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19 November 2009 @ 02:33 pm
Numb3rs Fic: Harbor House Part 3  
Posted to numb3rs_slash


Title: Harbor House (Companion to Safe Harbor 1/2)
Series/Universe: Safe Harbor
Pairing/Characters: Charlie/Billy, OCs
Rating: PG13
Spoilers: Man Hunt
Summary: Billy's house on the harbor gets a summer guest - Charlie in need of his protection
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ


Billy stepped into his study with his cell phone, glancing to make sure Charlie was still downstairs out of earshot.

"Okay, let's hear it."

Billy could hear Chad take a deep breath on the other end of the phone.

"The good news is that it's over. We've identified all the players and none of Charlie's data - or his name - was leaked to hostile parties."

"Keep going," Billy urged. "Details, Harper."

"This morning the director himself authorized a raid on the home of Assistant Director Harlan Bartholomew with an arrest warrant for treason. I don't know if someone tipped Harlan off or if he just knew it was all falling apart, because by the time the SWAT team made entry he'd already shot himself in the head."

"If he's dead then how can you be sure..."

"There's one thing everyone here knew about AD Bartholomew. He kept meticulous records and apparently he did so in his illicit dealings as well. We found a laptop in a secret panel in the wall. The NSA cracked it for us in minutes. He was running Keene, giving him orders, while simultaneously holding court on a bidding war for the United States' terror cell intel. Don't worry," he interjected just as Billy took a breath to protest. "We've inspected all data and messages that he sent out to prospective buyers. The most he said was 'a prominent civilian contractor' was involved in the project and that analysis work was part of the package. I'm guessing he started the bidding once the initial hack went through, overconfident that the files he'd gotten could be unencrypted."

"So who did the hack?"

"Keene actually. He came to the FBI via the NSA. He wasn't one of their more premiere computer scientists, but he knew what he was doing because he had help from the inside. Once news of Keene got out an IT security specialist came forward - that was the lead that eventually led us to Bartholomew. He'd been sworn to secrecy by Keene, who told him they were flushing out a mole at the highest levels and he wasn't allowed to talk to anyone about it. The guy realizes now he'd been played - he was actually facilitating Keene's hack with all the information he shared about the FBI's data center security. They did a number on him - even forged the director's signature on a document giving the project a code name and demanding absolute secrecy even within the FBI."

"Are you going to be able to keep this out of the media?" Billy asked.

"We're allowing the press to report on Bartholomew's suicide tomorrow. We've already tipped off Interpol as to the buyers. Whether they can act on the data, I don't know, but there's no way we can contain Bartholomew's son - who's a lawyer in D.C. - from spreading the word of his father's death. We're leaking that there might have been a health issue in the hopes people will buy that he killed himself over a terminal disease."

"You're absolutely sure there's no one else involved?"

"I'm certain." His voice softened. "A man almost died because I asked him to come work with us. I didn't take this lightly, Agent Cooper." His voice returned to its normal volume and official stature. "We're drafting an official document which a Marine envoy will deliver to Dr. Eppes later today, but I wanted you to have the news beforehand."

Billy huffed. "Fine, I'll break the news for you."

"Everyone appreciates all that you've done, Agent Cooper," Chad told him. "The director's asked me to put a commendation in your file."

"Great, the Bureau's commending me while I'm warming the bench facing criminal charges. I bet that's a first."

"I'm sure your administrative leave will be resolved soon enough. No one here believes you'd risk your life for Dr. Eppes if you were the kind of man to stab a fugitive."

"Not the most comforting show of support," Billy grumbled.

"Then take comfort in this," Chad stressed. "Dr. Eppes is safe. No one will be coming after him, not now, not ever."

+

"Okay, the final report's been sent in for the panel to preview, I've got my slides all ready, we've gone over your testimony..." Charlie looked around the tidied up living room - all his papers now finally in neat piles, ready to be boxed away. "I'd say we're ready for Thursday's hearing."

"I have to tell you," Billy admitted, plopping down on the couch. "I feel much better about this now than I did when they first put me on leave. I mean, I know I didn't do anything wrong, that that idiot stabbed himself, but it felt impossible to clear my name with no witnesses other than a lying felon facing life in prison."

Charlie came over and sat on the couch beside him, curling up against him in a way that had become second nature to them both in the days after their relationship had become more intimate.

"They can't argue the math," Charlie said proudly. "It's facts that no witness statement can counter. I have faith that I can make them see that." Billy's fingers dallied in the curls at the back of Charlie's neck and Charlie arched into the touch, encouraging it. "You know, I think I might turn these equations into a computer program for Don, get some of my students in on it. We should be able to make it so that you plug in the variables and it gives you the probabilities in return."

Billy's hand stilled. It had gone unsaid all this time, whether Charlie would be returning to the West Coast, taking up his classes again and consulting for Don. Some part of him had hoped that Charlie would at least entertain the idea of staying, but the matter of fact statement made it clear that wasn't any sort of option.

Billy's cell phone chimed with a text message and he fished it out of his pocket, jostling Charlie a little in the process, who sat up to give him room to maneuver.

'Your father's awake and really alert for a change. If you hurry you can catch him before he needs to nap again.'

Billy rose abruptly. "I have to go."

"Go?" Charlie rose as well, watching him head for the door. "Go where?"

Magda, on her way in, opened the door before Billy could get there.

"Magda, can you keep Charlie company? I'll be back later."

"Sure..." she told him, a little bewildered, as he grabbed the keys to the SUV.

He didn't turn around, didn't want to answer Charlie's question and didn't want to think about Charlie not being there one day when he came home.

He just got behind the wheel and headed for the nursing home, cursing under his breath at the unfairness between having to choose between the family he loved and the man he'd grown to love.

+

After the panel concluded, Billy stood around the lobby, waiting for Charlie to come out. Once he did, they proceeded out to the car, walking in silence until they got there.

"Thanks," Billy told him with a grateful nod. "With your help I should be back to work in no time."

"It was the least I could do," Charlie replied. "But I'll miss you when you go back to Fugitive Recovery."

"Nah, you'll be back in California." Billy unlocked the doors for them to get in, trying to keep his voice light despite the fact broaching the subject was tearing him up inside. "You'll forget all about me once you go back to your old life."

Charlie put a hand over his, keeping him from starting the car.

"Is that what you think? That you're some sort of fling? A little romantic tryst for the summer that I just forget about in the fall?"

They'd barely started and already it was going poorly. Billy's head hung down as he let out a resigned huff. "I didn't mean for it to come out like that."

"Then how was it supposed to go?" Charlie had his most petulant face on - clearly gearing up for an argument.

"You know!" Billy cried in exasperation. "You have your life in California and I have my life here! How would that work?"

"We could make it work... If we wanted to." Charlie's voice had shifted, gentled. "I mean, you're an FBI agent. You could get transferred to the West Coast if you wanted."

"It's not just work!" Billy gripped the steering wheel in frustration. "I have.... I have obligations here."

"I see..." Billy went ahead and started the car, pulling out of the spot and driving off the base, headed towards home. Charlie stared out the window for part of the trip then abruptly turned to him, as if no time had passed since his last utterance, and continued. "No, I don't. I don't know what could be more important than what we have, what we're building, you and I."

"Can we not talk about this while I'm driving?" Billy growled - a little harsher than he'd meant. "I'd like to get us home in one piece."

Charlie didn't speak again even after they got back to the house. He just took his laptop into the sunroom and started working on it without a word.

Billy shed his uptight suit and changed into swim trunks. This was a frustration he wasn't sure he could work off just by sprinting laps on the beach at Shady Cove. Maybe he'd swim all the way there, work it out with a good thrashing: man versus sea. The water would be cold, the distance would be nicely exhausting and the harbor was one place he was absolutely certain Charlie wouldn't follow.

+

"Did I tell you what Don said before he left? Don said it wouldn't work."

Magda put the iron in her hand down on the ironing board a safe distance away from the dress shirt she was ironing and carefully extracted a clean towel from Billy's grasp.

"Jefe, I know you feel this compelling need to 'help'," her stress on the word was purely facetious, "but face facts. You can't fold a towel to save your life. Let me do them, por favor?" She folded the towel deftly then proceeded to refold the three Billy had attempted to fold earlier, all four ending up neatly in a stack before she returned to her ironing board. "If you want to come over and talk, come over and talk, but don't be messing with my nice laundry." She gave him a playful wink. "Housekeepers are allowed to take pride in their work too, you know?"

Billy managed a chuckle, deflated.

"Okay, then. If I can't help with the laundry, do you mind if I rant for at least another ten or fifteen minutes with the understanding that I'm not actually looking for solutions because there are none?"

"You can believe that if you want," Magda said blithely, holding up the shirt to check for wrinkles then returning it to the ironing board for further detail work. "I for one - romantic that I am - choose to believe that love will find a way."

"Says the woman who's divorced," Billy pointed out.

"Hey, maybe that divorce was necessary for new love to find me!" She cocked her head at him. "Ever think of that? Good does come of bad. I got two great kids out of that marriage and the children got a father who would die for them. Plus the divorce meant we found you, so a lot of good - a lot of love - came from it." She set her iron aside and made a final assessment of her work on the shirt before pulling it from the ironing board. "You can't tell me Charlie coming into your life like that after his so-called mugging wasn't a good thing."

"Heh," Billy huffed. "I think I could argue that point."

Magda put the shirt on a hanger and gave Billy a compassionate look. "You don't mean that. No matter what happens between you two I know you don't regret spending this time with Charlie and I'm certain you don't regret saving his life."

"No, but..."

"No buts!" Magda wagged a finger, tsking. "If you wish to expound on how unhappy you are that Charlie won't drop everything and move 3000 miles away to be with you, by all means, Jefe. I am honor bound by my employment agreement with you - and by the fact that you're in my living room - to listen. But as your friend I'd much prefer smacking some sense into you and lobbying for a Best Woman place at your wedding in California."

"I can't move, you know that."

"I know no such thing." Magda's voice was lightly mocking and she smirked, catching his eye as she slipped one of Elena's skirts onto the ironing board next. "You know, the kids would love Disneyland."

Billy's cell rang and he answered it, glaring at her.

"Hello."

"Mr. Cooper? It's Nurse Jensen. I'm sorry to bother you, but your mother fainted again. I know she wouldn't want me to call you - and she's fine now, resting - but you said you wanted to know if anything happened."

"I'll be right over." He snapped the phone shut brusquely.

"The nursing home?" Magda asked, all teasing gone from her voice. "Again?"

"I have to go." Billy headed for the door. "This," he told her, pausing in the doorway to pull his car keys from his pocket. "This is why I can't just leave."

+

The brass had set a date for him to return to work, but Billy - surprising them all - had asked to use his vacation days to push it back.

Magda had been right about one thing - he didn't regret Charlie being there and he found that now that their days were numbered he didn't want to waste any of them going into work.

He and Charlie had - by some unspoken yet mutual agreement - decided that they were allowed to ignore their impending separation for now. They were able to laugh and play with the kids as normal, but in quiet moments - like when they were getting ready for bed - a strained quiet would come over the space between them, thick with words unsaid. They'd turn on the late show so they could laugh it off and fall asleep in each other's arms as normal, but the underlying tension remained even if it was unacknowledged.

Working out helped. He'd gotten a bit lax during his time off - enjoying Magda's good cooking and staying indoors with Charlie rather than going out and doing his beach workouts. He was training now harder than ever, pushing himself to get ready to go back in the field - at least that's what he told himself on the surface. Deep down he knew it was his private way of keeping the resentment, anger and dismay at the futility of their situation at bay.

At the end of a lap he felt eyes on him and glanced over to the dock.

Charlie stood there staring at him across the water.

Charlie hadn't set foot near the water since he nearly drowned so if he'd walked out on the dock to find him there had to be something going on.

It only took a few minutes to kayak back; longer than it would have taken had he not exhausted himself with his crazed workout. He tied up the kayak and headed off the dock, figuring Charlie wouldn't want to stay out there, accepting the proffered towel from Charlie with a quiet 'Thanks' and using it to wipe the water from his face.

"The dean called," Charlie began, his voice tentative. "He wanted confirmation that I planned on returning to Cal Sci to teach for the fall semester."

"Was that ever in any doubt?" Billy asked, not breaking his stride.

"Considering it's time for faculty meetings to begin and I'm not in California? Apparently he felt so."

"I meant in your mind. You plan on going back. You always planned on going back."

"Yes, but..." Charlie stopped and halted Billy with a hand on his arm. "I thought... I thought if I stayed longer, we could work something out. Make... Make this work." His hands flailed in an awkward gesture between them.

"Don't you think I want that too?" Billy cried, frustration leaking out despite him beating it down on the beach. "But what you're asking me to give up? It's too much."

Charlie bristled. "I suppose since I'm not wiling to give up my career and my family for you, I can't expect you to give up yours for me."

"I get vacation time," Billy ventured. "And you know hunts can take me to the West Coast."

Charlie shook his head, adamant. "Sorry, I saw how that worked when Don was in Fugitive Recovery. My parents barely saw him during those two years. Something always came up. I can't see that it would be any different now."

"So the only answer is to walk away?" Billy asked, ache flaring in his chest as he watched all he'd hoped for slip through his fingers. "There has to be something."

Charlie gazed at him, despondent. "If there is, I don't see it. Maybe... Maybe after some time apart a new solution will present itself and maybe..."

"You think maybe we'll forget? Just decide it didn't mean that much?" Billy tried to keep the spite from his tone, but the idea hurt more than he wanted to admit.

"I don't have any answers for you." Charlie's head hung down, his voice deadened with defeat. "I have to go pack."

Charlie walked away, leaving Billy alone on the dock, his hands balled into fists at his side.

Once Charlie was indoors, Billy turned and ran full speed back down the dock, diving into the harbor, coming up swimming hard making not for Shady Cove, but open water.

He swam until his arms burned, twitched, began to fail - until his feet felt icy, almost numb from the cold waters. He dove down deep until his lungs felt like bursting, protesting for air even as his beleaguered body protested the swim back to the surface.

It was hard even to tread water at this point and he could see a pleasure boat in the distance change course to intercept him, probably thinking he needed rescuing.

It would take them a while to get there from across the harbor. Enough time for the emotion he'd tried so hard to get away from to swamp him, in all its pain, out where no one could see.

+

With Billy's FBI credentials he was easily able to get Charlie through security quickly and go with him to wait at the gate, which was a good thing because almost immediately Charlie started gasping in the stale terminal air and had to go back outside to breathe for a while and calm down.

"I'm sorry," he muttered. "It just hit me that there aren't any operable windows in there - at all."

"It's okay," Billy soothed, rubbing his back. "See how easy we got out of there? How fast? It proves it can be done. You can get out if needed."

Charlie nodded, breathing finally starting to calm. "I guess I didn't think I'd have to prepare myself for an attack of claustrophobia until it was time to get on the plane."

Billy took him by the shoulders, careful to keep his touch light and not confining. "Hey, just remember what the Bureau psychologist taught you: manage your breathing, think about your safe place and look at how calm everyone around you is. And if that fails, order a cocktail - any hard liquor that normally makes you sleepy." Billy offered him an encouraging smile. "One of the benefits of flying first class: good booze, good service."

Charlie took a deep breath and then a second and a third.

"Okay, we can go back in now."

Billy shouldered Charlie's carry on bag and led him with a light touch back into the terminal. Getting through security the second time was even faster, save the long moment Charlie stood staring back at the terminal exit.

Once they were at the gate the attendants made an announcement.

"Now boarding Flight 242 to LAX - all rows."

"I guess this is it," Charlie said mournfully.

"Or it can just be 'talk to you in a couple of days.'" Billy tried to sound upbeat, but his words fell flat even in his own ears.

Charlie abruptly wrapped his arms around Billy's middle and buried his face in Billy's shirt, clinging to him in desperation.

Billy returned the embrace, almost wincing at the pain he felt inside at parting. Before he'd wanted to rail, throw things, scream at the heavens at how unfair it all was. Now he just wanted to hold on to Charlie and never let him go.

"Is it so bad for me to wish for some crazy miracle to come along and fix this so we can be together?" Charlie asked.

Behind Billy's closed eyes visions of a headstone with his father's name on it, his mother's last breath in a hospital bed assailed him. He thought the pain of separation from Charlie hurt, but the idea of losing both his parents slashed though him so violently he had to bite his lip to stay quiet.

"There is no miracle," he finally managed, almost gritting his teeth at the strain.

Charlie pulled back enough to gaze up at him, eyes wide and bright. "But I love you..." His breath hitched as he began to crumble. "I can't just let it end like this."

"Final boarding call - Flight 242 for LAX."

With great difficulty, Billy peeled Charlie's hands off him, returned them to his sides and put the carry-on bag on his shoulder.

"It's time to go." Blinking away the moisture in his eyes, he flagged down the flight attendant. "One more here to board!" he called out, gesturing to Charlie.

"Billy..."

Billy pressed a kiss to his lips, struggling not to pour every ounce of emotion into what might be his last chance for this.

"Please... Don't make this any harder than it has to be," he pleaded.

"Sir, right this way. We need to take off."

The flight attendant beckoned to Charlie who moved forward woodenly, glancing back at Billy as she all but led him to the gangway.

In the end it was Billy who broke their gaze, turning away as Charlie took the final steps out of his sight and out of his life.

He all but collapsed into one of the hard plastic chairs and sat with his head in his hands as the plane taxied away, taking his future with it.

+

"Mom?"

Lillian's eyes opened at the sound of her son's voice and her smile helped ease the weight Billy felt inside, the weight that had been sapping all the good from the world.

"Billy... I wasn't expecting you." She beckoned to him to come sit beside her bed. "I wish you'd come tomorrow. You know how tired I get when I haven't had my dialysis yet."

Billy pulled up a stool and took one of his mother's frail hands in both of his own.

"I just had to see you, that's all."

Lillian looked closer, examining him with a mother's eyes. "Oh my dear boy..." she said with a quiet gasp. "What's happened? You look so sad."

Billy swallowed hard. "I screwed up. I let him go. Charlie... I... We... It's like you said - it's different," he stammered. "That Magda and the kids, you and Dad, it's not enough."

"I wondered about this Charlie," she mused. "You kept refusing to talk about him, about what was going on with him. I knew there was more to it than just your ex-partner's brother needing a place to stay." She shook Billy's hands to get his distracted attention on her. "You care about him, don't you?"

"I... I think I love him, Mom. But he's gone. He went back to California and now I don't know what to do with myself. I just feel so..." His eyes welled up as he gripped her hand for comfort. "So lost... Empty." He laid his forehead on their joined hands, bereft.

Lillian carded her delicate fingers through her son's hair, making comforting shushing noises.

"If it hurts too much to let him go," she said gently. "Then don't. Go after him. Tell him you love him."

"I can't," Billy lamented. "He won't move back east and I can't move to California. It will never work."

"Why can't you move?" Lillian asked plainly.

"W-What do you mean, why can't I move?" Billy stammered. "I can't leave you and Dad! I can't abandon Magda and the kids!"

"Sweetheart..." Lillian lifted her freckled hand and pressed her palm to her son's flushed cheek. Billy turned into the soothing warmth there, bolstered by his mother's love. "You don't have to worry about your father and I. If moving to California is what you need to be happy? We'll go with you."

"What?" Billy just blinked at her, stunned.

"Your father, God bless him, doesn't know where he is even half the time and as much as I'd like to believe he'll improve, I know now that neither of us will ever be able to live at home again. As it is my doctor wants me on dialysis once more each week. So where we live? It doesn't matter. You're our family, my sweet William. Wherever you are is our home."

Overcome, Billy enveloped his mother in his arms, hugging her tiny frame tightly.

"I love you, Mom," he murmured.

"I love you too, sweetheart." She patted his back, pressing a kiss to his cheek as he finally released her. "And I bet if you go talk to Magda you can work something out with her." She took his hand and held it tightly. "Don't let this slip away. Love comes so seldom into our lives and I've waited so very long to see you truly happy."

"I promise," Billy swore to her. "I'll find a really nice place for you and Dad. Somewhere with gardens for you, where you can sit outside and enjoy the sun - you'd like California, it's sunny almost all the time."

"I'm sure I will," she assured him, patting his arm. "Now go. I'll tell your father you've gone out of town for a while and if he has a good day I'll tell him why. I'm sure he'll be happy for you as well."

Billy pressed a kiss to her hand. "I don't know what to say."

"We've only ever wanted you to be happy," Lillian told him, smiling serenely. "To know that you're loved and cared for? That you won't be alone? That's all we've ever wanted for you. So if Charlie makes you happy..."

"He does," Billy told her, tears prickling at his eyes despite the chaotic elation swirling inside him. "He really does."

+

"What is it?"

Magda looked startled as Billy dragged her out of the kitchen when he returned home and made her sit down in the living room.

"I went to see my mother."

"Is she all right?" Magda crossed herself briskly. "Is it your father?"

"They're fine," he said, waving off her concerns. "It's about Charlie."

"I thought you didn't tell her about Charlie." She screwed up her forehead in confusion.

"I didn't plan on it, but it all kind of spilled out of me after coming back from the airport. The thing is? She's willing to move. She said she'll come with me if I move to California - her and my Dad."

"And you had figured she wouldn't?" Billy blinked at her, not having any answer for that. Magda just mock smacked him in the arm, smirking. "Clearly you need a genius in your life if you have that little sense on your own."

"Magda, Magda..." Billy shook his head, bemused, then sobered up, taking Magda's hands in his. "You know you and Rocio and Elena - you're family too. So this decision affects you as well. I'm not selling the house, so you're more than welcome to stay here so the kids can stay in the school district or..." He took a breath. "Or you can move with me, come live in California with Charlie and I."

Magda gave him a patient smile. "I already talked it over with the kids and with their father. Rocio and Elena haven't stopped moping since Charlie left. They adore him. They miss him. And my ex-husband - hardcore military man that he is - is about to re-up for another four years. He got an offer for a command position overseas so we worked out a deal. I get the kids for the full four years he's gone and he gets to have primary custody for one year upon his return. I told him that year would probably be in California, but he seems to think he'll have enough seniority when he returns that getting posted anywhere he wants won't be a problem." She squeezed Billy's hands. "In short, we've just been waiting for you to tell us you were really going to do it."

"You were that sure?" Billy marveled. "Even with my parents and all?"

"I told you," she said, pretending to be smug as she rose. "I'm a romantic! We believe love always wins in the end." She tugged him up. "Come on, lover boy. We need to get you packed. I bet you don't even have a flight yet!"

Before she could pull him away, Billy enveloped her into a bear hug.

"You're the greatest." He let her go, but gazed down at her, grinning like mad. "I don't know what I'd do without you."

Magda huffed out a few choice words in Spanish. "We so don't want to find out!" she teased. "Clearly you're helpless without the women in your life to look after you!" She gave him a gentle shove towards the stairs. "Vamanos! We have to find your suitcases and get you a flight! And if there's time I'm baking you some Mexican Wedding Cookies to take with you."

+

LA felt like a foreign country - in the terminal at LAX anyway. Billy heard a smattering of different languages around him as he waited for his luggage.

A dozen different emotions made him dizzy despite how easy everyone had made this on him. Even his boss had cleared him to work out of LA in record time. The service he'd hired to scout nursing homes for his parents had left him a voicemail while en route letting him know they'd emailed the top contenders within a twenty-five mile radius of Pasadena and would be getting him the fifty mile radius selections within two more days. Magda had promised to look into schools and had plucked a promise from him to look for separate housing for her and the children - arguing wisely that a couple should have privacy in their own home.

The only person he hadn't talked to about this was Charlie.

Something inside him made him stop every time he went to pick up the phone. He was changing his entire life for Charlie and somehow he needed to see Charlie's reaction to the news live and in person to be sure it was what he wanted as well.

So showing up unannounced at his front door might not have been the best strategy for winning Charlie over, but with all the luggage he'd brought, Billy was definitely putting all of his eggs in this one very special basket.

It took a while to load up his copious amounts of luggage - Magda had reminded him he was moving, not going for a visit - and he pushed his loaded up cart out to the taxi stand. They'd boxed up some less important items for her to ship later, but he needed to be able to get back to work right away. It was the best way he could think of to prove to Charlie he intended to stay for good.

Stepping into the sun he looked up into the cloudless blue sky.

He lived here now.

So much was going to be new: he'd be part of a couple, he'd have more nights at home and less road trips, he'd have a chance to renew his friendship with Don - something he'd sorely missed in the years since Don left Fugitive Recovery.

He felt simultaneously excited and strange and worried yet inside deeply calm. Just knowing that he didn't have to give Charlie up, that he could be with him, it was enough to bring him a wonderful sense of peace - as if something he'd been waiting for his whole life had finally fallen into place.

"Can I take your luggage, sir?"

"Oh, yeah! Thanks!" Billy broke out of his reverie and helped the cab driver load his bags into the trunk.

"That's quite a bit of luggage," the man said. "Long trip?"

"I'm moving here," Billy explained as they closed the trunk and got into the cab.

"Ah! Welcome to California then!" the man said cheerily. Once behind the wheel, he waited for Billy to settle in. "So, where can I take you?"

"Pasadena," Billy said, unable to help the smile burgeoning on his face. "Take me to Pasadena."

+

The Craftsman was a beautiful old house. Billy had loved it on sight the first time Don had brought him there. More importantly it felt like a well loved family home, not just a showcase for the architecture. He still hadn't gotten used to the idea of it being his home too, but that would come in time.

The cab driver pulled into the driveway and Billy got out, letting him attend to the baggage.

"Just put it on the driveway," he told him as he grabbed his carry on and headed bravely to the front door.

Taking a deep breath, he dropped the bag at his feet and knocked on the door.

The door opened a crack and then the rest of the way revealing Charlie standing - barefoot with mussed curls - gaping in shock.

"Billy?"

"Hey..." Billy tried to keep the foolishly happy grin off his face, but was mostly failing. "Got room for one more?" he asked.

Charlie glanced down at the bag at his feet and his face fell. "That's not enough baggage for more than just a quick visit."

"No, but this is enough for me to stay." He grabbed Charlie by the hand and all but dragged him out to where they could see the cab driver unloading all his luggage. His hand tightened, squeezing Charlie's - heart pounding in his chest at this moment of truth. "Just say the word and I'll have him put all the bags back in the trunk and I'll be out of your life."

Charlie stared at him and for one heartbreaking second he feared he'd been wrong, so wrong, and this wasn't what Charlie wanted at all.

Then Charlie's face brightened into a wide smile.

"Now why would I do a stupid thing like that?" He gave Billy's hand a quick squeeze then trotted over to the luggage, grabbing a couple of bags. "Come on, Red. If you're going to stay you could at least make yourself useful."

Billy felt like his lips might split he was smiling so hard, overcome with delight.

"Does that mean I get to cook dinner?" he teased, picking up the two largest suitcases and following Charlie inside.

"Ha! I've had your cooking," Charlie called back playfully over his shoulder. "So unless you smuggled some of Magda's chorizo in your carry-on? I'm going with no."

They dumped the bags at the foot of the stairs and Charlie immediately threw his arms around Billy's neck.

Their kiss was more joyful than passionate, buoyed by the lightness they both felt at the happiness of their reunion.

"Swear to me," Charlie murmured. "Tell me you're here for good."

"I am," Billy said solemnly. "And if you don't believe the one way ticket, the transfer papers from the Bureau or all this luggage, believe me when I say I couldn't let you go - not now, not ever."

Charlie pulled him down for another delighted kiss.

"I don't need proof," he told Billy. "You're my proof."

Billy grinned, holding him closer in the circle of his arms.

"Does that count as a math analogy?"

+

"You wear me out."

Charlie had flopped on his bed with a loud exhalation, making a show of how much work it had been to get all of Billy's luggage upstairs after they paid off the cab driver.

"Not on purpose," Billy said, putting the last of it in the corner. "I hope it was worth it at least."

Charlie reached for him, beaming. "Definitely."

Billy came over and let Charlie pull him down on the bed, automatically entwining - their brief absence erased. To have Charlie back in his arms felt better than Billy could say. It felt right - like he belonged there.

"What made you change your mind?" Charlie asked, his voice hushed.

There was so much to say, so much to talk about - including letting Charlie know about his parents and their situation, but for now none of that mattered. There was time; there would be time for everything. They had the rest of their lives to catch up on the past and plan for the future.

"It's a long story, but let's just say someone far wiser than I helped me see that sometimes it's not as 'either or' as we think it is."

"I think I like that person," Charlie murmured. "Do I get to meet them?"

"Yes," Billy said, thoughtful as he imagined his mother finally meeting Charlie in person. She'd like him - he was certain of that. "You certainly do."

"So... I was about to take a nap..." Charlie nestled in closer. "Care to join me?"

"A nap with you sounds like heaven right about now." Billy let out a sigh, releasing the last of his tension and worry, letting Charlie's presence soothe his travel-weary body and his lonely soul.

He toed off his shoes and they got settled on the pillows, Charlie curled up against Billy's chest the way they'd usually fallen asleep before.

"Are you going to miss Magda and the kids?"

"About that..." Billy hadn't planned on bringing it up right away, but it was clear from Charlie's tone he would miss them too. "I was going to ask you. Do you know of any houses in the area for sale? Magda doesn't want to give up working for me and the kids? Well, they can't stop talking about Disneyland, so you know they're on board with moving here."

"They'd move? All of them?" Charlie half sat back up, staring down at Billy.

"Magda, the kids and yeah, even my parents," Billy told him. "My mom said she wanted me to be happy and well," he pulled Charlie back close, arms tightening around him, "I'm happy being with you."

Charlie's face lit up and he kissed Billy joyfully. "I knew there had to be a way." Billy's hand found its way into those dark curls he'd missed so badly and he slowed their kiss, making it languid and relaxed so they could savor their renewed bond.

"Mmm... I missed that."

"Me too." Charlie laid his head back on Billy's chest. "You know, my father has been thinking about moving out and he would love grandchildren around."

"So you're thinking of having him share a house with Magda and the kids? That would be brilliant!" Billy gave him a squeeze, kissing the top of his head. "Knew it would come in handy to fall in love with a genius."

Billy heard the little catch in Charlie's breath at the same time he realized exactly what he'd said. Shifting, he moved Charlie onto his back so he could hover over him, gazing down into his eyes.

"I'm not any good at this sort of stuff," he admitted, struggling to find the right words. "But I think there's a time and a place to say this sort of thing and I can't think of one better. I just moved cross country to be with you, so if that doesn't say 'I love you' better than words..."

Charlie interrupted him with an abrupt kiss.

"I love you too," he whispered, the expression on his face a mirror of Billy's - filled with boundless almost giddy happiness.

"So, you offered me a nap?" Billy said finally, a little smirk playing at his lips.

"I'm offering a whole lot more than a nap," Charlie teased. "My life, my heart, my..."

"Let's start with the nap then." Billy chuckled. "Because you're a handful, sleepyhead. I think I'll need my rest."

"Sleep first, everything else later?" Charlie asked as they settled back down with his head on Billy's chest.

"Yup." Billy closed his eyes, blissfully content as he folded Charlie into his arms, feeling him right where he belonged. "You and everything else... Just what I wanted..."

"You know..." Charlie mused with a yawn. "That's exactly what I wanted too." Their breath fell into tandem effortlessly, two heartbeats syncing into one as they began to let sleep claim them - postponed only by a reverent whisper falling from Charlie's lips. "Thanks for giving it to me."

=
 
 
 
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on November 19th, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC)
Confession
To all the rare souls reading Harbor House before Safe Harbor, a lot of the information about this universe - including a link to Billy's house - is in the Confession comment posts following Safe Harbor Part 2.

A Stafford County Hospital exists - in Kansas, so I think it's safe to say the one I put in Virginia is fictional.

There's a bit of a conflict in the story that I missed when writing it. Billy says he doesn't lie and yet he lies to the kids, telling them Charlie's sick and sleeping when he's neither. I interpret this as Magda's lie - her way of telling the kids so they don't have nightmares, as she told Billy - so he honors and backs her lie even if that's not his personal preference. He's the one who put them in this position of having to leave so the least he can do is back her play since as their mother it's her decision.

There is a Route 17 in Virginia, but it's not really that close to Billy's house. I just abused it because it sounded good to me at the time. ;-)

What Billy does, swimming out into open harbor until his muscles start failing? Very dangerous and stupid. Do not try this at home.

What Charlie experiences in the airport terminal? Been there, done that, had to go back outside and breathe a while before I could make it through security even. Being claustrophobic sucks and it makes air travel a really unpleasant experience. Don't even get me started about trains that travel through underwater tunnels. /shudder/

I really enjoyed finally getting to share with readers Billy's reasons for not feeling like he could leave Virginia. I mean there were hints and mentions of his parents in Safe Harbor, but since it was all Charlie's POV I couldn't work them in without Billy telling Charlie about them which I couldn't see him doing for some reason. He's an only child who loves his parents and watching them fail - especially knowing how his mother must feel at being left behind by her barely there husband - is clearly hard on him. Like the Eppes men, he's a strong family man so he's not just going to move 3000 miles away and leave them to just a once in a while phone call from him. He's just unable to entertain the idea of them moving with him until his mother points it out. Good thing Billy has all these smart women (and a genius) to look out for him. Elaine, Magda and Lillian all guide him to do the right thing and so we get our happy ending and no families are harmed in the process.

Now my biggest problem seems to be how do I manage Lillian's wheelchair if Billy and Charlie end up having a beach wedding? /big grin/

What, you thought this was the end of this universe?

In the words of Charlie Eppes... Ha! No.

So many of you have shown your support of the Harborverse (in particular Mel, for whom the original Safe Harbor was written as a gift - making this sequel a kind of gift as well and T, who became a first reader of EPIC proportions on this story, cheering me on with squeeful comments so amazing they got nicknamed MANNA for being like nourishment from heaven) that I am encouraged to keep it as an ongoing universe. I love how Charlie and Billy are as a couple in this and while we have our happy ending (twice!) I still want to spend time with them as a way to enjoy that glow just a little while longer.

ETA: I forgot to mention that this fic holds the honor of being the 500th Numb3rs fic (straight up no crossovers) I started based on my list of fic. Sure, I'm in the 560s now, but this was a special milestone to me so I wanted a special fic to have that distinction.

Very special thanks to First Readers t_vo0810 and csichick_2 and to slashwife melissima for their assistance with this fic.

Thanks,

Emma DeMarais

Edited at 2009-11-19 10:41 pm (UTC)
devon99 on November 19th, 2009 10:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the heads up sweetie ♥

What can I say? You already know I love this verse and now I love it even more. You write Billy and Charlie like they were made for one another.

Your comment yesterday about a wedding made me squee, lol. This really is epically romantic.

I will now wait patiently for more:)
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on November 19th, 2009 11:02 pm (UTC)
ROFL Oh, I hope you are very patient! It took me since April to get this one done and out! (Epic romances are epic!)

I do hope that now that this is done I can dip into this universe for more frequent and shorter fic so the wait isn't as long between. SH came out in December of last year and this is now November so annual, while good for big fic, is still too infrequent for such a lovely pair as these two are.

Thanks so much for your support and encouragement, hon. May you have sweet dreams of a Charlie/Billy wedding to hold you until I can come up with a written version. ♥
fyreflyfyrefly101 on November 19th, 2009 11:39 pm (UTC)
Much as I knew how SH ended, this still read like a first-time read. And it was wonderful. Such a great couple, and OCs, and the potential of a beach-wedding? Yup. Pretty much perfect. And for keeping it PG-13, and STIL being insanely attractive (ok, maybe that's just the Billy-Charlie image) but still. I thoroughly enjoyed, squee'd and grinned my way through this.
winky3018winky3018 on November 20th, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)
*sighs* Absolutely wonderful!! I love Billy and Charlie fics, but you write them so perfectly! There is just no doubt that they belong together when you write them.

I already loved Magda, but like Billy's parents I loved being able to see more of her. She is perfect :D

Eeeeeeee...even if it takes awhile, I am so, so, so very happy to know there will be more to come!! I look forward to seeing the interaction of the whole family! :D

*big hugs*
One Part Exuberance; Two Parts Obsession: billy smilespenguingal on November 20th, 2009 01:50 am (UTC)
Wow. I really love this Harborverse. So very much. I love your Billy and Charlie together.

And that scene where Billy leaves Charlie at the gate... well, let's just say that's familiar. A little too familiar.

Still, this fic makes me so happy.
t_vo0810t_vo0810 on November 21st, 2009 03:54 am (UTC)
Charlie♥sBilly

Billy ♥s Charlie

I ♥ Magda

That is all. ♥
t_vo0810: Imp Charliet_vo0810 on November 21st, 2009 03:58 am (UTC)
Ok, I lied, that wasn't all. I cannot WAIT for the beach wedding. /bounces in chair/ gimmie! gimmie! gimmie! /makes grabby hands/ And I call first reader on that one too!!!!!!!!!!! /giggles/
ladygray99ladygray99 on November 21st, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
WEDDING! WEDDING! WEDDING! WEDDING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
\o/

"No buts!"
That so sounds like my mother.

I really loved all the extra bits with Billy and his family, especially his mother. It answers a lot of the big 'why?' from the previous story.

This was just so lovely and tightly written. It really brings the whole thing so perfectly together.

Now I want more you know?

:)
Polaris Aphroditefree_anam_girl on February 18th, 2010 03:47 am (UTC)
yes thank you for giving it to us
what an amazing story you pulled I love this Billy is so cute and lovely and their love is so amazing
irena_adler: Coopirena_adler on April 17th, 2010 02:05 am (UTC)
Fanfic is full of urgent, dramatic couplings, which are great, but it's a treat to see a slow, more 'real' romance. Glad they could come to a solution (I'll admit I expected the parents to die.)