Epilogue, Part 2
A/N: Yeah, I know - long time, no finish. But the summer got eaten alive by Terrorism and Public Security, and since it was a worthy cause, it's hard to feel bad about it. So here is the end of "Quarry", a full year in the making. If I'd seen that one coming, I probably never would have had the nerve to start it.
The good news (for me, anyway) is that I tried an experiment called "100 words for 100 days" that kept me writing in small bursts all summer long. Not the uninterrupted burst I needed to finish this, but it does mean that I have some fun stuff waiting in the wings to share. In the meantime, here is the final cap to "Quarry". For all of you who sent me messages and got this far, I cannot thank you enough. You are the best. Hope you enjoy the (long) ending.
"Vodka? Really?" Charlie watched, wrinkling his forehead in surprise, as the bartender set the short glasses in front of them and withdrew.
"They keep it in the freezer here - it's good. But sometimes I go for tequila - picked that one up in New Mexico." Don threw the vodka back and tapped the counter for a refill. "What about you, huh? Wild turkey? And you say my team isn't a bad influence - I smell Colby's example there."
"Okay, so I'd never had that one before. It was good. Maybe I should try the vodka."
Don smiled at the bartender as she refilled his shot, then glared at Charlie in alarm. "No, no - uh-uh. No mixing. I'll probably get to live if I bring you home drunk - all bets are off if I bring you home sick."
Charlie downed his Wild Turkey, coughing a little, and gestured to the bartender before turning to Don. "What's this stuff about you bringing me home? This was my idea. I drove. Maybe Dad will be all over me for bringing you home drunk."
Don choked on his second shot, had to cover his mouth to cough. "Oh, man," he moaned, massaging the soreness in his breastbone where the alcohol had re-routed. "Man, I'd love to see that."
Charlie tossed back his second shot. "It could happen just like that. Dad could be - he could be - all - mad at me."
"It couldn't happen just like that because if we have much of this stuff, neither one of us is driving - we're calling a cab." Don swayed in a little closer to get a better look at Charlie. "You aren't drunk already, are you?"
"Of course not!" Charlie tapped his glass sharply on the counter to get the bartender's attention.
Don nodded in response to the bartender's questioning glance, and she refilled his glass as well. "We'd better slow down a little, or we both will be."
"Speak for yourself."
"Okay. Just remember how much you enjoyed that last hangover."
"We'll be all right." Charlie moved a wooden bowl between them and gestured expansively. "We just need something in our stomachs. Have a beer nut."
Don obediently grabbed some. "I don't mean to argue with the scientist among us," he mumbled around a mouthful, "but I think they use these to make you thirsty so you order MORE drinks. I don't know that they actually soak much up."
Charlie took Don's shot glass out of his hand and waggled it, as well as his own, at the bartender. "I don't think you're getting into the spirit of the thing. You need another shot. We should do a toast or something."
"Some of us are in danger of getting toast-ED."
Charlie ignored him. "I know!" he said suddenly. "Megan told me something today."
Don retrieved his freshly-filled glass and eyed him suspiciously. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. She told me someone had started an anonymous scholarship at the Police Academy in J.D. Connelly's name."
Don took a sip. "She's turning into quite the little chatterbox."
"She thought it might be something I'd be interested in donating to." Charlie enjoyed another mouthful, slowly this time. "She's right."
Don threw back the last of his glass, a little more violently than necessary. "Yeah, well, it's your money."
"Yup." Charlie nodded, gesturing to the bartender for refills. "So I'm thinking - we should drink a toast to J.D. Connelly."
Don froze, watching the clear liquid fill his glass.
Charlie raised his own glass. "To J.D. Connelly."
Don raised his more slowly, clicked it against Charlie's. "To J.D.," he echoed softly. They drank in unison, their glasses thudding back on the bar top.
Don let his head hang for a moment, until Charlie said quietly, "What are you thinking?"
Don coughed into his fist. "I'm thinking that maybe a man just coming off of strong meds shouldn't be having all these shots."
"You want to call it quits?"
"Hell, no. I want a refill." Don gave the bartender his best smile and she blinked, then made her way to them with a bottle in each hand.
"You boys celebratin' something special or drownin' yer sorrows? Because either way, you might want to pull back the pace, just a touch."
"Celebrating," Charlie nodded.
Don looked more skeptical. "Little of both." He took just a sip of the next one though, nursing it. "We'll slow down. It's just - been a rocky ride." He leaned back in his bar chair, turning the half-full shot glass thoughtfully in his fingers. "So. Celebrating, you say. What are we celebrating?"
"I don't know," Charlie grabbed a fistful of beer nuts. "Soames being in prison. You having two hands and two eyes again. Me not blowing anybody's brains out by accident." He chewed the beer nuts and swallowed. "You being alive."
Don smiled slightly. "Well, you're a real glass-half-full kinda guy." He raised the rest of his shot to Charlie in salute and drank, then lowered it back to the counter, resting his forearms against the marble lip. One finger traced the round rim of the glass. "I think he would have made a really good cop, you know?"
Charlie nodded. "Why not. He had a really good mentor."
Don held himself very still. "Thanks," he said quietly. He gave the glass a spin. "Not a day goes by…I have a bunch of those now. Things that I - wish had happened differently. Or that I'd done differently - that cross my mind every day. Keep this up and in another couple of years I won't have time for anything but thinking about all the things that I wish I could go back and change." He noticed he was playing with his glass and threw it back to drain the last drops. "Guess that's what nights are for." He smiled, but it didn't quite reach his eyes.
Charlie nudged Don's elbow with the bowl of beer nuts, took another handful himself. "You can't - I mean, to even do your job. How can you, if you hang onto things?"
Don spun the now-empty glass until it danced like a dreidel. "That's the quandary, all right - let go of too much, you become like a machine and you lose your edge. Hang on to too much and you become a wreck - lose your edge."
"So…what do you do?"
"I don't know." Don slapped his palm on the shot glass to stop its twirl and studied Charlie through half-hitched lids. His mouth lifted in a suggestion of a smile. "Have shots with your brother, I guess."
Charlie dipped his head to hide a grin. "Then I think you need a refill."
Don grinned back for real this time. "Man, you must be a genius." He jerked his chin at Charlie's glass. "But I don't drink alone."
"I'll keep that in mind." Charlie lifted a hand to signal the bartender.
"Wow." Don rested his head against the cool marble lip of the bar top for just a minute. "It's really hot in here. You're the math guy - how many would you say we've had?"
Charlie lifted his own head from the bar and squinted at him, calculating. "Well, we've been at it now for almost - " he frowned at the clock face on the opposite wall, "Um - hm. They should get some numbers for that clock, instead of those big blurry dots."
"Sloppy workmanship," Don agreed, without lifting his head.
"No - no standards," Charlie nodded.
"So - how many?"
Charlie blinked owlishly. "How many what?"
Don raised his head, leaned carefully back in the bar chair and stretched his neck. "Shots. C'mon, math guy - how many?"
"Oh. Right. Um…" Charlie considered. "We've been at it for - um - a couple of blurry dots now, so with - um - let's see - how many shots per hour, I'd say…"
Don tilted his head to wait for the answer, found he'd tilted a little to far and slapped a palm on the counter to catch his balance.
Charlie's eyes narrowed with focus. "Professionally, I'd have to say - exactly - uh - " he waved a hand. "A lot."
Don rubbed his forehead. "That many?"
Charlie considered. "A whole lot," he corrected. "To be exact." He balanced the bowl of beer nuts on the upended shot glass in front of him. "In my professional opinion."
"Uh huh. You do good math when you're drunk."
Charlie nodded solemnly. "That's because I'm a gen - a gen - "
Don lifted his wrist and frowned at his watch. "Huh. Lookathat. My watch has blurry dots now too."
"Really?" Charlie leaned forward to look and Don shot out a hand to catch him by the shoulder and thrust him back upright as he seemed inclined to finish his lean face-down on the bartop. "Wow. Maybe it's something in the atmosphere. Larry and me should…we should…"
"Call a cab."
Charlie frowned, interrupted in his already shaky train of thought. "No, Don - Larry and me calling a cab won't help anything. We need to be here to figure - "
Don groaned. "Not - c'mon, genius - I mean for us. We can't drive."
"Oh." Charlie gave a serious nod that had him lifting a hand dubiously to check on the actual, as opposed to theoretical, placement of his head. "But - what about my car?"
"We'll come get it in the morning. It'll be okay."
"It's new," Charlie protested. "I don't want it…we could call Dad to come get us."
Don fixed him with a bleary stare. "Huh. Are you sure you're my brother?"
"Not always," Charlie admitted. "C'mon. Dad won't be - I mean, we're…y'know…grown men…"
"Yeah, that's always stopped him." Don tried his head on the marble lip of the bar again. It was nice and cool there. "Besides, he can only drive one car at a time, so it doesn't fix anything."
"I could call Larry."
"Same problem. He can only drive…well, with Larry, I'm not positive, maybe he can drive two, but it doesn't seem likely."
"Larry and Amita…"
"Cab. 'Sbetter. Throw up in a cab, you can leave a big tip. Throw up in a friend's car…Cab. Much better."
"Voice of experience."
"I called you gents a cab." Don pushed himself up from the bar and managed a slightly lopsided smile for the bartender this time. "You should be on your way before the post-work rush shows up."
"Hey," Don pushed himself fully erect again, teetering a little. "Dad had a meeting. We might beat him home."
Charlie frowned. "We don't have to - sneak in. I mean, it's my house."
"I guess." Don sounded less certain. "Didn't you ever sneak in? Like, ever?"
Charlie blinked, then shook his head, put a hand to it again, as if to check its existence. "I don't think so."
"Wow." Don reached across to Charlie's shot glass and beer nut edifice and added his shot glass to the bottom of the tower, carefully setting the beer nut dish back on top. "I guess we really are different."
"Fifty percent different, fifty percent the same."
"DNA. Siblings are fifty percent different, and fifty percent the same. I mean, not necessarily exactly - sometimes it forty-eight to fifty-two, or…well, you get the point."
"Oh." Don dismantled the shot glasses and beer nut dish and tried a different configuration. "Guess that explains a lot." He studied his handiwork. "Maybe we should drink to that."
Charlie took apart Don's construction, carefully balancing them in a new pattern. "Can't. We're cut off."
"Right." Don nodded wisely. "With water, then. Water would be good anyway."
"Good idea." Charlie gestured to the bartender, then hesitated, his face changing.
"Hey, Don?" he blurted suddenly. "I - there's something I need to tell you."
Don looked at him in surprise, the pleasant blur of alcohol slipping, his expression shuttering slightly. "Okay."
"Um - " Charlie hesitated. "Dad said - he said you were going to sell your baseball cards on eBay."
"Oh." Don relaxed. "Well, I was really kind of - coming up with an excuse. So I didn't have to tell him what was going on."
"You know?" Don accepted a glass of water from the bartender and drank, watching Charlie over the rim. "How?"
"Well - I - um - " Charlie cleared his throat, picking up his own water. He mumbled into the glass.
Don stared at him, suspicion returning. "Huh?"
"I - " Charlie put the glass down and swallowed. "I know because - I have them."
"What?!" Don misjudged the bar and set the water down harder than he intended, slopping it in a puddle. "You - what are you doing with my baseball cards?"
"Well, I - " Charlie held up his hands placatingly. "I didn't mean to - I just found them, and then I thought I'd take a look at them - you never used to let me pick them up and look at them," he finished in an injured tone.
Don wiped his wet hand on his shirt. "That's because you used to get distracted with big - math thoughts and write on them - numbers, squiggles - "
"Those - those weren't squiggles, they were…"
"Not the point, Charlie!"
"Yes, well. I don't do that any more. Write on them, I mean. I meant to give them to you, but I forgot I had them until - I mean, you should be glad! That's how I knew something was wrong!"
Don leaned his elbows on the counter and rubbed his forehead with the heels of his hands. "I - " He stopped. "It's not - " He let his hands drop and faced Charlie as directly as he could manage with the slight sway interfering. "Charlie. Do you remember what Mom used to say?"
Charlie looked thoughtfully innocent. "…about?"
"Oh. You mean about…how…" he took a deep breath and recited, "everybody is entitled to a little privacy."
Don continued to stare silently.
Charlie made a face. "…even older brothers," he finished sullenly.
"Yeah. Think you're going to give that a try any time soon?"
Charlie smiled faintly. "I'll take it under advisement."
Don groaned and laughed at the same time. "And you wonder why I don't tell you things."
"Hey!" Now Charlie looked indignant. "You can tell me things!"
"You tell Dad."
"I do not! That was - years ago!"
Don closed one eye at him. "Donnie, Charlie tells me you were shot at today. Again."
"Why does that surprise him, anyway? What does he think you do for a living?"
"He's in denial. I like it that way."
"Okay - so, that one time."
Don folded his arms. "Donnie, what do you think you're doing? Charlie tells me that there is obviously something going on between you and Agent Warner. If you want things to work out with Robin…"
Charlie held up a hand. "I'll admit, I was sorry I - okay, two. Two times. Big deal."
Don raised a brow. "So, Charlie tells me Liz Warner is back…"
"I just happened to - that one doesn't count. I was just - making conversation."
"Donnie," Don continued relentlessly, "Charlie tells me you think this job is too dangerous for me - "
"I was thinking out loud - so that's - what - three or four - "
Don's other brow rose to join the first one. "So, Donnie, tell me about this prosecutor - Hodges, Charlie says her name is - "
"Well, someone has to keep him up to date on the news - "
"My news…? Maybe that could be me?"
"My choice! Oh - the best thing about that one was that Larry was evidently in on it too and came down to give me romantic advice- "
"Oh yeah." Charlie scratched the back of his neck. "I forgot Larry and Amita were there."
"Amita??! You discussed my love life with Amita? What was this, a forum?"
Both men reached automatically for their wallets. "I've got it, I've got it - " Charlie set his wallet, which seemed to have taken on a life of its own, on the bar top to pick through the billfold. "It was - my idea…"
"Then I'll get the tip." Don fumbled through his own wallet, frowning at the bills which suddenly looked blurrily alike. "I can't believe you guys sat around and discussed - I mean, tell me the truth - is my life a topic of discussion in your math lectures too?"
Charlie carefully counted out a series of bills then glanced at the tab, blinked, and offered a credit card instead. "I don't know. What part of your life are we talking about?"
"Not funny." Don shot a stern look somewhere in his general direction, gave up on trying to see the bills clearly and left a small pile on the counter, devoutly hoping he'd left himself enough grocery money for the week. "I don't get you, man."
Charlie tried to stuff his wallet back in his pants pocket, missed repeatedly and decided to tuck it in his shirt pocket instead. "Well, I don't get you either. These people care about you - they're interested in your life. What's so terrible about that?"
Don leaned into the bar for a minute and closed his eyes with a sigh. "Just - get in the cab, okay? And give me your keys - I can't leave my gun box in your car." Charlie pulled out his keys and dropped them, doubled over to pick them up, snickering. "What's so funny?" Don demanded.
"I - I don't think - " Charlie slumped on the bar stool to hold himself upright. "You should be handling a gun - in your - condition."
Don bent for the keys, got them in one grab but staggered and had to snatch at Charlie's sleeve to steady himself. "It's locked in the box," he pointed out. "Unloaded. With a cable lock on. I can't - " his balance wavered, then he caught it again and pulled himself more or less straight. "leave it to be maybe stolen. Used in a crime. C'mon - " He tugged on Charlie's sleeve and Charlie slid off the stool and bobbled on his feet. "Cab."
Charlie let himself be herded along, still laughing, though he wasn't quite sure at what any more. He slid into the cab and waited until Don slid in beside him, the metal box tucked under his arm.
"Um - cab drivers take cards these days, right?"
Charlie nodded, letting his eyes slip closed. "We're taking a cab all the way back to Pasadena. Whatdyou think that will cost - about a million dollars?"
Don wrapped his arms around his gun box and closed his eyes as well. "Plus tip."
"Sure you don't want…to call Dad?"
Don snorted. "Give the driver the address."
Charlie leaned forward to give the address, misjudged the distance and slammed his forehead into the headrest in front of him.
"You okay?" Don didn't quite manage to open his eyes to check.
Charlie detached his forehead from the vinyl and rubbed absently at his nose. "Didn't feel a thing. Don – " His whisper came out inordinately loud. "I'm not sure what language this driver speaks."
Don did open his eyes this time. "I don't know. Urdu, maybe?"
"Oh." Charlie clung to the headrest. "Do you speak Urdu?"
Don grinned blearily. "Right now I'm not sure I speak English. Just point on the map."
"Okay. And Don?"
"I'll do the talking with Dad."
Don gave a short burst of laughter. "Be my guest."
Alan pulled into the long drive with a sigh and turned off the engine. The meeting had gone well, with bright prospects for a very lucrative project, but it had been a long day and he was glad to be home. He reached for his briefcase and hit the door handle, thinking that a cold beer and a couple of minutes with the paper before deciding what to scare up for dinner sounded nice. His feet had just touched the gravel on the drive when he saw a cab pull up in front of the house and idle at the curb. He raised his brows. Visitors? He certainly wasn't expecting anybody, and there was no sign of Charlie's blue Prius.
He waited to see who would emerge, but the cab just sat there, engine idling, doors sealed shut. Or maybe somebody was lost? He strolled down to the curb, pinning on a polite smile and leaning in the passenger side window. "Can I help you with something?"
Of all the voices he might have expected to hear, that one was probably the last and he swiveled in surprise to look in the back seat. Charlie leaned forward across the inert body of a gently snoring Don, who was sprawled next to him with his arms wrapped around a metal box.
"Dad!" Charlie repeated brightly, as though he feared he might not have been heard the first time, "Um – hi! How – how – how – how - " One of Don's hands released the box long enough to smack Charlie in the shoulder and interrupt his stutter, "- was your meeting?" He finished with a wide, if slightly vacuous, smile.
Alan stared, trying to get his bearings. "It was fine," he stammered blankly. "And – how was yours?"
"Ours was – ours was – ours was – " Don elbowed Charlie sharply this time. Charlie hiccupped. "Was just – really – great."
Alan blinked against the miasma of alcohol that accompanied his bursts of words. "I guess I can see that for myself." He pulled open the cab door. "Why don't you boys come inside?"
Don didn't budge. "Driver," he slurred succinctly. His hand fumbled over his pockets. "Good – tip."
"Yes, I should think so," Alan agreed dryly, reaching for his own wallet. "I'll get it and you can pay me back." He glanced at the meter and winced. "I'm glad you had the sense to take a cab anyway. You do realize that it's only six in the afternoon?" He tried to take the metal box from Don, who clung to it tenaciously, gave up and slid a hand under his elbow instead. "I hope you two can walk, because you're too big and I'm too old to carry either of you, never mind both."
Don nodded vaguely, turning himself until he tumbled out of the cab door, staggered. Alan was certain he was going to end up on the lawn, but before his knees could hit the ground, he caught himself and wavered semi-upright, leaning against the side of the cab for support.
Alan had to fight to suppress a smile. "How about you, Charlie? Do you need a hand?"
Charlie shook his head so emphatically that he had to blink and grab for the back of the driver's seat for a minute, but he did indeed manage to pull himself across the vinyl cushions and to the open door. He blinked harder at the sudden rush of sunlight. "So – " he continued with elaborate casualness, clinging to the open door. "How – um – how – was your meeting?"
This time Alan did smile, sliding a hand under one of his arms to ease him away from the door and grabbing ahold of Don with the other hand. "It was fine. Why don't I tell you all about it inside?"
"Good - good idea." Charlie's vigorous nod almost upset his balance, but he caught himself on Alan's shoulder.
Alan gave Don's sleeve a gentle tug to draw him away from the side of the cab. "I think the driver would like to leave." Don muttered something inarticulate and arced away from the cab without opening his eyes. Alan shook his head. "The door is this way…" he singsonged, trying to steer them both. Worse than herding cats, he thought with a grimace. "I thought you guys were going to play Frisbee golf - how did you end up in a bar this early in the day?"
They navigated the porch steps with surprising deftness, but then Alan stopped dead, flummoxed. He would need a hand free to unlock the door, but he didn't dare let go of either son. After a minute, he gave Don a gentle push that propped him against the house on one side of the door. Don leaned into the wall without protest, eyes still closed and arms still tightly clutching his metal box. He seemed to remain upright without any real problems, so Alan tried balancing Charlie against the porch railing while he wrestled the key into the lock.
"My - i - my - i - my -i - " Alan saw Don's arm automatically thrust out and connect with air, so he obligingly nudged Charlie's shoulder himself. Charlie gulped and nodded. "My idea." He nodded again, frowned and reached for his head. Alan pulled open the door and maneuvered him around it. Charlie paused in the doorway and grasped his arm, eyes solemn. "Don's drunk," he explained, in a stentorian whisper.
Alan drew back from this newest alcohol emission cloud, glanced back over his shoulder at his eldest, saw his mouth turn upward at the corners. "Is he." He didn't even try to control the sarcasm in his tone. Charlie nodded again, put both hands to his head this time to re-center it. Alan urged him inside with a palm on his back, reaching for Don with his other hand and pulling him in after him. Don immediately sank down onto the arm of the nearest armchair, cradling his box, but Charlie bobbed in front of Alan, still clinging to his sleeve.
"It's my - " he explained - "It's totally - It's - " He took a deep breath and tried again. "Me. My fault. I did it." He nodded again, so hard that Alan had to grasp him hastily by the shoulders to keep him from ending up face first on the floor.
He looked past Charlie questioningly to Don, whose own shoulders were shaking with silent laughter. Don's eyes still looked closed to him, but he must have been able to see something, because he lifted a hand in Alan's direction to indicate his own mystification.
Alan shrugged and let go of Charlie, patting one shoulder lightly. "Well, I'm very disappointed in you, Charlie," he said soothingly.
Charlie nodded again, satisfied, taking an uncertain step backward to rebalance himself and landing on the sofa with an abrupt bounce instead. He looked surprised, but pleased, to find himself sitting down.
Alan looked from one to the other as Don slid slowly off the armrest until he was seated in the chair, one leg still dangling over the wooden arm.
Alan shook his head slowly. "I'll put the coffee on."
He turned with one hand on the swinging kitchen door. "Yes, Charlie?"
Charlie blinked at him, then smiled a broad smile. "Um - how - how - how was your meeting?"
Alan opened his mouth, then closed it. "Coffee. Coming right up."
Alan found himself shaking his head as he measured coffee beans and scooped them into the grinder. Well, wonders never ceased. There was something he had never expected to see in his lifetime. Or any lifetime, for that matter. Charlie's and Don's age difference had precluded anything of the sort at the time in their lives when he might have otherwise expected it - despite the fact that Charlie had been plunked right into the middle of Don's High School years. And then they had been a full continent apart for college, and after that, both busy pursuing their own careers, frequently habitating different countries, never mind different coasts. He filled the coffee maker with water and hit the button for the grinder, trying to decide how Margaret would have felt about her boys' adventure with alcohol. He couldn't actually decide how he felt about it himself, though he did notice that he kept catching himself smiling. Silly. This was not the sort of behavior a father should encourage in his sons.
He gathered mugs and sugar for a tray, hesitated over the milk. Don liked milk in his coffee, but under the circumstances…
He peeked through the swinging door, noticed that Charlie was now curled on his side on the couch, and that Don had the chair reclined with the footrest elevated.
…black would probably be best. Definitely black.
He was about to return to the kitchen when he heard Charlie murmur something, and he paused.
"So…" Charlie reached for the afghan on the back of the sofa and pulled it over himself in a messy heap. "…can I borrow them?"
Don stirred, eyes still shut. "…sounds like you already…have!" There was a suggestion of resentment in his voice and Alan made a face. Here was a familiar argument.
Charlie snuggled deeper into the afghan. "Not your cards…" he objected muzzily. "You know. Your…"
His voice dropped and Alan leaned forward, trying to make out the word. He frowned. Did he say "cuffs"?
Don shifted enough to get a more comfortable grip on his box, his brows twitching together. "Are you kidding? No way! Do you know…how much it costs to kit yourself out in all that stuff? Get your own!"
"You never - " Charlie paused for a yawn, which in no way diminished his honed-with-practice, deeply-wounded-younger-brother tone. "Let me use your…stuff. I wouldn't even know where to get - "
Alan almost fell through the door trying to catch the last word. It certainly sounded like he said "cuffs". What on earth…?
"You can buy some where I got mine." A sly smile crept across Don's face, belying the ultra-rational-older-brother tone of voice. "Of course, you need a law enforcement ID to shop there," he finished sweetly.
Charlie yawned again and buried his face in one of the sofa cushions. "You never let me borrow your ID," he complained sleepily, as if just remembering a new grievance.
This is completely wrong, Alan scolded himself mentally. Eavesdroppers never hear well of themselves - or of anything else. But somehow, he was still standing in the doorway, ear cocked.
"Yeah, right." The box in Don's arms slid slowly into his lap as his grip loosened. "I'd ever done that, they'd still be picking pieces of my body outta the water around the Santa Monica pier."
Alan made a face and ducked back into the kitchen to the rich smell of fresh coffee brewing.
See? Serves you right, he chided himself.
It had taken the perspective of nearly twenty years to realize how confusing their directives must have been to Don in those days…include your brother! Include your brother! Include your…no, no, not in THAT! No wonder he had eventually backed so far off. But back then, they'd had a bad habit of expecting Don to think and act like an adult, long before it was appropriate, and an equally bad habit of clinging to Charlie as their baby, long after THAT was appropriate. He sighed and wondered if anybody ever got it right - even people without their "special circumstances". He added his coffee pot to the tray of mugs and sugar and backed through the kitchen door with it, settled it on the coffee table before he realized that the breathing in the room was suspiciously deep and even.
Pursing his lips, he peeled the mound of afghan off of Charlie and shook it out, settling it more effectively over him. Then he went to the closet to fetch a blanket for Don.
He was returning with the blanket when he heard Charlie mumble, with drowsy redundancy, "You never let me use your stuff. Some things…never change."
He had the blanket unfolded and ready to spread when he paused to Don's answering murmur of, "Naw…everything...changes."
He smiled ruefully. Leave it to his boys to find a way to argue, even when half-conscious. He threw the blanket over his shoulder and tried to gently pry the metal box free from Don's grip. Don held on unbudgingly, and he gave up and spread the blanket over him anyway, box and all.
Funny thing, he mused, was that, as usual, they were both right. Lots of things changed - too many: the rules changed, the players changed, and people came and went fast and suddenly and long before you were ready. He straightened and looked from one dark head to the other, his expression softening. But - at the end of the day, there did seem to be a few things that stayed the same. He gave Don's arm a pat under the blanket and tugged the afghan a little higher over Charlie's shoulders. Then he turned to lift the tray and return it to the kitchen.
Don moved his head a little. "So, Chuck - "
Alan paused with the tray in his hands.
Charlie hitched the afghan until it was half over his head. "Don't call me Chuck," he insisted in a muffled grumble.
"Oh. Right." Don's tone would have sounded contrite to anybody who didn't know him better. His mouth ghosted a smile. "So, Chuckles. Ever been…to the Albuquerque balloon festival?"
Alan sat down abruptly on the coffee table, looking in surprise from one to the other.
"Uh uh…" Charlie's voice was barely audible from the depths of the sofa cushion. He paused. "Good...hiking…'querque."
Don's hand moved under the blanket, and Alan could tell it had settled protectively on top of his box. "'ZI was thinking." He managed a faint nod, then his lashes fluttered and went still.
No one spoke again, and after a minute, Alan smiled. Well, well. On the other hand, maybe it wasn't so much that things changed. Maybe it was that they - grew.
He put the tray back on the coffee table next to him, reached over and poured himself a cup. It was a shame to waste it, after all. And it'd been a long time since he'd had the opportunity to watch both his boys sleep. Plus, there was the double pleasure of knowing that if they woke and discovered him, they'd be completely mortified. His smile deepened, an odd combination of wickedness and tenderness. Maybe it wasn't all about him and Margaret getting it right after all. Maybe it was about them giving the boys the tools to make it right themselves.
Charlie stirred. "Dad," he mumbled, "How - "
Alan reached over and touched his head lightly under the afghan. "The meeting was fine, Charlie. Go back to sleep." Charlie was out again before he could finish speaking.
Alan sat back and sipped his coffee, finding a comfortable position where he could watch them both. With a satisfied smile, he reached for the paper. And from where he was sitting, it looked like they were doing just fine.
PS zomish, I know you wanted Coop, but I already had this worked out in my head, if not on paper. But I'm a big Coop fan myself, so I'll try to come up with a one-shot follow-up where he stops by for you.