Title: Normal
Author: N'kala99
Disclaimer: They're not mine!
Summary: Don wishes Charlie were normal. Charlie's willing to grant that wish, but at what cost?
Author's Notes: Just a little thing floating around in my head. I started a couple drabbles with the guys as kids, and I thought it might be fun to explore it a little more. I think in another story someone mentioned Charlie pretending he wasn't a genius, but I swear I came up with that thought, too. Great minds think alike:)
My math is a little weak, so bear with me on it. :) Also- this is slight AU. Some stuff in here may or may not fit into canon, so be warned!


Chapter One

"Donnie! Wait for me!"

Don paused and closed his eyes as if in pain. Beside him, his best friend Jack glanced behind them.

"C'mon, man, does he have to come with us?" he asked of Don, frowning at the small eight-year-old boy running towards them. "He's such a pest!"

"You're telling me," Don shot back. "I don't want him with us any more than you do, but my parents make me take him to school every morning."

Charlie caught up to them, breathing heavily from exertion. His hands gripped his backpack straps tightly as his bright brown eyes looked up at his big brother.

"Mom says to give you lunch money," he said, reaching into his pocket and holding out some money to Don. "She says you forgot to take it when you left, and she gave you some extra 'cause we have to stop at the store for some bread on the way home today."

Don snatched the money away and jammed it into his pocket, then turned and continued down the street towards the school. Jack pointedly ignored Charlie, but Charlie was too used to this to be bothered much by it. He merely hurried after the older boys.

"Yeah, that test yesterday in history was a killer," Jack stated. "I hope Sarah studied for it; she seemed to know what she was doing."

Don smirked at his friend. "Did she know you were 'borrowing' her answers?" he asked.

Jack shrugged, unconcerned, as they paused at a busy intersection just a block from the school. "Probably not. She wouldn't care, anyway."

Don shook his head. "You know, one of these days she's going to catch you. What'll you do then?"

Jack flashed him a grin. "I'll just turn up the charm. No woman can resist me."

The light changed, allowing the boys to continue on their way. Before Don could take a single step, a small hand reached out and snagged hold of his. Don recoiled in surprise and snatched his hand back, looking down at Charlie in disgust.

Charlie frowned indignantly up at his brother. "Donnie! Mom and Dad say to hold hands when crossing the street."

"Yeah, when you're with them!" Don snapped. "I don't want people seeing me holding your hand! It's embarrassing!"

"Listen, runt," Jack stepped in. "Just keep up with us, and you won't have to hold anybody's hand, all right?"

"Let's go," Don muttered to his friend, and started across the street.

Charlie watched them go, hesitating only briefly before running once more to catch up. He followed the two older boys as best he could, but the crowd of teenagers was thickening as they neared the high school. Within seconds, Charlie had lost them completely to the surging throngs of students. Sighing heavily, Charlie joined the crowd and headed into the building for his first class.

He knew his brother was angry with him. Donnie seemed to be angry with him all the time, though Charlie rarely understood why. At least at home, Donnie sometimes liked him. He was teaching him how to play basketball, after all. It was just when he was with his friends that Donnie hated Charlie.

Charlie wished there were something he could do to make Donnie like him. His big brother was so cool; he was popular, and he had so many friends. Everybody loved him. Plus, he knew all sorts of stuff, like how to play sports and things like that. Not like Charlie. Charlie didn't have any friends, and he was teased and bullied mercilessly. Donnie stuck up for him whenever he could, but he couldn't be there all the time. Charlie understood, though. It was his greatest desire to be just like his big brother.

Charlie stopped at his locker and, opening it, began to go through the books he would need for the day. He was busy trying to fit three textbooks among his notebooks and supplies that he never noticed Dylan Bradley until it was too late.

A hand grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and slammed him face-first against the lockers before releasing him. Charlie slid to the floor, his head ringing with the impact. The sound of mocking laughter filled his ears.

"Morning, freak!" Dylan taunted. "You got my homework?"

Charlie picked himself up off of the ground, holding his backpack protectively in front of himself. "I told you, Dylan. I'm not doing your work for you. Leave me alone!"

Dylan grabbed Charlie's arm and shook the child forcefully. "Maybe you should reconsider, freak. I don't really like the word 'no'."

Charlie winced at the growing pain in his trapped arm, but he stared defiantly at the eleventh grader. "Dylan, even if I did your homework for you, what makes you think your teachers will believe you did it? If you take into account your grades this year and in the previous few years, factor in your general behavior and a few other variables about your lifestyle, it would be easy for any teacher to see that the work wasn't yours. It's basic probability, and you don't need a math genius to see it."

Dylan stared dumbly at Charlie for a full minute, though whether it was from shock at Charlie's brazen attitude or the sheer effort that it took to decipher what it was that Charlie had said, Charlie didn't know. He waited for Dylan to gather his thoughts, praying for the bell to ring.

His prayers were answered. Even as the bell rang overhead, Dylan shoved Charlie back into his locker. "Whatever, freak. I'll talk to you later."

Charlie watched him go from the floor, breathing a little easier. It wasn't easy being so young and in high school, and students like Dylan Bradley simply made it more difficult. Climbing to his feet, Charlie shut his locker and hurried down the hall to his first class of the day.

" . . . can I, Donnie, please, can I?"

Don rolled his eyes, but on the inside he felt a flush of warmth fill him. He would never admit it to anybody, but he secretly liked the fact that Charlie admired him so much. It was good for his ego, and besides- Don liked to be better at Charlie at some things.

"Sure, Charlie, you can come watch," Don agreed. "But only if you promise to sit and watch and not draw any attention to yourself. I don't want you embarrassing me."

Charlie nodded, but a grin threatened to split his face in two. The two boys were walking home from the corner store, and Charlie had found out that Donnie had made it onto the varsity baseball team this year. He was thoroughly excited for his big brother, and had begged to be allowed to watch some of the practices. Having to sit still and pretend to be invisible was a small price to pay to hang out with Donnie.

As they neared their home, Charlie ran on ahead, leaving Don to continue at his leisurely pace. By the time Don made it in the door, Charlie was already up in their father's arms, jabbering on and on about watching Don practice baseball.

"So I hear congratulations are in order," their mother's amused, melodic voice floated to Don's ears from the door to the kitchen. She smiled proudly at her eldest.

Don grinned and, handing her the bag with the bread in it, kissed her on the cheek. "Yeah, results came out today right after school. Jack made it, too."

"Then I guess this calls for a celebration!" Mary decided. "How does brisket sound?"

Don's smile broadened. "Really? That's great! Thanks, Mom."

"Donnie, you're gonna help me with the brisket," Alan stated. "Then you can tell me all about how your tryouts went." He set Charlie on the ground and patted him on the back. "Go help your mother."

Charlie moved obediently into the kitchen, grabbing his mother's hand on the way. "Come on, Mom! I'll help make the celebration dinner!"

Mary laughed and allowed her youngest to tug her into the kitchen.

Dusk was just starting to fall on the sleepy California neighborhood. A warm breeze floated through the air, carrying smells of the approaching summer just months away. With some time before evening arrived, Don decided to practice some more shots with Charlie with their basketball net in their driveway.

Teaching Charlie basketball had been Alan's idea originally. He had wanted to find some way to have both his sons spend time with each other, and the only answer he could come up with that both boys would agree to was sports. Charlie was too small for football, and he just hadn't been terribly interested in soccer. With so many houses around, baseball had to wait until they could go to a practice field. That left basketball.

Charlie was a quick study, though no one was surprised by that. What amazed his family was how much Charlie enjoyed playing. Alan and Don both were always partially stunned at Charlie's enthusiasm for something not entirely related to mathematics, and when Charlie begged Don to play for a few minutes, they wondered at the cause. Mary only smiled patiently at them; she knew they'd figure it out someday.

Charlie grinned excitedly at Don and, feinting left, drove past his brother on the right. Quickly calculating trajectory angles in his mind's eye, he threw the ball at the net. The basketball sank right in, barely grazing the rim.

Don retrieved the ball and wiped the sweat from his brow. "I'm gonna have to stop letting you win if you keep this up," he commented, his tone lightly teasing.

Charlie smirked. "You're just saying that," he shot back. "I beat you fair and square. Admit it."

"Never in a million years," Don shot back, grinning at the familiar argument. "C'mon, Buddy. Let's go inside. I've got some homework I've got to do."

Charlie bounced along beside Don. "Me too! Mr. Williams assigned me extra work on top of what we covered today, but it shouldn't take me too long. It looked real easy."

Don suppressed a wave of frustration at his brother's words. Mr. Williams was the trigonometry teacher at the high school and was notorious for being very difficult. Aside from that, Don had him as well, though not at the same time as Charlie. Don always struggled with that class, and hearing his eight-year-old brother comment on the teacher as if he were easy made him feel inferior.

Charlie was still talking away a mile a minute to his big brother, unaware that he had lost Don's attention for a moment. "Do you suppose he'll give that pop quiz on Friday? He always hints that he will, but I don't know if he forgets. None of the other kids like to remind him. I don't mind, though, they're not usually that hard. It just has the stuff we haven't done in a while."

"Whatever," Don muttered. "I need to concentrate on my homework, so go to your room and don't bug me, all right?"

Charlie paused, hearing the change in Don's tone, and he frowned in confusion. Before he could ask what was wrong, Don shoved the ball into Charlie's arms and stalked up the stairs.

Charlie watched him retreat, then looked down at the ball in his hands. It was clear that Donnie was mad at him again, but he couldn't imagine why. They had been getting along great since coming home from school, and Donnie had even joked with him while playing basketball. It was only when Charlie tried to talk about school . . .

Charlie stopped his train of thought right there. A wave of realization washed over him. Donnie had gotten mad at him because he had been talking about school. Thinking back, nearly every time Donnie got mad at him, he had been talking about school in some way. And while at school, Donnie never wanted anything to do with him.

It was all so clear to the small boy now. Now that he knew why Donnie got mad, he could change things. If Charlie never talked about school, then Donnie wouldn't get mad, and they could be friends again. The thought filled Charlie's heart with hope, and he firmly resolved to stick to this plan. With luck, Donnie would never be mad at him again.