Charlie was so preoccupied that he didn't notice Don curled up on the couch with a beer until he actually tried to set his backpack down on top of him, which was kind of ironic, considering what was preoccupying him.
"No," Don said, with elder-brotherly patience, like he was still a teenager and Charlie a socially inept little kid, "you can't put that here. I'm already here."
"Sorry, sorry," Charlie said, dumping it on the floor instead. "Hey, isn't this the night you and Robin usually-"
"Robin's in New York," Don said. "Business trip."
Charlie clocked the lack of tone, the too-fast response time, and the fact that Don was well down his second beer, put the clues together, thought Uh-oh, and just about managed to change "The sort of trip you come back from?" into "She away long?"
"Nah," Don said, looking at Charlie straight on, so that he would have been fooled if he hadn't had thirty years' practice in decoding Don. Charlie sighed, and gave up. He could wangle information out of Dad, later, or maybe Robin would have talked to Amita. He nudged Don's swinging foot with one knee, and Don obediently slid his legs to the floor, making room for Charlie.
"So," Charlie said, sitting down beside Don. He felt jittery, uneasy, like waiting for a thesis defence. A spaghetti-snarl of worries swirled through his mind. "McGowan asked me about the Crystal Hoyle case," he said, lighting on the nearest end of the tangle. It still bothered him, when he remembered it, but it had occurred to him lately to wonder what he would be capable of, if it were Don in trouble.
Don's eyes shifted to Charlie's face. The rest of him stayed still, a watchful up-at-bat kind of stillness.
"It's not something I'm exactly proud of," he mumbled, leaning his arm on the back of the couch like a shield between them. Pause. Charlie waited, watching for cues, in case there was more to come. That had been understated even for Don. "You know when it's three am and you'd give anything for a do-over...it's pretty high on my list."
"Yeah," Charlie said quietly, and then, unable to stop himself. "So what's at the top of the list?"
Don dropped his arm and stared at Charlie. "What is this, Oprah?" He shook his head, warning Charlie off, a clear signal that he'd pushed too far.
"I bet you have an algorithm for it, right?" he went on in his I-can't-believe-my-little-brother voice, making airquotes. "My greatest regrets. Top ten pizzas I have known. My girlfriends, best out of three. The most fun I've ever had that wasn't math-"
"Jerk," Charlie said, but without rancour. It wasn't like he particularly wanted to think about his own white-night hauntings. "Ass."
Don smirked at him, but briefly, before he went back to brooding, his eyes dropping, the bottle hanging limply from his fingers as the smile faded away.
Charlie rubbed his hands on his knees. "What I meant to ask was how come McGowan knows about it?"
Don rolled his eyes. "Because the Bureau gossips like a damn sorority meeting. Besides, there's the whole Edgerton legend factor."
"By the time the story got around to me again, the kid cried like a little girl at the mere sight of Edgerton." Like playing Telephone, the classic example of information corruption.
Don snorted. "Huh. I wish."
"You were right about McGowan coming after you," Charlie said. "He was treating my clearance like it was a side issue. Like I was your appendage or something." Like back in high school, when he'd been nothing but "little Eppes" or "Don's brainiac kid brother". He'd resented it back then, but at the same time it had linked him with Don, which had been hell and away better than being nobody at all.
"He tried to get me to say the end justifies the means - what a stupid statement that is, when you put it as an absolute - it depends on the means, and it depends on the end-" You could assign weighted values to each, some kind of decision-making - Charlie wrenched his mind back from the tangent. "I mean, the thing's done, and life doesn't give you do-overs-"
Anger twisted in him as he remembered McGowan's easy assumption that Charlie would savage Don to a hostile enemy, no matter what he thought about it himself, or might say to Don in private. Worse than that, that he would sell out Don to get something he wanted, as if he would hurt Don ever again - he made the connection for the first time: that was what McGowan thought he had done, that he'd betrayed Don when he'd sent that email. And in a way, he had.
"I wouldn't," he said out loud. "Not on purpose. Not again."
Don stared at him. "Wouldn't what?"
"Won't," Charlie corrected. "Won't get my clearance back by throwing you to the wolves."
"Aw, Charlie," Don said, shaking his head with the bemused-proud expression that meant Charlie had impressed him some way. Maybe that had been what he'd wanted all along when he'd started this conversation, for Don to know what he'd done. The spaghetti-tangle in Charlie's head relaxed a little.
"McGowan can go to hell," he said sturdily.
Don put his eyebrows up, corrugating his forehead. "You tell him that?"
"Not in those words, no."
"I...look..." Don's mouth opened and closed three times, before he finally settled on, "Wait'll you hear what he told me. That we have the same way of looking at things." He grinned, a real eye-crinkling grin this time. "You know what? I think he was right."
For a second, Charlie couldn't quite believe he'd heard right. An answering grin tugged irresistibly at his cheeks. "Yeah?"
Don shoved his shoulder into Charlie's. "Yeah."
Author's note: Last week's episode turned me into a little puddle of squee at the end, but I wanted Don and Charlie to know what the other one had done for him. They never talk to each other, silly boys. As you can see, I managed to get Charlie to speak, but Don couldn't quite manage it. Charlie's happy with what Don did say, though. :)
I also wanted to know what Charlie really thought of the Crystal Hoyle case. He gave me the impression of lying rather badly in the episode.