Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: I'd like to thank my wonderful beta reader, Artemis Rain, for all of her help. I'd also like to say that I appreciate all of the feedback on my first story. It's encouraged me to write more. Thanks!
Comfort by 3rdgal
The angry accusation made Charlie shrink even further into the passenger seat of the SUV. He kept his eyes glued to his lap as he reached up and touched his temple. He frowned as he felt the bleeding cut that had drawn Don's remark.
"I'm fine," Charlie whispered quietly, not wanting to further aggravate his brother.
"Yeah," Don snorted in anger. Well you shouldn't be, he wanted to yell at his little brother. It took all of his willpower to keep his tongue in check.
Charlie choked back a sigh as his eyes darted up to the road and back to his lap. He fingered a hangnail as he tried to ignore the tension in the SUV. He knew he'd done something stupid. He knew he'd had no business being at that crime scene. He still felt guilty for tricking David into taking him there, but he had needed to analyze the scene in person. At least, that's what he kept telling himself. Truthfully, he'd wanted to prove himself to Agent Edgerton, and, more importantly, to Don.
His attempt had failed miserably. He would never forget the look of fear on Don's face when he had seen Charlie arrive at the scene. Before Charlie could fully understand that look, or process what his brother was yelling at him, he had felt a body slam into him, knocking him to the ground. A fraction of a second later he'd heard a loud explosion and the sound of glass shattering. Charlie had lain on the ground, helpless to do anything but watch his hands shake uncontrollably in front of him. He'd heard Don yelling at him to stay down so he had tried to cover his head with his hands.
There had been another loud explosion and then it had been over. The agents around him had stood up and dusted themselves off. Don had come running to Charlie's side and hauled him off the ground and into his arms.
"Are you okay?" Don had demanded.
"Yeah," Charlie had shakily replied.
"Are you crazy? You could have gotten yourself killed!"
Charlie had tried to explain himself but Don had cut him off with a comment about getting him out of there. He'd hauled Charlie to his feet, studying him with a concerned look on his face.
"Are you alright?" Don had repeated in a gentler tone.
"I'm sorry," Charlie had apologized, relieved that some of Don's anger had seemed to disappear.
"Next time, use a phone," Don had mumbled as he hustled his little brother to his SUV. They'd only been driving for about ten minutes when Don had pointed out the cut on Charlie's head.
The rest of the drive was silent. Charlie could feel Don's anger growing and filling the SUV. He didn't dare say or do anything that might set it off. He couldn't figure out why Don had gone from concern to anger so quickly.
Don's voice interrupted Charlie's thoughts as they pulled into the driveway.
"Dad's not home yet."
Charlie was sure he heard relief in his brother's voice as he spoke. Then he remembered Don's earlier statement about their father: "I mean the guy already thinks I'm going to wind up getting you killed." He wondered again what exactly their dad had said to Don.
Charlie pushed his thoughts aside as he climbed out of the SUV. He wearily made his way to the front door and was surprised to find Don following him.
"You don't have to stay."
"We need to get that cut cleaned up and bandaged."
"It's not that deep," Charlie assured Don as he reached up to touch the cut again. "The bleeding has already stopped."
"There could be glass in there," Don told him as he grabbed his arm and steered him upstairs and into his bedroom. He pushed Charlie to sit down on his bed. "Wait here while I get the first aid kit."
Charlie, not wanting to further anger his older brother, patiently obeyed, wondering why his brother was acting like he had a major injury. He was still contemplating that when Don returned carrying the first aid kit and a gooseneck lamp. He plugged the lamp in and turned it to shine on Charlie's temple. Charlie flinched as Don reached for his head, certain that Don was still angry with him.
"Hold still," Don ordered gruffly as he reached for Charlie's head again.
Charlie was surprised to find that Don's grip was gentle, not at all like his tone of voice. As he examined the wound, Don made sure he kept his touch soft and gentle, unwilling to cause his little brother any more pain. He made sure there was no glass in the wound and then began cleaning it with peroxide. Charlie winced as the solution stung.
"Sorry, Buddy," Don whispered softly.
Charlie's spirits lifted as Don used his favorite nickname for his little brother. Don never used that nickname when he was angry with him. Feeling more secure, Charlie braved a peek at his brother's face and froze at what he saw there.
Don's eyes shone brightly with unshed tears. Charlie silently stared at Don, wincing at the pain and guilt he saw in his big brother's eyes. He suddenly understood that Don's anger was his way of dealing with such strong emotions. Charlie began to feel guilty that he was the cause of Don's pain. Desperate to comfort his big brother, Charlie reached up to soothingly touch Don's cheek, but Don sensed the gesture was coming and backed away. He tossed the cotton ball he'd been using to clean Charlie's cut onto the bed next to his little brother.
"Put some antibiotic ointment on that," he ordered. "And a band-aid. And don't tell Dad what happened."
Charlie sighed as Don hid his emotions behind his anger again. He frowned as Don turned to leave the room. He quickly gathered his senses enough to speak.
Don hesitated in the doorway of Charlie's bedroom as he waited for his little brother to continue.
"I said... I said I was sorry."
"Yeah, well sorry doesn't always cut it!" Don snapped as he turned to face Charlie. His voice grew louder as he continued. "All the horrors of my job, and sorry doesn't do a damn thing for any of them. Sorry doesn't bring a family's son or brother back after I tell them he's been killed!" Don stood in the doorway, panting, as he realized he'd just said more than he meant to.
Charlie watched helplessly as pain and guilt resurfaced in his brother's eyes. He began to appreciate how much closer their bond had grown for this episode to cause Don to lose control over his emotions. Charlie wanted to let Don know that it was okay to lose control now; that he would still respect him, just as he had when they were kids. He was about to reach out to his brother when Don surprised him by wearily sinking onto the bed next to him. He studied the floor as he spoke to Charlie.
"I couldn't do it, Charlie. I couldn't tell Dad if anything... I couldn't live with myself, especially knowing it was my fault." He grew silent for a moment before continuing. "I've dreamed it often enough to know I couldn't face it for real."
"You've dreamed about me dying?" Charlie whispered as he thought back on his own similar nightmares about Don. He couldn't suppress a shudder as he remembered the agonizing despair his dreams had caused him.
"Sometimes. After a rough case or-" Don raised his eyes to meet Charlie's. "Or after I've put you in danger."
"This wasn't your fault!" Charlie argued. He quickly continued as Don opened his mouth to protest. "I decided to go. You had nothing to do with it. It was a stupid mistake, but it was my stupid mistake."
"I brought you in on the case," Don countered. "And I'm the oldest. I'm supposed to protect you no matter what. And today, seeing you there, knowing the sniper was there, and realizing that I couldn't get to you in time... I couldn't have lived with myself, Charlie. Not if I let something happen to you. Not if I failed to do my job."
Don felt the tears in his eyes threaten to fall and quickly averted his gaze, burying his face in his hands. He tried to breathe deeply, to force his emotions into the corner of his mind where he kept them locked away, but he realized that it wasn't going to work this time. He began trembling as he continued to hold back his tears.
Charlie frowned as he saw Don's shoulder begin to shake. He realized his brother was close to the breaking point. Part of him was sad because he knew how much Don hated to appear weak, but part of him was thankful that he could be the one to comfort Don when his vulnerable side finally revealed itself.
Charlie took a deep breath and gently placed a hand on Don's shoulder. The trembling stopped but the tension remained, prompting Charlie to lightly massage his older brother's shoulder. He brought his other hand up to Don's neck and rubbed at the tension he found there. He continued his massage until he felt the tension melt away.
Don tried to resist Charlie's efforts to soothe him, but the tenderness in Charlie's touch finally broke the tenuous hold on his emotions. He felt his tears fall and managed to choke back a sob. Don kept his face buried in his hands as he brokenly called out to his little brother.
"I'm here Don," Charlie whispered as he knelt on the floor in front of his big brother. He gently pulled Don's hands away from his face and met Don's tearful gaze. "See? I'm right here."
Charlie reached up and tightly hugged his brother, relieved to feel Don return the embrace. Charlie continued to hold onto his brother, whispering soothingly in his ear as Don tried to regain control of his emotions.
All too soon, in Charlie's opinion, Don was through. He pulled away and Charlie watched as his brother's mask slid back into place. His vulnerable big brother was gone, leaving the professional, detached FBI agent in his place.
"Don't forget to put a band-aid on that." Don's voice was steady and firm again, but his earlier anger was noticeably absent.
"I won't forget."
"I know, I know. Don't tell Dad what happened."
Don smiled at the irritation in Charlie's voice. He knew his little brother hated it when he told him what to do. "And Charlie..."
Don's smile grew at the exasperated look on Charlie's face. "Thanks for being there for me."
Charlie's face lit up with a huge smile. He nodded and shrugged modestly.
"Well, I have to get back to the office and finish writing today's reports," Don said as he stood and stretched before making his way to the door. He stopped at the last minute and turned to face his little brother. "Hey, Charlie."
"If you need anything," Don paused until he was sure he had Charlie's undivided attention. "CALL me."