Title: Laugh, When You Feel Like Crying

Author: FraidyCat

Genre: Drama, Angst

Time line: Two Months After "It Only Hurts When I Laugh"

Summary: The ramifications of the CalSci shooting continue. And then things really get messy.

Disclaimer: The boys Eppes aren't mine. Drat.

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Chapter 1

Don waited at the red light, one hand on the steering wheel, the other rubbing his neck.

He sighed in contentment. It was almost 9 o' clock on a Friday night. He was headed home, and chances were good he would have the weekend off. One of the perks of being the new Assistant Director of the L.A. office was that he was hardly ever called to a crime scene anymore in the middle of the night or on a weekend. It had to be something big. Really big. Something scary to the politicos. So far, that had only happened once in the two months he had been A.D. He was getting used to this sleeping thing.

Of course, he still worked long hours. He spent half his day trying to find ways to convince existing powers that his ideas to make the Assistant Directorship more user-friendly were not a threat to the entire federal system of law. When successful, he spent a few hours a day actually implementing those ideas. And of course, there was the two weeks' worth of paperwork he seemed to do every day.

He knew he would hate that part, and he was right — he did. He enjoyed personnel management more than he thought he would, though. The only reason he was a little later tonight was because he had finally taken the new guy and his wife out to dinner. He was working his way through the all the Agents in the L.A. office. It would take a while — he was footing the bill for this himself, and he could only afford it once a month. But his predecessor, Lewis, had left such a bad taste in everyone's mouth, Don really wanted to establish himself as different, more accessible A.D. An A.D. who had done his time in the field, and understood the challenges his Agents were facing.

He negotiated a curve. Mike Neville was fitting into David's team well. Married, three young children, he had the motivation to work smart, and work safe. Now that Archie had been back full-time for a month, and the team was complete, they had the highest solve rate in the office. Don was satisfied with that team. He hoped to build similar camaraderie and proficiency on his other teams.

The restaurant had been closer to his apartment than Charlie's house, so he was going to stop at home for a quick shower and change. What he really wanted was to fall into bed and sleep, but he knew how much Charlie looked forward to his stopping by at night. Two months out of the hospital after being seriously wounded in a classroom shooting at Cal Sci, Charlie wasn't cleared for work yet. He'd passed cabin fever a long time ago. His world still revolved around daily physical therapy sessions and appointments with at least one doctor every week. Even after his primary care physician had finally cleared him for a little normal outside entertainment — a movie, for instance — he was usually so exhausted by the time Archie got home from work that they still ended up sitting around the house.

He would be especially anxious to talk to Don tonight. Archie had taken the afternoon off to go with him to his doctor's appointment, and he knew that Charlie was hoping he would be cleared for work, at least part-time. Don smiled as he pulled into his space at the apartment building. Maybe he would call first, after his shower. If Charlie was cleared to work he would be wired — maybe he had even taken his wife out to celebrate. They could sure both use it, by now.

He stopped for his mail at the boxes in the apartment foyer, and glanced through it as he took the stairs to his apartment. He hadn't picked it up in a couple of days. Four credit card offers to shred. Electric bill. Cable bill. Why did he have cable? He hardly ever watched television in his own apartment. Fishing magazine his Dad had given him for his birthday. Flyer for an appliance and furniture store. He actually was thinking about a new mattress. He shoved the key in the lock and kept reading the sale flyer. He almost tripped over a duffle bag in front of the door when he pushed it open and stepped inside.

Automatically, he dropped the mail and reached for his firearm, even though he was fairly certain a burglar would not bring an overnight bag. He looked toward the tiny kitchen and saw a familiar butt leaning into the open refrigerator. He holstered his weapon and looked at the mail scattered in the hall, decided to ignore it. "Charlie?"

A curly head popped out of the refrigerator and his brother looked at him. "Sorry," he mumbled, and closed the door. "I shouldn't have left that there." Charlie started to wander into the living room. "You don't have any water."

Don took his place at the refrigerator and grabbed a beer. "It's in the tap, Charlie. I have one of those fancy filter things, it's as good as your bottled stuff." He twisted off the cap and took a long drink, walking to the end of the counter and looking at Charlie, who sat huddled in the corner of the couch in his living room. "What are you doing here?"

"It's not cold out of the tap."

"I've got ice, Charlie." Don put the beer on the counter and started removing things. Shoes. Jacket. Gun. Charlie didn't say anything else, and it looked like this was going to take a while.

"I'm taking a shower. You know where the glasses are, if you decide you can make yourself settle for my water."

Twenty minutes later Don, towel around his waist, padded into his bedroom. He would love to put on some sweats — or better yet, nothing at all — and just fall into the sheets, but he pulled on some old, comfortable jeans and a t-shirt instead. He would have to drive Charlie home, eventually. He headed for the living room again, and noted that the mail had been placed neatly on the kitchen counter. The beer was warm, so he ignored it and got a glass of ice water himself, then entered the living room and took the chair facing the couch. He put his feet up on the coffee table. He watched the ice melt in the glass of water Charlie had gotten at some point and left on the end table. He regarded Charlie. The picture of misery.

"So, what is it?"

Charlie didn't look at him. His attention seemed affixed on his own toes. "Can I stay here tonight?"

Don took a sip of water and placed the glass on the floor next to the chair. "Charlie, you have a whole house. You live there with your wife, Archie, and our father."

Charlie raised his eyes, and Don saw a glint of anger there that took him aback. "Don't talk to me that way. I'm not an idiot. Can I stay here, or not?" Charlie wrapped an arm around his stomach protectively. "I don't feel very well."

Don's concern latched onto something concrete. "What's wrong? Do you need me to call a doctor?"

Charlie shook his head and dropped his eyes again. "I'm all right. I never feel very well, anymore."

Don sat. That was a new admission. "How did the doctor go?" He was pretty sure he knew the answer, but he asked anyway.

Charlie scooted toward the edge of the couch. "If I can't stay here," he said, "I'll need to call a cab, go to a motel."

Don dropped his feet back to the floor and sat up straighter. "Take it easy, Charlie. I didn't say you couldn't stay here. Of course you can stay here. Just tell me why."

Charlie's arm, still in a cast, stayed wrapped around his stomach. He looked up at Don and stood. "I left her," he stated coldly. "I left her." He negotiated around the coffee table as Don felt his mouth fall open. "I'm going to wrap my arm and take a shower."