Title: 2 Times
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. They are close personal friends.
A/N: The Silent Rumble and I challenge you to join us in a Oneshot Explosion. In honor of "Numb3rs", a numeral must be part of the title, and the Oneshot should also begin with a numeral. Come on. Please come out and play with us.
Two times, Don reached out to grab Charlie's head, and both times his brother jerked back, the second time so forcefully that he thunked his head solidly on the hotel room door. He reached up a hand to correct his hair, having spent the last half hour making it look natural. "Ow," he complained. "Knock it off. What're you doing, anyway?"
Don grinned. "Come on, Chuck. Let me see it. We're going to be late meeting the others dowstairs for breakfast."
Charlie reddened slightly and shoved both hands in the pockets of his jeans. He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them again. "Who told you?", he asked.
Don crossed his own arms in front of his chest and raised an eyebrow. "Who do you think told me? When I got back to the room last night, there was a message on my phone from Granger."
Charlie's eyes took on their lost puppy look. "Was I drunk? I don't remember being drunk, and I don't feel hungover this morning…although my neck does hurt."
Laughter burst out of Don. "I'm sure. No, Charlie, you only had water at dinner. Colby had a few beers. That's why I let you go off with him. I was thinking you would keep him from doing something stupid. Guess you should have gone to the movie with the rest of us."
Charlie stiffened and the lost puppy became a rottweiler. "You let me go off with him? I don't need your permission, Don. Not for who I spend time with, or what I do during that time. And 'stupid'? Yeah, I'll admit I let him talk me into this, but I've thought about it for years."
Don lowered his hands to his own pockets. He hadn't meant to get the kid upset, but the situation called for some serious teasing. "Calm down, Charlie. We still have another day of Quantico seminars to sit through together. I was just giving you a bad time. Please let me see it?"
Charlie glared at him steadily, then slowly turned around, his back to Don. Don stepped up and lifted the curls off his neck. "Why did you get it here?", he asked, as he studied the symbol for Pi, now permanently a part of his brother's neck.
"I'm a professional, Don, I'm not sure how well showing up with an obvious tattoo would go over in my line of work. Besides, it's just for me. Numbers have been my life. I thought about the Fibonacci sequence, but my neck's not that big."
Don snickered. "Not only that, this way you can always keep your hair at least this long, right? Dad will quit pressuring you to cut it if he knows you're harboring a tatt under there."
Charlie shifted a little. "How does it look? I don't remember it hurting this much."
"Did they give you anything for it? It looks a little inflamed…" Don suddenly registered Charlie's statement. "What did you say?" Charlie started to snake a hand around his neck and Don batted it away. "Don't touch it. What do you mean, 'you don't remember it hurting this much'?"
Charlie sighed again and started to drop his head to his chest, but hissed and jerked it back up again. "Ouch. Is it bleeding?"
Don dropped his brother's hair and spun him around by the shoulder. "No. We'll get some antibiotic ointment while we're out this morning. Tell me. Do you have another tattoo?"
Charlie's eyes looked to one side of Don and then the other, and then finally met his gaze. Don wasn't sure what he was seeing in those eyes. It was usually easy to read Charlie, but now he looked…trapped, or something, yet also defiant. His little brother eventually walked past him to sit on the edge of the bed in the hotel room. While Don watched, Charlie lifted his left foot over his right leg, pushed up his jeans a little and pulled down his sock.
Don slowly approached, mesmerized by the small collection of ink just over Charlie's ankle bone. He leaned over and looked at it closer. It appeared to be some kind of modern, funky Christmas tree. Why would his Jewish brother have a Christmas tree tattooed on his ankle? He sat beside Charlie on the bed, still looking at it. "What is that?"
Charlie glanced at Don's face quickly. "I know what it looks like, but it's not. It's the Chinese symbol for long life." He rearranged his sock and jeans and put his leg down, but he didn't get up.
Don wanted details. "When did you get it? Were you drunk that time? How could I never have seen this? You wear shorts, sometimes…"
Charlie shrugged. "Not that often. It's small, and black, and it's right under the hairline…kind-of looks like part of it? Also, I have a collection of flesh-colored bandages — I recommend them."
Don looked at him. "You cover it up? Why?"
Charlie was starting to look very uncomfortable, and didn't meet Don's eyes. He spoke softly. "I don't want to upset Dad."
Don tried to follow that. "Because it looks like a Christmas tree?"
Charlie shook his head silently, and started to rub his neck in a familiar gesture of unhappiness, but jerked his hand away as soon as he touched the area around Pi. He dropped his hand to his lap. "It's not that," he finally said. "He knows about it." Don waited for him to continue, afraid to interrupt and stop Charlie's obviously difficult story. "I got it…almost four years ago. Be…be…before you came b-b-back."
Don kept silent. Charlie was starting to stutter, and that only happened in extreme circumstances. Charlie took a breath. "You know that Dad didn't call you until Mom lost her remission, and the doctor said he would order a second round of ch-ch-chemo, b-b-but the prognosis was b-b-bad."
Don laid a hand on Charlie's arm. "You don't have to tell me this," he said quietly, and Charlie finally looked at him.
"N-no. It's okay." He looked down at his lap. "Anyway, b-before that, when she was first diagnosed…" He looked at Don again, and actually smiled. "Donnie, she was so positive about everything. So determined it would be all right." Charlie had stopped stuttering. "The weekend before her first round of chemo, we went to San Francisco together. Just the two of us…Dad hadn't retired yet, and he was trying to clear some things up so he could take some time off the next week. It was a great weekend…" His voice was suddenly sadder than anything Don had ever heard, and it tore at his heart.
Charlie lowered his head, wincing at the pain it caused in his new tattoo, and took a few deep breaths. Then he looked up at Don again and grinned. "We were walking, on Sunday, and passed a tattoo shop. She wanted to get one." Don's mouth dropped open a little and Charlie laughed. "I kid you not. I wasn't sure I would be able to stop her, and I was afraid it would delay the chemo. Finally I told her to choose what she wanted, and I would get it for her." He looked toward his ankle again. "There you have it. Mom wanted 'long life'."
Don wasn't sure he was still breathing. 'Long life.' That sounded like Mom. Optimistic. Hopeful.
But Charlie…shit. His brother had kept this from him for almost four years. It had been so easy for Don to concentrate on the last three months of their mother's life, the time during which Charlie had retreated to the garage and P vs. NP. It was easier to resent that time than to remember how close Charlie and Mom were, and to think about what it must have been like — for both of them — before Don had come home. He didn't know what to say. "That's…wow, Charlie…" His voice trailed off. For a moment he wondered if Charlie had been afraid to share this story with him because Don had been so angry about those last three months, and the guilt nearly overwhelmed him.
The phone in the hotel room began to ring, and Charlie jerked a little. "We're late for breakfast," he stated, and smiled shyly at Don. "We should go."
Suddenly Don understood a deeper truth. Charlie trusted him with the story, now. Charlie was ready to share, believing that Don would respect that memory he had with Mom — and Don did. He did. He smiled back at Charlie, ruffled his hair and pushed himself off the bed. He turned, offering a hand to his brother. "Hey, Charlie," he started, as he pulled him to his feet, "I have an idea."
Standing, Charlie looked at him. "What?"
Don grinned. "You know that presentation you gave at that math thing you went to last year back East? You made Dad and I listen to it first, and it was so…so…specific to your passion, we'll say — it gave me a headache for three days."
Charlie frowned. "It was very well received at the conference. What about it?"
"I'm thinking Colby has a hangover this morning. You think you could recap it for us over breakfast?"
A slow smile spread over Charlie's face. "It's truly nice to have you on my side, Donnie."
Don smiled back, and steered Charlie toward the door. "It's truly good to be here, Buddy."