Freeze and Break

by Dira Sudis

Notes:
Disclaimer: Charlie, Don, and Numb3rs belong to Cheryl Heuton, Nicolas Falacci, and some people at CBS who aren't me.

Beta thanks to Iulia!


When Don woke up in Charlie's bed, opening his eyes to see his brother still asleep with his face mashed into the other side of the same pillow, what he felt was mostly hungover. There was an instant's disorientation, but he knew Charlie's room as well as he knew his own, and the question of how he'd gotten there was submerged in the pounding of his head and the ridiculous amount of morning light pouring through the windows.

The door opened and Don turned his head toward the sound automatically, squeezing his eyes shut even as he did. He heard his father say, so cheerfully it was almost malicious, "There you are."

Don slung his arm over his eyes and didn't make a sound. He heard the faint, familiar sound of the doorframe creaking as his father leaned against it, and his dad said conversationally, "I was worried, I didn't think you'd have tried to drive home. I didn't realize you'd need a designated driver to get to your own bed, Donnie."

Don cleared his throat, thinking about saying something in his own defense, but he couldn't come up with any actual words.

His father huffed softly, something between a sigh and a laugh. Don heard him stepping away from the door, and then he added, "I didn't know you boys had gotten so close."

Don muttered, "Ha ha," and his voice sounded like hell and felt worse. His father definitely laughed this time. "Well, there's coffee downstairs, if you ever make it that far."

Don tried to say, "Thanks," though he missed some of the middle of the word. Mercifully, the door closed, and Don lay very still in the silence of Charlie's room, thinking about what a good idea it would be to get himself out of Charlie's bed before anyone else woke up and started in on him.

He wasn't quick enough, though; Charlie made an incoherent waking-up noise, and Don felt him move. He lowered his arm and squinted in Charlie's direction, bracing himself for more teasing, but Charlie blinked at him and smiled and said, "Hey." Then he leaned in and kissed Don, epic morning breath and all, and that was when Don realized that there was a problem.

Don froze and Charlie pulled away, frowning sleepily. "Sorry," Don said, his voice coming out gravelly but not nearly as frantic as it felt. The pounding of his heart was just making the headache worse, and the light was too bright behind Charlie's head, shining gold on his dark hair. "I have to--" Don waved helplessly in the direction of the door, and Charlie nodded slowly, collapsing back against the pillow. But he didn't close his eyes again, and Don could feel Charlie watching him all the way out of the room.

 


He hadn't been blackout drunk. He hadn't done that in years. So it wasn't that he couldn't remember; it was just that things like this didn't happen, so even at the time he'd thought it was a dream.

It was a conversation he'd rehearsed in his head on bad sleepless nights--I love you, I want you, I want to do terrible things to you, and the thing that bugs me the most is that I don't know why, I'm a federal fucking agent and I still can't figure out why--but he could never actually have said it, no matter how drunk he was. No matter how easy it had been to open the wrong bedroom door, fall into the wrong bed. No matter how good Charlie looked from across a pillow, in the glow of distant streetlights, grinning and buzzed and half-awake and proud of himself, because Don was proud of him, because they'd done good today.

Don had known he wasn't really saying it, that none of this was really happening, because Charlie hadn't laughed at Don's bad joke, or shoved him out of the bed, or--or called the police or the AD or their dad, or whatever it was a sane person, a person in the real world, would do in that impossible situation. Charlie had just grinned wider and muttered something about maybe it runs in the family and kissed Don before he could say that didn't make any sense. Kissed him and kept kissing him, his fingers threading through Don's hair, Don's hand curling hesitantly around the back of his neck, not even touching beyond the exchange of slow, sloppy kisses. Don remembered mumbling, "Really?" against Charlie's mouth, right before the kissing-Charlie dream melted into some other dream.

Don stood in the shower, aspirin still bitter on his tongue, and let the hot water run over him. He couldn't--even knowing it had happened, he couldn't quite believe it. It was a fluke; it was one of Charlie's anomalies. Charlie was back in his room, waking the rest of the way up, realizing it was impossible, and Don would never again get that stupid-drunk around his brother, and that would the end of it.

The bathroom door opened and then quickly closed, and Don snapped, "Fuck," before he could think.

There was a palpable silence from the other side of the shower curtain, and Don said, "Charlie, could we not do this now?" at the same time Charlie said, "Don, your phone rang, I answered it."

Don leaned one hand, and then his head, against the shower wall, and Charlie went on when he stayed silent. "I wasn't thinking, I--anyway, it was Megan. She said it's important. Urgent. She said it was urgent."

Urgent. Megan had been keeping track of the lab results, and the lab results hadn't been in before they'd headed out to make the arrest, and--God, no, no, no. "Fuck," Don said again, and shut the water off. In the silence that followed, he heard the bathroom door closing, very softly.

 


Megan looked like exhausted, ponytailed hell. David and Colby both looked a little grim and tired, but functional enough to remind Don that he was on the other side of thirty from both of them. He sent Colby to the morgue and David into interrogation without the slightest twinge of remorse.

The DNA from the last victim wasn't a match. They had Hartley solidly on the first two--that arrest would stand--but now it looked like a copycat. They hadn't even considered the possibility before; the MO had been too consistent, the pattern too perfect--there had been variation, but nothing to make them suspect, nothing to keep them from going home to celebrate and then to sleep it off. Not until Megan checked her messages and got the lab results.

Don and Megan sat at their desks, going back over every single scrap of evidence from the last two murders, reviewing the entire logical chain that had sent them out to arrest Hartley in the first place. It had taken them four days after local law enforcement punted the case to the FBI, with three separate math assists from Charlie and half a dozen different breakthroughs of their own. The mass of leads followed and evidence collected was enormous, and now they had to sift through it all in search of another suspect.

They'd been at it for two hours when Don glanced up to see Charlie weaving his way through the cubicle walls toward them. Don gritted his teeth and looked back down at the file in front of him--crime scene photos, clinical and remote for all their gore--but all his attention was on Charlie's quiet footsteps approaching his desk. "Hey," Charlie said, just like he had that morning, and Don couldn't resist looking up. Charlie looked tired, too, but he'd at least had a shower and shave, and he was holding a bakery box in his hands. He waved the box vaguely and then set it down and said, "Dad dropped me off. I thought I'd see if I could help, maybe go back through that last site analysis."

Don glanced over at Megan, who was looking from Charlie to the bakery box, equally intently. "I don't think so," Don said, without getting up. "The analysis was fine, but now we're looking for a copycat, so it's a whole new ball game."

"Oh," Charlie said, frowning as he assimilated new data. "Well, I could, uh. I could probably do something with that."

"Maybe," Don said, glancing at Megan again. Megan didn't seem to have noticed anything out of the ordinary except the box Charlie had brought. Don couldn't decide whether he was desperate for Charlie to leave or to stay, but Colby was chasing lab techs all over the building and David was about to resort to beating their suspect with a phone book. It wasn't like they couldn't use the help. "Are those donuts?"

Charlie smiled, almost shyly. "Plain sugar?" He opened the box, holding it out toward Don, and Don dropped the file and got up. Megan was only a half-step behind him, grabbing the one with sprinkles, and Charlie set the box diplomatically between their desks and claimed a chair and a stack of files to look through.

 


Charlie didn't immediately run for a whiteboard despite scribbling a few notes and making promising thoughtful noises. He started asking questions instead, one after another, about everything: methodology, assumptions, evidence-handling. Don and Megan fielded the questions in turn, mostly without looking up. Explaining every detail of the case to Charlie was at least helping them think it over a little more clearly themselves. When Colby wandered by to report that the lab was still trying to get the fiber analysis guy to answer his phone on his day off, Charlie started grilling him about blood spatter. Don sat and watched as Colby attempted to eat a donut while at least appearing to follow what Charlie was saying about fluid mechanics. At the end of five minutes Colby said, "I'll go ask the lab about that," and fled.

Not long after, Charlie said, "So tell me why the DNA from the last victim can't belong to an accomplice?"

"Psych profile," Megan muttered, frowning as she marked something in front of her with a highlighter.

Charlie looked to Don for clarification, and Don said, "Serial killers act alone. It's not the kind of party you bring a friend to."

Charlie frowned. "What, always, every single time?" Don shook his head and went back to reading, but Charlie wouldn't let it go. "So you're telling me that in the entire history of the human race, no one who killed people repeatedly over a period of time has ever done so with an accomplice?"

"No, Charlie, obviously--"

"We can't speak about every killer, Charlie," Megan said, and Don looked up to see that she was giving Charlie her patient I'm-the-expert look. "But this one, yes, we have reason to believe he acts alone, based on--" she reached out and picked up a folder, offering it to Charlie. "Based on this psychological profile we constructed from an analysis of the killings and have correlated significantly to what we know about Hartley. An accomplice just wouldn't make sense for him."

Charlie took the folder but didn't open it. "And killing women does make sense?"

"To a killer it does," Megan said. "The things people do usually make sense to them, in some way."

Don couldn't take his eyes off Charlie; Charlie's jaw clenched and he could see how much effort it was costing Charlie not to look back. "Okay," Don said, turning away, rifling through a stack of files. "Okay, so maybe we don't know what makes sense to Hartley, maybe--maybe he's got a, a protege or something, maybe he's still involved in the later killings somehow, and that's why the pattern stayed the same."

"Somebody connected to him," Megan said, her eyes widening, "Not to the other victims, to the original killer--" and she turned and scrabbled through a stack of statements. Don watched, waiting for it, because Megan knew she had hold of something now. "He offered an alibi for the second killing. The timing didn't hold up, but the only person interviewed who claimed to be absolutely certain he'd spoken to Hartley in the bar that night was--" and she yanked a statement out and slapped it down on the desk. "Daniel Craik."

Don grinned, and Megan grinned back, picked up the papers again and looked down at Charlie. "And you brought donuts, Charlie, I could kiss you," and then she took off to bail David out in the interrogation room, and Don and Charlie were alone. Don met his eyes, and Charlie looked back at him for a few seconds, his expression weirdly unreadable, and then Charlie turned away, muttering about going to get some coffee.

 


Hartley wouldn't roll over on Craik, but they managed to pull together enough evidence for warrants. There were a few suspiciously blank walls in his empty apartment--places that might have held trophies until Hartley's arrest spooked him into cleaning up and running--but they got a toothbrush, enough to make a DNA comparison. Charlie sat around with the rest of them back at the office, restlessly sorting through files while they waited on lab results, and then the border patrol picked up Craik trying to make it over to Tijuana. Don talked to prisoner transport, arranging to have Craik brought back up to LA, and Colby and Megan went to see what Hartley had to say about it. David grabbed the last donut and went to watch from outside the one-way glass, and Charlie hopped down from where he'd been perching on a desk. "So that's it? This is the guy, this time."

"Well, Hartley was the guy, too," Don said. "But, yeah, Craik should be it. It really didn't look like a copycat, so I think we'll find out it was just the two of them."

Charlie nodded slowly, looking away. "So you're done now?"

Don was suddenly, intensely conscious of how and where he'd woken up that morning, of what Charlie was really waiting for, had been waiting for all day. "Well, I'll have to wait until they bring Craik up, there's--you know, paperwork, and we'll have to talk to him, all that. It'll be a while before we're really finished here."

Charlie glanced at Don and nodded. "I'll go, then," Charlie said, edging away. "You don't need me for that."

Don winced. "Charlie--" and Charlie looked up too quickly, too hungrily. This thing with him and Charlie wasn't over any more than the case was, but Don had no idea what could possibly happen next, and it wasn't much help to know that Charlie didn't either. "You did good, Charlie. Thanks."

Charlie smiled brightly, but it made his eyes look more tired by contrast, and it struck Don that Charlie was on the same side of thirty as he was. "Yeah," Charlie said. "Anytime."

 


Once they had Craik in custody, all smiles vanished. Don could feel the same current running through the whole team. Nobody wanted to get another contradictory lab result. Nobody wanted to jinx this arrest. But Craik broke and confessed within half an hour, and it was good enough to turn the whole mess over to the AUSA to sort out. Still, there was no question of celebrating for a second night in a row; they barely made eye contact as they said their good nights, scattering across the parking lot and heading home.

The sun was barely down, but Don collapsed on his couch and turned on the TV, sitting with his hands in his lap and staring blankly at the screen. It was a hockey game; he didn't know who was playing, but then it didn't really matter. When he opened his eyes it was intermission: a reporter was interviewing a big sweaty guy with a Canadian accent, and someone was unlocking the front door to his apartment.

His gun was on his coffee table, but whoever it was had a key, so...

The door swung in partway, and Charlie's head poked around it. Don closed his eyes again, leaning his head against the back of the couch and listening as Charlie shut the door behind him and did up the locks. He'd never given Charlie a key, but he'd given Terry one, years ago, for emergencies, and it had ended up with his dad after she left. It wouldn't have been that hard for Charlie to get his hands on it. "Charlie," Don said, "can we not talk about this now, either?"

"Sure," Charlie said, but Don felt Charlie's weight settle on the couch at his side. Don half-opened his eyes and looked sideways without turning his head to find Charlie slumped bonelessly on the couch, his cheek resting against the back, his face turned to Don. "I, uh, it's just easier to be around you. You know what we're not talking about."

Don winced--I didn't know you boys had gotten so close--and Charlie grimaced in agreement. Don looked back at the hockey game, which was starting up again, and Charlie said, "Are we rooting for anyone?"

Don shrugged. "I think the red guys are winning."

"Okay," Charlie said, and they sat a while longer in silence. Near-silence, anyway: even over the quick chatter of the announcers and the sounds of the game, Don could hear Charlie breathing beside him. He could feel the small motions of Charlie's body through the cushions, was aware of Charlie in a way he'd been trying not to be for nearly half his life. He shifted in his own seat, putting one foot up on the coffee table, and Charlie wiggled beside him almost before he'd settled in place. When they were both still again, Charlie was closer--not quite touching, but Don could feel warmth all down his left side. His heart beat faster, and he had to work to keep his eyes on the game, when all he had to do was turn his head and Charlie would be there, like he had been this morning. Like he had been last night.

"I just can't figure out why," Don said, watching the puck go flying down the ice, a blue-jerseyed player in hot pursuit.

Charlie stayed silent through the ref's whistle. As they were setting up for the faceoff, Don looked over at him and found Charlie watching him, half his face lit up in blue by the tv. "Does it matter?" Charlie asked, sounding genuinely curious.

Don shook his head, not saying no but not quite believing Charlie could ask that in the first place. "This doesn't just happen, Charlie. Don't try to tell me this makes sense, because it doesn't, not for either of us."

Charlie said, "Did you know that water is the only chemical compound that occupies a greater volume as a solid than as a liquid?"

Don blinked, wondering if this was a change of subject back to hockey. Charlie was watching him closely, apparently actually waiting for him to answer. Don said, "No."

"It's true," Charlie said. "Which means that you get a process called frost wedge, where water flows into crevices in rocks and freezes, cracking them apart into smaller and smaller pieces when it expands. During the early geological history of the earth, that was how topsoil formed, because of that quirk of the molecular structure of water. If it weren't for that, life as we know it literally would not exist on this planet."

Don turned his head to stare at Charlie. He'd been listening to Charlie's analogies too long, obviously, because he could almost start to see where Charlie was going with this, but it still didn't make any sense. Charlie was staring steadily at the television, the light flashing across his face with the rhythm of the action on the ice. "So you're saying..."

"I'm saying sometimes you have to leave why to cosmologists with grant budgets and too much time on their hands. Sometimes--" Charlie turned his head, and they were almost too close to meet each other's eyes. Charlie licked his lips and swallowed. "Sometimes you just have to say, 'That's cool,' and move on."

"But it's n--" Don said, and then Charlie was kissing him, his hand closing in Don's shirt, knuckles hard against Don's chest. Charlie's mouth tasted like toothpaste, and Don groaned at the evidence of premeditation, blood rushing to his groin, his breath coming fast against Charlie's fist. He caught Charlie's shoulder and let his hand slide around to cup the back of his neck. The weight of Charlie's hair brushed over his skin, and Don shuddered at the sensation, like last night, like something out of years of dreams. He broke his mouth from Charlie's, just long enough to gasp, "Charlie--"

Charlie shook his head. "You don't want to talk about it," he murmured, and then he shifted his weight, leaning heavily against his hand on Don's chest as he moved to straddle Don's hips. Don stared up at Charlie, letting himself be pressed down into the couch. Charlie was silhouetted by the light from the tv, so Don couldn't read the expression on his face, but when he ducked his head, Don leaned up into the kiss as best he could. Charlie's hair fell around them, brushing his cheeks as Charlie's mouth slid across his, the contact teasingly brief. Don tilted his face up, seeking more, as his hands settled on Charlie's hips, tugging gently. His hips jerked, seeking friction, but Charlie was kneeling up over him, out of reach but for his hands pinning Don's shoulders, his mouth driving down against Don's, tongue flicking wickedly into Don's mouth. Don hooked his fingers into Charlie's jeans and yanked, pulling Charlie off-balance; he landed hard against Don's thighs, wrenching their mouths apart.

Charlie grinned as he slid forward into Don's lap, though his mouth shifted into a moan as Don ground up against him. Charlie pushed back, and Don could feel Charlie's dick against his belly, just as hard as his, reciprocal, essential as water expanding into ice--not the only thing that got bigger when it was hard, he thought, breathless, but he pulled Charlie's mouth down to his for a clumsy, neck-straining kiss rather than try to point it out.

Charlie lifted his head again, keeping his hands hard on Don's shoulders and leaning away as he rocked in Don's lap, moving against him in a jerky, counterpoint rhythm. Don was almost writhing beneath him, pushing his hips up every time Charlie came down, staring up at his brother moving over him. Charlie had his head thrown back and his eyes closed, his breath coming fast and unsteady, catching at odd moments. Don peeled one hand off Charlie's hip and reached up, running his knuckles across Charlie's cheek. They were both still fully clothed, not so much as unzipped, the tv still playing the hockey game, and it was all weirdly like high school, making out on the couch and this pounding helpless need--except Charlie was all grown up now, stubble rough against the backs of Don's fingers. Charlie opened his eyes and turned his head, catching Don's thumb between his teeth. Don groaned and jerked up hard against Charlie's ass, pleasure skidding desperately toward pain, his fingers curling against Charlie's jaw.

Charlie moved, letting go of Don all at once, and Don felt almost weightless without Charlie holding him down. Then he had to close his eyes tight, biting his lip and fighting not to come, because Charlie was sliding down between Don's thighs, landing with a carpet-muffled thud on his knees. It was every sickest, dirtiest, hottest fantasy he'd had in the last fifteen years, large as life and yanking open his jeans, and Don didn't dare actually look.

But Charlie made a little noise as his fingers brushed Don's cock for the first time, and Don's eyes flashed open for an instant, a bright glimpse that stayed printed on the backs of his eyelids afterward. The TV screen was a blur of white, Charlie all dark curls and shadowed face between Don's knees, wide eyes and parted lips and curious clever fingers. He teased for a minute that stretched forever, his fingertips brushing over the thin skin of Don's cock while Don gasped for every breath, pressing his fists into the couch cushions, forcing himself to be still.

And then it was everything at once, Charlie's hand curling around his dick and Charlie's fingers on his balls and Charlie's mouth, Charlie's tongue at the head of his dick. Hot and wet and Charlie, and Don wasn't even breathing now, trying to make it last, Charlie sucking him, stroking him--but he had to see it. He opened his eyes, and Charlie was looking up at him, his eyes steady on Don's as his head bobbed and his hands worked, and then he winked. Don couldn't hold back anymore, his hips jerking off the couch, fucking Charlie's hands and his mouth as he came, too breathless to say a damn thing.

Charlie pulled away, coughing, and Don leaned forward, rubbing his back and kissing his forehead, muttering, "Sorry, sorry," as Charlie shook his head. Don caught Charlie by one arm and pulled him up half into his lap, turning to push him down flat on the couch, and Charlie laid back with a grin on his face, spreading his legs to make room as Don slid off the couch and onto his knees. He just set his hand on Charlie's jeans, first, his palm against Charlie's cock through the denim, and Charlie rolled his hips up into the touch. His dick jerked against Don's hand, and Don stroked him, watching his own hand move over Charlie's jeans, Charlie's dick, until Charlie rasped, "Don."

Don looked up, and Charlie was grinning. Charlie raised a hand, making a little "get on with it" motion, and Don grinned, unbuttoned and unzipped, tugging Charlie's pants and boxers down just far enough to get his cock out. Don didn't hesitate, lowering his mouth onto Charlie's dick, sucking at the head until he could hear Charlie gasping incoherently, and then sliding lower. He'd never gone down on a guy without thinking about this, about being here, and now it was Charlie filling his mouth, Charlie's hip under his hand, Charlie's taste on his tongue.

Don used every trick he knew to make it last, sucking hard and then backing off just to lick, taking him deep until he was bucking under Don, and then pulling off completely, stroking him just with his fingertips. His jaw and his throat ached, but Don had been waiting for this too long to want to stop; only when Charlie hooked a leg over his shoulder, driving one heel into his back, hoarsely moaning, "Please, please," did Don finally give in. He took Charlie all the way in, humming low in his throat around the heat and hardness of Charlie's cock, flicking his tongue against the underside as Charlie thrust up hard under him, swallowing and swallowing as Charlie came apart.

Eventually Charlie went still, and eventually he had to breathe. Don raised his head but couldn't quite meet Charlie's eyes, feeling raw beyond just his battered mouth and throat. Charlie's leg was still hooked over his shoulder, and Don turned a little under it to sit, leaning his head on Charlie's thigh, letting his eyes rest on the hockey game. They were headed into intermission again; Charlie's fingers sank into Don's hair just as the buzzer sounded.

 


The sound of the shower turning on woke Don, and he stretched out on his own empty bed and stared up at the ceiling. His head was clear, and his throat ached in a familiar way--no danger of believing last night had been a dream, even if the part where they'd actually wound up in the bed was a little hazy.

They would have to talk about this eventually, Don thought, though he didn't think either of them would have much to say that they didn't both already know. It was wrong, but that didn't seem to bother either of them much. It had to stay an absolute secret, for all the painfully obvious reasons. It probably wouldn't last forever. Nothing did. Maybe it would end badly; maybe they wouldn't speak for years, again, or one of them would move across country, again, but somehow Don thought they'd learned better than that by now. Working together was teaching them how to fight and then stop fighting, if nothing else. God knew what fucking would teach them.

Don rolled over, landing in the spot where Charlie had slept, lifted his head and resettled it on the pillow where Charlie had rested his head. Charlie had slept in his bed last night, had come over here and blown him on his couch and come in his mouth and stayed all night. It was real, after all this time, because he'd gotten stupidly drunk and wandered into Charlie's bedroom in the middle of the night. One impossible confession, as necessary as ice breaking rock. Don lay still, listening to the pounding of water in the bathroom, his eyes resting on the red-striped shape of Charlie's boxers on his bedroom floor, until it occurred to him that Charlie was naked in his shower.

Don was up and on his feet before he'd thought any further, nearly running the short distance to the bathroom door. He let himself in, instantly surrounded by damp heat--Charlie never remembered to turn the fan on--and shut the door loudly enough to be certain Charlie would hear. He only had to stand there waiting a second before Charlie stuck his head out around the shower curtain, curls plastered flat to his head, and smiled. "Come on in."