Disclaimer Continues. Much like the story…

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Chapter 18

RECLAMATION…

Charlie's depression was deep, and frightened Alan. On the one hand, looking at things objectively, he could certainly understand why a man who had been through what Charlie had would fall into a depression. On the other hand, he was worried for his son's physical health. He wasn't eating well, and in the last three days, he had only left his bedroom for brief trips to the bathroom. He didn't seem to have the energy to take care of himself, anymore. He hadn't shaved, or showered, or changed his clothes since Larry and Megan had come over.

Late Sunday afternoon, Don tracked Alan down in the kitchen to have a talk. He sat down heavily at the table. "Dad, I'm supposed to go back to work, tomorrow. I'm still on light duty for another week, I could request some more family leave time. Legally, they've already given me all they're required to this year, but Merrick said I could take as much time as I needed to help Charlie." He pounded a fist on the table, making Alan jump at the stove, where he stirred a thick chicken soup. "I just don't know how to help him. I don't think I'm doing him any good – but I won't go back to work if you need my help. I won't leave you alone with him like this."

Alan placed a lid on the pot and sat down across from Don. He stared at Don's clenched fist on the table. "The doctor at Bethesda said we have to accept Charlie as he is now. I think…I think maybe being with people outside the immediate family made him confront all he's lost. Time he will never get back. He lost important moments with his family and friends, here. He didn't get to help you, when you were shot. He probably feels like it's his fault you even got shot. He didn't get to be in on the beginning of Larry and Megan's relationship; he came back, and it was a done deal. Through no fault of his own, he is in the position of having to ask for his job back. And now, he's lost the people who kept him alive for the last six months. Talking to their families must have been difficult, and probably made him acutely aware of their fates. Any option is not good. If they were released, they're dealing with the same issues he is. If they are dead, they suffered for nothing. If they are still captives, they continue to suffer."

Don was impressed by his father's understanding of Charlie, but he didn't feel any better. "So what do we do?" he whined, feeling and looking like the child he once was.

Alan looked at him, familiar heartbreak in his eyes. "The hardest thing of all, Donnie. We let Charlie be sad."

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The next morning, Charlie knocked on Don's door at 7:30. Expecting his father, Don called sleepily from the bed. "Five more minutes!" He was surprised when the door swung open and Charlie stood there. He sat up quickly, "Hey. Thought you were Dad."

Charlie pushed a hand through his hair. "Are you going back to work, today? I was going to take a shower, but I don't want to use up all the hot water if you need it."

Don gaped at him. "You must be feeling better," he said, stupidly.

Charlie stiffened, but he answered. "I guess. I thought I might work for a while in the garage, this morning."

Don was at a loss. He had called Merrick at home last night and asked for another few days off, thinking Charlie might have to seek inpatient psychiatric care. Now he was talking about showers and working in the garage. Don didn't know what to say. "I….sure," he finally stammered, not sure himself what that meant.

Charlie stood in the doorway and looked down the hall. Then he inhaled deeply and came into the room. He crossed to Don's bed and sat on the edge. "I know I've been all over the place," he said. "I know you're worried. I'm sorry about that. You and Dad have worried about me enough, I can't promise to fix it all today. Right now, I feel like I have enough energy to take a shower, and walk out to the garage. Maybe in the middle of the shower, I'll decide that was a bit optimistic. All I can promise you is that I'll try. I've lost enough, Donnie. I don't want to throw anything I have left to me away."

Don looked into Charlie's dark, pain-clouded eyes, and imagined that he saw bubbles coming to the surface.

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JULY 4th…

Charlie hung back from the crowd a little, as he still did – as he always might. If they hadn't been outside, he would probably be standing so that a wall was near his back. Alan watched him balance a paper plate on his casted arm while he held a fresh beer in the other, and marveled again. Two weeks ago, when Charlie had gained back 19 pounds, an orthopedist had refractured and repaired his twice-broken wrist, using two pins and a plate. When he was told that Charlie would only be in the hospital overnight, Alan had laughed out loud. This was a serious operation, and he still remembered when Charlie had two of his wisdom teeth pulled ten years ago. His son, bless his heart, did not deal with illness well.

On the evening of the early-morning surgery, driving home with a Charlie who refused to stay even one night in the hospital, Alan wondered what he had been thinking. He still forgot, sometimes, that the Charlie he remembered was not the Charlie he lived with now. He was sure his son suffered a great deal of pain, those first few days. He was equally, and sadly, certain that pain had been such a constant presence in Charlie's life for so long, that he had reached a whole new level of understanding with it.

There was still sadness, and hesitancy in Charlie. Every day, though, Alan found at least one reason to admire his strength. He had even begun to expand his research, to include cognitive emergence principles that develop during captivity. He had found a way to use his numbers to help him heal.

Alan smiled as Don left the majority of his team at the picnic table and headed for the barbecue. On the way, he stopped beside his brother and draped an arm around his shoulders. Charlie did not so much as flinch. He simply looked up at Don and smiled, thrusting the beer at him and expertly catching his paper plate as it began to tip. Alan watched Don gesture with the bottle towards Larry and Megan, who were sitting on the blanketed grass near the koi pond, sharing a plate of white food. He leaned closer to Charlie and said something into his ear. Alan couldn't hear what he said from his position behind the buffet table, but he heard clearly the best thing he had heard all year.

He heard Charlie laugh.

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END

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A/N: I hope you enjoyed my 50th story as much as I did! I know some will be disappointed that this is ending, but all things do, and there's a fine line to tread between Too Much Information and Not Enough. Anyway, thank you for all the wonderful reviews, and special thanks to Tanager36, who came up with this idea in the first place. For more serious reading, I recommend Den of Lions by Terry Anderson, a journalist who was held hostage in Lebanon for seven (count 'em) years. (For less-serious reading, I just posted my first Oneshot in Supernatural fandom -- Don and Charlie showed up last night with a resume for this other set of brothers that I have been letting off scot-free... Mostly, I did it to distract them. Don't tell.)