Author's Note: This is my first Numb3rs story, so I hope it comes out ok! It was inspired after I watched the episode Guns & Roses from Season 2 – just kinda popped into my head, so here it is! (I will be doing another Supernatural one soon, I promise!)
The song 'Place Called Home' is by Kim Richey and no copyright infringement is intended.
I own neither Numb3rs nor the song.. Enjoy :)
Charlie looked up, startled, and smiled when he saw his brother standing there looking at him quizzically.
"Hey Don," he said, noting how tired his brother looked.
"What are you doing here, Charlie? It's like 11.30," said Don with a frown. "Is everything alright? Did something happen?"
Charlie held up his hands. "No, no – it's nothing like that. I was just waiting for you actually." he said quickly.
"Well, is there any chance whatever it is could wait till tomorrow? It's been kind of a long day." said Don, wearily as he unlocked his front door.
Determined not to be put off, Charlie followed him inside closing the door behind him.
"Actually, no. I really need to talk to you." he said firmly.
Don sighed. Glancing back at his brother and realising he had that look on his face that said he wasn't gonna quit until he got what he wanted, he waved Charlie into the living room.
"Fine. At least let me get changed first. There's beer in the fridge if you want it." he said, heading into the bedroom.
Charlie paced the room, trying to work out what he was going to say in his head first. It wasn't easy. Don hated talking about emotional stuff and he was always busy making sure everyone was ok. But Charlie was worried about him, really worried, and however hard it was he was determined to make Don listen to him.
He looked up as Don came back out of the bedroom. He'd changed into a t-shirt and sweatpants, his ever present gun locked away wherever it was he kept it when he was home and off duty. Not that Don ever seemed to really be off duty. Which, Charlie reflected, was part of the problem.
Don went into the kitchen and grabbed a beer from the fridge. Coming back into the living room, he sank down onto the couch and regarded Charlie with a slightly wary expression.
"Alright - I'm listening." he said.
Charlie sat down in the chair opposite Don, and took a deep breath. Gathering himself he sat up straighter as he mentally prepared for what he was about to say.
"I wanted to talk to you about the case. Or rather how the case related to you." he said. Don frowned, but said nothing seemingly prepared to at least find out where this was going before he cut Charlie off.
Buoyed by this, Charlie continued.
"You see, I've been thinking about it a lot. How many law enforcement officers end up committing suicide. It scared me, Don. Because looking at them, I saw you."
"Charlie.." Don began, but his brother held his hand up to stop him.
"Just hear me out ok? It makes a horrible kind of sense when you really look at it. I mean, the things you see in your job? It's hard, dealing with that and not having anyone to talk to about it. And most officers or agents, they have trouble maintaining relationships too, which makes sense when you think about the pressure you guys are under and the hours that you work. I mean, you're never really off duty, right? And I know you Don – you take responsibility for everything. You're always so busy making sure everyone is ok, taking care of everyone. But who takes care of you, Don? Who makes sure you're ok?"
Don sighed and scrubbed his hand over his face.
"I don't need anyone to take care of me, Charlie. I'm fine. I get that you're worried because of what happened with Nikki, but it's not the same thing ok?"
"Isn't it? Look, I'm not saying that you have exactly the same problems as she did, but the point is when you look deeper it's the same story over and over again. Pressure keeps building until eventually it gets too much. And by that point it's too late. I don't want it to be too late for you, Don. I just want to help, that's all."
Don stood up and walked over to the window. Looking out into the night he tried to get control of his emotions. He'd been all over the place ever since that phone call. Hearing Nikki was dead, and then finding out that she'd tried to contact him. It stirred up feelings he'd thought were buried a long time ago. And he had to admit, it had made him think. He hadn't meant to confess as much to his father as he had, but the truth was it scared him – the thought of what might happen one day. Of where he might end up. But he was used to dealing with things by himself. He didn't want to lean on anyone, and especially not Charlie. He was supposed to look after his little brother, not the other way round.
Charlie could almost hear Don's mind coming up with all the reasons why he could take care of himself. But the point wasn't that Don couldn't take care of himself, it was that he shouldn't have to.
Getting up he went over and stood next to Don.
"I'm not saying you can't look after yourself, you're good at it. Too good, if you ask me. I'm saying you don't have to. I'm not a kid anymore, Don. You don't always have to protect me. I know some of what you deal with, and I know how tough it is. And I understand that you don't always want to tell Dad everything, because you don't want him to worry, but it's not the same with me. I want to help, Don. I just want to be there for you the same way you are for me. You can understand that, can't you?" he said softly.
Don sighed. "I do understand Charlie, and I appreciate it. I just.. You don't want to hear some of what I see, I promise you. I can deal with this, Charlie. It's what I was trained for remember?" he said quietly.
Charlie shook his head. "It's not just about training though is it? I know how hard it is for you, trying to maintain relationships. Sometimes you just need someone to talk to and I'm saying I can be that someone, Don. I'd rather run the risk of hearing about some things that maybe are a little tough than risk getting a call one day to say that you've.."
Charlie stopped, unable to finish the thought. Don put his hand on Charlie's shoulder and squeezed it.
"Hey, come on Charlie. I wouldn't do that – I promise. Even if things got bad, I couldn't do that to you and Dad." he said with complete honesty.
Charlie swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded. He believed Don when he said that, could see in his eyes that he meant it. But although that allayed one fear, it didn't mean that he felt any better about Don having to deal with all the pressures on his own.
"That does make me feel a little better, but it doesn't change what I said. You don't have to do all this on your own. I care about what happens to you, Don – you're my brother."
Don managed a small smile and nodded. He could see how important this was to Charlie and he was touched that his little brother was that concerned about him. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad just to talk to him a little.
He turned round, leaning back against the window sill.
"It can be tough sometimes Charlie – I admit that. I just.. You try your best, but you can't save everyone you know? And then hearing about Nikki. I did love her. We just couldn't make it work. I mean, both of us being agents. We were always going in different directions. We just drifted apart. I just wish I'd taken that call."
"You know it wouldn't have made a difference, don't you? She was murdered and that wasn't your fault."
"I know. But it doesn't help, not really. I just wish I could have done something."
Charlie said nothing, knowing he couldn't fix this. Instead he just moved a little closer, so that his arm was resting against Don's, offering silent support.
For a moment neither of them said anything, each lost in their own thoughts. Eventually Don spoke first.
"It is hard at times. But it's not all bad, you know? For every person you couldn't save, there's a lost child that you find in time. A bad guy that you put away. Even when it's just a matter of finding out what happened to someone – it doesn't bring them back, but it can help their families try and come to terms with it. And when it is bad, it's not like I have nowhere to go. Coming home, spending time with you and Dad – it does help." he said with a smile.
Charlie returned the smile, but he wasn't completely convinced.
"I'm pleased that you feel like you can come home, and that that helps, but it's not always enough is it?" he said carefully.
Don thought for a moment, torn between giving the standard big brother answer and being truthful. In the end he decided on the truth, for once.
"No. Sometimes it's not." he said quietly.
"So what do you do then?"
"I don't know, Charlie. Go for a run, drink too much beer. Just ride it out. It's part of the job."
Charlie shook his head. "That doesn't make it right, Don. It's not good for you, bottling everything up. I'm not just talking about doing something drastic, I'm talking about your health. Look at you right now – you're exhausted. And I've seen you like this too often since we started working together. You can't go on like that forever, something's got to give. And I don't want that to happen."
Don gave a weary smile. "I'm not keen on that happening either, Charlie."
"So.. What do we do to stop it?" said Charlie.
Don ran his hands through his hair.
"You tell me." he said.
"Well, for a start you can stop trying to be Superman. You're the only one who expects that of yourself Don, I promise you. And when things get tough, talk to me. Don't bottle it up. Nothing you can say is gonna make me think any less of you. I have always been, and always will be, proud to be your brother. Let me help you, Don."
Don held Charlie's gaze for a moment, seeing no judgement there only compassion, and care, and concern for him.
"I can't promise to suddenly change how I deal with stuff, Charlie. I'm too old to learn new tricks." he said with a wry grin. "But how about if I promise I'll try to talk to you a little more, ok? Not about everything, but about some of it. See how it goes from there."
Charlie smiled at him. "Sounds good to me." he said with relief.
Don glanced at his watch and saw that they'd been talking for an hour.
"It's getting pretty late – come on, I'll drive you home."
Charlie shook his head. "No, you've got to get up early tomorrow. I'll call a cab."
"No, I mean it – I'm just gonna use your phone, ok?"
Don watched Charlie with affectionate amusement, not used to this forceful, in control version of his brother. He wondered if it had always been there and he'd just not noticed. He was so ingrained in the whole big brother mode that sometimes he did forget that Charlie was a grown adult. That he had his own life, and his own career and despite his occasional scattiness he was in fact capable of taking charge when it was necessary.
Finishing the call, Charlie came back over to where Don still stood.
"I wanted to ask you – are you going to Nikki's funeral?" he said gently.
Don winced but nodded.
"Yeah, I feel like I should. I called her Mother earlier and it's arranged for Monday. Her husband is being buried the next day, in the same plot. I don't think it would be exactly appropriate to go to that one though." he said dryly.
Charlie hesitated briefly then spoke. "I was wondering – if maybe you'd like some company?" he said.
Don looked at him in surprise. His instinct was to say no, he could manage alone, but in light of their conversation he changed the habit of a lifetime and found himself nodding.
"Yeah. That would be great." he said.
Charlie's surprised smile of gratitude made Don pleased he'd said yes for once.
The sound of a car pulling up outside put an end to the conversation. With a hasty goodnight, Charlie ran down to the cab, waving as he got in. Don smiled as he watched his brother go. He had to admit he did feel better after their talk. Maybe this new system wouldn't be so bad after all.
Four days later Don fiddled with his tie and straightened his suit jacket for the dozenth time. Even though he often wore a suit for work, he felt awkward in this sombre black affair. It was the suit he only wore for funerals and the feelings it dredged up didn't help matters. A busy week at work had stopped him thinking about things too much but it also meant he hadn't had much chance to spend time with Charlie or his Dad. But Charlie had called him yesterday to make sure what time they had to get to the church and he'd been ready when Don arrived to pick him up, which was something of a miracle in itself.
Now his brother sat beside him in the church, offering silent support that Don was gratefully accepting. He glanced at Charlie and saw he was watching him with a concerned expression. Don gave him what he hoped was a reassuring smile, but he wasn't sure how successful he was. Charlie put his hand on Don's shoulder and gave it a brief reassuring squeeze. Before he could say anything though, the sound of gentle music filled the church and the doors at the back opened to admit Nikki's casket.
Don and Charlie stood along with the rest of the congregation, Don resolutely avoiding looking at the casket itself. He swallowed. He could do this. He was not going to break down – he owed Nikki that much, for everything they had once meant to each other.
The service was standard. The usual words of platitude from the minister and a few words of a more personal nature from several friends. Nikki's mother had asked if he wanted to speak but he'd politely declined. He hadn't seen her for so long he didn't feel qualified to speak about her life as it had been before she died. He was just about managing to keep things together when he heard the minister say the next song was a favourite of Nikki's and had been chosen by her mother. Soft strains of a guitar filled the church and a woman's soft, melodic voice began to sing. Don instantly recognised it as a Country singer called Kim something. He remembered Nikki playing it and him teasing her about it being 'depressing'. Now the words seemed to sear into his brain, literally taking his breath away.
Well it's not hard to see
Anyone who looks at me knows
I am just a rolling stone
Never landed anyplace to call my own
To call my own
Well it seems like so long ago
But it really ain't you know
I started off, a crazy kid
Miracle I made it, through the things I did
The things I did
Someday I'll go
Where there ain't no rain or snow
Till then, I travel alone
And I make my bed, with the stars above my head
And dream of a place called home
Charlie found his own eyes welling as he listened to the words of the song. It was beautiful and made even more poignant by the circumstances. His own feelings were forgotten though as he looked across at Don and saw the effect it was having on his brother. Don had closed his eyes tightly, as if in pain, and his jaw was clenched. Charlie could feel him literally shaking where his arm rested against his.
"Don?" he said softly, and Don looked at him with such pain clear in his eyes it almost took Charlie's breath away.
"I can't do this. I need to get out of here Charlie." said Don sounding almost desperate.
Charlie just calmly nodded and slid quietly out of the pew so Don could get out. They walked carefully to the doors at the back of the church and slipped out noiselessly. As the door closed on the rest of the song, Don took deep breaths of fresh air, trying to calm the racing of his heart and the ease the clenching in his gut.
Charlie put his hand on Don's arm, waiting as his brother tried to compose himself.
"You ok?" he said quietly. Don glanced at him and nodded, even though it was blatantly obvious he wasn't.
"You want me to drive?" said Charlie and Don let out a weak chuckle.
"You trying to kill me off?" he said dryly and Charlie gave him a mock glare.
"Hey, my driving is not that bad. I've just had bad luck, that's all." he said indignantly, grateful for the opportunity to lighten the mood even momentarily.
Don just shook his head and put his hand on Charlie's shoulder as they walked to where his car was parked.
He felt bad for missing the rest of the ceremony but he just hadn't been able to stand it a moment longer. He'd felt as if the church was suffocating him and he'd been perilously close to breaking down. He'd at least managed to pay his respects to Nikki's mother at the beginning, and he hoped wherever she was Nikki would understand.
The drive back to Charlie's was silent, Don lost in thought and Charlie shooting him concerned glances now and then. As Don pulled up outside the house, Charlie finally spoke.
"You're coming in right?" he said.
Don hesitated. Every fibre of his being was screaming at him to get home, to get away from prying eyes where he could deal with his emotions in solitude. But something in Charlie's gaze made him pause. He remembered their conversation and he found himself nodding before he could open his mouth to refuse.
"Dad's working so he won't be back till much later." said Charlie, calling over his shoulder as he went into the kitchen to make them some coffee.
Don grunted an acknowledgement and stood in the middle of the lounge, suddenly unsure what to do with himself. His emotions were swirling and he could feel himself perilously close to breaking point. Unbidden, the song came into his head again, a traitorously precise memory recalling every word, every note with excruciating clarity.
Suddenly the lounge was too small, he felt claustrophobic, trapped. He couldn't go outside, that was too exposed, and Charlie was in the kitchen and he didn't want his brother to see him like this. He found himself heading upstairs without even thinking, ending up in the sun room at the front of the house. The blinds were down, so the room was shaded. He took a few steps into the room and literally slumped against the wall as his knees gave way at last. Hugging his knees to his body, he felt every muscle in his body trembling. Tears blurred his vision and he buried his head in his hands.
"Hey, do you want to try some of that new syrup Dad picked up? He swears it's the best thing he's ever tasted but you know that's not necessarily a recommendation!"
Charlie frowned when he didn't get a reply. Coming out of the kitchen he looked round the surprisingly empty lounge.
There was no answer. Wondering if his brother had needed the bathroom, Charlie made his way upstairs. The bathroom door was open and the room empty. Charlie stood in the hall, feeling a sense of unease that told him something was wrong.
The door to the sun room was open too, and as he stood there Charlie suddenly heard a muffled sob. Quickly making his way there in two strides, he went into the room slowly, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the gloom. And that's when he saw him.
Don was sat on the floor, his knees pulled up and his head resting in his hands. His shoulders were shaking and even as he stood there Charlie heard another muffled sob.
"Oh Don!" he said softly, feeling his own tears welling.
Walking over he sat on the floor next to his brother. Reaching out tentatively he put his hand on Don's arm. Don jumped a little, too lost to have even heard Charlie come in, but then he turned his head to look at him and Charlie felt his heart constrict at the pain he saw in his brother's face.
The strangled sound of his name was almost a plea. Knowing there was nothing he could say right now that would help, Charlie acted on instinct. Reaching out he put his arms round Don and pulled his brother to him.
Don resisted for just a second, before the last of his defences crumbled. Putting his arms round Charlie and burying his head in his brother's chest he clutched the back of Charlie's jacket almost desperately.
"It's ok," whispered Charlie and that was the final straw. Accepting that he wasn't alone, that his brother was there for him, Don let go, shuddering in Charlie's arms as the tears began to flow in earnest.
"It's alright Don. I've got you. It's gonna be alright."
I had a chance to settle down
Get a job and live in town
Work in some old factory
I never liked the foreman standing over me
Though I'd rather walk a windy road
Rather know the things I know
See the world, with my own eyes
No regrets, no looking back, no goodbyes
Someday I'll go, where there ain't no rain or snow
Till then, I travel alone
And I make my bed, with the stars above my head
And I dream of a place called home
Charlie had no idea how long they stayed like that. He could feel his shirt, wet with Don's tears, and his own face was wet too but he didn't move. All that mattered was Don. Naturally his brother wouldn't let himself let go for long and all too soon, as far as Charlie was concerned, Don was pulling away. Rubbing his hands over his face, he leant back against the wall, closing his eyes as he struggled to rein in his emotions.
Charlie said nothing but kept his hand on Don's arm. Eventually Don turned to look at him. He gave a slightly embarrassed smile.
"Sorry." he said quietly. Charlie frowned.
Don sighed and lifted his arms, letting them fall back against his knees.
"This. I shouldn't have let it get to me like that. It was just hearing that song, and the words. She used to play it all the time and I never thought.. It didn't mean as much then, but now with what's happened. It was just too much."
Charlie shook his head. "I'm only gonna say this once, so listen up Don. You have nothing to apologise for. Anyone would have struggled with today, hell anyone would have struggled long before today. I said it before and I'll say it again – no one expects you to be strong all the time, least of all me. I'm just glad you were here and not alone somewhere. This – this is what I'm here for, Don." he said firmly.
Don looked up at him and saw no derision or disappointment in Charlie's gaze, only concern and affection. He gave him a grateful smile and nodded, unable to speak past the lump in his throat.
Recognising that Don needed to get back to safer ground, Charlie stood up. He held his hand out to Don.
"What do you say we go get some of this coffee, before it gets cold?" he said.
Don accepted Charlie's help up off the floor and nodded.
"Sounds good to me." he said a little hoarsely.
As Charlie went to leave the room Don suddenly reached out and put his hand on Charlie's shoulder. Charlie turned back to face him, and before he could say anything he suddenly found himself being hugged.
He was briefly surprised- they weren't a hugging kind of family – but he recovered enough to return the embrace, holding Don tightly and enjoying the uncommon closeness to his brother.
"Thank you." said Don quietly in his ear and Charlie swallowed at the gratitude and affection he could hear in his brother's voice.
Waiting until Don released him and he could look his brother in the face again, Charlie simply smiled.
"You're welcome." he said softly, making it clear that what he had done was the most obvious thing in the world.
And it was, to him. Don was his brother and he was in pain, and Charlie had been there to help him through it. It was what family did.
As they made their way back downstairs, Charlie already talking about some coffee syrup that their father had been raging about but that he was still sceptical of, Don reflected on how far they'd come in the past few years.
Before they'd started working together, he and Charlie had been so far apart they were practically on different continents. Related by blood but little else, Don could never have imagined a time when he'd be willing to literally cry on his brother's shoulder.
But now they were beginning to know each other as people, not just brothers, and they were regaining that closeness that had come so easily when they were small children. And Don was grateful beyond words for that. Because sometimes, just sometimes, this was what he needed. Someone to lean on. And it seemed he had just that someone right in front of him.
His thoughts drifting briefly to Nikki, he mentally thanked her showing him that not everything had to be dealt with alone. And he wished her well, wherever she was.
Feeling the warmth from Charlie's actions settling somewhere deep inside him, Don headed downstairs. This was where he belonged – with his family. And he wouldn't change that for the world.