Charlie watched Don's face relax further as Larry made his fourth way around the block.
His concern and relief for his brother had lasted long into his first day home. But then the younger sibling's need to take delight in an older sibling's misery had kicked into high gear and he couldn't help but be amused by his brother's slow, tilted progress around the house.
At first he had been annoyed by Don's lack of acceptance. His annoyance quickly turned to panic when he had been sitting in the living room, making his way quickly through a book of soduku puzzles, when he'd heard a heavy thump from above. He ran quickly up the stairs, two at a time, about to turn toward Don's room when movement from the opposite side caught his attention. Don was pulling himself upright, gripping the edge of the bathroom door but oblivious to his slipping toward the floor with each move he made. Charlie watched in amusement for a few minutes. Finally Don stood straight, turned and walked straight into the door again.
"You ok there bro?"
Don barely turned his head to glare at his brother. Movement at that point was no friend of his and it had taken all his concentration to make it to the bathroom. He'd managed to do what was needed and was making his way back to his bed when a wave of Vertigo had hit him like a tsunami. He'd fallen even before his mind had begun to register the descent.
Don moved toward Charlie, focusing on his brothers blurry form for guidance. He took one step, not bad. Another, hey this is good. Two more, see bro I'm absolutely fine, no need to stay here anymore, I can go back to mine no problem.
That's when the world shifted, the ground shuddered and Don Eppes made a slight Uh Oh sound and fell flat back on his ass.
He sat there in a slight daze staring at Charlie.
"Afraid not bro, that was all you"
"You need a hand getting back to your room?"
Don began to say no but realised Charlie already knew he needed help. God younger brothers were so annoying. They seemed to wait for that moment to leap frog to being the eldest and then relished in the sudden influx of power that being the dominant one seemed to bring.
He'd have his revenge. Somehow.
Charlie stepped forward once Don gave him a slow nod. He managed to have his brother standing quite quickly and then they weaved their way back to Don's room.
"One more trip round the block and then I'm taking you two back. Alan Eppes is a man I refuse to anger"
"Coward" Came the soft reply from the back seat.
Larry turned the car around the corner and continued on his drive. He had to admit he was having fun. The easy banter in the car had replaced the initial tension he'd felt coming off Don in waves. He was not a man used to being cared for.
"Hey Charlie? Did you finish all those puzzles in that book?"
Charlie turned to look at Don in the back seat.
"What? What book?"
"The one I saw you with this morning in the living room"
"Oh the Soduku ? Yeah, had them all finished in no time. I really don't know why everyone is so keen on those puzzles. They're not exactly difficult"
"Now Charles, not everyone is as adapt to the math as You or I" Larry reprimanded.
"Well, they were easy to do so I don't see what all the fuss is about."
"That was Dad's book you know"
Charlie turned to look at Don again.
"So little brother, he told me he's been trying to do those puzzles for a week now. He actually prided himself on finishing the first one within a day. Then you come along and in the space of a few separate hours, have them all completed."
"The point Don? Is there one? I think you've been hanging around Fleinheart too long, you've lost the ability to get straight to the crux of any matter"
"Just trying to match your talent for using a hundred words when really five will do"
"You were saying Don?" Larry loved the company of the brothers, but sometimes even he was frustrated by their digressions. Especially when he was being used as an example.
"I'm just saying that when he finds out 'someone' finished all the puzzles he's going to burst a blood vessel ."
"Oh" Charlie's brow creased as he realised he was going to be the sole suspect.
"I'll just buy him another book then"
"Won't work bro"
"Why not? He'll never know the difference"
"I already told him"
Don sat grinning in the back seat. His father had only just started the puzzles but was so proud that he had gotten the hang of the first one. It was a nice distraction from the crossword. Plus it was something he could do that he had thought held no interest for Charlie. A puzzle that his youngest wouldn't insist on explaining to him in great detail seeing how he'd been so dismissive of the book when Alan had arrived home with it. Even if Charlie had described the problems as 'remedial math for the uneducated masses'.
Don had taken great delight in telling his father that Charlie had written all the answers to every puzzle in the book. Alan had been annoyed and had walked away saying that he'd be 'waiting for his moment with that little boy'. Don couldn't wait for the moment. He felt the shift again, not in his surroundings but in the power between the siblings. Once again he was back on top. His little brother cowering in the front seat trying to think of excuses and apologies.
It didn't seem to matter what age they were, getting each other in trouble was always fun.
Don had gone two days without an attack of Vertigo, his concussion was slowly becoming a faded, albeit painful, memory. As far as he was concerned he would be making his way home in no time for some much needed beers and baseball watching. If only he could convince his father he was well enough to leave. Alan's answer to Don's excuse at needing to leave to check on his team had been to invite Megan , Colby and David over for dinner. Unbeknown to Megan, Charlie had invited Larry, who was under the illusion it would just be dinner with the Eppes.
Don slowly made his way to the front door after the sound of the doorbell had almost knocked him out. His hearing had come on leaps and bounds but the sudden loudness of noises was still something he was getting used to. He almost missed the muffled sounds. There was comfort in the semi silence that Don wouldn't have guessed at before.
"Hey Don, how are you feeling?"
Colby carefully walked passed him and aimed straight for the couch. He'd sustained more bruises than Don mainly through his need to be the cushion for the other Agents to fall on. He'd had two Agents land on him during the explosion, one he'd pulled back, the other had fallen without Colby's permission.
He lowered himself slowly into the comfort of the couch with an audible sigh. Megan and David followed him. Both looked a lot better than they had before. Megan's colour had returned and David didn't look quite so shell shocked. Seeing his team in the state they had been in had been a sight burned into his memory. Ready to fall forward and taught him at random moments. He kept looking at them all. Reassuring himself they were all well. They were all here. Hey, was that Larry?
"Dr Fleinheart, how are you?" Megan walked forward and shook Larry's hand.
"Agent Reeves, I'm well. How are you? I hope your brush with high velocity particles and sound waves hasn't had any lasting effect?"
Don , David and Colby all exchanged knowing looks. Charlie laughed from the dining room.
Oh yeah, these two had definitely seen each other already.
"Anyone for more dessert?" Alan grinned proudly as he noted his lasagne and apple pie had both gone down a treat. Garlic had definitely been the best choice.
"I will pops" Charlie held his bowl upward to his father.
"No thank you Mr Eppes" David rubbed his overly full stomach. "I don't think I'll be able to eat another thing for at least a day I'm so full"
Don leaned awkwardly toward David. Who was moving the table?
"Did you bring what I asked you?"
"It's in the car"
"I'll come with you to get it"
David eyed Don carefully, he definitely didn't seem steady. He ignored his fears as Don stood and started to make his way toward the front door.
"Where are you going bro?"
"Just checking out something David brought, don't you worry about it, why don't you ask Larry to explain cosmic entanglement to Megan while I'm gone"
Don could have sworn he heard Larry swear under his breath.
Outside David handed Don a package. Opening it Don smiled and thanked him.
"Are those the ones you wanted"
"Oh yeah, they are perfect. Thanks for this"
"Here's the book too"
Don went to take the book from David but found himself swaying slightly.
"Hey man you ok?"
"Yeah, just give me a sec." Don leaned back against the car. "Comes and goes, thankfully they don't last too long"
With that his world lurched to the right. David reached out a steadying hand. As he did he saw Don's eyes reopen and focus. He stood upright and breathed deep.
"Yeah, lets go back in"
"Cosmic entanglement is actually your way of describing what it is to take a chance on someone?"
Megan shook her head in disbelief . Only Larry would be able to break down relationships into an astrophysical playing ground. She relished his blushing as he had to explain his theory to her as if she'd never heard it before. The truth was they'd discussed this only the night before over dinner.
But the Eppes and Colby didn't need to know that. Colby had noted the Professor's flushed complexion but he'd missed the knowing smile Megan had given Larry. Colby had missed that alright, but Charlie had seen it like a beacon in the dark. Oh he couldn't wait to get Larry on his own. The fun he was going to have. He jumped as Don put a box down in front of him.
"It's a present for you brother. As a thank you for the last week"
Charlie carefully and slowly opened the box, Alan stood behind him looking intriguingly over his firstborn's shoulder.
Charlie unwrapped the box and peered inside, staring back at him were a pair of the whitest, newest sneakers he'd ever seen. He looked up at Don quizzically.
"I spent so much time staring at your feet from the floor that I figured you could use some new shoes"
"Thank David too as he got them for me"
Charlie smiled up at the other agent.
Don then handed his father the book and a key.
"What's this Don?"
"An apology and a thank you all in one"
Alan took the key and placed it in the binding around the book. Inside was a soduku puzzle book.
"I kinda figured you'd need to keep it under lock and key so asked David to get one of those book lock things you get for diaries."
"Keep it under lock and key?" Charlie asked in confusion.
"It seems my little boy, that someone keeps doing the puzzles that I keep buying. You wouldn't know who that would be would you?"
"I'm sure I have no idea father"
"Mmmm" Alan raised his eyes at Charlie and then gave Don a warm wink and rub on his arm.
"Thank you Donnie, this will come in very handy"
Don sat back down at the table while his father went to the kitchen to make coffee for the guests. He relished his ability to hear and sit straight. The sounds of the easy banter and the closeness of his family relaxed him. He looked at each member of his team in turn who were all discussing Larry's theory. They'd had a lucky escape. He didn't dare think of the odds of another. But for now they were all here, they were all alive. As much as Don couldn't wait to be back at his apartment, back at work, he had to admit that he was enjoying the company he currently found himself in. Was this how his mother had felt? She'd always been their rock, always been their answer, their gravity. She never admitted weakness and never admitted to failure. Yet she'd had to allow herself to be looked after by her family. Don tried to remember if she'd complained about that? Had she become frustrated? Had she taken her temper out on Alan? She certainly hadn't on the brothers. Don felt another twinge of guilt as he thought of the burden he'd been to his family.
Never again, as much as his father had wanted Don couldn't allow himself to be looked after without a fight. He didn't completely understand it himself. He just knew it was wrong. That wasn't how it was supposed to be. He was the one to look after them. He was the one to carry them. He was their root and in return they were his soil. Their mother had been the flower in bloom. He sat back and allowed the conversation and laughter to wash over him like the sun across a field in spring.
Wait, did Larry just wink at Megan?