Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: Thanks to my beta, ritt.
W is for Waking Up
Alan sat in his chair watching an old sitcom on TV. He never was much of a fan of television, but lately reading the newspaper had done nothing more than increase his depression. He found that it was easier to make it through the day if he just observed the mind-numbing antics of some ridiculous fictional character, as opposed to reading about the latest crime wave and rising number of murders. I bet Don and Charlie could help slow down that crime wave, he thought to himself. Of course that wasn't going to happen anytime soon – they were still in the hospital, both in a coma. That's where they had been for the past three and a half months.
Not that Alan had turned into a couch potato. No, Stan came by twice a week to drag him to dinner or the latest blockbuster. Larry would also stop by to chat and play the occasional game of chess. Alan had found Larry's abstract and somewhat confusing rambles to be chock full of comforting thoughts and wisdom, and came to understand why Charlie had been so close to him. Even Don's friends would stop by every couple of weeks to visit, David coming by more often than the others, probably due to the bonding he and Alan had done during the Russian mob case.
But tonight Alan was alone. Somehow everyone's schedules had aligned together and left him out of the loop. If he was honest with himself, he actually needed to be alone for a little while – all of the comfort and support of his friends could be overwhelming at times. As he sat, staring at the muted TV, the phone rang. He was tempted not to answer it, certain it would be someone who 'just happened to be in the neighborhood' and wanted to stop by. He wearily reached for the phone because there was always a chance – no matter how slim – that it was the hospital calling.
"Hello," he answered without checking the caller ID.
His heart stopped beating at the sound of her voice. A million different thoughts ran through his head. "Yes, Gloria?"
There was a moment of silence during which Alan held his breath. "Charlie seems to be waking up." Alan remained silent, replaying her words in his head and trying to make sure he'd understood them correctly. "Mr. Eppes? Alan?"
"Sorry," he apologized. "You said Charlie's waking up?"
"Yes, Alan." He could hear the smile in her voice. "I'd like for you to some down here as soon as possible."
"Yes, of course." He stood and floated toward the front door, a newfound energy making his walk light and purposeful. "I'll be there as soon as possible." He hung up and got into his car. Only then did another brief wave of despair wash over him as he realized she hadn't said anything about Don.
He couldn't believe it – Charlie's eyes were open and looking right at him. Alan smiled for all he was worth as he clasped his son's hand and stroked his hair. He was delighted to see his son's gaze tracking him as he moved about the room. Gloria had warned him that it was probably more of a reflex than anything else, but continued to encourage him to keep interacting with his son.
"Larry says hi," he spoke to Charlie. "Amita, too. And Don's friends have been coming by the house. David says you'd better wake up soon because he never got to challenge you to a game of air hockey. He refuses to believe you can calculate trajectories and velocities during any game that fast paced." Alan chuckled. "I know you will – you've done it firsthand to me before, remember?" He kept smiling even though Charlie remained unresponsive. "Okay, Charlie," Alan spoke softly. "I'm going to visit with your brother for a bit. We need to convince him to wake up, too." He smoothed Charlie's hair once more before moving his chair closer to the other bed in the room.
He gazed at Don, still resting with his eyes closed. His head remained bandaged, but at least his hair was starting to grow out and be a little more manageable. Alan took a moment to listen to the respirator, again feeling dual emotions regarding its presence. On the one hand it was keeping his son alive, but on the other it was a constant reminder as to how close Don was to death at any given time. He reached out and grasped Don's hand between his and started whispering to him.
"How's my boy today? Your brother is starting to wake up – could you sense that? Gloria calls it 'emerging', but to me it's all the same thing." He reached up and ran his fingers through one of the spiky tendrils of hair. "You'll be absolutely horrified at how long your hair has gotten. It's going to be as long as Charlie's soon and even curlier, I suspect. If you'll just wake up for me I promise I'll cut it myself. Wait, that wasn't supposed to sound like a threat." Alan laughed at his own joke, frowning as Don remained so still and lifeless. "I need you, Donny. When your brother is fully awake he's going to be a handful. And you know how worried he'll be about you – it won't be good for his recovery if you don't join us soon. Please, Donny." The only answer he received was the steady whooshing noise of the respirator.
As the next few days passed by, Alan was delighted with Charlie's progress. He had begun to flex his fingers and toes, followed soon by short, jerky motions with his arms and legs. Gloria had warned him that Charlie would be likely to cramp after having been still for so long, so she taught Alan how to spot a cramp in the early stage, and showed him the best techniques to massage it away.
A few more days later and Charlie began making noises – mostly grunts and moans – but Gloria told Alan that this was the precursor to regaining speech. Alan would respond to each and every sound with a nod or a smile. He soon became adept at understanding what Charlie was trying to say – much as parents do with their toddlers.
Another few days and Charlie made his first real attempt at communication – he reached for Alan's magazine. Alan was baffled until he realized that the cover was 'America's Top 100 Colleges and Universities' and was adorned with a chalkboard full of numbers. That was the day when he knew Charlie would eventually be okay.
"Larry," Charlie announced as he looked at the photograph in his father's hand. "He's my friend and c-co..." Charlie frowned, holding up a hand to stop Alan from speaking. "Colleague?"
Alan smiled and nodded. "Very good." He held up another picture. "This?"
"Colby," Charlie grinned. "Don's colleague. My friend. Snaky?"
"Snarky," Alan laughed as he gently corrected his son. "That's very good, Charlie. Let's take a break from that for today."
"Don?" Charlie asked eagerly. Ever since Charlie had regained his speech he'd been demanding to sit with Don for at least an hour before each meal. He seemed to think that once Don realized that he was okay, then he would open his eyes and everything would be better.
"Sure," Alan answered. "Let me get the chair." Alan rolled the wheelchair next to Charlie's bed and helped the younger man settle into the seat. He fastened the lap belt knowing that Charlie still had bouts of dizziness severe enough to topple him even when he was sitting down. At first the doctor had argued that Charlie didn't need to be getting out of bed for so long, but Gloria had insisted that it was exactly what the entire family needed. Alan's face lit up as he remembered her ferocity in dealing with the doctor, which was matched only by her compassion in dealing with his sons. She had become like a daughter to him.
Charlie's puzzled question jarred Alan back to the present and he rolled the wheelchair to Don's bedside, making sure Charlie could touch his brother through the bed rails. He set the brake and patted Charlie on the shoulder. "Back in an hour," he whispered, knowing that Charlie liked to spend some alone time with his Don. Alan closed the door behind him and sat in the chair just outside the room, ready to rush back in at a moment's notice.
Charlie held Don's hand in his, as tightly as he could. He was still weak, but was starting to improve each day with his physical therapy sessions. He studied his older brother and fought back the all too familiar tears that sprang up in his eyes. No one had told him exactly what had happened to him and Don, but he did remember bits and pieces of the events of that horrible day – enough to know that Don had been injured while knocking him to safety. He wiped the tears away and reminded himself that they would be of no use to either him or Don. He held his brother's hand against his cheek, savoring the warmth he felt there.
"You have to wake up," he whispered as he reached out to cup Don's cheek. "Please, Don. Do it for me? For Dad? We miss you so much. I miss you so much." He swallowed past the lump in his throat. "It's hard, you know? The physical therapy, trying to remember who people are, talking and not knowing the word you're trying to say. The worst part..." He trailed off and sniffled as he stared at his lap. "The worst part is the math – it's gone. I can barely recognize the numbers at all. Dad keeps telling me that it will come back to me, but I'm so scared, Don. And you're the only person that's ever been able to make me feel safe. I need my big brother." He stared at his lap as he tearfully pleaded. "Come back for me, please."
He looked back up at Don and gasped in shock. Don's eyes were open and he seemed to be looking directly at Charlie. "Don?" he breathed as he leaned as close as possible. Don's eyes were slowly drooping shut, but the brief glimpse of the brown orbs had lifted Charlie's spirits. "Dad!" he yelled toward the door. "Dad, come here!"
Alan bolted into the room, expecting to find one of his sons on the floor, or dying. "What is it, Charlie?"
"He opened his eyes!" Charlie was beaming as he spoke to his father. "Not for very long, but they were open!"
"That's wonderful!" Alan moved to the head of the bed and leaned over to study Don's face. His eyes were closed, but they seemed to be moving beneath the eyelids.
"He looked right at me," Charlie whispered in awe.
Alan didn't have the heart to tell him that it was a reflex, so he just nodded. "Of course he did, Charlie. He knew you were there."
"I told him that I needed him, and he opened his eyes." The smile faded just a little bit. "That means he's going to be okay, right?"
Alan stared thoughtfully at his youngest son before finally answering. "Of course it does, Charlie."
Thankfully Alan hadn't lied. Don had steadily emerged from his coma, taking the same small steps that Alan had gone through with Charlie. Only this time, Charlie had been there to help. He was instrumental in Don's recovery, sitting vigil and talking to him between his own physical, occupational, and speech therapy sessions. When he was done for the day, nothing could tear him away from Don's bedside.
Despite the head wound, Don was showing practically no signs of brain damage – just the normal residual effects of the coma. As he progressed to the speaking phase, Charlie had the child-like language figured out in no time. He could often interpret Don's thoughts based on his brother's single syllable grunt. Alan didn't know if that aptitude came from Charlie's own recent experiences in that area, or something more ethereal, but it was great to see his two boys awake and recovering together. And Charlie seemed to be relishing the fact that he had the 'big brother' role now, giving Don all the 'been there, done that' advice that he had.
When the day came for Don to take his first trip out of bed – a wheelchair ride to the end of the hallway and back – Charlie volunteered. His therapy sessions had been going very well and he pushed the chair by himself, pointing out the features of the hospital wing like a knowledgeable tour guide. Don smiled the whole time, even laughing at a couple of Charlie's jokes. Alan discreetly trailed behind them, content to watch them do – well, anything. They'd been still for far too long.
"Dinner's ready!" Alan called from the dining room.
"Coming!" both sons yelled in response.
Charlie led the way into the dining room, the limp in his stride only noticeable to a very observant eye, or someone who knew what he'd been through. Don brought up the rear, still relying heavily on his cane. Although fortunate to suffer no brain damage, his head injury had significantly slowed down his physical recovery. He was maintaining a positive outlook for the most part, only becoming depressed a few times in the past few weeks. Each time one of the moods started to creep up on him, Charlie swung into action, using every trick on his rapidly growing list to lighten Don's demeanor and get him back on track.
As they sat down at the table, Alan served each one a plate containing a large rib-eye and baked potato. He laughed aloud as Don's eyes visibly widened and he unconsciously licked his lips. "That looks wonderful," he told Alan.
"It should, considering the small fortune I paid for it." He sat in his chair and stared at his sons across the table. "I wanted to celebrate tonight." At their confused looks, he continued. "Today is exactly one month since you both came home. I know we still have a long road ahead of us, but look at how far we've already come." He paused and watched as Don and Charlie smiled at each other, seeing the unspoken emotions pass between them. This tragedy had certainly drawn them closer together. Alan raised his glass of water. "To family?"
Don and Charlie both joined him. "To family," they toasted in unison.