Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: Flashbacks are in italics.
Following Through by 3rdgal
Charlie shot his brother a startled look across the table. "My goldfish?"
Don nodded. "Remember when he died?"
"Yeah." Charlie's face clouded. "I remember Mom was cooking fish sticks. You told me that we were having Goldie for dinner."
Don nodded and sighed as a look of apology crept onto his face. "Do you know why I said that?"
"Probably because I was annoying you. I seemed to do that a lot when we were kids."
Don didn't miss the hint of hurt in his brother's voice. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe he shouldn't be dredging up the past. It was just the only way Don knew to actually try to connect with his brother. Even as his doubts about his actions grew, he heard Jenna's words echoing in his head, "Don't give me this men don't talk about feelings crap. You tell him." He knew she'd been right; he and Charlie needed to talk. They were closer than they'd been in a long time, but they still needed to work their feelings out. Don took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.
"You were annoying me," he agreed. "You wouldn't stop talking about that damn fish. 'When are we getting another one? Should I name it Goldie II? Are we going to bury him or flush him?' On and on."
"I was five years old," Charlie huffed.
"I know. And I thought that even with your five year old brain, you were already smart enough to know that there was no way Mom would cook your pet fish and that she never could have gotten that many fish sticks from a two inch fish. I said it because, on some level, even through my anger, I thought you'd know it wasn't true. But then I saw you sobbing in Mom's arms, asking her why she was cooking Goldie." He stared intently at Charlie. "Honestly, I didn't mean to hurt you that night."
"But you were my big brother. Back then all the numbers and logic in the world could never make me doubt anything you told me. I knew I could trust you, no matter what."
"And I violated that trust." Don stared down at the tabletop. "I didn't realize how much you looked up to me back then. Dad spent the better part of my childhood trying to pound it through my thick skull, but I never listened to him." Don looked back up at Charlie's face, trying to interpret the emotions he saw there. "I get it now, Charlie. It may have taken 30 years, but I really do get it now."
Charlie heard the raw emotion in Don's voice, saw the regret on his face. He knew how hard it was for Don to open up, but Charlie was thrilled that he was doing just that. He didn't know why he had chosen tonight, but he suspected it had something to do with Jenna. He felt a sudden loss at not having had the opportunity to meet her. He pushed that feeling aside and looked up at Don, giving him a huge smile. "I know you do."
"Good," Don said as relief washed over his features. "It's important to me that you know that."
They paused in their conversation as the waitress arrived with their order. They thanked her as she left, and both began eating. Neither of them had realized how drained and hungry the night's events had left them. In a few minutes, both of them had cleaned their plates.
Don gave a contented sigh and closed his eyes as he leaned back in the booth. "I needed that."
"I'll bet," Charlie agreed, studying the lines of exhaustion etched on his brother's face. Feeling an overwhelming desire to maintain the conversation, he grasped at the first thing he could think of. "I really appreciate what you did for me tonight."
"What's that?" Don asked as he wearily rubbed his forehead.
"Telling me that I was a good driver. I was scared to death by everything that was happening until you told me that. But then I knew I could do it, just because you thought I could."
Don sat back up in the booth and studied Charlie across the table. "Really?"
"Yeah. I believe in you, Don. I always have."
Don chuckled and nodded. "Like with Old Lady Hatchet."
Charlie groaned as he remembered their childhood neighbor. Don had been playing baseball with his friends, and one of the boys had hit the ball though her window. All of his friends had run away, but Don felt obligated to check on their elderly neighbor and make sure she was okay. He'd braved her wrath and knocked on her door. In return, she had demanded that Alan pay for the broken window. Don had protested his innocence, but since there was no sign of the other boys, no one had believed him. Charlie frowned as he remembered sitting on the stairs that night, listening to the heated argument between his father and brother.
"As part of your punishment you will help Ms. Hatchet with her yard work for the next week. Every afternoon after school, I expect you to be there, and to do what she asks."
"But I'll miss baseball practice!"
"You should have thought about that before you broke her window."
"I told you I didn't do it!"
"You won't give me the name of the boy that you claim did it, and no one else was around. What am I supposed to believe?"
Don ceased shouting, forcing himself to speak calmly. "You should believe in your son. I didn't break that window, Dad."
Alan gave his son a disappointed look as he placed his hand on Don's shoulder. "I'm sorry, son, but the evidence doesn't support your claim."
Don stepped back out of his father's reach and stood up as straight and as tall as he could. "Then you're not interpreting the evidence correctly." With that, Don turned and stormed up the stairs, ignoring Charlie as he passed him. Charlie quickly trailed after him, frowning when he came to his brother's locked bedroom door. He knocked, but Don just yelled at him to go away.
"Buddy," Don's voice and the gentle shove against his shoulder brought him back to the present. "You okay?"
Charlie smiled sheepishly. "I was just remembering the fight between you and Dad that night." Charlie grinned. "I think that's when you became destined to be an FBI agent."
"Maybe so," Don laughed. He grew serious again as he patted Charlie's shoulder. "I never forgot what you did for me."
Don arrived at Old Lady Hatchet's home immediately after school the next day. She ordered him to mow her lawn and weed her garden. Don sighed as he broke out her ancient lawn mower. The stupid motor kept cutting out and that, combined with the fact that she had the largest yard in the neighborhood, promised to kill his entire afternoon. After fighting the lawn mower for the better part of an hour, Don gave up and decided to work on weeding the garden.
He glanced at the garden, startled to see Charlie kneeling there, covered in dirt. Don trotted toward him to ask what he was doing, but stopped as he got close enough to see.
Charlie was on his knees in the dirt, his teddy bear clutched in one hand, while he carefully pulled weeds with the other. He pulled up one weed, carefully laid it down on an organized pile, wiped his hand on his jeans, and reached for another weed. Don silently laughed, figuring at this rate Charlie should have the weeding done shortly before his eighteenth birthday. He closed the distance between them and stood over him.
"Hey, Buddy. Watcha doing?"
Charlie looked up at him, squinting in the afternoon sunlight that streamed over Don's shoulders. He had dirt streaked across his cheeks and his curls were limp with sweat. There was an innocence and devotion in his eyes that took Don's breath away. "I believe in you."
That simple statement instantly erased every annoying thing his little brother had ever done. Don fought the urge to envelop him in a bear hug, instead sinking to his knees next to him and wrapping an arm around his shoulders.
"You don't have to do this."
"I want to help," his little brother insisted. "And I can, too. If I pull three weeds every minute-"
"Whoa!" Don threw up his hands in surrender as he smiled at Charlie. "I'll take your word for it. How about I help too, and we'll finish sooner?"
Charlie beamed at him an nodded. He watched as Don pulled weeds next to him, observing how he pulled several weeds up at one time, throwing them into a haphazard pile. Don smiled as Charlie began copying him, constantly glancing at his big brother to make sure he didn't miss anything.
Soon they were done with the weeding. Don leaned back and smiled at his little brother. "Thanks, Charlie."
His heart swelled at the love he heard in his brother's voice. He was about to respond when they both heard the sounds of the ice cream truck as it turned onto their street.
"Hey, let's get ice cream," Don suggested as he scooped Charlie up and settled him on his shoulders. "My treat!"
Don's memories faded away at the sound of his brother's voice. He glanced at him and smiled at the knowing look on Charlie's face. "Sure," he said as he reached across the table and gave Charlie's shoulder an affectionate squeeze. "My treat."