Title: Never Leave a Buddy Behind

Author: FraidyCat

Genre: Drama, Angst; Returning to my First Love: Hurting Charlie

Time line: Any Time is Good For Me

Summary: Perhaps your 'buddies' aren't who you think they are…

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em – but wanna cuddle 'em.

Chapter 1

Don carried the box of pizza into the living room of his brother's house. Charlie was sitting straight up in the recliner, head back, eyes closed. He waved the box under Charlie's nose. "Dude," he said. "Pepperoni."

Getting no response, Don walked a little further and plopped down on the couch facing the chair, placing the box on the coffee table between them. "Charlie." This time he spoke a little louder. "Wake up."

Still no response. Don stretched his leg out and lightly kicked the bottom of the chair.

Charlie started in the chair, immediately groaned. One hand clutched at the arm of the recliner as he slowly opened his eyes. He blinked at Don, but didn't say anything. His head began to tilt to one side, as if he wasn't quite sure what he was looking at.

Don smiled. "So. Dad told me what happened."

Charlie blinked again, then giggled. He waved a casted arm in the air. "Donnie." He giggled a little more. "Donnie, Donnie, Bo-Bonnie…"

Don felt himself smiling wider. Charlie was still stoned, on whatever they'd given him at the hospital.

"Hey … Chuck … last time we played the 'Name Game', Mom sent us both to bed without dinner."

Charlie yawned, looked at him. "It was seven years before I figured out which word upset her so much." His mood suddenly changed, and Don actually saw him tear up. Better nip this in the bud. He tried to redirect the conversation.

"Hey. I said, Dad told me what happened. Want some pizza?"

Charlie started to shift in the chair, thought better of it. He looked at his own arm, still hovering in the air, and seemed bewildered. "Did I do this?"

Don was wearing an all-out grin now. "Yeah, Buddy. You don't remember?"

Charlie shook his head. " 'Member being late to class."

"That's right. You got busy in your office, took off in a dead run at the last minute still using your lap top, and tripped down the stairs. Scared the life out of Larry, who was coming up at the same time you were going down."

Charlie frowned. "But I did that last year."

Don laughed out loud. "I know. We all know." He saw a wince cross Charlie's face. "I'm not laughing at your pain, bro. This time you really did it. Broke a wrist, wrenched your back pretty good. You do realize you've been sleeping sitting up in a chair?"

Charlie looked around. "That explains why we're backwards."

Don reached for the pizza box, shaking his head. "Seriously, Charlie … want some pizza? Dad said he barely got you in the house by himself and dropped you in this chair a couple of hours ago."

Charlie's head was seeming to clear, but the sensations that replaced the fog were worse. "Dad." He tried to shift again.

Don half stood. "Need something?"

Charlie shook his head, and Don sat again. "Dad's at the grocery. And the pharmacy. He'll be right back." He chewed thoughtfully for a while, looking at his brother. "Hurrmmuhh?"

Charlie frowned again. "Was that clear? Did I do something to my ears?"

Don swallowed. "Sorry. Eating. I asked if it hurt much."

Charlie's eyes narrowed, and he focused on some file folders lying on the other end of the coffee table. "Why? Did you bring me some work?" Then his eyes suddenly widened again with realization, and his voice dropped to a whisper. "Did you say I was carrying my lap top when I fell down the stairs?"

Don finished a slice, drew on the beer he had brought from the kitchen. He regarded Charlie seriously. "Yep."

Eyes closed, jaw tensed in pain, Charlie finally pushed himself up in the chair a little. "G-d," he finally spat out. "Let me see it."

"Which half?"

Charlie groaned.

Don reached for more pizza. "Relax. Larry's got some geeks in the computer department at school working on it. They're gonna try to put Humpty Dumpty together again at least long enough to pull all your data." He chewed and watched his brother pale. "But you've got back-ups of everything, right?"

Charlie raised his good hand to rub his temple. "Of course. But my lap top is configured just the way I need it. It took months. It's faster than the desktop, it has superior video capabilities…" His voice was fading with each word, and his eyes had slipped closed again.

"You're going back to sleep," Don observed. "Sure you don't want something first?"

Charlie's eyes popped back open and looked at the files again. "What is it?"

Don shrugged. "Don't worry about that now. I brought it with me because I didn't know you'd hurt yourself — and killed your computer."

"But you brought pizza. A bribe. Arrived unannounced. It must be important."

Don sighed. "We've got several vics, all murdered. The only connection we can find is that they have all served in the Army. But not all in the same unit, or at the same time. A couple are career officers, the others are short-timers …"

"The data?"

"Found it at the last vic's house. We don't know what it is, just X's and O's to us. I was hoping you could de-code it … but Charlie, you really should get some more rest, before whatever they gave you wears off."

Charlie sighed. "May be too late for that. Help me out of this chair… I gotta move … "

Don quickly stood and crossed to the chair. He grabbed his brother's good arm under the elbow and lifted. He had to put his weight into it, since Charlie wasn't helping much, and he winced in sympathy at Charlie's quick intake of breath. His hand hovered over his brother's back, afraid to touch it, as Charlie swayed and trembled a little. "Dad's filling the prescriptions while he's out. Muscle relaxant, pain killer … you gonna be okay until he gets back?"

Charlie took a step, grabbed at Don's arm. "Like I have a choice," he muttered. He decided to stand still. He looked at the files again. "Why don't you let me see those? Maybe it will distract me."

"You just going to stand there for awhile?"

Charlie looked at the doorway to the kitchen. It was so far away. "Maybe a hard-backed chair?"

Don followed his gaze. "Right. I'll get it."

Charlie grabbed at his arm again. "No. Take me to it."

"Charlie …"

"They said I should move."

Don considered. "Compromise. Dining room. I'll bring the files, and the … Wait!" Charlie had started forward again, death grip on Don's arm. He stumbled to catch up. "Guess I'll go back for the files."

Exactly 12 steps later Charlie gripped the back of a dining room chair. Don pulled out the one next to it and helped Charlie lower into it. Glancing at his brother's face, he quickly stepped into the kitchen, retrieved a bottle of water out of the refrigerator. He placed it in front of Charlie. "I'm getting the rest of the pizza. You'd better have something in your stomach when Dad gets back with those meds."

Charlie gratefully accepted the water, and lifted the bottle to his head. Don soon returned, dropping pizza and files on the table. He sat opposite Charlie and took another swig from his beer. "Headache, too? Dad didn't mention anything about your head."

Charlie lowered the bottle, and contemplated the lid. "Demerol haze. I think." He held the bottle out to Don. "Little help here?"

"Oops. Sorry. Forgot about your wrist."

Charlie negotiated a slice of pizza while Don opened his water. "Wish I could."

Don placed the opened bottle on the table in front of Charlie. "Not having a good day, are you?"

Charlie just blinked at him, mouth full of pepperoni. While Charlie ate, Don stood again and went into the kitchen. He returned with a fresh beer, wandered to the couch and brought one of the pillows back. He gently picked up Charlie's casted arm and propped it on the pillow, happy to see him tackling a second slice of pizza. Don sat back down to have another himself. When Charlie placed the half-eaten slice down and used his good hand to open the first file folder, he started to explain.

"Like I said, we're not sure …" Charlie lifted his casted arm for silence, and drew the folder closer to him. His already pale face lost another shade or two, and he looked up at Don.

"What?"

Charlie looked back down, then raised his head again.

"I know this," he finally said, a mixture of confusion and fear in his eyes. "I helped write this."