Charlie was surprised the next day to find Janet Waits on his front porch, along with her son Justin. He smiled warmly and let them in.
"I see you're getting better, Justin." The last time he had heard about his condition, the doctors weren't certain he'd pull through. He was happy to see the young man on the mend now.
"Yes, sir. I'm feeling much better." Charlie could see something familiar in Justin's eyes, and realized it was fear.
"I just wanted to see how you're doing, Charlie," Janet said, turning when she saw Alan walking in from the kitchen.
"Oh. I didn't realize we had company. Would you like something to eat or drink?" Alan offered.
"No thank you."
"Dad, this is Janet and Justin Waits."
"I see. I've heard quite a lot about you." Anger flared in Alan's eyes and Charlie was surprised. "Your son was the one who threatened my family, kidnapped my son, tried to kill him and my family. Then you had the nerve to assist some maniac who was a friend of Carl's in catching him. He nearly succeeded in killing my son! You put my son's life at risk..."
Alan paused, emotions flashing in his eyes light a thunder storm. He slowly walked toward Janet, oblivious to his son's wide eyes of surprise staring at him. He continued his rant, but lost all power and anger to his voice. Whispering, Alan spoke once more. "But... I hear you were the one who brought my son back to me... Thank you."
With three pairs of shocked eyes on him, Alan grabbed Janet Waits in a hug. "Thank you," he whispered near her ear.
Janet smiled as she came out of her shocked state and wrapped her arms around Alan. "You're welcome."
After Alan's emotional moment, the three began to catch up and get to know each other more. Justin surprised Charlie with some exciting news.
"I'm going back to school. I've been accepted at CalSci. I was wondering if you could tell me who I should take," Justin began.
"That's wonderful! I'll help you set up a schedule and you can take one of my classes, if you want."
"I'd like that. I... I don't really know anyone there."
"You'll do fine, I'm sure."
Before Janet and Justin left, Janet pulled Charlie aside.
"I... I just wanted to let you know that your brother is a very strong, brave man. He saved your life, and Justin's when he killed Jake. He has nothing to be sorry about, and I'm sure some time with the psychiatrist will do him good. He's a good man. You have a wonderful brother."
Charlie managed a small thank you as Janet hugged him goodbye. He went back to the garage, where he had been working on his cognitive emergence theory. Don was back with the psychiatrist? Why hadn't he heard anything about it?
Slowly Charlie ran the chalk along the board, pondering why Don hadn't told him about going to the psychiatrist. With barely any work done three hours later, the center of his thoughts showed up.
"Hey, Buddy. Working on your cognitive emergence theory?" Don asked, having already known the answer thanks to his father.
"Yeah... I've, uh, been having some trouble with it today."
"Oh? And why's that?"
"I've been thinking..." Don waited for him to continue as he leaned against the air hockey table. Slowly Charlie turned to face Don. "About you."
Don frowned. "Why?"
"Janet and Justin stopped by today."
"I heard. What does that have to do with me, though?" Don thought he missed something.
"Something Janet told me. She... she said that you're back with the psychiatrist. Why? Why didn't you tell me?"
Don rubbed his wrinkled brow. He hoped his brother wouldn't find out about the few times he was required to go to the therapist. He should have known it would have come out somehow.
"It's nothing, Buddy. Merrick is making me do it. He says I was too close to this last case and just wants to make sure that I didn't let my emotions control my trigger."
Charlie looked closely at Don's face, wondering if that was the case. He had never known his brother to let his emotions interfere with his work. But this one hadn't been just any case.
"Did they?" Charlie had never gotten the whole story about what had happened while he was underwater. He knew his brother had saved his life and killed Jake. That was about as much as he knew. He could remember the shadows above him on the pool over, and knew there had been a struggle. But Don hadn't talked about what had really happened, and he hadn't asked.
"No... no they didn't," Don said with only a hint of uncertainty.
Charlie sat on the small table in the garage, across from the air hockey table. "So what did happen?"
Don looked off to the side. His voice was indifferent, but Charlie knew that his brother felt strongly about what had happened. "Janet and I got there, you were underwater, and Jake was walking away from the pool. I held a gun on him, trying to get him to stop. He fought, and I slipped up. He got my gun away from me on the pool cover. I went over to get it, and he did, too. We both reached for the gun, and I got it first. He was ready to strike, so I fired. Janet switched the pool cover and I do in the pool and brought you up... Janet... Janet took over CPR when I, I couldn't anymore. You know the rest."
Charlie didn't get the answer he wanted. No shrink needed to talk to Don, just Charlie. If he could get Don to open up, it would be all right. Don just needed to talk to him.
"Were you scared?"
"Hell, yes I was!" Don said, finally showing emotion in his voice. "I knew you were under there, Charlie. Jake was laughing about it when I got there. Laughing! I thought I had already lost you. Then the pool cover went back, and I saw you tied to a chair. You weren't moving. I dove in, and I thought you were already dead. I pulled you out and begged you to be okay. But in my gut, I knew you were dead."
"And in your heart?" Charlie probed, knowing that was not something Don usually listened to.
Don worked his jaw back and forth before answering. "In my heart... I just wanted you to be okay."
Charlie nodded. "And Jake? What did it feel when you fought him? I saw you two on the pool cover. I could see your shadows. I-I didn't understand it to be you at the time. And when I heard you fire the gun, I knew there was a bullet in me." He chuckled softly at his delusions.
"I was so ready to get him. When Janet told me she could take me to him, I lost all thought of anything else. I was just ready to take him out. I don't know, maybe I wanted to get him on my own. I didn't call my own team to come. We could have had him easily. And he'd still be alive." When Charlie's face paled, Don nodded in understanding. "I didn't want that either. I know that bastard deserves punishment for what he's done to you, not just the easy way out with death. But I..."
Don's voice broke and he turned his head downward, so Charlie couldn't see his face. "I couldn't let him have the chance to hurt you again." He looked up at his brother, tears glimmering in his eyes. "I couldn't let that happen. If he got away one more time, I never would have forgiven myself. I had already messed up enough times. I couldn't let him get away. And if he walked away that day alive... I would have been afraid he'd escape from prison, or he'd be released and he'd come after you again. I couldn't live with that, Buddy. I can't watch you go through this again. I can't stand by and watch Jake slowly take away who you are by tormenting you until he kills you. I can't."
Don looked down again because the tears had fallen. Charlie stood from the table and walked over to where his brother stood. He wrapped an arm across his brother's shoulders. He waited until Don had gotten some form of control over his emotions before hitting him with another question.
"So did your emotions drive you to kill him?"
Don looked up and at his brother a moment, then stared straight ahead. "Honestly... I can say no. I might have if I hadn't had the need to, but it was a matter of self defense. If he had the gun, he would have shot me, and we'd both be dead now. I won't lie and say I wasn't happy that I was the one who did it, but I honestly did it because I had to to save us."
Charlie frowned, confused about what his brother had said. He couldn't imagine Don being happy about killing someone. It was the worst feeling Charlie had ever experienced in his life. It still haunted him now. Why would Don be happy about taking another man's life?
"Why are you happy you did it?"
"Because I didn't want you to have to. Charlie, I know how hard it's been for you since you killed Carl. It's not easy killing people. It never gets any better, and you never forget. But I'll handle it. I don't want you to be in a position where you ever have to kill anyone again. Understand?"
Charlie smiled at his brother. It amazed him how much Don took on himself. He was stronger than any other person he knew. Don would take on anyone else's burden if he needed to. And he would do it willingly. Don took on more and more every day. Charlie wondered when his brother would collapse under all the weight he carried.
"I understand." Charlie hugged his brother. He appreciated all Don did for him, and tried to convey it in a hug.
"Thanks, Buddy." Charlie understood that Don meant that it had helped him.
Don went back inside and Charlie stayed in the garage. He allowed his thoughts to focus off of his cognitive emergence work and onto what had happened to him. First he had been kidnapped. Then chased into the woods where had had been caught and then escaped once more. Don had found him traumatized in the woods, and he had thought was the end. But then Carl had contacted him. Jake delivered messages to him, some in physical and some just in paper form. Jake had cut him and punched him. Carl had wanted him to meet Jake at a park. The FBI intervened and put Jake behind bars. Carl came after him, ready to kill Alan and Don in front of Charlie. Charlie had attacked Carl back, and unintentionally killed him. He thought that had been the end, too. But then Jake was released on parole and it all began again.
But it was what was between the lines that consumed him as he sat in the garage on the couch. Carl's voice as he asked about Alan and Don and told Charlie just what he could do to them, while Charlie watched. He could have easily killed Charlie without laying a finger on him. The thought of watching his family die was too much. And then Jake promised he wouldn't hurt them if he came to him. Then he realized he was going to die, and Jake surprised him by saying he lied. The fear of knowing his family was still going to die scared the life out of Charlie.
"You know, I could kill you right now. It would be so easy. You're weak and defenseless. But I have options. Yeah, I've got a lot of options. I could hold you for ransom. I could use you to get whatever I wanted. Sure, the cops would catch me eventually, but I could milk you for all you're worth. But, that would be too easy on you. I could take you and torture you alone. Or, I could get your brother and torture you together. You could watch him hurt, hear him cry out in pain. Then again, I could get your father, too, and torture all three of you together. But the option I like best is I torture and kill your brother and leave you alone. Then you can go home to Dad and tell him how you watched your brother die and how it's all your fault. Also, I could kill them both, set you free. You'd be dead within a day. You'd commit suicide an I wouldn't have to worry about a thing. That'd be one less murder on my hands."
"I'm here to fulfill my threat. I can't have you thinking they were just empty threats, could I?"
"What do you say we get Daddy in here to join us?"
"There's no reason to drag this out, Charlie. I'm going to kill you."
"Let's see you get out of this one, Eppes!"
As if inside a ball, Charlie was surrounded by images of Carl and Jake and their words screamed in his mind. He covered his ears, hoping to drown out the noise. It wasn't working. Sweat broke out on his forehead as he breathed hard and fast.
"Stop!" Charlie screamed, barely able to hear himself over Jake and Carl's voices. He saw Don and Alan being killed flash in front of him and he cried out. He had hoped to never see that image again, but it was everywhere. If he closed his eyes, it was there waiting on him. If he tried to sleep, it would chase him down. And now, with his eyes open, it was being played out in front of him.
"Charlie? What's wrong?" Don asked, having heard his brother's scream. He stopped in his tracks when he saw him brother kneeling on the floor of the garage, having fallen off of the couch. He held his hands over his ears and had his eyes shut tightly. "Charlie?" Don repeated, louder this time.
Charlie hear nothing more as Carl and Jake taunted him. "Stop it!" Charlie screamed again, and Don stopped walking, thinking his brother was yelling at him for walking toward him.
Don continued his movements and sat in front of his brother. "Charlie? Charlie!"
Oblivious to his brother's presence, Charlie fought the images away, shaking his head back and forth.
"Charlie!" Don grabbed onto his brother's wrists and shook him, trying to get his brother to focus on him.
Charlie felt something on his arms, but couldn't see it. He pushed at the area in front of him, trying to get the images out of his way. He just wanted to be free. An outline slowly appeared and it came toward him. Instinctively, he knew that it was not a threat. He reached for it, and grabbed onto two muscular arms. It made the noise and images more bearable.
"Please, stop," Charlie begged. He didn't want this. He wanted to be better. It was all over. Why couldn't his mind understand that, too?
It started out as quiet as a whisper, but now Charlie heard his brother clearly. He opened his eyes and the images evaporated. All that was left now was the sight of his big brother looking worriedly at him.
"Charlie?" Don realized his brother could see him by the focus of his eyes.
Don smiled. "The one and only."
Charlie smiled in return, but it vanished quickly. He shivered at the memory of the images that flashed in his mind, what had happened and how they had affected him. He hated it. He didn't want to feel this way.
"Buddy, what just happened? Are you all right?"
"I'm okay... now."
Charlie looked up at Don with solemn eyes. "I don't really know. I was just thinking about all that's happened, starting with when Carl kidnapped me. And I guess... it just became too much. I could hear their voices in my head." He shivered again when he thought of what they told him. "And, and images flashed in front of me of the worst moments. I... I saw you and Dad get killed again."
A cry escaped his lips and Don moved closer to his brother. "It's okay, Buddy."
Charlie wasn't as sure. He looked up at Don and felt the tears about to fall. "Am I going to always be like this, Don? Am I going to be afraid of my shadow? Will I have these panic attacks every time I think about what happened? Am I going to hear their voices in my head? Are they going to haunt my every step? When does it end, Don? When I die? Or is there just another one around the corner waiting to take Jake and Carl's place? Who now? I can't go through this again, Don."
Charlie let the tears come and pressed closer to Don. His brother held him close with one hand and rubbed his back with the other. Making sure his brother heard him, Don waited until Charlie's cries softened before answering his brother's multiple questions.
"I think you're a strong, courageous man. You took whatever like threw at you and survived each blow that hit you. You've been dealt a heck of a time, but you're here. You made it. You made it to the end, Charlie. The end. There can't be any more. You have to believe that. There are always hard times, and you have to expect them. But you can't go through life thinking everyone is a Jake or Carl, because they aren't. You may be scared still now, but that's understandable. You'll be better, I promise. Because you're an Eppes. We Eppes men push through and survive whatever life throws at us. It's okay to think about what happened and still be scared. Hell, I am when I think about it. That's what happens when assholes like Jake and Carl threaten your life. Don't let the fear win. This is the last battle you have to face, and if you let it win now, the rest will have been for nothing."
Charlie listened to his brother's words. He knew Don was right, and somehow, he knew that the panic attack he'd just had would be his last. The fear would remain a while, but that only made sense. But he would make it. He had one last fight left in him, and he'd use it on this. Then things would be different, better. He knew it.
"Do you have that fight in you, Charlie?" Don asked, smiling because he saw the glow in his brother's eyes that told him he had it in him.
"Yeah. Yeah, I do."
Awwwwwww. It's all over. No trilogy here, sorry. I have lots of one-shot ideas and one small story idea and then I'll get into my next long story. Okay? I'm sorry it took so long to update this small ending, but I've been on vacation. I have my laptop, and am writing this on the way home. So please forgive any weird mistakes. LOL I hope you all enjoyed reading this story as much as I did writing it. Thank you all for your encouragement, help, and comments. I love hearing from you! You're all awesome.
Here is the final poem. I almost made it to all the chapters I needed. LOL The last two lines are new. Enjoy!
Release Your Hold
My past takes hold
Of my mind so tight
Regret chokes me
And I can't put up a fight
What you did haunts me
It never leaves me alone
Your voice is in my head
And it chills me to the bone
I can't live without fear
Thanks to you
I'm not strong enough
To make it through
What I did was a mistake
I'm not sorry, though
Your plan was to kill me
So how could I let you go
I try to hide what I feel
From those who matter most
I don't want them to know
That I'm haunted by your ghost
So I take it all on myself
And fight away the fear
But it still eats at me
Because you're still here
'Til next time...