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! This should be somewhere around 4 or 5 parts.
"Alley is clear."
"Roger," Don called out over his radio as he motioned for Megan to follow him. He led her into the narrow passageway in the abandoned portion of the warehouse district. Though he trusted David's abilities as a field agent, Don knew the suspect they were after was a bear of a man and kept his gun at the ready just in case there were any surprises in store for them. He cautiously scanned the recesses and doorways in front of him as he led Megan deeper into the darkened area.
A slight crunching sound to his left made him freeze in his tracks and he cocked his head, indicating he wanted her to listen closely. After a beat, Megan nodded and raised her weapon, ready to go on his command. Don held up his left hand, three fingers raised in a silent countdown. Before he had even gotten to two, a shadow from their right side broke free from the building, grabbed him around the waist and propelled him into the side of the brick warehouse. Don gasped for air as he felt himself crushed against the hard, unforgiving surface of the wall, mentally cursing as his vision grayed around the edges.
The bone crushing pressure was gone and despite his best efforts to remain on his feet, Don slipped down the wall and came to rest on his knees. He managed a deep breath and looked up to find Megan and the suspect had both disappeared. "Report," he wheezed into his radio. "Reeves!"
David's voice so close it nearly startled Don out of his skin. Whipping his head to the side, he was relieved to find his agent looking down at him with a calm expression on his face.
"Megan?" Don panted, wondering if he would ever catch his breath again.
"She's fine. Had to chase our guy out of the alley, but you should have seen the flying tackle once she caught up to him."
"Nope," David answered with a proud smile. "It was… beautiful."
Don grinned, once again reminded of what an exceptional team he was blessed to have. "Help me up."
"You sure you're ready to get on your feet? You look pretty shaken up." David had to scramble to keep Don from falling down as he ignored his question and stood. "Where'd he hit you?"
"My pride," Don sighed.
"Seriously?" Don asked as he quirked an eyebrow. "Okay, seriously… I thought you said the alley was clear."
"I didn't know we were chasing Spiderman's twin."
David gestured to a fire escape. "He was hanging right there from what Megan said."
"You didn't check the fire escape?"
"I did," the agent assured his boss. "But he was hanging upside down."
"As big as he is? That doesn't seem possible." Don shook his head as David started to speak. "No, I'm sorry. I know you know what you're doing. He just really caught me off guard."
"I think I know the answer to this already, but-"
"I don't need an ambulance, a medic, or a hospital," Don finished for him. He winced as he reached up to unfasten the straps of his vest. "Just a nice soak in a hot tub and an ice-cold beer."
"Good to see you're keeping up-to-date with the latest medical treatments," David remarked dryly.
Don's eyes twinkled as he removed the constrictive vest. "Just for that you're doing the paperwork for this one."
"Agreed, as long as you head home and call it a night."
"Ah, I didn't know you cared, Mom."
David rolled his eyes as he took Don's vest and headed back to his own vehicle. Over his shoulder, he called "Good night, Don. See you tomorrow."
The older agent gave him a wave and headed for his SUV. He rubbed at his sore chest and nervously peeked down his shirt to see how bad the bruising was. Much to his surprise there was only a slight redness present. He shrugged mentally. Guess I got lucky this time.
As he reached his vehicle, Don paused and studied his windshield which was covered in purple dots. A smile tugged at his face as he recognized the jacaranda flowers. His mother had always loved the jacaranda trees that lined the streets of Pasadena, especially when they were in full bloom. He remembered one day, not too long before his sixteenth birthday, when they had been leaving the house to go to his baseball practice. Charlie had been with them of course and she had decided to tell them a story about the beautiful, elegant trees.
"Do you know the legend about the jacaranda tree?" she asked in an excited voice as she gestured to the purple flowers that covered the windshield.
"No," Charlie replied eagerly. "Tell us!"
Don sighed and looked at his watch, worried that he would be late for practice.
"It's said that if a jacaranda flower lands on your head," she paused for dramatic effect until even Don gave her a questioning look. "That you will pass all of your tests."
"Really?" Charlie inquired doubtfully, his interest having dwindled as the scientific part of his mind took over.
"It's summer, Mom," Don laughed. "What tests are you talking about?"
"Life is full of tests, every day." She gave Don a pointed look. "And… I believe someone turns sixteen next week. You did want to pass your driver's exam, didn't you?"
Don looked at his lap and fought back the flush of embarrassment he felt creeping up his face. He almost cheered when he heard Charlie pipe up from the back seat. "No offense, Mom, but I don't see how a flower landing on someone's head can have any direct correlation for passing an exam."
Margaret sighed, perhaps realizing her boys were no longer children, and shrugged. "I always thought it was an inspirational legend." She cranked the ignition and turned on the wipers, sweeping away the purple flowers as quickly as her sons had swept her words aside. "Sometimes the truth isn't in the details of the story, boys. Sometimes it's in the heart of the person telling it."
Don shook his head as he brushed the flowers off of his windshield. He'd been too young and self-absorbed to realize it at the time, but looking back, he realized how hurtful his and Charlie's responses had been. I'm sorry, Mom. We were both too young and stupid to understand what you were saying. He suddenly felt his mother's loss more strongly than he had since the days after she had died and longed for the comfort and closeness of his family. Without giving it any more thought, Don climbed inside his SUV and drove to his brother's house.
Alan hummed to himself as he wandered around the ground floor of his home, dusting this, straightening that… all of those things that his homeowner son seemed to be too busy to do. He'd long since made and eaten his dinner, a simple task since his youngest was out late with some of his colleagues. Alan grinned to himself and contemplated how thoughtful it was of him to leave the entire sink of dishes for Charlie to deal with when he got home. Really, he remarked to himself. It's just a matter of payback for all of those years growing up.
There was nothing on TV, all of his friends were out of town and he'd finished his last Sudoku book the night before. He'd read the evening paper while he ate and, in all honesty, Alan was incredibly bored. He'd finally decided that a quick, cursory cleaning of the downstairs area would be a good time-killer, not to mention wear him out a little before he went to bed. He'd pretty much completed his rounds when he found himself standing beside the family piano. Alan grew wistful as he remembered the countless hours his wife had spent on the bench, happily teaching her sons to follow in her footsteps. He'd always assumed Charlie would be the one who took to it but, much to his surprise, Don had been the most eager. That was until he reached the late teenage years when piano playing was no longer 'cool' in comparison to things like baseball, cars, girls and college.
Margaret had tried teaching Charlie for a little longer but all the young genius had wanted was to follow his big brother's every example. Alan had been certain part of his wife's heart had broken then because he rarely ever saw her seated at the piano from that day forward. It hadn't been until many years later that he'd found out she had secretly kept in touch with her musical side by composing her own music. In a tribute to Margaret, Alan had decided to display her favorite family photograph of the four of them at the beach right on top of the piano. He glanced up to the spot where he kept the picture, freezing when he saw that it was missing. He was certain it had been there earlier. Stepping closer, Alan knelt down and looked along the floor, sighing when he saw the frame wedged between the piano and the wall. He let out a loud groan as he contorted himself until he felt the metal and glass beneath his fingers. As he tugged it loose, he heard the front door close followed by the sound of his oldest son's voice.
"By the piano, Donny," he answered, holding the photograph in front of him and carefully studying it for any signs of damage.
Alan smiled at the concern in his son's voice and quickly nodded. "This fell off the piano."
"That's the picture Mom loved so much, isn't it?"
"Yeah." Satisfied there was no damage to the glass, Alan held out a hand. "Help your father up."
Don did as told, smoothly slipping the photograph from his father's hand into his. He laughed as he took in his cocky grin and Charlie's distracted frown. "I can practically see your hair turning gray in this picture. We didn't make things easy for you back then."
"Back then?" Alan countered as he took the picture from his son and placed it on the piano. "Now isn't exactly a picnic, either."
Alan clapped him on the shoulder and shook his head. "Hush, Donny. I know it's who you both are and I couldn't be prouder. Neither could your mother."
"How can you be so sure?"
Alan hesitated, not sure he wanted to tell his son that Margaret came to see him in his dreams some nights. Goodness only knew where that conversation would lead. "Because I know her and how much she loved you boys." He turned away from the piano and affectionately squeezed his son's elbow. "What brings you here tonight? Hungry?"
Don grinned. "It's not always about food, Dad."
"Of course it's not. But I'll be more than happy to whip something up for you."
"I'm not really hungry, thanks. We wrapped up a long, difficult case today and I really didn't want to drive back to my apartment."
"I'm glad you came by. Charlie ditched me tonight to go paint the town with his work colleagues."
"Do math professors even know how to paint the town?"
"As long as it's organized. Kind of like… paint-by-number."
Don groaned and rolled his eyes. "That was… awful."
"You only say that because you're tired," Alan playfully insisted. "Why don't you go grab a shower and hit the sack? I'll wake you in time for breakfast in the morning."
"I'd appreciate that," Don said thankfully. "Good night."
"Sleep tight," his father replied, watching as his son wearily climbed the stairs to his bedroom. Better make sure I can live up to the breakfast offer, Alan thought to himself as he headed to the kitchen to do a quick inventory. His conscience got the best of him and he spent some extra time washing and drying all of the dirty dishes in the sink. As he was finishing up, Alan heard a familiar car pull into the driveway. A minute later he heard the front door close and went to greet his youngest son.
"Don's here?" Charlie asked by way of greeting.
"That's good. I barely managed to get in a 'hello' when I stopped by his office this week. I think this last case was pretty tough."
"They all seem to be lately." Alan sighed. "I know he's good at what he does and loves his job, but it hurts to see him stretched so thin. I have to convince him to take an actual, honest-to-God vacation."
"That's a four letter word to Don." Charlie cocked his head and walked over to the piano. "Although he did love our beach trips when we were kids."
Alan watched his son pick up something from the floor, audibly gasping when he recognized the object.
"You okay, Dad?"
"Yeah," he replied with a baffled expression on his face. "It's just… I picked that picture up off the floor not an hour ago."
"Oh?" Charlie inquired. "You didn't see the crack then?"
"What crack?" Alan demanded as he pulled the picture from his son's grasp. The glass had a fracture running from the top right corner above Margaret's head all the way to the bottom left corner over Don's favorite jersey. "That wasn't there earlier."
Charlie shrugged. "Must have happened when it fell off the second time."
"No, I was very careful when I set it back up there."
"Could have been a draft from the front door or the swinging door to the kitchen. Heck, we do live in southern California – it could have been a tremor."
"Maybe." Alan nodded, although he was very doubtful. He set the picture on the dining table and suspiciously eyed it, as if he expected it to fly off of that surface, too. "I'll replace the glass and find somewhere more stable to put it tomorrow."
"Sounds like a plan." Charlie glanced at his watch and stifled a yawn. "I think I'm going to follow Don off to la-la land. Since he's home, I assume breakfast will be served tomorrow morning?"
"Of course. Should I give you a wake-up knock, too?"
Charlie nodded and patted his father's shoulder. "That'd be great, thanks. Good night."
"'Night, son." Alan gave the photograph one last look and tried to shake the odd feeling that was forming in the back of his mind. Somehow, although he couldn't explain it, he knew it wasn't a draft or mini-quake that had knocked that picture off the piano. A nervous shiver raced down his spine as he turned off the lights and headed up to bed, hoping his uneasy feeling would go away once he'd gotten some rest.
Don had tossed and turned in his bed, resisting the urge to look at the alarm clock and see how much sleep he wasn't getting. He'd heard Charlie come up the stairs quite a while ago and, had he not been feeling so tired, he would have poked his head into the hall and said hello. As it was Don wasn't sure he'd have the strength required to make it to the bathroom if the need arose. Best not to dwell on that thought.
His father had come up the stairs not too long after Charlie and Don had smiled as he heard the older man's footsteps pause outside his door, no doubt listening to see if he was resting peacefully. Not wanting to worry him, Don had managed to stop his restless movements until Alan had resumed walking down the hallway.
Now that his family was safely tucked away in their beds, he allowed himself to earnestly search for a comfortable position. His chest was still a little sore but he had checked it again before climbing into bed, seeing only the faint redness and no signs of any darker bruising. His stomach wasn't thrilled with him for having eaten so little – and poorly – throughout the duration of his last case, and he was starting to regret having turned down his father's offer of food. He was perfectly capable of cooking for himself but not with such bone-deep exhaustion squeezing every last ounce of energy from his body.
If I can just fall asleep, Dad's wonderful breakfast will be waiting for me in the morning, he reminded himself. Heck, I used to sleep in compact cars that reeked of two-day-old takeout with a partner who snored like a chainsaw. Surely I can manage in a soft, clean bed in my childhood home. An annoying tickle along his hairline distracted him from his thoughts and he reached up to scratch it, frowning as his fingers came away damp. He ran his hand through his hair and discovered it was slightly sweaty.
Odd, he puzzled as he pulled his blanket up higher. I'm actually feeling a little bit chilly. He bit back a groan and prayed he wasn't coming down with 'flu or anything else that would mean a few days stuck in bed at the mercy of his family's hovering tendencies.
Sleep, he ordered himself, pushing all other thoughts from his mind. Get up and eat in the morning and then get out of here before Dad or Charlie notice you look a little 'off'. Satisfied that was the best course of action, Don forced himself to relax and eventually managed to slip into a less-than-peaceful slumber.