Disclaimer: Numbers characters and canon currently owned and formerly operated by CBS television.
Timeline: This is a post-series story, set five years into the future (the series ended in mid-2010; hence, the story takes place during 2015). Historical canon facts will be respected, but everything else is fair game. Not all characters will appear, as some were off making movies. Some characters will make cameo appearances only.
Chapter 1: The Ties That Bind
Alan sat at the kitchen table, jiggling Abagail on his knee. The toddler reached a chubby hand toward the coffee cup sitting on the table and he gently restrained her with his own hand. "Abby, no. That's grandpa's coffee; it's hot, sweetheart. You know that."
She nodded her blonde head seriously. Alan had never understood how two people with dark hair had produced a blonde, but there it was. Despite the hair, even strangers could see whose child this was. Thank God she had her mother's nose, and her daddy's curls. The long, wavy hair was much more presentable on a girl; Alan was grateful the genetics had all worked out. "Too hot," the child echoed, pulling her hand away from Alan's. She tilted her little head back a little and smiled, reaching instead to pat his cheek. "Okay, Poppa."
Alan smiled. Until recently, all he had done for the last three years was smile - because of this child. He had long known that he would love being a grandfather, but had been surprised at the intensity of the experience. He loved his own children ferociously - always had - but this child of his child? So long awaited, so eagerly welcomed? He had discovered an entirely new level of awe. He nuzzled his nose in her hair, inhaling the sweet baby scent like the nectar it was. "Okay, Abby," he answered, and she giggled.
"Poppa, I want more toast."
Alan glanced at his watch, took a sip of his now-lukewarm coffee, and carefully stood, Abby dangling from his arms. He shifted a little to perch her on a hip. She had been walking for well over two years - since she was only 10 months old - and usually preferred to find her own way. But the mornings were special times between grandparent and grandchild. Both were early risers; all of Abby's life, Alan had been the one to greet her in the mornings, lift her from her crib (bed, now), and get her dressed for the day. They would share a quiet breakfast, and then he would turn her loose on her parents: she would storm through their bedroom door and crawl into their bed, shouting "Mommy!" and "Daddy!" loudly enough to wake the neighbors. Sometimes, it even woke Charlie.
This morning, Alan especially craved the feel of her in his arms, and he was reluctant to put her down. With one hand, he stuck two more slices of bread into the toaster and depressed the lever. The other hand smoothed Abagail's hair as she rested her head on his shoulder. Understandably, she had been unusually quiet the last few days. "Grandpa's got to leave pretty soon," he shared quietly, "but you can eat your toast with Mrs. Anne, our neighbor. She's coming to stay with you for awhile, remember? We talked about it last night."
Abby seemed to consider for a moment, then lifted her head. "Will she bwing D-D?" DD was actually Deputy Dawg, a seven-pound Chihauhau who went almost everywhere with Anne and Bruce Mendolsohn. Abagail loved playing with him, and had always been surprisingly gentle with the tiny creature. Charlie and Amita had been talking about getting her a dog of her own. "She might," conceded Alan. "But maybe DD is staying with Mr. Bruce at their house." Abagail's eyes clouded and Alan couldn't take the expression of disappointment on her face. He never could; this one had him wrapped around her little finger before she was a full day old. "If Mrs. Anne doesn't bring DD," he suggested, "you can go to her house later and play with him. All right?"
She rewarded him with a smile. "Okie Dokie," she agreed. She began to wiggle in his arms, the signal that she wanted down. "Is it time for wakies, yet?"
Alan was ready for that one. "Daddy's already awake, sweetie. I heard him in the shower."
Abby persisted, pushing against his torso. "Mommy," she insisted.
Alan should have been ready for that one - but he never was. Stalling, he walked back to the table. He sat down and looked at the child's expectant face for almost a full minute, until she started trying to climb off his lap - and he heard the toast pop up. He tightened his grip a little. "Abagail," he said hoarsely. He stopped to clear his throat and started again, in a matter-of-fact tone. "Abby; remember, sweetheart? Mommy doesn't live here anymore. She's not upstairs."
The child's face darkened in fresh confusion, as if she hadn't heard the same information dozens of times already. "Make her come home."
Oh, Sweet Lord. How could a merciful God grant him this child, this desire and fulfillment of his heart, and then ask him to endure this heartbreak? He shook his head. "She can't, baby. Mommy would, if she could." He leaned toward her little face and lowered his voice to almost a whisper. "But if you try very hard, you can feel her. She is always with her baby girl, even when you can't see her. You are what she loves the very, very, best - and she is always here."
Abby sat quietly on his knee for a moment, then looked at him with trusting eyes. "Okay," she said simply.
Once again, Alan marveled at the simplicity and innocence of a very young child. "Okay," he responded, as he heard a brief tap sound at the kitchen door. He set the girl onto her feet, holding onto her until he could feel her settle into her legs. "There's Mrs. Anne," he said. "Go see if she brought DD."
Abby screeched and ran for the door, Alan following behind. Abby used both hands to twist the childproof knob cover - Alan reached out to help her, and together they pulled the door open. "DD!" she exclaimed happily.
Anne Mendolsohn smiled and placed the squirming animal on the kitchen floor. "Someone wanted to come play," she announced, then looked at Alan worriedly as the dog and the child ran through the kitchen and pushed through the swinging door into the house proper. "I hope it's all right," she said. "I almost didn't bring him today."
"It's fine," Alan assured her, ushering the woman inside and closing the door behind her. "Abby's already been asking for him. It will be a good distraction when her father and I...when we leave."
Anne smiled sadly, and nodded her head. "That's what Bruce said," she answered. "He's the one who talked me into bringing Deputy."
Alan winked. "Always a good idea to listen to your psychologist," he teased gently. "Even if he is retired."
Anne was rolling her eyes when Alan turned and caught sight of the toast. "Abby had some cereal, but she asked for more toast," he told his neighbor. "If she remembers, there's some in the toaster."
"Maybe Charlie will eat some?" suggested Anne almost timidly.
Now Alan rolled his eyes. "Right."
As of on cue, the door swung open again, and Charlie entered the kitchen. He was resplendent in a dark, tailored suit, a dark navy button-down shirt - and an almost florescent pink tie. "Dad." He nodded at his father and their neighbor. "Anne, thank you for doing this."
She glanced quickly at Alan before she answered. "I'm very happy to help. I hope you don't mind that I brought the dog."
Charlie attempted a smile. "Of course not. Abby's in the solarium, telling him a story and trying to put doll clothes on him. I could barely get her to say 'Good Morning' to me."
Alan smiled. "There's some toast," he offered, "and hot coffee."
Charlie shook his head. "I'll eat later. You'd better get ready, Dad." He glanced down at his tie, then looked up again, and unsure expression on his face. "Is the tie okay? I mean, I know it's...pink...but it was a gift. From her. I wanted to wear it."
"It's perfect," stated Anne emphatically. "It's a perfect decision."
Charlie looked relieved. "Good. Thank you."
The three stood in an awkward silence until Alan mumbled something about getting ready and left. Anne started to go to the solarium to check on Abby, but paused when she reached Charlie. She lightly gripped his forearm. "I'll take Abby and DD over to my place in about an hour," she said quietly. "Bruce will watch her while I come back and straighten up a little; everything will be ready for guests by 11."
He nodded, not quite meeting her eyes. "Thank you. I...bought her a nice dress. Could you..."
"Of course," she interrupted. "I'll get her changed at my house before I bring her back home - around noon?"
"Yes," he confirmed. "Right. Yes. Right." He sighed, and his eyes suddenly filled with tears. "I really don't think I can do this."
Anne moved to fully embrace the professor. "You won't be alone," she whispered. "When it gets too hard, just look at your tie - and remember."
Robin straightened the knot of Don's dark maroon tie and patted his chest through the black dress shirt. "There," she announced. "Much better."
"Thanks," Don mumbled as he shrugged on his suit jacket. "Although I really doubt that Charlie would notice if my hair was on fire, let alone that my tie was crooked."
Robin smiled sadly and smoothed the skirt of her dress. "You never know," she answered. "We're not exactly normal during a time like this. Charlie might be obsessed with ties, today." She glanced one last time in the mirror, and winked at Don, who was standing behind her. "Besides. I can't have my husband at large in the general public improperly tied."
He finally grinned a little and stooped to wrap his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder. "Your husband is properly tied forever. To you."
She titled her head. "Always good to hear."
Don maintained his position and sighed. "God, when I think what Charlie must be going through... I hope you really know how much I love you."
She reached up with one hand and stroked his freshly shaven face. "I do," she said quietly. "I love you, too."
The two of them stood silently for a few moments before Robin spoke again. "We need to go," she said gently.
Don's grip around her waist tightened. "I'm not sure I can," he answered.
She broke his hold and stepped away from him, turning at the same time so that they were facing each other. "For Charlie," she said simply.
Don's spine straightened and he pulled his shoulders back. He nodded. "I'll do whatever I can for him."
She smiled. "I know you will. And you will find whoever did this."
He slumped again. "I hope so. I still can't believe this happened. Amita hadn't even consulted for the FBI since before Abby was born. This might not even be an FBI case."
"She helped Charlie a lot before Abby," Robin argued. "This was no accident; it was intentional. It makes sense to look for a suspect in all the old cases they worked on. Even LAPD agrees."
Don looked as if he might vomit. "I hope we're all wrong," he said. "If it's an old case that they worked on together, then Charlie could be in danger as well. Abagail."
"More reason to find out who did this," Robin answered. "Will there be agents at the service?"
"Standard operating procedure," said Don. "We'll have Bureau agents and LAPD detectives watching the crowd for suspicious activity. And most of Colby's team will be there, of course."
"As mourners," Robin pointed out.
Don winced. "Yeah. Yeah. Colby and Liz have worked with Charlie for years. Scott's been part of the team for almost two years." He grinned again. "Did I tell you that Bettancourt is coming?"
Robin smiled. "No; I knew David was coming in from D.C., but you didn't tell me about Nikki."
The two started walking toward the bedroom door. "I was a little surprised myself," said Don. "She's only been with the Pittsburgh division a few months; she's using the only twoP-T-O days she has to fly in for the service. I didn't think she and Charlie were that close."
"They got a rough start," conceded Robin as Don escorted her out the door. She chuckled. "Nikki kind-of requires a rough start."
Don smiled. "You don't have to tell me."
Robin snatched the set of keys hanging on a hook next to the kitchen door. "She actually became quite a willing student for both of you," she remarked.
Don accepted the keys from her and locked up the house behind them. "True," he agreed. "We were just getting her broken in when she took off for Pittsburgh. It'll be good to see her again - and David. I haven't seen David since he was here on vacation almost four years ago."
"You should all get together later tonight, or tomorrow," suggested Robin. "Before Nikki goes back."
Don opened the car door for Robin and helped her inside. "Maybe," he answered quietly. "Charlie might need me."
Nikki shifted in the folding chair and whispered to Colby Granger. "I expected a lot of people — but, whoa!"
Colby loosened the knot of his tie, which he had meticulously knotted just an hour before. He looked around and shrugged. "Students. Faculty. Friends. We got agents here, but they're not going to see anything in this crowd."
Nikki agreed. "Will there be something smaller, later? For the family? Is there some Jewish thing?"
Colby shook his head. "Nah; this is it. Neither Charlie nor Alan is particularly religious - Don's the only one of the three of them even remotely involved in things Jewish. I'm not sure Charlie would have done anything at all, if CalSci hadn't offered to host and coordinate this service."
Nikki glanced at the professor, who sat silently between his father and Larry Fleinhardt. "At least he's here," she said. "I heard some stories about how he handled his mother dying, Don getting shot, other stressful situations - pretty sure this qualifies as stressful."
Colby snorted softly. "No kidding." He straightened in the chair. "Charlie's changed a lot since then; he's toughened up considerably. Don was worried for awhile that he was going too far in the other direction - until Amita was kidnapped. Remember that?"
"Duryea," Nikki said. "Yeah, I remember. Charlie was pretty shook up over that."
Colby suddenly lifted a hand and waved. "Here comes David," he said, and the relief was apparent in his voice. "His plane was late; he was afraid he wouldn't make it on time."
"Looks like he didn't even have time to change," Nikki said, noting Sinclair's open polo shirt and khaki pants. "Should fit right in with the student crowd."
Colby grinned, then nodded his head toward the right. "I see Liz and Scott over there; looks like they found each other."
Nikki shook her head. "Girl once told me that she couldn't stand that dude."
"They're still not best friends," Colby admitted. "I'm sure they wouldn't be sitting together if they had another option. Still, at least they trust each other in the field, now."
Someone dropped into the empty chair next to Nikki. "Didn't think you'd make it," he said.
"Ian!" she dimpled. "How are you?"
The sniper let his gaze roam the crowd. "Been better," he answered, sounding a little angry. "Sucks to be Charlie right now. Left alone to raise a little girl."
"He won't be alone," said Colby after a few seconds of silence. "He's got Don, and Alan, and all of us. Charlie's family, man - and nobody messes with family."
End, Chapter 1