January 15, 2000

"Charlie, your mother says that you can stay here as long as you like, but you -do- have to be home tomorrow for lunch. She's having company over." Debra informed the brunette, shortly after he and his mess were cleaned up.

Mack, listening from the sink where he was rinsing out the mop, said nothing. So far, he hadn't had to explain why he was home two days early, and he was hoping that she would let it slide as long as he remained silent.

"Mackenzie," his mother started, intoning his name the way she did when she was serious. "How was the visit with your grandparents?" It was a lightened version of the accusation he was sure was waiting underneath, and he was momentarily grateful for Charlie's presence. It didn't last long, however. His mother was never the type to tone-down her words just because of an audience and his lack of an immediate answer seemed to make her even more upset. "Mackenzie, you'd better turn your ass around and explain to me what you're doing home two days early."

He sighed, turning around to glare at his mother, though the anger he felt wasn't directed at her. "I'm home early because he's an old bastard! I just finally got sick of listening to him talk about things he knows nothing about!"

On the sidelines, safe from the glares being exhanged, Charlie watched the exchange with interest. He didn't know what he'd expected, but it certainly wasn't the angry feelings Mack had towards his grandparents. There was something flashing in those gray eyes that reminded Charlie of the way Mack had looked at his father.

"Mack, he's old and stubborn. I'm sorry that I wasn't there to keep him from saying something bad, but-" his mother was cut off abruptly.

"But nothing! You have no idea what he said! When you're there, he's a little bit better, but it's still the same old shit! I wasn't going to sit there and listen to him-" he stopped himself quickly, realizing almost too late what he'd nearly said. Charlie glanced at him curiously.

Debra sighed, looking away guiltily. "I'm sorry if he said something mean to you, sweets."

Her son answered with a similar sigh, his anger draining. "I just let his stupidity get to me, it's not your fault." He offered are a small smile, and she returned it. "I just have to learn to control my temper, I guess. It wasn't anything big." If one didn't count disregarding his own child as nothing more than trash as 'nothing big'.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Positive," Mack answered certainly. "I'll give the old coot a call in a week or two and apologize for being a punk, kay?"

"Thank you, baby," his mother said. She walked over to him, kissed his temple, and then excused herself. She had worked again the night before, and still hadn't been to bed.

Alone, Charlie and Mack were quiet for several moments. The brunette was still feeling nauseaus, and didn't want to chance too much movement or speech in case it made him feel worse and he threw up again. Mack didn't want to have to explain what had just happened.

"Are you better yet?" Mack askedCharlie, who looked up, meeting Mack's tired gray eyes with his own.

"Yeah, thanks," he responded quietly. He was happy to find that speaking didn't set off the headache that he could feel waiting for him. He sat down next to Charlie at the table.

"Sorry about that."

Charlie shook his head and reached out to place his hand on Mack's shoulder. "What did he say?"

"Nothing." The lie came easily, but Charlie was both observant and persistent, at least when he wanted to be.

"Liar," he said teasingly, keeping his tone light and playful, though his eyes reflected a more serious emotion. Mack rolled his eyes and slumped forwards, resting his arms on the table and his head on his arms. Charlie let his hand drop and scooted closer, moving so that he was leaning on the table and hovering over Mack's bent form. "You'll feel better."

They sat in silence, Mack refusing to pick up the guantlet of conversation until the intensity of Charlie's gaze became oppressive. "He alwasy targets her when I go alone. She went against his wishes to marry my father, and even now that she's trying to get away from him, my grandfather can't see past the fact that she disobeyed him. Eighteen years, Charlie. She was barely eighteen when it happened, and she's been trying to make it up to him since then. Eighteen years, he's been giving her hell, holding it against her."

He turned his head and treated Charlie to a sad look, tears clouding his eyes. "He hates her. Her own father, and he-" He broke off on a sob, surprising Charlie and probably himself. It only took the brunet a moment to realize that he should do something to comfort his friend, so he scooted off his chair and knelt beside Mack, drawing the other teen into an uncomfortable, but comforting, embrace.

"He hates her, Charlie. He's her father, and he treats her so badly, despite how wonderful she is. The rest of his children all turned out to be trash, and the one good one he has, he turns from. It's not right, not fair. She's the perfect daughter, and she's stuck with a bastard like him for a father." He clutched at Charlie's shoulders, pushing out of his seat until he was kneeling on the floor with Charlie, clinging to him. "And she's stuck with me. She doesn't deserve this. My problems, his problems, Dad's problems. Always taking care of everyone else, and no one to take care of her."

Charlie had never seen this depth of sadness in his friend before, and at first, he had been at a loss. Other than offering his presence as comfort, he hadn't known what else to do. However, Mack's admission, his words, made it a bit easier. Charlie tightened his grip and tucked Mack's head beneath his chin and started to rock the other teen, words spilling from his mouth.


"And then the little people all ran away, leaving the aweful king to burn in the fiery lake of hatred for the rest of eternity, while the prince and his mother, and new queen, went back to the castle and lived happily ever after," Charlie concluded tiredly. He was sitting back against the cupboards in the MacEntire kitchen with Mack lying half in his lap. The other teen was dozing lightly and Charlie was debating the pros and cons of joining his friend in slumber.

The tears had faded an hour ago, but they had stayed on the floor, silently comforting each other. Someplace in listening to Mack talk about his mother, Charlie had started telling stories. He wasn't a story-teller, and he'd never make a living from the things his imagination conjured, but his voice seemed to sooth Mack, so Charlie spoke until he was hoarse, and then talked until Mack was asleep.

Charlie shifted, pulling his left arm stiffly from where it had been trapped between his leg and Mack's shoulder. He gently rearranged the blond, who's blond roots were showing from beneath the dyed spikes, and settled more comfortably against the counter.

He smiled softly as he closed his eyes. He had suspected for some time that Mack had issues he wasn't sharing, and Charlie had been worried. There was still some concern, but most of it was supressed: Mack was opening up at his own pace and Charlie had only to wait until Mack trusted him completely.

No one had ever needed him the way Mack did, whether the older teen realized it or not. If Charlie was lucky, Mack would never need to learn that he was needed equally, if not more.