Dinner at the Eppes'by devra
* * *
"I'm giving them twenty minutes," Alan informed the cockatoo. The bird bobbed his head, listening, wisely keeping his opinions to himself as he focused on the carrot Alan was using to bring home his point. "Oh, sorry." In response to an indignant squawk, Alan stuck the veggie in between the slats of the cage, then shushed his bird when the pet began to enjoy the carrot with a little more gusto than Alan believed was appropriate with his two sons sleeping less than ten feet away.
It had done his heart good when Charlie had returned home with Don in tow. Alan had been able to glean from the boys' animated conversation that the good guys had triumphed, the woman saved, the bad guy shot and killed. He had listened with a sense of awe as he prepared dinner, their back and forth banter, without a tinge of anger or sadness, felt strangely right. It was a tentative step towards a cohesive family unit, and it felt good. Damn good. He could imagine Margaret looking down with a broad smile and a 'see, I told you so' twinkle in her eyes.
Their half-hearted offers to help with dinner had been brushed off and eventually Don and Charlie had wandered back into the living room, leaving Alan to his own devices in the kitchen, the drone of their voices offering a comfortable backdrop to his culinary expertise.
* * *
Twenty minutes became thirty. Thirty rolled into forty and Alan turned off the oven before the roast became tougher than one of Charlie's logarithms. While standing, he buttered a roll, tucked the paper under his arm, poured himself a glass of iced tea, grabbed a sharpened pencil *with an eraser* which, with Charlie around, was always an accomplishment, and eased himself down onto the couch.
He finished the roll, the glass of tea and was one third of the way through with the crossword puzzle when he felt himself being watched.
"Shhh." He pressed his finger to his pursed lips, then pointed to a still sleeping Charlie. Donnie and Charlie slept like they lived their lives. His elder son had been sprawled out, legs and arms bent and extended at angles so uncomfortable-looking, it took an enormous amount of parental control on Alan's part not to rearrange him. But that was Donnie, accepting and open to what life threw his way, strangely enough, more like Margaret than Alan had ever realized.
Impossible, but accomplished nonetheless, Charlie had managed to maneuver his entire body so he actually fit into the chair without a leg or arm venturing away from the chair's safety. Protecting himself in sleep as he did during his waking hours.
Donnie stretched, groaning as stiff muscles unraveled and bones cracked. "That's gotta hurt." He cocked his head in Charlie's direction.
Alan grimaced sympathetically. "Yeah, I was thinking the same thing."
"You know, Donnie," Alan stuck the pencil behind his ear, then tossed the unfinished crossword puzzle onto the table. "I'm thinking your brother must be exhausted."
Don buried his yawn in the crook of his elbow. "How can you tell? Charlie always looks like he needs a few extra hours of sleep."
"Pfft, and you don't?"
"It's the nature of my job, Dad. Charlie's a—professor for god's sake. He should—"
"So should you," Alan said with a wag of his finger. "Pot calling the kettle black," he mumbled under his breath.
"I heard that." Don clapped his hand over his stomach in a futile attempt to silence its rumbling.
"And I heard that. Can I interest you in some dinner?"
"Well, just don't sit there," Alan said as he stood, "you can help me in the kitchen."
"What about Charlie?"
"We'll wake him when we're done."
Alan had to smile, whether they were twenty or thirty, they were still kids when it came to chores. "Don't worry, we'll make him do the dishes."
* * *
Waking Charlie wasn't an easy task and Alan actually contemplated letting him sleep, but it would be inhumane and torturous to: one, let the dinner go to waste and two, permit him to sleep in that position any longer.
"Free period—forty minutes," he mumbled, but his eyes stayed closed.
"That's nice." He patted Charlie's shoulder. "I'm glad to know you have a break in your schedule."
Charlie's brow furrowed in confusion, his lips twisted to the side, then his eyes finally opened. "Dad?"
Alan waited and watched as Charlie took a few moments to acclimate himself to his surroundings. He could imagine the scenarios flicking through that brain. Office. Classroom. Library. Alan saw the exact second Charlie's thought process registered his location. "I fell asleep?"
"You and Donnie."
"Don too?" Charlie unfolded his scrunched up body and Alan couldn't help but cringe in sympathy, but his younger son, probably due to his time spent on a bicycle, was obviously quite flexible. Charlie scrubbed his fingertips through his hair and curls that were still sleeping sprang up in a multitude of directions.
Alan fought the urge to push an errant strand out of Charlie's face, but instead shoved his hands into the depths of his pockets; after all, Charlie was almost thirty, and thirty-something men don't have their father—screw it, Alan pushed the lock of hair from Charlie's face.
"Your hair was—" Alan's hand flopped around as he tried to formulate a reasonable explanation for his behavior.
Charlie looked upward, then blew out a stream of air, smiling as the hair his father had just moved flopped in the wind he had created. "Need a haircut."
"You said it, not me. Though I have it on good authority you *do* have a forty minute free period."
"How did you know I have a forty minute free period?"
"Fathers know everything," Alan explained, offering Charlie his hand to stand.
* * *
The roast was over cooked, the salad wilted, the bread too crisp and the vegetables soggy, but to Alan, this was the best meal he had tasted in years. It was the company. His boys. His sons.
Charlie leaned over and plucked the pencil still stuck behind his father's ear then held it up. "Thanks, Dad." He rolled it over in his hands and held it up to the light. "And it even has a point *and* an eraser."
"Must be your lucky day." Alan went to say more, but Charlie was already lost, scribbling on a napkin.
He shoved the napkin at Don who silently pleaded for help over Charlie's bent head.
"I enjoyed the dinner," Alan stated abruptly, pushing his chair away from the table.
"Me too," Don chimed in.
"Yeah, yeah, me also," Charlie said, blindly waving his left hand, not lifting his head until he realized his brother had gotten up. He sat back and looked at the two men standing, his gaze shifting between them. "Are we going somewhere?"
"We," Alan said, pointing to himself and his older son, "are going to go watch the baseball game on TV." He wagged a finger at Charlie, "While *you* are going to clear off the table and clean up."
"I am? What about Don, doesn't he have to help?"
"Nope," Alan said, grabbing the pencil from Charlie's fingers, because now without a writing implement there would at least be the guarantee Charlie would get up and move around. "I cooked, Donnie helped with the preparation—"
"I thought you said he slept." Charlie narrowed his eyes accusingly at his father.
Don smiled. "I dozed. You slept. I helped. You didn't. I get to watch baseball."
All that was missing, Alan thought was the 'nah, nah, nah'.
"I wouldn't want to watch baseball."
No, he wouldn't, but it was age old sibling rivalry rearing its ugly, but quite normal, head. Alan stepped in before this conversation turned ugly, complete with tantrums, stamping feet and the inevitable 'you love him best'. "It's a moot point, Charlie. An argument you aren't going to win. Go. Now. Do. Clean."
"I'll save you a seat in front of the TV," Don teased.
* * *
Alan ignored the crash, followed by the 'I'm okay, don't worry' from the kitchen and tried to focus on the game. "Do you think that was the rest of the roast?" He sighed. "I'm guessing any hope I have for making a sandwich tomorrow from the leftovers is now lost."
"Don't worry. He'll be okay."
"Charlie," Alan jerked his thumb in the direction of the kitchen, "I know he'll be fine, it was the food I was worried about."
"Charlie will really be fine." The touch of amazement in Don's voice surprised Alan.
"There was never any doubt in my mind that he wouldn't be. Why did you think—"
"He's good, Dad. I've always known he was a genius, but…" Don shook his head, then played with a loose cuticle on his thumb which Alan knew was a sign his son was at a loss for words.
"You work well together. Though I don't think I want him joining the FBI anytime soon. Nothing against your job, son," Alan added hastily.
"No offense taken," Don laughed.
"What's so funny?" Charlie stepped around their legs and plopped down on the couch next to his father.
"How's the kitchen? The food?" Alan started to rise. "Do I need to go check?"
"Charlie, why doesn't that sound convincing?"
"I can offer you the Witness Protection Program," Don offered.
"Pencil? Where did you put that pencil?" Charlie began to rummage through the pile of papers on the table.
"You're avoiding the question."
"Yes!" Charlie held up the prize pencil.
"He's ignoring the question," Don said.
"Yup," Alan agreed.
"Stop talking about me like I'm not in the room, and don't worry about the roast, I rinsed it off, and I'm sure the fridge will kill off any bacteria—"
"You're kidding me, right?" Alan turned to Don. "He is kidding me, isn't he?"
"I have a forty minute free period, how about you join me for lunch tomorrow?"
Alan remembered the last time he joined Charlie for lunch. "Are you going to be really eating lunch with me? Or are you going to be working around me?"
Charlie blinked innocently at his Dad. "What do you mean?
"I have a good idea," Don interjected. "Let's skip lunch, and Charlie can treat us to dinner tomorrow night. Out. At a restaurant." He waved at the pencil clutched in his brother's hand. "No writing instruments of any kind will be allowed."
Charlie snorted. "What are you going to do, frisk me?"
"Don't push your luck. You're allowed your wallet," Don thought a moment, "and keys. Nothing else."
"So tomorrow night," Alan agreed, "it's a date. The Eppes men hit the town."
Author's Comments: While I'm not new to the phenomenon known as fan fiction, this is my first offering in the Numb3rs universe. So, I can only hope I'm doing this right. Thanks to Jo, my beta whom I've dragged over with me from Stargate, Dawn for steering me in the direction of this wonderful show and Marcia for her support, the alpha and the immediate supply of every Numb3rs episode.
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