See Chapter 1 for disclaimer
A/N: I hadn't planned on updating this until tomorrow, but my director called tonight and told me to get on a plane for Mexico in the morning. Considering that I don't know how long I'll be gone (at least a week), I thought I'd better hop online and send you this last bit...
Don slept in the next morning at Robin's and got to the Craftsman a little before lunchtime, ready to talk. He was on a roll – as if he'd had a planned agenda for all the things he needed to do before he went back to work – including bringing the new hose to Sally Webber, and finally talking to Robin about kids. Finding and thanking the boy was on that list too, although he'd struck out on that one. There was one thing he had to do yet, and that was to finally bring up the accident with Charlie, and apologize. It was time – it was past time. He had to put aside any fear he had that the subject might put a damper on their historically rocky relationship, and have it out. He arrived at the Craftsman ready to tackle the subject head on, only to find Charlie asleep on the sofa.
He slipped out to the kitchen, where he found his father quietly kneading bread dough. "How was your night with Robin?" asked Alan, with a smile and a quick glance sideways.
"Good," said Don, with feeling. "Really good."
Alan smiled. "It sounds like a night out was just what the doctor ordered, for all of us." His smile turned conspiratorial, and his voice dropped to a whisper. "I'm not sure what was going on between Charlie and Amita the past couple of weeks, but I think they worked at least some of it out last evening. I get the sense that there still might be an issue, but they actually seemed more comfortable this morning. Amita was in a good enough mood to go shopping."
Don thought about Charlie and Amita's conversation yesterday, and figured that Amita must be relieved that the pressure was off to decide about children, although he was certain that Charlie didn't feel the same way. Marriage, he had been told by his rabbi, was about compromise at the right moments, and he had to give Charlie credit – compromise was just what his brother was doing. Charlie was putting his own wishes aside for the sake of his marriage – and maybe in the long run, that would get both Charlie and Amita what they wanted.
"That's good," he said simply. He stood and watched his father for a moment, then turned and pushed back through the door, and drifted over toward the sofa.
Charlie was still asleep. The morning sun drifted through the windows and glinted off his dark curls, but his hair's healthy sheen seemed at odds with the rest of his appearance. In sleep, the evidence of his recent ordeal seemed more apparent. He still looked pale, and seemed thinner than Don remembered him before he'd gone to England. There were dark shadows under his eyes, left by pain, and lack of sleep – Don knew that Charlie had nightmares of his own at night. Don felt suddenly depressed and anxious again – maybe it wasn't a good idea to bring up the accident, after all. The mention of it could bring simmering resentment to the surface, and capsize the tentative re-forging of trust between them.
He sighed, and moved aimlessly back across the room, into the dining room where he stood at the table, idly surveying the pictures spread out in front of him. Memories, so many of them, but the pictures skewed the truth. They looked happy in all of them – no one took a picture when their kids were fighting or upset, after all – but he knew he hadn't done a good job of being a big brother to Charlie when they were younger. The five-year age difference, maybe a little resentment as a result of all the attention Charlie got because of his genius, and perhaps other factors had gotten in the way. In those days, Don had never gotten the intense, nerdy little kid – oh, he'd been a good protector, and the first to defend Charlie against the inevitable bullies – but he'd ignored him otherwise. He hadn't understood until recent years how much Charlie looked up to him – a thought he would have scoffed at as a kid. People looked up to Charlie, not the other way around. What could Charlie have possibly seen in him?
He hadn't believed Alan when his father had told him that – had told him that Charlie would do anything he asked – when they first started working together. He knew he was a pretty astute judge of character, of what people were thinking, but when it came to his younger brother, he was hopelessly myopic. It had taken five years of working together on cases to make him realize that his father was right – and that the disdain he'd felt for that little nerdy kid had melted away, and turned into a strong friendship, the love of a brother for a brother.
He glanced at the pictures, thinking about the wasted time of their youth, and hoped fervently that he would be a better father than he had been a brother. When it came down to it, he still wasn't quite sure of their connection…
He stopped still and stared, his heart thumping, and then pawed at the picture that had just caught his eye, slipping it out into view from under some other photos. It was the boy from the river, drenched as he had been that night, water dripping from the T-shirt that hung from his skinny frame, running in rivulets from dark curls. The same boy, down to the odd cube-like design on his shirt, laughing into the camera, holding a garden hose. Water splashed from the hose, caught motionless, sparkling on photo paper.
With a shaking hand, Don turned the photo over. 'Charlie, Age 11,' he read, and as he caught sight of the other photos with it, the memories flooded back. They'd been washing Dad's car that day and the session had turned into a water fight, and into one of the rare moments of true friendship between them. They'd both gotten soaking wet, laughing until their sides ached. Apparently Dad, or their mother, had captured some of it on film. There was another photo – one of Don, shirtless and lean but already sporting muscles at sixteen and just as drenched – and then a picture of the two of them. In that one, Don had gotten hold of the hose, and Charlie was dashing from him, laughing as Don sprayed him.
He picked up the photo of Charlie and the hose again and stared at it, his mind reeling from a deluge of emotion, then closed his eyes. He could still see the vision of the drenched, waif-like boy perched above him on the rocks in the ditch, like Don's very own muse, seemingly so real, but obviously some kind illusion brought on by his concussion, or the stress of the situation, or both. That vision had been not been of a stranger, but of Charlie himself - or Don's perception of him, mixed with some of Don's own subconscious thoughts - and the resulting image had guided him, helped him think through the confused fog generated by the concussion, through the mind-numbing fear.
As Don thought about it, he realized that he hadn't had the vision since that day when he sat by Charlie's side in the hospital. The boy had shown up when Charlie's life was in danger, and he had gone when Charlie had turned the corner and began to heal. Just as interesting, the boy had appeared shortly after Don's head injury, and departed as the effects of Don's concussion receded. There was a rational explanation for his appearance, after all. Don supposed there was even a reasonable explanation for how he subconsciously knew a house was near – maybe he had caught a glimpse of it before the accident, or noticed it on the way in to the country club. And where there were houses, there were usually garden hoses… somehow, he had recalled this photo of Charlie with the hose, or maybe the day itself, the picture dredged from the depths of his memory.
One thing was sure; the photo had erased any doubts Don had concerning the strength of their relationship. Even in their darkest hour, there had been a connection on a very deep level, which apparently stretched all the way back to a childhood and a relationship that Don had always believed to be somehow deficient. Perhaps it had been deficient – but not any longer. And there might have been a logical explanation for the appearance of the boy, but Don was certain that there was something deeper, and more meaningful, than mere logic behind the visions.
There was a yawn and the rustle of fabric against sofa cushions, then Charlie's voice came from the other room, sleepy sounding. "Hey, when did you get here?"
Don laid photo down carefully, almost reverently, stepped back through the dining room doorway and turned to face him. "A few minutes ago. Nice nap?"
Charlie grinned and flushed a little, and Don suspected that perhaps Amita had kept him up late the night before. He walked over to the sofa, and pulled up the same chair Amita had sat in the day before. Charlie was watching him a bit warily now, probably wondering why Don had selected that chair instead of slouching in the armchair like he usually did, why he was leaning forward like he was ready to talk. "What's up?" he asked. He kept his tone light, but Don could see a hint of worry in his eyes.
"Charlie," Don began, then paused. He tried again. "Charlie, we need to talk about the accident – we've been avoiding that since you've come home. I owe you an apology."
Charlie's face cleared, and he snorted and waved a hand. "Oh, that. I thought you were going to say something else. Apology for what? For saving my life?"
Don shook his head, with a pained expression. "Charlie, I was the one who put you in that situation, remember? I was driving."
Charlie looked at him earnestly and shook his head. "Don, you've got to be kidding – you're blaming yourself for that? That's crazy. It's a notoriously bad stretch of road, especially in the rain – I looked up the statistics on it. Considering the fact that it's out in the boondocks and doesn't get much traffic, it has a disproportionately high rate of accidents. The drainage is apparently terrible on that side of the road - in fact, that piece of road is on Glen Township's list of road improvement projects. Besides, I was the idiot who didn't put on my seatbelt. It wasn't your fault – I can't believe you even think that."
Don sighed. "Yeah, well, I do. You told me I was hydroplaning, that I was driving too fast -,"
"And you immediately started to slow down," Charlie interjected. "Look, you've got it off your chest now, although you didn't need to. Don't worry about it." His tone softened. "I know I said 'thank you' already, but you need to know I'll never forget that – what you did that night – you're amazing in a crisis, do you realize that? Going in after me the way you did, when you were hurt yourself, and the idea of the hose – that was brilliant."
Don flushed. For a moment he was tempted to tell him about the visions he saw that night, but all he said was, "I guess you've rubbed off on me, after all these years." He paused. He would tell him, someday – just not now. "What did you think I was going to talk about, anyway?"
The emotion faded from Charlie's face, and he looked a bit uncomfortable. "Oh, I don't know. I guess -," he paused, fidgeting. "I thought maybe you were going to tell me you didn't want to work with me anymore."
Don stared at him, gaping. "What?"
Charlie squirmed on the sofa seat, uncomfortably. "Don't get me wrong – I thought we did pretty well together on that case last week. It's just - you just seemed – kind of distant. Do you remember, right before I left for England, I asked you if you thought we would grow apart again?"
Don nodded. "I remember. Do you remember what I said?"
Charlie looked at him, and answered slowly. "Basically, that you didn't think so. I believed you then, but this week, well, the way you were acting, I guess I wasn't sure."
Don felt a little pang of regret shoot through him, but it was accompanied by a warm feeling. Charlie was just as worried about their relationship as he had been. "Buddy," he said softly, "there's no doubt in my mind – we've never been closer. Of course I want to keep working with you. If I seemed preoccupied, it was because I was afraid I'd screwed things up because of the accident."
A look of profound relief crossed Charlie's face, and he sighed and smiled ruefully. "Maybe if we ever talked to each other about anything but work, we would have figured that out earlier."
Don grinned, warmly. "You're right there. So, you go first."
Charlie stared at him blankly. "What?"
Don's grin deepened, half teasing, half serious. "Talk about something other than work."
Charlie was silent. Don hadn't really expected him to play, so he was a bit shocked when his brother said, "Have you guys talked about having kids?"
Talking about things close to the heart – probably for the first time in their lives – turned out to be easier, and infinitely more satisfying, than Don had imagined. The issue of kids was, as Don suspected, still not resolved, but Charlie said that Amita had told him that she definitely wanted children - she just wasn't sure when. After all, they had only been married six months, and it had been a hurried wedding followed by the Cambridge assignment. She had told Charlie that she just wanted to be a married couple for a while yet. They had both agreed to postpone a decision until she was ready to make one. Knowing them, Don was certain they would work it out. From there the talk wandered to weddings, baseball, and ideas for a bachelor party, in that order. They talked until Alan stuck his head out of the kitchen to say that lunch was ready.
After lunch, Charlie settled back on the sofa for another nap, and Alan came out to the dining room, and began shuffling through pictures. Don sidled up beside him, and pointed to the picture of Charlie holding the hose. "Can I have that one?"
Alan glanced up at him with a surprised smile, and then down at the picture. "That one? Sure, you can have it. Oh, I get it," he chuckled softly. "Blackmail, eh?"
Don grinned. "Something like that."
He gently picked up the picture to put it into his front shirt pocket, and as it flashed past his face, he stopped abruptly and stared at it. For just a moment, it had looked as though the boy in the picture had winked at him. That was ridiculous, Don knew, but as he gazed at the picture, it did seem that Charlie's dark eyes were alive – that he was staring straight out of the picture at him, grinning mischievously. Don grinned back at him, then gently tucked the photo in his shirt pocket, next to his heart.
A/N - Well, I have to say that as far as the boy was concerned, some of you hit it right on the head. I hope you enjoyed this - it was a short one for me, but one I just had to get out. I will be back soon in conjunction with FraidyCat under our joint name, Rabid Raccoons, with part 2 of Perception Deception. Many, many thanks for reading and commenting - you are the best!