Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: Thanks as always to ritt, the world's best beta and sounding board!
A watch, Alan thought to himself. That's what I'm going to get Don for his birthday. He may have one he looks at all the time, but it must not be correct because I know he was supposed to be here twenty minutes ago.
Alan sighed and eyed the dinner he'd carefully arranged on the dining table, once steaming hot but growing colder by the second. Where could Don be? It had, after all, been his oldest son's idea that they spend a quiet evening together – just the two of them – with Charlie out of town. "Father-son bonding," Don had grinned as he made the suggestion two days ago. "We don't do that nearly enough."
The older Eppes had immediately agreed, loving the fact that his once distant son was making an effort to become close to his family. Of course this bonding thing would work better if he was actually here.
For at least the tenth time in as many minutes, Alan checked his cell phone for missed calls and checked to make sure the home phone hadn't received a call and forgotten to ring. It's not like Donny to be this late, he worried as he paced through the living room. Paperwork? Yeah, he must have gotten stuck doing paperwork. If I've told him once, I've told him a million times that he shouldn't procrastinate with his paperwork. Just because it's – how did Donny put it? Mind numbingly boring and mundane? Of course he thought it was simple and safe. After all, when was the last time someone had been seriously injured or killed from a paper cut?
So it's settled then, the worried father soothed himself. Donny's at the office buried under a ton of reports. But… surely he'd call and tell me? He does have both an office phone and a cell phone. Maybe his cell battery died. No, that's Charlie who forgets to charge his. Out of a service area? No, I've called him on his cell at the office before.
Alan wandered into the dining room and stared at the rapidly cooling food in frustration. He checked his watch and let out a low growl. Thirty minutes? He can't call and tell me that he's going to be late? That's just thoughtless.
Now wait a minute, he calmed himself down. Maybe one of his team members had a problem? Donny makes it a point to always be there for them – one of the reasons he's so good as a leader. If one of them needed him, he wouldn't cut them off mid-whatever to make a call. Yeah, that must be what he's doing. Hopefully it's nothing serious and won't take much longer. He's probably on his way right now. I'd call, but if he is still talking to them I don't want to interrupt.
Alan took a seat at the table and waited – okay, tried to wait – patiently for a phone call or for his son to stroll through the front door any minute. Yep, Alan nodded to himself. Any minute now.
Ten minutes later and still Don-less, Alan's worry began to grow again. Even if he was talking with a team mate I think he would have taken just a minute to call now. He wouldn't let me sit here and worry for forty-five minutes without any notice. I know his mother and I raised him better than that.
The concerned father rose from the table and made another lap around the living room, trying to walk off his growing feeling of dread. Could he have been… No! Megan or David would have called me – I know they would. But that would be if it was work related. What if something happened on the way over here? A massive pile up on the freeway?
He sprinted to the television, his fingers clumsily fumbling on the power button. He flipped through the local channels, holding his breath as he was certain there was going to be a breaking news report about a ten car wreck and unknown fatalities. Nothing, he sighed in relief. But… it might have been just one or two cars – not enough to make the news, but certainly enough to seriously injure someone. That would explain why he's not calling me – he might not be able to.
Alarm seized his heart as a vice gripped his lungs, leaving him weak and gasping for breath. No, please no. I can't lose Donny… It was bad enough to outlive his mother, I can't outlive my sons, too.
His knees growing weak, Alan rushed to the end table and grabbed his phone, his shaky fingers attempting to enter Don's cell. He was on his third attempt when a muffled noise outside the front door startled him, the phone dropping like a rock from his hands. The lock clicked and the door eased open, revealing a very tired, but living and breathing Don.
"Where have you been?" Alan demanded, unable to hold back his anger despite the enormous relief he felt.
"Had a flat," Don replied, eyeing his father's phone where it lay on the floor. "I'd have called but my cell's battery was dead. I know I charged it last night, but I guess it's time for a new one." Looking up at his father and gesturing at the phone between them on the floor, he grinned. "You haven't touched my cell lately have you? Because that would explain why it wasn't working."
"You're a laugh a minute, Donny." The older man snapped as he started to bend over to pick up the phone. "Scaring your old man to death and then making jokes. I swear –grown or not – I have half a mind-"
"I'm sorry," Don said, the sincerity in his voice freezing his father's tirade. He placed a hand on the other man's shoulder to halt his movements. "I really am. Let me get that for you." He bent down, scooped up the cell and handed to his father. He slowly stood and Alan was certain he saw a grimace of pain flit across his son's face. His gaze trailed down to Don's side where his navy tee shirt seemed to have some extra padding beneath it.
Alan started to inquire but quickly clamped his mouth shut. Whatever it is, he doesn't want me to know. That bandage – and I'm sure that's what it is – has got to be the reason he's late. Something happened to him at work and he didn't want to call and tell me because he thought I'd get all worked up and worried. Momentarily reflecting on the past hour, Alan realized his son was right – that's exactly what he'd been doing and he hadn't even known Don was hurt. He's trying to protect me like he's always tried to protect people – his family, his team, the citizens of Los Angeles – at an enormous cost to himself. He doesn't want to burden others so he keeps it bottled up. I could push, but I'm afraid he'd pull away.
"Dad?" Don asked, drawing his father's attention to him and the worried look on his face. "Are you okay?"
Deciding to let his son get away with the lie – or lack of truth – Alan smiled. "I'm fine, Donny. Just wondering how long to reheat the lasagna."
"Sorry, Dad," Don said ruefully. "You should have gone ahead and eaten without me."
"Don't be ridiculous," his father said dismissively. "I'm just glad you made it home all right. What's that they say in your line of work? Any day you make it home alive is a good one?"
"Something like that," Don muttered. "But it sounds so… morbid."
"How about… any day you make it home for Dad's lasagna is a good one?"
"Sounds perfect to me," Don beamed.