So... here we go with the final chapter. I'm sorry for the shortness. And I'm sorry for the sudden ending. I think I told you at the beginning that I'm not too proud of this story.
Well, anyway. Hope you like it.
PS: And thanks a lot for your reviews! And another thanks to my beta Medraut!
Chapter 13: Over
Time came to a halt.
The world stopped turning, thrown out of orbit.
Whether it was caused by the after-effect of the detonation or by the incomprehensible message it carried, Don couldn't tell.
It was over. They had come too late. They couldn't save Charlie.
Five minutes, just five minutes. If they had arrived just five minutes earlier, Charlie would still be alive, they would have rescued him, Don would be holding him in his arms, crying with him, laughing with him… Maybe it had been just the few minutes Don had spent trying to prevent his father from joining them, or that they had lost their way… or that they had lost because Don hadn't made the deal with Tylor…
It was impossible! Charlie couldn't be dead! He just couldn't! Not now, not so suddenly, not after all they had done!
While the fire caused by the explosion was licking up high at the remains of the house, the wish Charlie was still alive grew so strong inside Don that it became an unreal hope. "Charlie!" he roared over the tingling of the flames, knowing at the same time that his brother would never hear him again, never answer him.
"Charlie!" Don paced up and down, and started to round the house, shaking off the weakness that tried to overwhelm him. His father was still sitting in the car, unable to do so much as move. "Charlie!" Don had laid his hands at his mouth and roared his pain out in the mountains, into the world, into another world…
There! Don paused. He thought he had heard something. His head jerked around and far away, he saw his team stand in the glow of the flames. They were staring at the burning house, stunned with horror. None of them had even uttered a single sound. Where had this sound come from then? From inside his mind? From the other world? Or still from somewhere around him…?
This time, there was no doubt. Somebody was calling him, calling his name! The voice sounded weak, deathly feeble, but still, still there was this familiar tone…
This time, it was real hope that was rising inside Don, no phantasm anymore. Faster and faster, he was running towards the back of the house, towards the direction where the voice had come from. Please, don't let me have imagined it!
"Charlie! Where are you?"
"Here," the feeble voice answered. It was an answer, a real answer! And the answer came in Charlie's voice!
"Charlie!" Don called for another time, and relief, inexpressibly warming, cooling, comforting relief began cautiously to spread in his tensed body. And then he saw him.
Charlie was lying on the ground and tried to get up in a sitting position, his face grimacing with pain.
"Charlie," Don said for a last time before his voice died. A moment later he knelt beside his little brother on the ground and hugged him tightly, held him safely in his arms.
He didn't know what he should do or say. All possible utterances seemed so unbelievingly trivial to him. Only one thing mattered: Charlie was alive. As impossible as it seemed, he was alive!
"How on earth did you get out of there?"
It wasn't quite easy for Charlie to understand the words through Don's tears. It was even harder, though, to give Don an answer right now. The hardest thing, however, was to keep silent. He had to explain.
"Nick has left his torture things in the room where they had been holding me," Charlie mumbled, slightly coughing. His voice sounded frail. "They were off behind me. He wanted to take them away when they left, I saw it in his gaze. But they were late. With the stuff I could tear through the restraints and open the lock. Took some time, of course. Then I got out, through the back door, just when the bomb went off. I didn't want to help them, Don!" Charlie sounded desperate. "I didn't want to help them! They forced me to; I couldn't do anything! I wanted you to catch them… and you did catch them, right? I knew it. I always knew it. I knew that you and Larry… I knew that you wouldn't let me down…"
"Easy, buddy," Don soothed him. "You did nothing wrong. Nothing. You were great."
He would have loved to stay sitting there for hours, his little brother in arms. He couldn't, though. "Come. Dad's here too."
He pulled Charlie to his feet and helped him around the house. His brother could barely stand, so Don was more carrying than supporting. As they got closer to their father in the glare of the fire, Don noticed in shock how terrible Charlie looked. He was little more than a skeleton, his cheeks were cavernous, his T-shirt was hung in rags. Every square inch of skin that was exposed he couldn't see; it was red with blood, clotted and fresh; the skin was grazed. He couldn't see the tiniest part that didn't have injury.
They would drive him immediately to the hospital. And there the doctors would take care of him. So would he. Everything was going to be alright. They would help Charlie, in every possible way. If they could stick together, they was no reason why they shouldn't be able to fix this. Don knew that Charlie's trip through hell was by no means over yet, but he knew that his brother would reach the end. He had proved that he was strong enough. He would make it. No doubt.
"We're almost there," Don mumbled. Close to the front corner of the cabin, when he was certain to be heard, Don called again. "Dad! Dad, I've got him! I've found him! He's alive!" Don turned towards Charlie again. "We've almost made it… only a few yards."
When they turned around the corner of the house, they couldn't go on, though. Alan Eppes came storming towards them, but stopped abruptly at the sight of both of his sons. "Charlie," he whispered, as tears slid down his cheeks.
And then, one point six one eight seconds later, the three of them were lying in each others' arms. The world was all right again.