Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: This one popped up in my head while I was working on my current Don h/c story.
Alan carefully maneuvered through the back door, balancing two full paper bags in his arms. He made it to the kitchen without dropping them and set the grocery bags on the counter. He made short work of putting the cold stuff in the fridge, before pulling out his evening's entertainment. The older man studied the book in his hands with a devious smile on his face – he couldn't wait to put the wealth of advice inside to good use. "Checkmate: Secrets of a Chess Master," Alan read aloud. Yep, Charlie would never know what hit him. Chuckling, he poured himself a glass of water, tucked the book under his arm, and made his way into the living room.
He stopped short as he saw Charlie slumped on the couch. "Charlie?" he asked in surprise. He knew his sons had been working on a kidnapping case that had become very intense over the past two days. Alan hadn't seen either of his boys since then, and – although he missed them – he'd decided to take advantage of the situation by indulging some quality alone time. Realizing that his youngest son had yet to respond, he set his glass and book down a she called out again. "Charlie?"
"Yeah?" the younger man whispered in a very defeated tone of voice.
Oh no, Alan thought. "Is everything okay?" ha asked, although he was fairly certain he already knew the answer.
"No, it's not." Charlie raised a shaky hand and awkwardly brushed it through his hair, refusing to look at his father. "Not at all."
"Is it Don?" Alan asked as panic seized his heart. "Did something happen to him?"
"No," the younger man quickly replied. "Don's fine. Well, he's not hurt."
Alan gently lowered himself onto the sofa next to his son. "Does this have to do with that case you two were working on?"
"I failed," Charlie whispered sadly. "I didn't get it right."
Alan placed a gentle hand on his son's shoulders. "It's not your fault, Charlie. You know that."
"This time it is," he insisted. "The FBI had the location narrowed down to three locations. I told them the one I thought was more likely. Some of the other agents doubted me, but Don trusted me. He sent the team to the one I picked, but..."
"That's not where the victim was?"
"Victim," Charlie snorted. "You sound like Don – using words like 'victim' to maintain your distance. Well, her name was Melissa. She was a bank teller, and a mother of three kids – two daughters and a son. She helped coach her daughters' softball teams. She was a person, Dad." He paused and took a shaky breath. "And I helped get her killed."
"No," Alan said firmly. "The kidnapper killed her, not you. Got it?"
"But I didn't save her," he countered as he finally met his father's stare. "That is my fault."
"Charlie," Alan whispered, at a loss for anything else to say. He placed an arm around his son's shoulders and squeezed him tight. "You consult on these cases for your brother because you want to help. You don't have to do it, but you have a sense of justice as strong as your brother's. Even if you did make the wrong choice, you still tried to help. Nobody will ever blame you for that."
"I do," Charlie whispered as he sank against his father's chest.
"I know," the older man sighed. "But that's because it's still fresh. The pain will ease eventually, and then you'll see the wisdom in what I'm telling you." He smiled as he felt Charlie nod against his chest. "You should sleep, Charlie. Let me help you upstairs."
Alan led a very subdued Charlie to his bedroom and pushed him to sit on the bed. His heart ached as his son's shoulders sagged before he lay down on his side, curling into a tight ball. Alan ran his fingers through the dark curls and then began removing Charlie's shoes and socks. "You want to change out of your clothes?" he asked softly.
Alan watched as Charlie shook his head and buried his face in his pillow, trying to hide his tears of shame from his father.
"It'll be better in the morning," Alan assured him as he placed a soft kiss on top of his son's head. "You'll see."
The older man quietly left the room, turning off the light and deliberately leaving the door cracked open a slit. He suspected Charlie might have nightmares or be in need of some other form of support, and Alan wanted to make sure he could hear him if and when that happened.
As he was returning to the living room to grab his book and his drink, Alan heard a car pulling into the driveway. He peeked through the window by the front door, his heart sinking as he recognized Don's truck. So his older son was troubled, too. He loved that Don would come home when he needed comfort, but he hated that this case would so strongly affect both of his boys. "It's going to be a long night," he said to himself as he opened the door and stepped onto the front porch.
Alan remained where he was, knowing that Don would come to him when he was ready. After waiting for ten minutes with no sign of movement within the SUV, his concern skyrocketed and Alan made his way to the driver's door. He softly tapped on the glass, stepping back as Don opened the door.
"Are you coming in?" Alan asked as he gripped Don's shoulder. "I can't imagine you're too comfortable in the truck."
"Is it... Do you mind?" Don fumbled for words.
"Of course not, Donny. This is your home, too."
Don nodded and stumbled out of the truck, steadied by the firm, compassionate grip that latched onto his arm. "Sorry," he muttered. "I'm just so damn tired."
"Shh, don't worry about it. Let's get you inside, okay?" Alan's mind was whirling – he knew Don was in bad shape if he was openly admitting that he was tired. "Are you hungry?"
"No," Don shook his head as he allowed himself to be led by his father. "Tired. I didn't think I could make it all the way back to my apartment. I'm sor-"
"Donny," the older man interrupted. "Quit apologizing. You don't need an excuse to stay here, or to visit your family. You do know that, right?"
"Sure," the younger man answered half-heartedly.
Alan rolled his eyes and bit back a comment, making a note to discuss that with Don later. "Can you make it up to your room? Or would you rather crash on the couch?"
"Bed sounds nice," Don spoke around a yawn.
"Okay," Alan agreed. He draped his exhausted son's right arm around his shoulders and slipped his left hand around his waist as they stood at the foot of the stairs. "Put your left hand on the rail and up we go." He carefully steadied Don, worrying as his son swayed with each step. "Do I want to know how long it's been since you slept?"
"Does coffee count?"
"Never mind," Alan sighed. "I know you're devoted to your job, and I'm proud of you, but-"
"It's not his fault," Don suddenly blurted out.
"Charlie," Don told him. "I know you know – you always know."
"Well, that's as clear as mud," Alan chuckled, trying to lift his son's spirits.
"He did choose the wrong location," Don explained. "But the other agents were wrong, too."
"How can that..." Alan trailed off. Charlie had mentioned something about three locations. "Does he know?"
"I don't think so. All he heard was that we'd found her dead. I think he tuned out after that. Disappeared on me while I was getting my agents, the ME, and the crime scene guys organized. I looked up and he was gone. I would have looked for him, but..."
"I know," Alan said as he squeezed the hand he was holding. "You had a job to do. Charlie's a grown man." He chuckled at the disbelieving expression Don gave him. "Yes, I realize that – don't look so surprised. He chooses to help you, and he can take care of himself." The older man graced Don with a loving smile. "His way of trying to be like his big brother, I think. He watches what you do, and tries to learn from it."
"He's doing a pretty good job," Don sighed. "I'm sorry I drag him into all of this stuff."
"Grown man, remember? Now who's forgetting?" Alan quietly teased, desperate to ease the stress emanating from his oldest son. "You know, Donny, you could learn a thing or two from him."
"I'm not a genius," Don said. There was nothing bitter in the tome or the words, just a statement of something Don felt was obvious.
"It doesn't take a genius to know to come home to his family when he's in need." Alan tightened his grip around Don's waist and urged him to continue up the stairs. "Comfort, companionship, sleep, food... Although, you are pretty good about showing up when there's food involved." Alan chuckled and felt his concern melt away as Don gave a soft laugh.
"You are the best cook in town," Don smiled.
"And the food is free," Alan teased, eliciting another laugh from Don. "Seriously though, I think you are learning from Charlie."
"You may feel bad for not calling ahead, and you may feel the need to ask, but you did come here tonight – just like Charlie."
"It's Charlie's house," Don pointed out.
"But it's our home – all three of us."
Don solemnly regarded his father for a moment before nodding. "I get it."
"Good," Alan said as they reached the top of the stairs. He steered his weary son into his room and onto the bed, repeating his earlier actions with Charlie – removing Don's shoes and socks and kissing him on top of the head. "I'll be in my room if you need me."
"Okay," Don yawned as he sprawled on his back and sank into sleep.
Alan left the room, switching off the lights and pulling the door until it was just cracked open. He stood in the hallway between his sons' rooms and closed his eyes, savoring the sound of two soft snores as they mixed together in the sweetest song Alan had ever heard.