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.
Charlie and Amita pushed through the swinging door from the kitchen, dropping takeout bags and rented DVDs on the dining room table. "Soups on!" Amita called into the living room, smiling. "How are you feeling, Don?"
He grinned at her as he slowly pushed himself up from the chair. "Much better," he asserted. He looked pointedly at his father, who had all-but leaped from the couch and was headed in his direction. "Dad, why don't you help Amita set the table. Charlie," he called, looking back toward the dining room, "can you help me out for a minute?" Don smiled ingratiatingly. "That chair is too comfortable. I sat in it for so long I turned into a pumpkin."
Charlie immediately dropped Amita's hand and went to meet Don, stepping politely aside to let Alan pass. Don was moving stiffly toward the short hall that led to the guest quarters by the time Charlie caught up to him. "What do you need?" his brother asked. "Can I go get it for you?"
Don allowed Charlie to lend a steadying, guiding hand to his elbow, and waited until they were past the dining room to answer. "I'm afraid only I can do this," he teased, stopping at the bathroom door. "Do me a favor and wait for me in the bedroom, okay? I may need your help with something." Charlie hesitated, and Don rolled his eyes. "Been doing this part on my own for days now, Buddy." Finally, Charlie moved toward the bedroom, and Don into the bathroom. He took his time there, using the solitude to think about exactly what he was going to say to Charlie. He took so long, in fact, that Charlie was again hovering outside the door when Don finally opened it, his hand raised as if about to knock.
Don scowled. "I asked you to wait in the bedroom."
Charlie's eyes flickered to the medicine chest. "Do you need me to change your bandage? Maybe I should bring the supplies."
This time Don grabbed Charlie's elbow and shoved him down the hall. "Just get in the damn bedroom," he hissed. "I want to talk to you."
Once they were both inside, Charlie stood alongside while Don lowered himself to the easy chair, and then stood over him, his arms crossed over his chest. "You don't need to get involved in this," he stated unequivocally when Don was settled. "You're here to recuperate, not referee."
Don tilted his head so that he could look up at him. "Get involved in what?" he asked innocently. "I thought nothing was going on."
Charlie barely suppressed a sigh and moved to perch on the end of the bed. "Right," he agreed. "That's what I said. Now what can I help you with?"
Don held his gaze, letting all pretense drop. "I talked to Dad."
Something flickered in Charlie's dark eyes, but his voice remained even. "You didn't need to. I told you, Dad's fine. We're fine."
Don huffed. "And that's why you gave away several hundred hours' worth of research to another mathematician."
Charlie didn't so much as blink. "I don't have the time," he said. "That was totally my decision; Dad had nothing to do with it. Besides, I didn't give it away -- I shared. If anything is ever published, I'll get partial credit."
Don shook his head unhappily. "Partial credit..." he muttered, shifting in the chair a little. "Charlie, what Dad said was unfair, and painful to hear. I get that. But I think the real reason you can't let it go is because you were already thinking what he said."
Charlie looked confused. "I told him that," he said. "I told him that he was right to say those things to me."
Don half-smiled, sadly, and wished he could lean forward a little more. "He wasn't, Charlie," he argued, "and neither are you. What happened to me was not your fault."
Charlie stood abruptly and pushed his hand through his hair. "I told you it was a bunch of kids," he hissed. "Smash-and-grab. That's why you went in without back-up, why none of you were ready!"
Don shook his head. "You're not my C.O., Charlie, you're a consultant. I should know better than to do what I did. You make my job easier, but in the end, it's my decision how to react to the analysis you provide."
Charlie wrapped his arms around his middle as if cold. "He was so angry," he whispered. "He could see that he was hurting me, but he was so angry he didn't care. I'm...a little afraid of him, now."
Don stood so that he wouldn't develop a kink in his neck constantly looking up at his brother. "You can understand that, can't you?" he asked quietly. "He was scared..."
"As was I," Charlie said. He seemed to hunch into himself further. "Sometimes, you can't pretend something never happened, ya know?"
Don seemed to think for a moment. "I suppose that's true," he finally agreed, "but you can choose forgiveness anyway. Hasn't Dad earned that? Does one careless moment undo all the years before?" Charlie blinked at him silently. He didn't seem about to respond, so Don continued. "Just think about it. I know you've both enjoyed getting closer these last few years, since we lost Mom; I'd hate to see that end. I think we all would." Charlie still didn't reply, and Don redirected the conversation. "One more thing, and then we can go to dinner. I want you to do your own work, Charlie. It's important; it matters." He sighed, running his hand over his head. "I know, sometimes I expect you to drop everything, as if it doesn't, but that's wrong of me." He grinned sheepishly. "Of course, I can't promise not to do that again; you know how I get, on a case. I have a predisposition toward tunnel-vision."
Charlie finally at least attempted a smile. "That's why your solve rate is so high."
Don looked at him seriously. "Your help is why my solve rate is so high," he said. "Can you get your research back?"
Charlie stiffened a little and suddenly looked very tired. "I don't want to talk about all this anymore, Don. I promise you, I'll think about what you said. Can we go eat, now?"
"Only if you promise to think about it all," Don answered.
Charlie nodded briefly before leading the way out of the bedroom to their waiting dinner.
Dinner was probably a less stilted experience than the other meals of the day had been, no doubt due to Amita's presence. Charlie relaxed a little more every time she smiled at him -- which did not escape Don's attention -- and the conversation around the table was easy and pleasant. It also did not escape Don's attention that Charlie participated in that conversation the least. He did initiate words with their father once, offering him a carton of kung pao chicken, but it was obvious that a good portion of his mind was elsewhere.
When the meal was over, Alan and Amita cleared the table while Charlie accompanied Don into the living room. Before he planted Don in the recliner again, he rotated it a little so that it more fully faced the television screen. When Don was safely ensconced, Charlie went to the other side of the room and pushed another easy chair into position next to the recliner. "For Dad," he explained when Don looked at him. "He'll no doubt want to keep an eye on you."
Don grinned, waggling an eyebrow. "You just want the couch for you and Amita." Charlie reddened a little, but that was indeed how the seating arrangement worked out, and the four were soon all in their places enjoying the antics of Peter Sellers in one of his early Pink Panther films.
When it was over, the credits rolling, Alan smiled and stretched his arms over his head. "That was a good choice, kids. Just don't make movies like that anymore, and it was nice to laugh after...." He didn't finish his thought, but lowered his arms and started to push himself out of the chair. "I'll just go stick the dinner plates in the dishwasher; Amita and I just threw evertyhing in the sink earlier!"
Amita, who was snuggled into Charlie's side, started to move. "I'll help, Alan."
Charlie quickly leaned to brush his lips against his forehead as he wiggled out of his corner. "I've got it," he told her. "You stay here with Don, okay?" She looked a little confused, but nodded -- and Don wisely kept his mouth shut for once.
Charlie stood at the sink, rinsing dishes, and then handed them one-by-one to his father, who placed them in the dishwasher. When he was finished, he turned and leaned against the counter while he dried his hands on a tea towel. Soon, he was playing with the towel, staring at it instead of at Alan. He spoke for the first time since they had come into the kitchen. "Don thinks I should forgive you. I'm not sure I agree."
Alan had just straightened after starting the dishwasher, and his face fell. His lower lip quivered slightly, but his voice was steady when he responded. "I see. That's...disappointing...but I can't say I blame you. Do you want me to move out of the house?"
Charlie looked up then, surprise evident on his face. "What? What?" He dropped the towel, but didn't seem to notice. "No, Dad, you don't understand. I don't think I should forgive you, because there's nothing to forgive."
Alan's eyes grew moist. "Ah, my son, how I wish that were true. Unfortunately, I have a fairly good idea how badly I hurt you. Saying what I said -- and then turning away from your pain. It...wasn't right, and I'm truly sorry."
"It was difficult to hear," Charlie admitted, "especially then. But what you said was true; there are times when I have to make a choice." He sighed. "As much as I would like to, I can't do everything; not if I want to do any of it well. Teaching, consulting, working on my relationship with Amita, pursuing every last feather that floats by and attracts my attention..." He smiled ruefully. "There's only so much of me to go around, and it's time I faced that." Alan found that he wasn't as happy with Charlie's most recent step into maturity as he thought he would be, and he stood silent. He loved Charlie the way he was, full of enthusiasm and flashes of brilliance, like a shooting star in the night sky. "I understand that your goal was not to cause me pain," Charlie continued. "If it makes you feel better, I'll say that I forgive you."
Again, Alan wasn't totally happy with that. Forgiving someone and forgetting were often two different things; this, he knew. The last thing he wanted was for his son to develop a certain wariness around him, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, aware now that Alan had the power to break his heart, if he so chose. Yet, he also understood that only time could work the damage control for which the situation called; and he hoped that time would also lead Charlie back to himself, back to all of the things he loved. Mostly, Alan felt an overwhelming relief that one of those things was apparently still him. "Thank you," he answered simply, smiling slightly, and Charlie leaned over to retrieve the dropped tea towel.
Alan watched his youngest son toss the towel onto the counter and stop at the refrigerator before rejoining Don and Amita in the living room, and his smile grew. Charlie's forgiveness did make him feel better, and he would do everything in his power to bring their relationship back to what it was before that moment in the hospital had changed everything. He was blessed beyond words, to have come so close to losing both of his sons, only to hear them laughing together in the next room a few days later.
Alan Eppes was a happy man.
END (this time I mean it)