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The Delicate Brothers – ACT 1

Chapter Text

Up through the darkness,
While ravening clouds, the burial clouds, in black masses spreading,
Lower, sullen and fast, athwart and down the sky,
Amid a transparent clear belt of ether yet left in the east,
Ascends, large and calm, the lord-star Jupiter;
And night at hand, only a very little above,
Swim the delicate brothers, the Pleiades.
-216. On the Beach at Night, Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman.

 

Don had figured that having a wife and kid, and his dad having a girlfriend would mean he'd be mooching fewer meals off his father. Instead his dad just started putting a couple of extra plates at the table; one for Anne and one for Kathryn, plus a highchair for Mattie.

Don was working his way through a second helping of meatloaf as he looked around the table. Things felt a little off. His dad and Kathryn seemed oddly quiet, as did Charlie and Colby.

Colby had been a little quiet in general since his family had put in an uninvited and unwelcome appearance a few weeks earlier. When Don had gotten the details off his father he tried to talk Colby into pressing charges, but Colby had refused and insisted it wouldn't happen again. Not that it was easy to talk to Colby alone the past few weeks. Charlie had been mother henning him non stop.

Suddenly Alan let out a large sigh and put down his fork.

"Charlie, I have something I need to tell you."

"Yeah, Dad. So do I." There was a moment of silence. "You go first."

Alan took a breath. "I'm moving out, I bought a condo." Charlie face froze. "Not far, just that new little development around the corner. It's five minutes away. It's just this set up is ridiculous. Colby is still paying rent on that little apartment when you have this house and Kathryn and I really should have our own space and it's just past time we started living like adults in our own relationships and stopped traumatizing each other."

Don looked at Charlie whose face was unreadable. Colby, on the other hand, had that blank face that meant he was trying not to crack up. "Well Charlie, say something."

Charlie blinked a few times. "Dad," Charlie started slowly. "I have something I need to tell you. I'm moving out. I bought a condo." Colby cracked up and Don followed with the rest of the table. Alan's jaw dropped. "Not that far. Just that new development around the corner. It's just this set up is stupid and Colby and I need our own space where you and I won't traumatize each other and you have Kathryn now so I'm not worried about you living alone and...yeah."

Alan turned to Don and Colby. "Did you two know about this?"

Don raised his hands. "No, I swear."

"Well we can't both move out." Alan stated firmly.

"Mine's already gone through escrow."

"Mine to."

"Look, Dad. You've lived here most of your life..."

"It's your house Charlie. You bought it."

"Yes but it's your home."

"Okay, Okay, let's make this easy." Don quickly pulled a quarter out of his pocket. "Heads dad moves, tails Charlie moves." Don flipped it. "Heads." Charlie put his face in his hands.

"Great, what am I supposed to do with the condo?"

"Plenty of money to be made in the high end rental market. Just find a property management company to handle the details for you."

Charlie looked over at Colby.

"Told you, you should have talked to your dad," he said.

~
Martin pulled his shirt over his shoulders trying to minimize the wrinkles.

"I trust everything is satisfactory?" Martin asked as his doctor made notes in Martin's file.

"No, everything is not satisfactory," Doctor McNab snapped. "You are too thin."

"I am within the acceptable weight range for my height and position." Martin replied coolly as he began to button his shirt.

"You are one pound within range. You have been exactly one pound in range since your first training physical. That's not normal."

"But it is within the bounds of official guide lines." Martin repeated. He'd been having this argument with Dr. McNab every year for years.

Dr. McNab grinned. "But not next year." Martin looped his black tie around his neck as if his doctor had said nothing. "Next year the NSA is changing its standard to Body Mass Index. Next year I will stick you in a full sized dunk tank if I need to, to prove you are too thin. What's more I am going to get you diagnosed anorexic."

That was a new tactic on Dr. McNab's part, Martin thought as he adjusted his tie. "If I were anorexic I would be far thinner than this."

"It's not about being thin, it's about being in control. You want to be in perfect control of your body and god knows how but you are. You're smart. You're like a nail biter who doesn't bite their nails to the quick and doesn't do it in public so no one knows. You, Agent Sherwood, keep yourself at just the point where no one can call you on it but I'm calling you on it and next year if I don't see ten more pounds on you I'm strapping you to a bed and shoving a feeding tube up your nose!"

Martin shrugged on his jacket. "Will that be all Dr. McNab?"

Martin watched as his doctor pointed to the door with a roll of his eyes. "Get out of my office and go eat something."

"As always, it was a pleasure." Martin gave a slight smirk and headed out the door.

 

~
Colby looked around his apartment. It looked bizarrely large, devoid of all furniture. He had known this day would come but it was still odd.

They were calling it the great Chinese fire drill. Kathryn was moving out of her tiny place and into Alan's new condo. Alan was moving his bed and personal belongings out of the master bedroom to his new place. Charlie's bed and things were getting moved into the master bedroom. Colby's bed was getting donated since it was second hand to begin with. Colby's couch and sound system were moving into Charlie's old room to make a sort of study/math free zone for Colby to hide out in, and it was all happening in one weekend while Charlie was out of town.

Colby ran his fingers across a tiny dent in the drywall the landlord had missed. Charlie had put it there with his fist a moment after Colby offered to release him from their Arrangement. Colby closed his eyes and breathed. He didn't consider himself the nostalgic type but the room, the whole apartment had more memories of him and Charlie than he could count. Many good and more than a few, hellish.

He wandered through the other rooms looking for anything missed. He paused at the bathroom and smiled to himself. The night before he'd committed a small act of graffiti. There was a tile by the sink that was always loose. He'd pulled it off and written his and Charlie's name on the back like a stupid teenaged girl or something. But a great romance had, in an odd way, started in that bathroom and Colby had felt a need to mark it.

Colby took one last look and headed out the front door.

In the hall his neighbor, Sara was waiting.

"Good morning, Sara." He carefully signed.

Sara and her husband Eric where both deaf and over the years had taught Colby a smattering of sign language, including useful phrases such as 'You're under arrest' and 'Sorry, I'm gay and taken.'

"Morning." Sara spoke carefully. "You're leaving us."

"Yes. Sorry." Colby signed.

"We'll miss you."

"I'll miss you too."

"We'll miss you and Charlie. You two were very inspirational some nights."

Colby froze, a combination of confusion and fear suddenly creeping up.

Sara grinned. "Vibrations through the walls."

He closed his eyes. He was pretty sure he'd never blushed as hard as he was at that moment. All these years he thought he and Charlie were getting away with screaming the place down since his neighbors couldn't hear.

"You're welcome." Colby signed.

"Don't be a stranger." Sara signed before heading back to her own apartment.

 

~
Megan sighed in extreme contentment. She was very close to purring if she could. Larry's thumbs were doing amazing things to her arches. Tension she didn't even know was there was melting away. And it wasn't just Larry's hands. The smell of white roses filled the room and the taste of high grade chocolate was still on her lips.

"Not that I'm complaining, or asking you to stop in any way, shape, or form but what's brought this on?" Megan asked.

"I thought it an appropriate way to celebrate the day." Larry stated from his place at her feet.

"Saturday?"

"Well, yes, that is a reason to celebrate, but I was thinking of a greater milestone than simply the ending of a week."

Megan wracked her brain then something popped up. "Oh, wow. That had slipped my mind somehow."

"I'm sure it would have come back to you."

Megan nodded. It would have because it was three months. She was now officially past her first trimester. A little knot of worry twisted around her stomach. She had spent the last six weeks sort of pretending it wasn't happening as best as she could. After seeing what Anne and Don had been through, and all the warnings the doctors had given her, she had decided to not get too emotionally attached to the idea of a child until the pregnancy was further along. Larry was right. Getting past the first trimester was a big milestone.

"This is going to happen, isn't it?" she asked Larry.

"Well nothing in the universe is a certainty including the existence of the universe itself however the possibility of a child possessing our combined genetic code is certainly a little closer to happening, yes."

Megan smiled. She knew with a rambling answer like that Larry was just a nervous as she was, but she could also see the light shining in his eyes at the very thought and knew that he was going to be with her though this no mater what.

 

~
David lifted the end of Colby's couch with a bit of a grunt. "Now I am getting rib eye out of this?"

"I've seen it marinating in the fridge with my own eyes," Colby replied. "Besides this is the last of the heavy stuff."

"And why isn't Charlie here helping?" David grunted out as they headed up the steps of the craftsmen.

"Charlie. Multiple people moving. Think about it."

He suddenly had a flash of, equations, diagrams, and flow charts. "Got it."

They set the couch down for a second on the landing. "Besides, Charlie is still a little weirded out at the thought of moving into his parent's bedroom. I figured the best thing I could do would be to move around the furniture and get both our stuff in there while he's out of town."

"Yeah, I sneaked a girl into my parents room a couple of times but I don't think I could actually live in it, at least without completely redoing it. It would just be weird."

"Exactly."

David lifted his end of the couch again and he and Colby carefully shifted it into Charlie's old room. There were still boxes of stuff but a space had been cleared.

"Help me move a couple of these boxes into the other room?" Colby asked picking up a box that was labeled 'non-math books'. David chuckled and picked up a box labeled 'Stuff'.

In the other bedroom Alan was still packing up a couple of boxes. "I'll be out of your way in just a minute, boys."

Colby put down his box. "No rush."

David picked up a framed photo sitting on top of one of the boxes. A very attractive, dark haired young woman with strong eyes looked out at him.

"That was taken when Margaret passed the Bar," Alan supplied "We'd been married all of three months. She spent more time on our honeymoon studying than doing anything else."

"Well you married a very attractive woman, Mr. Eppes."

"You have no idea. I proposed to her on our first date. I took her on a picnic since I was broke but I miscalculated the Stana Ana Winds. She stood up and let her hair down and it whipped around her and she looked like a goddess and I asked her to marry me."

"What did she say?" David asked.

"Nothing. A fire plane flew overhead and she couldn't hear me." David chuckled. "It took me a year to get up the guts to ask again."

"Well you did very well in the end." David put the photo back.

Alan grinned. "You want to see well?" Alan reached into a box, pulled out an old style photo album, and handed it to David. "Second anniversary gift."

David opened it and found a collection of black and white, very artistic, very tasteful, and very nude photos. It took a second for them to process as his boss's dearly beloved and deceased mother. David closed his eyes while at the same time admitting to himself that in her day Margaret Eppes had been seriously hot. He handed the album back and Alan flipped through it.

"Should I ask what you got her for that anniversary?"

"A blender," Alan replied.

David cringed. "Well I'm sure it was the thought that counted."

"I thought she might want to blend something one day. It was state of the art to, five speeds."

David was trying not to think of the pictures. "I'm sure she appreciated it."

"She got a diamond for her birthday two months later." David laughed. "Though in defense of that blender that thing lasted fifteen years before one of Charlie's experiments blew the motor on it."

~
Don carefully put down a cracked leather armchair in the corner of the room.

Kathryn put down a box. "Thank you for helping with this."

Don gave a smile. "No problem."

"Normally Ian helps me move but he's actually taking a couple of days off with friends and I want him to relax instead of fussing over me for once."

"He does know you're moving, right?" Don asked.

Kathryn gave a little wave. "I'll tell him in a few days." Don looked at the chair he'd just put down. "Hideous thing, I know, but I've had it for ages. I nursed Ian in that thing, I can't exactly give it up now."

Don gave a little chuckle. "It's fine. Really. In case you haven't seen the garage Eppes' are kinda bad at getting rid of things."

Kathryn ran her hand across the back of the chair. "I'm sorry Don, I guess I haven't asked, are you and Charlie okay with this. I mean me moving in with your father and all?"

"Yeah, it's fine."

"Really?" Kathryn asked again not quite sounding like she believed it.

Don nodded. "Yeah. I mean I know one of the things mom wanted was for Dad to get out of the house, meet new people, get on with his life. She didn't want him to just...wither away without her. That was one of the reasons I didn't go back to Albuquerque. I mean I had to keep Charlie going for a few months but, yeah, I wanted to make sure dad kept going too. And for what it's worth I think mom would have liked you."

Kathryn smiled, a tension seemed to lift from the room. "Thank you Don, that actually means a lot."

"Plus, hey, I've now got dirt on the scariest dude in the FBI. That's worth plenty."

 

~
David picked up some blueprints that had been spread across the dinning room table. "Alan, do you want these boxed up?" he asked.

"No, no, no." Alan quickly rushed over. "I can't afford to lose those. Just leave them and I'll take them over myself with the last load."

David flipped some of them around. He'd never been good with blueprints but it looked like some sort of hotel or something. "What are you building, Alan?" he asked. It looked a little grand for Alan's part time planning firm.

"Right now, nothing. It's a proposal to the city. They're looking at proposals for new blocks of subsidized housing."

David gave Alan a serious look. "You want to build projects?"

"Well, no, that's the thing. I've built projects, back in the 70's and 80's. I knew they were crap, I knew they were being built substandard, with the contractors getting kickbacks, I knew that if you let kids grow up in buildings that looked like prisons they were just going to end up in prison and I was told that if I wanted to pay my mortgage and send my kids to good schools that I'd sit down and shut up about it and I sat down and I shut up and I've never been happy about that fact. I was told to sign off on some of the biggest, ugliest dumps in this city. This," Alan rolled out a large artists concept "is not just some project."

"Wow," was David's simple response to the drawing.

"Room for 100 families of four and 50 more places for families up to eight. Each unit has open plan living space, full height windows situated north east. Cooler in the summer but shouldn't need heat in the winter, rooftop garden to treat grey water for surrounding landscaping, lots of grass and trees, onsite child care and youth center, underground parking. Top of the line security, but subtle like a good apartment building instead of a prison..."

"And lots of wood." David interjected as he looked though the drawings.

"Yeah, well, there's this firm in Denmark that can make formed plywood as big as you want in any shape that you want. Bigger than any tree, you can hold up a whole building with their stuff. All from farmed forests, carbon neutral. Bolts onto steel beautifully, holds up in an earthquake, good looking."

"Alan, you're building a project."

"Why should subsidized housing have to mean architecturally unappealing or unnatural? Why should functional have to be unattractive?"

David ran his hand over the main drawing. A building for 150 families with secondary support beams visual and made of wood. David turned his head and squinted.

"You want to build a craftsmen. A craftsmen for 500 people."

Alan rolled up his blueprints. "Well what's wrong with that?"

"Not a thing. Hey, I love this house, but do you really think the city is going to give you the money?"

Alan gave a long sigh. "Sadly no. Every other firm in the city is going to be presenting the usual steel and cinder-block monstrosities and even with kick backs they'll claim they can do it for a half million less than us. Our best hope is a statement from a UCLA sociology professor explaining the connection between the health of living environments and future crime rates and a couple of guys from CalSci talking about greater environmental impact. It's basically all a giant Hail Mary play hoping the city council will vote ethically instead of with their wallets."

David snorted. "Yeah, good luck with that."

Alan shrugged. "I've got to try, David. I don't know how many how many times I've turned on the news and there's been a story about a triple murder or a drive by or drug bust and in the background is some nightmare I oversaw the building of. I can't help feel somehow culpable for all of it and at my age I don't have a lot of time to try to make up for it."

"You were doing you job, Alan."

"You really think I'm going to use that as a defense?" Alan asked dryly.

David cringed. "No, but if you want a statement from someone in law enforcement I'll step up for you."

"I will keep that in mind."

~
Charlie's face hurt. If he had to smile for one more minute he was going to scream. He knew once upon a time he enjoyed this but now it seemed oddly fake. He knew these people were his peers. He respected them, respected their work, just as he had the respect of most of them.

He grabbed a nibble from a passing tray. At least he could get away with not smiling while he chewed. What he really wanted to do was get drunk. Completely shit faced drunk. Or better yet get high. He hadn't touched coke since his mother and Larry had dragged him kicking and screaming out of a private firm that made luxury racing yachts, and he knew Colby would absolutely kill him if he went back now, but still, there was a serious craving. The sad thing was, he realized, that a conference of applied mathematicians was probably the only conference on Earth where he wouldn't be able to score a hit if he really wanted one.

And to make matters worse Penfield had bailed at the last moment. He had, at the very least, been looking forward to goading his old nemesis into a fight. He'd even put a benign error his new expression just to see if Penfield would catch it.

Charlie checked his phone again hoping someone, somewhere needed him. His phone was annoyingly silent. All the problems on Earth at the moment and no one wanted his help in solving one of them. Colby had sent him a text earlier telling him the move had gone well but that was it.

He looked over to the bar. There was a kid sitting there looking like he was trying to get up the guts to talk to him. He'd been trying to get up the guts for the last thirty minutes. Charlie just hoped the kid wanted to network or maybe get an autograph. Thanks to some incredibly weird rumors about his sex life going around the mathematics world he had already turned down three propositions, and if Colby wasn't waiting at home he would have been in some random hotel room with his pants off by the first one.

The kid chugged down his drink and approached. "Excuse me?" The kid had a quiver in his voice. "Are you Dr. Eppes?"

Charlie though about saying no. "Yes I am."

The kid held out his hand. "Hi, I'm Ricky Spender, sorry," the kid stumbled. "Doctor Richard Spender."

Charlie took his hand. "Nice to meet you Dr. Spender."

"I just wanted to say I'm a big fan of your work."

Charlie made sure his smile was properly frozen in place. "Well thank you very much."

"I mean so much of it is just ground breaking." The kid hadn't let go of Charlie's hand and his palms were sweaty.

"Well I do try."

"I mean, even some of your basic stuff, like for hot zones in urban environments."

Charlie's attention picked up a bit. "That was harder to put together than you'd think."

"Oh, I'm sure. I mean I had the worst time trying to explain it to my cousin. And the only reason he even let me try to use it wast that our grandmother guilted him into it."

"What kind of case?" Charlie asked still trying to extract his hand from Dr. Spender who seemed to have the eagerness of a puppy.

"Home invasions, in Philadelphia. I mean I don't think I got it quite right on but it still narrowed the suspect list by like 83.3%"

Charlie felt his smile unfreeze into a proper grin. "Did you consider looking at patterns in the timing of the robberies?"

Dr. Spender's eyes got wide. "No. No I didn't. God, how could I have missed that?"

Charlie extracted his hand at long last. "Let me buy you a drink kid and I'll tell you some war stories so you can really impress your cousin next time around."

 

~
Don stepped into the loft and took a deep breath. It smelled a little of paint. It was a smell Don was starting to associate with home. What it didn't smell like was work dust. The great renovation was finally over and the place was starting to air out. Gone was the giant drafty brick box. In its place was a split level three bed, two bath, condo with open plan living space. The second level was Anne's studio and a little office for Don where he could hide his crime scene photos once Mattie got old enough to get into things.

Don had to admit on some level he missed the box with its cold echo and fourth hand furniture but that was no place to raise a child in. Some would argue that even a nicely renovated warehouse was no place to raise a child, but it was closer to the office than his old apartment or Charlie's place and it would be impossible to find a place big enough in the suburbs for Anne to work.

He climbed the stairs and poked his head into the studio. Now most men upon finding their wife with a couple of mostly naked, muscular guys, wrapped only in sheets would be upset or at least intensely curious. For Don it just meant his wife was working.

He tiptoed over to the playpen and lifted Mattie out then gave Anne a kiss on the back of her head.

"Hey there," she said, not turning around from her canvass but with a smile in her voice.

"Hello, Agent Eppes," Anne's models greeted in singsong voices with much fluttering of eye lashes and coy little finger waves.

Don rolled his eyes but couldn't help smiling. "Hello Mickey, hello Bob." Mickey and Bob were two of Anne's regular models, and the first time he had met them the two had flirted so outrageously with Don he actually blushed and had to flee to preserve his reputation.

"How'd the Chinese Fire Drill go?" Anne asked.

"Not bad. Got Colby and Kathryn moved out. Now it's just a matter Dad and Charlie fighting over little things once Charlie gets back."

"Oh good. Put Mattie on his stomach," Anne directed. "We've got a new trick."

Don peered at his son. "Okay." Don put Mattie on his stomach in the playpen. After a minute Mattie pushed himself up with his arms, then, slowly, with extreme concentration got his knees under him as well. Don grinned. "Hey, look at that." Mattie started rocking back and fourth like he was winding up for something. Don's smile got bigger. Mattie's gross motor coordination was still a little behind the curve, luckily, and somewhat surprisingly, his mental development seemed to be on track. He was sitting up on his own, reaching for things, babbling, trying to feed himself a bit, and was already working on the self-righting sippy cup.

Don plucked one of the said sippy cups out of the playpen. He had been a little suspicious of the things at first but after the last time he spilled coffee on a clean shirt he decided that thermal proof, self-righting, sippy cups for adults could possibly make him a fortune, if he could figure out how to market them.

Don picked Mattie back up.

"I'll go put dinner on?" he asked.

"Sure, I should be about half an hour."

"Okay. Come on," Don said to Mattie. "You can help me with dinner."

Don left Anne to her work, headed down stairs and plopped Mattie in his highchair.

"Dinner, dinner, dinner, what shall we make mommy for dinner?"

Mattie shrieked and babbled. "Yeah, I think that chicken's been in the fridge a little too long."

He rummaged through the fridge. Mattie banged the sippy cup on his tray.

"Tacos? I think we have stuff for tacos."

Don was frying up taco meat as Mickey and Bob came downstairs, fully dressed, and waved goodbye with flirtatious little winks.

A little while later Anne came down and joined Don in the kitchen. She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.

"So," Anne started with an odd forced chipperness. "I got a letter today."

"Yeah?"

"I'm cleared for surgery if I want. Just have to call and make an appointment on Monday."

Don quickly shifted dinner off the heat and turned to Anne. "Really?"

"Yeah."

"Do you want to?" he asked. They'd been going back and forth.

Anne took a deep breath. "I... don't ever want to spend another day of my life in a NICU ward. And I know we haven't made any decisions about trying for another kid and I know we agreed to get the first one up walking and talking first but if we do decide to go through it all again I think I'd rather go through waddling and peeing every five minutes then sitting next to a plastic box for two months, and that means getting surgery now."

Don carefully wrapped his arms around Anne and held her close.

"It's your decision," he said carefully. "I can live with Mattie being an only child. We are so lucky to have him to begin with I don't need to push that luck."

"But you'd like another one?"

He shrugged. "Sure, but I'm a guy, lots of kids is a sort of lower brainstem primal thing. In the end my half is just a bit of grunting and sweating. You've got the hard part." Anne chuckled softly against Don's chest. "It's up to you hun and I'll stand by whatever decision you make."

Anne nodded. "I'll make the appointment on Monday."

He kissed her softly on the forehead. "Okay, I'll request a couple of days off and I'm sure Dad'll watch Mattie."

"Okay."

Don gave Anne a long hug. "I love you."

"Love you, too."

Chapter Text

Ian wasn't sure if he could move if he needed to. His body had settled into almost pure relaxation in Robert's arms, Robert's fingers teasing gently through his hair.

"How are you doing?" Robert asked.

Ian just hummed contently from his place resting against Robert's chest.

"You know Ian, one of these days you're going to show up on our porch and we're not going to let you go. We're just going to chain you to this bed and keep you here."

Ian chuckled. "You'd get sick of me pretty quick."

"You know we wouldn't."

Ian didn't answer. Every time he'd shown up Robert and Rose offered him a place and it was never as easy to say no as he liked to admit. Ian looked up at Robert. He knew no one would believe it if they saw him this way. Robert was a blond and blue, MBA, college football star, briefly a pornographic film maker and one of Ian's oldest remaining friends. He was also the only man Ian had ever let top him. Ian wasn't even sure what it was about Robert but he was as bad as any girl, melting into dreamy blue eyes. He told himself it was one of the reasons he said no to the offer of a home. It would be easy to lose himself in Robert, again.

Robert plucked a chocolate from a box and held it to Ian's lips. He sucked in the chocolate and bit down drinking the rum from the center.

"You're just trying to get me drunk so you can have your wicked way with me."

Robert gave a chuckle sending vibrations pleasantly though Ian's body. "Since when do I have to get you drunk to have my way with you?"

Ian lifted his head as the bedroom door opened and Rosie stepped in.

"You boys better not be starting without me."

Ian just smiled at the sight of her. Years of dance training had given her long lean muscles. Genetics had given her red hair, green eyes, and peaches and cream skin. Genetics had also given her a perfect hourglass figure which choreographers and casting agents had dismissed as fat.

Rosie had gotten her revenge by finding legions of men desperate to worship her body and feel the sting of her whip, and were willing to pay a grand an hour to do it.

Ian gave a little pout. "Your husband's trying to get me drunk so he can defile me."

Rose gave a bark of laughter. "Since when does he have to get you drunk to do that?" She sat on the edge of the bed. "Somebody get me out of this."

Ian sat up, carefully pulling at the laces of the black leather and satin corset that was Rosie's work uniform. Ian took his time. The first time he'd pulled her out of her corset in a wave of lust he'd gone too fast and she'd blacked out from the sudden blood pressure shift.

Once the laces were loose Rosie put her arms up and Ian simply pulled the whole thing over her head. She bent backwards with a coliepy of popping vertebra and gave Ian a quick peck of a kiss.

"I'm taking a shower."

"Can we watch?" Robert asked.

"No." Both Robert and Ian gave little wines of protest. "Oh stop it you two. I'll be quick."

"Better be."

Ian leaned back against Robert and thought about nothing in particular as the shower turned on in the other room. This was one of the few places on earth where Ian let himself just think about nothing, worry about nothing. And with a standing offer of a permanent place in the marriage bed, and even a job, it was dangerously seductive. His mother even liked Rosie and Robert despite being fully aware of their business.

The shower turned off and Rosie came out, makeup and perfume scrubbed away and damp curls piled high on her head. A grey FBI t-shirt fell to her thighs. Ian had forgotten it ages ago and Rosie had claimed it. It had been washed so many times the FBI logo was barely visible.

She crawled across the bed and gave Ian a deep kiss then gave another to her husband.

"How was work?" Ian asked as Rosie snuggled herself against him.

She rolled her eyes. "The power supply on the server died. Jenny was able to swap it out and we didn't lose too much data but we couldn't access the client list for about three hours."

Robert groaned. "We just need to replace the whole set up."

Ian suddenly perked up. "Hey, that reminds me, Charlie Eppes says hi."

Rosie and Robert exchanged looks. "Charlie Eppes? Doctor Charles Eppes, Charlie Eppes?" Rosie asked.

"Yep."

"How the hell do you know Charlie?" Rosie asked.

"His brother's Bureau. I was at Don's stag night a couple months back and Charlie dropped your names. I don't think he believed me when I said I knew you two."

Rosie gave her head a little shake. "Wow. We haven't seen Charlie in ages. Not since..." She looked at Robert. "It must have been after his mother died. He wasn't in great shape. How's he doing?"

Ian shrugged "Pretty good. Consulting for the Bureau a lot actually, we've worked a few cases together. Got a full time guy he's living with, Colby. Bought the family house. Published a couple of books. In therapy, medicated..."

"Whoa wait." Robert cut in. "This is Charlie we're talking about, right? Charlie Eppes?"

"Short, curls, nose, little crazy, numbers are everything."

"Yeah, that's Charlie. In therapy? I mean he needed it but..."

"Well I think that's Colby's doing."

"Good guy?" Rosie asked.

"General consensus is Charlie with Colby just might save the human race from itself, Charlie without Colby is headed to the funny farm."

Robert shrugged. "Better than nothing I guess. Next time you see him tell him to get his ass out here and bring his guy. The encryption software he built for us could use an upgrade."

Ian chuckled. "I'll mention it over dinner. Mom's dating his father."

"Really, and has she made it to the three month mark yet?" Rosie asked.

Ian cringed a little. He knew he'd spent too many years bitching to Rosie about his mother's dating life. "Actually she's been with Alan over a year now."

"Really?" Rosie sat up. "Is this it? Has she found the right one at long last?"

"I kinda hope so. Alan's a damn good cook."

"Always thinking with your stomach." Robert lightly chided.

"Like you're one to talk."

Rosie nuzzled at Ian's neck. "So at long last your mom's settled down, our favorite crazy mathematician is settled down, now what are we going to do with you?"

Ian laced his fingers into Rosie's thick curls. "You know I don't keep well in one place."

"Well maybe we can tempt you." Robert whispered into Ian's ear.

"You two always tempt me." Ian moaned out as Rosie ran little sucking kisses down his neck.

Rosie just chuckled softly as Robert began rubbing his thumbs along Ian's spine. He curved his back into the touch. Rosie abandoned Ian's neck and began to kiss him, heavy and deep while rubbing her hands along his chest. Ian knew this was one of the problems, they knew him too well, knew his body too well, they could keep him in a fog of lust for days and too make matters worse Ian knew under that lust they cared about him. Maybe it wasn't the blind, goofy, head over heels in love they all had when they were young and stupid but they still cared and Ian could never work out why.

Rosie broke away from the kiss and Robert leaned over to take her place. His tongue looped its way around Ian's mouth nearly making him dizzy.

When Robert finished Ian reached out and pulled Rosie's t-shirt up and over her head reviling naturally full, heavy breasts, a narrow waist and full rounded hips. Ian latched on to one breast while carefully massaging the other. Rosie's skin was clean and fresh and she gave a high soft moan. Ian followed her as she leaned back. Once on her back he switched his mouth to her other breast, tonguing at a hard nipple and letting a free hand trail down her body. He tried not to hesitate as his fingers brushed past a long thin scar along her belly and tried not to think of the ghost of a silent, dark haired girl pulled from that wound. Yet another reason Ian couldn't stay.

As Ian let his mouth trail lower he felt Robert's strong hands begin to rub at his lower back. Ian groaned against Rosie's belly as his muscles were worked almost to the point of pain.

"You're so tense, Ian." Robert's hot breath rolled along Ian's spine as he spoke. "How am I ever supposed to take you all tensed up?"

"I'm sure you'll work something out." Ian mumbled against Rosie's skin.

Robert began massaging Ian's thighs and Ian let himself melt between Rosie's legs where he took a deep breath and dipped his tongue in. There was always something mild and clean about her taste and Ian had spent literally hours of his life working his tongue across her hot, wet folds.

Ian felt Rosie's hands in his hair. "God, Ian, I missed your tongue." He pulled back for a breath of air then dove back in working Rosie's clit with his tongue while sliding a couple of fingers inside her. And even as he began working his finger's in Rosie he felt a well lubed finger slip inside of him.

"God, Ian, every time, you're so fucking tight. I swear it's like taking a virgin with you."

Ian just pushed back onto Robert's finger. He could feel Rosie begin to clench and flutter. He carefully took her clit between his teeth and sucked hard. She tightened around his fingers as her hips thrust up into his face. He could hear her groan soft and low. Screaming was for the clients. Ian keep sucking and working his fingers in her until she let out a long growl, her whole back arching. Ian pulled his face away and put gentle kisses along her thigh.

"She's so beautiful when she comes like that, Ian. You've always had the knack for it."

Ian chuckled and rolled back onto a couple more of Robert's fingers.

Rosie reached out for him and Ian was soon laying face to face with her, Robert spooned against his back. Ian closed his eyes for a second. It was always tempting to fall asleep like this, cocooned between two lovers.

Rosie arched a leg over his hip pulling Ian flush. He slid into her with no effort, she was sopping wet and relaxed.

"God," Ian moaned softly and tried to roll his hips.

"No, no," Rosie whispered. "Let us."

Ian remained still as Rosie moved against him and Robert's fingers finished stretching him, not that it would really be enough.

Ian tensed just a hair.

"Shhhhh," Robert whispered, stroking his fingers through Ian's hair. "Just relax. Let go for me. Just let go." Ian closed his eyes and tried to find a nothing mindless place. He felt Robert's literally porn star cock at his entrance. "Shhhhhhh." Ian took a breath and Robert pushed in.

There was pain. A low steady burn, but it began to fade as Rosie fluttered her muscles around His cock.

"God, Ian," Robert whispered once he was buried. "You feel so perfect. So tight and perfect."

Ian let out a breath as Rosie and Robert started moving in him and around him. The sensation of being penetrated and filled combined with the feeling of wet, tight, heat around him and mixed with the feeling of being touched and kissed all over. Ian closed his eyes needing to block out one sense as another was overloaded. His body began to go limp even as the pleasure grew. He tried to thrust but his body was held still and out of his control.

Robert's fingers eased into Ian's hair again. Ian's heart was pounding too loudly to hear what Robert whispered but Ian knew what was. 'Relax, let go, you are safe.'

Ian let go. His body spasmed and a cry came from his lips. Lights flickered behind his eyes and he felt his release driven from his body into Rosie's warmth.

Ian went comfortably limp as he felt Rosie and Robert finish taking their pleasure from his body. He was half asleep by the time warm hands were cleaning him and the blankets were pulled up.

He wrapped his arms around Rosie who tucked her head under his chin, while at the same time drifting away with Robert's arms around him.

 

~
Ian woke to a phone ringing. It took him a second to identify it as his phone. Rosie passed it to him from the nightstand.

"Hello?" he mumbled into it, not bothering to check the caller ID.

"Ian?" Martin answered. "Sorry, were you asleep?"

He sat up and squinted at the clock. It was after nine. "It's okay, had a late night, what's up?" he asked while trying to crawl out of bed. Robert reached out and yanked him back down.

"I just wanted you to know I found it." Martin had a sudden childlike glee in his voice.

"Found what?" Ian was still trying to get his brain going.

"The interrogation. The interrogation."

Ian perked up. "Really. It exists?"

"It exists as advertised."

"Did you watch it?" Ian asked while Rosie gave him a questioning look.

"Only the first couple minutes. I figured I'd save it until the next time you're in town."

Ian was sure he was grinning like an idiot. "I should be in sometime next week or so."

"Great. Give me a call when you're in town."

"You bet."

"I'll let you get back to sleep," Martin half whispered.

"Thanks, I'll call you later. Have a good day."

"You too."

Ian clicked off his phone. Rosie and Robert were both looking at him.

"And who might that be?" Rosie asked an odd little smirk on her face.

"Just Martin, Agent Sherwood."

"Really." Robert drew out the word. "And what did Martin Agent Sherwood want?"

Ian gave a wave. "Oh, just, there have been rumors for years about the world's funniest interrogation video with a couple of senile mob bosses. Martin thinks he's found it."

"And he just had to call you up to tell you?" Rosie asked.

Ian frowned. "He's just..."

"A friend?" Rosie finished.

"A guy I know."

"Who finds funny interrogation videos for you?" Robert asked.

Ian was starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable. "He's just a guy I met at Don's wedding."

"A couple of months ago."

"Yeah, He's just..." Ian stumbled. "He's no one," Ian finished quickly. Robert and Rosie both scowled in unison he way only people married for years can.

Robert gently took Ian's hands. "Ian, you know there's nothing I'd like more than to have you stay with us but I also know you have a million reasons not to. That doesn't mean we don't want you to be happy. If there's anyone else..."

"He's just a guy I met at Don's wedding. We had a long conversation and we're still sort of in the middle of it."

"Two months later."

"Yeah."

Rosie pursed her lips. "Ian you heard his voice and your face lit up. Maybe he's just a guy now but don't dismiss other options or the chance to have someone of your own just 'cause we're here."

Ian closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Right now the two most important people in the world to me are in this bed and could probably use three more hours of sleep." Ian opened his eyes. "Okay?"

Rosie and Robert each gave him a gentle kiss. "Okay."

~
Charlie shifted his carry on bag and let Colby pull him in for a hug and a kiss. He'd developed a perverse pleasure in kissing Colby in the arrivals area of LAX because he was sure that there was always going to be one person watching who would be shocked and appalled. Plus kissing Colby felt like properly being home.

"How was the flight?" Colby asked once they'd done there bit to scandalize recent arrivals.

Charlie started heading towards the luggage carousels. "It was a flight. I had to sit next to a guy who was coming to LA to meet a girl he'd met online."

"Was he a complete idiot?" Colby asked.

"Possibly. I gave him the name of a couple of good restaurants."

Charlie leaned against Colby as they stood by the luggage carousel waiting for it to start up.

"How was the conference?" Colby asked as motors started up and the first bits of luggage started to tumble out.

Charlie shrugged. "It was okay. Pemberton bailed so I had no one to argue with. I might have a new minion though."

Colby looked down at him. "Since when do you need or desire minions?"

"Everyone needs minions." Colby snorted. "Met a kid with a squeaky new doctorate whose cousin is a cop in Philadelphia. He had a little luck using geographic profiling on a series of home invasions cases."

"I wouldn't think geographic profiling would be the best thing for home invasions. I mean home invasions are usually in high socio economic areas and the perpetrators will go pretty far out of their way to get to them. I mean really for those your best bet is to look for target selection patters."

Charlie grinned up at Colby. "You are so sexy when you talk nerd to me." Colby grinned back and gave Charlie a little peck. "Anyway, I talked to this kid for a few hours and he's interested in maybe getting a junior position at CalSci while doing a second course of study in crime fighting math at the feet of the master."

"You should try to get CalSci to make it an official thing. I mean anyone who is going to willfully subject themselves to bloody crime scenes, 3 A.M. call outs, and Don before coffee should get some kind of certificate out of it or something."

Charlie made a quick grab for his luggage as it started to roll past. "I've been doing all that for years and I never got a certificate."

"Yeah, but that's 'cause you've been making it up as you go along."

"True."

"Is that all your luggage?" Colby asked.

"Yep."

The two of them had barely made it ten feet when Charlie's phone started to play Ruby Tuesday. He quickly pulled it out and accepted a video message from Anne. On the little screen of his phone he watched Mattie rock back and fourth on his hands and knees for a minute before shifting one hand forward then a leg then another hand and once that pattern was set he crawled across the carpet into his Dad's waiting arms.

Charlie set the message to replay then handed the phone to Colby. A grin split Colby's face. "Don's going to be impossible tomorrow." The joke around the office was that Don had found a form of torture not illegal under any known treaty; slow death by one thousand baby pictures.

Charlie took his phone back and quickly dialed the loft. Don answered on the first ring. "Hello?"

"Hey it's me."

"Hey buddy, you home?"

Charlie and Colby stepped out into the warm LA evening. "Just picked up my luggage. Got the newest home video."

"Looking good, ain't he?"

Charlie could just hear the proud grin on Don's face and felt a second hand pride in his nephew and happiness for his brother. "Yep. Why don't you bring Mattie by tomorrow? He can crawl around on grass and eat his first bug."

"Sounds good. Welcome home."

"Thanks, and congratulations."

 

~
Don put down the phone and watched as Mattie crawled around the living room. He had a startled look on his face like he wasn't quite sure how he was doing what he was doing and was constantly surprised to find himself somewhere else. Every time he got somewhere new he would crawl around in a circle for a moment then roll over onto his back to get a look at things from a different angle. Finally he found a spot under the coffee table, flopped down and went to sleep.

Anne took a picture then took Don's hand. "See, nothing to worry about. Soon he'll be walking, then talking, then telling us we're lame and don't understand anything and trying to sneak girls into his room."

Don gave a snort. "You've been talking to my dad haven't you?"

"Oh you know it."

Don had to admit there was a small amount of panic as he thought back on all the stuff he'd gotten up to, especially as a teenager. He'd always been able to brag to other guys about losing his virginity at age fourteen to Charlie's sixteen year old babysitter. Now as a parent some part of him was thinking there might be validity in the whole waiting until marriage argument. Then there were all the fights he picked, the occasional test he'd cheated on, steeling beer from his parents to impress the other guys. Don groaned a little.

Anne gave him a little poke in the side. "Hey, watcha thinking?"

"I'm just thinking about all the shit I did as a teenager that I never got caught doing but I'd absolutely freak out about if I ever caught Mattie doing it."

"He just figured out how to crawl, hun."

"It's never too early to work up a good panic. First it's crawling then it'll be sex, drugs and rock 'n roll."

Anne reached under the coffee table and carefully extracted their sleeping son. "Well, at least he will have come by it honestly."
~
Charlie set his luggage on the floor of his parent's bedroom and looked around. His bed was there, the head at the opposite wall from where his parent's had been. There was his small desk/dressing table, night stands, large chest of drawers, full length mirror, his and Colby's toy box, all in his parent's room.

"What are you thinking?" Colby asked.

Charlie looked around. "It's my parent's room."

"No it's not. It's our room. It is the master bedroom and we are the masters of this house."

Charlie looked out the window, the koi pond wasn't there. He missed the koi already.

Colby took him carefully by the shoulders and turned him around. "Go look in the closet," he whispered.

Charlie looked over at the closet. The craftsmen, being over a hundred years old, only had closets in the master bedroom and in the hall for linens. He opened the large closet door. Inside were his suits, all his suits, all neatly arranged by weight, style and color. Next to his suits were Colby's suits, all neatly lined up with his shoes beneath them. His and Colby's suits were all hanging in the same closet.

He looked at Colby and Colby kissed him. "Now tell me this isn't our bedroom."

Charlie just grinned and kissed Colby and didn't stop until they had both flopped fully clothed onto the bed.

"You wouldn't believe some of the offers I got at the conference," Charlie mumbled as he kissed his way down Colby's neck.

"Really?"

"I don't know all the rumors that have been going around about me but apparently none of them include the fact that I have a heavily armed, possessive, incredibly gorgeous, FBI agent waiting for me at home."

Colby quickly rolled himself over so Charlie was pinned to the bed. "Possessive am I?"

Charlie grinned and rolled his body against Colby's "I never said that was a bad thing."

Colby swooped down and nipped at Charlie's neck. "Maybe I should go to a couple of these conferences with you. Walk around with my hand on your ass and glare at anyone who asks you a question not about math."

"Considering the current set of rumors that might not be a deterrent to some. Seriously if I did half the things people are saying I've done I wouldn't have time to sleep let alone get any math done. I mean even at my absolute worst I wasn't that big of a slut. Maybe Don was but..."

Colby cracked up then kissed Charlie again and kept kissing him. He closed his eyes and let himself just melt into Colby's strength and warmth. His hotel bed had been cold and lonely and he hadn't slept much. It was hard to sleep without Colby beside him anymore. Instead he had just stayed up and filled pads of paper with random bits of theoretical math.

But now he didn't want numbers. He just wanted Colby, on him, around him, in him. It was moments like these where Charlie had a strange theory that Colby might just be able to somehow read his mind. He pulled away and began stripping off his clothes. Charlie followed, disrobing as quickly as possible. Once Charlie was naked Colby pounced and he found himself pinned again, Colby's hot, smooth skin rubbing along his body.

"Missed you." Colby breathed into his ear. "Love you."

Charlie just moaned at the words as if they were a touch running across his body stripping him free of the tight control the conference had forced upon him. All the things he had wanted, booze, drugs, random sex, they were nothing, just faint shadows of desire compared to his desire for Colby.

"Take me, please," Charlie gasped out rolling his body against Colby's. There would be time for slow, careful love making later but for now all Charlie wanted was to feel Colby claiming him as his.

Colby kissed him hard and he spread his legs while letting Colby invade his mouth with firm thrusts of his tongue.

Charlie grabbed the lube that had been waiting on the nightstand and slid it into Colby's hand. Colby slicked himself up and still kissing pushed himself into Charlie.

Charlie cried out against the pain that made his world sparkle around the edges and his cock throb with his racing pulse. Then he wrapped his legs around Colby's waist in order to take him that much deeper.

Colby groaned and rocked his hips. His thrusts were short but hard and deep like he was trying to crawl right inside Charlie. Charlie closed his eyes and wished for that, wished for Colby inside his heart, inside his head, somehow.

Colby kept kissing and kept thrusting. Charlie found he could barely breathe as Colby enveloped him. The world greyed around the edges then flashed white and Charlie came between them with a scream. Colby pulled almost out then slammed back in with a growl. Charlie caught his breath as he felt Colby's warmth flood him and fill him and for a moment take the edge off his desires.

~
Ian heard the outer door of Martin's apartment building buzz open. Ten stories, it wasn't in a particularly interesting part of town, not a bad part, not a good part, just a part where people got up in the morning, went to work, then came back to their little apartments and watched TV.

Ian took the elevator up to the tenth floor. The building wasn't fancy enough to pipe in music but not shabby enough to have tagging in the elevator. Ian fiddled with the cuffs on his shirt. He wasn't sure why, but Robert and Rosie's words had been in his head when he'd gotten dressed. It wasn't like it was a date or anything. It was a Saturday afternoon. People don't have dates in apartments on Saturday afternoons. At least not first dates. Still, Ian had found himself pulling on his black button up shirt and had even tried to shake out the wrinkles.

Stupid, Ian had told himself. Martin was just a guy. Okay, an interesting and very intelligent guy, but still just a guy that just didn't know when to drop an argument which was why they were two months into a slightly drunken discussion on national policy and Gilbert and Sullivan.

Martin probably had someone anyways. Okay he hadn't mentioned anyone but if NSA offices were anything like FBI offices then that tightly controlled slim form in black suits probably had someone hot and bothered.

He knocked on the door of 1001. For a half second he wondered what that was in binary then decided that he'd probably been hanging out with Charlie and Larry way too much.

Martin opened the door. He was in black suit pants and a white work shirt but his feet were bare and he looked relaxed.

"You made it. Come on in," Martin said as he stepped aside for Ian to enter. Ian entered a hallway that was plain off white. There was a door off to the side, presumably the bedroom and at the end of the hall was a living room and kitchen. A very tidy, plain, living room and kitchen. Ian looked around casually. There were no photos or pictures on the walls or shelves. No TV. No knickknacks, not even a snow globe. The furniture was painfully generic and the portion of the kitchen Ian could see was spotless. There wasn't dust on anything but it was still hard to believe that anyone lived there.

The only thing's that told Ian that this possibly wasn't some sort of NSA safe house was a large bookshelf along one wall filled with books. The books were neatly ordered but many were paperbacks and several looked quite old. Ian read as many titles as he could from across the room. He didn't recognize most of the titles and some were in cerilic writing but a few of the authors rang bells. Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, Phillip K. Dick.

So Agent Sherwood was a science fiction fan, at least in literary form.

"Nice apartment," Ian said since he was pretty sure that was the kind of thing he was supposed to say.

"Thank you," Martin replied automatically then looked around at his own apartment for a second. Obviously neither of them were good with socially mandated small talk.

"So, you have the interview?" Ian asked skipping the small talk for probably both their sakes.

Martin suddenly beamed. "Yes." He flipped open a lap top that was on a small breakfast table that had two chairs. "Found the evidence number of a tape in some old files and I thought it might be it. Got a guy in the Newark office to dig it out of evidence and digitize it off VHS."

"What did you tell him it was for?"

"Homeland Security investigation."

Ian snorted as he moved a chair and sat down next to Martin. It was amazing how stupid and flimsy internal requests could be and still get through. That's why spies in the DoJ were so damn dangerous. They were like wasps in a bee hive. Once they got past the guards at the front they could just run amok.

"The sound quality is a little poor," Martin said as he opened a file and turned up the speakers. "But I think this will be worth the trip."

Ian leaned forward and watched as two FBI agents in 1980's suits paced around an interrogation room. After a minute two old men were wheeled in in wheelchairs. After that the interrogation began.

'Where's Little Johnny? Tell us about Little Johnny? Little Johnny's gonna open the books again, when's the ceremony?'

Ian couldn't help but crack up. The agents were desperate, incompetent or booth and the old men actually seemed like they wanted to cooperate except they were both obviously senile and couldn't agree on any information they might have once known and often started bickering between each other.

'Can you tell us were Little Johnny is?'
'Who's Little Johnny? '
'Gina's boy.'
'Tony's Gina?'
'No Big Johnny's Gina.'

Ian held his sides.

'They put the knife on the book.'
'I thought it was a gun, we always used a gun.'
'Maybe it was gun I don't remember.'
'Maybe it was a knife and a gun.'

"How much of this is there?" Ian choked out between laughs.

"Almost an hour," Martin said his face flushed red from laughing.

"Do they find Little Johnny?"

"I don't know."

One of the Agents slapped the table. 'Give us the location of Little Johnny. We know you know.'

Ian leaned in close as the interrogation continued. "Oh god I know him." He pointed to the agent with the larger lapels.

"Really?"

"He's an SOB bureaucrat paper pusher just waiting for his pension."

The not yet SOB paper pusher on the screen looked like he wanted to shoot someone, possibly himself.

'I remember when Little Johnny was a boy, he had that dog, remember that dog?'
'That wasn't Little Johnny's dog.'
'It wasn't?'
'No, it was Big Rickie's dog.'
Are you sure?'

The interrogation continued that way for almost an hour. Finally one of the old mobsters fell asleep mid-sentence and the other launched into a long rambling story about a girl he once saw on the boardwalk in a yellow dress. The agents gave up and the video abruptly cut off.

Ian turned to Martin. "I don't know who to feel sorrier for the agents or the mobsters."

"Not one of the FBIs finest moments," Martin stated between residual giggles.

"You're telling me." Martin started shutting down the computer. "Hey, can I use your toilet?"

"Sure, door on the left then right."

"Thanks."

Ian got up and headed back down the hall then opened the door to Martin's bedroom. It was as spartan as the rest of the apartment, the single sized bed looked to be made with military precision, and the room had about as much soul as any one of a million motel rooms Ian had stayed in. There was a thin novel sitting on the bed side table. 'Tea from an Empty Cup.'

Ian did need to use the bathroom and turned right and opened the door and was nearly blinded. The bathroom was spotless. Absolutely gleaming. The grouting was white. There were no hard water marks or soap scum. There were no drips on the bottles of generic shampoo and conditioner and the tube of toothpaste on the sink was rolled up neatly from the bottom with a little clip to keep it there. It looked like a bathroom from a bathroom cleaning product commercial. This bathroom was the after shot after the magic product had ridded you of mildew, hard water, soap scum, and dandruff. Ian was tempted to just hold it in all of a sudden rather than risk getting a single inch of the bathroom dirty.

In the end Ian did need to go. He lifted the lid on the toilet, (and what kind of bachelor leaves the lid down), and very, very carefully did his business. He washed his hands and felt that he should wipe up the little drops of water but didn't want to disturb the neatly folded hand towels. Finally Ian shook his head, wiped his hands dry on his jeans and escaped before the bathroom gave him neurosis.

Ian must have had a look on his face when he got back to the living room.

"It's not OCD," Martin said quickly.

"I didn't say anything."

"I just clean when I get bored."

Ian shrugged. "Hey, whatever works." There was suddenly slightly awkward silence made somehow worse by the fact that they had been communicating almost non stop via phone and email for almost two months without a problem. "So. Um... have you got any other plans for your Saturday?"

Martin shook his head. "Not really. Mainly just wait for a national emergency or for one of my charges to try to commit suicide." Ian raised an eyebrow. "Happens more often than you think."

"Well, baring those two things I was thinking about checking out that new Robert Downey, Jr flick, if you're interested?"

Ian tried to read the quick flick of emotions across Martin's face but they were too quick and his face settled into a pleasant smile. "Sure, let me put on some shoes."

Chapter Text

Don paced the small waiting room.

"Don, sit down."

Don ignored his brother. It was maybe the twentieth time Charlie had said that in the last few hours. Mattie was staying with Alan and Kathryn but Charlie had volunteered to wait with Don while Anne was in surgery.

It wasn't like it was open heart surgery or anything. All the work was being done well away from any major internal organs. It was closer to plastic surgery than anything else, but the surgeon had explained that it would be a time consuming procedure and there was always risk putting someone under general anesthetic.

"Don, sit down." Charlie said again.

Don sat but couldn't sit still. There was too much worry that was translating into too much energy just vibrating through him.

Charlie gave an exaggerated sigh and put aside his math journal. "Don. She is going to be fine."

Don waved Charlie away and stood up again. "I know, I know. I just... I just fucking hate hospitals."

"You're not exactly alone there."

"Yeah."

Don kept wandering around the room, sometimes picking up a magazine and putting it right back down. He was aware that Charlie was watching him. He could practically feel Charlie's eyes bore into him until he finally slowed and stopped moving and just starred back at his brother.

"How are you, Don?" Charlie asked once the silence had stretched between them.

"I'm here." Don replied.

"Yes, you are."

Don lowered his head and closed his eyes. There was a certain tone of voice Charlie used sometimes. He had encountered it at one of the lowest moments of his life. There was something about Charlie using it that made him want to just hand Charlie the keys to his life and let him drive for a bit, and it would be okay.

"Why don't you sit down, Don?"

Don sat down, all the nervous energy suddenly draining out of him. "How do you do that, Chuck?" Don asked quietly.

"Do what?"

"Get me to do stuff just by telling me to do it. You've done it a few times before. It's kinda creepy."

An odd smile quirked Charlie's lips. "I've been teaching in some capacity or another since I was thirteen. I've developed many powers I chose to use for good instead of evil." Don chuckled. "Compared to wrangling two dozen frat boys who are all flunking introductory calculus, you're easy."

"Gee, thanks."

Charlie smiled softly. "How are you, Don? Really? How's your life?"

Don didn't answer with the automatic, fine. "It's... It's okay."

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"Are you happy?" Charlie asked.

For a moment Don thought about how rarely anyone had ever asked him that. "Yeah, most days."

"And the day's you're not?"

"Anne holds me and tells me it'll all be okay in the end. And for some reason I believe her." Don knew that wasn't something he would never admit to anyone else; the need, some dark days, just to be held by his petite wife, but those little arms of hers always seemed to have extra strength and there was something quiet about her in those moments as well, and that quiet would expand around them until even Don's ghosts and dark thoughts fell silent.

"Beats sucking on your gun, doesn't it?"

"I wouldn't do that anymore."

"You promised you wouldn't."

"And I have responsibilities now. I couldn't do that to Mattie, no matter how bad it gets some days." Don took a deep breath. "I've got to be a father. Odds are too good he'll lose me early as is. Can't add to those."

Don felt Charlie take his hand. "Don, you are going to live to see Mattie grow up, go to school, get married, and have little Eppesies of his own, hopefully in that order."

Don chuckled a little at the thought of himself as a grandfather. "And how do you know this?"

Charlie gave a small enigmatic smile. "I just do."

"You just do." Don repeated, staring at the ceiling which was tiled with those little square tiles that have dots on them. "Hey, how many dots are on the ceiling?"

Charlie looked up. "Three hundred seventy thousand," he answered almost immediately.

Don grinned. "You know it's still cool that you can do that?"

"Glad I could be a source of amusement."

"You know when I was eight I tried to take you to school with me for show and tell."

Charlie cracked up. "Really?"

"Yeah, I mean kids got to bring in their pet turtles and stuff and I thought you were way cooler than a turtle."

Charlie was still staring at the ceiling. "Where'd we go wrong Don? Why didn't we talk all those years?"

"I don't know. Probably because we both thought that we'd have nothing to talk about, nothing in common."

"We might have been right. I mean we hadn't exactly been encouraged to have common interests."

"True." Don sat up a bit and turned to Charlie. "Okay. Year after high school. You're 14 I'm 19. It's almost summer break again, we're as close as brother's can be, tell each other everything, I pick up the phone. Hey buddy, how's it going out there in Jersey, how's your life? What do you say?"

Don watched as Charlie's face grew dark, his jaw tightened as he continued to stare at the ceiling. "Don, I think I'm in love," Charlie said quietly. "His name's Martin Smith, he's like me, smart. And he kisses really well, and has beautiful blue eyes, but his dad just caught us and threw books at my head and called me a catamite and I'm not allowed to see him anymore and at the end of the semester they're moving back to Salt Lake City. And he's the only person I know who's my age so I don't know what I'm supposed to do now."

Don reached out and took Charlie's hand, he gave it a little squeeze. "That sucks, buddy. I'm sorry."

"How about you, Don? How's college treating you?"

Don thought about it for a moment. "I'm not good enough. I'm not going to be good enough. I'm fine for college, I can keep my scholarship, I might even make the minors but these guys are just bigger than I am and it doesn't matter how smart I am, I'm never batting .300, I'm never pitching 95, so I've got to think up a plan B."

Don felt Charlie squeeze his hand tight. "I'm sure you'll make it. Just lay off those high fast ones."

"I like the high, fast ones."

"Doesn't mean you can hit them."

That nearly antique advice rang in Don's ears. "Did mom know, about Martin I mean?"

"Yeah, she walked in on us 'studying' with his tongue in my ear and my hands under his shirt."

"Oops."

"I begged her not to tell you or dad and then she gave me the most painfully embarrassing safe sex talk and to this day I don't want to know where she got some of that information. I mean this was pre-internet days."

"Hey, it couldn't have been any worse than the 'porn is evil and degrading to women' talk I got."

"Did you have to hear mom use the words non petroleum based lubrication?"

Don felt his stomach lurch a little. "No."

"Then trust me, mine was worse."

Don looked up and tried to count the dots on the ceiling himself. "Charlie, what are you working on?" he asked suddenly figuring if Charlie was in an opening up mood he might get an answer.

"Well I've got those two cold cases I think I'm beginning to get a hand on, Larry's got a new idea about the movement of micro particals..."

"No, no." Don shook his head. "You've got something big, not cognitive emergence. It's something else big."

"What makes you say that?"

Don recognized Charlie's poker face and knew he was on the right track. "I pay attention. I can recognize the different types of math you do. Don't necessarily know what it means but I usually know what it's for and you've been plugging away at something I don't recognize since, I don't know, before Mattie was born I think, and if it was a grand new theory or something you'd be talking about it, but you're not. So what is it?"

Charlie looked first up at the ceiling then down at his hands. "It's... something that may never come to fruition."

"But what is it?" Charlie shook his head. "Does it have to do with why you're in Washington twice a month?"

"Sort of."

"Is it gonna change the world?"

Charlie shrugged a little. "Maybe, yeah. If I can get it off the ground."

Don's curiosity was piqued. "How big are we talking here?"

"Picture... trying to get the Spruce Goose to dog fight with an F-16."

"You're not going to give me any details are you?"

"Let's just say, at the end of the day, everything I do is for the family."

Don was going to press that when the door to the waiting room opened. Don was on his feet in an instant.

"Mr. Eppes?" the doctor asked.

"Yes. What is it? Is Anne okay?" Don didn't even try to hide the panic in his voice.

"Your wife is fine. She's resting in post-op. She's still asleep but she should be awake in a half hour or so. The surgery went very well. Some of the damage was not as bad as we feared once we got a closer look at it. We'll want to keep her overnight for observation but if all goes well there's no reason she shouldn't be home by this time tomorrow."

Don let out a long breath and felt Charlie put a comforting hand on his back. "See. I told you she'd be fine."

~
Millie strolled contently down the halls of CalSci. It was a place she truly loved. Oh the two years in Japan had been interesting, almost as interesting as Antarctica in their way, but she'd found herself missing her merry little band of eccentrics, so when CalSci wanted to renegotiate for a year of her services as joint department head, again, she'd found herself on a plane bound for LAX.

She turned around a corner and suddenly bumped into someone. "I'm sorry." Millie said automatically.

"Millie?"

Millie looked over the person she'd bumped into and grinned. "Hello Dr. Eppes, how are you doing?"

"You're back!" he exclaimed.

"Yes."

"Are you back, back? I mean are you are new department head back?"

"For at least a year, yes." Millie wasn't sure what she was expecting but she wasn't expecting Dr. Eppes, who was often a little confrontational with her, to throw his arms around her and hold her like a drowning man.

"Please be back and never, never leave us again," Dr. Eppes said quickly.

Millie peeled his arms from around her. "Dr. Eppes, I don't recall that warm a welcome during my last run as your boss."

"All things are relative." His look was a little manic.

"I'm guessing Dr. Monroe was perhaps not the best candidate for the job?" Millie asked carefully.

"He tried to pimp me out at one of the last fund raising balls, literally." Dr. Eppes hissed.

Millie cringed. "Well in that case I may have to ask CalSci for a slightly longer contract then, wont I? We can't have the virtue of our tenured professors threatened, now can we?"

Dr. Eppes grinned, grabbed her sleeve like a child might, and began dragging her down the hall to the staff room. She found a good majority of the math and physics professors there, hunched over morning coffee.

"Millie's back and she's never leaving us again." Dr. Eppes announced to the room.

Millie suddenly found herself in the middle of a group hug with men and women who, as a general rule, don't hug.

She laughed. "Okay, okay, I get the picture. I've been missed and Dr. Monroe is perhaps not the best administrator."

There was mass rolling of eyes and a calliope of bitching. Millie waved her hands. "I haven't signed anything yet but I'm on for at least a year and we'll see about more. Now what have I missed?"

"Well Larry's going to be starting a year's sabbatical in about five months." Dr. Eppes supplied.

"Back to the monastery?" Millie asked hoping that Dr. Fleinhardt was going to stay on Earth to find himself this time.

"Not precisely." Dr. Fleinhardt answered.

Dr. Eppes had an odd grin. "A particular member of the FBI is currently in the family way, as they say, and guess who did it?" Dr. Eppes pointed to Dr. Fleinhardt.

"Lawrence." Dr. Fleinhardt blushed and cast his eyes towards the heavens. Millie gave him a little punch in the arm despite any misgiving she many have had at the thought of Larry Fleinhardt becoming a parent.

"Oh! And I think you should hire a new junior professor," Dr. Eppes said suddenly. "And I know just the guy."

"Who and why?"

"Dr. Ricky Spender and because I want a minion."

Millie peered at Dr. Eppes over the top of her glasses and had a funny feeling that he had given a completely honest answer.

"Alright. I need to go to a couple of meetings, sign a contract, and then we will discuss your plans for world domination."

"And the fact that I'm parking in F lot." Dr. Meckler said from the other side of the room.

Millie waved her hands. "Let me sign the contract then we can all talk about damage control and I will get to all of you." Millie looked around at the eager faces. 'Yep, good to be home.'

~
Charlie cornered Don on the over bridge. It was an oddly private place to talk considering the fact that it was in public. People could see you talking but no one could hear over the white noise of the cars below.

"Hey Don, I was wondering, could you make sure Colby has this coming weekend off. Like totally off? Plus Monday?"

"He's got to put in for his own days off, Buddy."

"He's getting his flu shot on Friday," Charlie said bluntly.

"Oh." Was Don's immediate reply. "Is a weekend going to be enough time?"

Charlie shook his head. "No, but he won't take a month off like I want him to."

Don just nodded. This happened every year. Every year a memo went around saying that every agent had to get a flu shot, and every year, like the good solider he was, Colby would march down to his doctor's and get a flu shot. And every year, at least according to Charlie, Colby would barely sleep for three days and have screaming nightmares for up to a month.

"Is he getting any better?" Don asked knowing full well it was a kind of stupid question.

Charlie shrugged. "Define better. Last year it was 27 nights, year before it was 31, before that it was 28. And it's going to be bad this year 'cause his doctor needs to take blood samples that we've been putting off and..." Charlie shrugged again his face grim.

"Three little needles." Don muttered half to himself still amazed at the amount of damage three needles had done and continued to do and not just to Colby. Every year Charlie would refuse to leave Colby's side and every year Charlie would end up looking like a domestic abuse victim care of Colby's nightly terrors. Don wasn't half terrified himself that one of these years Colby wouldn't wake up in time and do Charlie serious damage.

"It's not just the needles," Charlie replied to Don's mumble. "It's all a big cycle. The needles are Lancer, Lancer is the boat, the boat is Carter, Carter is Afghanistan, Afghanistan is the burning Humvee, the Humvee is Carter is the boat is Lancer is the needles..."

"I get the picture."

"You know, if I had the power of resurrection, if I could raise someone from the grave, just once, I would bring back Dwayne Carter, just so I could shoot that fucking bastard myself."

Don was slightly shocked by the bluntness of Charlie's violent desires. Usually Charlie's plans for petty revenge were more complicated. "Carter really got inside his head, didn't he?"

"You have no idea." Charlie's voice was cold. "He told Colby over and over that he owned him 'cause he'd saved Colby's life and that was worth more than his morals or loyalty to his country, or..." Charlie's fists had clenched into tight little balls.

Don subtly moved a half step back. "Did...uh... I mean were Colby and Carter..?" Don tried to make some vague hand gestures to get across what he was asking. It was something he'd been wondering for a while but it wasn't exactly something easy to bring up in conversation.

"No," Charlie quickly snapped. "Thank god, no. I can't even imagine what sex with that bastard would have done to Colby. But you know what Colby does?"

"What?"

"Every month, one hundred bucks in an envelope to Carter's son. Two hundred on the kid's birthday and Christmas."

"That adds up."

"Yeah, Plus another hundred a month into a savings account for the kid's college. Colby thinks I don't know about it. One of those little relationship lies and I know the kid didn't do anything and could probably use the money but it's like he trying to keep a link with that son of a bitch. Drives me nuts."

Don gave Charlie a pat on the shoulder since he couldn't really think of anything useful to say. Colby's army days were pretty much a no go topic. Don felt for Charlie but certainly didn't have any answers. "It's going to be bad this year isn't it?" Don finally said.

Charlie just shrugged. "Probably, but we're going to try something new."

"I don't suppose this new thing would involve you sleeping in another room?"

Don watched Charlie's face turn cold and knew that had been the wrong thing to say. "Don, do you really think, after everything, that I would let him wake up alone?"

 

~
Colby breathed, or at least tried to. He knew he was scaring himself more than anything. Charlie was sitting right next to him on the exam table while Doctor Goldman got everything ready.

David was standing quietly in the corner of the exam room. Colby knew he could usually handle the one quick flu jab he got every year, but this year there would be more than one needle so he'd asked David to come along just in case he really panicked and tried to fight back. David could probably take him down, where as Dr. Goldman or Charlie would never stand a chance.

Dr. Goldman brought a tray over. "Alright, which arm?"

Colby though about it. "Right. He used the left so right arm."

Colby felt Charlie give his knee a squeeze.

"Okay, well, roll up your sleeve then." Colby rolled up his sleeve to the shoulder. "Probably best to do the blood draw first."

Colby nodded and tried to swallow but his throat felt tight. Suddenly Charlie's hands were on his face turning his head away from what the doctor was doing. "Look at me." Charlie said in a firm clear voice.

Colby felt a strap go around his arm. He hated this. He hadn't cracked when Lancer wanted information. He hadn't given Lancer the satisfaction of his screams, but here, in his doctor's office, years later, Colby was willing to spill any secret, give any information, to not have to do this.

He felt the cold wet of the alcohol swab and felt his pulse kick up. He tried to breathe but couldn't. His lungs felt like they were ten sizes too small. There was no air. Then he felt the prick of the needle. There was a roaring in his ears that sounded like the ocean or the hum of a big engine. Under it was the most pathetic little whimper and e had a feeling it had come from his own throat. Charlie's hands were still on his face. He couldn't hear what Charlie was saying but could read his lips. 'Look at me, keep looking at me.' Colby felt the needle move in his arm. He tried to take a breath to scream but no air went in. His world went grey, then black.

~
Colby opened his eyes. He was in a bright room. His head hurt. He felt hung over but couldn't remember drinking. A mask over his mouth and nose was blowing in air. Charlie was hovering over him looking worried.

He licked his lips a few times and pulled away the simple mask. "Who hit me?" he asked Charlie.

"You experienced a rapid drop in blood pressure which lead to unconsciousness." A voice to Colby's right said.

He rolled his head to the side. Dr. Goldman and David were both watching him.

"I fainted?" Colby asked feeling truly pathetic.

David grinned a little. "Say blacked out. Sounds less girly."

"Might have been for the best." Dr. Goldman added. "I gave you your flu shot and a tetanus booster while you were out."

Colby groaned and tried to sit up but Charlie pushed him right back down. "Oh no. You get to rest until your blood pressure is back to normal."

"I'm fine." Colby objected and tried to sit back up. This time David's hand pushed him back down.

"Seriously man, just give yourself two minutes and enjoy the oxygen. Worst is over."

Colby closed his eyes but didn't tell David he was wrong. He knew from experience the worst was yet to come.

~
Colby tried to think of nothing but the feel of Charlie's hands on him.

Charlie had stated that he had a new idea of how to make the first few nights a little more bearable. Colby would be surprised if anything worked. Usually he would lay awake until completely exhausted then fall asleep and fall right into nightmares. The nightmares weren't always about Lancer either. Sometimes it was Afghanistan, the smell of burning gas and rubber, the feel of flames. In his nightmares he didn't get out, he burned alive or worse he did get out but someone else was trapped, Charlie or David or Don. Other nightmares had him back in Idaho, Charlie laying by his father's grave, beaten to death, Colby unable to move.

"Stop thinking." Charlie's voice came over the sound of falling water. Charlie was bathing him, methodically soaping and scrubbing every inch of Colby's body. It felt beyond decedent but he wasn't sure how it was supposed to help. Still, Charlie's hands were doing wonderful things to his arches. "Does that feel okay?" Charlie asked. Colby just groaned out his approval and tried to focus on Charlie's hands.

After a while the water was turned off. Colby stepped out of the tub and into his freshly laundered bathrobe. Charlie gave him a quick peck. "Can you wait here for two minutes then come to the bedroom?"

"Sure." Colby was curious. Charlie hadn't let him in the bedroom since this morning.

Charlie rushed out, and after giving his teeth a quick brush, Colby followed. He pushed open the bedroom door and found the whole room changed. It was lit by soft candle light. The bed had been converted into more of a nest and there was a large tray of food, all cut up small enough to be eaten easily with fingers. The whole room had a distinctly hedonistic feel.

Charlie was sitting on the bed, his back against the head board. "Come here." He patted the bed.

Colby climbed onto the bed and with Charlie's guidance wriggled around until he was half sitting up in Charlie's arms. "So what's this grand plan for yours?" he asked.

"Well, usually on this night your habit is it lay awake until exhausted, then fall asleep, and wake up several times in the night with disturbed dreams."

"That's one word for them." Colby grumbled under his breath.

"So my plan for tonight is to feed you, exhaust you, and then hold you while you sleep, because if you are aware of my physical presence you calm down more rapidly when you wake, return to sleep sooner, and wake fewer times on average."

Colby sat up and turned around. "No, Charlie. I'll hurt you again."

"I'll survive. My point stands and I have several year's worth of data to back my plan."

Colby didn't know if he was up for fighting this fight again. Every year Charlie insisted on sleeping by his side no matter how bad it got. And Charlie would have considered it data collection. "Does that data include the year you needed a tooth put back in, or two cracked ribs, or the black eye? We shouldn't even be in the same room."

"I've gotten better a ducking over the years. I'm not leaving you alone Colby. That will only make it worse in the long run."

"Well then you should at least, I don't know, cuff me to the bed or something."

"Like fuck," was Charlie's immediate response. "Think of it this way, if I'm right up against you you'll actually be less likely to catch me with a random swing."

"You're not letting this go, are you?"

"No, I'm not. Now come on, at least let me feed you."

Colby scowled but Charlie lifted the large tray and put it between them. There was easily enough food for four people. It was a decedent picnic spread with cheeses and meats, fruits and berries dipped in chocolate, plus little savory tarts that went down in just a couple of bites. Colby though he recognized them from a fancy deli Alan sometimes frequented.

Charlie picked up a slice of pear half dipped in chocolate and held it out for Colby. "Dessert first?"

"Why not?"

Colby was a little hungry. It was warring with the nausea. He took a bite of the pear. It was cold and sweet and the chocolate was just verging on bitter. Charlie smiled and took a bite of the pear himself. They went through the meal that way, feeding each other bites and nibbles, licked the crumbs from each others fingers. Charlie proved his years of higher education were not a waste by braiding three cherry stems with his tongue.

By the time Charlie put the tray to the side Colby was actually feeling quite sedate and had almost managed to forget what was to come.

Charlie leaned against a pile of pillows. He didn't know they owned that many pillows. "Come up here. Lay against me." He opened his mouth to object. "You don't have to sleep yet," Charlie said quickly. "Just let me hold you for a bit." He spread his arms and put on the puppy dog eyes that were very hard to resist.

Colby climbed into Charlie's arms and lay his head against Charlie's shoulder. Charlie's fingers started combing though his hair in just the right way. Colby sighed and felt his body relax in an almost Pavlovian response. After the really bad cases, and the ugly shoot outs, and the days in court where it seemed like the system was against them Charlie could touch him in just the right way and all the stress would start to melt away.

"I can't believe I fainted." Colby mumbled against Charlie's neck.

"It's okay. David caught you before you hit the floor."

Charlie was still running his fingers through Colby's hair but with his other hand he started rubbing slow circles low on Colby's stomach. He relaxed that much more until Charlie's hand moved a little further south. He looked down just to double check but was still surprised at the erection curving up between his legs. Charlie's fingers danced around the tip. Colby groaned out Charlie's name.

"Shhh. Close your eyes. Let me take care of you."

He closed his eyes and let Charlie's fingers dance over his cock teasing at the head before they wrapped firmly around the base and began long, strong strokes. Colby smiled. This was definitely one of the benefits of being with a man, even the most skilled women Colby had ever been with did not quite understand what was entailed in a truly good hand job. Not that Colby held that against them. He was sure lesbians were probably better at going down on women then men were for the same reason.

His hips started to jerk into Charlie's hand and Charlie backed off, switching to lighter, slower strokes. He let himself melt. He knew what Charlie was doing, dragging it out, distracting him from oncoming horrors with talented hands.

Charlie sped up again bringing Colby groaning right to the edge before stopping cold. Colby shuddered and gasped and gave a tiny whimper before Charlie's fingers wrapped around him for a third time. This time Charlie kept his strokes strong but slow and steady. Colby felt himself build up quickly and steadily until he finally tipped over the edge into Charlie's hand with a quiet sigh.

~
Charlie watched as Colby's eyes fluttered and his breathing began to slow. Coming usually did two things to Colby depending on the situation; either he got revved up right to the edge of hyper or he fell asleep. He knew a slow build hand job would have Colby peacefully off to sleepy land. It was another theory he'd been working on. Colby usually fell asleep with all the fears, worries and memories spinning around his head. Charlie had an idea that if maybe he was thinking about something else, or better yet nothing at all, maybe the dreams would take a little longer to kick in.

He still couldn't believe Colby suggested cuffs. Like that wouldn't trigger off something. Colby was starting to snore a little. Charlie started musing on math for Larry's most recent theory on particles. He wasn't planning on sleeping himself. He'd taken a couple of slow release caffeine tablets before their shower. He would stay awake and keep vigil. And no mater what Colby or Don thought the risks were worth it. Eleven months out of the year Colby put up with his insanities, eccentricities, and insecurities. For one month at the start of autumn he could take care of Colby in every way he could think of.

He would do more but Colby was proud. Charlie had read about an exclusive resort/mental health facility in Canada that was doing groundbreaking work in PTSD for wealthy families that could afford to send their broken soldier sons. Charlie could afford to send himself and Colby for a month with no worries but Colby would never take that much time off or let Charlie spend that much for 'a silly fear and some nightmares'.

Charlie silently cursed Colby's mother for convincing her son that any distressing emotion was something real men didn't have. And what kind of mother won't hold her son after a bad dream? Charlie's genius mind had cursed him with plenty of bad dreams as a child and his parents had always been there to hold him. In retrospect he probably put a painful dent in his parent's sex life but they never said anything; just let him crawl between them and be held.

Charlie cursed the rest of the Grangers as well. Colby had shown him the handful of pictures he had from home. He had been adorable as a child with wide green eyes; small and shy looking compared to the walking mountains that were his brothers. He even had glasses in a few pictures; apparently do to slight astigmatism until he was twelve. How could the Grangers have not known what an amazing spirit was in their presence?

He stroked the side of Colby's face, he didn't seem to be in REM sleep yet. That was good. It was the low grade exhaustion that plagued Colby after his shots that was particularly worrisome. His reaction time in the field just had to be a little off one day for everything to go to hell. Don knew that and always did his best to surreptitiously keep Colby at his desk buried in paperwork for at least a week. Charlie was afraid that it would take something going bad in the field for Colby to agree to more serious or unconventional therapies. He knew it was a bit of the pot calling the kettle black but as Charlie pointed out he didn't walk around every day with a Glock and really his only major trigger was getting cold and they lived in LA.

Colby's head moved slightly. Charlie looked down and could see Colby's eyes shifting under his lids.

Charlie took a deep breath and leaned in close. "You are in a dream." He whispered into Colby's ear. "You are dreaming. You are safe, at home, in bed. You are just dreaming, it is all just a dream. It is all a dream and you are in control." Colby's head twisted violently to the side as if he'd been struck. "You are dreaming. You are safe. You are safe. You are just dreaming." Charlie repeated hoping the information would get through to where ever Colby was. "You are safe." Colby took a deep breath and seemed to settle down a little. "You are safe, you are safe," he repeated over and over hoping Colby would sink into a deeper dreamless sleep.

It seemed to work for a few minutes until suddenly Colby's arm lashed out and his legs began kicking. "Wake up Colby," Charlie said firmly giving Colby a bit of a shake. "You're dreaming wake up." Colby took another swing that Charlie easily avoided before his eyes popped open, his breath coming in hard fits. "It's okay, it's okay. It was just a dream." Colby blinked a few times then his face just crumbled. Charlie held him tight. That was one dream down. Seven to eleven more to go.

Chapter Text

Colby's eyes fluttered open. Sun was leaking from beneath the curtains. The room smelled of melted wax the candles having burnt out some time during the night. His head hurt. His throat hurt, his eyes hurt, and to make it all worse the bed was missing Charlie. For as much as he feared hurting Charlie he'd developed a dislike of waking up alone. The door opened and Charlie stepped in carrying a tray which he put by the side of the bed.

"Hey, you're awake," Charlie said gently.

"Yeah." Colby winced at his voice. It sounded raw. "Should I ask how bad it was?" Colby seldom remembered the details between the nightmares just the dreams themselves.

Charlie sat on the bed. "You've been worse."

"Are you okay?"

Charlie smiled a little. "I'm fine."

"What about that?" Colby pointed to a long scrape along Charlie's leg.

"Yeah, um, you need to trim your toe nails."

Colby cringed. "Oh, god, tell me you cleaned it."

"Iodined the heck out of it. Don't worry about it. Now I made some breakfast and you should eat."

"You know I hate to contradict your father's teachings but food doesn't actually fix everything."

Charlie put on an exaggerate expression of offense. "Blaspheme!" Charlie picked up the tray and put it between them on the bed. "Sit up. Eat."

Breakfast was toaster waffles, orange juice, coffee, Tylenol, and some fruit, and it did go a long way to making Colby feel a little more human.

"Did you get any sleep?" Colby asked noticing the circles under Charlie's eyes.

"I'm fine," Charlie replied.

"I'll take that as a no."

"Don't worry about me. You and I aren't going anywhere or doing anything this weekend. We're going to relax and catch up on our TV watching. That's it."

Colby took in the look of unshakable resolve on Charlie's face. "Just tell me you'll take a nap later."

"Sure. It's a deal."

~
Colby was stretched out on his couch in his study, formally Charlie's bedroom. It had his old sofa, TV, and sound system. It wasn't quite dark enough to be a proper man cave so they just called it his study. Charlie was stretched out with him but had fallen asleep halfway through the movie. Even in sleep Charlie looked tired and Colby wondered if Charlie had actually stayed awake all night shaking him awake from the nightmares. Colby was tempted to try the sedatives again. He still had nightmares but the drugs left him half paralyzed so he didn't lash out and didn't wake up. Charlie had been the one to veto those after the first try.

Colby also knew that Charlie was looking at that place in Canada again. He had called them up on his own, and asked about treatment costs. They'd given him the impression that if he had to ask he probably couldn't afford it and when they finally quoted him a number that was close to what he made in a year he had politely said thank you and hung up.

Colby muted the credits on Sullivan's Travels, a gift from Don last Christmas, and watched as Charlie stirred a little then sank back into sleep. He was a little envious but knew that winter would bring Charlie his own nightmares. Once the average temperature was cold enough for Charlie to get chilled walking to the car or get cold feet in the garage Charlie's dreams would land him in Leacroft's warehouse. On those nights he'd cling to Colby for a combination of warmth and safety.

Charlie shifted again and woke up. "How'd it end?" he mumbled.

"They lived happily ever after."

Charlie rubbed his eyes. "I'll have to rewatch it. It's Don's favorite movie. I'm sure there'll be a quiz."

"That's really Don's favorite movie?"

"Yeah. Mom liked old movies. Anything in black and white. It was how she made up to Don for all the time she spent with me. After I went to bed she'd let Don stay up late and watch old movies with her."

"What was your mom's favorite move?"

"It's a Wonderful Life. I think that's why she wanted a Christmas tree sometimes." Charlie shifted around on the couch a bit so he could look at Colby. "Do you want a Christmas tree this year?"

"Uhh..." On the long list of questions Colby might have been expecting that was not one of them. It was a valid question. He and Charlie had never really done joint holidays. Colby would put up a little plastic tree in his apartment and Alan usually had the menorah at the house even though the Eppes were not particularly religious. "Why do you ask?" Colby finally replied.

"Well you always have that little dinky plastic tree, I was just thinking you could put up a proper sized tree this year."

A proper Christmas tree did sound kinda nice to Colby. It has been a long time since he had one. "You wouldn't mind?"

"No. It's your house too. And it would make the place smell pine fresh."

Colby grinned then kissed Charlie. Christmas was still a few months off but the thought of a big proper tree with lights and a star on top did make Colby feel kinda warm and fluffy. And with several more bad nights ahead of him warm and fluffy was a good feeling.

~
Lancer held the third syringe. He smiled and handed it to Don, David by his side. Colby looked passed them as he heard Charlie moan. Dwayne had Charlie pinned to wall, thrusting against him. Charlie's head rolled back in lust. "No!" Colby wanted to scream but no sound came out.

Don stepped in front of Colby. "We have to kill traitors. You know that," Colby couldn't speak. Don drove the syringe into Colby's chest.

Colby snapped his eyes open. He tried to move but still had the paralysis of sleep for a moment. Charlie was stroking his face. "It's okay. You're safe." Charlie was saying.

Colby found he could move his fingers. He grabbed Charlie and hulled him in for a bruising kiss.

"You're mine," Colby hissed. It was not a question.

"All yours, always, no one else," Charlie replied quite calmly.

"No one else," Colby repeated.

"No one else." Charlie stroked Colby's face until he began to calm down. "It's almost morning. Try to get another hour sleep. I'll be here when you wake up again, I promise."

 

~
Charlie licked the bit of blood from the inside of his lip as Colby drifted back off. That was definitely new. Colby had wakened from nightmares, screaming, fighting, kicking and crying but never sexually aggressive or possessive. He wondered what had brought it on. If it was Charlie using sex to exhaust Colby before sleep or if perhaps the more possessive nature of their relationship had finally filtered into Colby's subconscious.

He hoped his lip didn't swell too much. Colby got incredibly guilty about any visible injury. The year of the black eye it was all he could do to keep Colby from turning himself in on domestic abuse charges. And Colby hadn't even taken a swing. He'd simply rolled over in the middle of the night, flopped his arm over and had happened to whack Charlie in the eye.

He could see the very first bit of grey light through the window. With any luck Colby would have dreamed himself out. Charlie's theory did seem to be working however. Friday night was only 8 nightmares and Saturday only 6 so far.

Charlie wondered if Colby's mother had sung to him as a baby. Charlie was willing to bet no and cursed that woman for the second night running. He cursed Dwayne Carter for ever existing then threw in a curse for Lancer, and then for good measure Charlie threw in a curse for himself for even for a moment believing Colby's confession.

Colby's head twitched and he gave a slight whimper. Charlie sighed in exhaustion and held Colby tight.

~
Charlie adjusted his tie. He normally kept to the rule of no white after Labor Day but the cream colored suit would serve to make him look less pail and sleep deprived. He had wanted to get out of work all together but there were a half dozen important meetings where he had to put in face time if he wanted funding and the right schedule, not to mention a place for Dr. Spender in the spring semester. At least the worst was usually over by the first three nights. Charlie was pretty sure he could risk sleeping a little himself.

He turned to Colby who was still bundled up in bed. "How do I look?"

"You look great." Colby's voice was a little hoarse after his nightly bout of yelling.

"Now are you sure you're going to be okay? 'Cause if not..."

"I will be fine," Colby stated firmly.

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure."

"And you're not going to try to go into work?"

"No."

Charlie scowled. Colby had taken just a little too long to respond. "Colby."

"I won't go into work."

"Not even to do paper work or just check your email."

Colby raised three fingers. "Scouts honor."

"I'm calling Don and if you show up he's throwing you right back out."

"I will sit on the couch and watch TV all day. I promise."

Charlie leaned in I gave Colby a kiss. "I love you. I'll be home for lunch and I'll call between meetings."

Colby kissed him back. "I love you too."

Chapter Text

Don stared across the small interrogation room table at the slimy bastard that had been cleaning money for a lot of other slimy bastards. He wanted to call Charlie to go over this guy's books but he had promised to leave both Charlie and Colby alone to ride out the flu shot. David had told him about Colby passing out at his doctor's. Don hoped that maybe it would be a blessing if most of the shots happened while Colby was still out.

Don's phone rang. "This is gonna be the DA telling me they're going to prosecute your ass," he said to his money launderer.

He stepped outside the room and answered it. "Eppes."

"Don." Anne's voice had a cold control to it. "Come home before I kill your son."

"Okay, no problem," Don said quickly and hung up the phone, then grabbed David. "David, I've got to run, deal with a thing, won't take long, keep sweating this guy."

Don didn't even wait for an answer, just ran for it.

~
Don carefully opened the door to his home. There was a clanging coming from the kitchen. "Hello?"

"In the kitchen." Anne's voice sang out.

Don went to the kitchen. Anne sat at the kitchen table. She was covered in flour and paint. On the floor of the kitchen Mattie joyfully banged a wooden spoon on a cooking pot. Mattie was also covered in flour and what looked like grey play-doh. The kitchen itself was covered in flour, and there was a strong smell of olives. There was also some sort of baked good still in batter form covering half the counter. Anne looked to be at the end of a very short rope.

Well Don didn't get to be head of the LA FBI Violent Crime Unit without the ability to think on his feet.

He quickly returned to the front door and retrieved a clean receiving blanket from Mattie's well stocked baby bag. He returned to the kitchen and quickly wrapped Mattie in it preventing further distribution of flour, then scooped him up. He gave Mattie a careful kiss, then leaned in close and gave his wife a quick kiss on the cheek in much the same way he'd seen men kissing cobras on National Geographic specials.

"I am going to have a glass of wine," Anne said very carefully. "Then I'm going to take a long bath, then I'm going to take a little nap, then I'm going to attempt to clean this place up."

"That sounds like a very reasonable plan. How about if I see if Dad'll take Mattie for the night and I can get take away from Baduzzi?" Anne closed her eyes and gave a very controlled nod. "I love you very much," Don said.

"I love you too," Anne carefully replied.

At that point Don grabbed his son and made a run for it. Fortunately they kept the clip and go car seat and baby bag right by the door so they were in the car and on their way in under three minutes.

Don turned the Charger for Pasadena while dialing his dad's condo. Kathryn answered.

"Hey, it's Don. Any chance my dad's there?"

"Oh, he just went out to run some errands."

"Damn, okay, um, would you guys be able to take Mattie for the rest of the day?"

"Of course. We'd love too. Is everything all right?"

Don turned onto the freeway. "Just a little mommy burn out."

Kathryn laughed. "Well we've all been there. I remember Ian was a joy to take care of until the day he learned to crawl. I thought I was going to lose my mind."

Don grinned. He knew it was dangerous but he relished any little story of mini Ian. And there were so many.

"I'm getting on to the freeway now. Traffic looks clear so 20 minutes or so."

"We'll be waiting. Drive safe."

~
Kathryn was waiting in front of the building when Don pulled up. Don really was developing a fondness for her.

He pulled Mattie out of the back and handed him over.

"Oh, look at that. Some little man is going to need a bath. And I bet I know why mommy is stressed. Someone got into the flour. Didn't you?" Kathryn gave Mattie a tickle and he laughed.

"And the olives I think."

Kathryn chuckled. "Do you want to come in for a cup of coffee?"

"I'd love too, but I left a money launderer simmering in interrogation and I'm afraid he's lawyered up by now."

"Well then you get back to work. I talked to your father and we can keep him over night if you'd like."

"That would be great. I think we just..."

"You just need a baby free night. Don't worry. Every parent on earth has been there."

Don let out a long sigh. "Thank you."

~

Megan short stopped him before he burst back into the interrogation room. "What?"

She ran her hand over his head a few times. "You have flour in your hair," she said with a chuckle.

"Don't laugh. You're gonna be there soon."

 

~
Alan leaned against the bathroom door and smiled. Mattie was giggling and splashing his hands in the water while Kathryn tried to rinse the bubbles from his hair, giggling herself. He tapped down the little flare of grief for Margaret. They had talked about grandchildren, and joked about them more often, and when she knew that she did not have much time left she had said that one of her regrets was that she would never see Don or Charlie with a baby of their own.

Kathryn turned and looked at him. "You're thinking about Margaret, aren't you?" she said, softly but sweetly.

Alan shook his head but had found out very early that Kathryn was very good at spotting even the smallest lie.

"It's okay," she said. "This kind of moment was supposed to be you and her."

Alan shook his head again, even though Kathryn was right in her way. As quickly as his old knees would let him he knelt down next to Kathryn and gave her a kiss. "I am very glad you're here with me," he said. And he was.

Kathryn blushed a little and looked away. It was so very odd for Alan some days. No one got to their ages without having a long term relationship but Kathryn had managed it. No one man longer than three months and most not even that long. That meant Kathryn still blushed at truly heartfelt compliments and fumbled through domestic moments that Alan barely even thought about. At the same time that small army of men, and even a few women, gave her a broad perspective on the human condition. In the end it was like being with someone simultaneously much older and younger.

He brushed a bit of slightly damp hair from her face then grabbed the big fluffy towel to wrap Mattie in, just being glad at being able to once again do something as simple as help wash a baby.

~
Don put the foil wrapped containers of pasta carefully on the now clean kitchen counter and went looking for his wife. He found her sprawled out on the living room sofa half asleep.

"Hey, hun," he said carefully.

Anne sat up. "Hey, I'm sorry about the call I should have just..."

Don kissed her. "It's okay."

"I swear I took two seconds to tell some guy he had the wrong number and when I looked back..."

"It's okay. I think it happens to everyone. Pick a movie. I'll dish up dinner."

This time Anne kissed him. "Is this why all those women fell for you?"

"Nah, they were all shallow, just wanted me for my body."

Anne laughed. "Well I can't entirely blame them, there."

 

~
Charlie crawled into bed and into Colby's arms.

"Are you going to sleep tonight?" Colby asked, well aware that the dark circles under Charlie's eyes may as well be black eyes. They were acquired do to the same problem.

"I don't know," Charlie answered. "Do you think you'll be able to sleep properly tonight?"

Colby thought about it. Usually the first three nights were the worst. After that there were still nightmares but they were usually less violent and only three or four a night. "I think so," Colby finally said. "I hope so."

"Okay. But I'm still keeping close."

"Thank you."

Charlie hummed softly while Colby was hoping that indeed the very worst was over.

Chapter Text

Terry Lake looked across the bullpen of the sixth floor of the Los Angeles Federal Building. It was like nothing had changed. Same suits, same ringing phones, same rushing around. She couldn't believe how much she had missed it.

She scanned for anyone she recognized. Mainly Don. She didn't see him but someone spotted her.

"Terry?"

Terry blinked a few times. "David?"

David pulled her into a hug. When he let go she reached up and ran her hand over his chin. "When did you get that?"

"Oh, bit after you left I guess."

Terry grinned. "I like it. It makes you look butch."

David rolled his eyes. "Thanks. Now what in the world are you doing out this way?"

"Sort of on vacation. But I've been thinking about a permanent move out west where it's warm, if there's a spot?"

"For you I'm sure we could scrounge up an extra desk. Let me introduce you to the new guys."

Terry was lead over to her old desk. There was a guy sitting at it. Early mid-thirties, good build, slightly nicer than average suit that said maybe family money but the posture said possibly military. There was a woman standing next to him who was perhaps a little older. Her suit said professional G-Girl but the slightly loud jewelery said she was doing it on her terms. There was a roundness under her blouse and Terry was going to guess five to six months pregnant.

"Guy's," David said. "I'd like you to meet Terry Lake, your predecessor in this little slice of the Bureau. Terry, this is Colby Granger and Megan Reeves."

Granger stood up before holding out his hand. Terry quickly bet herself five bucks that he would call her ma'am and probably opened doors for women without thinking about it. "Nice to meet you, ma'am," Granger said.

Reeves held out her hand as well. "It's nice to meet you." Terry quickly nailed down Reeves accent. Upstate New York, private schooling, probably had her sweet sixteen at her father's country club.

"Nice to meet you too," Terry said. Granger had a good military hand shake. Reeves had a reception line handshake but there was muscle underneath it.

"So what brings you back to the old neighborhood?" Reeves asked. Terry didn't believe it was just polite conversation. They were all agents after all.

"Right now just burning a bit of vacation time but I've been getting a little sick of east coast winters, been hearing rumors that LA might need some more manpower soon, so thought I'd drop by, talk to Don, see just how nostalgic I get for my old desk." Terry tapped her desk with her foot.

"Oh, hey, just a sec," Granger reached deep into the top drawer of her old desk and pulled out a troll doll with pink and green hair. "Any chance this is yours?"

Terry laughed. "Yes. My nice gave that to me." Granger handed it over.

"You also left a bag of peanut M&Ms but I kinda ate those."

"Well you can own me." Terry turned to David. "So, is Don around?"

A slightly worried look flashed across David's face and quickly disappeared. "Yeah, he's just chasing something up. Let me make you a cup of coffee."

"That would be great." Terry gave quick nods to Granger and Reeves who went back to work.

In the break room David assembled her cup of coffee just the way she liked it. "You remembered."

"'Course I did." David sat down next to her at the little table. "So. You want to come out here for the weather?"

"Sure."

"Come on, Terry."

Terry took a deep breath. "I'm getting divorced, again."

"I'm sorry."

Terry shrugged. "No one can say I didn't fucking try."

"Well that's true."

"And DC winters suck."

"That is also true."

"And I heard they're going to be putting together a second violent crimes team, thought Don could use the extra man power."

David got that flicker of worry again. "You, uh, you heard Don's married right."

'He thinks I'm back for Don.' Terry thought. 'Well aren't you?' a second little voice in her head said. "Yeah, I heard something about wife, kid."

"Well, you heard right."

"Really?" Terry tried not to sound surprised.

"It's been a few years, Terry. Don's... Well he's got a pretty wife, gorgeous little boy, sees a shrink a couple times a months. Rumor has it he even goes to temple once in a while these days."

Terry wasn't going to quite believe that until she saw it. "Have you checked for a pod?"

David gave a full laugh. "More than once. We call him Don 2.0. You know, upgrade but still a couple of bugs."

"And any bug they can't fix is now a feature." Terry though about it for a bit. "Don's a dad?"

"Yeah, and he got there the hard way. Mattie was two months early, almost lost him a few times, Don took three months off. Had to be dragged out of the hospital to eat or sleep. Was even a rumor at the time that he might not come back, would try to do the full time dad thing."

Now that did sound like Don to Terry. The man could obsess over tiny things so something like his own son would have his undivided attention. "Well," Terry finally said. "I'm glad someone's got their life working."

Terry sipped at her coffee. The LA office did brew a good pot and her last partner could never remember how she liked it. "So, I hear Charlie's still working with you guys?"

"Oh yes, he's got to have well over a hundred cases by now."

"I'll have to brush up on my math if I come back out here."

David got his thinking face for a moment. "You know Colby and I have been partners pretty much since you left and we've been through some shit together. I mean he nearly got us killed his first day but I've got him pretty well broken in by now."

"Taught him everything you know."

"Pretty much. Anyways Don's getting the Bureau to hold off the next team until after the new year 'casue he's really pushing for Megan to head it up and she needs to hatch the kid first." Terry adjusted her estimation of Reeves a bit if Don wanted her as a team leader even while being a new mother. "Thing is I'm going with her and Colby's sticking with Don."

"Not looking forward to breaking in a new partner?"

"Not really, so I was thinking maybe a new old partner would be better over some guy who doesn't know the town and thinks even means random."

Terry grinned. "I get where you're going."

"Be just like the old days, and I already know how you like your coffee."

"Okay. I..." Terry stumbled. I very flash suit walked into her line of site. The suit looked like it should be running a Hollywood studio, or maybe a drug cartel. The fact that the suit was on what appeared to be the body of Charlie Eppes made Terry freeze. "Is that Charlie?"

David looked over his shoulder. "Yep."

Charlie was talking on a cell phone and gesticulating with his free arm. His face was serious. He paused by Terry's old desk and put his hand on Granger's shoulder. He didn't stop talking or even look and Granger and Granger didn't pause in his work or look at Charlie but just momentarily put his free hand over Charlie's. Only then did Charlie move on.

'Interesting,' Terry thought to herself. Charlie turned towards the break room and spotted her through the glass. He gave a broad smile and threw his arms wide for a moment before going back to his phone. He pushed through into the break room still mid conversation.

"... and what part of this conversation makes you think I care?" Charlie tipped his head back and covered his eyes with his free hand. "Look it, call the fucking numbers I gave you and keep calling them again and again and again until you are willing to call me back and say the words, Yes Doctor Eppes you were correct and we can get the resources you need." Without any kind of goodbye Charlie turned off his phone and took a deep breath. He still hadn't uncovered his eyes.

"Should I even ask?" Terry said.

"I have opened my own personal Pandora's Box and am already paying the price." Charlie mumbled. Then as if simply switching on a fresh personality he uncovered his eyes and threw his arms wide. "Hey you."

"Hey." Terry accepted a hug. "What's with the threads?"

"What?" Charlie looked down at the black suit with red silk shirt and black tie he was wearing. "This? I've had this ages."

Terry laughed. "Charlie you hugged me goodbye in jeans and a Metallica t-shirt."

"Well you've been gone a while."

"I guess I have."

Charlie headed for the coffee pot himself. "So what brings you back into our orbit?"

"Thinking about moving back out west."

Terry saw a little flicker of worry on Charlie's face before he smiled. "Really?"

"Don't worry I got the run down. Don 2.0, happy family man, wife, kid, possibly a pod person."

"Who's a pod person?"

Terry whipped around and the man himself was standing in the doorway. "Possibly you."

Don grinned and delivered a quick but warm hug. "Agent Lake, what you doing out here on my turf?" Don asked.

"Well, scouting out old new territory. Heard LA was going to need more people soon, and David was telling me he's gotten too lazy to break in a new partner." David snorted. "And DC weather sucks and there's no good sushi and yeah that's about the shape of things."

"Your husband moving out with you?"

"No, probably not."

Don had the good grace to cringe. "Well no one can say you didn't try."

"Damn strait."

"And, yeah, Megan's gonna need the extra bodies, and it would be good if she didn't have to break everyone in from scratch."

"After the new year I hear?"

"Yep." Don's phone rang. "Eppes? Yeah, sure." Don hung up. "Guess what, you get to meet the wife and kid, they're coming up for lunch."

"Now this I am curious about."

Don just smiled his 'I know something that you don't' smile and went for coffee. Terry was already trying to picture Don the family man within the confines of the office. She knew that people changed and she was expecting some changes, she'd heard rumors that the legendary Don Eppes had gotten married and there were even rumors about a kid but Terry had passed those off as usual rumor mill exaggeration. After all she'd been hearing rumors that the LA office had an idiot savant they kept locked in the basement that could solve cases just by looking at a suspect list.

By the time Don had dosed his coffee with non-fat milk and artificial sweetener there was a woman standing in the break room doorway. She was obviously not a federal agent or any kind of law enforcement, and probably not even a lawyer. She was petite but not in an unnatural underfed way you see so often in LA. She was in jeans with a tank top and over shirt. Before she said anything she lowered the baby she had been holding carefully to the floor. The baby stood with much wobbling.

"Go to your daddy," the woman said.

Don froze. The baby took a hesitant step, then another, the third was a little faster and the next half dozen were practically a run before he fell on his face. The baby was only there for a half second before Don scooped him up and spun him around with much giggling.

"When did he start that?" Don asked his wife in between giving his son kisses.

"Just an hour ago. And he was so very impressed with himself he just insisted that we come up and show you, and bring you lunch."

Don hugged his son close. "Oh, who's my big boy?"

Terry was really trying not to laugh. She had expected that maybe one of the AUSAs had wedged a ring onto Don's finger in a moment of weakness. She had not expected to find him with a civilian, then witness some of the first steps of his son.

Don's wife looked over at her. He was obviously a little too distracted to do introductions. Terry held out her hand. "Terry Lake."

"Anne Eppes." The hand shake Terry got felt professional if a little weary.

"Oh, sorry." Don said quickly. "Anne Terry, Terry Anne. Terry was on the team for a couple of years after I moved back from Albuquerque."

"Ah, nice to meet you," Anne said politely.

"And this is Mathew Alan Charles Eppes," Don said ruffling the hair of the little boy who looked shockingly like him.

"That's a mouth full."

"Blame Charlie."

"I had to put something on the form," Charlie said defensively. "I originally thought Mathew Copernicus Eppes had a nice ring."

"Would have killed you buddy."

"I know."

"Now was something about lunch mentioned?" Don asked.

Terry got herself another cup of coffee and watched as Don did the husband and father thing. Lunch was sandwiches for the adults and chunky apple sauce and Vienna sausages for Mathew, called Mattie by everyone.

The whole thing was amazing to watch. Even as Don tried to spoon apple sauce into his son's mouth Charlie went over some math he had worked out for what must have been their current case. The math sounded far more complicated than what Terry remembered but neither Don nor David seemed to have any trouble keeping up. There even seemed to be a mathematical short hand referencing cases Terry hadn't been there for.

David eventually left to make some calls and Reeves and Granger both came in at different times. Granger and Charlie talked and touched casually, if not overtly. No one seemed to take any note of it and the matching rings they wore seemed to be comfortably in place. Reeves declined the offer to practice feeding a baby but she did hold Mattie for a bit while Charlie tried to feed him Vienna sausages. In the end Charlie ate half the sausages himself.

Finally Don checked his watch and announced that he had to check on a warrant. There was a quick exchange of domestic affections and a promise to be home by six if the warrant didn't come through. He offered Terry a chance to kick in a door if it did.

In the end it was just her and Charlie standing in the break room. Charlie gave her a slightly questioning look.

"I'm still wondering where his pod is, yours too."

Charlie gave an oddly soft smile. "He has a good life now, Terry. And he's fought long and hard for it."

"And you?"

"I fought for Don's good life, too. Still am in a way."

Terry wanted to question that slightly odd statement but had a feeling she wouldn't get an answer. She asked another burning question instead. "Seriously Charlie, why the suit?"

Charlie smirked. "Personal stealth armor."

"I can see you just fine."

"Most people see someone in a suit that obviously costs more than they make in a month they don't look past the suit, don't argue with the suit, and don't wonder what's under the suit. Instead they listen to the suit since anyone who can afford such a suit must already be successful and or powerful."

"That's... slightly profound."

"You've been gone a long time, Terry. I have the White House, the Pentagon, the directors of the FBI, DEA, CIA, NSA, and DHS all on speed dial these days. And do you know who's above all of them on my speed dial list?"

"Who?"

"My tailor."

~
Don watched as Mattie toddled around the living room. He was secretly rather glad the warrant he needed wasn't coming in for another day. When he saw Mattie take those few steps across the break room he knew he wanted to get home early.

Mattie was still trying to figure out the finer points of his newest trick. He couldn't quite get himself up when he fell. Instead he would crawl over to something and pull himself upright. The baby books had said that this was perfectly normal.

He was slowing down a bit. He'd already had a bath and a bottle and was now just running off a last bit of energy. Don figured he'd fall down and just stay there within the next few minutes. It was a habit of Mattie's, just flopping down anywhere and falling asleep. Anne claimed that he did the exact same thing, he was just better at hitting the bed or the couch.

Mattie tripped over his own feet and started to fuss. "Okay, I think that's bed time." Anne said scooping him up. Mattie settled down almost immediately. Don went ahead and smoothed out the sheets in the crib and turned on the mobile of clouds and stars that played Let It Be.

Anne lay Mattie down and Don slipped the little oxygen and pulse monitor around his foot. He knew it was habitual paranoia at this stage but he wanted Mattie to be strong enough to push himself up and stand up completely on his own before they stopped using it. And he was almost there. Just in the last month he'd started hitting his developmental points without two months of adjusting. And now he was walking.

Don pulled up the little quilt, that was decorated with some sort of mathematical spiral that Don could never remember the name of, and turned out the light. In the soft glow of the little night light he watched as his little boy's eyes fluttered a few times then closed with sleep.

Anne took his hand. "He's getting big," she whispered.

"I know." Don squeezed her hand and they quietly snuck out of the nursery and into the kitchen where the day's dishes still needed to be done.

"So when did you and Terry Lake date?" Anne asked just as Don picked up a scrub brush. He froze and tried to figure out where Anne could have found out about that. Anne laughed at him a little. "She had that Don Eppes ex-girlfriend look."

"There's a look?"

"Yep. They don't check out your ass 'cause they've already seen in and they look at me slightly enviously yet slightly relieved that they're not me."

"Oh." Don had been unaware that anyone was checking out his ass. "Um... Quantico. She was the Quantico girlfriend."

Anne gave a tiny chuckle. "What does Quantico girlfriend mean?"

Don shrugged. "It means our first date was pizza at a laundromat. It means we were both exhausted, physically and mentally. It means I was bitter and still brooding about baseball not working out and we probably would not have dated under any other circumstances but we were both in the same position and just looking for a little escape. Even if it was just a laundromat."

Anne nodded a few times. "Okay."

"Okay?"

Anne handed him a bake pan that needed scrubbing. "Okay."

Don took the bake pan with a flood of relief. He felt like he'd just talked his way out of a hostage situation.

"Not to pry into past commitment phobias, but why didn't you stick with any of the fed girls? I mean all the ones I've met have been intelligent, attractive..."

"Not qualities you yourself are lacking," Don said quickly.

"Thank you. However..?"

Don tried to scrape a bit of burnt on something off a pan before turning to Anne. He had spent many years examining his commitment issues and thought maybe he finally had an answer. "I couldn't picture any of them old."

Anne raised an eyebrow. "That makes... no sense."

"Okay, take Liz. Liz was adrenalin. We didn't do romantic dinners we did fire fights, and I can't picture her ever getting old. I can picture her laid out in a flag covered coffin one of these days, but I still can't picture her with a grey hair. Terry; when we were together it was sort of the same. Not adrenalin but she was there in that moment and in my head she's always going to belong to just that moment. I can't picture her romantically outside of it. Same with Kim. She practically came standard issue with the promotion. I had the perfect bureau position, I was on the perfect bureau career track, she would have been the perfect bureau wife if I had stayed but I had to leave and she didn't follow. Nadine? I've known her almost a decade now and I swear to god she has not aged a day, I think she made a deal with someone, it's creepy."

"What about Robin?" Anne asked.

Don cringed a little. "I think Robin was a dress rehearsal for being a real adult, finally, and I think in the end she knew it and that's why she left." Don put down the pan finally and reached out the Anne. "The point is, even at the time, I knew all those women weren't going to follow me past whatever moment I was in. You on the other hand. I can picture you old." Anne rolled her eyes. "That's not a bad thing. I can picture you with grey hair and crow's feet and knobbly knees."

"Hey now."

"But that's okay 'cause I can picture myself with grey hair and more crow's feet and knobbly knees and heart medication and all that old people stuff but it doesn't bug me 'cause I can picture you right there beside me. And I could picture us like that within a month of knowing you and thought it was wonderful."

Anne blushed a little. Don leaned down and kissed her carefully. "That's sweet," she said. "Slightly weird but very sweet."

"I try." Don kissed her again. "Also, none of them would put up with my cooking."

"You're not that bad a cook."

"Tell that to them."

~
Don walked through the house. It was home but it didn't feel right. There were too many pictures; they covered the walls, people he didn't recognize.

An old woman with grey curls that fell down her back sat at the piano. Her hands moved lightly but slowly over the keys. Don tried to recognize the tune.

There were dark haired children gathered around the table. Don looked over their heads and could see the edge of a large cake.

"It'll be too many," one boy said. "He'll never blow them out."

"I don't think we have enough," said a girl.

A small boy half climbed on the table. "Just put in seven, light the first three and the last one."

"Why?"

"Binary, dummy."

The woman at the piano stopped playing. Don looked at her. She was grey like a ghost. "If you don't hurry it won't matter," she said.

Don woke up and blinked into the dark. In the other room he heard Mattie begin to cry.

Chapter Text

Colby's patience was growing thin. Charlie was flipping through the channels at high speed and high volume. He knew Colby hated that. He had been a brat all day. Colby still had a stack of reports to do and Charlie was just being fussy, bratty and board. He hadn't even taken the suggestion to go work on math. Colby put down his pen.

"Charlie." Colby very nearly snarled. "Turn that off and come here." He pointed to the floor next to his chair at the dining table. He knew there was a particular tone of voice that Charlie would not say no to and he was bring it out now.

Charlie sauntered over. Colby growled internally. Oh Charlie needed pain in his life but he also needed to submit and sometime he needed to be reminded just who it was he submitted to.

"Kneel." Colby barked.

Charlie dropped to the floor and looked up expectantly.

"Eyes on the floor."

He lowered his head. Colby took a breath and went back to his report. He could feel Charlie fidget next to him. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Charlie begin to look up. Colby reached out, and placed his free hand firmly on the back of Charlie's head forcing his eyes back down. He kept it there until he finished his report then began another.

"Go take a shower, clean yourself completely, put on your blue pajamas and get ready for bed then come back here. Do it before I finish this report."

He removed his hand and Charlie moved quickly. Distantly he could hear the shower begin to run. He worked on his report in peace. He was nearly finished when Charlie hurried into the room in his blue flannel pajamas and knelt back down his eyes on the floor. Colby began his next report. Charlie didn't fidget, just kept his head down and his hands behind his back. Colby knew the hard floor wasn't the easiest thing on Charlie's knees but frankly Charlie should have thought about that before deciding to be a pest all night.

He finished his report and looked at the next. "Under the table. Between my legs." Charlie moved quickly. Colby spread his legs a little and let Charlie kneel between them. He felt Charlie's hands. "Did I say touch?" Charlie's hands vanished.

Colby diligently plugged away at his report. There was only one left after this one. He signed his name to the bottom then reached under the table and undid his jeans. He pulled out his cock which all the report writing had left limp.

"Hold it in your mouth." He quickly felt Charlie's mouth wrap around it and begin to lightly suck. He taped the back of Charlie's head. "I said hold not suck." The sucking stopped "You are having problems with being presumptuous tonight, now hold all of it." Colby felt the rest of his cock slide into Charlie's mouth and soft puffs of air from Charlie's nose against the root. He got his left hand firmly into Charlie's hair and held his head in place. With his right hand he slowly and carefully wrote out his final report while letting his cock expand in Charlie's mouth.

By the time Colby finished writing out why an FBI issued vehicle now had a scratch in it (an out of control string of shopping carts) his cock had expanded nicely in Charlie's mouth and down his throat. He could feel Charlie convulsively try to swallow around it and he could feel the drool from Charlie's mouth run down his balls.

Colby signed his name and shook out his right hand. He eased up on Charlie's head and let him back off a little. "Charlie, I'm going to fuck your mouth and I'm going to cum in it. You are not to swallow. You haven't earned it. If you are good and hold that cum and do exactly as I say the rest of the night I may allow you to swallow before bed.

Colby felt Charlie nod a little. He knew that a mouthful of cum would be more effective than any gag. He tightened his grip on Charlie's hair and slid down a little in his chair. He guided Charlie's mouth up and down his cock taking his time, building himself up then backing off. He wanted to make sure he gave Charlie a good mouthful. Finally he pressed Charlie's face right to the root and thrust hard against the back of Charlie's throat. At the last second he pulled half out coming with a growl, making sure his cum hit the roof of Charlie's mouth.

Once he caught his breath Colby pulled out. He ran his thumb across Charlie's lips and found them tightly sealed. He pushed back his chair and stood. "Follow me." Colby moved quickly upstairs and to the bedroom not looking behind him but listening to Charlie scurry to catch up.

Once in the bedroom he pulled back the blankets on the bed so there was just the bottom white sheet. He patted the spot where Charlie usually slept. "Kneel."

Charlie quickly climbed onto the bed and knelt facing the other side. Colby pulled down the back of Charlie pajamas, the elastic catching on his erection in the front. "Head all the way down, spread your cheeks."

Charlie pressed his forehead to the sheets, lips still tightly pressed together, then reached behind taking a cheek in each hand, reviling to Colby a small puckered hole. Colby ran a finger around Charlie's hole a few times then pushed it in dry. He and Charlie had sex often enough, almost daily really, that there was little resistance, even unlubricated. Their regular sex life also meant Charlie cleaned himself out almost daily.

He pressed in a second finger dry and Charlie made a small noise that was highly muffled.

Colby drew out his fingers and gave the hole a little tap. He grabbed one of several pens sitting on Charlie's night stand then preceded to trace around Charlie's fingers on his own ass. Then he left the room. He took a shower and tried to wash away the stress of the annoyingly stupid, unproductive, useless Monday that it had been.

When he got back to the bedroom Charlie's fingers were still in their outlines. It was possible Charlie had let go at some point but Colby doubted that even Charlie was really good enough to get his hands back in the exact same spots. He ran a hand along Charlie's head in quick approval. Colby put on his own pajama bottoms then he went to the toy chest. Between him and Charlie it was one of the truly neatly ordered things in their combined life with a place for everything. He pulled out a ridding crop with a thin head only a little wider than his thumb.

He ran it along Charlie's cheek and across his lips. "You were a brat today. All day. And it wasn't just me you were a brat to. You were snotty with Don. You were even a brat to Larry. That kind of behavior is not acceptable. This is punishment. This is not for your enjoyment."

Colby stepped back and brought the head of the crop down right on Charlie's hole. Charlie jumped and made a small noise in the back of his throat. It was a tricky thing, punishing a masochist. Too much pain and Charlie would simply float away. Colby struck again just hard enough for Charlie to notice but not so hard that he could grab on to the pain. He worked over every inch of tender skin from Charlie's hole to the back of his balls. He knew Charlie would feel it with every possible step tomorrow and hopefully be properly contrite.

When the skin was red and Charlie was panting through his nose Colby stopped. He adjusted his own renewed erection. It was tempting to just lube up a little and take Charlie but it would be too much of a reward for too little. Instead he put away the ridding crop and pulled out a strap of heavy but soft leather. About two inches wide Colby could wrap it around his hand for greater length or control. He gave himself about a foot then gently draped the leather across Charlie's face so he would know what was coming.

"Let go of your cheeks." Charlie let go and pulled his hands under himself. Colby brought the leather down across his ass with a crack. Charlie's body jumped but he made no sound, just continued to breathe heavily through his nose. Colby didn't give Charlie time to recover, just brought the strap down again in the same spot.

He didn't count the blows, just work that strip of skin until it was glowing red then moved on to the next bit. It was oddly hypnotic. It often was. Colby had stopped being angry with Charlie the second he had knelt, now Colby knew it was a matter of simple punishment and behavior correction. Reminding Charlie exactly what would happen if he misbehaved and rewarding him if he was good.

When Charlie's backside was fully red he put the strap away then came back and ran his hands along Charlie's ass. Charlie skin was red and raw and putting out a wild heat. Colby felt his cock twitch but he tried to ignore it. He had already decided he wasn't going to fuck Charlie until the morning.

"Okay, Charlie." Colby fluffed up a pillow at the head of the bed. "On your back." Charlie moved onto his back his bare bottom against the sheets that were probably not quite as soft as one would like in that situation. Charlie was also pitching a tent in the front of his pyjamas. "You have an erection; you were not supposed to enjoy that." Colby could see Charlie try to convey apology with his eyes. Little drops of drool were dripping down the corners of his mouth. "Well you can forget about it because you're not going to be doing anything about it tonight. If you sleep like that for the rest of the night and manage not to be a brat in your sleep I will fuck you awake in the morning. I will even let you cum." Colby drank up the gratitude in Charlie's eyes. "For now you can swallow."

Charlie instantly swallowed several times then took a deep breath. "Thank you, sir." Charlie said softly.

Colby just gave a quick nod and pulled the blankets up under Charlie's chin. "Now go to sleep and I will finish taking care of you in the morning. And don't even think about trying to rub off on the inside of your pajamas. I will be checking."

Charlie nodded and Colby turned off the lights.

 

~
Charlie felt hands on him. Warm, strong hands. He was half asleep but even in that state he knew those hands. Those hands had free rein to touch him in anyway, to dispense pain, pleasure or both. Not even his own hands had that much freedom. The hands rolled him over. A firm weight settled over his body.

Charlie finished waking up with a groan as Colby's cock pressed in. Charlie loved this. He couldn't describe or explain how much he loved Colby fucking him awake. Colby was often reluctant to do it mumbling abut consent. With each thrust of Colby's cock Charlie felt his own erection spring to life. His balls ached a little from their neglect the night before but Charlie was hopeful for the morning.

Colby lifted at Charlie's hips and Charlie was quickly on all fours unable to think of anything more that the cock pounding into him and the savage growls coming from Colby's throat.

Colby shifted his angle a bit and Charlie nearly blacked out as his prostate was nailed.

"Yes!" Charlie screamed out not really caring that he sounded like a cheap porn. "Yes. God. Please. Sir." Charlie cried out with every thrust. "Yes. Sir. Please. God. Colby. Sir. Yes. Sir. Master. Yes!" Charlie screamed as he felt Colby swell and pump hot cum deep into him. He felt Colby's hand on his cock and while he might not have had express permission he couldn't hold back any longer and came, emptying his balls across his own stomach.

Charlie collapsed as Colby rolled off him. He giggled breathlessly into his pillow. "Oh I wish you'd do that more often 'cause that's how to start a day." Charlie looked over as Colby was strangely silent. Colby was sitting on the edge of the bed looking pensive. "Was it not good for you?" Charlie asked only half joking.

Colby frowned. "What did you call me?"

"When?"

"Just now."

Charlie tried to work out just what he had been screaming with a sudden horrid feeling that maybe, somehow, after all these years he'd screamed out someone else's name. "I think God came out a few times and seeing as how I'm an atheist you should take that as one heck of a compliment." Charlie tried to say lightly.

"You said Master."

"Yeah?"

"To me." Colby said quietly.

"Well there was no one else nailing my prostate like a jack hammer at the time." Charlie was quickly getting worried. He wasn't sure if he'd ever called Colby master before. Probably not, but god knows that's what he'd been thinking it for years.

"Don't." Colby snapped.

"Don't what?"

"Don't call me that."

'Shit. ' Charlie thought. He did not want to be dealing with Colby's weird paranoid, insecurities at seven in the morning. It was, if nothing else, really killing the afterglow. "It's just a word Colby."

"No it's not, and since when have you been even thinking it?"

"Since pretty much the moment you first cranked up the music and told me not to think about sound waves. Certainly since the moment you slapped my hands away from my own body and told me that was your job from now on." Charlie saw Colby flinch away. He knew Colby didn't like talking about those early days of their relationship.

"Well don't. Okay." Colby snapped standing up quickly.

"It's just a word."

"No it's not." Colby grabbed a robe and wrapped it tight around himself. "It'll... feed this thing in me. I have a hard enough time keeping control around you some days and there's no need to fucking encourage it."

Charlie took a long slow breath tapping down his own freak out. "What thing?" He asked carefully.

Colby's arms flailed. "I don't know. This thing that gets turned on flaying your skin half off. This thing that was never there before you but you seem to need but I don't!"

Charlie felt a low rage settle into his stomach. He stood up. "Are we discussing your singularly unique ability to derive and dispense sexual pleasure from controlling my temper tantrums and various anti-social personality disorders?"

"I don't know what it is but..."

"You don't need it?" Charlie cut in crisply. "You don't want it? If you don't need it and you don't want it then what the fuck" Charlie spat the word "has the last five years been? Pity? Is this what you're telling me? Our entire relationship is a five year pity fuck!" Charlie could feel his hands shake and see red begin to creep into the edges of his vision.

"No." Colby said quickly.

"Then what, Master? What? Tell me what the hell that was five minutes ago. Tell me you didn't go off like a rocket when I screamed that out."

"I don't know!" Colby shouted. "But it wasn't there before you and every damn time it gets harder to control!"

Charlie pressed his shaking hands to his forehead. "I can't deal with this. I have an early class. I need a shower. I can't fucking deal with this right now."

 

~
Colby rolled into the office like a thunderhead. He dropped a stack of reports on Don's desk and no one got in his way. He went to the break room and tried to make coffee but his hands kept shaking. He squeezed his hands into fist until he felt his nails bight into the palms of his hands.

'Quid pro quo, not allowed.' A small voice in his head said. Colby squeezed his fists tighter.

~
Charlie stormed into his class wearing midnight black, head to toe. He dropped a stack of homework on the front desk.

"I have your homework." He stated with no preamble. "You all got correct answers." Charlie watched his class smile. "And I'd fail every last one of you if I could." The smiles disappeared. "You all got the correct answers by doing exactly what I said. There are a dozen ways of solving the assigned problem and not a one of you showed the slightest spark of creative ingenuity or interest. I could program a computer to solve this problem and if I can get a computer to do it why am I wasting my time teaching fifteen uninspired lumps of carbon and salt water? I gave you a problem and you all simply regurgitated the answer and it will do you about as much good in the long run as what you hurled into the gutter on Friday night."

There was silence in the class room, pencils frozen over notebooks.

"Okay." Charlie threw his arms in the air. "Do any of you plan to be mathematicians or are you all taking this class for other shit?" Charlie watched in despair as one lone hand in the back of the room slowly went up. "Peterman? Seriously?" The plump pail boy nodded. "You have a C plus in this class?"

"I like the concepts." Peterman said softly. "I kinda fall down on the arithmetic."

Charlie put his face in his hands. "Okay Peterman I'm going to give you some advice. The rest of you can go back to thinking about your D and D games." Charlie walked across the room and leaned in close to the boy. "Peterman, get laid. Go to an opera. Read Howl. Get in a fight. Drop Acid. Do whatever the fuck it takes to remind yourself that your brain is a human brain and not a computer and is therefore capable of original thought because you are never going to solve unsolved problems by covering them with the vomit of shit some half off his rocker teacher spouted at you your sophomore year!"

Peterman nodded quickly. Charlie stomped back to the front of the room.

"Okay class open your books to chapter 34. I am going to teach you how to solve the problems contained therein. When I am finished I am going to give you a similar problem for your homework. You will show all your work and since there are easily a dozen ways of solving this variety of problem your grade will depend upon your creativity. A simple correct answer will only get you a C. Prove to me you are not lumps. Give me some hope for the future before I decide to just fall on my slide rule and be done with it."

~
David looked over at his partner and decided it must have been one hell of a fight. The suit Colby was wearing was one he hadn't seen in years which meant it was probably one that wasn't bought by Charlie.

"Wanna talk about it?" David offered.

"No." Colby replied not looking up from his work.

"Okay. Just remember I offered."

~
There was a light tap at Charlie's office door. "Charles?" Larry asked popping his head in.

"What!" Charlie snapped. Larry jumped back a bit. "I'm sorry Larry." Charlie said quickly. "What is it? Come on in."

Larry entered carefully and shut the door behind him. "Actually Charles I came to see how you are doing?"

"Me? I'm fine."

"Which is why you called your class lumps of carbon and salt water and advised them to drop acid?

Charlie sunk his hands into his face. He wished he could blame the outburst on being off his meds or something but he'd been taking them diligently. "Has that information gotten back to Millie yet?"

"I am sure it will at which point I am sure you will do penitence."

Charlie flopped into his chair. The day was just getting better and better. He should have just kept his mouth shut, or not pushed the point, or canceled class.

Larry perched himself on Charlie's desk and looked down at him with such a patient, understanding expression it almost made Charlie more angry. "Some of your students sent me as they were worried about your overall mental state."

"You're not my shrink, Larry."

"No, but I am your friend."

Charlie rubbed his hand across his face. "I'll give you three guess and the first two don't count."

"Then I shall guess a domestic dispute?"

"Got it in one."

"May I ask over what?"

Charlie shook his head. "I'd tell you but it would go into TMI territory very quickly."

Larry folded his arms with a scowl. "Charles, I would hope by now that you would not believe that my sensibilities were quite so sensitive."

Charlie let out a long sigh. Dr. Anar was on vacation and Charlie had to rant at someone. If nothing else over the years he'd learned to trust Larry's sense of discretion. Plus Larry was at least passingly familiar with the kind of relationship he and Colby had. "We had sex this morning." Charlie said flatly.

"Always a pleasant way to start a morning."

"Yeah, well, in the middle I said something I shouldn't have."

"You called out the wrong name?" Larry guessed.

Charlie cringed. "Sort of. Somewhere in the middle of dear god yes I might have said... master." Charlie peered up at Larry and was thankful Larry had done little more than raise an eyebrow. For whatever Larry might be thinking he had engaged his poker face.

"And Colby did not take that well?"

Charlie rolled his eyes and stood up. "That's the understatement of the year. He...god Larry. He got off on it. The same way he gets off on me calling him sir or seeing me on my knees and I don't mind. I quite enjoy it. It's practically the fucking corner stone of our relationship but I say master and he freaks out and acts like it's all something I put in his head 'cause he was repressed before me and the only reason he enjoys it is because of something I must have given him 'cause it wasn't there before me and don't you fucking think that if I could wave a magic wand and adjust someone's sexual tastes I wouldn't have fixed mine years ago and saved myself a fuck load of grief?"

"Did you tell him this?" Larry asked calmly, watching Charlie pace about the room.

"No." Charlie snapped. "I had to get to class and I was just so fucking mad I couldn't even see straight." Charlie flopped back down in his chair. "What hell is wrong with me Larry? Why do I do this to people? Why couldn't I have just been happy with Amita or at least found some nice, out, okay with himself, already gay boy, instead of..." Charlie waved his hand in the general direction of nothing then looked up at Larry. A deep frown had settled onto Larry's face. "What?"

"Charles, there is nothing wrong with you."

A dark chuckle bubbled out from Charlie's lips. "You really want to debate me on that? I've got documentation."

Larry's frown deepened. "Charles if I were you I would give Colby his space for a few days. I am willing to guess that his early life did not prepare him for the deep passions he now finds within himself and that can often be unsettling. And as for you, I'd take a relaxing dip in the math for a few days. Give yourself a little time to calm down. I'm sure you two will be able to work things out, just give it a little time."

"I don't know, Larry. I mean we can ignore it. Pretend like it didn't happen. Shit we pretend like the entire first year of our relationship didn't happen it was so weird and miserable anyways, that was, again, my fault."

Larry reached down from his perch and picked up Charlie's hands. Charlie leaned forward a bit. Larry wasn't really a physical contact kind of guy. He closed his eyes and leaned over Charlie's hands like he was praying.

"Charles, do the math. Give yourself a couple days of peace and perspective. I do believe it will be okay."

 

~
Colby came home. It was nearly nine. He had stayed late at the office getting a jump on paperwork and some background checks. The house was mostly dark. A light came from under the kitchen door and there was a light on in the garage.

He took his time putting away his papers and his guns before going to the garage. He pushed open the door. Charlie stood at a chalkboard and did math. He did it at a steady pace; the pace of a marathon, not a sprint. He was also somehow managing to keep white chalk dust off his black suit. Colby left without saying anything.

In the kitchen he found a single plate and fork drying next to the sink. Next to the stove was a plate covered in foil. Under the foil he found a grilled chicken breast, some rice and some vegetables. Colby ate them cold standing up in the kitchen then washed his plate.

He watched a half hour of CNN to make sure he was extra depressed about the state of the world then took a shower and got ready for bed. In the bedroom he found the bed had been neatly made and the sheets changed.

Colby got under the blankets and lay in the dark for hour after hour. At some point he heard the door open and felt the other side of the bed sink down. Charlie did not reach over to wrap his arms around Colby or to be held in return. Colby just lay there, still, in the dark.

Chapter Text

Colby was heading for lunch when he was ambushed. His intent had been to get a sandwich from the place around the corner from the Federal Building. This meant crossing through about ten square feet of grass with a bench that someone in the city had designated a park. Larry was sitting on that park bench.

"Colby," Larry started pleasantly. "I was just about to have lunch here on this fine afternoon. Why don't you join me?" Larry held up a brown bag.

"I'm kinda in a..."

"No you're not." Larry stated quickly cutting him off. "And I brought enough for two. Sit, join me."

Colby had a sudden memory of his last little heart to heart with Alan. "Just as long as there's no tequila in that bag," he said sitting carefully.

Larry reached into the bag and handed him a reasonably safe looking tuna sandwich and a cup of coffee. "I realized that you and I have never really talked." Larry said pulling out a chicken sandwich for himself.

"We talk all the time, Larry."

"Humm, yes, I suppose I should say we've never talked properly about Charles."

"Ah." That was pretty much where Colby thought this conversation was going. "Look, Charlie and I will work out..."

"Of course you will." Larry said dismissively. "I'm here to tell you a story."

Colby figured he wasn't getting out of this. "Okay, go for it."

"Many years ago I was introduced to a little boy named Charlie Eppes. I say little and he was. Thirteen and for the first semester I knew him he could have passed for eight. He was a very serious little boy verging on morose at times, his whole world seemed focused on math and he drank it up like water and the math he produced himself was staggering. No one can produce work like that without passion but at least in the beginning the only evidence of passion I ever saw was frustrated fits where he probably did more damage to himself than to the chalk boards. But he began to grow into himself physically and mentally. I remember his first summer he grew nearly four inches, couldn't stop tripping over things."

Colby chuckled a little over the image of an ungainly little Charlie.

"When Charles was sixteen, just about to collect his first degree, I found him in my office one afternoon. He was pacing about, obviously distraught. I tried to ask him what was wrong and instead of receiving an answer he did something entirely unexpected, he attempted to kiss me."

"What!" Colby attempted to say with a mouthful of tuna.

"Well I pushed him away of course. Even if I had possessed an interest in Charles he was both a student and, in my mind at least, still a child. Well he tried again and I pushed him away again and if that wasn't disturbing enough there was a look on his face. By that point I thought I had seen all of Charles' looks but the look on his face was one of true pure loathing and disgust and it was not directed at me. He was heaping that purely on himself."

"Why?" Colby asked suddenly very uninterested in his lunch.

"I don't know." Larry answered plainly. "I have tried to ask over the years but he has never told me and I am afraid any theory I have come up with is only worse than the one before." Larry took a breath. "Now in the years after that event I am sorry to say I saw Charles in many unpleasant states. I sat by his bed while he came off the cocaine."

Colby quickly filed that information away. Charlie had admitted to using a little when he was younger but not so much that he would have spent any time coming off it.

"I was also there when they pumped the three litters of vodka out of his stomach after Susan left." Larry continued. "And when Margaret was sick. Well Charles' inability to cope with that has become the stuff of legends, however in all that time I have never again seen that look of loathing on his face until yesterday afternoon."

Colby's stomach sank. He guessed there were worse people to get told off by than Larry. Don came quickly to mind, followed by Alan. "I'm sorry, Larry."

"I am certainly not the one who needs to be apologized to." Larry snapped. "Do you know what Charles wants more than anything, what his three wishes would be if he could go right back to his first breath on this earth and do it again? He would want to be normal. For every brilliant thing he has done he would throw it away if he could have grown up to be five foot ten, an IQ of 120 and heterosexual without a single thought, kink, fetish, desire, or idea that could possibly separate him from the ignorant grey masses he often professes to loath. And what a terrible world that would be." Larry finished tersely.

Colby's stomach twisted and he felt his heart ache in his chest at the image.

"Setting aside the state of my own career without Charles in the world, let's look at your little slice of humanity. How many killers and rapists would still be walking the street without Charles? How many acts of terror inflicted on this city? And you yourself. What are the odds that you would be an unmourned corpse on a Chinese freighter without Charles?"

"Pretty good." Colby admitted.

"Yes. Unfortunately there are no wingless angles on snowy Christmas eves to point all that out to him. Instead he sat in his office yesterday, hating himself because some part of him actually believes, despite the complete ill logic of it, that he somehow infected you with all the things that deviate him from the societal mean and we both know that is utter nonsense even if you're not willing to admit it to yourself."

Colby took a deep breath. "Larry, if you knew..."

"I know enough." Larry cut in. "And what's more I've known Charles longer than you have and while he has kept secrets from me, as little boys are want to do, I do know that Charles will pretend to forget everything that may have happened that might have upset you just to keep the peace but it will shred him from the inside out unless the two of you step forward and acknowledge it."

Colby didn't know what to say. He just looked at his cup of coffee instead.

 

~
Charlie let the numbers flow around him. He had taken Larry's advice. He hadn't thought of much for the last day other than some theoretical problems he'd been putting off. It had turned into an almost embarrassingly productive fight. He got to the end of an expression and heard Colby carefully clear his throat.

Charlie put down the chalk and turned around.

"Can we talk?" Colby's voice was soft.

Charlie felt his pulse spike. He didn't want round two of a fight but they had to move past this stupid shit. "Okay."

"Actually," Colby said quickly. "Can I talk? Can I just say what I need to say and then you can say everything you want to say and then we'll...do something?"

Charlie sat in the straight back chair and folded his hands in his lap, ready to receive a lecture. "Go ahead."

Colby sat on the couch and seemed to be trying to make himself small. "I..." Colby stuttered. "I raped you, Charlie." Charlie jerked back in his chair. "I beat you and raped you in a stinking back alley and left you bloody on the ground." Charlie opened his mouth to object but Colby continued. "And before that I had never... Before..." Colby stumbled again and took a breath. "There were two men in my town. The wife of one of them caught them in bed together. Killed them both. She pleaded temporary insanity and got off and the other wife didn't push for any kind of prosecution."

Charlie felt a good old fashion spark of civil rights rage but the incident had obviously stuck in Colby's mind for worse reasons.

"I can't remember what I desired before you, Charlie." Colby continued "Some days I feel like I didn't exist before you. And mixed in with all these desires I've only had a handful of years to learn how to live with is this other, thing. And it's dark, and I know you want it, but every time I let it out it gets harder to put back, harder to reign in, it feels like it's just growing larger consuming... There are so many days when I walk in the door and all I want is to be greeted by you on your knees."

Charlie swallowed hard because that didn't sound like that bad an idea to him.

"...But I can't handle the thought of hurting you again like I did that night and when you said what you said it felt like a band around my chest just snapped and it was all I could do not to just keep going." Colby closed his eyes. "I know it's not your fault but I have no point of reference before you and if I had these desires before you they were so deep I don't know where they could have been and some days it feels like I've just been ripped open and this dark thing poured out and instead of trying to kill it you want me to feed it, and... I don't know what to do." Colby stumbled and fell silent.

Charlie quietly collected his thoughts. You'd think that after tens of thousands of dollars of therapy some of this would have come out sooner. And just when Dr. Anar decided to turn off her cell phone.

Charlie took a deep breath. "Colby, I'm going to tell you a story."

Colby chuckled a little. "That's the second time I've heard that today."

"One day I was walking through the sixth floor of the Los Angeles Federal Building and across the bullpen I saw someone I'd never seen before getting settled at Terry Lake's desk. I surmised that the person must be the new agent Don mentioned was coming. Well at that moment I had two thoughts. My first thought was 'Helllllllooooooo farm boy.'"

Colby gave a little smile.

"From the other side of the room I could see broad shoulders and strong hands and even make out a spark of green in the eyes. Mind you my second thought was 'oh god I'm probably going to have to explain basic arithmetic to this brick, well at least I'll have something pretty to look at.'"

Colby pinched his lips a little.

"Now maybe three days later a judge's wife is dead and there's a lot of confusion and I'm working on suspect lists and I start talking about pi and I feel the need to be a bit of an arrogant shit and explain to the dumb brick farm boy what pi is and he comes back with 'I know what pi is.'" Charlie closed his eyes and took a breath. "God Colby what I saw in you in that flash of a moment. No one talks back to me, especially when I'm lecturing. You came back at me with five words and I heard and felt such power in them I knew right there the dumb farm boy thing was an act. I got wood so fast I'm surprised I didn't pass out. I wanted to get on my knees right there and kiss your feet and say thank you sir 'cause I was being a bit of a brat and you weren't going to stand for it. I went home and nearly gave myself carpal tunnel running those five words through my head."

Colby gave a little snort.

"It's true." Charlie took a breath. "I then started on a mission to make myself completely crazy. I wiggled my ass at you so much it was embarrassing. I changed my hair, I changed my shirts, tried shaving, tried not, changed my cologne, my deodorant, I even tried going without deodorant, seeing if I could get some sort of masculine pheromone thing going."

Colby frowned. "I thought you'd forgotten to shower for a while?"

"My point exactly. If I got any attention from you it was just as a friend. And you were a good friend. You listened to the math even when you were pretending like you weren't. You backed me up on long shots. You drove me home when I had one too many. So as far as impossible crushes go I was hooked. I had such a major thing for you that I began to actually hate you for it."

Colby pressed himself back into the couch a bit.

"I felt like a fish on a line. You'd hooked me with five words then just left me out there. Then one night it was too damn much. The math was too much. The cases were too much. My bullshit relationship with Amita was too much. It was all too much. And you were sitting next to me at that bar and I could feel the heat from your body..." Charlie dropped his head remembering that night. "You know why I hit on that cop?" he asked.

Colby shook his head.

"I wasn't trying to start a fight or get pounded. I'd seen him check me out a few times that night. I figured if I couldn't have you I could get some dumb thug to fuck me into oblivion, and even if he did throw a punch it would have been pretty much the same result in the end." Charlie took a very deep breath. "When you dragged me out of there I thought maybe," Charlie chuckled. "I thought maybe some part of you was jealous. I thought maybe I'd finally found whatever button it was that I needed to push and then when you walked away... Colby you've been walking around with all this guilt, for god sakes I attacked you. I was furious, mainly at myself but I threw a beer can at your head, I came at you with both fists. You would have been fully in your rights to slap on cuffs and book me for assaulting a federal officer."

Colby's eyes went wide.

"Forgot that bit didn't you? You kept putting me down way past any rational point. You think you raped me? Colby I've been raped. I have been held down fearing for my life. That was not that night. I have never been afraid of anything you have ever done, ever. Was it good? Was it healthy? No, probably not, seeing as how all these many years later it's still haunting us but it was NOT rape."

Charlie took a couple of deep breaths hoping Colby was taking in what he'd just said.

"You said you left me bloody on the ground? You didn't. You picked me up. You took me home. You cleaned my body. You tended to every little scratch on me. That's the difference. There are people in my past who have left me bloody on the ground, looked at me with disdain. You picked me up and you continued to treat me as a friend and an equal. Is this sinking in?" Charlie asked breathlessly.

Colby gave a small nod.

"Good. And as for this thing you're so afraid of." Charlie got out of his chair and crouched down in front of Colby. "Yes, when you dominate me you become different but it's not darkness I see. Never darkness. It's not Jekyll and Hyde. You become... magnificent. It's more like, like Clark Kent and Superman."

Colby gave an almost frightened little chuckle.

"Maybe you see it as dark because of... Oh I don't know but what I see is a god hidden under the identity of mild mannered FBI agent. I see power. You practically glow. Your shoulders pull back, your chest broadens, your eyes sparkle and you become so magnificent. And if I feed that it's because whenever I look at you I see a man who has the strength to be so much more. I... I know you've followed orders you're whole life, and maybe that's it. Your family, your coaches, the army, National security, the FBI." Charlie took Colby's hands. "I don't think that's all of you. I know that's not all of you, I know that's not all of who you are." Charlie smiled a little. "Clark Kent may have to put up with shitty assignments from Perry White but no one gets to tell Superman what to do."

Colby smiled a little.

"I wish I could let you see through my eyes Colby. Since the first day I saw you in the office I knew there was something amazing about you and I have never been afraid."

"You can't feel what I feel inside me Charlie." Colby said softly.

"I know." Charlie got up and sat down next to Colby. "Maybe...Maybe we need to go there more, not less." Colby leveled a look at Charlie. "I'm not saying that just from a I'm chronically a little horny standpoint." Charlie defended. "I just mean little things, at meals or bath time, instead of letting it build up for days when I'm a brat. It's part of you, maybe you need to be the one guiding it, not me. Using it more so you become more comfortable with it. I mean if you want to get into numbers you only dominated me, for you, maybe twice a year. The rest is me acting out or getting into a state. Maybe going there more regularly would be good for both of us."

"Charlie, you don't... I mean you've never expressed interest in... I mean when we go out to clubs, the girls, the pretty boys, you just, drown them with your will, and..."

Charlie shook his head. He understood where Colby was going. "I'm a... mimic in a lot of ways. I could recreate on a technical level every crime I've ever helped solve. I've been under a lot of doms over the years, you know that. A few good, most not, with the girls it's no different than me blowing through twenty clips of ammo at the gun range after a few too many cases on top of each other. My mind doesn't let me properly forget, it doesn't let me fuzz out details, you know that too, so sometimes I have to exercise those demons a little. Talking about my own darkness, trying to bury it just made me crazy, so now I just try to take it for a walk once in a while."

Colby rubbed a hand over his face as if he was waking up. "You still don't... you want pain, and you only go into deep submission very rarely. I can tell the difference. Most of the time you're just playing along."

Charlie nodded. "That's a habit I'd like to break."

"I don't understand."

"That's survival after getting hurt too badly and not realizing it a few too many times. I trust you and I have never feared you and I'd like nothing more than to get rid of that little paranoid voice in the back of my head that won't let me go too deep anymore. Other bastards put that there, not you."

Colby reached out hesitantly and pulled Charlie carefully into a hug. Charlie melted against Colby. "My universe is at the greatest level of peace, safety and stability when you're the one in control of it. The only thing I have ever feared from you is losing you."

 

~
Charlie sipped his coffee, leaning over slightly so as not to risk it dribbling on his tie. Colby had picked it out that morning. Actually, Colby had picked out everything he was wearing. They had talked long into the night, rehashing a lot of hard moments from early in their relationship. When they finally crawled to bed there had been no sex, rather they had laid next to each other a held hands through the night.

In the morning Colby had sat in bed and told Charlie exactly what to wear as he dressed, from the black boxer-briefs that were just a hair tight and left him feeling like his cock was bound, to the new grey sports coat that was tucked at the waist just so. He had felt his body tingle and his mind focus with every word and once dressed Colby had sent him out into the world with an almost savage kiss.

He was still pleasantly rolling the morning around in his head when there was a quick knock at his office door and Millie let herself in.

"Good morning, Dr. Eppes"

Charlie cringed internally. Millie said Dr. Eppes exactly the same way his mother used to say Charles when he was in trouble.

"Good morning, Dr Finch. What can I do for you?"

"I just wanted to see how you were doing today?"

Charlie was suspicious. "I'm doing just fine, thank you."

"Good." Millie held out an envelope. "You're in trouble Dr. Eppes but Larry asked me to hold off yelling at you until you had your domestic issues sorted out and since you seem quite chipper this morning I'm going to guess that you are fine."

Charlie took the envelope like it was rigged to explode. "What exactly am I in trouble for?"

"You told a student to get laid and drop acid."

"I also recommended he see an opera and read Howl."

"That does not help your case, neither does calling your class lumps of salt water and carbon." Charlie looked at Millie. "Even if they are."

He hung his head. "What must I do?"

"You will read to your class the statement in that envelope prepared by the legal office." Charlie rolled his eyes. "You will also be taking the sexual harassment and workplace ethics seminar on Saturday."

"What?" Charlie whined.

"Don't worry, you'll be in good company. Ray-Ray told his class that their engines should 'purr like a woman after they've been screaming his name.'"

Charlie snorted. "Can I sit in the back and play solitaire on my phone?"

"No. For a man who deals with national secrets you're a little bad about shooting off your mouth, Dr. Eppes. It's something you could stand to work on."

 

~
Colby felt quite relaxed as he sat on Dr. Bradford's couch. He'd actually felt quite relaxed for the last several days. Charlie's idea seemed to be working on some level. It didn't really take much they'd found. The first morning Colby had told Charlie what to wear right down to his socks. The next night Charlie had eaten his dinner on his knees taking each bite from delicately from Colby's fingers. Another day he had washed Charlie, head to toe and the next he had ordered Charlie to wash him. Each time Colby had felt that dark creep in but when he was done it seemed to go back easier without an aftertaste of guilt.

"So what's been going on?" Bradford asked.

"Charlie and I had a fight." Colby said calmly.

"When?"

"Last Tuesday morning."

"Almost a week ago?"

"Yep."

"And how are things now?" Bradford asked carefully. Colby knew that in the past when he and Charlie had fought it had dragged out for weeks.

"Just fine."

"Really?"

"Yep."

"Can I ask what happened?"

"We had a fight Tuesday morning over exactly how we see our positions in our relationship. We both sulked for a couple of days. Larry told me to pull my head out of my ass. I went home that night. I said what I needed to say to Charlie. He listened, then he said what he needed to say, then we talked for several hours and we worked out a game plan to deal with some long term issues."

The surprise on Bradford's face was obvious. "I feel like I should give you a diploma or a gold star or something." Colby gave a bark of laughter. "Seriously, that sounds like a perfectly rational, adult way of dealing with a problem."

"I know, scary isn't it?"

"So, what brings you here today?" Bradford asked.

"I'd like your advice on a matter of approached. I want to eventually talk to Charlie about something but I don't want him to clam up and I don't want to do any damage."

"And what do you want to talk about?"

Colby tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling. "I think something bad happened at Princeton."

"Now that you're going to have to explain."

Colby chewed his lip a little, he had yet to put into words the odd suspicions that had been creeping around the back of his mind for a while now. "I know that a couple of tutors got their hands on Charlie when he was a kid and if I ever get my hands on them they're going to be fertilizing the lemon tree. And I know Charlie got into some bad places with bad people in his early/mid-twenties but Princeton is kinda a blind spot."

"I figure he would talk about it a lot."

"Oh he does, that's the thing. He talks about all the crazy stuff he and Larry got up to, and he talks about the feud with Pemberton, and tutoring frat boys but... I've always gotten the same feeling I get when I'm interviewing a wife and she's going, oh no my marriage is perfectly normal, when of course it isn't."

"So what's feeling not normal?"

"Well, when Larry was in the process of telling me to pull my head out of my ass he told me that Charlie once tried to kiss him."

"Was he drunk?" Bradford asked.

"No. I'd actually sort of expect that. According to Larry he was sixteen, incredibly distraught, tried twice and to this day won't tell Larry why."

"Teenagers do a lot of strange things."

"Yeah but..." Colby got up and started pacing. "The other night when we were talking everything out, he said he'd been raped, held down, fearing for his life and in all the I don't know how many hours of joint therapy we've had he's never used that word. He's never said rape. He's said molested, he's said used, he's said broken, he's never said raped. And I think he was referring to something I don't know about and I know this is all completely circumstantial but I just... I just can't help feeling that for all he talks about loving Princeton, he's never gone back. They offered him a job right after he graduated, they've asked him to do lectures, teach for a semester or even a quarter and they were asking him this before he was settled down. I've seen him find flimsily excuses not to attend conferences there and maybe it's just too many years as an agent but something's not right and I don't want to open a can of worms just by blurting out a question. Partly because I think he'll lie about it."

Bradford raised an eyebrow. "Charlie's lying to you?"

Colby sat back down. "Charlie underplays things 'cause he doesn't want to see me mad at him or upset. I've recently found out that he probably did a lot more cocaine than he's ever admitted to me and we're going to have to talk about that at some point. I know sometimes he lies to me about work because he has slightly better clearance than me. He's in DC twice a month, I don't know for what, I've stopped asking, but Princeton, I think he just might lie to my face if for no other reason than it's something he might not want to face himself. So..." Colby held out his hands helplessly. "Advice. Please."

Bradford was quiet for a long time tapping the steeple of his fingers to his lips. "Why now? Is Charlie having nightmares, flashbacks?"

"No. He sleeps better than I do."

"Is there an important reason he needs to go back to Princeton and he's avoiding it?"

"No. Not that I know of."

"So really this is a matter of your own curiosity."

"I..." Colby stumbled and frowned in thought. "If someone," 'Who's mine.' "I care about has been through a major trauma I think maybe it's important that I know about it."

Bradford nodded. "Colby I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you pretty much define yourself by two things, your work and your relationship. Your work is to take killers and rapists off the streets and now you think there may be one out there that has touched your relationship. Wanting to know and act on that knowledge is understandable but..."

"There's always a but."

"But if it's not affecting Charlie right now, well, you were right, he'll probably clam up and you could do damage forcing it out. Plus there's nothing to say this isn't something he's worked through in private session already."

"And I have no way of knowing that." Colby sighed.

Bradford grinned a little "Ain't doctor/patient confidentiality a bitch?"

Colby rolled his eyes. "I'm sure it's saving my career."

"Next time you two have a joint sessions with Charlie's doctor you can try steering the conversation towards Princeton but think about how much you want to help Charlie verses how much you just want to satisfy your own hero complex and curiosity."

 

~
Charlie lowered his eyes coyishly as he crawled into bed. Colby felt small rumbles of lust and power roll through his system. For all the little moments of domination they hadn't actually had sex since the fight. Almost a week now.

There was only the dim bedside lamp illuminating the room and despite the scattered strands of silver and the small lines etching their way in around his eyes, in the soft golden light Charlie's face looked almost childlike.

"Is there anything you'd like tonight?" Charlie asked offering up his body and mind.

Colby shook his head. "Just want to hold you tonight."

Charlie smiled sweetly and shifted close. Colby turned off the light and pulled Charlie close. He drifted into sleep within minutes. Colby felt his heart break just a little. They still had their stupid game, catch a wormhole in a jar, go back in time, who would you save, what would you do?

"I would save you, Charlie." Colby whispered to the dark.

Chapter Text

Charlie looked around his class. "Where's Peterman?" He asked.

His class shrugged and shook their heads.

"Great. And this is for his benefit." Charlie took a deep breath. "Okay, first off, one of you has betrayed me. Ratting me out to the administration is not the way to get less homework for Thanksgiving break."

There were groans around the room.

"Secondly, I must now do penance. The university lawyers want me to read something to you so listen up. Now setting aside the fact that half the faculty gets stoned on Friday nights, a third of engineering has alcohol problems, the vast majority of physics has used psychedelics, and I once did a line of coke off the tailbone of a blonde who was in the middle of giving Kevin Bacon a blow job." Charlie paused for effect. "Yes mathematicians go to all the best parties. Setting aside all that, I am to tell you that The California Institute of Science as a whole or represented by individuals does not in any way shape or form condone the usage of illegal substances for any reason and does not encourage or condone the student body of the California Institute of Science to engage in any illegal or possibly life threatening activity. The facility and staff of the California Institute of Science also has complete respect for the members of its student body and words that may have been said to the contrary by any representative of the California Institute of Science are formally rescinded and apologized for." Charlie wadded up the piece of paper he had read from and used it to do a hook shot into the nearest trash can. "Everyone got that?

There were some amused nods.

"Great. Everyone pass your homework to the front."

As papers started heading front the door opened and Peterman hurried in. He was rumpled and was holding a blue ice pack over one eye.

"Peterman, thank you for joining us. Present your homework."

"Yes, Dr. Eppes." Peterman replied and quickly began to dig through a shoulder bag with one hand. As the boy got closer Charlie got a whiff of him and leaned back.

"Good god, Peterman, you smell like a Vegas brothel on a Monday morning." The pail boy blushed and held out his homework. Instead of taking it Charlie went to his briefcase and pulled out a pair of latex gloves.

"Uh...Dr. Eppes?" One of the students piped up. "Why do you keep latex gloves in you briefcase?"

Charlie grinned what he hoped was an enigmatic grin. The answer was really in case he needed to handle evidence but that just sounded pedestrian. "So very many reasons." Charlie replied instead.

Charlie snapped on the gloves but instead of taking Peterman's homework he carefully removed the icepack. The kid had a large, fresh shiner, and a small cut by his eye. Charlie could easily make out the shape of a fist. "Boyfriend or husband?"

"Husband." Peterman mumbled but a grin pulled at the boys lips.

"Was she worth it?"

He gave a slightly manic nod. Charlie shook his head and took the homework. He flipped to the last page. It had obviously been done in a hurry. "Dear god, either she screwed your brains back in or her husband knocked them in 'cause that's a correct answer." Peterman grinned and Charlie flipped through the other pages. "And you've presented a reasonably interesting process to get it." Charlie sniffed the paper. "Not bad for something you did in bed between rounds with a cougar."

Peterman's jaw dropped. "How did you..?"

"No self-respecting woman under forty wears Chanel No. 5 and while it's been a few years since I've been involved with a set of double X chromosome some smells you do not forget." Peterman blushed bright red. "But I am going to have to take off a point for handing in a paper that could technically be a bio hazard. Next time, wash your hands."

 

~
Colby watched as Charlie happily tucked into his dinner. "Good day at work?"

Charlie nodded. "Pretty good. I formally apologized to my class and for the most part they all rose to the challenge I threw down last week of working out unique processes to get to the correct answer. One of them got to the answer using only addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and no numbers larger than twelve."

"Really?" Colby had been with Charlie long enough to at least have a conceptual understanding of what he was teaching.

"Apparently he'd been channel surfing and found Sesame Street. I mean it took him about 50 pages and it'll take me a while to double check the arithmetic but if it's right I'm so taking to my next conference."

Colby just smiled. It was always nice to see Charlie happy, and happy about teaching. He knew that at the end of the day, once you took away all the catching criminals, and advising Washington, all Charlie was really trying to do was teach people math.

Colby reached out and ran a thumb across Charlie's cheek. It was a little rough. "You need a shave."

Charlie shrugged. "I'll do it in the morning."

"No." Colby ran his thumb across Charlie's lips. "I think I'll do it tonight."

Charlie flushed and started quickly moving through his dinner.

 

~
The air was thick and steaming around them as Colby carefully dragged the razor across Charlie's cheek. He straddled Charlie's hips and could feel Charlie's arousal bobbing in the bath water. He kept his own arousal carefully under control as he dragged the blade across Charlie's face. Each stroke was tiny, barely a centimeter and he tapped the blade clean with each stroke. Charlie's eyes were closed and his breathing was heavy but steady.

Colby had shaved Charlie a few times in the past on bad days when Charlie had shut down and had to be physically removed from bed, but it had been quickly with an electric razor.

This was completely different.

Charlie rolled his head slightly and Colby began drawing the blade down towards Charlie's throat. Charlie's lips parted and the tiniest moan escaped. Colby drank in that small sound. It seemed to fill him. He knew by the end of the night he'd want to hear more.

Colby tapped the blade clean in the water. "Don't swallow." Colby ordered then placed the razor against Charlie's Adams apple. Charlie didn't even seem to breathe as Colby removed the day's growth. The room became silent of everything but the scrape of the blade against stubble and the tap, swish of it being cleaned between strokes.

Colby put his free hand against Charlie's chest and let his fingers work into Charlie's thick chest hair. It was almost ironic that Charlie with his soft, verging on feminine features possessed the particularly manly amount of body hair. Colby always had relatively little and what there was, was fine and blonde.

He took a couple of quick strokes along Charlie's jaw by his ear then put the razor to the side. He used a soft cloth to wipe away the last bits of shaving foam then carefully spread a cooling gel across Charlie's face and neck. Charlie gave a little hum that sounded quite contented.

He danced his fingers across Charlie's cheeks and lips. "Later, when you are sucking my cock your cheeks will feel so smooth against my thighs."

Charlie gasped ever so slightly and his hips shifted beneath Colby.

Colby looked down. "Charlie, have you ever had your balls shaved?"

Charlie's hips jumped just a little. "A few times." he answered.

"Did you enjoy it?"

Charlie didn't answer right away. "Yes." He said after a few seconds. "They become very sensitive. But they also itch like crazy once the hair starts growing back."

Colby idly ran his fingers across Charlie's chest. "So if I shave them, I'm just going to have to keep shaving them every few days?"

Charlie's hips jumped again and he swallowed hard. "Yes, sir."

Colby felt his shoulders roll back. He took a deep breath. It seemed easier, like his lungs were larger and his body stronger. He looked down at Charlie, pink cheeked and red lipped.

Colby pulled out the stopper and let most of the water drain out of the tub then added just a little extra that was nice and hot.

Colby got out. "Lay down and hook your leg over the sides of the tub."

Charlie slid down and spread his legs, the height forcing him to raise his hips off the bottom. Charlie's erection was full and curving and his balls were full and tight. Colby folded up a towel and dropped it in the tub so he could kneel then found a small pair of scissors.

He got back in the tub and sharply pulled in is lust as he looked down at Charlie spread open and obviously aching. He started by snipping away as much hair as he could. A part of him pondered what Charlie would look like completely shaved from the neck down but he had a feeling it would actually be quite unappealing. Just his privates on the other hand, he already had a feeling he would be enjoying that just judging by the little noises Charlie was making.

Once he had trimmed as much hair as he could he took a wash cloth, ran it under warm water and wrapped it around Charlie's balls. Charlie hissed and his hips jumped up forcing his legs that much wider.

Colby reached down and played with Charlie's hole a little while the warm cloth did its job. He could tell that Charlie had tightened up after a week without sex. He made a mental note not to let that happen again. No, Charlie's ass was his and what was the point of having unrestricted access to a beautiful backside like that if you weren't going to use it regularly.

Charlie tried to lower his hips attempting to get Colby's finger inside him. Colby pulled it away and gave Charlie's backside a little slap. "Keep your hips up."

Charlie nodded and pulled his up hips as high as he could.

He stripped away the cloth and quickly lathered Charlie from the tip of his cock all the way to his tight hole. "I don't think I need to tell you to hold still."

Charlie took a breath and Colby picked up the razor. He started from the back. Each stroke was tiny, even smaller than the ones he used on Charlie's face and between each stroke the blade was carefully cleaned.

He checked Charlie's face as he tapped water from the blade. Charlie's eyes were closed, his face was relaxed. Colby knew Charlie had slipped into another place. Not the place he went when the pain was overloading his mind, that was different, but the place he went when he freed himself, giving himself over to Colby completely.

Colby felt a surge of pride that he was the one who could take his beautiful Professor to that place and in this situation. He had to admit it would probably be a cold day in hell before he let another man near his privates with a razor and he certainly wouldn't be erect while it was happening.

He carefully took the hair from the right side of Charlie's testicles. The pride was replaced with anger as small round of scar tissue was revealed. Colby knew immediately what it was. It was the same as the row of them along Charlie's collarbone, and the sole of Charlie's left foot, plus the three at his waist and one right over his heart. Cigarette burns from Leacroft. Colby had somehow missed this one since it was usually surrounded by thick, tight curls.

He kept himself from growling. He did not want to disturb Charlie's peace. For the most part he tuned out Charlie's scars in a way Charlie had trouble doing himself, but some days they were unacceptable. Charlie had been right that day in the hospital. They were somebody else's marks. He made another mental note to look into scar removal therapies. Maybe consult some dermatological journals.

Colby kept shaving, slowly and steadily. A smile was creeping across Charlie's relaxed face and the tip of his cock was leaking a steady stream of pre cum. Once he removed the last few hairs from around the base of Charlie's cock Colby carefully rinsed him down. Charlie seemed to be completely relaxed.

He examined Charlie's newly hairless privates from every angle he could manage then leaned over and gave Charlie's balls a long lick.

Charlie cried out his eyes flying open and his hips jumping up. Colby gave a second lick and Charlie's cock exploded shooting cum harder than he had ever seen across Charlie's torso, and it kept going. Without a single touch Charlie pumped himself dry gripping desperately onto the sides of the tub.

Colby raised an eyebrow as Charlie gasped for air. "Sensitive?"

Charlie nodded and let his head fall back into the water with a little splash.

Colby grinned to himself. He was going to have so much fun. "You know you're not supposed to cum without permission. Stand up so I can wash you off."

Colby stood up as Charlie struggled to his feet.

Once Charlie was up Colby quickly rinsed down the both of them and moved Charlie to the bedroom.

"On your back and spread."

Charlie flopped rather bonelessly onto the bed and stretched out spread eagle. Colby grabbed a simple cock ring that also held and separated the balls. He strapped it quickly onto Charlie who gasped and groaned, then settling between Charlie's spread legs and began to touch.

Charlie was always responsive but now it was almost over the top. He gasped and writhed on the bed like a cheap porn, his cock swelling again under the constraints of the ring. When Colby pinched at Charlie's scrotum his hips leapt off the bed like he was coming. And when Colby leaned over and sucked one of Charlie's smooth balls into his mouth Charlie let out a cry that probably woke the neighbors.

Colby chuckled. "Let's see if we can't find something that'll keep you a little more quiet." he crawled up Charlie's body until he could kneel on either side of Charlie's chest. "Open up." Charlie parted his lips and he slid his cock between them. Colby took his time and savored the warmth of Charlie's mouth. It was a beautiful thing and he knew he'd be three days dead before he stopped craving the controlled, soft heat that Charlie gave him. He looked down at Charlie's face, his eyes wide and glazed with pleasure, so open, there was nothing hidden. Everything Charlie was in that moment, he was giving to Colby. Colby felt like an ancient prince or king. Power tingled to his fingertips.

He slid slowly in and out of Charlie's mouth carefully controlling this thrusts that after a whole week of abstinence were threatening to run wild. After a minute Colby pulled himself from Charlie's lips with a pop and stroked his damp cock across Charlie's soft, smooth cheeks. He made another note to make sure Charlie was always properly shaved. Scruff wasn't a good look for him anyway. Charlie whimpered and turned his head trying to catch Colby's cock between his lips again.

"No." Colby drew his cock away. "You came without permission. I'm going to put off your punishment for tonight but you are getting twenty swats first thing in the morning and if you take them well I'll let you suck me off in the shower before work. Understand?"

Charlie gave another small whimper and nodded his head. Colby made a note to set his alarm a half hour early.

He grabbed lube from the bedside table then slid back down Charlie's body. "Roll over." Colby ordered. Charlie rolled over and spread his legs with much groaning and squirming as his over sensitized cock and balls rubbed against the blankets. He put a hand on Charlie's lower back to still him then lubed up one finger and pushed it into Charlie. He was tight and spasmed and clenched and Colby had to brace himself from coming at the telegraphed sensations.

"Oh, you are so tight." Colby worked in another finger. "I have been neglectful to have let you tighten up this much." He scissored his fingers as Charlie pressed back against his hand. "Do you want something, Professor?" He asked lightly as he started to work in a third finger.

"Yes, sir."

"And what would you like? Be specific."

Charlie was silent for a moment. "Please, cum in me, sir."

Colby twisted his fingers and Charlie jumped. "Is that all you want?"

"Yes, sir." His voice was sure but soft.

"You don't want to cum yourself?"

"That's not important, sir." Charlie answered. "I need your cum in me. Please?"

Colby felt his whole body jerk. For a moment he couldn't breathe, for a moment he could barely see. The lust and desire and power were nearly blinding.

"Roll over," he said calmly fighting to keep his voice steady.

Charlie rolled over, his legs and arms spread, his face open, honesty and desire written over every line of his features.

He lifted Charlie's legs and pressed himself him. Charlie was scalding hot and tight and his face shimmered with bliss. His eyes fluttered shut and his lips moved in a slow rhythm.

Colby could barely hear over the pounding of his own heart what Charlie was saying. It was 'Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.' Like a prayer.

Colby moved slowly, somehow feeling more control with each stroke and each wave of pleasure to cross Charlie's face.

"Open your eyes." Colby said softly.

Charlie pulled them open with what seemed to be great effort. They were nearly black and Colby let himself be pulled into them like a black hole surrounded by stars. He took a breath. He knew he had crossed the event horizon, and from here on out he would perceive the rest of eternity as falling into those eyes.

Chapter Text

David accepted the cup of tea from his grinning boss. Mattie must have had another first. David could always tell because Don would come in with coffee or doughnuts or something for everyone and have a stupid grin on his face.

"Okay, what has you grinning today?" David asked cutting to the chase.

Don spread his arms wide. "My son is not brain damaged."

David was a little confused. "Okay? I thought you got all those MRIs done after he was born?"

"We did. Last night Mattie said his first words right on schedule, not even adjusting two months."

"Since there's a lot of money going around on this one, what was his first word?" Colby asked.

Don looked a little sheepish. "Shoo."

"Shoe?" David was trying to hold back laughter.

"Well I think it was more shoo as in shoo fly 'cause that's what Sasha was singing to him when he said it."

"Shoo?" David repeated.

"But his second word was Da and he was actually looking at me when he said it." Don added quickly.

"Congratulations."

"But, to return to my original point. He can speak, walk, pick up small things with his thumb and fore finger, recognize himself in a mirror, make eye contact, return smile, and he sleeps through the night. Developmentally speaking all I have left to do is teach him how to throw a curve ball and sign him up for college."

Colby gave Don a pat on the back. "Congratulations."

David knew he couldn't give Don too much grief. The doctors' had given Don and Anne all kinds of warnings about possible brain damage and developmental problems but they also said that the worst ones would make themselves known within the first couple of years.

Don sunk into his own chair looking terribly pleased with himself.

"So when's the next one showing up?" Colby asked probably as a joke.

Don sipped at his coffee. "Couple years, maybe."

David choked on his tea a bit. "Seriously?"

Don shrugged. "Well," Don dragged out the word. "It hasn't been that bad."

"Um... You do remember your two months in NICU right?"

Don just waved his hand. "We've already got that bit taken care of. Won't be a problem next time."

David and Colby looked at each other. "Colic Don, colic."

"And croop." Colby added.

"Teething."

"Stomach flu."

"I'm sure it's easier the second time around." David and Colby leveled identical looks at Don who obviously hadn't realized what he'd just said. "Okay, Charlie was a special case."

"We're going to remind you of this moment, Don."

"We're not trying yet. We're still just thinking about it."

"Okay, but in a few years when you come in here with baby puke on your tie again don't expect any sympathy from us."

~
David braced himself. He was heading into no man's land. At least he had backup. Colby was with him, along with Don, and Matt Li.

"Okay gentlemen," Don said crisply. "You all have your lists and we have one hour. And I recommend you all get at least one receiving blanket. Megan has no idea how many of those she's going to go through." And with that Don pushed open the doors to the baby store.

Megan's krav maga class and Larry's grad students were arranging a joint baby shower and Don and Anne were hosting it since they had the largest place, and since Megan didn't really have that many female friends the men in her life found themselves on the invite list. It was possibly a little early for a baby shower. Megan still had almost three months to go but she was due mid-January and no one wanted to think about trying to have a baby shower in between all the holiday parties and general chaos.

David looked around at the large store filled with little things in pink and blue and yellow. And women, outside of their team there wasn't a guy in sight. David looked down at the extensive list of things that apparently babies and new moms need. Some of the larger things had already been taken care off. Larry's students had clubbed together for a cradle. Charlie was getting the the stroller/car seat set. Don was getting Larry some kind of sling contraption that would let him carry the baby and write on a chalk board at the same time. Colby told him that Charlie and Mattie had even field tested it for just that ability.

A very brave sales girl approached David and Colby with a polite smile. "May I help you?" she asked.

David held out the list. "We've got to get something for a baby shower?"

"Do you know if it's going to be a boy or a girl?" The young woman asked.

"I got twenty buck on it being a girl." Colby said.

"So it's probably going to be a boy."

"Well, we have plenty of gender neutral baby clothes and toys."

"Um... Actually I was thinking the baby bag? Those are important, right?"

"Very important, right this way." The girl lead them over to a wall of large bags that were pink, blue or yellow and a surprising number had bunnies on them.

David looked at Colby. "What do you think?"

"Seriously man, can you picture Megan carrying anything with a bunny on it?"

David cringed and looked around.

Colby turned to the sales girl. "Okay, look, Megan, the mom to be, she's an FBI agent. Good tactical skills, brutal in the interrogation room, one of the best shots in the office, she teaches krav maga, I've seen her drop kick guys twice her size. Got anything that says 'yes I have a baby but I can still kick your ass into next Thursday?'"

The shop girl nodded. "I know just what you're looking for. Follow me."

David found himself lead into a far corner of the store and tucked into that corner were baby bags made of various shades of leather or wool. They looked more like oversized, tasteful, hand bags. The little sign advertised them as being for the corporate mother.

David picked up a light brown leather bag. "What do you think?" He asked Colby.

"I think it matches her shoulder holster."

David flipped the bag around a few times checking out the pockets and zippers. There was a small zipped pocket on the outside with some sort of extra thick lining in it. "What's this one for?" he asked the sales girl.

"It's a discrete pocket for the dirty dippers."

David put the bag over his shoulder and let his arm naturally hang down. His hand fell right to the pocket. He opened the little pocket up and slid his Glock in. He looked at Colby. "It fits perfect."

"I'm sure it wasn't meant for that." The sales girl said quickly sounding quite flustered.

"This is LA, you never know."

David retrieved his gun, looked at the price tag and felt his heart stop. Colby leaned over and made a small choking noise.

"Go halves with you?" Colby asked.

"You won't be getting a Christmas present."

"I'll live. It's for Megan."

David took the bag off and handed it to the sales girl. "We'll take it. Oh, we also need receiving blankets?"

~
The closest thing Anne had had to a baby shower was a shopping spree with Charlie two months after Mattie was born. In a way that was why she had volunteered to host Megan's, to experience the whole thing, even if it was second hand. In the end she realized it was pretty much just like throwing any other party just with cheap pink champagne and pink and blue cupcakes.

Most of the cupcakes had been eaten when they moved onto the present opening bit. On the level of cool presents one of Don's tech guys had found a beautiful solar system mobile that was made out of some sort of acrylic so the planets looked like blown glass or crystal. It played one of the calmer bits of The Planets. Anne had privately slipped Megan one of the more comfortable brands of breast pumps she'd found. She also offered to do a family portrait after the baby was born and had hair.

Megan opened a large gift from David and Colby and pulled out a very cool looking leather baby bag. Anne was a little envious. She'd always considered herself a little hip and Mattie's battered blue bag was definitely not hip.

Megan's krav maga class had gone practical and several of them had clubbed together for a hospital grade counter top, bottle sterilizer. One of her student's claimed that it could do a very nice steamed Asian chicken and veg once the baby didn't need it anymore.

The baby sling Don had got for Larry seemed to be a big hit. It was going to be interesting to see how Larry adjusted to being a parent full time. Even though Anne was used to working at home there had been a few hard moments there where she realized a mini person, who was more or less a stranger, prone to screaming, and couldn't speak her language was completely running her life. She had never been so glad to have cut her old friends completely out of her life in those moments, because if anything could have tempted her back onto junk it would have been the month Mattie decided to have colic, followed by a month of croup.

One of the last little gifts to be opened was a book of baby names with meanings and histories. One of Larry's students picked it up and started randomly reading out names. It it quickly became a game of explaining why each name was horrible and grossly inappropriate to someone.

"Amy." The student read out.

"My ex-wife's lawyer." One of Megan's students said.

"Arthur."

"Serial killer." Don said.

"Anthony."

"Stoner ex- roommate."

"Carl."

"Also a serial killer."

"Beatrix."

"One of my ex's," Charlie said.

"Cindy."

"My ex-wife."

"Charlotte."

"I like that one." Charlie said.

"You would."

"Crystal."

"No!" Every federal agent, Charlie, and Larry snapped at once.

Larry's student nearly jumped out of her skin. "Okay. Um... David?"

"That's the best name yet," David said.

"I out rank you." Don pointed out. "Donald is a good name."

"Sure, if you're a duck." Charlie said. Don tossed a wadded up napkin at him.
~
Don pinched the bridge of his nose as he sank into his bed. "I know champagne is a guaranteed headache but I think that pink coloring has made it worse somehow."

"Your liver just isn't what it used to be." Anne informed him as she came out of the bathroom. Don took a second to leer at his wife even if she was in a flannel night shirt. It was on his daily to do list to keep his marriage in good shape; spend at least a few minutes talking, spend at least a few minutes listening, be sure to say 'I love you', and look at his wife in a sexual manner even if he was too tired to do anything about it. Anne crawled into bed next to him. "So what's wrong with the name Crystal?"

"Hunh?" Don's head was still a little champagne fuzzy.

"All of you feds practically jumped down that poor kid's throat when she suggested the name Crystal. Even Charlie and Larry snapped."

On the list of cases Don never wanted to explain to his wife Crystal Hoyle was pretty high up there. "Oh... um... just a bad case a few years back."

"Just a bad case?"

Don knew he could say he couldn't talk about it but really that was an excuse he'd rather use for things he actually couldn't talk about. He'd known too many guys who'd tanked their marriages by never talking about the bad cases at home and after a while they all became bad cases.

"Crystal Hoyle, 34 year old high school history teacher takes her 18 year old lover Buck Winters on a cross country killing spree, heading to LA 'cause Crystal's got some old mistakes she wants to clean up. They rode into town with Ian on their tail and... It got bad. We grabbed Buck, Crystal grabbed Megan, some lines got crossed that... well that shouldn't have been crossed and in the end Megan got cut up, I put a bullet in Crystal's head, and Buck got 250 years, consecutive."

Don's head was still aching and was a little surprised to feel Anne take his hand. "So which bit of all that do I need to worry about eating you up 'cause any one of those things could have been from a dozen cases."

Sometimes Don was amazed how well Anne seemed to understand the job, especially for a civilian. "Ian was standing right next to me when I took the shot. He was fourth best shot in the country at the time and I pulled the trigger first 'cause I wanted revenge. Pure and simple. I killed someone out of revenge."

"It makes sense to me." Anne said quite calmly.

"Tell that to the shooting review board. Nothing official came down but they weren't impressed."

"You treat your team like family. Someone hurt your family."

"Yeah, well if that was the only line crossed..."

"What else happened?"

Don stared into the abyss for a bit. "We needed information out of Buck, had to find Megan. Stubborn, stupid, eighteen, thought he was in love, and I just lost patience."

Anne sat up a bit and looked down at Don. "You hit him?"

"No!" Don said quickly. "I've never touched a suspect." Don shook his head knowing that it was a thin defense. "I guess I did something worse. I walked out of the room and left him alone with Ian for five minutes."

Don could make out Anne's deep scowl even in the dim light.

"Don't get me wrong. I trust Ian with my life. I trust Ian with my team, I'd trust him to take care of you and Mattie if something came up but when a life's on the line he can be... morally fluid and results orientated."

Anne gave a snort. "What did he do?"

"I don't know. I just know I got the information I needed in five minutes and Colby gave me dirty looks for a month. But we got Megan back so..." Don shrugged again. "We've all got at least one howling demon on our records. Mine's named Crystal Hoyal. I get to the other side she's going to be the first ghost in line for a pound of my flesh, I can guarantee it."

"Well, she's got to get through me first."

Don reached up and brushed aside a bit of hair that had fallen into Anne's face. "I'm sorry. This is why agents usually just get involved with other agents. So we don't have to dump all this on an unsuspecting civilian world."

"I've got my demons too, Don."

"I know." He pulled Anne in for a hug and a bit of a cuddle. "You know one of the reasons I flipped out about Charlie and Colby when I first found out was that I didn't want Charlie involved with an agent. I mean he was already putting up with my shit I didn't want him to have yet another person in his life with all that baggage."

"I hate to say it but Charlie's got some baggage of his own."

"Yeah, but I didn't know that at the time. I just though he did math and liked girls."

Anne snickered against Don's chest. "Well they both seemed to have managed."

"I don't know how they do it some days. I mean if I were Charlie I don't think I could handle Colby's baggage and I don't even know what it is."

"Well it can't be that bad then."

Don shook his head. "Actually, it's probably worse. When I got Colby they gave me access to his Army record. Second Lieutenant Granger, stationed here and there, a little time in Afghanistan, CID, purple heart. Nothing fancy. Well after all the shit goes down with the Chinese, and Colby's a big ol' hero, I look at his file again. Now it's Captain Granger, purple heart and bronze star, CID and to this day I can't access any more than the top page of his file. Completely classified which means whatever he was doing someone somewhere doesn't want anyone to know he was doing it."

"What do you think it was?" Anne asked.

"I don't know. I do know that if you get 20 beers in him he starts apologizing for something but he won't say what and at 21 beers he passes out. Truthfully, at the end of the day, I don't think I want to know."

Chapter Text

Alan tapped on the front door of the craftsmen then popped his head in. It felt weird knocking on that door and he still had a key but he also knew that if Charlie and Colby were anything like he and Kathryn they were enjoying the luxury of not having to worry about anyone walking in.

The only person he could see was Agent Sherwood sitting at the dining room table.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Eppes." Agent Sherwood greeted with a quite chipper tone. The agent's jacket was over the back of a chair, his sleeves were neatly rolled up, and spread carefully across the dining table was the Eppes family silver. Most of it was from a set meant for Seder that had been a wedding present, never used. Quite tarnished, Agent Sherwood was polishing away at it and looked to be quite content.

"Um... Agent Sherwood, why are you polishing our silver?"

Agent Sherwood looked down at the cup in his hand. "Doctor Eppes said I could, and it needs to be done."

"That is true." Alan had to admit. Some of the pieces were nearly black. "What are you using?" he asked looking at a cup full of lumpy paste.

"Vinegar and baking soda. If it worked for Mrs. Beeton."

"True." Alan looked around. "Uh, is Charlie around?"

"He's in the garage." Agent Sherwood said going back to his polishing.

"Ah, can I talk to him or would you have to shoot me?"

"Oh, no, NSA agents don't carry weapons for the most part."

"Well that's good to know."

"Some of us have been issued weapons but we'd have to fish them out of our sock drawers before we could shoot anyone with them."

Alan nodded. "That is also good to know."

"We can put people on the no fly list if they cut us off in traffic, however."

Alan wasn't quite sure how to respond to that. "I'll just go talk to Charlie now."

Alan moved reasonably quickly to the garage. For one of the men in black he had slightly mixed feelings about Agent Sherwood. On the one hand he was pretty much the epitome of 'The Man', on the other hand Don had told him Agent Sherwood was probably an orphan and he always looked like he could use a decent home cooked meal or five.

Charlie was working away at a couple of different boards but he seemed relaxed. He took off his headphones as soon as he noticed Alan standing there.

"Hey, Dad. What's up?"

"Charlie, why is your NSA handler polishing the silver?"

"It keeps him busy and out of my hair."

"Polishing the silver?"

Charlie shrugged. "Cleaning makes him happy. In a perfect world I think he would have been born Oscar Wilde's butler. Honestly if I let him loose he'd scrub this place until the top side of the rafters were disinfected."

"That might not be a bad thing."

"I think it would qualify as misuse of a government employee."

"Charlie, you've slept with the man, I think you've already miss used him."

Charlie's jaw dropped along with the chalk he was holding. "How the hell do you know about that!?"

"I'm not an idiot."

Charlie's jaw worked a few times. "Well, yes..." He picked up his chalk. "It was a very long time ago, back when the local office was using the oh so difficult to work with Dr. Eppes to haze trainee agents."

"What would you do to them?" Alan asked with more than a little suspicion.

Charlie gave a dismissive wave. "Oh just tell them they were idiots and try to make them cry."

Alan was not impressed. "You tried to make Agent Sherwood cry?"

"No," Charlie quickly replied. "No," he said again far more gently. "He didn't exactly have the whole Men in Black thing down yet and he was... He was the first government suit who ever bothered to say please and thank you and... He was, fragile." Charlie said softly. "He was like porcelain pretending to be steel. And, kind of tragically smart." Charlie gave his head a little shake. "He's a brilliant intelligence analyst in his own right, he really should be running the whole damn circus, but he didn't go to Yale and wasn't Skull and Bones so he's just wasted babysitting mad scientists and geriatric spooks. Anyways that was all a very long time ago." Alan didn't believe the dismissive tone in Charlie's voice. There was obviously still affection there. "Now was there something particular you wanted or did you just want to give me grief about my past love life?"

"We're two days out from Thanksgiving; I need a final guest list."

"Oh, um... usual suspects. Oswald's picked up a girlfriend for the season so he's going to her place. Millie's going to be at her sister's but I did ask."

"How about Agent Sherwood?"

Charlie shrugged. "Um... You can ask but I don't think he really does the social food thing."

"Social food thing? It's Thanksgiving Charlie."

"He might show if Ian's around."

"Why do you say that?"

Charlie grinned. "Haven't you heard? They've been not dating pretty much since Don's wedding."

Alan was confused. "If they're not dating..?"

"No, see they've been talking, calling, emailing, meeting up for coffee, beer, catching a movie together here and there but they're not dating."

"Ah. Got it." Alan tried to picture Agent Sherwood and Ian actually dating. It was a slightly disturbing image. He and Ian had warmed to each other a bit after he and Kathryn had been together for a few months but that didn't change the fact that Ian was, according to Don and Colby, the scariest guy in the FBI. And Agent Sherwood was not exactly lacking in the scary himself. Despite his impeccable manners, by all accounts he had made the person who had hurt Charlie 'go missing'. The two of them together would be a lot of government scary in one place. Then again Ian's lack of a stable relationship was of great concern to his mother. "Any chance they're going to not, not date and just date?"

Charlie shrugged. "I don't know. I mean I've been doing my best to nudge Martin that direction but honestly he's a little skittish. Plus he's the marring kind and that'll always scare a guy off. If he was smart he'd just pour a couple of beers into Ian, take a nice long ride and deal with the other shit in the morning."

"Charlie!"

"What? Have you looked at the man? If someone had bothered to put bisexual and cheap drunk into his file I would have jumped that ass in like five minutes. I mean..."

Alan was trying to represses his general parental horror. Children, even grown children, do not have sex, even if you know full well that they do. "Charlie, please do not talk about family that way," Alan snapped just trying to get Charlie to stop talking. It worked, for a second.

"Since when is Ian...?"

"I just mean..."

Charlie grinned. "Daaad." Charlie strung out the word. "Are you thinking about maybe asking Kathryn something?"

"I..." Alan fumbled. He had been thinking about it, for a bit now, but there were a lot of feelings that he wasn't sure he was ready to face. "I just meant...." Alan tried again.

Charlie took his hand. "Come on dad, sit down."

They both sat on the old couch. It had been the second piece of furniture he and Margaret had bought together. "I still love your mother, Charlie," Alan said quickly.

"Oh I know that. And you know what, Kathryn knows that too. And no one would ever expect you to stop loving her. Question is do you love Kathryn as well?"

Alan picked at the stitching of the thin blanket that was draped over the couch. "I think I do, I do but... It's not the same."

"Well, why would it be?" He looked up at Charlie. "Let me channel Larry and wax philosophical for a moment. No two humans are the same, no two human brains are the same, even genetic clones will have different brain development do to different experiences, they will have different fingerprints do to blood pressure in the womb, tiny mutations in cellular duplications will mean they will be born slightly genetically different even if they started the same. So if everyone is different on the tiniest level then how can the bond between two people be expected to be the same as the bond between two other people? I love you and mom, I don't love you the same way, never have, you're two different people. Doesn't mean I love one of you more or less, just different. If you love Kathryn differently it doesn't mean you love her more or less than mom, it just means she's a different person and what's more you are a different person than the person you were when you fell in love with mom. It won't be the same. It shouldn't be the same."

"That was actually a little profound." Alan found himself saying after musing over Charlie's words.

"I'm experimenting with a new blend of coffee."

Alan laughed.

"Now I guess, the other question is, if you ask will she say yes?"

Alan felt a bit of heartburn flair up. He used to get that when he was first dating Margaret. "Well, that is a question. I mean she's had plenty of other options over the years and she's still a very lively, attractive woman."

"Yeah, but none of those other guys lasted three months so I think you're doing pretty good."

"True but, I'm not as young as I used to be, I'm pretty set in my ways, what looks I had are long gone and there weren't much of those, plus..."

"Dad, are you kidding me?" Charlie cut in.

"What? It's true."

Charlie put his face in his hand for a moment mumbling under his breath. "Okay," Charlie finally said. "I swear this is on topic, how many guys do you think I've dated for at least, let's say a month?"

Alan went over the list of women he knew Charlie had dated. He didn't think it could be too much more than that. "Five, six?"

"Seventeen. How many men do you think I've slept with?"

"I don't think I want to know," Alan replied quickly still reeling at the thought of seventeen men in Charlie's life that he knew nothing about.

"Fair enough. Let's just say a number greater than seventeen and don't look horrified until you get Don to show you his score card with women. Anyways, do you know what I learned in all that half assed dating and sleeping around?"

"What?" Alan asked carefully.

"Most men are, on some level, assholes," Charlie said bluntly. "And I am so including myself in this. All those daytime women's shows have got it right. A large percentage of guys, at least at some point in their lives, qualify as scum, except for a painfully small percentage that actually qualify as good men." Charlie put his hands on his father's shoulders. "You dad, are a truly good man."

Alan was both flattered and a little horrified. "I have my faults Charlie."

"I didn't say you were a saint, I said you were a good man. Now Kathryn has, at some point, set herself very high standards. She went looking for a good man. Now most women, and gay men, by her age have either settled for something okay that they can live with and maybe try to fix up a bit, or they have completely given up and just keep lots of cats. Kathryn didn't settle and didn't give up. She has sorted through the vast male heap of slime, jerks, weirdos, perverts, and assholes until she found you. A good man."

"Charlie, I..." Alan didn't know what to say.

"And for what it's worth if you do ask, I think she'd say yes. If nothing else you have a proven track record as a solid husband and good father."

"I hardly think the second one matters, Ian's older than you boys."

"Doesn't mean he couldn't use a good father in his life." Alan felt himself start to mist up a bit. "I think most women can recognize a truly good man when they find one. I mean if mom was willing to marry you on your fist date then..."

"What?"

"You proposed on your first date, right?"

"Yes, but she couldn't hear me. There was a fire plane that flew over."

Charlie smiled softly. "No, she heard you. She wanted to say yes but was afraid that you were just teasing her and didn't want to sound desperate."

Alan had a hard time thinking through the shock. "How do you know that?"

Charlie looked a little sheepish. "I... um... I got a little heartbroken my first year at Princeton. She spent a night feeding me ice cream and Oreos and convincing me that there were good men out there, and if there was one for me I'd know him when I saw him, just like she knew you were a good man when you went face first into that mud puddle on that construction site, then covered in mud with your paper work all screwed up you tried to mediate between her and the site manager." Alan wiped his eyes. He'd felt like such an idiot that day. The whole reason he'd tripped was because a goddess had suddenly walked onto the site, and she looked ready to rip someone's head off. "She'd want you to be happy," Charlie said softly.

Alan nodded. "I know."

"Of course, setting aside all this. You might want to talk to Ian first seeing as how he's probably spent every moment of his life trying to protect his mother from afore mentioned jerks, assholes, and male slime, and even if you are a good man Ian still might take a little convincing."

"And how do I do that?" Alan asked.

"I'd go for honesty. Let him read your FBI file if he hasn't already and just lay it all out. That and you can help me get him hooked up with Martin. If he's getting some maybe he'll mellow out a bit."

Alan rolled his eyes. "God, Charlie. When did your mind get crude?"

A Cheshire cat grin crept across Charlie's face. "Do you really want the answer to that?"

"No." Alan answered quickly standing up. "Forget I said anything. I'll let you get back to work and I'll go see if our favorite NSA agent is going to be around for Thanksgiving."

Chapter Text

Don looked over the room of fresh faced young men and women the same way he used to look at the green recruits at Quantico. It was his 'I think nothing of you and can make your life a living hell' look. He hadn't been able to break out that look for a while, but after the triumphant return of Millie Finch, Charlie had finally gotten the go ahead and budget to hire a new head TA. It had also been decided that Charlie's life had gotten to a point where he needed a PA to pick up his dry cleaning and things like that.

So the call had gone out; a chance to work with the great Dr. Eppes, strong coding skills, and strong stomach required, applicants will be subject to deep background check.

The top fifteen applicants, most chosen for their technical skills, were now crammed into Charlie's office along with Don, Charlie and Colby.

Don had insisted on being there to look over the applicants since whomever was chosen would be at least indirectly on his team. Colby wanted to be there to weed out anyone that looked like they might fall in love with Charlie or cause problems in general.

Charlie sat on the edge of his desk. He was dressed to kill. Even Don though he looked a little intimidating. Charlie smiled. "Good morning everyone, you are all here to try for the TA job, yes?"

There were general nods all around.

"Good. I'm going to tell you right now this is like no other TA job. For one you will be drawing two salaries. One from the university as my TA and a second from me personally to function as a personal assistant. There will be the grading of papers, and the fetching of coffee, non-fat milk two sugars, there will also be the fetching of dry cleaning and the keeping of an occasionally busy appointment calendar. As I'm sure many of you know I consult extensively for the federal government. Locally most of that is for the Violent Crimes unit of the FBI under my brother Special Agent Don Eppes."

Don gave a shark like smile.

"This means you may get called at three in the morning to come out to a blood splattered crime scene to help me gather data. Or you may be forced to stay awake for 24 hours trying to unravel a domestic terror cell before they poison half the city."

A few of the applicants looked a little uncomfortable.

"Oh, if at any point I mention something you don't think you can handle feel free to leave, it will not be held against you. I go to a fair number of conferences; some of the larger ones will require your attendance as well. I also spend a lot of time in DC. Play your cards right and you may be handing me files in the Oval Office."

Don saw a few of the applicants perk up.

"Speaking of files, at some point that will need to be dealt with."

Charlie pointed to a mass of files, papers and journals that had been slowing building up pretty much since Amita left. It was on the verge of qualifying as a fire hazard. One of the applicants shook his head, picked up his stuff, and left.

"Interesting," Charlie said. "Now I'm sure many of you are thinking 'well, aside from the fun and the money why should I bother?' Well we are in the land of publish or perish so even during months when I'm up to my eyeballs in dismembered bodies and terrorist chatter I need to get papers written up and out the door. I'm not proud." Don snorted. "And I do not mind sharing credit with the person who does the research grunt work, the compiling of data, or frankly even the typing. Having your name next to mine on a major work will look good to any other university or journal when it comes time to strike out on your own. How does that sound to everyone?"

There were general nods all around.

"Good, now it's time for a slide show." Charlie hopped off his desk and turned on a projector while Colby turned off the lights. "I'm going to tell you all this right now; I have gone through a lot of TAs and assistants because they can't handle the criminal investigations, mainly the crime scene photos. You'll all notice trash cans or buckets by your desks. This is if you need to be suddenly sick. Getting sick does not mean you don't get the job. I heaved after seeing my first dead body. It's sort of a rite of passage. The question is whether or not you come back after you get sick. Everybody ready to see what you might need to deal with?"

There were less than enthusiastic nods. Charlie clicked to the first slide. "Dismemberment. Rare but not unheard of."

Don looked at the first slide. It was from a pretty gruesome Russian mob case a few years earlier. Charlie was obviously dragging the most disgusting and disturbing shots he could find to weed out the squeamish. The slide clicked over.

"Disembowelment and left in a car trunk for a week in summer."

Don heard a choking sound and someone sprinted out of the class room. He had to admit that one wasn't really fair. Everyone had gotten sick on that one. But then again pictures don't have smell.

"Burns." Charlie continued on. "It's really the smell you've got to worry about with burns. Sort of an over cooked rancid pork smell."

A young woman in the front row grabbed her bucket and made a run for it. Don could distantly hear the sound of someone being sick in the hall.

"Close range gun shots." A young woman had half her face blown off in the picture.

"Sexual mutilations." Two more ran but the first girl who left came back.

"Stabbings." Don looked at the picture and remembered the guy who stabbed his wife 287 times with a pair of scissors. In the interrogation room Don asked the guy if his arm had gotten tired.

"Hangings." A young man looked away from the picture of the swinging body and quickly left.

"And it must be remembered that trying to catch criminals increases the odds that you yourself may become a victim of a criminal." Charlie switched the slide. This time Don had to look away. It was one of the shots from Charlie's own file, before the doctors had cleaned him up and he looked half dead.

Charlie finished the slide show and turned back on the lights.

Don pointed to a kid in the front row. "You. Out."

"What? I didn't get sick?" The kid objected.

"Yeah, I know. I was watching you. You enjoyed that whole thing. Get out and go get help before you turn into one of the guys I've got to hunt down."

Don saw the kid's eyes flash with a very cold rage before he picked up his stuff and left. Don looked around. There were nine left from the fifteen. Four men and five women. They all looked slightly shaken.

Charlie rubbed his hands together. "Okay, now I probably should have asked this before putting you all through that but does anyone have anything on their records that might make the government unwilling to grant you security clearance? This includes juvenile and expunged records. They have ways of finding out so fess up now."

Three hands very slowly went up. Don pointed to the one closest to him.

"Um..." The young woman fiddled with her pen. "Um... When I was twelve, I... um... I might have tried to hack into the Pentagon on a dare?" Don drew a long breath through his teeth. Charlie smacked his face into his hand. "I didn't get very far, really?"

"That could be a problem but we'll look at the file." Don pointed to the next girl who had raised her hand. "What did you do?"

"Got busted with a joint on my 18th birthday. Wasn't mine but I was holding."

"How big a joint?"

"Pretty small?"

Don thought about it for a bit. "That might slide. We live in a world where the president has admitted to inhaling. So..." Don pointed to the last kid who looked like he could be Colby's baby brother. "And you?"

"Well it's not really me...Um... There's a chance my older brother's Taliban?"

"Excuse me?"

The kid shrugged. "He had a breakdown in 2000, decided to study Arabic in Pakistan, hopped on a plane and the last we heard about him was in 2003 when a bunch of scary looking government dudes showed up with surveillance photos of someone who might have been him running around a mountain somewhere."

Don looked at the kid who looked like your clean cut all American guy next door. "That might be a problem but we'll look at the file." Don didn't want to tell the kid that there was probably no way of getting him anything but the most basic clearance. Certainly nothing high enough to really work with Charlie.

"Okay, anyone else? You've all lived exemplary, squeaky clean lives?" Charlie asked. If there was anything else no one was fessing up to it. "Big brother is watching. They will find out." There was silence. "Well then, moving on. Most of you got to this room by having a very good portfolio of coding skills. Now I do a lot of equations but equations aren't much good to other people if they're just sitting on a chalkboard. What I need is someone who can take my equations and turn them into code, quickly, efficiently, and accurately and sometimes it will be a matter of life and death."

Don was impressed by the cold, hard look Charlie gave the applicants. It was almost as good as his own.

"I see you all have your laptops, have you all downloaded the piece of software I specified?" There were nods all around. "Good. Get out your computers and load up."

There was a quick scrabble for computers while Charlie wrote out a long equation on the boards. It looked familiar.

"There is a serial killer," Charlie said as he wrote. "Brutal, vicious. Every 31 days he snatches a child. He holds them for three days then dumps their mutilated body on park land. He doesn't bother to check to see if his victims are dead from their injuries. It can be argued the lucky ones are."

Don knew what case Charlie was talking about. Not one of his but one in Washington State a couple of years earlier. Charlie had been called after 7 kids were dead or near to it. He had come home after three weeks with a confession and a thousand yard stare.

"The killer follows a very specific pattern." Charlie continued as he wrote. "A girl was taken six hours ago. For another two hours she is alive and unharmed. This expression will give us a map of the most likely places where she is being kept." Charlie put down the last symbol with a flourish. "Go."

All the applicants froze for a second before leaping into a flurry of typing. Charlie paced up and down the rows looking over shoulders. "Quickly, quickly. She's being kept in the dark in an old dog house. She is terrified. Her parents are terrified. Her big brother is barely keeping it together."

Don could see hands begin to shake over keyboards as Charlie turned the screw. "Her name is Jessie. He's going to rape her. She's eleven. She likes soccer and wants to try out for the school play next week. He's going to take off her scalp a bit at a time."

One of the girls slammed her laptop shut, grabbed her bag and hurried out.

"Faster." Charlie snapped.

A young woman with grandmotherly grey hair covering her face raised her hand. Charlie leaned in close. Don couldn't hear was the young woman said but Charlie simply said. "Well, fix it." And went back to pacing.

"Come on, everybody. People are waiting."

Don had the slightly uncomfortably feeling that just maybe Charlie was doing an impression of him.

"We have units on the ground, units in the air, they need this map now!"

There was a beep from a computer and a young man threw his arms up. "Finished Dr. Eppes," he said breathlessly.

"Good," Charlie said. Within the next two minutes all the other applicants finished, the grey haired girl finishing last.

"Okay everybody let's see what you've got." The first applicant turned his laptop around with obvious pride. On his screen was a map of the harbor area with a chunk colored red. "No." The boy's face fell. "Jessie is dead."

The next applicant turned her's around looking grim. She had the same map. "No," Charlie said. "Her parents have gotten divorced."

The next applicant sighed with the same map. "Wrong, her brother has become a meth addict."

Charlie looked at the next four. "No, wrong, wrong and no."

Charlie got to the grey haired girl who had spoken to him. She turned her laptop around. Her map highlighted a section of the Malibu hills. "Yes," Charlie said with a nod. "Jessie has been rescued. She'll need a lot of therapy and will always be a little nervous but mostly she'll be okay. And they caught the bastard with lots of evidence and we'll get a solid conviction. Today you won." Don could barely see the girl's face behind her hair but she looked more embarrassed than anything else. "Why don't you go show everybody why your map looks different?" Charlie gestured to his equation.

The girl stood up and moved quickly to the chalk board. She was about Charlie's height and wearing an over-sized ratty blue sweater that covered any figure she might have and loose jeans that did the same thing. She tentatively picked up a piece of chalk then made two quick marks on the board before scurrying back to her seat. The other seven applicants groaned.

"Everyone see the mistake now?" Charlie asked. Everyone nodded. "I'm not perfect. I fuck up like everyone else. But sometimes if I fuck up people die and I don't like that. If you want to work for me never assume that something is right and never be afraid to tell me you think I'm wrong and never be afraid to speak up if you think you've got a better idea." There were more nods but generally the faces were grim. "All right everyone. You all did pretty well. I threw you a couple of curve balls. Hand in those secondary information forms I emailed you and you'll all be contacted in a week or so."

Each applicant got up and handed Charlie some pieces of paper. The ones who thought they might still have a chance shook his hand and said a word or two. Charlie subtly spun the grey haired girl away from the rest and towards Don.

"Just stay for a sec," Don told her quietly. Don was sure Charlie had made his choice as soon as the girl had raised her hand.

Once the other applicants had left Charlie turned to the girl looking over a few bits of paper. "Edna Mooney? Yes?" The girl nodded, her eyes pretty firmly on the floor. "Do you have a nickname or just Edna?"

"Most people call me Mouse." The girl said softly, her voice barely above that of a mouse squeak.

"Fair enough." Charlie looked over the papers some more. "Says here you're working on your doctorate in combinatorics under Dr. Lim and also serving as his TA?"

"Yes," Mouse replied softly.

"Isn't he going on "Emergency Sabbatical" soon?" Charlie made little air quotes with his fingers.

"The judge said he has to check into rehab by next Wednesday and that's at least sixty days and Dr. Finch doesn't want to see him back until next fall."

"So you're going to need a new thesis adviser as well as a job?"

"Yes."

"That was some pretty nice coding you did. Usually the pressure isn't quite that bad. Interested in working for me, Mouse?"

"That's why I applied." Mouse answered. Don chuckled. Her voice was still soft and her eyes still on the ground but there was a bit of attitude there.

"How do I like my coffee?" Charlie asked.

"Non-fat milk two sugars."

"Cool." Charlie reached out and used one finger to brush her hair from half her face. "I can't use an assistant who's bumping into things. You knock over a vase in the White House and there are these little old ladies that never let you hear the end of it."

Don decided that he was going to have to get the story of how Charlie knew that the next time they got drunk. Mouse, on the other hand, flushed bright red and seemed to curl in on herself, while at the same time trying to shove her long grey hair behind her ears. Don managed to finally get a good look at her. She was kind of cute with washed out grey blue eyes that seemed to go with the grey hair. Her face however didn't really look much over twenty.

Charlie looked at the form again. "You have a full driver's license and a car?"

"Yes."

"Does it actually run?"

"Most days," Mouse answered.

Charlie looked at Don and Colby. "Have you two got any questions?"

"Lakers or Celtics?" Don asked.

Mouse actually looked up. "Kings." Don winced. "I'm from the valley," Mouse said with a shrug.

"That's forgivable."

"Are you seeing anyone?" Colby asked.

Don's jaw dropped.

"Colby!" Charlie snapped.

"I'm asking because this job you're applying for will kill any hint of a social life you may have. You're not going for one nearly full time job you're going for two, plus your thesis."

"I don't do the social thing much. I try to work out a few times a week. That's about it really." Mouse answered carefully. "And I have seven older brothers, so I don't really date."

Charlie gave a low whistle. "You have my sympathies. Do you have any questions for us?"

Mouse looked over her shoulder at the vast pile of files and journals. "What happened to the last person who was in charge of that mess?"

"She fell in love with me, wouldn't put out, and got very upset when she caught me having dinner with my boyfriend. She's now at MIT."

"So the combined weight of all that paper didn't cause a micro tear in the fabric of space and time and suck her into another dimension?"

Charlie grinned. "No, but feel free to spread that rumor. I like it."

~
Don waved Charlie into the war room.

"Hey, Don. Have you got Mouse's clearance yet?"

Don knew those were going to be the first words out of Charlie's mouth. Mouse had spent the previous two weeks chipping away at Charlie's filing and he was eager to bring her onto cases. Don was warming up to her as well. She was painfully shy around any more than two people but beneath that was a rather sardonic wit and she was not above using it to put Charlie in his place.

"She's basically clear except for one little interesting thing I found." Don loaded up a YouTube clip he'd found. In it a young woman with grey hair, obviously Mouse bowed to another woman. A second and two lighting quick blows later the other woman was laid out on a mat. The observing crowd applauded. Charlie's jaw dropped. "As of 18 months ago Mouse was nationally ranked in Ninjutsu."

A smile crawled its way across Charlie's face. "She's a ninja!?"

Don brought up another clip where she laid out her opponent in about three moves. "Yep."

"Oh god, Don, can I keep her? Please?" Charlie put his hands together absolutely begging.

"You just want to tell the other professors that your TA's a ninja."

"Yes. Next time you go to Quantico don't you want to say 'Yeah, I've got this girl who consults for me once in a while, she's a ninja!'?"

Don couldn't help but grin himself. "I'll have to put in her file that she can probably kill with her bare hands. It doesn't look like she's had a match in about a year."

"She's been working on her doctorate for about a year, so that makes sense."

"I found an interview clip of her from ESPN 5 or something and she's blushing and stuttering and she'd just drop kicked ten people."

Charlie replayed the second clip. "Oh Don, tell me I can keep her."

Don patted Charlie on the head. "You can keep her. But I'd be careful about how often you ask her to fetch coffee because she can totally kick your ass."

~
A couple of weeks later Charlie dragged Mouse into the office while the city was reeling from a string of highly professional bank jobs. He was putting up his findings while everyone gathered around.

"Hey everyone, this is Edna Mooney, she lets people call her Mouse but I think we need to come up with something better." Mouse turned bright, bright red and looked like she wanted to vanish into the floor. "She's my new TA, PA, research assistant and will be doing computer coding for me. Mouse," Charlie waved his arm across the room. "This is everybody."

Mouse turned a deeper red and gave a little wave while trying to hide behind her hair.

"Oh and I'd make it a point to be extra nice to her. She's a ninja."

Chapter Text

Charlie wondered if it was particularly bad form to put up a Christmas tree on the first night of Hanukkah, but the holiday season was shaping up to be particularly hectic so it was sort of now or never. He and Colby had found a couple of hours to pick out a tree (a far more complicated exercise that Charlie ever realized), and buy extra lights and ornaments since Colby only had enough to cover his usual little table top tree.

He held the tree steady while Colby bolted it into the base. Charlie had to admit the pine did smell nice.

"Okay, let it go," Colby said from the base of the tree.

Charlie carefully let it go and stepped back.

"Is it straight?" Colby asked still half buried in the pine.

"I can get the level out of the garage?" Charlie offered.

"No Charlie, just eyeball it. Does it look like it's leaning over?"

Charlie walked around the tree a couple of times. "Actually, it looks okay."

"Great." Colby shimmied out from under the tree. Charlie reached out and brushed the pine needles from Colby's hair.

"Now what?" Charlie asked.

"Now we string lights."

Stringing lights, like the selection of the tree itself, proved a far more complicated endeavor than Charlie would have suspected. He did some quick rough calculation on the length of a spiral around the outer area of a cone but Colby just shook his head and went about haphazardly putting strings of lights around the tree.

They weren't quite done with the lights when Alan and Kathryn showed up with groceries for dinner.

"Kathryn," Colby called out from behind the tree. "Will you please tell Charlie that advance geometry is not needed to string Christmas lights?"

"Well I'd hardly call it advanced geometry."

"Charlie, why don't you go help your father in the kitchen?" Kathryn said as she took the string of lights from Charlie's hands.

Charlie brushed the pine needles from his clothes and retreated to the kitchen.

"You've run from the tree trimming?" Alan asked as he started to peel apples.

"Yes, well, some things should be left up to the experts I think." Charlie took a large bag of potatoes and dumped them into the kitchen sink. "You know I never knew that just choosing a tree could be such a process. I always thought it was just 'hey there's a nice looking tree, let's get that one,' but no apparently there are criteria that must be met for the optimum tree."

"Why do I sense a whole new branch of mathematics being developed?"

Charlie just chuckled a little and began scrubbing at the potatoes while his father tossed the peeled apples into a pot. "Well as long as it makes Colby happy he can fuss with that tree as much as he wants. In fact I need your turkey recipe."

"You're making a turkey?"

"I am going to make a turkey and string boughs of holly and dress as Santa and throw myself head first down the chimney if that's what it takes to keep Colby happy this year."

"Is everything okay?"

Charlie scrubbed at a potato with a little more force than was strictly necessary. "His gingerbread hasn't shown up yet."

"His gingerbread?"

"Every year his mother sends two big loafs of gingerbread. And she always sends them via the office to make sure they don't get lost. His gingerbread hasn't shown up and it's probably not going to and he's pretending like he hasn't noticed or doesn't care but..."

"Those retched people are still his family."

"And it's killing him. I once asked him if maybe there was a hospital mix up. He showed me a picture of his father at the same age, it's spooky how much they look alike. It looked like one of his photos from Afghanistan except it was jungle fatigues instead of desert fatigues. I guess his brothers take after his mother or something."

Alan took the scrub brush out of Charlie's hand. "Why don't you go help Colby with the tree? I can handle this."

Charlie gave a little nod and went back out to the living room. The lights were apparently strung to a satisfactory point and Colby and Kathryn were hanging ornaments. Charlie surreptitiously slipped his phone from his pocket and took a picture of the scene just catching the smile on Colby's face as he turned around.

"You've been shooed from the kitchen?" Colby asked.

"Maybe. Now show me what's involved in hanging ornaments. I'm sure you just can't put them anywhere."

Colby handed Charlie a box of glittery glass balls. "Heavier ones go on lower branches since they're stronger. Don't hang them too deep into the tree but not so close to the end of a branch that they'll fall off. And try to hang them next to lights so they'll reflect."

"But don't put breakable ones too low." Kathryn added. "You have a small child coming over."

Charlie carefully plucked an ornament out of the box. It looked a little like a blue disco ball. He let dangle off his finger for a moment trying to judge how heavy it was. Unfortunately he didn't quite know what the strength and flexibility of the average pine branch was. He put it on a branch about eye level. The branch drooped and the ornament slid off the end. Charlie caught it. He spotted another branch at about waist level. It looked thicker. He slid the ornament on. The branch bent a little but the ornament stayed in place. Charlie couldn't help but feel a little please with himself. He looked to Colby who looked rather amused.

"What?" Charlie asked.

Colby swooped in and put a peck on his lips. "Nothing. I just love you."

Charlie felt himself blush a little. "Love you too."

Ornaments were still being carefully hung when there was a quick knock at the door. Don let himself in followed by Anne carrying Mattie. Charlie was always a little amazed at just how big Mattie was getting. He still had vivid memories of a tiny baby that fit easily across his trembling hands.

Anne put Mattie down and he instantly toddled towards the tree with its shinning lights and glittering balls of glass. Charlie scooped him up just before he reached the tree but held him close to it so he could reach out and touch the branches. His face got that look of wide eyed wonder as he rubbed his hands across the pine needles.

Don put Mattie's baby bag by the door. "Nice looking tree, Chuck."

"Colby picked it out as I was unfamiliar with the criteria that had to be met for an optimal Christmas tree."

Mattie got a good grip on a branch and put the end in his mouth. He quickly spit it out and made a face. Don laughed. It had been generally decided that unless something was obviously poison, a choking hazard or just really, really gross that they would just let Mattie chew on things, otherwise the entire family would have gone nuts trying to keep things out of his mouth. Alan had even informed them which bugs in the back yard were more or less safe to eat since both Don and Charlie had chewed on more than a few in their days.

Anne lifted Mattie from Charlie's arms. "That's right; pine smells nice but is not tasty."

"Where's dad?" Don asked.

"Kitchen."

"Have you got a star for the top?" Anne asked Colby as he hung the last few ornaments.

"Yep." Colby reached into a little cardboard box and pulled out a triangle of aluminum foil.

"You kept that?" Charlie asked seeing the foil.

"Why wouldn't I?"

"It's kitchen foil."

"So?" Colby began carefully unfolding the foil into a geometric star.

The previous Christmas Colby's cheap little plastic star had come out of storage cracked and crumbled. Charlie had grabbed a roll of foil from Colby's kitchen and put his origami skills to work making a star for the top of Colby's little plastic tree. Charlie didn't know Colby had kept it. He figured Colby would have just thrown it out and gotten a new star for the next year.

Colby breathed a little puff of air into the foil creation before carefully placing it on top of the tree. "There."

Everyone took a step back to look at the twinkling tree. Don gave an approving nod. "Mom would like it."

Charlie cracked up. "Yeah, she would." Charlie put his arm around Colby's waist. "Happy?" Colby smiled and gave a little nod. "Good."

"We should probably go see if your father needs help."

"You're probably right."

Everyone started heading in the general direction of the kitchen but Charlie quickly pulled Don aside.

"What's up, Buddy?"

"So, um, Martin was polishing up the family silver, don't ask, and he found something interesting way in the back of the cupboard."

"What?"

Charlie reached into the cupboard that usually held the good china and pulled out a menorah of heavy silver.

Don's jaw dropped. "Is that grandma's?"

"I think so."

"I thought Aunt Doris got it?"

Charlie put it carefully on the table. It made a heavy clunk. "I guess not. It was just sitting back there behind the really good china that never gets used. At any rate I found some candles that fit, and I don't know if you and Anne have talked about religion or anything, I mean she's kinda got that new age thing going, and I know it's after sunset already but I thought maybe you'd want to..." Charlie gave a little shrug. It was always slightly tricky for him. On the one hand he had never had faith in the existence of any type of greater begin, even as a small child. And as an adult he'd become more and more aware of the destruction heaped upon the world in the name of religion. On the other hand he did feel a little guilty completely disconnecting from his cultural heritage, what little his parents had presented him with.

"Yeah. I'd like that." Don ran his fingers over the freshly polished silver. "Why don't you find a spot for it and we can light it before dinner."

Charlie had already picked out a spot near the front windows. "Okay."

~

Don carefully balanced Mattie on his knee while smoothing out the piece of paper with the relevant prayers written out phonetically. He felt a little guilty about that. He still remembered his French lessons because they had come from a perky, buxom blond only a few years older than himself. His Hebrew lessons on the other hand, what few there were, had come from an old man who smelled a little funny if Don recalled. And that was about the only thing he did recall.

He and Anne had talked about religion a little. Neither of them were exactly devout or conservative. They had decided to basically expose Mattie to what they had and let him decide, or not, what he believed on his own.

Don lit the shamash candle. Mattie reached his hand out for the dancing flame but Don had him held out of reach. His little boy was rather like a magpie these days and would reach for anything shiny. He took a deep breath and very carefully he guided Mattie's still pudgy fingers to the candle and together they lifted it and lit the first candle. Mattie's eyes were wide and he babble rapid sounds as one flame turned into two.

He put the shamash candle back and started to read from the printout Charlie had given him. Don tried his best not to stumble but Mattie put a small hand to his father's lips obviously curious about the words he'd never heard before.

There was a chuckle from behind him. His dad was standing with everyone a bit of laughter in his eyes as Mattie tried desperately to stick his fingers in his father's mouth seeking the source of the new sounds. Don removed Mattie's hand. Found his place on the bit of paper and kept going.

Chapter Text

Ian felt like it should be snowing. Waiting in front of Martin's apartment building he felt like it should be colder and he should be stamping is feet in the snow. Instead he was in LA and it was a pleasant 62 on Christmas Eve.

He spotted Martin's painfully generic grey sedan coming up the road. It was so average it was easy to spot if you knew what you were looking for. Martin pulled into his building's small parking lot.

Ian waited, still kind of wishing for snow.

Martin came out of the parking lot and up the walk looking as immaculately dressed as ever, despite it being the end of the day. With his brief case he also carried a cheap black plastic bag. It was the type Ian associated with liquor stores and he wondered what was in it. Maybe a bottle of liquid holiday cheer?

"Hey." Martin greeted with a smile.

"Hey there." Ian was suddenly aware that he had been clutching the small package in his hand maybe a little too hard and was worried he may have wrinkled the blue wrapping paper. "Sorry I didn't call, but I was passing through and just thought I'd see if I could catch you."

"Well you are the master hunter Agent Edgerton and you seem to have caught me."

"Um... Merry Christmas," Ian said quickly holding out the gift. Martin looked startled. Ian suddenly became worried. He hadn't really been sure about getting Martin something but they'd known each other for almost five months and the perfect gift had dropped into his lap, well onto his foot. Maybe Martin didn't celebrate Christmas. They'd never discussed religion but surly he'd at least appreciate the sentiment even if Ian had gotten the winter holiday wrong. Unless he belonged to one of those religions that didn't do holidays at all but in Ian's experience those religions also didn't do alcohol either and he and Martin had gotten beers together.

Martin carefully took the gift. "Thank you. Um..." Martin reached into the black plastic bag and fished out a receipt, quickly shoving it in his pocket, then he held out the bag to Ian. "I didn't exactly get a chance to wrap it."

Ian took the bag. There was a solid weight in it. "Can I look?"

"Only if I can open mine."

Ian smiled and reached into the plastic bag. He pulled out a can of gun oil. "Wow." Ian recognized the brand. It was manufactured in Switzerland and only exported in small amounts. Ian usually had to order it from a supplier in Europe when he could scrape up the funds for an order big enough that they'd be willing to ship overseas. He grinned at Martin. "Should I even ask how you found this?"

Martin just smiled his creepy NSA smile. "I have my sources."

Ian made a little gesture towards the gift in Martin's hands. Martin opened the wrapping carefully, not tearing it but rather slipping his long thin fingers under the tape. Ian had somehow known Martin would be one of those people who did that.

His face was difficult to read as the paper revealed a book. It was a first edition, hard back copy of A Scanner Darkly, with dust cover. It had fallen off a table in a flea market while Ian was tracking a guy.

Martin looked up, a broad, truly genuine smile on his face. Ian had to brace himself a little. That smile made Martin look simultaneously much younger and very desirable. Ian suddenly felt like a pervert and stomped hard on the urge to reach out and touch Martin's face.

"Thank you, Ian. This is great."

Ian smiled back. "Well it sort of jumped out at me. Thought you might like it."

"It's perfect."

And then there was awkwardness. "So um... have you got any plans for tomorrow? Charlie's putting on a bit of a shindig. All comers welcome."

"I'm waiting for someone to try to commit suicide." Martin answered quite plainly.

"You're what?"

"Every single year someone I'm a handler for tries to kill themselves on Christmas Eve, without fail. I'm starting to believe they all get together behind my back and draw straws."

Ian knew he shouldn't really believe that but from the bits and pieces he'd learned about Martin's job he'd worked out that Charlie was actually one of the saner people Martin dealt with. Someone, somewhere, had worked out that Martin had almost saintly patience at times, so over the years Martin had been made responsible for over 40 scientists and ex-spooks that the NSA needed to keep tabs on but were considered difficult to work with, and they were scattered from Monterey to the Mexican border.

"Maybe you'll get lucky this year."

Martin's phone rang. He checked the caller ID and quickly held it up for Ian to see. It read Cedars-Sinai ER. "Hello Agent Sherwood speaking." Martin rolled his eyes. "Yes I am... I see." Martin mimed hanging himself. "I understand... No I'm afraid sedation is out of the question... If you sedate Dr. Moore then you and your staff will be spending the holiday being debriefed by an NSA agent as to the exact content and wording of anything Dr. Moore may have said under sedation and I'm sure you have other plans... I do not joke about matters of national security." Martin checked his watch. "I will be there in 25 minutes. Until then just keep him strapped down." Martin hung up his phone and sighed.

"Maybe next year?" Ian offered.

Martin just shrugged. "At least I'll have something to read."

~

Alan brushed leaves from the base of the headstone and lay down a heavy bunch of roses. Then he sat down next to the headstone in the thick grass. A fat brown sparrow pecked at the earth a few feet away.

"I miss you," Alan said. It was always the first thing he said. "Mattie's getting big. I wish you could see him. Walking and talking. Fascinated by everything. Trying to eat everything. He reminds me of Charlie at that age. Well Charlie on his good days at that age. The boys are doing well. Don's just great with Mattie, he loves that little boy so much. And he's not letting the job eat him like it used to, I don't think so at any rate. Charlie is, well, he's Charlie but he seems to have more good days than not. You should see what he's done to the house. Christmas tree, tinsel, he even found real holly and mistletoe somewhere. He's trying to keep Colby happy. Those wretched people he's related to are managing to hurt him from a thousand miles away. Even his own mother, so Charlie's really trying to give him Christmas. Larry's counting down the days until Megan is due. Just a few weeks now. I'm torn between being happy and terrified for him 'cause, well, you know Larry."

Alan plucked a piece of grass and twirled it between his fingers.

"I've... um... I've moved in with Kathryn. Well we moved in with each other, well I got a condo. Charlie and Colby really needed their own space. Um, anyways. I..." Alan felt a burn build in his throat. "I still miss you. I still love you. I don't want to be in love with anyone else but I know that's not what you wanted for me. You always took such good care of me, of all of us really. Never knew what you saw in me. Just counted my lucky stars every day. Still do."

Alan took a deep breath.

"I think you'd like Kathryn. Well maybe not right off. She spent so much of her life just surviving I think she still has a hard time remembering that she can do more than just survive now. In some ways I wish I could have met her a long time ago. Not that I would ever trade a single second with you. I just think her boy, Ian, I think he really could have used a father. That wasn't really Kathryn's fault. She was a baby with a baby. She certainly did better than most."

Alan was quiet for long moments just running his hand over the grass. "I wish you could be here, love. I wish you could see Mattie and Anne and Colby. I wish you could see how happy our boys are. How close they've gotten as brothers. The amazing, good work they do with each other. All the people they help and save."

Alan leaned against the large head stone. "I miss you. I wish you were here."

~

Martin sat down next to the hospital bed. The occupant stared at the ceiling, his arms and legs strapped to the bed.

"Dr. Moore."

"Agent Sherwood." The man in the bed replied.

"Hanging Daryl? Really?"

"Seemed like a good idea at the time." Dr. Daryl Moore said with a shrug.

"Couldn't you have called me before trying to string yourself up?"

"Then I wouldn't get lots of fun drugs for Christmas, could you scratch my nose?" Martin scratched the doctor's nose. "Thanks. Besides it's not like either of us had better offers for the holidays."

Martin looked at the book in his hand. "I suppose I shouldn't argue with you there."

~

Colby was being nuzzled. He was half asleep but someone was definitely nuzzling his neck. He cracked open one eye.

"Wake up," Charlie said mid nuzzle.

"What time is it?" Colby mumbled. It felt too early.

"Seven."

"Why are you waking me up?"

"'Cause it's Christmas morning and we're supposed to run down stairs and open the presents Santa left in the middle of the night." Colby pulled open both eyes. "Well that's what they do in the movies."

"I highly doubt that Santa came," Colby mumbled his voice still feeling rough with sleep.

"You'll never know unless you get up and go down stairs." Colby shut his eyes again and groaned. Charlie was obviously not going to let this go. "Coffee is already hot in the pot."

Colby sighed and sat up. Charlie hopped up and tossed him his dressing gown then rushed from the room. Obviously he'd already had a cup of coffee himself. By the time Colby made it down stairs Charlie was waiting next to the tree holding two big cups of coffee. And, in fact, it did appear as if Santa had come in the middle of the night since there were several presents he didn't remember being there the night before.

He breathed in the sweet smell of coffee mixed with pine. He traded Charlie one of the cups for a kiss.

"So how do we do this?" Charlie asked.

"Since it's just the two of us I think we can get away with one gift at a time."

Charlie grabbed a couple of pillows from the couch and they sat down next to the tree. Charlie pulled the first gift from under the branches and handed it to Colby. "This is from David."

Colby took the square gift wrapped in Santa paper. David had managed to swing a trip back to New York for the holidays. He must have given it to Charlie before he left. Colby unwrapped it to find CDs from a couple of obscure little country groups he liked.

Colby set the CDs aside and handed a package to Charlie. Charlie grinned and tore into the paper. Once he got into the box he made appreciative little ooing noises. It was a set of pens with mother of pearl inlay Colby had found at an antique store. The real seller had been the matching slide rule that went with it. Not that Charlie had ever actually needed a slide rule but he did have a sizable collection of them.

He leaned over and gave Colby a kiss. "Thank you."

"Thought you might like it."

"You know me too well." Charlie reached under the tree and handed a good sized gift to Colby. Colby quickly unwrapped it and found himself making similar ooing noises. It was a sizable set of hooks, feathers, line and all the other things needed to make good fishing flies and lures. "Dad helped me pick it out since I do not fully understand the fine art of standing in cold water and throwing string at fish."

Colby pressed a good kiss to Charlie lips. "It's perfect."

He handed another box to Charlie. He had put it under the tree at the last moment since the contents were a little fragile. Charlie pulled off the wrapping, broke into the cardboard box, pushed aside the tissue paper, and gave a little gasp. "Oh Colby, it's beautiful." Charlie carefully lifted out what looked like porcelain, shaped into an opening lotus blossom. The edges of each petal were painted with gold and the flower was opening to reveal an Epicycloid spiral.

It was one of Kathryn Edgerton's creations and it was merely paper and lacquer. While Kathryn taught water colors her real talent was for taking paper, lacquer, bits of wire and glue and making it look like the finest work of wood or clay. Mattie had gotten his hands on one of her bowls during a visit and crushed it easily. Don had been horrified but Kathryn had only laughed insisting that her work was worth little more than a piñata, less since you didn't get candy when it broke, and two days later an identical bowl had sat on a slightly higher shelf.

Colby had heard Charlie making appreciative noises over a flower piece she was working on so had commissioned a similar one. He had also insisted on paying Kathryn double since as far as Colby, and everyone else was concerned, she didn't charge nearly enough for her work.

Charlie turned it around in his hands. "I actually saw Kathryn working on this last week. She asked me if I liked it."

"What did you say?"

"I said I was very envious of whoever was getting it."

Colby laughed and Charlie quickly got up and put the bowl on a high shelf away from the eager hands of a small child. "I'll take it to my office after the break. It'll look nice by the window."

When Charlie sat back down he handed Colby a small gift. Colby quickly got into it having a theory as to what it might be. He was right and pulled out a very nice watch, replacing the most recent one to be killed in the line of duty.

"And that is supposed to be water proof down to 30 feet and water resistant down to 50, so the next time you take a swim in the harbor..."

"I'll be able to tell what time it is." Colby finished slipping the watch onto his wrist. He looked at it. It had all the usual stuff a good men's sports watch had but there was an extra button. "I wonder what this extra button is?" Colby mused aloud.

"Ah," Charlie stood up quickly. "Pull it out, give it a half turn and push it back in." Charlie then rushed upstairs. Colby looked at the watch, pulled out the button, turned it and pushed it back in. The watch didn't seem to do anything. Charlie came back and handed his phone over to Colby. On the little screen was a map with a blinking dot over the house.

"You can track me?" Colby asked feeling more than a little unsure about that.

"It's like the panic button Richard Branson has in his watch but with way, way better encryption and the information comes straight to me." Colby pulled out the little button again, turned it the other way and pushed it back in. The dot on the screen vanished. "If you end up on another Chinese freighter or something stupid like that I don't want to waste time doing math to find you. I just want to find you."

Colby couldn't say no to the earnest and slightly scared expression on Charlie's face. He certainly hadn't objected when Martin had finally talked Charlie into carrying a panic button, even if the information didn't go straight to him.

He leaned across the short distance and kissed Charlie softly. "Thank you."

"Oh, I have one other thing; it's kind of for both of us." Instead of a gift Charlie handed Colby an envelope.

Colby opened it and pulled out some papers. "Cooking for Couples?" Colby read.

"I thought it would be fun. And we could both use a couple extra dishes in our culinary repertoire." Colby couldn't really argue with that. They were both getting better but they were also still ordering take out four nights out of seven. "Also thought it might be nice to get out and do something as a couple that doesn't involve blood splatter." Again, Colby couldn't really argue.

"Sounds like fun."

He put the papers back in the envelope and reached under the tree for one last gift himself. He handed it to Charlie. He had debated about getting it and had debated even more about giving it to Charlie but over the last couple of months Colby had felt more in control of his inner darkness and Charlie had taken to slipping into a submissive space far more easily and for longer stretches of time.

Charlie opened the box and pulled out a hairbrush. It was simple, unadorned, antique and carved in one piece from the bone of some animal that was now probably endangered. The handle was thick and round, the back flat and heavy and the bristles firm. Colby had tried to tell the lady at the antique shop it was for his mother but she had just smirked at him in a way that made Colby blush to his toes.

Charlie drew in a long breath. He turned the brush over in his hands several times, examining it carefully. When he looked back up his pupils had blown wide. He licked his lips. "You know my father isn't coming around until noon?"

"I know."

Charlie carefully handed the brush over to Colby.

"Why don't I meet you up stairs?"

Charlie gave a quick nod and sprinted for the stairs. Colby took his time placing the opened presents back under the tree, then taking the coffee cups to the kitchen. By the time he got to the bedroom, brush still in hand, Charlie was naked and standing for inspection, his back to the door.

Colby, still taking his time, looked Charlie over. His skin was far more pail than when they first met, but Charlie hadn't gone out without being completely covered for a few years now. There was a fading bruise along his ribs from a fall. Colby would have been suspicious but he had witnessed the frantic student crash into Charlie, sending them both flying. Charlie's hair was carefully pulled back. Even dry it came half way down his shoulder blades these days. He had even taken to wearing it in a tight braid on occasion.

Colby slid up behind Charlie and ran his hand along the subtle curve of Charlie's hip. In a way it was more possessive than if he grabbed Charlie's ass or cock. He felt a soft tremble slide through Charlie's body. He brushed aside Charlie's hair and kissed the back of his neck. Charlie drew in a soft breath.

Colby backed away and went to the toy box pulling out everything he planned to use and laid it all neatly on the bed. He picked a cock ring and ball spreader first. It was a particularly nice one of soft brown leather that held both Charlie's cock and balls in quite an attractive manner. It had been getting a lot more use since Colby had taken to shaving Charlie regularly. While the extreme sensitivity he had right after a shave wore off after a couple of hours he still had difficulty keeping control for at least the first 24.

Charlie held himself still as Colby strapped him in with practiced ease. Then Colby dragged over the chair from Charlie's desk. It was of sturdy old wood with a high strait back.

"Hold the back."

Charlie grabbed the back of the chair but did not move his feet, leaving himself spread open and easily accessible.

Colby picked up lube next. He covered himself and a couple of fingers. Charlie was relaxed, even in the slightly awkward position, and opened easily, pushing back onto Colby's fingers as much as he could.

"Feet together."

Charlie brought his feet together raising his backside up a little higher. Despite their height difference Colby could just manage to get into Charlie in this position owing to Charlie being long legged and Colby being long in the torso. Colby bent his knees a little, grabbed Charlie's hips and pushed in. Charlie groaned and pushed back. Colby kept a firm grip on Charlie's hips and let himself fall into a comfortable rhythm. There was no rush and no finesse needed. Just the familiar feeling of Charlie's ass warmly gripping his cock.

Colby wasn't sure how long he'd been going but he noticed a slight burn growing in his thighs and a warm tingle at the base of his spine. He picked up speed and force and with the encouragement of Charlie's groans and whimpers emptied himself deep into Charlie.

He took a deep breath to steady himself then quickly pulled out and replaced his cock with a short thick plug. He stroked Charlie's trembling back. "There. That will keep my cum in you where it belongs."

"Thank you, sir." Charlie's voice was clear but soft.

Colby stroked Charlie's back for another moment before picking up the hairbrush. It had to have been made for a man originally. The handle was thick and round and fit easily into Colby's hand. Colby sat in the straight backed chair. The back and seat had thick padded leather for comfort.

"Over my knee."

Charlie draped himself across Colby's lap, spreading his legs and gripping the legs of the chair for balance. Colby didn't bother with a warm up or warning, simply brought the flat of the brush down on Charlie's backside with a loud slap. Charlie jumped then began to melt across Colby's lap. Colby was careful not to use his full strength since the brush was an antique, but instead concentrated several strikes on one spot before moving to the next. The skin shifted from pail white to pink to red. Every so often Colby would make a point of striking the base of the plug. Each time Charlie's moans would change to a gasp and he would grind his erection into Colby's leg.

Once Charlie's skin was cheery red Colby flipped the brush over and brought the stiff bristles down across the tender skin. Charlie cried out squirming in Colby's lap. Colby put a steadying hand between Charlie's shoulder blades. "Shhhhh. You're doing so well. I want you to feel this. I want you to feel this right through New Years."

Colby knew the red he was laying down with the hairbrush was really only superficial and would be nearly gone by evening. Colby put the brush aside and picked up the short heavy strap of leather he'd left in easy reach.

He laid it for a moment against Charlie's spine until Charlie realized what it was. Then Colby drew back his arm and brought it down hard. Charlie jumped and cried out and the strip of bright red skin almost instantly shifted towards purple. Colby brought the strap down five more times. Exactly what was needed to cover Charlie's backside.

Colby dropped the leather and brushed his hands gently across Charlie's body. Charlie was panting and trembling, a thin sheen of sweat covering his back. "So good." Colby whispered. "So very good." He slipped a hand between Charlie's legs and removed the thin straps of leather denying Charlie's release. Charlie whimpered every muscle drawing tight. "It's okay." Colby wrapped his hand carefully around Charlie's smooth cock. "It's okay, you can cum now." Charlie begin to move, slow at first, driving himself into Colby's hand and along Colby's thigh. "That's right, that's right. Let me see you cum." Colby gave Charlie's cock a squeeze. Charlie's head snapped back and hot fluid filled Colby's hand.

Charlie went limp nearly slipping from Colby's lap. Colby caught him and lifted him, laying him carefully across the bed a sleepy smile on his face. It wasn't even nine yet so Colby pulled up the blankets over Charlie. He would take out Charlie's plug in the shower but for now it could stay. He put the lube back on the night stand, the strap back in the box, wiped down the leather on the chair and placed the hairbrush on the dresser where Charlie would see it every morning.

~

Alan felt wonderfully sedate. The house was warm and full of good cheer. The last light from the menorah had flickered out into six pools of wax but the Christmas lights were still blinking away merrily.

The turkey had been pretty good. A little over done but Charlie had insisted on doing it himself so it wasn't bad for a first attempt. Larry had insisted on providing the mashed potatoes. Several years of white food had made him quite culinaraly adept at some things. Mattie had discovered peas and seemed to truly enjoy them even though using cutlery was still optional. Megan had only taken four trips to the bathroom grumbling each time that Charlie really needed to put in a second bathroom on the ground floor. Anne and Kathryn had made dueling apple pies and Colby had produced an ice cream churn from somewhere producing a vanilla ice cream to top it all off.

And the best thing of all, as far as Alan was concerned, was that they had gotten nearly all the way through the night without anyone's phone ringing. Everyone was on call, even Ian, who had seemed a little preoccupied through dinner, but his phone had remained silent along with Don's, Colby's, Megan's, and Charlie's.

Just as Alan was considering the merits of a second helping of pie a phone rang. Everyone quickly looked at each other before Don reached into his pocket and excused himself from the table.

Alan watched as Don became very still in the other room. Whatever he said was too soft for Alan to hear but he hung up the phone and came back to the dining room.

"Someone threw a molotov cocktail at the steps of the Wilshire Temple." Don's voice was strangely calm. "No real damage. LAPD picked up a guy two blocks away. Wants us to have a chat with him, make sure this isn't the start of something bigger." Alan felt his blood rush in his ears in a deafening combination of anger and fear. "Anyone want in on this with me?" Half the table stood up. Don pointed to Megan. "No. Sit."

"Don..."

"9 to 5 until you're hatched."

Megan scowled and sat back down but Alan knew there was no way she would have won that argument. He blood pressure had been a little high during her last check up and the only reason Megan was even still on desk duty was by promising Don she'd only do short days.

Colby and Ian were already suiting up and Charlie was sliding his laptop into its case with the same look that Colby and Ian had sliding their guns into their holsters. Don gave Mattie a kiss. Mattie's face was serious, obviously knowing that something had changed. It was almost a mirror image to Don's. Don gave Anne a kiss next. "I'll ride in with the guys and you can take the car home."

"Be safe."

Don flashed a smile. "Always."

And with little more than that Don, Charlie, Ian and Colby disappeared into the winter night.

~
Colby looked through the mirror at the suspect LAPD had picked up. There wasn't a lot of question about guilt. A half dozen security cameras had seen the skinny shit throw the thing and he'd been picked up smelling of gasoline and went on what was apparently an impressive tirade when he was picked up. The shaved head and swastika prision tattoos helped the overall impression of guilt.

"Let me talk to him first," Colby said. "I look like a good 'ol boy."

"You think he'll talk to you?" Ian asked.

"Nope, but it's Christmas. I feel like playing good cop. And maybe fucking with the kid's head."

Don snorted. "All yours."

Colby grabbed a soda out of the fridge first. It was a Fanta Orange. He didn't know anyone who actually liked Fanta Orange. If anything the overwhelming sugar always made him thirstier every time he'd had one.

He pushed his way into the interrogation room. The kid tried to give him an angry defiant look but it didn't really work since the kid was twitching, obviously already jonesing for whatever his drug of choice was.

Colby sat. "Merry Christmas."

"Fuck you, pig!" the kid spat.

"Yeah, that's original. What are you on?"

"I ain't on shit."

"Tell me what drug you're on so when you go to lock up the doctors can give you something so you don't completely flip out."

The kid was silent.

"You're in for a long night any which way."

"I told you I ain't on shit!"

"Which is why you're pail, clammy, and shaking."

"Sugar." The kid mumbled.

"Hypoglycaemic?"

"Diabetic."

Colby snorted. "Oh yeah, the reich would have taken you in a heartbeat."

The kid snarled.

Colby took out the can of soda. "So I bet you would really like this."

The kid grabbed for the soda but his hands were cuffed to the table.

"First I need something from you, I need the names of associates, friends, contacts and a list of any holiday plans they many have."

The kid was silent.

"Trust me kid. I'm the one you want to talk to."

"What? We're playing good cop bad cop."

Colby grinned. "Sort of. We're play a game called good cop, bad cop, worse cop. In case you haven't guessed I'm the good cop. Bad cop is waiting in the wings and he ain't happy about being here. And worse cop... Well the last time we left worse cop in a room with a kid for five minutes he confessed to so much shit he's doing 250 years without parole. So, do you want to talk to me or should we see what's behind door number two?"

Colby could see the wheels turning in the kids head.

"Oops. Too late." Colby got up and walked out taking the soda with him. Don walked in.

~
Colby carefully rubbed the back of Charlie's neck even as he was hunched over a keyboard. "How are you doing?"

"Trying not to be sick."

"You know we have computer techs who can do that."

Charlie scrolled through yet another cash of hate mongering websites that he'd pulled off their suspect's computer. "Yeah, but I'm faster."

The office was nearly empty so Colby dropped a kiss on the top of Charlie's head.

Charlie sighed and closed his eyes for half a second. "You can tell Don I'm not finding any evidence of some sort of grand plan or even official connection with any particular group. Looks like a lone gunman on this end. He can ask the profilers what set him off."

"That's about the feeling Don's getting. Lots of second hand rhetoric but nothing specific to any one organization. Hell, Ian growled at him and the kid nearly pissed himself."

Charlie snorted. "Want to see the sad bit?"

"It gets sadder?"

Charlie clicked on a file labeled Stuff. It was filled with big breasted blond women doing some pretty kinky things. "Nothing to surprising here. But do a little digging..." Charlie clicked on file after file going deeper and deeper until he opened the file where all the pictures were of naked, pretty young men, mostly Asian. "Bet you ten bucks as to which one of these files gets used more."

Colby took the mouse from Charlie and closed the file. "Come on. Let's see about going home and celebrating our relative non screwed-upness."

 

~
Don tried to slip into bed without waking Anne but her eyes fluttered open. "Everything okay?"

"Everything's fine," Don whispered. "Go back to sleep."

Anne shook her head and sat up a little rubbing at her eyes. "You okay?"

"I'm fine. It was just a fucked up kid, two weeks out of prison for car thefts, who couldn't think of a better way to spend the holidays than going back to prison. DA will get him on arson, hate crime, few other things. He'll go back in, come back out, go back in..." Don pressed a soft kiss to Anne's forehead. "Sorry about ditching out on the last bit of Christmas."

"Well you have three more nights of Hanukah to make it up to me." Anne gave Don a quick kiss. "Besides, you nearly made it through dessert and got to see Mattie open his presents."

"I'm so glad we don't have down stairs neighbors."

Anne laughed. Nearly everyone, for some reason, had gotten Mattie blocks, and building them up high and knocking them down was already a favorite game. From Grandpa Alan he'd gotten a set with arches and triangles just right for the budding architect and engineer. Charlie had found a set that had numbers on them as well as some fairly advanced mathematic notation, just in case. Sasha had found a set that looked like branching tree trunks. Mary had found a set with Hebrew letters. Colby, possibly to counteract Charlie's blocks had gotten a good old fashion set that just had regular letters on them. That still made for a lot of blocks.

Ian had come through with a complete set of Dr. Susse. The books all looked second hand but seeing as how they were probably going to get chewed on anyway it didn't really matter. Don had gotten his son a proper baseball. Mattie did his best to chew through the stitching before becoming more interested in the wrapping paper, which also got chewed on.

"Maybe he'll become a famous architect and build grand buildings."

Don thought about it for a moment "Or he might end up one of those explosive demolition guys."

"I hear they make good money too."

Don pulled Anne close taking deep breaths, letting the smell of her hair and skin sooth him. Anne rubbed slow circles on his back. "It's not often this job really makes me mad."

"I know."

"And it's not even like we got to take down a big organization or something. Just a kid who practically wanted to get caught then nearly pissed himself when we leaned on him."

"Even one is a victory."

"I know. Just remind me of that once in a while, okay?"

Anne hugged him tight. "I promise."
~
Ian stared at the ceiling of Charlie's guest room. Charlie had offered it to him for the night rather than waking up his mom and Alan. Actually Charlie had offered it to him for any time he swung through town.

Usually between jobs he stayed with his mother. He did that either because he needed to check over and/or threaten the current boyfriend or because his mom was alone and didn't mind the company. Now there was Alan. Ian hated to admit it but he liked Alan. Alan encouraged his mother's art, helping her turn their semi enclosed balcony into a studio, and he treated her like a lady without being patronizing. And Charlie had not so subtly dropped a hint that maybe Alan was planning on going farther buy telling him that the Craftsmen was still really the family home and he was always welcome.

Ian tried to picture his mother married. He tried to picture her married to Alan Eppes. Well they were already cohabiting quite comfortably by the looks of things. The entry hall of the condo had pictures of him, Don, and Charlie. Someone who didn't know better might almost believe the three of them had grown up together. Ian chuckled a little into the dark. He wondered if he would have been the one with some sort of eldest child martyr complex while Don picked up middle child neuroses.

Still, that left Ian in his potential step brother's spare bed. Alone.

Ian had hoped that Martin would call, or text or something. Rosie and Robert had called to say marry Christmas but Martin was presumably still by the bedside of a failed suicide.

Ian flipped onto his stomach. Why should he care if Martin calls? Martin's just a friend. Just a guy he grabs coffee or beer with and bitches about the joys of working for the Federal Government. That was it. He was on the same level as Colby. He wouldn't be getting himself all worked up if Colby didn't call on his birthday or something.

Oh who was he kidding. It had been a while since he was with anyone. Rosie and Robert almost didn't count. He was so detached from the rest of the world when he was with them it was almost like he was someone else. He wondered to himself if he still had Nurse Andrew's number somewhere. Ian smiled a bit at the memory. Andrew had been warm and fun and flexible. Sadly, at the time, he'd been too tired and too stressed to really appreciate what Andrew was offering.

Ian flipped back over on his back and gave in to his own patheticness and tried to dredge up a little holiday fantasy, but somehow nursing scrubs kept morphing into black suits and white shirts with black ties.

Ian sighed into the dark and wondered to himself what Martin looked like under those suits. He pictured trim and pale with flawless skin. He'd never seen Martin's hair without gel but he pictured it slightly long and soft, falling into his eyes. He pictured Martin's smile and something roared up in him. He reached into his shorts and squeezed his cock. In his mind he held Martin to his chest even while driving up into him. In his mind Martin trembled against his chest whispering his name. In his mind they kissed and Martin tasted like brandy and apple pie 'cause it was Christmas. Ian came silently into his hand.

"Fuck," he whispered into the dark.

Chapter Text

Doctor Richard Spender looked around his new office. Okay, it was probably a converted storage closet but it had a window and a door and a desk and a chalkboard and Ricky was really having a hard time behaving like an adult with a doctorate rather than just jumping up and down with glee.

And it was warm outside. When he'd left Philadelphia it had been -10. LA was a 'chilly' 57 out.

"Everything to your liking?"

Ricky tried to keep the stupid grin off his face. "Yes Dr. Finch. Thank you. It's perfect."

"Well normally we don't take on people mid-year but Dr. Lim had a medical issue come up and will be gone for at least a year and while the other professors will cover his advanced classes no one with tenure is willing to teach Counting Theory 111. And for that reason you, young man, have lucked into a job."

"I am very grateful."

Dr. Finch pushed her glasses up her nose. "For more reasons than one I'm sure. Dr. Eppes pitched very hard for both you and his new pet program. Again, lucky for you, he brings a considerable amount of money into this University so when he told me he wanted a minion I had to listen."

"Minion?"

"Yes, I believe that's your official title until you've proven yourself on a few cases. Speaking of..." Dr. Finch handed Ricky an envelope. "I was asked to give this to you with the rest of your paperwork."

Ricky opened it and found a temporary FBI security pass. Dr. Eppes had asked him to fill out a bunch of paperwork at the Philadelphia office to be sent ahead of him. Now Ricky really couldn't help grinning.

"Now, as I have told more than one professor here you are a teacher first and a junior G-Man second. That means I don't care if the apocalypse is raining down, you will make all your lectures, office hours, department meetings, and grades will be in on time. You will also be expected to publish and serve on various committees like everyone else. Am I clear?"

"Yes Ma'am."

"Good, you're in the big time now and I'm not just talking about CalSci. The violent crimes unit of the LA FBI office has an 85% solve rate do in no small part to their association with CalSci."

Ricky hadn't known that. His cousin's solve rate was just over 72% and he was one of the best in Philadelphia. "That's impressive."

"Yes it is."

"I will do my best to maintain and improve that solve rate."

Dr. Finch looked him over. "My first week in this job I came very close to trying to shut Dr. Eppes down. I deprioritized him on the super computer and generally gave him a hard time. I still give him a hard time because someone needs to but he honestly believes that any halfway decent mathematician can be taught to aid criminal investigations and you, Dr. Spender, are going to be his proof on concept."

Ricky didn't quite know what to say to that. He'd read Dr. Eppes book and the general ideas seemed simple but brilliant in much the same way the wheel was simple but a stroke of genius for whomever came up with it first. He couldn't believe he'd been the first one to express a desire to come out and learn more.

"I'll do my best."

"Yes, you will. Welcome to CalSci. Charlie's office is just around the corner. Get settled in then go tell the man who's about to start ruling your life that you're here."

With that Dr. Finch left.

Ricky looked around one more time then headed out himself just taking a moment to look at the little piece of paper posted next to the door that read Dr. R. Spender.

It was easy to find Dr. Eppes office. There was a sort of energy that just drew him around the corner and down the hall. The door was open. Ricky peeked into the office. Every surface was covered in math, diagrams, maps, and photos of bloody crime scenes. In the middle of it Dr. Eppes stood calmly as if he was standing at the eye of a storm. His eyes were closed and he barely seemed to be breathing. He may have been asleep on his feet. Ricky wasn't sure how long he stood there. A couple of minutes at least before a young woman with rather startling grey hair pushed passed him holding two cups of coffee. One she handed to Dr. Eppes as who had finally opened his eyes. He sipped his coffee then finally noticed Ricky hovering in the doorway.

"Dr. Spender. Come in. Millie told me you might be showing up today. Mouse," He turned to the grey haired girl. "This is Doctor Richard Spender CalSci's newest junior professor and my newest minion. Dr. Spender this is Mouse my TA/PA and Chief Minion but is quickly working her way up to Trusted Lieutenant."

The girl, Mouse, smiled at him. "Nice to meet you."

"Same." Ricky shook her hand then looked around. "So what's all this?"

"This is our Christmas present from LA." Ricky looked at a picture. He assumed what he was seeing had once been a person. "We got our first killing on the 26th and they've been coming fast and furious."

"Spree killer?"

"No, there's too much planning involved. This is defiantly serial but working at a vastly accelerated rate. Your thoughts on serial killers?" Dr. Eppes suddenly asked.

Ricky froze for a second. "Um... Often intelligent individuals with a tendency to stay within a geographic area they feel comfortable operating in..."

"Thank you. I've read the text books. Your thoughts on serial killers."

Ricky realized that class had already started. And since he was in a class of one he was always going to be the one called on. "Um... They scare me."

"Why?"

"'Because as far as repeat violent criminals go they are usually the smart ones and what's to say that they're not smarter than me, or the cops. In a lot of cases they're only caught when they get cocky and make a mistake. I don't like the idea of someone just killing and us having to wait until they make a mistake."

"I don't like that idea either. This one has been giving us a real problem because there is no easily recognizable pattern in the victims. Most killers stick to a gender, an ethnicity, an age group. Our killer has done none of that and our victims are from all over the city. Thoughts?"

Ricky thought for a moment. "Start seeing who or what they have in common. Figure out where their lives intersect. Doctors, employers, schools, accountants, churches, gym memberships."

"And if no connections can be found with deep set theory."

"Um... consider the possibility he's picking them randomly from the phone book?"

Dr. Eppes smiled then checked his watch. "Come on, I need to present. I'll introduce you to the team."

 

~

Ricky marveled at LA as they drove downtown. He actually saw a couple of palm trees and there was no snow. The Federal building was monstrous and there was again no snow. Up on the sixth floor he found a madhouse of activity with phones ringing and people in suits running around. Wearing just jeans and a sweater he felt rather under dressed. Luckily Mouse was wearing almost exactly the same thing.

Ricky followed Dr. Eppes and Mouse into a room filled with more pictures of the dead. A group of tired looking agents were waiting.

"Hey, everyone. This is Doctor Richard Spender but I think you can call him Ricky. He is CalSci's newest junior professor, he is also my newest minion as he is working towards a yet to be defined certificate in Criminalistic Mathematics."

"Is that a real thing?" A heavily pregnant woman asked.

"It is now." Everyone chuckled a little. "Ricky this is everyone."

"Welcome to the nightmare," the particularly tired looking agent who looked a little like Dr. Eppes said.

That seemed to be as much introduction as he was going to get. Dr. Eppes started up his laptop. Piles of data started scrolling by. "I found the connection between our victims."

"I thought you thought there were no connections." The large African American agent said.

Dr. Eppes waved a dismissive hand. "A moment of under-caffeinated weakness. Everything in the universe is connected if you know where to find the connections."

"Enlighten us. Please." The agent who had sort of welcomed him said.

"Every single victim was pulled over for speeding."

The agent who hadn't said anything yet held up a stack of files. "There's nothing on their records, Charlie."

"That's because none of them got tickets. They all got warnings over a four year period. And they all got them along this stretch of the 210." Dr. Eppes brought up a map.

"So, we're looking for what? CHP?" The agent who seemed to be in charge asked.

"That was my first instinct but they were pulled over by a dozen different officers."

"Who would have known if they just got warnings?"

Dr. Eppes brought up a photo. "Ralph DeWinters. CHP dispatcher who..." Dr. Eppes gestured towards the heavily pregnant agent.

"Who lost his younger brother to a hit and run speeder on a particular stretch of the 210 about four years ago."

All the agents nodded. "That's what I call playing connect the dots." Dr. Eppes handed over a thick folder to the head agent. "It's all circumstantial but..."

"We can at least talk to him and it's the best we've got. Good work Chuck." Dr. Eppes bowed slightly. "Okay, let's go pick this guy up." The two large male agents grabbed some folders and headed out the door. The pregnant agent slowly worked her way up and out as well.

Ricky wasn't entirely sure what he was supposed to do since Dr. Eppes seemed to be packing up but the remaining agent approached him and held out his hand. "Don Eppes."

Ricky took Agent Eppes hand eagerly. "Ricky Spender. Nice to meet you."

"Yeah, so you're Charlie's new toy?"

"Uh..."

"Minion, Don. Minion." Dr. Eppes cut in.

"You ever worked a case?"

"Yes." Ricky replied quickly. "I helped with a set of home invasion cases and a murder for hire case in Philadelphia."

"Ever seen a dead body up close and personal?"

Ricky felt himself flush a little. "No. My cousin wouldn't let me."

"Well we've gotten use to a pretty tough breed of geek around here so no one's going to keep you from looking at anything gross. Just don't puke on evidence."

"I have a pretty strong stomach."

Agent Eppes grinned. "I'm sure you do. Well, talk to security about proper credentials and welcome to the fun. I hope you can cut it."

'I hope so too.'

~

Alan pondered the chess board. Only a few moves into the game he still had several tactical options. He looked across the board to Larry. "You do know it's your move?"

"Is it?" Larry seemed honestly startled. "Oh, yes, I guess it is." Larry pondered the board for a moment then shifted a pawn.

"A little distracted tonight?"

Larry looked over his shoulder to the stairs of the little two story starter home he and Megan now shared. Megan had turned in early leaving Larry and Alan to an evening of chess. A past time they had not indulged in for several months.

"She's fine Larry. Few days, week at the most, you're going to be a father and acquire a whole new set of worries."

"I am keenly aware of that fact, Alan."

Alan took Larry's pawn. "Your turn again."

Larry frowned and seemed to stare at the little square where his pawn had once stood. Finally he let out a long sigh and as if he couldn't think of anything else moved his own knight.

"May I ask you a question Alan?"

"Anything you like Larry."

"What's it like?"

"You mean being a parent?"

"Yes."

Alan had sort of been expecting that question. "Think of the happiest you've ever been, and the most terrified you've ever been, and the most in awe you've ever been, and stick all those feelings together and crank them up to eleven and that's about the first 30 seconds. After that you sort of have to work it all out for yourself. And believe me no two children are the same and you can read all the books and there'll be some generalities you can rely on but in the end you're dealing with a completely unique little creature that's just trying to figure out how to be human."

"I see."

Alan moved a pawn. "You're going to be fine, Larry. You kid's going to be fine."

"I just wonder if after a lifetime of a rather narcissistic solitary pursuit of the answers to the great questions of the universe if I will be able to adjust my focus to an individual who does not understand even rudimentary language let alone the importance super string theory."

Alan laughed. He couldn't help it. It was such a Larry worry and yet so silly.

"I hardly think it's something to laugh at Alan." Larry stated quite firmly as he moved his knight again.

"Larry, don't be an idiot. You're a teacher. You take absolute joy in shaping young minds and this time you get to start from scratch. And before you worry about what kind of father you're going to be you're going to be a great one. You're going to make a few mistakes because believe me all fathers make a few mistakes but you did just fine with Charlie when I couldn't be there and you are going to do just fine with your own son or daughter. And it's not like you're doing it on your own."

Larry frowned in thought, resting his chin into his hand as Alan shifted a bishop out onto the board. "Alan, I hope you do not think that I ever had any intention of usurping your parental position..."

"Of course not Larry, you just had a crush on my wife and a rather paternal relationship with my son." Larry began to sputter. "I also know you never so much as made a drunken pass at Margaret which is why we're here playing chess. It's your move." Alan tapped the board.

Larry looked at the board and moved a pawn without a lot of thought.

Alan quietly contemplated his next move. Larry's hasty move had opened several options. He looked up at Larry who was looking quite guilty. "It's okay Larry, really. You taught Charlie how to shave and how to tie a bow tie and were probably the first person to come close to understanding just what was going on in that head of his. Charlie was not an easy child, believe me I should know, and you went above and beyond the duty of academic adviser when you didn't need to."

"Helping Charles was never a chore."

Alan couldn't stop the laugh that came out. "Do you know what Charlie's first word was?"

"I do not believe I do."

"It was less a first word and more a first sentence." Alan put out his second knight. "He was nearly three and still not talking but he had this toy truck he loved and he'd even make vrom, vrom noises so there was some concept of sound and meaning going on in his head. Anyways Donnie decided he was going to annoy his little brother into talking. So every time he saw Charlie with his truck he would take it away and hold it over Charlie's head and tell him he could have it back when he talked."

"Why do I have a feeling this story ends with blood and tears."

"Oh yes, Charlie did not like this game. He would jump up and down for about thirty seconds before throwing himself to the ground and having a tantrum. Finally, one day, he sees Donnie coming and a couple of synapses finally connect and he decides he's had enough. He hits Donnie across the face with his truck, which is metal I might add, and screams 'No Donnie, my truck', Donnie starts bleeding and using words an eight year old should not know while Charlie runs around the house screaming 'mine, mine, mine' at the top of his lungs. Donnie still has the scar on his cheek and last I check Charlie still isn't good at sharing."

Larry's hand was over his mouth rather unsuccessfully hiding a grin.

"If I can survive that and if you can survive Charlie's teenage years then you will be just fine."

Chapter Text

Megan winced.

"How are you doing?" Don asked.

"I'm fine," she snapped.

They were waiting for Stendhauser to fish some files off a confiscated hard drive.

"Just asking. You winced."

"Of course I winced, I had a contraction."

Don's brain froze for a second. "A contraction? You're in labor!"

"I've been in labor for three days Don they're still two hours apart."

Stendhauser chuckled. "Oh, I remember those days. With my first boy, I had contractions for a week before the main event."

Don was not even remotely soothed. He rolled a chair to Megan. "Here, sit down, how's your blood pressure."

"My blood pressure is fine but is likely to go up if you keep nagging me."

"Seriously, Megan, go home, please. I'll pretend like you're on a really long lunch." Don was pretty sure he'd never received a more annoyed look from anyone.

"I'm clearing this case Don, I don't care if I have to have this kid in the interrogation room, I want this bastard!"

Don took a half step back. Megan had become more than a little terrifying during her last trimester and refused to give up her gun. "Okay, well, at least sit down." Don gestured to the chair.

"If I sit down I'll have to stand back up."

Before Don could even begin to work up a counter argument to that statement the computer beeped. "I'm in, Charlie ain't the only one who can break encryption. Of course it helps when the criminals are using Vista." Stendhauser did a quick image search on the hard drive. Several dozen surveillance type photos of their dead guy came up.

"Well that looks incriminating to me. Megan, I'll send the guys out to drag in Vitell, you can talk to him and we'll slam dunk this. Okay?"

 

~

Don watched through the interrogation room window as Megan loomed over their killer holding a picture of their victim inches from his face. His hands were cuffed to the table and his eyes were wide.

"We know you didn't mean to do it. Not really. You just wanted to prove a point, prove you're a big man. Hell, we can tell just how much your hands shook by all the bullets we pulled out of that wall that didn't have a drop of blood on them."

"I didn't do it." The guy choked out.

"Of course you did. We have so much evidence the lawyers are telling us we don't even need a confession from you. They're willing to go to court tomorrow. Murder one. Life. But you see I want a confession." Megan leaned in her face inches from the killer's. "I want to hear in your own sad little words how you stalked and murdered Michael Whittaker. I want to hear you confess to how you watched him bleed out slowly because you were too afraid to make a clean kill and if it means I have to have this baby on this table I will wait you out!"

Their killer swallowed hard. "He had a really regular schedule so he was really easy to follow." He blurted out.

Megan gave a cold smile. "Good, keep going."

 

~

Don watched as Megan waddled off to the bathroom for what felt like the millionth time that day. He had offered to move Megan's desk into the Ladies' Room when she hit six months. Mind you he had made the offer while standing near the door on the opposite side of a large room with a table between them.

He hit send on his email to the prosecutors telling them they had a confession. Now maybe Megan would go home and rest. Megan came back from the bathroom and pulled a bag out from under her desk. "Don, I need a lift to the hospital if you don't mind," she said very calmly.

Don was on his feet as quickly as if someone had started shooting, grabbing his jacket and his keys. "Do you know where Larry is?" He asked as the headed to the elevator.

"He said he was going into CalSci today to work on some things with Charlie."

The elevator door opened and Colby stepped out. "Turn around, you need to run to CalSci and get Larry."

Colby didn't even hesitate, just did an about face and followed them back down stairs.

~

Charlie kept a death grip on Larry's arm. Colby had texted him with a message to have Larry ready and waiting. Larry had, quite understandably, not wanted to wait for Colby but didn't trust Charlie's driving especially during rush hour. This had ended in the two of them very nearly coming to blows in the East Parking Lot. Finally Colby's Charger pulled up and around and in a maneuver reminiscent of the Secret Service, the back door was opened and Larry was tossed in, Charlie jumping in behind him.

The next twenty minutes manly involved Larry begging Colby to drive faster until Colby finally gave up and put on his lights, which didn't actually get them going that much faster but it seemed to make Larry feel better.

~

Don held Megan's arm as she paced around her small room. Don could feel his own heart thumping pretty hard and fast. He'd missed all the final stage and delivery stuff with Anne so was feeling distinctly out of his depth.

The doctor who had taken a look when he got Megan checked in told them while she was in labor and the baby was ready to go she was only minimally dilated so really all she could do at this point was to walk around and wait.

Don checked his phone. There had been a message from Charlie that Larry was in transit but that had been a while ago. He hoped Larry would show up soon. Every time someone implied that Don was the father Megan would laugh in a way that was more than a little ego bruising.

Don heard feet rushing down the hall. Then Larry burst in with Charlie and Colby on his tail.

"Hey, beautiful." Megan breathed.

Larry pulled Megan into a gentle embrace then crouched down and almost reverently pressed his forehead to her swollen belly. Then a contraction hit. Megan doubled over gripping Larry's shoulders. Don cringed in sympathy as he watched Megan's strong hands dig into Larry but Larry didn't even wince.

Once the contraction passed Don pulled Charlie and Colby to the side. "Doctor said there's still a long way to go. Could take all night."

"We still need to get back to the office." Colby stated with minimal enthusiasm.

"Yeah, I know."

Charlie looked over to where Megan had sat on the bed and was talking quietly with Larry. "I'll stay here and hold Larry's hand and keep everyone posted."

"Okay." The three men broke out of their huddle.

Don crouched down in front of Megan "Hey, Colby and I still need to get some stuff done at the office. I'm leaving Charlie here in case you need anything."

"Sure." Megan already looked exhausted.

"You're going to be fine. Don't sweat it, just take your time."

"Thanks Don."

Don got up giving Larry a little pat on the arm on the way, then he spotted Megan's neatly stacked pile of clothes, and peeking out from under it her gun. "Say, I'm just going to take this back to the office for you," Don said casually gathering up the weapon and holster.

"Put it back, Don," Megan growled.

"It'll be right in your desk waiting for you."

Megan started trying to stand up. "Don, hand it over!"

Don made a break for it with Colby right behind and Megan shouting his name down the hall.

~

David was waiting by the time they got back to the office. "I go out to grab a statement and everybody runs off."

"I sent you a message."

"Yeah, how's she doing?"

"The doctors said she's not dilated and it could take all night. We left Charlie to keep an eye on things and hold Larry's hand and he promised he'd text everybody once they hit the main event."

"Good, 'cause this, I don't want to miss."

~

Charlie watched Megan pace, Larry silently by her side supporting every step she took. He couldn't help the worry that was running through him. He was sure Larry's was worse but the one previous birth he had been witness to had nearly ended in tragedy too many times. He reminded himself over and over that Megan was fine and the baby was at term. Heck the baby was over a week late at this point but still he could not imagine what would happen to Larry if anything went wrong.

Charlie remembered the little stab of drunken jealousy he'd felt when he first found out that Megan was pregnant. In a way he'd always been Larry's favored son and now an actual child would be taking his place. The jealousy had passed almost immediately however with the knowledge that there would be a little bit of Larry Fleinhardt continuing in the world.

Megan groaned and grabbed Larry's arm.

Charlie sighed and had a feeling it was going to be a long night ahead.

 

~

Don was trying to sleep. He really was. He was trying to sleep and not think about his phone that had not rung or beeped or buzzed. He was trying to sleep and not think about one of his agents and friends in a hospital room in probably considerable pain. He was trying to sleep and not think about Larry, a man who regularly argued that space and time may not exist, becoming a parent.

Don rolled over and stared at his phone on the night stand and the clock behind it that read ten.

"Go ahead and call," Anne said from her side of the bed.

Don picked up the phone and dialed. After a couple of rings Charlie answered. "Hey, buddy. Any word?"

Charlie gave a long sigh on the other end. "Um... She's still not dilated."

Don sat up a little. "Still?"

"Yeah. They're monitoring the fetus and her blood pressure. If anything doesn't look good or if she's still not dilated by morning they'll do a cesarean."

"Shit, okay. How's Megan?"

"Exhausted."

"How's Larry holding up?"

"Like a rock. I've never seen him better."

"Well that's something I guess. You're spending the night?"

"Oh yes, gonna see this through."

"Okay, keep me posted."

"Will do." Charlie hung up. Don turned to Anne who had sat.

"What's happening?" she asked quickly.

"Nothing and that's the problem. The doctors are talking about a cesarean in the morning or if anything looks bad overnight."

"Do you want to go over there?"

"Nah. They don't need one more person hovering. Charlie said he'll keep me posted."

"Sure?"

"Yeah." Don lay back down and pulled his wife in close. "Women really did get the short end of the anatomy stick didn't they?"

"Well somebody had to."

"I wonder if anyone's working on a way for men to carry babies," Don mused out loud.

Anne laughed. "Considering the sciences are still dominated by men I highly doubt it." Anne gave Don a quick kiss. "Besides it would absolutely ruin your figure."

~

He was freezing. Snow blew in drifts between cinderblock buildings. In the distance it sounded like there was gunfire.

Don pressed on. He knew he had to get somewhere, do something. He wasn't sure where or what. He came around a corner. Charlie stood there. He was naked in the snow but didn't seem to notice. His head was shaved and his eyes were hard.

The wind howled and tried to drive Don back.

Holding Charlie's hand was a girl about three or four with long dark curls. She was in a fluffy blue party dress with white tights. She seemed as unfazed by the weather as Charlie.

Charlie's lips were moving. Don knew he was saying something important but he couldn't hear over the screaming wind.

"What?" Don shouted but his voice was whipped away.

Charlie collapsed to his knees, pressing his hands to his ears, his face contorted in a scream. The little girl looked on as if it were just a curiosity. Then she looked at Don.

~

Don's eyes snapped open and he grabbed his phone before it vibrated off his nightstand. "Eppes," he whispered. The clock read 5:22.

"Don, they're taking her into the delivery room."

Don's brain kicked into gear and he hopped out of bed grabbing his pants. "What's going on?"

"She dilated and they're going to take her in and try to do this."

Don grabbed a shirt he hoped was clean. "Okay, I'll be there in twenty minutes."

"Don. I got to go. Call everyone for me." And with that Charlie hung up.

Don turned around. Anne was sitting up in bed and making shooing motions. "Go, go. Tell me how it goes."

Don ran around the bed to give her a quick kiss then ran out the door.

~

This was not part of the plan. The plan was to wave Larry goodbye at the door and wait in the waiting room with everyone else. But someone had made some sort of assumption and for the second time in his life Charlie found himself in disposable hospital scrubs holding the hand of a woman in labor.

Actually it was a little more than hand holding. Megan was on her knees leaning on both Charlie and Larry as each contraction hit. In between the contractions Larry wiped her face, rubbed her back and whispered sweet cosmological babble to her.

Another contraction hit. "Okay Megan, you can push for this one," said the doctor, whose job it was to catch.

"What the fuck have I been doing for the last hour?" Megan screamed.

Charlie winced since the scream was more or less in his ear.

"Megan, you're doing just fine. It won't be much longer now."

"This is your fault!" Megan shouted as the contraction eased. "Both of you!"

"What did I do?" Charlie asked. "I never even looked at you."

"I don't know but I'll think of something."

~

Don paced. Colby paced. David paced. Some guy Don didn't recognize paced. It was amazing they didn't crash into each other. Don eyed the other guy a few times. He looked too old to be an expecting father but these days you never could tell.

Colby accidentally bumped into the guy. "Sorry."

"It's okay." They guy looked around. "Have you all got wives in there?"

"No. No, no, no." Everyone shook their heads. "We're waiting on a friend, co-worker."

"Oh," the guy nodded. "My daughter's in there. It's so funny. I could swear she started kindergarten last week."

"Yeah," Don said. "My son's walking and talking and I'm pretty sure we just got him home from the hospital the other day."

The door opened and everyone held their breath. An orderly popped his head in, looked around and left without saying anything. Everyone exhaled.

Don flopped down in a chair and checked his watch. It was almost 6:30.

"What do you all do?" The expectant grandfather asked. "'Cause I never had a job where my co-workers would hang around for something like this at 6 in the morning."

David grinned a little. "We're FBI. Violent Crimes."

"You get kinda tight with a person after a few fire fights." Colby supplied.

"Not to mention explosions."

"Kidnappings."

"Hostage situations."

"Terror threats."

The guy nodded. "I sell aluminum siding. Are any of you home owners?"

Don shook his head. "Bureau doesn't pay us enough for that."

"Megan's got a house." Colby commented.

"Yeah, but that's 'cause Larry's got tenure and Google stock."

The door opened again. A young man in disposable scrubs came in. He had wide eyed look of wonder on his face. "It's a boy," he said his voice cracking.

Colby gave the new grandfather a pat on the back. "Congratulations."

"Come see him, he's perfect."

The new father and grandfather stumbled out of the room. The three FBI agents went back to pacing.

~

Charlie was very close to praying as Megan leaned against him and Larry in exhaustion. Intellectually he knew how much work and pain went into a normal birth but he had never witnessed it up-close and personal. A part of him found it offensive that evolution would demand this kind of agony of a woman just to continue the species, especially considering what a man's half of the process was. Another part of him kept thinking that here had to be an easier way. Surely with all the technology they had there had to be an easier way than this.

Megan was crying.

"You're almost there," the doctor said. "You're doing great. Two more pushes. Three at the most."

Megan shook her head.

Larry brushed aside the hair that was plastered to her forehead. "You are so close, Starshine. You are so strong. You can do this. I know you can do this."

Charlie felt Megan's body tense. Her eye's squeezed shut. Her hands grasped his and Charlie felt something in his wrist pop. Blinding pain radiated down his fingers and up his arm to his elbow. He felt his stomach lurch at the pain.

"I've got the head," the doctor said. "One more push."

A sob came from Megan's throat. She took a breath. Charlie felt a second burst of pain up his arm. There was a wet sound and a strong high wail filled the room.

"Congratulations, you have a lovely little girl," the doctor announced.

Charlie looked at Larry. His face was open, tears streamed from blue eyes which just for a moment seemed to hold the entire cosmoses. Megan collapsed weeping and laughing.

"Would someone like to cut the cord?" the doctor asked.

Larry held out his hands. They were shaking almost violently. The doctor looked at Charlie. Charlie looked around since there had to be someone else appropriate in the room. No one magically appeared. Megan and Larry were holding each other. The doctor held out the scissors. Charlie took a good look at the baby. She was bloody, red, wrinkly, bald, with a mushed up face, lumpy head, and she was still screaming. Charlie took the scissors and made the cut.

~

Don was still pacing when the door to the waiting room opened and Charlie stumbled in. He looked utterly exhausted and was holding his left wrist against his body in an odd way.

"It's a girl," he breathed. "3.88 Kilograms."

"What's that in American?" David asked first.

"Eight pounds, nine ounces."

"How is she?" Don asked.

"She's fine. She's great. She's screaming her head off. She got Larry's eyes." Charlie gave an exhausted giggle.

"How's Megan?"

"Exhausted."

"How's Larry?"

Charlie grin got that much bigger. "I think Larry's finally touched the cosmos." Everyone chuckled, identical grins on their face. "They're cleaning everything up and an orderly is going to come get you once they've moved her. I need to go..." Charlie just pointed to the door.

"Hey, have they picked a name?" Colby asked.

Charlie's grin stretched to its limit. "Charlotte."

~

Charlie stared at his own x-rays as the ER doctor shoved a needle into the base of his left thumb.

"Believe me you are not the first," the doctor said. "We get about one a week. I've seen broken fingers, broken wrists. This one guy was gonna catch and his wife kicked, got him right in the head, knocked him out cold, broke his jaw. You're lucky this is just dislocated."

Charlie grit his teeth. "Just put it back."

"Eager to get back up, see your kid?"

Charlie shook his head. "Not my baby. I wasn't even supposed to be in the room."

"Well I hope they name it after you then."

"They did."

Charlie yelped as another burst of pain shot through his arm.

"There you go. We'll put that in a brace and I'll give you a script from some pain killers and some anti-inflammatory, keep it iced and elevated and you'll be fine in a week or so."

"Next baby I'm just gonna wait outside with everyone else."

~

Larry had a glazed expression that Don was used to seeing on hard core druggies. Baby Charlotte was bundled up in her father's arms and he was rocking her gently and didn't look like he had any intention of letting her go within the next thirty years or so.

Megan looked completely drained but she was smiling in a way Don hadn't seen in a couple of months.

The door opened and Charlie snuck in, a black brace on his wrist. Don was going to take a flying guess as to just how that happened.

Don gave Megan's shoulder a little squeeze. "You do go work. She looks great."

"Can I just sleep for a million years now?" Megan asked.

"Sure, until she needs to be fed, then you get a couple of hours and then she'll need to be changed."

"Thanks."

Suddenly the door burst opened and an older couple rushed in with a large teddy bear and a big bunch of flowers.

"Hi Mom, hi Dad," Megan said sounding even more tired all of a sudden. "You came."

Don quickly got out of the way as Megan's parents rushed forward to envelop her in hugs.

"Of course we came." Mrs. Reeves started up right away. "I'm so sorry we couldn't get here sooner. We got the first flight we could and that dreadful cab driver, I don't even think he knew what country he was in."

"It's okay mom, you just missed a lot of waiting around."

Mrs. Reeves suddenly looked over at Don. Don suddenly felt like he should stand up straighter. "Mom, Dad these are my boys. This is Don, Charlie, David and Colby."

There were quick hello's and handshakes.

"Now. Where is my grandson?" Mrs. Reeves demanded.

"Daughter."

"Granddaughter. Of course."

Don saw Mr. Reeves smile like he'd just won a bet. Megan looked to the corner of the room where Larry had actually managed to make himself so inconspicuous he nearly vanished. Don didn't blame him.

"Ah. Lawrence." Don felt the temperature of the room drop several degrees.

"Victor, Karen," Larry said carefully.

"It's okay," Megan said from her bed.

Larry carefully approached but did not hand over his child; merely got close enough for them to see.

"She's lovely, dear." Mrs. Reeves said after an examination "Do you have a name yet because I was thinking..."

"Charlotte." Megan said quickly.

"Oh. After your father's mother. How lovely." The tone of her voice clearly got across the fact that she thought it was anything but lovely but Mr. Reeves smiled.

"You always were her favorite," he said. It was the most he'd said since walking in.

A broad shouldered nurse came in with a thick clipboard. "Okay, it's time for someone to get fed," she announced.

Don checked his watch. "Well I think that's our cue to get back to the office." Don leaned in and gave Megan a hug. "Congratulations."

"Thanks boss."

"Take all the time you need. Your desk isn't going anywhere."

"Just give me a few of weeks."

"Take your time." Don looked at Larry. "Larry, she doesn't lift a finger."

"Promise."

"My dad and Anne will come by later if you need anything."

"Of course, thank you."

There was another round of hugs and congratulations and Don ushered himself and he team out the door deciding that a healthy new baby was a great way to start the day.

Chapter Text

Don's first stop was going to be coffee but there was a serious looking suit standing beside his desk. He took a deep breath and approached. "May I help you?"

"Agent Eppes?"

"Yes."

"AD Spellman."

"Ah, our new man on eleven." Don accepted the very professional handshake. "What can I do for you?"

"Well I've been going through the building the last few weeks trying to meet all the unit heads and I came down here this morning to find your section rather empty. Has a case come up?"

"No, we were just welcoming a new Junior G-Woman into the team." The AD looked confused. "Special Agent Megan Reeves gave birth this morning; we went down to the hospital to pay our respects."

"Ah, I see. Very good."

Don knew he we being judged by this man but he was judging in return. The suit said it all. Ladder climber with an eye on the top job and not much else.

"May we speak somewhere?" Spellman asked.

"Sure." Don lead him into the war room.

"I did my homework before coming to LA Agent Eppes." Spellman said with no preamble. "This is a very interesting office and you run a very interesting team."

Don gave an offhand shrug. "It's an office, it's a team just like the rest of the bureau."

"Now you know that's not true, Agent Eppes. No other Violent Crimes unit in a major city has a solve rate like yours; 85.3%. Very impressive."

Don decided he didn't like this guy already. "I work with good people and we get lucky."

"I highly doubt luck has anything to do with it. The name Eppes can be heard often in DC and Virginia these days."

"Well there's more than one Eppes in the world."

"True, some of that discussion is related to your brother, whom I hope to meet at some point, but when it's connected to the number 85% they are talking about you."

"It's really a team effort."

"Perhaps but it's still a number to be proud of."

"I do my job and I do it to the best of my ability."

"Yes you do which is why I was surprised to inherit this letter from my predecessor." Spellman pulled out a letter from his jacket and opened it. "You wish to leave the field within a year. You wish to teach or take on an administrative roll. For a man with a solve rate that is fast becoming legendary I have to ask why?"

Don pulled out his wallet and pulled out the most recent picture of Anne and Mattie. He handed it over. "Anne and Matthew. We had to go to five doctors before we found one willing to recommend anything other than an immediate termination and the fifth gave us 5% odds of a live birth. I want to coach his t-ball team. I want to drop him off at school. I want to teach him how to surf. I don't want to miss piano recitals and parent teacher conferences because I'm in the middle of a hostage situation. Plus Anne and I are talking about doing it all over again before I get too much older." Don read the AD's face. He obviously wasn't a family man. "I don't think I have too many years of the field left in me anyway."

"What makes you say that, Agent Eppes?"

"I played proball, minor league, when I was younger. Put myself through university on baseball scholarships. I blew out every joint at least twice doing it. The doctors said it would all come back to haunt me when I hit forty but forty was a million years away at the time. It's not anymore and I'm starting to feel it."

"Then I would think you would want to make the most of your filed years remaining."

Don sighed. "With all due respect sir I have a solid and well trained team. Agent Reeves will be excellent as the head of Unit 2. I fully expect her solve rate to exceed mine. Agent David Sinclair will be more than ready to step into my shoes in a year's time. In fact if I had to leave today I'd trust the team to him today. Agent Colby Granger is an excellent and adaptable tactician and frankly the only reason he doesn't have his own team already is because he doesn't want one. We'll have another agent transferring in in a couple of months, Terry Lake. She worked with us a few years ago and she was one of the first to embrace some new techniques we developed. My brother as even taken on his own apprentices and he's working them hard. A couple of years they'll be able to go off on their own. There is no I in team sir. The fight can continue on without me."

Spellman nodded a few times. "Well, we'll see. I'd hate to take an experienced individual out of the field when they're on a roll." Spellman at this watch and handed Don back the picture of Anne and Mattie. "If you'll excuse me Agent Eppes. I have another meeting. Good day."

~

Alan tapped on the hospital door and peeked his head in. Megan waved at him from her bed. "Alan, come on it. My parents just left."

"Oh, well, I won't stay long then."

"No, no. Please stay. I need some sanity."

Alan let himself the rest of the way into the room. Larry was in a rocking chair with a little bundle in his arms. He didn't seem to be aware of anything else. Alan pulled up a chair next to Megan.

"How are you doing?"

"I'm fine."

"Yeah right."

Megan let out a long sigh. "Oh god, Alan I ache. Every inch of me aches. My toes ache. What the hell do my toes have to do with anything? My legs feel like I've run a marathon. Why?" Megan half wailed. "I haven't hurt this much since Quantico."

Alan took Megan's hand. "You'll feel better in a couple of days."

"And then my parents showed up. My mother actually acted surprised that Larry was here. Who the hell did they think the father was?"

"It'll be okay. You just need a bit of rest and everything will feel a bit more manageable. And if you need any help..."

"Thank you, Alan. I think I just need to get the three of us home."

"Speaking of." Alan looked over his shoulder at Larry.

"Larry?" Megan sang out softly.

Larry looked up. "Oh, hello Alan."

Alan smiled. "Hello Lawrence. May I?"

Larry stood up very carefully then sat on the edge of the bed where Alan could see. "Oh, she's lovely. Charlotte I hear?"

"Yes."

Alan tickled Charlotte's cheek a little, she gave a tiny yawn and her eyes opened a little. "She has your eyes, Larry."

"You were right Alan, about the first thirty seconds."

"And how's the rest going?"

Larry smiled down at his daughter. "So far, perfect."

~
Don swept into his home, swept his wife into his arms, bent her back and gave her a kiss. Anne kissed back until Don began to lose his grip and straitened her back up.

"Not that I'm complaining but what brought that on?"

"Just had a good day. We caught bad guys, we prosecuted and convicted bad guys, Megan had a baby, and someone screwed up and sent us good coffee."

"So all is right with the world?"

"Well I met the new SAC today. Ladder climbing twit, you can tell just looking at him but he'll be gone in a year. He just wants our solve rate to pad out his resume."

"Such is the burden of being the best in the business."

Don wandered over to the large play area and scooped up his son. "And how was your day?"

"We went and met Charlotte." Anne supplied.

"And were you a good boy?" Don asked Mattie.

"He kept trying to put his fingers in her mouth."

Don thought on that for a second. "Nope, not going to try to analyze that." Don bounced his son a bit. "And just you wait, in a few years you're going to have Charlotte to play with and you'll get to be like a big brother and show her all how to do all the best stuff."

"That's assuming Larry will put her down long enough to play."

"You can't blame him."

"I know."

Don just sat on the couch and ruminated on the day a bit. "Larry Flinheardt is a dad."

"Yep."

"The guy who doesn't entirely believe that time exists is now a parent."

"I'm sure he'll do fine."

"I remember when Megan was first going after Larry and Amita was going after Charlie. It was like open season on nerds and they both had this weird dear in headlights look all the time."

Anne sat beside Don with a chuckle. "Well I guess Megan has now truly landed her man now."

Don rubbed his eyes a little. "Megan and Larry."

"Megan and Larry and Charlotte."

"Charlotte. Like Chuck really needed that much more of an ego boost."

"I'm sure the first time she spits up on him it'll suitably deflate his ego again."

Don had to admit the look on Charlie face the first time Mattie spewed all over him had been priceless. He let out a long sigh.

"What was that sigh for?"

"Honestly? I was kind of wishing my mom was here to see this. She and Larry got pretty close while Charlie was at Princeton and Larry doesn't have any family to speak of and she and Megan would have gotten on great. "

"Yeah, I can picture your mom liking Megan."

Don turned towards Anne not liking the slightly dark shift in her voice. "She would have loved you too."

Anne snorted. "That's not the vibe I got. I mean I was still messed up in those days but it felt pretty solidly judgmental."

Don was supremely confused. "What are you talking about?"

"When I met your mother, sort of. I don't think I'd ever gotten a more pitying look. If I had the ability to sit up at the time I would have probably hit her."

"When did you meet my mother?"

Anne looked at him like he was an idiot. "That night, in the hospital? She came to pick up Charlie. I was on the bed next to him."

Don shook his head like he was trying to shake water out of his hears. "She came to get Charlie?"

Anne shook her head as well. "Wait, what did Charlie tell you about that night?"

"That he took you to the hospital, dropped you off, refused medical attention then walked out the door and then he blacked out or something because he swears the next thing he remembers is sitting on his bed bandaged up and it was morning."

Anne reached out and put her hands over Mattie's ears. "Well that's fucking convenient for him." She removed her hands.

"Okay, so what happened?"

Anne stood up running her fingers through her hair. "Charlie dropped me off. It was one of those overbooked ER units where they have patients on gurneys in the waiting room. He put me in the arms of some big ass orderly, stepped outside and hit the deck like a bag of rocks. They scraped him up and plopped him on a bed next to me. I was fading in and out pretty bad, but sliced up junkies don't get priority and Charlie was thin enough in those days they probably assumed he was using as well. I cracked open my eyes at some point to see them cleaning him up. Then he was gone, then he was back, then they were wrapping his toes. They were wrapping me up as well in between me passing out. At some point I opened my eyes and there was this woman standing next to him. I clearly remember I heard her say 'I'm not going to be able to take care of you forever.' I don't know what Charlie said but she turned around and looked at me and I swear Don I've had people looking down on me my entire life but I've never gotten a look of such raw pity. Pissed me the hell off. Anyway I blacked out again and she and Charlie were gone when I came to."

Don didn't know what to say. Charlie's version of events had painted a grim picture of that night but Anne's details just added an extra level of tragedy. "And you're sure it was my mother?"

Anne went over the book shelf and picked up the framed snapshot of his parents last anniversary. She held it out to Don. "That is a face you don't forget. Especially when it's giving you an unfriendly look. When I realized who Charlie was I had this flash of panic that I was going to have to face your mother and she'd want to know what her son was doing with some junkie. Then I remembered you said she'd passed away and for one horrible second I was relived."

Don stood and placed Mattie back in his playpen then he carefully cupped Anne's face and kissed her lips. "My mother would have loved you. She believed people could change and she had great respect for anyone strong enough to lift themselves out of bad situations. You're not a pushover, you're self-reliant, you don't put up with my shit, you don't put up with Charlie's shit. You're a strong, proud, independent, modern woman who's still willing to be an amazing mother, and an amazing wife. You are a catch. Mom would have like you just fine."

Anne flushed and bit her lips. Don knew she wasn't comfortable with gushing complements but he meant every word of it. He kissed her again.

"I'm not all that," Anne mumbled.

"Well as your husband I beg to differ."

 

END ACT 1