Title: Alphabet Soup

Author: FraidyCat

Summary: Alphabet Challenge on Steroids (1st letter of each paragraph progressive Alphabet)

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em – but wanna cuddle 'em; will put 'em back when I'm through with 'em

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Alan sat at the kitchen table, swirled his spoon in his coffee, and took turns watching his sons. The eldest sat opposite him at the table, plate of dinner still in front of him. He was looking at it like he was waiting for it to speak, or something. The youngest stood next to the refrigerator, back leaning against the stove, bottle of water clutched in his hand. Alan sighed. He couldn't decide who looked more miserable.

Before Margaret passed away, they had been able to tag-team their sons. When they were both upset, the parents had been able to divide and conquer. Well, divide, anyway. Their sons were seldom conquered. Especially when they were upset with each other. Now that he was flying without back-up, Alan had to pick and choose his battles even more carefully.

Charlie raised the bottle of water to his lips, and Alan saw him watching his brother over the rim. Apparently he didn't like what he saw, because he turned as he finished his sip of water, and slammed the open bottle down on the counter so hard that droplets scattered everywhere. He swore quietly and yanked the drawer of towels open, roughly picked one and began to mop up counter and floor.

Don swore a little more loudly. He must have felt some water on the back of his head. "Shit, Charlie! Can't you just get the hell out of here and leave me alone for a little while? I've had just about enough of you today!"

Everyone froze in their respective spots. Alan stopped swirling his coffee, surprised at the anger and frustration in Don's voice. He tried to read his son's face, but it was clouded and closed. He looked instead at Charlie.

Fingers clutched around the bottle of water again, Charlie quietly dropped the towel bunched in a heap on the counter. He turned so that he was looking at his seated brother's back. Alan wasn't sure he could read the look on Charlie's face — but he was pretty sure he didn't want to. He involuntarily gasped in shock when his youngest son took one step closer to his oldest, held the bottle of water over his head, and wordlessly emptied its contents onto Don.

Gagging and sputtering, Don pushed back from the table and leapt from his chair. Before he was completely turned around he had his hands on Charlie. He had a fistful of t-shirt before Alan could think to protest, and a sound of distress escaped him as he watched Don shove Charlie backwards into the refrigerator, then grab him again as he bounced off. Fully facing each other now, Don was able to get a better grip on Charlie, and the next shove propelled him several feet into the swinging door that led into the dining room.

Horrified, Alan jumped from his own chair as he saw Charlie hit the door and keep flying backwards. "Donald Alan!", he shouted. "That's enough!" He hurried toward the door, slipping slightly on some water on the floor that Charlie had missed.

Interfering with his father's progress, Don pushed ahead of him and reached the swinging door first. "Charlie," he muttered on the way, "I asked you to leave me alone!"

Jamming his fingers on the doorframe and swearing again, Don pushed the door open, hard. Unfortunately, the swing caught Charlie just as he was getting up off the floor, and through the narrowing gap Alan could see his son lose his balance again, grab out for the table and miss, crashing to the floor via one of the dining room chairs.

Knuckles bruised from the contact, Charlie uttered a small yelp as he again hit the floor. He immediately curled into a fetal position, trying to get as far away from the swinging door as he could, and let out a small groan.

Looking at both his sons quickly — one lying in a heap on the floor, the other standing in a rage over him – Alan knelt beside Charlie, placing himself between the two. "Charlie! Are you all right?" He cautiously brushed at the curls hanging in Charlie's face, trying to make sure he hadn't hit his head on the way down.

"Mom would never do that." Charlie was trying to push himself up. Soon he was in a sitting position, and scooted back a little so that he was leaning against the table leg. He glared at Don. "I don't care what you say."

Never taking his eyes off Charlie's, Don glared back. "I didn't say that Mom ever did anything like that. I only said that I could see it happening. A married couple living far apart for whatever reason — it's asking for trouble."

"Other people," began Charlie, and to Alan it sounded like he was going to start crying. "Maybe other people would. But Mom would never…" he looked helplessly at Alan. "She didn't, did she? When she had to move to New Jersey, to be with me at Princeton …and … and she had to leave you. She never said that she hated me for that, did she?"

Picking Charlie up off the floor, Alan helped him settle into a chair. He glared at Don himself as he dragged another dining room chair close to Charlie. "Of course not," he soothed his son. "Of course your mother didn't hate you."

Queasiness suddenly overtook Charlie, and his face paled while he clapped his hands over his mouth, trying to keep dinner inside. He must have known that it wasn't going to work, and he tried to push his father aside and run for the kitchen, but only succeeded in getting just past him before he thought he might pass out and hit the floor again. Desperately, he grabbed on to Don's arm.

Retching everything he had eaten that week onto Don's shoes, Charlie felt himself start gasping in-between the waves of nausea. A full-fledged panic attack was overtaking him, something that hadn't happened in years, but was instantly recognizable to both his father and brother. Despite his hold on Don, he felt himself sinking.

Strong arms gripped his own, and Don practically carried him a few feet back into the chair. Alan had stepped over to help, and together they got Charlie seated again. His breathing was still coming in gulps and gasps, and Alan quickly stepped into the kitchen again for some water. Alan tossed Don a look on his way through the door. "Watch your brother." At least Charlie had stopped throwing up on Don's shoes. He jerked open the refrigerator door and grabbled a bottle, hurried back through the swinging door. Don was kneeling in front of Charlie, murmuring, pressing the curly head to his with a hand on the back of Charlie's neck.

"Teasing…", Alan heard him say as he approached them with the bottle of water. "I was only teasing, please, Charlie, calm down. I was just trying to think of a way to shut you up for a minute. You gave me a headache with all that quantum and pattern stuff you were talking about at the office, and then Larry showed up and the two of you droning on about relative theroms just made it worse … When Colby came back and told us that the victim's mother had confessed because she said she hated living apart from her husband while the little girl was training for the Olympics, I could see that it bothered you.… Come on Charlie, I wasn't serious. Please."

"Unbelieveable," Alan muttered, and pushed Don away from Charlie. He twisted the top of the bottle and lifted one of Charlie's hands, wrapping it around the bottle. "Take a drink, son." He looked at Don. "You told your brother that his mother hated him because she had to go to Princeton with him? What were you thinking?"

Vehemently, Charlie interrupted. He was still gulping for air. "Mom…Mom didn't h -h – hate me," he stuttered. "Y – y – you do."

Water again spashed all over Don as Charlie dropped the bottle. Don just stayed kneeling where Alan had pushed him, and watched the water run from the bottle. After a moment he looked up, and either the water had splashed in his face — or he was crying.

"Xenon," he said, looking at Charlie. "You were always there, in Mom's atmosphere … and I hated that. Until you took her away, and then I hated that worse. I've tried to forgive you. I knew it wasn't really your fault, that you weren't really trying to steal my mother … and then I do something like this, and I know I've never really gotten over it."

Yearning to turn back time and find a way to make it right for both of his sons, Alan found himself not knowing where to turn again. His heart broke for them both. For the boys they were, for the men they had become. He was staring at Don, trying to think of something to say, when he felt movement at his back. He turned back to Charlie.

Zombie-like, his youngest was rising from the chair. He was still crying, and he was walking away from them.

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A/N: That was hard. Go ahead — give it a shot.