Epilogue

"Charlie! Oh, thank God!"

Don was just helping Charlie out of the car when Alan came running out of the house. Don managed to move out of the way just in time; Alan seized his youngest and pulled him into a fierce hug, squeezing all of the breath out of Charlie's body. Charlie returned the embrace weakly. He was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to curl up in his bed and sleep for a week.

The plane ride home from New York had been spent entirely in silence. Charlie had managed to doze off for some of it, but he slept so fitfully that Don doubted it could even be counted as rest. He himself had been unable to sleep, feeling as though his job wasn't finished until Charlie was back at home where he belonged.

Alan pulled back and cradled Charlie's face in his hands, closely studying his son for any signs of mistreatment. His sharp eyes catalogued each new bump and bruise. "Are you all right? Did you go to the hospital? Maybe we should run you over to the emergency room, just to be sure."

"Dad, take it easy," Don said, coming to Charlie's rescue. "I had the medics at the scene check him over, top to bottom. They said he was fine."

Alan frowned at Don, but began to tug Charlie towards the house. "Are you sure? We could make a quick trip, in case they missed something."

"Dad, I'm okay," Charlie told him. "Just tired."

"Then let's get you upstairs to bed, huh?" Alan quickly ushered Charlie into the house and to the stairs. Don followed behind, a small smile gracing his lips.

Alan fussed over Charlie all the way through the house, up the stairs, and into Charlie's room. Charlie didn't make a single comment; he merely let Alan get on with it. As soon as he saw his bed, he headed straight for it. Kicking off his shoes, he crawled under the blankets, fully clothed, and closed his eyes. Before succumbing to his exhaustion, he felt his father's hand on his head, brushing his hair from his eyes. The touch sent a wave of comfort and security through Charlie, carrying him into slumber.

Alan felt more than saw Charlie fall asleep, and he heaved a deep sigh of relief. He leaned over and kissed Charlie on the forehead, then turned and crept out of the room, shooing Don with him. As soon as the door was closed, he rounded on his eldest.

"Where did that maniac have Charlie?" he demanded. "What did he want? Did he do anything to Charlie? Where is he now?"

Don held up his hands against the flow of questions. "Dad, Dad, one question at a time. I can't tell you too much right now; I haven't been debriefed, so this is still technically an active case. But I will tell you that Charlie's fine, and the guys who took them are never going to hurt him again."

Alan heaved a deep sigh of relief, then turned a critical eye on Don. "And you? How are you doing?"

"I'm fine, Dad," Don assured him. "Actually, now that Charlie's safe and sound, I think I'll go back home and get a good night's sleep."

"Why don't you stay here for the night?" Alan offered. "The guest room's all fixed up and ready for you."

Don glanced back at Charlie, then smiled wearily at his father. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you had this planned out since my phone call earlier."

Alan smiled. "Who, me? Go on and get into bed. I'll wake you boys for dinner, okay?"

Don nodded and left, visions of warm blankets and soft pillows already dancing in his head. Alan watched him turn into the guest room, then went back into Charlie's room.

Charlie was already beginning to twist in his bed, his face a mask of fear. Sitting gently on the bed beside his youngest, Alan brushed Charlie's hair back again. He contented himself to watch over Charlie's slumber, prepared to chase away the nightmares as they came.

The End


Thanks to everyone for being so patient with me while I finished this. Hope you like it. :)