Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: Thanks to my beta, ritt.
J is for Jealous
"Mom?" thirteen year old Don Eppes called as he walked through the front door. "Mom? Anybody?" He sighed and set his book bag by the front door before heading for the kitchen. "Mom?" he called again as pushed open the swinging door to reveal the empty room. Where was she? She was supposed to pick him up from baseball practice, but he'd had to hitch a ride with his friend, Billy. A thought dawned on him and he frowned as he exited through the back door and into the garage.
Sure enough, there she was, sitting on the ugly green sofa that had been in the garage ever since Charlie had been evaluated and pronounced a prodigy. He saw his eight year old brother furiously writing across the chalkboards that filled the area – the same chalkboards that had forced Don's bicycle to take up permanent residence outside. Mom watched Charlie, nodding as he talked to her in a language that no one else ever understood. It irritated him that their mother always pretended that she did.
"Geez," he snapped angrily. "Charlie, no one else understands this junk except you."
Both Mom and Charlie whipped around to look at him – his mother with an expression of anger and his little brother with an expression of hurt. "Mom does," Charlie said quickly, trying to defend himself in his big brother's eyes.
"No, she doesn't!" Don shot back as his fury increased. "She just pretends to!"
Charlie looked at his mother, tears of confusion in his eyes. "Mom?"
"Shh, sweetie," she soothed, drawing him into her arms and gently rocking him. "I may not always understand, but that's why I listen so carefully." She smiled as Charlie seemed to accept her answer. He cast another wounded look at Don before returning to his chalkboards. "Don Eppes, outside this minute!" She marched him to stand on the driveway, out of Charlie's earshot. "Why would you say such a thing to your brother?"
"He needs to grow up," Don muttered angrily. "You and Dad baby him too much."
"Honey, he's only eight."
"So?" Don challenged as he tried to stare her down. "You keep telling me he's going to be going to high school with me next year, right? And I'll have to look out for him? Well, he needs to start growing up now. I'm only one man."
"Man?" his mother asked, her voice filled with disappointment. "A man wouldn't hurt his brother's feelings like you just did. You obviously have a lot more growing up to do." Don sighed, still pouting as he shifted his gaze to study the ground. His mother placed a hand on his shoulder. "What's really wrong, Donny?"
He fought back his own tears of hurt as he mumbled. "You forgot to pick me up."
"What?" she asked as she wracked her brain. "Oh no! It was my turn to get you at practice, wasn't it? Oh Donny, I'm so sorry." She gathered him to her and held him close, mentally cursing the chaos around her that would make such an important thing slip her mind. "Baby, I was just so busy."
Don nodded against his mother's shoulder as he blinked away the tears. Confident that there was no sign of them anymore, he pulled back and smiled at her. "It's okay, Mom. I got another ride." He saw the moisture in her eyes and his heart broke as he realized he had made that happen – he had made his mother cry. "Really, Mom, it's okay." He gave her his best smile. "Why don't I fix dinner for you? That way you can keep helping Charlie."
Margaret smiled as she studied her first born. "I take back what I said, Don. You really are growing into a fine young man."
He blushed slightly and stood up straight with pride. "I'll let you know when dinner's ready."
She hugged him one last time as she returned to the garage. Don watched her disappear and then went to the kitchen. He decided to opt for an easy dinner of cold sandwiches and potato chips. As he gathered the items he needed from the fridge he thought about his little brother.
Charlie always got Mom and Dad's attention. They never forgot to pick him up at school, or at his tutor's, or from one of those aptitude tests he was always taking. Of course they never really let him out of their sight for too long, either. Don, on the other hand, could pretty much sustain himself without any help from his parents – something he was forced to do on more than a few occasions. He wondered what it would be like to have his parents dote on him like that, and felt an ugly emotion stirring in his gut. He hated to admit it to himself, but he was jealous of Charlie.
His little brother seemed to have everything Don didn't. He breezed through everything in school, not just math but everything. Well, maybe not spelling, but the teachers all adored him so much that he even got good grades on his spelling tests. Instead of red corrections, they were always suggestions. Don never caught a break like that and it drove him crazy. Charlie was already having colleges express an interest in him without really trying, while Don was practicing like crazy to become skilled enough at baseball so that colleges might one day express a similar interest in him.
Don was old enough to have an idea that being jealous of his brother wasn't a good thing, but just wasn't fair that Charlie got everything. At least Don had gotten good enough at hiding his feelings – most of the time – so that his parents didn't have any extra stress in their lives from worrying about him. Don Eppes, thirteen-year-old rock of the family. He smiled sadly to himself as he piled the sandwiches on a platter and headed back to the garage.
Charlie hid behind the garage door and peered at his mother and Don as they argued. Don thought he needed to grow up? Charlie sniffed sadly. He had been trying to grow up. He wanted so much to be like his big brother – popular and independent. Every time he tried to emulate Don, his parents were there, reining him in. He didn't have many friends of his own, and his parents always told him that he was too young to go out with Don and his friends. If Charlie told Mom and Dad that he was big enough to do something by himself, they would gently smile and tell him that he would be big enough one day, but for now he was only eight.
Charlie sniffed again as he watched Don hugging Mom. He had seen Mom looking sad but then Don had hugged her and made her happy again. Charlie had no idea how his big brother did that so easily, and it was something he really was jealous of. Jealous? He'd recently learned that word on a vocabulary test. At the time it had just been a word on the chalkboard, but now he actually understood it. He saw his Mom walking back to the garage and quickly scampered to the blackboard, picked up a piece of chalk and resumed his writing.
Don watched as Charlie distractedly moved a pawn to start the game. He looked at Alan as they discussed their counter move, finally deciding to move their knight. Charlie looked up and studied the board and Don took the opportunity to think about their weekly game of chess. It was always him and Dad against Charlie, unlike when they were kids and their parents had always been with Charlie. Don had come to realize that Charlie hadn't really benefited from all the attention, instead growing up sheltered and socially awkward. He'd had it rough in high school, and Don frowned as he remembered not always being the best big brother he could have been.
Still, Charlie had turned out okay. He was a brilliant, well-respected professor, and a financial success at an early age. Those thoughts used to make Don incredibly jealous – after all, while he was a good FBI agent, he was nowhere near the success that Charlie was. Over time he'd come to understand the pressures that Charlie faced on a daily basis – molding the lives and minds of young students, while still expected by everyone in academia to further his own research. It was stress that Charlie had to live with every day, and it was difficult for him, having always had his parents nearby for support and never really learning to be independent as a child. As he and Charlie grew closer, Don had come to understand that he really had no reason to have been jealous of Charlie as a child. Neither one of them had been given a perfect childhood, but they'd both turned out all right.
His thoughts were drawn back to the present as Alan whispered in his ear about their next move. Don glanced at the board and realized that he must have zoned out during his thoughts as the pieces were completely rearranged on the board. He nodded at Alan's suggested move and moved the chess piece across the board.
"Check," Don grinned at Charlie across the chessboard.
Charlie glanced up at his brother and father and then at the board. He cockily shrugged and moved his rook.
"Sure about that, Chuck?"
He glared at Don before returning his attention to the papers he was grading. "I'm not worried."
"Thinks he's toying with us," Alan leaned over and whispered to Don. They conferred for a moment, after which Alan moved their bishop. "Check, again."
Charlie glanced up at the board and frowned. It looked like they might actually get him this time. Well, that was the plan after all. He smiled and moved his queen with a great flourish. "You actually think you can beat me?" he asked with a smug smile.
He watched Don and Alan whisper, seeing Don grin with excitement as he reached over and moved their rook. "Um, Charlie? I believe that's check... mate."
"What?" Charlie feigned disbelief as he studied the board. He scouted the board, making sure his father and brother really had won. He playfully pouted and protested. "I was distracted."
"You said that grading papers while playing wouldn't be a problem," Alan reminded him. "How about a game of Scrabble next?"
Charlie rolled his eyes. He really hated Scrabble, but Don and Alan loved playing. "One game," he reluctantly agreed. He watched Don rise from the table and disappear to retrieve the board game. Charlie sighed in contentment. This is what he enjoyed – spending quality time with his family. Sometimes it was so hard to do, what with Don having so many important cases. He was always delighted when Don would show up after a case and hang out, as if seeking something to anchor him to the real world. Charlie was more than glad to be that anchor– whether in the form of playful banter or a cleverly thrown chess game. Maybe he had grown up to be like Don, after all.
They had definitely grown closer, and Charlie had started learning about what it was like for Don as a child. Popularity had led to conflicts and peer pressure that had acted as roadblocks, stumbling his brother a couple of times during his senior year of high school. He understood now that Don's independent nature growing up was necessitated by Charlie's dependence on their parents for support. He understood all of this now, and was getting to know and understand Don more and more each day, as they worked side by side on cases.
He watched as Don returned to the table with the game. Charlie always went first when they played, the joke being that he needed an advantage when it came to spelling words. Charlie drew his letters out and placed them on the rack in front of him. His face lit up with a smile.
"What?" Don laughed at his brother's expression.
"Nothing," Charlie winked at him. "But I know what my first word is." He reached out and carefully set the tiles on the board, one by one. After the last tile, he looked up at his brother and they smiled warmly at each other.
"Jealous," Don read the word aloud.
Charlie smiled and nodded. "Just a word on the board."
Don beamed at him and squeezed his shoulder. "I couldn't agree more."