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24 September 2009 @ 07:15 pm
Numb3rs Fic: The Long and Winding Road Part 1  
Written for numb3rsficathon Challenge – Role Reversal (Alan and Margaret)
Crossposted to numb3rs_slash


Title: The Long and Winding Road
Pairing/Characters: Don/Billy, Margaret, Charlie, Larry, Megan, Robin
Rating: R
Spoilers: Seasons 1-2, Under Pressure
Summary: A year after Alan dies Don's life is shaken by a second loss
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ



"No, no! I said white folding chairs! Not black ones!"

As Don came through the front door of the Craftsman he spied his mother flitting about the house, talking on her cell phone - acknowledging his entrance with a smile and gesture that was half wave and half a complaint that the person on the other end was going on and on in her ear.

"Okay, hedges pruned... Check that off." Charlie came in from the backyard wearing a dirty t-shirt and the ratty old jeans he kept for the days their mother co-opted him for her gardening work. He greeted his brother with his normal cock of the head. "Hey, bro. Come to help save me from the gardening work Mom's got planned for Val's wedding?"

"I thought you said since Mom volunteered your house for Val's wedding you were limiting your involvement to providing the house?" Don teased, flipping through the mail.

Charlie cast a glance over to where Margaret was flipping through bridal magazines spread all over the dining room table, still on the phone.

"I tried, but you know how hard it is to say no to her," he bemoaned. "I suck at it."

Don chuckled, tossing the mail back in the bowl on the console table. "Yeah, you never could withstand the power of Mom glare."

"It's more the guilt tripping," Charlie whispered. "Like it's the least I can do if I'm not going to give her grandchildren anytime soon. Like that's my job instead of yours!" he scoffed. "You're the older brother."

"Yeah, well my chances of that died when Kim and I split up," Don huffed out, heading over to the couch and collapsing on it, Charlie following suit. "It's like I lost Dad and Kim at the same time," he muttered.

"Not fair," Charlie commiserated. "I felt really bad for you. I mean you and Dad were tight, like Mom and I are. It hurt to lose him, but it hurt to watch you lose him too."

Don rubbed at an imaginary spot on the knee of his jeans. "Yeah, when it comes down to it, I'm glad I moved back. Even if he and I only had a couple of years before the cancer took him."

His gaze went to the wall across from them, scattered with family photos including a large photo of Alan, smiling, right next to a slightly smaller photo of Alan and his sons, an arm around each of them.

"I miss him too," Charlie said quietly. "It just makes me appreciate Mom all the more, you know?"

"Yeah, buddy." Don clapped his brother on the shoulder. "But what girl's going to go for a guy who still lives with his mother?"

"Ha!" Charlie scoffed. "As if I had time to date between Cal Sci and the FBI."

"Donnie? Sweetie?" Margaret, now off the phone, popped her head out of the kitchen. "Can I borrow you for a minute? You're the only one tall enough to reach the cabinet over the refrigerator and I need to check if we have any extra vases."

"Rub it in," Charlie grumbled, sullen.

"Sure," Don told her, rising as she went back to into the kitchen. "Hey..." He turned to Charlie as he headed to join her. "What about Amita? You said she was off limits, but she got her degree, right? Why not ask her out?"

"She took a job at Harvard," Charlie told him, glum.

"Traitor!" Don teased.

"Tell me about it."

"Oh, Charlie?" Margaret popped her head out again. "Can you feed the koi, hon? I didn't get a chance to earlier."

Charlie rose, rubbing his shoulder with a bit of a wince. "Sure. Beats clipping hedges."

As Charlie headed back into the backyard, Don followed his mother into the kitchen. The doors to the cabinet above the refrigerator were open already so he reached up, going on his tiptoes slightly, and pulled the glass vases out of the cabinet and put them on the counter.

"Damn! Why do we have so many empty vases?"

"Well, every time your father sent me flowers in one, I kept it," she explained. "He eventually got wise and started sending bouquets instead of flowers in a vase, but he still splurged every once in a while, so I kept the ones I liked and donated the rest to the local thrift shop."

"Need me for anything else?" he asked, closing the cabinet doors once all the vases were out.

"There's gardening?" she ventured, looking hopeful at him.

"Mom, I just got home from a week of hard labor in the field. The last thing I want on a Friday evening is more hard labor."

"Pfft," Margaret scoffed. "I bet you had more than your share of desk time this week pushing papers. But I'll give you the night off - if you come back this weekend to help. The wedding's a week from Sunday. It's going to take some doing to get everything ship shape by then for Val and her young man."

"So offering our house to the one girl both Charlie and I liked in high school for her wedding? That's not some sort of subtle payback for neither of us being married yet?" he asked, eyeing her playfully.

"Hey, how about those Dodgers?" Margaret responded with a twinkle in her eye.

Don kissed his mother on the cheek.

"Dad could pull off that line, Mom. You? Can't."

"Ah, but I keep trying," she taunted. "Brisket should be done in about fifteen minutes. You are staying for dinner, right?"

"Don't I usually show up just in time to eat?" he said with a wink. As he headed out of the kitchen, he hooked his thumb over his shoulder. "Okay if I borrow your laptop to check my email?"

"Sure, it's on the side table in the inglenook." As he went through the door he heard her calling out to him. "Don't close any of my browser windows! I need to help Val find a caterer!"

Don sat down in one of the old Stickley chairs, settling into the familiar room, shifting his mother's laptop to put it across his thighs. There was a browser window open already, full screen, featuring gorgeous pictures of steak entrees, glasses of wine and elaborate desserts.

"I like this one you've got up on the screen now!" he called back. "Donovan's Catering!"

"You just like the name!" she teased.

With a chuckle he opened up a new browser window and navigated to his personal email account. Scanning the inbox as it came up, he recognized a few senders: the coach from the FBI's baseball team, Colby - probably forwarding him jokes as usual, FYIs from his mother and Charlie, an alert on a news item about the Stockton Rangers and one that made his heart falter in his chest.

The sender was Beverly Ramsey - Billy's mother. The subject line read: Some Bad News.

He felt lightheaded, like he couldn't get enough oxygen into him no matter how much air he sucked into his lungs. The room spun around him and voices sprung up in his head: one demanding that this couldn't be about Billy, one chastising him for not staying in contact with Billy since he'd come to town to help on that prison break a few months back and Billy's own voice - echoing across the years - pleading with him not to leave.

He closed his eyes a moment, stilling himself as the flood of memory engulfed him.

They'd argued: Don wanting to leave the road behind and Billy wanting to stay a team in Fugitive Recovery. They'd both used it as a cover for the real argument: Don wouldn't come out, wouldn't commit, and Billy didn't want to forever be Don's dirty little secret. Things had come to a head when they'd gone to visit his parents after a hunt had brought them to California. Billy had been so resentful at being introduced as just his FBI partner, he'd spent the whole meal sulking, earning a suspicious glare from Alan who decided he didn't like him - thus killing any ideas Don had of ever coming clean to his family and admitting he and Billy were together.

He couldn't have said it then - that he loved Billy. He wasn't really sure himself until he realized he was settling for Kim, picking out a woman who fit what his parents thought he should have for his future. He'd been upset when she returned his ring, but not as upset as he should have been. The loss of his father had cut deeper. Although both his parents had given much of their time to Charlie's special needs, Alan had always been the one there for Don - coming to his baseball games and making sure he had some special treatment of his own: a car for his sixteenth birthday, a hotel room for his senior prom, a graduation party for his friends that didn't include Charlie.

He still missed his father's sage advice, his wisdom, his humor, but he missed most of all the parent who knew him - really knew him. His mother got the law enforcement thing, being a lawyer, but she never really connected with him the way he had with his father.

But he could never disappoint his father by admitting he was gay.

It wasn't that the Eppes family didn't have gay friends - they had plenty, his parents being former hippies and all. It's just from the time he was in high school his father talked so frequently about when Don would have 'a family of his own', commenting on how fulfilling it was to bring children into the world and expressing his hope that Don would soon find the right girl to settle down with.

It had been such an ardent wish of his father's he'd felt guilty for not managing to tie the knot with Kim while he was alive. And after three plus decades in the closet he'd resigned himself to living the life the world expected of him: his mother, his friends, his job... Besides, he'd broken things off with the one man he'd ever loved and he could never go back.

He opened his eyes and stared at Beverly's name on the screen.

Billy couldn't be dead. He'd have heard. Someone at work would have called him.

Still, he hesitated, hovering the mouse over her name, almost too tense to click it and remove all doubt.

Drawing in a sustaining breath, he opened Beverly's email.

'Dear Don,

I know it's been years, but I'm hoping this email address still works for you.

I just thought you should know that Billy's father, Christopher, passed away this morning from a heart attack. He loved his father a great deal, as you know, so he's taking it hard.

I was with him at the hospital today and afterwards, but he sent me away claiming he wants to be alone. I fear there's too much hurt in our past and I'm just making things worse so I agreed to leave albeit reluctantly, but he should not be alone at a time like this.

I realize it's a lot to ask, but you two were so close once. If there's anything you can do to help ease his pain, it would mean a lot to me as a mother. I might have been divorced from Billy's father, but it hurts me to see my son in so much pain.

Whatever differences you had, please consider putting them aside. He needs you.

He's staying at his father's house in Littleton. You can reach him there.

Hoping this finds you well,

Beverly'

Don let his head fall back against the chair, staring at the ceiling watching the light fixture blur in his vision as the tears welled - half in relief that Billy was still alive, half in empathy for the grief of losing a father.

"Donnie?" His mother appeared, looking at him with concern. "Is everything okay?"

"I, uh..." He quickly logged out of his email and handed her the laptop. "I need a favor. Right now."

"Anything, sweetie. What's wrong?"

"My friend," the word stuck in his throat, "Billy Cooper. His father just died and I need to go see him." He pulled out his car keys as he headed for the door. "Please, can you book me a flight - any flight - that will get me to Raleigh, North Carolina overnight? I'll pay you back, I promise."

"It's okay, hon. I'll take care of it." She waved him off. "You go home and get packing. I should have a flight for you by the time you're ready to drive to the airport."

"Thanks, Mom." He came back to give her a kiss on the cheek, then bolted for the door.

"When should I set your return flight?" she called after him.

He halted on the threshold. "I don't know," he admitted. "Just make it open ended I guess."

He jogged out to his car, started it and got halfway out of the neighborhood before he had to pull over, too overwhelmed to focus.

He pulled out his cell phone. Billy wasn't a speed dial anymore, but he was always in Don's contacts on every phone he he'd owned in the years since they split up.

Trusting that words would come once he called, he pressed the button to dial and listened as the phone rang and Billy's voicemail picked up.

Gone was the playful outgoing message Billy normally used, in fact Don almost didn't recognize the grief-stricken rasp that came out of the speaker.

"This is Billy Cooper. If you're calling about Christopher Cooper his funeral will be on Monday at three o'clock in the afternoon. For details call the Lane Brothers Funeral Home in Roanoke Rapids. Thanks."

The beep took him almost by surprise and he stammered out the few words he could think of.

"Billy... It's me. I just heard. I'm so sorry, god, I'm sorry. I really am."

He floundered and the next beep cut him off. Closing the phone he set it aside, staring out his windshield at the city lights as they alternately blurred and cleared in his vision.

He wiped his eyes with his sleeve, braced himself with a deep breath and pulled back into traffic.

He needed to get home. He needed to pack.

He needed to get to North Carolina.

+

Don's was one of the last flights allowed to land before air traffic was diverted.

The aftermath of a hurricane had come up from the Caribbean drenching the Carolinas in torrential rain and buffeting it with high winds.

His mother had thoughtfully rented a four wheel drive SUV for him - smart enough to check the weather report in advance - and had prepaid it for him so all he had to do was pick up the keys and get on the road.

He'd been out to the country house, as Billy called it, plenty of times. They'd often used it as their layover hangout between hunts in the area, kicking back for a few days with his father and enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside.

They'd sit on the screened porch at the back of the house in the evenings, drinking beer and watching the fireflies buzz over the fields, and then - after Christopher had wished them a good night and gone upstairs to bed - they'd go down to the rec room in the cellar and playfully battle for dominance on the old plaid sofabed, laughing as it creaked and complained under their combined weight.

Billy had come out to his parents in college so he and Don had a certain amount of freedom to be themselves in front of Billy's father - a unique experience for Don, yet one Billy took for granted, even though they were respectful enough to have Don sleep in the guest room at night rather than with Billy.

Don hadn't seen Christopher since those days, though they had spoken on the phone a few times when he'd called the house looking for Billy. They'd exchange pleasantries, but he'd inevitably ask the uncomfortable question: 'What ever happened to you two?'

Don had answered it with a myriad of different excuses, but Christopher kept on asking - perhaps realizing that he never got the truth or more likely hoping that pressing the issue might get Don to rethink leaving his son.

It felt strange to think of Christopher as being dead and it awoke that ache deep inside the empty place where his father's love had once lived. It had only been a year and change since the funeral and Don still drove out of his way once a month to go visit his father, lay a few stones on his grave and talk out his troubles to him even though he would never have the benefit of his father's wisdom in person again.

Over an hour out of the city he finally turned onto the long dirt road that wound around the low hills that led to the country house. The road had long turned to mud in the pummeling rain, which the SUV's windshield wipers at top speed could barely keep up with.

The sky, black and violent above, let little sun through and he finally spotted the house's front gate via the shine of his headlights - only it was closed. Don cursed under his breath, not wanting to get out in the rain to open it.

He glanced at his cell phone: still no service. He hadn't been able to get a signal for miles; the network had to be down because of the storm.

Shrugging on the hooded waterproof jacket his mother made sure he packed in his carry-on, he jumped out of the car to open the gate. The wind hit him full force, blowing his hood off and drenching him - rain driving down inside his jacket, cold and wet down the back of his neck.

He struggled to make his way through the muck, boots sticking in the mire, only to find the gate locked with a padlock and chain.

He only stared at it, stunned, for a second before getting back in the car, wiping his face dry with the small hand towel from his carry-on. That he'd learned to pack from his days working Fugitive Recovery.

It was only noon, but the roiling black clouds darkening the sky made it hard to see what lay at the end of the long driveway on the other side of the gate. He thought he could make out both Billy's tan jeep and his father's red pickup - the one Billy had bought new for him just a couple of years ago - parked up by the house.

He let out a huff of a sigh as he turned off the engine and shut off the headlights. He'd have to jump the fence and come back for his bags later. He pulled the few items he needed for the immediate future and put them in one of his zippered pockets: toothbrush, razor, cellphone...

When he opened the car door the wind blew so hard it almost blew the door shut again. Locking up the SUV, he made his way through the sucking mud to the gate, unable to keep the wind from blowing his hood off as he climbed over it.

On the other side he tried to run, but his boots were slowed by the slushy muck so he had to settle for something about the speed of a trot, trying to keep his jacket around him even though his jeans had been soaked in seconds.

Once he reached the shelter of the porch he pulled out the hand towel from inside his jacket, using it to wipe his face and sop up the worst of the wetness from his hair, probably leaving it sticking up askew in the process. He shoved the towel in his one remaining empty pocket, wiped his boots as best he could on the mat and pounded on the front door.

At first there was no answer, but Don had definitely spotted Billy's jeep parked by the side of the house as he'd approached and in this weather going out seemed ludicrous.

The door finally creaked open and Don looked into the darkened house through the screen door, getting his first glimpse of Billy in months.

He looked like hell. Age lines that had only been threatening at the corners of his eyes and around his mouth were etched in hard, almost chiseled. He looked ashy, wan, his expression devoid of the normal spark of mirth Don had grown to associate with Billy, had grown to love.

This wasn't his Billy anymore. This was a man who knew grief. Don had seen him before - in the mirror.

"Don?" Billy just blinked at him, cocked his head as if Don was some sort of hallucination, swept in the by storm - a ghost to haunt a haunted man.

"I came..." Don didn't even know what to say, how to explain. He hadn't considered why he'd come, he hadn't even considered just sending his condolences and going on with his life. He'd had to come. It was Billy. "For you," he added.

"Don..." Something in Billy broke just then, the lifeless expression replaced by one of raw anguish, barriers tumbling down like rocks to the sea until only naked pain remained.

He pushed open the screen door and all but hauled Don, soaking wet, inside - crushing him in a desperate embrace, burying his face in Don's neck as he clutched at him, great heaving breaths shuddering his body.

Don's felt the emotional impact like a blow to the chest: so much devastation wrought in one human being. He scrabbled to pull Billy close, closer - no matter how tightly he held him he felt like he couldn't get close enough.

"He's gone..." Billy's mournful whisper was heartbreaking and Don shushed him, stroking his hair, trying to soothe what could never be soothed away.

"It's okay. It's okay. I'm here."

He rocked Billy in his arms for a long moment, waiting - hesitant - wanting to offer whatever Billy needed, but seeking some cue as to what that might be.

As if he'd just noticed, Billy mumbled - more to himself than to Don it seemed, "Jesus, you're soaking..."

As Don pulled away enough to unzip his jacket he caught sight of Billy watching him do so. The pain was still there, but now there was a second expression battling it: a wild hunger, one driven by a deep primal need.

Don only had a split second before Billy was on him - all but tearing the sodden clothes from his body. Jacket, shirt, undershirt... All came flying off along with Billy's t-shirt as adrenaline fueled fast as the skip-trip of his now racing heart.

Once they were both shirtless, they shoved down each other's pants with graceless impatience and Billy pressed him into the wall, rubbing against him greedily, the frantic friction between them chasing any chill from Don's body, Billy's hot breath on his neck almost enough to make him sweat and more than enough to make him melt.

Hands frantic, Billy crushed their mouths together in wanton devouring kisses, swallowing Don up so much he lost track of whose hands were where, whose gasps he heard in his ears, where one body ended and the other began.

Clutching at each other they fell into a groove, sliding slick against each other's skin: Don's hands grasping Billy's ass as he encouraged him to thrust faster, press harder, take the euphoric vertigo building in his head and spin them both out of control.

Then it all became a giddy dizzy whirlwind and Don's mind swirled as his body sparked - arcing at the jolt of his release, bathed in the familiar scent of sweat, sex and his Billy beneath it all. Billy keening in his ear as he lost himself sounded like the mournful midnight howl of a lonely wolf, renewing the ache afresh so soon after the bliss.

They crashed hard as the storm smashed against the windows, drowning out the last of their labored breaths, covering up any whispered endearments that evaporated ephemeral into the air.

Once they recovered, for the first time ever Billy didn't put him in the downstairs guest room, he led Don by the hand upstairs and brought him to his room.

They finished stripping wordlessly, cleaned up and slipped between the sheets together - Don vaguely registering the unplugged landline phone on the nightstand. No phone, gate locked against visitors... Billy had wanted to be left alone in his grief. Well, not exactly. He'd not wanted to be alone; he'd just wanted Don yet hadn't called to ask him to come. Beverly hadn't asked Don to come with Billy's knowledge; she'd just known what her son needed.

Don had blocked out the memory until now, but from that first moment they curled up in bed together - entwined tight in their shared sadness - Don remembered why this all felt so achingly familiar. This was what Billy had done for him a year ago in LA after his own father had died.

He'd shown up, unannounced, and held Don as he cried, watched over him as he slept, chased the ghosts away with bruising kisses when Don wanted them and whispered soft words when he needed them. Billy had taken care of him, no questions asked. Now it was Don's turn to do the same for him.

As Billy's head lay on his chest, Don carded his fingers through too long golden-red hair. Billy was clearly overdue for his regular trim, but Don understood.

"You were there for me when my Dad died," he whispered. "Now I'm here for you."

Billy responded with a brief squeeze at first, but then his voice - muffled by Don's chest - came quietly out, laden with melancholy.

"Is it wrong that I wish you hadn't had to come?"

Don closed his eyes, bringing up a visual of his father laughing in the kitchen. Already the detail was fading and he was starting to forget the sound of his voice. The realization brought a fresh stab of grief and he pressed a kiss to the top of Billy's head to comfort himself as well as his grieving lover.

"No, it's not wrong. I'd rather have you need me for anything but this."

The room fell into silence save the splashing of rain against the window panes.

"It's only been a day and I miss him already."

The all too familiar lament and the quaver in Billy's voice resonated in Don, reopening still not fully healed wounds. He blinked back sympathetic tears as he felt drops fall to his chest, felt Billy's body begin to shake in his arms.

"I know you do."

+

Billy had always been painfully private with his emotions; Don stood by his side throughout the graveside funeral service, holding Billy's hand and through it feeling the strain he was under keeping himself together for all these people.

It took an extra hour past the service for Billy to get through all the condolences from Christopher's family and friends. Christopher's elderly spinster half-sister was hosting a small reception at the funeral home afterwards, but Billy had let her know in advance he wasn't planning on attending.

Once the last of them departed, Don stepped away to give Billy some time alone with his father to say goodbye.

When Billy called him back, Don thought it was for them to leave, but instead Billy just sat down on the grass - finally dry again after the weekend storm - and started shredding fat blades of it in his fingers, making a green confetti mulch as he went through his zen-like destruction.

"He wanted to be buried on the property, you know?"

"That sounds like him," Don offered after thinking it over a moment. "So why was he buried here?"

"Town council said no. Some zoning thing." Another blade plucked to be sacrificed. "He fought them at first then changed his mind. When I asked him why, he said that he realized how selfish it was. I was only going to live a few more decades and then whoever owned the house afterwards was going to be stuck with him and that didn't seem like a nice thing to do to some family who just wanted to make the place into a home again."

"Sounds about right," Don mused.

Billy looked off into the distance, the low rolling hills a verdant green post-rain. "I might not even keep the house."

Don tilted his head at him, surprised. "Why would you sell it? I mean, you don't need the money, do you?"

Billy shook his head. "No. It's not worth that much anyway - this far out of town." His fingers strayed closer to the grass near the edge of the grave. "It's just, me alone in that house? I don't think I could take it. I've got enough ghosts in my family. An empty house just feels like a third - one I don't need."

"You could get a roommate," Don suggested. "Someone who could keep an eye on the place while you're not around."

Billy huffed then rose, dusting off his suit pants. "Yeah, a roommate." He started walking towards Don's rental car, only pausing once for a backwards glance of longing.

When they got to the car, Billy hesitated rather then getting in after Don unlocked the doors with the remote. Instead he let his gaze linger over the cemetery.

"You know, after Chrissy was killed..." His voice trailed off for a few seconds and Don waited patiently, knowing this was a difficult topic. "Or I guess I should say after her body was recovered, my mom bought four plots in a row at the cemetery in Raleigh: two for her and my Dad to use someday, one that we buried Chrissy in and one next to her for me. I think it was just her way of believing we could be a family again at some point, even in death." He shook his head, resignation on his face. "You and I have been in law enforcement too long; we both know the statistics. Marriages usually don't last when a couple loses a child to crime."

"They stayed together longer than most afterwards," Don ventured.

"For me, I'm sure," Billy said, adding after a pregnant pause. "You don't want to know the statistics on people who lose their twin."

An uncomfortable silence followed, so Don decided to try to ask the question he'd wanted to know.

"So, I was wondering..."

"Why my Mom's not at the funeral?" Billy interrupted. "I asked her not to come – more for my aunt's sake, but I just can't deal with her right now. This is hard enough without her around dredging up bad memories of what happened with Chrissy, the divorce..."

"Actually, I was wondering why your father didn't end up buried next to his daughter."

"He said," Billy cast a doubtful glance Don's way, "that since my Mom will have been married to Lyle for a lot longer than she'd been married to him when she dies, that they should have the two next to each other for themselves."

"But you didn't buy it?"

"I think it hurt too much to think about Chrissy being dead at all." Billy gestured to the North Carolina landscape around him. "That's why he bought a place way out here, took early retirement. He wanted away from everything Raleigh, everything that could remind him of her." He leaned against the car, a wistful sadness on his face. "It's weird since Chrissy was totally my Mom's favorite and I was my Dad's. They say parents love both kids equally, but that last year almost every weekend my Dad and I would be under the hood of a car and my Mom and Chrissy would be out shopping for clothes. She might have been a tomboy, climbing trees and making forts in the backyard with me as a little kid, but she was as girly as they come once she hit like eleven or so."

"Did you ever think..."

"That that's what made her a target for whatever sick creep grabbed her up?" Billy finished, his words making Don wince. "No one ever said it out loud, but at thirteen she passed for sixteen easy with makeup on and her hair all done up. But we'll never know." He opened the car door and started to get inside. "Take me back to the house."

"Sure. Whatever you want."

Don got behind the wheel and started the car, driving slowly out of the cemetery, casting glances over from time to time on the way back. Billy just stared out the window the whole time, uncharacteristically silent.

When they got to the house Billy stopped him from turning off the ignition.

"You remember the old Piggly Wiggly market in Roanoke Rapids?" At Don's nod he continued. "It's now a Food Lion. Can you go pick out something good for dinner tonight? You know what I like."

"Of course, I'll be back in about an hour then," Don told him.

"Take your time." Billy shut the passenger door as he got out and Don watched as he walked up to the front porch and let himself in the house.

Billy had always walked with a big cat's gait: easy, graceful, yet muscular - coiled and ready to pounce at any time. Now he dragged himself up each stair, each footstep a shuffle forcing him to move forward, almost against his body's will.

Don had known the weight of grief, felt its gravity like a millstone. It just hurt to see it ravage Billy's lanky frame in turn.

He put the car in gear and headed down the driveway turning towards Roanoke Rapids. It was a good twenty minutes normally, but he drove slow. Billy only sent him to have some time alone so Don wasn't going to rush the trip.

He found the market easily and wandered the aisles, only belatedly remembering to at least loosen his tie.

He picked out two pristine steaks, got a couple of twice stuffed baked potatoes from the deli that just needed reheating, selected a handful of mushrooms to saute over the steaks and found a package of green beans in a ready to steam microwave pouch then settled upon a cheesecake for dessert. It was the one thing Billy denied himself on the road, claiming it slowed him down. As much as he loved it, he claimed 'it wasn't worth dying for' - a longshot but they did have to move fast often in their line of work so it wasn't just a flip remark.

He picked out a bottle of cabernet sauvignon from a local vineyard and a nice bottle of water as well, figuring it would be a good backup plan if Billy didn't want alcohol; Don hadn't seen any evidence of him drinking since he'd arrived.

By the time he pulled into the driveway he'd been gone well over an hour and the sun was beginning to set. He walked in, the door unlocked, and went about putting the groceries away in the kitchen, figuring Billy would come down when he heard someone in the house.

Unsure whether he should start preparing the meal or not, he headed upstairs only to find Billy's room empty. He tuned his ears and heard movement in the room at the end of the hall: the master bedroom.

He walked up to the open door and found Billy sitting on the floor surrounded by boxes: some full, some partially full - a sign he'd been packing up his father's effects and gotten distracted.

"I look like him," Billy mused, his eyes not looking up from the worn black and white photograph in his hands. "Or at least when Chrissy and I were kids we looked like him - much to our Mom's disappointment."

Don came over and sat on the bare mattress. All the sheets were balled up on the floor and the comforter folded and put aside with the pillows. Glancing over Billy's shoulder, Billy held up the picture so he could see. It was of two teenage girls and a little boy of about four or five who had to be Christopher.

"Your mother married a redhead. What did she expect her kids would look like?"

Billy shrugged. "Parents want to recreate themselves in their children. My Dad made me into a little him: fixing cars, getting into the dirt, always dissatisfied with sitting behind a desk... My Mom was patient during Chrissy's tomboy phase, but boy you should see the frilly outfits she dressed her in as a toddler. I mean, we might have been twins, but there was no mistaking which one of us was the girl pretty much from birth on, she was so damn pink."

"Who else is in that picture? Is one of them the aunt you introduced me to at the funeral?"

"Yeah, Patricia." He tapped his finger on one of the two girls. "The other one's Priscilla, her twin - how we knew twins ran in the family actually. She died of a heart attack about fifteen years back. My Dad always figured he'd go the same way. He just made it to a few years older than she was when she died."

Bereft of words, Don just laid a hand on Billy's shoulder, feeling him lean into the touch.

"But Patricia's still around."

"Yeah, the old bird's still kicking." Billy nodded, still gazing at the picture. "She was only my Dad's half sister though. Not the same genes." He scrambled up off the floor to sit beside Don. "Whenever anyone asked her why she never married," Billy told him. "She'd say 'I sent the love of my life off to war and they never came back.' Only when I was fresh out of college she told me a slightly different version when I asked her."

"Which was?" Don prompted as Billy stared at the picture.

"'I sent the love of my life off to war and she never came back.'" Billy laid the photograph on the nightstand. "She'd been a nurse and the nurse she'd been having this long term secret affair with up and volunteered for the war effort. The girlfriend met a surgeon while she was in Vietnam and ended up marrying him. Sent her a Dear Jane letter. Broke Patricia's heart."

"Why didn't she find someone else?" Don asked. "Move on with her life?"

Billy turned to look at him, his gaze boring into Don.

"For some people there is no 'someone else.'"

The words hit Don like a blow. Even though they were stated more as fact than accusation a rush of guilt flooded him: guilt at the pain he'd continually wrought in Billy's life, at the fact that he kept coming back, never letting Billy be fully free of him yet never committing to him either.

He let his head hang down in shame, unable to withstand Billy's scrutiny.

Billy got up, letting out a long breath echoing with sorrow and resignation, and headed for the door. "I need to finish this before I go to bed tonight, but I need a break first." He paused, looking away. "There are too many memories here."

Don rose and met him at the door. "Then let me make you dinner." At Billy's lack of response he nudged Billy and forced a little smile. "There's cheesecake."

Billy glanced back into the room and Don watched his eyes take in the array of possessions: a life reduced to labeled boxes and a vacant bed.

Billy's voice was flat, toneless and spoke of a deep exhaustion that had nothing to do with the body and everything to do with the soul.

"I'm not hungry."

+

Billy came in the house and plopped the tools in his hands into the open tool chest on the one corner of the dining room table that wasn't covered in food.

"What do you think?" Don asked, examining the two dishes he had in his hands. "Should we eat the beef stroganoff that that librarian lady just dropped off, which looks really good, or eat the tortilla casserole which, since it was dropped off on Monday, is the oldest thing we haven't eaten and will probably go bad first?"

"Don't care," Billy intoned, sinking into one of the chairs.

"I've got my eye on that apple pie with the crumbly topping for dessert," Don pointed out, trying to get Billy to notice it.

"I'm just going to end up throwing most of this food away." Billy waved his hand over the spread of cakes, cookies and pies. "The fridge is almost full as it is. No way I can even freeze enough to not have some go bad." He let out a long exhalation. "Don't know why they bring it. It's not like there's a whole family here to eat it all."

"They bring it because it's what they know how to do," Don told him, crossing to put a hand on Billy's shoulder. He noticed Billy's eyes shut at the contact, but his subtle expression shifted quickly from one of relishing the contact to one pained by it. "And I'm helping you eat it," Don pointed out.

"And you'll be here a month from now when I take the last dish out of the freezer?" The question was clearly rhetorical so Don stayed silent, more shamed than anything at Billy's accurate observation that he hadn't come to stay. "Thought not." Billy stood up, ignoring Don's hand as it fell away, and started rummaging through the tool chest. "Eat whatever you want. I'm going to skip lunch."

"You have to have something," Don urged. "Especially with all the work you're doing on the house. You have to have something to sustain you."

Billy turned to him so abruptly Don almost took a step back. He knew that fierce look on Billy's face - it only came out when he'd pushed just a little too far at the wrong time.

Instead of lashing out at him, Billy slid his open hand over Don's jawline then grabbed him by the back of the neck and pulled him into a kiss.

As startled as Don was, it was easy for Billy to take full control and he took it - kissing Don so soundly, so completely, that by the time Billy released him he felt almost wavering on his feet, the experience so heady.

"That's enough for me."

Billy grabbed a hammer and a box of nails and headed back out the front door.

Don lowered himself into a chair and after a moment he heard the banging sounds of the hammer out by the front yard fence.

Since he'd arrived Billy hadn't been bashful about his need for Don, availing himself of everything Don offered, so much that Don felt drained by the end of each day. And while he gave it willingly, he knew it had to end at some point.

Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, he scrolled through the text messages to get to the latest one. Most were from Megan, quick updates on the case he'd abandoned to come here, and some from his mother, asking how things were going while she tried to get him to say if he'd be back in time for the wedding. The most recent one – from Megan, in response to his last message - had gone unanswered.

'You were right. Dahn Van Vuong is a member of a Vietnamese gang - the V-Bois. Gary Walker has intel on them and wants a joint op. We think we can get warrants for a raid this weekend. When are you coming back?'

His mother had gotten him a ticket he could easily change the return date on, but she had set it for one week, which would have him leaving Friday: tomorrow.

Once the initial shock had passed, Billy had fallen into a quiet depression, a sort of listlessness he battled by throwing himself into fixing the house for sale. Don helped and working side by side they tackled all sorts of projects from repairs to painting to gardening.

Nights were still hard on Billy; Don remembered that being the same for him - the inability to keep so busy you didn't have time to remember meant it all hit you at once when you were desperately seeking the peaceful oblivion of sleep. So Don did all he could to distract Billy and wear him out each night - knowing he'd reached Billy when he shifted from merely accepting Don's attentions to completely engaging in their fervent lovemaking.

He'd wait until he was sure Billy was asleep before he let himself drop off, unable to live with the guilt of Billy enduring a sleepless anguished night while he rested oblivious by his side.

Only once he left those sleepless nights would be back with a vengeance and there would be no one to keep those real life nightmare wolves at bay.

But what was the alternative? Stay forever? Give up his entire life - everything he'd worked so hard for? Give up the family he'd so recently become close to again? He'd thought once his father died he'd go back to the FBI career circuit, but he and Charlie were like real brothers for the first time since they were kids. He wasn't ready to give that up. And his mother... He'd lost his father too soon. What if he lost her too? What if these were her last years and they didn't know?

He had plans for his life and while Kim splitting up with him derailed his timetable for getting married and giving his parents the grandchildren they always wanted, there was still time to make a proper family like he'd always seen in his future.

Loving Billy meant pain, secrets, being one person at work and one at home and Don couldn't live like that.

He hit the button to reply to Megan's text message.

'Flight gets in Friday night. Saturday raid best. Arrange the warrants with Gary. Thx.'

He hit send then put the cell phone away in his pocket, fighting down a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach he couldn't name: dread, despair, an anxiety that by doing this he was giving up on the only real love he'd ever known in his life.

It took him a moment to realize the hammering had ceased and things were just a little too silent outdoors.

Uneasy, he headed outside at a clip, pausing on the porch when he didn't see Billy out by the fence anywhere. Scanning the property he finally saw what looked like an arm stretched out across the grass beneath a large elm tree off to the left.

Don's heart rate increased as he briskly made his way over. Had he fallen? A flash of a visual of finding Billy after he'd eaten his gun staggered Don so hard his step faltered and he almost couldn't go on. Billy wouldn't. He'd never...

Relief flooded him as he arrived on the spot to find Billy staring up at the sunlight filtering between the leaves, twirling one of the few early autumn leaves that had fallen after they raked them up that morning, spinning the stem in his fingers.

"I climbed this tree once," Billy mused aloud.

Don fell to his knees by Billy's side, just grateful he was all right.

"Only once?" he finally managed, hoping his voice didn't betray the fright he'd had. "That doesn't sound like you."

Billy pointed up towards the top of the tree. "See that stub of a branch? It broke off under my feet. Dad had just bought this place and I was like eighteen and in college - full of myself as you'd imagine. The fall knocked the wind out of me - landed right about here." He fell silent for a moment and Don – knowing to be patient when it came to stories about Billy's father - waited for him to go on. "My Dad saw me fall from the porch I guess. Didn't matter that I was a full grown teenager, he bundled me up in his arms like I was a little kid and cried for like ten minutes even though I came to right away and told him I was fine. God..." Billy drew a haggard breath. "I didn't realize then how scared he must have been. He still hadn't gotten over losing Chrissy and he really must have thought I was dead when I fell and didn't move."

"I can imagine how that might feel," Don said, adrenaline still ricocheting in his own body from his alarm.

"He'd lost his daughter, his wife... I was all he had left." He shifted his eyes to meet Don's finally. "I'm not sure anyone can know how that feels." He reached up and pulled Don down to lie with him in the grass, drawing him into a lingering kiss in the dappled shade.

Knowing they had less than a day left together, Don surrendered himself to the passion of the kiss, drinking it in knowing this was his chance to slake his thirst for Billy before his own personal prohibition.

It had been easy to slip into their old ways, to play house, to let that natural affection become common again. When Billy pushed him over on his back, taking command of the kiss, Don sank into the familiar and wonderful feel of having someone stronger than him in charge.

His hands wound their way up under Billy's t-shirt, skimming over sun-warmed skin as their kisses grew more heated, bodies becoming aroused, seeking friction, contact.

Billy started kissing his way down Don's jawline and neck as he unbuttoned his shirt.

"When you first told me you were leaving me," he murmured, making Don tense slightly in surprise at the mention, "I didn't believe you." He ran a trail of kisses down Don's chest then back up to his neck to murmur words into his ear. "But after you left it was like I couldn't breathe. It hurt to be alive and alone."

"Billy..." Don had no excuse, no explanation, but all the regret in the world for the hurt he'd caused.

"So I told myself you'd be back and that helped. And you came back." Billy's hands roamed Don's torso, his lips barely trailing across sensitive skin, causing Don to subtly arch up, craving more. "You came back at Quantico. You came back when you first moved to New Mexico." Billy undid Don's jeans and mouthed along the waistband of his boxer briefs. "I came to you in LA last year and it's like we'd never been apart. Now you're here and we're doing it all over again - this same damned dance."

"No..." Don tried to argue, but Billy's slow burning touches were building his need.

"You can't give me up. You know it." Billy's voice rumbled in his ear. "So stop fighting it..." His body covered Don's, pinning him, drawing him in with the heat of his ardor - hands greedy, giving and taking pleasure yet still hungry for more, overwhelming Don with sensation.

"I..." Don had never had a solid protest before so words failed him easily now. He knew he should stop this - Billy's hand's seeking, stroking - and admit to Billy he was leaving - Billy's mouth, warm and wet - that tomorrow was their last day together.

Leaves spun in the sky overhead as his world twisted into a whirlpool, sucking him down and away from reality to where he could have his fantasy with all its attendant pleasures out in the open: no more hiding.

Closing his eyes he let the world spin away, fingers scrabbling through Billy's hair as he went taut - his body arching, emptying until it was nothingness, ephemeral, light enough to be blown away with the leaves.

When his eyes finally fluttered open he spied Billy fastening up his pants and quickly did up his own as well.

A familiar beep came from the grass; his cell phone must have fallen out of his pocket in the tussling.

Billy picked it up and frowned at what he saw on the screen. Don willed him not to hit the button, read the message, willed it not to be from Megan.

A second later Billy's face closed off and he tossed the phone on Don's chest as he got up and stalked away, heading back to the fence.

As Don read the text message from Megan on the screen, the sound of the hammer pounding came back only much louder and faster this time.

'Gary said a Saturday raid works for him. Do you need me to pick you up from the airport tomorrow?'

Something pent up inside of him broke free and he wound up and threw the phone as far as he could, hearing it land with a soft thud somewhere in the tall grass in the backyard.

Hands on his hips, he let his head fall - the pounding in his skull out of time with the pounding of Billy's incessant hammer.

Biting his lip, he took a breath, gathering himself up. He had responsibilities. He couldn't just act like a child and throw a tantrum when he didn't get what he wanted.

With a sluggish gait he started the walk into the backyard to go search for his phone.

+
 
 
 
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on September 25th, 2009 02:20 am (UTC)
Confession
Please see Part 2 for Confession post.

Thanks,

Emma DeMarais
rubynye: Don (by weirdkid624)rubynye on September 25th, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)
I am SO glad you wrote this. You took this idea to places I never dreamed. I adore your short fic, but when you settle into a long one you really do amazing things, o Emmatastic one.

*eagerly awaits part 2*
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on September 25th, 2009 04:03 am (UTC)
Yay! I'm so happy you read this! Thank you! I was waiting to see yours. Is it coming soon?

I really had little idea what I was going to write save Don/Billy with Margaret alive, but I think this turned out really good. You're right that I don't write long fic often, but when I do I like to be ambitious about it. I hadn't intended this to be such a statement on the impact of being closeted, but it kind of turned out that way.

Until I got this published I didn't realize where it was leaving off. Evil! LOL But the rest is ready to go tomorrow - promise.

/smishes/
ladygray99: Donladygray99 on September 25th, 2009 03:47 am (UTC)
*hugs poor Billy*

Don just needs to pack Billy into his carry on and take him home.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on September 25th, 2009 04:52 am (UTC)
Billy is in serious need of lots of hugs. /nods/

Not that Don couldn't use some too.

Thanks for reading this!
ladygray99ladygray99 on September 25th, 2009 06:32 am (UTC)
Like I'd ever pass up one of your Coop stories and I'm not even a Coop girl.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on September 25th, 2009 08:15 am (UTC)
Aww! Thank you! And this is, as usual, a totally different Billy (I like variety) with a totally different backstory. (Lack of canon = flexibility! LOL)

Be careful. Mel will see this and recruit you as a Coop Slut. /grins/
t_vo0810: eppes brost_vo0810 on September 25th, 2009 04:33 am (UTC)
SQUEE!!! U published it, hooray!! I hope that means you are feeling better? Anyhoo, I read it again cause I couldn't resist. ugh, emma! seriously, the pain, the angst, the comfort sex, the irresistible passion- I heart it all sooo much. It really is such a great piece of work. be very proud, chica!
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on September 25th, 2009 05:10 am (UTC)
Thank you!

I had a second episode that took me out of commission for another day or two, but I'm finally almost back to normal. /crosses fingers/

I added a whole new scene and did some notable rewrites so I think you'll like the new version.

I'm really glad you were willing to give Don/Billy a chance for this fic. I think it turned out pretty damn good if I do say so myself. Hehehe

Part 2 tomorrow!

/smishes/
melissima: Don and Billy at the door...melissima on September 25th, 2009 06:39 am (UTC)
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeee

I love when you write Don/Billy. :happy sigh:

There are so many neat, subtle things going on in this fic - you still amaze me. Do you know that?

Oh by the way...did you notice there's no porn in your porn???

They'd sit on the screened porch at the back of the house in the evenings, drinking beer and watching the fireflies buzz over the fields, and then - after Christopher had wished them a good night and gone upstairs to bed - they'd go down to the rec room in the cellar and playfully battle for dominance on the old plaid sofabed, laughing as it creaked and complained under their combined weight.

:shakes head in awe: I don't know how you *do* that. But I like it.

More! More! ;-)

Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on September 25th, 2009 08:12 am (UTC)
HEE! I am the Mistress of PG13 Porn!

Truly it amazes even me how naughty I can get without even treading into R territory. I really could have written this fic as PG13, but I thought since it's for the slash ficathon I'd probably disappoint a lot of readers who equate that ficathon with porn. /grins/ I do love the sofabed bit though. It's particularly artful - saying so much while saying so little - and I'm proud of it. /beams/

I might have to take on the challenge of writing a PG13 PWP. If anyone could pull it off, it would be me. /big grin/

Thanks for the laptop, the beta and for taking care of me. ♥
fyreflyfyrefly101 on September 25th, 2009 09:20 am (UTC)
Guh. Don/Billy. The hurt! The comfort! The angst! The Margaret! And now that I've displayed an appalling butchery of sentence construction and the over use of the exclamation mark, I would like to say just how much I love this. Billy's grief is so tangible, as is the connection he and Don obviously have. The house, and the storm, it all makes such an evocative backdrop, but I do really want to bang Don's head against something resembling a brick wall, for not seeing how much he's hurting himself with his in-the-closet-ness, and even more so, for how much he's hurting Billy. Looking forward to what comes next!
One Part Exuberance; Two Parts Obsession: billy smilespenguingal on September 25th, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC)
Okay, really. I should know better by now than to read one of your fics when it hits a little close to home. Because I just watched my friend lose her mother and the grief for both of us is still very real. And the grief the way it's expressed here is just... yeah, real.

That said, I am very much looking forward to Part 2. Because you know how much I love my boys. And they do belong together. The end. :)
she studied. she climbed. she wrote.: numb3rs- lectureloozy on October 1st, 2009 12:36 am (UTC)
That actuallt brought tears to my eyes :(

So sad and beautiful... The emotions are perfectly portrayed and the scenario you are painting is gut- wrenching...