Note: Another one for the Summer Alphabet Challenge 2008. The germ of this fic came when I was watching Black Swan and Charlie got so bored on the stakeout. I was discussing the episode and I commented 'I bet he used to drive Don insane on road trips when they were kids. Has anyone written fic of this?' So, yes, well, here it is.


Nowadays Charlie only called Don by his kiddie nickname either to annoy big brother or as a signal that he wanted to be babied for a little while. Going by his tone, it was option two. Don went out the front door to find Charlie on the porch, sitting on top of his bag.

"Don't tell me, your wee small noodle arms can't make it to the car," Don sighed. "Right. Get up."

Charlie jumped up, and Don grabbed the handles of the bag.

"Feh, what've you got in this? Rocks?"

"Books," Charlie said.

"Right. I'm guessing it's not The Sound and the Fury and War and Peace." Don rolled his eyes. "You do know we're only going for like a week?"

"Yeah, Don."

He swung Charlie's bag into the trunk. "Did you even pack any clothes?"

Charlie flopped down on his back in the lawn. "I think Mom did."

Don rolled his eyes again. Okay, clean socks and shorts didn't seem that important when you were nine, but Charlie was such a free-loader. It didn't even look like he was going to walk to the car himself.

"C'mon, Chuckie. Up," he ordered.

"That would mean expending energy, and I haven't got any."

Don grinned, curled his fingers and reached for the back of Charlie's flexed knees.

"No! No, don't, Don! I'll get up! Stop it!"

"What are you doing to your brother?" Mom asked, coming out of the house with a pile of odds and ends in her arms.

"Nothing," Don said innocently, at the same time as Charlie said, "He's tickling me!"

"There'd better not be grass stains on Charlie's clothes," Mom warned, making Don glad he hadn't gone with his first impulse to grab Charlie's feet and tow him towards the pond.

Dad appeared behind Mom. "You guys a hundred and ten per cent certain you've packed everything you want to bring?"

"Yes, Dad," Don said.

"You can't be more than a hundred per cent certain," Charlie protested, predictably. Don snickered, and held out a hand to pull Charlie up off the ground.

"Has everyone been to the bathroom?" Mom said.

Working off the principle that it was bad to let Charlie get anything first, Don let go of him while he was still off-balance and legged it for the front door. Charlie pelted after him, yelling, "I call first go! Don!"

Eventually, after Charlie had run back for his precious math notebook, and Mom had thanked Mrs Demitri next door for feeding the koi, and Dad had checked all the windows, they were off.

"Are you kids going to go to sleep?" Mom asked, as they rolled north out of Pasadena.

"He kicks," Don pointed out gloomily. On the other hand, with Charlie asleep he'd only have to deal with sprawled-out elbows and knees; with Charlie awake he'd have to listen to him.

"I'm making a graph of distance and velocity for the journey," Charlie said, bent over his notebook. "Can I have the map, please, Dad?"

That should fend off Mathematical I Spy for a while, anyway. Don wriggled himself comfortably into his seat and opened his baseball book.

Fifteen minutes later, Charlie started to fidget. Half an hour after that, and Charlie's now-constant jittering was getting on Don's last nerve. At this rate he'd have either gone completely insane or killed Charlie long before they got to San Francisco.

"Stoppit," he muttered, squeezing Charlie's nearer arm to get his attention.

Charlie scowled. "Mommy, Don's pinching me."

"He keeps squirming!"

"Both of you sit still," Mom ordered. "What's next, He's breathing my air?"

"Actually, because of gas diffusion and Brownian motion, we're all breathing everyone else's air all the time," Charlie piped up.

"Isn't Brownian motion that thing with the pollen grain?" Don asked, dredging up memories of last semester's biology.

"Yeah, it works for drops of spit and bits of lungs and germs too," Charlie said.

"Blech!" Don clamped his hands over his mouth and nose. "You mean I'm actually breathing bits of Charlie? That's unbelievably gross."

Dad, the rat, was laughing. "We'll stop for some fresh air in a bit, Donnie."

Don wound down the window for some non-Charlie-contaminated air. "Seriously, he is totally invading my personal space. And wriggling."

"Charlie, sit still. Don, you're almost in high school, can't you show a little maturity?"

Don gave a long-suffering sigh. Charlie was sitting cross-legged on the seat, his bony little knee digging into Don's leg every time the car turned a corner. Don waited until Charlie wriggled again, and poked a finger into his knee.

"Move your damn leg," he muttered. Charlie glowered, but unfolded his legs and pulled them up under his chin. Probably better for his posture anyway, Don thought, and buried himself in his book again.

"Dad, I'm gonna look at the speedometer, okay?" Charlie said. He stood up and leaned on the back of Dad's seat, jogging Don's elbow on the way.

"Fifty-seven miles per hour, right?" Charlie sat down again and opened his notebook and the Road Atlas of California. His pencil moved rapidly and, oh man, he was starting to hum, all on two notes. Don put his fingers in his ears, but that left him with no hands to hold his book. He unplugged the ear farther from Charlie and grabbed at the book just before it slid off his knee into the foot well. One-handed ear-blocking wasn't working, so Don started humming "Why Are We Waiting" to drown out Charlie's noise.

Mom put her hands over her ears. "Don! Charlie! If you have to hum, can you at least do it in the same key? In fact—"

"Oh, no," Don groaned. "You're not gonna make us sing again." It wasn't that he minded singing, as such, it was just that he'd been singing tenor instead of treble the last few months and he was still kind of shy about it, never mind that his voice still wobbled once in a while.

"I was thinking of Uno, actually," Mom said.

"I have a feeling the cards are in the trunk," Don said. "Anyway, Charlie cheats."

"Shut up," Charlie said. "I'm thinking." He bounced on the seat a little. "Assuming that our current speed stays constant, we'll arrive in four hours fifty-one minutes."

Don groaned again.

"Did you factor in a restroom break?" Dad asked.

"Oh. No. I guess that'll put it over five hours."

"And traffic. Never forget traffic."

"I was 'strapolating from the traffic in Pasadena. Is it gonna be much different?"

"Treble it," Dad said.

"Okay. Why treble?"

Don sighed. Every other word out of Charlie's mouth was why or how or how many, and always had been. At least the barrage wasn't aimed at Don at the moment.

"I'm taking a worst-case scenario," Dad said.

"Don't forget to count in a Valium break," Don said.

"What?" Charlie's head snapped around to look at Don. "What's Valium?"

"Sleeping pills," Mom said, sounding as if she were trying not to laugh. "Really, Don, Valium?"

Don pointed his thumb in Charlie's direction. "Well, it's either me or him."

Mom started laughing for real, muffling her mouth in her hands. "You or Charlie...hey, what about your poor mother?"

Charlie frowned unhappily at Don, not getting the joke. Nothing new there, then. "You want me to go to sleep?"

"Well, it would be nice and peaceful," Don said, in the same tone he would have said Yeah, a thousand bucks would be great.

"I think I'm too over-stimulated," Charlie said thoughtfully, prompting another round of laughter from Mom and a murmur of "Know thyself," from Dad.

"I could pretend to be asleep," Charlie said, brightening.

Don grinned. "Oh, yeah? You wouldn't last five minutes."

"Would too!"

"Charlie," Dad said, "sleep usually involves silence."

"Right," Charlie said, and curled into a ball, shutting his eyes. Don checked his watch. He caught a glimmer of dark eyes beneath Charlie's lashes, and grinned. Charlie must have seen it, because he screwed up his eyes. His mouth opened, probably to say, "I'm asleep, really!" But Charlie was a smart kid, he could see the flaw right there, and he shut his mouth again without saying anything.

At one minute forty seconds, Charlie started to stretch, but stopped halfway and suppressed it to a twitch. Don grinned to himself. Charlie was trying so hard. He looked more like a little kid when he was wasn't talking, too. Quiet was nice.

Actually, Don decided at three minutes twenty, the quiet was kind of freaky. It would probably have been different if Charlie had really been asleep, but as it was it looked like such an effort. It made Don feel kind of...sorry for him, or protective, which was dumb, because there was no-one in the car who was gonna hurt Charlie.

At five minutes fifteen, Charlie straightened his legs out with a jerk, opened his eyes and said, "Hey Don—"

Don snorted, and Charlie put his hand over his mouth.

"Oh, yeah," he said, crestfallen. "I guess you were right."

Don laughed. "Actually, you just about scraped past five minutes." He leaned over and shoved Charlie's shoulder. "You're all right, buddy. What were you gonna say?"