Warnings: You might need a tissue for this part. I know I needed one writing it.

Thank you to my beta lostinwonderland1226.

Patty: No worries, Charlie is not concussed. It was simply a knock to the head that, in his weakened condition, pushed him to the ground.

Proving Ground

Part 6/6

by Megan

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.

-Carl Jung (1875-1961)


4:13 am

Don pulled up in front of his brother's house and shut off the engine of the SUV. Opening the door, the cool night air hit him in a rush, instantly cooling off his overheated skin. It felt like he had been awake for weeks. Drinking cup after cup of hot coffee had helped, but also made him feel like he was going to spontaneously combust. He knew the heat he felt radiating from his skin was coming from another source. Anger.

He was angry at Tony for what he had done to Charlie. He was angry at himself for getting so wrapped up in his work that he had neglected Charlie and his father when they both needed him. He was angry at Charlie for being so blind when it comes to human emotions.

Don knew it wasn't fair the think that way about Charlie. What had happened was an anomaly, as Charlie would put it, and could have happened to anyone. True, he was ignorant of the human condition, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. With all the bad in the world, he often wished he was as oblivious as Charlie, and envied his brother that innocence. Then something like this had to happen that would slowly dissolve the bubble Charlie seemed to live in. He could only pray Charlie would never wind up as cynical as he himself was becoming.

Don allowed his lips to curl into a small smile as he remembered Terry's acerbic 'give Tony a copy of The Godfather and send him packing' comment. Everyone had been angry about what had happened to Charlie, and that comment had lightened the mood a little.

The crunching of glass under his feet as he approached the front door alerted him to the fact Tony had indeed broken a window to gain entry. Before going to bed, he was definitely going to have to do something that.

His efforts to close the front door quietly so as not to disturb his family had been pointless, as Alan was standing at he top of the stairs looking expectantly at him.

"You don't have to keep quiet, Don. There's no way I'm sleeping tonight, and I heard your brother fussing in the kitchen a few minutes ago. Would you care to explain to me what happened tonight?"

Don climbed the stairs before speaking, so he could answer his father eye-to-eye.

"Remember I told you Charlie might have been drugged by one of his students?'

Alan nodded.

"Well, the man that broke in and attacked Charlie is that same student. We're charging him with two counts of attempted murder. With the amount of evidence against him, there's no way he can hurt Charlie again."

"But why would he do that, Donny? Charlie is a math teacher. Why did he want to hurt my son?"

"Well, he had a bad family situation. He had a disagreement with Charlie over a mark he received and took matters into his own hands. I can't give you all the details, just that there was a set of circumstances that no one could have foreseen, or changed, except the student. And he refused help." He watched his father's face as he digested the information. "Hey, how are you doing by the way, Dad? You really should be resting."

"I'm fine, Donny. Better now that I know everything is going to be all right."

Don watched his father's shoulders slump as the tension left his body, and his attempts to hold back a yawn.

"I always thought something like this would happen to you because of your job, not Charlie because of his." Alan looked straight into his older son's eyes. "Thank you, Donny. If you hadn't been here, I know for a fact Charlie wouldn't be here now."

Don let himself be pulled into an embrace. Even as an adult, his father's touch could slow his rapid heartbeat, and his words could heal all wounds.

"I'm going to go speak with Charlie. Get some rest, Dad," Don said as he pulled back from the embrace.

He watched his father walk down the hall, and headed to Charlie's room. The door was closed, but he could see light spilling from underneath, and hear muffled noises.

"Charlie?" he called and gently knocked on the door. "I'm coming in, Buddy."

Don couldn't make out Charlie's muffled response, but judging by the tone of his voice, didn't think Charlie would have a problem with his entering.

The door squeaked as it was opened, to reveal his brother lying on is stomach, struggling to position what Don assumed was an ice pack. His brother only wore a pair of cotton pajama bottoms, the bruises on his back more defined than before. A boot print was now clearly visible, and above that, there was a purple bruise that formed a perfectly straight line. It looked as though Charlie was trying to position the ice pack over his middle back.

"Let me give you a hand with that, Buddy," Don offered as he moved towards his brother.

"I'm fine, Don. I don't need your help," Charlie snapped.

Don, taken aback by Charlie's harsh tone, walked over to his brother. This was the first good look he'd gotten of Charlie's throat, and since he had seen him last, his lower lip had started to swell as well, making him speak with a slight lisp. He hated seeing Charlie hurt like this. The only consolation was the fact the man that had done this was already in custody.

Don grabbed a chair from the corner of the room and placed it beside Charlie's bed, taking a seat.

"I thought you'd like to know Tony is going to prison on two counts of attempted murder. It's over, Charlie."

"Two?" Charlie asked, slightly confused. "I thought you said you couldn't link him to the Nardil." Despite being groggy, there was nothing wrong with Charlie's mind.

"Well, for as bright as Tony was academically, it turns out he's seriously lacking in the street smarts department. He had a prescription for Nardil. His erratic behaviour his father mentioned last week? It was caused by him taking less of the medication so he'd have enough to poison you."

Charlie was silent, his face drawn into a frown.

"What is it, Charlie? You've been unusually quiet these past few days." Truth was, it was starting to unnerve him.

"It's nothing, Don. I just have some things to work out. I'm tired. I'll see you in the morning."

There it was again, Charlie pushing him away.

"Have I done something to anger you, Charlie? It seems you have more of a problem with me than Tony."

Charlie's eyes widened, and a hurt look passed over his face, before the carefully composed mask was back in place. "Goodnight, Don."

"Damn it, Charlie!" Don exclaimed, his frustration mounting. "You can't hold me responsible for something without at least telling me what it is!"

There it was. Charlie had the proof he needed. Don really didn't remember the hurtful words he'd said with such conviction only two days ago. He didn't know whether to throw the words back in Don's face, or make him worry about it longer.

After a few minutes, it was obvious Don wasn't going to leave without an answer.

"You accused me of using drugs," he quietly stated. "Before telling me what a horrible mistake you had made by... letting me back into your life."

The fight instantly left Don, and concern filled his face as he took in what Charlie had just told him.

"I guess I'm not that important after all, or you wouldn't have forgotten so quickly. Tony was going to throw away his whole life to gain has father's acceptance. Sometimes I wonder what I have to do to gain yours." Charlie's voice was starting to break.

Feeling his eyes start to burn at his brother's emotional distress, Don leaned forward in his chair so he was inches from Charlie's face. He didn't know where to start.

"Charlie, you have my acceptance. You've had it all your life, you just don't realize it. I love you, Charlie. The reason I don't remember saying those things is because they weren't important. I was angry for a lot of reasons and took it out on you. Charlie, I didn't mean any of it."

"You wouldn't have said it if it wasn't on your mind."

"Remember what I told you earlier? About my job making me see the worst in people? I looked at you, took in all the signs, and made a bad conclusion. A very wrong conclusion. I wish I didn't think this way, Charlie, but I do. I can't imagine my life without you. I love you."

"Of course you do. You're my brother. But do you like me? As a person, not as your brother."

"Oh Charlie, do you really have to ask that?" At that moment, Don would have given anything to be able to draw Charlie into a bone crushing hug, but knew with Charlie's injuries he'd only succeed in hurting him. Instead, he settled for placing his left arm over his brother's bare shoulders and giving him a gentle squeeze.

Feeling a yawn coming on, Don looked at his brother's face and saw his eyes had closed. While Charlie's expression wasn't serene, he didn't appear as upset as he had been only moments earlier.

"I think it's time I hit the sack. I'll see you in the morning, Charlie." Don stood and headed for the door.

"Technically, it is morning, Don. Oh, and Don?"

"Yeah, Buddy?"

"Would you mind pulling the blankets up? I don't think I can do it without knocking this ice pack off."

Don smiled. "Sure, buddy."

Charlie smiled as he felt the familiar weight of the blankets settle across his shoulders, and thanked his brother as he left. Something good had arisen from this whole mess after all.

The End.

Megan - October 2005


Credit for The Godfather line goes to my beta lostinwonderland1226 during one of her critiques.

I'd like to give a heartfelt thank you to everyone that commented on the story. Your comments help me improve my writing. There are so many of you I don't have the time to reply personally. For those that read without commenting, I hope you enjoyed it!