Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: I'd like to thank my wonderful, tireless beta and part time muse, ritt, for all of her help.
Family by 3rdgal
"This is as fast as it goes!" Colby shot back at Megan.
She ignored him as she tried radioing through to Don again. "Dammit!" She glanced at her watch. The 'agent down' call had come through six minutes ago. They had already been en route to provide backup after Don had requested it earlier, but it was taking too long in Megan's opinion. She fought to suppress the horrifying 'what ifs' from her mind as they raced toward Lindsay's house. They reached their destination and Megan leaped from the SUV before Colby had even brought it to a stop.
She started creeping to the front door, glancing in the window and seeing a woman bound to a bed. She let out a gasp as the woman spotted her and mouthed, "Help." Megan nodded to her and held a finger to her lips. The blond nodded back, tears rolling down her cheeks. Colby and David joined Megan at the door. "You take the back, Granger," she whispered. He nodded and disappeared. "David, get the girl when we go in, okay?"
"You got it," he whispered back.
"I'm in position," Colby's voice came over the radio.
Megan nodded at David, who raised his gun. "Now!" she signaled. She and David burst through the door, quickly scanning the area for any sign of Don or Chandler. Finding none, she gestured for David to free the girl. He approached her and Megan could just make out her whisper. "He's in the house." A soft sob. "There were gun shots. Lots of gun shots." David whispered soothingly to her, but Megan didn't hear his words, too focused on what the woman had just told them.
"Yeah?" he responded over the radio.
"Shots have been fired." Megan paused. "Be careful."
"Will do," he assured her.
Megan gestured for David to take the girl outside before she headed deeper into the house, carefully scanning each darkened corner, her gun ready to take out Chandler.
"I found Don!" Colby's excited voice called over the radio. Megan heard an echo and realized he must be close to her position.
"I'm heading toward you," she advised him. "Make sure you look before you shoot." She cautiously crept ahead.
"It's clear," Colby's told her. "I found Chandler, too – he's dead."
"Copy that." She lowered her gun and jogged toward Colby's position. As she got closer she heard Colby speaking.
"Hey, Don – it's okay, man. It's Colby. You need to put your gun down."
Unintelligible mumbling. "…'s dead."
"Yeah, man," Colby spoke again. "You got him."
Megan rounded the corner, stepping over the remains of a broken vase, and found Colby standing in the middle of the room, his hands held out from his sides and his gun in its holster. She followed his gaze and was shocked to see Don slumped against the wall, his gun aimed in Colby's general direction. Colby cast her a quick glance. "You want to try talking to him?" he whispered.
Megan nodded and holstered her weapon as Colby slowly backed out of the room, leaving Don and Megan alone. She smiled at Don as she slowly approached him. "It's me, Megan."
"...Know that," Don grumbled without lowering his gun.
"That's good. Are you hurt?" He squinted at her but didn't answer. "Don, did Chandler inject you with something?"
"Needle," Don nodded, tightening his grip on his gun. "Neck." He slid his gaze to Chandler's body. "Get him?"
"Yeah, Don," she soothed. "You got him. You're safe now." He gave a silent nod. "You can put the gun down." He looked at the gun in his hand and studied it with a look of confusion, before rapidly shaking his head. "Why don't I hold on to it for you?" A brief look of alarm flashed across his face and his eyes nervously darted around the room. "Hey, Don – look at me." She waited until he obeyed before continuing. ""You're safe now, okay?"
"…'kay," he responded. He lowered the gun to the floor and looked at her expectantly. Megan smiled and took the weapon.
"Thanks," she whispered. She looked over her shoulder and saw Colby's head pop back into the room. "Is the ambulance here yet?" He shook his head and she swore under her breath as she turned back to Don, who was clumsily trying to get up. She placed a restraining arm on his shoulder. "Wait-"
"Up," he growled. "Move around. Stay awake."
She caught him as he listed to one side. Under different circumstances, she would find his drunken movements amusing, but she was too worried about how much of Chandler's cocktail was in his system and how much damage that broken vase had done. "Don-"
"Up!" he stubbornly insisted.
Colby materialized by her side and together they lifted Don to his feet, keeping a light grip on his arms to steady him. He angrily tried to shake them off and almost knocked himself over in the process. Colby steadied him as he swayed. "Move," Don whispered as he closed his eyes to block out the dizzying images that swirled in front of him.
"I'm not letting go," Colby informed him.
"No," Don shook his head, setting off another round of swaying. "Gotta move… stay awake." He opened his eyes and blinked at Colby who nodded and spoke. "Got it, Boss."
Colby and Megan gently helped Don walk, making sure his path was clear of anything he might trip over. They decided to lead him outside and wait for the ambulance. As they guided him, Megan couldn't help but notice a bleeding gash on the side of Don's head. The vase, she thought. She tried to examine the injury more closely, but the dim light of the house and the crusted blood made it impossible to discern anything further. They reached the front door and slowly led Don outside onto the deck. Megan was relieved to hear sirens approaching as they guided him away from the house.
The ambulance screeched to a halt and the paramedics jumped out, glancing between Don and the blond victim. "I'm fine," she told them. "I can wait. Please, look after him first."
Megan was impressed with the woman's cool demeanor and genuine concern for Don. Of course he had probably stopped Chandler from doing some nasty things to her... Guess that's why he went in without backup – emergency situation. Megan smiled in appreciation before turning her attention back to Don, who was resisting the paramedics' attempts to get him on the stretcher.
"Lie down, Don," Megan ordered in a firm but soothing tone of voice. He slowly blinked at her before obeying her command. One of the paramedics – John, according to his name tag – began taking Don's vitals while the other – Roger – started on a series of questions.
"Sir, can you hear me?" A nod. "Can you tell me your name?"
"Don," he whispered sleepily.
"Stay awake for me, okay Don?" Another nod. "Can you tell me what happened?"
"Attacked." Don shook his head in an attempt to clear his vision. "Needle."
Roger turned to Megan. "Do you know what he was injected with?"
"The suspect's been using diazepam and morphine," she told him. "I don't know how much, though."
"I don't suppose he'll tell you."
"No," Megan answered. "He's dead."
"I see," he said. "I'll let the hospital know what we suspect was used. They can run more tests when he gets there. Did he lose consciousness?"
"No, but he hasn't been very lucid." She remembered the broken vase. "He's got a head wound, too."
"Yeah, I found that," John told her. "It doesn't look too bad."
Roger directed his attention back to Don, whose eyes had drifted shut. "Don! Stay awake for me!" His eyes lazily opened and he glared half-heartedly at the paramedic. "Can you tell me where you are?"
Roger looked at Megan who nodded. "He's right."
He smiled and continued, "Don, how many fingers am I holding up?"
Don squinted and blinked. "Three?"
"Good job, Don. Now I need you to do one more test for me, okay?" After he nodded his understanding, Roger held up a pen. "I want you to follow the tip of my pen with your eyes, but try not to move your head." He slowly moved the pen back and forth in front of his patient's face, giving a satisfied nod as Don successfully tracked it. "Alright, good job, Don. You just hang out here for a minute for me, okay? I'll be right back."
"Not going anywhere," Don grumbled in response.
Roger smiled and looked at Megan. "I'm going to call this in and then we'll get under way, Agent..."
"Reeves," she answered. "Call me Megan." He nodded and disappeared to the front of the ambulance. Megan stepped closer to the stretcher and studied Don in the light of the ambulance. His pupils were dilated and his eyes kept drifting shut until John reminded him to stay awake. His eyes shot open, darting back and forth as he tracked whatever drug induced phantoms hovered around him. His skin was pale and sweaty and his dark hair was plastered to his head. In the midst of his confusion his eyes landed on Megan, and he attempted a weak smile. She smiled back and placed a gentle hand on his forearm which seemed to relieve a little bit of his anxiety.
"Okay," Roger said to John as he returned to the back of the ambulance. "We've got the go ahead to start an IV." The two men lifted the stretcher and slid it inside the vehicle.
"You want to ride with us?" Roger asked Megan.
"Yes," she nodded. "Which hospital are we going to?"
"UCLA Medical Center."
"Thanks. Give me one second." She trotted over to David. "Give Charlie and Alan a call and let them know Don's being taken to UCLA." She returned to the ambulance and climbed in next to Don, who was still struggling to keep his eyes open.
"Stay awake, Don," she whispered softly. He nodded at her voice but didn't meet her gaze, instead letting his eyes drift over the interior of the ambulance and occasionally blinking to clear his vision. She didn't know what kind of things he was seeing but given the drugs he'd been injected with, she guessed that they weren't pleasant. It killed her to see him like this – so disoriented and confused – knowing how calm and in command he normally was. It's got to be torture for him, she thought sadly. She slipped her hand into his and felt him grip it tightly, as if he could gain some semblance of control through her touch. "That's right, just hang on," she told him as they continued their journey to the hospital.
"How is he?"
Megan looked up from her chair in the waiting room to find an anxious Alan and Charlie rushing toward her. She stood and put on her most reassuring smile. "He's going to be fine, Mr. Eppes. They're just keeping him for a few hours for observation. He'll be out of here in no time."
"What happened?" Charlie quietly inquired.
Tough question, she thought. How much would Don want me to tell them? "He was attacked by our suspect and injected with a low dose diazepam and morphine mixture." A look of panic appeared on Alan's face. "He's going to be fine," she reassured him. "He's just tired from the effects of the drugs in his system, but he's going to be fine."
Alan took a deep breath to compose himself as he nodded at her words. Charlie still looked concerned so Megan gently rubbed his shoulder. "Don's a tough guy, Charlie. He's going to be up and about and bossing you around in no time." Charlie managed a small smile and whispered his thanks to her. "No problem. Why don't we sit down and wait for the doctor?" She led them to an empty row of seats and left them to sit while she got a cup of coffee for Alan and herself. She even managed to scrounge up a cup of tea for Charlie. When she returned, she saw Alan trying to read a newspaper, but he kept sneaking glances at the door to the exam area. Charlie kept his gaze glued on the tile floor, and she suspected he was analyzing the pattern of the tiles to distract himself. She handed each man his drink and sat down next to them. She sipped her coffee as she tried to banish the images of Don looking so lost and helpless from her mind.
Twenty minutes later a doctor emerged from the exam area and – spotting Megan's FBI windbreaker – headed toward the threesome. "You're with Agent Eppes?" he asked her.
"Yes, I'm Agent Reeves and this is his father and brother."
He reached out and shook Alan's hand. "Mr. Eppes, I'm Doctor Iverson." Alan smiled, immediately feeling comforted by the strength and confidence in the man's grasp. "Your son is going to be fine. He's been given fluids and we've flushed most of the drugs out of his system. He does have a mild concussion, but nothing bed rest won't cure. He's been awake for a while now and was able to answer some questions for us. I'd like to keep him for another hour for observation before we release him. He will need to have someone drive him home and stay with him tonight. Tomorrow night too, if that's possible."
"He's coming home with us," Alan assured him. "That won't be a problem."
"Good," Iverson spoke as he gestured for a nurse to join him. "I've no doubt that you'd like to see your son, so I'm going to have Greta take you to see him. He is tired and rest is good for him, so after you say your hellos I'd like for him to sleep." Greta stood beside him and smiled at the Eppes. "This is Agent Eppes' family. Take them to see him and make sure you go over the discharge and home care instructions with them."
"It was nice meeting you," Iverson smiled, again shaking each man's hand. "If you have any questions or concerns my cell and pager numbers are on the discharge forms and you can call me any time." He waved good-bye and disappeared back through the exam room doors.
Greta lightly touched Alan's upper arm. "If you'll follow me, I'll take you to see your son."
"Remember," the nurse gently reminded the Eppes. "You can talk to him for a few minutes, but let him get his rest after that." She smiled and opened the door to Don's room, ushering the two men through the door before closing it and leaving them alone.
Alan quickly strode to the bed, Charlie hesitantly following behind him. Don's head turned on the pillow toward the sounds of their footsteps. His eyes cracked open and he managed a faint smile. "Hey," he whispered.
"Hey yourself," Alan spoke softly. He leaned over Don and rested a hand on his forehead before gently stroking his hair.
"Dad," Don quietly groaned.
"Humor me," he insisted.
Don sighed but allowed his father to continue his ministrations. He supposed he did owe him for giving him a scare this late at night. He saw his father frown as his fingers brushed against the bandage behind his ear. "Had a run in with a vase," Don mumbled. "I'm fine." Alan raised a questioning eyebrow but said nothing. Don's eyes sought out Charlie and found him standing slightly behind his father, nervously shifting his weight between his feet. "Hey, Buddy."
Charlie stepped closer to the bed and attempted a smile. "Hey."
Don mustered up every bit of strength he had and steeled his voice with it. "I'm fine, Charlie. No worries." He reinforced his words with a big smile. Charlie nodded, but still looked decidedly uneasy. "Are you okay, Buddy?"
A guilty look crossed his face before he nodded. "I'm fine. I didn't get attacked."
Don held out his hand to Charlie, relieved when he grasped it and squeezed. "Just checking." He squeezed back and looked back at his father. "So I guess you'll be taking me home soon?"
"If by home you mean Charlie's house, then yes we will." Alan watched as a look of stubbornness formed on his eldest son's face. "Don't even try arguing, Don. You're stuck with us for the next two days. End of discussion."
Don rolled his eyes and exhaled slowly, deciding he was too tired to argue. Maybe it is a good idea to stay at the house for a couple of days. I just hate being a burden. Oh well.
"Get some rest, Donny," Alan gently spoke as he gave Don a fatherly smile. He moved away from the bed and settled in a chair by the window. "We'll make sure we wake you up when it's time to go."
Don nodded and looked back at Charlie, whose hand he still held. He gently squeezed it again, waiting until his brother smiled at him before closing his eyes and sinking into a peaceful sleep.
Charlie stood rooted in place as he watched Don's breathing even out. Only after he was certain that he'd fallen asleep did he place Don's hand back on the bed with the utmost of care. He kept studying his face, noticing that the lines of stress and exhaustion had faded as Don slept. He continued to stare in a trance-like state as a chaotic cloud of emotions swirled in his mind.
"Are you okay, Charlie?"
He looked up at his father and nodded. "Yeah," he assured him quietly. "I, um... I think I'll go stretch my legs for a moment." Alan gave him a doubtful look. "I am fine, Dad. I'll be back in a few minutes." He quickly turned and left the room before Alan could further question him. Once outside he closed the door and leaned against the hallway. He knew what he wanted to ask his mom now – if only she would show up again.
"Easy," Alan said as he steadied Don on the first step.
"Why can't I just sleep on the couch?" Don protested.
"Because that couch isn't good for sleeping on. Besides, I want you safely tucked away in your room so we're nearby if you need us."
"You mean so I don't try to escape."
"Your words, Don – not mine."
"Whatever." Don wearily climbed a few more steps, maintaining a death grip on the rail while his father maintained a death grip on him. He stumbled again but Alan kept him upright with some help from Charlie who had suddenly materialized on the stairs with them. "Nice save, Chuck," Don joked.
"Call me Chuck again and I'll let you fall," Charlie threatened.
Don sniggered before returning to the task at hand. They reached the top of the stairs without incident, and Charlie led them through the door to Don's room. Alan supported Don at the door while Charlie pulled back the covers. "Hotel Eppes, huh?"
"Yes," Charlie answered. "And the bell hops accept tips."
"Okay, here's one for you – you might want to go with lighter green for the linens to go with the trim in this room."
Charlie made to throw a pillow at him but settled for a growl instead. "You're lucky you're just home from the hospital, or else!"
"Yeah?" Don teased. "Bring it on!"
"The only thing you're taking on is a nice long nap," Alan scolded him, though he was laughing as well. It was nice to have the family together and enjoying each other's company, he thought happily. Margaret would be so proud of us. A loud yawn from Don and the increase in the amount of his son's weight that he was supporting reminded him that it wasn't time for all fun and games yet. "Let's get you settled in."
Charlie joined him and they helped Don sit on the bed. Alan moved to help Don with his shirt, but was stopped as Don spoke. "I can do that myself." He awkwardly removed it with Charlie subtly helping him when his arms got caught in the sleeves. "See?" he asked triumphantly.
"Yes, I see." Alan winked at Charlie who shook his head and put Don's shirt in the hamper. "Pants?"
"Too tired," Don said through a yawn. He wearily leaned over onto his side, not even registering that Charlie had lifted his feet up onto the bed for him. "Set the alarm for-"
"I don't think so," Alan cut him off. "You're prescription is bed rest. No alarm – you sleep until your body decides it's had enough." Alan had to laugh as Don was already fast asleep, beyond arguing anymore. He smiled at Charlie. "He's a lot less stubborn in this condition."
"And a lot easier to deal with," he agreed. Then he grinned. "Think we should start slipping something in his food?"
"Don't tempt me," Alan laughed as he followed Charlie from the room, switching off the light and shutting the door behind him.
Don watched as the ball he hit sailed over the left field fence. He squinted up at the sky marveling at how perfect the day was. The sun was out and the sky was a vibrant blue, with just a few white fluffy clouds drifting overhead. He swung at another pitch and watched as that one sailed over the fence too.
"I'm so glad you decided to start playing again."
He looked up as the pitcher stepped off the mound and walked toward him. "Mom?" he breathed.
"Yes sweetie, it's me."
Don quickly stood up straight, years of his mom's gentle reminders about posture suddenly popping up in his head. She chuckled as he did so. "Good boy. I knew you always listened to me, now matter how much you tried to pretend you didn't."
"How..." Don trailed off. The last thing he remembered was being released from the hospital and going back to Charlie's. Oh no, he wasn't...
"Dead?" his mother asked. "No, Donny – you're fine. You're just sleeping right now. I'm glad too, you've needed to for so long."
"Honey, I keep an eye on all of you. I know how hard you work – I've seen you go days without any real sleep to speak of when a case is really important to you. I'm so proud of you – I want you to know that." Don felt himself blushing and realized his mother was probably the only person he knew that could get that reaction from him. She smiled and laughed, a sound that floated on the breeze across the empty ballpark. "Do you know what else I'm proud of?"
"What?" Don asked as he stepped closer to her, his bat dropped on the ground and long since forgotten.
"I'm proud of the way you and your brother have started working together. It makes me so happy to know that you two have started becoming close again."
"Dad said you would feel that way. I guess he's a smart man."
"Well, I did marry him for a reason," she spoke softly.
Don nodded and took another step toward her. He smiled as her hair swayed with the breeze and the sunlight reflected off the highlights in her hair. He could make out the light smell of her favorite perfume surrounding him in a comforting embrace. He wanted to close his eyes and burn the image into his mind, but was afraid she would be gone when he opened them.
"Don, sweetheart," she whispered as she moved closer to him. "I want you to do something for me."
He stepped closer still, slowly lifting a hand toward her cheek. "Anything," he breathed.
"I want you to start accepting your family's help. Open up and let your father and brother in." She paused and stared into his eyes. "You don't have to protect them so much, you know. You don't have to save the world single-handedly." She saw a look of hesitation in his eyes. "It's not a sign of weakness, Donny. I know you wound up being alone a lot of the time growing up and it's helped make you who you are – a man that I am so very proud of. But it's time you learned that it's okay to accept help, too. Can you do that for me?"
He felt tears welling up in his eyes as he nodded. "I'll try," he whispered, his voice cracking. He stretched his hand even further, bridging the gap between them and feeling his mother's cheek against his hand – so warm and solid. It was if she was really there with him.
"I always am," she whispered bringing her hand up to rest on his chest. "Right here, in your heart." She moved her hands to cup his cheeks and gently pulled his head down to place a feather-light kiss on his forehead. She leaned back and wiped away a tear that had trickled from the corner of his eye. He closed his eyes as she whispered, "I love you, Don."
He opened his eyes and squinted at the afternoon sun streaming through the bedroom window. A dream? No wonder Charlie was shaken by his – it had seemed so lifelike. He felt dampness on his cheek and reached up to wipe away the lone tear that had escaped from his eyes, letting his hand rest where his mother's had moments before. I love you too, Mom.
Charlie awoke with a start. He looked at his surroundings and realized he was in the garage. That's right – he had decided at the last minute to let Amita handle his classes so he could stay home with Don while his father went in to the office. Funny, he'd been in the garage in his dream, too. And his mother had answered his question – she didn't regret having to spend so much time on him, and she thought he'd helped make Don a stronger person. He felt a lot of the guilt that had built up through the years begin to slowly lift from his shoulders. He rubbed his eyes and stood up, stretching out a kink in his back. Must have been asleep for a while, he mused. Wonder if Don's up yet?
He sleepily stumbled into the house and made his way to the dining room. He saw Don at the table and walked to his side, desperately wanting to share his revelation, but not knowing how. He settled for placing his hand on Don's shoulder.
"Hey, I didn't know you were here."
"I guess I must have dozed off back there."
"You got the good life, huh?"
Charlie shrugged slightly. "What are you up to?"
"Ah, it's just my statement," Don answered as he took a swallow of beer.
Charlie was pretty sure that was on the 'don't list' the nurse had given him, but he also knew he would never win that argument. Still, he felt a touch of concern spring up in his heart. "You're going to be okay though, right?"
Okay with what? Don wondered. With being attacked and drugged or with killing a man, or something else? "Yeah," he answered quickly as he set his beer down and wiped his lip. He watched as Charlie sat at the table next to him. "What's up?" Charlie's gaze locked onto his and Don was surprised at the wealth of emotions in his brother's eyes.
"I don't want you to think that you're alone."
"What?" Don asked, startled by the statement and the emotion in Charlie's voice.
"Seems like you've always been left to take care of yourself."
Don detected a hint of guilt in his voice and quickly wondered if this had something to do with the dream about their mother. "Oh, Charlie..."
"Maybe that's why you are the way you are," Charlie offered.
"Yeah?" Don replied. "How's that?"
"Never allowed to be afraid."
"Believe me, I get afraid all the time."
"You never show it," Charlie told him with unmistakable admiration in his voice.
Even though Don knew Charlie looked up to him, it still caught him off guard to hear him express it so openly. "Well, you know..." he fumbled for words. "It doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You know, I've got a lot of people counting on me."
Charlie gave a slight nod as his shone with something that looked suspiciously like tears. "I just want you to know this is your home – here with me and Dad."
Don's heart swelled with happiness. Before the emotion could overcome him, he decided to lighten the mood. "What, you don't think I come around enough?" He leaned forward and smiled. "What's going on?"
"What are you boys doing?" Alan called as he appeared in the doorway.
Don realized the moment with Charlie was gone so he leaned back and let the smile disappear from his face. ""Ah, it's just my statement for the shooting." He took another swallow of beer. He couldn't wait to get this case behind him.
"Oh, shooting, huh? Alan walked further into the room and studied Don across the table. "You, um – you got a problem with that?"
"I did shoot a man," Don answered softly.
"Yeah, because you had no choice." Alan knew Don had no other alternative from what Megan had described to him earlier when she'd dropped off the case file.
"You always have a choice."
The despair in Don's voice saddened him, but also made him glad that his son still had his humanity, even after all the horrors he witnessed on a daily basis. "Well then, I guess the trick is to learn to live with the ones you make." He waited, hoping Don would accept this piece of fatherly wisdom.
"Yeah," Don agreed. "That would be the trick."
Alan smiled – nothing made him happier than being able to help his sons. "Want me to take a look? Your old man still has a few good ideas left."
Don's initial reaction was to say no – his father didn't need to know all of the details. Then he remembered his dream and felt a warmth on his forehead where his mother had kissed him, as if she was reminding him of his promise. "Yeah," he answered his father.
"Here, Charlie," Alan said as he took Charlie's seat and accepted the file that Don slid to him.
"You know," Charlie offered. "I can compute bullet trajectories based on the layout of the house." He eagerly beamed at Don wanting to help his big brother anyway he could.
"Alright," Don smiled as he leaned back in his chair.
Charlie's face lit up. "Where's the ballistics report?" Don pointed at the same time that Alan handed it to Charlie. Charlie sat down and placed the report on the table in front of him. He quickly glanced up at Don, not quite believing that he was letting his family help him with the report. He nervously scratched his head before diving into the report.
Don relaxed against the back of the chair, feeling the smile on his face growing as his family busied themselves with helping him. His father did have good ideas, but he suspected he'd still wind up writing the report from his own thoughts. The bullet trajectories would look nice in his report, but he knew they weren't needed. He suspected Alan and Charlie knew this as well, but also knew that this was their way of saying 'we love you'.
He remained leaning back in the chair, content to bask in the love filling the room. If he closed his eyes and concentrated, he could sense a fourth presence, and almost make out a voice in the sounds of the house: "I'm proud of you all."