I feel like the Credo/Caveat stories need a third one to finish the story arc at some point, but this is not it, and that one doesn't even exist in my head yet. Someday. This little snippet is just a sidebar that kept nagging at me until I put it on paper. Evidently Alan wanted in. It takes place the day after Caveat, but I don't THINK you need to read Caveat to understand it. Then again, it probably wouldn't hurt.
Thanks and thanks again to everyone who enjoyed its predecessors and took a minute to tell me so.
"Robin!" Alan bent forward and brushed her cheek with his lips. "How nice to see you! Donnie, aren't you going to take your girlfriend's coat? I know your mother and I taught you better than that."
"Maybe you should have included a course in women's fashion - I can't tell what's a coat and what's part of the outfit these days." Don tried to ease the sleeve over her shoulder one handed, but she shooed him away.
"Never mind - he'll just use it as an excuse to take off the sling, and we've already had that argument once today."
"Really." Alan raised his brows, eyes skimming his son. "I can see who won."
"Yeah, well, always let the lady win. You taught me that, too."
"Uh huh. I didn't think you were listening. What happened to your head?"
Don looked solemn. "Robin hit me with the sink."
Robin slipped out of her jacket. "Obviously not hard enough," she observed dryly.
"Well, I'm sure you deserved it." Alan took the jacket from Robin's hands and slung it over a hook.
Don gave him a reproachful glance. "Hey! You're supposed to be on my side!"
"You make it hard work, my son. Lunch is getting ready - there's popcorn and bottled water to hold you over until then. At least, if you can make your brother share."
"I always share," Charlie mumbled around a mouthful of popcorn.
"Really, it's hard to tell which of you boys has the more creative imagination. Anything I can get for you, Robin? Glass of wine?"
"A glass of wine would be wonderful." She saw Don open his mouth and pre-empted, "Not even you can be crazy enough to be thinking of mixing alcohol with a narcotic."
"You over-estimate him," Alan murmured under his breath.
Don tried to look wounded and failed. "I thought you weren't Florence Nightingale."
"I'm bad at nursing. I'm excellent at research."
She had said the same thing earlier this morning, when Don had found the pages of her Internet research spread all over the bed.
He had glanced at them, then asked her if they related to her latest case.
"He's a case, all right," she'd answered briskly. "But no, that isn't for the court room. By the way, your dad invited us over. I think he wants to see for himself that you're mostly in one piece."
He was busy flipping through the pages. "You did all this for me? You don't have to do this."
"What can I say - I'm thorough too." The look on his face had been priceless, and she had kissed him then, just to demonstrate how thorough she could be. As a result, she had had to call Alan again and explain that they would be a little later than planned, and Don had missed the kick off, or tip off, or whatever it was that started the game of the day. He had also missed work, except for a brief call in, and she found herself wondering how long this angelic mood and her luck would last.
She studied him through her lashes as he dug into the popcorn bowl balanced on Charlie's knees, heedless of Charlie's predictable protests, then followed Alan into the kitchen and watched as he grabbed the cork screw.
"So. How are you holding up?"
She felt herself flush. "I'm not sure how you do this."
He extracted the cork efficiently with a faint pop. "It's a part of his life. I'm a part of his life. So you find a way." He looked directly at her then, and she felt her flush deepen.
"I - I'll get the glasses…" She backed hastily through the swinging kitchen door, stopped in the dining room by the sideboard to catch her breath. Coward, her brain hissed.
She reached blindly for the wineglasses, stopped as her gaze caught on a photo on the wall near them. Her shoulders relaxed.
Silly boy. Hasn't changed all that much, over thirty years later. Same smile, sweet and cocky all at once. She leaned a little closer for a better look, the sound of the game and the intermittent voices from the living room just at the edge of her hearing.
"Makes Robin feel better."
"Uh huh. And no beer. Bro, you are so whipped."
"Shut up." She couldn't see, but the sounds told her that actions matched words. "You're one to talk. Where is 'Mita anyway?"
"Committee meeting. Or so she says. But I don't know. She hates basketball."
"Yeah. Robin too. Go figure."
Robin hid a smile of her own. Whipped, hm? Well, he hadn't denied it.
"You having trouble remembering where the glasses are?" She actually jumped at Alan's voice suddenly behind her. He followed her eyes. "Ah. I see. I can do better for you than that…" He opened a cabinet below and pulled out a thick album and handed it to her. "Hopefully that's the one with all the naked-in-the-tub pictures."
She laughed, guiltily grabbing a handful of glass stems. "One for you and one for me…do you think Charlie will want a glass of wine?"
"I think Charlie will want a beer since his brother can't have one, but we won't encourage him. Grab a third glass." He shook his head at simultaneous whoops from the next room. "You can bring that in the kitchen if you want, where it's quieter."
Robin hugged the album to her chest and followed him a little reluctantly back into the kitchen. She lined up the glasses. "Can I help with anything?"
"Hm? No - it's almost all ready. And honestly, I don't share the kitchen counter well. How is Donnie's arm - really?"
She flipped back the album cover. "To hear him tell it, he's ready to leap tall buildings with a single bound."
"Figures. He always seems so tough, doesn't he? Like everything rolls right off him. As though he's made of Kevlar." He tilted the bottle over her glass, then his own, and set it down. When he stayed there, unmoving, she glanced up questioningly and found his eyes on her. "He's not," he finished quietly.
She felt the color creep back into her cheeks. Faintly past the kitchen door she caught the sound of Don's laugh, followed by the answering murmur of Charlie's voice.
"I know," she whispered.
He studied her a moment longer, then took a sip of wine and gestured with his glass, his voice easy and conversational, but his face watchful. "That's something I admire about him - his courage. Oh, I don't mean the whole jump in front of bullets and bombs thing - sometimes I worry that's nothing more than a complete disregard for his own well being. No, I mean with relationships - the way he just keeps throwing himself into it, over and over. I was lucky - I met Margaret when I was young and that was it for me until the day she died. I'm not sure I could have done it - survived all the heartbreak and disappointment the way he does."
He turned back to the counter, as though nothing had passed between them.
And here we go. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. "Mr. Eppes - "
"Alan." She glanced toward the door, envisioning the living room beyond. She could curl up with Don there and avoid this whole thing.
But not forever. She took a deep breath. "Alan. Don - " she dropped her eyes to the album, lips curling up involuntarily at the sight of the tiny images captured there. "He - gets to me. Like - nobody has before. It scared me. I ran. I know I hurt him. I'm not proud of it."
Alan turned back to face her, waiting.
She flinched. Wonder if this is where Don learned his interrogation techniques. She forced herself to meet his eyes. "I always had this image of my future - who it would be with. I pictured…another attorney. A judge. Someone respectable. Tame. Manageable." Her lips puckered in a little smile and she met his eyes with a half-shy twinkle. "Your son is not these things."
A hint of amusement touched his face and he glanced toward the living room this time. "I'm aware."
She let her eyes fall again, smoothing a photo with her palm. "So I went looking for the future I'd always imagined."
"I see." He wasn't even pretending to be working on lunch now, his gaze almost painfully intense. "And did you find him? This tame, manageable man you'd always imagined?"
She took a gulp of wine and nodded. "I did."
That seemed to take him aback. "So where is he? What happened?"
She took another sip of wine. "Nothing." He watched her. "I mean, really nothing. I was so bored, I wanted to slit my own throat."
"Don - " her eyes strayed to the door again. "I want to throttle him as often as I want to - " she broke off with a cough. Okay, she was NOT ready to talk to Don's father about THAT! "The point is, for all he exasperates me sometimes, he has never, ever bored me. Not even for a minute."
Alan swirled the wine in his glass. "Well, I can certainly relate to that." He took a swallow. "So where does that leave things?"
"I don't know," she said honestly. "It's not just up to me. It's up to Don, too."
"Fair enough." He picked up the knife he had abandoned on the cutting board.
"But if you're asking me whether or not I'm woman enough to ride it out…" she shrugged. "I don't know. My plan is to find out."
He stood, balancing the knife in one hand as though he couldn't remember why he had it. Then he gave a small nod, his whole face softening into a broad, close-lipped smile. "Good luck."
Somehow, it didn't sound like a crack. It sounded sincere.
" - chips, but don't you mess with that remote!"
"Me?! Someday I'm gonna calculate how many times per show you - " The door swung closed, cutting off Charlie's voice.
Don crossed between them, moving toward the refrigerator, but something in the atmosphere must have snagged him, because he stopped with his hand on the door handle and looked from one to the other. "What."
"Nothing. Robin and I are just talking."
"Yeah?" That didn't seem to ease his mind, because he looked directly at her this time.
She buried her face in her wine glass. "That's right."
"Uh huh." He leaned against the refrigerator door. "Should I be worried?"
"I don't know," she answered blandly. "Is there something you need to worry about me knowing?"
He huffed a laugh and yanked the door open. "Where to start." He pulled out a bottle of beer and put in on the counter, followed by one of water. "Just grabbing drinks."
Alan crossed his arms. "And you two decided that the one-armed man would be the best choice to do that."
Don glanced at him. "It's my arm that's down, Dad, my legs are fine. The water's for me," he added with exaggerated patience. "The beer's for Charlie."
"Mm hm. Tell Charlie that lunch is almost ready and we've poured him a glass of wine. He can have a beer another time."
"Oh, sure, make me the messenger." He moved closer to Robin and glanced over her shoulder. "Oh, I get it. All my secrets out, huh?"
Robin smiled slyly, pointing. "I like this one, with the little gun. Were you actually born with that thing in your hand?"
"Of course not." He sounded a little discomfited.
"He slept with it, though. Horrified his mother."
"Hey, so I wasn't the teddy bear type." Don leaned closer and glanced at the next page, tapping a photo with his finger. "In my defense, Charlie is the one who blew up the Koi pond."
Robin narrowed her eyes at him. "Hm…defending yourself before you're accused of anything. Sounds like a guilty conscience, Eppes."
"Yeah? Well, you're going to need some evidence then, Counselor." He jerked a thumb in his father's direction. "Anything this guy says is hearsay. Heck, the way he exaggerates, it's slander."
Alan smiled wisely. "The truth hurts, my boy."
"Don!" Charlie's voice pierced the barrier of the door. "It's starting again!"
Don reached for the remaining wine glass, then seemed flummoxed for a moment as he tried to figure out how to keep hold of the water bottle as well with a single useable hand. After a second, he tucked the water bottle neatly in his sling and, with a triumphant look at both Robin and Alan, picked up the wine glass.
Robin rolled her eyes and glanced to the side just in time to catch the same expression on Alan's face. They regarded each other for a startled second, surprised by that instant of fellow feeling.
Don, oblivious, dropped a quick kiss on Robin's hair. "Sure you don't want to watch?"
She shook her head. "I'm enjoying the saga of little Donnie."
"Yeah." He gave his father a wary look as he backed through the swinging door. "Just remember, you need a preponderance of evidence before you convict."
Her smile spread. "I was going to settle for reasonable suspicion."
He grunted and hung halfway between rooms uncertainly.
"DON!" Charlie's voice rose in urgency.
"Yeah – coming – " He rolled his good shoulder in the direction of the dining room, prepared to let the door to swing closed behind him.
He stopped in mid step, door edge balanced on one arm, catching his father's eye over his shoulder.
"For the record. I'm always on your side."
Don blinked, opened his mouth as if to say something.
"DON!" Footsteps followed this time. "…Wine? Didn't I ask for a beer?"
The door slipped from Don's arm and flapped closed.
Robin smiled inwardly. Now there's a look I wish I had a picture of.
Alan shook his head, then pulled out a nearby chair and tugged the album between them. "Here. Let me give you a guided tour."
She turned back to the album, ran one finger over the small figure in the photo, toddler Don snuggled in his mother's lap. So cute. And fingers in his mouth. Of course.
"Look at him. Did he always do that? Always chewing on something, sticking something in his mouth."
There was no answer, and she looked up quickly, wondering if she'd said something wrong, found his eyes on her again with a completely new expression, one she couldn't quite identify.
She raised her brows questioningly and he shook his head slightly in return.
"Nothing," he said quickly. "I was just thinking." He cleared his throat self-consciously. "That I've missed having a lawyer in the house."
She felt herself flush again, this time with pleasure, glanced back at the photo of Don in Margaret's lap.
She lifted her wine glass tentatively. "Here's to – throwing yourself in. And riding it out."
Alan smiled, a full smile this time that crinkled his eyes at the corners, like Don's.
He clinked his glass gently against her. "Amen."
P.S. The story about the Koi Pond is taken from an ep, I was just too lazy to sort through the DVDs to see which one. In it, Charlie reminds Alan that 'the koi lived.'