Chapter 12

When Don finally reached Charlie's actual person, rather than his voice mail, on Saturday morning, Charlie told him he was on the way to the airport to come home, and asked if he could pick him up that afternoon.

Don was extremely curious about this 48-hour jaunt Charlie took, when he was still sick and hadn't even finished grading his mid-terms. "Well yeah, Charlie, but where the hell are you?"

"Just getting to the terminal," Charlie lied, sitting in a cab outside the sciences quad at Harvard. "Gotta turn off the cell. United pick-up, okay? Thanks, Don." Charlie disconnected, halfway suspecting that Don might do a trace on his GPS chip, and stared up at the building for a while. Amita had an interior office, so he couldn't see it, but he looked at the third floor for a long time before he told the driver to head for the airport.

The cab driver pulled into traffic, and Charlie turned his attention to the hands he held in his lap. "Good-bye, Amita," he whispered, and then he turned his head to stare out the other window.

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He thought he would sleep on the plane again on the way back to L.A., but instead he thought about what Amita had said. Around Colorado, he decided that she was correct, but had left something out. He didn't want to just run from what had happened in L.A. He needed to run from what would. The realization sunk into his gut like a stone, and by the time he came out of the LAX United terminal, and spotted Don's SUV waiting for a spot to pull over, he felt completely bereft, repelled by his own weaknesses.

He jogged toward the SUV. Don saw him coming and smiled, and the passenger door was unlocked by the time Charlie got there with his one, pathetic, carry on bag. He jerked the door open and tossed it in the back, slid into the seat and reached for the seatbelt. "Thanks for coming to get me," he said, looking at Don briefly, and then out the window.

Don headed for the freeway. Wherever Charlie had gone, it hadn't made him any happier. "Are you okay?"

Charlie was tired. Tired of people leaving him, one way or the other. Tired of trying to pretend it didn't matter. Tired of trying to present a stoic face to the world. Too tired to play the game, anymore.

"Actually," he shifted in the seat a little to face Don, "I went to Boston to ask Amita for a commitment. I told her I would accept a position I've been offered in a think tank there, and move East. I laid it all out there, Donnie. You would have been amazed."

Don had nearly been to the exit, but he veered off to a gas station instead, and drove to the back of the lot, where he parked and shut off the engine. He released his seat belt and turned completely sideways in the driver's seat, so that he could see Charlie's face. "You what?"

Charlie nodded solemnly. "Yes. Then, over coffee, she thoroughly 0.dumped me. As she should have. Correctly, and politely." He started to look down at the gear shift and then jerked his head back up. "Oh, yeah. And she's seeing someone else."

Don emitted a low whistle. "I did not," he said, "even see that one coming."

Charlie chuckled bitterly, and settled back in his seat, facing front. "Then this one will kill you."

Don waited, and felt…fear?

Charlie continued. "I won't be going to Boston. For obvious reasons. But I have pretty much a standing offer from Princeton, and I think I will accept for next school year."

Don was so stunned he felt his jaw fall open. "What?" Charlie didn't say anything, so he went on. "Why? Are you unhappy at CalSci?"

Charlie shook his head, and when he spoke again, all anger and bitterness was gone, and only sadness remained. "No. I love it at CalSci. I always have."

Don tried to understand. "Then…you feel like you have to get away from L.A. because it all reminds you of Dad? And Mom?"

"Not…completely," said Charlie, and all the tiredness of the last 86 days crept into his voice. "I don't think I can do it, again. I really don't."

"I don't understand," Don whined, because he honestly didn't. "Do what?"

Charlie kept looking out the windshield. "I cannot get the call, Don. I cannot sit here and wait to get the call. I truly don't think I would survive that."

Comprehension was slowly dawning on Don. He rubbed his hand over his face, then spoke softly. "Buddy…you're my brother. You're going to get the call – if there is ever one to get -- no matter where you live. Will it be easier for you, to be in New Jersey when it comes? To know you can't get to me for hours?" Don was warming up, now. "Because I gotta tell ya, that's what still gives me nightmares. Not losing Dad. That makes me sad, and I miss him – but the nightmares? They're all about the time I couldn't be with him, at the end."

Charlie looked back at him quickly, a look of panic on his face, and Don could see that he hadn't thought of that possibility. Don put a hand on his brother's arm. "I've got a standing offer, myself. Administration. I can move into it whenever I want. It's safer – almost as safe as any other white collar job. Would that make you feel better?"

Charlie blinked. "You'd do that?"

Don flicked his eyes toward the windshield. "I've been with the Bureau over 12 years. Fugitive Recovery, Albuquerque, L.A. I know how worried Mom and Dad always were, all this time. And once you figured out what it is I actually do, you've been that worried, too. It's not fair of me, to make everybody worry so much. I've had my time in the field."

Charlie studied him. He wanted to ask him to do it. God, he wanted to tell him to do it right now, today, call Merrick at home. Instead he said, "Mom and Dad never asked you to give it up. They were proud of you."

Don shrugged, looking back at him. "Proud and worried."

Charlie felt as though his heart might explode with the effort of what he said next. "I won't ask you to do that, either. Hell, I won't allow it. You're a field agent, Don. You love it. You're good at it. And…I'm proud of you, too."

Don looked down quickly, so Charlie wouldn't see the tears that threatened. Once he had control again, he looked back up. "So I think this is what we in the business like to call a 'Mexican stand-off'. Although I have no idea where that particular phrase originated."

"No," mused Charlie, "you're right – just like Amita was right. I don't want to be in New Jersey and get the call. I want to be as close as I can be…mostly, I don't want to get the call at all." He sighed. "Damn. I don't seem to have any idea who I am, or what I want. Everybody else has to tell me."

Don smiled at him fondly. "Little Brother, we all do the best we can. That's why we have each other. For perspective. Wise counsel."

Charlie smiled shyly. "Love," he added, unexpectedly. "Don't forget love."

"I could never forget love," Don promised. "I've been surround by it all my days. I've been loved by the best – and I still am."

"To within an inch of your life," Charlie muttered quietly as he looked away, still smiling a little.

Don grinned at his brother's profile, having just gone places with him he never thought either one of them would end up. He didn't know if he should be embarassed that it had happened -- or embarassed that it didn't happen sooner. He decided just to let it lie, and ferment a litte. He resituated himself in the driver's seat and buckled up. Then, he started the engine, and they began the uncertain drive into the future, each with the one certainty he had left sitting next to him.

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FINIS

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Partial Lyrics, "I Will Remember You", Sarah McLachlan:

I will remember you, will you remember me?

Don't let your life pass you by -- Weep not for the memories…

I'm so tired but I can't sleep Standin' on the edge of something much too deep.

It's funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word...

We are screaming inside, but we can't be heard.

But I will remember you, will you remember me?

Don't let your life pass you by -- Weep not for the memories...

I'm so afraid to love you But more afraid to lose;

Clinging to a past that doesn't let me choose.

Once there was a darkness, Deep and endless night

You gave me everything you had, oh you gave me light.

And I will remember you, will you remember me?