We come to the end! I can't believe how quickly I managed to get this one done. To be honest, I'm kind of proud of that, but that's neither here nor there. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: Numb3rs has never been mine, though it would make a loverly Christmas gift!
Feeling himself slowly return to consciousness, Charlie felt a soft hand gently carding through his hair, and smiled slightly. There was clearly only one person that would do that for him. He opened his eyes to the very welcome sight of his fiancée.
"Hey," he whispered, noting that his throat felt rather dry and scratchy.
Amita just nodded and helped him sit up. "Hey, yourself," she said, clearly trying to be upset with him, but not succeeding very well. She picked up a mug of soup that she'd made less than twenty minutes ago, so it was still rather warm, and pressed it into his hands. "Drink," she ordered.
Charlie raised a brow, but did as she said. For one, she was right, and he was absolutely starving for just about anything right then. Also, he'd learned the hard way not to argue with her, as you would always lose. When he drained the mug, he accepted the bottle of water and took his time with it. "So, I don't really remember much after hitting Perez with that bat," he commented, going for sounding off hand.
She wasn't fooled. "David and Nikki took the shot, nearly at the same time. When Don heard he was down, they quickly searched the house, but according to Nikki, he went straight for where you were at. Apparently, he knew that you would be in there."
He nodded. It wasn't surprising. Though he'd always been a genius, he'd hidden in there far too often during their games, and it was the first place Don would then always check. "What about Juan?" he asked, forcing himself to ask the question. He'd really had a soft spot for the young man, wanting to do whatever he could to help him. If he had been in on this, Charlie didn't know if he would ever be able to go back to teaching.
Amita shrugged. "I'm not sure, to be honest. Don and the team grabbed him from home and hauled him into the FBI. They'll find out for you."
Charlie just nodded, and felt another jaw cracking yawn coming, and looked apologetically at her. She grinned slightly, clearly amused. "Get some more rest. I know you haven't been doing enough of that lately, so sleep."
Charlie just winked at her as he snuggled back under the covers. He pulled Amita down next to him, chuckling at her squeak of surprise, and they both stayed there. They needed the warmth, the breaths; the proof that they were together, and they would face whatever they had to together.
The next time he woke up, it was evening of the following day, and the first thing that Charlie noticed was that Amita wasn't there. The second, was that his father was in the living room in his usual chair, looking fondly at him as he blearily sat up.
"Dad," Charlie whispered, appalled. One entire side of the eldest Eppes' face was black and blue, as well as swollen beyond belief.
"Son," Alan greeted with a grin, as a full smile was still too painful for him. "You know, with your nose that swollen, you are starting to look more like me."
Charlie forced a grin. It was true, and his nose was in agony, but that was the least of his concerns. "Are you alright?" he asked instead.
Alan nodded, still smiling. "I'm healing, and both of my sons are alive and healthy. That's all I've ever needed to be happy."
Charlie just nodded as he gingerly stood. He had been sleeping for quite a long time, he could tell. Not only was he stiff in places that shouldn't be stiff, but his mouth tasted horrible, his eyes were burning, and his head felt as though it was stuffed with cotton. He stretched, and nodded at his father before making his way to the bathroom.
After he finally felt human again, he stopped in his tracks as he was about to walk into his room. The last time he'd walked in there, he was nearly killed by a madman with a gun. His fingers trembled as he pushed the door open, and he nearly passed out again.
"Don, don't DO that to me!" he exclaimed in a huff, putting a hand to his chest to steady his racing heart as he glared at his older brother, who was sitting there, a nearly innocent look on his face.
Don grinned a bit, though it didn't reach his eyes. "Oops," he said. "Probably wasn't the best idea to wait for you in here, was it?"
"Gee, ya think?" Charlie said sarcastically as he grabbed a clean set of clothes, and went back to the bathroom to change. When he came back a minute later, his older brother was still sitting by the bed on the chair that usual was in front of the desk that no one used for years. Not even Amita would use the desk in their room, they both preferred the garage for their work. "So, are you wanting anything in particular?" he asked. He wasn't really sure how he was supposed to act around Don right then. After all, the last few times they'd seen each other were not under great conditions. The rescue, the punch, the yelling, more yelling… he could go on. In fact the last time they'd had a decent conversation had been the day he'd gotten the call from Walker about taking the DB case.
Don shifted slightly. "I just want to talk." He knew that he was putting himself out there, and he hated it. But he would at least be willing to meet his brother halfway. "Clearly that's something we haven't been doing for a while," he said, unconsciously parroting Charlie's thoughts.
The younger brother nodded and made himself comfortable on the bed. "Alright, where would you like to start?"
Don hesitated. The wrong thing said here could be bad, and they really weren't an emotional family. Like Alan often said, that's where a daughter would have come in handy. "Why didn't you tell me you were spreading yourself so thin?" he asked, deciding to cut straight to it.
"That's as good a place to start as any," Charlie sighed. "I picked up the case with Walker, then Dr. Ramanujan cancelled my engagement, David brought me the Salt's code, you needed answers, I contacted the NSA for a supercomputer, they demanded I work a case for them. Things just kind of spiraled from there, and I couldn't really figure out a way to come up for air."
"That doesn't really answer my question," Don retorted, though he was reeling from the revelation about the engagement. He would ask about that later, if he had a chance. "And don't tell me it was because that's confidential, because you've told me stuff like that before."
Charlie sighed again. "I knew how worried you were about Dad during that case," he admitted. "Every time there was a new victim, you saw dad's face. You were worried that Dad was going to be the next victim of the LA Beater, and there was no way I was going to let you or dad down if I could help it."
Don nodded, as it did make sense. Before he could form a response, though, Charlie asked a question of his own.
"You didn't seem surprised when I didn't find anything off about that case," he commented. "So why did you have me look it over in the first place, after I decoded the message?"
Don rubbed his neck slightly. "I just kept thinking about what you might have said: that all the pieces fit together too perfectly. I thought there might be a problem with the evidence, like we'd had before. Then I had Colby interrogate Salt, and he gave us a load of details that were never released, and I knew that it was just one of those times that I second guess myself for no reason."
Charlie nodded, thinking it through.
Don couldn't really take it anymore, and he needed a certain question answered. "Why didn't you hit me back?" he demanded. It was something that he still couldn't figure out, no matter how much time he spent thinking about it.
Charlie chuckled slightly. "Really, it's not that complicated, Don," he confessed, and looked at his hands. "Dad kind of blamed me for your stabbing a few months ago. Dr. Ramanujan blamed me for Amita's kidnapping. Then when you said it was my fault that Dad got attacked, I just couldn't believe how much damage I had done, and all I could think about was getting away and try to outrun my thoughts."
Don felt a stab in his gut. "Dad said what?" he nearly yelped.
Charlie chuckled darkly. "He said that it was the cost of not deciding. Well, then he gets attacked, and that was the cost of deciding. Guess I can't win no matter what I do, can I?"
Don heard the self loathing clearer than he heard the words, and it was killing him. "Charlie, none of that was your fault," he said firmly. Seeing his brother flinch slightly, he continued. "Look, there was no way in hell you could have predicted anything related to my stabbing. Not to mention, you figured everything out, almost single handedly. Amita chose to work with us nearly the same time you did. She could have stopped after your clearance was revoked, but she didn't. She knew what she was getting into, and both of you know that."
Charlie didn't look up. He wanted to believe what his brother was telling him, but it was too hard to believe that every person he cared about over the past few weeks had been in serious danger of being killed, and none of that had to do with him. "Don, you don't …
"I was wrong," Don said, and mentally smirked when he saw Charlie's eyes widen. "Yeah, record it, I won't admit it ever again." Then he grew serious. "Charlie, dad getting hurt wasn't your fault."
"Really?" Charlie said sarcastically. "Then I guess it was someone else who decided to give up on a student with strong ties to a violent gang, and that decided to go after dad?"
"You did what you could for him, and you took a break when you needed it, not to mention that I know for a fact that you had no idea about the connection of Ortega and Perez. If Juan Ortega can't stand on his own two feet, then I doubt he would have made it through graduation, no matter how much you helped him out."
Thinking about it, Charlie knew that Don was right. There was little that he could have done for Don, Amita, or their father. Such an epiphany was difficult to comprehend after countless hours filled with self hatred, imagning himself as the worst possible person: one who gets those he loves hurt. But, truthfully, what else could he have done.
"You're right," Charlie said, astonishment filling his voice as he looked up for the first time during their conversation.
Don smirked. "Please, who do you think you're talking to?" he joked, and stood up. "Now, get your scrawny ass up. I'm taking you and dad out to eat, since you clearly need some food." He pretended to think for a moment, deciding to make light of the situation. "Though I don't know how people will react, seeing as you both look so hideous," he grinned.
Charlie thought about arguing, but then he, too, smirked. "Sounds good. You know, I've really been craving that knew steakhouse that's downtown, I hear they have the best rib eye in California."
Don immediately started protesting. "No way, that's the place that charges nearly 60 bucks for a steak. We could grill at home for a fraction of that price!"
"Actually, Donnie, that's a misnomer. When you say a fraction of the price, you really mean…"
Don grinned as they walked down the stairs. They still had a few things to work through, but he was sure that their relationship could be salvaged, and that was worth the price of a few steaks, in his mind.
We made it! Thanks for all of those that have stuck with this story. I know I upset a lot of people with some of what I wrote, but this is how I'd imagined writing it from early on, and I'm glad that there were a lot of you who supported me throughout. Regardless, I always have to give my
characters happy endings, no matter what hell I put them through.
Thanks again to all of you! :-)