Author's Note: This is a fanfiction for the show Party of Five. It has spoilers for Season 1 Episode 20, 'The Trouble with Charlie'. The show was about five siblings who lose their parents. Twenty-four year old Charlie, is the only legal adult in the group, and gets guardianship of his four siblings: sixteen-year-old Bailey, fifteen-year-old Julia, twelve-year-old Claudia, and six-month-old Owen. Charlie's girlfriend Kirsten moves in with him to help. My story takes place directly after the end of the episode.

Episode Recap: The full episode is on YouTube in 5 clips if you go to search for it. Here are the important things to know about the episode. Bailey and Charlie have been arguing about money. Bailey wants to give Owen's daily babysitter, Bill, a raise, but Charlie has said no. Later Charlie finds out that Bailey told the babysitter that he got the raise. Julia wrote a 'fictional' story about her family that doesn't show any of them in a positive light. It gets published, and she doesn't tell them about it. They're all angry and hurt when they find out. Charlie has a battle of wills with Claudia. It starts with her having several cavities at her dentist check up. He tells her no more junk food. Then he tries to make her eat broccoli at dinner. She refuses so he tells her no TV for a month. He catches her watching TV, and turns it off. She turns it back on, and he eventually has to unplug it and take it out of the room. Later she tells him she has to watch something for school. He says no and tells her she's grounded for a week. The next day when he gets home from work, he finds a group of girls in the house for a slumber party. Claudia says since she's grounded and can't go out, she invited them in. They get into a yelling match, and Charlie raises a hand to slap her, but stops himself before he does it. The end scene for the episode is Charlie telling his siblings that things aren't working for him, and he's moving out. They all seem to feel guilty and ask if he's leaving because of the things they each did. My story starts with the last line of the episode.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, and I'm not making any money from this story.

Warning: Non-consensual disciplinary spanking of fictional minors by their older brother.

I'M THE FATHER

"I'm moving out," Charlie said.

Kirsten handed baby Owen over to Julia, and said, "Charlie, can I talk to you in the kitchen for a minute."

Charlie nodded and went to the kitchen. He'd expected arguments from all sides. It wouldn't change anything. He'd made up his mind.

"Stay here." Kirsten whispered fiercely to the three children standing on the stairs looking frightened and lost.

Kirsten found Charlie with his hip leaning against the kitchen counter, and his arms crossed tightly across his chest.

"I'm not changing my mind," he said.

"How dare you!" Kirsten hissed. "You can't leave them!"

Surprised by her anger, Charlie uncrossed his arms, and said, "I'm not leaving them, I'm just not going to live here with them."

"When exactly were you planning on consulting me about this? Or do you think where we live is a decision you just get to make on your own?"

"Of course not!" he said indignantly. "I thought you'd jump at the chance to get out of here!"

"Well you thought wrong." Kirsten shook her head. "You're thinking about this situation like an older brother, not like a father. Moving out is not the answer. Things need to change, but not like this."

He sighed. "If you have a better suggestion, then please let me know."

"What would your parents have done if Claudia was grounded and then threw a slumber party?"

"I have no idea. None of us ever did anything so blatantly… disobedient."

"My dad would have spanked me."

Charlie's eyebrows went up. "Really?"

"He only did it once when I was eleven, but I always knew the possibility was there if I stepped completely out of line like I did that time."

"You're saying you think I should have spanked her?" he asked incredulously. "I've been beating myself up for the past twenty four hours for even thinking about hitting her!"

In a gentle tone, Kirsten said, "I know you're furious with yourself for almost hitting Claudia, but maybe your instincts were right all along. You just should have been aiming for her rear end instead of her face."

He shook his head. "I could never intentionally hit her."

"Why not?"

"It's not what our parents would want me to do."

"Your parents never spanked any of you? Not even once?"

Charlie wanted to say no, but that wouldn't be true. "Never at twelve!"

"So they did."

"A swat or two for a five-year-old is not the same thing." He ran his hand through his hair and muttered, "I can't believe we're even having this conversation."

She rubbed a calming hand up and down his upper arm. "Your parenting style does not have to mirror your parent's. Your brothers and sisters respected your parents at this stage in their lives, because they'd learned to respect them from an early age. You were right when you said they don't respect you. They don't. And I'm telling you, that moving out isn't going to buy you one ounce of respect."

"But hitting Claudia will?" he said with scorn.

"Not hitting, spanking, and not just Claudia. All three of them."

Charlie tossed his hands in the air with frustration. "Bailey is sixteen!"

"Yes he is, and he deserves the chance to be a kid for a couple more years. You move out, and he has to take on more responsibilities than any sixteen-year-old should have to."

Fresh guilt assaulted Charlie, and forced him to look away from her.

"You're right," she said softly. "If you're going to stay here, you need respect. If you do something drastic this one time to prove to all of them that you are the parent and that you're serious about it, that respect will eventually shift into place."

"I don't know how you picture this happening, Kirsten. Even if I agreed, which I don't, if I tried to spank any of them, the others would physically stop me."

She shook her head. "Not if you give them an ultimatum. They each take a spanking, or you leave."

Charlie rolled his eyes. "That's ridiculous. None of them would ever agree to that, especially if I was the one doing the spanking."

Kirsten shrugged. "Then you'll get what you want. You can move out."

Scrutinizing her, he said, "Why do you want us to stay?"

"Because I know you, and I see how much you love them. You'll be back in a month, and you'll still have no respect. At least if you put that option on the table, the kids will have that threat in the backs of their minds. That in itself might help you to keep the peace."

He thought that over for a few seconds. He was one hundred percent sure that his sibling would never agree to any kind of physical punishment, but giving them that choice could alleviate a lot of his guilt over leaving.

She could tell he was thinking it over, and said, "If you're so sure that they'll say no, then you have nothing to worry about." She turned and left him in the kitchen to think it over.

The four kids were still on the stairs, huddled together and whispering when Kirsten came out of the kitchen. They looked her way and Claudia said, "Is he leaving?"

Kirsten brushed the child's hair away from her face and said, "I don't know Claud. I hope not, but I don't know." Kirsten held out her hands for baby Owen, and Julia handed him over. Kirsten said, "All three of you owe him more than just an apology. If you want him to stay, you'd better be willing to make some sacrifices, and let him be the parent that you all need him to be."

"We apologized," Bailey said. "What else can we do?"

Instead of answering his question, Kirsten said, "You three go sit on the couch, and wait for Charlie. I'm going to put Owen to bed."

The three watched her walk up the stairs, and then both girls looked to Bailey to see what he'd do. He shrugged and went to sit on the couch, and the girls followed.

Ten minutes later, when Charlie had finally made a decision, and got up the courage to go face his siblings, he found them all on the couch waiting for him.

He reluctantly went to stand in front of them and said earnestly, "Do you guys want me to stay?"

"Of course we do. We need you," Claudia said.

Charlie looked at his other sister and said, "Julia?"

"We'd feel awful if you left."

He turned to his brother. "Bailey?"

"We all want you here, Charlie."

Hearing his siblings admit that they wanted him around actually made this next part more difficult for Charlie. "Then you guys have a decision to make, because if I stay, then I'm the parent from this point on. That means you won't second guess me, you won't disobey me, and you won't go behind my back if you don't like my rules, because if you do there are going to be consequences."

He looked at each of them for a second, expecting to see anger or defiance on their faces, but they all simply nodded in agreement. He turned his head to the ceiling for a moment, and hoped that he was doing the right thing. He took a deep breath and said, "Those consequences start tonight if I stay." He focused on Bailey and said, "You went behind my back to pay Bill after I'd told him he wasn't getting a raise." He focused on Julia. "You wrote an article that hurt all of us, and tried to hide it from us." He focused on Claudia. "And you had a slumber party after I grounded you." He still saw no anger in any of their faces.

"I was so upset with Claudia that I almost slapped her, and I've felt horrible about that ever since, but part of my guilt is due to my mindset. I've always thought of Claudia as a little sister, but maybe I need to start thinking about her as a daughter. Mom never would have been okay with me hitting any of you, but that was because I was your brother, not because she was against physical correction. She was perfectly fine with giving us a few swats when we'd done something wrong, and Dad was too."

Bailey started shaking his head, while Julia and Claudia just stared at him in shock.

"So if you want me to stay, I will, but that means from now on I'm the father for all of you. I'm not the older brother anymore, and you're all getting spanked tonight for the things you did. If you can't accept that, then I move out, and I come check on you kids once a day."

Bailey jumped up and shouted, "There's no way in hell I'm letting you hit any of us!"

Feeling nothing but relief, Charlie nodded. "That's what I knew you'd say. I'll go pack a bag." He turned to go upstairs.

"Wait!" Claudia said, jumping up as well, and grabbing Charlie's hand. "Please Charlie, please don't go. I promise I'll be good if you stay."

He saw her chin quivering, and pulled her in for a hug. "It's not that simple Claud. I'm sure you would be good, but I can't stay if I can't enforce the rules for all of you."

He felt her shoulder's shaking with tears, and said softly, "Don't cry Claudia."

Julia said, "Charlie?"

He focused on the only sibling who'd stayed on the couch.

"Give us half an hour to talk and make a decision?"

Shocked, Charlie said, "You're actually considering it?"

Claudia lifted her face from Charlie's stomach to stare at her sister with wide eyes.

"Don't be ridiculous Julia!" Bailey said while pacing behind the couch.

She turned to him and hissed, "You don't get to decide for all of us! I have just as much say as you do, and I need a little time to think!"

Charlie's stomach churned. What the hell was he supposed to do if they agreed? He hadn't considered that as a possibility when he'd decided to give them a choice. He had his doubts that he could actually go through with it.

"You can have as much time as you want," Bailey said, "I'm never going to agree."

Relieved, Charlie patted Claudia's back, before letting his hands drop from around her. "You guys can have half an hour. I'll go help Kirsten put Owen down." With those words, he turned and went up the stairs.

# # #

When Charlie got upstairs, he found Owen already asleep in his crib, and went to find Kirsten in their room. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, biting a fingernail. When she saw him, she asked, "How'd it go?"

He wearily sat down next to her. "Bailey refused, Claudia cried, and Julia wanted time to think it over."

She put her arms around him, and kissed the side of his face. "What did you say?"

"I gave them half an hour to decide." He turned to look at her and said, "What am I supposed to do if they say yes? I can't actually spank them. I wanted things to be easier, not harder!"

She ran her fingers through his hair to calm him down. "If they say yes, you follow through. Get through this one awful, horrible, painful night, and then everything will get easier, because they'll stop fighting you at every turn."

"Just thinking about the logistics of spanking any of them makes me queasy." He hunched down, put his elbows on his knees, clasped his hands together, and turned to look her in the eye. "Am I supposed to make them bend over something? Put them over my lap? How many swats? Claudia seems so much younger, do I treat her differently?" He put his face in his hands and mumbled, "God, I can't believe I'm even considering it. They should all tell me to go to hell."

"Hey." Kirsten pushed his shoulder once to get him to look at her. "Stop it. They should all be begging you to stay. You've made sacrifices for them that they can't even begin to comprehend, and in return they've been awful to you."

He sighed and nodded.

"So let's talk logistics," she said. "I think it's fine to treat Claudia differently. When my dad spanked me, he put me over his lap. I don't know how many swats he gave me. It only lasted a few seconds, but he was spanking really fast, so I probably got around twenty swats. Do you think that sounds right for Claudia?"

Charlie cringed. "I don't know."

Kirsten pushed on, even though her boyfriend obviously hated everything about this conversation. Unlike him, she had faith that his siblings were going to ask him to stay, and if they did, he'd need to be mentally prepared to do what needed to be done. "Well, you should think about it. Bailey's too old to go over your lap. He'd resent that more than the pain. You could have him bend over the back of the couch, or the kitchen table."

Reluctantly Charlie nodded. He couldn't even picture putting Bailey over his lap.

"Julia could go either way," Kirsten said. "She's a little younger than Bailey, so whatever you think feels right for her."

"None of this feels right."

"Did it feel right to find out Bailey had given Bill that raise?"

"No," Charley answered, and sighed.

"Did it feel right to read that article Julia had written?"

"No."

"Did it feel right to come home to a house full of pre teens after you'd grounded Claudia?"

"Absolutely not."

"Exactly." She patted his shoulder, shifted over to her side of the bed, and picked up a book to read while he though things over.

Charlie kept an eye on the time, and when half an hour was up, he told himself to go face his siblings, but his body refused to move.

Five minutes later Kirsten said, "Hasn't it been half an hour?"

"Yeah," Charlie said, still not moving.

After a short pause, Kirsten said softly, "You're going to have to face them eventually."

Charlie was about to tell her that he'd prefer to hide in their room for the rest of the night, but he didn't get the chance, because there was a tentative knock on their door.

"Come in," he said, surprised that any of them had decided to come to him.

Bailey opened the door, and to Charlie's amazement, all three of his siblings were there, and they all had red puffy eyes as if they'd been crying. Bailey looked him in the eye and said, "We all want you to stay."

"What?" Charlie asked with disbelief.

"We agree to your terms," Julia said.

"You do?" Charlie said shaking his head.

"From now on, you're the parent," Claudia said, looking somewhat meek and frightened.

"But… Why?" Charlie asked, still not sure how they'd come to this decision.

"Because we love you," Claudia said.

"And because Mom and Dad would be ashamed of all of us if they knew how we'd been treating you," Julia said.

"And because I don't want to be the parent," Bailey added. "Owen needs someone for the next eighteen years. That person has to be you, not me."

Charlie was too choked up to speak at first. He cleared his throat a couple of times, and then had to wipe away a tear before he could speak. "I don't know what to say. I never thought you guys would agree, but it means a lot to me that you have."

Feeling proud of all of them, Kirsten said, "Why don't you guys go wait downstairs for a minute. Charlie will be right there."

Bailey nodded and shut the door. A couple of seconds later, Charlie turned to Kirsten and said, "They agreed."

She crawled across the bed to him, leaned her chest against his back, and wrapped her arms around him. "I knew they would."

He shook his head and groaned. "I'm never listening to you again."

She rolled hr eyes, let go of him, and gave him a shove to get him off the bed. "Go be the dad."

Charlie went downstairs to confront his brother and sisters, telling himself to get the spanking part over as quickly as possible.

Bailey was anxiously pacing behind the couch again, while the girls were on the couch. Julia had her arm around Claudia's shoulders, apparently comforting her. Charlie walked to the easy chair beside the couch, and sat on the edge. He held a hand out to Claudia and said, "You're first Claud."

The girl shook her head, and new tears went down her face.

Trying to encourage her, he said, "It'll be over quick."

"I promise I'll be good, Charlie. You don't have to spank me."

"Claudia, we agreed," Julia said.

"I don't want a spanking," Claudia cried.

Charlie pursed his lips. This was not going well so far. In the firmest tone he could muster, he said, "I didn't want to come home to you having a slumber party when you were grounded, so come here."

The pre teen stood up, and walked to him, crying the whole way. As soon as she was within reach, he pulled her over his lap.

"Nooooo!" she cried, but didn't struggle.

He started swatting the seat of her pajama bottoms at a quick pace, keeping count in his head. He'd decided on fifteen, and he knew if he didn't count, he'd stop before he even got to ten.

"Oooow! Charlie! Ooooow!"

He hardened his heart to her pain until he'd delivered all fifteen smacks. As soon as he was done, he lifted the crying child, and sat her upright in his lap. He pulled her into a hug, and kissed the top of her head. "Okay, it's all over."

While he was comforting Claudia, Charlie's eyes darted over to his other two siblings, checking their reactions. Julia was wiping a couple of tears off her face, and Bailey was glaring daggers at his older brother.

"I'm sorry about the party." Claudia's words were slightly muffled by Charlie's shirt, but everyone could understand her.

"I know you are Claud," Charlie said, squeezing her tight. "And I forgive you, but it better never happen again."

She shook her head, and looked up at him. "It won't. I promise."

"Feeling better?" he asked.

Her chin wobbled, and she shook her head. "It hurt." She buried her face in his chest again.

Guilt slammed into his chest, and he kissed the top of her head again. "I'm sorry." He rubbed a hand up and down her back, and said, "Why don't I take you upstairs? You can hang out with Kirsten while I'm busy with Julia and Bailey."

Claudia nodded, and clung to him. When she made no move to stand up, Charlie stood up with her in his arms, and carried her upstairs.

Kirsten was sitting on the edge of the bed biting her nail again when Charlie showed up.

"I though it would be best for Claudia to stay up here with you for a while," he said, setting the girl on the bed next to Kirsten.

Kirsten automatically wrapped both arms around Claudia, and said, "Okay. Why don't you shut the door on your way out, and we'll listen to some music."

He mouthed the words; 'thank you' to her, and closed the door behind him. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes for a moment before squaring his shoulders and heading back down.

He sat in the same spot in the easy chair, looked at his sister, and said wearily, "Your turn Julia."

Turning bright red, Julia nodded, stood up, and walked over to him. When she was standing next to his lap, he said, "This isn't because you wrote that story, and it's not for getting it published. Your writing is wonderful, and I'd never want you to pass up an opportunity to get something published. It's about trying to hide it from us. You should have warned us what to expect before we read it."

She nodded, and said softly, "I know."

He took her wrist, and pulled her across his lap. The first hard slap to her rear end made her whimper. The fifth swat made her hiss, and by the tenth swat whiny little 'ow's were coming out of her mouth with each smack.

Charlie stopped at fifteen swats, just like he had for Claudia, even though Julia wasn't even crying, because in his mind, her offence was fairly mild. He patted her back and said, "All done."

He felt her shifting to get up, and helped her to stand with a hand on her arm. Once she was upright, he scooted to one side of the easy chair, and pulled her down to sit next to him. He pulled her into a hug. After several seconds of silence, he said, "Are you doing okay?"

"Yeah, I'm okay," she said softly. She pulled away and said, "I'd really just like to be alone. Can I go to bed?"

Frowning, Charlie said, "Are you sure? You could go sit with Kirsten and Claudia."

She shook her head. "I'd rather go to bed." She saw the concern in his face, and added, "I'm really okay Charlie. I promise. I'm just worn out from everything."

He searched her face, and decided that he believed her. He nodded, kissed her forehead, and said, "Okay then, go to bed. I'll see you in the morning."

Bailey and Charlie watched Julia climb the stairs. Once they heard her door click shut the two brothers made eye contact.

"There's no way I'm going over your lap," Bailey hissed from behind the couch.

Those words had an immediately negative effect on Charlie. "That attitude right there is why this is happening. You're second-guessing me before I've said anything, and you're talking to me in a tone that you never would have used on Mom and Dad when you were in trouble. If Dad had told you that you were grounded, would you have used that tone to tell him what he could and couldn't take away for a week?"

Flushing with shame, anger, and embarrassment, Bailey said, "That's not the same. Dad would never have threatened to spank me like I was six instead of sixteen!"

"You're right," Charlie said, trying to keep himself from yelling back. "He wouldn't have, partially because you already respected him. You would have never gone behind Dad's back to steal money."

"I didn't steal anything!" Bailey yelled, "I paid a fricking bill that you should have paid!"

Charlie looked away from Bailey, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Once he felt calm enough, he turned to Bailey and said, "You need to stop trying to run the house. Bill asked for a raise earlier than we'd agreed on, and I told him no. Believe it or not, that's the way the real world works Bailey. People don't always get raises when they ask for them. But that's not even the point. Paying the bills isn't your call to make anymore. I may handle things differently than you, and I may handle things differently than Dad and Mom, but I will handle things. Let yourself be a kid for a few more years, and have some faith in me."

Bailey's stomach churned. He'd been the responsible sibling for so long, it was nearly impossible to give up that control, especially if it meant putting faith in his previously less responsible older brother.

"You said you wanted me to stay," Charlie said softly. "Have you changed your mind?"

Bailey glared at the floor. "No."

"Then you're done dictating your punishment. Before you said anything I was going to have you bend over the back of the couch."

"You were?" Bailey asked.

Charlie nodded. "I doubted either one of us would feel comfortable with you over my lap."

"I'm sorry," Bailey said ruefully, and then pleaded, "Could that still be an option? Please?"

Charlie opened his mouth to say yes, but then thought it over for a second. The idea of having Bailey over his lap truly did make him uncomfortable, but he didn't think he should let Bailey's attitude go without some kind of repercussion.

Sighing, Charlie stood up and said, "Since you just asked me instead of telling me, I'll compromise. You lost your chance to go over the back of the couch, but - …" He moved to the side of the coffee table away from the couch, put one foot up on it, and waved his younger brother towards him. "… - come here without arguing, and you can stay standing while you lean over one leg."

Grimacing, Bailey slowly made his way over, and wished for the thousandth time that he'd grown to be as tall as his brother was.

Once his little brother was in reach, Charlie put a hand on his upper arm, and pulled him in the rest of the way, positioning him so that Bailey's stomach was leaning against his raised thigh. Charlie wrapped one arm around his younger brother's back to hold him in place, and started swatting.

Bailey's lingering anger helped him to stay completely silent, even though his pajama pants offered very little protection. Keeping count of the rapid-fire swats also helped him not to squirm much. When swat sixteen landed, he thought maybe Charlie had miscounted, and during swats seventeen through nineteen Bailey yelled, "That's already fifteen!"

Charlie stopped swatting, because he didn't want to lose count, but held Bailey in place. "I never said you were getting fifteen."

"That's what the girls got!" Bailey made a halfhearted attempt to stand, but Charlie made even more of an effort to keep him bent over.

"Claudia is twelve, and Julia didn't do anything all that bad. You're older, and you deliberately paid Bill after I said no, so you're getting double."

"But that's not fair!"

Charlie was done listening to arguments. "I don't care if you think it's fair or not. You've got eleven to go," he said, and started swatting again.

A high-pitched grunt came out of Bailey after the first smack. He tried to stifle the noises coming from his throat with the continued spanks, but it was nearly impossible because his butt already hurt. The anger that had helped him to remain stoic before surged to unbearable levels, causing his eyes to fill with tears. By the time the last smack landed, a couple of tears had slid down his face. When he felt Charlie's arm move off his back, Bailey shoved away from his brother, took a few steps back, and wiped his face with both hands.

Charlie put his foot down and said, "Look Bailey," he moved forward and put a hand on Bailey's shoulder. "I know - …"

Bailey knocked his brother's hand off, took a step back, and hissed, "I don't want to hear it. I hate you!"

Charlie couldn't believe his brother had said something so hurtful after everything they'd just gone over, and he forced himself not to respond in kind. He crossed his arms, and said, "That's fine. Hate me all you want, as long as you obey me. Go to your room, and go to bed."

"What?" Going upstairs to lick his wounds in private was exactly what he wanted to do, but not if Charlie was ordering him to. "You can't send me to bed!"

Moving with lightning speed, Charlie grabbed his brother's upper arm, and started dragging him to the stairs. "Yes, I can. That's what we were just establishing a few seconds go." He stopped at the foot of the stairs, but kept a hand on his brother to keep him in place. He looked down into Bailey's apprehensive expression, and pulled him in so that their faces were only a few inches apart. "You need to think long and hard tonight about whether you want me to stay or not, because I won't stay if you're going to fight me about every little thing."

Bailey shook his head slightly, not wanting to think about any of it.

Charlie let go of his brother long enough to grab the teen's upper arm with his opposite hand. He turned him to the side so that Bailey was facing the stairs, and gave him a hard swat with each word he emphasized, "GO to your room, and GO to bed, RIGHT NOW."

The second Charlie let him go Bailey dashed up the stairs and into his room. He didn't want anyone to see him cry, and he wanted to be as far away from his older brother as possible.

Charlie winced when he heard Bailey's door slam. He quietly walked up the stairs and listened for a few seconds to see if the noise had woken Owen up since the two shared a room, but the baby didn't make a peep.

Sagging with exhaustion now that it was all done, Charlie sat down on the top step, and put his head in his hands, and thought, 'Did I do the right thing? Maybe I took it too far. They're all gonna hate me now. And what if it doesn't even make anything better? God, what would Mom and Dad say about all this?'

He sat there thinking it over for several minutes, until he heard a noise behind him on the landing. He looked up and saw Kirsten standing behind him. She sat next to him, and leaned against his side.

"Claudia wants you to tuck her in."

"She does?" He raised a skeptical eyebrow. "I figured she wouldn't want to be around me for a while."

"She's already over it. Little kids bounce back. If anything she'll want to be around you more for a few days so she can be reassured that you still love her."

He looked down into the living room and said, "Bailey said he hated me."

"He doesn't hate you, he's just upset. Give him a couple of days to think it through."

Charlie nodded and shifted, so that he could wrap both his arms around his girlfriend. He squeezed her and said, "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For everything. For being here, for supporting me, for convincing me not to leave. All of it."

She gave him a quick kiss and said, "Okay, go put Claudia to bed, and then I'll give you a back massage to help relax you before we go to sleep."

Thinking about how wonderful that sounded, Charlie stood up and went to get Claudia out of his room. He found her lying in the middle of his bed reading a magazine.

"Can I sleep in your bed tonight?" Claudia asked.

"Aren't you a little old for that?"

"No."

He smiled, but shook his head. "Maybe another time."

"Okay." She put the magazine down, and got off the bed. "Will you tuck me in?"

"Anytime." He put a hand on her shoulder, and walked with her back downstairs to the living room where her tent was set up, passing Kirsten along the way.

Charlie unzipped the door, and let Claudia climb in first. She settled into her sleeping bag while he climbed in too. Once she was in, he zipped the bag up, and smoothed the extra blanket on top of it.

"Comfy?" he asked.

"Yeah."

He leaned over, kissed her forehead, and said, "Sleep good."

She reached up and gave him a quick but fierce hug. "You too."

He climbed out, zipped the tent closed, and said, "Goodnight."

"Night, Charlie."

Feeling much better, Charlie checked the doors before turning out the lights, and going upstairs for the night.

# # #

The next morning during breakfast, Charlie was happy to note that there didn't seem to be any awkward tension between him and Claudia or him and Julia. They both seemed to be completely past what had happened. Bailey on the other hand, only came downstairs long enough to snatch a bagel off the table. He walked out muttering, "I have to leave early today."

"Why?" Julia said.

Bailey kept going, and didn't answer.

"What's wrong?" Claudia asked Charlie.

Kirsten saw Charlie's stricken expression, and took his hand in hers trying to comfort him.

With a sigh, Charlie said, "He's pissed at me because of last night."

"But why? We all agreed," Julia said.

Charlie fed Owen another bite of food, to avoid looking at either of his sisters. "That's between me and him. Don't worry, we'll work it out, it just may take a few days," he said, hoping it was true.

# # #

That night when Charlie got home from work, he found Bill in the living room playing with Owen.

"Hi guys," Charlie said with a smile.

Bill stood up and said with a frown, "You should have told me that Bailey went behind your back to give me that raise."

Shocked, Charlie said, "How'd you find out?"

"Bailey told me." Bill got his wallet out, and handed over a check. "This is for the difference."

"You don't have to -…"

Bill pushed the check closer and said, "Yeah, I do. I wanted the raise, and things are going to be tight for me without it, but I don't want it like this."

Charlie took the check, and said, "Are you sure? You're really good with Owen, and I'd hate to lose you over this."

Bill nodded. "I'm sure. I don't want this to cause tension between you and Bailey. He feels awful about what he did."

"He does?" Charlie said with surprise. That certainly hadn't been the message he'd heard from Bailey last night.

"Well, I was pretty angry about it when he told me what he'd done," Bill said, with an uncomfortable smile, "So that may have been part of it."

Charlie smiled. "That's okay, I was angry too."

"If something like this happens again, do me a favor and tell me the truth."

Chagrined, Charlie said, "I will."

Bill held out his hand and the two men shook.

"You might want to go check on Bailey," Bill said, looking up the stairs at the closed bedroom door. "It's been unusually quiet all afternoon."

"I'll do that. Thanks." Charlie headed up the stairs, wondering if he'd be welcome in Bailey's presence or not. He knocked on the door and said, "Bay?"

"Come in."

Charlie went in and shut the door behind him. Bailey was lying on his bed reading a book. Charlie leaned against the closed door and said, "You okay?"

Bailey shrugged and put his book down to look at his brother.

"You told Bill." Charlie said.

"Yeah."

"Why?"

Bailey shrugged again. "Seemed like the right thing to do."

"You didn't have to."

"I know." Bailey sat up and scooted to the edge of the bed so he could face Charlie. "But I wanted to make things right. I've been thinking about it all day today. Last night I was pissed. Really, really pissed about the whole thing."

"Yeah, I got that," Charlie said.

"So this morning I started thinking about running the house without you. I even made a list of things that I'd need to start doing, and you know what I realized?"

"What?"

"I still don't want to do those things if I don't have to. I don't want to be the parent. I want to be a normal high school student. I don't really want you to be the parent either; you're only eight years older than I am, but if those are the only choices, then I pick you. Telling Bill what I did was a kind of peace offering."

Relieved to hear that his brother had actually thought it all through, Charlie said softly, "It's a great peace offering, Bay. Thank you. I appreciate it."

Bailey scowled and said without anger, "Yeah, well I still hate you, and you're a dick for giving me double."

In that moment, Charlie thought his brother looked more like a petulant child than the man he was becoming. Charlie went to sit on the bed next to Bailey, and put an arm around the teen's shoulders. "I know it's going to be difficult for you to accept me parenting you. It's difficult for me to do it. But if we can work it out, the tension in the house is going to go way down, and everyone is going to be happier in the long run, including you."

Bailey nodded in agreement. "I'll try."

"Good." Charlie patted his brother's shoulder and stood up. "I'm gonna get dinner started."

"Okay." Bailey scooted back, and picked up his book again.

Charlie went downstairs with a smile on his face, and actually felt happy and relaxed for the first time in weeks.

The End