Title: Grand Theft Brother

Author: FraidyCat

Disclaimer: Continues...

Chapter 19: The Buddy

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It was another week before Don found out what happened to the koi.

When the phone jammer was discovered and turned off, everyone had been able to check their messages. Don had been so preoccupied with a silent and shell-shocked Charlie that he took no note of Alan's frown as he wandered toward the kitchen, cell plastered to his ear. He did witness a rather frantic conversation his father had with Colby and David in the corner of the great room, and wondered what that was all about. He was curious enough, when he awoke from a brief nap on the couch and saw them, that he cautiously pushed himself up -- Charlie was still sleeping on the other end -- and slapped his clown feet across the wood floor to interrupt. His dad was pushing a piece of paper and a frightening amount of green at David, his wallet in his hands. "What's up?" Don asked casually.

His father's guilty embarrassment should have been a tip-off, but frankly, Don was still operating just this side of overload, and didn't make the connection. "Nothing. Nothing," Alan answered, flustered.

Don raised his eyes at the money David gripped in his hand, and Colby rushed in with an explanation. "Your dad said you all will probably stay here another night, and head back tomorrow. Since Dave and I are going back this afternoon, we volunteered to stock the house with groceries. You know, so Alan can stay with Charlie for a while and not worry about it." On cue, David held up the small scrap of notebook paper Alan had scribbled on -- although the words were on the other side. "We have a list!", Colby half-shouted, triumphant.

Don grimaced and glanced behind him at the couch. "Keep it down," he admonished. "Charlie is still asleep."

His father's eyes softened as he followed Don's gaze. "Out here -- on the couch -- with other people around," he marveled, smiling a little. It was no wonder that his youngest did not want to return to the room he had been using, where Danielson lay dead so recently; but there were many other sleeping quarters in the cabin, and he preferred to think of Charlie's choosing the couch to sleep on as a good sign. Alan had been happily surprised that Charlie had even sat on the couch, since Don was already there at the time. That he further felt comfortable enough to fall asleep there was nothing short of a miracle. Now, he pulled at David's elbow. "We should probably take this in the kitchen," he suggested, and the two agents nodded mutely and started to follow him out of the room.

"Wait," stage-whispered Don, and they all turned as if caught with their hands in the cookie jar. No-one spoke, but Alan arched an eyebrow. Don shook his head at their odd behavior as he asked his question. "Is there any ice cream in the freezer? At home, I mean, not here." They looked at him blankly and Don directed his next comment to his father. "Charlie likes ice cream?"

"Oh!" Alan responded loudly, slamming his hand over his mouth and wincing. He turned his head to look at Charlie. Finding him still asleep he dropped his hand and looked back at Don. "Oh," he whispered this time. "We'll add that to the list."

The entire episode should have rung all sorts of alarm bells, but didn't. Colby and David had left not long after; the Eppes and Bradford followed the next day. Charlie was quiet to the point of being withdrawn, and didn't even always participate verbally in the daily sessions Bradford held with them that first week. Still, he was always ready to go, and Don was happy to take the additional time off work -- although he was relieved when Bradford suggested they begin to taper the visits to his office. Don wanted to stay at the house, but figured that might put too much pressure on Charlie; so even though he was usually there for several hours each day, he returned to his apartment every evening. He was just glad his brother was back at the Craftsman, coexisting peacefully with Alan; maybe a little too peacefully. The younger man was always unfailingly polite, and seemed a little rattled all of the time. His demeanor suggested a slight guilt, and fear, as if he might be reprimanded -- or worse -- at any moment. He spent hours sitting out at the koi pond, but never seemed much more at peace when he came back. On the contrary, he usually looked perplexed. Still, Don and Alan did not intrude on his solitude there. The koi pond had long been a source of comfort for Charlie, and Don, for one, hoped it would help heal his brother now. He wasn't sure what Alan thought; his father always disappeared himself whenever Charlie headed for the pond.

After a week, Don returned to work. Even though there was a transfer from the Vegas office assigned to his team for the duration, which threw them back into the thick of things immediately, Don was distracted all day. Intellectually, he knew that Danielson was dead and could not harm Charlie any more -- but every case that came across his desk made him think twice. Was there a suspect here who would target his family? Would a witness go off the deep end and take Charlie along for the ride? And even though Irvine's jacket looked good, and the new agent was confident and friendly, Don held himself aloof and tried to read behind the lines. Was there a crazy brother, or cousin, or ex-neighbor in this guy's background? It was all he could do to get through the day without calling his father to check up on Charlie, but since it had occurred to him during yesterday's session that he wasn't extending the old man a lot of trust these days either, and he didn't want to insult him, Don managed. Still he hurried to the house as soon as he could after work, even considering using the lights and siren for a moment, arriving around 6 in the afternoon.

He found his father standing in the kitchen, staring worriedly out the window that looked over the back yard. Don followed his gaze and saw his brother sitting on the grass facing the koi pond. "Tough day?" He wasn't sure if it was a question about his father's day, or a statement about his own.

Alan started violently, his hand flying to his chest, an indiscriminate, disgruntled grunt preceding his vocabulary. "Good grief, Don, don't you get enough sneaking around at work?" Don started to protest that he'd called out his father's name twice already, but Alan abruptly turned from the window, his hand fluttering in a gesture oddly reminiscent of Larry. "I'm doing laundry," he said. "Laundry. I'll see you later." Before Don could do anything about it, the older man pushed past him and rushed out of the kitchen -- in a direction totally opposite the laundry room. Don sighed, wondering which problem to tackle first. Should he leave Charlie to his koi and pursue his dad? Or should he leave his dad to his fabric softener and go talk to Charlie?

In the end, it was no contest, and he strode out the back door and across the lawn. He had left Charlie alone with the koi for a week; it was time to share. "Hey, Buddy," he said, announcing his presence as he lowered himself to sit a few feet away from Charlie on the grass.

To his surprise, Charlie jumped into the conversation at full speed. "I'm not sure I should go back to work next month when my leave of absence is over," he started. "I'm beginning to think this whole thing affected my intellectual capabilities as well as my emotional ones."

Well. Hadn't been expecting that, but Don was willing to bite. "Charlie, you thought it was a great idea two sessions ago."

"I know," Charlie rushed on, exasperated. "I've done some work in the garage; nothing serious, mostly I've just gone over a few things that I already had brewing in there. It all seemed to make sense to me, but this...this...this just doesn't."

Don was almost starting to enjoy this. It wasn't that he liked to see his brother upset, but Charlie was sounding more like Charlie than he had since he'd been back. He looked at the pond, and didn't see anything unusual. "What?" he finally asked. "I'm not seeing it."

Charlie threw out an arm toward the pond. "Look," he demanded. "Look at the ki koi. It's swimming from right to left."

Nonplussed, Don let a moment pass, and then giggled. "Did you just say 'ki koi'?"

Charlie finally looked away from the pond long enough to look at Don and roll his eyes. "The yellow one, Don. Look at the yellow one."

Don followed instructions and spotted a yellow flash near the South wall of the pond. "Um. Okay."

Charlie jabbed a finger toward another fish. "And the Shusui. The pattern is all wrong."

Don snorted. "You did not just refer to one of your koi as 'sushi', Chuck."

Charlie turned a peeved eye on his brother. "No, I did not. 'Shu-sue-ee'; three syllables." He pointed again at the water. "There, the blue one."

Don nodded. "I always liked that one."

"It's the German adaptation of an Asagi," Charlie informed him. "Light blue body, darker blue zipper scales, some red markings..."

"Yeah," Don interrupted. "That's what I said."

Charlie sighed, clearly irritated. "Listen, the point I'm trying to make is that none of these guys is doing what he's supposed to. Do you realize how many hours I've put in at this pond, studying patterns? The established devices of movement; even the configuration of relationship. The Chagoi, for instance -- the brown one -- he should be swimming circles around the Bekko. I think he wants her."

A burst of laughter shot out of Don's mouth. "What?"

Charlie defended his position. "Well, I'm not certain she's a she; but she's very dainty, don't you think? The white one, with black spots on her upper half?"

"There are two white ones," Don pointed out.

Charlie begged to differ. "No, no, the one with the red pattern in a Kohaku. Dad's favorite, the orange Beni? It's not behaving in character either."

Don emitted a low whistle. "Damn, Charlie. I had no idea you were such a koi expert." He giggled again. " 'He wants her' ?"

"You're missing the point," Charlie said sourly, standing and brushing the grass off his jeans. "I'm going for a walk."

"Wait," said Don, starting to stand himself. "I'm sorry, Buddy. I am. But shushi ?"

A small smile cracked Charlie's serious face, and it was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. "Shut-up," he said easily, and Don brushed off his own jeans, smiling back at him.

"Maybe they missed you, Charlie. Maybe your absence disrupted their universe and everything got off-kilter. Did you ever think of that?"

Charlie tilted his head and seemed to consider the possibility. "That would imply recognition; the ability to differentiate one human from another."

"Don kept grinning. "Well, how much of a stretch is that? I mean, come on, you just said one of them is hot for another one of them."

Charlie's smile grew a little wider. "I really am going for a walk," he responded. "I saw Dad take steaks out of the groceries today; maybe you should help him with the grill."

"Want me to go with you?" Don offered.

Charlie shook his head. "Nah. Just around the block. I've got to think about this whole koi situation."

"Don't step in front of any cars," Don warned his brother's back. Charlie was already almost out of the yard. Don grinned again, more relaxed than he had been in weeks, and strolled slowly to the house.

He entered the kitchen and found his father sitting unoccupied at the table. "Hey," Don greeted. "Charlie said you might have steaks?"

Alan glanced up furtively. "Is he still out there?"

Don headed for the refrigerator and beer. "Went for a short walk. Did you know he knew so much about koi? All their...brands, or whatever."

Alan stiffened. "What did he say about the koi? And it's 'breeds'."

Don extricated his beer and leaned against a counter. "He was trying to show me who's not doing what; he's convinced the koi are misbehaving."

He was surprised when Alan's face crumbled in despair. "I have to tell him, then. He's already questioning too much, I can't let him think he's going koi crazy on top of everything else."

Don had the bottle halfway to his mouth, but his eyes narrowed and he lowered it. "What did you do?" he interrogated.

So Alan told him. About the message from Rodney Henderson when they were still at the cabin, about asking Colby and David to stock the pond with more fish, about detailing the kind they should get on his 'list of groceries'.

"Shit," Don said when Alan was finished with his confession. "He's really attached to those things. He thinks two of them are having an affair."

Alan's scowl was replaced by confusion. "I beg your pardon?"

Don shook his head. "Never mind. Had to be there." He finally took a drag off his beer and let a few seconds of silence pass. "Maybe we shouldn't say anything."

Alan looked at him hopefully. "We can't let him question his observational skills; his mathematical computations. Can we?"

Don considered. "It never hurts to be more observant, or to step it up a notch in your chosen field. One needs to be alert to stay on top of the heap." He was warming to his subject, now. "You could say that we're helping him."

Alan smiled. "Yes, I suppose you could. Care for a tri tip?"

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Charlie stood in the garage and looked again at the receipt he had found wadded up in a ball, halfway under his desk. Why on earth had his father bought an entire slew of new koi? How had he done it? The date on the receipt was last week, when they were still at Bradford's. Not only that, where were they? There were no more koi in the pond now than... Charlie's eyes narrowed.

That explained everything. Every-freakin'-thing.

The patterns and behaviors were wrong, because they were not the same fish. He wasn't imagining anything, or losing his touch, either. He squeezed the hand holding the receipt into a fist and stormed out of the garage, determined to confront his father and Don this instant. As he exited the door, he saw them both standing near the back of the house, at the grill, and he glanced angrily at the koi as he passed, stomping in their direction. As he got closer, he could hear them laughing. They were standing side-by-side at the grill, shoulders relaxed, happy. The sound of their voices drifted across the lawn and Charlie felt his steps slowing. His father turned and spied him, smiled broadly and waved. Charlie waved back, with the hand clutching the receipt, and when he lowered his hand he shoved the receipt in the pocket of his jeans. He started to walk toward his family again, glancing back once at the koi pond, and made an executive decision.

Some things?

Some things were on a need-to-know basis.

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The End

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Whew! I think I shook that plot bunny off, Tanager. Got anymore? Maybe a sequel...