Title: Life Vs. Charlie

Author: FraidyCat

Genre: Drama, Angst

Time line: Any Time is Good For Me

Summary: I whump Charles. It's what I do.

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Drat the luck.


Chapter 1

He walked on shaky legs to the waiting area at the front of the clinic, and the orderly indicated a spot near the window. "You can wait here for your ride," he offered, and Charlie gratefully sank into the overstuffed chair. "Would you like some water? The doctor said you can sip small amounts. As the local wears off, you'll probably find your throat getting sore."

Charlie shook his head silently. His throat would get sore? And what was it now? He was still a little fuzzy, and he didn't really hear the orderly say good-bye and leave. He just suddenly found himself clutching nearly a ream of papers that someone had handed him, blinking into the beam of sunlight that came through the window. He tried to think.


He looked at his watch. It was past the time that he had asked Don to pick him up. Uh-oh. That couldn't be good. He wrestled the cell phone from his pocket and turned it back on, now that he was out of the treatment area. Ah. Voice mail. He lifted the phone to his ear.

"Charlie, hey Buddy. I'm on the way, but I got called out on a case this morning and I'm stuck on the interstate trying to get back. Must be an accident up ahead, nothing is moving. If it looks like I'll be very late, I'll try to get a hold of Larry. Maybe he can pick you up." Don sighed. "I wish you had given me a little notice, so I could have taken the day off… or that you had told Dad about this; you know he would have dropped out of the tournament and gone with you. Anyway, hang in, okay? I'll get someone there as soon as I can."

Charlie returned the phone to his pocket, fumbling with it a little. He was getting a headache to go along with his sore throat. He looked at his watch again. Don was almost 45 minutes late; the endoscopic prodedure had taken longer than it was supposed to. He rubbed his forehead. Don was right — Dad would have dropped out of his golf tournament and come with Charlie, waited for him — and that's why he hadn't told him. Dad loved this tournament. He'd been playing with the same foursome in it for almost 20 years, and it was for a good cause, the American Cancer Society. The tournament and its beneficiary had become even more important to him in the years since his wife's illness and death. He did everything he could to support cancer research now.

Charlie kept rubbing his head. He still felt a little loopy. He would call a cab, but the clinic had some kind of policy about that. Insisted that a family member or friend actually pick you up. Don wasn't going to reach Larry. Well, maybe he would — but it wouldn't do him any good. Larry was out of town this week at a physics consortium being held at the University of New Mexico. Charlie had been up until four in the morning for three consecutive nights before Larry left, double- and triple-checking the equations in the paper Larry was scheduled to present. That was probably one reason he was so exhausted now.

That, and the 5-foot-long tube shoved down his throat, the 20-guage needle full of sedative, the unexpected cauterization and the gastroenterologist's almost casual use of the word "biopsy" during their conflab in his office when the procedure was finally over. That kind of stuff could tire a guy out.

He looked at the papers, which he was now holding in both hands, although he couldn't really remember lowering his hand from his head. Three pages of dietary instructions. A computer print-out of today's endoscopic experience and potential side effects. Half a pound of detailed gastric ulcer information. Several prescriptions. A card with his next appointment. Had he talked to someone about all this stuff? He couldn't remember that, either.

He cleared his throat and winced, immediately regretting it.

Charlie wanted to be home. He wanted to be in bed. He wanted a quart of strawberry ice cream. He wanted to not be such a wuss.

A shadow loomed over him, breaking into the warmth and light of the sunbeam, and Charlie discovered that his eyes were closed.

"Hey, Buddy, I'm sorry…" Don sat down next to him, somewhat breathless. "I hurried…" He looked at Charlie. "You're looking a little rough around the edges, Bro. You sure you're okay to go?"

Charlie blinked a few times. As post-procedure time went on, he seemed to be getting more tired. What kind of sense did that make? He smiled wanly at Don and nodded, started to get out of the chair. After two attempts, Don finally relented and helped him up. "Seriously, Buddy. You okay?"

Charlie nodded again.

Don persisted. "Can I have an actual word?"

"Hurts," Charlie rasped out. "Home now."

Don draped an arm over Charlie's shoulders and guided him toward the door. He shook his head in sympathy. "Sorry. I don't know much about these endo things. I didn't think about your throat hurting." Charlie was listing his way. "Should they let you go when you're this shaky? I thought the anesthetic would be worn off by now." He pushed the clinic door open and was glad he had found a parking space near the front. Still, Charlie was leaning into him heavily enough that he led him to a bench near a turn-around in the clinic driveway, and sat them both down.

Charlie swallowed. "Took longer," he whispered.

Don tried to fill in the blanks. "It took longer than they thought it would?" Charlie nodded. "Complications? They had to do more than they intended?" Charlie nodded again, and yawned, trying to stifle it and keep his mouth from opening. Don stood again. "Look, you wait here. I'll bring the car around."

A few minutes later, and Charlie managed to climb in the SUV on his own. When it seemed apparent that he had forgotten what a seatbelt was, Don buckled him in and then started for the house. Charlie held up a fist full of paper. "Prescriptions?" Charlie nodded, then leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes. By the time Don stopped at the pharmacy about a mile from the house, Charlie was solidly asleep. Don touched his hand to Charlie's forehead and didn't feel a fever, so he let him sleep, pried the prescriptions out of his hand and went in to fill them himself. Because this pharmacy was so close to home, Charlie had been here before, and all of his information was on file. Still, by the time everything was filled, Don had been there for almost half an hour, glancing anxiously out the window at Charlie, still asleep in the SUV. He barely listened while a pharmacist gave him instructions about a COX-2 inhibitor, an antibiotic, an antacid and something called a H2 blocker. Once he heard that Charlie didn't have to take any of it this evening, he figured they'd just figure it out together in the morning.

On the way back to the SUV, Don called Megan and let her know he wouldn't be back to the office this afternoon. His Dad usually had dinner with his foursome after the tourney, and probably wouldn't be back until late. No way was Don leaving Charlie alone at the house. When he was back behind the wheel, he picked up some of the other papers Charlie had been holding, most of which had slipped onto the floorboards by now.

He found himself looking at dietary guidelines. He glanced at his brother — still sleeping — then exited the SUV again to run into the small convenience store next to the pharmacy.

Fifteen minutes later he stopped in the driveway of Charlie's house. He took all the papers, the prescriptions and the bag from the store into the kitchen, then went back to the vehicle and opened the passenger door. He unbuckled Charlie and shook his shoulder lightly. "Sleeping Beauty. Time to wake up. We're home." Charlie opened his eyes slowly, and blinked at Don in confusion. Don couldn't help a small laugh at the look. It was obvious Charlie didn't know his own house from a hole in the ground. Even as he laughed, he felt frustration rise within him. Why did Charlie do things like this? Why had he tried to tough this out alone? Hadn't Don always taken care of Charlie? Why did his brother feel like he couldn't count on him? "Come on," he said tenderly, and he helped Charlie slide out of the SUV and held his arm until he felt him regain some balance. They walked slowly into the house, through the kitchen entry. "I can help you upstairs," Don offered, then indicated the kitchen table. Two bowls and spoons sat on it, alongside a quart of non-fat strawberry ice cream. "Unless you'd like some dinner first?"

Charlie focused bleary eyes on the ice cream, and a sound involuntarily escaped him. He sat down carefully at the table, eyes still on the ice cream.

"Don," he rasped out, "you are the best brother in the entire universe."