Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: I'd like to thank my wonderful, tireless beta, ritt, for all of her help and for filling in when that pesky muse skips town.
Don watched as the ceiling tiles rushed by overhead. Tile, tile, tile, light. Tile, tile, tile, light. It was so mesmerizing that he felt himself begin to drift away from his body, away from the pain. A rough jarring of whatever he was lying on – a gurney, his sluggish mind suggested – brought him crashing back into his body. White hot pain was centered in his chest and stomach, rapidly spreading to include his left shoulder. He closed his eyes and tried to curl into a ball to contain the agony, but was held flat on his back by wide restraints. Don tried to move his head for a better look, and frowned as he realized that it was restricted by some sort of collar and padding on either side. He moaned in pain and frustration, surprised at how muffled the sound was until he realized there was an oxygen mask strapped over his face.
He heard voices surrounding him and calling out words and phrases that he didn't recognize, as the gurney steadily rolled toward… well, he didn't know that part yet. In the middle of the chaos that threatened to overwhelm him, Don became aware of a calming presence somewhere near his head. He concentrated deeply, trying to block out everything but that presence. He finally succeeded, singling out one familiar voice among the others. That person was speaking in very soothing tones and Don could actually make out some of the words. "...Don't leave me... help... soon... better..."
He attempted to nod to let the person know that he heard him, but gasped as he ignited a fresh wave of agony in his battered body. He moaned deeply against the increased pain and tried to recede into the darkness lingering on the periphery, but was stopped short by a firm pressure around his hand. Don frowned as he squeezed back, feeling the pressure increase by an equal amount. Someone was holding his hand. He opened his mouth to speak but was cut off as the gurney suddenly lurched upwards, the hand in his grip slipping away from him. Alarmed, he flailed his hand as much as he could while being restrained. He needed that hand back in his – that grip was keeping him grounded.
Don felt the gurney slam to a stop – inside an ambulance, he assumed. The vehicle rocked as two more people climbed in, one of them shushing him as the strong, reassuring grip returned. The same familiar voice from earlier was speaking again. "Shh... okay... hospital... called Dad..." Don felt a thumb lightly stroking the back of his hand and his spirits lifted as he wearily deduced who the person must be. "Charlie?" he weakly croaked.
"It's me," Charlie answered. "Hang on... soon... eyes open... please?"
For the life of him Don could not will his eyes open as they had suddenly been weighted down by some unseen force. He concentrated all of his energy on his voice. "Can't," he breathed. "Too heavy."
"You need to try," Charlie told him, his voice becoming clearer as Don's senses began to return. He felt a new pressure, this time on his forehead. "You need to stay awake, Don." Don heard a note of fear in his brother's voice and renewed his efforts to open his eyes, if only to ease Charlie's mind. He eventually succeeded and was greeted by a radiant smile. "That's it," Charlie encouraged him.
Don's eyes started to drift shut again, but he forced them to stay open as Charlie gently squeezed his hand. He assumed that Charlie must be unhurt, but still wanted to be certain. "You hurt?"
Charlie couldn't believe Don had asked him that question. Here was his brother, severely injured and lying on a gurney, but his main concern was Charlie's safety. "I'm fine, Don – not a scratch on me."
"'S good." Charlie watched Don sleepily blink his eyes as he tried to stay awake. He knew his brother's condition was serious, and he was trying to keep his panic at bay. He'd seen the looks on the paramedics' faces when they'd first seen Don, remembered the haste with which they had moved as he'd explained what had happened. He found himself stroking Don's still damp hair as the images of what had happened to him continuously played in his head. Whether he was trying to soothe Don or soothe himself, he didn't know, but he continued to maintain the gentle rhythm.
Soon, but not soon enough for Charlie's liking, they were parked in front of the ER and Don was unloaded from the ambulance. Charlie hopped out with him, refusing to let his brother's hand slip from his grasp again. He jogged to keep up with the gurney as the paramedics rolled it through the doors, calling out vitals and information to the nurses that greeted them. Charlie felt a hand on his shoulder as a woman tried to insert herself between him and Don. Not going to happen, he silently growled.
"You have to let go, sir."
Charlie ignored the polite yet firm voice in his ear.
"Sir," the nurse spoke again. "You need to let go now."
Charlie shook his head, his eyes never leaving Don's face. Don had kept his eyes open for him this whole way, had clung to his hand like a drowning man, and he would be damned if he was going to abandon him now.
"We can't help him until you let go."
That got his attention. He reluctantly tore his eyes from his brother and looked at the nurse. "But..." he trailed off.
"Sir, he needs help and we're going to give it to him, but you can't go back to the exam area." The nurse gently gripped his right arm and tugged on it. "Let go for me. Let go for him."
Charlie turned his tearful gaze back to Don, forcing himself to smile as his brother's heavy lidded eyes looked up at him. "They're going to take care of you now," Charlie whispered to him. "I'll be waiting for you."
"Leaving?" Don whispered so faintly that Charlie had to lean over to hear him.
He brought both hands up to cup Don's cheeks. "I'll be right here waiting for you. As soon as you're out, I'll be back." He glanced up at the nurse who smiled and nodded before looking at Don again. "It'll be fine – I promise."
Charlie stood and forced himself to let go of his brother and watched as they rushed him into the exam area. Unconsciously wiping at a tear rolling down his cheek, he hoped their father would arrive soon because now he wanted someone to tell him that everything was going to be okay.