Light In The Mirror

Crunch Time

Numb3rs Awards Nominee

Fandom: Numb3rs

Rating: G

Summary: Written for Celli's Third Annual Mildly Unofficial Tax Season Challenge. The story must include taxes in some fashion, and either the word "withholding" or the word "accrual." Bonus points for using both, and for reaching exactly 1040 words. I ran this through three different word processors and got three different answers, but I think it's 1040 words long.

Disclaimer: The characters and situations in this story belong to Cheryl Heuton, Nicolas Falacci, and CBS, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.

Spoilers: general first season.

Note: I'm no tax expert, and I still haven't seen the season premiere. Please forgive any blatant errors.


Somebody was snarling.

Don closed the front door quietly and listened. Yep, it was Charlie. His irritation had an entirely different sound from their father’s low-level grumbling.

Don took two silent steps into the living room--FBI training was good for so many things--and observed. Charlie sat on the couch, surrounded by a litter of paper; his hair was thoroughly ruffled, and he looked mad enough to throw something.

“Problem?” Don asked. Charlie jumped.

“Geez, man. Make some noise next time.” There was no amusement in his voice, and Don upgraded his brother’s emotional status from irritated to downright angry. “What are you doing here? It’s the middle of the day.”

Don shrugged and collapsed into an armchair. “Our suspect broke down during interrogation and started crying like a girl. His arrest took more time than that.”

Charlie snorted, relaxing a little. “Didn’t even have to get menacing, huh?” He tossed his pencil onto the low table and leaned back.

Don ignored that. “It was such a great day that I told the team to clear out. What’s the fun of being in charge if you can’t play hooky once in a while?” Pleased with himself, he nodded at mess of paper. “What’s all this?”

Charlie groaned. “Taxes.”

Don took a closer look. Some of the sheets were clearly IRS forms, many bearing Charlie’s distinctive handwriting; others were smaller. “How many W-2s do you have?” he asked in wonder.

Charlie rubbed his eyes. “Do you know how much consulting I do in a given year? NASA, the NSA, the ATF, the Secret Service…you guys…” He dropped his arms. “Not to mention the private stuff.”

Don rolled his eyes. “I’m surprised you have time to teach. So what’s the problem?”

“The problem is that I can’t figure out how to do this properly. The problem is that the tax code is so complicated that it is literally beyond human comprehension.” Charlie was getting agitated again, and Don waved both hands placatingly.

“Whoa, whoa, take it easy.” He leaned forward and picked up one of the forms. “Waitaminute, you made how much on this job?”

Charlie snatched the paper away. “My services are at a premium,” he said, almost primly.

“I’m in the wrong business. C’mon, man, you’re a math genius. This is math, isn’t it?”

“This? This isn’t math.” Charlie picked up an instruction booklet as though he would strangle it if it had a neck. “This is massive illogic masquerading as bureaucracy. This is an endless series of if/then statements that would drive John Nash insane.”

“John Nash was insane,” Don pointed out. At Charlie’s skeptical look, he glared. “What? I saw the movie.”

His brother sighed, and dropped the manual back on the table, ignoring the papers that it displaced. “So did you do yours already?”

Don tried hard not to look smug, and failed. “Last month.”

“Yeah? How long did it take you?”

“About twenty minutes, start to finish.” He grinned at Charlie’s incensed expression. “I get to use the easy form.”

Charlie groaned and let his head fall against the back of the couch. “I hate you.”

Don leaned forward and snagged another sheet. “You consulted for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration? You’ve been withholding information again.”

Charlie looked mildly baffled. “What does the FBI have to do with NOAA?”

“Interagency cooperation and all that. What were you doing for them?”

“Working on an algorithm to help predict hurricane landfall more accurately.” Charlie ran his fingers through his hair. “This is impossible…I’m going to have nightmares about interest accrual.”

Don couldn’t help chuckling. It was satisfying, on some level, to see his genius little brother so discombobulated by something that happened every year. “Why didn’t you use a tax preparer?”

Charlie closed his eyes. “I didn’t think it would be this hard. For crying out loud, Don, every day I handle problems that would make rocket scientists sweat.” He sighed. “I just didn’t take one variable into account.”

“Yeah? Which one?”

“The fact that the tax code was created by illogical human beings.”

Don snorted. “Yes, sir, Captain Spock.”

A small grin made Charlie’s mouth twitch up. “Mehe nekkhet ur-seveh.

“What?” But Charlie didn’t reply, only closing his eyes again.

Don let it go. It wasn’t just Charlie’s genius that made it difficult for them to understand one another; they simply thought along completely different lines.


“Look, do you want some help? Maybe between the two of us we can figure out these if/when statements.”

“If/then,” Charlie corrected lazily, then straightened, some of the strain easing from his face. “Sure, Don, that’d be great. Thanks.”

When Alan returned from his afternoon at the shelter, he found his sons sitting on the floor of the living room in a welter of paper, trading sheets and discussion. “It says here that if you’re taking a deduction--” Don insisted, pointing to the instruction booklet, but Charlie shook his head.

“That’s negated by the amount, it’s too low.”

Alan cleared his throat. “Excuse me.”

The brothers looked up with identical, slightly unfocused gazes, and Alan smiled to himself. Most people only saw his sons’ differences; he so often saw the ways they were the same. “I’m not going to ask if you’ve made any progress. But you’re staying for dinner, Donnie?”

“Are you sticking to tradition?” Don demanded, and Alan let the smile out.

“I am. April 15, steak for dinner to celebrate surviving another year.”

“Hell yeah, I’m staying.”

“Good.” Alan let his gaze sweep the room once more, taking in the mess, the frustrated expressions, the deepening afternoon light. “Oh, one more thing.”

He tossed the bag he held to Charlie, who caught it, looking puzzled, and pulled out a box about the size of a hardcover book. “Tax preparation software?”

Alan’s shrug was nonchalant. “We don’t eat until you file, and I’d like to have dinner before midnight. The young lady at the bookstore said it was the best.”

Charlie’s face was a study in mingled amazement and pleasure. “Why didn’t I think of this? Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re quite welcome.” Alan headed for the kitchen to start the marinade. Behind him, his sons began bickering genially about the software, and he smiled again.

Some things never changed.