Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: I'd like to thank Artemis Rain, my totally awesome beta reader, for all of her help. This is my first post and any feedback is greatly appreciated!
Heartbeat by 3rdgal
There was so much blood. It was splattered all over the sidewalk and pooled in deep puddles, mixed with broken glass and shell casings. The smell of it hung in the air, coppery and thick, choking him and bringing tears to his eyes. Charlie's shocked mind could only focus on one thought... Don. Where was he? Why wasn't he in control, yelling out orders to his team? Charlie glanced around the gruesome scene trying to pick Don's face out of the blur of people surrounding him.
Then he heard it- a single deafening explosion. He knew what it was even as he turned in the direction of the sound. It was the gunshot that killed his brother. Charlie felt his heart shatter as he saw Don lying on the ground. A shadowy figure stood over his brother's body and fired again.
"No!" Charlie screamed as tears poured down his face. The very word seemed to banish the gunman, leaving only Don and Charlie, one brother dead and the other dying inside. Charlie didn't think he could bear to look at his brother's body, but somehow he ended up at Don's side, staring down at him.
Don's face was deathly pale, in stark contrast to blood pooled beneath his head. His eyes were open and his gaze bore into Charlie. His lips parted and blood poured from his mouth.
"Why, Charlie?" Don's words bubbled from his bloody lips. "You sent me here."
As the accusation rang in Charlie's ears, Don's eyes slid shut and one last breath escaped his lips.
"No!" Charlie yelled as his world faded to black.
"No!" Charlie awoke to the sound of his own scream.
He quickly sat up and blinked at his surroundings as he tried to catch his breath. He was in his bedroom. That meant it was just a dream; Don wasn't really dead.
Charlie rubbed his eyes and tried to erase the last images of the dream from his mind. He glanced at his bedside clock and sighed at the time- 2:30 a.m. At this rate he would never get any sleep. He took a deep breath as he ran a hand through his normally curly hair, now matted and plastered to his head with sweat.
Don is alive. He had to keep telling himself that. Don had faced death and won. He'd come home last night, triumphant and hungry, and they'd eaten dinner like nothing had happened. Like Don hadn't been shot just days ago or gone back yesterday to face the same danger all over again.
Charlie shook his head at the insanity of the situation as he climbed out of bed and headed for his bathroom. He didn't bother to turn on the light as he ran the tap and splashed cold water on his face and neck. He turned the water off and dried his face, silently chanting his mantra, Don is alive, over and over in his head.
Before he was aware of what he was doing, he'd slipped out of his room and down the hall to the staircase. He silently padded down the stairs, now realizing where he was going and thinking of why he shouldn't be going there. His fear of being caught was overridden by his need to make sure Don was still safe. He knew it was an irrational need but he couldn't stop himself, and he continued on into the living room.
Don hated it when people hovered over him, and if he caught Charlie he wouldn't hesitate to let his little brother have it. He was a grown man, perfectly capable of taking care of himself, as he'd pointed out to his father and Charlie on several occasions. Charlie understood Don's argument, but he couldn't help but worry. Being an FBI agent was a dangerous job. Until a few days ago Charlie had kept that fact locked away in the back of his mind. He supposed that it had been some kind of denial on his part, but that denial had been shattered yesterday when he'd seen Don on live TV, trapped behind an overturned patio table as bullets flew all around him. Charlie's eyes had remained glued to the TV until he'd realized that Don was going to leave the meager protection the table offered to rescue a fallen comrade. Charlie had fled the room and ridden his bike all the way to the scene. It was only a few blocks, but it had seemed to take forever to get there.
And when he got there... it was already over. No gunfire or gunmen, just dead and injured people and lots of blood. He'd immediately run to a nearby bush and thrown up everything he'd eaten that day. When his stomach was finally empty, he found himself wandering in a daze to the table that had been Don's protection. There was a large puddle of blood and several shell casings next to the table. As he tried to process the information, he realized that Don's partner was behind him, calling his name.
He slowly turned to face her, afraid of what he might see in her eyes. He knew the question he had to ask her, but he was terrified of what the answer might be. As if his body was on auto pilot he heard himself slowly ask the question, "Where's Don?"
But his brother had been okay. And he was still okay. Okay and alive and sleeping on their dad's couch in the living room. Charlie just needed to reassure himself of that before he went back to bed.
Charlie silently crept around to the front of the couch. Moonlight filled the living room and cast a soft blue glow across Don's features. His lips were slightly parted and Charlie could hear his soft, even breaths. Don was stretched out on the couch with his right arm hanging off onto the floor. His left arm, the one that had been shot, was lying across his chest. The wound was facing up and Charlie frowned as he stared at the angry red mark left by the bullet. It had already healed to the point where it no longer needed to be bandaged, but it looked like it was still sore. Charlie continued gazing at the mark, surprised by the relief he felt when he looked at it. After all, the gunman had fired at Don twice from near point blank range, and Charlie knew where both of those bullets should have gone...
Charlie sank to his knees beside the couch and found himself reaching out to lightly trace the graze mark, but quickly stopped himself. Don had told him it didn't hurt anymore, but Charlie knew how macho Don could be when it came to admitting pain. Instead, Charlie lightly placed his hand on Don's chest next to where his arm rested. Charlie could feel Don's heartbeat through the thin fabric of his t-shirt. It was strong and steady, just like Don himself. Charlie watched in fascination as his hand rose and fell with Don's even breathing.
Charlie wasn't normally a tactile person. He was an introverted genius and he almost never initiated physical contact. Don was all about physical contact, especially when it came to his little brother. A pat on the back, a squeeze on the arm, or an arm around the shoulders were all his way of letting Charlie know that he cared and that he was there for him. Charlie was sometimes ashamed that he could never return the gesture, even though Don had always seemed to understand. But now, touching his older brother seemed to be the only way Charlie could ground himself in reality.
Don's quiet whisper startled Charlie out of his reverie. Afraid that Don was going to yell at him for hovering, Charlie quickly moved to snatch his hand away. He was surprised when Don grabbed him and held his hand where it rested.
"I'm okay, Charlie," Don promised quietly. "I'm still alive, still breathing." Don's mouth turned up in a small smile. "And I was sleeping."
Charlie blushed a deep red, still afraid Don might be angry with him. "Sorry," he mumbled quietly.
"Nightmare?" Don gently prodded. When Charlie nodded Don soothingly rubbed his forearm. "Want to talk about it?"
"Yeah," Don agreed softly, "but we're both awake and neither one of us has to be at work tomorrow." Don gently squeezed Charlie's forearm. "Look at me, Buddy."
Charlie looked up at Don through tearful eyes. "You die," he whispered brokenly. "Right in front of me." Charlie's tears began to fall as he confessed his nightmare to Don.
Don felt Charlie's sadness washing over him and felt his own heart breaking at the despair in his little brother's eyes. He sat up on the couch, never releasing his hold on Charlie. In one smooth motion he'd pulled Charlie up off of the floor and onto the couch next to him. Sill holding Charlie's hand over his heart, he reached out with his right arm and pulled his little brother's head down onto his shoulder. Charlie only hesitated for a moment before he hugged Don for dear life and let his tears fall.
"That's it, Charlie. Let it out. I'm here and I'm not leaving anytime soon."
"Promise?" Charlie sniffed, sounding like he did when they were kids.
"Promise." Don gently rubbed Charlie's upper arm and smiled as he felt the tension leave his little brother's body.
"'Kay," Charlie whispered as his breathing evened out and his eyes drifted shut. With his big brother protectively holding him, the nightmares vanished and he fell into a peaceful slumber.
Alan came trotting down the stairs in the morning. He'd slept well last night, knowing that both of his sons were alive and well and that his family was together under one roof. As he entered the living room he stopped and felt a huge smile spread across his face at the sight before him.
Don was leaning back against the couch, his arm draped across Charlie's shoulders. Charlie was curled up against Don's side, with his hand resting over Don's heart. They both snored softly, unaware of their father's presence.
Alan lingered for a moment before heading to the kitchen to make his sons' favorite breakfasts. After all, the Eppes family was happy, healthy, and together. They had a lot of celebrating to do.