Who says you can't go home? There's only one place they call me one of their own
Alan was looking for Don. He'd talked to Megan, and she told him what the doctor had said about Charlie's injuries. He couldn't listen to it. Her description of Charlie's cuts and bruises was the final straw that just about broke him down.
He had tried to get into his son's room, but the nurses refused to let him in, insisting that Charlie wasn't to be disturbed. After he begged to see him the nurse had agreed to let him look at Charlie. To see him from the distance, just to know he was okay.
Alan hadn't been ready for it. Megan had warned him that Charlie was bruised and bandaged. That he was thinner than Alan remembered him. But the older Eppes wasn't ready for how frail his son looked. For a second, Alan wasn't sure his legs would support him. The nurse noticed his distress and led him out of the room, leaving him with a heavy heart.
Once Alan began to come to terms with his youngest son's condition he realized he had to find his oldest, whom Alan knew would be as rattled as he was. He knew there weren't many places his son would go to when he was upset, so it didn't take him long to track him to the nearest bathroom. He didn't really expect to find Don crying on the floor, but he wasn't surprised either. He'd been waiting for it for three weeks.
"Hi," he called softly from the doorway.
Don looked up at him and with a sad smile. "Hi."
Alan sat next to his son on the cold floor, putting his arm around Don's shoulders. "You okay?"
"I don't know." Don admitted honestly. "He was so scared."
"When you found him?"
"They sedated him for the surgery. When he woke up, he got so upset they had to sedate him again."
Alan tried to catch his son's eye. "Upset?"
"Terrified. He can't speak but I think he tried to say 'John'" Don wiped at the tears on his face. "He almost climbed off the bed."
"He'll be okay," Alan said, not sure whom he was trying to convince - himself or Don. He knew the words sounded empty, but he knew they needed to be heard.
"He's just been through surgery and has four broken ribs." Anger seeped into Don's voice and he made no effort to hide it. "He shouldn't be able to move like that."
"We'll get him through it," Alan said with confidence he didn't know he had. He found strength when one of his boys needed him.
"Dad…" Don tried to find the words, failed, and tried again. "I can't stop thinking about what happened to him." Tears started falling again and his voice cracked. "Some of his injuries are newer than others. Who knows what John…?" Don couldn't finish the sentence.
"Look at me." Alan waited until his son looked him in the eyes. "He willbe all right."
Don nodded. His father would accept no other answer.
Charlie woke up groggy, recognizing the feeling of having received a sedative before he even opened his eyes. He didn't like sedatives or painkillers. He didn't like the way they clouded his mind and took away his control. The mathematician made a mental note to tell his doctor to take him off of them. He preferred the physical pain he had had to live with lately to being so mixed up he couldn't tell if he was dreaming or not.
His mind cleared some more and he realized Don must have been scared to see him the way he had. He looked around the room, searching for his brother.
Charlie found that there was only a nurse with him. Remembering he couldn't speak, he reached out with his good hand to get her attention.
"Good morning, Mr. Eppes. How are you feeling?" the nurse asked cheerfully.
Charlie made a sign with his hand for a pen and paper. Understanding immediately, the nurse handed him a sketch pad and a pen already on his dresser. Struggling to write with the IV in his one functioning hand he wrote 'Fine. What happened?'
"You tell me. All I know is that you got upset over something and we had to sedate you to calm you down." She stood next to his bed, one hand on her hip.
Knowing how much the drugs contributed to his disorientation, he tentatively wrote 'No more drugs.'
"You need them," she objected. "Your body can't handle that much pain. You just got out of surgery."
'Please. I don't like the way they make me feel,' he practically begged, hating the way he had feared his own brother.
"You wouldn't like the pain either," she replied dismissively and walked out.
Contemplating removing the IV on his own in order to stay sane, Charlie heard the door open. Looking up, expecting the nurse, he was surprised to see his father walking in. He couldn't remember being this happy to see someone since he was a kid. His father had always been a safe place for him to go to. A shoulder, an ear - a friend. He'd always been there for him, even John saw it.
"Dad," he mouthed, tears forming in his eyes.
Alan crossed the room and took his son's delicate hand in both his own. Charlie tried to ignore the awkward feeling that his father's touch invoked in him. "God, Charlie. It's so good to see you." He kissed his son's forehead. "How are you feeling?"
'Okay,' Charlie wrote slowly. 'You?'
Alan smiled with unshed tears brightening his eyes, and ran his hand over his son's hair. "I'm fine. Don't worry about me."
'I scared Don.' Charlie turned the pad towards his father clumsily.
"Don't worry about that. He's fine." Charlie knew his brother and knew he wasn't fine, but he let it go for now.
'What did the doctor say?' He looked blankly at his father.
"Your arm is broken, but you know that." Charlie smiled weakly. "Four ribs broken. They had to operate on them and reset the arm." He nodded his understanding, seeing how hard it was for his father to tell him these things. "They said you won't be able to walk for a while and they'll have to see how you heal." Charlie nodded again, obviously surprising his father with his acceptance. "Your voice will come back in a day or two and they're giving you antibiotics for some cuts that got infected and nutrition supplements because you're…" He could see that Alan found it increasingly difficult to tell him these things despite knowing that Charlie needed to hear about them. He moved his hand over his father's, trying to let him know he was okay. "You'll be fine."
"Can I come in?" Don called from the doorway.
"Yeah," Alan replied, looking at Charlie for confirmation.
Don walked slowly towards the bed. "How are you?"
Charlie let go of his father's hand. 'Fine. Sorry about before.'
Running his hand over his brother's, Don said, "Don't worry about it. I'm just sorry you had to go through it."
Charlie let a small smile cross his face briefly. 'It's good to see you," he wrote to both men.
"We missed you." Don smiled broadly, giving no sign that what had happened earlier even bothered him. But it bothered Charlie.
'Me too.' Charlie looked at both of them. He had thought he would never see them again and now he just wanted to hold them forever but he was painfully aware that he could barely move, let alone hug someone. 'Can you tell the doctor something for me?' he was apprehensive regarding his request, knowing they might react the same way the nurse had.
"Of course." Alan leaned in towards his son.
'No more drugs,' Don watched his brother write, horrified by his request. He'd broken bones in the past and he remembered how badly it had hurt.
"You can't do that. It'll –" Charlie raised his hand, effectively stopping his brother's speech.
'I've lived with it.' He looked harshly at his guests who exchanged a worried look. 'I know what I'm asking.'
'They just cause a different kind of pain,' Charlie wrote, not looking up at his family.
What Don read scared him. The fact that Charlie preferred to be in pain over getting painkillers meant something Don wasn't willing to contemplate. He put his hand on Charlie's cheek, making his brother look at him. "It's that bad?"
'You've seen how bad.' Charlie looked at his big brother. Don knew what Charlie was talking about.
Don looked at his father, trying to convey how much he hated the idea and how well he understood that for Charlie, there was no other way. "I'll talk to the doctor."
Charlie looked at his family, content with his brother's answer. 'How long has it been?' he flexed his hand, having a hard time writing so much with his injuries. It was a question he badly needed answered.
Don hesitated. "Three weeks."
He couldn't read Charlie's face. He rarely had problems reading his brother and didn't like it when he couldn't.
Alan watched Charlie sleep. He'd spent three weeks wishing he could watch his young son sleep and now he couldn't get enough of it. He knew Charlie had a long road ahead of him, and that they would all go through a lot, but he knew in the pit of his stomach that the worst was over. That he had his family again and that together, they will get over everything.
The father shifted his gaze to his older son. Don had fallen asleep in a chair next to Charlie's bed, their hands touching lightly. He was so happy to see the relationship that had grown between the brothers as they got to know each other as adults. He knew Margaret would be thrilled to see it as well. They hadn't gotten along for most of their lives and somehow it was the math that eventually got them to work together and become friends.
'Beautiful, aren't they?' he hoped Margaret would agree. He knew she had kept Charlie alive while he was with John and that now it was his turn to keep his son safe. 'I've got it now,' he closed his eyes tenderly. 'We'll be okay.'
The End…For now
I promised I would end it soon. For those of you who wondered why I split this into 2 stories - it's because everything that happens next will have its own highs and lows, a beginning and an end, and it just wouldn't work as one long fic
So – is John giving up on Charlie or will he come back? Will they catch him before he hurts someone? Will Charlie be able to go back to normal? And what will happen with Don when he faces everything that happened to Charlie and why it happened?
HUGE thanks to my betas – You have made all the difference. Thank you for all your help and patience.
Stay tuned - Eff