Chapter Six

"Mr. Eppes!"

Alan paused in his walk to Don's hospital room and turned to face a nurse that was approaching from the station. Under his arm, Charlie fidgeted nervously, and he gave Charlie's shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

"Yes?" Alan asked.

The woman paused, barely glancing at Charlie, or the three people standing with them. "We could use your help with your son."

Fear struck the group, but Charlie was the first to speak. "Wh-What's wrong? Is he okay? Is Don all right?"

The woman gave Charlie a closer look and smiled reassuringly at him. "I'm sorry, Don's fine. I didn't mean to scare you."

"Then why do you need my help?" Alan wanted to know.

"Don woke up not too long after you left, and he refuses to go back to sleep or take any of his pain medications until he knows where you went," the nurse answered. "He really should be resting right now."

Alan nodded. "We'll take care of it right now."

The nurse thanked him and walked away.

"We'll wait out here for you," David stated.

"Thank you," Alan replied, his eyes conveying everything he meant to say.

The walk to Don's room was made in silence. The closer they drew, the more Alan felt Charlie tense up and slow down, as if to run away again. He squeezed Charlie's shoulder again and guided him into Don's room.

Don looked immediately their way, his face lighting up in relief. "Dad! Where have you been?"

"Retrieving your brother," Alan replied, depositing Charlie into the chair by Don's bed and hovering protectively behind him.

Don's eyes fell on his brother, and he frowned in concern. "Hey, buddy. Where've you been?"

Charlie's eyes were fixed on his shoes.

Don looked up at Alan in confusion, who comfortingly dropped his hands on Charlie's shoulders.

"Charlie?" Don prodded.

Charlie still didn't look up, but his timid voice reached the elder Eppes' ears. "I'm sorry, Donnie . . ."

Don's frown deepened. "Sorry? Why?"

Charlie sniffled. "It was my fault that you got shot . . . I'm so sorry . . ."

"Charlie . . . it wasn't your fault," Don said. "You just helped me and my team crack the case. You didn't shoot me."

"But I sent you to the place where you got shot!" Charlie pointed out. "If I hadn't done that . . ."

"Then I would have found the warehouse on my own eventually and gotten shot anyway," Don finished firmly. "Charlie, when I ask you for help, that's what I get from you. Help. You help us crack some pretty big cases. Anything bad that happens on the cases isn't your fault or anyone else's but the criminals. Hey. Look at me."

Charlie lifted his head and looked at Don shyly through red-rimmed eyes.

Don reached a hand out to Charlie, which Charlie took. "I got shot, buddy. Unfortunately, that can happen in my line of work. But you were no way involved in my getting shot. You hear me?"

Charlie nodded, tears sparkling in his eyes.

"C'mere," Don said, tugging on Charlie's hand. Charlie obediently went to Don and accepted the hug that his brother drew him into. Charlie closed his eyes tightly and held onto his brother, finally convincing himself that Don was okay.

After several minutes, Charlie finally withdrew and swiped at his eyes. Don smiled at him.

"Wanna stick around and watch some TV with me?" he asked.

Charlie smiled softly, nodding.

Alan retreated as he watched Charlie maneuver his chair closer to his brother's bed and focus on the television. Their soft conversation filled the room, and Alan smiled. He knew he would have to spend more time with Charlie, to help him work through some of his feelings, but he knew that simply spending time with his big brother was a big step forward in the healing process.