Disclaimer: Characters from the wildly popular CBS drama "numb3rs" are respectfully, and without personal profit, borrowed.


How Did This Happen? Chapter 31

Alan had decided to bring his own sandwich back to the room with Don's, and Charlie's milkshake. When he got off the elevator and approached Charlie's room, he was sure he saw Amita hurrying away, in the wrong direction. She seemed upset, which concerned him, but he could hardly yell after her in the hospital. It also concerned him that Don was not in the small waiting area. Charlie must have woken up – perhaps something was wrong, and that's why Amita was upset.

He quickened his pace and was soon at the door. He forced himself to calm down and enter quietly – if Charlie was still asleep, he didn't want to wake him.

'I expected things to be the other way around,' he heard his youngest say. 'I thought Dad would stand by me, but you would be angry. You guys really had me mixed up…'

Alan backed out quickly, nearly dropping the milkshake, and scurried for the closest chair. He dropped into it heavily. He felt guilty for overhearing as much as he had, and a little shocked. Sure, he had made his displeasure known, but to the extent that Charlie felt he wasn't going to stand by him?

The milkshake thinned in the take-out container as he heard something else echo in his memory: You disappoint me, kiddo. Alan remembered saying that, and refusing to go to the wedding. When he had apologized for the dinner debacle, he hadn't mentioned anything else. He had been so confused by the sudden changes, and taken aback by Don's outright challenge…he hadn't even thought of it.

The bag of sandwiches slipped out of his lap, and Alan didn't even notice. He couldn't think of a time when he had felt worse. Charlie was in over his head in a dangerous situation – at least in part out of concern for his family, no doubt – and his father had effectively abandoned him. He wasn't even comfortable in his own home. And even if it hadn't turned out to be whatever it was, even if all of it had been true – what would Alan have preferred? Did he raise sons to deny their mistakes and refuse their responsibilities? Maybe he had been momentarily disappointed in Charlie…but he would forever be ashamed of himself.

A hand brushed his upper arm. "Dad?" Don's voice was concerned. "Are you all right? You dropped the sandwiches…"

Alan looked up, with no time to prepare himself, and his face was naked with pain. He didn't trust himself to speak, and only looked away again. Don sat next to him and gently removed the melting milkshake from his hand, and put it on the small table next to the bag of food. "What's wrong?"

Alan rubbed his cold hand over his face. "Donnie, I feel terrible. I handled this all so badly. What if Charlie won't even come home with us? I mean, we haven't really asked, and he's kind-of still married…"

Don carefully kept all emotion from his face. "Colleen is gone."

Alan stared at him. "What? What do you mean, gone? I was thinking, if Charlie will come home, we can let Colleen stay in the guest room, until this arrangement plays itself out. A father would take in his son and daughter-in-law when they got hurt in an accident, that would look natural."

He sounded a little desperate, and Don repeated himself. "She's gone already, Dad. When I talked to Megan this morning, she said she gave her a ride to the airport. Apparently the cover story always ended this way – baby lost, Colleen abandons Charlie and goes back to San Diego." He suddenly looked grim. "I hope they think to leave a better paper trail, this time. They screwed up by not having the marriage license filed yet, when I checked for it."

Alan was further surprised. "You checked?", he asked, weakly.

Don felt a little uncomfortable. "Well, yeah. It just didn't seem right to me, from the start. This wasn't Charlie, you know? So I checked on some things, but before I put it all together, I banged my head. You know the rest of the story."

Alan suddenly looked angry. "I am such an ass," he stated flatly. "I was too concerned about my own dreams for him and Amita, and I didn't...dammit!"

Don jerked a little in his chair. That was the fourth time in his life he had ever heard Alan swear. "About Amita," he said, a little apprehensively, "I wouldn't get your hopes up, again. That's not looking too good right now."

Alan sighed, and glanced down the corridor, "Don't worry. I'll never say another word. Is Charlie all right?"

"Yes," Don reassured him. "That shrink guy came by, so I left. I wouldn't count on that lasting too long, either."

Alan looked back at him, concerned. "Why?"

Don shrugged. "What's he going to say, Dad? I mean, I know all about doctor-patient confidentiality, but come on. If Charlie tells him the truth, the guy won't be able to confirm anything and he'll lock Charlie up as delusional!"

"I hadn't thought of that," Alan frowned.

"Merrick said Charlie could speak to someone on the FBI staff. I think that will work out better.

Alan nodded in agreement. Don shifted and picked up the bag of sandwiches. "So. What's for lunch, old man?"


Alan was unusually quiet the rest of the day, letting Don handle wrestling Charlie's release papers out of his doctor. By the time they got home, it was nearly evening, and Alan quietly trailed behind them as Don helped Charlie up the stairs to his room.

After he had helped his brother sit on the edge of the bed, he shot a quick look at his father, then smiled at Charlie. "I'll go down and grab you something light for dinner, before you lie down, okay?"

"I don't…", Charlie started to protest, and Alan tried to get to the door first, but before either of them really knew what was happening, they were alone in Charlie's room together. Charlie regarded Alan and shifted slowly, painfully on the bed.

Alan started for the door, again. "I'll just get you some water. You should take a pain pill now, and get some rest tonight."

"Dad!" Alan froze, his back to Charlie. Now that he had his father's attention, Charlie began to vacillate. "Are…is…did I…" He finally sighed, and gave up. "Why are you mad at me?", he finished softly.

Alan whirled and stared at him aghast, then hurried across the few feet that separated them. He sat down on the edge of the bed next to Charlie. "Oh, son," he nearly sobbed, "I'm not angry. I'm just so…overwhelmed with guilt…"

Charlie looked surprised. "Guilt? Why? You didn't know what was happening!"

Alan reached up to brush at Charlie's curls. "No. But I knew you, Charlie. I know what kind of man you are, and I am so proud of you…it was wrong of me, to hurt you. I should have been supportive – like Don." He dropped his hand to his lap. "I've lived so long, my son has to model good behavior to me."

Charlie blinked rapidly. "Dad. I…I felt badly, about all of it, but my least-favorite part was letting you think you were going to have a grandchild. I'm sorry for that."

Alan smiled thinly and patted Charlie's knee. "It's too much to ask, I know. But if I forgive you, will you forgive me?"

Charlie didn't smile back right away, and Alan's hand froze on his knee. "It's all a mess right now, Dad. I'm not sure of a lot – although I do know I never want to see anyone from the NSA again. I told Tompkins I wouldn't consult for them, anymore." Alan just nodded, afraid his voice would break if he tried to speak in his heartbreak.

Charlie leaned toward him a little and lowered his voice. "I know something else, Dad." Alan met his gaze, and this time Charlie was smiling. "I know I was willing to do whatever I had to, to keep you and Donnie safe. I know I am willing to do whatever it takes, to keep us all together."

He leaned further toward Alan and wrapped his arms around him. Alan's own arms automatically raised, and headed for a rare and mighty son-squeeze. Before he connected, Charlie whispered in his ear. "I love you, Dad. Just please – don't hug me back."




A/N: It's got to end sometime, folks. This is the longest story I have ever written, but I may smell a sequel… Anyway, thanks for all your support – hope you enjoyed it! (Silent Rumble, thanks for your patience while I ignored our Howling Thunder tale. Watch your e-mail.)