Alan Eppes glanced around Charlie's backyard, full of people, and smiled as he flipped the burgers he was cooking. He looked around for his sons and found Special Agent Don Eppes (he was wearing a black t-shirt, dark denim jeans and black leather boots) and Dr. Charlie Eppes (he was wearing a white button-up opened over a black tee, denim jeans and Nikes) sitting on the patio with a beer, just talking. He smiled at that before gazing around the backyard again, taking in account that the co-workers Don invited from the FBI and the ones Charlie invited from CalSci weren't really mingling. The only ones from both sides that were talking to each other would be Don's team, Amita Ramanujan, and Dr. Larry Fleinhardt (he was wearing a loose light orange button up, light denim jeans and tennis shoes).
Alan smiled at them as they made their way to surround him at the grill, drinks in hand. "Enjoying yourselves?" Alan was wearing a light blue button-up, dark pants and loafers.
"That smells great Mr. Eppes." Special Agent Megan Reeves said, arm looped through Larry's. She was wearing a sea foam green cashmere tank with a retro-vintage scarf around her neck, dark denim jeans and sea foam green flats.
"Alan, please." He said to the five adults surrounding him.
"Alan." Megan said, smiling. "I find it funny how the FBI agents and the CalSci staff aren't even attempting to mingle." Ever the profiler.
"It isn't like we're that scary." Amita joked, smiling. "Just extremely smart." Everyone laughed at that. She was wearing a blue painterly tank top, distressed denim jeans with a flower embossed leather belt, a wood paneled bracelet and dark blue Converse.
"I don't think we'd even be talking if it wasn't for Charlie and Don." Special Agent David Sinclair pointed out, motioning between them. He was wearing a dark blue polo, dark denim jeans and black leather boots.
"I'll drink to that." Special Agent Colby Granger said, tipping his beer bottle towards the group. He was wearing a gray t-shirt, denim jeans and black tennis shoes.
Megan, looking at Don and Charlie, laughed, making the others look at her strangely. She looked at her co-workers, then back at the brothers. "Don still hasn't left Charlie's side."
"What are you talking about?" Alan asked, looking over at his sons again.
"We've been working on a pretty bad case the past three weeks, and yesterday we finally closed it, but I guess Don's still getting over the paranoia that this one caused." Megan said.
"Was it that bad?" Amita asked.
"We were working the UCLA Professor killings." David said, watching as both Amita and Larry flinched.
Alan nodded his head, remembering that both Charlie and Don had mentioned it to him in passing. Looking over the past few weeks, Alan did recall how Don was a little more overprotective of his younger brother than he usually was. Alan hadn't thought anything of it at the time, but rethinking what Megan said, maybe there was something more to it. It was so like his sons to leave important things from him.
"Was there a reason for Donnie to be worried?" Alan asked, still cooking.
"None at all." Megan said, the other agents agreeing as well. "It's just, at first, Don didn't want Charlie anywhere near this case, but after taking a vote, and threatening to go to Merrick, Don relented."
"But," Colby butted in, "you could tell Don was not happy about it."
"Yeah." David picked up the story. "Even then, Don would not let Charlie out of his sight for more than a few minutes and when he couldn't watch Charlie, one of us was assigned to watch him."
"I tried telling Don that the killer didn't seem to be targeting professors from other colleges, but he didn't seem to listen." Megan said.
"I mean, even the Whiz Kid noticed that Don was hovering over him a lot more than usual." Colby said. "I guess he knows better than to say anything, but he wasn't that happy either."
"It was crazy." Megan said. "Having two upset Eppes was not a fun time. I've never seen Don act like such a...a..." Megan floundered for a good word.
"-a very overprotective older brother?" Alan supplied and laughed at the surprised expressions on their faces. "What? You think this is the first time I've seen Don act like this? It was probably my fault to begin with."
"Your fault?" Amita asked. "How?"
"Don has always taken his responsibility as Charlie's older brother very seriously." Alan said.
"Having a brother like Charlie, I'd believe that to be true." Larry said. "He can be a little oblivious at times."
"So, what did you do?" Megan asked, wanting to hear the story.
"It was a few days after Charlie was born, Don was five, and he and I were sitting outside the hospital nursery while Margaret, my wife, was resting. I remembered how excited Don had been, always running from the bench we were sitting on to the window where he could look inside to see baby Charlie, then back again. I think it was after the fifth loop that I finally told Don to stop moving and sit down." Alan said, laughing, continually cooking the meat.
"So?" Colby asked after Alan didn't speak for a few seconds. "What does that have to do with a protective Don?"
"After calming Don down, I turned him to face me and said I needed to talk to him about something very important. Even at age five, Don was always a mature kid, smart too, in his own right, so he instantly calmed down and listened. I pointed out that Charlie was his baby brother and that he was the older brother, that that was the most important job you could ever have. I went on to explain that Charlie would always look up to him, always follow his example, so he needed to watch himself around Charlie. I told Don that he needed to watch out for his baby brother and, the most important thing of all, he needed to protect him." Alan said. "I then asked if he understood what I was saying and he looked up at me and nodded and said, "It's my job to protect Charlie," then he ran back up to the nursery window and didn't come back."
"How sweet." Megan said, smiling.
"So, ever since Charlie could walk, Don was always there to protect him." Alan said, smiling sadly as he remembered another memory.
"It's always nice to learn new things about your boss." Colby said, smiling.
"Alan," Larry said. "You have this look on your face like you are remembering something else. Like to share?"
"If you guys promise not to tell Don or Charlie I'm telling you these stories, I'll tell you some more instances of Don's overprotectiveness." Alan said.
"Promise." All five adults said.
"I'm just surprised you haven't seen this side of Don before now." Alan commented.
"He's good at hiding his emotions, but I've seen bits and pieces over the past year." David said, nodding at Alan to continue the story. "But please, go on."
"Okay then," Alan said, checking to make sure his sons were still on the patio before turning back to their friends. "When both boys were three, they went through a phase that Margaret had dubbed the "nightmare period" because both boys would have terrible nightmares that would have them waking up in the middle of the night, horrified. It was worse for Charlie because on top of the nightmares, he was also scared of thunderstorms. When Don would have the nightmares, our bed is the one he'd always come to when he couldn't fall back asleep; it usually took about an hour for him to do so. But with Charlie, it was different."
"What?" Colby interrupted. "Did he do equations to explain why he was having nightmares or something?"
"No, nothing of the sort." Alan said, laughing. "Charlie was only three, he didn't know how to do that stuff yet. At that age, he could only multiply three- or four-digit numbers in his head."
"Oh, only that?" Colby joked.
"Ignore him." Megan said, smacking her friend. "What did Charlie do?"
"Ever since the first nightmare, Don was eight at this point, Charlie would always seek out his brother's bed for comfort and protection from his nightmares, not Margaret's and mine. When that first started, we tried to get him to come to our room, since when he got these nightmares, it was usually at one or two in the morning and it then took him about two hours to fall back asleep; it usually happened on school nights, so we didn't want him to disturb Donnie. But whenever we tried to separate Charlie from Donnie, Charlie would cry and cry until we put him back into Donnie's bed. We gave up after the fifth time of doing it." Alan said, then glanced back at his boys before shaking his head and laughing. "I remember it was a few months later and Charlie was still going to Donnie's bed for nightmares, so I wanted to make sure Donnie was alright with it. I checked to make sure Margaret was busy with Charlie before slipping into Donnie's room and closing the door as he was packing up for school. I almost laughed at the expression on his face; it was like he was worried he did something wrong, but didn't know what. I quickly assured him everything was fine and watched him get into his bed, me following a few seconds later.
"What's up dad?" he asked.
I looked at him for a minute before asking him if he truthfully didn't mind that Charlie always came into his room after he had a bad nightmare.
Don gave me this weird look that I couldn't describe before shaking his head and said, "Dad, it's my job."
"Your job?" I asked him.
He smiled and looked down at his hands, blushing some. "Yeah. It's my job as Charlie's big brother to protect him, even if it's from the things in his head."
I had never felt such pride for Donnie as I did just then and when I heard a gasp, both Don and I looked up and saw Margaret standing there, hand over mouth and tears in her eyes. Don got worried that he said something wrong, but she moved her hand and we saw her smile. "Come on Donnie, it's time for bed." She said, pride still in her voice, tucking him in and kissing his forehead. I pat his head and we left his room and went to bed."
"Wow." Amita said, tears glistening her eyes, same as Megan.
"I feel there's more to this story." Larry said, patting Megan's hand.
"You would be correct." Alan said, smiling at Larry. "Well, half a year had past and it was a day when a bad thunderstorm was brewing. Margaret and I knew a bad one would hit at night, but we decided against telling the boys, trying not to scare Charlie. We went through the regular nightly routines, tucked in the boys, and went to bed. Around midnight, I heard the storm start to pick up and then a large crack of thunder hit, my wife was a heavy sleeper, so she heard nothing. I counted back from ten, then heard a door open, then close before hearing the pitter-patter of little feet running across the floor before another door opened. I waited for two minutes before getting out of the bed and going to Donnie's room, leaning against the doorframe to just watch them. It was dark, but with the occasional lightning flash, I could make out Charlie's mop of curly hair in the bed," that made the others laugh, "and he was practically curled into Don, his little hands fisted in Donnie's sleep shirt, head tucked into Don's collarbone and his whole frame shaking. I looked over and saw Don curled protectively around his brother, one arm under Charlie's body, on his back and rubbing soothing circles there while the other one was stroking though Charlie's unruly hair. I looked closer and saw that Don's head was close to Charlie's ear and was whispering something to him, and to my surprise, Charlie's shaking died down until Charlie's breathing evened out and he was asleep. I smiled as I saw Donnie smile, place his chin on top of Charlie's head and fall asleep himself. I backed out of the door frame, closed the door and headed back to my room and back to sleep. I never did tell the boys what I saw and they never mentioned it, so the matter was never brought up again."
"What was Don whispering to Charlie?" David asked.
"To this day, I never figured that out." Alan said, now working on the hot dogs.
"You have any other stories?" Colby asked, grabbing another beer.
"Of course I do!" Alan exclaimed. "Tons of them. There was this one time-"
"I swear if you call me Chuck one more time I'll-" At Charlie's shout, everyone turned towards where the brothers had been sitting and stared. All Alan did was slap his hand against his forehead and rub it.
"How 'bout I call you Chuckie then?" Don interrupted.
"Okay, how about I call you Donald?" Charlie said back.
"How 'bout Chuckles?" Don teased.
"How about Donnie-boy?" Charlie goaded back.
"Nerd!" Don shouted.
The brothers didn't seem to notice the audience they created and kept going; their friends were laughing so hard they were crying and Alan was just praying this would end.
"Jock!" Charlie said back.
"Dweeb!" Don shouted.
"Nimrod!" Charlie shouted.
"Tadpole!" Don shouted.
"Wow, haven't heard that one in awhile." Alan said aloud, pulling the attention of the brothers' friends from them to Alan, even as the brothers kept going.
"What?" Megan asked, wiping tears off her face.
"Again, you really think this is the first time the boys have done this?" Alan asked, waving his hand in Charlie and Don's direction. "This has been going on since Don figured out Charlie hates the nickname Chuck."
"Seriously?" Colby asked.
"It happens at least three times a month." Alan said. "And if someone doesn't disrupt it, it'll go on and on and on. You know how stubborn they both can be."
"What's their longest round?" David asked.
"Four hours." Alan said, smirking when he saw their jaws drop. "Yup. Those boys are very creative with names."
"When was this?" Amita asked.
"It was when Don was 13 and Charlie was 8. When they started, Margaret and I wanted to time it, just to see how long they could go." Alan said, laughing. "But once it hit four hours, we had to stop it ourselves. Margaret grabbed Charlie, I grabbed Don and we both hauled them to their rooms and locked them in there. The rest of the night was pretty peaceful."
"I bet." Megan said, looking over at the still fighting brothers. "Should we stop them?"
"Wait a second." Alan said. He watched as Charlie looked around, like he was just noticing they had an audience, before leaning towards Don and whispering something to him. "It's over, though you might want to move back some."
"What?" everyone asked before they saw Charlie laugh then take off running right past them followed a few seconds later by Don; they were headed to the front of the house.
"That one always works." Alan said, chuckling and shaking his head.
"Which one?" David asked. "And how is Charlie so fast?"
"Charlie's had years of experience running from Don." Alan said, closing the grill's lid. "As for you first question, I can't say. Don's sworn us all to secrecy on that nickname."
"So that's why Don's so angry?" Colby asked, watching as the boys came breezing by them again.
"Yup." Alan said. "Though, as far as I can tell, Charlie is the only person who can use that nickname and live."
"I guess it's Don's "protective brother" instincts warring with his "kill him" instincts." Megan said. "But I doubt that'll stop Don from at least doing some bodily injury to his brother."
"No." Alan said suddenly. "Don has never laid a hurtful hand on his brother. If fighting was happening, it was because Charlie started it."
"I feel there's a story behind that conclusion." Amita said, passing out more drinks.
"You'd be correct my dear." Alan said. "This one takes place during Don's sophomore year of high school, the year his nine year old brother joined him."
"Oh, good." Larry said. "A story about Charles's years in high school. I love these younger stories. I've never gotten to hear them."
"But you were Charlie's professor when he got to Princeton." Amita said. "You know him as well as his own family does."
"Not true." Larry said. "I know everything there is about Charles from the time he went to college and on, never before. Him and Margaret never talked about his younger years." Larry looked embarrassingly at Alan. "Sorry Alan, please continue."
"It's alright Larry." Alan said, smiling. "Anyways, it was Charlie's second month at high school when Margaret and I were called to the principal's office. Of course we were worried, but didn't suspect anything too bad; it was Charlie for heaven's sake! When we opened the door, we did not expect to find Don there as well, both of them looking a little worse for wear, sitting on a couch. I checked over Charlie first: he had a black eye coming on, a bruise and a few scrapes on his cheek, some scrapes along his arms and there was a bulge on his stomach; next, I looked over Donnie: the only thing wrong with him was the ice-pack that was on his right knuckles and a split lip. The most surprising thing was that Charlie was sitting on Don's lap, curled into his brother as Don held his brother protectively."
"How was that surprising?" Colby asked.
"Don was not happy that his genius younger brother was coming to his high school with him and tended to avoid Charlie and contact with Charlie at school at all times." Alan said. "Anyway, when Margaret and I first came in, Margaret tried to take Charlie from Don, but Charlie wrapped both arms around Don's neck and refused to let go. Don's left arm came around Charlie's waist and kept him still. He looked at me and nodded. I knew that meant he was fine with where Charlie was. During the movement, Charlie let go of the ice-pack that was sitting on his face, so Don picked it up, placed his own on his lap, and placed Charlie's on Charlie's face.
"Buddy, you need to keep this on your face." Don said. "You don't want your face to swell like an elephant would you?"
Charlie's hand came up and over Don's and held onto the ice-pack. Don moved his hand over Charlie's, squeezing it briefly before putting his own ice-pack back on his knuckles. Charlie laid his head against Don's collarbone when Margaret started to ask what happened. The principal said it'd probably better be explained by the security camera. The camera was analog, black-and-white and had no noise, but we could see mostly what happened. The principal said that the boys could fill in the dialogue.
"You okay to do this?" Don asked Charlie, holding a hand over Charlie's stomach.
Charlie smiled up at his big brother. "Yes."
We smiled at Charlie, but as Margaret helped the principal with the video, I was watching the boys. When I saw Don rearrange whatever Charlie had on his stomach for the third time, I squatted down in front of them and told Charlie to lift his shirt up. Charlie looked up at Donnie, like he was looking for permission or something.
"Charlie, it's dad." Don said. "It's okay."
Charlie looked away as Don lifted his shirt and an ice-pack up and I swear I almost cursed. Charlie's stomach had a black baseball-sized bruise on it. Don let the shirt fall back down and soothed Charlie when he pressed his face back into Don's collarbone. Finally, the video was ready, so Charlie pulled his face up and explained what happened as the video played.
"It was the end of the school day and I was packing up. I was moving quickly because Don usually meets me at my locker so I could walk with him to his baseball practice. He doesn't like to be late." Charlie said, then took a deep breath, wincing. Don gave him a squeeze and he continued. "Some big kid in Don's grade, I don't know his name-"
"Tony Lalucci." Don said between gritted teeth, barely suppressed anger in his tone.
Charlie nodded. "Yes, him. But I didn't know it was him at first. I felt someone shove me into the lockers and, at first, I thought it was Donnie just joking around but after a second, I knew it wasn't."
I remember asking how he knew it wasn't Donnie, and he just looked at me with those huge brown eyes and they were filled with complete trust and love for his brother, even if Donnie wasn't always the nicest to him.
"I knew it wasn't Donnie because he would never purposely hurt me." Charlie said, turning his eyes to Don. He smiled before continuing. "I got turned around forcefully and re-slammed into the locker; I saw Tony standing there then."
I looked over at Donnie then and saw that both his hands were in fists and I could tell how angry he was. It was like Charlie understood too because he grabbed the hand that was over his stomach and held it. I saw Don pretend not to notice, although he squeezed his hand back.
"The first thing he asked was if I was that genius kid everyone was talking about. When I nodded, he slammed me against the locker again and told me that I was now going to do his math and physics homework for him." Charlie took a deep breath in, wincing, before continuing. "I told him no, that I don't cheat. Apparently, that was the wrong answer because that's when he punched me in the face."
I heard Margaret gasp and I think I swore under my breath, but Don, he had murder on his face and his hands were clenched into such tight fists his knuckles were turning white. Charlie noticed this, and started soothing them out. Once he calmed down Don some, he picked up with his story.
"After he punched me, I went down, so he kicked me in the stomach, then he hauled me back up and punched me one last time before I finally went down and stayed down. I remembered the locker scratching me, but that's about it. I curled into a ball and waited until someone came to help me." Charlie said, leaning against Don again.
"This is where I pick up the story." Don said, running his hand soothingly through Charlie's hair. "I was walking to Charlie's locker to pick him up to take him to practice when I saw a huge crowd surrounding the area and shouting "Fight! Fight!", so I started pushing through the crowd when I saw a mop of dark curly hair on the floor, curled up. I remember being so angry that I started literally pushing people out of the way until I was at the front of the crowd. I saw that Tony was about to kick Charlie again, so I ran into him, pushing him and his pack of idiots onto the ground. He got back up, mad as heck and shouting that I was the idiot. I don't remember anything he said after that. All I remember is punching him in the face twice, then kneeing him in the stomach; he got one punch in, but that only split my lip. His friends tried to come after me, but after punching the first one hard and kicking the other one in the gut, they backed away."
I know I'm not supposed to be proud at my son beating people up, but that's what I was feeling at that moment. Don had done what he's always done the best: protecting Charlie. I asked him what happened after the fight.
"After checking that Tony was unconscious, I squatted down in front of Charlie and tried to get him out of the ball he was in." Don said.
"I didn't know it was you." Charlie added. "There was so much noise."
"But I knew the one thing I could do that'd make you know it was me." Don said, smiling. "I called you Chuck."
Charlie smacked Don lightly. "You know I hate that name. But when I heard it, I knew it was Don. I peeked through my arms and saw Don squatting there, smiling at me."
"The little twerp launched himself at me instantly, almost knocking me over. I righted us, but as soon as I did, I set him back down." Don said.
Charlie frowned at that. "Why'd you do that? Did I embarrass you?"
"No Charlie." Don said placing his chin on Charlie's head. "You were injured. I didn't know how bad, so I didn't want to make it worse."
I remember calling over to the boys and pointing to the TV screen. On the screen, Charlie was leaning against the lockers, sitting up, and Don was in front of him shouting something at the other students. I asked what he said.
Don looked at his brother before answering. "I told everyone there and told them to spread the word that if anybody ever touches my brother again, they'll have to answer to me."
Margaret smiled at Don and squeezed his shoulder, as did I. Don was a pretty popular boy in high school, even as a sophomore, so I knew the other students would listen to him. I glanced over at Charlie and saw him looking at his brother with a mix of wonder, adoration, trust and love; yup, the hero worship was back on with a fierceness. We watched on the TV as Don crouched down, picked up Charlie and that was when a teacher came to find out what all the commotion was about. When the teacher saw Charlie and Don, they were sent to the principal's while that Tony kid was sent to the nurse's office." Alan said, almost done with his story.
"How bad did Don hurt him?" Colby interrupted, smiling.
"The kid had a broken nose, broken jaw and a severely bruised abdomen. He couldn't walk for weeks." Alan said, smiling.
"Note to self, don't piss off Don or hurt Charlie." Megan said jokingly.
"But, that's not all." Alan said. "We asked the principal if the boys were in trouble, but she just laughed. She saw that they did nothing wrong, that Charlie didn't even start the fight and Don was only protecting his brother, since no one else would. Tony and his friends were expelled. After filling out some forms, Margaret and I saw that Charlie had fallen asleep on Don while Don was playing with Charlie's hair with one hand and holding an ice-pack to Charlie's face with the other. I was bending down to take Charlie from Don, but he shook his head.
"I got him dad." Don said.
Don shifted in the chair, causing Charlie to tighten his hold on Don's neck, and stood up, shifting Charlie to his side. I wrapped Charlie's legs around Don's waist and we left the office. Don stayed quiet as we reached the car and I opened the door for him; he scooted into the back with Charlie still around him and buckled them both up. Once we reached home, Don carried Charlie to his room and I don't know what happened after that, though I know Don came down a lot happier."
"That is so sweet." Megan said, Amita agreeing. "Who knew our own Don Eppes is a softie."
"Don't tell him that or you'll end up with a broken jaw." David joked.
"Speaking of that, where are my troublemaking sons?" Alan said, turning off the grill first before walking around to the front of the house, the other five in tow.
"Wow." Was all anyone could say.
Spread out in the front yard were Don and Charlie, breathing heavily, but laughing. They both didn't have a scratch on them, but they looked happy, happier than they had been for the past few weeks.
"Don looks so happy." Megan observed.
"Charlie has always had that affect on Don." Alan said.
"I'll second that observation." David said. "I know it's only by a year and a half, but I've known these two longer than Megan or Colby have and, Alan, you're right."
"How?" Colby asked.
"I don't know." David said, shaking his head. "But Charlie just always has a certain affect on Don. Don could be pissed as hell or depressed or running on his last tank, and Charlie is the only one who can get Don to see reason. He can calm him down or cheer him up or, hell, just get Don to go back to his place to get a nap. I've never seen anyone able to do that."
"Got a story to back up that claim?" Megan asked, the others curious as well.
David thought for a moment before choosing the perfect instance. "Okay, it was about a year ago, we were stuck on this serial case, and everyone was feeling the pressure, especially Don, since he was lead agent. The killer had killed 10 women in the past 2 months and we were running out of ideas-"
"I read about that serial killer case when I was back in my old field office. That was you guys who worked it?" Megan said and David nodded. "Wow. I always did wonder how you found that last crucial piece of evidence, to look where no one had even thought to look, but I guess now I know."
"Yup," David said before continuing on. "So, Terry, she was here before you two, and I wanted to bring in Charlie but Don didn't want his little brother anywhere near this case, plus, using math to solve cases was still a novelty. Anyways, we were at the end of our ropes, even Don was starting to lose hope and would just stare at the victims' pics for hours with this gloomy look on his face. Both Terry and I tried to talk with him, but we got nowhere. Finally, Terry said screw it and called Charlie in. We met Charlie in our cubicle, so Don wouldn't see him yet, and explained the case to him, though he mostly knew what was going on.
He looked around before asking, "Where's Don?"
Terry looked down at the floor before saying, "That's the other reason we called you."
We led him to the War Room and when he saw Don just sitting there, despondent, Charlie just nodded and headed inside; I'm ashamed to say that Terry and I followed him in there, but we were curious on how Charlie would handle someone like Don. Charlie walked over to his brother, slammed the laptop shut and turned the chair Don was sitting in around, facing away from the table.
Don jumped a little in his chair before he saw it was his brother. "Charlie! What the hell?"
"What the hell? WHAT THE HELL? Don, Terry and David told me about this case and what I want to know is why I wasn't asked in earlier?"
Charlie saw Don was about to yell at us, so he grabbed Don's chin and made Don look at him. He didn't let go until he saw what he wanted in Don's eyes.
"Don't blame them for doing their jobs, Don." Charlie said, placing his hands on the arms of the chair. "But trying to protect me is hindering your investigation. I can help."
I saw Don start to reach for his laptop, but Charlie intercepted the grab and placed the laptop behind him.
"Stop looking at the pictures Don." Charlie said, a pleading note in his voice. "It won't bring them back. But if we stop this creep now, we can save some future girl from being the next victim!"
"How Charlie?" Don shouted but Charlie didn't even flinch, just stepped back so Don could stand. "We have done everything to try and catch him! He's just too good."
"No one can be perfect Don!" Charlie shouted back. "He has to make a mistake or maybe he already has! My math can do that you know, find mistakes!"
It was actually pretty funny. Everyone in the office was on their feet and were watching the fight. They were as perplexed as we were at how Charlie was berating and yelling at one of the top agents in the LA branch of the FBI and wasn't scared at all. Terry and I wanted to leave the War Room, but were afraid it'd disturb them, because somehow, Charlie was getting through to Don.
"They didn't make you SAC just because you own a suit Don!" Charlie shouted. "You earned it! But right now, you're acting like you did when you were eleven and you couldn't find your favorite baseball!"
"Don't bring our childhood into this Charlie!" Don shouted back.
"If it gets you to understand what I'm saying, then I will!" Charlie yelled.
"And what exactly are you saying?" Don yelled.
"I am not some 11 year old in high school anymore Don! I appreciate your protection, but you're taking it too far! Admit it Don, the only reason you didn't want to bring me onto this case is because you're scared something will happen!" Charlie shouted.
"So what if it is?" Don yelled back almost immediately. "Why is it a bad thing to protect your only younger brother?"
"What if it puts other people in danger!" Charlie said. "I can look after myself. Please Don! Let me on the case. I'll only work on it under your supervision."
The whole room went silent as Don started to breath heavily, like he was about to hyperventilate. Terry and I watched as Charlie gently pushed Don back into the chair and placed his hands on Don's shoulders.
"Don, you are overworked and your body isn't appreciating it right now. I got you into that little spat to show you that if you were to handle a suspect right now, you'd blow up. Breathe Don, just breathe." Charlie said, moving down to Don's arms and rubbing them soothingly. "Good, now, I'm taking you back to my place so you can get some sleep. You're about to crash and burn."
"But...the girls..." Don started.
"I'm bringing the files and data home with me so I can work on it while you sleep in the living room." Charlie said.
"Could you work in the living room?" Don asked quietly.
"Of course." Charlie said. "Come on big bro. Go to your car, but I'm driving home."
"What about your car?" Don asked as he grabbed his jacket.
"I had dad drop me off." Charlie said, looking at Don for a moment. "Go."
Don nodded then. Terry and I watched in utter amazement at that. No one has ever been able to tell Don to do something and have him listen. Amazement must of shown on our faces, because Charlie suddenly got nervous.
"What?" he asked, gathering all the files and Don's laptop and putting them in his bag.
"How did you do that?" Terry asked. "I've never been able to do that."
"Do what?" Charlie asked, slinging his bag over his shoulder.
I asked him how he got Don to do what he wanted him to do and I remember Charlie just smiling.
"Perks of being the younger brother." Charlie said, shrugging and leaving the office.
It was a week later, and thanks to the combined efforts of the Eppes brothers, that we caught the serial killer. But I never forgot how easily Charlie could control Don."
"I think I know how." Alan said, sitting on the front steps, the others surrounding him.
"How?" David asked.
"He used his pathetic-little-brother-puppy-dog eyes." Alan said, laughing. "It doesn't matter that Donnie has become this tough, hard-as-nails FBI Agent, there is one thing that Don cannot resist and that is Charlie's little brother eyes."
"That's incredible." Amita said.
"And underhanded." Colby said. "Go Whiz Kid."
"He only uses them in emergencies though." Alan said, then looked over at his boys, still laying on the ground.
"If I may be so bold." Larry said. "I have an instance where only Don could break Charlie out of a math daze."
"Which one?" Alan asked.
"That one a couple weeks ago." Larry said. "Remember, Don almost got shot, like that one time a year ago, but it was a closer call this time."
"Oh, you're talking about the Charm School Boys robberies." David interjected. "Those guys were something."
"Yes, those, but I'm talking about the case that happened a few weeks ago and Don, if he had been an inch closer, would have been badly injured." Larry said.
"Oh yeah." Megan said. "Charlie's math led us to a warehouse where a drug lord was keeping his stash, but we so happened to arrive when a new shipment was coming in, so, of course, we got into a fire fight. Everyone on our side was fine, the only injury was to Don."
"Yeah and it wasn't even that bad." Colby said. "Just a tiny graze."
"But someone on the tact team must of told Charlie how close the bullet came to being more than a graze." David said, shaking his head. "We need to find that idiot and tell him not to talk to Charlie about that stuff, especially if it concerns his brother."
"And Charlie being Charlie, blamed himself." Amita said. "He must of thought that if he did a different equation or something he could of predicted that the drug people would have been there."
"Not even we saw that coming." Colby said. "So, Larry, what happened?"
"Well, I remember it was a week after the incident and I needed Charles to run some numbers for me, so I stopped by his classroom." Larry said. "When I got there, the closed sign was on the door and it was locked. Charles never locks his door, so I used the spare key he gave to me and let myself in and almost choked on the amount of chalk dust and marker fumes that were in the air. The only light was coming from the blinds, so it was a little harder to find him, but when I saw the mop of curls over a chalkboard, I made my way over to know I'm a usually mild-mannered man who doesn't like to curse much, but when I saw Charles, I let out a string of them. Charles looked like he hadn't eaten or slept in days. I tried to get his attention, but I got nothing. He just kept repeating "it's my fault" over and over again. After standing there for two hours, still trying to get his attention, I left and went straight to Alan's."
"I remember Larry barging right into the house, which is not like him at all, so I knew something was wrong. When he asked if I had seen Charlie lately, I said yes, he's in the garage. I saw Larry shake his head and I ran out to the garage to find it empty. I asked Larry where he was and when Larry told me where Charlie was, what he looked like and what he was saying, I almost collapsed." Alan said.
"I know Charles can forget to eat and sleep when he's on a good train of thought, but this was ridiculous. What I saw on his boards were nothing but gibberish. Alan and I tried to think over what would cause Charles to behave like this when I remembered the equations from the last case were still on the chalkboard. Usually, whenever he finishes a case, he writes all the equations into a notebook and erases the equations from the board. But the equations were still on the board and when I paired that with "it's my fault" and Alan telling me about Don, I knew what was wrong. Alan left to go to the school, to see if he could get through to Charles, but I knew who he needed. I grabbed the home phone and dialed Don's cell.
"Eppes." He answered.
I told him it was me and that we had a problem concerning Charles-" Larry said, but was cut off.
"I remember that." Megan said. "I wondered what went on during that phone call that would cause all the color to drain from Don's face, him to walk out in the middle of an important meeting and briefing, then leave the office."
"That was me." Larry said. "So, I told Don what I thought was going on and that he needed to get down to CalSci immediately and that his dad was already there and that I was meeting him there. He said goodbye and before leaving, I called Alan, who told me there was no change. After telling Alan Don was on his way, I hung up and headed to CalSci myself." Larry took a deep breath. "Don and I somehow got to the campus at the same time and I led him to Charles's room. When we got there, Alan was pacing outside, looking worried.
"I left for 2 minutes to get him food and he barricaded himself inside." Alan said, pacing. "He won't open it!"
"This is ridiculous." Don muttered, then shouted, "Chuck! Open the damn door or I will!"
We got no response other than "go away" so Don told us to back up and he kicked the door in, but the door didn't budge at first. It wasn't until after three well-placed kicks that the hinges gave away and the door flew open and landed with a bang on the ground. It was a good thing it was a weekend or we would have been answering some pretty strange questions.
"I got this." Don said, then walked in the room.
Alan and I stayed outside, but we were by the door the whole time, so we heard the entire conversation."
"Wait," Amita cut in. "Is that why Charlie had no door for a week and a half?"
"Yeah." Alan said. "My FBI son kicked it in. I knew having a Fed in the family was good for something. Go on Larry."
"So, as I was saying, Alan and I could hear the whole conversation that went on in the room between the brothers, and even see some of it.
"Charlie!" Don yelled. "Charlie! Can you hear me?"
"For the love of...Charles Edward Eppes! Snap the hell out of it!" Don screamed, standing right next to him.
Don took a deep breath in before grabbing Charles's hand that was holding the chalk and stopped it from moving. After a few more tries to get it to move, Charles just dropped it. Don thought it worked, so he let go of his hand, but Charlie just picked up another piece and continued working. Don then took both of his arms, wrapped them around Charles, hefted him up and away from the chalkboard and placed him on the couch. Charles must have lost a lot of weight if Don could have just lifted him up without breaking a sweat.
"Charlie!" Don yelled. "Answer me! I left in the middle of an important meeting for this!"
"I really don't want to have to do this buddy, but it worked last time, so-" Don said, then he slapped Charlie, hard. The sound reverberated through the semi-empty room and left a red mark on his cheek.
"Huh, whu?" Charlie finally spoke.
"There he is." Don said. "Hey buddy."
"My work!" Charlie shouted, jumping up. "I need to-"
Don pushed him right back down. "You need to nothing. The only things you need are sleep and food."
"But I can't get another one wrong!" Charlie babbled. "I can't! I can't!"
"Stop it Charlie!" Don said, hands still on Charlie's shoulders, shaking him some. "You haven't left this room for a week! Nothing can be that important! Just stop it!"
"Nothing can be that important?" Charlie shouted, voice hoarse from inactivity and chalk dust. "Is that what you really just said to me!"
"Yes Charlie!" Don said. "Your health and well-being are way more important than anything you're working on, okay?"
"You're important Don!" Charlie shouted, finally slumping into the couch. "You're important."
"What?" Don asked, pulling up a chair. "Why? I'm lost."
"You almost got shot Donnie!" Charlie said, tears welling up. Don winced. "You almost got shot because of information I got you. It's just like the Charm School Boys case. You promised it'd never happen again!"
Don got up and sat down next to Charlie, putting an arm around him and we watched as Charles turned into his brother and sobbed. Don brought his other arm around and squeezed his brother tightly. Don will deny this, but we saw a few tears fall down his face.
"Charlie." Don said. "I am not going anywhere. You got me?"
"But the statistics say-" Charlie started to say into Don's shirt.
"Well, who do you trust more: your big brother or your numbers?" Don asked.
Charlie sat up and smiled. "You Don. I'll always trust you more than numbers."
"See, then I'll be fine." Don said, smiling. "Now, why don't we get you home, into a shower and new clothes while dad cooks us some lunch. That sound good?"
Charlie nodded, then frowned. "Donnie?"
"Yeah buddy?" Don said, holding his hands out to help his brother up.
"I'm sorry for pulling you out of that meeting." Charlie said, stumbling into Don from dizziness.
"Eh, don't sweat it." Don said, throwing an arm around Charlie's shoulder. "The team can take notes for me. Plus, family is way more important."
When Alan and I heard them come to the door, we hid until Don got Charlie out of the building. Alan headed home to make a huge meal for Charlie but I went into Charles's classroom and started cleaning off all of the boards. After that, I returned the borrowed boards to their owners before opening the windows to air out the place; I locked up and then headed to my own classroom." Larry said, smiling. "I put the TAs on cleaning it the next day."
"They need each other." Megan said after a few minutes of silence. "I don't think one brother can survive without the other. It's what every story we've told or heard have said."
"You think?" Alan asked.
"David and Colby know what I'm talking about when I say that everyone at the Bureau see Don as this level-headed, tough-as-nails, no-nonsense agent that has no weaknesses and little emotions. A lot of people from Quantico to here know who Don Eppes is and have this mental picture of him. As soon as they meet him, they know most of what they heard was true, but only those closest to him know one thing is wrong." Megan said, David and Colby agreeing.
"Megan's right." Colby said. "When I heard I was being assigned to Don's team, I admit I was a little terrified. But after working for him these past months, seeing this other side of him, I see what Megan sees."
"What'd they get wrong?" Alan asked, looking at Don, who was currently trying to give his younger brother a noogie.
"Don does have a weakness." Megan said. "As a profiler, I could tell it the moment I met him."
"What's this one huge weakness that the big, bad Agent Eppes has?" Amita asked, curious now.
"Don's true weakness is Charlie." Megan said, looking back at the brothers.
"I knew it, maybe after the third case we worked together." David said. "Don, and now I know why, is very protective of Charlie. It's why Don, if he has to bring Charlie to a crime scene, always has an agent on Charlie if he can't watch him himself. The Bureau usually don't guard their consultants that closely, if you get what I mean. Charlie gets special treatment because he's Don Eppes's little brother and if anything happened to Charlie while on Bureau time, heads would role, Don's job be damned."
"From what I've seen from whenever Don is in Charles's office on a case, he is always on guard, and whenever a student walks in for help, I can tell that Don always moves discreetly closer to his brother and subtly shows his gun and badge. Don puts Charles's safety way about his own." Larry said.
"There's only one way for anybody to get to Don, Alan." Megan said, then pointed at the youngest Eppes. "Through Charlie."
"Who else knows?" Alan said, trying to find his voice.
"I'm sure other people have come close to figuring it out, but for now, just us." Megan said. "I don't even think Don or Charlie have realized it yet. If Don has, well..."
"True." Alan said. "But even if Don did know, I don't think it'd matter. Like you said before Megan, my boys complete each other."
"Yeah." Colby said. "They're like...they're like yin and yang."
"Good analogy." Megan said, nodding "Yeah, yin and yang work. They complete each other. If one goes, then the other won't know how to function properly. It'd probably kill the other."
"Their mother has told me this since Charlie was born, but I never believed her." Alan said.
"She was a very smart lady." Megan said. "But, for their sakes, let's keep this to ourselves."
"Agreed." Everybody said.
"Hey guys." Don said, walking up to the group with his arm around Charlie's shoulder. "What have you been talking about?"
"Nothing really." Alan said. "You two hungry?"
"I'm starving." Don said, then smiled. "What about you Chuck?"
Charlie glared at his brother. "Don't call me Chuck! And yes dad, I'm hungry."
"Then, let's eat."
The two brothers, the father, the three agents, the one professor and the one student headed back to the backyard, where they grabbed food and enjoyed the rest of the gathering in peace, something they don't get very often.