Charlie's Dad
by Bil!

K+ – Angst – Oneshot

Summary: Charlie loved his dad, but sometimes he was scared for him too. A glimpse into the life of Charlie O'Neill.

Season: pre-series.

Spoilers: Cold Lazarus, A Matter of Time.

Disclaimer: MGM's playbox, MGM's toys. My fic.

A/N: It occurred to me that I'd never read a fic from Charlie O'Neill's point of view (this doesn't mean there aren't any out there, but I've never encountered one) and my brain decided it had to remedy this.

Warning: Character death. Also unbetaed.

Mom and Dad were arguing again. Well, Mom anyway; Charlie could hear her voice even from two rooms away with his door closed. Dad wasn't saying much, though from the occasional pauses Mom made he must be saying something, quietly and tiredly.

Charlie wished Mom would stop. Sure, she was disappointed – so was he. But it wasn't Dad's fault that his boss had cut short his leave. At least he would be here for Charlie's birthday.

Dad was away a lot and Charlie was used to it. He didn't mind it – well, he minded, but he didn't take it personally, like Mom did. Oh, sometimes he got angry about it, sometimes he wanted to yell at God or the world about how it wasn't fair and he wanted his dad home all the time, like his friends had. But he didn't get angry at Dad for it.

Charlie never told Mom how he got angry about it, because she would tell Dad and Charlie would never tell Dad because it would hurt him. And even if he was away a lot and sometimes had to cancel things because he'd been called back to work, Charlie loved his dad. Dad was the best dad in the whole world. He liked playing with Charlie, liked most of the same things as Charlie, and entered into his games with an enthusiasm unmatched by any adult in Charlie's experience.

Not like Thomas's dad, who always wore a suit and would never play with him. Charlie's dad liked getting all muddy and dirty.

So every moment that Dad was home was brilliant, like winning a game when his baseball team played against the Stompers (who were a whole year older), only even better. Way, way better.

But even though Thomas's dad was boring, at least he was always home. If Dad was always home then life would be perfect and even Mom would be happy – she always argued with Dad when he came home because she didn't want him to go away again. Sometimes Dad would get angry and they would both start shouting and Charlie would run off and play with Thomas. Other times Dad was too tired and he hardly replied. And then finally Mom would run out of words and kiss him and everyone would be happy again for a while.

Charlie didn't know what Dad did, exactly, but he wore a cool uniform with medals and everything and made jokes about saving the world. Mr Cromwell told Charlie that Dad protected America so that people like Thomas's dad could wear suits and do whatever it was they did in peace. Mr Cromwell said that Dad was a hero. Charlie already knew that.

He also knew he hated it when Dad went away. Not just because he wanted his dad, either, but because there was this dark hole in Dad's eyes, like he'd been living in nightmares, and nearly every time he came home from one of his trips the dark hole got a little bigger. Charlie was scared that one day the hole would take over and then Dad wouldn't be Dad any more.

There had been one time when Dad had been gone for twenty-nine days (Charlie kept track on his calendar) and Mr Cromwell had come and told them that Dad was missing and his boss thought he was dead. Mom started crying and Mr Cromwell hugged her awkwardly. Charlie stared at the floor, frowning. It wasn't right. It just didn't feel right. So he didn't cry.

Mom got angry later because he didn't cry. But it didn't feel right to cry, so he didn't, he just hunkered down inside the feeling and let Mom's anger flow over it, not touching him. She cried so much, though, and he couldn't help her. He wished he could give her his feeling so she would feel better, but he couldn't and she was so sad that Charlie cried at night for her.

They even had a funeral, where some man Charlie didn't know said a lot of things that didn't seem very Dad-like. If Dad had been there he wouldn't have appreciated it and Charlie wished he was brave enough get up and tell them they were all being wrong and stupid and tell them what Dad was really like. That he was stubborn and hated to be wrong but he was always ready to help out with the stupidest problems and he was the best dad ever and knew all the coolest games. That he was a million times better than any of their stupid words could ever tell.

There were lots of people at the funeral, crying and crying, and looking horribly sad as they hugged Mom and tried to hug Charlie. He didn't cry then, either, which made Mom so angry she completely ignored him for the rest of the day. That was okay. Charlie made himself peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for dinner and sat on a stool at the kitchen counter, swinging his legs as he ate the sandwiches and thought hard. Dad wasn't dead. That was the only conclusion he could reach. He couldn't cry because there was no reason to.

He tried explaining this to Mom, but she got all worried and started talking with the school's guidance counsellor about grief and denial and stuff. So Charlie stopped trying to explain. But he waited.

Two months later, fifty-seven days after the funeral (Charlie counted carefully), there was a message. Mom started crying again and called Grandpa, who drove them to the hospital. The Air Force hospital, that was; not the one Charlie went to when he broke his arm but a special one. Dad lay in one of the beds, pale and bruised and not looking like Dad at all.

Charlie and Mom stood and stared, while a man in uniform explained earnestly to Grandpa how it was a miracle Dad had survived and how the military weren't allowed to say how he'd been injured. Mom stood in the doorway, unable to move, but Charlie snuck forward until he stood beside Dad's bed.

"Dad?" he whispered uncertainly. "It's me. Charlie."

Dad opened his eyes and Charlie tried real hard not to let his fear show. The dark hole had nearly taken over Dad's eyes and it was like a stranger lived there now, one who had lived through nightmares a zillion times worse than Charlie's ever were.

"Char-lie." Dad lifted a shaking hand to him and Charlie licked his lips, summoned his courage, and stepped forward to let Dad weakly grip his arm. "Char-lie," he repeated like a prayer and closed his eyes, tears slipping down the black bruise on his cheek.

Charlie caught the hand as it fell away from his arm and held onto it tightly, tears in his own eyes. "I'm here, Dad. I'm here."

Because it didn't matter how big that hole had gotten, there was still Dad in there. Dad had soothed away Charlie's nightmares heaps of times, so Charlie would do his best to return the favour. Him and Mom, they'd be there for Dad and they'd make him better. They had to.

And they did: Dad came back to them. The dark hole shrank and the nightmares lost some of their grip. Charlie and Mom spent hours sitting with him, talking to him and loving him. Despite all the times she yelled at him, Mom really did love Dad, Charlie knew. Not like Mickey's parents, who were always icily polite and were getting a divorce. Dad had said once that Mom got angry because she loved him, which meant she worried.

But when Dad was well again he went back to his job and every time he came home the dark hole started getting a little bigger again.

Charlie was scared for him.

He'd just wanted to hold it.

He'd been angry and wanted to prove he wasn't just a kid, that he could be trusted and he wasn't stupid or anything. He'd just wanted to pretend that he was grown up and brave like Dad. Dad had left the key to the gun-box on the dresser, so Charlie had borrowed it. He would have put the revolver back quickly, he'd just wanted to hold it, see the light shining off it, pretend he was in a movie or helping Dad at his job.

But it had slipped in his hands and he'd accidentally pulled the trigger—

And his world had exploded. The sound was louder than he'd expected, but the pain... This was worse than when he'd broken his arm. The gun fell from his shaky fingers as his knees collapsed under him and he fell to the floor with a scream of agony.

His shaky fingers clutched at his chest and he screamed again as he touched the hole. Blood poured out of the wound, sticky and wet on his fingers, filling his nose with the metallic tang. On the left side, he thought through a haze of pain. That was where his heart was.

Charlie hadn't known there could be so much pain in the whole world, and he writhed against the floor, keening and whimpering as he tried not to scream because it jarred his body and made him hurt even worse. He spat up blood onto the floor and knew that wasn't good.

Suddenly Dad was there, running cool fingers over Charlie's clammy face. Mom was there too, her body shuddering with sobs.

"I'm sorry," Charlie breathed.

He'd just wanted to hold it.

Mom was talking into the phone, her face streaming with tears and Dad held Charlie close. Charlie was glad he was there. He could be brave if Dad was with him, he could try not to cry too much. He dug his fingers into Dad's shirt and howled with pain as Dad whispered frantic reassurances and Mom came back and tried to tell him it would be okay, everything would be okay.

But Charlie knew it wasn't going to be okay. There was too much blood and it hurt so bad and Dad looked so scared. Dad never looked scared but even with tears blurring his eyes Charlie could see he was scared.

He was dying.

Charlie's whimpers became howls again as Dad tried to hold the blood in his chest. He didn't want to die – he was only ten! You weren't supposed to die when you were ten!

"It hurts, Dad," he gasped out. "Make it stop."

"It will, Charlie. I promise."

"Please..." He just wanted the pain to stop. He couldn't even summon up any real fear of death because anything had to be better than the pain that thrummed though his body, jabbing a thousand vicious needles into his skin and clawing angrily at his breastbone. He coughed, spitting up blood, and shrieked at the pain the movement caused.

"Charlie! Charlie!" His parents were calling to him but he couldn't reply. The blackness was beckoning and Charlie knew that beyond the blackness there'd be no more pain.

He wished he could tell Dad how sorry he was. Because Charlie was scared that this would give the dark hole the chance to completely take over and this time he wouldn't be able to help Dad fight it.

He didn't want to die. He didn't want to be the reason Dad lost his soul to the dark hole.

But then the enticing blackness drew him down and Charlie lost consciousness for the final time.