Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: Thanks as always to ritt, the world's best beta and sounding board!
"Dad?" Charlie called quietly as he poked his head into the kitchen.
"What?" Alan asked gruffly as he stood in front of the sink and scrubbed a particularly dirty pot.
"Are you mad at me?"
"Why would I be mad?" his father countered, although his tone confirmed Charlie's suspicions.
"I don't know," the professor responded as he cautiously approached the sink. "I come home and we have a nice visit with Don, and as soon as he leaves you start giving me the cold shoulder."
"You noticed that, did you?" He rinsed the pot and grabbed the next one, refusing to look at his son.
"If I did something wrong then I'm sorry," Charlie offered. "Although I wish you'd tell me what it was."
Alan sighed and turned to face the younger man. "You don't see it? As smart as you are, you mean to tell me you really don't see it?"
"See what?" the professor inquired as he studied the kitchen for anything that might be amiss.
"Your powers of observation certainly seem to come and go," Alan snapped and returned his focus back to the dishes.
"Now wait just a minute," Charlie said, his own anger flaring. He grabbed his father's shoulder and tugged him around until they were face to face. "I've already apologized for something I might have done – even though I have no idea what it might be – and I don't appreciate you treating me like this. Either tell me what I did or get over it!"
"Your brother, Charlie! You mean to tell me you really don't see it?"
The young genius stared dumbfounded at his father. "See what?"
Alan took several deep breaths before turning off the water and brushing past his son and into the dining room.
"Dad?" Charlie asked as he followed him into the other room.
Alan sank into a chair and motioned for Charlie to sit beside him. "How are you and Amita doing?"
"Um, fine," Charlie answered awkwardly, caught off guard by the sudden change in topic.
"And Larry? Still living out of the office?"
"Yes." The curly haired man stared in bewilderment at his father.
"He and Megan doing okay?"
"Match made in Heaven." Charlie looked nervously at his father as he remained silent. "Was I wrong, or did you mention that this was about Don?"
"It is," the older man wearily sighed. "I was angry at you for not noticing, but then it occurred to me how much you have going on in your life right now. It's not fair of me to be angry at you and I'm sorry."
"Forget it," Charlie waved his hand dismissively. "But I am curious about Don."
"Have you noticed he's not been as clean shaven lately? His clothes are more wrinkled and worn looking, too."
"You're right," Charlie nodded as he thought back to the past few weeks. "I hadn't noticed that. He's had some rough cases, huh? The one with Megan… that one was hard on him. It was the closest I've ever seen him come to losing it."
"You have no idea," his father whispered. Before Charlie could inquire further, Alan looked at him with a troubled expression. "Did you know he has twelve new cases waiting on him tomorrow?"
"Twelve?" Charlie gasped. "That's a lot."
"Yeah," Alan said as he gave Charlie a hard look. "Thirteen now, I suppose."
"Thirt-" the professor began. "Oh, right. I didn't know, or I wouldn't have been so insistent. Geez, Dad, no wonder you were upset with me."
"He was sitting in the dark tonight," Alan quietly spoke. "Said he was thinking."
Charlie nodded but didn't speak, afraid his father would realize what he was revealing and clam up.
"I told him it wasn't good for him to get like that…" Alan held his head in his hands and sighed. You know what he told me? That was how he is." Sighing deeply, the older man slid his hands down and peered over them at Charlie. "I don't know what to do to help him. And I'm afraid…"
"I know, Dad. Me too."
"How do we reach him? I've tried. He mentioned…"
"What?" Charlie pressed.
"I really shouldn't say."
"He's my brother," the professor argued. "I have a right to know what's going on with him, too."
"Okay," Alan relented. "When I was thinking about moving out, he told me not to underestimate the importance of having someone to come home to."
"Wow. That's why you went over there a few weeks ago to help him with his second bedroom?"
"I thought it would help. I think it did for just a little while. But now he's hurting again and I'm out of ideas."
"Vacation?" Charlie suggested.
"I mentioned that. He shot it down before I'd even finished speaking." The older man leaned back in his seat and studied his son with a forlorn expression on his face. "He's headed for problems if he doesn't face this – whatever it is plaguing him – soon."
"Let me try," Charlie stated with a confidence he didn't feel. "I'll get through to him."
"Good luck, son." Alan rose and headed upstairs to his bedroom, leaving a worried Charlie pondering how he would make good on his words.
I must be crazy, Charlie told himself for the tenth time that evening. No – I know I'm crazy.
Still, he raised his hand and knocked on the door in front of him. He waited patiently, knowing that Don should be in bed, but was more than likely sacked out on the couch. After a minute, he heard the lock scraping and the door swung open.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Don demanded, as Charlie simultaneously spoke the words in his head.
You're getting predictable, Don. "I…" Oh crap – what was I going to say?
"Charlie!" his brother snapped. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"
Looking at his watch, Charlie mumbled, "Eleven fifty-three."
"You're missing the point," Don growled. "What are you doing here at this hour?"
"Dad?" the agent cut him off. "Is he okay?"
"What?" the younger man repeated. "Oh, no – I mean yes." He took a deep breath and shook his head. "Dad's fine."
"Are you?" Don quirked an eyebrow. "Are you drunk?"
"Of course not," Charlie sighed as frustration at his brother's third degree kicked in. "May I come inside?"
"It ever occur to you that I might be sleeping?"
"Lately?" Charlie challenged. "No, it hadn't. I know you too well, bro." He brushed past Don, taking the fact that he was able to do so as a green light for coming inside. He peered into the living room, not surprised to find it lit with the flickering light from the television. "Old habits, huh, Don?"
"I let you in," Don told him. "I did not agree to an interrogation or a philosophical discussion. Got it?"
"Plain as day," the professor spoke as he plopped down on the couch. He pointedly ignored his brother's harsh gaze, smiling inwardly as he heard the older man let out a sigh.
"You thirsty or anything?"
"Water would be good." He heard Don retreat to the kitchen and took the opportunity to glance around the living room. He was surprised and a little disappointed at the lack of any empty beer bottles. He knew Don didn't drink to lose control and that one or two beers took the edge off and eased his stress, so Charlie never thought of it as a good thing. Not to mention, when his brother was de-stressing he was far more likely to open up about things – which wasn't saying a lot to begin with. This could be harder than I thought.
He looked up as Don returned and handed him an unopened bottle of water. "Perrier?" he asked with amusement. "Isn't that a little fancy for you?"
"Shouldn't you save it for her?"
Charlie waited for an elaboration, and gave up when Don refused to look at him. What had Don said? 'It is what it is'? It must not be good.
"You going to talk or just sit there?" Don's voice broke into his thoughts.
"Talk?" the younger man asked, surprised his brother would be so willing. "About?"
"Whatever it is you came to talk about," Don shrugged.
"You're okay with talking?"
"It's the only way I'm going to get you and Dad off my case, right?"
The words stung and Charlie quickly reminded himself that Don was in a bad place. A bad neighborhood, he calls it.
"Charlie!" The professor looked up to find his brother glaring at him. "Quit zoning out on me."
"Sorry," the younger man apologized.
"So?" Don said as he muted the television. "Talk."
"Dad and I are worried about you," he blurted out, surprised at his bluntness. Apparently Don was too, because he just sat and quietly eyed Charlie. "You're not yourself lately."
"This is who I am," Don countered. "Who I've always been."
"But it's not," Charlie quietly argued. "It's not at all."
"And how do you know this?" Don sarcastically inquired. "All the bonding time we spend together?"
"We do spend a lot of time together. I know who you are at work. I still don't feel that I know you that well outside of your job, but I want to learn."
"Outside of my job?" Don laughed bitterly. "Sometimes I don't think I exist outside of my job."
"See?' Charlie asked, setting the Perrier down and leaning closer to Don's chair. "The Don I've gotten to know the past few years wouldn't say that. He might have thought it, but he never would have vocalized it. That tells me you're reaching a point where… Something's gotta give, bro."
"But it can't," Don whispered softly, wearily sagging into the cushions of his chair. "Not if I'm going to do my job and do it well."
"You don't have a choice," Charlie stated. "If you don't try to overcome what you're feeling, then something will give – it's inevitable."
"Fine, genius," don sighed, though his voice held no anger or resentment. "What do you suggest?"
"Time away from work?"
"And I just dump my cases on my team? Make them live through my stress on top of theirs?"
"They'd understand," Charlie assured him.
"I know they would understand, but that doesn't make it right. Not to me."
"So what, Don?" Charlie demanded angrily. "You just keep going full speed ahead until you slam into that brick wall called burnout? Because the 'something' that's going to give at that point will be you – either mentally or physically – and Dad and I don't want to see that happen."
"Then maybe you shouldn't look," Don snapped back. "It's not like I'm asking you to."
Charlie knew he shouldn't say it – knew he was too angry and not thinking – but Don had pressed his buttons, and he couldn't hold back. "No? Is that why you're over at the house every other night? Eating and talking, and even spending the night? Because I think that is your way of asking us to look!"
"Maybe you're right," Don said, his voice dangerously low. "And now that you've brought that to my attention, I know how to fix it."
"Don," Charlie sighed in despair. "I didn't mean-"
"Of course you did," the agent laughed humorlessly. "And I got the message. Now, if you don't mind leaving, I have to be at work in the morning."
"Don," Charlie pleaded.
"Now," the older man barked.
The professor stood and walked to the front door, his stomach churning and tears welling. As he reached the threshold, he turned and looked at his brother. "I…"
"Good bye, Charlie."
As the apartment door slammed in his face, Charlie couldn't help but think it was a sign of things to come.
"How'd it go?" Alan asked his youngest son as soon as he walked in the door.
"You're still up?" the professor asked in shock as he checked his watch. "At two in the morning?"
"I was worried. Now, how'd it go?"
"Two in the morning," Charlie repeated. "How do you think it went?"
"I think I inadvertently asked him never to stop by the house again."
"You did what?" Alan furiously demanded.
"He was mad, I was mad – bad combination. That's not what I meant when I said what I said, but that's how he took it." Charlie avoided his father's glare as he headed up the stairs.
"What did you say?"
The young man winced at the coolness of his father's voice. "I'd rather not repeat it. Just… I'm sorry, Dad. You have no idea how sorry I am."
"What is it, Larry?"
"I can't help but notice that you have been standing in front of the blackboard for an hour, yet you haven't written anything on it."
"Oh?" the younger man asked as he looked over his shoulder. "I hadn't noticed. An hour, huh?"
"Charles," Larry repeated as he moved to stand next to his young friend. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Well, that depends."
"Have you built a time machine in your spare time?"
"Were you not behaving so morosely, I would shudder at that horrible pun."
"So that's a no," Charlie sighed as he sank into his desk chair.
"Does your current state of mind have anything to do with Amita?"
"No," the professor laughed caustically. "That relationship is flourishing in comparison to the one I just screwed up."
"Don," the younger man whispered softly. "I was – am – so worried about him. I tried to help, but I screwed it up."
"I see," Larry nodded, folding his hands and resting his chin on them. "Megan has mentioned to me that Don has been wound a little tight since her abduction."
"That's reassuring, thanks."
"Charles," Larry gently chided. "I was merely seeking to let you know that your suspicions are not unwarranted."
"There's not much I can do about it anyway," the younger man sighed. "I drove us too far apart last night."
"I find that difficult to believe."
Charlie opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off as his cell phone shrilled. Checking the caller ID, his eyebrows shot upward. "Don?" he answered.
"We need to talk," his brother curtly replied. "You free for lunch?"
Normally Charlie would have balked at an invitation that was so uninviting, but he knew he'd screwed up the night before and was dying to have chance to repair the damage. "Sure. When?"
"Now's good for me."
"Okay," Charlie nodded, mouthing his brother's name to Larry who smiled in support. "Should I meet-"
"I'm parked out front," Don interrupted. "Hurry up – it's hot out."
"I'll be there in a minute." Don's phone clicked off and Charlie looked at Larry. "He wants me to go to lunch with him."
"What are you waiting for?"
"Right," the younger man said. "I'll see you later."
"I don't bite."
Charlie looked at his brother who was staring straight ahead, his sunglasses blocking the younger man's view of his eyes.
"Don't be so tense," Don said, his gaze still not moving from the road before them.
"Don," Charlie began. "About last night-"
"Forget it," the agent cut him off.
"No. I didn't mean to-"
"I said forget it."
"Dammit, Don!" Charlie exclaimed. "You can't even let me apologize?"
"Not necessary. You made your point and I agreed."
"Really?" the younger man demanded. "Then why am I here now?"
"Because Megan is a crafty little agent."
"What does that mean?" Charlie asked as he rubbed his temples, sensing a headache coming on.
"Exactly what I said. She's got… She's holding something over me. Said I have to talk to someone, or she'll… do her thing."
Way to go, Megan! "Oh?" he asked hopefully.
"Don't flatter yourself," Don quickly deflated his hopes. "It was either a shrink or you, and you don't go on my record."
"You know, Don," Charlie growled. "I feel bad about last night – I really do. But I don't have to sit here and let you take out all of your frustration on me!"
The professor was so focused on yelling at his brother, that Don's soft voice almost didn't register. "I'm what?"
The agent finally looked in Charlie's direction and the younger man watched in awe as the corners of his mouth twitched upwards. "I'm not saying that again."
The anger and tension bled from his body and Charlie found himself smiling back. "So," he asked casually. "What's for lunch?"
"I never expected this," Charlie laughed.
"You don't think I'm creative?" Don asked, feigning hurt.
"Um, no. No I don't, bro." Charlie laughed as he eyed the picnic basket sitting in the middle of a large blanket.
"Fine," Don gave a dramatic sigh. "It was Megan's idea. I'll tell her it was a big hit with you."
"I have to admit," Charlie said nervously. "If you hadn't have joked with me in the truck, I'd be terrified we were up here so you could get rid of my body."
"Too many hikers," Don attempted to joke, but his tone turned to one of sadness. "We actually found a kidnapped seven year old up here last year. A little further up the road." Looking at his brother, the agent frowned. "That's too young, Charlie."
"I know," he whispered for lack of anything better to say. Way to kill the mood, Genius. You're really on a hot streak.
"I'm sorry, Buddy. I can't stop thinking about them."
"All of my cases. It just seems like they never end."
"You can't save them all." The professor immediately winced, knowing he'd just said the wrong thing again.
He was surprised when Don quietly responded, "I have to try."
"No you don't," Charlie said as he sat on the blanket, as close to his brother as he dared. "You can't. It'll be the…"
"Death of me?" Don finished. "I've started thinking about that a lot lately."
"I do put all of myself into my work. I have to if I'm going to be good at it. But lately I've been thinking about how I bring it home with me."
"What brought that about?"
"Robin," Don whispered. "It's bad when someone else who sees all of the stuff I do can sit there and tell me I'm not in a healthy situation. It was quite a wake up call for me."
"Did she have any suggestions to offer?"
"Yeah," Don snorted. "She suggested we spend some time apart until I was ready to deal with it. I pushed her away Charlie, just like I did you. Only…"
"She didn't push back."
"Right." Don shrugged. "I told Dad I was no good at relationships. He's too blinded by the desire for grandchildren to listen."
"I feel your pain there," Charlie agreed. "So… what do you think you can do to cope with your job?"
"I have no idea, Buddy. I've never had to worry about it before."
"I think some time off would help."
"I'm not arguing, but I can't see myself abandoning my team to work on a caseload this heavy just so I can relax."
"Isn't that what your team – your friends – are for? To carry your burden when you can't?"
"I don't want to be anybody's burden," Don whispered.
"You, my dear brother, have a nasty case of selective hearing. I said 'carry your burden', not 'carry you, burden'." Charlie playfully punched him in the shoulder, repeating the motion until Don – albeit reluctantly – broke into a smile.
"You're welcome," the younger man beamed. "Now, about last night-"
"Just let me finish," the younger man insisted. When Don nodded and remained silent, Charlie continued. "I'm not apologizing because I know you don't want that. But I do need to know that you know you're still welcome – seven days a week if you like."
"I know," the agent promised him.
"So, you'll keep coming over? Whenever you need to talk, or see a friendly face? Or just because you want to visit?"
"Does the couch have my butt imprinted on it?"
"It's either yours or Dad's. You know, I could design an algorithm to determine-"
Charlie's words were lost in a fit of laughter as Don tackled him onto the blanket and threateningly held a piece of lemon meringue pie over his head.
"You wouldn't," Charlie challenged.
Don raised an eyebrow and grinned. "Wouldn't I?"
Thirty minutes later the two men were in the SUV and on their way back to CalSci, where Don would drop his brother off before heading back to work. The two had made plans for dinner at the house that night, and Charlie wore an easy smile on his face, confident that Don now knew where to turn for help when he needed it – his family.
He's going to be fine, the professor thought as he glanced at his brother and broke into a wide grin. Just as soon as he has the SUV detailed. I wonder if the FBI covers pie related expenses?