Title: Role Reversal

Author: FraidyCat

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Don tapped the bat three times on home plate, digging his cleats into the dirt. He chewed his gum furiously and crouched, assumed his stance. He waited in suspended time for the white sphere to come hurtling out of space, and waited to hear the solid crack of bat meeting ball.

During these moments, he didn't think. He didn't feel. He didn't remember the past, or worry about the future. During these moments, there were only two things: The ball, and his urge to kill it.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Charlie sat in the low bleachers behind the batting cages, alongside bored mothers and gossipy babysitters, and studied Don intently.

He hadn't seen him in almost a month, and it had obviously been a hard month for his brother. His jeans sagged on suddenly-too-thin hips. Even from this distance, Charlie could see the set line of his shoulders, so opposite the loose and relaxed posture Don had always maintained during his playing years. Yet he still connected with nearly every ball the machine hurled at him. The violent cracks made Charlie jump, and the speed with which the balls then hit the fence attested to the force with which they were hit. A small group of adolescent boys sat in a huddle right behind the cage Don was in, watching, awestruck.

Charlie's heart twisted as he looked, and he wished he had come sooner.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Don would stay until the batting cages closed, as he had every evening for the last few weeks, and then he would go back to the office. One thing about working for the federal government — he would never run out of paperwork. Sometimes, he wouldn't go to his apartment at all. He would sleep for a few hours on the floor of a locked conference room, change to the fresh shirt he always kept in the bottom drawer of his desk, and let everyone assume that he was the first one there in the morning.

No-one remarked on the shadows under his eyes, the haunted look within them. His team members were smart enough to keep their words to themselves, limiting their concern to sideways glances, or exchanging looks over his head.

He waited for the ball.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

One-by-one, the other cages emptied, and the few people on the benches drifted away. Charlie waited, and when the manager wandered over to the cage Don was in and banged a bat into the cyclone, calling out, "Closing up, son", he stood stiffly and walked in the dusk to meet Don. Head down, stripping off his batting glove, he didn't notice the approach until it was too late to prepare himself in some way. When he looked up and saw Charlie right in front of him, his eyes widened and his face paled. "What is it?", he forced himself to ask.

"It's all right," Charlie assured him. "Stan is with him. I just wanted to see you. I thought you would be here."

Some of the fear left Don's eyes, and was quickly replaced with anger. He pushed past Charlie and strode for the SUV in the parking lot. "I've been busy," he said, aware of how ridiculous it sounded. Busy at the batting cages?

Charlie followed him silently, waited on the driver's side while Don replaced his lucky bat in the vehicle, changed his shoes and wiped his face with a towel. When he walked from the rear to climb behind the wheel, Charlie blocked his access to the door. "Please get out of my way." He hadn't really mean for it to sound menacing, but it did.

Charlie sighed a little, and spoke gently. "Donnie. I can't let you do this."

Don met his eyes. "You think you can take me on, little brother?" Once he had allowed the anger to find a voice, and a target, he couldn't seem to control it. "Don't throw any of your guilt at me. You can afford help. I know he has a long-term care policy, I helped him pick it out — back when Mom was dying. Back when you made me do it alone." Charlie winced, and like a shark, Don zeroed in. "What's the matter, Charlie, you're not liking taking a turn at this?"

A tear snuck out of the corner of Charlie's eye, and Don had to steel himself against its power. That took all of his energy, and he stopped talking. Charlie had time to catch the tear, clear his throat and take over. "It's not about me, Donnie. None of it. None of th…" He suddenly stopped, and looked away. When he spoke again, his voice held a tone of discovery, as if he were hearing the thoughts for the first time himself. "Actually, maybe it is. Maybe it is."

Don tried to get the anger back. "You don't need my help." Somehow, instead of angrily, the words were coming out desperately. "I can't help."

Charlie looked back at him. "I love you," he said, and the unexpected admission shut Don up again. Charlie continued. "I've done this. I did this, Don — what you're doing, now." Charlie took a step closer, his presence almost threatening. "I will never forgive myself. Dad did — and he says Mom never blamed me — but that doesn't matter. What matters is the dark rock of guilt and pain and self-loathing that I will carry in my gut forever." He stepped even closer, and his voice lowered. "It will never, ever, go away, Don, and I cannot let you do that to yourself. Because at my core — I am the selfish bastard you think I am, and I cannot lose you all. If you keep this up, Don, it will eat you alive. Maybe someday in the field, it will feel too easy to go in without back-up…or…" Charlie dropped his eyes to the ground. "…or you'll decide that there's a good reason so many cops eat their guns…"

He pivoted suddenly, and to Don's utter surprise and horror, bent slightly at the waist and vomited colorfully all over the parking lot in front of the SUV. He straightened and leaned heavily on the front of Don's car, and Don felt his feet moving, felt himself move up to stand behind Charlie. He couldn't say anything, and his hand hovered over Charlie's shoulders. He heard his brother whisper. "Please, Donnie. Please don't do this. Dad…" Charlie swallowed, and Don grimaced to imagine what it was he was swallowing. "Dad understands, just like Mom did. I'm the weak one. I'm here for me. Because when…when it's over…I can't be alone, Don. Please don't make me be alone."

It was nearing dark, now, and Don stood silently and felt his brother's plea. He already carried the rock of guilt in his gut that Charlie had talked about. Guilt because he wasn't being the son he should be to Alan, and guilt because he finally understood what had driven Charlie to the garage when Mom was dying, and he couldn't take back all the expressed and repressed anger he had felt about that, ever since.

Charlie was right. It would be just the two of them, soon.

He leaned his head into his brother's back, solid and warm, and let the tears fall.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

FINIS