Charlie heard the commotion outside before he saw Don. The sound of the car pulling up followed by a door slamming and the sound of someone retching.
He rushed outside to find David holding Don while he finished throwing up in Alan's new rose bush.
Charlie froze at the paleness of his big brother.
"Charlie, Don's a little sick" Megan said as she moved to help David get Don inside the house. As they walked passed Don gave Charlie a pleading look which snapped him into movement.
David and Megan walked Don up to his bedroom and carefully laid him down on the bed. Megan motioned for Charlie.
"He keeps saying he's fine but I have a suspicion he's not"
"I'm ok" came a weak reply from the bed.
Megan raised her eyes skyward.
"He didn't look well this morning and has pretty much spent the last couple of hours trying to not throw up , of course he thinks that was well hidden and that we're all stupid"
Charlie couldn't help but smirk. Don was looking pretty sheepish so Charlie was sure Megan had said all this to him already. A few times probably.
"Colby's off with food poisoning" David said as he walked toward the door, "he and Don both ate from the same burger vendor last night so he's probably got the same thing"
"How's Colby?" asked Charlie.
"Feeling the same as Don I suspect" Megan cast an angry look Don's way, "except he was smart enough to stay home"
"…Fine, yes we know. We'll leave you in Charlie's capable hands"
"Dad's not home"
Megan saw the look of panic on Charlie's face evaporate somewhat when he looked at Don. He wanted to be able to help his older brother.
"Of course a Doctors visit would have been wise but hey, we're too tough for that" Megan again cast a look Don's way.
"I'm still your boss you know" Don wished that sentence had come out a little louder than a whisper and a smite less whiny.
Megan ignored him and focused back on Charlie.
"Do you want me to stay?"
"Um, No, no that's fine. I'll look after him".
Charlie waved goodbye to Megan and David and looked thoughtfully toward the stairs. He was torn between panic and relief. Panic at being the only one home to look after Don, and relief at finally being able to pay back his Brother. He often helped with cases but rarely could he help his brother in any other sense.
He went to the kitchen and collected a few bottles of water, he ran back up the stairs when the sound of footsteps reached him. He found Don hanging onto the toilet bowl as if his life depended on it. His brother looked as pale as the sink and was covered with sweat. Charlie quickly grabbed a towel and wet it, as his father had done with him when he was sick. He placed the towel around Don's neck and rubbed his brothers back.
"Sorry Charl "
"It's ok bro, you done?"
Don weakly nodded and went to sit down on the floor.
"Maybe steer clear of the burgers in the future; statistically speaking you should have gotten sick way before now."
Don rocked back forward and deposited more of his breakfast into the toilet.
Charlie closed his eyes as he realised what he'd said.
Don went to wipe his mouth with his hand but Charlie was there with the wet towel. He turned to grab the mouthwash and handed the cup to Don, Don's hand was shaking so Charlie helped steady him with his hand and rinse his mouth. Once Don had spat Charlie flushed the toilet and slung Don's right arm over his shoulders.
"Thanks Charlie, sorry about all this "Don weakly motioned to himself and the toilet.
"Glad I could help"
Don allowed himself to be guided back to bed. He was so tired when he lay down that his eyes closed of their own volition. He forced them open when he felt gentle hands unbuttoning his shirt. He sat up with help and Charlie slid his arms out of the sleeves. Next his shoes and socks.
"Don, put on these while I grab another flannel" Charlie handed Don a pair of his Fathers pyjama bottoms. When he returned Don was sitting on the edge of the bed looking very sorry for himself. He looked at Charlie with helplessness in his eyes. Charlie ran the flannel around Don's neck and face. He then wiped his shoulders and chest. Don's eyes had closed again so Charlie gently pushed him back onto the bed and laid a fresh flannel across his forehead. He covered his brother with a blanket and gazed down at his still, pale form. He hated to admit it, but he was glad he was here to look after Don. He'd managed to get his brother settled without major incident or panic on his part. He turned to leave the room.
He was back at his brother's bedside in an instant.
"Thanks, I mean it. I'm glad you were here"
His brother's eyes were barely slits but Charlie could easily make out the sincerity in his expression. Charlie put his hand on Don's forehead.
"Back to sleep Donnie"
He waited a minute to be sure his big brother had definitely dropped off, and left the room.
Alan came home a little after 4pm to find Charlie running upstairs with a bucket.
"Charlie! What's going on?"
"Don" was all he received back as an answer.
Alan threw his keys on the table and followed his youngest up the stairs. Charlie had run into Don's old room, Alan flowed to find Charlie attempting to support Don and hold the bucket in the line of fire at the same time.
Alan quickly rounded the bed and laid Don back against his chest to take the pressure off of Charlie. His son felt very hot and was shaking with a fever.
"Ok Donnie, it's ok"
Don took a deep breath and instinctively relaxed at the sound of his father's voice.
"Charlie?" Alan inquired with raised eyebrows.
"Megan and David brought him home lunchtime. He's been throwing up ever since. Apparently he and Colby ate at the same burger stand last night and now they're both sick"
"Ok, obviously passing up dinner with your family has its consequences Donald Eppes"
Don groaned at the mention of dinner. Alan carefully laid his son back down and went to call the Doctor. He returned to find Charlie trying to cool Don with a wet flannel. He paused at the door and watched with pride as his youngest boy tended to his eldest.
"Why didn't you call me Charlie?"
"I, I thought I could handle this myself, Don wasn't this bad earlier. He threw up but then went to sleep. It was only just before you came home that it started again, I did what I could" Charlie hated the pleading quality his voice had taken on. Alan had put his hand up to silence Charlie.
"It's ok, you did good. It just seems this might need more attention than you thought."
Charlie looked guilty; he hadn't thought to call a Doctor. All his genius and he hadn't thought of that.
Alan put his hand on Charlie's shoulder.
"It's ok, really, you did good Charlie"
"Listen to me son, if you throw up once with food poisoning that's good, you're getting it out of your system. If you carry on throwing up then it's best to get checked out ok?"
Alan watched as Charlie took in what he was saying.
"You did the right thing; you did what I would have done. But now we get Donnie checked out, just to be sure. It's nice to see anyway"
"What's nice to see?"
"You looking after Donnie so well, your mother would be so proud"
Charlie ducked his head as a flush and a smile both enveloped his face.
Alan placed his hand on Don's forehead and frowned. His skin was hot and clammy yet he was visibly shivering.
David looked over at Megan who was on the phone to either Charlie or Alan.
"No , Colby defiantly has food poisoning , no I'm sure , no I am , he called to say he's tired but will be back in after tomorrow."
David guessed it was Alan Megan was talking to.
"I know, I agree, I said he should see a Doctor but he said he was fine, I know he is"
Yup, definitely Alan.
The rest of the day passed in a blur for Don. He either woke up vomiting or woke with such a fever he barely knew where he was.
Alan and Charlie took turns watching him. Together they would help him take fluids, one holding him up and keeping his hands and head still, the other dealing the water.
A little after 2am Charlie woke his father. Don had woken a few minutes before and was currently attempting to get out of bed. Charlie had tried to push him back but Don seemed to have a purpose he was determined to fulfil.
Alan and Charlie found Don leaning heavily against his bedroom door.
"Donnie? Where are you going son?"
Alan moved to Don's side, Don turned to look at his father, his eyes barely focusing.
"She said don't tell "
"Mum, she said don't tell"
Alan placed his arm around Don's waist to steady him. Charlie, not knowing what to do, kept his place down the hallway.
"It's ok Donnie, you can tell me"
"She said don't tell "Don took a shaky breath "Don't tell you the pain's back. Don't tell her I told you "Don looked pleadingly at his father.
"Don't tell her, say you won't"
"I won't Donnie, I won't say"
Alan brushed his hand through Don's hair and wrapped his arms around his son. Don lent his head against his father's neck and clumsily returned the embrace.
All these years, thought Alan, he's held that secret all this time. Alan wondered what other aspect of his mother's illness Don had suffered alone with her. It wasn't fair that he should have to carry these burdens.
Charlie watched the scene before him unfold, he realised he knew almost nothing about his mothers illness or his fathers and brothers involvement. He had retreated to the safe and controllable world of numbers where the pain couldn't follow, held back by a wall full of equations.
Yet his brother hadn't had that luxury.
Charlie wondered if Don would ever have the strength to let down his own walls. He wondered if he was strong enough to stand by Don when the levy finally broke.
His father's soft voice broke through his reverie. He quickly walked to where the two where still entwined.
"Can you grab Don's left side?"
Charlie moved round and put Don's arm around his shoulders. It was only then that he saw Don's eyes were closed.
Slowly and carefully Alan and Charlie manoeuvred Don back to bed. He wasn't completely asleep but his slow and awkward shuffles were an indication of how close he was.
"Dad, he's not shivering"
Alan felt Don's head, although he was still very warm he was nowhere near as hot as he had been.
"His fevers broken, would you bring me a wet flannel Charlie?"
Alan sat next to Don and pulled the covers down to expose his torso. He placed his hand on Don's face and slowly rubbed his thumb back and forth along Don's cheek.
"My poor boy"
Alan leant forward and kissed Don's forehead. Charlie came in with the flannel and Alan wiped Don's face, neck and chest, just as Charlie had done earlier. He then wiped Don's stomach and arms, covered him up and turned back to Charlie.
"Go get some sleep; I'll sit with him for now"
"Ok Dad, wake me when you're ready for a break" Charlie squeezed his fathers shoulder and left the room. He could hear Alan talking to Don; he paused in the hallway to listen.
"I'm so sorry Donnie, so sorry you had to carry so much, so much, so young. I'm here now my boy, I'm hear now"
Charlie went to his room, he wondered if Alan was apologising for their mother or if there was something more, but what else could his Dad need to apologise for?
Charlie, fully clothed, flopped down onto his bed.
It had been a long day.
Don awoke a little before one in the afternoon. For a few seconds he looked around slightly panicked as to where he was. He remembered being at the office, Megan had driven him home? He was in his old room at Charlie's. Why?
He went to move to discover his entire body ached.
"Don?" Charlie got up from the floor where he'd been marking papers and sat next to Don.
"You're sick; the Doctor says its stomach flu"
"When did I see a Doctor?"
Charlie smiled at his brother's confusion and placed his hand on Don's shoulder.
"The Doctor was here yesterday. Megan and David brought you home and you've pretty much been out of it since"
Don could do no more than blink at Charlie.
"They brought you home yesterday, its 1pm Thursday. The Doctor was here again this morning and said the worst is over. You're gonna be a little weak for a while though so you get to be looked after by Dad and me for a few days"
Charlie half expected Don to argue that he was fine to recuperate at his own place, instead Don laid his hand on Charlie's knee.
He then closed his eyes. Charlie pulled the covers over Don's shoulders and resumed his marking from the floor. It took a few minutes for the smile on his face to ease.
Don spent the rest of the day dozing. Occasionally either Alan or Charlie would wake him to drink a glass of water. Mostly they let him sleep.
Alan watched as Don slowly rolled over in bed. He had been on his way to his own bed for some much needed sleep when he's heard a noise from Don's room. Don was talking in his sleep.
"Don't tell, I won't tell, I promise"
Alan had placed his hand on Don's chest, lent forward and kissed his forehead. Don had sighed heavily, and then rolled over, further into sleep.
Alan watched as Don settled, he couldn't stop wondering what else his wife had asked Don to keep secret. Between the two of them they had taken care of her, but when Don had exploded at Charlie, almost hitting his younger brother, Charlie had disappeared further into his P vs. NP problem. Alan had to divide his time between taking care of his wife and making sure Charlie ate, drank and slept. At that point Don had appointed himself his mother's main carer.
He'd never spoken of it.
Never. Until last night.
Alan knew he'd never get anything out of Don once he felt better. He would simply say it was the fever talking. But Alan knew it was a glimpse through the walls. A reminder of the burden Don seemed intent to carry alone.
"Do you want more toast?"
Don looked across the table at his younger brother with raised eyebrows.
"No Charlie, seeing as Dad won't let me have butter I think I'll decline"
Charlie shrugged and carried on tucking into his beef.
It was Friday evening and his father had allowed him to get up only for as long as dinner took. Then he was under strict orders to return to bed. Don didn't mind though, it was nice to be looked after for a change. Not that he'd ever admit it. Plus he already felt exhausted.
He took another bite of his dry toast.
"Maybe in the morning I can have something a little more substantial before work?"
Alan put his knife and fork down, fearing he's use them against his son.
"And what makes you think you're going to work tomorrow Donald Eppes?"
"Dad, I'll be fine by tomorrow"
"No Donnie" Alan continued eating , "you take the weekend, if by Sunday you are what I decree one hundred percent , then you can go to work Monday."
"Come on Dad, I'll be fine, I just want to catch up "
Charlie watched with surprise as Don smiled and continued eating his toast. Alan was also looking at Don with a mixture of surprise and disbelief.
Don ignored them both and carried on eating. A small smile played at the corners of his mouth. Within seconds his face lit up in a broad grin as he looked from his brother to his father.
"You're wondering why I gave in aren't you?"
Charlie and Alan both nodded simultaneously. Don smiled again. He wasn't sure when it had happened, but when he'd woken up he'd felt, lighter, and not just because he'd spent the last few days puking and delirious. He felt like a small burden had been lifted, but he couldn't put his finger on what it was exactly.
He did realise, while tucking into his first meal in over two days that his family seemed to like to take care of him whenever they could, as he liked to occasionally be taken care of. Although none of them would admit that to each other.
"I think I could use another couple of days of being waited on" Don was looking directly at Charlie
"Actually I found Dad's old bell. So when you hear that ringing brother, you better come bearing food and drink"
Charlie was about to tell Don where he could put the bell but stopped when he realised something was missing on the shelf behind Don.
"You haven't taken it?"
"Better believe it buddy"
Don finished his last piece of toast, squeezed his fathers shoulder and made his way back up the stairs to his bed. Charlie looked at his father who simply smiled back.
Within a minute the sound of a bell made its way down the stairs and into Charlie's ears. Alan let out a hearty laugh, full of relief for Don and love for his boys.
"I'll do the dishes Charlie; it seems you're needed elsewhere!"
"This isn't right, this, this, just isn't right!"
The bell was now being rung with more vigour.
"How is this right!"
Charlie got up and made his way to the stairs, all the while mumbling as to the unfairness of the situation. Alan was still laughing away in the kitchen while the bell carried on playing it's now incessant tune.
It was going to be a long weekend for Doctor Charles Eppes.