--

The notes, preserved in all their evidence glory, were going to be a major player for the prosecution when it came to the murders. Charlie's testimony would confirm the kidnapping, even if Laine didn't utter a word. In the end, Don didn't doubt the jury would convict and Laine would, at the very least, be spending a long time in prison.

Alan had insisted Don stay at the house and since the only vehicle in his possession was his mother's ancient Ford, he didn't have much choice. Charlie had been barely awake when they left the hospital, but thankfully his temperature had gone down. The doctor had even talked about releasing him tomorrow.

At that Charlie had brightened, looking, if only for a few seconds, like his normal self.

And Don had, for the first time in what felt like forever, slept through the night.

He was surprised when he woke up and found himself blinking through the sunlight streaming into his old bedroom. He'd half expected to be awakened by another nightmare, another vision that told him the nightmare wasn't over.

Instead he felt refreshed, the constant exhaustion that had been haunting him for the past twenty-four hours dissipated.

No dreams. Just nothing.

Poof. Gone. If only the angst that resided could be erased just as easily.

But despite the differences, the resentment, the arguments, Don could never ignore the need to protect his brother. Yes, he was an adult and more than capable of taking care of himself, but that never mattered. Hurt was hurt and sad was sad.

And Charlie was a bit of both.

Don walked down the stairs, listening to the sounds of his father in the kitchen. He still needed to pick up his car at CalSci and if he played his cards right, Alan might just drop him off there on their way to hospital. And while Don was there, he could stop by Charlie's office and grab a few things so that Charlie could work from home because if Don had any input, Charlie wasn't going back to campus for a few days.

Don found scrambled eggs, toast, and orange juice waiting at the dining room table. His father pushed a fork his way and sat down with his own plate and cup of coffee.

Don eyed the orange juice. "I could really use a cup of coffee," he tried.

Alan slipped his reading glasses on and reached for the morning paper. "That's nice. Too bad you're not getting one. Drink your juice. I want to get to the hospital by nine."

Don contemplated going into the kitchen and pouring himself a cup of coffee. Alan had to have made a pot.

The paper shifted. "There's no pot. I made instant this morning."

Don shook his head. "How did you...wait, did you stay instant coffee? You hate instant coffee. Mom was the one that liked it. Whatever you're drinking has to be at least a year old. And decaf."

"Still want some?"

"I'll pass."

"Good." Alan lowered the paper a moment and nodded towards Don's plate. "Now eat. And drink your juice."

--

Charlie was awake and sitting on top of the covers when Don and Alan got the hospital.

"Finally," Charlie said and Don saw something cross his brother's face that he hadn't seen recently: a smile.

"I've been fever-free for over twelve hours!" Charlie was beaming and Don couldn't help grinning himself.

"That's great," he responded, patting his brother on the shoulder. He had still been running a slight fever when he and Alan had left early the night before. The fact that was gone must mean the doctor found the right antibiotic. Sometimes he was amazed as how quickly medicine could turn something around. "Does that mean you can go home?"

"I'm waiting for the doctor to stop by. Maybe tonight." Charlie waved his hand in the air and grimaced. Fever aside, his body obviously still had a great deal of healing to do.

"I hope he plans on sending you home with some pain medication," Alan commented and dropped a plastic bag on the tray table next to Charlie's bed. Charlie perked up even more.

"Is that what I think it is?"

Alan pulled the table towards the bed. "I always make too much the scrambled eggs and when I called this morning, I was told you were doing well..."

Charlie immediately lifted the plate out of the bag. "Thanks, Dad. Hospital food is the worst. The eggs they gave me this morning, well, it looked like pus was running from them.

Don let out a snort at that statement. "Pus?" he repeated.

"What?" Charlie responded, in between bites of egg. "That's a perfectly valid word and completely accurate to what was on my plate."

"I'm sure it was," Alan commented. "Hospital food doesn't evoke my appetite."

"I actually don't think it's that bad," Don admitted. "Sure, it's not Dad's cooking, but it's a lot better than some of take-out I've eaten on the job."

"Take-out?" Charlie echoed. "I didn't know that items out of the vending machine down the hall counted as take-out."

"Hey, don't be so quick to judge, Professor," Don shot back, giving Charlie a playful shove. Charlie hissed and dropped his fork, sending scrambled eggs across the table. Don regretted the action immediately.

"Sorry, buddy," he apologized. "Do you need anything? I can call a nurse."

Charlie's teeth were still clenched, but he shook his head back and forth slowly. "No," he finally managed. "I'll be fine."

Don didn't believe it for a minute, especially when Charlie pushed the plate of eggs away. He looked towards Alan. Alan pulled the tray table away and stepped in closer to his youngest son. Charlie, all smiles a moment ago, had now closed his eyes tightly. His teeth were no longer clenched, but his shoulders were raised, his body language spelling out the word "pain" loud and clear.

Don reached for the call button, but Alan raised a hand. A minute passed and Charlie's eyes finally opened.

"Better?" Alan asked.

"Yes," Charlie said. "Just hit a rough spot on my back." He let out a breath, looking every bit like he was still trying to get himself under control. "I don't think I want any more eggs, though, Dad."

"Okay," Alan answered and shot a look at Don. Don frowned, not sure what his father was hinting at. A split second later, he realized.

Charlie turned green and Don just managed to grab the basin Alan had hinted at and shoved it under Charlie's face before his brother lost the scrambled eggs he'd just eaten.

After he was done, the dry heaves hit, producing an awful sound as Charlie brought up bile. Don winced in sympathy, unsure of how he could help or if he could even help. He settled for laying a hand on Charlie's back and guiding him back down to the pillows when he was finally done.

Alan hit the call button then.

Charlie shook his head again. "I'm okay now, Dad. It was just the -"

"Pain," Alan finished. "Which is exactly something they can help with here. You just have to let them."

"The doctor is never going to let me go home now," Charlie muttered, closing his eyes. Don empathized with Charlie. Throwing up sucked. Throwing up while in pain had to really suck.

And it was all because he gave his brother a playful pat on the back. Another pang of guilt to add to the already growing pile.

"Not you fault," Charlie said, eyes still closed. "About everything."

How did he...? Don touched Charlie's shoulder, careful to be gentle this time. Charlie's eyes opened again and a half smile graced his lips. "Don't feel guilty," he said softly.

"I don't," Don denied.

"You're lying," Charlie countered.

"Am not."

"Are too."

"Am not."

"Are too."

"All right, enough," Alan interrupted. "Sounds like both of you are lying if you ask me." He looked out the door. "And that nurse is taking too long. I'm going to see if I can find her."

"Dad, don't," Charlie started but Alan was out the door before he could even finish his statement. "You do feel guilty, Don. And you've got nothing to feel guilty for. You're not responsible for me just because you're older."

"I don't feel responsible," Don fibbed. Maybe if he said it enough times he'd actually believe it.

Charlie sighed. "I'm a grown man, Don. I can look out for myself."

"You can," Don agreed. He paused, unsure of where this conversation was leading versus where it should be leading. He shifted the subject a bit. "But I'm not the only here who is lying."

"What do you mean?" Charlie shifted his weight a bit on the pillows and bit his lip at the movement. His pale face had Don's hands heading back towards the emesis basin. Charlie grabbed his arm. "Don't need it. I'm 'kay."

Don wasn't sure if Charlie was okay. Physically or otherwise, but he let his arm fall back to his side. "I meant that I think you remember a lot more than you're willing to tell anyone. Unless you told Megan."

"I'm sure you read the report, Don. You know exactly what I told Megan." Charlie's eyes met his, his gaze turning from pained to down-right serious.

"I know what she wrote down," Don said. Megan was nothing but a professional and what was in that report was just the information they needed to haul Laine in. And if Charlie stuck to those facts, it would be all he'd ever be questioned about. Don didn't doubt the facts. Didn't doubt exactly what Laine had planned to do his brother.

He just doubted how much of it Charlie was actually conscious of.

It hurt that Charlie wasn't willing to talk to him. The why didn't matter as much as the actual fact that Charlie was hiding something. Was Charlie trying to protect him? Protect their dad? Protect himself?

Charlie's eyes shifted.

"I want to hear it, Charlie. It won't go farther than this room."

Charlie swallowed and for a moment, Don was sure if he was because he was nervous or nauseous. It could have been both.

"I..." he stammered, and shook his head. "I don't want you to know, Don. I don't even want to know."

A brief thought crossed Don's mind. Had Laine...no, that would have turned up in the medical report, right? Or would it? Don felt a flush of anger flash across his face.

"Did he touch you Charlie?"

"Touch me?" Charlie asked. His brow furrowed for a minute. "No! Well, I mean yes, but no, not in the way you're thinking about."

"Then what?" Don wanted the truth. He couldn't deal with his own imagination anymore.

Charlie let out a long sigh and glanced towards the door. Finally he turned back to Don. "It was late. He was not pleased, blamed me for ruining the foundations of what he thought would have been a fantastic science career. His numbers were jumbled, though. Sooner or later, with or without me, he'd have been exposed."

Don sat down on the edge of the mattress, listening.

"There was no one in the parking lot. The guards shift change is at midnight and that's also a popular time for students to use the main computer lab. The math department was deserted. I was...out of it. He'd hit me, or I think he did. He could have drugged me, frankly; all I know was the world was a bit blurry at the edges. He didn't start cutting until we were downstairs, until I was completely aware, really.

"I remember blinking at the light, wondering why the room was red, finally recognizing exactly where I was. My hands and feet were tied," Charlie continued. "Even if I'd screamed, no one would have heard me and if they did, no one might have even cared."

Don tensed at that statement. He would have cared. He did care.

"I didn't scream. I didn't want to give him the satisfaction. Plus, he was so much bigger than I was. While I was bleeding, he starting kicking and hitting and..."

"And?" Don pushed.

"And nothing," Charlie finished. "I blacked out. Next thing I knew I was strung up and Laine was laughing, telling me it didn't matter if anyone found me, because if they did it would be fine. He told me I'd get a chance to experience the true pain of having my heart and soul ripped from my body." As soon as he finished, Charlie sat up from the pillow, face pale and panting.

Don got the hint and shoved a the basin under Charlie's chin, rubbing his brother's back gently as his body revolted and suffered through another painful bout of the dry heaves.

Alan picked that minute to come back in with a nurse. Thirty minutes later, Charlie had been settled back under the covers, drowsy from a combination of pain and nausea medication. The doctor had dropped by, been concerned, and as predicted, wanted Charlie to stay another night.

Alan got out his reading glasses and a crossword, looking like he was staying for the duration.

Don sat again, looking at Charlie's fitful sleeping form, and let the fear his brother must have felt sink in.

--

Charlie was finally released from the hospital the next morning. An hour later, Laine was arraigned and denied bail.

Charlie said nothing more about Laine or the kidnapping.

Don absorbed what he knew and backed off, returning to work the day after Charlie came home.

--

--

If anyone had come to him to express his or her concern about Charlie, Don had expected it to be his father first. But Alan's qualms were not the ones that guided Don out of the office early one Tuesday morning.

Almost two weeks had passed and Charlie was healing, physically, at least. The bruises were slowly fading, going through their Technicolor dance and a majority of the stitches that Charlie had had been removed. The cuts remained, but like the bruises, those too, were on the road to recovery.

Charlie returned to CalSci a week after his release from the hospital, ignoring protests from both Don and Alan that he should wait. Charlie, of course, said he was fine and that he had classes to teach and tests and papers to grade. So he did. And he seemed all right, coming home at the usual times, even smiling now and again.

Apparently, that had been a front.

In the end, it was Larry that expressed his concerns, as directly as he could. The physicist stopped by the FBI field office and found Don.

Don had been surprised to see him. Larry had been released the same day as Charlie and Don knew the man still suffered from frequent headaches. Charlie said he'd returned to work, but in a move uncharacteristic to Larry, had been heading out early each day.

"Larry," Don had acknowledged. "Charlie here?"

Larry had glanced nervously behind him and Don had found it odd. "No," the man admitted. "Actually, Charles is the subject I had hoped you'd be able to shed some light on."

It had only taken a few minutes to learn Charlie was withdrawn, even at work. His sense of humor, corny at it was, had disappeared from his lectures. Charlie looked tired, Larry had explained, even more fatigued than the physicist felt himself, which was saying a great deal.

It hadn't taken long for those facts to drive Don away from his desk and into his car, where he kicked himself all the way to Pasadena.

When Don entered the garage, he was overwhelmed by both the chalk dust in the air and the ever-constant sound of frantic writing across one of what had to be a dozen chalkboards.

Larry's concern was well founded; Charlie was at it again.

It, of course, wasn't good. The backboards themselves were not a bad sign. Since Charlie had began developing his new cognitive theory they had become the norm and not a way for Charlie to escape via P versus NP.

No, that wasn't what bothered Don. What bothered him were Charlie's eyes. They were directed towards the board, staring straight at the numbers his fingers created, yet their real focus was miles away and distant. Charlie was writing, but it seemed mechanical. There was no passion in his strokes. Determination, yes, but denial was a strong force.

There were also large circles under them. Circles Don swore he hadn't seen when he'd been by for dinner just two nights ago. His father hadn't either, it seemed.

Were they both blind?

"Charlie."

Charlie jumped, the chalk dropping to the ground. Don heard it hit the concrete and snap into at least two pieces and roll. For a second, he had a brief flashback to another day, another set of boards, after he'd moved back to LA and after his mother had been given a two month time table.

"Don't do that," Charlie said, slowly bending down to pick the fallen chalk.

"Sorry," Don said. "You all right, Charlie?"

"I'm fine," Charlie replying as if an autopilot. "I'm just running through a new train of thought..." He turned back to the board and wrote another equation before laying the chalk down and sighing. "Larry came to talk to you, didn't he?"

"What makes you say that?" Don asked, not confirming nor denying the statement.

"It's two thirty in the afternoon. You never stop by at two thirty in the afternoon in the middle of the workweek, unless you have a day off. And I know you don't have today off." He spun back towards Don, eyes focused. But the dullness remained, leaving the brown eyes empty.

"No, I don't," Don admitted. "Charlie..." Again, he was at a loss. This wasn't territory he was used to exploring. He'd pressed Charlie for answers, to fill in the blanks. Charlie did, and Don hoped that might help Charlie along a bit. It was naïve, he knew. He'd been an FBI agent long enough to know that victims of twisted crimes didn't heal overnight, even when those who cared about them did everything they could.

"What, Don? You wanted to know what really happened and I told you. I hated every second of that discussion, but it happened. What else do you want?"

Don didn't answer right away and Charlie went back to the board, picking up the chalk again.

Don gripped his hand and physically took the chalk from Charlie's fingers.

"I want you to get past this," he said. "Larry was concerned and now I see he has every right to be. He's your friend. I'm your brother. This isn't healthy."

"What isn't?" Charlie asked, his eyes staring down at the ground.

"This," Don repeated. "You go through the motions, but something's missing. Maybe you should talk to someone. Maybe Megan-"

"I don't want to talk to Megan and I don't want to talk to a therapist." Charlie's tone was firm. "I just..." His voice faltered and Don worried he'd retreat again.

He didn't. Instead he blinked and started stepping away from his calculations until he reached a chair. He fell into it, his muscles sagging. When he looked up at Don, something was different. The eyes.

They were still lost, but they were alive.

They were Charlie.

"I just want to forget," Charlie finished, his voice so soft that Don needed to get closer to hear him. "Dad doesn't talk about it. You want to talk about it and then we do and it doesn't make anything better, because in the end, it still happened. The thing is, I'm not scared. Not scared to go back to CalSci, not even scared to go back down into the Dungeon. Although," a ghost of smile graced his lips, "they pushed up the construction down there. The Dungeon won't be the Dungeon for much longer."

"Really?"

"Really." Charlie pointed out at the board. "This isn't retreating. This is valid work. Just so you know."

"It's not P vs. P, that much I know."

"P vs. NP," Charlie corrected. "So Larry's worried? I'm worried about him; he still has headaches and leaves early every day."

"Larry had and is still recovering from a serious head injury. But don't change the subject," Don said.

"I'm not," Charlie insisted. "I'm trying. Really, I am."

Charlie's eyes locked with Don's and Don knew his brother was telling the truth. Maybe these things just took time. He just wanted Charlie to be Charlie again.

"I know," Don finally responded. He wanted to ask Charlie if he was sleeping, but bit his tongue. He'd save that question for another time.

"Don't tell Dad, Don. Please." Brown eyes pleaded with him.

"Tell him what?"

"That Larry came and saw you."

Don was silent a minute. "Fine," he hesitantly agreed. "But I can't guarantee that Larry won't say something to Dad himself."

"He won't," Charlie answered, sounding quite sure. "After all, he came to you, didn't he?"

"He did."

The two lapsed into a period of comfortable silence, neither knowing just what else to say.

It was Charlie that proceeded. "Don, I never did ask you, how did you know to go to CalSci? Laine seemed to think you would figure it out, but Megan told me he didn't leave a direct trail."

It was Don's turn to shift his eyes. "What else did Megan say?"

"Instinct," Charlie said. "She said you acted on instinct. Don, there was one moment before Laine rigged the door, that I closed my eyes and wished that you would find me and I reached out-"

"Towards the bookcase," Don finished.

Charlie blinked, shocked. "I did. I thought it anyone had snapped a photo of me at the moment, they'd have no clue where I was."

"You were right," Don intoned, his words soft.

"How...?"

"Does it matter?" Don asked, feeling very odd sense of déjà vu.

"It does."

"Charlie, trust me, it makes no sense, so believe me and Megan when I say someone out there wanted me to find you." He hoped Charlie would buy it. The dreams were over, and like Charlie's ordeal, Don wanted to move past them and onto the rest of his life.

"I just wanted to help you."

Charlie shook his head and smiled. "Don, you did. You are. Some things just take time and I've got time."

"Time," Don repeated and couldn't resist ruffling Charlie's hair.

Time he could do. Now, at least, Charlie did have time.

They both did.

The End.

If you made it this far, you get a cookie. And it you liked it, as always, please let me know. :)