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! Written to get me out of the mood I've been in lately. WARNING - Implied character death!
"You promised, Charlie."
"Something came up," the professor said as he continued to write on his blackboard.
"That's what you said last time."
He cringed at the accusation in his brother's voice but continued scraping the chalk against the board.
"That's what you've said for the past three months."
"I can't," Charlie whispered as he delved more deeply into the string of numbers running through his head.
"I have my work and my classes… It's a pretty long drive. I can't just up and leave everything behind."
"You can. You have to."
Charlie angrily shook his head, his dark curls haphazardly swinging around his face. "No, I don't."
"You would break a promise to me?"
"Don," the professor pleaded. "I can't do it."
Don's voice was more insistent – more demanding. Charlie paused from his writing only long enough to swipe his jacket sleeve across his cheek. "It's… it's too hard."
"I know it's hard, Buddy. But you have to before you can move on."
Charlie drew a shaky breath, resting his head against the chalkboard – its cool, smooth surface a minor comfort against the sea of despair threatening to drown him.
"I don't want to lose you, Don."
"You won't – I promise."
"But…" Charlie pushed away from the blackboard and turned to face his brother, only remembering to look at his desk at the last second. "If I do this… you'll be gone."
"No, I won't. I'll always be with you."
"Because you need it. And Dad… he thinks you already did it. Think about it – that's why he's at peace."
Despite his best efforts, tears began to leak from Charlie's eyes. "I'm scared, Don."
"Don't be – I'll still look out for you like I always did."
Charlie opened his eyes and stared at the shiny, polished object on his desk. Once again, he marveled that Don – such an important and large part of his life – could be contained in something so small.
"That's not me."
Charlie stepped toward his desk and nervously brushed his fingers against the edge of the worn wood. "But-"
"It's just a pile of ashes. Close your eyes and feel, Charlie. In your heart."
The young man let out a muffled sob as a warm sensation flooded through his veins.
"I'll always be with you, Buddy."
"I promise. And I'd never break a promise to you, would I?"
"Never," the young man whispered.
"And you would never break a promise to me, right?"
Charlie shook his head as he wiped at the moisture on his cheeks. "No." He reached out and grasped the silver urn with shaking hands, hugging it close and thinking about what he had to do. With his brother's spirit guiding him, he got into his car and drove to the spot where they used to go camping as children.
Once there, Charlie climbed out of the vehicle and walked to the highest point – a hill overlooking a clear, gently-flowing creek surrounded by wildflowers and butterflies. He started to remove the lid but stopped, a moment of uncertainty clouding his mind.
"Remember when you taught me about the butterflies?"
Charlie nodded, remembering the incident well.
"I thought the caterpillars went into their cocoons to die. What did you tell me?"
"A metamorphosis," the professor whispered. "They emerge as butterflies, able to soar to anywhere they want."
"It's time for me to move on to that stage, Charlie. Let me out of my cocoon – let me soar."
The young man obeyed, lifting the lid and tossing the contents of the urn into the sky. A strong breeze swirled among the ashes, lifting them and carrying them to a million different places all at once. The sun warmed Charlie's face and he smiled, picturing his brother's soul sailing freely through the blue sky. "I love you, Don," he breathed.
A large blue and black butterfly brushed – almost affectionately – against his cheek as Don's voice echoed in his head. "I love you too, Buddy."