Title: Failure to Communicate
Summary: the part they left out of Finders Keepers
Disclaimer: All of this belongs to all of them. Trust me.
The raid had been successful, the smuggled weapons recovered, and the paperwork could wait until tomorrow. Don wanted to find Liz, and…pursue the possibilities.
Exiting the FBI building, he was surprised to see Charlie pacing the sidewalk, peering down the street. He hadn't realized his brother was still here. He wandered in that direction.
"Hey, Charlie," he called, when he was almost even with him. "What are you still doing here?"
Charlie whirled and visibly relaxed almost immediately. "Oh. It's you."
Don smiled. "Well, yeah. And you. What are you doing?"
Charlie peered down the street, again. "Waiting for a cab. My car is in the shop."
Don frowned. "Again? What is it this time?"
Charlie contemplated his feet. "It won't go."
A burst of laughter escaped Don. Charlie might be a genius, but he was no mechanic. "I'm leaving. I can give you a ride home."
Charlie looked interested. "Are you in a hurry? Can we stop for a burger, or something? I don't know if I can get all the way home without eating."
Don shrugged. "Sure. I'll go through a drive-thru or something." Liz could wait a few more minutes. Charlie seldom confessed such an urgent need for food.
Don thought about that as the two brothers headed for the parking garage. "Forget to eat, again?", he asked, teasingly.
Charlie glanced sideways at him, and answered a little testily. "No, I didn't 'forget'. I knew I was hungry. But after you got so upset in the garage, and I couldn't tell you about the NSA, I just stayed out there and finished the search grid."
And then he had brought it straight to the office, Don remembered. Come to think of it, he had seemed a little perturbed, at the time. Don slowed his pace. "Yeah," he started casually. "I should probably apologize for that. You know how I get, in the middle of a case."
"Right," Charlie answered quietly.
The continued in silence. Just before they reached the garage, Don glanced at Charlie. "Everything okay?"
Charlie sighed and rubbed his neck. "I'm just tired. I usually only consult for one agency at a time." He stopped walking and looked toward the horizon. "Sometimes I think I should quit teaching and do this full-time."
Don shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans and kicked at the sidewalk. "You could do that," he agreed. "You make enough money at it. I mean, I know you love teaching, but when you explain your theories to us, you're still teaching." He grinned. "We may not always be the most willing students…"
Charlie looked at him sharply. "Are you kidding? None of you are ever willing students!" He reconsidered. "Except Megan. She's at least polite, most of the time. Colby either treats my explanations as if I'm some sort of exhibit at a zoo; or condescendingly, like something that has to be endured, in order to get to the good stuff. He's actually thrown spitwads at me. David just tunes out. I can see when he leaves, and when he comes back at the end."
Don shifted, a little uncomfortable. "What about me?"
In the glow of the streetlights, it looked as if Charlie had arched an eyebrow. "You? You're the worst of all, Don. You're impatient, and you challenge me in front of everyone. You roll your eyes and smirk. For all I know, you help Colby with the spitwads."
Don was a little stunned, and hurt, by Charlie's assessment. He defended himself. "You know how it is, Charlie. In this case, we were looking for bodies, but in a lot of them, we're trying to save lives. I get focused on that. You and I see things differently. I'm not concerned with the trip, I just want to get to the destination. You enjoy the ride."
Charlie stared at him for a long time, but didn't start walking, again — so Don waited. Finally the mathematician spoke. "We've had this discussion before. You don't see the value in my work. Whatever I'm doing is never as important as what you want."
Don was getting a little irritable. "I apologized for that whole NSA thing."
Charlie crossed his arms over his chest. "No." His voice was firm. "You didn't. You said, 'I should probably apologize for that'. Not a heartfelt apology there, Don. And what if it hadn't been the NSA project I was working on? What it had been something for school? I understand the importance of your work, Don. I always give your projects attention as soon as I can. Why is it so difficult for you to respect what I do?"
Don's mouth was hanging slightly open. How had a ride home turned into this? Without being aware of it, his chest puffed out in arrogance. "I never said it wasn't important, Charlie," he answered with heat in his voice. "Sometimes, it's hard for me to see it as more important than someone's life."
Charlie turned and walked away from him, back toward where he had been waiting for the taxi. Don almost let him go, then swore under his breath and jogged after him. He grabbed his elbow. "Charlie…"
His brother jerked his arm away with surprising force, and whirled on him. "My students at CalSci actually want to be there," he hissed. "These are the brightest minds of their generation. I owe them my best. When I make time for a student, I could be working with the young man who will go on to patent the algorithim that locates weapons of mass destruction, and prevents a war. I could be dealing with the young woman who goes on to cure cancer. What is the price of those lives, Don? How can I ignore those lives?"
Don swallowed. "I…I never thought of that," he confessed quietly.
Charlie wasn't finished yet. "No. You didn't. And you've never allowed for the possibility that maybe my work matters, because it is important to me." His voice grew bitter. "Hell, Don, you don't trust me to make the right decision, when I have to balance one thing against another. You show up in my garage and browbeat me until you get your way. Sometimes I wonder why you have me consult at all."
Don found himself paralyzed for a few seconds. He and Charlie had some serious issues, and he hadn't even realized it. He finally noticed that Charlie was back near the street, trying with angry arm gestures to hail a cab. He approached from the rear, again.
"Charlie," he intoned softly. "Please. Let me give you a ride home." He saw the stiff set of Charlie's shoulders, and decided Liz could wait until another night. "Buddy. I really think we should sit down and talk."
Charlie slowly lowered his arm and turned to look at Don. "I don't want to be patronized," he said thickly.
"I'm not trying to patronize you," Don assured him, slowly herding Charlie back toward the parking garage. "I want us to work this out. It's important — can we agree on that?"
Charlie shuffled beside him tiredly. "Yeah," he whispered. "We can."
A/N: Sorry to take a few moments away from my current multi-chapter, but that episode really boiled my blood.