Title: Dialogues, Take Three
Author: N'kala
Disclaimer: Not mine!
Summary: It's Alan's turn!
Author's Notes: Why not? :) I liked writing the first two.

Dialogues, Take Three
By: N'kala

Alan Eppes smiled broadly at several agents he recognized as working for his eldest son as he maneuvered around the crowded backyard towards his- Charlie's- their home. The barbecue couldn't have been scheduled on a better day; cloudless blue skies overhead and warm temperatures with a nice breeze to keep everyone from being overheated.

When Don had first suggested the barbecue, it had been in anticipation of simply enjoying the first nice weekend in a long time. However, a particularly bad case had completely taken over Don's life- and to a not-so-lesser extent, Charlie's- for the last two weeks. Alan hadn't been privy to many of the details, and still didn't know much about the case. Whatever their case had been had been a bad one; bad enough for Don to put an agent on guard, watching their house at night. Though Don denied it and Alan couldn't swear to it, the older man suspected he'd been followed by a couple agents as well until the case was resolved.

Regardless of the situation, Alan had recognized the signs of impending burnout in both of his sons and knew that the barbecue was going to serve a secondary purpose of getting his boys and their friends to unwind. The least he could do to help was make sure everything went smoothly.

Most of the people attending the barbecue were from Don's office, though quite a few others were some of Charlie's friends from CalSci. Alan knew a few of his own friends were mingling with the unusual mix, but at the moment he couldn't claim to know where they had gotten to.

Alan nodded and offered a passing hello to another agent and headed into his home for some more drinks to place in the cooler by the grill. He had left David and Colby fighting over control of flipping the burgers and brats, and didn't want to leave them alone for too much longer.

Scattered conversations greeted him as he entered the house. Alan glanced left and right into different rooms on his way to the kitchen, smiling and nodding, glad everyone was enjoying themselves.

Finding the kitchen empty, Alan went to the pantry and pulled out a few six-packs of soda and beer. Faint conversation drifted through the air towards him, but Alan ignored it until he heard his eldest son's name being mentioned. Abandoning his task, Alan edged closer to the entrance of the kitchen and began to eavesdrop.

" . . . was intense!" the voice was saying. Alan thought it sounded like one of Don's agents- Larson, maybe.

"How do you mean?" a second voice asked. Alan couldn't place it at first, but then realized the voice belonged an agent newly transferred to Don's unit. "I thought they got along fine."

"They do, usually," Larson explained. "Now, keep in mind that a week had gone by, with no leads and more and more victims. Everyone was feeling the stress just start to build, which was understandable, you know? Government agents' family members getting assaulted like that, and put in the hospital? Wondering which one of our families was next? Thank God no one died, but it came close a couple times."

Alan gave a start. Had that been the case? No wonder his sons had been so stressed. It also confirmed for Alan that Don had had agents following him. He must have put an agent on Charlie as well. Shaking his head, Alan tuned back into the conversation.

"Well, Don's trying to canvas all the sites and coordinate the locals on it to help with manpower, but the perp was escalating," Larson was saying. "We were meeting in the conference room to go back over what we knew. That was when Charlie decided to announce to Don that we were going about this all wrong."

"Were you?" the second voice asked.

Larson let out a huff of laughter. "Actually, yeah, but at the time we didn't know it. Don's stress was running pretty high, so when Charlie dropped that little bombshell, it kinda hit its peak. He stood on one side of the table, and Charlie stood on the other, and the two just had it out in front of the whole team. Everyone else was too afraid to move or say anything."

Alan winced. He knew his two boys had difficulty relating to each other, and while their relationship had been improving over the last year, it wasn't perfect.

"What happened?" the second voice asked. Alan found that he wanted to know the answer, too.

"What else?" Larson asked. "Charlie, in the middle of the argument, shouts out 'Leo'. Stopped Don cold. Stopped everyone; we weren't sure if he'd finally cracked under pressure or not."

"Leo?" the second person asked.

"Yep," Larson replied. "Turns out, Charlie remembered something from his and Don's past; something about Don taking some other kid's spot on some baseball team, and the kid taking it out on Charlie."

Alan remembered that incident. It had been years ago, when Don was in the tenth grade and Charlie still rising through his own coursework. He and his wife had been enraged when Charlie had come home covered in scrapes and bruises. Don was no less disheveled, but both boys had had expressions of satisfaction and, in the case of Charlie, adoration, on their faces. It had taken some doing, but they had finally gotten the story out of them. One of Don's classmates had not made the team, and in his frustration, had decided to take it out on Charlie. Don had been nearby and had intervened before Charlie had been too seriously hurt, fortunately. Alan hadn't remembered the boy's name, but he did remember Charlie's glowing face for days afterward every time he looked at his big brother.

Larson's voice drew Alan back to the present. "After that, it was like someone flipped a switch. Don and Charlie began to finish each other's sentences so fast that, by the time the rest of us were on the same wavelength, they'd already started looking for suspects. Within two days, we'd finally nabbed the guy responsible."

"And the argument?" the second agent prodded.

"Like it never happened," Larson told him. "But, really, if you think about it, what two brothers never argue? I think it's just part of being family, don't you?"

Having heard enough, Alan retreated back to where he'd left the drinks. As he gathered them into his arms, he thought about Larson's comments about his sons.

It was true that the two of them had very little in common at first blush, he had to admit. But if someone dug down deeper and really examined them, they would find a lot of similar personality traits. When sure in their convictions, both of his sons could be stubborn to a fault. When concerned for others, they felt compassion deeply, though their ways of expressing it occasionally differed. Both of his sons were hard-working, dedicated to their jobs, and, more importantly, beginning to really their devotions to their family. The apple really did not fall far from the tree.

Alan headed out of the kitchen and walked towards the backdoor. He smiled at more of his guests along the way, declining offers of assistance. Alan made his way outside and back towards the grill, finally kneeling beside the cooler. He lifted the lid and began to place the drinks in the melting ice when he heard Larry Fleinhardt's voice speaking with Amita.

"I have to admit, I had my reservation when Charles first began to work with Don on his cases," Larry was telling her. "I felt that Charles working on criminal cases was a tragic waste of such vast intelligence."

"And now?" Amita asked, curiosity in her voice.

"I must admit, the benefits have far outweighed the negative," Larry stated. "I cannot deny the positive effect that having Don in his life again has had on Charles. Charles has always valued his numbers and logic, but it always seemed to me that something was missing in his life. At first, I merely dismissed it as the eccentricity of the genius, but now I know I was wrong."

A new voice joined into the conversation. "Professor Fleinhardt? Admitting to being wrong? Say it isn't so."

Amita laughed softly at David's joke. Larry only shook his head, smiling ruefully. "I was only stating the fact that having Don in his life has filled an emptiness within Charles that I have seen since I have known him."

David's smile softened. "Yeah, I haven't really known Don that long; I joined the team around the time Charlie came on as a regular consultant, but in that time I've seen something similar in Don. He seems more . . . content?"

"That's a good word," Larry agreed.

"Charlie seems more confident in himself, too," Amita offered. "Not relying on his math quite as much as he used to. That's Don's influence."

"Don's patience and tolerance has grown considerably over the last couple of years," David added. "That's got to be from working with Charlie. The kid's great, but when he gets going, he could try the patience of a saint."

"Dad, everything okay?"

Alan gave a start; he had been so focused on the nearby conversation that he had completely missed his youngest son approaching him. He finished refilling the cooler and stood to face Charlie's expectant face.

"Everything's fine," he assured the younger man. "Looks like Colby and David didn't burn the food too badly. You hungry?"

Charlie grinned broadly. "You bet. Don't been hassling me about it; I'll go and let him know he can come hassle you instead."

"You're too kind," Alan retorted lightly.

Charlie laughed and hurried away to retrieve his brother. Alan watched him go, warmth spreading from his heart and into his limbs. His guests' words about his sons and their influences over each other brought him a peace of mind that he hadn't thought he'd ever feel. His two sons may be different, and have their differences, but there was no denying just how vital one had become to the other.

"You know, Margaret," Alan whispered into the wind as he flipped a couple of sizzling burgers on his grill. "I think we did all right. You'd be so proud. Our boys are good men who help others. I think they're going to be okay."

A commotion near the patio drew everyone's attention. Alan turned his head and watched as Charlie tore through the crowd and into the yard, with Don hot in pursuit. As Charlie reached a clearing in the mass of bodies, Don took a leap and tackled Charlie into the ground, where he proceeded to tickle his younger brother mercilessly. Charlie's laughter was lost in the chuckles and urgings of their surrounding friends and coworkers.

Alan rolled his eyes and set his spatula down. "That is, if I don't kill them first," he added to his earlier comment. "Boys!"

The End.