Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. They do occasionally visit from time to time.
Charlie stepped off an elevator in the FBI building and into the field agent bullpen. He started toward his brother Don's desk, but was stopped by Colby's voice. "Whiz Kid! We're in the break room!"
Charlie turned to his right and soon saw them all there. Megan and David sat at a pizza-covered table, while Don and Colby stood over it. Don smiled in his direction. "Come and have some lunch, Buddy! Colby's buying!"
Charlie shifted his backpack a little and started for the break room. He grinned at Granger. "Lose a bet?"
Colby frowned, and the others laughed. Don, on his way to more pizza, gave his fellow agent a playful shove. "Even the kid knows you always end up on the losing end of a bet, Granger!"
Colby glowered at him, then looked at Charlie. "I may have put my money in the wrong place on this one. I was sure Henderson did it. Seriously, you want some pizza?"
Charlie shook his head. "No, thanks. I need to get back, I have a class soon. I just wanted to drop off those numbers you had me run on the Glanville case. Who's Henderson?" He propped his backpack on the table and began rummaging through it.
"Computer geek in the logistics department of Rondole International," Colby supplied. When Charlie looked up sharply, the agent reddened. "Sorry. I mean a high-level employee." Don smiled into his pizza as Charlie shook his head and turned his attention back to the backpack. He began taking items out of it and placing them on the table, looking for the elusive Glanville file.
Colby continued. "Anyway, Henderson looked good for it. A simple money laundering scheme."
"Yeah," David cut in. "So simple we didn't even need a math genius to help us out on this one. At least that's what Colby said."
The others laughed again, and as Charlie placed an apple and a rolled-up pair of socks on the table, Colby protested. "Hey, even Don said it was a beautiful set-up. Those guys really knew what they were doing when they framed him!"
Megan, sipping from a bottle of water, leaned back in her chair. "If Don didn't suspect something was hinky, why did he make us wear vests to a witness interview?" She stopped speaking, abruptly, and glanced quickly at Charlie.
Charlie, protractor in hand, looked at Don. "Vests? Did something happen?"
"Nothing a few thousand dollars' worth of Kevlar can't handle," joked his brother, and decided it was time to change the subject. "Did you get anything from those numbers?"
Charlie put the protractor on the table and rummaged in his bag some more, this time coming out with a pocket dictionary. "So what happened?", he asked, ignoring Don's question and looking at Colby this time.
The agent sighed. "Henderson was set up by some other employees in his department. We all went to the Rondole building this morning. The plan was for David and I to get some more witness statements, and Don and Megan were going to take Henderson on, push him a little. We didn't have enough to bring him in, so we were going to try to crack him."
Charlie added a half-full bottle of water to the growing pile on the table He kept his voice level as he concentrated on his backpack. "So what went wrong?"
David took over the narration. "There was a group of three involved in this little set up, and today was the planned pay off. Rondole does a lot of business in Italy, and these guys had been approached by the American branch of an Italian…syndicate, I guess is the word for it…"
Charlie looked up again, clutching a broken pencil. "As in mafia?"
Don tried again to cut the story off. "That's only a movie word now, Charlie. Real men say 'syndicate'". He winked at Megan, who had lifted her eyebrows at him. "So what about Glanville?"
Charlie looked directly at him and studied him so intently that Don began to feel like a science experiment. Finally Charlie placed the broken pencil on the table and pulled out a chair and sat down. He turned his attention to Megan. "I think maybe we'll just stick with Henderson for a while."
She flicked her eyes up to Don for just a moment, then back to Charlie. "Well. Rondole accountants noticed the discrepancies in the books almost two weeks ago, and brought us in. While we were working that original angle, money was still being siphoned off. The hits were small enough, diverse enough, that we just didn't catch it. We weren't looking for it."
"Definitely should have had you working this with us," mumbled Colby. "You would have noticed the pattern, and things wouldn't have gotten out of hand."
David threw a crust back in the pizza box and stood. "At least it got me lunch," he said, grinning at Colby. "Paperwork, dude."
Colby groaned and started to follow David from the room. "Nice seein' ya, Whiz Kid. Call us back if you find the Glanville file."
Megan started to push back her chair, but Charlie put out a hand to stop her. "Wait. Finish the story."
She hesitated, seemed to consider, and then acquiesced. "We lucked into the bust. It was all supposed to go down this afternoon. Final compelling 'evidence' against Henderson would be leaked, and the three blind mice would receive their pay-offs; over a million each. Turns out two of the guys were so scared something was going to go wrong that they started packing heat a few weeks ago. When they saw all four of us walk in at once, they thought that was it. Guns got pulled, shots were fired. Henderson was wounded. Poor guy. First he's set up by these guys, then gets caught in the crossfire." She patted Charlie on the arm and this time successfully stood. She regarded the half-empty backpack and smiled. "I can see a manila folder from here," she offered.
Charlie followed her gaze and took the file out of the pack. He looked at it and then added it to the pile. "Those are my class syllabi," he said.
Megan chuckled and headed for the door of the breakroom. "I'll go help the guys, then." She looked at Don, tried one last time to help him out. "Coming, boss?"
Charlie, back to digging in his pack, spoke first. "He'll be there in a minute."
Megan and Don exchanged a look, and she left, almost feeling sorry for the team leader.
Don gathered up the scattered plates and napkins, put them in the trash and then put the remainder of the pizza in the break room refrigerator. Finally, he sat down opposite Charlie, and watched his brother pull a salt shaker out of his pack. "Geez, Chuck…"
Charlie added the salt shaker to the table and pushed the backpack to one side. He looked Don straight in the eye. "Vests," he said. "Vests that turned out to be a good idea. Why is that, Don? Do any of those vests have bullets in them now?"
Don held his gaze. "These guys are white collar," he said. "They just picked up a couple of small pistols, .38 specials – the vest can handle that."
"I see." Charlie had taken on his 'teacher' tone. "So a terrified man backed into a corner aims a gun at you and shoots, and as the bullet flies toward your vest you relax, and think to yourself, 'Hell. I sure am glad that's only a .38.' Is that it?"
Don hated himself for what he was about to do. He maintained eye contact with Charlie and did it anyway. "No, Charlie, that's not it. The bullet tore into my vest and bruised two ribs and knocked the air out of me and blew me a foot back until I connected with a wall. I slid down to the floor and watched Colby and David taking cover and heard Megan shouting my name. I felt her fingers, poking at me, and I remember thinking if I could feel her fingers through the vest, what the hell good was it? It was half-an-hour later, in the ER, before I thought, 'I sure am glad that was only a .38.' Is that what you want to hear?"
He watched Charlie pale, and swallow with difficulty. As he knew he would, he took pity on him. "I'm fine, Charlie. I was checked out and cleared at the ER – Bureau policy. Light duty for the rest of this week. By Monday I'll be back all-out. No harm, no foul."
Charlie paled even further, looked away and started putting things back into his pack, hands shaking.
"Say something," Don ordered.
"I…the Glanville file must be on my desk. I must have picked up the syllabi instead."
Great. Now he wanted to talk about the Glanville case. Don reached out a hand and bumped the backpack. "Say something else."
Charlie raised wide, pain-shadowed eyes. Eyes that were incapable of hiding how he felt. "Aren't you ever scared?" he whispered. "Don't you ever feel fear?"
They were alone in the break room, and Don tried to let his own true feelings show, even though he wasn't very experienced at it. "I'm afraid right now," he answered. "You know why?"
Charlie shook his head.
"Because…" Don took a breath. "Because, I let Granger be the primary on this, and not bringing you in was his call. The rest of us lobbied for it – I would have called you in. And if you were working on this case, you probably would have gone to the witness interview with David and Colby, this morning. You've done that sort of thing with us before. I could have watched that bullet rip into you, Charlie, and that – that is what causes me fear. Possibilities like that wake me up at night. I'm terrified that you are a consultant with the FBI. I'm terrified about other consulting jobs you do. I wear a vest, I carry a gun, I have back-up…" Don snorted and indicated the backpack on the table. "You? You fend off the world with a salt shaker and a broken pencil."
Charlie looked away again and Don watched his chest rise and fall in slow, regular, familiar breathing. He knew that they were both afraid of the same thing – that somehow, they would lose each other, and he was suddenly oddly comforted by that fact. Not so long ago, they might not have cared, that much. Not so long ago, they didn't know each other well enough, didn't love each other well enough. They had worked hard to fix that; at first, for Alan, and later, for themselves. The love they had found had made them vulnerable. The love they had found came with fear. Don watched Charlie struggle with his emotions, and knew that the price was worth it.
He smiled fondly at his little brother, found himself wondering randomly what else was in that backpack. "So," he said softly. "The Glanville file. How about if I come over for dinner tonight and get it then?"
"All-right." Charlie smiled tentatively and pushed himself to his feet. He shouldered his backpack. "See you tonight," he said, still sounding a little scared to Don, and turned to leave. As Don watched, Charlie paused in the doorway, head down, then suddenly turned and looked at him with a fierceness that hit him harder than the .38 had that morning. "I love you, too," Charlie said, and Don found that there was no Kevlar to protect his heart from family.
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