Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
Misunderstanding by 3rdgal
"I find your amusement with my unfortunate situation somewhat disturbing."
"I'm sorry, Larry," Charlie Eppes apologized, although he couldn't quite wipe the smirk off his face.
"Yes, your remorse is blatantly obvious."
"Come on," Charlie snickered. "Would you like me to give you the statistics on this type of injury?"
"That will not be necessary, Charles."
"How did you manage to fall out of your chair?"
"I prefer not to discuss the details at this time."
"You were even sitting down," Charlie prodded his mentor.
"Charles, my wrist is causing me a great deal of pain. Can we please save this discussion for another day?"
"I'm sorry." He was being sincere this time, after noticing the pain lines on his friend's face.
"Larry Fleinhart?" a nurse called from the doorway.
"I'll be here when you get through," Charlie promised as he watched Larry follow the nurse.
He took out a notebook filled with equations and notes on his Cognitive Emergence Theory. He scoured the pages, relaxing as the familiar numbers clicked into place inside his head. Soon he was lost in the research, oblivious to the world around him.
He had no idea how long he'd been working, but found his thoughts interrupted by the loud wail of an ambulance siren. He glanced up, his gaze automatically drifting to the corridor that connected the ambulance bay to the heart of the ER. He heard the whooshing of the automatic doors, followed by an assortment of loud voices, all competing to be heard over one another.
A gurney quickly appeared in the corridor, surrounded by medics and people in FBI body armor. An ER nurse rushed to meet the gurney and questioned one of the medics.
"Male, mid-thirties, GSW to the throat."
Charlie frowned as he heard the medics description. His eyes widened as he recognized the FBI agents around the gurney- Megan, David, and Colby. They were all members of his brother's team, but he didn't see Don walking with them. His eyes immediately moved to the gurney, trying to identify the man on it. He had a bad angle and the gurney was moving too fast, so he couldn't get a good look. He did manage to catch a glimpse of dark hair, but by then the gurney had disappeared into the ER. Charlie sat in shock as the scene he'd just witnessed registered in his brain. He flew out of his seat, ignoring his notebook as it fell from his lap and onto the floor.
He ran to the corridor and tried to follow the gurney through the ER doors, but they wouldn't open. He pounded on them, trying to draw someone's attention, but no one could hear him over the chaos inside. The gurney had disappeared, but he could still see Megan, Colby, and David standing by the nurse's station in the corridor. They all wore sorrowful expressions, Megan in particular. She seemed to be in a trance, staring down at the object she held in her hands. Charlie followed her gaze and felt as if he'd been punched in the stomach as he recognized the object. It was Don's brand new jacket, the one Charlie had teased him about that morning. Only now it was wrinkled and soaked with blood. That meant Don had been the agent on the gurney.
No! Charlie silently yelled at himself. Don's okay. You're jumping to conclusions.
He fumbled in his pocket for his cellphone. He finally managed to get it open and with trembling fingers, managed to press the speed dial for Don's cellphone. He couldn't tear his eyes off of the three agents as he listened to his brother's phone ring. Finally, he heard Don's voice.
"Don, thank God. It's Char-"
"... leave me a message."
Charlie frowned as he lowered the phone away from his ear. He stared at the phone in despair, and felt a numbness begin to creep into his body. "Don," he whispered pleadingly as he returned his gaze to the corridor in front of him.
The agents were turned away from him now, as they watched a doctor in blood-covered scrubs approach them. He solemnly shook his head as he spoke. Charlie couldn't read his lips, but he knew it was bad news from their reactions.
David hung his head as he clenched his fists at his side. Colby's expression hardened into anger as he slammed the nurse's desk with his fist. Megan weakly nodded to the doctor as her body slumped in defeat. The doctor patted her on the shoulder and left the agents standing at the desk.
Through the fog that seemed to be clouding his vision, Charlie watched as David spoke to Megan. She nodded in agreement and slowly pulled out her cell. As she dialed a number, she wiped a tear from her eye.
Charlie nearly jumped out of his skin as the phone in his hand rang. His stomach twisted in fear as he saw Megan's name on the ID. He forced himself to answer the phone.
"Hello," he whispered shakily.
"Charlie, it's Megan." Her gentle voice was filled with sorrow.
"Don?" he whispered sadly.
"There was an incident, Charlie."
Charlie dropped the cellphone as if it had burned him. He could hear Megan's frantic voice calling to him from the phone, but he was no longer listening to her words.
"No," he whispered pleadingly as he sank to his knees. Don couldn't be dead. "No, no, no, no!" He began to weep as he collapsed to the floor.
He was vaguely aware of people around him, asking if he was okay. How could he be okay? His big brother was dead. He knew he would never be okay again. He felt the numbness continuing to spread through his body, and let it carry him away.
The first thing Charlie became aware of was that he was in a bed. Not a soft bed, but a small, firm bed. He could feel a thin blanket covering him up to his shoulders. Although the room was silent, he could sense he wasn't alone. He wondered how he had gotten here, trying his best to remember what had happened. He had been at the hospital with Larry and...
Tears filled his eyes as the memories came flooding back. He lay there in bed, unwilling to open his eyes and face the reality of what had happened. His beloved big brother was gone, leaving him all alone to face the world. No, not alone, Charlie thought. I've got dad.
His stomach twisted. How in the world was he going to break the news to his father? Don had always shouldered that particular duty. He was the strong one, hiding his emotions behind a mask of calm. But Don wouldn't be there to help him with this. He would never be there again.
"Don," he quietly sobbed.
Charlie sobbed harder as he heard his brother's voice echo in his head.
"Shh, Charlie." This time his brother's voice was accompanied by a touch on his shoulder. "Calm down, Buddy."
Charlie cracked his eyes open and found himself staring into Don's very worried gaze. "Don?"
"Yeah, it's me. Are you okay?"
"Don?" Charlie asked again, seeking reassurance even as he studied his brother's form, perched on the side of the hospital bed.
"I'm here," Don assured him. He was confused as to why Charlie seemed so desperate to know he was here.
"You're alright?" Charlie demanded as he sat up in the bed.
"Yeah, Charlie, I'm okay." Before he could finish his sentence, Don found himself wrapped tightly in Charlie's arms. He embraced his little brother back, happy to offer whatever Charlie needed to help him calm down.
"You're not dead." Charlie tightened his grip as he spoke, as if daring it not to be true. He could feel tears running down his cheeks, and knew on some level he should probably be ashamed of crying, but he was too relieved to care.
"God, no," Don replied in shock. "What gave you that idea?"
"I saw an agent being taken into the ER, and Megan, David, and Colby were with him." Charlie's voice shook as he rapidly tried to speak.
"Shh, Charlie. Slow down and take your time." Don could feel Charlie's tears soaking into his shirt, and felt his heart breaking at his little brother's anguish. He began gently rubbing his back to soothe him.
"Megan was holding your jacket," Charlie continued, forcing himself to speak slowly. "The one I made fun of this morning. I'm so sorry about that. I didn't mean to tease you about it."
"It's okay," Don chuckled. "Believe it or not, I'm a big boy. Teasing doesn't hurt my feelings."
"Even so, I'm still sorry." He stopped talking and let himself be comforted, both by Don's presence and the soothing massage on his back. Don remained silent, relieved that his little brother was starting to calm down. Charlie took a deep breath and continued. "It was covered in blood, and she looked so sad. I tried calling your cell, but you didn't answer."
"Sorry, Buddy." Don sighed before continuing. "I didn't answer because I was at the hospital."
"What?" Charlie asked as he pulled out of Don's embrace. He studied his brother looking for any injuries. "Are you okay?"
"Yes, Charlie, I'm fine. Alright? Don't worry."
"Then why were you at the hospital?"
"I got shot," at his brother's look of alarm, he quickly added, "in the vest. But I do have a couple of bruised ribs. I was here getting those looked at."
"So Megan was calling to tell me that you were injured, but not dead." For the first time since he'd woken up, Charlie's heartbeat slowed down to a normal pace. "Then how did your jacket get blood on it?"
"I had taken my jacket off at the scene. I left it behind when I came to the hospital. Later, after Jason got shot, Megan used it to try to stop the bleeding."
"Jason Andrews. He was the agent you saw being brought in. He got shot in the throat."
"He didn't make it," Charlie whispered, remembering the scene at the nurse's desk."
Don looked down at his lap. "No, he didn't."
Charlie's heart broke at the despair on his brother's face. He knew that Don felt responsible for the agents under his command, and he took anything that happened to them personally. "It wasn't your fault."
"I know. But I still feel responsible."
"I know." This time it was Charlie who rubbed his brother's back.
Don smiled at the gesture of support. He patted his little brother's knee through the hospital blanket. "So you had a panic attack because you thought I was dead?"
Charlie nodded. "I guess so. All I know is that I felt myself going numb, and then it was like I couldn't breathe."
"Well, you sure scared the hell out of me. Megan came to the exam room I was in and told me that you had collapsed in the ER waiting room. By the time we got here, the doctor had checked you out and told me that you were fine, physically. He said it must have something to do with anxiety or stress. I've been sitting here waiting for you to wake up ever since."
"Oh my God, Larry!" Charlie remembered. "I was supposed to be waiting for him!"
"Relax," Don told him. "He came by to check on you. He's got a broken wrist, so Megan drove him home. He told me he found your notebook and that he'll hold onto it for you."
Relief washed over Charlie as he heard that his friend was okay and that his research wasn't sitting in the trash somewhere. Another concern popped into his head. "Does Dad know?"
"Yeah, I called him. He's worried sick. He'll be here in a little while. I promised him you were okay, and that I would talk to you when you woke up." Don studied his little brother. "So you really had a panic attack because of me?"
"You sound surprised," Charlie commented. "You're my brother, and I care about you. Are you telling me that you didn't panic at all when that sniper took a shot at me?"
"Of course I did. But it's in the big brother's job description to protect the little brother. And I was afraid I had failed badly."
"Big brother's don't have the market on wanting to protect their loved ones, or worrying about them."
Don smiled sadly. "I guess not." His eyes sought out Charlie's, who was shocked at the intensity in Don's gaze. "You have to promise me something, Charlie. If anything ever does happen to me, you have to keep it together. Dad will need your support. He's already lost Mom. He won't make it if he loses both of his sons. So you have to promise me that you'll be there for him, okay?"
"Okay," Charlie answered softly. "But you have to promise, too."
Don smiled. "I promise."
"So let me see if I understand," Alan Eppes said as he studied his two sons. "You're cooking." He looked at Charlie who nodded eagerly. He turned to look at Don. "And you're cleaning." Don smiled and shrugged. "Alright, who are you and what have you done with my sons?"
"Come on, can't we just do something nice?" Don asked.
"Nice?" Alan laughed. "Nice would be grandchildren."
"Dad," Don groaned as he rolled his eyes. Charlie playfully punched his brother in the shoulder while he cackled with laughter. Don glared at him. "He does have two sons you know."
"Neither of which seem to know how to date," Alan sighed in exasperation.
"Hey," Charlie protested. "At least I never bought soap for a date!"
"He's got you there, Dad."
"Yeah? Well, I've been married. I've got you both there." Alan smiled at the defeated looks on his sons' faces. He smiled as he continued, "I'm not giving up on grandchildren, yet, but dinner sounds good. I'll be waiting in the living room. Call me when it's ready."
Charlie smiled as his father left them standing in the dining room. After he and Don had talked about being there for their father if anything ever happened to each other, they had agreed that they should try to be there for their father more often in general. They had planned to spend quality time over dinner, while making sure that Alan didn't have to lift a finger.
"What?" Don's voice brought Charlie back to the present.
Charlie smiled at him. "I'm just glad we decided to spend more family time together."
"Yeah," Don beamed. "Me too."
"You boys need me to show you how to use the stove?" Alan's teasing voice called from the living room.
"No, Dad!" Charlie replied with a hint of annoyance in his voice. He glanced at Don and gave him a sarcastic smile. "Did I already mention how happy I am that we're spending this quality time together?"
Don laughed and shook his head, as he clapped Charlie on the shoulder. "Just think of it this way, the sooner we get started, the sooner we'll be done."
"Good point," Charlie nodded as they both raced into the kitchen.