The Monday after she successfully defended her thesis, Amita walked into Charlie's office. He was reviewing independent study proposals for fall term, nothing particularly absorbing, and he looked up as soon as she stepped through the door. He smiled automatically. "Hey, Amita, can I help you with something?"
Amita's smile widened. "Funny you should ask me that." She looked him up and down in a disconcerting way and said, "You might want to take that shirt off."
Charlie's verbal centers failed, overwhelmed by the vision of Amita shoving him back over his desk and yanking his shirt open. "Uh--I--"
Amita grinned, showing her teeth. "Charlie, calm down. I need help changing some belts on my car. You don't want to get your good shirt dirty."
Relief washed over him. "Oh! Uh. Okay. Yes. Sure." He stood up and unbuttoned the dress shirt he'd worn in honor of that morning's department meeting. Charlie shrugged it off slowly as his brain got back into gear, pulling up everything he could remember about working on cars.
As it turned out, the only help Amita really needed was someone standing next to her in the bright afternoon sun, handing her tools, parts, and her bottle of lemonade. Charlie managed to track what she was doing well enough to nearly always have the right thing in hand when she reached for it, earning himself a succession of bright smiles and the opportunity to lean on the car and watch Amita work. She was wearing old jeans, faded and baggy--it occurred to him vaguely that she might have lost weight, sometime in the last two years--and her t-shirt rode up, showing golden skin beaded with sweat. She was going to get a sunburn right there, if she didn't pull her shirt down. He could point that out, and she might give him another one of those smiles.
Charlie swallowed hard and said nothing, but shifted so that his shadow fell across her back.
Amita glanced up at him as though she'd felt it, and looked intently into his eyes. Charlie's heart started beating faster, and then Amita looked away, over his shoulder, and smiled brightly, this time not at him. She raised one hand in a wave and called, "Hey! Over here."
Charlie turned to see Don walking toward them across the parking lot, moving with that quick stride that never quite broke into a run. He had his sleeves rolled up and shirt collar open, but as he reached Charlie and Amita, lightly dressed in their t-shirts, he gave them both a long look from behind his sunglasses. Charlie could see the envy in his eyes as distinctly as if his lenses were clear.
"Hey, Charlie," he said, smiling, "I just wanted to come by and see you before I headed to the airport."
Charlie could see Don waiting for him to ask--it was there in the lingering half-smile. Charlie declined to give him the satisfaction, looking down at the wrench in his hands and trying to think.
Amita was leaning down over the engine, so her voice had a weird, metallic resonance as she said, "He's going to Washington to speak to some FBI higher-ups about how to teach other field offices to use some of the analytical models you've developed, and since the FBI likes to be efficient when it comes to flying their agents across the country and putting them up in hotels, they bundled it with his annual training course on methods and technology. He'll be back a week from Thursday."
Amita smiled as she straightened up, ignoring Charlie's glare. He could feel Don smiling back on his other side. "I knew that," he said, with as much dignity as he could muster.
Amita raised an eyebrow, and Charlie didn't insist on the point. She took the wrench he was holding and waved it back the way Don had come. "Go say goodbye to your brother. I think I can take it from here."
Charlie gave Amita a small, cautious smile even as Don's hand closed around his arm, towing him away. Charlie followed for a few strides, then shook off Don's grip, feeling formlessly irritated with his brother--for taking him unawares, for taking him away from something he hadn't wanted to do anyway, with Amita. "So, what," he said, "is this where you tell me to be a good boy for Dad while you're gone? Eat all my vegetables and don't whine about bedtime?"
Don stopped walking and looked over at him. "What?"
Charlie shook his head. "What is it, then?"
Don took his sunglasses off and looked Charlie in the eye as he settled a hand on his shoulder. "It's that it's been a while since I went two weeks without seeing you and I thought I should say goodbye. I knew you'd have forgotten I was leaving, and if it were me I'd hate to come home and just find you gone for two weeks. That's what it is."
Charlie was staring at his feet, shamed out of his annoyance, by the time Don finished, but Don just squeezed his shoulder and then let go.
"So," he said, in a lighter voice that meant he wasn't annoyed with Charlie anymore either, "Amita's got you helping her with her car, huh?"
Charlie glanced up at Don, and then over at Amita, halfway across the parking lot, as he opened his mouth to reply. She was nearly entirely eclipsed by the raised hood of the car, just her legs visible, muffled by the baggy old jeans. He couldn't say he'd been helping, exactly, but then that was probably Don's point--
He looked back at Don. "I know about cars." He could hear the defensiveness in his own voice, though he wasn't even sure what he was defending.
Don grinned, not hidden by his sunglasses now, and the warmth in his eyes made something shift inside of Charlie, a feeling not unlike having Amita smile at him. "Yeah," Don said, "I know, I remember when you were eleven and went through your car phase and didn't talk about anything else for a month and a half. Dad was so excited to have you take an interest in something he understood he could hardly stand it."
Charlie felt his smile falter--because then he'd lost interest in cars, of course, and it had been years before he ever spent that much time with his dad again. Don didn't say it, but he wasn't smiling much either as he looked away toward Amita's car. He looked thoughtful, and Charlie would bet he wasn't seeing the convertible or the newly-minted Dr. Ramanujan. "Her car, though," he said slowly. "I've just... I've never once seen you go back to an obsession once you dropped it, y'know that?"
Charlie swallowed and looked toward Amita as well. Don wasn't talking about cars, but he was talking about Amita. Sort of. "I never disliked cars," he said slowly.
Don snorted. "Charlie, they took your license away more than ten years ago, and you've never once tried to get it back."
Charlie opened his mouth to argue--he had tried, at least once, and how would Don know anyway? He'd been in Virginia and Texas and New Mexico and God knew where else, for years, until long after Charlie had gotten used to doing without. But he didn't want to argue with Don, not when he was about to leave. He'd just have to find some other way to make his point.
"So," he said, aiming for Don's changing-the-subject voice. "You going to bring me back a toy from Washington?"
Don arched one eyebrow and gave him a tiny smile as he put his sunglasses back on. "Yeah, absolutely," he said. "But I'll only give it to you if you're good while I'm gone."
Charlie didn't realize he was working more by feel than sight until the lights on the back of the house and the front of the garage came on, illuminating the whole back part of the driveway where he was. He raised his head, blinking in the sudden brightness, just as Don came around the side of the house. He was grinning at Charlie, and Charlie grinned back, let go of the connection he'd been checking and stepped around the car toward Don, opening his arms for a hug. Don stopped short, giving him a funny look, and held out one hand to stop him. "Charlie..."
Charlie frowned and looked down at himself. He was wearing a faded old t-shirt and a pair of Don's ragged old jeans that Dad had left on top of the dryer. They almost fit, though he'd had to cuff up the ankles and they sagged enough to show half an inch of skin above the tops of his boxers. He reached to pull them up, and then realized what Don had actually been objecting to--his hands were covered with grease, streaked black halfway up to his elbows. He half-smiled at Don, squinting at his hands. He knew he'd brought gloves outside...
Don stepped closer to Charlie, reaching one arm around him, and tugged the gloves from his back pocket. "They work better if you put them on your hands," he said, smiling.
Charlie shrugged, dropping his hands awkwardly. He couldn't fold his arms, or shove his hands into his pockets, and they just sort of floated in midair in front of his stomach. "I was going to," Charlie said, "but they really reduce dexterity."
Don shook his head and tucked them back into Charlie's pocket. Charlie stood very still with Don's arm half around him, carefully not touching his hands to Don's shirt. It was rumpled, like he'd been wearing it all day, flying home, and he had his sleeves rolled up and smelled faintly sweaty.
"So," Don said, stepping back and moving around Charlie toward the car. "Looks like you bought yourself a new toy while I was gone."
Charlie walked with him, ducking back under the hood and reaching for the connection he'd been checking when the lights came up. "Well," he said, not looking at Don, "After we talked, I got to thinking about how much I liked cars." He had, in fact; it was nice to be working on a concrete application of mathematics that didn't involve violent deaths as data points, though he felt no need whatsoever to mention that part of it to Don.
Don just nodded, standing in Charlie's peripheral vision studying the car. "Dad said you've had students around, helping with it."
"Strictly volunteers," Charlie said quickly, because he'd been over this twice with Larry in the last week, and allowing automotive and mechanical engineering students to work on one's brand new car was not exploitation, it was a favor. To them. "But, yeah, some of the kids from the EGV project have been helping me make a few custom modifications."
Don nodded again, looking over the car and peering under the hood. "Uh, Charlie? Is that..."
"Direct port nitrous injection," Charlie said cheerfully. "You should see the projected acceleration curves, it's beautiful."
"Yeah, I bet," Don said, sounding both fascinated and horrified. "But is it legal?"
"Well," Charlie said, fiddling with the hose connections that he'd already checked. "I don't think there's a law against the equipment. But the acceleration involved would certainly be considered reckless driving. None of which matters since I don't actually have a driver's license."
"Ah," Don said, and stepped back.
Charlie gave up on finding things to fix and stepped back too, closing the space between them that Don had opened up. "The car's surfaced with a special super-aerodynamic sealant, the same as we used on the extreme gravity vehicle," he said. "Without radically altering the body design, that's about as much as we can do to influence the drag coefficient."
Don nodded, his eyes still on the car. "And it's blue, huh? You always pick the blue cars in racing games."
"Blue cars are winners," Charlie said, letting himself watch Don while Don stared at the car. Don had been right; it had been a long strange two weeks without seeing him. Charlie hadn't realized quite how much he'd gotten used to having his brother around all the time.
Don looked back at him, catching Charlie staring, but he didn't seem surprised by it. "Yeah? That some kind of, what, Doppler-shift thing?"
Charlie smiled. "No, actually, that's what we mathematicians call a wacky superstition."
Don smiled back. "Right, of course." He looked back at the car, tilting his head. "So what's your mathematical position on vanity plates?"
"Absolutely vital," Charlie said, looking around for a towel; he wouldn't be able to hold a wrench for crap if he didn't wipe some of the grease off his hands, and he wanted to check a few of the bolts. He hadn't tightened them all personally. "But this is California, so the really good ones are all taken."
"314 X2R," Don read out as Charlie wiped off his hands.
"Yeah," Charlie said, "It's--"
"No, I can figure it out," Don said, and Charlie tossed down the towel and watched. Don had always insisted on working out the answers to puzzles himself, no matter how long it took him. When Charlie was a kid, he'd cheat and skip to the answer half the time, because then he'd still have the pleasure of figuring out why and how. He'd been born with the instinct to show his work. "pi 2r," Don said triumphantly. "Circumference of a circle."
"Yep," Charlie said as he tested bolts, all of them safely tightened already. "Wheels, laps, turning radius." Even his own life, circling again and again, one school year after another in the same pattern, not much changed now that he was the one up at the chalkboard. Don had said Charlie never returned to an obsession once he left it, but Charlie just kept circling; it was Don whose life had straightened out into an escape vector, leaving behind the pattern of school years and baseball seasons for the straight-ahead progression of his career with the FBI. "Of course, 3.14 isn't a particularly good approximation of pi, for any real calculation."
Don shook his head, still smiling. "You should've gotten 314159."
Charlie straightened up, satisfied that everything under the hood was as it should be. "Like I said, all the good ones were already taken."
Don laughed at that, even though it was perfectly true, and Charlie had to smile. "You need any help?" he asked, nodding toward the car.
"Oh," Charlie said, glancing back toward the car. "No, actually, I'm just about done here." He saw Don's smile fade, and added quickly, "But I do need a ride out to the test track, if you're not tired."
"Test track?" Don repeated.
"Well, like I said, I don't have a driver's license," Charlie said. "And it wouldn't be safe to use these modifications on the streets anyway. But CalSci has a test track that doesn't get much use in the summer, and I'd really like to try this out under safe conditions."
Don looked at the car, now definitely fascinated instead of horrified. "Oh."
"I did have a plan, you know," Charlie added, smiling. "I didn't just buy a car and do all this work on it so it could sit in the driveway."
Don smiled, but when he looked over at Charlie all he said was, "You should probably wash your hands first."
"You're sure about this?"
Charlie looked over at Don and smiled, not at all smugly. "The bleachers on top of the hill there were positioned to be safe from nearly all debris trajectories, if you'd rather sit and watch."
Don grinned and fastened his seatbelt with a decisive click. "No, I trust you. It's just been a while since I was over here from you."
"Yeah," Charlie said, looking down and fastening his own seatbelt. "I remember."
Don had been the one who taught him to drive, sitting in the passenger seat for hours, giving Charlie quiet directions or just keeping up a constant stream of conversation while Charlie focused on driving. They'd never talked as much in their lives as they had when they were in the car. Once they'd gotten caught in a rainstorm, and Charlie had refused to keep driving. Don had refused to take the wheel for him, and so they'd sat on the side of the road, rain pouring down all around them, for hours. They'd talked and talked--Don had asked him only every hour or so whether he was bored yet and wanted to drive home.
Charlie didn't even remember what they'd been talking about, just that he'd been excited about it, and Don had been trying not to laugh at him. Charlie had been on the verge of breaking into laughter himself, but he'd kept going, waving his hands around, trying to make his point, and then he'd leaned across the gap between the seats, his hand landing on Don's thigh and staying there. All of a sudden the car had seemed small, airless, a million miles from the rest of the world, and Charlie had forgotten all about what he was saying.
They'd gone out driving a lot that winter. Even after Charlie had his license, Don had insisted that he needed to practice, and they'd driven for hours, week after week, until Charlie could drive at night and in the rain, and hardly ever stalled out, and only stopped when they both wanted to. Then it had been exam time for him and spring training for Don, and the driving had stopped. He'd thought it would come around again, the next year, but it never had.
"The gas is the one on the right," Don said softly, "and the brake is the one on the left."
Charlie fumbled the key into the ignition as he said, "Yeah, I know that, I know." He took the car slowly around the curve Don had stopped on, shifting up smoothly--he did remember this, and he'd worked out the acceleration progressions; it was really a very simple mechanical process--so that he was in second as he approached the long straightaway. He stole a glance at Don, to find him slumped at ease in the passenger seat, staring out through the windshield with a little smile on his face, just the way he used to do when they were out of traffic and Charlie was doing fine.
Charlie grinned, looked straight ahead, and floored it.
He had to shift up almost as fast as was mechanically possible, and Don's hand, clutching the seat, brushed his on the way from third into fourth. They were up past ninety at the end of the straightaway, the engine roaring but not quite into the red. Don's, "Holy shit, Charlie," was half a yell and half a laugh. Charlie could feel his own smile widening, adrenaline pumping as he took them around the turn, through the feeling--almost like weightlessness--of taking the banked curve at speed. Then they were into the S-curve--small moves, just like racing games, keep it right down the middle, don't over-correct--and into the long swoop of the turn at the end of the track, still accelerating, though at a decreasing rate. The floodlights and the fenceposts flew by, and everything was a blur except him and Don.
On the second lap, Don started laughing. Charlie grinned until his face hurt, but kept his breathing as even as he could and both hands firmly on the wheel. He'd practiced this course, reviewed it in his mind, but at this speed, in this car--with Don beside him--it still required significant focus. He had to steer harder, going through the S-curve at 110, and Don cheered when they came out the other side, then fell silent, letting Charlie concentrate. One more lap--if he was doing more than 120 when he hit the S-curve again, he'd have to slow down, and he didn't want to slow down until he was ready to stop--and he could feel the adrenaline overdose hitting his extremities, tremors threatening the steadiness of his grip on the wheel. He finished the last lap to the sound of his own rapid breathing and pounding heart, drowning out even the sound of Don's proximity, and braked gently down the last turn, coming to a stop just at the beginning of the straightaway.
Don said, "Wow," as Charlie turned the car off, sounding gratifyingly shocked. Charlie sat still with his shaking hands in his lap, catching his breath and enjoying the strange sensation of motionlessness. He looked over at Don just as he heard the click and slide of Don's seatbelt releasing, and then Don moved across the space between them, one hand landing firmly on Charlie's thigh, holding him still, and Charlie sat up as far as the seatbelt allowed, heart racing all over again. Don--
They were nearly nose to nose as Don held up the keys and breathed, "Move over, buddy."
Charlie could feel his mouth hanging open--could feel Don's breath against it--but couldn't form words. He was almost too close to see Don's smile; it was all in his eyes, not the curve of his mouth. Then Don's hand tightened on his leg, pushing him toward the door, and Don moved quickly away, opening his door and jumping out. Charlie got his own door open, moved to jump out, and realized he was still wearing his seatbelt. Don was at his side, laughing breathlessly, trying to help him untangle himself, his hands more distraction than help.
Charlie freed himself and scrambled out, past Don and around to the passenger side, throwing himself into the seat as Don started the engine. "Seatbelt," Don said, and Charlie clicked it into place, too breathless even to object that he knew that.
Don got them into gear before Charlie could offer any advice, whipping the car around in a tight U-turn and starting down the course backward, accelerating steadily around the curves. It was disorienting to watch the familiar course fly by backward, so Charlie watched Don, all his concentration focused on driving, the tension of muscle in his forearm as he steered and shifted--he couldn't know the optimal points as Charlie had calculated them or know the car as Charlie knew it, but he was smooth, practiced. They sailed through the S-curve, still somewhere under a hundred, accelerating down the stretch, faster and faster.
A smile was breaking through Don's concentration, and Charlie sat back and watched the scenery whipping by, backward and totally out of his control, but it hardly mattered. Don had taught him everything he knew. Don took them through the S-curve at a speed Charlie's stomach and inner ear suggested was at least 115, and Charlie said, "Don?"
"Car's not going to explode," Don said, and Charlie could hear the laughter just beneath his voice. He looked over to watch again, and for just a second, Don looked back, winking before he turned his attention back to the road, and Charlie's heart was racing again, with adrenaline and more. He was cheering and bouncing in his seat all through Don's third lap--faster than his own third, he could feel it--and Don was yelling right along with him as he headed into the straightaway, breaking sharply and skidding around 180 degrees as they came to a squealing stop.
Don shifted into Park like he was angry at the gearshift, thunk-thunk-thunk, and then his hand slid sideways, onto Charlie's thigh and over it, cupping his crotch as Charlie's hips bucked up as far as the seatbelt would allow. He was hard against Don's palm--adrenaline, twelve days waiting, twelve years. Charlie let out a broken moan as Don pressed down, rough and reckless, and gasped, "Garage." Don's hand kept moving, and Charlie had to close his eyes and concentrate, gasping for breath against the movement of Don's hand, hot familiar friction through two layers of clothes, the mindless grind of his own hips, before he could say, "The garage locks."
Don understood at once. His hand lifted, sliding sideways again, back to the relative safety of Charlie's thigh, like he couldn't bear to let go any more than Charlie could bear him to, and when Charlie listened he could hear Don's breathing over the idling of the engine, as loud and ragged as his own. Then Don's hand left him, going back to the gearshift, and as the car eased forward, Charlie worked out from under his seatbelt, leaning forward to dig the garage door opener out of the glove box. He managed to get it pointed in the right direction as Don approached the rightmost door, and it slid up welcomingly as they reached it.
They pulled into the mostly-empty garage, lit only by the dim safety lights here and there down its length. There were two vehicles, odd, experimental shapes half-obscured by tarps and shadows, at the far end. Don turned off the car and was out of his seat before Charlie had managed to shut the glove box, and by the time he unfastened his own seatbelt Don had the passenger door open and was standing there, waiting for him, his crotch almost exactly at Charlie's eye level. Don had missed this too. He caught Charlie's arm and hauled him out, pressing him up against the car and kissing him hard, and Charlie made another little high-pitched noise against Don's mouth.
Don had one hand on Charlie's arm and the other on his hip, and bent him back against the car without quite touching their bodies together. Charlie could feel the heat of Don's body all down his own, and his dick throbbed at the proximity--so close to that familiar body, burning with an unfamiliar urgency. They'd never needed it this badly back then, but now Charlie felt devoured, devouring. His mouth moved ceaselessly against Don's, sucking, searching, hardly pausing to breathe, every pulse centered in his crotch, every lick and slide of lips bringing him closer, until Don suddenly broke the kiss.
He stared down into Charlie's eyes for a second, smiling open-mouthed, and then leaned in again, so that his mouth brushed Charlie's as he whispered, "You're probably not quite as easy as you used to be, huh?"
Charlie managed a barely-inflected breath in reply, straining to get closer, but Don held him still, giving him a brief kiss, tongue darting in to touch his and then gone again.
"I mean," he whispered, "I probably can't make you come just from kissing anymore, huh?"
Charlie's hips bucked at the mere thought--every nerve-ending was on overload now, and Don could probably have made him come just from talking about it for another minute, but his hand on Charlie's hip shifted, sliding easily into the baggy jeans Charlie wore. Still not down to skin, but Don cupped him through the thin fabric of his boxers as his lips sealed against Charlie's, swallowing Charlie's groan. Charlie spread his legs for Don's hand, his own hand catching Don's wrist, and that at least was bare. He could feel the sweat on Don's skin, the motion of muscle in Don's forearm as his fingertips stroked Charlie's balls and his tongue slid into Charlie's mouth. Charlie thrust against Don's palm once, and on the second thrust he was coming wet and hot in his boxers, and Don's hand kept moving, Don's mouth kept moving.
Don's lips trailed across his cheek and down his throat as Charlie slumped back against the car, gasping for breath. His legs wouldn't hold him much longer. It didn't matter right now, because Don was holding him up, and soon it would matter even less, because Charlie had no intention of staying on his feet. He tugged on Don's wrist, pulling Don's hand out of his pants and up to his mouth. Don lifted his head, looking down at Charlie as his fingertip traced Charlie's lip, and Charlie slid his hand up to Don's and pressed his fingertip inside, sucking slowly, wetly. Don's finger tasted like sweat and sex and a little like Armor-All, and Don's eyes were wide and dark. Charlie smiled and let his knees go, sliding down against Don's body until he was on his knees. Don watched him all the way down.
Charlie raised his hands to Don's belt buckle, smiled and said, "Hands on the car and spread 'em." His voice sounded strangely hoarse, but Don just smiled as he complied, leaning forward and spreading his legs so that his hips tilted at a convenient angle. Charlie unfastened his belt with shaky hands, and carefully unzipped his jeans. Don's erection strained against the fabric of his jockey shorts, and Charlie stroked it lightly, teasing. He could make Don come in his shorts, if he really wanted to; he could hear it in the catch of Don's breath, feel it in the slight shaking of his legs. But he wanted more than that, after all this time, and he dragged the waistband down, wrapping his hand around Don's cock.
He tried another slow stroke, and was rewarded with something almost like a whimper from his big brother, and then Charlie leaned in and licked him, base to head, learning the sweaty-musky taste of him all over again. When he pressed his tongue against the head of Don's cock, Don shuddered all over, and Charlie opened wider, taking him in. He tightened his hand, stroking roughly and sucking softly, then reversing, and Don's hips jerked against him, forcing him back a few inches, until his head was tilted back against the car door and his tongue was flicking against the underside of Don's cock and Don gasped, "Charlie--"
Charlie didn't back off, but planted one hand on Don's hip and tugged him closer, taking him deeper, and Don's hand landed on his head as Don came in hot salty spurts. Charlie swallowed, and kept swallowing, holding on, until Don was softening in his mouth. Don pulled away, dropped to his knees and folded his arms around Charlie, pulling him down further. Charlie shifted his legs, so he was sitting on the concrete floor between Don's thighs, his head on Don's shoulder and his arms draped loosely around Don's hips, both of them listing sideways against the car.
He felt very still, sitting there with his eyes closed and the garage quiet and cool all around them, the car eclipsing the nearest safety light and leaving them in shadow. Don was solid against him, his breathing steady, his heart loud under Charlie's ear. It wasn't the usual post-coital sleepiness, just the end of momentum. He'd been carried to this point and no further.
Don's hand moved through his hair, once and then again, and his mouth was close to Charlie's ear when he murmured lightly, "So why don't you have a driver's license, again?"
Charlie smiled a little and swallowed before he could speak. "I get distracted," he said, feeling the familiar rasp in his voice. "You remember. If you weren't next to me telling me to keep my eyes on the road, I'd just start thinking about something else, and the next thing I knew..."
Don's lips brushed his cheek. "They took your license away."
Charlie nodded. "I do fine on a bike anyway, I didn't really need a car."
Don squirmed around, tipped Charlie's chin up and kissed him. "Uh-huh."
"I didn't," Charlie muttered, laying his head down again on Don's shoulder. "I don't. It's just fun."
Don didn't say anything, but his hand settled on the back of Charlie's neck, his fingers moving in short strokes across Charlie's skin. Charlie closed his eyes, wondering vaguely what time it was, whether Don would have to go to work in the morning, whether they could come back here sometime soon.
"Charlie," Don said, and his voice was low and serious. Charlie tensed. Don's hand tightened on the back of his neck, holding him still, and Don said quietly, "What about Amita?"
Charlie stayed very still for a moment, and then took a deep breath and relaxed. "No," he said, and Don's hand eased up slightly. "I mean, yes--I like her, she's beautiful, she--but--I've tried that, I've tried relationships. They never end well."
Don's cheek pressed against Charlie's hair. "There's always a first time."
Charlie shook his head. "No, I mean--look, I can tell you how I feel about her, as much as I even know--I could tell you I'm in love with her, and--" Don's hand tightened again, but he didn't let go. "And you wouldn't let go. It wouldn't change things. I can't tell Amita anything about me and you, not the parts that matter. If I have to choose between lying to the person I'm sleeping with and being honest with everyone else, or being honest with the person I'm sleeping with and lying to everyone else..."
Don let out a long breath, and Charlie could feel tension draining from his whole body. "Yeah," Don said softly. "Yeah, I know that one."
Charlie winced. It was mostly theoretical for him, but Don had nearly married Agent Hall. Kim. "So," Charlie said, as lightly as he could manage, squirming a little in his wet boxers, "did you bring me something from Washington?"
Don huffed a laugh into his hair. "Actually, I did."
Don pulled the car all the way back behind the house. The lights were out now; Dad had gone to bed. Don hugged him, camouflaging the press of a kiss against his throat, and muttered, "Get some sleep, okay, buddy? I'll come by tomorrow."
Charlie nodded, hugging Don back, lingering there with him for a moment before Don let go and headed down the driveway toward his own car. Charlie stood outside and watched him pull away, and then headed into the house, climbing the stairs to his room as quietly as he could, nearly tiptoeing past the room where his dad slept. By the time he got into his own room, his eyes had adjusted enough for him to see the plastic bag sitting on his bed. He carried it over to the window, his fingers already tracing the shape.
It was a toy car, die-cast, as long as his hand, and though it was hard to tell for certain in the faint light, Charlie knew it was bright blue.