One Lucky Guyby devra
"I know," he said with a sigh, reaching underneath his sunglasses and rubbing his eyes. "I'll apologize to Agent Sinclair in a second."
Don lifted his glasses up, resting them atop his head. "I'm not sure it makes me feel any better knowing that he understands why I lost my temper."
"You were upset." Terry gave his arm an uncharacteristic, supportive squeeze. "David knows he was wrong."
"Wrong? How could he possibly be wrong?" Don made a sweeping motion with his arm, indicating the square between the buildings; the cement and grass area was overflowing with police, SWAT and FBI personnel. "Bringing a civilian consultant into the heart—" Don glanced at Terry and shook his head. "I'm doing it again."
"I'd say yeah, you are, but that would be redundant." Terry drew a breath, then stepped to the right and glanced upwards, the shattered glass from the police car window crunching underfoot.
"You were going to say something."
Terry shook her head as she shielded her eyes from the glare of the afternoon sun. "No, I wasn't."
Don averted his eyes, unable to gaze at the opened sliding glass door where the sniper had stood, the barrel of his high-powered rifle pointed at Charlie. Sometimes cheating death was just too close a call, and though he knew he was out in the open, Don's lungs felt like they were being crushed in a vise grip.
"We've got it covered here for now," Terry urged, nodding towards Don's black SUV. "Why don't you drive Charlie home?"
Don hesitated, but he could see Charlie's vague shape sitting in the passenger seat of his truck. He had tried to force him to have another Agent take him home, but his stubborn brother had adamantly refused, saying that he would wait for Don to drive him. "Call my cell if you have any problems." He cleared his throat, then forced a smile. "As soon as he's home, I'll swing by the office."
Keys in hand, Don walked over to David to offer some semblance of an apology, or at the very least, an explanation as to why he'd lost his temper. "David."
Don stuck a smile on his face. "Don't apologize. Charlie can be more than a bit persuasive when he sets his mind to it."
Relief washed across David's features. "Yes. Though I think persuasive isn't a strong enough word to describe your brother."
"I have to agree with you there." Don adjusted his sunglasses. "Impulsive is the first word that usually comes to mind."
* * *
"I'm sorry," Charlie reiterated the second Don got situated behind the wheel of the truck. "I—"
"Not now," Don growled as he shoved the keys into the ignition.
Charlie, always the genius, kept silent and hugged the clipboard to his chest, probably as protection against his brother's anger.
Charlie was never one to keep his mouth shut for any length of time, so Don was drawing a small amount of satisfaction knowing that even for a moment he had forced his brother into silence. There were other noises though, which he was trying very hard to ignore. The tapping of Charlie's fingers on the clipboard, the shuffling of feet against the carpeting in the SUV and the barely perceptible humming that was setting his teeth on edge.
He had the steering wheel locked in a death grip and a block from the house, Don knew if he didn't say something he was going to explode with words of anger he wouldn't be able to take back. Home wasn't an option, so he made a sudden left, then a right, left, right and then drove the truck into the parking lot of the ball field, finding an empty spot amidst the abundance of mini vans.
"Look, Don. I didn't think. It was a stupid thing to do." Charlie's words came out in a rush, spilling over each other, even before Don had the opportunity to turn the SUV off.
Don killed the engine. "And therein lies the problem, Charlie. You didn't think. Showing up today wasn't like leaving the house without listening to the weather report and getting stuck riding home in a downpour without a jacket type of stupidity." He pounded the wheel and felt more than a twinge of satisfaction when Charlie jumped at the sound. "*This* was a—damn it, Charlie, this was having your brain splattered all over the cement stupid. 'Cause you and I both know that—"
"Statistically speaking, the odds *were* in my favor."
"What?" Even he had to cringe as his voice bounced off the windows of the enclosed space. "What odds? That he would miss? Shoot you through the heart rather than your head? I know you may not believe this, but any bullet entering your body, to me, is an unacceptable risk."
"I'm not stupid. *You* asked me to help with this case. I was helping. I have a good sense of self-preservation," Charlie answered with a touch of infuriating indignation.
"Well I don't know where the hell your self-preservation was today, 'cause you certainly didn't have it with you."
"You decide, Don. Am I a consultant for the FBI or your little brother? Because from my vantage point, David was out in the open with me and if he had been the one who had been shot at, would you be having this conversation with him? I don't believe you would be."
Charlie shifted in his seat to look at Don who was fuming quietly. "I need to know where the division is going to be. Am I going to be allowed to do my job? Are *you* going to let me work in the capacity in which I was hired? Or will I forever be delegated to baby brother status?"
In response Don flung open the door, slid out and slammed it with enough force that the truck shook in the wake of his anger.
* * *
The kid at bat was about nine. Don mentally corrected the young boy's stance as he straddled the batter's box: the swing of the bat, the direction of the kid's focus and in his imagination the red-headed kid hit a home run. In reality, three strikes later he was called out and the team lost. There were times when reality sucked.
Don heard Charlie's approach, felt the shift in the chain link fence he was leaning against sag as Charlie added his weight to the pliable metal. "Spring. Summer. I remember sitting in the bleachers with Mom and Dad when you played. The bottom bleacher, right over there." Charlie pointed to the farthest corner of the wooden stand.
Don couldn't help but smile.*He* remembered a pouting, complaining Charlie being dragged under protest to watch his games, lugging a satchel overflowing with books and papers. The only concession his younger brother would make would be the tee shirt he wore emblazoned with the name of Don's little league team.
"Today. Out in the open. Do you know what you were? You were a target. You might as well have had a bull's eye painted on your back. Or a neon sign with a flashing light. Can you even imagine what I thought when I saw you there?"
Don saw a million answers flit over Charlie's face. "Fear?"
Don snorted. "Fear? Talk about the understatement of the year. I was terrified. All I could see was Dad's expression when I had to tell him you'd been killed in the line of duty. A math professor killed in the line of duty. Somehow that statement is an oxymoron."
Charlie bent a bit, trying to capture his brother's gaze. "I'm in one piece."
"I know that," Don sighed, tapping his temple. "But it's all in here. Tucked away in my vivid imagination so when I close my eyes tonight I'm sure I'll be seeing *your* bloody body *and* Dad's face. The disappointment... the grief." He poked Charlie's shoulder. "I never want to be in that position. Do you understand me? Ever. You are not dying on my shift. I *never* want to see that look on Dad's face because of something I've done." He gripped Charlie's shoulders and gave a gentle shake. "Or didn't do."
Charlie snaked his hands around Don's then grabbed his forearms, and Don was more than slightly surprised at the strength in the grip. "You didn't do anything. It was me. I forced David—my decision. My fault. Please. I'm s-sorry," he stuttered.
"I was furious at you. Damn, I'm still furious with you."
Charlie released his grip on his brother and looked down at his feet. "I know. It’s okay."
Don relaxed, just a bit in the face of Charlie's apology. "You know, I'm not sure if I should be throttling you or hugging you."
"How about neither?" Charlie cocked his head and smiled brilliantly at Don. "Listen—what do you hear?"
"Charlie, what the hell—" He was unable to halt his own burgeoning smile. "Is that the ice cream man?"
"Instead of throttling me or hugging me, how about treating me to an ice cream?"
And suddenly they were kids, he had just hit the winning run; and while their parents still sat on the bleachers, Don grabbed his kid brother's hand and walked to the ice cream truck to buy them both a Good Humor Chocolate Éclair ice cream.
* * *
"They seem smaller than I remember," Don said, examining his ice cream bar from all sides.
"It's just an illusion. We're bigger, the ice cream stayed the same size."
"Nope. I disagree. The ice cream is definitely smaller." Don took a bite. "And a hell of a lot more expensive."
The two of them were sprawled on the wooden benches soaking in the late afternoon sun. Don shook his head, then waved a napkin like a white flag in Charlie's face. "You're dripping." He waved it again. "Charlie? Are you—"
"Oh god," Charlie gasped, shoving Don's hand aside and stumbling off the bleachers, his ice cream falling to the ground in his haste. He made it to the metal garbage barrel just in time to lose both his lunch and whatever ice cream he had managed to eat.
"Died," Charlie gasped. "I could have—"
"Died," Don agreed. Unsure of what to do with his own unfinished ice cream, Charlie's vomiting had taken care of his own appetite, he reached around his brother's bent form, apologized, tossed it out and waited a minute to see if it would trigger another round of puking. He tugged on Charlie's elbow. "Finished?"
"Give me a second." He spat a few times into the garbage, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Here." Don rooted around in his pocket and handed Charlie another napkin.
"Oh. Thanks." He scrubbed his mouth repeatedly.
"Yeah, nothing a toothbrush or a pack of mints couldn't handle."
Don guided him to a spot on the bleacher not far from the garbage. Charlie looked at the pail. "Not taking any chances, huh?"
"It's okay, Charlie," he nodded towards the garbage, "what you just did was a delayed reaction. It's common."
"I would rather not think having a gun aimed at me is a common occurrence."
"No, the delayed reaction is common. The gun pointing is something—"
"Let's not talk anymore about it. Okay?" He eyed his melting mass of ice cream on the ground. "Crap."
Don patted Charlie's leg, then stood. "Come on, I'll buy you another one."
Charlie rubbed his stomach. "Can I take a rain check on that?" He pointed to the garbage can. "We're not going to tell Dad, right."
The last thing Don wanted to do was go home and confess to his father he had put Charlie in the line of danger. He agreed with a tight nod. "Let's not tell Dad."
"Our little secret huh... like the time when Mom and Dad weren't home and you brought-- what was her name?"
"Lena?" Don laughed. "I haven't thought about her in years. She was—"
"Yeah, she was." Charlie sighed.
Don rolled his eyes. "For god's sake, Charlie, you were twelve."
"And I was so jealous of you."
Charlie stood, smoothing down his jeans, and Don didn't comment on the slight tremors in his brother's hands. He was sure tonight Charlie would be having his own set of visuals if and when he even managed to sleep.
"So you really were jealous of me?"
"Do you know I actually came up with a formula based on Lena's height and weight—"
"You knew how much she weighed?"
"Hell, I was the nerdy baby brother, she took pity on me. I asked. She told." Charlie shrugged in the face of Don's shock.
Don flung an arm over Charlie's shoulder, pulling him away from the bleachers and heading in the direction of his SUV. "So," he whispered, tugging Charlie closer, his voice taking on a conspiratorial edge, "based on your formula, what, exactly, were your findings?"
"With Lena? That you were one lucky guy."
Don opened the car door and watched Charlie as he got into the passenger side. Luck had nothing to do with Lena and being seventeen, he realized, and everything to do with the fact that he and Charlie had walked away from this case alive.
Author's Comments: Thanks to my beta Jo who is always by my side no matter fandom I decide to play in. Thank you, Marcia, for rolling out the red carpet in this fandom and smoothing out all the bumps and wrinkles so I won't trip.
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