Disclaimer: I own no part of Numb3rs. This is just for fun
Rated T for violence and language
This story is set six years in the future. Two brothers, long estranged, meet in an airport on New Year's Eve. One is stranded far from home wanting nothing more than be with his family. The other is on his way home, wanting nothing more than to be alone with his memories on the last night of the year. He offers his stranded brother shelter and hopefully both will find peace.
Thank you for reading my little tale. Your reviews are very much appreciated.
Shelter from the Storm
He moved briskly through the crowded concourse, his satchel slung over one shoulder and his cell phone held to his ear with his free hand. He was, as always, in a hurry. Due to the weather, his plane was late and his driver was probably waiting. But just as quickly as his frantic rush began, it ended. Eric was going to be late due to the same blizzard that was shutting down the airport, stranding hundreds of passengers, forcing them to either sleep in uncomfortable plastic chairs or make whatever arrangements they could. It was New York City and it was New Year's Eve, good luck to them, he thought.
He was glad to be home. He could easily have wound up diverted to another city where he would sit until the weather improved, not a prospect he relished. And he was grateful to Libby and her balls of steel. Personally, he rarely used his status as a famous writer and almost never played the VIP card. He couldn't stand people who traded on their so-called celebrity to browbeat their way ahead of others. His agent, on the other hand, wasn't at all shy about dropping his name to get the special treatment she felt he deserved. She would not hear of his fighting for a cab with the rabble (her words, not his) or waiting his turn for a town car. She had called the car service and demanded his usual driver AND that they retrieve him ASAP. Libby Bartlett knew her client all too well. She wisely never left her most profitable author to his own devices for very long. God knows where he'd wonder off to or who he's wind up talking with! He might be a genius but sometimes his presence of mind just was not there. She liked to make sure he was never without a herder for very long.
Usually the always polite ex-college professor hated it when Libby pulled her queen bitch act with people, but on this day, he truly appreciated his agent's overzealous efforts on his behalf. Normally, if he had to crash at an airport, he'd just pull out his laptop and work or he'd talk with the people around him. He could always find someone interesting that he could use as fodder for his next book. But it was New Year's Eve, a tough night for him. He wanted to be home and, thanks to Libby, he soon would be. He had dinner reservations at a small Italian place near his apartment, a chilled bottle of Pierre Jouet and a fireplace. He would curl up on his couch with a good book (not one of his own) and settle in for the evening. He would take a few calls from good friends and his father, but for most part he would be alone and that was how he preferred to spend New Year's Eve—alone.
He slowed his pace. Eric was still stuck in the gridlock surrounding the airport so there was no need to hurry. He could catch his breath and grab a cup of coffee before the Starbucks shut down as well. He glanced at his watch and smiled. If Eric wasn't delayed for too long, he should be able to get home and relax for a while before dinner. It looked like his quiet New Years was going to come off without a hitch— and then he approached Starbucks and froze in his tracks.
At first he was certain that his eyes had to be playing tricks on him, he had just come off a really bad flight after all. He was probably over-tired. And then he tried to convince himself that he was just seeing a doppelganger and that he couldn't possibly be seeing what he thought he was seeing. But as he slowly approached the familiar figure all doubts were removed. He would know that voice anywhere. For the first time in many years, he was looking at his older brother. He glanced towards heaven. "Good one." He whispered.
He took a moment to take in his estranged older sibling. His dark hair was touched by a few gray strands, 'kids will do that to you' he thought, but his figure was just as lean and his stance just as straight as ever. He was a man with a problem, a man marooned far from home and he was angry. The writer smiled. Nothing new there, his brother had always been a bit of a grump. He stood just outside the coffee shop, a cup in one hand speaking in his most demanding, curt, sometimes rude G-Man voice. "John, you cannot leave me stranded at the freaking airport, I need a room, NOW!" He shouted nearly spilling his coffee as he forcefully waved his arm.
"Yeah, you and everyone else around you," the younger man whispered shaking his head and pondered the wisdom of making hasty retreat before he was spotted.
What the hell was Don doing here anyway? Well, no matter. It really wasn't his problem. Six years of utter, icy and total silence had left him feeling no obligation to offer any assistance whatsoever. He should just skip the coffee turn around and walk away. That is exactly what he SHOULD do. But, asshole or not, this man was his brother and he did have a problem. 'Yeah and all he has to do is find a cozy corner to crash in like every other stranded traveler from here to freaking Chicago. It's not like anyone is going to shoot him, hell so he's uncomfortable for a day or so. Big deal! It's freaking Kennedy, not some god forsaken mountain in the middle of some freaking war zone. He has no idea what real discomfort is!'
But his father's voice whispered in his ear, 'Son, he's your brother! You have to help him. It's what we do.'
'No, screw him. He once made a promise to me, Dad! He swore he would never turn his back on me that he would always love me and nothing I could do would change that. He lied, Dad. I owe him nothing.' He turned and began walking away.
But Alan Eppes wouldn't leave him alone. His persistent voice once again echoed in his ears, this time louder, 'CHARLES EDWARD EPPES, I TAUGHT YOU BETTER THAN THAT!"
'And if he throws my gesture back in my face, then what, Dad? He sighed, and answered his own question. Then he would know for sure and he would never try again.
He stopped his march towards baggage pick-up, turned and stood in silence watching his brother for a minute longer. He remembered the last words this man had said to him. He had been standing in the fading light of the garage, home after more than a year in a hell no one could even begin to imagine. His father and his friends had ascended the stairs leaving him alone with his older brother. Don stood apart staring at him with cold, distant eyes.
"So, you're alive," Don had said.
"For the most part," had been his reply.
Don had turned his back and walked up the stairs leaving him alone in the dark and they never spoke again. They had never even been in the same room again, not in six long, bitter years. Now he was only a few yards away and Charlie was totally pissed with himself that after all these years and all he had accomplished, the sight of his big brother still hurt and worse, he was still intimidated by the very sound of his voice.
'Look at you, you big wuss! You've faced enemies that make anything he's come up against look like a kindergarten class. You've crawled through mud, trudged through snow up to your ass while some fucking bastards tried to blow your head off. You've traversed snake and crocodile infested rivers and hiked across every continent on the globe. Last year you climbed Kilimanjaro for God's sake! Why are you letting your asshole big brother spook you? Get it together man! If he rejects you, well, you've been rejected by better than him!' Charlie bit his lip and slowly moved towards the man standing with his back to him, a mobile phone clasped to his ears, gesturing wildly as he shouted at some poor soul on the other end.
"I understand about the bad weather; I understand that it's New Year's Eve. Do YOU understand that I would have been out of here yesterday if YOU had not insisted I stay another day and give a lecture to your new agents on…? Don't interrupt me, John, I…hello, hello— you bastard, you did not just hang up on me!" He started to redial the number.
And that was when Charlie dug up the courage to make his move. "Don, you seem to have a problem." He said and his brother whirled around to face him, a look of complete shock on his already red face.
For a second, the FBI agent said nothing. He just stared, his mouth slightly opened, his eyes wide. "Charlie!" He said softly. "What are you doing here?"
"I live here," Charlie answered. "I just flew in from L.A. What are you doing here?"
"The New York Field Office asked me to help train some new agents in…never mind, I guess that really doesn't concern you." He looked away for a moment. "You look well, Charlie." He said awkwardly.
"So do you." Charlie shuffled his feet and looked down. He could not believe how hard it was to talk with a man who had once been such an important part of his life.
"Well, a little grayer on top, but thanks." Don was finding it hard to look into his brother's face.
Charlie could almost smell the apprehension in the man. When they were younger, they had had a tenuous relationship at best, but it had never been this uncomfortable. Charlie began to believe he had made a mistake. He should have followed his initial gut feeling and left without ever speaking that first word to his brother.
"So, how are Robin and the kids?" He asked.
"Fine, Justin brought the flu home from school so of course all of us got sick, but that's part of having kids I guess." He ran his hand through his hair. "Ahhh, it was nice seeing you again, but I'm kind of stuck and I'm trying to get the Bureau to set me up in a hotel for the night and…"
"Of course, sorry to interrupt," Charlie said quickly. "It was good to see you, Don. Have a safe trip." He turned and started to walk away, then rolled his eyes and cursed under his breath. He turned back around. "Look, considering the weather and the fact that it's New Years Eve, not even God much less the FBI could get you so much as a cab much less a room so…"
He stammered and nearly stopped when he saw THAT look cross Don's face but then he recalled a couple of years earlier, crossing a river in Africa up to his armpits in rushing water, muck and snakes with his camera held above his head while Mike yelled at him to hurry, Will laughed his ass off and Big Gus held on to the neck of his shirt so he didn't get washed away. Making this offer to Don couldn't be as difficult as that damned safari had been. Well—maybe it was just as difficult. No, maybe it was far more difficult.
All the damned river could do was drown him. This man could tear his heart out with a few choice words. He cleared his throat. "Don, I have a car coming and I have a guest room. I'd be glad to put you up until the weather clears and you can get a flight out." And he immediately regretted his words. Don's eyes narrowed and Charlie was sure he was about to be ripped a new one.
His brother shook his head, "Thanks for the offer but I don't think that's such a good idea." He said softly.
'Score one more for big brother.' Charlie thought. Well, he had tried, now he was done. He nodded and shifted his bag. "Okay then. Say hello to Dad for me and give my love to Robin and the kids." He turned and began walking away. Then he stopped. He had one last offer to make. "I have beer." He said without turning around.
"Stella?" Don asked after an awkward pause.
"Yeah—Stella." Charlie looked over his shoulder at his brother.
Don looked at the crowd around him. Some passengers were on cell phones in desperate but futile efforts to find rooms; some had given up and had found places to settle in for the duration. Among the noisy throng were at least two crying babies, one bickering couple and a woman with a high nasal voice. She was in full whine at a decibel that was giving the headache prone agent a migraine. Three kids totally ignored by their oblivious parents, ran by nearly slamming into the FBI agent causing him to spill his coffee. They had the nerve to look at him as if HE was at fault. He looked at his younger brother who only lifted his eyebrows as if to ask, 'Well, are you coming big brother or had you rather stay here?'
He sighed, picked up his bag and joined his brother, all the while knowing he could be making the mistake of a lifetime. They had parted on the worst of terms and time had certainly NOT healed all wounds. If anything, it had exacerbated them. Charlie was a stranger now, a stranger he wasn't sure he wanted to know.
Don was all too aware that at some level he had never forgiven his kid brother for all the pain he had caused all those years ago and that right or wrong, he was still angry. He was also aware that another part of him was totally indifferent towards this man he had once dearly loved and that indifference was in many ways worse than anger. But over-shadowing his complicated emotions where his brother was concerned was the fact that he was tired and his back really did not want to try and sleep in a hard plastic chair among hundreds of strangers.
And besides, Charlie had Stella.