Title: Twixt Dusk and Dawn

Author: FraidyCat

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em.


The morning sunlight streaked through the blinds Charlie had forgotten to close again, and hit him directly in the face. Refusing to open his eyes, he turned his head on the pillow, away from the glare, and was immediately assaulted by a wave of nausea and apparent jackhammer activity between his ears. He emitted a small moan, which tore through razor blades in his throat.

As he struggled in vain against full wakefulness, he became increasingly aware of things that hurt. His head, stomach and throat were just the beginning. He still hadn't opened his eyes, but now squeezed them so they were closed even tighter and tried to remember what day it was. Did he have to work today?

He felt a hand on his shoulder. "Charlie?"

Charlie gasped while the sound bounced from one side of his head to the other. "Sssss", was all he could get out of his mouth.

Still, Don must have understood, and lowered his voice to a concerned whisper. "Buddy, open your eyes. Are you all right?"

Charlie felt a hand on his forehead, heard a quick intake of breath and rapid footsteps. He wished someone would close the blinds — maybe hang a blanket over the window. If he could just have dark, maybe he could sleep again.

He swam a little in the bed, trying to persuade his limbs to coordinate their efforts and propel him upward. The nausea was increasing, and he thought maybe he should get to the bathroom.

"Here. Let me help." Don was back, and he was gently pulling at Charlie's arm — so gently, so tenderly, Charlie thought it was a shame that his arm was going to come off in Don's hand anyway. Don would feel badly about that.

He moaned again and managed to roll over on his back, then pry his eyes open – literally, with his fingers. He could feel sticky sleep crust, and wondered briefly at the amount. The room spinned slowly, and everything was slightly out of focus. Eventually, he locked onto his brother.

Don smiled tightly. "Hey. Let me take your temp real quick."

Charlie lay unable to protest, and felt a quick pressure in his ear. He tried to clear his throat, and winced.

Don regarded the thermometer with a frown, and then smiled at Charlie again. "You don't feel good."

Charlie blinked at him. Wasn't that his line?

Don sighed. "I'll help you to the bathroom, if you want. I'm sorry, but we need to talk about this."

Charlie almost closed his eyes again, but at the last millisecond became afraid they would stick shut. He needed to wash his face, find some aspirin…maybe something for his throat. He would let Don help him to the bathroom. His eyes found Don again, and he tried to tell him that without words.

It turned out to be a massive process. Charlie swayed on the edge of the bed for a few minutes before the long walk, and even with Don's support he kept weaving away from him, into the wall. His nausea increased with every step, and they had finally reached the bathroom when it refused to be suppressed anymore. Unfortunately, Charlie wasn't close to the toilet yet, and he let loose colorful projectile vomiting into the bathtub. His throat, already raw, screamed in protest and tears sprang to his crusty eyes.

Finished, he leaned wearily against the counter and watched Don rinse out the bathtub. "Better than the floor, I guess," he mumbled, trying to direct the shower spray toward a spot on the wall. He left the shower running and turned back to Charlie. "You all right in here alone?"

Charlie suddenly wanted to be under the stream of water, even if he had to stand in his own vomit, and he nodded.

Don looked at him uncertainly. "You haven't said anything, yet."

Charlie put his hand on his throat, and once again Don read his mind. He reached behind Charlie and opened the medicine cabinet, taking out a bottle of aspirin and some throat spray. He set them on the counter. "I'll go downstairs and get you some water…or 7-Up, I think there's some 7-Up. You have a fever, so take some aspirin." Don turned toward the door, and hesitated. He looked over his shoulder. "Sure you got this?"

Charlie nodded again, and pushed himself away from the counter to prove it. Don finally left, and Charlie closed the door after him. He was under the stream of water before he remembered to take his clothes off, and he left them soggy and sorry in the bottom of the bathtub when he climbed back out, unsteady, nearly cracking his head on the opposite counter. He brushed his teeth, swallowed some aspirin and sat on the edge of the bathtub, exhausted, starting to feel nauseous again.

He huddled there, towel he couldn't remember getting scrunched in his lap, for an undetermined amount of time. It was long enough for Don to get worried again, and eventually he knocked and opened the door. He set a can of 7-Up on the counter and assessed his brother. "I'll get you some clothes," he said, and disappeared again.

Some time later, Charlie found himself in bed again, sitting up and leaning against the wall. He had no clear memory of getting there, but he must not have passed out — he would be lying down if he passed out. He looked at Don, sitting on the desk chair beside the bed, and tried to speak.

"What?" It hardly qualified as a whisper.

Don handed him the can of soda. "Charlie…I worked really late last night. It was raining — remember?"

Charlie sipped and nodded.

Don continued. "Anyway. I was tired, and the house was closer than my apartment…I didn't think you'd mind if I came here and crashed for a few hours."

Charlie thought about shaking his head, but the aspirin hadn't really kicked in yet, so he just sat holding the can, looking at Don.

The story progressed. "So it was after 2 in the morning when I got here, and you were standing on the lawn in nothing but a t-shirt and boxers. In the rain. On top of an automatic sprinkler — which was on, by the way. You had a cold when I talked to you on the phone yesterday morning — I'm not surprised you're seriously sick, now. Charlie, I don't know how long you were out there, or what else you got yourself into…you don't remember it at all, do you?"

Charlie dropped his eyes to his lap.

Don scooted a little closer to the bed. "Buddy, you haven't done this in a while. The whole sleep-walking thing. The last time was just after…the funeral, for a few weeks. Before that, Mom said you had some problems your first semester at Princeton — just like when you started high school. The first time, when you were five — well, that was my fault. I never should have locked you in that closet. I didn't realize how frightened you would get…" Don hung his head, still embarrassed after all these years. "Then I forgot you were in there for hours…"

Charlie looked up, and reached out a shaky hand to touch Don's arm. That was old news, and Donnie had only been 10 himself.

Don raised his head again and looked at him. "Do you know how long it's been going on this time?"

This time Charlie risked a slight shake.

Don sighed. "I wish Dad was here. He didn't mention it before his trip, so I don't think he knew about it…do you think that's why it started? Are you worried about Dad?"

"No," Charlie whispered, and Don nodded.

"Good. Cuz you shouldn't. He and Uncle Morty are having a great time on that tour. I just talked to him yesterday…" Don studied him. "Is it Amita? You know, her leaving?"

"Don't think so," Charlie rasped, unaccountably pleased that he'd successfully put together three syllables.

"That last case I had you consult. I know it was disturbing. I shouldn't have let you see those photos."

Charlie looked down at his lap again and shook his head miserably, and to their mutual horror a hot tear dropped off his face and into the soda can.

"Ah, Charlie, " Don all-but-growled. "It was the case, wasn't it?"

Charlie wiped his face with the back of his hand. Instead of dropping the hand back to his lap, he let it creep toward Don's arm again. He tugged on the rolled-up sleeve of Don's white dress shirt. "Colby told me."

Don stiffened, and Charlie jerked his hand back as if from a snake. "He shouldn't have done that." Charlie was fascinated by the soda can again, and this time Don reached out to tilt his brother's face up so they were eye level again. He spoke gently. "Charlie, it wasn't that big a deal. A witness interview turned into a suspect interview, and the guy got his hands on his letter opener, got the drop on us. It was just a glancing blow — I didn't even need stiches in my arm.The worst part was the tetanus shot. It wasn't serious."

Charlie let his head tilt back against the wall with a thunk, and closed his eyes. "It's serious," he protested weakly. "It's serious."

Don dropped his hand, then raised it again to run it through his hair in a familiar gesture of annoyance. "I'm going to kill Granger," he said softly.

Charlie let his head remain against the wall, but he opened his eyes and looked at Don. "Not his fault. Thought I knew."

Don studied his fingernails. "Charlie. Charlie…I wish I could tell you things like this will never happen again, that I'll never be injured on the job again. But I can't. I'm a federal agent. It happens. It won't do any of us either good to pretend that it can't."

Charlie took a deep breath, decided to speak no matter how much it hurt. Unfortunately, the deep breath resulted in a spasm of coughing, and soon he was hunched forward over his knees trying to get another breath, Don pounding his back. After a lifetime passed — or maybe it was only a few seconds — Charlie straightened again, letting go of the soda can to wipe the sweat from his forehead.

Don grabbed the can and put it on the desk. "You okay?"

Charlie focused bleary eyes and tried again. "I know," he managed.

"Know what, Buddy?"

"That…that it can happen." His voice broke a little at the end, and Charlie knew it wasn't the cold. "When it does — and you don't tell me…Donnie, it's like you're locking me in that closet, again. You're taking away my freedom to love you, my right to worry about you, my choice to take care of you. I don't know when I should be afraid, so I'm afraid all the time."

The long speech had exhausted Charlie, but he stayed upright and watched Don think about his words.

"Please," he added desperately, "don't protect me by shutting me out. Trust me — so I can trust you." That finally did it, and Charlie leaned back, slipping down low against the wall.

Don stared at him for a long moment, then moved to feel Charlie's forehead again. "You really did it this time, kid," he said fondly, grinning a little. "Running through the sprinkler in the middle of the night in a rainstorm — in your boxers."

Charlie held his gaze, until Don dropped his hand to rub his own knee with it absently. "Okay," he finally sighed. "Okay. I see your point. I've always wanted to protect you. I don't want to frighten you — I can see that I've done that anyway." Don tilted his head back to look at the ceiling, then lowered it to look at Charlie, again. The brown eyes were clouded with illness and held onto tears they seemed too selfish to give up. "I'm not going to lie to you, Charlie, this will be tough. It goes against my nature — but I promise." He leaned forward until his face was only inches away from Charlie's. "I promise," he repeated. "No more Mr. Nice Guy. Okay?"

He leaned back, and waited until Charlie nodded and his eyes began to drift closed. He stood and helped his brother snuggle into the bed properly, then walked to the window and closed the blinds. By the time he got back to the bed, Charlie was out already. Don crossed his arms and watched him. "Just sleep now," he said quietly. "Everything will be all right. I promise."