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! She is amazingly patient with me – far more so than I am with myself.
Sequel to 'H is for Hazardous' and 'A is for Aftereffects'. You don't have to read those but if you haven't, you won't know who Chuckles is.
It had been a long, hard week full of difficult cases but Don had survived and was planning on spending a nice relaxing weekend at home. He climbed the stairs of his apartment building to his floor and made his way to his front door. He had to shift the bag in his arms as he fished out his keys and rolled his eyes as a can of gourmet dog food fell to the floor and rolled a few feet away. He wearily fetched it with his free hand as the other worked to free his keys from his pocket.
"I hope you appreciate everything I do for you, Chuckles," he muttered quietly as he unlocked the door. Truth be told, he loved spoiling his newest family member and was planning to take him to visit the local pet store to let him select a few new toys. Heck, with any luck, Don thought with a grin, maybe he'll pick out a nice girl for me.
As he turned the knob and opened his door, he started to call out a greeting to his Yorkie, only to gasp in shock as a blur of fur raced out of the doorway and down the hall.
"Chuckles!" he called worriedly, dropping the bag in his arms as he took off after the escaping dog. "Chuckles, get back here!" His heart sped up as the tiny dog disappeared around a bend in the hallway and he prayed no one had propped open the stairwell door in the few minutes he'd been away from it. As he rounded the corner, Don almost ran into a young, dark haired woman who – he was relieved to notice – was holding Chuckles in her arms.
"Is this Daddy?" she sweet-talked the dog while smiling at Don.
"Thank you," Don said gratefully as he leaned against the wall and took a few deep breaths. "He's never bolted out of the apartment like that before."
"Ah," she nodded sagely. "We had a cat who liked to do that. Took a spray bottle of water and a lot of patience, but we finally broke her of it."
Don laughed softly and held out his hand. "Don Eppes. I live down the hallway."
The woman shook his hand and handed him the dog in the process. "Melinda Gleason. I live…" She shyly gestured to the door behind her. "Well, I think you and the little one there know where I live."
"Oh," Don said with a hint of embarrassment. "I suppose I should introduce my better half. This is Chuckles." At her questioning expression, he shrugged. "Let's just say the choice in names brings me joy in more ways than one." As she lifted her head to laugh, the dim hallway light reflected on her face and Don noticed she had a large black eye. "Ouch," he said as he nodded at the injury. "You okay?"
She ducked her head and blushed. "I play softball and they stuck me in the infield, even though I told them I had no reflexes."
Don's keen eye had spotted another large bruise on her forearm peeking out from beneath the long-sleeved shirt she wore. "Same thing?"
"Some of those guys hit pretty hard."
Don's lips pressed in a tight line as he nodded. "Some guys do hit very hard." He regarded her for a moment until Chuckles began whining impatiently.
"He must be hungry," she suggested.
"Yeah." He reached out and gently grasped her wrist. "If you ever need any help… learning to use a glove, I mean… I'm right down the hall."
"Don," he corrected her. "And I mean any time." Chuckles grunted as he began struggling to get down. "All right," Don relented as he rolled his eyes. "Goodness knows you must be starving after that huge breakfast you stole off my plate this morning."
With one last smile and a quick wave, Don left his neighbor standing in the doorway of her apartment as he disappeared around the bend in the hallway. He was already well out of sight when the door opened and an angry blond man snatched Melinda inside, growling threats at her in a low voice moments before he started inflicting more bruises on her flesh.
"One bite?" Don asked in disbelief as he stared down at Chuckles' food bowl. "Do you know how much that gourmet canned stuff costs?" The little dog's response was to sniff the bowl, turn around and sit with his back to it. Don sighed and reached for the bowl, stopping when his cell shrilled. He grabbed it from the coffee table and flipped it open. "Eppes."
"Hey, Don," his brother's cheerful voice sounded on the other end. "What're you up to this fine Saturday?"
Don gave Chuckles a displeased look. "I was going to take Chuckles to the pet store and let him pick out some treats and toys."
"Uh oh," Charlie managed through his laughter. "We're being a bad dog again, are we?"
"Maybe you could buy him one of those little bows at the store? You know, put a ponytail on top of his head."
"Ha-ha," Don said with a scowl. "Even on his worst days, I wouldn't make him wear a bow. Now you on the other hand…"
"Touch my hair and it's on," Charlie growled.
Don snorted. "I think I could win that fight, Math Boy." Don started to retrieve the bowl from the floor, rolling his eyes when Chuckles whined and leaned his head over the contents. "Make up your mind," he snapped.
"Not you," Don told him. "What's up?"
"I was going to see if you wanted to hang out today. I could be convinced to go to the store and buy my, uh… nephew? …your dog something nice."
Don grinned. "For someone who insisted that rescuing this dog was a bad idea, you certainly have taken a liking to him."
"We had a talk."
"Of course you did." Don checked his watch and looked down, somehow not surprised to find Chuckles had turned his back on the food again. "Tell you what, give me about half an hour to get ready and I'll head over to the house."
"Actually, I'm on your side of town, about half an hour away. Why don't I swing by and pick you up?"
"Sounds great. See you in thirty." Don flipped his phone shut and grabbed the food bowl, ignoring his dog when he whined. "No sir-ree, mister. I'm not falling for that again. You didn't want it twice now, remember?"
Don had just stepped into the kitchen to dump the canned food in the trash, when there was a knock at his door. "You'd think a mathematician could tell time," he muttered as he opened the door. But instead of his brother, Don found himself looking at a well built young man, no older than his early twenties. "Can I help you?"
"Name's Chip Martin," the blond smiled. "I just moved into the building last weekend."
Don nodded and studied the man until Chuckles began barking in the background. "Sorry about that. He's been in a mood since I got home last night."
Chip gave him an easy grin. "Not a problem. He's actually why I'm here."
"Oh? He hasn't been too loud, has he? He doesn't usually bark when I'm home but I shudder to think how he behaves while I'm at work."
"No, no… nothing like that. See, I have a dog myself – a Doberman Pinscher. I've been walking him around the neighborhood at night but with it being such a nice day today, I was wondering if you could point me to a dog park or a dog-friendly beach? All of my immediate neighbors are gone – seems the whole building is pretty empty right now, what with the good weather – and then I remembered I'd walked by here a couple of days ago and heard barking. I was hoping you'd be home and here you are." Chip finished speaking with a relaxed smile on his face, despite the fact Chuckles had started barking louder, even working in a few snarls and growls.
"Chuckles!" Don cautioned the little dog before turning to look at the young man. "He normally isn't like this. I don't know what's gotten into him lately."
"There's a stranger standing in your doorway – I understand his reaction. My Doberman does the same thing, only he's bigger so people tend to give me a wide berth."
Don scooped up his dog and shook his head at Chip. "His bark is usually worse than his bite but let me shut him in my bedroom just in case and then I'll make you a list of a few places you can try."
"I appreciate it." As Don pushed his reluctant dog into the bedroom, he heard Chip say, "Nice bachelor pad you've got here. And a baseball fan! We've got a lot in common."
"Oh?" Don asked absent-mindedly as he shut the door with Chuckles safely contained on the other side.
Chip spoke again but his tone of voice had changed, making the hairs on the back of Don's neck stand on end. "I'm what you'd call a 'power hitter'."
Don started to whirl around, his instincts screaming at him that he had let his guard down way too easily. Before he could complete the move something hard slammed into his right shoulder and he crashed to the ground.
"Nice of you to leave this handy," Chip coolly informed him as he brought a bat arcing toward his head. Don raised his arm to block the blow and couldn't contain a yell of pain as he heard and felt his arm bone snap. The bat came down again and Don tried to ward it off but his injured limb wouldn't cooperate. He just managed to turn his head enough so that the weapon glanced off the side of his temple, leaving him dazed and muddle-brained but not unconscious. A rough pair of hands were suddenly at his throat and Don was dismayed to find he couldn't coordinate his movements enough to ward them off. His fears of being strangled disappeared as his collar was seized and he was roughly hauled to his feet.
"We should take this somewhere more private," Chip hissed in Don's ear as he was thrown over the younger man's shoulder. "Wouldn't want the neighbors complaining that we were making too much noise, now, would we?"
Don desperately wanted to make some sort of snappy comeback but his mouth wasn't currently taking orders from his brain. It was all he could do to stay awake as he was carried down the hallway to the stairwell before beginning a bumpy ride up the stairs.
"So, Don," Chip chuckled and Don wondered how he knew his name. "I already know you like to stick your nose where it doesn't belong – had a long talk with Melinda about that last night."
Don's stomach knotted in fear and worry for the young woman's safety. He tried to demand of his attacker what he had done to her, but his mouth still wasn't working properly. He soon had other things to worry about as he heard a heavy door creaking open, followed by the sensations of warm sunlight and a cool, fall breeze. He heard an odd crunch-grating sound as Chip carried him further into the open air.
The realization hit Don like a ton of bricks. We're on the roof! Images of why his attacker had brought him here flashed through his mind and were enough to send one last surge of adrenalin through his system. He took advantage of the burst of strength, slamming his right fist into one of Chip's kidneys. Don felt victorious as his attacker fell to the ground, but it quickly disappeared as he joined him, crashing onto his broken arm. Don let out a yell of pain but forced himself to keep rolling along the hard surface away from Chip.
"Oh no, you don't," the blond growled as he climbed to his feet and propelled himself toward Don. "You're going to pay for that!"
Don tried to push himself to his feet with his uninjured arm but the head wound made the world swim around him and he toppled to one side. He watched helplessly as Chip's booted foot swung viciously into his ribs, prompting Don to curl into a fetal position to protect his midsection.
Chip hesitated in his attack and studied the battered man lying on the ground before him. "You could have avoided all this, you know. But no… you had to stand and flirt with my girlfriend in the hallway."
"Wasn't flirting," Don muttered.
"'Let me show you how to use a glove'," Chip singsonged. "What do you call that?"
Don glared up at the blond and concentrated on making his voice sound stronger than he felt. "You beat her."
"Why's that any of your business?"
"My girl, my property," Chip snarled as he aimed a kick at Don's kidneys, eliciting a yelp of pain from his victim. "I reminded her of that before I came to see you today. I don't think she'll forget it any time soon." He grinned maliciously. "If that's any consolation to you."
Don surprised them both by lashing out with one of his legs and sending his attacker to the ground. He rolled away from the blond and began crawling on his knees and his one good arm toward the door through which they'd exited earlier. He was stopped in his tracks as Chip drove an elbow into the back of his neck. A foot shoved against his bruised ribs, rolling him onto his back before his attacker's face loomed over him.
"Anyway," Chip emphasized. "She's learned her lesson. Now it's time for you to learn yours." He grabbed the injured man under his arms and began dragging him away from the door and further onto the roof.
Don weakly tried to shrug loose from his grip, but Chip didn't even seem to notice his struggles. "You won't… get away with this."
"Really?" he laughed. "Why not? As far as anyone in this building knows – except for Mel and she won't be talking – we don't even know each other. And it's not like anybody's home today to witness any of this, so I think I'll get away just fine. Now, tell me, Don," he said in a conversational tone as he heaved his captive up to lean his back against a raised ledge. Don spared a quick glance over his shoulder and felt his blood turn to ice as he saw the ground far below. He barely heard his attacker's next words over the sudden roaring in his ears.
"Do you like to fly?"
Charlie checked his watch as he approached Don's door and prepared himself for ribbing about the time of his arrival. He had actually been a lot closer to the apartment when he'd called but didn't want to rush Don so he had planned to sit in his car and wait until the thirty minutes were up. Boredom had quickly set in, however, so here he was. As he raised his hand to knock, he couldn't help but hear Chuckles' muffled barking coming from inside. Driving Don crazy again, he smirked. Good boy.
He rapped on the door and waited for his brother's reply, frowning when he didn't get one. "Don?" he called as he knocked again. The barking grew more frantic and Charlie leaned his ear against the door. "You okay in there, Don?"
After another minute with no answer, Charlie pulled out his key and started to unlock the door, his stomach plummeting as he found it was already unlocked. That's definitely not like Don. He carefully turned the knob and eased the door open, halfway expecting to be greeted by a flying bundle of fur. The sight that did greet him sent a chill down his spine.
"Don," he whispered urgently as he moved toward his brother's prized baseball bat, the end of which was soaked in blood. Hearing nothing but his own ragged breathing and Chuckles' insistent barking, Charlie raised his voice. "Don! Answer me!" He knelt by the bat and cautiously picked it up as if it might attack him at any moment. He fingered the blood on the end, fighting down a wave of despair as he saw it was still wet. Of course it would be, you moron. You were just talking to him on the phone.
He stood – unconsciously keeping a death grip on the bloody bat – and headed to his brother's bedroom and the source of the barking. "Don?" he called again, his tone pleading and desperate. "Oh God, tell me you're in there." He opened the door and was almost bowled over by the tiny Yorkie as he ran toward the door. Charlie poked his head into the room and looked for any sign of Don. Finding none, he looked back to the front door where Chuckles was practically dancing back and forth while he barked. "Chuckles?"
The little dog twirled in a circle and disappeared into the hallway outside where he began barking louder. Charlie slowly followed him, stepping outside the apartment and watching as Chuckles ran further away, turning around and barking at him as if trying to tell him something.
In his dazed state, the phrase 'Timmy's down a well' popped into his mind and he shrugged. "I must be crazy," he muttered as he ran toward the dog. Chuckles barked in encouragement and led him into the stairwell, up the stairs and to the door to the building's rooftop. Chuckles was scratching against the door and growling when Charlie finally caught up with him.
"Out there?" he asked in disbelief. "How would you know that?" Then again, he thought to himself. Some dogs are good trackers. Never any Yorkies I've read about, but… why not? "Stand back," he whispered to the little dog as he silently turned the knob and pushed the door open. He froze at the sight before him – his brother being pushed against the edge of the building while the man doing the pushing said something about flying. As Charlie shook off his shock, he saw Chuckles racing toward the blond man attacking Don, latching onto his Achilles' tendon and snarling as he drew blood.
"Ow!" the blond yelled as he let go of Don and looked down at his ankle. "What the… Stupid dog!" He kicked his leg hard, but Chuckles' teeth seemed to have been super-glued into his flesh.
As his brother's attacker concentrated on getting rid of the dog, Charlie ran to Don and pulled him away from the ledge, wincing in sympathy as Don crashed rather hard to the ground. "Sorry, bro." A whimper drew his attention back to the blond just in time to see him wrenching Chuckles from his leg and throwing him across the roof. Instincts to protect his family – both members – kicked in and Charlie rushed the man, slamming the bat he still had clutched in his hand into the back of the blond skull. The muscular man dropped like a stone and lay motionless on the ground. Charlie momentarily wondered if he'd killed him and carefully reached out, relieved when he found a pulse. As much as he wanted the man to stop, he didn't want to be responsible for taking a life.
Satisfied his brother's attacker was down for the count, Charlie rushed back to Don, kneeling beside him and rolling him onto his side. Don let out a moan when Charlie gripped his left arm so he quickly moved his grip, gasping as he saw the misshapen limb. "Oh God… Don, can you hear me?"
"Yeah," his brother replied softly.
"Hang on and let me call for help."
Charlie whipped out his cell and dialed nine-one-one and rattled off Don's address, requesting an ambulance and police and asking that they also contact Megan Reeves of the Los Angeles FBI office. He disconnected the call and set his phone down, focusing all of his attention on the injured man in front of him. "Don… you still with me?"
"Unfortunately," Don replied with a grim smile. "Got any… any morphine on you?"
"Must have left it in my other jacket," Charlie joked. "You'll just have to wait for the pros to arrive." In a softer voice as he patted Don's shoulder, he added, "They should be here soon."
"Girlfriend," Don mumbled as he tensed and made a very weak attempt to push himself to a sitting position.
"Stay down," Charlie ordered. "Whose girlfriend?"
Don stared at his unconscious attacker. "Blondie… beats her. Think he… hurt her before… me."
"Do you know where she is?"
"I'll make sure the police and paramedics check on her when they get here."
"You… do it."
Charlie shook his head so wildly that his curls stung his cheeks. "No way, Don. I'm not leaving you alone up here with that… that thing."
"No. I promise I'll have someone check when they get here, though, okay?"
Don sighed, wincing as the movement caused a spasm of pain in his ribs. "Not much… choice." After a moment, he glanced at Charlie's face. "How'd… find me?"
"Ah," Charlie grinned. "Chuckles is a great tracking dog. Attack dog, too."
"Where… is he?"
Oh no, Charlie thought to himself as he remembered having last seen the little dog flying across the roof. "Chuckles!" he called. "Come here, boy!"
Don's eyes widened and he made a renewed effort to sit up. "Chuckles?"
Charlie finally saw the little dog, crumpled against the far ledge, his left front paw at an awkward angle from his body. "Chuckles!" The little head stirred and a pair of soft brown eyes met Charlie's gaze. "Thank God," he whispered.
"I'll go get him if you promise to lie still." Don nodded and Charlie rushed to the little dog, relieved that an injured leg seemed to be all that was wrong. "Your daddy wants to see you," he crooned softly as he gently scooped the little dog into his arms. He returned to Don's side and laid the Yorkie on the ground next to Don's chest, smiling as his brother petted the dog with his right hand. Chuckles returned the favor by covering Don's neck and chin with a series of enthusiastic doggie kisses.
Don looked back up at Charlie with a puzzled look on his face. "Attack dog?"
"He went to town on that guy's ankle. Apparently, no one messes with his daddy."
Don grinned at the dog and scratched behind his ears. "Good boy, Chuckles. You can turn your nose up at gourmet dog food any time you feel like it."
"They always say owners and their dogs start to look alike."
Don glared at Charlie from where he lay on the couch. "Very funny."
"Seriously," Charlie said through a fit of laughter. "You even having matching blue casts on your left… arms."
"Laugh it up, Math Boy," Don growled. "Maybe for Christmas Santa will bring you a Lhasa Apso." Don grinned as his brother turned red. "Even have his hair tied up in a ponytail with a little bow in it…"
"If you weren't recovering, I'd-"
"Be flat on your back for that comment in the first place."
"Whatever." Seeing Don drain the last of his bottle of water, Charlie stood and took it from him. "Need another?"
"Beer would be better."
"Not for me – Dad would kill me if he found out."
"You've got top security clearance and you couldn't keep that one little secret from Dad?"
Charlie snorted. "I can keep secrets from him about as well as you can."
"I suppose water will be fine."
Charlie smiled. "Good choice." He disappeared into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later, handing a bottle to Don before settling back into his chair. "I saw a card on the kitchen table from a Melinda Gleason. She was the girlfriend, right?"
"Yeah," Don nodded.
"How is she?"
"He knocked her around pretty badly, but she's a tough girl. She's going to live with her parents in Oregon for a while until she gets back on her feet."
Charlie studied Don in silence before quietly asking, "Is she going to be safe?"
Don heard the other question in his brother's voice, loud and clear. "He's going to jail for a long time, Charlie. He won't be able to hurt any of us again."
"Good." Charlie's face lit up and he shot out of his chair. "Oh, I almost forgot!"
Don watched in bewilderment as his younger brother disappeared upstairs, returning a few moments later with a plastic bag. "I got something for Chuckles." He held the bag out to Don who looked back and forth between his broken arm and his good arm which was pinned against his chest by Chuckles' sleeping form. "Oh, right. Let me." He reached inside and pulled out a small, Yorkie-sized replica of a Kevlar vest. On the back were the letters 'F.B.I.' in bright yellow, followed by the wording 'Special Agent Chuckles' on the next line.
"Charlie," Don grinned happily. "It's perfect."
"I only wish it were really a Kevlar vest. I mean, if he's going to be keeping you out of trouble this often…"
"One time," Don hastily corrected him, although he was happily holding the vest alongside Chuckles to see how it would fit.
"Knowing you the way I do, he'll have a few more chances."
Don shook his head but held out his hand to Charlie, grinning from ear-to-ear as the younger man grasped it. "Thank you, Charlie. I really mean that."
"You're welcome, bro." Charlie stretched further and petted the little dog sleeping on Don's chest. "Anything for my nephew."
Alan walked into the door of the Craftsman home he shared with his youngest son, quietly closing it behind him and making his way to the living room where – as expected – he found his oldest son fast asleep. What was somewhat unexpected – but beginning to feel more and more normal – was the sight of the small Yorkshire terrier curled up on Don's chest. Alan stealthily approached his son's side, not wanting to wake either him or the dog, but was greeted by a pair of warm, brown eyes.
"Good hearing, pup," he whispered with an approving smile on his face. He watched in amusement and awe as the little dog raised his head and shifted protectively closer to Don's face, until he recognized Alan as the man who had been sneaking him a variety of high-priced doggie treats over the past few days. His tail began wagging enough to show Alan his appreciation but gentle enough not to wake Don.
His oldest son made some sort of muffled noise which immediately drew Chuckles' attention and he tenderly licked Don's chin until his breathing had evened out back into a regular rhythm.
Alan raised his eyebrows. "Impressive," he complimented the small dog.
Chuckles seemed to give him a sad look, as if to say that Don shouldn't be lying on the couch because this attack never should have happened.
"I couldn't agree more. I'm just glad you were there and could lead Charlie to help him." Alan lifted the afghan from the back of the couch and carefully draped it over his oldest son, making sure to tuck it in around the small dog as well. He smiled as Chuckles affectionately licked his hand. "Good boy. You keep taking care of him at home and I'll keep taking care of him here. Deal?" Alan stuck out his hand and was delighted when Chuckles pressed his good paw into it. "Don's been teaching you tricks, huh?"
Chuckles remained mum, of course, as he wrapped the paw around Don's neck and wedged himself more firmly under his chin. He wagged his tail one last time before joining his daddy in dreamland.
Alan grinned at the sight of his son and… yes, grandchild… snuggled together on the couch before disappearing to make them both a dinner they were sure to enjoy.