Spoilers: Set in the past, but does spoil S2's Soft Target. However if you haven't seen the eppy, you could just view this as a moment in time during Charlie and Don's childhood.
Again, thanks to devra for the super fast alpha and support.
"You don't get it, do you! "
The words were so loud that Maggie almost dropped the pot she was washing. Something was bothering her youngest son, she could tell by the tone of his voice. Curious, she shut off the water, put the pot in the drain board and migrated towards the window that overlooked the front lawn.
Sure enough, Charlie was standing there, looking less than pleased, and that was putting it mildly. A few feet away stood Don. However, with the shadow and her positioning, she did not have a good view of her eldest face. Somehow, she knew, he was probably not smiling.
"Get what? Charlie, you're thirteen! There is no way she would even be interested. Get over it. "
Maggie winced at the words. All she ever hoped for was for her two sons to get along and appreciate each other. She quickly learned that it was not meant to be, at least when the two were still growing up. Charlie adored Don, looked up to him and wanted his approval, yes, but Don could care less and when they both started high school, all hopes of a normal brotherly relationship went out the window. Sibling rivalry was on thing, but Charlie and Don had a problem maintaining even civil coexistence in the same house.
She'd seen it. Seen it when Charlie's genius came into view. Saw it when he progressed quickly with the private tutors, so quickly that he had caught up to Don when he was nine. She and Alan had talked the high school options to death, but in the end, they couldn't afford to send Charlie to a private school and even if they could or if Charlie garnered enough scholarships to cover the costs, the only school was almost an hour away and neither one of them liked that idea. So into public school Charlie went, starting his freshmen year along side his big brother.
Charlie had been excited, asked Don a million questions.
That was when the change started happening. Before this Don had really seemed not to care, or if he did, he hid it very well. Don went to middle school, played Little League, and as much as she hated to admit it, got used to finding her occupied with Charlie and his education when he got home. Sure, she'd leave out a plate of cookies and Don would get himself a glass of milk and sit down and do his homework, but she often wondered if it was enough.
"Get over it? No! You knew, Don, and you did it anyway! "
She gasped when she watched Charlie shove Don. Granted, Charlie was smaller, short for his age group as well, so the shove didn't affect Don much. But it did cause Don to stumble and the fire in Charlie's stance could not be denied.
Something had happened all right. Something new and specific between her two sons that she'd missed and she silently cursed herself for not catching such a thing. A mother can only be as happy as her unhappiest child and right now she was anything but happy.
She left the window a moment, going into the living room and calling for her husband. Confused, Alan appeared and she led him to the window.
Charlie was shoving Don again, this time with added force.
"Should we?" she asked Alan, worry in her tone. She wasn't afraid of Charlie hurting Don, but she hated seeing her sons fight and wanted it stopped before it got out of hand.
Alan shook his head. " Give them a minute, honey. Any clue what this is about? "
"Why did you have to take her to the prom! " Charlie's voice was so loud that Maggie was sure the whole block could hear him. Whatever was wrong, Charlie was not taking it lightly.
She mulled his words over. The prom .
It hit her.
"Val," she muttered.
Alan frowned. "Val? The girl Don is taking to the prom? "
"Yes," she confirmed. "Val, the girl that is also Charlie's lab partner. "
" Oh," Alan stated. " The one that treats him ..."
" Like a normal kid," she finished. She and her husband weren't completely blind. They knew Charlie was struggling socially, but there wasn't much they could do to alleviate that problem. College would be different, she had told Charlie and he never looked as if he believed it, but Charlie was tough inside and went to school every day, did his work, came home, didn't say much about how his day other than fine.
She and Alan knew it was anything but fine when Don started acting out and appeared to be trying to get detention nearly every day of the week. Don acted indifferent towards Charlie, but when one of the detentions fell on the day Charlie came home covered in cuts and bruises, Maggie held out the tiniest bit of hope that her two boys may someday be able to really get along.
However, the prom was a whole different story.
Maggie had met Val. She had come over one afternoon to complete a project with Charlie. She tried not to, but she couldn't help eavesdropping on the two as they worked in the kitchen. Charlie was in full genius mode, and when she stole a peak through the door, she noticed Val was listening. Smiling even. Maggie stood have figured Charlie would have been smitten. After all, thirteen was just the right age for a boy's first deep crush.
But they'd nearly finished when Don strolled in, letting the front door slam in front of him.
Val had greeted him with an even bigger smile.
Like it or not, Val was Don's age and there was no way she'd ever be more to Charlie then a friend or a crush. When Don had asked her to prom, Maggie never doubted she'd say yes.
Nevertheless, Maggie had also forgotten to factor Charlie's feelings into the equation. And apparently, so had Don. She knew why Charlie was mad, understood it, and was the slightest bit hurt that she – and Don – had missed it. Though ...perhaps Don hadn't missed it.
No, that would be too cruel and she'd taught both her children that such an action was completely unacceptable. She knew Alan agreed.
Back in the yard, Charlie's hands were clenched into fists, shaking. Don said something, but it wasn't loud enough for her to hear.
" You don't get it! " Charlie yelled. "I like her! "
Maggie's heart went out to him and she turned to Alan again. In the three seconds she'd shifted her gaze was when it happened. She heard a cry of frustration and shifted her gaze back to the window.
This was no shoving match anymore, this was a fight, and Charlie, despite having the obvious disadvantage, didn't appear to let to affect him. No doubt he was seeing red and red happened to be Don.
Don, who'd been passive in the beginning, was anything but now. Charlie had caught him off guard and he'd toppled onto the lawn, and that was all that was needed for him to fight back. Worst-case scenarios ran through her head and she did not want to make a trip to the ER because of it.
She grabbed Alan's arm. "Alan ..."
"This is getting out of hand. " He was out the door before she had to say anything else.
Charlie was kicking Don as much as he could, but Don had his arm pinned his back.
"Let go!" she thought she heard and saw the look of pain in Charlie's face. My God, Don could easily break Charlie's arm, all because of this silly argument.
No, not silly, she corrected herself. Don might think it was silly, but Charlie didn't and she understood.
Alan finally made his way out, breaking up the fight. Don released Charlie and Charlie dropped ungracefully to the ground. Both of the boys were panting. Alan was lecturing, the lecture any parent would give their children when he found them trying to solve their problem with violence.
"He started it! " Don shouted, pointing a finger at Charlie, who'd yet to get up. Maggie bit her lip, restraining herself from running outside to see if he was all right. Alan had the situation under control and her fretting, at least in the view of their neighbors, would do Charlie no good.
" I don't care," Alan responded. " He is your brother and he is younger than you are. "
" I'm tired of hearing that! So what if he's younger. He still started it and he should get in trouble for it! " Don was shaking his head back and forth.
Alan took Don aside, and said something that Maggie couldn't hear. It didn't matter, though, her eyes were settled on Charlie. Charlie, who'd lowered his head and not said a word.
Whatever Alan said didn't seem to please Don, as the teen huffed and headed back into the house. Maggie heard the door open then slam, then heavy footsteps made their way up the stairs. In the yard, Alan offered Charlie a hand up, but he refused it, pushing himself up and wincing. He headed back into the house.
The door opened again, but this time there was no slam. She turned from the window.
"He's much bigger than you are, Charlie, " Alan was saying.
"So?" Charlie responded.
"So ..." She heard a heavy sigh. "Go into the kitchen and get yourself washed up. "
A moment later, Charlie appeared in the doorway. His hands were covered in dirt and she could see a few bruises forming across his arm. She'd have a talk with Alan about those later. She gave him a smile.
"Are you all right? "
"I'm fine, " he told her, in same tone he used every day he came home from school when she asked him how his day was. She didn't believe it. Not then, not now.
"Things will get better," she said, and headed to the sink to turn the water on and dampen a few paper towels. He flinched when she reached for his hands.
" Will it?" he asked.
"It will, " she confirmed.
He let her clean his hands. "It was my fault," he muttered.
"What was?" He hissed when she brushed against a tender spot.
"The fight. I... college will be different, right? "
"Right," she agreed and crossed her fingers that it was. It had to be; it hurt too much to see her son so unhappy.
"Good, " Charlie said softly. She didn't respond any further, just washed the dirt away and tended to the physical hurts the best she could.
The day of the prom, Maggie made sure Don stopped by the florist and picked up the corsage. She took pictures and Alan adjusted his tie before Don sped off in his VW to pick up Val.
She found Charlie sitting at the top off the stairs, staring out into space.
"Your father and I thought we'd go out to dinner. Your choice," she tried.
Charlie's lips formed a tight line before he shook his head slowly. "I'm not hungry. But you and Dad, you should go. "
She wanted to hug him, wanted to hug him more then ever, but held back. Alan said it was best not to cuddle him and besides, Charlie's body language told her to stay away. He tucked up his knees and looped his arms around them, hugging his legs close to his body.
" Did you extend Don's curfew?" he asked and she was surprised by the question.
"Yes," she answered.
"Good. Val should get to have a good time." He hugged his knees tighter. "Mom? "
"Yes, honey? "
" I..." His gaze fell to the floor. " Can we get ice cream? "
She smiled, though she felt anything but cheerful. She sat down next to him on the stairs and extended a hand over his back, pulling him closer to her. Space be damned; her son needed some comfort. Charlie stiffened at her touch at first, but after a moment, relaxed. His eyes stayed focused ahead, his mouth fixed in a straight line.
"Sure we can," she told him. "I could use some ice cream, too. "
Someday, she hoped, Don and Charlie would be able to put this behind them.