Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Spoilers: Mind Games, Trouble in Chinatown
A/N: I appreciate your reviews
Chapter 29-Epilogue-Part 1:
The faint haunting notes of a melody floated on the night breeze as if they were being created by some ethereal hand. The delicate melodious tones fluttered gracefully through the night air and passed easily through the glass windows and sturdy doors of the mountain cabin.
"What's this now," Don thought irritably as he set the unopened bottle of aspirin back on the kitchen counter. "Hadn't they had enough excitement for one evening?" He'd gotten up in search of something to relieve his pounding headache and had just found the pills when the music had begun to play. He squinted at the kitchen clock and by the light of a moonbeam filtering in through the kitchen window was able to read the time. "Who in the hell was playing music at 2:00 a.m. in the morning and where was it coming from?"
Stifling a groan he tightened the belt on his robe then turned quietly around as his dark eyes searched through the moon shadowed room for the mysterious musician but he saw no one there. Puzzled, his brow furrowed more deeply as he stepped around the counter determined to find the source of the music. Suddenly he caught movement out of the corner of his eye and swung around in time to see the front door click shut with a soft thud. Don cocked his head as he listened for footsteps on the porch but only the gentle music greeted his ears. Had Charlie forgotten to lock the door leaving it to the mercy of the wind or had an intruder entered the house and Don had caught him on his way out.
Deeply regretting the fact that his gun was in his suitcase he anxiously hurried to a window that overlooked the front porch and cautiously pulled back the edge of the curtain. The moon had disappeared behind a cloud making it difficult to see anything but as his eyes adjusted to the darkness he was able to make out the shapes of the swings and rocking chairs that dotted the porch.
Don craned his neck to get a better view but it was to no avail for the shadows kept the area encased in darkness. Frustrated he started to straighten up but at that moment the bright moon made its escape from the clouds and with its illumination he could clearly see the unmistakable form of a man sitting on the top step of the porch. The shadowy head suddenly looked skyward and Don let out a relieved breath as he recognized his brother's tousled curls in the dark silhouette. What was he doing out there? He started to drop the curtain when a second shadow caught his eye…..a much darker one. Although the moonlight had lightened his brother's shadow the second one remained dark…almost black….and it was sitting right next to Charlie. "Maybe Amita is with him and his shadow is blocking her body from the moonlight," he mused thoughtfully but then he abruptly dismissed the idea. He couldn't explain it but even though Charlie partially blocked it from his view he was suddenly sure that the mysterious shadow figure was a man, not a woman. "Maybe its Tom," he huffed sarcastically then immediately regretted his levity. "After tonight," he sighed, "it could very well be Tom."
Don crossed the room, opened the door then quietly stepped out onto the porch. Focusing on the elusive figure sitting next to his brother he quickly closed the distance to the steps; the ends of his robe flapped lightly around the legs of his pajamas but the soft soles of his slippers made not a sound as he closed the distance to the front steps. Suddenly he stumbled then quickly recovered….where did it go? His head whipped around anxiously but the elusive shadow was no longer in sight. How was that possible? It was there but somehow it had vanished right before his eyes. Don blinked, rubbed his eyes quickly then anxiously scanned the porch for the mysterious shadow but it was nowhere to be seen. Don drew in a shaky breath then rubbed his face tiredly….considering what he'd experienced earlier should he be surprised to have a paranormal encounter now?
Charlie didn't seem to be aware of his presence so he paused a few feet away from him then pretended to clear his throat so that he wouldn't startle him. But the mathematician showed no indication that he'd heard him, just remained hunched over intent on something that he was holding in the palm of his hand. It was then that Don realized that the music was coming from that object. Curiously he tilted his head to the side and concentrated on the melody.
"That's The Blue Danube, right?" Don asked softly, easing himself down on the step next to his brother.
"Yes," Charlie replied without looking up, his voice barely above a whisper. "It's beautiful, isn't it?"
"Its' always been one of my favorites." Don agreed trying to get a look at what Charlie was holding. "What've you got there…..some type of CD player?"
Charlie shook his head softly then turned to his brother as he opened the palm of his hand. "I didn't know it played a tune….just thought it chimed the hour."
Don couldn't suppress a shudder at the sight of the object. "How ….how….can you hold that thing?" He whispered hoarsely visibly repelled by the sight of Schiller's watch.
"It's strange," Charlie replied in wonder, clearly amazed that he was so calmly holding the watch in his own hands. "I'm not afraid of it anymore. Tom was right…it's just a watch….filled with tiny gears and screws not some diabolical instrument of torture. It's hard to believe that only a few short hours ago the chimes from this watch struck terror in my heart and now I can marvel at the intricate designs of the craftsmanship and appreciate the beautiful melody that it plays." Charlie shrugged his shoulders then gave his brother a lopsided smile. "Even the chimes don't bother me now." He snapped it shut then reached for his brother's hand and gently placed the watch in the palm of his hand. "Open it, Don. Hold it in your hands and listen to it."
Amazed by Charlie's reaction to the watch Don forced himself to do as he was asked. The delicate music pealed forth and much to his surprise the tension that he had felt when he first saw the watch began to disappear as he lost himself in the beautiful melody. After the tune played through he gently closed the lid and turned the watch slowly over in his hands. "That's amazing," he whispered softly. "It doesn't make me afraid anymore…as a matter of fact…I feel at peace. How is that possible?"
"I don't understand it either," Charlie answered with a gentle shake of his curls. "But I'm certain that it has something to do with our experience tonight."
That was a subject that had been carefully avoided by all of them after they had left the café; still reeling from their horrifying experience and close to physical exhaustion from the day's activities no one had really felt like discussing the paranormal event that they had witnessed so by mutual agreement they'd all decided to sleep on it and discuss it in the light of day.
"Some night, huh?" Charlie asked in a slightly uneasy voice when his brother remained silent.
Don gave the watch back to his brother then rubbed his face tiredly before replying. "Don't know how we got out of that one, brother."
"I know…I thought sure those knives…." Charlie replied his voice trailing off as the memory surfaced. He cleared his throat then chuckled nervously. "I'm still trying to get my head around it. Tom's ghost, the Schiller's, Ludwig's ghost…was it all real?"
"I don't know about you, Charlie but it sure seemed real to me," Don sighed scrubbing both hands through his hair. "Considering that every one of us experienced the same thing I don't think that we'll be able to say that we imagined it but don't sweat it, Chuck, it's going to take all of us a while to understand what happened tonight."
Charlie nodded then leaned forward nervously rubbing the palms of his hands over his knees. "Hey, Don?" he asked suddenly his eyes darting toward his brother then back again. "Do you remember the first time that we met Simon Kraft?"
Knowing how Charlie felt about the man Don's brow's lifted in surprise at the mention of his name. "Yeah. What about him?"
"Well, I never told you this but after your first interview with him he and I left at the same time and ended up waiting together for an elevator."
"So while we were waiting there he tried to impress me by saying that he knew I was present during his interview so I told him that I wasn't impressed because he could have easily seen me there. Then he asked me if I would be impressed if he told me that he felt Mom's presence standing beside of me." He glanced sideways at his brother then laughed self-consciously.
"What if…what if he was telling the truth? What if Mom was there and I …I just accused him of being a con man."
Charlie eyes were so sad and mournful that Don's heart dropped to his knees; hooking an arm around his brother's neck he gave him a light shake. "Ah, Charlie…..Kraft was a con-man. I hadn't really made up my mind about the man but after meeting Eric tonight I think you were right about him all along. Kraft might have had a little physic talent but he didn't have Schiller's abilities."
Charlie hesitated then nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
"Trust me," Don said confidently. "That man was just interested in fame and fortune." Suddenly he remembered the other shadow that he had seen earlier then rose to his feet so that he could clearly search the area again. "Hey, who else is out here with you and where did he go?"
Charlie looked up then graced him with a blank stare. "What're you talking about? There's no one else out here."
Now it was Don with the blank look. "But….but I saw someone sitting next to you."
Charlie shifted his position so that he had a clear view of the porch and the surrounding area then when he looked back a mischievous light had appeared in his brown eyes.
"I think you were dreaming, bro," he said with a chuckle.
"I was not," Don denied heatedly. "I know what I saw and there was someone sitting next to you."
Charlie winked then whispered conspiratorially. "Maybe it was Tom."
Don was about to argue the point then the thought that the mysterious shadow really could have been Tom left him speechless. He glanced sideways at his brother who had started scanning the area again and realized that even though Charlie had been joking he was now considering the possibility that his friend had been sitting next to him. Nervously the agent scrubbed his hands through his hair again then cleared his throat as he sat down on the steps.
"Yes…well….maybe it was just shadows. Speaking of Tom, that was some news about him today, huh? You know, him being a father and all."
"Yeah that was quite a shock," Charlie replied pushing an errant curl out of his eyes. "It makes me sad and happy at the same time." At his brother's questionable look he explained his feelings further. "Tom would have made a great father if only he'd been given the chance and it's just makes his death more tragic to learn that he died without even knowing that he had a son but that being said I'm thrilled that a part of him will live on in Tommy."
Don nodded quietly then seeking to lighten the mood he thought of something that he'd wanted to ask Charlie earlier in the day. "By the way, last night you said that Tom helped you mark two things off of your list. The first one was "the infamous mid-night ride" which by the way I'll never let you forget, but what was the second thing?"
"Oh…the list," Charlie murmured softly. So many things had happened since then that it took him a moment to remember their earlier conversations then his eyes took on a distant look. The mathematician gazed up at the twinkling stars while he sorted through the memories of his life at Princeton and when he spoke the present seemed to fade away.
"It happened on a Saturday, the day after my "mid-night ride" and Mom was still in L.A. I was just getting ready to heat up some of Mom's leftover lasagna when there was a knock at the door….."
Sixteen year old Charlie Eppes cocked his ear toward the front door of his apartment and paused with an empty spoon dangling over a lasagna dish. He'd gotten home late that morning after spending the night at Professor Fleinhardt's home then after a quick shower had climbed into bed and had slept most of the afternoon away. His rumbling stomach had finally awakened him just before five and he was just in the process of resolving that issue when he heard a knock on the door. Maybe it wasn't his door…it was probably the apartment next to them; they were always getting visitors.
The pounding started up again this time followed by the exasperated voice of his friend Tom. "Come on, Charlie….open up."
Charlie's eyebrows flew up in surprise. "Tom?"
Spoon still in hand he hurried to the front door; his socked covered feet thudding softly across the wooden floors of the apartment. He glanced quickly through the eye hole on the door then slid the chain latch free before unlocking the dead bolt that his Mother had just installed the week before.
"Geez…it's about time," Tom exclaimed irritably when the door finally swung open. "I was afraid the pizza would get cold before you could get the door unlocked." He rolled his eyes and quipped. "This place is locked up tighter than Fort Knox."
"Tell me about it," Charlie grumbled good-naturedly as he closed the door behind his friend and started to follow him across the room.
"Hey, don't forget to lock the door," Tom warned over his shoulder then set the pizza and a large brown paper bag on the kitchen counter.
"Yes, Mother," Charlie quipped sarcastically as he dutifully locked the door and replaced the chain latch.
"I heard that."
"What're you doing here, Tom?" Charlie asked ignoring his friend's remark. "I thought you were going to spend the rest of the weekend studying for your finals?"
Tom shrugged and pulled the plastic wrap back over the casserole dish before shoving it back in the refrigerator. "I was planning too but then I couldn't stand being cooped up with Alex Sheffield all weekend."
Charlie cast a puzzled glance at his friend while he opened the cupboard. "Why? What did your room mate do now?"
"Alex," Tom replied between his clenched teeth, "was the one who told Penfield about the keg and helped him take it from our room."
Charlie passed a paper plate to his friend and then opened the lid on the pizza box. "But we already knew that….remember? We saw him at Penfield's party last night."
"I know," Tom grumbled around a mouthful of pizza. "But I refuse to listen to him moan and groan today while he suffers with a hangover."
Charlie's face broke out in a grin. "Suffering, huh?"
"Big time," Tom chortled. "And he's not getting any sympathy from me today either…. serves him right!"
"Yeah," Charlie agreed whole-heartedly extremely pleased that one of the people responsible for spoiling his keg party was suffering for it. "Payback."
Tom nodded enthusiastically then grabbed another slice."Did you talk to your Mom today?"
"Yeah, she called right after I got home. Lucky for me she and Dad were out late last night so she slept later than usual otherwise she would have called bright and early this morning and I would've had to come up with some excuse for not being here," he paused to swallow a bite of pizza, "and I'm not sure anything that I could've come up with would've held up to her third-degree questioning."
"Oh, come on, Charlie," Tom guffawed, "She can't be that bad."
"Are you kidding me?" Charlie asked an incredulous look on his face. "If she even suspected that something was going on she'd transform into Attorney Eppes and then we'd both feel like we had just endured one of the infamous Medieval Inquisitions."
"Yeah, right," Tom snickered with a roll of his eyes then changed the subject as he reached for another slice. "Hey, is it okay if I sleep on the couch tonight? I figured we could study for a while then later on we could watch a movie?"
"Yeah…sure," Charlie agreed then waved a hand at the paper bag. "That sounds good. Are your books in the bag?"
"Yes and know," Tom responded mysteriously. "That bag contains my books, a change of clothes and the means to help you check off another of the items on your list."
"Really?" Charlie asked eagerly. "Which one? Wait…don't tell me. There's only one thing on the list that would fit in that bag."He smiled smugly then crossed his arms. "You brought beer."
"Ah my dear friend," Tom replied with a wink, "you truly are a genius." He hopped up from the table and reached into the paper bag. "For our entertainment tonight I have procured a couple of movies, chips and salsa and most importantly...beer." His face split into a big smile as he held up the six-pack of bottles for the young man to see then with a flourish put them in the refrigerator.
"There's some cheese in the fridge and a bag of pretzels in the cupboard that we can add to our snack list too." Charlie replied excitedly as he cleaned off the table and put the paper plates and pizza box in the trash.
The older boy patted his stomach and sighed contentedly. "Guess it's time to hit the books, huh?"
Charlie agreed and so they settled down at the kitchen table to study for their finals. Two hours later both boys were rubbing their tired eyes and stretching sore neck muscles.
"That's enough for me," the younger boy said with a big yawn.
"Me too," Tom eagerly agreed then without another word both boys headed for the kitchen. In no time at all they were seated on the couch with a tray of snacks on the coffee table and a cold bottle of beer in hand.
Tom kicked off his sneakers then grinned as Charlie took a sip from the long neck bottle. Almost immediately they younger boy coughed and made a face. "It…it tastes funny."
Tom laughed and took a drink of his own beer. "It's an acquired taste, Charlie. You'll get used to it, you'll see. Besides it's better if you eat something with it." Putting his words to action he grabbed a chip and popped it into his mouth.
After the first bitter sip Charlie wasn't sure if he really wanted to drink the beer but he didn't want Tom to think he was a wimp so he grabbed some chips and took another drink. Tom was right-it didn't taste so bad if you ate something while you drank it.
"Hey, Charlie, look." Tom suddenly exclaimed. "I found a new movie for us to watch. It's called 'St Helens, Killer Volcano'."
Charlie groaned and gazed at his friend with a pained expression. "Not another volcano movie? It's my turn to pick one…you chose the last one…remember?"
Tom took a swig of his beer then shook his head. "No I didn't…you did. It was some movie about Albert Einstein…I …ah don't remember the name of it."
"Are you sure?" the younger man asked suspiciously taking a sip from his own bottle. "Because I distinctly remember watching 'Krakatoa; East of Java…or was it 'The Last Days of Pompei'?"
"We have watched those movies," Tom replied raising his chin defensively. "But the last time we were together we watched one about Einstein so it's my turn to choose again." He quickly pulled the DVD from the cover and shoved it into the player before Charlie could voice in other objections.
Charlie giggled at his friends hasty motions then realized that he really didn't care. He was enjoying the evening immensely and felt….relaxed. He glanced at his nearly empty bottle and realized that the alcohol was already affecting him. The young man rose from the couch and padded softly out to the kitchen then filled a bowl with pretzels before grabbing two more beers from the fridge. He handed Tom a bottle and set down just as the movie began to play.
"This one was filmed in 1982 and follows the lives of the people from March 20th to May18, 1980-the day of the eruption." Tom explained excitedly his eyes locked on the TV screen.
Charlie just grinned and drank some more beer but as the movie progressed his thoughts drifted elsewhere. His eyes drifted toward his friend then his smiled deepened-Tom really did enjoy movies about volcanoes.
"I'm going to study St. Helens one of these days," Tom said suddenly thoroughly engrossed in the movie. "You mark my words, Charlie….I will do it."
"I'm sure you will, Tom."
"I mean it…you just watch I'll…," Tom stopped mid sentence as he turned to his friend and noticed the lop-sided grin on his face. "What? Are you laughing at me?"
"No," Charlie replied with a gentle shake of his head. "I just enjoy watching you watch these movies because you get so caught up in them."
"Oh," Tom huffed suddenly embarrassed.
"Tom?" Charlie asked in a more serious tone. "Why do you do it?"
"You know…spend time with me. Nobody else likes too…unless I can help them with their homework but you've never even asked me to do that…not once…so why?"
Tom was about to give a flippant response when he noticed the seriousness in his friend's eyes. "I don't know, Charlie. I think that it was because when I was a little kid I was different than the other kids too and they would mock me and push away my efforts to become friends with them so I know a little about what you're going through. It wasn't because I was smarter than they were, like you are. In my case I think it was because I spent so much time with adults that I didn't really know how to interact with kids my own age." Tom shrugged and took a swig of beer. "I practically grew up on the volcano sites where my parents worked and you didn't find too many kids there. During the school year I would live with my grandparents but all of my summers were spent with them. By the time I started the first grade I already had a passion for studying volcanoes and I can remember telling my grandmother that the other kids at school were "just too silly to talk to". So I endured school and longed for the summers where I could talk to people that made sense to me." He leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees while he absently swung the beer bottle back and forth."You've been hurt by a lot of people who are either jealous or intimidated by the genius in you so in defense you've tried to erect a shield of sorts around yourself so that people can't hurt you anymore."
Charlie opened his mouth to deny it but nothing came out. Tom was right so he just nodded his head in agreement and stayed silent.
"I know this because I used to do it too. Adults are excited by your genius but forget that you are still a teenager who wants to be accepted socially while the other students see you as someone that delights in taking everyone's attention away from them. That's not who you really are but they can't see that; they feel stupid around you so they see you as a threat and only pretend to like you when they need help. It's not your fault, Charlie, you didn't ask to be a genius….you were just born that way."
Unshed tears welled up in the youngsters eyes and he looked away for a moment then his eyes darted back and he said softly."Sometimes I wish that I was just like everybody else."
"I know so did I but as the years have gone by I'm glad that I wasn't like them and you will be too….you'll see." Tom paused to take a sip of beer while he put his thoughts in order; having his own trust issues with people it wasn't easy for him to explain his own feelings.
"There's something about you Charlie that I don't see in many people…and I'm not talking about that brilliant mind of yours. You're a good person, Charlie…you're loyal to your friends and you're honest to a fault. The way I see it it's their loss that they weren't smart enough to see through that protective shell of yours."
Charlie shrugged self-consciously and took another drink of his beer. "You make me sound like a boy scout."
Tom shook his head. "No…not like that. When I'm with you I know that I'm with someone that I can tell my deepest secrets too and I know without a doubt that you won't laugh at me or repeat them to anyone. You have a good heart, Charlie and I appreciate that in a person more than anything else. Someday other people will see beyond your brilliance and realize what a wonderful person you really are and will cherish your friendship as I do."
"You're the best friend I've ever had, Tom." Charlie replied earnestly then feeling a little self-conscious took another swig of beer.
"Thank you for saying that, Charlie." Tom replied solemnly then took a long drink before meeting his eye.
Seeking to lighten the mood the young mathematician grinned suddenly and quipped. "What's make you so smart anyway?"
"My Mom is always telling me that when I was born I must have been given an old soul because she thinks that I'm older and wiser than I should be." He grinned suddenly and pointed at the teenager. "Maybe you have one too." He held his bottle toward the youth and they clicked them together in a toast.
"To friendship," Tom intoned his voice thick with emotion
"To friendship," Charlie whispered overcome by his own feelings.
Tom took another drink then motioned toward the TV to change the subject. "Hey, were missing the best part…the volcano's starting to erupt!"
Charlie simply nodded grateful for the opportunity to get his feelings in check and pretended to lose himself in the movie. After that they would comment occasionally on a scene but for the most part both boys just relaxed and enjoyed one another's company. When the movie was over Charlie said goodnight then retired to his room, stumbling slightly from the effects of the alcohol and when his head hit the pillow he fell into a peaceful sleep.
Tom grinned as he watched Charlie stagger from the room then turned off the TV and snuggled beneath a blanket on the couch and fell immediately into a deep sleep.
"It's funny how memories surface like that," Charlie said softly as his thoughts returned to the present. "I haven't thought about that in years."
"That's a good memory, Charlie," Don replied just as quietly, pulling his robe tighter as a cool breeze suddenly circled around them. "Keep that one in your heart."
"Yeah," Charlie whispered his voice thick with emotion; looking aside he wiped away an errant tear then tilted his head as he thought of something. "Tom was true to his word… he really did get to study Mt. St Helens." He grinned suddenly and caught Don's eye. "He never changed, you know, even years later when we would get together it was like we were still back at Princeton."
"Well, during my last visit we sat down to watch a movie and it was his turn to select the one we were going to watch."
"Wait…let me guess," Don chortled. "Volcano, right?"
Charlie laughed out loud. "Close, it was 'Dante's Peak'."
They burst into laughter then Don said. "I may have to watch that one again."
"It does have some spectacular eruption scenes in it….those were Tom's favorite."
"On your visit before that one which movie did you chose?" Don asked nudging him playfully with his shoulder.
Charlie smiled and shrugged self-consciously. "'A Beautiful Mind', of course."
"Of course," Don snickered with a roll of his eyes. "
After that the brothers fell silent, each one lost in his own thoughts and as they sat there a feeling of peace and well-being settled over them. It was as if a vast and heavy burden had been lifted from their very souls and their fears of losing one another's trust and friendship had been banished. If it was true that they had been drifting apart before the weekend the night's revelations had thoroughly cemented their bond. They gazed up at the peaceful heavens and lost themselves in the vast array of twinkling stars until another cool breeze came along to remind them that pajamas and robes were not enough to ward off the cold air.
"What time is it, Charlie?" Don asked shivering as he tightened the belt of his robe.
Charlie didn't answer but flipped open the pocket watch just as three musical chimes broke the stillness of the night.
"Guess that answers my question," Don huffed rising reluctantly to his feet; even though he was cold he didn't want to end this special moment with his brother. "We'd better go to bed. Didn't Dad say that he wanted to get an early start tomorrow?"
"Yeah, he did," Charlie agreed slowly as he came to his feet. He didn't want this moment to end either and knew that he would always cherish this special time with Don. As he placed his foot on the top step he felt his brothers arm hook around his neck bringing a soft smile to his face; this habit of Don's had started when they were children and never failed to bring him comfort.
"Oh...hey, I forgot to tell you that David and Colby said they watched our game on You Tube." Don said as they stepped into the cabin.
"No way," Charlie exclaimed, locking the door behind them.
Don wiggled his eyebrows and grinned. "That's what they said. We'll have to check it out tomorrow."
"Can't wait to see that," Charlie chortled as the brothers separated and headed for their rooms.
They both stopped at their bedroom doors and shared a look that spoke of brotherly love, appreciation and true friendship…one that said they would always be there for one another. They smiled a quiet good-night then closed the doors silently behind them.
The spirit of Thomas Hill also shared their smiles but Charlie and Don couldn't see it. He had been sitting beside of Charlie when he heard Don get up and had forced the door to open and close to get his attention then afterward had moved to the deeper recesses of the porch.
Tom was at peace now even more so after witnessing the brother's conversation on the porch. He was ninety-nine per cent sure that they were going to be okay but wanted to see how they were when dawn made its appearance. Tom could go at anytime now and knew that the light would appear whenever he wished it too but he wasn't quite ready to leave yet.
He'd wait until morning and watch the sunrise one last time above Mount St. Helens but for now he'd pay one last visit to the people that he didn't want to forget.
A/N: Sorry the epilogue was too long so I had to split it but it is finished and I will post it sometime this week.