Author's note: All the usual disclaimers apply – I don't own the show or the characters, only the words on this page. This is only my second venture into this show, and I'm sure this has probably been done before (I haven't had time to look yet), but here goes anyway. It's not necessary to have read 'Gibraltar crumbles' first, but there is one mention of it in this story. As always, I'd love to hear what you think.

by BHP

Alan didn't want to know. Well, he did. But he didn't. He knew that made no sense at all, but now that he was holding Don's statement about the shooting – the attack on his son – he wasn't sure about wanting to read it. He knew that Don protected him and Charlie from the true extent of his job at the FBI. He knew his eldest did it because he loved his family. But sometimes he wanted to know what Don really faced, to understand what was behind that permanently calm and controlled façade. And now that he had the opportunity, he wondered if ignorance was perhaps the more desirable state. The last few days and nights had been so very hard …

The shrill tone of the telephone interrupted Alan and Charlie's conversation. Dinner was long finished, and the two men had been quietly talking about the day. Dishes still scattered the table, along with a pile of Charlie's papers at the opposite end of the wooden expanse. As Alan went to answer the call, Charlie stood up and started to clear the table. He'd just stacked the plates when his father's quiet words struck home.

"Which hospital, Megan?"

Charlie felt as though someone had just dumped a bucket of ice water over him. The word, hospital, spun around in his head as his hearing faded out completely. All he could focus on was the set look on his father's face and the deliberate care Alan used to hang up the telephone. He couldn't bear to lose Don. He was only just fully coming to terms with the loss of his mother, with his recent dreams of her bringing the buried emotions to the surface again. Life without her warm and understanding presence was hard enough; life without his beloved older brother would be unbearable. A gentle shake of his shoulder snapped his eyes back into focus, and he realised his father was right in front of him, worriedly repeating his name, "Charlie?"

"Yeah, Dad. I'm here."

"That was Megan on the telephone."

"I heard." A deep breath didn't seem to calm him at all. "What's happened to Don?"

"He's on his way to the hospital. Megan didn't say much, just that he was attacked at a crime scene."

"Is he going to be okay?"

"She didn't say, Charlie."

Charlie felt the anger rising, a slow black wave building to drown him in its depths when it broke. "How can she not ha-"

"Charlie." His father's sharp voice broke in. "She told us all she knows. Now get your jacket and lock the back door."

Charlie couldn't believe the calm, practical words. How could his father be so unaffected? Then he met his father's eyes and saw the swiftly hidden agony in their depths. "Please, Charlie."

"Okay." Charlie was struck by a memory of Don, not long after his return from Albuquerque. His brother had taken care of all the practical details of his mother's illness, made sure that Alan and Charlie had a rock to support them. He'd been Alan's strength and Charlie's protector, even as Charlie had withdrawn from the world. But the look Charlie had often seen in Don's eyes had defied understanding. Until now. Now he recognised that same look in his father's eyes. Shame filled him at how he'd left his brother alone when his world had shattered too. He'd give anything to change the past, but he knew it couldn't be done. So he'd do his best to learn from Don, and be there for his father now. He pulled in another deep breath and willed strength into his body and voice.

"Okay, Dad. You get your jacket and the car keys. I'll lock up and meet you outside."

Alan clutched the keys tightly and felt them bite into his palm. He welcomed that small, sharp pain. It focused his attention on the present, kept his mind from wandering back to the time when a trip to the hospital had meant another day of watching the centre of his universe crumble and fade. He was telling himself that this time was different, that his eldest would be fine, but Megan's cautious voice and carefully chosen words said otherwise.

"Mr. Eppes, it's Megan Reeves." She'd sounded so calm, so formal. "I'm sorry to do this over the telephone. Don was attacked at a crime scene tonight." A sharp breath brought home to Alan that Megan wasn't as calm as she seemed, and strangely enough, that fact helped to steady him.

"What happened?"

"I'm not sure. That's really all I can tell you at the moment. The ambulance has just left here."

"Which hospital, Megan?"

"UCLA Medical Centre."

"We'll see you there."

Blinking back the memory, Alan glanced back at the house. Charlie was locking the front door behind him, jacket on and movements firm and deliberate. Alan wondered at the change: Charlie had seemed so totally lost when Alan had said that Don was on his way to the hospital, yet now his youngest seemed calm and strong. As he watched, Charlie turned to face the door, laid a hand on it and ducked his head for a moment. He took a deep breath, pulled his shoulders back and held his head high. Then Charlie turned and walked to the car, determination in every line. Charlie's achievements were many, and well-celebrated, but Alan felt most proud of his son at that moment: he'd grown into an amazing man, one who'd finally learned to face his fears head-on. And so much of that was thanks to Don's influence.

"Come on, Dad, let's get going." The small, tight, smile was so unlike Charlie's normal grin that it hurt Alan to see it, but he appreciated Charlie's effort.

"Right. It shouldn't take long at this time of night. Straight down the 110, half an hour or so."

"Yeah. Possibly less, you know. Traffic patterns should be fairly clear now."

The lack of additional detail and statistical observation showed how shaken Charlie was, but he was trying so hard to seem normal that a small, natural, smile surprised Alan with its unexpected appearance on his face. He reached over to pat Charlie's shoulder and murmured quietly, "I'm so proud of you."

Don could feel movement. He wasn't sure why the floor was moving, but he was fairly sure it shouldn't be. Panic shot through him when he tried to open his eyes and found them resistant. He tried to move, to speak, but found himself too lethargic to succeed. And he was cold, so very cold. Like the time he'd had to jump into a frozen river in Montana to catch a fugitive. In winter. The cold had been so bad that it had taken hours before he'd been able to feel his fingers and toes again. This time, though, he could still feel, even though everything seemed to be buried under inches of cotton wool. He also knew he wasn't alone, and that wasn't good. Something sharp burned in the back of his left wrist, a momentary warmth that he tried to cling to, even as it faded.

Another sharp sensation flared briefly just behind his left ear and he tried to move away from whatever was there. Something firm held his head immobile and a dull pressure settled over that area. Now he was sure there were people near him, talking hurriedly above his head. He wanted to speak, to tell them to switch off that irritating, high-pitched wailing noise nearby. It was making it so hard for him to slip into the lingering darkness he could sense just beyond where he lay. It seemed so quiet there, so peaceful, so tempting, but that noise tethered him to the spot where he lay.

Charlie watched the streetlights pass by, automatically running a mental tally without actually being aware of what he was doing. His fingers tapped out numbered patterns on his jean-covered knees. Every tenth light, he'd glance across at his dad, and marvel at the calm his father managed to project. He carefully didn't meet Alan's eyes, not ready to face what he might see there. He felt a moment's satisfaction when they reached the hospital in less than thirty minutes, proving that traffic density had indeed been lower. Just as he'd predicted. But the feeling was fleeting, banished by the institutional face of the building and the long walk from the car park to the entrance. There were no parking spaces close to the door, and every step across the dark tarmac was an effort. The final step, through the glass sliding door into the emergency room, took every ounce of courage Charlie possessed. His fear weighed him down as he followed his father to the desk, where a harried-looking young woman, identified as Pauline by her name tag, greeted them with tired eyes and a gentle smile.

"I'm Alan Eppes. This is Charlie. My son, Don Eppes, is here somewhere?"

"Just one second, love. Let me check." A stray strand of russet hair fell across her eyes, and she tucked it behind one ear, tapping at the keyboard with the other hand.

"Okay. Got it." She read the screen, and looked up at Alan and Charlie. "He's already with a doctor. I haven't got any more details than that right now, but if you'll just take a seat in the waiting area, I'll see what I can find out."

Charlie suddenly registered the noise – children crying, two couples arguing loudly about who was responsible for an accident, someone whimpering – as well as the lack of empty chairs. Pauline grinned at Charlie's despairing look around the jam-packed room.

"Look, come with me." She quickly led the way down the nearby corridor and around the corner, where a small and blessedly quiet room stood empty. A coffee machine, a notice board, small sink and refrigerator, along with a few comfortable chairs marked the space as a staff room. Charlie was grateful, but concerned.

"Won't you get into trouble if we wait here?"

"Nope. And I don't care, in this case. The file says your brother?" Charlie nodded. "He's FBI. My cousin's LAPD. You need somewhere quiet. Just stay here and I'll bring you news when I have it. I'd tell you to have some coffee, but then you might end up in here too." The humour surprised honest chuckles from Charlie and Alan, and Pauline disappeared down the corridor again.

Forty minutes later, any amusement was long since gone. Charlie had run out of tiles and lights to count, create patterns with, and analyse. Alan had tried the coffee out of desperation and been forced to admit that Pauline was right about the beverage. Just as Charlie was about to start pacing, he heard voices approaching. Seconds later, he saw Pauline, followed by an older man with serious eyes. Alan moved forwards and Charlie took his place beside him.

"Mr. Eppes?" The doctor held out his hand to Alan. "I'm Doctor Lawrence. I've been looking after Donald."

"Don." Alan's voice was steady, but quiet.

"Right. Don." Charlie recognised the signs of a man making a mental note. "Like I said, I've been looking after Don. First of all, let me say that he should be just fine."

Charlie felt something cold and dark drain out of him at that, and he looked away for a moment, blinking furiously to hide the tears.

"He's had a busy night." Doctor Lawrence went on, flipping open the file he carried and skimming his notes. "He was hit on the head, just behind the left ear, but it's nothing serious. A few minor cuts, and I should think he'll have a bit of a headache for a day or so."

Alan nodded eagerly, happily, but Charlie sensed there was more to come.

"The injection was our biggest concern."

"Morphine overdose?" Charlie's quiet question was out before he'd thought about it. The doctor's sharp gaze made him falter for a moment. "My brother's been tracking a serial killer. That's how he killed all his victims."

"Well, your brother's obviously cornered the market on luck. It looks as though he didn't get the full dose in the syringe, which is why he made it here still breathing on his own. We've given him some naloxone, which counteracts the effects of the morphine. He's responded very well to that, and we'll keep him here overnight just to monitor him. But I think he'll be just fine in a few days."

"A few days?" Alan sounded uncertain.

"Yes." The doctor's words were comforting now. "A morphine overdose can have a variety of side effects, even when treated as quickly as in this case. The most common are breathing difficulties, low blood pressure, thirst and nausea. I'm not really worried about any side effects, but we're monitoring him all the same. Most likely, he'll just be very tired. Coupled with possible dizziness from the blow to the head. The monitoring is really just a precaution."

"Oh my." Alan sounded faintly horrified at the list of possible problems.

"Not to worry, Mr Eppes. That's why we'll keep an eye on him tonight and see how things go. We'll probably be able to discharge him tomorrow."

"So soon?" Alan's question echoed the words in Charlie's head.

"Yes. As long as he's not alone. Just in case he should feel dizzy or ill."

"He won't be alone." Charlie barely recognised his own firm voice, but the doctor seemed pleased as he nodded in response. So Charlie kept going. "Could we see him, please?"

"Certainly." Doctor Lawrence flipped the file shut. "Pauline will show you where the elevators are. He's in room 208, second floor."

Time passed too slowly sometimes, Alan mused. He'd thought the time in the downstairs waiting room was as bad as things were going to get tonight. Funny, that. Once the doctor had confirmed that Don would be fine, he and Charlie had made their way to the hospital room, only to find Don firmly asleep. Alan had settled in a chair at Don's bedside, and cast his eyes over the machines. He recognised the equipment from when Margaret had been in the hospital – monitoring oxygen, blood pressure, heartbeat. He wasn't sure what the IV line was for. But Charlie turned his little-boy-lost charm on one of the nurses, who'd been only too happy to tell them that the IV was just to prevent dehydration. Charlie had also managed to get the nurse to confirm that all Don's numbers were normal, if at the low end of the range.

Remembering the list of side effects, Alan knew that sleep was probably best for Don right now, but that didn't take away his need to see Don awake and coherent. Every minute spent waiting was torture. Even Charlie's usually boundless energy seemed to be running low. His youngest had paced the small room for a few minutes, spent some time staring out of the window at the light-speckled cityscape. Then Charlie had paced a while longer before flopping into the second hard plastic chair in the room and resting his curly head against the wall. Now his drooping eyes were fixed on Don's face, waiting for the slightest movement.

A noise at the door jerked them both to full wakefulness, and Alan looked over to see Megan hovering in the doorway. The worry on her face was so familiar, Alan found himself waving her in.

"Megan. How are you doing?"

"How am I doing?" She shook her head. "Now I know where Don gets it from. I'm fine, Alan. How is he?"

"The doctor says he'll be fine." Alan looked over at his eldest again and smiled gently. "They just want to keep an eye on him for a while. Side effects of the overdose." Alan's voice faltered slightly on the last word, and Megan patted him gently on the arm.

"That's good to hear. I can tell you now, he didn't look that great at the scene when I got there. And the paramedics seemed anxious to get him here quickly." She looked long and hard at Don, then smiled. "I wanted to come here before now, but I figured the best thing I could do for him was get this case closed out. We'll finish up the paperwork tomorrow, and then all he'll need to do is write up his statement so we can file this one away. At least there won't be a trial to make us all live through this again."

A look of satisfaction flashed through her eyes at how the case had ended. She smiled at Charlie and Alan. "Besides, I knew he was in good hands with the two of you." She looked down and sighed, and Alan could see the tension drain away. "I knew you'd call, if anything …"

"Don't go there." Charlie had been so quiet that Alan was surprised to hear him speak at all.

"Okay, Charlie. Although it may take a while longer to get that picture of him out of my head." Charlie's head tilted to one side, and Alan wondered if his youngest did that on purpose. He'd yet to see someone withstand that look, and Megan was no exception. "He was out cold, back to the wall, still holding his gun aimed at Chandler Yates' body."

Alan knew it was wrong to be angry at Megan, especially given how worried she'd looked minutes earlier. But that image of Don, coupled with the fear of losing his son, had left him ready to lash out at someone.

"Megan, what was he doing there alone? Isn't he supposed to have someone with him?"

"Yes." Megan's instant agreement deflated Alan's anger immediately. "He did call for backup, but from what I've heard, he didn't dare wait. Yates would most likely have killed the woman he was holding captive. But somehow Yates got the drop on Don in the house. It'll all be in Don's statement, but it looks as though Don was drugged before he shot Yates." Megan shook her head slowly, admiringly. "I don't know how he managed it."

"Don't look at me." Alan shrugged slightly. "I've never been able to figure out how he does the unexpected either." He looked at Don again, and smiled. "But I'm really glad he does."

His son amazed him in so many ways, every day. And just when he thought he was starting to understand him, Don would raise the bar just that little bit higher. He turned to Charlie, and found his youngest watching Don with an awed expression of concentration. Then Charlie looked at him and grinned suddenly. "I know how he does it. I've told him before: he's a statistical anomaly."

Megan laughed and shook her head. She chatted for a few moments with Charlie while Alan watched Don sleep. Alan could hear Charlie telling Megan what the doctor had said, putting Megan's fears to rest before she left. He looked at his grown son, and saw in him the little boy he'd been. Sometimes it seemed like only yesterday that Donnie had needed his father to chase the monsters away. Now his son was the one who chased monsters, only the ones he hunted were real. Real and dangerous. Don's head shifted slightly on the pillow and settled again. Without knowing why, Alan was sure that Don was dreaming. He hoped it wasn't a nightmare, but just in case it was, he moved to lay a hand on Don's arm. The skin was cold and Alan pulled the blanket a little higher and tucked it in more firmly. A half-formed memory sparked and he bent to whisper in Don's ear, "Your mother sends her love."

It was a little after two in the morning when Don finally opened his eyes. Charlie had dozed off in the small, uncomfortable plastic chair, but Alan was still awake, one hand on Don's arm. Don's brown eyes opened just enough for Alan to see that he recognised where he was. Alan laid a gentle hand on Don's shoulder and whispered, "Welcome back, Donnie."

He'd been quiet, but Alan's whisper was enough to wake Charlie. The young man rubbed his eyes and dragged both hands through his curly mop of hair as he took the two steps to Don's bedside.

"Hey, Don. Good to see you awake."

"Sorry." Don shifted slightly and sighed at the effort.

"What on earth for?" Alan was puzzled.

"Worried you."

"Nonsense. None of this is your fault."

"Charlie. You okay?" Don's words were quiet and slow. Alan shook his head at Don's response. Even now, his son was trying to fix everything, with no concern for himself.

"You should go home. Get some sleep." Don's murmur was fading, and Alan took advantage. Knowing Don couldn't fight him at the moment, Alan stroked a hand through Don's short hair, soothing his eldest back to sleep.

"Everything's fine. We're fine. You just sleep."

Charlie splashed cold water on his face and shook the droplets off his hands. It had been a long night. Admittedly, not his first, as he often spent entire nights working out equations that niggled and refused to be postponed. However, definitely his first all-nighter for this sort of reason. He tipped his head back, then rolled it from side to side to ease the stiffness caused by dozing off in a chair that could have been put to better use as an instrument of torture. Charlie caught a glimpse of his face in the cracked mirror on the white-tiled wall of the men's room, and stopped to look again. He looked tired, still a little worried, but above all, he looked – stronger. More able to face whatever the world could send his way. That would be the result of spending time with Don, learning to understand the complex individual that he'd been gifted with as an older brother. Learning how to cope with life by watching Don lead the way. Charlie smiled at that, then turned away from the mirror to head back towards Don's room.

He was at the hospital alone right now; another thing he'd never have been able to face without Don's example. He'd managed to convince his father to head home just after dawn.

"Don's sleeping, Dad."

"I can see that." Who knew his father was a fount of sarcasm?

"Why don't you head home for a bit?"

"And leave him to wake up alone?"

"He won't be alone. I'll be here."

"What, you don't need to go home too?"

"I'll be fine. But you know, Don's going to need something to wear when they let him out of here."

"This is true."

"So. You go home, take a nap, find something for him to wear and come back at visiting hours."

"I'm not leaving you here alone either, Charlie."

"This isn't like before, Dad." Charlie was serious now. "Look at me. Really look. I'm okay, and I'm going to stay okay." Alan's gaze was searching and Charlie faced it calmly. "Don taught me that. So you can go. Honestly."

Alan had finally nodded and left, and Charlie had settled back into watching Don sleep. And marvelled at the fact that his brother had slept through ringing telephones, two nurses discussing their absent supervisor's less-than-stellar love life, the squeaking wheels on a janitor's cart, and the clang of what had to be a bedpan hitting the tiled floor. That had entertained him somewhat, as had the past-time of working out probabilities for each event happening again in the next shift cycle. When that lost its appeal, he'd taken a quick walk to find a cup of tea and ended up splashing water on his face. It would be visiting time in a couple of hours – more like two hours, thirty-seven minutes and twenty-three seconds – and Charlie wanted to be with Don when his dad got back.

He looked at the bright daylight now filling Don's room, and then realised that Don had moved. Don lay on his side, curled in on himself with his back to the door. That was enough to bring home to Charlie just how bad his brother had to be feeling, as Don never left his back unprotected in a strange environment. With startling clarity, he remembered a time when he'd been seven years old, and had seen Don lying in the same position at home in his bed. Charlie hadn't understood then what food poisoning was, only that his brother was too sick to play with him. The position was identical, which meant that Don had to be feeling sick now. With that thought, Charlie turned on his heel to fetch a nurse. There was no way he was letting Don suffer if there was something he could do about it.

The nausea woke him. Don clenched his jaw and breathed hard through his nose, trying desperately to fend off the urge to vomit. He had a vague memory of someone talking about the side effects of a morphine overdose. It had almost sounded like Charlie, but it had been dark then and he'd been too cold to really be able to listen. Now he could see bright sunshine outside the window, a clear blue sky with an occasional white cloud. Soft and warm, like the touch he'd imagined on his cheek when he'd been at his coldest in the previous night's darkness. For a moment, he'd been sure he could smell his mother's favourite perfume, and he thought he could recall his father telling him that his mother sent her love.

He still felt chilled, but the bone-deep aching cold had faded. Another side effect, if he remembered clearly. If only the cold had taken the nausea with it. Moving slowly so as not to disturb the IV line in his left arm or the oxygen monitor on his left index finger, Don rolled himself onto his left side. That turned out to be a mistake. Sudden dizziness made it seem as though the bed and room were swaying. The blood pressure cuff on his right arm, and the two leads from the heart monitor that disappeared under his gown were easy to ignore, so he pulled his knees up and wrapped his right arm across his stomach to fight the nausea. Then he focused his gaze on the top branches of a tree he could see at the edge of the hospital parking lot to counteract the dizziness. He took another breath and willed the sickness away.

At least he was alone. He didn't want anyone to witness his weakness. Charlie and his father needed him to be strong, and that was what he'd be. He'd promised himself that when his mom had died, and he was determined not to fail. He'd never had Charlie's brilliance, but he'd always had determination.

He thought he recalled seeing his family last night. He hoped he was wrong. If his memory was accurate, then he'd been responsible for the fear he'd seen in their eyes, the worry on their faces. He couldn't bear the thought that he'd burdened them with his troubles. But he was alone now, so maybe that had just been a dream. He closed his eyes for a moment, and let his mind drift.

The next thing he knew, a nurse was bustling into his room. She moved around the bed and efficiently injected something into his IV, smiling at his look of confusion.

"For the nausea."

"I'm fine."

"That's not what he says." She indicated Charlie with a glance over her shoulder. Don fixed him with the strongest glare he could manage, only to see Charlie shrug it off.

"I've seen you like this before. I know what's wrong." Suddenly the fight wasn't worth the effort. Don closed his eyes and sighed, "Thanks."

He heard the nurse leave and then he felt gentle fingers wrap around his right hand, a thumb slowly stroking back and forth over his knuckles. Who'd have guessed a simple touch could be so soothing? As the nausea slowly faded, Don let himself float. He was still a little dizzy, but without the nausea, it was easier to manage the sensation. And Charlie was there to hold him still, tethered to those who loved him.

Charlie shifted, loosening his grip on Don's fingers.

"Don't." The murmur was quiet, but clear.

"Don?" Charlie kept his voice low. "I thought you were asleep."

"No. Still a bit dizzy."

"Let me call the nurse again."

"No." Don shifted a little and sighed gently.

"Why not?"

"It'll pass. Trust me." Charlie snorted, and Don glared at him. "Remember what you asked me, after the shooting at the office?" Don's voice faded out, and Charlie smiled at him.

"Yeah. I remember." He could hear himself asking Don to let him help, let him support Don in any way he could. Don glanced at Charlie and looked away. Ashamed to ask, to need.

"I'm asking." A quick glance at Charlie, and Don dug his dark head deeper into the pillow. "Don't let go."

"Okay." Charlie immediately strengthened his grip on Don's hand.

"Thanks." Another short breath. "Sorry. It's just … it's keeping me steady."

"You've got nothing to be sorry about." Charlie chided his older brother gently. "I said anything, any time. And I meant it."

Don smiled and Charlie watched as his brother drifted again, safe in the knowledge that Charlie had his back. Which was how Alan found them two hours later.

Alan smiled at that memory now, as he prepared himself mentally to read through Don's statement of what had happened that night. To see his two boys like that, so clearly attuned to each others' needs, had made him so proud and happy. He'd been even happier when Doctor Lawrence had arrived twenty minutes later with Don's discharge paperwork, along with a nurse to remove all the monitoring equipment. Don had wasted no time in getting dressed in the jeans, shirt and running shoes Alan had brought along. He was even willing to stay at Charlie's house if that was the cost of getting out of the hospital.

Two days later, Alan's sense of contentment hadn't faded. He knew Don didn't want him to worry about what might happen as part of Don's job, and he'd been sure that Don would refuse to let him read the report. His agreement, his trust that Alan could handle it, was a precious gift indeed. Alan flipped to the first page.

Statement of Donald Alan Eppes, Special Agent, currently Supervisor of the Major Crimes Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Los Angeles Office.

On the night of 23rd May 2006, I went to Lyndsey Fuller's place of work to interview her again in connection with Chandler Yates' activities. He was the main suspect in our ongoing investigation of three murders. Fuller had not reported to work and had not called in. I decided to visit her residence at 355 Parker Street. On arriving at the address, I parked and observed the residence. I saw no signs of anyone present. I decided to sweep the property and reported the location to Control. My team was in active pursuit of a suspect believed to be Chandler Yates at that time.

During my sweep of the property, I saw movement within the residence. This was in what appeared to be a bedroom. I approached the residence and looked through the window. I saw a woman duct-taped to the bed. I indicated that she should remain quiet and still. She appeared to be alone in the room. I reported a Code 3, Assault in progress, to Control, and requested backup from my team and the Los Angeles Police Department. I believed the victim to be in imminent danger, and felt that it would be prudent to act immediately, even though backup had not yet arrived.

I tested the door into the house and found it locked. I broke a window pane above the door handle in order to reach in and unlock the door. I went to the victim and removed her gag. She stated that her attacker was still in the house. At that moment, I heard a noise behind me and turned to see Chandler Yates entering the room through a door opposite the bed. I recognised him from the photographs we had obtained from his mother during our investigation. He saw me and fled the room. I called to him and identified myself as FBI. I followed him further into the house.

The door opposite the bed opened into a kitchen, which I cleared. After clearing the room, I moved to my right. The lights went out. I assumed that Yates had cut the power. I felt fear for the victim and myself, and proceeded with more caution. I moved from the kitchen into a short passage, and turned to my left to enter the living room.

I was momentarily blinded by an intense flash of light. I attempted to shield my eyes and was struck on the left side of the head, behind the ear, with some sort of breakable object. The blow stunned me and I stumbled. I lost my grip on my weapon, which fell to the floor. Yates attacked me from behind. As we struggled, I felt a sharp pain in the back of my neck. Based on the evidence in our murder investigation, I believed this to be an injection. Also based on our case evidence, I believed the contents of the syringe to be a fatal dose of morphine. I feared for my life. We fought and I lost my footing and fell to the floor. My right hand landed on my weapon, which I picked up.

I turned onto my back to see Yates heading towards me again, still holding the syringe. I was already feeling the effects of the drug. I believed that he would kill the victim after incapacitating me. I felt that I had no other option than to fire my weapon. I raised my weapon, aimed at centre mass, and fired five shots. Yates went down in front of me. I shifted to rest against the wall. I reported an agent down to Control. Moments later, I lost consciousness.

Now that he'd read the words, all Alan could think was 'I could have lost him'. But saying that would make Don regret that he'd let Alan so deeply into this part of his life. So he bit back his instinctive, horrified response and spoke calmly.

"I don't think you need my help with this." Don's eyes met his and Alan smiled. "You were always good with words, Don. Always clear, concise. If it helps at all, I don't think you had another choice." Don's eyes widened fractionally at that. "And I suppose it has to be like this: unemotional, detached."

Don winced at the last word, and glanced at Charlie, who just smiled gently back at his brother and shook his head.

"No, Dad." Alan's gaze swung round to see Charlie's sincere and understanding eyes fastened on Don. "Detached is just … a way to cope." He tipped his head at Don and laughed quietly. "Like numbers for me. Don's just as big an emotional mess as I am."

"Thanks for that, Chuck." Don chuckled. "Maybe not quite as bad. At least I can spell it properly."

"You're never going to let that go, are you, Donald?" Charlie shook his head despairingly, and Alan laughed at the pathetic expression his youngest pasted on his face.

"Nope." Don grinned in return, then slowly laid his pen down on the table. He reached out one hand to Alan, past the nearly empty beer bottle, and the other to Charlie across the scatter of papers. Alan sensed the sudden change in Don's emotions. His fatherly instincts hinted that his eldest had made some sort of decision, something that had been brewing since the attack, something that couldn't be put off any longer.

"Dad, Charlie." Don sounded hesitant. Alan squeezed his hand in encouragement, seeing Charlie do the same. "I know I don't say this sort of thing very often, but … I need you to know something." Don thought for a second, then carried on. "You're the reason I do what I do; the reason I can do it. If it weren't for you both being here … If you thought less of me for what I sometimes have to do …" As he trailed off, Alan looked over at Charlie, who nodded, and then back at Don.

"We could never think less of you, son." Alan's voice was warm and sure, and Charlie chimed in as well. "Not a chance, Don." At that, some of the darkness seemed to seep out of Don's eyes, and he met their looks more easily.

"You've no idea how much that means." He leaned back again, separating himself from his family while he got his composure back. "You know," and the dawning realisation in his voice warmed Alan's heart, "I think I've just figured out the trick in learning to live with my choices."

"Oh?" Alan could be crafty when he wanted to drive a point home.

"Yeah." Don waved a finger at Charlie and then at Alan, his expression lighter than it had been for the last two days.

Don had been too quiet in the two days since he'd left the hospital and that had been the one thing that still worried Alan. He knew his son well enough to know that Don's actions had been preying on his mind. Now he realised that Don had also been worrying about how his family would see him, what they would think of him. It was humbling to realise that his opinion held that much power over such a strong and confident man as his son. But now that Don was reassured, now that he and Charlie were teasing each other again, Alan was sure that the crisis had passed. He watched as Don turned his attention back to the paperwork, chatting quietly to Charlie about bullet speeds and trajectories. Alan leaned back and savoured the moment – the first since Megan's call – when all was right in his world.