A/N: Thanks for those of you who read and reviewed. I hope you enjoy the last chapter, too.
After breakfast, Don found himself wandering out to the solitude of the garage. As he pushed the door open and stepped inside, he was surrounded by the omnipresent scent of chalk and old textbooks. With a sudden start he realized that not only were the scents familiar but also incredibly comforting. He flopped down on to the old green sofa and closed his eyes, inhaling deeply and letting the essence that was his brother surround him with feelings of love and comfort.
He must have dozed off because the next thing Don knew, the room was filled with the soft clicking sounds of chalk on a blackboard. Opening his eyes, the agent smiled as he saw his younger brother working on the board closest to the sofa. "I think you forgot an 'x'."
The young man nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of his brother's voice, whipping around and blushing a deep shade of red. "What?" He turned to look back at the board, rolling his eyes and shaking his head as he realized his brother was teasing. "Very funny, Don."
"I thought so, thanks." Charlie eyed him and Don had the suddenly felt like he was a lab room display. He quickly pushed himself to a sitting position and crossed his arms over his chest as if he could keep some shred of privacy.
"I didn't mean to wake you," the younger man apologized. "But this idea hit me and you know how I am if-"
"I know," Don cut him off with a smile. "Don't worry about it. I've been sleeping too much as it is."
Charlie opened his mouth to speak, seemed to think better of it, and quickly turned back to his work with a slight shrug.
Don yawned and stretched loudly, grinning triumphantly when Charlie's hand faltered, his current train of thought lost to his brother's deliberate distraction. The professor took a deep breath and started writing again, his shoulders sagging as Don released another loud yawn. He turned around and raised an eyebrow. "You okay?"
"What?" Don asked with feigned innocence.
"You sound tired." Don almost laughed out loud at the emphasis Charlie put on the second word. "I could help you upstairs."
"Trying to get rid of me?"
"No," the younger man quickly shook his head, setting down his chalk and joining his brother on the couch. "Of course not."
"Good because I thought maybe we could talk for a bit."
"Talk?" Charlie's eyebrows arched skyward. "About?"
"The migration of robins," Don said with exasperation. "What do you think?"
"Robins actually don't migrate-"
"Charlie, I was kidding." The agent rolled his eyes as Charlie stared at him with a confused look on his face. "Wonderful. Now who wants to avoid the subject?"
"Oh," the professor mumbled as realization dawned on him. "You want to talk about…" He licked his lips and judged the distance to the door. "Do I get a head start?"
"I'm not mad, Buddy."
"Right," Charlie snorted. "You could have fooled me last night."
"Last night I was. Today… not so much."
"Good." The young man studied his older brother as he tried to gauge his mood. "I really am sorry that what I did hurt you."
"But not sorry about the action itself?"
"No, because I thought it really would help me to help you. I won't apologize for that."
"I understand," Don told him, chuckling at the look of disbelief on his brother's face. "But you need to realize that you can't just help yourself to case file because you want to know what's inside. The phrase 'need to know' exists for a reason."
"I'm scared, Don," Charlie whispered. "You're healing so well, physically speaking. But the dreams you still have… I want to help."
"Look, I'll forgive you for what you did if you promise me you'll never pull another stunt like that again." He held out his hand and smiled when Charlie shook it.
"Now," Don began, his tone changing from confident to uncertain. "My dreams… I… you know what they're about?"
"I had an idea before I read your statement," Charlie informed him. "And now, when you call out for Dad and me, afraid that we might be hurt, I know exactly what you're reliving."
"The physical stuff I can handle," the agent stated, surprising himself at how open he was being. "I always could. But when he said that… I saw the house, Charlie. He said that you wouldn't… and Dad's…" Don growled and swiped at the embarrassing moisture in his eyes. "I couldn't chance it… I said what he wanted to hear."
"And in your dreams – he doesn't leave us alone?"
"No," Don whispered sadly. "I see you both going through what he did to me. That hurts worse than anything I actually lived through."
Charlie hesitated and stared at the floor. "The sacrifice you made to save us and I…I let you down."
"What? David told me everything you did." He reached out and grabbed the professor's chin, forcing Charlie to look at him. "You saved me, Buddy."
"No, Don. I should have found you sooner. I should have stopped him before…" Charlie voice cracked and his eyes shone with unshed tears.
"You stopped him before he killed me, Buddy."
"That's not good enough," he protested. "Sixty hours, Don. That madman and his goons had you for sixty hours and I didn't do anything to stop it."
"If that was true then I wouldn't be here right now, would I?" Don's hand slipped to his brother's shoulder and he gave him a warm smile. "But here I am, alive and recovering, giving Dad more gray hairs and yelling at you like big brothers are supposed to do."
"You're not yelling right now," Charlie countered as a ghost of a smile crept onto his face.
The agent teased "I could start."
"No, this is a nice change – just talking." His suddenly leaned forward and gently hugged his brother. "I love you, Don."
"Me too, Buddy," Don whispered back, returning the embrace and holding his brother's head against his shoulder. "Shh," he soothed as he felt tears seeping through his tee shirt. "You're okay."
"No," he shook his head against the damp fabric. "I'm not going to be okay until you are."
"I'm working on it," Don promised as he soothingly rubbed Charlie's back.
"Maybe," the younger man spoke as he pulled back to meet Don's eyes. "Maybe Doctor Bradford could help?"
Don studied his brother for a moment, feeling responsible for the anguished look on his face and deciding that he would do whatever it took to fix it. "You know what, Buddy? Maybe you're right."
Last night to have a full house, Alan thought to himself as he drained the dishwater from the sink, hung the towel from a drawer-pull and headed for bed. Donny's back to his apartment tomorrow and back to work the week after.
He switched off the lights in each room as he worked his way toward the stairs. His last task before going upstairs was to make sure the front door was tightly locked – a new part of his routine implemented after Don's abduction. He knew if someone was really intent on breaking in then a couple of locks wouldn't stop them, but the gesture gave him peace of mind, which was something he'd been afraid he would never experience again.
The house locked and secure, Alan climbed the stairs and walked down the hallway. His first stop was at Charlie's door, quietly pushing it open to check on his youngest son. Satisfied that he was resting peacefully and nightmare-free, the eldest Eppes pulled the door closed and moved across the hall to his other son's room. He pushed the door open and slipped inside, wanting to see Don sleep since this would be his last chance to do so for a while. Alan leaned over the bed and smiled at his oldest son's relaxed features before moving to a nearby chair to watch him sleep, telling himself it would just be for a few minutes.
Don, as though sensing his father's presence, rolled onto his side toward Alan and sighed in contentment. His father took the moment to study his face – the bruise along the jaw having completely faded away – and his wrists which were also free of any marks. The last time he'd managed to get a peek at Don's back – another night when Don had been sleeping and his tee shirt had ridden up – the scars were healing nicely but would be visible for a while to come. His ribs had also healed, as evidenced by his son's smooth, even snoring.
The best and most significant part of Don's recovery was the fact that he hadn't had a nightmare in over a week, thanks largely – in Alan's opinion – to his appointments with Doctor Bradford. The kind therapist had been more than willing to increase the frequency of Don's visits in light of his ordeal and the results were both wonderful and amazing.
A feeling of happiness washed over Alan as he leaned his head back against the chair and closed his eyes, marveling that their lives were almost back to normal.
His eyes shot open at the sound of Don's sleepy and somewhat amused voice. "Donny? Are you okay?"
"Fine," his son assured him.
"Why are you awake?"
"I had to go to the bathroom," Don chuckled. "Why are you in my room?"
"I… was too tired to make it to mine?"
"Yeah, the extra few feet could do you in at your age," he laughed softly. "Seriously, I'm okay now, Dad. No nightmares at all."
"I know and I'm glad." Alan yawned, stood up from his chair and studied his son's face, finding it very difficult to do in the nightlight-free darkness. "I honestly was just checking on you. It's my last chance to do so until you crash here after work again."
"For?" Alan asked in surprise.
"For caring so much, being there for me, not giving up on me while I was gone…" Don looped his arms around his father's neck and held him tightly. "For loving me."
Alan wrapped his arms around Don and held him close. "Always, son."