Charlie opened his eyes at the sound of his father's voice. "Dad," he whispered sleepily.
"Yes," Alan whispered back as he stroked his youngest son's hair. "I'm here. How are you feeling?"
"Tired." As if on cue Charlie let out a huge yawn, bringing a smile to his father's face. "Where am I?"
"UCLA hospital," Alan told him.
Charlie's eyes widened and his heart rate sped up. "Don?" he asked in a panic.
"Shh, calm down, Charlie. He's okay."
"See for yourself," his father answered as he stepped away from Charlie's bedside. Charlie got up on his elbows and peered over the rail to find his brother sleeping in the neighboring bed.
"He's okay?" Charlie repeated.
"Yes," Alan assured him. "He's sleeping like a baby."
"You're sure?" Charlie's voice softened. "You checked?" He moved to sit up but Alan placed a restraining hand on his shoulder and pressed him back on to the mattress.
"I'm sure, Charlie." Alan took a deep breath and perched on his youngest son's bed. "Does this have to do with what happened? Is that why you're so worried?"
Charlie shrugged and remained silent, not quite ready to come to terms with what had happened in the mountains.
"I know what you did for your brother," Alan quietly told him. He waited for a response but the younger man maintained his silence. "I know Don stopped breathing. I know you performed CPR." Alan reached out and cupped Charlie's cheek. "I know you saved his life, Charlie."
After another minute of silence Charlie looked up and met his father's eyes. "He died, Dad," his voice hitched as he spoke. "He promised he wouldn't give up… and then he died."
"But he didn't die, Charlie – you kept him alive."
Charlie shook his head emphatically. "He did die. He told me..." Charlie dropped his gaze to his lap as tears threatened to fall. "He told me that he... loved me. And then he died."
Alan sighed in frustration. Of course Charlie would say he died because technically he had, even if only for a moment. "Okay, Charlie, so he died. But you brought him back. He came back for you. Don't you see that?"
Charlie looked up at Alan with a hopeful expression. "For me?"
"For you," Alan promised. "He's your big brother – he would do anything for you. Just like you'd do anything for him."
"I would," Charlie nodded. He looked at Don and felt an overwhelming urge to touch him – to feel him alive and breathing. "I want to see him."
Alan looked puzzled. "Can't you see him from-"
"No," Charlie interrupted. "I want to see him up close. I need to touch him and see for myself that he's okay."
"Oh. I don't know about that. You have a head injury and a bum knee..." Alan saw the pleading look in his son's eyes and sighed in defeat. "Alright," He grumbled. "Let me get a chair for you."
A few minutes later, after a lot of adjusting and manipulating the various tubes and IV lines sprouting from Charlie's body, Alan had him seated next to Don's bed. "Is that okay?" he inquired.
His youngest son nodded silently as he reached out and grasped Don's hand. He gently squeezed before lightly trailing his fingers up Don's arm, briefly resting them on his uninjured shoulder. Charlie's hand traveled down to rest over Don's heart, lingering there as he felt the reassuring heartbeat. Closing his eyes, he smiled as his hand rose and fell in time with his brother's breathing. Charlie then moved his hand to rest against Don's cheek and he lightly stroked his thumb across his brother's dry lips.
"You're really okay," Charlie breathed.
"Tickles," Don spoke, surprising his two family members.
"Stop," Don weakly chuckled. "…tickles." His eyes opened slowly.
Charlie began to laugh. "Sorry, bro."
"Can tell," he growled softly.
"How do you feel, Donny?" Alan asked as he stepped toward the bed.
"Been better," Don replied as he smiled at Charlie. "But… I'll live."
The significance of the words was not lost on Charlie. "Yes," he grinned, remembering their conversation that morning in the woods. "You will."
Alan was confused but too happy that his sons were awake to ponder the exchange any further. "Go back to sleep, Don. We're not going anywhere." He stroked Don's hair until his eyelids grew heavy and he finally surrendered to sleep. Alan turned his attention to Charlie. "You too, young man. Back to bed."
They maneuvered Charlie back to lie in his own bed and Alan lovingly tucked him in. "You see?" he asked.
"See what?" Charlie queried.
"He'll do anything for you," Alan stated again. "You sit with him and tell him he's okay, and he opens his eyes – for you."
Charlie smiled widely as he snuggled into his pillow. "I guess you're right, Dad."
"Did I just hear you say that I was right?" Alan asked in shock.
His only answer was the soft snores coming from two beds.
"It's not fair."
Alan sighed as his oldest son pouted. "Don-"
"I think it's fair," Charlie snickered.
"You're a brat," Don interrupted his father. "You know that, Chuck?"
"Don't call me Chuck," Charlie shot back. With an evil grin he added, "Donald."
"Why you little-"
"Enough!" Alan yelled at the top of his voice. "I swear you two are acting like a couple of five year olds." He rolled his eyes as both of his sons tried to look innocent – and miserably failed. "Charlie got to come home sooner because his condition wasn't as severe."
"He had a concussion!" Don protested. "And he's still limping because of his knee."
"Shall we bring up your list of ailments?" his brother challenged. "Food poisoning, blood loss, dehydration-"
"Fine," the other man grumbled. "You win."
Alan rolled his eyes as he dropped into his favorite chair. He studied his sons – finally home where they belonged – as they playfully argued back and forth. He couldn't help the smile that crept onto his face. Alan had been so afraid he might never get to enjoy a moment like this again.
"So," Charlie sighed contentedly as he propped his feet on the coffee table. "What's for dinner?"
"Am I fixing it?" Alan raised a questioning eyebrow.
Charlie slouched in his seat and tried to look pitiful. "Well, we are still recuperating."
"Is that right?" Alan snorted. He glanced at Don. "You too, I suppose?"
"Like he said," Don gestured at his brother as he, too, sank further into the cushions. "I was hurt worse."
"So you're telling me that you two aren't well enough to get up and help me with dinner? Not even to set the table?"
The brothers exchanged mischievous glances before shrugging at their father.
"I see." Alan rose from his chair and made a show of groaning as he stretched. "Well, I guess I'll just have to take Aunt Irene up on her offer to come over and help..."
"I'll set the table!" they called in unison as they darted past their father, leaving Alan alone in the living room, laughing harder than he had in a long time.