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.
Charlie's House by 3rdgal
Don sighed as he pulled into the driveway. He was hungry, tired, and sore after a long day at work. He'd just finished a difficult case that had taken every last ounce of his energy and now all he wanted to do was eat dinner and sleep for the next year. He kept telling himself that he should have gone home to his apartment, but instead he found himself here, at his father's house.
No, not his father's house, he corrected himself. It was Charlie's house now. He still couldn't believe his little brother had bought the family home, and paid for it in cash. He felt that little tingle of jealousy stirring in his gut and quickly forced it down. This wasn't the first time Charlie had beaten him to a major accomplishment, and Don knew it probably wasn't going to be the last time, either. Besides, now his dad had his retirement savings back and had a roof over his head, rent free. All because his youngest son, six years Don's junior, was already a financial success.
There was that jealous feeling again. Don sighed as he climbed out of his SUV. This was going to be a long night.
"Hello!" Don called out as he limped through the front door. He tossed his suit jacket onto a nearby chair and limped into the living room. "Anybody home?"
"Coming!" Charlie answered. He quickly appeared from the dining room. "Hey, Don. How's it-" Charlie stopped mid-sentence and a concerned frown appeared on his face. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, Charlie," Don assured his little brother. "I'm fine."
Charlie continued to stare at Don, a look of disbelief on his face, as he took in his older brother's appearance. Don's dress shirt was wrinkled and covered in dirt and something red, which Charlie hoped wasn't blood. His suit pants had a large tear over his left knee, which seemed to be the source of his limp.
"You're limping," Charlie argued as he moved to hover at his brother's side, uncertain of what to do.
"Just banged my knee a little bit." His face broke into a large smile. "We got him, though."
"The serial rapist guy? Avery?"
"That's the one." Don watched as his little brother's face broke into a grin. He knew Charlie had spent a lot of time working on an equation to help the FBI narrow down the suspect list for the crimes, and that he had been worrying that the equation might be flawed. "I told you it was a good equation, Buddy. Great job."
"Thanks," Charlie whispered as he ducked his head. He looked up again with concern in his eyes. "It looks like he put up quite a fight. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine, Charlie." As his brother continued to stare doubtfully at him, he continued, "I had a medic at the scene look me over. It's nothing a little food and a lot of sleep won't cure."
Charlie knew his brother hated it when people worried about him, so he forced a smile to his face and shook his head. "You know, you'd think the FBI would teach you self defense." His grin widened as Don laughed and took a playful swing at him, which Charlie easily side-stepped.
"You're lucky my knee is sore or you would be in so much trouble right now."
"Lucky nothing," Charlie laughed as he danced out of reach. "You're just getting too old to keep up with me."
"Yeah, right. Who kicked your butt at basketball the other night?" Don felt his spirits lifting as he began to relax into a familiar banter with his little brother. "Hey, what's Dad cooking? It smells great."
"Ribeyes. There's one for you."
"Would I lie to you about ribeyes?"
"Not if you know what's good for you."
Charlie smiled at his brother's playful threat. Don always came to the family home after a rough case, knowing that familiar surroundings and dinner with his family could help him unwind and banish the horrors of the case from his mind. Charlie had been worried that his new status as owner of the family home might cause some tension or awkwardness between him and Don, but was happy to see that his brother was still feeling comfortable and relaxed when he visited the house. Charlie's thoughts wandered back to the present where he saw Don looking down at the tear in his pants.
"Do you want to grab a shower while dad finishes cooking dinner?" Charlie didn't miss the hesitant look that flitted across his big brother's face. He realized Don was contemplating the stairs up to the bathroom. Charlie silently moved to Don's side and gently squeezed his shoulder. "Let me give you a hand."
"That's okay. I can do-"
"Don," Charlie interrupted in a firm voice. "Quit being stubborn. It may be nothing, but you've got one heck of a limp. Please, just let me help you."
Don silently contemplated his little brother's face for a moment before giving him a smile. "Okay. Thanks, Buddy."
"Are you taking any pain meds?" Charlie called from the kitchen.
"No, Charlie. I told you it's not that bad." Don leaned his head back on the couch and caught a glimpse of his father, still at the dinner table. Alan was peering over the newspaper and studying his oldest with a skeptical look on his face. "Dad-"
"I know, I know," his father cut him off as he shook his head at Don. "Nothing major." Alan forced a smile on his face before burying his nose in the paper again.
Don sighed wearily as he sank even farther into the couch. He knew his dad and brother cared a lot about him, but sometimes their concern and worry were too much for him to bear. As good as dinner had been, he was beginning to doubt his decision to come here tonight, instead of going to his apartment. At least there he could have had some peace and quiet. Don's thoughts were interrupted by a tap on his shoulder. He looked up to find Charlie holding out a cold beer.
"I thought you might want to unwind a bit."
Don's face lit up at his little brother's thoughtfulness. "Thanks, Buddy."
"Who's winning?" Charlie gestured at the TV as he plopped down in a nearby chair.
"Not LA." As if on cue, another Dodger struck out. Don shook his head and snorted in disgust. "I mean, who swings at that pitch?"
"You used to."
"Past tense," Don emphasized without taking his eyes off the screen.
"Yeah," Charlie agreed, beaming with pride. "You are doing great this season. Best power hitter in the league." He cast a nervous glance at his big brother. "You still enjoy it, don't you?"
"It's baseball, Charlie. I'll always enjoy it." Don winced as the Dodgers went three up, three down.
"Right," Charlie answered as he picked at the arm of his chair. He was constantly worrying that Don had started playing again just to put an end to all the nagging he had done. It was just that Don had been stressed out all the time lately, never doing anything for fun. It seemed like he was always on a case. Charlie had thought if he could convince his brother to start doing something he loved, maybe it would help him relax and ease the stress of his job. It seemed to be working lately, but Charlie still worried.
Charlie looked up at the gentle tone of Don's voice.
"I do enjoy it. And I appreciate the encouragement you gave me. It's a great stress relief." Don bit back a chuckle at the look of surprise on his younger brother's face. He might not be able to understand the way Charlie's mind worked, but he could usually bring him out of his brooding moods. He stretched out an arm and gently squeezed Charlie's shoulder. "Thanks."
Charlie nodded shyly. "Anytime."
Alan looked up from his paper and smiled as he watched the interaction between his sons. He was happy that their relationship was improving every day. He still worried about Charlie's involvement with Don's work, but he knew it was a major reason that the two were becoming closer. Like he'd told Don before, he was just going to have to learn to live with it.
His smile grew as he heard Charlie rattle of a list of statistics before predicting that the Dodgers would probably lose.
"You really need math to tell you that?" Don retorted.
"Don." Charlie shook his older brother's shoulder.
"Mmm," Don replied sleepily, without opening his eyes.
Don cracked his eyes open and peered up at Charlie. "Who won?"
"You don't want to know."
"Figures," Don mumbled around a yawn.
"You are going to stay here tonight, right?"
"Yeah, Buddy. As long as you don't mind."
"Mi casa es su casa."
"Thanks, Charlie," Don mumbled as he started to stretch out on the couch.
"Wait, Don. I've got your bed ready upstairs."
"My bed?" A look of confusion appeared on Don's face. "I don't live here."
"You might as well. You're never at your apartment." Charlie quickly realized that Don might take that the wrong way. "I like having you over. You know, for a help on a case, dinner, just to hang out, whatever. That's why I fixed up your old room for you after I bought the house."
Don was exhausted from his long day at work and all of the hard work he'd put in on the Avery case. That was why, he told himself, he felt tears of happiness forming in his eyes. He couldn't believe Charlie had done that. Even their father hadn't kept a room for Don. As soon as he'd moved out, his father had moved his exercise equipment in and turned it into a home gym. Don managed to keep the tears from falling as he smiled up at his brother.
"That means a lot to me, Charlie. Thanks."
"My pleasure," Charlie replied as he held out a hand to Don. "Let me help you upstairs."
Don started to decline the offer of help as he stood, but the throbbing in his knee made him change his mind. His whole body felt stiff and as he stretched he heard a lot of popping in his joints. He didn't even realize he had been swaying on his feet until he saw Charlie holding onto his arm to steady him.
"Sorry," Charlie apologized. "I should have woken you up sooner. That couch is no good for sleeping."
Normally, a comment like that angered Don. After all, he didn't need his younger brother to take care of him. But tonight he found Charlie's concern to be welcome and comforting. He knew if he'd gone straight home to his apartment, he'd have fallen asleep on his own couch, and woken up with even more aches and pains in the morning. He smiled as he gratefully draped an arm over his brother's shoulder, ruffling Charlie's hair along the way.
Charlie returned his smile, glad that Don was letting him help. He felt he was finally able to return the favor for all the times Don had looked out for him when they were younger. He knew his big brother had watched out for him a lot, whether it was scaring off bullies or making sure Charlie took a break from school work to be a kid. He also knew that Don hadn't always been happy to do it, but did it without question. Charlie's memories tugged at his heart, and before he could resist the urge, he found himself tightly hugging Don.
"Charlie?" Don asked with concern as he returned the embrace.
Charlie pulled back and looked Don in the eyes. "I just wanted to say, um, well, thanks for always being there for me."
"It's my job, Buddy. And I'm happy to do it."
"Wow," Don breathed as Charlie turned on the light in his room. "You really put a lot of thought into this."
"I want you to be comfortable when you stay over." Charlie left Don at the door and went to fold back the covers on the bed. Don took the opportunity to look around.
Charlie had put a CD player and a rack of CDs on the chest of drawers. Don lightly ran his fingers down the cases as he read the album titles. He was surprised to find almost all of his favorite artists, especially considering that he and Charlie had never really discussed music.
"I had a general idea, but Dad told me some specific artists."
"Thanks," Don smiled as he looked up at Charlie.
"Bed's ready when you are."
"Are you tucking me in?" Don raised an eyebrow at his little brother.
"I just want to make sure you're settled in okay."
Don shook his head as he made his way to the bed. As he did so, something on the dresser caught his eye. He walked closer and focused on the three pictures that had drawn his attention.
The first was of him and Charlie playing baseball in the back yard. He guessed he was around thirteen, making Charlie about seven. Don was pitching a ball to his brother, who stood waiting, awkwardly holding the bat. Their father was next to Charlie, mouth open, as he offered him batting advice. As awkward as Charlie looked, the smile on his face spoke volumes about the fun he was having.
Don's eyes slid to the second picture. He and Charlie were standing side by side, in their cap and gown, at high school graduation. Charlie beamed at the camera while triumphantly holding up his diploma. Don stood next to him with a forced smile on his face. His stomach twisted as he remembered that day. The graduates had received their diplomas in alphabetical order, meaning Charlie had gotten his a few moments before his older brother. Don's jealousy and anger had reached the boiling point that day and, although he'd managed to act happy around Charlie, he and his father had a bad fight later that night.
Don quickly shoved the bad memories aside and moved his gaze to the third picture. It was of him and Charlie at a crime scene. They were standing in the middle of various FBI agents and crime scene techs. Don was grinning at his little brother, his arm around his shoulder, as Charlie studied a notebook in his hand. Don picked up this photo and turned to Charlie.
"How did you get this?"
"I helped the crime scene photographer's son study for a math exam, so he owed me a favor." Charlie studied Don with an expression that his older brother couldn't quite figure out.
Don looked back to the picture in his hand and then back to the other two. His mouth silently gaped open as he realized what his brother had done.
"Charlie," he whispered in awe.
He studied the pictures again. In three simple photographs, Charlie had laid out their whole relationship. The closeness they had shared as kids, the divide between them through college and the years after, and finally the closeness that was growing between them now.
"I don't ever want us to be that far apart again," Charlie firmly stated. "It's not good for us, or for Dad."
"I know, Charlie," Don answered as he set the picture back down. "And I agree."
Their eyes met and they held each other's gaze for a minute. Charlie finally broke eye contact as he gestured toward the bed.
"I know you want to get some rest. What time do you want me to get you up in the morning?"
"I don't have to be in until late," Don thought out loud. "Around ten would be good."
"Ten it is."
"Hey," Don chuckled. "Does Casa de Charlie take breakfast orders?"
"No," Charlie deadpanned. "But Chef Dad does serve breakfast promptly at seven." He broke into a big smile. "But I think I can persuade him to serve it later in this case."
"Thanks." Don patted his younger brother on the shoulder.
"No problem. Yell if you need anything." Charlie turned to leave the room.
Charlie stopped in the doorway and looked at his brother.
"I'm glad you bought the house."
Charlie smiled and nodded. He left the room, shutting the door behind him. He paused in the hallway as he contemplated the fact that his family was together again.
"Me too," he sighed happily as he headed off to bed.