Well…a long journey has finally come to an end. It's taken me almost four years to complete this story, but I'm glad I did. I hope you all enjoy its conclusion. Thanks to everyone who stuck with this story the whole way.
As always, your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.
Don wiggled a little, allowing his body to get sucked just a little more into the old worn couch in his father's living room. Or rather, he reflected, his brother's living room – it was still hard to remember that. He let out a contented sigh, thinking that if he just had a cold beer, life would be pretty great.
But, still on pain medication after surgery on his shoulder and to take the edge from his still knitting rib-cage, there would be no beer tonight.
Still, there was baseball, a home cooked meal, the scent of which was wafting out of the kitchen, making Don really hungry, and family. Oh, and Amita. Don couldn't help but smile at that part. Yes. Amita. And Amita was there with him. As his guest. He smiled again.
"What are you smiling at?" Charlie asked suspiciously from a few feet away in their Father's arm chair, with a stack of papers in his hand, pen poised over one, but he was examining Don critically.
Don rolled his eyes. "I'm thinking how grateful I am…for all of this," he said with a wave of his still mummified hand.
Charlie scrutinized him for a moment or two more, obviously trying to deduce if his older brother was being less than honest. Don stared him down.
Ever since he'd been released from the hospital, Don had been convalescing at Charlie's house – neither his brother, his father, his team or his doctor would hear of him returning to his own apartment. Don wondered why he even bothered paying rent on it anymore. Expectedly, he'd put up a fuss, mostly for show. It was true that he didn't want to be hovered over – never ever liked to be hovered over – after all, he was a fiercely independent adult man who survived very well on his own. But something inside him had welcomed the idea of spending time with his family – even if it meant being under their overprotective supervision.
Since arriving at the family homestead, both his father and Charlie had been nothing less than predictable. They had catered to his every need and been untrusting of his own reports on his physical condition. If he told them he was fine, they automatically believed he was lying and would give him the evil eye. They watched him like a hawk and had come to be unbelieving of anything that he said, expecting a lie or at least a half truth.
Hence the reason that Charlie was critically examining Don now.
Surprisingly enough, Don didn't care. In fact, it made him smile wider, which only prompted Charlie's suspicion to deepen. Don was quite enjoying giving his family a hard time, simply soaking in their love and affection. He wasn't sure if it was the drugs making him so amiable, the fact that he was now dating a beautiful woman he'd been pining after for some time, or the fact that he'd escaped a situation that could have very easily ended in death – for himself and for Charlie.
Normally, that last fact would have really bothered him – to the point where he would have seriously considered never again involving Charlie in a case. However, over the past few years, he'd learned that he couldn't control every situation and that Charlie had willingly gone into the bank. He was still upset about what had happened, and could admit to himself the few nightmares he'd had, but just the fact that Charlie was there in front of him, and that Charlie actually seemed mostly ok and stable after such a horrifying ordeal, steeled something inside of Don. He realized that he couldn't change the past, but instead would plan for the future. If that meant being more cautious and upsetting Charlie, but still keeping him on as a consultant, then so be it. Don couldn't waste time blaming himself – it wouldn't be productive for anyone in the long run.
So instead, he decided to languish in being waited on and enjoy tormenting Charlie.
"No, seriously Don…what are you grinning at?" Charlie demanded.
Don laughed outright, and Amita poked her head out of the kitchen to see what the two boys were doing. Her dark tresses hung around her face and Don couldn't help but think how beautiful she was.
"Everything ok in here?" she asked, pinning Don with a stare, knowing full well that he'd purposefully been trying to agitate Charlie.
"Charlie's just nervous because I'm happy," Don responded dismissively, offering her a charming smile. Her disapproving stare didn't stand a chance against that, and in moments she was smiling back at him bashfully, batting her eyes as if she was in high school all over again.
Charlie groaned. "You two are disgusting," he said and loudly shuffled his papers, muttering to himself, but neither believed for a moment that he was truly upset. After all, he'd been instrumental in getting Amita and Don there – together.
A few days after Don had awoken in the hospital, his strength growing every day, Charlie had sat down on the edge of his bed with a very serious look on his face.
"We need to talk Don," he had said, his voice grave. Don had inwardly groaned, afraid that the conversation was about to launch into something he didn't want to discuss – like a lecture from Charlie about how none of this was Don's fault, or how Don never should have thrown himself in front of that bullet. Don wasn't ready for that conversation – he wasn't sure he ever would be. How could you really look your brother in the eye and tell him you'd be more than willing to die for him and truly expect him to understand beyond reciprocating the feeling?
"Charlie…I'm a little tired," Don had responded, trying to dodge, letting his eyelids droop slightly lower even though he'd just woken up from one of the multiple naps he couldn't seem to stop himself from taking. His body seemed exhausted all the time.
"Stop trying to avoid talking to me," Charlie had demanded, suddenly, anger creeping into his voice. It was enough to make Don wince slightly and frown down at his bandaged hand apologetically.
"Charlie, I know what you're going to say – but no matter what, you can't convince me that I'm not responsible for you in situations like that…and I won't apologize for getting in the way of that bullet. I don't regret it and I'm not going to pretend I do…" he'd huffed out in a pre-planned way, just as he'd rehearsed it in his head.
Charlie had stared at him for a moment, and then smirked down at Don in a smugly superior way that Don was more used to seeing when Charlie was blatantly showing off how intelligent he was compared to other people.
"Well, we can talk about all that too if you want," he'd said, amusement heavy in his voice. "But I was going to talk about Amita."
Don couldn't help it. He had just sat there, gaping at Charlie.
"Amita?" he'd finally managed to say, not sure if he wanted to have this conversation either. He had never really come out and told Charlie that he really liked the pretty student, but Charlie wasn't stupid. Still, Don had done nothing, because Charlie hadn't given him permission, and as odd as that could sound to someone else, Don didn't want to threaten his sometimes precarious relationship with Charlie, even for a woman.
"Yes, Amita. You know her?" Charlie asked sarcastically, rolling his eyes slightly, but then softened his words with a sigh. "Listen, Don… I know that you've liked Amita for some time, and I also know that you haven't done anything about that because of me – and God knows – I really appreciate that. And let's be honest…we both know she likes you too…"
Here, Don recalled his eyes widening in surprise. "What?" he couldn't help but ask. Sure, he'd seen Amita check him out, and she was always eager to talk, and he had been sure she flirted with him as often as she could, but still, she had done absolutely nothing to suggest she was serious in any way about liking him.
Again, Charlie rolled his eyes, this time over exaggerating the movement. "Come on Don…"
"No, really Charlie, I didn't… Look, I didn't…I don't want to step on any toes…" he tried to explain.
"That's just it," Charlie had said, interrupting him, but not angrily. "You won't be. I mean, before…yes, I think I would have felt that way. But not now. I get it. And I really appreciate the respect you showed me by not…moving in. But she does like you – a lot – and she's just waiting for you to make a move. Don't let her get away Don. She's a wonderful person and…I think the two of you would be really great for each other."
Don had stared at Charlie in shock and gratitude. He knew it couldn't have been easy for his little brother to say those words, even if he had moved on from Amita.
"Charlie…I don't know what to say. Thank you," he'd finally decided on.
Charlie had waved his hand dismissively. "Beside, then Dad will torment you and not me," he'd said with a sly grin.
So that had brought Don to the realization that he was now free to pursue Amita – and as Charlie had suggested, he didn't wait long. It took some time before she was alone with him in the hospital room before Don finally had the chance.
He'd grinned up at her when she'd pulled a contraband muffin out of her messenger bag and presented it to him with a flourish.
"You know how to make a man happy," he'd told her, and she'd blushed in surprise.
"Well, think of it as my way of supporting the federal government," she said with a grin. "We can't have all our top agents laid up in the hospital…starving to death without muffins," she'd joked.
Don was about to respond with a witty reply when he decided not to play games, so he'd snagged her hand, catching her by surprise, and he'd caught her sharp intake of breath that in no way seemed alarmed.
"I want to take you out to dinner," he'd told her, looking her deep in the eyes. "A really nice restaurant, downtown – and I'll wear a nice suit and you'll be as beautiful as you always are," he said, drawing a breath as he saw her eyes widen into deep, dark pools. "And I want to kiss you goodnight and take you out on dates until you decide you want to date me – and just me," he confessed, his voice soft.
Amita had sat there, in stunned silence, before her alluring lips had quirked into a smile. "I'm not a criminal to be pursued, Agent Eppes," she said, leaning forward just a little. "You don't have to woo me, though I can't say I'd mind," she added at what he knew must have been a slightly crestfallen look. "If you want to date me Don – just ask."
And he had. Just in time for his father to walk in, clapping and smiling exuberantly, too happy to even bother apologizing for his blatant eavesdropping, something he surely would have scolded Don or Charlie for if they'd been the offending party.
"Finally – you waste too much time with things Don, though, I have to admit that was a nice speech. I think I won your mother over that way – with my speeches. You must get that from me," he'd crowed, a look of satisfaction on his face, and Don would have been mortified if Amita hadn't been sitting there, smiling at him, never breaking eye contact.
"Don't discourage him, Mr. Eppes. I like the speeches," she'd said, unable to stop smiling.
And that had brought them to where they were now – a happy little family apparently.
Not that Charlie was all that happy.
"Charlie, you should be relieved that Don's happy and not brooding," their father called from over Amita's shoulder.
"Yeah," Don had echoed.
"Be nice to your brother, Don," Amita had said disapprovingly, then, with a forgiving smile, she disappeared back into the kitchen. Don couldn't help but smile after her.
"That's what I'm smiling about Charlie," he said, still watching the door.
Charlie added another mock groan. "Seriously Don – the two of you…" Don thought his brother was about to launch into a tirade about how they should reign it in. "The two of you are really great together," Charlie supplied, catching Don off guard, and Don's eyes darted to his curly-haired younger brother. "It's really great to see you happy like this."
Now it was Don's turn to roll his eyes, but he only did it half-heartedly and finally added, "Thanks Charlie."
Charlie bobbed his head, and went back to his papers, and Don had turned his attention back to the game on TV, but that didn't last long.
"Don…" Charlie said hesitantly, and Don found himself turning back to look at his brother. "I know you said you didn't want to talk about anything…" he started and Don stiffened, wincing instantly when the action caused his chest to contract painfully and his immobilized shoulder to remind him it was still healing. "We don't have to talk about all of it," Charlie said quickly, seeing Don's reaction. "But I can't let it go without at least saying thanks." It all came out in a rush of words.
Don blinked slowly at Charlie, not quite expecting what the math genius had said.
"Charlie, aren't you at least a little bit mad at me for putting you in that position? With that woman forcing you to do something while she…shot me?" he said, having to force the words out.
Charlie stared at him for a long moment before answering.
"Yeah, I guess if I'm honest, I was a little mad. I mean…it was horrible standing there and feeling so helpless while she pointed that gun at you… But I wasn't mad at you Don. I was mad at her – at the situation. You're an exemplary FBI agent Don – but you're still human. No one knew what was going to happen." Charlie stopped speaking uncertainly.
Don sighed. "That doesn't keep me from wishing that I was able to anticipate these things – especially when you're involved. You have to understand that I can't stand putting you in danger –it's the worst feeling in the world," Don confessed quietly, thinking that a few short years ago, he never would have shared feelings like that with Charlie.
"I hope you understand that I feel the same way," Charlie said, looking Don in the eyes and they both automatically thought about the Charm School Boys.
Don shook his head a little. "I'm sorry Charlie," he said humbly. "I never wanted you to have to…face what you did in the bank."
"As terrifying as it was, I think it's taught me a little bit more about you – about what you have to do every day – the things you go through…" Charlie trailed off, unable to keep the bit of hero-worship and respect out of his voice, and he flushed a little. "Sometimes, I think I'm just a boring math professor – but helping you with cases, I feel like I'm really doing something, and even though I know I get to contribute to helping and even saving lives sometimes…it's you who does all the heroic stuff…"
Don snorted a little and tried to smile. "It doesn't always feel heroic Charlie."
"I know that now," Charlie admitted. "All I felt was fear and frustration," he shared, thinking back to how the numbers just didn't want to come. "You know, it was strange. When mom was sick, all I could see was numbers. I couldn't get them down fast enough. It was like I was going to have a breakthrough every moment. I…didn't want to disengage, but I couldn't stop them. But there – in the bank – I couldn't see them when I needed them," he said, frustration creeping into his voice. "I needed those numbers, and it was like they were invisible…"
Don moved, swinging his legs off the couch as carefully as he could, ignoring the protest in his upper body. The doctor had told him limited movement and only necessary walking, but he leaned forward, wrapping his right arm around his chest to support it, and reached out with his left hand - his good hand – to squeeze Charlie's arm, grateful that he was close enough.
"It doesn't matter now, ok? You did it – and you were brilliant," he said, and he meant it. "If I'd know you were going to try to double cross them…I probably would have killed you," he said good-naturedly. "But you did good Charlie. Really good."
"And then you did something stupid," Charlie said pointedly, but his voice held no anger or disappointment. "I know you would do it again, but I… I doubt I'll ever forget you lying there on the ground, bleeding out…" Charlie's voice choked up.
Don sighed. "That's what older brothers are for," he said simply, knowing that further explanation would get them nowhere. Charlie knew that Don was an FBI agent and that it was more than a job – it was a lifestyle for Don. It was who Don was down to the core. Deep down, they both knew that nothing would have kept Don from jumping in front of that bullet.
"I just wanted to say thanks," Charlie said, his eyes a little wet with tears that he managed to hold back. "For saving my life – and for staying as strong as you did in the bank."
Don gave his brother a reassuring smile. "I owe you my life Charlie. More than once. And it was you who stayed strong in the bank," he said and the two brothers locked gazes, volumes of understanding passing between the two of them.
Despite how horrible the situation had been – despite being forced to basically switch roles – they had come out of if stronger and better than ever.
"What are you two whispering about?" their father said, appearing suddenly in their midst. He had obviously taken a detour on his way to the dining room table, because a steaming platter with a delicious smelling brisket was clasped in his pot-holder clad hands. "And Don, the doctor specifically told you not to sit like that."
"How hungry we are," Don responded automatically, smiling up at his father and ignoring his second statement.
Their father regarded them for a moment. "Charlie, can you help Amita bring out the rest of the food?" the patriarch asked, deciding scolding Don at that moment would do no good and that neither boy was going to admit whatever it was that they were talking about. Don had a feeling that the wise older man knew that they were making peace anyway and didn't really need the details. Don couldn't help but marvel at how his father always seemed to have every situation in hand.
Charlie did as he was asked, getting up to go into the kitchen.
After he was gone, Alan looked down at Don. "You two ok?"
Don smiled at him, unable to fight the feelings of absolute adoration he had for his father. "Yeah Dad, we're good. And I mean that," he added. Alan only studied him for a quick moment before smiling at him.
"Don't even think about getting up off that couch until someone comes to help you," he said in way of response, and his smile disappeared as he gave Don his most threatening look. "And I mean that Donald," he said firmly.
Don couldn't help but roll his eyes, but he also couldn't hold back the grin. "Yes, sir."
Satisfied, Alan moved off to the dining room and Charlie and Amita hustled in and out of the kitchen. Don leaned back, his ribs aching, but he refused to be unhappy. Everything seemed better – everything seemed ok. It was a good feeling. He knew that eventually, his contentedness at being hovered over would fade and he would be itching to get back to work, but for now, he would enjoy the respite and take stock of all of the good things in his life.
Finally, Amita came to get him, helping him up in a way that showed just how genuinely she cared for him. She didn't say a word when he grunted slightly in pain, she just squeezed his good hand tightly and let him lean on her as much as he would allow himself too. The trip to the table wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been, and he stole a brief kiss before she took her seat. Charlie sat across from him, and Alan sat at the head of the table, and they all smiled at each other over the steaming dishes of food.
"Let's pray," Alan suggested. "I just want to say thank you, for all of this," he said with a wave, indicating everything, but his eyes stuck on Don. It was clear he wanted to say thank you that Don was still there, with them, after everything.
There was a murmur of agreement from all three of them and Alan smiled as they all grasped hands.
There, in that moment, Don didn't think he could ever be more content. The love of his family was like the fury of the wind – unstoppable.