Genre: Family and Hurt/Comfort
Pairings: Don/Robin, Charlie/Amita
Time period: Five years after the finale
Summary: There are many days Don misses his old job. Charlie has bad days, and gets through them with the help of his beloved numbers. Today is not one of those days. A traumatic event forces the Eppes boy's to face how they've changed—and are still changing.
Disclaimer: Obviously not mine. If it was, why would you'd be seeing this stuff on screen.
A/N: This is my first venture into the world of Numb3rs. I'm not a long-time fan of the show, but have been a huge fan ever since my math teacher recommended it a few years ago. I probably should be spending more time working on my other on-going fics—of, which, unfortunately, there are many—but this just needed to be written. Hope you enjoy!
There are many days Don misses his old job. Not that his new one doesn't have perks—more money, for one, and actually being home for supper, which is a Godsend when you have a family with young kids—and not that Colby isn't capable of doing the job, either; he couldn't have appointed a more worthy successor. It's just that a desk job is so much more boring. And at the end of the day, that's all he has: a desk job. He delegates work to teams in his office, reads reports, and makes sure everything runs smoothly. There's a lot less fieldwork; no more shoot-outs and breaking down doors.
Then again, that was one of the reasons he took the job. He has a family to take care of, and can't afford to be putting his life on the line every day. He won't leave Robin to raise the kids by herself, and he sure as hell doesn't want to miss a moment of their lives. So he suffers through the desk job and the longing for fieldwork with the knowledge that, in twenty years, he'll be able to give his daughter away.
Then there are days—like today—where Don doesn't long for his old job at all. There are some cases that just hit too close to home, especially now that he has kids; investigations he knows he wouldn't be able to handle.
A man walked into an elementary school in North L.A. and opened fire, killing eight kids, three teachers, and wounding twelve others. The victims range in age between five and twelve. The VCS was called to investigate because it was a similar M.O. to an unsolved school shooting in Oregon six months ago. The thought that they could be dealing with a serial perp makes Don sick. He's glad Colby's handling this and not him. He'd have a hard time keeping his hands off the bastard.
He doesn't even want to think about the eight parents whose lives were irrevocably shattered today. Just hearing about eight kids being killed and many others injured—at school of all places—makes him glad he hasn't eaten anything since breakfast.
The faces of the children—faces he wishes he never had to see—haunt him on the drive home, causing him to break several traffic laws in order to satisfy the maddening desire to hold his own children in his arms and reassure himself that they're all right. If they are ever taken away from him, he'll go crazy.
The lights are on when he pulls up, and Robin's car is in the driveway—no surprise: she stayed home today going over case notes for a deposition tomorrow morning. From his vantage point in the Suburban, he can see his son, Teddy, in the living room, toy cars clenched firmly in his fists. His entire frame vibrates with youthful energy that lights his brown eyes with a lively sparkle. Robin says he's the spitting image of his father, and in this moment, Don has difficulty disagreeing.
He sees Robin emerge from the kitchen, Alannah perched on her hip. From her expression, he can tell her tone is gentle but firm as she addresses their son, though the glimmer in her blue eyes tells him she's equally as amused as he is. Even Alannah isn't immune to her big brother's charms: she flashes him a grin, one tiny hand latched onto a fistful of Robin's sweater for support. Though she's been getting better at walking on her own, she still loves to be carried every chance she gets.
Don doesn't know what he would do without them. It's not something he can fathom; if they were dead, he'd cease to exist. He wouldn't be able to face the emptiness left by their absence. The loss would probably kill him.
These thoughts are enough to propel him from the Suburban, not wanting to spend another second away those he loves the most. He crosses the path to the door, locking it with a swift click of the remote before letting himself into the house.
The warmth of the interior, filled with the smell of homemade lasagne envelop him like a blanket as the door swings shut behind him. He takes a moment to bask in the sounds of the house—the muted mumble of the radio in the living room; Robin's voice, firm and soothing, mingling with the familiar sounds of dinner being prepared—before the others realize he's home. It doesn't take them long—he's pretty sure Teddy has exceptional hearing, or maybe, as Robin says, a "Dad Radar". He doesn't even have time to shed his coat before there's a cry of, "Daddy!" and Teddy comes blazing out of the kitchen, cars in hand. Don can barely brace himself before Teddy leaps at him like a projectile.
After a day like today—the things he's seen and heard—there's nothing more relieving than the familiar weight of his four year-old son in his arms. He can't help but grin, heart bursting with love. This is why he does all this deskwork. Knowing that his son will be there to greet him at the door when he gets home makes it all worth it.
"Hey, buddy!" he says, swinging Teddy up into the air and causing him to shriek with delight. "You have a good day?"
Teddy beams, nodding his head vigorously. "We learned the alphabet and Mommy and Lana and I went to the park and played on the swings and I built the highest block tower in the class!"
"Oh yeah?" It may not seem like a big deal, but Don can't help feeling ridiculously proud of his son's accomplishment. "You better remember to tell Grandpa about the tower; he'll be really impressed." He ruffles Teddy's hair affectionately, expression softening as Robin emerges from the kitchen, Alannah still safe in her arms. His wife is dressed for a casual day at home—jeans and a pink sweater—but she still manages to take his breath away. How he was lucky enough to end up with them, he still has no idea.
"Hey." She smiles, hovering in the doorway. "How was your day?"
Don considers the question carefully. He doesn't want to say anything in front of the kids, and he can't tell whether or not she already knows; he doesn't want to break the news know if she doesn't. "It was all right," he says eventually. Technically, this is true: his day was fine until he heard about the shooting. "How about you?"
Robin's smile widens a little. "We had a good day," she says. "I got some work done for tomorrow's deposition, and then we went to the store, and picked up Teddy and went to the park. Alannah even tried the swings today," she adds, voice brimming with pride.
Don grins. The swings have been something that his daughter has refused to try ever since she was an infant. Robin thought it might have been a fear of heights, but Charlie says the probability of a phobia like that manifesting at such a young age for no reason is extremely slim. Don is convinced that Alannah simply doesn't like being separated from her parents; after all, she hated strollers for the first few months after she was born. The fact that she's finally agreed to try them without a fuss is a big deal.
"And? What'd you think, baby girl? You like those swings after all?" he asks, turning to Alannah, who giggles, nodding.
"She loves them, Daddy!" Teddy cries, hating to be left out of the conversation for too long. "She was flying and flying and flying and Mommy was afraid that she was going to get scared but she just kept laughing. I even got to push her!" Teddy seems incredibly proud of himself.
Don chuckles. "Is that right?" He can't imagine Robin every letting him get away with something like that, especially during Alannah's first swing ride. To his surprise, however, she nods. "He was very careful."
There's something that seems off about her, an abnormal tensions in her shoulders, but it could be caused by a number of things, so Don doesn't comment. He's really not in the mood to start a fight between the two of them. He won't deny that something awful happened today. He hasn't forgotten the families who have been torn apart, but his family is here, now, and he'll be damned if he wastes a second with them.
Stay-at-home dad was never really a career path Charlie ever considered. His life plan was basically mapped out from the beginning, and taking care of kids—hell, even getting married—weren't really part of the plan.
Plans, of course, change. He never anticipated meeting someone like Amita, someone who would change him so irrevocably and make him realize there were so many things more important than work; that numbers were not in fact, everything. There is no mathematical equation that could describe the feeling of holding your firstborn child in your arms—not that Charlie hasn't tried to figure one out.
And this whole stay-at-home thing is just temporary anyways. The only reason he's even here is because Amita had to go to help a grad student for a couple of hours, and ended up getting dragged into some meeting she's been avoiding with Millie—despite the fact that she's on maternity leave and therefore not officially at school. The message she left on the machine said she should be home in about an hour, so Charlie's not worried.
Besides, it isn't like it's been that hard. Sean is recovering from the flu, and so spent most of his afternoon in bed, dozing and flipping through picture books, his twin sister Naomi—who, at three, considers herself highly independent—is more than happy to amuse herself, and Diana seems to be particularly exhausted from all the excitement of the weekend—they had a huge barbecue to celebrate Alan's birthday—seeing as she has spent most of the afternoon asleep. The only real trouble is Rina: she seems to have caught whatever bug Sean's getting over and spent the whole day being sick. The worst of it seems to be over, however, and Charlie has finally managed to get a half hour to himself to work on some proofs while his children are all asleep.
He settles himself on the dining room and is reaching for the stack of papers containing his latest proof when he hears it: the muted buzzing of voices coming from the living room. He must have forgotten to turn off the TV before putting Naomi down for her nap; she and Diana had been watching cartoons on the kids channel after lunch. With a sigh of frustration—he just wants to get started on the damn proof—he heaves himself up from his seat and crosses the dining room, eyes already scanning the living room area for the remote and spying it on the coffee table at the other end of the room.
He never makes it that far. The images flashing on the four o'clock news make him stop in his tracks. A school, parking lot cordoned off with police tape. A classroom, the windows shattered, pieces of glass littering the floor like confetti. Two EMS personnel loading a black body bag into the back of an ambulance. A row of faces, children and adults alike—but mostly children, smiling faces full of innocence and joy.
It takes a minute for the news anchor's words to pierce through Charlie's consciousness. Elementary school. Lone gunman. Eleven dead. Eight of them children.
Charlie has experienced the violence that runs rampant through Los Angeles first-hand over the years. He's worked on tough cases with Don, some of which gave him nightmares for weeks, but he's never seen anything quite like this. He's never seen this kind of carnage.
He stands there, frozen, gaze fixed on the television, until the ringing of his phone yanks him back to reality. Fingers trembling, he fumbles it out of his pocket. He tries several times to open it, but his fingers are shaking so much that it isn't until the third try that he actually has any success.
"Charlie? It's Colby."
"Colby?" Charlie is disoriented, flustered. The news is over, but he has no idea how much time has passed since it ended. His mind is still reeling, trying to process all the information it's absorbed without much success.
"Yeah. Listen, can you come in?" Colby's voice is tense, like he's trying to suppress painful emotions, which is all Charlie needs to know to realize what he's being asked to do.
"I—Colby, I can't." They can't ask him to go there. Not where those children were senselessly slaughtered.
"Charlie—" Colby begins, tone clearly stating he thinks the mathematician is overreacting.
"I—Amita's out right now," he stammers hastily. "There's no one to watch the kids." It's as good an excuse as any. He technically can't go anywhere—though if it was a real emergency, he could call Robin and ask her to come over, since she isn't working today.
He doesn't tell Colby that.
Colby sighs, filling Charlie's ear with static. "I'll have an agent run the file over, okay? We really could use a second opinion."
Charlie doesn't know what to say. The odds of worming his way out of this one are ten to one, but he can't do this. Those kids...
Forget about the situation, Charlie, Don's voice whispers in his ear. Just think about the math.
"Okay," he relents. "I'll take a look."
It takes about fifteen minutes before an unfamiliar agent arrives at the door with a manila file folder that he hands wordlessly to Charlie. He closes the door in the agent's face, too frazzled to care about manners, and draws a few shaky breaths before heading to the garage, muttering, "Think about the math," over and over again to himself as he goes.
He's about halfway down the hall when his daughter's voice stops him in his tracks. With everything that's happened in the last he-doesn't-know-how-long, he's probably completely forgotten about his own children. Charlie feels a terrible pang of guilt—should his first response be to think of his kids after something like this?—and momentarily abandons his retreat to the garage, proceeding hastily into his eldest daughter's bedroom instead.
Rina is almost invisible under the tangle of blankets on her bed, and the small bit of her that can be seen is flushed with fever, a fever that's been steadily rising since this morning. Of all their children, she looks the most like Amita, and Charlie finds himself wondering fleetingly if this is what his wife looked like as a child.
"Hey," he says softly, perching on the edge of the bed and trying very hard to act like a calm, unruffled parent and not flustered and in shock. "How are you feeling?"
Rina shakes her head, eyes scrunching up the way they do when she's trying not to cry. "I wanna sleep," she whines, voice trembling dangerously, "but I can't."
Charlie sighs. He's itching to delve into these files—losing himself in that math is the only way to keep himself together—but he can't abandon his five year-old daughter, either. If there's one thing his father taught him early on it was this: parenting comes first. Everything else has to wait. "That's what happens sometimes when you're sick, sweetie." He hopes his words are reassurance enough.
Rina's baleful stare tells him they aren't.
"Umm...well..." Being put on the spot likes this makes him feel uncomfortable and he wishes—not for the first time—that Amita were here. She's good at this sort of stuff.
"I want Mommy," Rina whispers, eyes brimming with tears.
"Mommy's not here right now," Charlie says, glancing around wildly for a solution to this problem he is confronted with and praying that she doesn't start crying. He's not sure he knows what to say to comfort her. "How about I read you a story?" he asks hastily, eyes alighting upon a pile of colourful books on the nightstand.
Rina nods, brightening a little. "Okay."
Grabbing a book from the top of the pile, Charlie settles into bed beside his eldest daughter, something he hasn't done in a while. At first, he hopes that one story will suffice to put her to sleep, but as he begins to read and Rina snuggles against his chest, he doesn't care how many stories it takes. He's an adult now. A parent. He can't go losing himself in P vs. NP every time something bad happens. He is responsible for people other than himself now.
Charlie always thought that math was his lifeboat, his escape from all the horrible things he didn't want to confront in life. Now, lying in bed reading a story to his five year-old daughter, he realizes maybe math isn't the answer all the time.
Surprisingly, he's okay with it.
Hope you enjoyed! Please leave me a review and let me know what you think! :)