Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. If they were mine, I'd ask you to hide your eyes for a moment.
Don had fallen asleep on Charlie's couch. He figured it out as soon as he woke up. He rearranged himself from the impossible position his body had slumped into, until he was sitting up more properly. He rubbed a hand across his face and stopped it to check his watch. His eyes widened. Almost 5 o' clock? He had come over to catch a Saturday afternoon NFL game on ESPN, He'd come early, and brought some laundry. He remembered starting a load, deciding it was too early for beer and settling on the couch with the remote control while Charlie silently worked on some papers from school, at the dining room table. He remembered growing weary during the interminable pre-game drabble amongst the announcers, and he remembered watching the teams run, one-by-one, like grinning idiots or escaped convicts – didn't seem to be much available between the two – into the field of a camera lens, as their names and stats were displayed on the bottom of the screen.
Don couldn't seem to remember much after that. Now the television was off, his brother was missing, and the faint sound of music came from the kitchen. As Don stood to investigate and get the beer it was no longer too early for, he almost tripped on a basket of laundry – his, from all appearances. The clothes were freshly laundered and neatly folded, ready to go home with him when the time came. Had Charlie done that for him? Don shook his head to clear any remaining cobwebs. Must have been Charlie, since Dad was out of town this weekend. Don was inexplicably touched, and a little guilty. If asked, he would have said that Charlie didn't even do his own laundry, that he let Dad take care of all things the rest of the world considered basic life support. Things like keeping him in clean clothes, making sure he ate, encouraging him to sleep.
Don started for the kitchen, having the courtesy to feel worse along the way. He really should give the kid a break. He didn't live here, he didn't really know who did what for whom, or whether or not those things were expected by one person, or gifts from another. Basically, it was all none of his business – and as a grown man who just took a nap on his brother's couch while the brother in question quietly did his laundry, he didn't have much room to squawk, anyway.
He pushed into the kitchen and found it empty. Almost automatically, the refrigerator door opened and a bottle of beer jumped into Don's hand. Twisting the top off and raising the bottle to his lips, he located, during that first remarkable draw, the source of the music. A portable radio was propped in the open kitchen window, tuned to an easy listening or oldies radio station, or something. Don was surprised, but only momentarily. With the quick rationality of a seasoned FBI agent, he had it all figured out. This was his Dad's kitchen radio; ergo, his Dad's taste in music. Also, Charlie had lost another ipod. He hoped his brother at least had stock in that company, so he could make something every time he bought a new one.
He wandered with the beer to the window and looked out. Late afternoon on a beautiful day in the fall, and Charlie was raking leaves. Two stuffed bags sat near the edge of the lawn already, so he had probably been doing it for a while. He began filling a third bag while Don watched. Don sipped the nectar of the gods, and knew he should probably go help, or something. He ate food in this house, did laundry in this house, watched football and baseball in this house – he should probably help maintain it himself, a little. He told himself there was only one rake. Probably. Someone else told him he could at least go hold the bag. The first guy reminded him how enjoyable it was, watching his brother work. While the argument continued around him, fueled by bitters and hops, a song at least 10 years old began to sputter out of the radio, and Don almost put the beer down and went to go help just to get away from it. Bryan Adams, and one of his endless, angsty love songs. Don considered risking the wrath of his father, and changing the station, when something in the yard drew his attention, again.
Charlie had stopped raking, stopped stuffing. He stood in profile to the window, looking toward the koi pond. His curls lifted a little in the slight breeze that must be blowing, and he didn't move. At all. He had become petrified, like a fossil.
"So if I love you, a little more than I should," warbled Bryan, with feeling, "Please forgive me…"
The bottle of beer sat itself on the counter. Could Charlie hear that? Had Bryan Adams frozen his brother? While Don watched, the rake fell to the ground, and Charlie began absently rubbing his right hand up his left forearm. Don didn't see what happened next, because he was moving to the door.
He strode across the lawn, and planted himself next to Charlie. "Hey," he began. "You should have woken me up."
Charlie didn't answer, and Don was pretty sure from the look on his face that he was far away from Pasadena. He stepped a little closer, and purposely bumped a shoulder. "Hey!", he said, louder.
Charlie started, then, and looked at him, eyes growing almost comically wide. "Donnie! When did you get here?"
Don grinned. "I actually raked the entire lawn. You just came out to help, just now."
Charlie rolled his eyes and bent down to pick up the rake. He straightened back up. "I may have spaced for a moment, but I did not develop total amnesia, Don."
Don shrugged. "Worth a shot." The song had changed, but he studied his brother as he resumed raking a few strays toward the half-full bag, and noticed a decided slump to his shoulders. "You okay?"
It was Charlie's turn to shrug, which he managed even while continuing to rake. "Yeah." He dropped the rake again and leaned over to gather an armful of leaves. Don held the bag open for him.
"Sure? You seem to have gotten the wind knocked out of you for a minute there.."
Charlie put a second armload of leaves into the bag and straightened. He brushed his hands off on the legs of his jeans, and peered somewhere over Don's shoulder. "It's embarrassing," he finally said. "Makes me feel like a girl, or something."
Don let go of the bag and straightened himself. "What?" he said somewhat apprehensively, not at all sure he wanted to know.
Charlie looked at him. "Does a song ever take you back? You hear it, and bam – it's like you're right back where you were the first time you heard it…or at least the most important time."
Don considered. "I guess. There are songs that take me places. 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame', for instance."
The corners of Charlie's mouth threatened a smile.
"Was it that love song?", Don asked. "The Bryan Adams thing? That's pretty old."
Charlie put his hands in the pockets of his jeans. "1993," he supplied.
Don thought about that. Charlie could just know that because it was a number. On the other hand…"You were only 20," he accused.
Charlie reddened. "That's the year the song was in the top ten, the year it first came out. But I was actually thinking of two years later. It still got a lot of air time, at least in the U.K. I was in England, with Susan then."
Don grew very interested. He knew virtually nothing of Susan, had been shocked almost senseless last year when the gorgeous blond out of Charlie's past had shown up and the history and chemistry between them obviously ran so deep. Don had been working in Fugitive Recovery in the early 90s, and while some part of him knew that his brother was studying at Oxford and living with a woman, he'd just never really thought about it in depth. Until he saw the woman, ten years later. It was a pretty good bet that she and Charlie had…hooked up, for lack of a better term…when she was here, and he had wondered at the time, as he did now, why it wasn't more than that. Why it had ended in the first place.
"If it can make you drop a rake ten years later and turn you into a statue for the koi pond, Charlie, maybe you should have stayed in England!" Don was kidding – mostly, and he felt a chill at the way his brother paled. Charlie even swayed a little, causing Don to reach out a quick hand to steady him. When he touched his brother's left arm, Charlie winced and jerked it away.
"Are you hurt?", Don asked, concerned and confused.
Charlie rubbed the arm absently again, and met Don's eyes. "No. Maybe. Probably."
Don waited. Waited some more.
"That song was playing in the clinic," Charlie finally said. "While I was in the waiting room, and, and…it's how I felt, at the time. As if it was somehow my fault, I had loved her in too suffocating a way, or something. I-I-I wanted her to for…forgive me. For the longest time, I wanted her to forgive me." Charlie shoved both hands back in his pockets and looked away in disgust. "Even last year, I just pretended none of it ever happened, just waltzed back into it, and let her blindside me again."
Don almost shivered. It was just a stupid Bryan Adams song. Where had it taken Charlie? "What happened?" he asked quietly, because he wanted to know, not to satisfy his curiosity anymore. He wanted to know because he feared that part of Charlie might be broken.
Charlie, hands still in pockets, looked at the ground. "I came into our flat one afternoon, unexpected. I should have been at school for several more hours, but I had a cold. I went home sick. Anyway. Seems it wasn't my turn for the bed."
Don winced, but didn't say anything. He didn't want Charlie to stop.
"She was angry, not embarrassed or…or contrite, but angry. She came at me, she left him in the bed and jumped at me. She backed me out of the bedroom, and naked, she backed me out of the front door, pounding on me and screaming…" He raised his eyes, sheepish. "I couldn't hit her back, Don. She's a woman. A man doesn't hit a woman."
Don just looked at him, silently, and Charlie looked down again. "Anyway. The neighbors had come into the hallway, from the screaming, and they saw her. A couple of other women actually pulled her off me, but she kicked out with her legs, and I lost my balance…I fell down the stairs. Broke my arm. One of the husbands drove me to a clinic, and that song was playing."
Charlie turned away, toward the koi pond, and crossed his arms across his chest, hugging himself as if he were cold. He was finished talking.
Don struggled to control his breathing. Damn. Some…some bitch had abused his brother. Physically, and emotionally. No wonder he was so self-destructive when it came to relationships with women. He had been vulnerable then, and she had hurt him, so that he was even more vulnerable now. Don almost growled. He didn't care about what Charlie said about men hitting women, Don wanted to take the red-eye to London tonight and hurt her. Kill her, maybe. "I'm sorry," he finally managed to ground out, and he was. Sorry that it had happened. Sorry about what it had done to Charlie. Sorry that Charlie had carried this around silently for ten years. Sorry that Don had it within himself to want to do to her what he wanted to do.
Charlie finally turned back, and saw the look on his face. He frowned himself then. "Donnie…I'm all right, now. It was just the song. Just the moment."
Don nodded. His face must not have cleared any, because Charlie actually touched him briefly on the arm, and smiled a little. "It's okay. It was a bad time, but there have been so many more good ones. Mom, and Dad, and you – Larry, Amita – you all have always taken care of me. You, most of all. You've always made me feel safe."
"You deserve that," Don answered, fiercely, "you deserve to be safe. Don't forget that."
Charlie nodded, and looked him directly in the eye. "I know that now," he said. He dropped his gaze to the leaves, and the half-full bag. "Do I…deserve a beer?", he asked. "I may be too thirsty to finish this."
Don blinked back his anger, blinked back whatever else threatened the back of his eyes, and grinned. "That could probably be arranged," he said, and moved to let Charlie come up even with him. He was careful to walk beside him, silently and protectively, all the way to the house.