The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
by Valerie Vancollie
valeriev84 at hotmail dot com
Characters: Don, Robin Brooks
Pairings: Don/Robin, (Charlie/Amita)
Summary: Sick, Don and his five-year-old daughter spend the day at home together.
Note: This fic was written for the future!fic round of Numb3rs Write-Off. I was a member of Team Schmoop and chose the word prompt star.
Don sneezed several times in a row, mentally cursing the streak of cold weather that had caused this particular bug to run ramped through the elementary school. Both Michael and Kevin had seemed to bring it home simultaneously, generously sharing it with first their mother and then both him and Maggie. He was still surprised the two of them had managed to hold it off for as long as they had seeing as Maggie and Kevin shared a room and him and Robin a bed.
He reached for the tissue he'd been using before throwing it into the trash in disgust at its sodden state and grabbing a new one. Don made a mental note to add Kleenex to the shopping list the next time he passed the fridge. Speaking of which, he was, amazingly enough, starting to feel hungry for the first time in days. He really must be getting better if his appetite was returning. A quick glance at the clock showed that it was well past noon, much to his surprise. He'd only intended to quickly check his e-mail and make sure everything at the office was going well. Now that he was ADIC, it was both easier and harder to take time off for vacation or illness, depending on what exactly was going on in the LA crime world. At the moment things appeared to be pretty calm and he hadn't meant to get caught up in his e-mails.
"Hey, Princess, you hungry?" Don asked as he shut down his laptop.
"What are we eating?" Maggie asked suspiciously, an edge of petulance to her voice before she coughed.
"What do you want?" Don asked, going to pick her up.
Unlike their older brother, both Maggie and Kevin got clingy and grouchy when they were ill. Mike, on the other hand, well Mike was much more like him according to Robin, determined to will it away by refusing to acknowledge it. Which was silly, of course, he knew when he was ill, he just didn't want to let a little cold slow him down any. It didn't make him incapable of doing his work properly now that he didn't go out in the field nearly as much as before; the single biggest drawback to the promotion as far as he was concerned. He could see, though, how it helped ease the worries his wife and father had about the dangers of his job. Still, if Maggie weren't ill as well, he'd undoubtedly be in the office today given how much better he felt.
"Pancakes?" Maggie asked hopefully.
"Okay," Don agreed readily, just happy she was hungry. "But we need to add something healthy to it, blueberries okay?"
"Uh huh. Can I mix the batter?"
"Sure, Princess," Don said, setting her down on the counter as he pulled all the ingredients and utensils from the cupboards. "Just let me crack the eggs for you."
"Egg shells icky and chewy," Maggie stated, her little nose wrinkling at the thought of the last set of pancakes she'd helped make.
"Yeah, they're not meant for eating," Don agreed with a smile, at least that was one lesson they'd all learned well. "Now, how hungry are you?"
"Hmm, let's just finish the box, I'm sure your brothers will eat anything we leave."
"Yes, Sweetie, we'll be able to eat as many as we want, but we need to share what's left."
"Can we make funny faces?"
"We can try."
"Mommy can make them."
"I know, but Daddy's not so good at it. But we'll have funny shapes."
"Mike said they were mutant faces."
"Yeah, I know," Don replied, glad at least someone had appreciated his efforts, his wife having been far too busy laughing at him to help. It wasn't his fault that his cooking forays inevitably ended up being messier than hers. It was Charlie's entropy at work. He wondered if he could get his brother to put it into an equation for him to give to Robin the next time she laughed. "Here, fill this up with flour and put it into the mixing bowl."
Don walked her through the rest of the ingredients before giving her the whisk and telling her to turn away from the bowl if she needed to cough or sneeze. He turned back to the fridge to grab the blueberries, his back turned for no more than a few seconds, but it was enough. Just as he'd grabbed the box, Don heard what sounded like the whisk falling onto the floor followed by the infamous 'Uh oh.'
He paused for a second, closing his eyes before he turned around. Maggie was still sitting on the counter with the plastic mixing bowl (at least that hadn't toppled to the floor!), only now she was wearing some of the batter. Don wasn't sure how it had happened, but as she'd lost control of the whisk, his daughter had managed to get batter in her hair, on her face and clothes and along the counter and cabinets leading to the floor where the whisk lay in a sticky mess.
Even before he could say anything, Maggie's lower lip trembled and her eyes started to water. Don felt his irritation melt away as he remembered that he wasn't the only one not feeling a hundred percent. That and he really should have done lunch sooner.
Although the twins had long since outgrown the need for regular naps, they still got them when they weren't feeling well, and now seemed like the perfect time for one. Well, after lunch and a quick bath. While Maggie's hair wasn't nearly as bad as his or Charlie's, it did have ringlets and he knew from personal experience that there was no way he was getting the batter out painlessly without the aid of shampoo.
"It's okay, Princess, it was an accident," Don soothed, grabbing the dishcloth to wipe as much of the stuff off of her face and dress as possible. "Just relax. Look, we even still have enough left for lunch, see."
"Uh huh," Maggie hiccupped, rubbing her eyes.
Oh, yeah, definitely a nap, though not quite couched in those terms. He'd seen her reaction to that suggestion yesterday and was going to avoid that if at all possible. Who knew tactical thinking could come in handy while parenting?
Once he was sure there would be no actual tears, Don gave her the second whisk to carefully finish the mixing while he cleaned up the rest of the mess.
Pretty soon the little mishap was forgotten in light of the strangely shaped pancakes Don was producing and Maggie's attempts to make them into something vaguely resembling a face as she added the blueberries.
"No, Daddy!" Maggie giggled. "You're covering his eyes."
"Sorry," Don replied, trying his best not to wreck them, all the while wondering why it was that all of the Eppes women found his cooking skills funny. His mother too had found something to laugh about whenever he helped her, though he supposed it was almost a tradition by now.
"Hey, it's a star," Maggie exclaimed as he poured the next pancake into the pan.
"Huh?" Don said, turning away to sneeze before he looked back, not seeing it.
"There, see, the arms are here and here and here, here, here."
"Ah, yes, of course," Don squinted, kind of seeing it, though it became clearer as it got its face.
Uh oh, Don recognized that particular look on his daughter's face, it was the one she got every time she was pondering something that puzzled her. She looked so very much like her mother when she did it. It wasn't that he minded the curiosity, but Michael had taught him to be wary of a child's seemingly innocent questions long before the twins had gotten old enough to start asking them. It was amazing how insightful and observing children were and he and Robin had decided to always be as truthful as possible.
If nothing else, it kept life interesting. Like the incident last month at Charlie and Amita's house. About two days before it, Robin and David had been forced to explain racism to the twins after an incident at school. On the evening itself, Maggie had spent the first half of the visit in her usual active state, getting into trouble with her brothers and generally having fun while the adults talked. Then she'd left Mike and Kevin alone to watch Amita's fish tank and its colorful inhabitants. She must have been sitting there for fifteen minutes before Amita asked her if anything was wrong. Maggie had turned to look at them and said:
"The fishes are all different colors but they get along."
Robin had just opened her mouth to say something, probably along the lines of the fact that racism was a human thing when Maggie had delivered the real kicker:
"It must be because they can't talk to each other."
That one had thrown them all, even his father hadn't quite known what to say to that particular observation.
"Yes, Sweetie," Don answered, wondering what was going on in her mind this time.
"Do stars go to Heaven when they die like people do?"
Don stopped scooping out the apparently star shaped pancake and looked at his daughter, completely thrown. "What do you mean?"
"You and Mommy said people go to Heaven," Maggie explained, frowning. "So do stars?"
"Stars aren't alive, Princess," Don said, wondering where she'd gotten the idea that they could die from. "Therefore they can't die."
"But Larry said stars die. They go boom!"
"Oh, yes, I remember. He didn't mean that the stars die like people die," Don explained, wishing he'd paid as much attention to the professor's supernova and dwarf ramble as Maggie obviously had. "Saying the star dies just means it runs out of fuel."
"Like Mommy's car?"
"Yeah, just like Mommy's car," Don agreed, smiling at the memory.
"Why don't they just refuel at the gas station?"
"I, well... they can't. A star has all the fuel it'll ever have."
"So one day there will be no more stars?" Maggie inquired, her eyes going wide.
"No, new ones are made to replace the old ones."
"I really don't know, Princess. You'll just have to ask Larry or Uncle Charlie and Aunt Amita the next time you see them."
Don sighed in relief as Maggie went back to adding blueberries to the pancakes. Her letting the topic go so easily probably had more to do with the fact that she was fighting to keep her eyes open than anything else. Maggie could be quite stubborn when she wanted answers. As soon as he'd made the last pancake, he pulled out clean plates and they sat at the table, eating. As he'd expected, Maggie wasn't as hungry as she'd thought she was and she was soon playing with her food.
Don quickly finished his own pancake and brought the dishes to the kitchen for later before picking Maggie up and heading upstairs.
"What we doing?" Maggie asked, rubbing her eyes once more.
"You're getting a quick bath and then we can watch a movie," Don explained, knowing she'd be asleep within fifteen minutes of starting it.
He almost wished he could just put her to bed so he could watch something himself, but he knew his daughter was far too stubborn to admit she needed a nap. Once she was asleep, he could watch a little TV before checking his mail again and cleaning up the kitchen.
"Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land?" Maggie asked hopefully.
"Yes, we can watch that," Don stated, mentally envisioning strangling his brother for giving the kids that Blu-Ray; it was all the twins watched now.
Luckily all three of the kids enjoyed bathing, so Don got her undressed and into the tub without any hassle. He quickly got the batter out of her hair and the promise of the movie was enough to ensure that Maggie didn't complain when he got her out. He was tempted to take a bath himself later on as it had been a while, but he'd see what was in his inbox first.
Downstairs again, Don double-checked that the right disc was in the player before laying down on the couch and letting Maggie climb atop him, coming to rest on his chest where she'd always liked to lay ever since she was a baby. Once she was settled in, he hit play and smiled as she started saying the words along with Donald Duck. Slowly she lost steam and when she finally stopped speaking, he looked down to see her fighting to keep her eyes open.
Don waited a few minutes after he heard Maggie's breathing change before he stopped the movie, not wanting to wake her if she wasn't completely asleep yet. Once he was sure, though, he changed the channel to see if he could find something vaguely more interesting than a movie he'd seen enough times to know by heart. After some searching, he found a rerun of a hockey game he'd missed and shifted slightly to watch, bringing a hand up to rest lightly on Maggie's back.
When Robin got home three hours later with the boys, it was to find both her husband and daughter asleep on the couch, Maggie held securely on her father's chest. With a soft smile, she hushed her sons and Mike obligingly took Kevin upstairs with him.
Quietly, Robin approached the two and turned off the TV. Briefly she just stood over them, watching Maggie rise and fall softly with each breath Don took. Both looked peaceful and fast asleep. The position couldn't be overtly comfortable for her husband, though, and if he didn't really need the sleep, she'd take Maggie upstairs to her bed. The problem was, no one removed one of Don's children from his arms without waking him up, not even her. Although the extent to which he came awake with her differed greatly from with other people, even a groggy awareness would be enough for him to realize the time and she doubted he'd go back to sleep once he did.
Much as it exasperated her at times like this, it was also very reassuring to know that any of the times they fell asleep outside on the beach or in the garden, the kids having exhausted their father, they were absolutely safe. It was something that had caught many of their friends off-guard who'd thought they were helping only to bring Don awake in an instant, protectively curling whichever child he was holding away from them until he saw who it was. Even Alan and Charlie brought Don fully awake. The only ones other than her who merely triggered a partial awakening were the other kids and only then if they tried to drag their sibling away. Any of them could easily snuggle up to the sleeping Eppes' without causing anything more than a slight, unconscious shift of position to accommodate them.
No, given how sick the two of them still were, Robin considered it far better to let them rest for now. Hopefully the smell of dinner would awaken them when it was time to eat.
The theme of the fic is to show both how much things have changed and yet how similar they still are (if that wasn't obvious from the title!). Both Robin and Don have come a long way, but at their core they are still who they are in the show now. Don's still as stubborn, driven and focused as ever, but his softer side has come out a bit more now that he's got kids of his own. Who are more like him than he knows!
I also have to admit here that the bit about the fish being different colors but still getting along and that it's probably due to the fact that they can't talk to each other isn't mine. It is something the kid of one of our old neighbors said once while they were on holiday. She was looking at a tidalpool at the time. It has just stuck with me ever since I heard of it.
Finally, can you see who has Daddy wrapped around her little fingers? :)