Title: It's A Long Haul: Coda
Disclaimer: Completely. Absolutely. With enthusiasm.
Summary: Oneshot. Ripped from the headlines and twisted to fit.Sequel to "It's A Long Haul". The boys have breakfast.
By the time Charlie got dressed and all the way to Alameda, it was close to an hour since Don had made his unusual and frightening phone call. Charlie's heart was still thudding uncomfortably and the sound of Don's voice was replaying on an endless loop in his head. Don had told him that he was scared -- and Charlie was having difficulty wrapping his thoroughly logical mind around that. He knew that Don faced extreme life-and-death situations on an almost-daily basis; and he had for the last 15 years. If something had finally spooked his big brother, Charlie was not at all sure he wanted to know what it was.
He tried to steel himself to at least postpone his own reaction. After all, it should not surprise Don (or anyone else) to find out that Charlie was afraid of pretty much everything. People. All those things related to people, like relationships. Being alone. Not being alone. Traffic. His brother's job. Losing his father like he had lost his mother. Charlie knew in his soul that the list of things that frightened him was so extensive, it ought not to be considered at great length. It could quickly become overwhelming. Relieved to recognize Don's SUV in the parking lot of the diner, Charlie hurriedly parked and walked briskly in the early morning air to the door. He determined again that he would fake it with all he had in him. He would do whatever he had to do, and be whatever he had to be, to make Don feel better. His own issues would be waiting patiently for him later.
Don was studying a menu in a booth just inside the door. Charlie spied him right away and crossed the few feet to slide in opposite him. "I'm so sorry," he exhaled in a rush of air. "I came as fast as I could, I was afraid you'd be gone already, I can't believe traffic is this bad this early..."
Don lowered the menu and smiled. "Charlie, take it easy. Just got here myself a few minutes ago." A look of embarassed discomfort crossed his face and he lifted up his menu again to use it as a shield between the two of them. "I...uh... was thinking, pancakes."
A waitress materialized with a glass of water and another menu, both of which Charlie accepted with his disarmingly charming smile. When she left, he frowned a little because of the vibes he was picking up from Don; like maybe he was sorry he had called, or something. "I hate pancakes," he said, hoping that what he was thinking wasn't true. He tried to let Don know he was accessible. "Listen, one of my T.A.'s is proctoring an exam during my first class, so I don't have to be on campus until my 10:30." He stuttered on. not liking the way that sounded. Even a deadline over three hours away was still a deadline. "B-b-but I can call Millie. Arrange something."
Charlie's stomach churned when Don did not lower his menu. "Naw, that's cool. I should get to the office anyway. There's oatmeal. You could have oatmeal."
Charlie suppressed a sigh and looked at his own menu, rubbing a hand on his forehead briefly. Don't push. Don't. Push. Don't make him regret this. "Look at this 'South of the Border Omelette'. It comes with hash browns, half a biscuit with gravy, OR a short-stack."
Don lowered the laminated card and Charlie was slightly relieved to see that he was grinning. "Geez, Chuck, are you trying to kill me?"
Charlie grinned back. "Actually, I was thinking that's a lot of food -- we could split the omelette, and you could have all the pancakes." He arched an eyebrow, teasing. "They have blueberry syrup."
"I can warm that up for you too, if you'd like," came a sultry voice, and the brothers looked up at their platinum-blond waitress. Pushing at least 50 and still aiming for 20, she heaved her sagging breasts directly in Don's face as she leaned over his menu. "Show me what you want, Sugar."
Charlie choked into his glass of water and Don glared around the heaving bosom. He backed farther into the booth and quickly repeated Charlie's idea, asking for one breakfast and an extra plate. The waitress straightened up slowly, glancing at Charlie to make sure he wasn't dying on her shift, and scribbling on her order pad. "What else can I get you boys? Coffee? Orange juice?" Don actually wanted coffee, but not as badly as he wanted this woman to leave, so he shook his head in mute terror and shoved the menu at her. "Thanks, Sweetie," she purred, letting her fingers rest on his for a while as she took it. False eyelashes actually batted a few times.
Charlie finally took pity on Don when he saw that he was about to push the row of booths behind him out the back wall in his escape attempts. "I'D LIKE SOME HOT TEA," he annouced loudly, causing several heads to turn.
One of them may have been Esmerelda's boss, because she was suddenly all-business. "Of course," she murmured, "coming right up. Tea."
She had turned and taken a step when Charlie called after her again, even more loudly this time. "AND COFFEE. BRING MY BROTHER THAT COFFEE." She nodded without turning back around, and Charlie giggled a little as he looked at Don. "She likes you."
Don was holding the glass of ice water against his flushed cheek. "Shut-up," he ordered, sounding more like himself than he had all day. "Just shut the hell up."
Charlie's grin spread into a smile. "I just don't understand it. Usually the hair gives me an edge over you. Unless the woman knows you're a fed. Man in uniform fantasies and all that."
Don glowered and slammed the glass to the tabletop, sloshing some water over the rim. "Who do you think you're kidding? Who stole who's date for the senior prom?"
Charlie uttered a sound of mock distress. "Now that's just cold, Donald. Cold."
Don's face was almost back to its usual color -- but his enthusiasm for the conversation seemed to be fading along with his blush. "I'm just saying," he finished lamely, looking out the window. One hand strayed to play with the water glass.
Charlie considered his options. They could continue pretending this was just one of the usual breakfast meetings they managed to fit in every few months — but they both knew that it wasn't. Traditionally, either Dad was there also, or it was so Charlie could hand off some numbers he had been crunching... Maybe that would help, maybe Charlie could help on this disturbing case somehow. "Is there somthing I can do for you?", he started. "On the, the case, I mean."
Don visibly flinched, and looked back at Charlie. "That's not the only reason we get together, is it?" His voice was almost pleading, confusing Charlie even further. "I know you help out on cases a lot, Charlie, but when's the last time... When's the last time I...well...how's that cognitive thing?"
Charlie tried to follow him. "What? My cognitive emergence work?"
Don tried for a smile. "Yeah. That. Still working on that?"
Charlie looked past Don's shoulder, wondering when the buxom waitress would return with their meal. He fidgeted in the booth, squirming uncomfortably. "Um. Yeah?"
Don marched resolutely on. "That takes real dedication. What with school, and all you do for us, and other consulting gigs. I'm proud of you, Charlie."
Charlie's eyes drifted back to his brother. First an unsolicited 'I love you', now an 'I'm proud of you'. This case must be truly horrible. He leaned toward Don a little and spoke lowly. "What is it? I'm so sorry, whatever it is."
He nearly cried out himself when Don's eyes grew moist. "Buddy. I just...it's just important..." Don sat back, disgruntled. "Shit. It's still all about me, isn't it? I think it's important to show interest and support, so you have to drag yourself across town and listen to me do it until I feel better. I'm disgusting."
Now that Charlie did not want breakfast, an omelette was shoved under his nose, almost making him retch. Impatiently he moved back and drummed his fingers on the table until plates were arranged and Don's coffee was poured. Esmerelda promised to bring his tea right away, and he barely waited for her to leave the table before he leaned back toward his brother. "Look, I don't know what's got your boxers in a bunch, but you're not disgusting. Maybe we've never discussed cognitive emergence or Archimedes' Principle in great detail, but that does not mean you don't support me. I don't ask you about the latest multi disciplinary investigative techniques in Quantico's curriculum, either."
Don snorted out a laugh. "Charlie, I'm not even sure what you just said." He heard his own words and immediately frowned again. "See? I'm not supportive enough, I'm impatient and sometimes downright derisive..."
Charlie reached out to lay his hand on Don's wrist in a gesture of stillness. "Knock it off, Donnie. There's nothing wrong with you, and I couldn't ask for a better brother. At any point in our lives -- except maybe when you stole my date to the senior prom." The corner of Don's mouth turned up, and Charlie continued. "Yes, you can be impatient. So can I. But we've both always known who's got our backs, right? Right?"
Don finally gave a brief nod. "Right," he agreed. Charlie was not a long-haul trucker killing his way across the country. He had not turned his back on his genius and taken the easy way out. Maybe, maybe there were reasons for that. Margaret, and Alan, with certainty; but maybe himself, too. Not that he couldn't do a better job. He would do a better job, he would.
He nodded again to himself and watched Charlie slide a short stack of pancakes his way. "You want to support me? Cuz I'm not eating these. I hate pancakes."