Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: Thanks to ritt, the world's best beta ever. I'd like to dedicate this to my abettors- Ritt, Sin, Em, Z, and Mags. I don't remember who mentioned this idea first, although I'm pretty sure it was Mags that said, "Don't put anymore ideas in her head!" Just remember Mags, you and Z can fight over who gets to make him all better at the end.
"I'm glad we decided to do this, Don."
"You're only saying that because I'm carrying the heaviest pack," Don growled playfully at his little brother.
"You caught on to that, huh?" Charlie teased as he knelt next to the crystal clear, rapidly flowing river. He glanced up at his brother who was leaning against a tree, his eyes closed as the warmth of the sun bathed his face. "Seriously, we've both been needing a break."
"Yeah," Don sighed, wishing Charlie would stop mentioning that fact every hour or so. They were on vacation to relax and forget about the horrible wave of cases they'd recently endured, so he didn't know why Charlie kept bringing them up. "We can talk about other things, Buddy."
"Can we?" Charlie asked doubtfully. Don opened his eyes and stared at his brother, who quickly averted his gaze. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded, Don. I'm sorry."
"No," Don said as he walked to the water's edge and knelt next to the younger man. "I know what you mean. The past few weeks have been really rough on us." He lazily trailed his hand through the swift current, watching as mini-whirlpools formed around his fingers. "I wasn't the easiest person to get along with, was I?"
"You were under a lot of stress," Charlie offered. "I understood that." At his older brother's questioning look, he grinned. "Maybe not so much at the time. But I do now." He placed a hand on Don's shoulder and squeezed. "I really do."
"Thanks," Don whispered with a grateful smile on his face. "So, are we going to stay here all day, or keep hiking?"
"I was thinking we'd go across the river and up the mountain a bit." Charlie pointed to a clearing on the closest ridge. "We should be able to make that by nightfall. I'm guessing it's got an incredible view of the sky at night."
Don looked at the ridge and then back to the river. "The current's pretty swift," he commented. "How do you propose we cross it?"
"I checked our map, and the river gets wider and shallower a few hundred yards downstream. We should be able to wade across."
"We'll check it out and see," Don said. "But I don't want to wind up going for a long, unwanted swim, either."
"Too bad," Charlie laughed.
"What do you mean?"
"I overheard a couple of my students talking in class one day. Remember that experiment we did in Larry's office? The one where you got soaked?"
"Hard to forget," Don snorted.
"Well, they were talking about how hot you looked. I believe you even inspired them to look into some sort of wet tee shirt fund raiser."
"What?" the older man asked in shock. "Tell me you're kidding..."
Charlie threw up his hands and grinned. "Okay, okay – I was kidding."
"Good," Don sighed with relief.
"I suggested the fund raising idea!" Charlie exclaimed as he leaped to his feet and sprinted away from the water's edge.
"Get back here, you little creep!" Don yelled as he launched himself after the young professor.
Charlie laughed as he ran toward the tree line, knowing he could play ring around the tree until Don finally admitted defeat. He had just passed the first cluster of pine trees, when he heard a faint whooshing noise. His mind was still trying to deduce what the sound was, when another, louder sound brought him to a screeching halt.
"Ahh!" Don cried as his shoulder smacked into a tree. He leaned against the tree, his mind too stunned to process what had just happened. All he knew was that his right shoulder was screaming in agony. As he tried to roll away from the trunk to get a better look, a sharp, gut-wrenching pain shot through his body, causing him to cry out again.
"Don?" Charlie called frantically as he sprinted to his brother's side. "What hap-" The younger man stopped short as he spotted an arrow protruding from the back of Don's shoulder. "Oh my God," he breathed as he moved closer to his brother's side. Charlie glanced up, his chest tightening at the look of distress on the other man's face. "Don?"
The agent groaned in response, but kept his eyes clenched shut. His forehead was creased with lines of pain, and his breathing consisted of shallow puffs through his parted lips. Don's body seemed to want to sag to the ground in pain, but his shoulder wouldn't budge. Charlie leaned in to take a closer look and couldn't hold back a gasp as he saw where the head of the arrow disappeared into the tree trunk.
"Charlie?" Don panted, drawing the younger man out of his trance.
Charlie quickly wrapped his arms around his brother's waist and held him upright in an effort to take the strain off of the injured joint. "I've got you," he promised as his eyes darted around, searching for anything that might be of use. Charlie felt Don's body slipping in his grasp, so he bent his knee against the tree, giving his brother a makeshift stool to prop on. The agent gratefully let his weight settle on his brother's knee, ignoring the bite of the rough bark as his cheek scraped against the tree. He slowly opened his eyes and let his gaze drift down to his shoulder. He immediately regretted the decision as a wave of nausea washed over him.
"Charlie," he panted. His brother had already interpreted the signs of distress and was quickly but carefully turning Don's head away from the injured joint. He rubbed his brother's shoulder as the older man emptied the contents of his stomach onto the ground.
"Shh," Charlie soothed. "Try to take some deep breaths. Breathe through your nose. It's okay." He kept mumbling every reassuring, comforting phrase he could think of in an attempt to calm his big brother.
"Thanks," Don whispered as he rested his forehead against the trunk. "Got any water?"
Charlie glanced over to where the two freshly filled canteens rested by the edge of the river. "They're over there," he gestured with his head. "Can you hold yourself up while I get them?"
"I think so," Don said as he shifted his weight off of Charlie's knee and onto his own two feet. "Just hurry, okay?"
Charlie moved as quick as lightning, grabbing both containers and both of their packs and racing back to his brother's side. He slid his knee back in place just as Don's strength was giving out. He started to hand Don the water before it dawned on him that it was his brother's right shoulder that was immobilized. Glancing at the tremors in his brother's left hand, Charlie gently pushed it back to rest at Don's side and held the canteen to Don's mouth. "I've got it," he told him. "Go slowly."
Don drank his fill and turned his head away to indicate that he was finished. "So," he said, trying to keep his voice as even as possible. "What do we do now?"
Charlie's heart sank as he realized that he had no idea.
"Damn," Ralph Monroe swore to himself as he studied the two men down the mountain and across the river from him. Well, this is exactly what I needed, he thought sarcastically as he set his composite bow down and pulled out a pair of binoculars.
He scanned the riverbank until he landed on the two men. Bringing the lenses into focus, he studied their actions. The older man had been hit with an arrow and seemed to be leaning against- no, wait! He was pinned to the tree by the arrow? Monroe felt only a slight twinge of empathy before turning his attention to the uninjured man. He was providing his companion with support – both physical and emotional, if the movement of his lips and the injured man's nodding was any sign.
They must be close, he mused. That could come in handy.
Sighing, the sandy haired man dressed in camouflage picked up his bow and quiver of arrows, slinging them on his back and heading for his cabin. Monroe hadn't meant to hit either one of the two men, only scare them off into the opposite direction, but the older man had moved right into the arrow's path as it had shot away from the bow. Too late to look back now, he thought. Just focus on solving the problem at hand.
He took his time as he walked the short distance back to his cabin, knowing that neither one of the men across the river would be going anywhere – the older because he couldn't, and the younger because he wouldn't leave his friend. That left him plenty of time to retrieve his rifle and handgun from his home before going back to clean up the problem.