Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: As always, thanks to ritt for letting me bounce this idea off of her.
Don sleepily stumbled to his front door, his gun in hand – partly as a safety measure since it was so late at night, but partly because he was tempted to shoot whoever was banging on his door at this hour. He peeked through the peephole and frowned as he recognized the curly haired young man on the other side.
"Charlie?" he asked in shock as he opened the door. "Is something wrong?"
His brother gave him a sloppy grin. "Nothin's wrong. Just wanted to visit."
"Are you drunk?" Don asked in disbelief. In all his years, he couldn't ever remember Charlie getting drunk.
"Maybe," Charlie answered with a frown. "I had a few beers."
"How many is a few?" Don queried, catching his brother as he listed to the side.
"Lost count," he mumbled.
"Okay, if you can't rattle off the exact numbers, then you're definitely drunk." Don gripped his brother's elbow and steered him to sit on the couch. "Are you feeling sick?"
Don sighed and rolled his eyes. "Sick, Charlie, do you feel sick? I don't want you puking all over my rug."
"Oh," the younger man replied as if he'd just had a major breakthrough in his research. "I think I'm okay."
"Yeah," the older man said skeptically. "Well if you throw up in here, you're going to clean it up, too. Got it?"
"You're a mean drunk, Don."
"I'm not drunk, Charlie. You are."
"Oh. Okay then." He grinned again. "That might explain why the room is spin-" He stopped speaking as his face turned green.
"No you don't," Don told him as he thrust the trash can at him. "In there." Don watched as his younger brother mostly hit his target, sighing with relief as the rest went onto the hardwood floor and not the rug. Resigning himself to the fact that Charlie was going to be of absolutely no use any time soon, Don grabbed a mop and bucket and proceeded to clean the mess up.
"Sorry," the younger man mumbled from the couch.
Don glanced up, taking in his brother's pale complexion and the lines of exhaustion on his face. "It's okay, Buddy," he whispered softly. "I'm not mad." He finished mopping and joined Charlie on the couch. "Want to tell me what happened tonight?"
"Reality," Charlie sighed.
"Reality?" Don repeated.
"I always knew Dad was getting older," Charlie whispered. "He tries to stay healthy. Eats right, exercises..." His tearful eyes found Don's face. "But it doesn't matter, does it?"
"What?" Don asked in confusion. "What are you talking about? Is Dad okay?"
"Professor Alex Meadows," Charlie sighed. "He died of an aneurysm today. Walking down the halls, healthy as a horse, and he dropped dead right in front of me."
"Oh, Charlie," Don breathed. "I'm so sorry. Were you two close?"
"We knew each other enough to say 'hi'. He was Dad's age, even Dad's approximate weight and height." Charlie shivered so Don placed a hand on his neck and gently squeezed. "He died in my arms... And I kept picturing Dad there instead."
"Come here, Buddy," Don whispered as he placed an arm round his younger brother's shoulders and pulled him close. He held Charlie in a tight embrace and gently rubbed his arm as he whispered soothing sounds in his ear. "It wasn't Dad. Shh. It's okay." As Charlie started softly crying, Don began to draw on every big brother instinct he had to make him feel better.
Charlie sighed and leaned into his brother's embrace, feeling comforted by the familiar warmth and strength that was his older brother. Whenever he was down – sad or scared – Don could always bring him out of it. Just knowing that his protector was there with him, and would keep everything bad at bay, was enough to lift Charlie's spirits. Tonight, although his grief was more severe than usual, was no exception.
Charlie's tears slowed and eventually dried up as Don maintained a steady massage on his shoulder. The deep voice and strong rumble in his brother's chest soothed away the tremors in his body. Charlie soon found himself comfortably sprawled in his big brother's lap, and yawning as sleep threatened on the horizon.
"Mm," Charlie mumbled.
"My legs are about to fall asleep."
"Sorry," Charlie said sleepily.
"You think maybe we can get up? You can crash on my bed."
"Sure," he replied without moving. He thought he heard Don chuckle before he felt his brother's hands slipping under his arms and lifting him up. He tried to help, tried to stand, but his body was too worn out.
"Just relax," Don whispered. "I've got you."
Charlie nodded as he felt his body being moved around. An arm snaked behind his knees and his world spun as he was lifted into his brother's arms. He managed to shift enough that he was hugging Don's neck and keeping his weight as close to his brother's chest as he could, not wanting Don to hurt his back, but not wanting to be set down either. He knew he was a grown man now and a lot heavier than he had been when they were kids and Don had carried him to bed, but the memories were so strong and soothing that he didn't want them to stop. There was one in particular that was in the forefront of his mind...
"Charlie!" fourteen year old Don called out. "Are you in here?"
Charlie pressed his tear-stained face against his knees as he heard his brother enter the solarium. He had been crying all afternoon, ever since his mother had gotten the call about his father. She'd called their neighbor, Mrs. Crenshaw, over to stay with him and then left to meet his father at the hospital. The elderly woman hadn't been around small children in quite a while, so the nine year old had easily slipped out from under her watchful eye and into his place of refuge. But Don always knew where to find him.
"There you are, Buddy." Don's voice was sad and hushed as he quietly made his way across the room. He dropped to the floor next to his brother and folded his hands in his lap. "Are you okay?"
Charlie sniffled as he kept his face hidden. "Go away," he mumbled, deathly afraid of what his brother would think when he found out that he was crying.
"You want me to go away?" Don asked, his tone hurt and confused. "I can't do that, Charlie. Not until I know that you're okay." He hesitated before reaching out and resting his hand on Charlie's shoulder. "Are you okay?"
"Leave me alone," the younger boy repeated with a hitch in his voice.
"You know Dad's okay, right? The car accident wasn't that bad. He's got a hurt shoulder, but he's fine. He'll be back home tomorrow night."
The tearful nine year old peeked over his knees at his older brother. "He's really okay?"
Don broke into a wide grin. "You know Dad – nothing can keep him down. He's going to be just fine."
Charlie gave Don his most trusting look before breaking into a faint smile. "That's good."
Don reached out and ruffled the younger boy's hair. "You feel better now?"
"You always make me feel better," he whispered somberly. "Always, Don."
Charlie could have sworn that – for the briefest moment – there were tears in his brother's eyes, too. But then the mischievous twinkle was back and Don was all smiles. "We should go to bed soon. The sooner we sleep, the sooner tomorrow gets here and we get to see Dad."
"Okay." Charlie held his arms out toward his older brother, and his heart swelled with happiness as Don scooped him up into his arms. He hugged the older boy's neck, and pressed his cheek against Don's. "I love you, Don."
"I love you, too, Buddy."
Charlie's thoughts returned to the present as Don gently set him down on his bed. He waited patiently as his big brother folded down the sheets before urging him to lie down and then tucking him in.
"Are you going to be okay now, Buddy?"
"As long as you're here," Charlie told him.
"I'll always be here," Don whispered reassuringly as he leaned over and kissed his brother's forehead. "Sleep tight." He softly walked to the doorway and was about to turn out the light, when he grinned and glanced back at his little brother. "Oh, and Charlie?"
"Yeah?" the drowsy young man roused long enough to answer.
"Those are four hundred count, one hundred percent Egyptian cotton sheets."
Even through the haze of inebriation, Charlie sensed where this was going and giggled.
"If you throw up on them..."
"I know," he chuckled. "I'll have to buy you new ones."
"Glad we understand each other," Don laughed as he flipped off the light and slipped from the room.
Four days later, Don walked into the office from lunch to find a brown paper bag on his desk. His team was huddled around the desk, eagerly waiting for Don to reveal the contents of the bag. He gave them a warning glance as he opened the bag and peered inside. They grinned at the red flush that crept up their boss's cheeks.
"Excuse me," Don mumbled as he made his way to the conference room. Sensing his friends' presence behind him, he whirled around and fixed them with a glare. "And if anybody so much as thinks about coming in here in the next five minutes, you'll be doing desk work for a year."
Satisfied that his threat was sufficient, he sat in one of the chairs and studied the contents of the bag again. There – still wrapped in shiny cellophane – was a brand new set of four hundred count, one hundred percent Egyptian cotton sheets along with a note from his brother thanking him for being so understanding about the whole incident. Don was debating just how grateful Charlie must be as he stared at the yellow sheets with pastel pink flowers dancing across them.