Title: Cold Ears

Author: FraidyCat

Summary: I don't want to ruin it for you.

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em – but wanna cuddle 'em; will put 'em back when I'm through with 'em

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Charlie had been standing behind his desk, but now he sank weakly into the chair and stared at the small group of students in front of him. "You want me to what?"

The Vice President of the Student Council had apparently appointed herself spokesperson, and she rushed to wheedle him. "You wouldn't necessarily lose it, Dr. Eppes. We thought we could have competing bids. You know, $25 to keep, $50 to go…there's really no telling which side will win." She smiled at him disarmingly. "This is a hot issue on campus, I can tell you that. I think it would earn a lot of money for the scholarship."

Charlie tried hard to breathe like a normal person, and thought about the scholarship. The student body had lost a vital member of their community a few months ago when Mark Richter had been killed in an automobile accident. He was a senior, only a few months away from graduating, and a math major. Charlie had been stunned and upset himself. He had been helping Mark decide between graduate schools when it had happened. Now, the students wanted to establish a scholarship fund in his name, to be awarded to other math majors. He was proud of them for responding so quickly to this tragedy, in such a positive manner. When he had first heard the auction idea, he thought it was great. He sat at the faculty meeting and scribbled the date on his calendar right away. He thought the contingent of students had shown up in his office today to ask for a donation to be auctioned off; a copy of one of his books, perhaps. He thought he might even offer them a lunch with a bona fide FBI agent, even though he hadn't exactly cleared that with Don, yet.

He tried to distract them with that, now. "Are you sure I couldn't help in some other way? Some of you know my brother is an FBI agent. I could ask him to take someone to lunch…or, how about…um…one of my books?"

The President — definitely NOT a math major — glanced at Charlie's overflowing shelves. "We're not having this auction so you can clean out your office, dude."

The Vice President elbowed him viciously in the ribs. "He's talking about one he wrote, idiot. And this is Dr. Eppes, not 'dude'!" The other student shrugged silently, one hand on his ribs, and the girl turned her attention back to Charlie. "Those things would be great too, of course. But surely you can see the potential to what we're suggesting."

Charlie sighed. Unfortunately, he could. No way was he going to have Don witness the possible debacle, though. "Okay," he finally said, burying his head in his hands. He mumbled into them. "On second thought, I'm pretty sure my brother would not be available for lunch."

He thought the students would leave then, having gotten what they came for, and jerked his head back up in surprise when the President spoke up again. "Dude." The young man glanced fearfully at the girl next to him. "Dr. Dude. Cool. We'll take that book too, I guess. Could you at least autograph it?"

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Charlie wasn't sure he slept at all, the two weeks before the auction. The campus was littered with flyers and posters advertising his contribution as the main attraction. He seriously thought about insuring that things turn out in his favor. He almost gave Amita a blank check and specific instructions. He had been searching his desk drawers for his checkbook, in fact — since switching almost exclusively to his Debit card, Charlie never knew where the damn thing was — when he had come upon Mark's senior project paper. Charlie had kept a copy, because the work was so outstanding he wanted to study it further. He brought it out and read it again, shaking his head at the brilliance and perceptiveness that had always been part of Mark's work. By the time he was finished, he knew he had to play fair at the auction. Mark deserved that much, at least.

The day of the event, he had filed into the gymnasium and sat in the front row with the other mathematics faculty. He had been completely unable to eat all day, and was nervous almost to the point of vomiting up his liver. Yet he was heartened to see the good turn-out for the auction, and pleased at the enthusiastic bidding. The Student Council had rounded up quite an impressive collection of donations. He even bid on several items himself, actually winning the charter fishing trip. He planned to give it to Don — his birthday was just a few months away. He wasn't embarrassed by the amount his book brought, either — until he saw it being passed to Larry. Charlie knew that Larry had a copy of that book already, and he was afraid that his friend had only bid to raise the take, and had accidentally won. Before he could worry about it too much, though, Charlie's other contribution was announced.

The crowd fairly roared as he walked slowly onto the floor. He waved before sitting, then looked apprehensively at Dr. Stevenson, CalSci's Dean. He was the acting executioner today, and he let loose with an evil grin before he waved Charlie into the chair. Things started out fast, and dirty. "$100.00 For!", shouted a masculine voice near the front. Charlie tracked it and found a freshman he had flunked in one of his classes last semester. He smiled, a little wobbly, when he recognized sweet Amita's voice. "$150.00 Against!" Charlie knew she didn't have much money to spare, with all her student loans and only an Associate Professor's first-year salary, and he was touched that she had pulled that together for him. "$200.00 For!", came another voice, and this time Charlie recognized Dr. Endicott, Division Chair. He had been sitting right next to him, earlier, and Charlie hadn't suspected a thing.

The bidding grew hot and heavy then. Charlie sat in the chair and did the same thing. He actually thought he might pass out, for a minute. When the bidding stalled at $2,500.00 Against, he began to hope. The auctioneer called, "Going Once!", and Charlie actually smiled.

$10,000.00 FOR!" boomed across the wood floor and bounced off the walls, and Charlie felt his heart leak out his toes. Recognizing the voice, he turned his head unwillingly until he saw him, standing at the edge of the crowd. One hand was shoved in the pocket of his jeans, one was holding up his auction paddle, and his eyes locked on Charlie's. They both heard "SOLD!", and he smiled the smile of victory.

Charlie heard the buzz of the electric clippers behind him, and knew the agony of defeat.

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The class he still had left after the auction was pointless. The students were unruly, uncontrollable, in varying stages of elation and unhappiness. He finally dismissed them early, and didn't even go back to his office. He couldn't face Larry and Amita's pitying glances, yet. Instead, he slunk to the faculty parking lot.

He was in a department store buying stocking caps in every color he could think of, when his cell rang. He would have ignored it, but he recognized Don's ringtone. He struggled with his bags and reached into his pocket, finally answering just before the call was forwarded to voice mail. "Don."

Dead air. He thought he hadn't made the connection fast enough, at first. Finally, he heard his brother's voice. "Charlie? You okay? I was going to see if you could come by the office this afternoon, but you sound… I don't really know how you sound. Not good."

Charlie sighed. "Is it important?"

Don sounded mildly affronted. "Well yes, Charlie, it's always important. Am I in the habit of asking you to come by and justifying your consulting fee for things that aren't important?"

Charlie clutched the phone in terror. It wasn't as if he could avoid Don, or the FBI offices, for the next three years, until it grew back. He just wished he had a little time to adjust to this himself, first. He finally caved, as he knew he would, as Don knew he would. "I'll be right there," he said, sadly.

Might as well bite the bullet.

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Stocking cap pulled down low over his head, as if he intended to pull some sort of heist in the Los Angeles FBI bullpen, Charlie shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and walked out of the elevator so slowly that the doors clipped him on the way out. He didn't meet the eyes of any of the agents he passed on the way to Don's desk. He didn't lift his eyes from the floor until he got there, so it was only then that he saw his brother wasn't at his desk. He realized that at the same time that he felt the stocking cap ripped from his head, and heard Colby's quick intake of breath.

"What the hell happened to you?"

Charlie whipped around and saw David and Megan close behind Colby. Megan's eyes twinkled, and her hand was over her mouth. David just looked stunned. Charlie grabbed for the stocking cap, which Colby held over his bald head, out of his reach. "Give that back. My ears are cold."

A burst of laughter escaped Agent Granger. "Man, are you here to file a complaint? Appears you've been robbed."

Charlie leaped for the cap, again missing, and heard Don's voice. "Okay, Reeves, I called him. I hope this is worth loosing all my credibility with him. He said he's on his way."

As the crowd parted around him like the Dead Sea, Charlie understood that he had been betrayed for the second time that day. Larry must have called Megan, and she had Don call him in here for absolutely no reason. He glared at her before he looked at Don. His brother stood about three feet away, mouth open in an 'O', staring at Charlie's bald, white, cold, head. The silence was deafening.

Charlie let is go as long as he could. "There was an auction," he stammered. "On…on campus. For…for a scholarship. The kids took alternating b-b-bids. To shave, or not to shave."

Colby snickered. "That would be the question, all right."

Don finally found his voice. "I…take it you…lost?"

Charlie almost cried. He locked eyes with his brother. "I almost didn't. There was a $2,500.00 bid for me to keep it." His voice squeaked a little at the end.

Don came a little closer and reached out a hand tentatively, and touched his brother's head. He jerked his hand back as if he had been burned. "So what happened?"

Charlie sulked. "No-one will confess." His eyes flitted briefly to Megan, then back to Don. "No-one admits telling him. But at the last second, Dad stepped out of the crowd and bid."

Don's eye's widened. "Dad did this?"

Charlie nodded, and hung his head. "He paid $10,000.00, and watched the Dean of CalSci shave my head."

Don emitted a low whistle. "Damn. Next time he says it looks like I need a haircut, I'm at the barber in five."

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FINIS