Authors Notes: Thanks to all of you for the steady stream of feedback and reviews! I love writing these stories and it thrills me to no end that you all enjoy them so much!
BIG Announcement: I have joined forces with Alice I to tackle a plot bunny she has had in storage for a while now. We've dusted it off and are calling it Child of my Heart.
It will be an emotional rollercoaster ride in the life of Charlie Eppes. It is a companion piece to Alice's short story Friendship Isn't Charity. So you should read that first!
We have set up a special account to post our joint projects (of which we hope there will be many).
So look for us under the pen name 2headsRbetter.
We hope to start posting soon!
Enjoy this final chapter and please take the time to leave your comments!
Chapter Twenty: Everything Leads Back to the Ocean
When Charlie descended the stairs, Don was sitting on the couch with his leg propped up on the coffee table. He had changed into a pair of navy blue sweatpants that covered the new cast that had been put on over the pressure bandage on his leg; while Charlie had just spent the last twenty minutes getting a long sleeved shirt over his cast and bandage and then re-immobilizing his arm in the sling.
Don was leaning back, staring at the ceiling and fighting the synthetic fatigue brought on by the pain killers he had been given, when Charlie sat down across from him in the brown recliner. Lifting his eyes to glance at his brother, Charlie decided to speak first but Don opened his mouth at the same time.
Charlie looked down and sighed.
"You go first."
Don pulled himself into an upright position.
"Charlie, we need to talk about what happened today. David got a pretty detailed statement from Mrs. Whitney and he told me…………."
"Don, before you go any further, let me try to elucidate the situation. I know that what I did was imprudent and I put my own life in jeopardy; but I just couldn't see any other way to get that woman away from the Whitney girls. She was so unstable; you could see it in her eyes. I just……..when she pointed the gun at those girls…"
Don tried to interrupt.
Averting his eyes to the floor, Charlie continued his ramble.
"No, Don. Really, I'm sorry. I just didn't know what else to do. The woman was out of her mind and she……..."
In an almost hushed voice, Don cut him off.
"I'm not angry at you, Charlie."
That soft-spoken statement stopped Charlie dead in his tracks and he looked up at his older brother. Don was good at hiding what was really going on behind his eyes and Charlie was surprised by the open manifestation of emotion on his face. It was almost the same expression he had worn earlier that afternoon, only far more intense.
"What you did up there took a lot of guts, Charlie. I don't know very many people who would put themselves in the path of a bullet to save someone else."
Charlie started to interrupt.
"Is a trained agent, Charlie."
"He saved my life."
"Yeah, I know. And I'm not going to forget that. But it's his job. And we're talking about you. Normal people don't do that, Charlie."
Charlie couldn't hide a smirk.
"And I'm a normal person?"
Don allowed himself a small smile.
"Yes….except for that whole genius thing. Still, I've always considered you to be pretty average otherwise."
The joviality vanished as he continued.
"Seriously, you acted like a seasoned agent up there, Charlie. You did exactly what I would have done had I been there with you. You kept Tabitha's focus on you so that the children could get out of the line of fire. You talked her into leaving the penthouse. The only reason Hannah got involved at all was just bad timing, but you even handled that well."
Charlie could hardly believe his ears. He hadn't really expected Don to be infuriated with him. He had been shot after all. But Charlie didn't expect this. He was even more shocked when Don continued his prolonged speech.
"I'll admit when I saw you coming out of that elevator, I had a hard time staying focused on the situation. I guess I expected you to panic. I expected you to be terrified and all I could think of was getting you away from Tabitha Karney in one piece."
Deciding to interject, Charlie sat forward on the recliner.
"Don, I didn't.……."
Don continued speaking in spite of Charlie's attempted interruption.
"But you didn't panic, Charlie. You immediately looked to me for instruction and you followed my lead without reservation. That's what I'd expect from one of my agents, but not from a civilian and certainly not from you. It took the kind of courage that's hard to find in even the best of agents to do what you did. You moved the child so that she was out of the line of fire; you refused to move forward even with a gun pointed at your back. You got the child safely away from danger regardless of the danger to yourself and you stayed calm."
This time when Don paused to take a deep breath, Charlie didn't try to interrupt.
"Charlie, I don't say this often enough and I'm sorry for that. But I'm proud of you. You were better than great; you were perfect. If anyone else had been taken hostage with that child, I expect the outcome would have been far worse."
As he finished his speech, Don smiled to himself and shook his head slightly. Charlie narrowed his eyes and gave him an inquisitive look.
"What is it, Don?"
"Nothing, Charlie. I was just wondering when you stopped being my kid brother and started being the one I could count on in a crisis."
Charlie couldn't help the blush that crept up his face. He would have uttered an 'Aww Shucks' if it wouldn't have sounded utterly ridiculous, so instead he allowed a self-conscious smile to cover his face.
"I just can't believe that she got us both with one shot."
"Yeah, what do you figure the odds are on that happening after she nearly drowned both of us?"
As Charlie's eyes took on that far away look that they got when he was calculation something in his head, Don laughed.
"Never mind. I don't think I want to know the answer to that question."
"No, Don. You really don't."
"I'm sorry I underestimated you, Charlie. I always thought we were cut from different molds….I guess we're a lot more alike than I thought."
"Don't let Dad hear you say that."
At the mention of their father, Don and Charlie both froze and stared at each other.
"Oh my God, Don. What are we going to tell Dad?"
Don's eyes searched the air around him as if looking for an acceptable answer. When he didn't come up with one, Charlie raised one eyebrow at him.
"Maybe we shouldn't."
The two men looked at each other and then at their new casts.
"Uh…I think he's gonna notice this, Charlie."
"Okay, then I'll let you tell him."
Don tugged the leg of his sweat pants down around the new cast on his lower leg.
"You're right, Charlie. Not a word to Dad. Maybe he won't notice these are new."
"Well, Don. Seeing as the symbol for Pi that Larry put on Charlie's cast two days ago is conspicuously absent, yeah. I think your old man just might figure it out."
Don and Charlie whipped their heads around to see their father standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room with his arms folded across his chest.
"Uh, Dad! Um…how long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough to know I owe Agent Granger a debt of gratitude and that I'm not going to make any more efforts to fill your social calendar."
When both of his sons continued to stare at him without responding, Alan circled around the couch and sat down next to Don.
"You really weren't going to tell me?"
"Dad…I just didn't think……………."
Alan shook his head, looking dismayed.
"That's right, Don. You didn't."
Turning to his youngest son, Alan tilted his head at him. His voice held an air of authority that the two brothers had heard quite often when they were children.
"Charlie. Is there anything else you two have kept from me?"
Their father's influence was still as effective as it had always been, and a list of events that he had chosen to never reveal to his father began running through Charlie's mind. Still, he managed to shake his head in denial.
"No. Dad. It's not like that. We just don't like to worry you."
Don backed him up by putting his hand on his father's back.
"And we're both okay. Really."
"You were shot, Donnie. Charlie was shot. That is not 'okay'. This is not
Turning to face his oldest son, Alan's voice took on a softer tone.
"You do worry me, Donnie. After what happened last year with that serial killer, I think I have the right to worry."
"Dad, my job….."
"I know your job is dangerous and I've accepted that. But I wasn't counting on Charlie following this closely in your footsteps."
Charlie quickly interjected to defend himself.
"The lady had a gun………"
"Charlie, the details of what happened up in that penthouse is not what is important. The fact that you were both going to try to hide it from me is."
Alan pulled himself to his feet.
"I know it was dangerous, I know you could have been killed. I also know you did the right thing. And you're here now and you're safe.
Heading around the couch, Alan stopped and turned back to look at his sons.
"And I'm very proud of both of you."
The three men exchanged glances and then Alan broke the silence.
"So let's not dwell on what might have happened and be thankful for what didn't."
Turning quickly, Alan headed into the kitchen.
"I don't know about you two but I'm starving."
Don and Charlie both stared after him as he disappeared through the red swinging door.
When they heard the tell-tale sounds of their father preparing a meal, Charlie turned to Don.
"Well, that wasn't exactly what I was expecting."
"No, me neither."
"You know? He does have a point, Don. He didn't have a heart attack when your office got shot up. And when you were injured by Chandler Yates, he was calmer than I was. Maybe we should tell him what really happened at Banatec Towers."
Don raised he eyebrows at his younger brother.
"With the sniper?"
Charlie and Don stared at each other for a moment, they looked at the kitchen door and then back at each other. Both men spoke simultaneously and shook their heads.
Smiling widely, Don hoisted himself up from the couch.
"So, are you gonna give me hand with these crutches or what?"