Disclaimer: They ain't mine. Wish they were, though. :)
Summary: Don says something he ends up regretting.
Rating: PG-13 for strong language.
Author's Notes: I was watching the Pilot ep, and I heard the 'PITA' comment Don made to Terry when he told her that Charlie was developing an equation for their serial killer. That got me thinking . . . What if Charlie had heard that?
BE WARNEDWhether or not Don would actually say the following things in this story, I don't know. I'm writing this purely for the emotional angst aspect.
"Good work, Charlie." Don slapped his little brother on the back and grinned with pride. "C'mon, let's go grab some lunch. My treat."
Charlie glowed at the praise, his eyes lighting up with hope. "O-Okay," he stammered, clearly surprised at the invitation. "Just let me get my stuff together."
"I'll be at my desk," Don told him, exiting the conference room.
Don turned and carefully hid a frown of displeasure as Carl Miller approached him. Miller was an adequate agent at best, and while not entirely a bad guy, he had a way with words that left whoever he was talking to feel about two inches tall. Don always made it a point to avoid Miller whenever he could, but it didn't look as though he would be so lucky now.
"Something I can do for you, Carl?" he asked, heading to his desk.
Miller followed after him and perched himself on the edge of Don's desk. "Heard that your brother cracked another case. He's racking up quite the batting average. You must be proud."
Don frowned slightly in suspicion. "Of course I am. He's done great work."
"Sure, sure," Miller agreed dismissively. "You know, I've got to admire how well you two work together. Despite your differences, of course."
"What are you getting at?" Don asked, feeling his irritation blossom as the conversation continued.
"Come on, Don," Miller said. "You two are as different as night and day. Are you telling me that you two have always gotten along?"
"Of course not," Don replied tartly. "All brothers have their differences. Some more than others, yeah." Miller's probing was definitely irking him.
"But you're not bothered in the least that he's edging into your territory?" Miller shook his head. "I gotta hand it to you, Don. If it were me, I'd be more than a little bothered. My little brother, showing me up all the time?"
"He's been an asset to this office," Don argued, his tone sharpening with each word.
Miller nodded. "Sure, yeah. You won't get any argument from me there. But his being here doesn't bother you in the slightest?"
Don finally rounded on Miller, thelid on his annoyance completely blown. "What do you want me to say? That I think he's a pain in the ass? He annoys the hell out of me sometimes, yeah! He never leaves me alone, and constantly wanders around looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. I wish sometimes he'd just grow up and realize that the real world isn't all it's cracked up to be. There, you satisfied?"
Miller stood and threw up his hands in surrender. "Sorry."
Don glared after him as he walked away, sighed, and turned towards the conference room in time to see Charlie standing only feet away. He appeared rooted to the floor; almost paralyzed, in fact. The fact that his face was a mask of shock and betrayal told Don that his little brother had overheard every word he had just said.
"Charlie-," Don started.
Charlie's eyes skittered away, his hands gripping the strap of his backpack tightly. "I, uh, just remembered that I have stuff to do. I'll see you later."
Don darted around his desk and blocked Charlie's escape, grasping his brother's arms. "Charlie, wait, let me explain . . ."
Charlie shook off Don's hands. "Explain what? I gotta go."
He tried to duck around his big brother, but Don caught his arms again. Charlie tried to shake him off again, but this time Don held on.
"Don, let me go!" Charlie demanded, struggling.
Instead, Don forcefully pushed Charlie away from the gawking eyes in the bullpen and into the conference room. Finally releasing Charlie, Don locked the door to the conference room, then blocked it with his body.
Charlie withdrew from Don, still gripping his backpack strap. His eyes scanned the room, but didn't seem to really see anything. Don could see the glimmer of tears welling in his brother's eyes and felt a sharp stab of guilt in his gut to know that he was the cause of them.
"Charlie, I'm sorry," Don began. "Those things I said . . . I didn't mean any of them."
"Fine, sure, whatever," Charlie replied, still not meeting Don's eyes. "Can I go now?"
Don fought down another wave of frustration. "Charlie, seriously!"
"No, I got it," Charlie assured him. "Really, Don, forget it. Look, I really do have to go. I forgot that I promised to meet with Larry for lunch today to go over some stuff with him."
Don studied his brother, wondering if Charlie was being entirely truthful. Charlie was still avoiding his eyes, fidgeting nervously under his brother's penetrating gaze. Finally, Don sighed and stepped aside.
"This isn't over yet, Charlie," he stated firmly. "We still need to talk."
Charlie didn't reply. Eyes focused solidly on his feet, he walked past Don, unlocked the door, and escaped through the bullpen.
Terry chose that moment to approach her partner. "Hey, did it taste good?"
Don stared at her in confusion, noting the slight irritation in her eyes. "What?"
"Your foot," she replied. "Don, I know it's not my place, but you of all people should know not to rise to Miller's baiting."
"I know!" Don snapped. "Look, this is between Charlie and me, and I'll handle it."
"You'd better do it quick," Terry warned, tossing a glance over her shoulder. She turned back and stared firmly at Don. "It may have been just you and Charlie a few months ago, Don, but Charlie's been working with us quite a bit. Like it or not, he's becoming one of us, and I know of a couple other agents not too thrilled with what just went on here."
Don raised his eyebrows and scanned the office, but saw no eyes turned their way. He returned his gaze to Terry, remorse plain in his brown eyes. "I didn't mean any of it. Really."
Terry sighed and smiled sympathetically. "Then take some friendly advice and don't wait. Go fix this now, before it gets any worse."
Don gratefully squeezed Terry's arm, then retrieved his suit jacket and tore after the path his brother made through the bullpen. If he hurried, he could catch Charlie out in front of the building.
Charlie hurried through the slowly growing lunch crowd, his head bowed low to hide the tears that were threatening to spill out of his eyes. His brother's harsh words rang in his ears, chasing themselves throughout his mind.
Pain in the ass.
Annoys the hell out of me.
Wish he would just grow up.
Charlie paused on the outside of a crowd waiting to cross the street, careful not to draw any attention to himself. He wasn't entirely sure where he was going. He hadn't been entirely truthful with Don when he said he had to meet with Larry. The truth was he had to meet with Larry; but that wasn't until tomorrow. He had no classes for the rest of the day, for a change, and really had nowhere to be. He supposed he could head home, but then he would have to deal with his father, and he didn't feel like talking to anyone about what had just happened.
The light turned green, and the crowd Charlie was a part of began to head into the street. Charlie made it to the curb when a strong hand closed around his upper arm and pulled him away from the street, spinning him around. Charlie's head snapped up in shock, eyes locking in surprise and fear with those of his brother's.
The two brothers stared at each other, speechless for a long moment before Don led Charlie further from the street. With his brother's hand on his arm, Charlie was powerless to resist.
Don guided his brother back towards his office, then pulled Charlie into a secluded spot around the corner of the tall office building. He didn't release Charlie until he was sure they were away from any prying ears.
Charlie pulled back as soon as he was free, staring at his brother in confusion and disbelief. He wasn't entirely sure why Don would want to speak with him now, and so he waited for Don to make the first move.
Don noted his brother's searching eyes, and he felt the same stab of guilt from earlier. As his words from earlier washed over him, shame settled on his face, and his eyes dropped to the vicinity of his brother's chest. "I'm so sorry, Charlie."
Charlie gave a start, clearly not expecting the apology or the force of emotion behind it. Still, he said nothing.
Don sighed. "I really didn't mean any of what I said. Miller's such an ass, and he just wouldn't let up, so I guess I just . . . . it doesn't matter. It doesn't excuse what I did. I just . . . I'm so sorry."
Charlie's own eyes searched his brother's face before lowering to examine his shoes. "But you wouldn't have said it if some of it wasn't true."
Charlie's voice was so soft, so tentative, that at first Don wasn't sure he had actually heard Charlie speak. Seeing the awful truth on his brother's face, Don knew that Terry had been right. He had to fix this, now.
"It's not!" he insisted. At Charlie's sharp look of disbelief, he quickly amended, "All right, maybe once it had been true. Back when I didn't really know you. Yeah, we were so different, and I just didn't understand you. Rather than try, though, I thought it was just easier to ignore you."
Charlie nodded matter-of-factly, which didn't sit well with Don. "Yeah, I understand. I mean, we're totally different. Nothing in common."
"I wouldn't say that," Don interjected.
Charlie looked up at him, his expression one of earnest curiosity.
Don smiled softly. "Baseball, right? We both like baseball. And we have similar tastes in movies. And I've been told by more than one person that our personalities are pretty close. We may not look like the same on the outside, but if anyone were to take a closer look at us, they could tell easily that we're brothers."
Charlie scuffed his shoes, his eyes once more on the ground. "Does that bother you?"
"Why would that bother me?" Don asked. "I'm proud as hell to be your brother. I'm sorry I haven't said as much before, but . . . I am."
Charlie was still unconvinced. "What about that stuff you said? About wanting me to leave you alone, and that I should just grow up, and that I don't look at the world the right way. What about that stuff?"
Don felt shame creeping back on him, and he pushed it back down. "Charlie, I don't want you to leave me alone. I may want you to give me some space every once in a great while, but that doesn't mean I don't love you. You know that. How would you feel if I looked over your shoulder each time you were working on your equations?"
Charlie grinned slightly at the image that provoked. Emboldened, Don continued.
"I know I said you're a little . . . naive," he admitted. "And you are, but that's not a bad thing. I guess I'm so used to the negative side of life that seeing nothing but the good seems a little strange. It's not good for me to do that, but the fact that you still can is a good thing, Charlie. To tell you the truth, if more people could see the world the way you do, then maybe it wouldn't be such a bad place."
Charlie peeked up at his brother shyly. "You really mean that?"
Don smiled warmly down at him. "Yeah. I do."
Charlie's eyes darted away, but Don could still see the smile growing on his face. He reached out and gripped Charlie's shoulder. "I'm really sorry, Charlie. I mean it. I'll make it up to you."
"Forget it." The words were and echo from earlier, but their inflection was much lighter. Charlie's expression had cleared. "I already have."
Don could see that Charlie was ready to put the whole scene behind him and move on, but Don still felt tinges of regret at his words. Gently, he tugged his brother into a hug. Charlie may have already forgotten, but it would be awhile before Don could. In the meantime, he vowed to himself, he would find some way to make it up to his little brother. He owed him that much.
An arm still slung around Charlie's shoulders, Don turned and guided Charlie away from the building and back down the street. "Still hungry? That offer for lunch still stands."
Charlie's hands were clutching his backpack strap, though not nearly as tightly as he had before. A serene smile graced his lips as he looked ahead. "Sure. Sounds good."
It was a start.