Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: As always, thanks to ritt for all of her help!
Colby grinned at David. "You want to go first or shall I?"
David swallowed nervously as he eyed their destination. "I don't know man. Are you sure about this?"
"Don't be such a 'fraidy cat," Colby ribbed him. "What can he do? He did get himself into this situation after all."
"Yes but he's not going to like seeing us here to take a shot at him," David grumbled.
"Geez, man," Colby snorted. "I'll go first then." Colby confidently strolled toward his target and eyed the selection of weapons on the table in front of him.
A young girl with a beautiful smile wearing a red, white, and blue bandana on her bald head held out her hand toward the agent. "Five dollars for three throws," she told him.
"You think I need three throws?" Colby smiled and winked at her.
The little nine year old giggled. "I bet you only need one."
"Ah," Colby sighed. "Beautiful and smart. What's your name?"
"Well, Sara Beth, how about I take one throw and you take the other two?"
The young girl nodded, her joyful expression drowning out the lines of exhaustion that still lingered on her face. Colby laughed as he handed her a five dollar bill and scooped up three baseballs. He handed her two of them and placed a hand on her shoulder as he guided her closer to their target, leaving David behind to cover the ticket table. He looked down at her as they walked, his heart twinging in sadness. She is way too young to have to fight off cancer, he silently growled. His heart lifted though as he watched her walk beside him, a huge grin on her face and a bounce in her step. Colby knew the Independence Day Carnival meant a lot to the pediatric cancer patients, and their families and doctors. It gave them a chance to get out and forget about the bad stuff in life, while raising a significant amount of money for research and treatment. Colby was also proud that the Los Angeles FBI office was a big part of the fund raiser.
Sara Beth stopped as they reached the dunking booth, playfully eyeing the agent suspended on the bench above the water. He eyed her back with a smile on his face and then looked at Colby.
"Needed some back up, Granger?" their target teased.
"Not at all, Agent Eppes," Colby retorted. "As I recall, I won the arm wrestling contest hands down, didn't I?"
"Keep boasting about that and see where it gets you," Don jokingly warned. "I hear Idaho is nice this time of year." Don nodded in satisfaction as Colby's expression faltered a bit and then turned a bright smile toward Sara Beth. "Alright, kiddo – go for it!"
Colby casually edged the girl in front of the throwing line, knowing that she was weakened by her illness. He caught Don's subtle nod of approval out of the corner of his eye and nodded back. "Okay," he chuckled as he handed her the first ball. "Knock him in!"
Sara Beth laughed and hefted the ball as hard as she could, missing the bullseye wide to the right. She looked up and Colby and gave him a gap-toothed grin. "Next?"
"Yes ma'am," he replied as he handed her the second ball. She heaved it again and managed to graze the edge of the bullseye, but Don remained high and dry. Colby squatted down and gave the young girl an appraising look. "You know, I said I would take one, but I bet you get him with the next throw. Try it again."
"Are you sure?" she asked eagerly.
"Yeah," Colby smiled sweetly. "I'm sure."
Sara Beth nodded and carefully took aim at the bright red and white target, her small tongue sticking out of her mouth as she concentrated. She took a deep breath and threw the ball as hard as she could, watching as it sailed through the air toward the bullseye.
Don watched the ball flying toward the target. Her aim was good, but he knew that her throw wouldn't have the strength to knock the bullseye backward. He stealthily slid his hand behind him to the release catch they had installed for just this occasion. As the ball made contact with the target Don took a deep breath and pressed the release, plunging himself into the cool water below. As he resurfaced he shook his hair from his face and heard the happy laughter of the young girl.
"I did it! I did it!" Sara Beth yelled to Colby, who nodded and high fived her. He glanced over at his now soaked boss and smiled appreciatively. Sara Beth turned her attention to the agent in the tank and ran up to the edge. "Are you okay?"
"Are you kidding?" Don asked with a large smile. "The water feels great on a hot day like this!"
Sara Beth erupted into a fit of giggles again as Don shook his hair, making sure to get her wet. She shrieked happily as she ran back to the table that they'd left David in charge of. Don and Colby watched him break into laughter as she animatedly told him what she had just done to Don.
Colby gave Don a hand as he climbed out of the booth. "This is such a great thing to do," he told Don. "I mean what you're doing, but also the fact that the FBI agents around here donate so much time and money to this cause."
"Yeah," Don agreed as he reached for the towel he kept stashed behind the booth. "I was really glad they started doing this."
"Don't be so modest," Colby said knowingly.
Don glanced around and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Don't tell anyone, okay? It's kind of personal to me."
"Sure thing, boss."
"Thanks," Don replied as an evil grin spread over his face. "Your turn to man the booth now."
"Fine," he grumbled amicably as he stripped down to his swim trunks. "I'll have you know that I lost the second round of arm wrestling on purpose."
"Sure," Don patted him on the shoulder. "Just like I threw the first one."
Don knowingly smiled as he slipped his FBI tee shirt back on. He dried his hair one last time with the towel and tossed it at Colby. "Don't forget about the release switch."
"I won't," Colby assured him as Don started to walk away. "Hey! Where are you going?"
Don cast an evil grin over his shoulder. "To see how Chuckles the Clown is doing."
Chuckles the Clown, for all of his assurances that he 'had a way with kids', wasn't doing too well. The kids were delighted as they ran circles around him, giggling in delight at his rainbow colored curly hair, oversized red shoes, multi-colored polka-dotted outfit, and bright red clown nose. But Chuckles himself was exhausted, tired from skipping, swinging, and piggy-backing the small crowd of kids around him. And if he had to tell another one of those childish knock, knock jokes one more time...
The weary clown looked up as Don walked toward him wearing a big grin on his face. He rolled his eyes knowing that he was in for a lot of good natured teasing from the grinning agent. "Yo, bro!" he yelled back.
Don grinned at his brother's appearance, remembering how he'd roped him into being a clown. Come on, Charlie, he'd pleaded. "You already have great clown hair – long and curly! All we need to do is frizz it up a bit and spray paint it with bright colors!"
"My hair?'"Charlie had protested. "You want to mess with my hair?"
"The paint will wash out," Don had promised him. "And like you told me once before, you have a way with kids. All you have to do is tell them some jokes, make a balloon animal or two, and work some magic."
"Well," Charlie had thought aloud. "I do have a couple of math magic problems involving your age and your favorite number. Maybe they would enjoy that."
"In small doses," Don had gently suggested. "So, what do you say? Are you in?"
Charlie had stared at him deep in thought. "Yeah, I'm in. Besides, it is a great cause."
Don shook his head at how easy it had been to talk Charlie into this. Deep down Charlie had a heart of gold... and the patience of a saint. "Hey kids!" Don announced. "Chuckles needs to take a break for a little while." As the kids groaned in disappointment, Don excitedly gestured toward the dunking booth. "There's a new guy in that booth over there. He told me he didn't think any of you could knock him in." He laughed as the kids took off to put Colby in his place.
"Did he really say that?" Charlie asked in disbelief.
"No," Don snickered. "But he's got a lot of dunking to do to catch up with me."
Charlie snorted as he looked his brother up and down. "You are pretty wet."
"Getting dunked will do that to you," he said wryly. He affectionately patted Charlie's shoulder. "How're you holding up?"
"This is tiring work," Charlie answered. "I'm exhausted. But I wouldn't trade it for the world. Thanks for inviting me to help."
"No," Don told him. "Thank you for agreeing to help."
"Yeah," Don cut him off. "She would." The brothers shared a moment of silence as Don forced down a sudden wave of emotion. "So, where's Dad?"
Charlie laughed. "Once he saw that I really could entertain the crowd of kids he left to go help out at the barbecue line."
"No doubt to scope out the women helping out."
"But he's happy dating-"
"Charlie," Don shook his head as he interrupted him. "Think about it."
"Oh," Charlie sighed. "You mean for us."
"Nothing gets by you, does it?" Don teased.
Charlie stuck out his tongue which his brother countered by swiping the big red nose from his face. "Hey!" he protested.
"Hey Chuckles," Don taunted with a twinkle in his eye.
Charlie groaned and rolled his eyes, remembering one of his brother's favorite tricks to play on him when he was little, and knowing what was coming. "Don't even."
Don playfully waggled his hand in front of Charlie's face. "I've got your nose." He started walking away, whistling as he tossed the nose up in the air and caught it.
Deciding to go with the moment, Charlie threatened what he had when they were kids. "I'm telling Dad."
"That would mean going into 'I'm getting my sons a date' headquarters," he tossed over his shoulder.
Charlie swallowed nervously. "Hold up! I'm coming with you!"
"There you go," Megan said warmly to the young boy seated in front of her. "One hot air balloon as requested."
"Thanks," he smiled as he slipped down from the chair and raced off into the distance.
Megan laughed softly as she set the brush down.
"You never told me that you were so artistically skilled," Larry said.
"I guess it never came up," she shrugged. "I took a few art classes in college for fun, but I knew art would never get me anywhere."
"With such obvious natural skill I would think you could have made a comfortable living."
"My parents were no-nonsense and didn't believe art was something I should be considering as a career," Megan responded. "And I wanted to get away from them and be independent so badly that I was only considering job security."
"Do you paint in your spare time?" Larry inquired.
Megan gave him a teasing glance. "Spare time? What's that?"
"Point taken," Larry chuckled. "I just hate the thought of such skill not being expressed and shared with the world."
"I'm sharing it now," she grinned. "And for a very good cause."
"That is true," he nodded. "Meanwhile, no one seems to be interested in what I have to offer."
"They were," Megan reminded him. "A small robot pulling a car? Awesome! I think it was the lecture on the physics behind it that drove them away." Seeing the crestfallen expression on his face she hastily added, "No offense meant, Larry. Personally, I found it fascinating."
"You're very kind to say so, but I know you are far too nice to be blunt." He sighed. "I'm boring, aren't I?"
"You're not boring at all. But the kids are here to have fun, not for a physics lesson." Her face lit up as inspiration struck. "You brought a few more robots with you, right?"
"Two others," he replied. "But they aren't built for pulling cars."
"No, but I have an idea," Megan told him with a twinkle in her eye.
Fifteen minutes later the two were surrounded by a large group of kids. Megan was smiling at Larry who hesitantly smiled back despite the fact that he was nervously wringing his hands. She winked at him and nodded.
"Alright!" she called out to the crowd. "Who's ready for some monster robot action?"
The kids screamed in excitement as the first robot made its way into the 'arena' Megan had built from drinking straws. The kids oohed and ahhed at the fiercesome robot, complete with a brand new paint job compliments of Megan, spun around in circles, occasionally making a quick, teasing dash at the children. As they laughed and cheered their approval, Larry began to relax, becoming more bold in maneuvering the robot.
"Meet The Pulverizer!" she announced to the crowd. "And his opponent, The Metal Grinder!" Megan picked up her control and sent the second contestant roaring toward the crowd, swerving away at the last minute to run circles around Larry's robot.
The kids whooped and hollered as Larry and Megan performed a complex, amusing, and impressive demonstration with the robots. When they were done, Megan spent the next two hours painting the robots' pictures on the children's faces, while Larry let each child take a robot for a spin. When the carnival came to a close and the kids had finally trickled away from their area, he leaned over and smiled at Megan. "That was a magnificent idea."
"Thanks," she beamed at him. "I told you they would enjoy it." She noticed Don walking toward the parking lot with Chuckles hot on his heels. "But you know, Don deserves all the credit."
"So I've heard," Larry agreed as he watched the two brothers climb into Don's SUV. "Underneath that imperturbable, stolid demeanor, he really does have an enormous soft side."
"Yes," she agreed. "But don't ever, under any circumstances, let him hear you say that."
"Of course not," Larry chuckled. "I value my life far too much to take such a risk."
"Good. So, after we clean up, would you be in the mood for dinner?"
Larry's face lit up. "Of course. Just promise me no more hot dogs, cotton candy, funnel cakes, or nachos."
"I was thinking Italian."
"Then it's a date," Larry said as he happily gazed at her. She smiled back and together they began cleaning up their area.
"Hey Dad," Don greeted his father as he walked through the door carrying two heavy grocery bags. "Here, let me get those for you."
"I had a great time today," Alan told him as he followed his son into the kitchen.
"I'm glad. Charlie did too, although I think he might be worn out for the next couple of days." Don poked around in the grocery bags and frowned. "I thought we were grilling?"
"We are," Alan said with a mischievous grin on his face.
Alan laughed out loud at the pouting expression on his son's face. "Check the refrigerator."
Don's face lit up with huge smile as he peeked inside the fridge. With his head still hidden behind the door he asked, "Have I told you how much I love you?"
"Yes," Alan joked. "And oddly enough, it seems to coincide with me cooking steaks."
Don chuckled as he grabbed a beer and closed the door. "Want me to start the fire?"
"Sure. Let me help."
Don held up a hand. "I've got it, Dad. You just relax for a bit."
Don left his father leaning against the counter as he made his way to the garage. He rolled out the old grill and poured the charcoal in, carefully arranging the coals into a stack. He chuckled aloud as he remembered the first time he'd been allowed to light the grill. It was the Fourth of July and Don was twelve years old. Under Alan's careful watch, Don stacked the coals as neatly as he could, trying to copy what he'd seen his father do so many times before. Charlie immediately chimed in about symmetry, and Don thought he was going to slug him until he actually listened to what Charlie was saying. "See, Dad? Don stacks the coals really good! See? There's a perfect symmetry. Are you watching, Dad? So you'll know how to do it?" Don's heart swelled with pride at the admiration in his brother's voice, and he grinned at the look of patience on his father's face.
Don lit the coals and stood back to admire the flames as they danced across the coals. The flickering light was mesmerizing and he found his thoughts drifting once again to his childhood. That same day he rushed inside, eager to tell his mom about lighting the fire, but immediately stopped in his tracks as he found her at the kitchen table seasoning the steaks. "You're putting garlic on those," he protested. "You know I don't like garlic on mine."
"These are for your father and brother," she told him.
Don glanced around her on the table and then to the kitchen counter. "But... but where's mine?"
"Oh, honey, I didn't forget you," his mother assured him. "Look in the refrigerator."
Don quickly flung open the door and smiled in delight as he found himself looking at the perfect rib-eye. "That's for me?"
His mother appeared at his side, draping a gentle arm across his shoulders. "Yes it is. I bought it just for you."
She knelt down so that she was on eye level with him. "You give so much everyday," she told him. "To me, to your father, to your brother, and you never ask for anything in return, so I wanted to do something special, just for you." Margaret reached out and hugged him close. "You make me so proud, Donny. I want you to always remember that, okay?"
"Looking good," Alan commented as he joined his oldest son next to the grill.
"Yeah, well," Don teased. "It's all in the symmetry."
Alan laughed as he remembered that day so many years ago. "So I've heard."
Don sipped his beer as the memories in his head faded away. He was content to stand with his father in a companionable silence as they both watched the flames.
"I had a good time today," Alan suddenly spoke up.
"Good," Don nodded. "I was hoping you would."
"May I ask why you never told us about this before?"
Don shrugged as he fiddled with the label on the bottle. "It's always been a private thing for me before. I dunno, selfish I guess."
"Nothing about what you do every Fourth of July is selfish," Alan insisted. "I just wish Charlie and I had known before."
"It's for Mom," Don whispered. "She told me once that she was proud of me for being so giving. I don't want to let her down."
"Donny," Alan spoke gently as he stood with his shoulder brushing his son's. "Even if you didn't do this every year, your mother would still be proud of you. You are one of the most giving individuals I know. In fact, I think you don't take enough for yourself." He sighed as Don rolled his eyes. "Okay, that's another subject for another day."
"I do want to say one more thing." Alan waited until Don gestured for him to continue. "I know this was your idea – that you're the one who convinced the FBI to become a sponsor and convinced the other agents to donate their time. And I know that you picked the charity to raise money for." Don looked away, uncomfortable with the intensity in his father's voice. Alan reached out and grasped his chin, forcing Don to look him in the eye. "And I know you started this the first Fourth after your mother died. It's your tribute to her and I think it's wonderful." Alan's hand slid up to cup Don's cheek and he stared at him with an expression of fatherly love. "Your mother would be so very proud of you." Don's eyes teared up as he found himself wrapped tightly in Alan's embrace. "And I'm proud of you too."
"Thanks, Dad," Don whispered.
"Hey!" Charlie yelled as he walked into the backyard, drying his hair with a towel. "The steaks cook better if they're actually on the grill."
Don and Alan glanced down to see that the flame had died out and the grill was ready to go. Alan rushed to get the steaks from the kitchen, leaving the two brothers alone in the yard.
"You're a laugh a minute... Chuckles."
"Thanks... Donny." Charlie lowered the towel and held out a strand of hair. "By the way, not all of the color came out."
Don laughed as he saw that there was still a pink tint to Charlie's curly locks. "Oops."
"Oops?" Charlie demanded. "I'd hate to think you knew this would happen..."
"Would I ever do that to you?" Don asked with a devilish grin on his face.
"Dad," Charlie whined.
"Leave me out of this," Alan said as he returned with a stack of steaks. "Besides, there was a nice young woman working the barbecue line with me-"
"Dad," Charlie growled in warning.
"What?" Alan asked innocently. "She said she had a thing for clowns."
Don laughed so hard that he almost dropped his beer bottle.
"Oh, and Donny?"
Don's expression instantly sobered while Charlie grinned.
"I found a nice woman for you, too. She's a school teacher and she absolutely adores children."
"Dad," Don protested.
"What?" Alan playfully barked. "Is it really too much for me to ask that at least one of you gives me grandchildren one day?"
Don and Charlie shared a long suffering look before winking at each other.
"Dad," Don began.
"We've been meaning to tell you something," Charlie continued.
Alan raised a suspicious eyebrow. "Yes?"
"We've been thinking," Don said looking back at Charlie. Together they looked at him and said, in unison, "Of getting you a dog."
They cackled together as Alan shook his head in disbelief. "With a sense of humor like that, it's no wonder you two can't get a date."