Spoilers: Set S2, very slight mentions of Sniper Zero and Judgment Call.
Again, thanks to devra for the alpha and support.
Don tapped his fingers on the steering wheel as he waited for the light to change. Charlie sat next to him, slumped in the passenger's seat, his gaze fixed the side window.
"We're not telling Dad, right?"
"I think he'll notice the dent." Don gripped the wheel as the light turned green.
"Maybe he won't."
"This is Dad we are taking about. And we aren't kids anyone, Charlie."
Don shot a quick "what do think" glance at him before returning his attention back to the road. "It's my car."
"Okay, so you are mad. I swear, Don, I didn't mean-"
"Didn't mean what Charlie?" Don asked, cutting him off. "You were going at least twenty miles over the speed limit. You're lucky we aren't hurt and that all you did was dent my car."
"I'll pay for it," Charlie offered. "I just guess my mind was somewhere else."
"Of course it was somewhere else. Otherwise what other reason would you have for not heeding my scream to 'slow down?' Nine times out of ten, it's always somewhere else!" Don took a deep breath. Getting worked up while he was still at the wheel was so not a good idea. "I shouldn't have let you drive."
"Let me?" Charlie repeated. "I have a valid learner's permit now, Don. No one needs to let me drive."
"You don't have a car," Don pointed out, "And you still need a licensed driver in the car in order to actually drive, in case you forgot that little tidbit of information."
"I didn't forget it," Charlie defended, "but you're acting like I'm a careless driver."
"You are!" Don hit another red light. He turned to look at his brother. Charlie stared back at him.
"You really think I'm a careless driver?" Charlie asked and sounded incredibly hurt.
Don immediately regretted his outburst. He should have phrased it differently, maybe even kept it to himself. But the truth was, Charlie and motor vehicles were not the best match.
"You need to pay more attention when you drive, yes," Don said, careful to keep his words neutral.
Charlie blinked. "Oh, really?" He shifted and turned his gaze straight ahead. "My brother has no faith in my driving abilities."
Don resisted the urge to bang his forehead against the wheel in frustration. This was not turning into a good afternoon at all. "No, Charlie, that wasn't what I-"
"The light is green," Charlie interrupted, monotone.
Don turned back to road and the two of them sat in silence as he made a right hand turn.
"Charlie, it's not that I don't have faith in you."
"You just told me that you think I'm a terrible driver. How else am I supposed to interpret that sentence?"
"Not the way you are, that's for sure. I think you're a terrible golfer, Charlie, and you didn't get all defensive about that." No, but Charlie had stopped playing when he realized golf was not something he could succeed in. Great example, Don, he thought and mentally kicked himself. Charlie was brooding, all right.
Then again, Charlie did put a dent into the side of his SUV.
"Golf is different," Charlie responded.
Oh, golfing was different all right. Suddenly a thought hit him. "Maybe," Don said. "Charlie, what took you so long to get your permit back?"
"What took me so long?" Charlie repeated. "The DMV took my permit away. I had to wait to get it back."
"Yes, but you didn't have to wait over ten years," Don pointed out. "I thought the suspension was only for two."
"Two, ten, does it matter? You still think I can't drive." Charlie slumped even farther into his seat. "Therefore, it doesn't matter. Let's talk about something else."
Avoidance. Wonderful. But at least it was a tactic Don knew well, having used it himself quite a few times. "No, let's talk about it now. It's like golf, isn't it? You don't have to be the best all the time, Charlie."
Charlie didn't look at him. "I'm not trying to be the best, Don. It's just driving. A task that millions of people complete each and every day."
"Lots of those people also get into accidents each day. So you're not the best driver. Dad taught you the ways of the golf course. I can give you a few driving lessons."
"I don't need to be taught how to drive. I know how to operate a motor vehicle."
"Maybe you do, but driving a car includes noting both the speed limit and the speedometer. Charlie, you're the mathematician, so do I need to remind you that both those numbers should be relatively close to each other?"
"I don't need to be berated, either," Charlie shot back. "And I am well aware of the speed limit. Few people obey the speed limit."
"And, and I suppose because other people speed, that makes it okay, then?"
Charlie let a snort. "You sound like Dad."
"So what if I do? Speed limit does not mean go faster. Do all you science types have a need for speed? Because I can't see Larry taking his precious car out for a ninety mile an hour thrill ride."
"Larry won't drive his car on the highway, and taking it above thirty is taboo," Charlie answered. "I'm sorry about your car, Don. But since when does speeding make me a bad driver? Statistics show that millions of 'safe' drivers speed every day. Bus drivers, speed, even the ones that drive school busloads of children."
"That doesn't make it right and you know that." Don took a deep breath. "How many of them hit trees?"
"I didn't hit a tree. I brushed against a tree."
"Right," Don said. "If you hit it, my car would have much more damage than a dent. And Dad would have a heart attack when he got the phone call that you and I were at the hospital, hopefully not dead." Don sighed and turned onto Charlie's block.
"I wouldn't let that happen," Charlie responded.
Don pulled into the driveway and stopped the car. "Wouldn't let it happen," he repeated. "Charlie, it almost did happen, whether you wanted it to or not. Inches, Charlie. Please tell me that you understand how lucky we both are right now."
Charlie didn't respond. He just stared through the windshield.
Don grabbed Charlie's shoulder, forcing him to turn. "Charlie."
He watched Charlie take a deep breath. "I understand," he finally said, his voice so soft Don almost didn't hear him. "Don, I'm sorry. I..." Charlie struggled.
Don gave him a small smile. "I know. And we're both okay. That's all that matters, really."
Charlie shook his head. "No, it's not. You're right; I could have killed us both. Maybe I shouldn't drive."
Don sighed. "No, that's not what I meant. You just have to be careful. Pay attention a little more."
"My mind wanders, Don. I can't help it."
"Okay, well, yes, it does. Sometimes I'm convinced your brain doesn't have an off button. But that doesn't mean you just give up." Don paused a moment. "It comes back to golf. You don't abandon something because it takes more effort than you're used to."
"You gave up baseball because you thought you weren't any good," Charlie pointed out.
Of all things, Charlie would have to bring that up, Don thought. "Baseball was different. It was a job and you should be good at your job. I'm a better against, you're a better teacher. But I play for the FBI baseball team, don't I?"
"Yes," Charlie agreed. "But you just think your baseball skills are mediocre when in reality, they aren't. I'm not any good at golf, and apparently I'm also not very good on the road."
"So?" Charlie repeated. "Don, you just spend ten minutes telling me that I almost killed both of us, that I need to concentrate more, and that I speed. I'm proficient enough in math to know that those factors equal that I suck at driving."
"You don't take constructive criticism well. This is like that math paper you wrote in high school."
"I was right!" Charlie defended. "Mrs. Peterson was wrong. What does that have to do with this?"
"She didn't give that grade because you were necessarily wrong. And it was a B, I might add. She corrected a few things. You spend your days correcting students. Teaching. You know, I told you Dad was happy he could finally teach you how to do something you didn't already know how to do. Or could learn in three seconds. I could do the same thing."
"You've taught me things, Don. You showed me how to fire a gun. I didn't get that right away."
That was true, but Don didn't like the idea that Charlie's example involved a firearm. His father had already given him enough heat for exposing Charlie to unnecessary danger. "I gave you a few pointers, and then you hit the target. Do you get my point, Charlie?"
Charlie nodded. "I do. You were in college when I got my permit the first time."
"I was. But I'm here now."
Charlie looked surprised. "You'd really let me drive your car again? After I dented and almost killed us both?"
Don shrugged. He couldn't stay mad at Charlie forever. His little brother always provoked a protective streak a mile wide and if he could help Charlie be a more responsible driver, than he would. It be better for them both, and as well as other drivers on the road. "Well, I think I've learned that almost doesn't count. And you're paying to fix that dent."
"I said I would!"
Don shook his head. "I'll believe it when I see a check." He opened the door and climbed out the truck.
Charlie pushed his door open. "Hey, just what are you implying? That I won't pay?"
"I didn't say that," Don responded, and headed toward the back door of the house. He almost collided with his father when he reached for the doorknob.
"Didn't say what?" Alan asked, and then looked out at Don's car. "What happened to your car?"
"Um," Charlie started.
"Accident," Don responded, not missing a beat. "All the other guy's fault. But don't worry, Charlie and I are fine."
"You swap insurance information with this guy?"
"Of course I did, Dad," Don answered and exchanged a look with Charlie. "He says the check's in the mail."