Don sat alone in the Craftsman house. He was the only one awake, it being late at night. Alan had retired to bed long ago, and Charlie had been resting off and on for hours. It was Charlie's first night home since he'd returned from the hospital. Alone in the dark, Don couldn't help but think of how things could have turned out differently, for him, for Charlie, and for Buck.
Don had never found it easy taking another life. With Crystal Hoyle, it had felt easy at the time. Don was protective of everyone close to him, especially those under his charge. Megan was one of his teammates, and she had become a close friend. So of course he felt the need to protect her from Crystal. Megan had been there when he shot Crystal. She had spent time with the woman, and had ended up in the hospital because of it. Don didn't want that to ever happen to Crystal again. There were plenty of guns aimed at Crystal when she came speeding at them in her car. Two more seconds and it would have been Edgerton, or one of their trained snipers, to take the shot. But Don had taken the shot. No one else. He never expected Charlie would be the one to pay the consequences.
Don shivered as he stretched his legs out in front of him. Sleep eluded him. Too many thoughts were running through his head. It seemed every time he slept the outcome of his experiences with Buck changed. Charlie had died once. Don had died once. And then, Buck had died as a result of Don's gun. He knew Charlie's death disturbed him the most, but sometimes he thought him killing Buck came in second. Don put his life on the line all the time. He knew the risk, knew that one day his life could be taken away easily. He also knew that there would be times when he would have to take a life, and he had accepted that fact long ago as well. But taking Buck Winters' life had never sounded good to him. He was still a kid, too young to die. Though Don could understand people killing out of mercy, he couldn't find it in himself to be the one to deliver that killing. Don truly believed that Buck could turn things around for himself. Though it didn't look like he would ever leave the confines of prison, Buck could make something more of himself in there. He should have done it long before he met Crystal, should have steered clear of that woman. It was too late to change that, so he should at least make something of himself now.
The thought of Don ruining Buck's chance to do that was what was plaguing him. Don couldn't decide whether he would have pulled the trigger or not, the reason the outcomes played in his head at night. He would do anything to protect his family, and when it came to Charlie, he would go through hell and back if it meant he'd be safe. When Buck shot Charlie, Don couldn't see beyond protecting Charlie. It didn't matter that killing Buck was something he never wanted to do. It didn't matter that Buck was just a kid. Buck had hurt his brother, and that was all that stood out on Don's mind.
So now, when Charlie was no longer in danger and Buck was back in prison, Don couldn't help but wonder how things would have turned out had David not stepped in when he did. Again, it was the difference of two seconds. In two seconds, would Don have pulled the trigger? In two seconds, would Buck have pulled the trigger?
"Don?" Charlie's sleepy voice came from the stairs, startling Don into flinching.
"Yeah, it's me. What are you doing up? Are you okay?" Don stood, worried.
"I'm fine. What are you doing down here? You know you can sleep in your old room any time." Charlie slowly descended the last few stairs and quietly winced as he put his hand against his side.
Don stepped forward when he saw Charlie wince. "Are you sure? Please, sit down." He reached out and put his hand on Charlie's shoulder, guiding him toward the couch.
"I'm fine, Don. I promise. You didn't answer my question. What are you doing down here?"
"Am I not allowed here anymore?" Don snapped a little.
Charlie simply raised an eyebrow at his brother, showing he wasn't going to be that easily deterred. Don sighed.
"Nothing, Charlie. I was just thinking." Don walked ahead of his brother and sat down on the couch. Charlie followed, sitting next to Don. He turned his head toward his brother, watching Don for signs of emotion.
"What were you thinking about?"
It was Charlie's turn to sigh. "Come on, Don. You have got to start letting me in. It's been five years. Do I have to wait another five for you to start talking to me?" Charlie knew he was exaggerating a bit. Don had definitely opened up to him more in those five years than he had at any other time in their lives, but Charlie needed to give Don that extra push to talk to him. He didn't care if that meant he had to guilt Don into talking.
"I was just thinking... about Buck."
Charlie nodded, keeping an eye on Don. His brother leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Don stared ahead of him, as though watching the scenes he began to narrate.
"After you were in surgery, Buck contacted me. I left long enough to meet him at the Temple. He came, and I... I was just wondering whether I would have shot him or not if I had gotten the chance."
Charlie swallowed hard. That was a lot to think about. He knew his brother well enough that he wouldn't kill someone for pleasure. He took every shooting hard, even now. Even though Charlie had been put in danger, he couldn't imagine Don taking a life without just cause. Though, in Don's mind, just cause was probably putting Charlie in danger.
"Did he hurt you?" Charlie asked.
Don looked over at his brother, smiling lightly. "No, Buddy. He didn't hurt me."
"Did he hurt your team? Did he shoot at you? Any of you?"
"No. He was going to, but David stopped him."
"Where's Buck now?"
Charlie nodded, thinking for a moment. "Did you ever have a reason to shoot him, when you were together?"
Don looked at Charlie like he was insane. "He shot you twice, Charlie. Yeah, I'd say I had a reason to shoot him, if I had."
"But you didn't."
Don blanched. "What?"
"You didn't shoot him. You had a reason to shoot him, but you didn't. How long were you together?"
"I don't know. Five minutes, maybe more."
"And in that time, you never shot him."
Don smiled sadly. Leave it to his brother, who has the tendency to overcomplicate things, to make things so plain and simple.
"Am I wrong?" Charlie asked, looking at his brother.
Don shook his head. "No, you're right. You're exactly right."
Charlie smiled. "I'm glad I could help."
Don chuckled and tousled Charlie's hair. "Thanks, Buddy."
Charlie pushed Don's hand away. "Stop!"
"Sorry. Did I mess up Sleeping Beauty's hair?"
Charlie punched Don's arm lightly. "Shut up."
Don raised his hands in surrender. "Fine. I'm done... Go back upstairs. Get some sleep."
"I will when you will." Charlie pushed into the couch, getting comfortable, expecting it to take Don a while before he went to bed.
Don stood. "Well, you're already behind. I'm already gone!" Don took off at a run up the steps, leaving Charlie downstairs.
"No fair! I'm the one who got shot, remember?" Charlie called after Don as he stood.
Slowly Charlie went up the stairs to find Don standing at the top. The teasing was out of his face as he watched Charlie seriously. Charlie stopped at the top of the steps, waiting on Don to say something.
"Thanks, Buddy. I really mean that."
Charlie smiled. "No problem."
Don reached out and squeezed Charlie around the shoulders. Uncharacteristically, Charlie moved in the embrace, turning so that he could give Don a full hug. Don was surprised a moment, then wrapped his arms around his brother's back to hug him in return.
"Get some sleep, Buddy," Don said as he lightly pushed Charlie away.
"You do the same," Charlie ordered, smiling as he turned to go back to his room.
"I'm glad you're okay, Charlie," Don called before Charlie closed the door. Charlie peaked out the door, smiling.
"I'm glad you're okay, too, Donny."
Don pulled up to the prison and flashed the guard his ID. He had called ahead so they would know he was stopping in. The guard nodded at him and let him pass. He checked his guns in at a check point inside and was escorted to the visiting center. As he stepped inside, he saw Buck sitting there. He looked worse than the last time Don had seen him. His eyes were red, his face covered in a short beard, and he wore a scowl on his face. Don's throat tightened a little as he watched him a moment before entering the room. Buck didn't look up until Don was almost in front of him, and when he did, he stood quickly, ready to leave.
"Sit down," his guard told him, standing in front of Buck as a block. Buck grunted, angry. He turned around and sat back down, facing Don.
"What the hell do you want?" Buck asked, the anger more than evident in his voice.
"I just want to talk to you, Buck."
"About what? How you destroyed any chance I had of ever getting out of here? How you ruined my life? Took away the only thing I ever loved?"
"That's part of it," Don said, surprising Buck into silence.
"I truly am I sorry about Crystal. I'm sorry about what I did to you to get you to talk. I can't imagine how that must feel. I would do anything to protect the people I love most. I can't imagine what it feels to like to feel responsible for their death. It really wasn't your fault, though, Buck. Crystal made her decision. You couldn't stop that. Even if you hadn't told us anything, we would have found her. She'd either be dead, or in prison. You couldn't control that."
"If you had just let me talk to her a little longer, maybe I-"
"No, Buck. She would have made her decision no matter what you said. She loved you, there was no doubt about that. But she knew what was left for her, just like you know now. Do you really want her to be here?"
Buck frowned a moment. "No! I wanted better for her! I wanted us to be together. I never wanted us to get into all that violence and shit. But she wanted it, so I wanted it for her. Now look where we are! She's dead, and I'm going to spend my life in prison. What kind of life did that turn out to be?"
"I know, Buck. That's why you need to take this chance to do things right. I know your options are limited, but you can go to school. You can get a degree in here. You can do something with the life you have. I know it's not what you wanted, but it's better than going through life looking for revenge and feeling sorry for yourself."
"What do you know about it? You're not me! You have no idea what I'm going through!"
Don swallowed hard. He remembered how hard Megan had worked on this case. She had gotten in Crystal's head, and he had warned her about it. But no one ever told him how he had gotten in Buck's head this time around. He knew the kid better than he liked, and he figured it was because of that he hadn't shot Buck.
"I know you never wanted this. I know you could have had things so much better. I know your father hurt you, but you could have overcome that because you're strong. You just got misguided by Crystal. I know you loved her, but she wasn't right for you. I know your options are limited, but, Buck, you can change. Prove to them you're not a screw up, you're not just a criminal. Show them you can make something of yourself, and maybe you'll get a second chance. Use what resources you have. Buck, I know you're not stupid."
Buck looked angry, but Don could see his words were getting through.
"I think you'd better leave, Mr. Agent."
Don sighed as he leaned back. "I'm sorry, Buck. I really am."
Don stood and started to walk away. He had one last thought, though, and turned back around. He walked up to Buck, still sitting down. He leaned next to Buck's ear so only he could hear him.
"If you ever come near my brother again, I'll kill you."
Don smiled, pretending everything was normal, and walked away.
Don wasn't very close to Larry. There were a few occasions where the two were alone and were able to get along well. They just weren't the same type of people. Larry was thoughtful and always questioning the world. Don was more physical. He needed to feel things, needed to experience them, and rarely asked why. It seemed odd that the two would end up alone together in the Eppes home, considering there had been a swarm of people coming and going since Charlie returned from the hospital. Charlie was upstairs resting. Alan was out back tending his flowers. And there Larry and Don sat in the living room, alone, in awkward silence.
Larry cleared his throat. "It's good to see you all handling this so well."
Don raised an eyebrow. "How else would we be handling it? He didn't die, Larry."
Larry shook his head. "No, no, I know. I'm just saying a little more aggression is often to be expected on your part."
Don chuckled. "I'm a new man, Larry." Don did believe that. He still couldn't quite get his head around what his choice would have been with Buck, but he firmly believed he wouldn't have shot him. Though it was what Buck wanted, Don couldn't deliver that to a man so young. He couldn't put more guilt on himself. He was changed and changed for the better. Don had been to Temple almost every day since the shooting. He couldn't help reading the Torah, couldn't help but fall to his knees every time he entered the Temple, thanking God over and over again for sparing him and his brother.
"I can see that. When Charles showed me that equation, I couldn't believe it. And to think that you could forgive him so easily for something like that. It's just amazing."
Don leaned forward, confused but intrigued. "What are you talking about, Larry?"
"Charles had predicted Buck was going to come after him that night. Didn't he tell you?"
"No." Don's eyes went to the stairs. "No, he didn't tell me that."
Larry gulped. "Oh, dear. I'm sorry, Don. I thought you knew."
"Excuse me." Don barely uttered the words before he took the stairs two at a time. He went to his brother's door, which was slightly cracked open. It was probably from Alan peeking in so many times. Don slammed the door open so hard that the knob put a dent in the wall behind it. Charlie jolted awake and out of bed, his heart pounding so hard it hurt. He looked around the room for his attacker, but found his stormy-eyed brother instead.
Don slammed the door closed after marching in the room. He stalked up to his brother, his eyes cold. "What the hell were you thinking?"
Charlie had no idea what Don was referring to. "I..."
"How could you not tell me? If you knew Buck was coming after you, you damn well should have called me! We could have caught him then, Charlie! We could have caught him, and you never would have been hurt. You never would have almost died. Do you realize that, Charlie? You were shot twice! Most people don't live through something like that. That never would have happened if you had just told me!"
Charlie's heart rate increased, as did his breathing. He understood what Don was mad about now, and it didn't make things any easier. "I... I wanted to take care of it myself."
"Charlie, how stupid can you be? You're not an FBI agent! I am, remember? If there is a fugitive on the loose and coming after my brother, I had better be the first one to know!"
"It was just an equation. I... I had no proof that he was going to be there."
"Oh, cut the bullshit, Charlie! Since when has one of your equations not worked? That's a lame excuse and you know it."
"I-I-I just wanted to take care of it myself."
"You already said that. It's not your job to 'take care of it.' It's mine, all right? And if you ever do something like that again, I'll make sure you never consult for the FBI again, you hear me?!" Don shouted.
It was too much. Charlie's breathing quickened so much that he found it hard to breathe. He started gasping for air, and Don's anger momentarily vanished.
"Buddy? What's wrong? You need to breathe."
Charlie's eyes widened as he choked on each strangled breath. "D-on."
"I'm right here."
Charlie sat up, hoping to help himself breathe better. Don sat on the bed, trying to soothe his little brother's anxiety. Charlie's breathing continued to quicken, his chest felt too tight. His stomach churned and sweat broke out on his forehead. He couldn't get enough air, and the fast breathing caused him to pass out.
Don caught Charlie as he almost fell headfirst off the bed. He pulled his brother backwards so that he was laying on the bed. Don lightly patted his brother's cheek.
"Charlie? Charlie? Come on, Buddy. Wake up." Don began to feel desperate, feeling every second like it was a day. When a month had passed, Charlie opened his eyes.
"What?" Charlie asked. He felt the panic transfer over from before to consciousness. His eyes widened and he looked at Don. His memory returned, and he felt scared again. Sitting up, he looked at Don fearfully.
"Easy, Buddy. It's okay. I'm not mad. It's okay," Don said soothingly. He kept his hands up, without touching Charlie. He hoped that would be enough to convince his brother he wasn't going to hurt him.
Charlie breathed heavily, staring at Don's face. He finally relaxed, still breathing heavy. He leaned against the headboard. Don took this as a sign he could move in. He sat beside his brother and stretched an arm across his brother's shoulders. He held onto Charlie's upper arm in a supportive grasp, feeling Charlie shaking in his hand.
"I'm sorry I scared you, Buddy," Don managed to say calmly. He was still angry, but he didn't want to upset his brother further.
"It's okay. I'm sorry I didn't tell you. But Don, you have to understand. When you don't tell me these things, like Buck escaped from prison, it pushes me away. I don't want that to happen. You didn't tell me about Buck. You didn't tell me about going to Temple. I want to be a part of your life, Don. I thought you knew that by now. We've been working together for almost five years now. Can't you see that I enjoy spending time with you? I want to be your brother, not just your consultant."
Don swallowed hard, listening to his brother. Charlie pushed out of his grasp and stood from the bed. Don continued to sit, watching the nervousness in his brother's body as Charlie stood and began to pace.
"I know I did something stupid by not telling you about Buck coming after me. I knew what I was doing, and it was stupid. But, please, understand. I did it because I want to do my share. You've spent your whole life protecting me, and this was my one shot to take care of you. I thought if I could do this for you, maybe we'd be a littler more even."
Don frowned. "Even? You think we need to be even? I'm the older brother. It's my job to protect you, okay? I never once wanted some sort of payment for it, or expected you to repay me for something I was supposed to be doing anyway. That's what I do, Buddy. I'm here to protect you, not the other way around. That's never been your job."
"But I never asked for it to be your job! I know Mom and Dad put that pressure on you. I know they made it your job. But dammit, Don, I'm an adult now! I can protect whoever I please, and you shouldn't have to keep protecting me."
Don shook his head, almost laughing. He stood slowly and walked toward his brother. Charlie eyed him suspiciously, still upset. Don stood in front of Charlie and reached out, placing his hands on each of Charlie's shoulders.
"When you're old and gray and 80 years old, and I'm old and gray and 85, I'm going to be there to keep the bully old men from bothering you at the nursing home. I'm always going to be here to protect you. Always."
"Eighty isn't a prime number." It was the only thing that could come to Charlie's mind. He smiled sheepishly up at Don.
Don smiled in return. "No, it's not."
Again, sorry for the delay! It's done now, though! YAY! I'll be sure to get started on Cry Because It Happened ASAP! I have midterms this week, so it'll be kinda slow, but the week after that is my spring break! YAY! So I should have time to update faster. I can't believe I've left it for so long! I hope you enjoyed this story. If there was something missing, I'm always up for epilogues or whatever. But it'll have to come after my update for Cry Because It Happened! I have to get people back on track with that story. Thanks for reading!