blue flamingos

Misadventure

Fandom: Numb3rs/CSI: Miami

Category/Rated: Slash, PG-13

Year/Length: 2006/ ~7389 words

Pairing: Charlie/Speed

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: On an otherwise normal week, something unexpected crashes into Charlie's life. Charlie/Speed, late college days.

Author's Notes: For [info]dragonessasmith. It is a crossover, but you don't need to know anything about the other show to read it.

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.

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The squealing of brakes snaps Charlie out of the sum he's working on just in time to see a motorbike heading very fast down the street. Which wouldn't be a problem except that, Charlie realizes, he's wandered into the middle of the street without noticing and the bike is heading not just towards him but for him.

The rider pulls the bike sharply aside but it's not enough, Charlie could have told him when he first saw it come round the corner, and the tail end of the bike knocks Charlie down as it spins. He drops his books as he falls, his hand going out to catch himself, but he falls at a bad angle anyway, sharp pain going up his arm.

He lies there for a moment, listening to the wheels of the bike spinning somewhere over to his left, waiting for the world to come back into focus. He was late leaving college, and it's already dark, the streets empty, so no-one comes rushing to help either of them, and if the rider needs an ambulance, Charlie's going to have to be the one who calls it.

That thought gets him to his feet, stumbling across to where the bike lies on its side. The rider must have thrown himself off before it went over, Charlie realises, as he's lying a little way from the bike. He groans as Charlie gets nearer to him, and raises a hand to open the visor of his helmet.

"Are you all right?" Charlie asks him. He wonders if he should tell the man to lie still, to wait for an ambulance, in case he has back or neck injuries -- remembering some of what Don told him last time he phoned up, from a refresher First Aid course he's just been sent on.

The rider pushes himself slowly upright, wincing slightly as he does it, but he doesn't seem injured. He sits still for a moment, then reaches up and removes his helmet. He's a lot younger than Charlie thought when he was wearing the helmet, Don's age at most, and attractive, in a dishevelled kind of way. "I'm good," he says, though he rubs at his head as though it hurts. Which slamming into the tarmac would probably do, Charlie figures.

The man looks up at Charlie for the first time, frowning. "You OK?" he asks. "Sorry, I tried to swerve..."

"That's why you spun your bike," Charlie tells him, "you shouldn't have turned quite so sharply."

"Yeah, I was trying not to hit you, I wasn't really calculating angles," the rider says, reminding Charlie -- as if he needs it again -- that not everyone's mind works the way his does.

"Thank you," Charlie says quietly. He glances down, feeling suddenly awkward under the other man's gaze, reminiscent of Don when he's annoyed with Charlie and his maths, and thus familiar in a way Charlie doesn't enjoy.

"You OK?" the rider asks again. "You went over pretty hard."

Charlie turns his wrist, and pain sparks up his arm again. He winces before he can stop himself, but says, "I'm fine," anyway, hoping the rider won't notice.

He does though, frowning again, more deeply. "Let me-" He reaches out, running his hand lightly up Charlie's arm, pressing in a pattern that seems to make sense to him. Charlie holds his breath as the man's touch tickles up his arm, trying not to react or lean into it, though he wants to do both.

The rider presses his fingers into Charlie's fore-arm and he jerks away reflexively against the spark of pain. "I think it's only sprained but it might be broken," he tells Charlie, running his fingers the rest of the way up Charlie's arm. "You should go to the ER, get it checked."

"You're, um, are you a doctor?" Charlie asks. Not that he's ever broken a bone before, but it hurts enough that he'd believe it was broken easily.

The rider looks down and away, something dark flickering across his face as he does. "Med student," he says quietly. He sits silently for a few moments, long enough that Charlie's about to say something to recall his attention, then looks up again. He looks awkward and unhappy and like he'd rather be anywhere but there, but he says, "Look, there's a hospital not far from here, right? I'll take you."

Charlie looks dubiously at the man's bike. Even if it'll go, which he wouldn't say with any certainty, he doesn't think he can hang on one-handed the way this guy rides. He only saw the bike moving for a few seconds before it hit him, but it was going way faster than it should have been.

The rider catches him looking and shakes his head impatiently. "I'll get a cab," he says.

There's something that draws Charlie to this guy, for all that he doesn't say much, so the idea of spending what's left of the evening with him appeals to Charlie, even if it will be in the ER with him in pain. It's clear, though, that he doesn't want to go and is only offering because he feels guilty for the accident, which was probably as much Charlie's fault as his.

"My parents live near here," he says. "I'll ring them."

The rider looks honestly tempted for a moment, then shakes his head. "No, I'll take you, it's the least I can do after I knocked you over."

Charlie thinks about arguing, but his arm really hurts, whether it's sprained or broken or whatever, and he really just wants pain killers. "Fine. But there's a taxi stand round the corner anyway."

"Let's go then." The man helps Charlie to his feet, steadying him when the world goes a little fuzzy round the edges, and waits for Charlie to nod. He locks his bike to a railing and gathers up Charlie's books, turning the uppermost one to face the same direction as the others. His eyebrows go up as they start to walk, and he glances over at Charlie.

"This is yours?" he asks, sounding surprised. Charlie suppresses a groan -- he's so sick of being asked that question by well meaning staff who think he must be an undergrad because of his age.

He half-moves to snatch it back, then reconsiders when that tugs at his arm and the ache springs back into sharp pain. "Yes," he says sharply. "For my PhD thesis."

The man nods, but doesn't add anything. Not like most people, who either launch into exclamations about how young he is to be doing a PhD, or start asking questions about what he does and how he can be doing it at his age.

They walk in silence to the corner, Charlie cradling his arm against himself, the other man not looking at anything but the road after that one surprised glance at him, until Charlie realizes what's missing. "My name's Charlie," he offers, then adds, "Eppes," for no reason he can discern.

The other guy looks at him again, frowning. He seems to do that a lot, but somehow it's not as unattractive as Charlie might have expected. "Tim Speedle," he says after a long moment of just looking at Charlie like he's trying to see something else within him that Charlie doesn't understand, then turns rapidly away to hail a passing cab, before Charlie can say anything else.

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Several hours later, Charlie's sitting on a hospital gurney, waiting for someone to come and give him a prescription for more pain-killers for his broken-after-all arm. They've already given him some, which have made him feel a little light-headed, but it's an OK kind of light-headed, making the pain seem far away and everything else softly focussed. Even the ever present numbers in his head have faded away, still there but faint, like familiar voices behind closed doors, reassuring but not intrusive.

And the best part is, Tim is still there, sitting in the hard plastic chair next to where Charlie's sitting, his expression caught somewhere between irritation and guilt. The irritation is for the bandage that the nurse insisted on slapping on his left arm, despite his insistences that it was fine, and Charlie's half-tempted to say that they'll match, though he doesn't think this will be well-received.

He's also a little tempted to offer Tim some of his pain-killers, for the chill out factor if not for the pain killing, because he twitches and fidgets constantly, like he's uncomfortable in the chair or the room, or possibly in himself, Charlie's starting to think. Certainly uncomfortable in the situation he's found himself in, making several starts at conversation, all of them ending rapidly, when Charlie asks the wrong question, with Tim retreating back into silence and twitching.

Charlie's starting not to care about the silence though, because Tim may be uncomfortable, but he's still there, and Charlie doesn't think it's all about guilt. He may not be great at reading people, but he recognises desire when he sees it, and there's no mistaking the looks he catches Tim giving him when he thinks Charlie isn't looking.

Not for the first time, Charlie wishes he had his own place -- not that he wants to leave the house he grew up in, it's home in a way he can't imagine any other place being, and he doesn't understand Don's apparent desire to be as far away from them as possible -- but he has a hard time imagining taking Tim home with him, or introducing him to his parents. For one thing, his dad doesn't even know he's into men, more than women anyway, and for another... For another, it's disturbing to think of his parents sitting downstairs while he and Tim...

"Mr Eppes," the nurse says brightly, breezing into the room, paperwork in hand, which is probably no bad thing, given the way Charlie's thoughts are going. "I just need to go through a few after-care instructions with you, then you and your friend are good to go."

Charlie doesn't actually need to be told this, after the number of injuries Don's sustained during his baseball days, but he listens anyway, in the interests of escaping faster, and they're soon on their way out of the hospital, Tim still carrying Charlie's books for him.

Standing outside the hospital entrance in the early hours of the morning, they look awkwardly at each other. Charlie still wants to invite Tim back with him, but even if his dad doesn't notice him sneaking Tim in, his arm's in a plaster cast and it hurts like hell, which doesn't seem entirely conducive to a night of passion. "Do you, er, live round here?" he asks finally, and hopes it doesn't sound too much like he's angling for an invitation.

"Yes," Tim says, then immediately corrects himself and says, "No." He looks surprised at himself, even more so when he carries on speaking. "I've been staying here for a couple of months. It's temporary though."

"Like an extended vacation?" Charlie suggests, curious.

"Sort of," Tim says, but he doesn't elaborate, and Charlie's already learned not to push it, because Tim will just stop talking if he does. Tim glances down at the ground then back up, not quite meeting Charlie's eyes this time. "Are you OK getting home from here?"

"Sure, I'll get a cab," Charlie says, catching sight of a rank on the other side of the street. "What about you, your bike?"

"I'm fine," Tim says dismissively. Charlie's suddenly afraid this dismissal is of him as much as the situation, that this will be the last time he sees Tim, but the words in his head refuse to come out of his mouth. "Do you... do you have classes tomorrow?" Tim asks, throwing Charlie for a moment.

"No. Well, I teach an undergrad class in the morning, but that's all." He's got an appointment with Larry as well, to talk through some of his calculations, but Larry tends to forget about meetings anyway, or confuse the days, and Charlie's sure he can persuade Larry that it was actually arranged for the next day.

"So..." Tim pauses for so long Charlie's virtually convinced he's changed his mind about what he was going to say. "I thought, maybe I could buy you a coffee, apologize for almost knocking you over."

"Yeah. Sure." Charlie feels like grinning because this sounds pretty close to a date, but Tim doesn't look too thrilled about the prospect, actually looks pretty miserable, despite some sort of weird determination beneath it all. "Do you know Cal Sci, the Students' Union does the best coffee." Tim nods. "I finish class at eleven, so a quarter after?"

"Yeah." Tim hands Charlie his books back, and half raises a hand in farewell. "See you tomorrow."

"See you tomorrow," Charlie echoes and watches him walk away.

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Of course, Charlie's students have a raft of questions for him after the lecture, only a third of them actually connected to the maths he's been teaching, the rest about his broken arm, which makes things much more difficult than he would have expected, given that he's right handed, and by the time he makes it to the coffee shop, he's running late.

He stands in the doorway, half-bouncing on the balls of his feet as he scans the busy café for Tim's dark hair, full of some kind of nervous energy. He finally spots Tim at a table tucked away in a back corner, facing towards the entrance, his head down over his coffee, obviously trying not to meet anyone's eye. Not looking for anyone either, Charlie thinks, but as soon as he thinks it, Tim looks at his watch, then over to the door and sees Charlie.

He half-raises his hand in greeting, watches Charlie as he picks his way through the tables and chairs. Charlie looks at him a little more closely as he gets nearer, something tugging at him. He's almost reached Tim when it comes to him -- he's wearing the same shirt he was yesterday, though the t-shirt under it is a different colour. It makes him look even more dishevelled than he did at the hospital, dishevelled and dangerously attractive.

"Hi, sorry I'm late," Charlie says brightly, taking the seat opposite Tim. "My class were curious about my arm, I thought you might have left already."

"No, I understand. I always had questions for my professors." It's quite possibly the most personal thing Tim's said about himself, said with the same weird determination that was on his face when he asked Charlie for coffee the night before. Like he's forcing himself to do it, but doesn't want to, or maybe wants to but has to force himself to act on the want.

"Where were you at school?" Charlie asks. He pours himself some of the coffee in the pot sitting between them, then adds a little more to Tim's mug. Black, he notices.

"Columbia." Tim pauses. "I left, I didn't finish."

Charlie's dying to ask more, why he left, why he said he was a med student the day before when he isn't anymore, what he's doing all the way over in California if he was a student at Columbia, but one look at Tim's closed off expression shuts him down. "I was over there for a math conference a couple of years ago," he says instead. Considers telling Tim what it was about for a moment, because they'd discussed, briefly, the topic of one of Charlie's books in the hospital and Tim had seemed to understand it pretty well. "Nice campus, but much colder than here."

"It's good to be away from the snow," Tim agrees.

They sip their coffee in a silence that verges on the awkward, Charlie still bubbling with questions that he knows not to ask. Why Tim invited him for coffee, why he left Columbia, why he's in California, why... why he looks at Charlie the way he does, why he can't be more friendly, when it's clear what he wants out of this. Why he won't ask.

"Do, er --" Tim starts, then stops and starts again. "I'm not... would you mind if we walked?" He looks up to catch Charlie's eye and this time it's not determination that Charlie sees there but extreme discomfort. He really wants to get out of here.

"I could show you my office," he says, and it sounds lame in his ears. "Well, it's not really my office, there's three of us share it, but they're both at conferences this week, so it's -." With an effort he makes himself stop babbling. "Mine," he finishes.

"Yeah, sure."

Tim relaxes gradually as they walk across the campus, but he stays close to Charlie once they get into the corridors of the math block, almost touching by the time they reach Charlie's office, and Charlie can't help thinking that if he's this uncomfortable with crowds, sitting waiting in the coffee shop must have been torture. And maybe that says more than all the answers to the questions Charlie wanted to ask.

"So, here it is," Charlie says, waving his arm in an expansive gesture to take in the just-big-enough-for-three-if-they-don't-breathe office, and as he turns to the other man, Tim places his hands very firmly on Charlie's shoulders and leans in and kisses him.

And it's not that Charlie wasn't half-expecting him to do that, more that he wasn't expecting him to do it right then, so it takes him half a second to respond to the kiss, kissing back just as Tim is starting to pull away, so it's awkward for a few seconds, then really, really good.

Tim loses all the weird determination, all the hesitation and discomfort when he kisses, unhurried and gentle and Charlie goes with it, giving up control in an instant to a man he barely knows but wants more than almost anything.

Tim scrapes his teeth across Charlie's lower lip, then follows it with his tongue, slipping inside to run over Charlie's teeth, the sensation almost ticklish. His hand knots into the curls Charlie's always hated and meant to get cut off, but never quite been able to, angling his head a little to deepen the kiss.

Charlie sighs a little, brings his hand up to rest on Tim's shoulder and -.

"Ow, Jesus!" Tim pulls away, rubbing at his head, and Charlie blinks in surprise then remembers the cast on his wrist and grins sheepishly.

"Sorry. Sorry."

Tim waves his hand dismissively. "It's fine, just... If you wanted me to stop you could have just said so, you didn't need to hit me." He smiles when he says it, his whole face changing so he looks much younger than Charlie knows he is.

"No, I didn't, I..." Charlie reaches for him, resting his injured arm on Tim's shoulder before he can do any more damage. "Don't stop."

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Charlie smells something cooking as he lets himself into the house, cooking smells faintly overlaid with the smell of food that might be a little singed, and remembers that his mum's out of town, visiting friends somewhere, he doesn't remember where. Though that doesn't explain why he can hear two voices, unless his dad's having friends over. It's possible, it's even possible his dad told him and he just forgot, or wasn't listening, too caught up in sums -- both his parents tell him he does that fairly frequently.

"Charlie, look who's -. What happened to you?" His dad comes out of the kitchen, already talking, then catches sight of Charlie.

It takes Charlie a moment to remember what he's asking about -- a moment to remind himself that, though he feels like he's walking around with a sign over his head, there's simply no way his dad can know what he and Tim spent the afternoon doing in his office. "It's fine, I got clipped by a motorbike but I'm fine."

"Charlie, your arm is in plaster, that doesn't look fine to me." This, Charlie remembers from when he was a kid, though then the concern tended to be focussed on Don more than him, when Don came home from practise with a fresh set of scrapes and bruises, or once when he got in a car accident in their mom's car. He remembers Don wriggling to get away from it as well, rolling his eyes at Charlie as he did so.

"I'm fine, Dad, it's a broken arm, it's not going to kill me." Charlie casts around for a change of subject. "Who's here?"

"What?" His dad blinks at him, confused, for a moment, then recovers. "Oh, come in the kitchen."

Charlie doesn't know who he was expecting, but the person leaning against the refrigerator, beer in hand, is just about the last person on the list. "Don."

"Charlie, what happened?" Not exactly the greeting he would have hoped for -- it's been over a year since he last saw Don -- but Don's always had a protective older brother streak, and it's only got worse since he joined the FBI.

"I wasn't looking where I was going, a motorbike clipped me and I broke my arm when I fell." Simpler with Don to just give him the facts and save the reassurances for later, if ever, since Don doesn't listen to them anyway until he's checked it out for himself. They're actually alike in that respect, something that Charlie clings to during awkward phone calls where neither of them know what to say to the other but neither of them want to hang up.

"You broke your arm?" Don's hands flicker over him, checking for other injuries, even though Charlie clearly walked back under his own steam, and a sudden memory of Tim's hands tracing the same path sends Charlie flinching away toward the refrigerator. "Did they arrest the rider? Was he speeding?"

"No, Don, it was an accident." Charlie turns his back on his brother, looking for orange juice. "I told you, I wasn't looking where I was going. I'm lucky he didn't hit me."

"Charlie..." He recognises that tone, the I'm-done-being-concerned-and-moving-straight-on-into-pissed-off one. "When are you going to listen when I tell you to stop wandering around with your head in your math? You're going to get yourself killed one of these days, and then what?"

I'll be dead, Charlie thinks, but doesn't say. "It's a quiet street," he says defensively. "And he didn't hit me, so what does it matter?"

"It matters that he could of," Don says, his tone harsh and frustrated. "It matters that he might have been a mugger not a guy on a bike who swerved in time, or a truck driver..."

"Well he wasn't and he didn't, so just drop it," Charlie snaps without meaning to, and they glare at each other across the kitchen. He never understands this, why they fight like this whenever they're together, for all that Charlie, and Don too he sometimes thinks, hoped they could be friends now they weren't so close together all the time.

"Boys, come on now," their dad says, frowning at both of them. "Is this any way to spend the evening, at each others' throats?"

Don sighs and shakes his head, his eyes down. "No," Charlie mutters, feeling mutinous. "What are you doing here?" he asks Don.

Don glances up at that, and Charlie sees the retort die in his throat, and something else as well that Charlie can't pick up. "I had some time off, I though I'd come visit you guys. Forgot Mom was going to be away though."

Their dad frowns at that, and Charlie thinks he's missing something, like he walked in part-way through the conversation, but he doesn't imagine either of them are going to tell him. It's just part of being the youngest. "Cool," he says instead. "It's good to see you again."

"You too," Don says, grinning, and he doesn't say anything at all when Charlie, wriggling away from the hands trying to mess his hair, clonks him in the side of the head with his cast.

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Don lies in bed that night trying to decide if he's furious with Charlie or grateful to him. At the time, definitely furious, but now, thinking about it, past the first jealous reaction, he's almost grateful, or at least he tells himself he is.

He knows Charlie didn't go out and get his arm broken just as Don was coming home on purpose, even he's not that stupid, but it almost feels like it. It's still just one more way in which Charlie stole the attention away from Don, just like when they were kids, just like in college, and it doesn't matter that they're both grown up now and it shouldn't matter, it does.

It does, because Charlie's here every day, and, OK, math genius, but he shouldn't be anything special by now. And Don knows he was the one who moved halfway across the country to get out from under Charlie's shadow, but that doesn't change the fact that sometimes he regrets not being nearer his family, or at least being able to see more of them, to feel like he's still a part of their lives, like Charlie is.

More than that, though, it matters because for once Don was doing something first -- is doing something first, he corrects himself silently, because no matter who knows, it's still happening -- before Charlie, and he thinks that ought to count for something, him being the older brother and all.

He picks out the shape of the phone in the darkness again, and wishes he could call Kim, but she's out on a stake-out all night so there's no-one in their apartment. He still gets a rush saying the words -- our apartment -- a sense of permanence he hasn't felt in a while, and remembering his dad's warm hug as he congratulated Don, asked when they were going to get to meet the lovely Kim.

Right before Charlie walked in with his broken arm and ruined the moment, stole their dad's attention away just like when they were kids.

And put like that, Don thinks, it sounds stupid, beyond stupid, childish and immature, especially for an FBI agent. If this is what being home, being around Charlie, does to him, he's better off in Albuquerque.

Don pounds the pillow beneath his head again and flops down into it. He can tell himself he's grateful to Charlie for reminding him just why he didn't want to tell his younger brother about Kim all he wants, but the truth is -- he's still furious.

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The week settles rapidly into a pattern for Charlie: wake up, trade glares with Don over the breakfast table, teach in the morning, do his own research in the afternoon, then spend the evening with Tim, holed up in a corner of the CalSci campus and grateful it's a warm week. It's hardly the most comfortable of places to spend protracted amounts of time, but he can hardly invite Tim back to his place, with Don prowling around like the angry FBI agent he is, and the one time he suggested going to Tim's hotel room, Tim refused vehemently.

So, instead, they take water and food, no beer because Charlie's still underage, and Tim refuses to buy him any, and make out in the bushes, or lie there and talk. They don't talk about much, idle bits of what's been on the news, or things that have happened in Charlie's classes, and nothing about Tim, nothing about what he's doing in California, what he does all day while Charlie's in school, nothing about his family or his past, even when Charlie complains about Don's behaviour and how he's starting to wish Don would just go back to his real life and stop hanging around making life uncomfortable for everyone.

Charlie acknowledges, mid-week, as some imperfection in the ground digs into his back and distracts him from the very distracting way Tim's hands are sliding lower and lower, that this is all a little surreal. That he spends more time with Tim, feels better when he's with him, than he does with anyone else, including Larry, and that's weird enough in itself, because Charlie's been trailing after Larry in a state of mild adoration practically since the day they met and now he hasn't seen him in nearly a week. That he knows how to make Tim moan, or groan, or curl his hands so tightly into Charlie's hair that it almost hurts, how to make him come and just what Tim does to him to tease him, but that's almost the sum total of what he knows about the man. He doesn't even know what he'd call him, in the unlikely off-chance that he's ever required to introduce him. Not his boyfriend, since he may have spent a lot of time with him, may fall asleep thinking about his hands and his mouth and the dishevelled air that follows him, but he really hardly knows the guy. Not his friend either, because, really, what kind of friendship would this be?

Then Tim slips his hand inside Charlie's jeans, and Charlie forgets about names and labels and everything else but that.

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Charlie can't think, now they're here, what possessed him.

He's not worried they'll get caught, not really -- his dad's gone out for the evening with friends from something, work, maybe, and Don, when Charlie asked him, said he was going to hook up with some old friends as well. He's not even doing anything wrong, not really, because Don used to have girls over and no-one complained... much. And even if someone does come home, he's sitting on the couch, watching a feature on Einstein and his theories of relativity with a friend. It's hardly something they can be caught at.

Still, Charlie can't relax, and he can't think what made him decide, when Tim showed up at his office door that afternoon, to ask if he wanted to come spend the evening at Charlie's house.

Though, if pushed, he'd probably say it had something to do with the way Tim was kissing him at the time, the way they were pressing together and the thought of just curling up and going to sleep afterwards, not picking leaves out of his hair the whole way home.

That, or the promise of a ride on Tim's motorbike. And it's the only time, he realised as they sped through the streets, that he and Tim have touched in public, where they might actually be seen, since they met.

Sitting on the floor in front of the TV, Charlie leans his head against Tim's knee and feels, after a moment, Tim thread his fingers gently through his hair. He tilts his head a little, kisses Tim's fingers, his palm, and slowly draws Tim forward to kiss him on the mouth. It's a weird, awkward angle, and he twists round, pushing himself up against Tim's knees to kiss him more easily. Tim tugs him closer, one hand on the back of Charlie's neck, tilting his head to deepen their kiss. Charlie's got used to the cast by now, remembers to keep his hand down so he doesn't risk clonking either of them on the head at an inopportune moment, but he rests his other hand on Tim's thigh, not moving.

He's just thinking of inviting Tim up to his room, because no matter how much he doesn't think anyone's coming home, the last thing he wants is for someone to catch him half naked on the couch with Tim...

And the front door opens, and Charlie thinks, not for the first time, that people are the one thing that can never be accurately predicted.

Tim actually pulls away before Charlie does, his eyes going wide with shock.

"Charlie!" says Don's voice, full of surprise.

Charlie closes his eyes, just for moment, and resists a sudden unreasonable urge to grab Tim's hand. Not that he would have wanted his dad to walk in on him, but if he had to choose between him and Don, he'd have chosen his dad every time.

"You said you were going out," he says, pushing himself to his feet. Don's staring at the two of them as though they've both got a few extra feet, and not in a good way, either.

"I went out, now I'm back. You didn't say you had, er, plans." Don barely stumbles on the sentence, but he does and Charlie glares at him. Just because he expected it, doesn't mean Don has to live down to his worst expectations.

"Not that it was any of your business," he says sharply.

Don just looks at him, his expression blank.

Next to him, Tim rises, reaching for his jacket. "I should, er, I should go."

"You don't have to go just cos Don's here," Charlie says. He wants to keep looking at Don, to see his reaction, but he forces himself to turn to Tim. He looks deeply, deeply uncomfortable, and the slight twitching Charlie notices sometimes is back.

"No, I should..." Tim trails off, glances round the room, at Don, then back to Charlie. "I'll, er, see you later."

And he's gone before Charlie has chance to say anything else, pulling the door firmly closed behind him.

Don and Charlie stare at each other across the room for a long moment, before Charlie bursts out, "You happy now?"

"What?" Don asks, frowning. Charlie's not sure if it's confusion or irritation or a bit of both. Don shakes his head. "Who was he? Since when have you been into guys?"

"Since always," Charlie says, defiantly. Don's perfected this tone over the years that's designed to remind him he's the younger brother, no matter how much they grow up, and no matter how far ahead of Don he moves in maths and school. "His name's Tim."

"Who is he?" Don asks again, irritation in the edges of his eyes.

Charlie frowns. "The motorbike rider."

Don stares at him for a moment, then something clicks. "The one who knocked you down?" he demands. "Charlie, are you out of your mind, you don't even know him, and you're --"

"What? Seeing him? Screwing him?" Charlie demands, waiting for Don to flinch.

"Yeah, Charlie, screwing him, some guy you don't know, who nearly got you killed? He could be anyone..."

"He won't hurt me," Charlie says, and as he says it, he knows it's true. He doesn't know exactly how he knows, but it's there in the way Tim took him to the hospital after the accident, and hung around even though he didn't want to, the way he twitches and gets nervous and is clearly hiding something that's really hurt him." 'He won't hurt me."

"Well, I'm glad you're so sure about that," Don snaps. "I'll bear that in mind when he - ."

"When he what?" Charlie asks. He glares at Don, and Don glares back. "I can't believe you still don't trust me."

"Charlie..." Don calls after him as he speeds up the stairs, but Charlie doesn't stop.

hr

Tim rides past the motel he's staying at and doesn't stop, barely sees it flash by. He can't go fast enough in town, pushes his bike out towards the interstate, burning to get away from the city.

That moment when Charlie's brother walked in on them was like waking up from a dream, and thinking how weird the dream was, how thankful he is that it wasn't real. Except this was real, and he can't believe he let himself get that drawn into it. Can't believe he actually invited Charlie for that coffee in the first place and let all this start. Less than a year after Daniel, and he's... Tim pulls his bike too fast into the curve in the road and catches himself at the last minute, just before he goes over. The last thing he needs is another trip to the hospital.

It's ironic, in a way, that he's wound up in LA, after he and Daniel had applied to college there. And maybe if things had been different, if they'd ended up there, he would have met Charlie anyway, but not like this. He would have just been some guy that Tim passed on his bike, not... Not someone Tim was starting to get really into, far too into because he doesn't want to be involved with anyone else, especially not someone like Charlie, someone young and smart and... and so like Daniel that, now he's woken up, just thinking about him hurts.

Tim's out of the city by now, winding through country roads with no lights, nothing but the moon and the lights from his bike. He thinks he's heading east, thinks he might just keep going -- he's paid up at the motel till the end of the week, so no problems there, and there's nothing in that room that he can't live without. He's not sure the east coast is far enough but he's willing to give it a try.

Except... except Charlie hasn't asked him anything all week about himself, hasn't been anything but loyal and -- caring, Tim thinks. And it's not like he hasn't run before but at least then they knew why he was running, and this time it's more like cowardice than necessity. More like not wanting to face up to what might happen with him and Charlie, given more time, given Tim being able to talk to him, tell him what happened and why he wants to run.

Up ahead, he can see signs for a turn-off. Maybe there's a gas station up ahead.

hr

Charlie's deep into the equations he hasn't been working on enough this week and it takes him a few moments to register someone knocking on his bedroom door. "Yeah?"

"Hey Charlie." Don sighs as he pushes the door open. "Phone for you." He holds the cordless out, not quite close enough for Charlie to reach it from where he's curled on his bed, and looks like he's going to say something. In the end though, he just sighs and says, "Here."

"Thanks." Charlie waits for Don to close the door again, then says, "Hello?"

There's silence on the other end, so Charlie thinks the person on the other end must have hung up, until a voice says, "Charlie?" quietly.

"Yeah... Tim?"

"Yeah," Tim says, the word mostly a sigh. He falls silent for a few seconds as Charlie waits, sure he's not going to like whatever Tim's called to say. "I, er... I wanted to... to tell you I'm, er, I'm heading out of California. So, er, so I wanted to say goodbye."

"You're leaving?" Charlie asks. And it's not like he was expecting good news, but he wasn't expecting this.

"Yeah, I..." Tim takes a deep breath. "I had a friend in New York and he died. Nearly a year ago now. I'm not..." He trails off and sighs again, sounding utterly miserable.

Charlie frowns, not sure what to say. He guesses friend means more like boyfriend, and it explains a lot about the determined way Tim was when he asked Charlie for coffee, like he was forcing himself to move on. "Why are you leaving?" he asks.

Tim's silent for a drawn out moment. "I can't..." He stops again, and Charlie realises he probably isn't going to get an explanation for this. "I really am sorry," Tim says instead. "I, er... I wish it was different."

"I'm sorry about your friend," Charlie says, meaning it. It's clearly still affecting Tim, and for that he really is sorry. "I kind of... I like you. A lot." He feels his face flush as he says it, but he doesn't regret it. Doesn't expect it to change anything, to make Tim come rushing back, but that's OK.

"I do too," Tim says. "I, er, I gotta go."

Charlie hears the click of the phone being hung up before he has chance to say goodbye, and slowly clicks the phone off. He leans back into the pillows and closes his eyes. He doesn't know what it is, lately, with things he wouldn't have expected, but he didn't wake up this morning expecting Tim to flee the city. He thinks it might be almost amusing, in a few years' time, that the first guy he was really into fled LA to get away from him.

He's not sure how long he's been sitting there when there's another knock at the door. "Yeah?"

"Hey, I, er, thought you might like some coffee. If you're still working." Don pushes the door open with his foot, a steaming mug in each hand.

Charlie rouses himself and reaches for one of the mugs. Don remains, leaning against his desk and sipping the coffee. "I might've still been on the phone," Charlie says when it becomes clear Don isn't going to leave.

"Nah." Don grins. "Light stopped blinking. Not an FBI agent for nothing."

Charlie smiles back, unwillingly. He could try and pretend he's still angry with Don for coming in when he did, but with Tim gone, there doesn't seem much point, and the coffee's obviously meant as a conciliatory gesture.

"So, that sounded like Tim on the phone," Don says tentatively.

"Yeah." Charlie sips his coffee. "So, he's gone. Headed back east, I think."

"East?" Don asks. He moves a little further into the room and takes a seat on the edge of Charlie's bed.

"Yeah, he's from New York."

"He didn't leave cos of me, did he?"

Charlie shrugs a little, then feels bad and tells the truth. "No. He had a boyfriend who died."

"Ah, Charlie." Don reaches across and rubs Charlie's shoulder a couple of times. "I'm sorry."

Charlie shakes his head. "So what are you really doing back here?"

Don glances down into his coffee for a moment and when he looks up again, he doesn't quite meet Charlie's eyes. "I told you, I had some time off..."

"I don't believe you," Charlie says. "What, you getting married?"

"Charlie." Don rolls his eyes, and Charlie grins. Don hasn't talked about a girl in ages, he's about as likely to get married as Charlie is. "So I guess I'm Mom and Dad's only hope for grandkids now, huh?" Don asks, reading Charlie's mind.

"Nah... just their best hope," Charlie corrects.

"Yeah?" Don looks at him for a moment, then says, "you could have told me, you know. It doesn't bother me who you sleep with."

Charlie stares at him, wide eyed. "You were just lecturing me on what a bad choice Tim was."

"Yeah, cos you don't - ." Don cuts himself off and takes a deep breath. "I don't care who you sleep with," he repeats. "I just don't want you getting hurt."

Charlie's heard that before, about a lot of things, most of them math related -- I don't care if you want to spend all day with your head stuck in a book, just look up every once in a while. I don't want you getting knocked down, or hurt. "I don't care who you sleep with either," he tells Don, grinning slyly.

"That's big of you, Charlie, thanks." Don puts his mug down and reaches out to grab Charlie's hand. "Come on, I gotta head back tomorrow. I need to beat you at hoops at least once before then."

Charlie lets himself be pulled up. "Yeah, and for once you might have a chance." He holds up his plastered arm.

"Oh, a chance, huh? We'll see about that."

Don pushes Charlie out of his room and towards the stairs. For a moment, Charlie thinks of Tim, on his bike in the dark, desperate to get away, and wonders if he'll ever see him again.

"Charlie, you gonna stand there all night or you gonna play?" Don demands from the bottom of the stairs.

"Get ready to be thoroughly trashed," Charlie says, heading down the stairs after him.

Shaking the image of Tim from his head, he hopes they'll met again -- and he hopes it'll be different when they do.


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