Don's eyes shot open and he lay in the bed, trying to determine what had disturbed his slumber. He concentrated in the dark and listened for any sound that might alert him to the feeling of unease creeping into his system. Charlie, he suddenly thought. Tonight's the night.
He groaned and, using only his good arm, struggled to sit up in bed. Don squinted at the alarm clock and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Any minute now, he thought as he waited silently.
"No!" He heard Charlie's muffled cry through the wall separating their bedrooms.
It's almost scary how well I know him, Don idly thought. His father had told him growing up that he had an uncanny knack for sensing Charlie's distress and, purely on instinct, finding a way to soothe him and make his problems disappear. Don had blown off his father's words at the time, but as he had gotten older he'd begun to understand that his father had been absolutely right.
Tonight is no exception, Don thought as he levered himself out of bed and quietly padded out of his room and into the hallway. He knew he'd woken up because it was time for Charlie to face his demons, and he was going to need every single bit of help Don could provide.
He slipped into his little brother's room and could just make out Charlie's outline in the dim moonlight coming from the bedroom window. His brother was sitting on the edge of the bed, shoulders hunched with his gaze glued to the floor. Don silently walked around the bed and sank onto the mattress next to the younger man.
"You should be asleep," Charlie stated flatly.
"So should you," Don countered.
"I'm not recovering from a major injury."
"No," Don agreed. "But you are recovering from a major trauma."
"Not the same."
"No, yours is worse."
He lifted his gaze and met Don's eyes. "How do you figure that?"
"Surgery, pain meds and rehab can fix my hurt." Don lowered his voice and leaned close to his brother. "It's no so easy to fix yours."
Charlie mumbled unconvincingly, "I'm fine."
"Knock it off, Buddy." The words were harsh, but Don's tone was gentle. "I've been there before."
"Really?" the professor snorted. "You've led your brother into a death trap and then watched as some lunatic tries to kill him in front of you?"
"First," Don said sharply. "You did not lead me into a death trap. You did what you had to do to get me help. I wouldn't be here right now if you hadn't. Got that?" Charlie shrugged, so Don grabbed his shoulder with his left hand and gave him a hard, borderline uncomfortable squeeze. "I said, got that?"
"Sure," Charlie replied half-heartedly.
"Second, I have watched as some lunatic tried to kill my brother in front of me. Or are you forgetting the sniper case?"
Even in the dim light, Don could see Charlie's face grow pale. "I hadn't forgotten it," he whispered, his shaky voice almost inaudible.
"Then why'd you think I wouldn't understand that?" Don gave him a perplexed look as he tried to make a connection between their most recent ordeal and the sniper case.
"Never mind." Charlie dropped his gaze back to the floor and clenched his fists in his lap.
"Buddy," Don whispered pleadingly. "You've got to open up. I can tell – Dad can tell – that this is eating you up inside. Even if you don't want to talk to me, you need to talk to someone."
"Don't you dare say fine," Don snapped angrily. "We had a string of horrendous cases and decided to take a vacation, I got hurt and you had to lead me to safety – which you did. You even managed to get us through a scrape with two different madmen. One might have been with a little luck, but the second was all your doing. We never would have escaped if you hadn't had the nerve to shoot him."
"I don't want to talk about it."
Realizing Charlie wasn't going to forgive himself without a shove in the right direction, Don changed tactics. "You know, Charlie," he quietly whispered. "I wish I'd never showed you how to fire a rifle. If I hadn't, you wouldn't be in this situation."
Charlie looked up in shock. "Don't say that," he whispered back. "If you hadn't shown me, then I couldn't have kept Gary from hurting you."
"But look at how depressed you are," Don responded. "I'm not sure it was worth it."
Charlie glared at Don through the pale moonlight. "Don't you ever say that again!" he yelled. "You're my brother and I would do anything for you!"
"Including kill a man if my life was in danger?"
Charlie sighed, flopping back on the mattress and studying the ceiling. "You make it sound so simple."
"It is simple," Don told him. "The choice was simple – kill an evil man to save a loved one, that's a no-brainer. The act itself was more difficult because you haven't had the years of training like I have." Don carefully lay back next to his brother and placed his left hand over Charlie's. "It's the aftermath that's hard, even for me."
"Really?" Charlie inquired. "You still have a hard time with it?"
"God yes, Charlie. It's never easy to deal with killing someone, no matter how justified it is."
"How many men have you had to kill?"
"Please, Don," he begged. "I need to know."
Don gave a weary sigh as he studied the darkened ceiling. "Three."
"Three," the younger man repeated thoughtfully. "And you never get used to it?"
"Used to it?" Don asked in surprise. "No, I don't. And if I ever did, it would be time for me to find a new job." Don laced his fingers through his brother's and turned his head to study Charlie's profile. "But you can learn to deal with it. You have to learn to deal with it if you're going to survive."
"How?" Charlie asked, sounding every bit like he did when he was five and Don could make him all better just by giving him a hug.
"Talk to someone. A professional, I mean. I hated the idea at first, but they really do help." Sensing Charlie's nervousness, Don smiled warmly. "I could get you in with one of the FBI's psychologists. Or I'm sure Megan would love to offer her help."
"I'm not sure about Megan," Charlie thought aloud. "I'm sure she'd be great, but she's such a good friend. I'd feel weird confessing my soul to her on a professional level."
"I can understand that," Don agreed. "I can see if I can get you in to see the one I talked to after I shot Chandler Yates."
Charlie couldn't suppress a shudder as he remembered the pervert who drugged women, killed them, and posed them to look like overdoses. Nor could he suppress a second shudder as he thought about how close he'd come to losing his brother then, too.
"Charlie?" Don asked worriedly.
"Sorry, just thinking. That sounds like a good idea Don. See if you can get me in."
"Glad to hear you say that." Don let out a loud yawn and started to rise. "I guess I should let you get back to sleep."
"Wait," Charlie said, grabbing Don's left forearm to stop him. "As long as you aren't too uncomfortable, maybe you could stay here."
Don tried to determine if that was a statement or a request, but then decided he didn't care. "Sounds good, Buddy. Just hand me a pillow."
Charlie grabbed a pillow and lifted Don's head, sliding it underneath. "How's that feel?"
"Much better," Don whispered.
"It is, isn't it?"
They both knew they were referring to something much more significant than sleeping arrangements and soon fell asleep, comforted in the knowledge that things were slowly getting back to normal.