Title: Lethal Weapon
Disclaimer: I am happy to report that these characters are the ultimate responsibility of Falacci, Heuton et al.
Summary: Tag to The Fifth Man, season 5. Will be sympathetic to Charlie, and you are invited not to pursue further readership if that disturbs you.
Alan Eppes was a happy man. He had just come from Don's hospital room, where he was thrilled to hear the doctor say his son could be released the next day. He had been thinking a lot about his old friend Keith Watts, who had so recently lost his son Nathan, and he understood that he was blessed almost beyond comprehension. When he thought of all the years Donny had worked in such a dangerous occupation, all the close calls -- most of which Alan himself probably did not even know about -- he wanted to hit his knees and praise a God in whom he wasn't entirely sure he believed.
He strode down the corridor towards Charlie's new office, a spring in his step, breathing deeply for the first time in days. That knife may as well have been buried in his own chest, and he had felt for a while as if it took up residence there. Now, he was consumed with energy and exuberance; so much so, he had decided to come by CalSci and resume the task that had been interrupted a week before -- helping Charlie move into his new office. He smiled as he drew closer to the door. He fully expected to find the number-covered boxes exactly where he and Amita had left them -- full, unpacked, and probably sporting a layer of dust.
His eyes widened as he stood in the doorway and observed one of the most impressive academic offices he had ever seen; certainly, much more contained and neat than anything he had ever seen his youngest son inhabit. The man in question stood to the far right of the door, his back to the entrance, scribbling rapidly on one of the old-fashioned blackboards that he still preferred. At least his penmanship hadn't improved, Alan noted with a smirk as he took in the rest of the room. The boxes were all gone, their contents tidily distributed on the shelves that lined the dark walls. The office was huge. A grand desk of dark wood -- was that cherrywood? -- was angled in one corner of the room. Behind it was the large, rather tattered, lumbar-support office chair that Charlie had purchased for himself soon after accepting his position at CalSci. In contrast, the straight-backed chair facing the desk was elegant in its simplicity. In the opposite corner, on the other side of the board where Charlie stood, was an inviting seating area: A leather-covered couch, and two matching chairs.
Alan raised his eyebrows and whistled, unable to take it all in. "My God, Charlie," he said, entering the room a little further. "When did you do all this?"
Charlie spun around, hand still in mid-air. He shrugged as he recognized his father, dropped his arm a little to indicate the seating area. "I've had some trouble sleeping this week, so mostly at night. Please, have a seat."
Alan's smile faltered a little as he headed for the couch. He hadn't even noticed that Charlie had been out of the house in the dead of night? Don's injury had obviously disturbed him even more than he realized. "Well, it's very nice," he complimented as he settled into the butter-soft leather. "I actually came to see if I could help, but I can see you don't need it!"
Charlie sat in one of the two chairs, facing Alan, and allowed a small smile. "Thank-you. I'm not sure I like the arrangement; it will probably look different next time you visit."
Alan felt his own smile brighten as he shared his good news. "I just came from the hospital. Don's doctor plans to release him in the morning! I thought we'd have him stay a few days at the house, if that's all-right."
Charlie's shoulders relaxed a little, even though his smile remained...polite. "Of course that's all-right," he answered. "That's very good news. He should probably use the guest room; it's downstairs, and has a double bed. It would be more comfortable than his old twin." For a moment, a spark of amusement glinted in his eye. "Plus, he could invite Robin for a sleepover if he feels up to it."
Alan chuckled. "That would be fine with me. If she comes to stay at the house too, there's less chance he'll want to leave right away." Charlie huffed out a short laugh, and Alan continued. "That's a good idea about putting him downstairs. The guest bathroom is close, as well."
Charlie nodded and his eyes veered toward the blackboard again. Alan noticed and changed the subject. "How's that neural network stuff coming?"
Charlie's eyes narrowed as he looked back at his father. "I've decided not to pursue that," he informed the older man. "That's actually a photographic imaging resolution program I'm developing for the FBI."
Alan was a little surprised. "Something for Colby and David?"
Charlie shook his head. "No, no, just something I've been thinking about -- it could potentially help clarify previously worthless images..." He stopped for a moment, then added a rapid coda. "I can stop anytime, if one of them calls me. There's no deadline to this; I'll get right on whatever they need."
Alan thought about that for a moment, a bit nonplussed. Charlie seemed almost defensive. He shifted on the couch. "Well," he mused, trying to lighten the mood a little, "Maybe you'll have a little more time for your cognitive emergence research; until Don gets back to work full-time and drags you into something else!"
Charlie bristled. "He doesn't 'drag' me," he objected. His tone indicated barely withheld fury. "At least, he won't have to anymore. I sent all my cognitive research to Aaronson at MIT."
Alan was so horrified he couldn't speak for a moment. Finally he moved to perch on the edge of the sofa and leaned forward towards his son. "Charlie!" he admonished. "Why on earth would you...my God, son, that's years' worth of research!"
Charlie shrugged again, his face impassive. "I don't have time for it anymore. Aaronson agreed to credit me as a collaborator, if he ever publishes."
Alan stood, rubbing his forehead. When he dropped his hand, he was looking at Charlie as if he were a stranger. "I don't understand," he admitted. "I don't understand."
Charlie stood and crossed his arms over his chest. He regarded his father with resignation, and his voice was cold when he spoke. "You don't understand?" he questioned. "You're the one who pointed it out, Dad. I have to make a choice."
Alan felt himself pale. The way Charlie was looking at him, he was starting to feel like a science experiment under a microscope. Snatches of submerged memory pressed at him. "What?" he barely managed to whisper.
Charlie sighed, as if dealing with an errant child. "In the hospital," he supplied. "When Donny was still...on the respirator."
Alan closed his eyes and swayed, almost toppling back onto the couch. The memory was clear, now. He had stood between his oldest and youngest sons, at Don's bedside, and he had accused Charlie and his limitless ambitions of being responsible for his brother's condition. He had watched Charlie close his eyes in pain when he had growled at him that he needed to make a choice.
And then, Charlie's eyes still closed in agony, he had turned his back.
He had turned away from Charlie, towards Don.
Now, Alan's own eyes closed in pain for a moment before he opened them to desperately plead his case. "Son. Charlie. I was upset, terrified. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
The expression on Charlie's face didn't change. "Why not?" he countered. "You believed it -- you believe it -- and you're right. It's time for me to set priorities. If I have to let some things go, so be it."
Alan took a step in his son's direction, but Charlie took one back, so he stopped. "I never should have spoken to you that way, at that time, Charlie. You were worried and upset as well. Please, son."
Charlie glanced at the clock hanging over the door and turned on his heel, headed for his desk. "Let's forget it," he tossed over his shoulder. "I have a class in five minutes, but feel free to stay as long as you'd like. Just close the door when you leave."
Alan watched Charlie snatch a backpack off the floor near the desk and sank back onto the couch, bereft. What had he done? he wondered, as his youngest scurried from the room without even looking back. What kind of irreparable damage had his careless words caused? Alan knew better than anyone how deeply Charlie felt things, how extreme his reactions could be to a stressful situation. Sure, he was under duress himself at the time; but, he was a father. It was his job to support and love both of his sons -- not transfer the knife from Don's chest to Charlie's. He shivered in the warm office, suddenly chilled by the memory of something his own father said to him. The old man hadn't liked Margaret -- or anyone else, when it came right down to it -- but still, she insisted on inviting him to the wedding. At the reception afterwards, his father had pulled him aside. "Enjoy your honeymoon," he had advised. "It's probably the only happiness you'll ever find with that woman."His father had been drunk at the time -- but Alan had never forgotten that moment. Oh, they had remained cordial and polite until his father's death, but Alan never quite trusted him again. Had he just done the same thing to his own son? Had history repeated itself?
"No," he whispered aloud to the empty room. "I'll find a way to fix this. Charlie has to forgive me. He has too." Alan sat silently on the couch for quite a while, understanding something for the first time. There was more than one way to lose someone you loved.