|Dira Sudis (dira) wrote,|
@ 2005-05-16 01:20 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||fic post, numb3rs|
It's funny--almost funny ha-ha, and he smiles a little to himself as he walks up the front steps of Charlie's building, thinking about it--how much more math he's doing these days, and how none of it is anything he learned from Charlie, even though it's all about Charlie. It was the FBI that trained Don in statistical analysis. Statistics, those are numbers he can use. Get a baseline, run a prediction, understand how variances draw attention. Run the calculations, all the time. So he's careful to touch Charlie just once--arm or shoulder--when he first sees him at the office, because he always has, and that's normal. And he's careful to go to Charlie's office no less than once and no more than three times in a week on non-urgent leave-the-door-open business. That's normal. As long as their visible actions stay normal, no one will look closer. The FBI taught him that; Charlie made him use it.
So he smiles like he usually does to the people he passes in Charlie's building--they're becoming familiar, they know he visits Charlie. This is all normal. When he walks into Charlie's office--bright and stuffy-hot, because apparently even the great Professor Eppes works in a building where the A/C breaks down sometimes--Charlie is working at the chalkboard. Don stops in the doorway, watching, and Charlie stops writing, scrubs a line out with the side of his hand, starts over, stops again, stands perfectly still, staring at the board, except for one hand rolling the stub of chalk back and forth across his fingers.
Charlie is nervous, and this is not normal, and that is why Don is here. He considers making this close-the-door business, but he's hesitant to take that step. So far he's only closed Charlie's office door for case business, and he doesn't want to call that into question. He steps inside instead and says, just loudly enough to be heard over the whir of the ineffectual fan and a distant, but hopefully more meaningful, banging in the ductwork, "Hey, Charlie."
Charlie's hand clenches on the chalk, but he doesn't turn around. He says, "Don," as he starts writing again, and Don walks all the way up, past the work table, past Charlie's desk, to the chalkboard. He doesn't usually come this far inside, but Charlie is nervous, and Don needs to keep this on Charlie's turf.
"I've got a math question for you," Don says, watching Charlie's profile, the way Charlie's eyes do not cut sideways to meet his. It would be funny, how nervous Charlie is, now, over this, if only it weren't Charlie, if only Don didn't know how honestly freaked out Charlie was.
Charlie's forehead wrinkles a little, and Don doesn't know whether it's directed at what he's writing or at Don until Charlie stops, chalk still pressed against the board, and ducks his head, hair falling forward but not quite hiding his eyes. "A math question," Charlie repeats, sounding dubious.
"Yeah," Don says, keeping his voice casual, "Come here, let me show you."
Charlie meets his eyes then, and Don smiles, and Charlie eases up a little. But Charlie glances toward the open door as he walks toward Don, and keeps an arm's length between them, reaching out to offer Don the chalk. Don takes it from his hand without being careful not to touch him but without lingering over it, and writes two symbols on the board. Charlie holds perfectly still. "I was just wondering what that means," Don says, "Because I got this email with that in it, and I wasn't sure exactly what it meant in context."
"Well," Charlie says, and has to clear his throat before he can go on, "Well. That means less than three."
Don nods slowly. "Yeah, I actually know that, because they taught us that in third grade. See," he holds up his left hand to mimic the less-than sign, tilts up so his thumb and forefinger make an L, "L for less than. Or, the alligator wants to eat the bigger number. Either way."
"Well, that's what it means," Charlie says, looking away from Don and the chalkboard both, "Less than three."
Don watches Charlie's face. "Sure," he says, "but what less than three? Isn't it kind of... ambiguous, without something on the other side?"
Charlie shrugs. "It's not a complete expression of itself, but it does have a discrete meaning. Possibly this would be a matter of context, depending on the rest of the message you received."
"Discreet, huh?" Don glances toward the door himself, because discreet is definitely the name of the game right now.
Charlie shakes his head. "No, discrete--separate, complete of itself. No matter what it's being compared to, this--" Charlie taps his finger at the center of the space defined by the two symbols on the board, "this always means less than three, no matter what."
Charlie's hand is right in front of his face, but Don doesn't touch it, just leans closer to the board and to Charlie, like he needs to look closer to understand. "Less than three," he repeats, seeing the two symbols as one expression with Charlie's finger planted right in the middle.
"Yeah," Charlie says, finally meeting his eyes, finally smiling a little. He takes his hand from the board, and makes a gesture in the space between them that might have meant anything, out of context, just a wave from the vicinity of Charlie's chest to the vicinity of Don's. "Less than three."
Don nods, letting himself smile for real, now that Charlie's with him, talking to him, even if it's like this. Charlie's never been as good with words as he was with numbers, so if he needs to say it like this, that's fine. More than fine, that he would make the effort. "That's what I thought it meant," Don says slowly, "I just figured I'd better check with my expert to be sure."
No particular stress on the possessive, but Charlie hears it and smiles, folding his arms across his chest, leaving a chalk smear on the sleeve of his t-shirt. "Yep. Less than three. I'd stake my career on it."
They're both staking their careers on it, and a hell of a lot more, but you really can't argue with less than three. It is what it is, separate and complete. Don leans a little closer to Charlie, even knowing it's too close, even knowing the door is open. "Two," he says, quietly, and Charlie's smile widens.
"One," he says, triumphantly, confidently, and maybe this was all Charlie needed, a way to put this into numbers. Funny--almost funny ha-ha, and Don smiles at the thought--that it was Don who gave it to him, even though it was Charlie who started it.
"Thanks," Don says, "I should get back."
Charlie nods and takes the chalk from Don's palm, without being careful not to touch him but without lingering. Don wipes the chalk on his hand on the side of Charlie's shirt, because Charlie is his little brother and that is what older brothers do to their little brothers. That is normal. Charlie's startled laugh is normal too, and it follows Don to the door and spills out into the quiet hallway. Don turns back at the threshold to see Charlie standing by the chalkboard watching him, and he winks as he says, "Zero."
Charlie says, "Negative one," like he was just waiting for the chance, and then, calling after Don as he walks down the hall, "You know, the set of real numbers less than three is actually infinite..."
Don doesn't turn back--he really should get to work--but he smiles at everyone he passes.