Chapter 3 – Present Day

"Hey, Charlie. What's up?" Don blinked up at Charlie and suppressed a yawn. He'd fallen asleep on the couch last night after talking with his brother until well past 3 am. A bust led by Don had ended badly and an agent had been shot. The wounded agent had survived surgery but was still in critical condition. Don's assault plan had been solid and the team had performed well under fire. Still, Don felt responsible.

Don hadn't said as much, of course. He'd spoken of procedure and training as he obsessively went over the events leading up to the shooting again and again. Words like guilt and failure were carefully avoided. But Charlie knew. Don took seriously his responsibility to his team and viewed any injuries they suffered in the line of duty as a direct result of his failure to protect them.

Charlie smiled down at his brother. "I made pancakes. Of course, I've got dibs on the first one."

Don groaned as he pulled himself into a seated position on the couch. "Oh, man. I'd almost forgotten about that. The first pancake." Don stretched and stifled another yawn before continuing, "Whatever became of that old tutor of yours? The one who inspired that little tradition?"

"Who? Tapeworm? Ah, who cares?" Charlie shrugged. After hesitating a moment, Charlie quietly asked, "That wasn't the first time you'd heard the expression was it?"

Don pursued his lips together before simply replying, "Nope."

Charlie waited, but Don didn't seem inclined to volunteer any more information on when he'd first heard the insult. They lapsed into silence for a moment, each lost in their thoughts.

Charlie was surprised when Don began softly chuckling. "Hey, you remember that time, a couple weeks before high school graduation…"

Charlie groaned. "Oh! And you made that pancake!"

Don laughed. "Yeah. I made sure every pancake after that one was golden-brown and perfect. But the first one…"

Charlie jumped in, "The first one was charred totally black on both sides! And still raw in the middle! How high did you have the heat set anyway?"

Don's only reply was an evil grin. He shrugged, "I just wanted to see if you'd really eat it."

"And I did. Every bite!"

Laughing, Don nodded. "I know."

Charlie's comically affronted expression just made Don laugh harder.

They could laugh about it now, but that blackened pancake marked a truce that ended weeks of tension between the brothers leading up to graduation. The ritual of the first pancake, taken to an extreme, had allowed them to express things they couldn't say. For Don, it had been both an outlet for his spiteful resentment of his genius brother and a way to seek reassurance that Charlie still needed him. For Charlie, accepting Don's challenge had felt like a rite of passage.

Shaking off the memory, Charlie stood up. "Come on, the first pancake awaits."

"Charlie, no, come on. It was cute when we were kids, but you don't have to choke down the first pancake anymore."

Charlie grinned. "Actually, you're right."

Don looked slightly taken aback. "Well… good. That's right. You shouldn't…"

"No, no. I fully intend to eat the first one. I just won't have to choke it down." Charlie bounced on his feet in excitement. "You see, I've developed an equation to ensure the griddle is at the optimal temperature before I start cooking. That way, the first pancake is just as good as the last one. The key is allowing enough time for the griddle to evenly rise to the proper temperature before you begin. Once I factored in all the griddle performance factors, including energy input rate, preheat energy requirement, production energy consumption rate, idle energy consumption rate, and production cycle time…"

Recognizing the indulgent smile on Don's face, Charlie wrapped it up. "…Well, then it was easy to make the first pancake just as good as the rest."

Don stood up from the couch, pausing to stretch. "So, what you're saying is, given enough time, the first pancake can turn out okay?"

"Something like that."

Don nodded. "Good to know."