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18 November 2009 @ 12:56 pm
Numb3rs Fic: Harbor House Part 2  
Posted to numb3rs_slash


Title: Harbor House (Companion to Safe Harbor 1/2)
Series/Universe: Safe Harbor
Pairing/Characters: Charlie/Billy, Alan, Don, 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


"You like him."

Billy choked on a powdered sugar covered Mexican Wedding cookie.

"What?"

Magda flashed a sly glance at Billy as she packaged up dozens of the small cookies into plastic containers.

"This is not a co-worker thing. This is not a 'his brother was my partner' thing," she quoted. "Charlie is here - still here, I should say - because you like him."

"Magda..."

"It's about time," she chided lightly. "I told your mother you were never going to find anyone just sitting around the house." She let out an amused chortle. "Look at how wrong I was!"

"It's not like that," Billy flailed in his explanation and fruitless accompanying gestures. "Charlie's not like that. It's not... We're not... There's nothing, really."

She finished putting the cookies away save one plateful which she put into Billy's hands.

"Oh really? Because I've seen the way he gazes at you when you're not looking. If he's not interested then I'll marry the first single man I can find at tomorrow's wedding, because it means I know nothing of love." She finished her pronouncement then pointed to the plate. "Have another cookie." She turned back to the cookie sheets, starting her clean up. "And go share some with Charlie."

Billy stared after her, still stunned, for a moment then let the smirk come to his face.

"Yes, Ma'am," he mocked, saluting her with a grin as he headed out of the kitchen, taking another cookie to eat as he went.

He spotted Charlie over by the French doors, staring out over the water.

"Hey Charlie!" He called out cheerfully, finishing off his most recent cookie. "Magda made cookies for a wedding tomorrow and she made extra..." He stopped when he noticed Charlie's face in profile, strain clear on his dark features. "What is it?"

Charlie turned to look at him and the seriousness of his demeanor sobered Billy up immediately. "Quantico got hacked."

Every instinct Billy had flared up, every red flag raised, every part of his protective nature went into overdrive.

It didn't matter if Charlie dismissed this as not involving him, it didn't matter if Charlie didn't want extra security. Billy was going to lock him down tight and safe if he had to handcuff him to do it.

And he was going to have to tell Magda she was right, because every emotion firing up in him came from one place: he cared about Charlie and he wasn't going to let anything happen to him on his watch.

+

The alarm ripped Billy from a deep sleep yet he was on his feet in a second, hand going to his hidden gun safe to retrieve his weapon.

They'd planned for this, worked out a procedure with the agents on Charlie's security detail, and even though Billy was pretty sure it was just one of the agents accidentally setting off the alarm system, he had to react as if the threat was real for Charlie's sake.

He bolted down the hall, grabbing Charlie and hauling him out of bed - half dragging him back to the master bedroom.

"What?" Charlie muttered, but there was no time for questions. Billy just opened up the hidden panic room doorway in the paneling and shoved Charlie inside.

"Stay in there! I'll be back for you."

He closed the door behind Charlie and headed for the stairs at a run. By the time he got to the French doors one of the agents was there to meet him.

"Security code Alpha four Delta eight seven. Agent Hoffstetter," she introduced herself briskly. "False alarm," she assured him. "Agent Palinski apparently forgot about the trip wires set up on the dock and set one off."

"Give me your radio," Billy demanded.

To her credit Agent Hoffstetter complied with alacrity.

"This is Agent William Cooper," he barked into it. "Agent Palinski respond."

A man's voice, sounding a little timid, came through. "This is Agent Palinski."

"Security code?"

"Security code Whiskey eight two Omega nine."

"That was yesterday's code," Billy growled. "It's after midnight. What's the code for today?"

"Oh, sorry! Um... It's Alpha four Delta eight seven."

Billy put the radio back in Agent Hoffstetter's hand, barely restraining his ire. "I want him removed permanently from this detail. Get on the horn and have the Bureau send a more senior agent. The man we're guarding has one of the most valuable minds in the country. You tell them not to send any more damn green cadets!"

He turned on his heel and went back inside, locking the French door behind him. He rushed over to the alarm panel, punched in his override code and reset the alarm system.

With a long breath he tried to shake off the adrenaline flooding his system. No luck.

"Crap, Charlie..."

He charged back up the stairs by threes to let him out of the panic room. As soon as the low doorway opened Charlie spilled out, scampering frantically to the nearest window which he threw open, gasping helplessly.

"Easy there, easy... Just breathe, plenty of air."

"I don't want to go back in there," Charlie sputtered.

"Okay. I'm sorry. I didn't know you were claustrophobic."

"Neither did I, at least not that much." Charlie clung to the window, still drawing in great lungfuls of air. "What happened? Why did the alarm go off?"

"False alarm. Shift change and the agent coming on duty hadn't paid enough attention during his briefing," Billy said by way of explanation. "I wanted to read him the riot act, but I wanted to come get you out first."

It didn't seem like Charlie was going to move any time soon so Billy stepped away just long enough to put his gun away, trusting in the darkness of the room to hide his gun safe's location.

"Don't leave, okay?" The tiny and desperate sound of Charlie's voice cut through him and it was only his concern for Charlie's well-being that kept his rage at the idiot who tripped the alarm from tearing him away for a good screaming session.

"I'm right here." Billy returned to his side, staying close, but not crowding him. "Why don't you come sit on the bed? I'll open all the windows for you."

He put out a hand and with a featherlight touch got Charlie guided away from the window and onto the bed. As Charlie curled into a ball on his comforter, Billy quickly threw all the windows open.

His parents had planted night blooming jasmine just outside, back when this was their bedroom, and the scent of the flowers floated in on the cool breeze off the harbor. They'd soothed Billy many a night after his parents relocated to the nursing home and he hoped their sweet scent would have a similar effect on Charlie.

"That better?" he asked.

Charlie nodded but shivered from the sudden coolness at the same time. "Yeah."

Billy crossed the room and tugged the blankets down in invitation. "Get into bed, it's still warm." He watched as Charlie slipped into his spot in the bed, the sight unexpectedly making him ache with longing for Charlie to be in his bed for a far more pleasant reason.

"Do you remember Don getting Hanukkah presents when you were partners?" Charlie asked out of the blue.

Billy just blinked at him, sitting down on the bed, stunned at the question. "Sure, he shared your mom's Hanukkah care packages with me and I shared my Christmas ones with him."

"I used to send him this aftershave he said he liked..."

"And I used to pilfer it so often Don finally gave me some for my birthday." Billy nodded, understanding where the question had come from. He'd put Charlie's head on his recently vacated pillow - of course it still smelled like him. "Still wear it. It's my favorite."

"That explains it." Charlie nestled down under the covers, looking almost childlike in his balled up state. "Can I stay here a little longer? You have so many more windows than I do."

"Stay the whole night." Billy patted his arm lightly. "Just try to go back to sleep. I need to go talk to the agents on duty, but I'll be back to check on you in a few minutes."

As he headed up and out he glanced back one last time. Charlie's eyes were open, fixed on the windows, but that frigid fear had faded and he looked finally able to let sleep tug at him once more. If he was lucky, he'd be out by the time Billy got back upstairs.

A short jog downstairs and a wave to Agent Hoffstetter to come to the door and he got his answer on how they were dealing with replacing the offending agent.

"Quantico's sending an eleven year veteran with experience on protection details," she told him before he could get his mouth open. "He should arrive no later than 0200 hours. At that time Agent Palinski will be relieved of duty and sent home. He will not be on put on this detail again, nor will any agent with less than five years of service."

Billy nodded, but countered. "Fine, but you call A.D. Harper in the morning. I want that upped to seven years of experience - minimum."

"Yes, sir. I will relay the message."

"Thank you."

"Sorry for the trouble, Agent Cooper." With a brisk step, she returned to her post, alert and watchful.

Billy relocked the French doors and headed back up the stairs. He was standing over his bed, watching Charlie in it, before it hit him that he needed to go back to sleep himself as well.

Charlie unexpectedly turned over and pulled down the covers on the empty side of the bed Billy was standing over.

"Cold out there," he said, almost matter of fact. "Your bed's big enough. Don't want you to freeze in a chair or something silly like that."

It was dark in the room and he could barely make out Charlie's face, but he was clearly serious. It didn't have to mean anything more than just protection - Billy knew that - but as he got into bed he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep if he didn't have Charlie close by to watch over.

"I'll be right here if you need me."

+

Charlie slept late, as he usually did when no one woke him, and thankfully so.

Billy had been able to slip out of bed when he woke - always an early riser - and take his cell phone downstairs to call A.D. Harper. It didn't even take any threats to get him to up the experience of the security detail assigned to Charlie. The hacking of the server had apparently lit a fire under him and the faux pas of the junior agent the night before meant he was up in arms even before Billy called him.

That done, Billy asked one of the agents on duty about to leave for the shift change if they'd mind doing a donut run. After the night before, they jumped to do anything he asked as apology.

He made his way into the kitchen to make coffee. Magda normally took care of that for him, but he wasn't completely useless in the kitchen. Still, the house felt empty without her and the kids, even if it was surrounded by field agents. He missed her, but felt she'd done the right thing deciding to stay elsewhere once the hacking investigation had shown Charlie's work had been compromised.

His cell phone rang and he rushed to answer it, hoping it didn't wake Charlie upstairs.

"Hello?"

"Good morning, dear."

"Mom..." Billy sank down into a chair.

"I hope I'm not calling too early."

"You know I'm up."

"Yes, but your houseguest might not be. He is still there isn't he? I mean, you haven't come by to see your father and I in a while..."

A flush of guilt filled him and he held the phone closer. "I'm sorry, Mom. It's just there's a lot going on here. It's... It's complicated."

"Billy..." He heard his mother's voice shift into her concerned tone. "Whenever you won't talk to me I know it's bad. Now you've got me worried."

"It's nothing, really. Listen, why don't I come by today? I'm sure he can manage without me for an hour or two. Okay?"

"That would be nice. Your father's been asking about you."

"He has?" Billy held the phone a little tighter. "Is he remembering more?"

"Not more, but he's had a few good days in a row." Lillian's voice grew soft. "It would be good for you to come while he's having a good day still."

"I'll come after breakfast, okay?" He paused for a second. "I miss you guys."

"We miss you too, son. I'll see you soon then."

"Love you."

"Love you too, sweetie. Give hugs and kisses to Magda and the kids for us."

Billy hung up the phone, not wanting to have to explain why he couldn't obey that particular request. With his father deteriorating, his mother had enough to worry about. She didn't need to hear about his troubles at home. He could spare her that at least.

+

Billy was halfway through his third donut when Charlie finally stirred.

"You up, sleepyhead?"

He took another bite of his apple fritter as Charlie rolled over in bed to blink at him, his disorientation finally fading into a relaxed grin.

"Donuts?"

"It's a step down from Magda's chorizo," Billy admitted, licking his fingers, "but I like to indulge every once in a while." He nudged the donut box closer to Charlie. "Saved you some jellies."

"How did you know I liked... Oh wait, Don," Charlie made a noise of mock exasperation, but accepted a napkin as he selected a donut from the box.

"Yeah, he always made me get extra jellies since he said you always stole them all."

The accusation seemed to wake Charlie the rest of the way up and he shook a powdered sugar stained finger Billy's way. "He blamed me for eating the jellies, but I know my Dad ate them too. He just didn't want my Mom to know how many he'd eaten." Charlie paused to take a big bite and a pleased little rumble erupted from deep down. "Mmm... Lemon filled. My favorite."

"Got a bunch of raspberry ones too." Billy reached for the thermos of coffee on the nightstand before he realized what he was missing. "Shit, I forgot to get a second cup."

Charlie shrugged, wiping lemon filling from his lips. "I'm cool with using yours, if you are."

"Didn't get cooties from your brother, so fine with me," Billy taunted. He poured coffee into the cup lid of the thermos and handed it to him. He waited until Charlie was sipping the coffee, unable to look at him as he spoke. "Listen, I hate to leave you alone, especially after last night, but I have something I need to do - somewhere I need to go."

"I could go with you." Charlie glanced up at him shyly from beneath his sleep-mussed curls. "I feel like I still don't know much about your life."

The offer took Billy by surprise and all the permutations flitted through his mind in an instant: what it would take to move Charlie to an unsecured location, how long it would take to get Bureau approval to move Charlie to an unsecured location, not to mention his mother's reaction when she found out his houseguest was attractive and single. He'd never talked to Charlie about his parents. It was hard enough facing the fact that at any time his father could forget he even had a son; he wasn't ready to bring anyone new into that part of his life.

"It's not really my call," he said, shaking his head. "I won't be gone long and you've got agents on the house, so you'll be fine. There's always the panic room..." When Charlie looked like he was going to protest, he held up a hand to halt it. "If you're desperate, that is."

"I know it makes sense, but just the idea of going in there again, being trapped..."

"You weren't trapped in there and there was plenty of air, I swear."

"There's no latch! I couldn't figure out how to get out!"

"You didn't turn on the screen to access the controls?"

Charlie looked embarrassed. "I was afraid to touch anything."

Charlie might be brilliant, but people in a panic situation rarely thought logically. Billy offered him a patient smile in understanding. "I'm sorry about that. I should have told you I had a panic room and showed you how it worked. It's just no one save me and the guy who built it for me knew it existed until now and I was kind of hoping to keep it a secret, for obvious reasons."

Charlie hung his head. "I'm sorry I screwed that up for you."

"Hey!" Billy snapped, softening his voice a little once he heard how sharp the word had come out. "You did not screw anything up. A stupid secret room means nothing compared to your life, you hear me?"

Charlie nodded even though his fingers were tense on the coffee cup. "I just feel like a burden to you."

"Some burdens we choose to take on." Billy reluctantly rose. "I need to go shower so I can leave. I'll only be gone a couple of hours, okay? And you can call me if you need me."

"I'll be fine on my own."

Billy looked back at Charlie, looking tiny and defenseless in the big bed, and almost changed his mind about leaving. His mother's voice in his head and the chance of getting to talk to his father while he was awake and coherent pressed him to go though.

Still, he had a bad feeling about leaving Charlie alone, despite a half dozen armed guards on the property.

"I hope so..."

+

"Charlie?"

As he returned from the nursing home visit, Billy hesitated just inside his front door, listening for clues as to what room Charlie might be in.

The dead silence that met his ears chilled him.

He stepped outside to urgently gesture to the nearest agent to come over then bolted through the house, checking even the panic room before running downstairs to meet the agent in the living room.

"Yes?"

"Where's Charlie?"

The agent looked bewildered. "Dr. Eppes never left the house."

"He's not here!" Billy grabbed his keys and bolted out to his car, leaving behind the agent frantically reporting the loss on her comm. He screeched up the property's driveway, stopping at the agent posted at the road. "What car's been here since I left?"

The agent referred to a clipboard. "An Agent Keene was here about five minutes ago with some paperwork for Dr. Eppes to sign, but that's all."

"What kind of car?" Billy asked, pulling out his cell phone.

"A silver sedan."

Billy floored the pedal, aiming his car for the main road as he waited for the assistant director to pick up the phone.

"Harper."

"Code black on Dr. Charles Eppes!" He heard Chad swear in the background. "The password for the encrypted document I sent you is 12Mayflower17Basketball. It contains the codes for the trackers I put on Charlie's laptop, messenger bag and shoes. I need you to track him and guide me to his location." He could overhear Chad talking to someone in the background, making the arrangements. "I also need an APB out on an Agent Keene driving a silver sedan - he's who took Charlie."

"All three trackers are on the move - Route 17 northbound."

Billy pulled a wild U-turn - car horns squawking in protest on both sides of the street - and headed back an eight of a mile to the turnoff for Route 17, engine screaming as he pushed it to the limit.

"I have your SUV's tracker on my screen now," Chad told him. "Keene checked out a sedan from the motor pool, but the tracker's been disabled on it. I can only tell Charlie's location based on your trackers. They've probably got about a five minute head start. I've sent agents after them and I've also alerted the local police - they've got units closest to your area. They might reach Charlie sooner."

Billy wove through traffic at dangerous speeds, anxious to close the distance between them, trying not to think about Charlie terrified, hurt or even dead.

He'd left Charlie alone when Charlie needed him most, when he was most vulnerable.

He'd failed him.

Now he had to pray Charlie wouldn't pay for his failure with his life.

+

Despite the rural surroundings the GPS had led him true. Pulling a hard right into a barely visible access road Billy found himself driving right towards the silver sedan parked near a short decrepit dock leading out into a marshy waterway.

A man in a suit was crouched over, but when he stood Billy caught a fleeting glimpse of Charlie going over the side, falling into the water as Agent Keene watched him sink.

The screech of his brakes caught Keene's attention and he turned, raising his gun as Billy bolted out of the SUV, running full speed, gun firing as he ran towards the dock.

Keene's shot ran wild. Billy's aim was true.

Sirens pealed in the distance; help was coming.

As he ran past the body - with a neat hole in its forehead - Billy dropped his gun and jumped into the water right where he figured Charlie had gone in.

The force of his dive brought him near to the bottom - good news since deep waters would have made a rescue near impossible - but the waters were so dark and murky he could see almost nothing once he got a couple of feet down.

He swam around, searching, mentally counting off the seconds Charlie had been without air. He felt something against his arm - a hand. Elated, he grabbed hold of it, trying to pull Charlie up, but all that happened was that he pulled himself nearer to Charlie.

Swimming down, he got close enough to make out Charlie's face. The terror in his eyes cut him to the core and he knew he only had precious seconds to get him out.

Charlie was dragging his hand down so Billy let him lead, swimming down deeper until he felt what Charlie was pushing him towards.

The bastard had cuffed him to something heavy - too heavy to lift.

Knowing what he had to do, Billy reluctantly broke free and headed for the surface - the guilt at leaving Charlie behind a punch to the gut - but this was the only way to save him.

Breaking the surface he filled his lungs to bursting with as much air as he could drag in then dove again.

It was easier to find Charlie the second time, but still hard to maneuver in the water. Once he got close Charlie looked at him with great sad eyes that seemed to be saying goodbye with a depth of sorrow that said he knew he was going to die.

Determined, Billy grabbed hold of Charlie's shirt, pulling himself as close as possible, and covered Charlie's mouth with his own, hoping he'd understand.

When Charlie didn't open his lips right away, Billy tried forcing them open then blew the air from his lungs into Charlie's mouth. A lot of air was lost in the transfer, but Charlie had to have gotten some of it.

Billy swam up the surface and took another great gulp of air. This time Charlie was ready and most of the air made it into him.

That bought Billy the time he needed.

Surfacing, he treaded water long enough to fish his FBI issue handcuff key out of his pocket. Clutching it tight - no margin of error for dropping it - he filled his lungs one last time and dove down.

He rushed through the air transfer then followed Charlie's arm down to the handcuff, fumbling blindly in the cold dark water trying to get the key in the tiny lock. Cursing himself mentally for each second he faltered, his heart leaped with joy as he felt the cuff click open and fall away from Charlie's wrist.

His rescue training took over and he grabbed Charlie and pulled him up to the surface, holding him above the water as he gasped and choked, drawing in desperate gulps of air as Billy treaded water for both of them.

Once he stopped flailing Billy swam him over to the side of the dock and helped him up the ladder.

Charlie stumbled, but Billy's arms were around him in a heartbeat, steadying him and keeping him close.

Sodden and shaking, Charlie looked up at him - his expression speaking volumes while he was left bereft of words.

Billy's heart pounded in his chest. He'd almost lost Charlie, almost lost all that they'd become to each other, all that they were becoming.

In a completely automatic gesture of relief and gratitude, Billy took Charlie's face in his hands and kissed him - every unspoken desire given voice, every desperate fear silenced, every need for comfort fulfilled in him even as he gave of himself to fulfill them in Charlie.

The small body of the man he'd saved pressed against his felt so perfect - an effortless fit - that it was like their kiss: as familiar as if it had always been this way. Charlie had merged himself seamlessly into his home, his family, his life and his heart. They belonged like this: together, as one.

Billy could hear the sirens, hear the police cars driving up to the dock area, but he didn't let go, holding Charlie even closer to him - never wanting to let go.

"It's over." His words were half mantra, half promise - one he'd swear by. "It's all over."

Charlie hid his face in Billy's chest as Billy pulled his badge out of his back pocket, flipping it open in readiness for the police officers getting out of their cars.

They'd be separated; there was nothing he could do about that. But Billy wanted to relish these last few seconds, this moment of confirmation of life, this proof of a bond between them - unbroken.

+

The aftermath was near chaos.

The local police got into near yelling matches with FBI agents, arguing over jurisdiction, possession of evidence and witness interrogation.

Charlie, with his elevated status of witness and victim, was assuredly getting treated better. A goodhearted sergeant made sure to tell him he'd arranged for Charlie to have a hot shower and some dry clothes to change into plus a meal and something warm to drink, for which Billy was grateful.

He offered the same to Billy, but Billy put off the offer of food with thanks, accepting only a towel and a sweatsuit to change into. There would be time to eat and shower later. For now he wanted everything he knew to go into helping the FBI find out who was working with Keene. Until the conspiracy was unraveled Charlie might not be completely safe.

In the end Billy got debriefed by both Chad and the lead detective assigned to Charlie's attempted homicide. The phrase put the chill of the frigid waters back into Billy's bones, his fear at his near loss still too raw.

When they were both satisfied with his tale, the detective left and Chad pulled Billy's cell phone out of his pocket. Billy had left it in the running car when he'd arrived and all but forgotten about it. Out of his other pocket he pulled a gun identical to Billy's service weapon, pushing them both across the table.

"Your gun's going to have to stay in evidence for now, but I know you don't want to go unarmed." Chad cocked his head towards the cell phone. "I saw you had Don Eppes in there. I held off with the notification, figuring it might be better coming from you."

Billy accepted both items with a nod of gratitude.

"Thanks. I'll call him."

Chad left without another word.

Billy dialed, searching his mind for anything he could say to make this not sound as bad as it was.

"Eppes."

"Charlie's all right - don't panic," was the first thing out of his mouth.

"Coop? What the..."

"Charlie's in Virginia with me," he went on to explain. "There was an attempt on his life by a rogue agent. I stopped it. He's fine now, but you and Alan should fly back here. He's pretty rattled and he needs his family with him."

"We'll take a red eye, be there first thing in the morning."

"No," Billy said quickly. "Take a morning flight."

"Coop, you just said..."

"Don, the poor kid almost drowned. Frankly what he needs is for a doctor to give him a sedative and knock him out for about twelve hours of sleep. Yes, he needs you, but he's going to need some rest and some time to process this for himself before you and your Dad come smother him."

There was a pause. "He's all right? You're sure?"

Billy faltered. "It's a longer story..."

"Coop," Don said, his tone warning.

"He got attacked just after he came back east to work - mugged he said, but I was sure it wasn't just random violence. He wound up with a concussion and some pretty bad cuts, which are still healing. The police assure me he has no new injuries and turned down going to the hospital, even though they had EMTs come here and check him out regardless. So he's okay for now. They'll probably release him in a couple of hours and I'm guessing he'll just want to come home and crash."

"Home?"

"My house," Billy answered, a little embarrassed.

Another pause. "Coop, is there something going on between you and my brother?"

This time it was Billy's turn to let a second or two of dead air pass over the phone.

He took a breath. "Yes."

"Then you take care of him for me." Don's voice held no judgment, only support and understanding. "I'm going to call my Dad, tell him the news and arrange for our flights, but then I'm calling you back and you're going to tell me the whole story, understand?"

Don wasn't mad. Don was coming. Charlie would have his family by his side when he needed them and Billy would be there for him until then. And hopefully after.

"Understood."

+

Once he got home, Billy couldn't rest, couldn't sit still. He paced incessantly, listening for any sound, any hint Charlie was arriving home. He'd meant it, when he let it slip to Don - Charlie was home when he was with him.

A black and white pulled into the driveway and he let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding, unable to stop pacing as the car made its way down the long driveway.

Once the car stopped he threw open the front door, ready to greet Charlie with open arms. He managed a nod to the officer who gave Charlie a ride, but his focus was on the man coming towards him, eager and impatient.

Charlie walked into his arms and Billy folded them around him in blissful certainty; this was where he belonged and this was who he belonged with.

If Charlie minded being held so close, so tight, so desperately, he didn't show it. They stood like that for endless minutes, neither seeming to want it to end.

Common sense finally overrode his need to keep touching Charlie and Billy broke away at least long enough to close and lock the door, giving Charlie a chance to finally stand on his own.

"You must be exhausted." Billy swept an errant lock of Charlie's hair aside, finding it still damp. "We should get you into bed. Did you eat?"

"Yeah," Charlie mumbled, looking weary. "They gave me something so I'm good. But I could sleep for a week."

"Sorry, can't offer you a week," Billy apologized. "Don and your dad are taking a morning flight and they'll be here in the afternoon." At Charlie's expression of surprise, he explained. "You almost died. If that's not a time for family... Well, then there just isn't one. So I called."

Charlie nodded, thoughtful. "I can't believe they didn't take the red eye though."

"They wanted to, trust me," Billy responded, "but I told them not to. Said you needed to rest and that wasn't going to happen with them going nuts - which you know they're going to do the second they see you."

Charlie leaned into Billy, eyes drooping. "I am tired. But..."

"Don't worry," Billy told him. "The windows are already all open."

Charlie's honest and open gaze disarmed him with its simple gratitude and adoration, his smile thawing and warming that place inside that had chilled in fear of loss earlier.

"Thank you... For everything..."

Billy scowled, remembering his failing, how this could all have been avoided had he not been so selfish about visiting his parents. "You shouldn't be thanking me. I left you when you needed me most... Let you get taken by that bastard - right out of my house!"

Charlie pressed fingers over his lips to silence him. "You found me. You saved me. That's all that counts. You were there when I needed you."

Charlie's belief in that simple truth was staggering, his faith in Billy as his savior so complete he made Billy want to believe it himself.

Billy took Charlie's face in his hands, a gesture that already seemed completely natural. "I'll never let you down again. I swear." Sleep was stealing its way into Charlie's tired eyes so Billy tugged at him to come with him. "Come on. Let's get you upstairs and tucked into bed."

"Are you going to stay?" Charlie asked as they headed up.

"Wild horses couldn't tear me away," Billy swore.

"I'd like to see wild horses try to get past your security." Charlie managed a weak chuckle. The old humor was there - beaten down, but not dead and gone.

Billy even managed a half-chortle himself. "Okay, that I didn't see coming. If you can joke like that after the day you've had..."

"Then I think I can handle someone with your job. I mean..." He stammered, blushing almost, but he was serious. Billy tucked him closer, his arm around Charlie's shoulder.

"I know exactly what you mean." He gestured to Charlie to come with him into the master bedroom. "But it's time to get some sleep. The rest can wait." The windows, as promised, were already wide open and the delicate scent of jasmine floated in with the harbor air.

Charlie took off his shoes and got into bed. "You coming?" he asked, looking up at Billy, seeming tiny in the big bed.

"I'm not leaving your side." Billy kicked off his own shoes and slid into bed beside Charlie.

There was no planning, no thought, no motive. They just automatically entwined as if they always had: Charlie's head on his chest, Billy's arms wrapped around him.

"This is all I need," Charlie murmured, breath warm against his t-shirt.

"Try to sleep."

Charlie stifled a yawn and they settled down together, a peaceful silence falling over them.

Billy pressed a kiss to Charlie's forehead: a simple gesture of affection yet one that felt right, a way to remind Charlie he was wanted, cared for, that Billy was grateful for him and his life - a gift he didn't know he needed until now.

He made sure Charlie fell asleep first, but feeling so content with this amazing man in his arms, Billy couldn't help himself. He let go, let sleep claim him, knowing the dream would still be real when he woke the next morning.

+

A violent motion woke Billy in the middle of the night and he opened his eyes to find Charlie bolting from the bed.

"What's wrong? What is it?" he asked before he woke enough to put it all together: Charlie waking from the nightmare of memory, already claustrophobic, heading right for the windows... It didn't take a genius to figure out what put the fear into him.

"Air! Need air!" Charlie drew in deep breath after deep breath in a panic. "Can't... Get... Enough..."

"Let me get you out on the balcony." Sensing Charlie was dangerously close to hyperventilating, Billy grabbed him as he staggered, practically dragging him over to the balcony.

As he opened the French door, Charlie wrested himself from Billy's grasp and all but ran out onto the balcony, gasping wildly.

"It's okay, it's okay..." Billy stayed back, trying not to trigger more claustrophobia by penning him in, but he still kept a single hand on his back, wanting Charlie to know he was there to steady him.

"Please tell me it won't always be like this," Charlie pleaded in desperation, the anguish in his voice heartbreaking to hear. "I can't live like this. It has to get better. I can't go to sleep every night thinking I'm going to suffocate, I'm going to drown..."

"It won't always be like this," Billy swore, swearing to himself he'd do anything to make it so. "Give it time. For now, just breathe. We can stay out here all night if that's what you need."

"Cold..." Charlie shivered as a chilly gust of wind came off the water.

"Let me go get you a blanket."

As Billy turned to go, Charlie reached out and clamped a frantic hand on his arm.

"Don't go... I don't want to be alone."

Billy nodded, trying to reassure him. "Then let me see what I can do to keep you warm." He sat with his back to the wall - the most shelter there was in the small space - and tugged Charlie to sit down in front of him. Careful not to trap him, he put his arms and legs protectively around Charlie, using his body to offer some small shielding from the elements. "Warm enough?"

Charlie leaned back against his chest, letting Billy's arms go around him.

"I'm good."

After a few minutes his breathing was back to normal. By the time Billy's bare feet started feeling like icicles, he was fast asleep.

It took a while to work his arms under Charlie enough to lift him without waking him, but cold as it was, Billy didn't rush.

He carried Charlie back to bed, jacked up the electric blanket to high and got back in himself, burying himself under the covers until he began to thaw out.

As he waited to warm up enough to sleep, he watched Charlie in slumber.

Dark lashes fanned over ever so slightly colored cheeks. Full lips framed each breath and a forest of stubble shaded his artfully angled jaw. In sleep he looked childlike, innocent, peaceful.

Billy hoped that peace would last - at least until morning.

+

Billy had plenty of time to move some of his things to the guesthouse before Alan and Don arrived, but he hated letting Charlie out of his sight so he simply left his packed bag by the French doors, figuring he'd move it to the guesthouse later, once Charlie was in his family's care.

The cab almost hadn't come to a full and complete stop before Alan was out of the back seat like a shot.

"Charlie!"

He all but smothered his much smaller son and Billy had to choke back an admonishment, worried as he was about Alan inadvertently triggering Charlie's claustrophobia.

"I'm okay, Dad, really," Charlie mumbled from within his paternal cocoon.

"I was so scared when Agent Cooper called! I couldn't believe I'd almost lost my little boy."

"I'm fine." Charlie pulled away and found himself almost tackled by his brother.

"I'm sorry." Charlie's voice was little more than a whisper, but Billy could make it out, muffled as it was in Don's shirt. "I really am."

"Yeah, well..." Don released his brother, recovering quickly from the unusual show of emotion. "I guess you gave me a taste of what it's like to be you looking at my dangerous job from the outside."

"I'd be very happy never to put you in that position again," Charlie told him.

Billy saw the cab driver finish pulling their bags out of the trunk so he went and loaded them all up so he could carry them in in one trip, putting them down just inside the front door.

"Don... Mr. Eppes..."

Don approached first, offering him the same manly hug he always did on the rare occasions they met up again, only this time he said a quiet yet meaningful 'Thanks' in his ear along with a grateful squeeze to his embrace.

"Please... You saved my son's life." Alan approached him next. "Call me Alan." He put out his hand to shake, a meaningful gesture given his past reservations about Billy and the work he and Don once did together - the work Billy still did. Billy shook it gratefully, bearing no grudge.

"I'm like you - just glad as all hell that he's okay. Listen..." Billy gestured to the stairs. "I'm going to put your bags in the guest room, Alan. Don, there's a Murphy bed in my study that's pretty decent so I'll put you in there. You've slept on much worse on the road, so I figure you can handle it."

"Definitely," Don agreed with a chuckle.

"Charlie's just down the hall in the master bedroom. I'm out in the guesthouse, but if you need me for anything at all just press the button next to the light switch in any of the rooms and I'll come."

Charlie tugged at his sleeve with anxious fingers. "You're not staying?" Charlie asked in a nervous whisper.

"Just press the button - any time day or night - and I'll come," Billy repeated. "Any time... For any reason." He was pretty sure Charlie would want him to come stay with him overnight, but for now, he needed his brother and father more than anything. Billy made a show of looking over to where Don and Alan were waiting. "This is a time for family."

Between him and Don they divided up the bags, dropping Don's off in the study and Alan's off in the guest room.

"Thank you," Alan told him, nodding gratefully. "I'm pretty sure those are entirely insufficient words for all you've done..."

"You're welcome," Billy told him. "I just want what you both want." He glanced back to where Don and Charlie stood talking quietly in the hallway, Charlie already leaning towards his big brother like a sunflower seeking light. "For Charlie to be okay, taken care of."

When he turned back, Alan had an almost knowing smile on his face.

"I believe you."

+

Staying out of Don and Alan's way was harder than Billy thought. He'd been in the house to make lunch for them and to make dinner, agreeing to stay for the meal at Don and Alan's insistence, but otherwise he'd stayed tucked away in the guesthouse.

It was killing him to not have Charlie in his sight. The rational part of his brain knew that Don was a fully trained agent, fully capable of protecting his brother, plus the entire property's perimeter was being protected by Marines from the base at Quantico. No FBI agents - save Billy and Don - were allowed anywhere near Charlie, not until the remainder of Keene's compatriots had been flushed out. But Billy had a raw need now to keep Charlie close, to protect him himself. Whenever he closed his eyes he could see Charlie's ghostly face in the dark marsh water, eyes full of forgiveness, as if Billy was going to let him die.

He shook it off, pacing the small living room, repeatedly glancing out the window at the main house as if imprisoned and unable to enter his own home.

When ten o'clock came he got ready for bed - switching into sweats and a t-shirt and leaving his shoes on - pacing anew hoping for the lights to flicker meaning that Charlie had sent for him.

When they finally did he was out like a shot, almost forgetting to lock the door behind him. The downstairs was silent and dark so he headed up the stairs, keeping his footfall light.

There was a creak in the study; Don was still up. The crack under the guest room door was dark though. It made sense; the best way to get off California time and reset to East Coast time was to go to bed when the clock said it was time to. Besides, Alan had to be tired from the cross-country flight and the stress of almost losing his son.

When Billy opened the master bedroom door Charlie was already in bed - windows open as usual.

"You rang?" he started, keeping his tone light.

"It felt weird," Charlie admitted. "But it did seem the easiest way to reach you." He pointed at the TV with the remote in his hand. "I found a nice little movie to watch. Something funny." He looked at where Billy was standing by the door. "You are staying, right?" For a second Charlie looked a little nervous, but at Billy's smile Charlie responded with one of his own and folded the covers back on the other side of the bed. "Then get in here. It's got to be chilly out there."

"Your wish is my command," Billy joshed. He kicked off his shoes and slid into bed beside Charlie, who'd already set up all the pillows behind them to lean against. Charlie waited for him to get settled and hold his arm out then curled up against him, head on his shoulder.

A sense of calm pervaded him, a peace. He had Charlie close; nothing could go wrong.

Charlie pressed the button on the remote and the opening credits began.

"I hope I don't wake you up freaking out again," he said in a quiet voice, not even looking at Billy.

"I hope you don't have to go through that for your sake," Billy stressed. "But I'm here if it happens." He pressed a kiss amidst Charlie's curls and felt him nestle in closer with a contented sigh. "Whatever it takes, I'm going to get you through this."

It was only a matter of minutes before the remote fell from Charlie's lax hand.

Billy watched the whole movie anyway, not wanting to jostle Charlie, simply enjoying the feel of him sleeping on his chest.

+

"Quite a place you've got here."

Billy walked up to where Don was standing at the end of his dock, peering out across the harbor.

"Beats that crappy apartment I had when you and I were partners."

"Some of the fleabag motels we stayed in on the road were better than that apartment!" Don scoffed. He turned to look at Billy and his expression shifted. "Charlie really cares about you. I can tell."

Billy didn't know how to respond so he merely nodded and they fell into silence for a moment.

Don's gaze went back out to the water. "Charlie's got ties to California, he's put down roots there. He won't leave."

The subtext made Billy blink in surprise, but Don's words clearly weren't intended to be discouraging - just informational.

"I figured as much."

"What about you?" Don turned to him again, this time with a more scrutinizing eye. "Would you be able to easily give up what you have here? Everyone you know, this great harbor house?"

Billy couldn't meet his gaze. "I don't know," he admitted.

Don shoved his hands in his pockets, eyes turned back to the distant shore.

"My flight's tomorrow. I need to get back. Dad will stay another few days, but fair warning: he'll expect Charlie to come back with him."

The jolt inside at losing Charlie so soon rocked Billy and sent a little flood of panic through him. There was too much left to be said, worked out, too little time to explore what was building between them.

Don turned and headed back, but stopped after a few feet, his tone softened. "It's important that you know I'm not against it - you and him. It's just..." He shook his head sadly. "I just don't see how you could make it work."

Billy was left standing alone on the dock with his thoughts. He pulled out his cell phone and read the text message from his mother that he hadn't responded to yet.

'Your father's asking for you. Are you coming soon?'

+

Billy felt bad about waking Charlie up, but he was certain if he didn't do it gently the noise the children were making would do it for him soon enough.

He gave Charlie enough time to sit up at least. "Someone wants to see you."

"Who?" Charlie rubbed his eyes, looking confused. "Don and Dad left already."

Grinning, Billy opened the master bedroom door and released the kids on him. Rocio and Elena were jumping all over the bed in a heartbeat and the look of delight on Charlie's face made his heart swell with happiness.

"Charlie!"

"Elena! Rocio! I missed you guys!" As Magda stood with him at the door, both kids gave Charlie tight hugs. "I missed you too, Magda," he told her, giving her a smile as well.

"I'm glad you're all right," she replied, nodding. Once Rocio and Elena were busy bouncing all over the bed, she made her way over to give Charlie a little kiss on the cheek and a hug.

"Can we play a board game today?" Rocio asked

"I want to be on Charlie's team!" Elena piped up.

"No, I want to be on Charlie's team!" Rocio countered.

"Sorry, I get to be on Charlie's team!" Billy teased, grabbing a giggling Rocio and tossing him over his shoulder for a moment before putting him down beside his mother.

"No games until you finish your chores!" Magda said, using her best mom voice.

Twin groans rose up out of the children.

"We just got home!"

"Do we have to?"

"The faster you get your chores done, the faster you get to play." Magda beckoned to her daughter. "Come down from there, Elena. You've said your hellos. Now let the man get his rest."

"Okay," Elena said, pouting as she got off the bed reluctantly.

"Hey you two, come here," Charlie called to the two of them. Pulling them close, he fake whispered to them. "Don't let your mom get you down. You can pick out a board game for us to play later - plus I'll make my famous liquid nitrogen ice cream for dessert."

"Cool!"

"Yay! Crazy scientist ice cream!" Rocio shouted joyfully, leaping around again.

Magda let out a put-upon sigh, clearly teasing since she was smiling, pleased as well. "I'll prep the ingredients for you."

"Thank you."

"Vamanos!" Magda and the children headed out, closing the door behind them, their voices easy to follow through the house out to the guesthouse.

"Sorry to wake you, but they really wanted to see you," Billy apologized.

"Well, you could make it up to me." Charlie stretched lazily, arms overhead.

"Oh?"

"Warm in here..." Charlie pulled his t-shirt over his head and tossed it aside. Billy's mouth went dry and he struggled with equal emotions: desire at the rare sight of Charlie's bare skin and renewed anger at seeing the scars from his first attack, knowing that person might still be out there, walking free.

Billy walked over to sit on top of the bed, reaching out with fingertips to graze over the still red scars. "They're healing well..."

Charlie plucked the hand from his skin and tugged on it, pulling Billy down for a kiss. They'd kissed before - kissed, held each other, slept in the same bed, but always fairly chaste. This kiss was far from it. The message was clear; Charlie made sure Billy knew what he was asking for, offering.

As desperately as he'd wanted this, wanted Charlie, he couldn't help but hold back, feeling selfish for wanting this when Charlie was still so fragile, the attempt on his life so recent.

"I'm okay," Charlie told him when they broke apart. "You don't have to treat me like I'm made of glass anymore."

Billy searched his eyes for answers. The terror he'd seen after he'd pulled Charlie from the depths on the dock was gone, the fright he'd seen when Charlie desperately sucked in air during that first night's claustrophobic attack on the balcony was gone. What he saw there were hints of the confidence Charlie had shown towards the end of their first case together and a shining gaze of affection, so open and clear it amazed him. That Charlie could be so upfront about his emotions took his breath away.

Billy pulled his own t-shirt off and got under the covers, drawing Charlie to him. "Are you sure?" He had to ask, had to be certain.

Charlie snaked his arms around his neck, bringing their bodies close together in that effortless perfect fit they'd had from the start.

"I'm sure."

The flood of joy was almost overwhelming, but Billy wasn't going to rush this. He'd wanted this for so long, he wanted to savor every moment.

This time when their lips met it was his turn to show Charlie just how much he wanted this too. The kiss was full of slow burning hunger, devouring, seeking, swallowing Charlie up in his expansive desire.

His hand drank in the smooth skin of Charlie's back, starved for touch, sneaking up to hold the back of his head - buried in those addictive curls - steadying him for a deep plundering kiss.

They broke apart breathless, gazing at each other in wonder and awe.

"Go slow," Charlie whispered. "I want to feel everything."

"Don't worry," Billy rumbled. "I plan on taking my time." His thumb dragged over Charlie's kiss-reddened lower lip. "I want to remember every second."

+
 
 
 
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on November 18th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
Confession
Please see Part 3 for Confession post.

Thanks,

Emma DeMarais
fyreflyfyrefly101 on November 18th, 2009 09:53 pm (UTC)
Ah, what a place to leave it!! And yet - just how wonderful (again). Seeing through Billy's eyes the drowning part was actually quite horrific to read - hit harder than when we saw it through Charlie's eves. But the rest? Don's acceptance? Wonderful.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on November 18th, 2009 10:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

The drowning part is hard for me any way you slice it since I'm claustrophobic myself. Meep! But yeah, it's supposed to be chilling despite the fact that everyone who read Safe Harbor knew what was coming.

I really adored getting to show more Don in this side of the story. He really is cool about things, but ever the pragmatist.

Final installment tomorrow! Thanks for reading!
devon99 on November 18th, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC)
Loved the dramatic scenes with Charlie's rescue, but I especially liked the Don scenes:)

You do know sweetie then when this is over, I am soooo gonna want to read what happens next with these two and how they make things work. And yes *nods* they will make it work. I refuse to believe otherwise.

Look forward to the last part!!
I can go to bed at a reasonable time today:)
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on November 18th, 2009 11:48 pm (UTC)
Yay for a better bedtime! You know I slept through my alarm today (bad night) and one of my first thoughts was 'what time is it in the UK? I need to get Harbor House up early for Devon!'

I've already got at least two, maybe three, ideas for sequels so I don't think I'm done with this lovely universe by a longshot. /grins/ At the very least I think there must be some sort of wedding/commitment ceremony fic because how can I not put these two together officially after all they've gone through? :-)

Thanks for your wonderful support of this universe and all your kind words. ♥
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on November 19th, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry I'm so late today, but Part 3 just went up!
winky3018winky3018 on November 19th, 2009 03:14 am (UTC)
Wonderful! Seeing what Billy goes through when he realizes Charlie is missing is wonderful, I had hoped that we would get to see it. I kept having to tell myself to breathe! *sighs* Very powerful.

I am also happy to see Billy's parents - even if only a little - it really helps me understand why he would leave Charlie alone, it never made sense to me before, thanks!

I think this is my favorite line "Charlie already leaning towards his big brother like a sunflower seeking light" this so perfectly describes Don and Charlie's relationship!

*hugs*
t_vo0810: Imp Charliet_vo0810 on November 19th, 2009 03:20 am (UTC)
♥♥♥♥♥♥♥HarborHouse♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
uld_numb3rsuld_numb3rs on November 19th, 2009 06:48 am (UTC)
Harbor House 02
*look for the rest*

Arrrgh! You can't leave me like this! It's cruel! I know how it end but, it's a whole new world in billy pov! I really love Magda! And Don is great too. But too realist. I think he need to get laid. Really.

:3
ladygray99ladygray99 on November 20th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC)
Too tired to read. RL in the way. will read and comment this weekend come hell or high water. promise.
ladygray99: Charlie Blueladygray99 on November 21st, 2009 03:06 pm (UTC)
You are so damn good at writing just heart stopping action. Even though I knew what was going to happen it still had me griping the desk.