Title: Priorities

Author: FraidyCat

Disclaimer: Yes.

Summary: Oneshot. This is my Schmoop Christmas Gift for y'all.


It was a lot to comprehend.

Charlie was still reeling.

Don was nervous, perched on the edge of the couch in Charlie's office, his hands dangling between his knees. He was watching his brother's face, which had been open and friendly when the conversation began. Now, it was at least two shades paler, and Charlie's mouth was gaping open. Don sighed, wishing for a moment that he could have taken his time telling Charlie all of this; maybe broken it into stages...over several days. Perhaps months. Years was probably the best idea. He sighed again, realizing that it likely would not have helped much , anyway. Sometimes, the bandage had to be ripped off. Sometimes, you had to jump into the deep end of the pool.

Sometimes, life sucked.

"There's more," he said quietly.

Charlie's eyes widened and his mouth closed temporarily while he snorted through his nose. One hand was on his desk, and he was slowly rotating in the chair behind it -- although he never took his eyes off Don. "There can't be," he finally huffed. "First you tell me you're joining the Boston Field Office, then you tell me you're getting married. What else is there..." -- an eyebrow arched -- "unless Robin is pregnant?"

This time Don huffed. "No," he bit off succinctly. "And I told you, Charlie: I have to go. It's Assistant to the SAC." His eyes wandered to take in the stack of unread journals on the corner of Charlie's desk. "I don't know how many times you've told me that academia means 'publish or perish'." He gestured vaguely toward the magazines with one hand before bringing it to his forehead, where he wiped away the sweat. "If you didn't appear in those things on a regular basis, your career would stall, right? In the Bureau, the road to the top involves transfers. A lot of them. A couple of years heading up White Collar Crime in Boston, and my next appointment could be as SAC somewhere. I've probably stayed in L.A. longer than I should have, already."

Charlie frowned. "You've made that perfectly clear," he retorted, dragging a foot on the floor until the chair stopped moving. "And Robin decided to join a private practice in Boston and go with you. Wonderful. If she's not pregnant, what the hell else do you have to tell me?"

Don let Charlie's frustration fall flat on the floor between them; he wasn't sure he'd be having a much calmer reaction, if their roles were reversed. "We're going to rent an apartment for a few months," he hedged, "but we want to buy a house soon; you know, while we can basically steal one."

Charlie snickered. "Strike while the iron is slamming everyone else upside the head," he paraphrased. "Fine. I can appreciate that. If I didn't already own my house, I'd consider refinancing myself. Did you want my permission, or something?" A sudden understanding filled his expression. "Do you need to borrow the downpayment?"

Don groaned and shook his head. Damn Charlie, anyway. Pissed as hell and probably still ready to give Don whatever he wanted. Why couldn't his brother be a jerk? It would be a lot easier to say this to a jerk. "No, no, Chuck. We're good. Robin will probably rent her house here for awhile, until the market improves, so we'll have that income as well."

Charlie impatiently tucked an errant curl behind his ear. "What, then?"

Don barely suppressed another sigh and dropped his eyes to the floor. "We'll look for a place that's big enough for Dad," he almost whispered. "We want him with us at least half of the time; especially after we have kids -- which we hope will be sooner, rather than later."

He jerked his head up when Charlie's chair crashed to the floor. Luckily, his brother wasn't still attached to it, but was now on his feet behind the desk. "He's RETIRED, Don!" Charlie yelled, and Don winced at the volume even though the office door was closed. "Let the poor guy RELAX!" Charlie was growing more agitated as he spoke. He suddenly leaned over slightly, opened the top drawer of his desk and withdrew his wallet. In one fluid motion he reached inside and took out a handful of bills, which he threw across the room at Don. Most of them fell short of the mark, but the agent was hit with a few twenties, and a fifty bounced off his left knee. "I'll pay for a damn nanny," Charlie was saying, his tone nasty and bitter. "Just because you two want to go at it like rabbits doesn't mean that Dad has to mop up after your spawn!"

Don stood slowly, clenching his jaw and silently counting to 10 -- en Espanol. "That's not what we want, Charlie," he said evenly after he had reached 'diez'. "Dad wants grandchildren about as badly as any man can. When we have some for him, we want him to spend as much time with them as possible. There probably will be enough money for a nanny, too. She'll do the 'mopping up'; Dad's job is going to be taking them to the zoo, or the museum, or a ball game -- whatever he wants, for as long as he is able." Charlie started to look a little guilty, but Don was just warming up. "Dude, I barely remember Grandpa Eppes; Even Mom's father was gone by the time I was 14. I want my children to know one of the two best men on this earth -- and I want them to know him well."

Charlie turned and took a step toward the window. For a moment Don thought, wildly, that his brother intended to jump. He had taken half-a-step toward him when it became apparent that Charlie was just looking out. No doubt he was counting something. Perhaps the number of students who passed by the math building, or maybe the cracks in the sidewalk. Chances were good he didn't even know he was doing it. Don took a few more steps, until he stood behind him. Careful not to touch and startle, he spoke carefully. "I want my kids to know the other one, too," he said. "Boston is full of universities where you can lecture; even if only on a guest basis. I know you get offers from them all the time. You don't have to leave CalSci. Just try to come to Boston as often as you can." When he saw Charlie's shoulders sag, Don smiled and risked a light hand. "We're going to get a big house, Charlie. We wamt to fill it with family; present and future."

Charlie leaned forward until his forehead pressed against the window pane, and Don's hand slid off his back. "You'll find that you don't need me," he whispered, so lowly that Don could barely hear him. "Those universities will provide all the extraneous consultants that you could possibly want. I won't be...necessary."

Don jerked a step back as if Charlie had slapped him, and found himself sitting on the edge of the professor's desk. "My God, Charlie," he breathed. "Do you think...that I just tolerate you as long as you provide me with a service? My God."

Charlie shrugged, turning to look at him. "How much time did we spend together before I became your personal consultant?" he countered. "How often did you even come by the house, during the months I was without clearance?" Now Don's mouth was the one gaping, and Charlie was hitting low and hard. "Now you want to take Dad," he accused almost mildly, "and leave me with no-one." He shrugged, and leaned over to pick his wallet up from the floor where he had dropped it. "I guess it's only fair," he mused as he straightened, reaching into his desk drawer for his car keys. He pocketed them and headed almost casually for the door. "I took Mom from you, didn't I?"

Don was starting to feel like he'd been beaned by a baseball bat, and he stood and whirled almost woozily, calling after his brother. "Charlie!"

Charlie stiffened, but at that moment his office door opened, revealing Amita. "Oh!" she gasped breathlessly, looking from one brother to the other. She started to back away, blushing. "I'm sorry, I didn't know..."

Charlie walked right by her, not even stopping for a kiss. "That's okay," he answered dreamily. "I was just leaving anyway."


Alan had a completely different reaction.

The only thing that would have made him happier would have been if Don announced that he was leaving law enforcement altogether, and going into something safer. As it was, the father reasoned that the promotion might actually take Don out of the field a little, and he would be safer -- a man could dream, Alan reasoned. Of course, he teared-up when Don broke the news regarding his engagement; it became an out-and-out sob when Don told him that he and Robin wanted Alan with them at least half of every year. As if that weren't enough, he had to sit down when his eldest promised him grandchildren -- and soon.

Alan sat at the kitchen table ignoring a glass of water that Don placed in front of him, and grinning like a fool at his eldest, sitting not two feet away. Knowing Don would appreciate a little Lou Gehrig, Alan reached out to pat Don's forearm and grabbed the first quotation that came to mind. "Today-ay-ay-ay," he said, creating a false echo with his voice, "I consider-consider myself the luckiest man-man-man, on the face of the earth-earth-earth!"

Don groaned, even though the corner of his mouth twitched. "Gary Cooper you're not," he admonished.

Alan grinned, and was about to respond when his cell chimed from the small table next to his recliner in the living room, where he had left the phone. He pushed back his chair and hurried toward the living room. "I knew I should have brought that with me," he grumbled as he pushed his way through the swinging door. Don waited silently at the table, still feeling battered after his discussion with Charlie. How could his brother think that he still harbored a teen-ager's jealousy over the time Margaret had chosen to spend with Charlie? Could he really believe, after these last few years, that he was only another consultant in Don's eyes?

He exhaled deeply as he looked up to his father as Alan pushed back into the kitchen, flipping his cell shut. "That's odd," Alan said, looking at Don. "Did he say anything to you?"

Don felt his chest tighten. "Who? What?"

"Charlie," answered his father. "That was Amita. She said Charlie needed 'to take a long weekend', and she would be covering his classes tomorrow. He's taken off driving down the coast. Didn't even come home to pack!"

Don didn't have the heart to ruin his father's good mood with details regarding his meeting with Charlie, so he brushed the news off, turning his attention back to the table. "He's been a little frazzled lately," he generalized. "I'm glad he's taking some time for himself."

Alan had been easily placated by that observation; far more easily than he would normally be, if his feet were planted on solid ground. It was all Don could do to break away at all; he had to insinuate that Robin was waiting dinner for him before Alan let him go – but not before first extracting a promise that Don would bring Robin over for a celebration dinner as soon as Charlie got home.

In truth, Robin currently had a case in court, and was keeping long hours. Don wasn't even sure she was home. But he headed in that direction anyway, almost like a homing pigeon, and he reveled in the fact that he had finally found The One who would always be his comfort and his joy. The knowledge calmed his troubled soul and filled him with delicious wonder.

He almost managed a smile when she opened the door. She looked harried, her hair messy, a pencil stuck behind one ear. In her hand she gripped a yellow legal pad. She sounded surprised – and not all that happy – to see him. "Don!" she exclaimed, stepping back so that he could enter. "I thought you were spending the evening with your brother and father. Come in, of course…this case…"

Don shushed her with a long and passionate kiss that left them both weak in the knees. His eyes crinkled sadly when he embraced her afterwards. "Charlie's a little upset," he said forlornly into her ear, and the yellow tablet fell to the floor as Robin brought her arms up to wrap solidly around his waist.

She nestled her head against his chest. "Tell me," she invited simply, and so he did. Halfway into the story they moved into the living room to sit on the couch. Robin was probably only able to hold her tongue because she was talking so much that week anyway, presenting her case, but she managed to refrain from verbally castrating Charlie for putting that look upon her lover's face. She was supportive, and offered no judgments, but sat silently beside Don holding his hand for several minutes. Finally she quietly suggested that he go into the bedroom and turn in early. "I'll be there as soon as I can," she promised quietly. "Let's just sleep on it tonight, and maybe we'll think of something."


Alan had decided it was time to share some culinary secrets with Robin, and the two of them had gone to the market together in search of ingredients. Don was sitting on the couch, channel surfing, when he heard Charlie's car in the driveway Sunday afternoon. He turned the television off and stood, looking first toward the front door and then toward the kitchen – he wasn't sure which door his brother would come in. He was still trying to decide when he heard the kitchen door open and shut. He inhaled a steadying breath and turned to fully face the swinging door to the kitchen.

Sure enough, in just a few seconds, Charlie came pushing through – in the same clothes he had been wearing Thursday in his office. Don smiled. "You been wearing those clothes for four days?" he asked, and Charlie froze.

"I…didn't see your Suburban," he answered. His eyes darted toward the staircase. "Where's Dad?"

Don shrugged. "He and Robin went to the store. They probably took her car; I think we blocked his."

An unreadable expression crossed Charlie's face. "Oh." He looked down at his shoes and seemed to consider Don's earlier question. "I bought some touristy sweatshirts and stuff. I left a bag in the car. I'll probably never wear that stuff again."

Don nodded his head and stood in silence, his hands buried in the front pockets of his jeans. Charlie mirrored his stance across the room. They stood that way for a few seconds until suddenly, at the same moment, they locked eyes and spoke simultaneously: "I'm sorry", they both said.

Charlie looked surprised and Don was sure he'd heard wrong. "What?" he questioned.

Charlie hesitated. "I…uh…I said 'I'm sorry'."

Don took a step toward his brother, but Charlie backed toward the kitchen, so Don stopped. "Sorry?" he repeated. "What in the world for, Charlie? I was the one who was wrong, dropping everything on you at once like that. I know you well enough to know you need to be…brought into things slowly, sometimes. I let my excitement get the best of me."

Charlie shook his head a little, frowning. "No," he insisted, "I shouldn't have said the things I did. I should have been happy for you – a great promotion, engaged – I made it all about me, and I'm sorry."

Don started to think they could do this all day. "Let's forget it," he suggested.

Charlie squared his shoulders, looking resolutely at his brother. "I don't want to forget it," he responded. "I want you to know that I am sorry, and…and I'll be fine, here. Even when Dad is with you and Robin, I'll still have Amita, and Larry. It's not like I'll be alone."

Don shook his head for a moment. "Charlie," he finally said, "I've decided to stay with the L.A. Field Office."

Hope flashed across Charlie's face so fast Don almost missed it. This time Charlie came a few feet in his direction. "You can't do that," he chided. "You can't make arbitrary decisions like that anymore. You have to consider Robin…"

Don interrupted. "Actually, it was Robin's idea." He could have kicked himself when Charlie's expression turned to one of resignation.

"You'd rather go," the younger brother murmured.

Don almost stomped his feet. "No!" he practically yelled, lowering his voice when Charlie flinched a little. "It was her idea, but as soon as she said it, I was 100 percent on-board." He could see that Charlie was not entirely convinced. "Fine, she's smarter than I am; why do you think I'm marrying her, Chuck? I need someone to haul my nuts out of the fire on a regular basis." He thought he saw Charlie's mouth twitch and hurried on. "She suggested that I talk to Wright. He said Dwyer is due to retire as Assistant to the SAC in two years, and implied that if I keep my nose clean between now and then, I'd be at the head of the line when it's time to replace him."

Charlie shook his head, clearly still unhappy. "But Robin's career," he began.

Don jumped in again. "Robin's career is in L.A, -- she was only going to make an adjustment to her plans for me. She's actually considering running for D.A. next election."

Charlie tried again. "Dad…"

Again Don talked over him. "Dad will still split his time between us, but this is best for him, too. He won't have to feel torn between us. He can see us both on the same day, if he wants. He can sleep one night at our place and the next night here." He grinned. "You know how much he would miss the koi if they were separated for long." Charlie swallowed thickly and blinked a few times, but didn't say anything. Don searched his brain for something he hadn't yet pointed out. When he lit upon the obvious, he wanted to kick himself again. "Best part," he shared, "you and I still get to work together." Charlie's eyes flashed darkly and Don nearly stumbled on his next words. "Or not, if you want to stop consulting – but we'll still spend time together. I promise."

Charlie shifted from one foot to the other. He looked…well, to Don he looked like he did when they were boys, shopping with their mother for one of their father's birthdays. The brothers had saved their allowances for weeks – Don had supplemented his by doing some odd jobs around the neighborhood – and were determined to purchase their own gifts. Charlie had recently started junior high, which would make him about 10, and the school he was attending was undergoing a yo-yo craze. He found the mathematical possibilities of the geometrics involved fascinating; in short, the kid wanted a yo-yo. While they were shopping for their father, Charlie had found both some cheap aftershave – and a translucent blue Duncan®, and Don had seen the look on his face while he silently did the math in his head. Did he have enough money for both? Of course he did not, and Don remembered that day now, as an expression of unadulterated longing was chased off Charlie's face by responsible resignation.

His brother lifted sorrowful eyes to him, yet still managed a tremulous smile. "You can't do this, Don," he said softly. "Your career; you need to go to Boston for your career."

Don felt his heart break and swell with pride at the same time, much as it had that day all those years ago, when he watched Charlie put the yo-yo back on the shelf. He strode purposefully across the room and gripped Charlie's shoulders tightly, shaking a little until he was sure he had his brother's undivided attention. "My career," he growled, "is finally where it should have been all along – in second place. My family comes first, Buddy. All of my family; Dad, Robin – and you. This is the right thing to do, for all of us."

Charlie sagged a little in his grip and Don somewhat reluctantly let go, allowing his little brother to wobble a little unsteadily to the dining room table and sink into a chair. He was wiping at an eye when Don casually took a seat on the opposite side of the table. "Robin's really smart," Charlie said quietly.

Don laughed. "You ain't just whistlin' Dixie." Charlie tilted his head and looked at him in confusion, and Don suddenly felt a lot more than five years older. "You know," he teased lightly, "you could hook up on a permanent basis with a pretty smart woman yourself. Dad would be beside himself if we had a double wedding."

Charlie grimaced good-naturedly. "I don't know; maybe you guys should take Dad to Boston for a while after all. Let me work at my own speed."

Don shook his head seriously. "Aw, Charlie…if we did that, Amita could die an Old Maid."

Charlie tried valiantly to hide the light of love that shone in his eyes as he looked at his big brother; his hero. "I hate you," he said.

Don smiled, and his own eyes sparkled brightly as they reflected the depth of his own love. "I hate you too," he assured his baby brother. "Want a beer?"