2 days later

Alan took a moment to observe his youngest child in the waning daylight. Charlie was sitting out on the back patio, a blanket drawn around his thin shoulders to ward off any chills. His head was bowed as he tentatively scooped up his soup onto his spoon. Seeing his baby boy look so small and fragile sent yet another surge of protectiveness through Alan. They had been so close to losing Charlie earlier that week . . . the very thought was almost unbearable to even imagine.


Alan turned and smiled faintly at Don as his eldest made his way to the back of the house. "Hey, Donnie, how are you doing?"

Don grinned and accepted the hug his father offered. "Better." He nodded out the window at his brother. "How's Charlie doing? He behaving himself?"

"He's insisting that he's fine, but I know better." Alan heaved a deep sigh. "To tell you the truth, Donnie, I'm still scared. I keep waking up in the middle of the night to check on him. He was so close . . . any later, and he would have . . ."

"I know, Dad," Don agreed quietly. "But the doctors gave him a clean bill of health. Charlie's been responding to the doctor's treatments well, and he seems to have kicked any sort of addiction to the drug, so there's nothing to worry about anymore."

Alan let out a small huff of air. "I'll always worry about you boys. Listen, I have to go pick up a few things. Could you stay a little while and watch your brother while I take care of them?"

"Of course, Dad," Don replied, slapping Alan on the back. "Go on. We'll be fine."

Alan nodded and took a step away from the window, but hesitated. He had barely been away from his youngest since Charlie had been admitted to the hospital, and he wanted to be nearby in case he was needed.

Don saw his father's distress and gently pushed Alan towards the door. "Dad, he'll be okay. I promise."

Alan nodded and, with a slight smile, finally left.

Don heaved a sigh and ran a hand through his hair. He knew how worried his father was about Charlie; hell, Charlie had been working on tracking the source of the drugs because of him. When Charlie had collapsed into his arms in the conference room, Don had nearly had a heart attack. He didn't think the nightmares would ever leave him alone.

Taking a deep breath, Don opened the back door and moved out onto the patio. "Hey, Buddy. Whatcha eating?"

Charlie glanced up, a slight smile creasing his face. "Hey, Don. Nah, it's just some chicken soup. Dad won't let me eat anything unless the doctor clears it."

Don dropped into a chair beside his brother, trying hard not to pay attention to how shaky his brother still was. The drug had certainly taken its toll; Charlie was still pale and had lost a little weight, and the hands that held the spoon and bowl trembled slightly. But his eyes sparkled with life again, and that, more than anything, helped to put Don at ease.

"How're you feeling?" Don ventured.

Charlie shrugged, looking down into his soup. "Fine. The worst of it's over, really. Well, unless you count Dad's hovering."

Don allowed a small smile to slip through. "He's just worried. He'll get over it as soon as you get better."

Charlie tossed a side-glance to his brother, then looked down into his half-eaten bowl of soup. "Donnie, I . . . I'm sorry about Danny. I know how close you two had been."

Don felt his breath catch ever so slightly, guilt welling up in his stomach. He leaned forward, staring hard at the side of Charlie's head. "Charlie . . . it wasn't your fault."

Charlie shrugged. "I still feel responsible. He was your best friend since high school."

"Yeah, but not a very good one, from what I'm now finding out," Don replied. He reached over and grasped Charlie's shoulder. "If anything, I should be the one who's sorry. I'm the one who brought Danny into our lives. I feel like I should have known better, should have done something to keep him from hurting you."

Charlie turned to Don. "Why, Don? How were you supposed to know if I never told you? You're not perfect."

"I was kind of hoping you'd never figure that out," Don replied smartly.

Charlie gave a small start, then chuckled at the sudden joke. He shook his head and looked back down into his soup. "I am sorry, Donnie. He was your friend."

Don's grip tightened on Charlie's shoulder. "Yeah, but I think I have a better friend sitting right here."

Charlie flushed with pleasure, unable to meet his brother's eyes. Don grinned and moved his hand up to ruffle Charlie's hair, letting a chuckle escape as Charlie unsuccessfully tried to avoid it.

"C'mon, buddy," Don stated. "What say we go watch a movie or something?"

Charlie pushed himself to his feet, accepting Don's hand on his arm to steady himself. "You pop the popcorn, I'll pick the flick."

Don gently steered Charlie towards the back door. "I don't think so, man. I'm not in the mood for some boring documentary starring that wheelchair guy."

"How many times do I have to tell you not to call him that?" Charlie asked, exasperated. "His name is-."

"Stephen Hawking, yeah, I know," Don cut in, holding the door open for his brother. "I heard you the first hundred times you told me. I just like getting you all riled up."

"Just for that, we're watching the history of Phi throughout the ancient world."

"Not if I get to the TV first, we're not!"


Yeah! All done! Thank you all for your patience while I finished this. Hope you enjoyed it!