Chapter 15

Don thought he would drop through the floor, or at the very least, fall on it. He actually felt his knees buckle a little. He couldn't believe how Charlie had just talked to him, he couldn't believe that Charlie thought those things...

He crossed rapidly to the chair Charlie was sitting in, looked around and grabbed another, smaller chair, which he placed in front of him. He sat down and leaned forward. "God, Charlie, that hasn't been it at all. Those aren't the things I've been thinking. When I look at you, I'm not disgusted by anything – I'm just terrified. I look at you, and I'm angry that you have to fight so hard, that someone did this to you. I look at you, and we're back on the street again, in front of that bank. I look at you, and I imagine life without you, and I want to die myself." Don was crying now, tears streaming down his face, and he wiped at them with the back of his hand, embarrassed. He sniffed violently. "I believe in you Charlie, I do. Your doctor says 60 to 80 percent? I know you and your numbers – you're thinking '90' already in that head of yours, and you will damn well do it, too." He leaned forward a little more, almost slipping from the chair, and squeezed Charlie's leg under the blanket. "Please, Buddy. I'm sorry. Please don't ask me to go away."

Charlie held his gaze, a lone tear rolling down his own face. He found himself, after the last few days, afraid to hope. Bringing himself to the place where he could say those things to Don had hurt him more than any injury ever would. "I..I want..." his voice was barely a whisper.

"What?" Don was desperate. He would agree to anything. "I'll do it. I'll get it. I'll become it. What?"

" believe...", Charlie answered, and Don squeezed his leg again. He half-stood and dragged his chair so that he was sitting beside Charlie, but facing the other way.

"I swear, Charlie. I even went to a Bureau shrink yesterday, willingly, and I'm going back. I love you, Buddy. I couldn't take it if you asked me to leave."

Charlie's good hand was trapped between both of Don's good ones. He wasn't entirely sure when that had happened, but he sank his head back on the chair and didn't care. He felt safe for the first time since he had regained consciousness. He closed his eyes. "I want you to stay," he breathed, and felt the pressure on his hand increase.

Alan stood several feet away, trying not to cry himself, and felt incredible, sweet relief.

His sons had finally been reattached.



Don tracked Charlie down, late in the afternoon, in one of the larger lecture halls at CalSci. As close as Don could figure, Charlie should have just finished a class, but his brother was still working on a set of equations on the white board, even as students filed past. Don pushed against the tide, trying to get down to him while most others were trying to get away.

He saw a small redhead approach Charlie, and was close enough to hear her speak. "Dr. Eppes, I wanted to return that book you leant me. Thanks, it really showed me some points I need to clarify in my dissertation."

"Good, Melanie." Charlie hardly looked at her – he was in the zone, Don could see that. "Just drop it on the deskÉwait. Give it to me, I think there might be something in there..." The girl offered the book, and Charlie continued to write on the board with his right hand, balancing the book with his left. He still wore a wrist brace, and his fingers curled loosely around the spine of the book, but gripped it with enough strength that it didn't fall to the floor. Impatient, he shoved the Dry Erase marker in his pocket and used his right hand to thumb through the book, until he found what he was looking for. "Damn," he muttered, and he picked up an eraser and destroyed half of the equation. He fumbled in his pocket for the marker and continued to hold the open book with his left hand, glancing at it periodically, as he completed the equation again.

The lecture hall was virtually empty now, but Don stood behind Charlie for a few moments and watched. He felt...pride. With four months of nerve regeneration still ahead of him, his doctor and therapists said Charlie was already at the 50 percent mark when it came to regaining the use of his hand, and Don knew that was no accident. Within a week of Charlie's surgery he was using his right hand to perform passive, range of motion exercises on his left. As the nerves regenerated, the pain he had been spared at the time of the injury hit hard, but Charlie hadn't complained. He would sit on the couch, trying to tighten his fingers around a large rubber ball, grit his teeth and hiss, "This is ok. This is better than feeling nothing."

The road had not been without its potholes. Charlie had his moments of frustration, anger, depression – and he didn't care who knew about them. Don admired that, too. There seemed to be something genetic that ran through the Eppes men – they didn't always face the emotional stuff too successfully. Since his injury, Charlie had learned to ask for help when he needed it; and, even more impressive, to accept it.

As Don watched, Charlie stepped back from the white board and studied his equation. He tilted his head, and backed up as far as the desk, and extended his left hand behind him, intending to drop the book on top. Instead, Don grabbed it from him, and his brother jerked, dropped the Dry Erase marker and whirled around. He regarded Don with large, wide eyes that soon narrowed in mock anger. "Dammit, Don, you know I hate it when you do that!"

Don grinned. "Why do you think I do it?"

Charlie looked at the clock on the wall. He had stopped wearing a watch, since he still wore the brace all of the time. "What's up? Am I late for something?"

Don's grin faded a little. "No, nothing like that. I just thought you should could be on the news later, and I wanted you to hear it from me..."

Charlie evaluated Don's level of discomfort. "Yeah, and we both know I rush home at night and turn on the news."

Don grinned again, briefly. "Well, sometimes Dad has it on when you get there, right?"

"Book club," Charlie reminded him. "Big night. Elections. Dad may be President Eppes, soon. You're supposed to take me to dinner."

"I..." Don almost fell for it, then saw the twinkle in Charlie's eye. "Knock it off. We can go to dinner if you want, I'm through for the day – but you're buying."

Charlie leaned on the edge of the desk. "Hmm. So tell me what will ruin my appetite."

Don remembered why he was there, and frowned a little. "Oh. Yeah. I thought you should know, Davison was added to the list today.You know, our Most Wanted list. The National Director called Merrick this morning."

Charlie nodded, and turned his head back toward the white board, although Don was pretty sure he wasn't really looking at it. Charlie had been around the FBI long enough to know that when someone was added to the Most Wanted list, it meant that the trail had gone cold, and there was little chance of ever catching him. Don saw him inhale deeply, and when Charlie turned back he was smiling. "I feel the need for a thick, juicy steak."

Don held his gaze. "You all right with this? You might never get justice."

Charlie blinked, a little surprised. "Justice? I was one of the lucky ones, Donnie. I don't need justice. I've already received grace."

Don shook his head. Charlie would forever surprise him, it seemed. He smiled, relieved. "Well, then. Steak, huh?" He looked at the books and papers still strewn over the desk. "I suppose we need to drop this stuff off at your office."

Charlie straightened from his leaning position and turned, frowning slightly at the mess. "I may need some help with this."

Don crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Absolutely not," he said. "You've got two hands, just like the rest of us."

Charlie groaned. "One more like that, and I'll make you cut my steak." He crossed behind the desk, leaned over and came up with his backpack. He propped it on the desk and held it open with his left hand while he used his right to shove items in it from the desk, unconcerned with any form of organization or neatness.

Don laughed, and reached out to grab a sheet of paper trying to escape off the edge. "President Eppes, now? You think he'll make us call him that?"

Charlie shrugged. "I'm sure 'Your Highness' will still do just fine."