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The Best You Can Do (Or, Alternatively, How Charlie Got His Groove Back)

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Matthew finds Charlie exactly where he thought he would, sitting out back in the Blakes' backyard and staring off into the bush. Charlie has a beer in hand that's not being drank, his hand merely curled around the cool bottle and he'd look contemplative to anyone who didn't know Charlie. But Matthew knows Charlie, as does Lucien who gave him a ring just a few moments ago, and this is not a thoughtful Charlie, this is a hurt Charlie. This is a Charlie with a maelstrom of self-hating thoughts and mind wrapped with barbed wire. Matthew approaches carefully, his cane and loafers making soft sounds against the grass as he makes his way out to Charlie. He stifles a smile at the way Charlie's eyes roll at his arrival, because it's meant more as a comment on Lucien's gossip than anything and Matthew settles himself down on the empty chair next to Charlie.

 

"So you've heard then," is Charlie's greeting, the words bitter and acerbic but not enough to scare the likes of Matthew Lawson away. He practically invented that tone and he also knows that Charlie will try to push him away, try to hide himself like a wounded animal.

 

"Mm," Matthew verbalises, nodding just a bit. "You should know by now that there are no secrets to be had at this house," he remarks dryly, a shadow of a smile forming on his face as Charlie scoffs in agreement.

 

"Cheers to that," Charlie says, just as bitter as the lager that he sips at. He's hardly looking at Matthew, handsome features drawn up tight with a combination of emotions that Matthew can only guess at.

 

There's obviously a crushing sense of failure, but Matthew guesses — correctly — that Charlie is internalising the Hell out of this one misstep, applying a single mistake to everything that's ever gone wrong with his life...because that's just who Charlie Davis is. It's sad and also maddening, maybe even a bit infuriating, but Matthew can't let the man he loves do this to himself. "It's just the one test," Matthew says, giving Charlie a Look when that acidic self-deprecating scoff comes out again. It does what it's supposed to: goad Charlie until the poison all comes rushing out.

 

"It's not just a bloody test, all right?!," Charlie says, all anger for a moment before it's hidden by the mask again. Those expressive eyes are all fury, rage, and pain until it's locked up once more. "It's the most important test of my entire useless life, okay? You, you, you push me into this Detective thing and I'm," Charlie continues until the words dry up in his throat, forcing him to sip at his lager again. "I'm just not meant for it, is all. I'm not smart enough, I'm apparently not *dedicated* enough."

 

Matthew stays silent for a moment and Charlie continues onwards, like he knew he would. "I work my bloody arse off and for what? I'm a literal failure, Matthew, I can't hack it. Here it is, staring me in the face, proof that I'm just not...good enough," he says, almost as if he expects to convince Matthew, as if Matthew is ever going to agree with such a ridiculous statement even if Charlie's waving a crumpled envelope around now. Charlie crumples it again in a tight fist and throws it, releasing a quiet sound of rage when it doesn't go far due to its light weight.

 

"You and Blake, you think I'm something I'm not. I'm just a bit clever is all, the right word at the right time or a glorified assistant. I'm not meant to be a leader. A boss." The 'like you' and the 'like you want me to be' are so deafening in the silence that follows that Matthew's just grateful to not be actually hearing those words.

 

He purses his lips in the way that usually means that someone is either going to get mocked or that he's about to reveal something that changes the whole game. True to form, Matthew replies with a barely stifled smile, looking out into the bush Charlie's trying to burn down with just his heated gaze. "I failed it twice," Matthew says conversationally, feeling the energy of the moment change as Charlie looks over him with poorly concealed surprise.

 

"And just barely scraped by the SuperIntendent requirements, after twenty years on the bloody force and growing up with that git in there," Matthew tacks on, gesturing over his shoulder toward the house with his thumb. He spends a moment hoping that if Lucien's spying, that he's got the windows open and can hear that. It has the desired effect of a much softer scoff of laughter escaping Charlie, some of the bitterness having disappeared from him. Matthew only savours the victory for a moment, before pressing on.

 

"It really is just a test. It's not representative of the quality of your work, or of your brain. For Christ's sake, you've got a bigger brain than any copper I've ever known," Matthew pauses as Charlie looks at him, more shocked than before. "You are capable, more than. Who knows what tripped you up, a few asinine questions or the way the bloody room was laid out. I'd say that it doesn't change anything, but I'd be lying. You'll do better the next time 'round."

 

Charlie's noise of disagreement is acknowledged, but Matthew continues. "You will. A failure is only a failure if you let it stop you, if you don't keep trying. It's cliche, but I do have a few years on you, you know."

 

Charlie is already looking less miserable, maybe even slightly amused at Matthew's implication about being old. It's a big win and so Matthew keeps going. "I'm proud of you, either way. You're the best of us, Charlie. Really. And you don't need some stupid test to tell you that."

 

Matthew knows that he's won the battle and the war when Charlie can't say anything, those big blue eyes directed at him. They're wide and shining with tears, and Matthew does smile now. It's soft and sweet in the way he almost never is with anyone else other than Charlie and it makes the Sergeant crumble a bit.

 

Words fail him still, so Charlie does the only thing he can do, shift his beer to his other hand and reach out for Matthew with a hand damp and cool from his beer bottle. It curls around where Matthew's hand is resting on his knee, the action hidden from any prying eyes by both the backs of their chairs and distance. Matthew's hand turns to hold Charlie's gently, stroking the back of it with his thumb. They spend the afternoon sitting there in companionable silence and Jean sets an extra place setting for dinner in gratitude for clearing the weight from Charlie's shoulders while Lucien pretends not to be proud of himself for knowing when to call in the big guns. They have drinks and idle conversation until it's late, then Matthew heads home with Charlie in tow afterward and neither of the Blakes comment, Matthew bumping his elbow in affection as they walk along the drive. 

 

Charlie retakes the Detective exam the following Friday and passes it. He's not sure who is more proud, Matthew or himself. Even Hobart claps him on the shoulder and sasses him with a cocky 'Boss' in congratulations while Matthew stifles a laugh at the exchange. Meanwhile, the pep is back in Charlie's step, the self-doubt toned down for quite a long while, replaced by a new confidence and maybe a bit of a swagger that Matthew won't mention but certainly appreciates.