Disclaimer: Belongs to many other people, not me
Warnings/Squicks: a little angst and a bit of bad language.
Summary: What moments mark a friendship, a love, a marriage, a lifetime?
Previous chapters: Faculty Mixer
Notes: The moment you’ve all been waiting for. Lot’s of feedback please?
Beta(s): Her High Holiness irena_adler.
“She was there for an hour!”
“I don’t remember your call, alright?”
“It’s not alright. It was this afternoon!”
“I’ve been busy!”
“And I haven’t?!”
“I’m in the middle of something…”
“So you forget our daughter? Take some responsibility.”
“My daughter. She’s mine! Not yours.”
“Then start fucking acting like it!”
“What do you care! What do you care about any of this? Why do you even pretend to give a shit?! Why are you even here?”
“You know what, I don’t know!”
“Donald? This is Larry. You…um ...if you’re not busy you might want to get home. Something rather big just happened.”
Don opened the door to the craftsman home and rushed inside.
“Dad?” he called out.
“We’re in the kitchen,” Alan responded.
Don looked into the kitchen and saw Colby sitting on the floor his face pressed to his knees, a half drunk bottle of beer in his hands. His dad was sitting on the other side of the kitchen, just watching.
“I found him like this. Haven’t managed to get a word out of him.” Alan said, worry thick in his voice.
“Larry called me. Said CalSci was just treated to a preview of world war three.”
Colby looked up at Don. Don could honestly say the agent looked better after being shot than he did now. “I broke rule four, Don.”
Don frowned in thought before remembering rule four. ‘Four. Don’t let him hurt you.’
“Colby.” Don took a spot on the kitchen floor next to Colby. “I’m sure whatever Charlie said, he didn’t mean.”
“No, he meant it. He meant every word he said. And I meant every word I said. And between me and Charlie... I fucked up.”
Alan shook his head. “Colby, it takes two to fight. Thirty-five years of marriage taught me that.”
Colby closed his eyes. “No. I knew things, I should have said things, other things a long time ago. I knew Charlie would never think of things or say some things. It had to be on me. This is it.” Colby took a sip of beer. “This is the morning after where we slink away and never speak of it again.”
“Bullshit.” Don said. “You are the best thing to happen to Charlie and he knows it. You are Esther’s daddy, and you do not get slink out of here without a fight. Not after everything. It’s been what? Nine years? Ten?”
Colby shrugged and wrapped his arms around his knees, threatening tears in his eyes making him look like nothing more than a distraught child.
“This can be fixed.” Alan offered. “What ever happened, whatever was said, it can’t be taken back but it can be forgiven, that’s what family is.”
“But I’m not family.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Alan scolded. “Of course you are.”
“I’m not Esther’s daddy, not legally, not officially. I’m not Charlie’s anything, not really, never have been.”
“Well, maybe that should change.” Don offered gently.
Colby gave a quick choking sob before pulling himself back together. He looked at Don and Alan, obviously surprised at their concern.
“Maybe it is time for things to change,” Alan said, echoing Don sentiments.
Colby nodded. “I can fix this,” he whispered. He took a deep breath “I can fix this. I can fix this.” Colby got up and headed to the door.
“Where are you going?” Alan asked.
“I need to get some stuff. I need to arrange some stuff.”
“Fine, Don will drive you.”
“I’m not drunk, Alan. I’ve had half a beer.”
“Doesn’t matter. In your state you shouldn’t be on the road.”
Colby looked to Don who nodded that he was going to back up his dad on this one. “Ok. But I’m not coming back. Not tonight. I’ll get a motel room but…just not tonight, ok. I can fix this but…”
“We get it.” Don said. “Come on. Let’s get you whatever you need to fix this.”
Colby tried to hold his head up as he walked down the halls of CalSci. He had always stuck out here, jock and G-man, but the looks he was getting now made him feel like he was in rival gang territory. A few students snickered. The staff he passed mainly gave him looks both dirty and dismissive as if he had somehow soiled one of their own. He had worked with a guy once who possessed a firm belief in the evil eye. Colby was starting to agree.
He turned the corner to Charlie’s hall when he ran, quite literally, into Larry Fleinhardt. He quickly picked the physicist up and brushed him off.
“Sorry, Larry. I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“Well, I’m sure you had things on your mind.”
“Is…is Charlie in his office?”
“He’s hardly been anywhere else the last two days.”
“Okay? No. He’s not. At least no more than you by the looks of things.”
Colby realized he must look like hell after not sleeping in the same suit for three days. “I think I can fix things.”
“Really. Well, I wish you luck.” Larry said slightly tersely.
“I’m sorry, Larry. I know you care about him. I never meant…”
Larry cut him off with a quick wave of the hand. “Charles needs whomever he’s with to keep him truly balanced. He has to be allowed to be himself while being protected from himself. That is something I was never able to provide, neither was Amita or various others in between.”
“I’ll try, I’ll…” Some part of Colby’s brain listened to Larry’s last sentence more closely and froze. “You..?” he stuttered out.
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. A youthful vulgarity.”
Colby’s brain hurt trying to work out the mental image. He was sure he must have done his fish impression. “Later, you and I are going to talk.”
“Of course, Agent Granger. Now go forth and try to win the hand of the fair Charles Eppes, but remember you can not change a man such as him, only run along in his wake, trying to be worthy.”
“I’m really screwed, aren’t I?”
Colby felt for the box in his coat to make sure it was still there. “You’re not helping.”
“It’s only my job to help my students. Everyone else is on their own. Good luck.” Larry gave him a pat on the shoulder and walked on though Colby was sure the little man was going to double back and press his ear to the door.
Colby took a deep breath and knocked on Charlie’s door.
“What!?” Came the harsh shout from the other side. Colby gently opened the door and stepped in.
The place looked like a bomb had hit it. Strange, harsh equations were on every surface, paper littered the floor, stacks of books had been knocked over and left there. Charlie’s assistant was nowhere in sight but her desk was the only place clear of debris.
“Charlie?” Colby said gently.
Charlie whirled around from his place at the blackboard. “Oh,” Charlie said like he was some kind of curiosity.
“Charlie,” he tried again.
Charlie turned his back and went back to the blackboard.
“Damn you,” Colby whispered harshly.
Charlie looked at him. “What?”
“Damn you. Damn what you’re doing to me.” Colby felt so tired all of a sudden, all of his carefully rehearsed words slipping from his mind. Colby took a deep breath. “I’m going to say it because you can’t. I love you, Charlie Eppes. Somewhere between drunken nights, and hurried lunches, and impossible cases I learned to love you and I will be damned if I’m going to let you just push me out of your life, because you don’t think you mean anything to me, and I’ll be damned if I let you take Esther out of my life because I love her as much as I love you, and the very thought of the bleak, well-planned future my life would be without you makes me want to die.”
Charlie dropped his chalk. It landed with an impossibly loud clink. Charlie blinked at him a few times, his expression flickering. “Esther’s been asking when you’re coming home.”
“I don’t know. Am I coming home?”
“Colby,” Charlie sighed desperately, sounding exhausted “I can’t keep going like this. This thing we don’t have the words to talk about.”
“I know. Things need to change. Big things. We need new words.”
“I’m not good with words.”
“I know.” Colby closed his eyes and lowered his head. He had other things he wanted to say but they weren’t coming. Not yet. He heard Charlie come closer then felt arms wrap around him and a head lay on his chest. He wrapped his arms around Charlie and stood there listening to the clock tick by the seconds. He wanted to sleep just standing right there, his arms around Charlie. He hadn’t slept the last two nights. Instead, he’d lay awake, reaching out for the warm presence of another body that wasn’t there. He finally, gently, pushed Charlie away and fished a piece of paper out of his pocket. He handed it to Charlie.
“What is it?” Charlie asked.
“New words. See, if I sign that piece of paper, then you sign it, and a judge down at County signs it, and a couple of our friends sign it, then we have words better than ‘thing’ for this.”
“Marriage, husband, life, legality.”
Charlie gave his head a quick shake. “Your career..?”
“Don’t care. I don’t want a big desk in DC any more than you want to be seated behind a dean’s desk somewhere.”
Charlie swallowed hard looking at the piece of paper. “Ok. Those...those are good words. I like those words. They sound like they fit.”
Colby felt some of his exhaustion lift and he pulled out another piece of paper. “There’s also this, if you’ll let me.”
“What does it say?”
“Well, it’s really just the first in a lot of paper but…um…at the end it should say that I can be Esther’s father. If you’ll let me?”
“You really want that?”
Charlie nodded again and folded the pieces of papers and put them in his own pocket. “I’m sorry, Colby.”
Colby’s heart sank, Charlie was refusing him.
But Charlie continued, “I’m sorry I said the things I did. They were never true, I never meant, I never meant to hurt you, to make you feel...” Charlie petered off, and Colby could almost see the words jumbling up in his head. Charlie probably wished he had a formula that would just explain everything. Even if he did have one Colby knew he couldn’t read it. Charlie took a deep breath and his lips slowly formed the words. “I love you, too.”
Colby let out the breath he’d been holding. It came out as a gasping sob. He tried to burn the expression on Charlie’s face into his memory, never wanting this moment to slip away.
“Ok?” Charlie asked and it was Colby’s turn to nod dumbly. Charlie hugged him again. Colby wanted a kiss but at the same time he felt like that might break him. The inside of his head felt like glass and the smallest of nudges could kill him.
Eventually, Colby remembered something that had originally been so critical to his plan. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a light blue box. “This is for you.”
Charlie took the box with a puzzled look. Inside he found the latest accessory for the busy studio executive or absent minded professor. It was a rounded silver box about the size of a pocket watch with a screen on one side. Charlie had never seen one and gave Colby a questioning look.
“It’s a reminder box.” Colby explained. “All the big studio execs have them. Your schedule is in a central system, all your classes and appointments and stuff and it beeps or whatever to remind you, but you don’t have to update it yourself. Your assistant can, or whoever has the password so if your class schedule changes or there’s an emergency meeting you don’t have to remember. It runs on kinetic energy so it doesn’t need recharging.” It was the electronic gizmo of the year, anyone who was anyone had one, the big difference was that Colby had dipped into his State Department spy snafu hush-up money and gotten this one at Tiffany’s and had the back engraved. Charlie flipped it over.
“…assuming a linear definition of time.” Charlie read off the back.
The sales girl had given Colby a weird look. She was probably used to taking orders for ‘with love always’ and other such sweetness. Charlie gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.
“Dad will want to do a whole big thing,” Charlie warned.
“I say we grab Megan, Larry, Esther, hit the court house, and tell everyone after the fact.”
Charlie nodded. “Good idea.”
Colby smiled and looked at Charlie. “You know you have to marry me, anyways.”
“I gave you a six digit prime.”