Title: Conversations
Author: N'kala99
Disclaimer: They're not mine. Neither is the NyQuil.
Summary: Drabble. A simple conversation between brothers.
Author's Notes: Thanks so much for all the wonderful reviews! I wanted more of an exploration of the family dynamic, so I thought I'd try again. This is just a little drabble I had running through my head that I wanted to put down. The interaction between Don and Charlie was inspired by similarly structured conversations with my own brother.

Conversations

Don turned the engine of his car off and just sat still in his seat, gathering his thoughts. He had been kept busy at the office for the past two weeks, working on a series of murders that had been plaguing the city. Between going back over witness accounts, interviews, and crime scene evidence, Don had barely found time to eat and sleep. As it was, he hadn't seen his father or brother in all that time.

Sure, he had received messages from his father, checking on him, but Don just hadn't found the time to call him back. He was hoping that this visit, late though it was, would make up for his lack of contact.

Sighing wearily, Don opened his door and stepped out.

It was half past eight; past dinnertime, but too early for bed. Several lights in the house were on, but it was eerily silent. Rather than call out and startle someone, Don removed his suit jacket, slung it on the coat rack, and walked through the living room. His sharp brown eyes scanned the rooms as he passed, looking for some sign of life from within.

The sound of soft music wafted gently through the air towards him, coming from the deck out back. Don headed that way, quietly pushing the screen door open and looking over at the chairs to the right.

Alan was lounging comfortably beneath the ambient amber glow of the house lights, a book open in his hands. Upon seeing Don, he smiled, closed his book, and stood.

"Hello there, stranger," Alan greeted warmly, engulfing his son in a hug. Don returned the embrace with a smile.

"Hey, Dad, how's it going?" he asked, sinking into a chair.

Alan resumed his seat, but set his book on the table. "Shouldn't I be asking you that?"

"Humor me," Don replied.

Alan shrugged. "Same old, same old. So I hear you cracked the big serial case."

"The team cracked it," Don corrected modestly. "And not a moment too soon. He was getting ready to grab his next victim when we got him. Evidence is pretty solid; he's going down for a long time."

"That's good to hear," Alan stated. "So can I take it that things will be getting back to normal then?"

"That's my goal," Don admitted. He glanced around the yard, then turned back to his dad. "Where's Charlie?"

Alan smiled softly at the mention of his youngest. "Asleep."

Don gave a start. "Asleep?" he echoed, alarmed. "Dad, it's not even nine o'clock yet!"

Alan nodded. "He's been working on some big project for school. He told me about it when it started, but hell if I remember it. It seemed like he was doing a different one everyday. Been giving it all his attention, day and night. Ran himself down on it, too."

"Is he still working on it?" Don asked.

Alan shook his head. "He gave the presentation on it this morning, then handed it over to Larry. He came home around noon, sick as a dog and exhausted. I sent him straight to bed, where he's been the whole time." He glanced at his watch. "Damn! I didn't realize how late it had gotten. I was going to take up a bowl of soup."

He began to rise, but Don waved him back down. Standing, he said, "I'll take care of it. It'll give me a chance to give him a hard time about working himself sick. Again."

Alan smiled slightly. "Yeah, well, you might want to wait until he's a little more lucid to understand you. You know how he gets when he's half asleep."

Don grinned and headed back into the house. Digging around in the pantry, he took out a can of chicken noodle soup and opened it. While it warmed on the stove, Don retrieved everything else he needed. As an afterthought, he grabbed a bottle of NyQuil. Charlie had a low tolerance for the powerful drug, but it had always worked the best in getting him back on his feet.

Stacking a steaming bowl of soup, a tall glass of iced tea, and the NyQuil on a tray, Don exited the kitchen and walked up the stairs to Charlie's room.

Charlie's room was dark, lit only by the light of the hallway. Don maneuvered through the obstacles of textbooks and files in the room with years of practice and set the tray down on Charlie's dresser. Searching out the switch for the desk lamp, he turned it on, then received his first good look at his little brother in two weeks.

Charlie was lying on his side, turned towards Don. He was huddled beneath the comforter on his bed, but Don could see the sweat beading on Charlie's face. Don knelt on the floor beside Charlie and lightly placed a hand on his brother's head. He could feel the heat radiating off of his brother in waves.

"Charlie," Don whispered. "Hey, Charlie. Wake up."

Charlie's breathing deepened slightly, and he frowned. "Don?" he rasped, opening his eyes to slits.

Don smiled widely. "Hey, Buddy, I hear you're not feeling too well."

Charlie stared at his brother's face in confusion. Don could tell that Charlie was only half-awake. "What're you doin' here? I thought you had a case."

"Had is right," Don replied. "I finished it."

"Oh." Charlie's eyes slid shut. "Okay."

Don rolled his eyes and gently shook Charlie's shoulder. "Charlie, wake up."

Charlie opened his eyes again. "Don?"

"Yeah, Buddy, I need you to wake up," Don told him. "I have your dinner."

"That's nice."

"I need you to eat it."

"Okay."

Don waited patiently, only to watch as Charlie's eyes slid closed again. Deciding a change in tactics was in order, Don pulled Charlie's blanket back. The cool air struck Charlie's overheated body sharply, and he opened his eyes a little wider.

"Don, leave me alone," he whined.

"I will once you eat, all right?" Don stood and retrieved the tray. Charlie sighed heavily and scooted up against his headboard. Don set the tray on the bed before him, then sat down on the bed and handed Charlie a spoon.

"So what's this I hear about a big project?" Don asked.

Charlie stared at Don blankly, spoon halfway to his mouth.

"At school?" Don prompted.

Understanding clicked in Charlie's expressive eyes, and he began to eat. "Yeah, I had a big project to do for school."

Don waited for more. When he realized that nothing more was forthcoming, he let out a tiny huff of laughter. People were always astounded at the lightning quick speed his mind worked during the day, but few were privy to this side of his little brother. Whereas a healthy Charlie tended to give you all the information you could possibly need and then some, a sick Charlie had to be walked patiently through an entire conversation about even the simplest of topics.

"What was your big school project about?" Don asked, trying again.

Charlie stared at Don again as he tried to access the requested information. "Larry and me were asked to conduct this huge study on student schedules and comparable success rates, then to compare them to other colleges, but they kept throwing all these other variables into the research. Hours spent studying, men versus women, age, ethnic and economic backgrounds, personal histories, tuition rates, hours professors put into the lessons . . . I think we changed the entire focus of our study at least ten times a day before I developed an equation to help incorporate all of the various factors and calculate the results."

"And how long did that take?" Don wanted to know.

Charlie, who had taken a moment to sip his iced tea, set his glass down and resumed his meal. "Developing the equation took about two days, max, but that was after Larry and I had been struggling with those variables. Once it was done, the work pretty much did itself."

"And why exactly did CalSci make you two do this?" Don asked.

"They wanted to prove that our campus produced more outstanding alums than others," Charlie answered. "And they wanted to do it with a more scientific backing than success rates once out of school. Although, that was another variable we had to account for."

Don shook his head as Charlie finished his soup. He was immensely proud of his little brother, but at the same time he felt irritated that Charlie would let himself become so consumed by his work that he would neglect everything else around him.

Even as the thought entered his mind, Don had to laugh at himself. The pot and kettle had nothing on him and Charlie.

Don grabbed the NyQuil off the tray and twisted off the cap. "All right, Charlie, take some medicine, and then I'll be out of your hair."

Charlie looked at the label and grimaced. "I hate that stuff."

"I know." Don held the bottle out. "Look at it this way: would you rather start feeling better now, or stay sick for about a week?"

Charlie scowled at the bottle, then Don. "I hate it when I'm sick. I can never argue with you."

He took the bottle as Don grinned. "You never can when you're well. Let's go. Bottom's up."

Charlie obediently took the NyQuil, making a face as it slid down his throat. Don stood and moved the tray back to the dresser, then took the bottle from his brother as Charlie slid back down onto his bed. He drew his covers tightly around his shoulders and looked up at Don. "Hey, Don?"

Don crouched back down, making it easier for Charlie to meet his eyes. "Yeah?"

"Did I dream it, or did you say you finished your case?"

Don chuckled softly. "No, you didn't dream it. We wrapped it up this afternoon."

Charlie nodded thoughtfully. "Does this mean you'll be here tomorrow for dinner?"

Don knew he would be, but he couldn't resist teasing Charlie. "Maybe. What's Dad making?"

"I think he mentioned something about meatloaf this morning," Charlie replied.

"Oh." Don pretended to mull that thought over. "Well, I think I can make it for that. Then maybe we can watch a movie or something afterwards. What do you say?"

Charlie smiled tiredly and closed his eyes. "Sounds good."

Don waited, listening as his brother's breathing evened out, then stood. Collecting the tray, he quietly crept from the room and back down the hallway.

The End