular back home. Back in LA, though, there was Dad and the house he'd grown up in. Don, however, wasn't there, and that was disconcerting in and of itself.
Phone calls to Don were rare, and usually lasted only a few minutes. Calls to Dad were a little longer, though mostly it was Mum doing the talking. Charlie wasn't really sure what to say to either of them.
Most of the problem, he knew, was Princeton itself and the professors there. Most of them seemed to have already decided that he wasn't going to make it, and weren't willing to give him the chance to prove himself. The rest… the rest of them singled him out for special treatment, and gave him so much work that he was struggling to get through it all. There didn't seem to be anyone who was willing to treat him as just another student. And then there was The Professor…
He saw his mother come back into the kitchen, and Charlie quickly shoved a forkful of lukewarm potato into his mouth. He didn't want another lecture on how he needed to eat properly – his mother really knew how to lay on the guilt. Then he noticed that she was talking on the phone.
"Of course, Donald. I know how busy you are, and I'm pleased for you… I'm so glad to hear that!" Charlie perked up a little. She was the only person alive who used Don's full name and got away with it. "Yes, of course your brother's here. Talk to him for a minute while I clear the dishes, okay?"
"Hey Don," Charlie greeted his big brother, and got up from the table to go to his room. He didn't want to talk in front of their mother.
"Okay, okay." A brief laugh followed. Charlie missed that sound. "What's up? Mum says your grades have been slipping."
"Don't bullshit me, Charlie," Don said before he could make an excuse. "I have magical big-brother senses, so you'd better give me a straight answer."
"I hate it here," Charlie said, surprised at the tremor in his own voice. "I'm trying, I really am, but… in class, I'm either bored or lost, and none of the professors are approachable. None of the students want to talk to me, even about stuff that isn't to do with school. I… I just hate it."
"So leave," came the response. Charlie blinked in surprise.
"Charlie, you had, what, twenty scholarship offers? Call around, see if any of them will let you transfer."
"Will understand. Trust me. She wants you to do the best you can, obviously, but she wants you to be happy even more. If Princeton's making you so miserable, find someplace else."
"Yeah…" Charlie whispered, feeling a little better. Don always had the answers. He heard a commotion on the other end of the line, and Don sounded distracted when he came back.
"Listen, Charlie, I gotta go. Baseball practice. But listen – you gotta do what's best for you. Don't be worried about disappointing Mum and Dad, they'll support whatever you do. And I already know you're a friggin' genius, you don't have to impress me."
"No problem, Chuck. I'll call in a few days, okay?"
"Bye." Don disconnected, and Charlie nodded. He was right – plenty of colleges had wanted him. It wasn't like he didn't have options. He'd talk to his mother, and see if he could transfer to somewhere else.
Preferably somewhere in LA.
"That's not all, is it?" Don asked, knowing that worse was to come. "I remember that phone call. He sounded upset, but not suicidal."
"I wish that were the end of it," Larry sighed. "Unfortunately, it's not. He was distressed, certainly, but not depressed, and I believe that your advice gave him hope that things could get better. The real problem came when he had to get his professors to sign off on the transfer papers. Most of them were disappointed, but signed. There was this one professor, however… Charles still won't tell me his name."
Charlie swallowed hard as he raised his hand to knock. He'd left this professor until last, wanting to avoid him. Now he thought that maybe he should have gotten him out of the way first, while he was stronger. Over the course of the afternoon, having to explain his position so many times had worn down his resolve.
There was silence in the room after his knock, and for a few blissful moments Charlie thought that The Professor wasn't there. Then the door opened and one of the TAs hurried out, flashing Charlie a scowl as he left. He swallowed again. This was off to a great start.
"Mr Eppes," The Professor was looking down at him in disgust. Charlie focussed on his moustache, avoiding his hard, dark eyes. "Professor Rowley called and told me of your decision to give up."
"Not giving up," Charlie whispered, still not stepping into the office. He knew what would happen if he did.
"Pfft. Run away then. Get in here and I'll sign. Wouldn't want a coward like you in my class any longer anyway."
Charlie was shaking as he stepped inside. He didn't want to, he wanted to run as far away as he could, but he was afraid that if he stayed outside, The Professor wouldn't let him leave.
"Close the door. If you want me to sign the transfer papers, you'll have to… earn it."
When The Professor was done, he did up his trousers with one hand and signed the papers with the other. Without so much as a glance at the trembling boy on the floor, he left the office.
Somehow, Charlie pulled himself off of the floor, pulling up his jeans at the same time. He picked up the papers and went back to the apartment he shared with his mother. Leaving the signed forms on the kitchen table, he went into the bathroom and threw up. Once he'd finished retching, he rinsed out his mouth, then undressed and climbed into the shower. He scrubbed at his skin, trying to remove the feel of The Professor, until he heard his mother moving about in the kitchen.
It was safe to come out now. He'd never have to see The Professor again.
Don and Alan were staring at Larry in horror.
"One of his teachers… raped him?" Don could barely form the sentence. Larry nodded sadly.
"That last incident pushed him over the edge. He tried to kill himself at least once before the bridge, but I believe that his subconscious was attempting to keep him alive. He made a mistake in calculating the amount of painkillers to take, and merely ended up very ill."
"I remember that," Alan spoke softly, and Don whipped his head around in shock. "He'd been having migraines, and said that he'd… that he'd forgotten that he'd already taken his medication, and accidentally doubled up on the dose." He looked down at his hands. "We… we thought that it was odd, but we didn't say anything."
"Even if you had," Larry tried to reassure him, "Charles wouldn't have spoken to you about the abuse. He needed someone who was removed both from him and the other professor."
Don nodded. That made sense. Then the thought back to the beginning of the conversation, and smiled a little.
"So you got him to tell you all this… by first asking him how to measure the stars?"
Larry spread his hands and shrugged.
"It was the first thing that I thought of. And it worked." Don nodded, and Larry paused again. The other men steeled themselves, unsure if they could withstand another bombshell, but knowing that they had to hear it.
"You should know. When Charles talks about parallax measurements… it means that he is close to that ledge again."
Don let out a breath. Charlie was still suicidal. And it was only conversations with Larry that were keeping him here.
"Why now?" Alan asked, a little confused. "Why has he been so upset lately? I don't understand."
"I do believe that it has something to do with why Ian is absent," Larry admitted.
"He's left Charlie?" Don started angrily, but Larry held up a hand in protest.
"No, no. But I believe that Charles may have given Ian the name of the professor who hurt him."
Don considered this for a moment, then let a feral grin spread across his face as he mentally reviewed the retaliation methods Edgerton was likely to use. The sniper was protective to the point of possessive, and would be furious that someone had hurt his Charlie.
Alan looked at Larry for a moment in though, before asking something that he'd been wondering for a long time.
"Larry, in view of the comfort you always provide to Charlie, I have to ask… have the two of you ever…"
"No," Larry shook his head firmly. "You see, even after sixteen years, when I look at Charlie I see a frightened, abused fourteen-year-old. And that is not exactly conducive to romantic entanglements. For me, at any rate."
Alan nodded, apparently a little relieved. Don glanced at his watch, then at the door.
"I'm gonna go see him… I need to see him."
"Yeah," Alan agreed, and the three men rose from the table and headed to the garage. When they reached the doorway, however, they paused, the sight before them making them all smile.
Ian Edgerton was sitting at the desk, cradling Charlie in his lap. The younger man had his face buried in the crook of his lover's neck, hands clutching the front of his shirt. Ian was rubbing Charlie's back with one hand, and running the other through the mass of unruly curls. He was obviously soothing Charlie, and laid a kiss to the top of the mathematician's head.
"It's all okay. We got him."
"You promise?" Charlie choked out, voice half afraid, half hopeful.
"I promise. Bang bang, baby."
A small smile escaped Charlie then.
"I love you too."