He poured two fingers of Scotch – the good stuff, from the bottle he kept in the cupboard over the refrigerator and only brought out occasionally – into the cut glass tumbler. It was probably his imagination, but the amber liquid almost seemed to smoke, smoldering in the glass with such promise he could almost feel the burn in his throat already. He carefully replaced the bottle in its place of honor, for he had no intention of getting drunk. He just wanted something smooth, and fine; something that would help him think, not stop him from thinking.
He carried the glass almost reverently into the living room, a place he hardly ever visited. Most of his off-duty hours were spent in the bedroom, where he slept, watched HDTV, had sex. On a bad night, sometimes all three at once. He was a virtual stranger in his own apartment, that was for sure. Between Robin's house, the family home in Pasadena and overtime, he was lucky he still remembered his own address.
Colby and David had asked him to join them for a beer tonight. Robin had made it clear that he was welcome at her house. Sitting carefully on his leather couch, so as not to spill a drop, he smiled briefly. Good people, all of them. Made a point of letting him know that he had options, but didn't give him a hard time when he turned them down. Tonight, he just wanted to sit, liquid gold searing a trail down his gullet, watching the sun set through his own oft-ignored-but-still-architecturally-superb bay window.
He sighed, and closed his eyes for a moment. Just for that first sip. The pain of ingestion was delicious, and he grimaced in appreciation of it. He let his eyes open again and lowered his right arm so that the glass rested solidly on his thigh. He let his gaze wander toward the window and decided to put some of those counseling sessions with Bradford to use.
He must identify his feelings.
What did he feel? There was a generalized malaise of sadness, but he knew that it was covering other emotions. After all, it wasn't as if he would never see Charlie or work with him again. The first several cases his brother had worked, Don didn't even know he had security clearance. He didn't find out until the CDC and the FBI worked together on that virus thing a few years back; the CDC had actually been the agency to call in Charlie. No, security clearance was not required of all consultants in every situation – Amita didn't have any, and she helped Charlie in his F.B.I. gigs all the time. Even Larry had no clearance until the whole space shuttle episode. So, there would be plenty of cases in which he could still call on Charlie to help. It just wouldn't be as easy, anymore.
He arched an eyebrow, and took another sip, wondering about that last thought. Why wouldn't it be as easy? And, as a subtext, was it necessarily bad that Don had to stop relying on Charlie's help so much?
"Ah," he said, to no-one. There was an emotion. Annoyance. He was annoyed. He would have to use valuable time determining whether or not Charlie was allowed to help on any given case. He was also annoyed that he would have to use in-house resources more. Charlie could look at a page full of numbers for twenty seconds and discern a pattern. The Bureau techs would scan the page into the computers, run software – some designed by Charlie, by the way – for several hours and eventually see the same pattern. That time difference was annoying enough, for an impatient man such as himself, but it would be even worse. In-house techs worked for everybody in the office. Don's requests would have to get in line with everyone else's and just bloody well wait their turn.
Yeah. Annoying as hell.
He shifted a little on the couch, slumping just a bit. What other feeling could he pinpoint? He concentrated inwardly, totally missing the brilliant red and orange hues of the sunset, and shook his head a little when another name came to mind: Anger. His father had taught him long ago, anger was often the body's defensive reaction to pain – especially in little boys. Even after they grew into federal agents.
In short, his feelings were hurt. And he was pissed about it.
Charlie had not made a snap judgment. Charlie had not made an ill-informed choice. The stinkin' genius knew better than anyone – except maybe Don himself – exactly what the consequences would be if he sent that e-mail. He would lose his clearance. He would put Don in an untenable position, caught somewhere between brotherhood and law enforcement. He thought about it for days, probably. Then he did it anyway. Sure, starving people were a strong motivating factor, but Don understood the human psyche well enough to know that anytime someone tells you something is more important than you are – regardless of what or who it is – there are bound to be hurt feelings.
Okay. So he was annoyed, hurt, and a little angry. He sipped almost delicately at the Scotch until the glass was nearly empty, then leaned forward to set it on the coffee table in front of the couch.
His brow furrowed as he sank back into the leather. He crossed his arms in front of his chest, uncomfortable with this one: Embarrassment. He was a tad embarrassed. Everybody in the office would hear about Charlie's clearance being revoked, and not all of them would know why. He recalled an experiment conducted in a sociology class in college. The teacher had whispered something to a student, and asked him to pass it on. By the time the whisper had traveled to the last student in the room, and he told the professor what he had heard, the original whisper was unrecognizable. The truth was no longer even buried beneath layers of exaggeration and interpretation – there was no longer even a kernel of truth in the snowball of rumor. The same thing would happen to Charlie. Even if some people knew the truth – which was that Charlie had taken the moral high ground, his convictions and his heart exactly where they should be – by the time the story got around, it would no longer matter. Don's colleagues would hear all manner of untrue, despicable things about his brother; that would undoubtedly affect the way they viewed Don. Ergo, he was embarrassed. As he confronted that, it occurred to him that he also felt a certain amount of self-loathing for that embarrassment. He knew the truth, and that should be enough.
Damn it all to hell, anyway.
He stood and stretched, shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans and walked toward the window. There was a nice view of the foothills, on a clear day, and the sunsets could be really beautiful. He sagged a little in relief when he owned his next emotion: Pride.
He was proud of the little jerk, in spite of himself. No matter what difficulties would come because of Charlie's action, Don was proud of him. The kid still had delineations in his soul; lines between good, and evil. In an increasingly gray world, he was still able to see the difference between black, and white. Not only that…Charlie wasn't swayed by what was easy. The same things that annoyed, and hurt, and pissed off, and embarrassed Don; those things brought him pride, as well. Charlie did what he felt was right. If his years in the F.B.I. had taught Don anything, it was how rare that was.
The next time he saw Bradford, he would have plenty to say. The doctor would no doubt be pleased that Don had made this effort. Yeah, he would be full of news for Bradford.
What would he say to Charlie, the next time he saw him?
When would he see his brother again?
How would they stay close, without the work to bring them together?
How stupid was it, that the thing that had finally closed the gap between them was now threatening to break them apart?
He hung his head, and strolled back towards the kitchen, and the bottle.
Maybe getting drunk wasn't such a bad idea after all.
He was careful, when he pulled down the fifth of Jameson's. He peered through the glass as he slowly rotated the 25-year-old liquid fire; first to the left, then to the right. He imagined that he could hear the splashing waves of alcohol as they crashed into the barrier of bottle. Why was it so difficult, calling out this last, most deeply felt, emotion? It was at once achingly familiar and heartbreakingly foreign. Don didn't understand completely why he kept it buried as far within himself as he did. Sometimes, it seemed so fragile; exposing it to the elements might destroy it. At other times, it fairly vibrated in its strength; during those moments, he was afraid that if he let the wrong people see it, they would take it from him. It was all very convoluted, but reduced to one common denominator: Don must always keep it safe.
He changed his mind again about the booze, and reached up to return the bottle to its home. "I love him," he said conversationally to the refrigerator. He closed the cupboard door and stood stoically in front of the appliance, daring it to contradict him. "The thing is," he continued at length, as if the refrigerator had decided to argue, "he's my brother. I identify love."
And Don understood, then.
Without the love, he would not care about the other emotions so much; he would not feel it all so deeply. The love made everything harder; and, the love would rise above it all.
The refrigerator began to hum, and Don began to weep, his heart leaden. The truth sat upon him as heavy as the elephant who now stood between them.
Above all, Don must keep love safe.