Author: Rabid Raccoons PM
Two brothers, one beautiful, deadly woman. A collaborative effort by FradyCat and Serialgal.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama - Chapters: 27 - Words: 75,143 - Reviews: 104 - Favs: 13 - Follows: 18 - Updated: 08-21-07 - Published: 06-18-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3601906
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter: 27: Finding All The Pieces
Alan was still old-fashioned enough to view cell phones as interruptions. When physically with one person, he believed, it was incredibly rude to ignore them while you answered the phone and dealt with some pedestrian matter that could no doubt be saved for later. Especially since he had figured out the whole voice mail thing, he didn't just leave the cell on vibrate when he was meeting with prospective clients. He left the damn thing in the car. It was important that a potential client feel that he and his project were the only things on Alan's mind during these meetings. Today, however, although he was as personable and affable as ever on the surface, letting his natural charm do its best, there was an uneasy nagging in his heart all the way through lunch. He would have chalked it up to heartburn -- they were eating spicy, Italian food -- but the disappointment he felt when the client suddenly said he was ready to sign eliminated that possibility. Alan smiled anyway, reaching into his briefcase for the papers he would need, and tried to tell himself how happy Stan would be about this. It was a multi-million dollar project, by far the largest their little consulting business had ever been involved with. But all he wanted to do was... Well, he wasn't even sure. But he needed to do something. Something important was happening.
EMTs had a difficult time prying Charlie off Don. Frankly, suspecting Don's wounds were mostly superficial, they were more concerned with him anyway, so they worked around him as long as they could, making sure Don was stabilized. Colby continually placed his own broad body between the Eppes brothers and Julia, successfully blocking their view from the LAPD action going on in that corner of the room. Thank God the coroner had not arrived yet. When he saw a blue-gloved hand reaching for what he knew was Charlie's bad arm, Colby stepped in. "Don't. Just...can you give me a sec?" The EMT met his eyes and sat back a little, but wouldn't move far from his patients.
Colby crouched at Charlie's side, his hands dangling between his legs. "Whiz Kid." He spoke quietly, directly into Charlie's ear. "It's all over now. Let these people get Don ready to go to the hospital. Let go of him now, and...come and tell me about your baby. The baby was born today, right?"
Charlie shuddered, his grip on Don loosening. That had been Colby's intention. The part he wasn't quite ready for was Charlie passing out cold and slumping into him.
It almost knocked him over, but Colby managed to hold onto both his balance and Charlie. He lowered him to a supine position on the floor, and an EMT was quickly pulling back his eyelids and shining a penlight in Charlie's eyes. "Pupils equal and reactive," he informed the room at large. "I think he just fainted."
Don was struggling with the other EMT now, trying to get at Charlie. "Let me...Charlie! Colby, help me..."
It was at this moment that an LAPD officer's excited voice drifted over to them. "Yeah, it's her, all right! Her photo just came over the computer in the squad car a few minutes ago! I'm tellin' ya, Martin, it's that escaped mental patient. The one who had the dead baby and then ditched..." At Don's gasp, he stopped speaking suddenly and glanced guiltily over his shoulder. Don had fallen back on the floor, tears running down his face, no longer fighting with anyone. The cop looked uncertainly at his partner. "What?"
When Alan finally got to his car, after walking the client to his and waving while he drove away, he threw the briefcase into the back seat and snatched the cell phone off the passenger seat. Barely taking the time to check the display, he registered three messages and held the phone to his ear, listening to the first one: Charlie, breathless and excited, almost three hours earlier. Dad, Dad, Huntington just called me. Julia has been transported there and she's having the baby! Alana's early...wasn't I early? Please come to the hospital when you get this message, I won't be able to answer the phone. Alan's heart leaped in his chest and then thudded with fear. Yes, Charlie had been early -- not quite this early -- and it was one of the most frightening memories of Alan's life. He fumbled with the keys, aiming for the ignition and missing, dropping them on the floorboard. He was leaning over awkwardly to retrieve them when the second message played: Megan, voice tight and worried, a couple of hours later. Alan...Larry and I want you to know how sorry we are, about the baby. Whatever you and Charlie need...Please...um...Alan, I'm sorry, but I need you to call me back as soon as you can. There's a...situation, and I need to know you're safe. Please. Alan sat back up quickly, keys in hand, gasping into the phone. Sorry about the baby? Oh, dear God... He sat in stunned silence and missed half of the third message: Megan again, he finally realized. ...ington. Colby is with them, and he says it's not bad, Alan, really... He moved the phone away from his ear and stared at is as if it was alive. What? What wasn't bad, and who was Colby with? Barely able to control his hand, he hit the code to replay the last message and held the phone to his ear, again, still reeling from the first two messages. He listened again and a sob originated in his gut and tore from his throat. He threw the cell across the car and jammed his keys into the ignition so hard he was lucky they didn't break.
Smelling salts offered by an EMT had awakened Charlie, and after answering all their questions satisfactorily, they allowed Colby to half-drag, half-carry him to a position behind Don's head. Once there, he repeatedly ran a hand through the short-cropped hair and whispered "You're all-right" over and over and over. By the time they all got to the ambulance -- Colby almost drawing his weapon to ensure that they both got to ride with Don -- he sat next to Granger on the padded seat, holding Don's hand and paying careful attention to every move the paramedics made. He asked appropriate questions regarding Don's condition. He was either reassured, or knocked off his axis again when he arrived at Huntington-Memorial for the second time that day. He became almost docile, which was a relief to the EMTs. They had been half-expecting him to fight being separated from his brother. Instead, he allowed himself to be led to his own exam room, and let Don recede from his sight into another. Eventually a trauma physician concurred with the EMT evaluation that Charlie was physically all right, but asked him to rest in the trauma bay until Don got back from a CT scan. Instead, Charlie sat up as soon as the room was empty.
Climbing off the exam table, he knew he could not feel worse.
His brother was hurt, and he was hurt because of Charlie. If Charlie had only seen the tiniest glimmer of who Julia really was, almost a year ago, he could have found a way to prevent all of this. He never would have been subjected to the consequences of J-rock, or raped, and Don would not have been drugged at the warehouse and then attacked at his own apartment. If Charlie had never slept with her, he wouldn't have almost been a father, and he would not be faced with the loss of his daughter now. Had he used half the brain he had been given, he would not now be a murderer. If Charlie had any strength at all, he would be able to stay here right now, waiting for Don; but knowing that his child rested in the morgue of this very building sent him stumbling out the exam room door and careening off the walls like a pinball in his search to escape the hospital.
Finally finding an exit to the air outside, Charlie did not even realize, in his grief, that Megan and Colby were shouting at him, or that David had him by the arm. Charlie knew no sensation but his pain, until the scent of Old Spice somehow brought back his hearing, and he recognized his father's voice. His knees gave way, and his father's strong arms caught him, and the sense of touch returned as well. He sagged until he hit the pavement, and his father came with him, and sight returned. Focusing on Alan's tear-streaked face, Charlie at once knew that he could go no further. He could not fight any more battles alone. He was spent. Completely, down to his last molecule.
He melted into his father's arms then, inhaling oxygen in huge shuddering gasps, and allowed himself to feel love.
As nights go, it easily ranked way up there as far as the most heartwrenching, horrifying experiences he had ever had.
He was sure it came in second only to the night he sat beside Margaret's hospital bed, crammed into a corner of the living room, and waited for her to die. He had wanted to be in two places at once then, too. Then, as now, his eldest son shared the time with him -- although not in quite the same way. This time, Donnie was in the hospital bed. Then, as now, his youngest son had retreated into a dark cavern of pain, and Alan had no idea how to reach him.
Don shifted in the bed and opened his eyes, blinking blearily at his father for a few moments before looking around the room. "Dad," he rasped, redirecting his gaze to his father, "I told you to go with Charlie. Liz said she'd stay, and I'm just here for observation anyway. I'll be out in the morning." His dark eyes shone with moisture in the dim room. "He shouldn't be alone!"
The door swung open, admitting Liz, carrying two Styrofoam cups of coffee. Her eyes lit up as she saw that Don's attention followed the sound at the door, and she hurried into the room. "You're awake! How are you feeling?" She stopped to hand Alan his coffee; then almost tripped over her own feet in her rush to get to the bed. She placed her own coffee on the bedside table and leaned over to brush Don's lips with her own. When she straightened, she saw that he was angry, and she frowned as she hesitantly started to rub his arm, then, disturbed by the band-aid covered puncture wounds, decided to play with his fingers instead.
He let out a huff of air through his nose. "He should have gone home with Charlie."
Liz looked at Alan, uncertain. While she and Don had been together for a while now, in the beginning they had purposely kept their relationship very low-key. Her relationship with the Patriarch Eppes had always been cordial and friendly, but she didn't want to step over any invisible lines. It had occurred to her, on the trip after coffee, that Alan didn't really trust her to take care of Don, and that was why he had chosen to stay. Given the terrible truth of the things Don's last girlfriend had proven capable of, she had decided not to take it personally. Now, however, she was dismayed to spy a tear sneak out of Alan's eye, which he impatiently wiped away.
He moved as if to get out of the chair, and spoke in a choked voice. "Your brother doesn't want me there, he asked me to give him tonight, to let him be alone. I'm sorry. You don't need me here either, I should have thought, stayed with Stan or something..."
And that quickly, Don felt as if he had been stabbed again. He struggled to sit up. "No, no, Dad, no. Don't go. Please, I'm sorry!"
His voice was clogged with tears, and when Alan did get out of his chair, it was to cross to the bed. "Hush," he commanded, pushing gently on Don's shoulder until he lay back down. "I don't feel any better about this than you do, Donnie. He threatened to go to a hotel, and he was very insistent that I stay here with you tonight. He's been through so much. We have to respect him, trust him to know what he needs."
Don blinked up at him, his mind warring with itself. It wasn't that he didn't respect Charlie, he told himself. And he did trust him, with his very life; he just wasn't ready to trust him with his own, right now.
Alan sighed, his hand still on Don's shoulder. "If it helps any, he said that I could call him if you need him."
"Of course I need him," Don grumbled, still unhappy.
"As do I," concurred Alan. "But I'm fairly certain that's not what he meant. He also said he'd see us in the morning," he added, hopefully.
Don closed his eyes and swallowed. A promise, then. Charlie had made a promise, and he would cling to it throughout the endless night.
Charlie sat in the dark, in the silent solarium, and contemplated the last year of his life.
At length, he decided it had all gone wrong even before then, back when he and Amita broke up. He also decided it probably didn't matter.
He listened to his mother's old grandfather clock ticking in the corner, and for some reason it reminded him that he would never hear Alana wail into the night. He would never walk the floor with her while she was teething, and he would never hear her tiny voice talk to Grandpa. He would never get to know his own daughter. From a purely scientific standpoint, he found it odd that he felt so…bereft. Just a few short months ago, Alana had been nothing to him but a punishment, a curse endured for every last sin he would ever contemplate committing. Somehow, in the space of time between then, and now, she had become someone he would always, ever, miss.
He was glad he had been firm with his father when the sobs began to rip from him, burning his throat with their intensity. Knowing he was alone, he didn't make any effort to stop crying. Instead, he curled into a fetal position in the corner, his bad arm cradled protectively out of habit, and for Alana – he wailed into the night.
Don was dressed and ready to go when Charlie appeared in his room just before 9 a.m., even though the paperwork wasn't done yet. Charlie arrived with both his face and his speech carefully composed.
He accepted a brief hug from his father, and even an infinitely more rare one from Don. Then he separated himself from them physically by a few feet, and cleared his throat. He spoke in a somewhat raspy voice, his throat still irritated. "I'd…I'd like to say something." He cleared his throat again.
Alan exchanged a quick glance with Don, and then spoke for them both. "Of course. We can sit…."
Charlie shook his head. "No, thank you," he said politely. "But you can," he added as an afterthought. When no one moved for a few seconds, he continued. "I…cannot express enough my appreciation for you both. I would not have survived this last year without you….Hell, let's face it: I would not have survived Mom's death without your love and understanding. Please know that I mean that."
Alan lifted an eyebrow. "I can always hear a 'but', son."
Charlie actually smiled a little at that. He focused on Don. "I called Dr. Bradford at four this morning. He's agreed to see me on an…an emergency basis until he can set me up with a colleague. If that's all right with you."
Don felt an enormous surge of relief, but found himself waiting for the other shoe to drop. "Yes," he said hurriedly. "God, yes, that's all-right with me, Buddy."
Charlie nodded, and looked back at his father. "Unless I come to you and indicate a change of heart, this is off-limits, for us." He glanced again at Don. "All three of us. If you two need to talk, talk to each other. I need for this nightmare to stop – at least when I'm not paying someone to help me sort it out – and I need some peace. I cannot be worried all the time that one of you is going to go somewhere I'm not ready to go, yet. I'm sorry." Both Don and Alan were sufficiently stunned speechless, and Charlie gentled his voice before he went on. "Don't worry, it's not like I'm going to pretend none of this ever happened. I know it's unfair, to ask you to ignore obvious signs of distress, when they occur…."
His voice trailed off, and still Don and Alan were silent for a few moments. Finally Alan gave him a tiny smile. "Well. Well. Son, if you can't be unfair with your family, who can you be unfair with? I'll try to respect your wishes."
"Me, too," added Don, still trying to decide what he thought about the whole thing. "But I want you to know you can change your mind whenever you want. Three in the morning…whenever."
"That goes without saying," Alan put in.
Charlie nodded again just as the door swung open and a nurse appeared with a sheaf of paperwork. "Ah," he noted as he stepped aside to clear her path. "Just who we've been waiting for."
Charlie saw Dr. Bradford that very afternoon, after he had gone to the cemetery where his mother was buried to make arrangements for Alana. He purchased a tiny plot in a section of the cemetery set aside for babies, and requested no service. After his session with the doctor, though, he agreed that Alan and Don should be allowed to make their own decisions.
Several days later, Don and Alan traveled to the cemetery's chapel for a special viewing. Charlie had declined to accompany them, and was at that moment meeting with the therapist Dr. Bradford was recommending. The Eppes were ushered solemnly into a small alcove, and the sight of the miniscule casket nearly knocked Don off his feet.
When he looked, reluctantly, finally, at the baby, the room began to spin dangerously. Oh, my God, he found himself thinking. She looks just like Charlie! He found himself remembering his brother as a newborn infant – whether from the actual memories of a 5-year-old or family photos, he wasn't sure – and immediate tears stung his eyes, then coursed down his face. It was some time before he could be sure he wasn't going to pass out, and a little longer after that before he realized his father was speaking.
He concentrated on the strange lilt and accent to Alan's voice, and sudden knowledge hit him that his father was saying Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning. Don remembered hearing the same thing when his mother had died. He had even worked with Rabbi Sussman to memorize it, so that he could say it with Alan. He closed his eyes now, and dredged his memory banks. Voice low and clogged with tears, he joined in:
Yit 'gadal v'yit kadash sh'mei raba b'al'madi v'ra khir'atei.
V'yam'likh mal'kutei b'chayeikahn uv'yomeikhon, uv'chayei d'khal beit yis'ra'eil, ba'agala uviz'man kariv. V'im rui:
Amein. Y'hei sh'mei raba m'varakh l'alam ul'al'mei al'maya…
(May His great name grow exalted and sanctified in the world that He created as He willed.
May He give reign to His kingdom in your lifetimes and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire Family of Israel, swiftly and soon. Now say:
Amen. May His great name be blessed forever and ever…
Don stepped into the kitchen and sniffed appreciatively. It was nearing dinner, he was starved, and something smelled incredible. "Hey Dad."
Alan looked up with a soft smile. "Donnie. Charlie said you might stop by. I'm trying something new tonight – paella. It's rice with chicken, not too spicy. I figured it would sit well with Charlie."
"Smells great. I didn't see his car. Isn't he here yet?"
Alan studied him for a moment, and Don got the impression he had missed something. He was sure of it when his father spoke, looking back down at the cutting board. "It was a year today that Alana passed."
Don felt a pang of combined sorrow and guilt. He had known the date was coming up, but during the course of the last two busy weeks, he had completely forgotten about it.
Alan continued. "He called me over an hour ago to say he'd be a little late. I'm not entirely sure where he went, but if I had to guess, I would say the cemetery." He looked up, and his eyes met Don's.
Don stared back at him, thinking. "Maybe I could – do you think I should…"
Alan's face softened with a smile. "I don't see why not. Go ahead. I can time dinner for whenever you're both back."
Don nodded, and headed for his SUV. As he drove, his mind drifted back over the past year. Charlie had slowly, privately, worked his way through therapy, first with Bradford, and then with a Dr. Engleson that Bradford had recommended.
Don and Alan had respected his wishes for privacy, but it had made Don more than a little uncomfortable. Even after his brother seemed to be back on an even keel, he seemed reticent, unwilling to open up, to talk as freely as he had before. It was almost as if Charlie was hiding something, and he was afraid it would surface during routine conversation.
Don had worried that it was unhealthy; this reluctance to relate, but there was little he could say about it. He had, after all, made a promise. It seemed though, that even after all of the healing that had gone on, for all of them, that there was something that had been left undone, unfinished.
The day was overcast and windy, and it seemed to lay a somber curtain over the cemetery. Don picked his way through the neat plots, and slowed to a stop as his brother came into view. Charlie was standing with his back to him, head bowed, curls ruffled by the wind. Don watched him for a moment, and then quietly walked toward him, and as he came up beside him, Charlie glanced sideways.
"Hey," said Don softly, compassion in his expression.
Charlie looked back at the gravesite in front of him, and silence stretched for a moment. When he spoke, he kept his eyes on headstone. "She would have been one today. She'd definitely be crawling, maybe pulling herself up. She'd have her first teeth."
Don stood silently, trying to think of something to say. There was nothing, he realized. Both of them had been through loss before. Everyone had to work through it; one could try to help, but in the end it had to be done on one's own. Instinctively, he did the best thing he could, standing there in quiet support.
Charlie sighed. "I suppose Dad's holding dinner."
"He said he could time it for whenever we wanted, Chuck. Take as long as you need."
"It's okay; I've been here for a while. I'm ready." In spite of the words, Charlie didn't move. His eyes wandered to his left, where they both knew their mother's grave was, but it was beyond their line of sight. He looked back at Alana's tiny engraved headstone. He stood there silently for a long minute, and then said softly, "I killed her, you know. His eyes drifted toward Don, and he caught the confused expression. "Jessica," he added quietly, by way of explanation.
Don stared at him, disconcerted. He didn't need the explanation; he knew who Charlie was talking about. The change in subject was abrupt enough, however, to be startling, and so was the way his brother had put it. "Charlie, I was there, remember? She pulled on the gun, and it went off. It was an accident."
Charlie faced him, his eyes troubled, but calm. "No. It wasn't an accident. When she reached for the gun, I pulled the trigger – on purpose." They stared at each other for a minute, Don speechless, and then Charlie looked away again, his voice quiet. "I remembered how it felt, being bound, waiting for help, waiting for her to end it. I couldn't let it happen to you."
Don couldn't find his voice. It was hard for agents who were a lot tougher than his brother when they killed their first person in the line of duty, and it was never someone they knew personally. Charlie had struggled with this by himself for a year.
"I had a hard time with it at first," Charlie admitted quietly, seemingly reading his thoughts. "Dr. Engleson and I spent a lot of time on that. In the end, what helped me was the realization that I didn't do it out of hatred, or revenge. I did it out of love, to save you." He looked up at Don. "And I would do it again, tomorrow, if I had to."
Don felt his eyes sting with tears, and he reached out and gathered Charlie to his chest in a fierce hug, one hand resting on Charlie's head, pressing it to his shoulder. "You amaze me, you know that?" Don whispered. He cleared his throat, and spoke, his voice shaky. "You're going to make one hell of a dad, one of these days." He released Charlie, and gave the curls a gentle tousle. "You already make one hell of a brother."
Charlie held his eyes for a moment, searchingly, and then a smile crept to his face. Don smiled back, and put an arm around him, and they turned toward their cars. "Come on, bro," he said softly. "Let's go home."