The final dying note hung in the air, suspended for all time, like the last visages of warmth given off by the waning burn of a setting sun. For that one last moment, Don sat perched on the edge of the bench, fingers poised just so, hovering over the ivory of the piano keys, allowing the haunting melody to fade into silence.
Pulling himself together, Don Eppes pasted on a smile. Ignoring the tears that threatened, he turned resolutely away from the piano that had been his mother's joy to face his family. "Oh, hi guys. You're home."
Alan favored his eldest with a bland gaze while Charlie sat beside his brother. "What were you doing?"
Unable to look them in the eye, withdrawing his hands from the keys, Don settled for an equally bland shrug. Knowing they had heard him playing from out in the garage only added salt to the tears and it was all he could do not to fall apart in front of his father. "You know. Just...wanting to see what she was like. And if I could still play."
"If you could still touch her, you mean." Alan placed a comforting hand on his child's shoulder. He offered him a squeeze before letting go. "You did. Night boys."
Watching their father turn off the living room lamp before heading up the stairs to bed, Don could tell that, though his mind was obviously as sharp as ever, he was moving more slowly these days. He wasn't old but then, their mom hadn't been old either when she died. Don couldn't help but think that, as vampires, both he and Charlie would outlive everyone they loved…leaving only their music behind to remember them by.
But Charlie's hand was on his thigh; his dark eyes so full of emotion that Don couldn't begin to see it all.
"I'm serious Don. That was beautiful."
"Yeah well." He was breaking down, he just knew it. Better to do it with their dad upstairs than not. "She wrote it."
"And you played it. I couldn't do that."
"I remember." The small smile that accompanied the teasing was soft with fond memories. "Too busy making your own instruments to actually play them."
Charlie smiled in return. "I guess I was. Would you play for me?"
Don looked over at his mate, knowing he needed to decline but unsure as how to do it without hurting Charlie's feelings. To play another of their mom's songs while Charlie sat beside him, listening, looking up at him in that sad way he had, would be the death blow to the last remaining shred of self control he had left.
"Please?" Charlie's smile was wistful. "I never could play the way you and mom could."
And when Charlie put it that way, Don knew there was nothing on this earth he could refuse him.
"Yeah. Ok. Which one…should…" Don's hands trembled as he reached out for the music book she had composed in. But before he could draw them back, he found them grasped and held tight.
Following the gentle tugging, Don finally collapsed in Charlie's arms; muffled sobs soaking the striped shirt so as not to bring their dad back downstairs. The breakdown was brief and before too long Don was sniffing and pulling back, unsurprised to see the wet trails shining down Charlie's cheeks, giving mute testimony that Don hadn't been the only one to lose control. To give in to mourning.
The half smile was met by a shake of those dark curls, Charlie denying, "I'm not. I miss her. I didn't realize how much until I started remembering her."
"Finally letting yourself remember her the way she was, you mean." The fingers of one hand brushed away the remaining tears from Charlie's face, the thumb running a flat swipe over his eye and cheek before sinking to anchor in his hair.
Charlie leaned into the touch. "I miss her."
"Yeah." Pulling his brother in closer on the piano bench, it was Don's turn to comfort his mate while Charlie snuffled in as tightly as he could for the awkward angle, wrapping his arms around Don's waist and holding on. His chin tucked on top of Charlie's head, Don admitted a bit watery, "I miss her, too, buddy. I miss her, too."
Moments and a soft kiss to the riot of curls later, Don suggested they get out of there and get something to eat. "You hungry?"
"Yeah, a little," Charlie admitted, sitting back and wiping his eyes with his shirt sleeves. Don just smiled. "I ate before heading back to the labs with you and Larry, but…"
The sheepish shrug made Don chuckle, remembering all too well what had stirred his brother's appetite. Confronting two armed men and the vampire that had conned and scammed both you and your best friend for the last few months might be a very satisfying end to their case but it was bound to have burned off a few calories in the process.
"But you could eat," he finished for him. "Yeah I can see why scaring the snot out of a two-bit vampire thief would work up an appetite." Never for the life of him would Don ever forget the way Ron Allen (or whoever he actually was) backed up a step when darting down the pipe-laden cement hallway only to be stopped dead in his tracks by one pissed off Charlie Eppes, fangs extended, his eyes glowing a dark chestnut brown.
The look on his face would have been funny if the situation hadn't been so serious. The rogue hadn't even known there were any other vampires around except for himself. Much less that the geeky mathematician friend of his mentor and target was one; and a dangerous one at that.
Don had noticed that the once or twice Charlie had gotten really pissed, pissed enough that his eyes would glow, the dark mahogany brown tended to hold hints and shades of red in them. Whether that was a side effect of being Turned and forced to bond against his will to someone other than his true mate or due to something else, Don wasn't sure, and neither were Ardeth in Vegas or Riddick in Miami. All Don knew was that when angered to the point of fanging up, Charlie was a force to be reckoned with.
And Charlie had been a little irritated on finding out that the rogue vampire was actually out to steal from Fleinhardt's lab.
Despite his own slight irritation at Larry for having the Chosen walk into his office and start defending their prime suspect, Don had been a little pissed off himself when it came back that the supposed student was planning on stealing from the very person there defending him. So when Charlie had figured out his actual target had to be the labs, Don hadn't objected to his coming along.
Good thing, too, because the younger vampire had been a sight to behold. Before and after he had the con artist trapped against the unforgiving cement of the tunnel wall.
Don was brought back to the present both by the fact that he was smiling from ear to ear and the fact that Charlie was casting him a suspicious glare because of it.
"Nothing," Don smiled. "Just remind me never to piss you off. I like all of my parts where they are and in working order, thanks."
Charlie rolled his eyes and grinned. "I'll remember you said that the next time you steal half of my breakfast bagel. Speaking of food, are we heading back to your place?"
"Eventually." Don placed the bench back under the piano, closing their mother's song book and leaving it placed reverently in full view, ready for the next Eppes to want to play a song or two from it's pages. "We'll need to call Rodney for a pack or two of fresh blood first. My fridge is empty and I'd rather not bother old man Shepherd this late. He might take it out of our hide."
"Your hide you mean," Charlie flashed him a smile. The elderly bookshop owner may have been well into his seventies and a Chosen one to Sylum for decades but that didn't mean he would be willing to put up with young upstart vampires too disorganized to stock their own refrigerators. At least not on this side of midnight. "He likes me."
"Yeah, well, whatever," Don replaced his holster on his belt and palmed his keys, locking the house up tight. Dad would know that Charlie had left with Don. "I'd rather not go out clubbing tonight and I know Rodney's bound to be up working on something for Lieutenant Rose." Just the thought of having to go out and round up a Chosen for he and Charlie to feed from was more than enough to make his head swim. Between the adrenaline rush of closing the case and getting a potentially deadly WMD off the black market and the purely emotional release from finding and playing his mother's music, all he wanted tonight was a little warm blood to drink and to fall into bed; preferably with Charlie at his side to chase the inevitable bad dreams away.
Fastening his belt while Don started the Denali, Charlie mused, "I wander if the Lieutenant has any idea that vampires exist and that three of his five agents are their Chosen?"
"From what I gather on Rose, I doubt it."
Charlie sighed, taking Don's cell phone and dialing Rodney Gronbeck's number. "Yeah you're probably right. It's enough that Jimmy and Eddie…Hey! It's Charlie Eppes. Good, no we're good. Yeah Don's here. We didn't wake you did…oh well that's good. Yeah Don forgot to stock the fridge again – "
"I didn't forget, I've been busy," Don loudly denied, glaring at his brother and the laughter coming from the cell phone while keeping half an eye on the road.
" – and we could use a good meal." Charlie grinned over at Don. "A couple packets a piece should do fine. Thanks Rodney. Hey say hi to Bobby for me. Yeah I know he's still in Vegas; just whenever you talk to - oh," Charlie turned to Don, saying, "Bobby says hi."
"IM'ing, huh?" Raising his voice just a bit, Don directed into the phone Charlie was holding up, "Tell him I said that playing with guns is a dangerous job choice and he needs to move out here and settle down."
Putting the phone back to his ear, Charlie grinned while turning a nice shade of red. "I'm not repeating that."
"Don't have to, " Don snorted. "Vampire hearing. And tell him not without a hell of a lot of tequila and especially not tonight; I have a headache."
"Don says not tonight, he has a headache." Charlie grinned. "Ok man, thanks. Tell Jimmy and Eddie that the invite's still open for this weekend if you guys can make it. Dad'll be glad to have the company."
"An extra set of sons he can play dad to…" Don snickered beside him.
Charlie smacked him, even if what he said was true. "No Don was just talking to himself. Take it easy. Thanks, you too."
"So I take it we have dinner." Don asked as Charlie put his cell phone in one of the SUV's cup holders to avoid losing it to the interior of the Denali.
"Should be at your apartment by the time we get there."
Sliding him a sideways look Don whistled. "That was fast. The man does have his connections, doesn't he?"
Over in the passenger seat Charlie was wilting fast. "I'm beat."
"Same here." Don took one hand off the wheel to hold one of his. "What say we eat and fall into bed. It's after to 1am now. By the time we get home and take care of the delivery it'll be close to 2. Start the day fresh tomorrow."
"Sounds like a plan to me." After a few moments spent in companionable silence, Charlie spoke again. "Hey Don? You don't think I live in a bubble, do you? That maybe I'm slacking off or coasting by on past glories?"
"In no way are you like Ron Allen, Charlie." Don squeezed the hand he held, bringing it up to his lips before giving his attention back over to the little traffic there was still out on the roads.
"But he was a vampire, like we are. I just…I just don't want to ever give up. Get stuck in neutral instead of keeping on moving forward. Grow complacent with what I know."
"I know you, Charlie. Never happen," Don assured him. Then, "Besides, I'll be there to kick your butt if you ever start to sleep more than 4 hours a night."
Charlie snorted before offering, "Thanks. I think."
"I love you, you know."
In the semi-darkness, Don smiled. "Yeah I know. Love you, too, buddy."
"Show me when we get home?"
"I thought you were tired?" Don asked.
"Never too tired to cuddle," Charlie denied. "Especially not when you run your fingers through my hair and..." the admission broke off sheepishly.
"And maybe sing that lullaby mom used to sing you to sleep with?" Don asked gently.
"Yeah." The soft sigh told the older Eppes that maybe he wasn't the only one feeling a little melancholy tonight. "Would you mind?"
Don ran his thumb over the knuckles of Charlie's hand, taking comfort from the solid weight in his hand even as he gave it. "Not at all, Charlie. Not at all. Maybe you could sing it with me, huh?"
"Yeah. I'd like that." Charlie sighed, his eyes trained out the front window; staring out into the night beyond their headlights. Vampire sight could pick out more than the high beams if he wanted to. For now he much preferred to take the darkness as it came. "I really would."