Megan softly knocked on the door to the Eppes house. Alan cracked it open and smiled at her. "Megan, how nice to see you." He stepped back and opened the door wider. "Come in, come in. I have to do something upstairs, but Don and Charlie are in the living room."
She walked around him and into the living room, where she found Don stretched out on the couch, his injured leg resting on a pile of cushions befitting a king. He beamed at her and waved her over. "How's life at the office?"
"It's a chore to keep Granger in line, but I do enjoy a challenge." She sat in a chair and gestured to his leg. "How's the limb?"
"Still sore from time to time, but doing a lot better overall. PT is a pain, though. We ought to put those people on the Most Wanted List, sadists that they are." At her stricken expression he laughed and held up a hand. "I'm kidding, of course. My PT is a slave driver, and I swear she wants to see me cry, but because of her I'll be good as new in no time."
"Megan!" Charlie cheerfully greeted her as he entered the room with two drinks in his hand. He handed one to his brother and offered the other to Megan, who shook her head. He plopped into the chair next to her and chuckled as his brother's expression.
"This is a Coke," Don stated, his tone flat.
Charlie grinned at Megan. "You can see that my brother hasn't lost those honed investigative skills he relies on so much."
"I asked for a beer," Don grumbled.
"Not while you're still on your pain meds – you know that. And I swear, if you say you'll stop taking them so you can have a beer, I'll hurt your other leg."
"You know, you just can't find good help these days," Don complained to Megan.
She laughed, enjoying the playful banter between the brothers. "I'm just glad everything turned out okay."
"Yeah, about that," Don said as he nodded his head for Charlie to give them a moment in private. After his brother was gone, he continued, "I heard about the review board. For what it's worth, I don't agree with them at all. You made a very sound decision based on the circumstances that you were facing. I'd have probably done the same thing." He sighed. "But it was a procedural violation and they have a job to do, too. I want you to know the note they put in your file will never affect any decision I make regarding you and your assignments, recommendations for promotions, whatever. But I also can't take it out – it's permanent."
She smiled, happy that Don was supporting her the way she knew he would. "I appreciate you saying that."
"You saved my father's life, my life – I owe you more than I'll ever be able to repay you. But I can at least start by saying thanks."
"Anytime," Megan assured him.
"So, Megan," Alan smiled as he came down the stairs. "What brings you by?"
"Just wanted to check up on my boss."
"Ah yes, he's doing just fine. Stubborn, grouchy..."
"So in other words, perfectly normal?" she laughed.
"Exactly," Alan winked. "I'm going out for a while. I'll be back in time for dinner."
"Where are you going, Dad?" Don called, but his father had already slipped out the front door.
Alan stepped out of his car and eyed the empty area around him. It didn't look the same now – the store had burned down to the ground, and the gas pumps had been removed, probably by the fire department while they were fighting the blaze. Alan glanced over to where Don had parked the truck when they stopped for gas. His heart twinged as he thought of the fishing gear they had lost – some of it having belonged to Margaret, and as such being irreplaceable. He quickly reminded himself that the most important irreplaceable thing – his son – had survived the encounter.
Alan cautiously approached the burned out building, almost as if he expected to hear Chris' voice. There was a raging conflict in his mind that revolved around the young bomber. On the one hand, he had shot Don and inflicted a lot of additional tortures on him. But he had also shown compassion toward both Don and Alan at the end. His childhood had been rough – he had as much as told Alan that – but it had been the information that Alan had persuaded David to give him that had sealed that theory. He could only imagine how rough young Charlie's life would have been if Don hadn't been around. Even with two loving parents, the world was still a cruel place to the boy genius. Alan's heart ached with sympathy at the thought of a little boy trying to grow up into a man with his father mercilessly beating him down every step of the way, and the sadness Chris must have felt when his lone protector – his beloved big brother – had been killed by their abusive father. It certainly didn't excuse what Chris had done just over two weeks ago, but it helped Alan understand the reasoning behind it all.
Alan carefully stepped through what would have been the door to the store and navigated around several charred, unrecognizable objects, until he reached where the office had been. He quietly studied the place where he had been certain that he was going to lose his oldest son. He felt a tear roll down his eye and quickly swiped at it. Turning around, he moved back the way he came and stopped right where the beer display had been – right where the bomb had been.
Alan carefully placed the object in his hands, a bouquet of white flowers, on top of the charred crater. He'd chosen white for innocence – something Chris Rutherford had never really been given a chance to experience.
"I hope you've found your peace, son," Alan whispered sorrowfully. "I really do."
With that Alan returned to his car, climbed in and began the drive back to Los Angeles. In the hospital Charlie had suggested that he speak with someone about the incident to help deal with it. Seeing the wisdom of the idea, Alan had just taken his advice. Now that he'd spoken to the one person that he knew would understand, he felt free to move on with his life.