Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: I'd like to thank phoenix and luvspook for all of their help with the medical information.
Don's return to consciousness was neither gradual nor pleasant. One minute he was blissfully unaware; the next his eyes burned with pain so intense that he felt tears streaming down his face. As he grew accustomed to the pain, he became aware of a cacophony of noises around him: loud, diesel engines idling nearby, men shouting out orders and warnings to one another over static-filled radios, and heavy equipment being dragged along the ground. His confusion about his surroundings quickly turned to panic as he realized that his eyes were open, but he couldn't see anything. His panic jumped up another notch as he became aware of someone trying to prevent him from moving.
"Sir!" An unfamiliar male voice yelled in his ear. "You need to hold still!"
"What?" he managed to wheeze before he began coughing.
"You need to hold still," the man repeated. "You've been in a fire and we're trying to help you."
Fire? Don wondered to himself. Memories began flooding his brain. "Charlie!" He began to struggle against the person holding him, desperate to find his brother.
"Sir, you've got to hold still." The grip on Don's shoulder tightened as the man fought to keep him still.
"Who's he talking about?" This was a different voice coming from his other side.
"With me," Don rasped out before succumbing to an intense round of coughing.
"No one else was with you," the first voice informed him.
"Inside," he panted as he forced back another cough.
"Sir, you're the only one here," the second voice gently spoke. "No one else made it out."
Don's heart skipped a beat as the man's words sank in. He shook his head as he struggled against the grip on his shoulder. Charlie was with him; they had made it out together. Only, he couldn't remember. He remembered finding Charlie and telling him that they had to get out. And he remembered Charlie grabbing him and leading them to the exit. And... Don's heart sank as he realized that he had blacked out at that point. He couldn't actually remember both of them escaping from the building.
"No," an agonized whisper escaped his lips. He felt fresh tears running down his cheeks, and knew these had nothing to do with the burning in his eyes. "Charlie!" Don pleadingly called as loud as he could, setting off another harsh bout of coughing. He began to feel light-headed from lack of oxygen and, with no response to his call, gave in to unconsciousness.
"You're not listening!" Charlie yelled in frustration at the police officer blocking his path. "My brother's over there! I left him to call for help. I have to get to him!"
"I'm sorry, sir," the officer spoke with a trace of annoyance in his voice. "This is still an active scene. I can't let anyone in right now. Just let the firefighters and paramedics do their jobs."
"I have to know if my brother is alright," Charlie lowered his voice, trying not to further irritate the officer. "Please."
Before the officer could reply, he was cut off by a voice coming from behind him.
"Let him in, officer."
They looked up to see LAPD Detective Joe Stanton motioning toward Charlie, who wasted no time in ducking under the yellow tape and racing around the police officer.
"Thanks, man," Charlie said as he reached Stanton's side. "Have you seen Don?"
"No, Professor Eppes. I didn't know you two were involved until I saw you over there." He gestured to the corner of the smoldering building. "There's an ambulance around the corner over there."
"Thanks again!" Charlie called out as he took off in a dead sprint in the direction Stanton had indicated. As he rounded the corner, he saw the ambulance parked there. Its back doors were open, and the inside was empty. Charlie's heart leaped into his throat as he slowed his pace and walked around the ambulance.
The first thing he saw was the two paramedics kneeling on the ground, tending to a patient propped up between them. Charlie couldn't see the patient's face from his angle, but he immediately recognized the track pants and sneakers the man was wearing.
"Don," Charlie breathed as he froze where he stood. He swallowed nervously as he approached his brother's side. He knelt down next to one of the medics, a frown appearing on his face as he studied his older brother.
Don's face was partially obscured by an oxygen mask, but the parts Charlie could see were red and inflamed from his exposure to the heat. Don's eyes were covered by moist gauze pads, a sight that instantly instilled fear in Charlie's heart.
"Excuse me," the stern voice of one of the medics broke through Charlie's trance.
"Is he going to be okay?" Charlie asked.
"Who are you?" the medic demanded as he continued monitoring Don's vitals.
"I'm his brother. I was with him inside."
"You're Charlie?" the second medic asked, as he bandaged Don's right hand.
"Yeah." Charlie moved his gaze from his big brother's face to the hand the medic was gently bandaging.
"I'm Jerry," the second medic introduced himself as he quickly glanced up at Charlie. "Are you hurt?"
"Did you lose consciousness?"
"Have you been coughing?"
Charlie mutely shook his head as he reached out to touch Don's left hand. He hesitated, wondering if his brother was hurt there as well.
"It's okay," Jerry assured him. "That hand is fine. He was so worried about you earlier. It'll be good for him to know that you're here."
Charlie nodded and gently gripped Don's hand in his. He gave a soft squeeze, frowning when his brother didn't respond. "Is he going to be okay?"
"Yeah, he'll be fine." Jerry answered confidently. He had picked up on the "worried little brother" vibe coming from Charlie. "This is Bart. We've both been taking really good care of your brother."
"Thank you." Charlie lightly rubbed his thumb across Don's knuckles. His gaze fearfully slid back to his brother's face. "What about his eyes?" When he got no immediate response, Charlie looked up and caught the tail end of a worried glance between Jerry and Bart. "What?" Charlie demanded.
"His vision is impaired right now." At Charlie's alarmed expression, Jerry quickly continued. "Listen to me carefully. This could be temporary. You need to wait to see what the doctor says, okay?"
"Charlie," Jerry cut him off quietly. "Your brother needs you to be strong right now. You need to be positive and supportive. I know you can do that, Charlie."
Charlie gave a shaky nod and Jerry smiled. "Good. Now stand back for just a minute."
Soon Don was strapped on a stretcher in the back of the ambulance, with Charlie and Jerry on either side of him, as Bart drove to them to the hospital. Jerry kept an eye on Don's vitals while Charlie kept a tight grip on his brother's good hand.
Don moaned as the ambulance hit a particularly large bump, jarring his injured hand against the side of the stretcher. His head turned in the direction of Charlie as he swallowed against the pain in his hand.
"Charlie," he quietly sobbed.
"I'm here, Don," he quickly replied, squeezing his older brother's hand as tightly as he dared.
"Charlie?" Don repeated with a note of confusion in his voice.
"Yeah, it's really me." Charlie squeezed his hand again.
"You're okay?" Don demanded as he tried to reach out to his brother with his uninjured hand.
"I'm fine," he answered as he moved his other hand to still Don's movements. "I promise, not a scratch on me. But you need to lie still. Please, Don."
Don nodded as he obeyed his little brother. "Okay, Charlie." He kept his head turned in the direction of Charlie's voice. "Just promise you won't let go anytime soon."
"Never," his brother assured him.