Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. They do occasionally visit from time to time.
A/N: Oh, dudes. I'm feeling a multi-chapter whump coming on.
Don stood silently beside his brother at the graveside.
He had never met Dr. Henderson, but there was no way he was letting Charlie go through this alone. Larry would have found a way to get him here, but it would have been difficult. Peter Henderson and Larry had taught together for years, at a couple of different locations in fact – and Larry was quite close to the physicist and his wife. He sat amongst the family now, out-of-town children welcoming his familiarity as one of the tiny comforts they and their mother had known over the last few days.
Now, half an hour after they had arrived, Don and Charlie stood near the edges of the crowd. Don had noticed Charlie's almost imperceptible movements backwards, the way he kept looking over his shoulder to make sure there was a clear path to the SUV – but Don hadn't said anything about it.
He looked through his sunglasses at his brother, who was also, uncharacteristically, wearing sunglasses. The bruising on the left side of his face was all you could see of the rather impressive purple eye under those glasses. His left arm was tied to his chest by a discreet black sling, the result of his shoulder being pulled from its socket during the accident. Relocated now, it was still quite painful and severely limited his movements.
Not that he had been moving much, in the four days since it had happened. Or talking that much, either.
Don was very glad that their father would probably be home by the time they got back there. Megan had volunteered to take the morning off and meet him at the port of Long Beach. Alan had been on an Alaskan cruise with his brother, Morty – a birthday gift from Don and Charlie, in fact – and Don had just barely kept him from flying back from the next port when he called him. By the time he was able to arrange a call to the ship, he had known that Charlie would only be in the hospital overnight for observation, that he had escaped the incident of road rage with a black eye and a dislocated shoulder.
By the time Don was able to arrange a call to the ship, his own heart, which he had been sure would thud out of his chest for the last several hours, was finally beating more normally, again. When he had first gotten the call from the hospital on his own cell, as Charlie's emergency contact, he had felt fear, but quickly repressed it. Of course they wouldn't tell him over the phone what had happened, or how badly Charlie was hurt – he knew how these kinds of calls were handled. He managed to stay relatively calm all the way to Huntington Memorial. Once there, however, he had hurried into a busy ER, seen the police officers, and before anyone could speak with him directly, he overheard words like "CalSci professor" and "DOA".
By the time Don was able to arrange a call to the ship, he had spent half an hour on a gurney himself, trying to convince medical personnel that he was all right, he had only fainted; insisting that they let him up and take him to Charlie; believing that when they did, it would be to the morgue. After finally winning the argument, he almost passed out again when he was taken just a few cubicles down from where he had been himself, and Charlie, sitting on a table and looking miserable while someone taped his arm into position, looked up at him through his one good eye.
Don had been beside him in an instant, not even aware that he was moving that way. It was as if he had simply wished for it – "I want to be across the room" – and it had happened. He had taken Charlie's face in both hands and held it firmly, both to get a good look, and to convince himself, through touch, that his brother was alive and breathing. Don hadn't heard any of the details, yet – his own insistent panic after fainting had led the doctors to just let him in – so he had nothing specific to work with. Instead, he just repeated, "You're all right," a few times, hoping they would both believe it soon.
Later, while Charlie was being admitted for the evening, Don had sat with an L.A.P.D. officer who had told him that as far as they could tell, from talking to Charlie and other witnesses, what had gone down was a case of road rage. Dr. Henderson had a guest lecture at UCLA that afternoon, and Dr. Eppes had gone along, intending to use his visiting faculty privileges at UCLA's sciences library. They took Dr. Henderson's car. On the freeway, at one point, he had neglected to pull into another lane to allow a car from the on-ramp onto the freeway. Witnesses said later that he couldn't pull into the other lane, as he was being passed at the time.
The driver on the ramp, however, after squeezing in behind Henderson, had lowered his window and offered the one-fingered salute, while laying on his horn. Then, he had sped up as Henderson did. Henderson had tried evasive maneuvers, traveling to the lane closest to the median, and the other driver had chased him, eventually pulling up beside him and purposefully sideswiping the passenger side of the Henderson vehicle, sending it into a high-speed spin and into the median, where the car rolled one-and-a-half times, landing finally on its roof. An older vehicle, it had contained no air bags, and Dr. Henderson was DOA at the scene. The officer was amazed that Charlie, who had to be cut from the car, was in no worse shape than he was.
The story had increased Don's own heart rate again, and he had to sit with Charlie for a few minutes, watching him sleep from the pain meds they had given him for his shoulder, to reassure himself once more that Charlie was all right. Finally he had forced himself to go to an area of the hospital where he was allowed to use his cell phone, and call their father.
Waiting for the connection, and then waiting for the purser of the ship to get Alan to a phone, he remembered ruefully that he had laughed when his father had programmed the ship-to-shore number in his phone during the ride to the port. "They've asked us not to bring cell phones," Alan had reminded him. "New terrorist security measures and all that." Don had rolled his eyes. "I know, Dad, but you're only going to be gone a week. I think I can handle Charlie that long!", and his brother had glared at him from the back seat. Don closed his eyes tightly for a moment, then opened them again. Turned out, he couldn't handle Charlie that long – Alan had only been gone three days.
Finally, he heard his father's breathless voice. "What is it? We're at sea, but we'll be in Sitka in the morning. I'll fly home. Book me a flight."
Don actually smiled. For some reason, Alan's panic calmed him down. "Dad, it's okay. You don't have to come home, but I knew you'd kill…" He heard that word and his breath hitched a little. "I knew you'd be upset it we didn't tell you."
He heard his Uncle Morty in the background. "What is it?"
Don hurried on before his father spoke again. "Charlie was in an automobile accident – but he'll be all right. Dislocated shoulder is the worst of it."
"Oy, vey…" Alan's panicked tone didn't decrease. "Let me talk to him. I need to hear him myself."
"Dad, he's sleeping, now. The hospital gave him something when they reset his shoulder, and they want him to stay overnight for observation." Don allowed himself to plead a little. "Would I call you ship-to-shore and then lie to you? Dad, he'll be fine. I'll stay at the house until you get back."
Don listened to his father breathe. "What happened? How did he wreck his car?"
Don wondered how much to tell him, then figured his father would hear it in his voice if he tried to hold anything back. "Wasn't his car, Dad. He was with another prof from CalSci, they were going to UCLA. LAPD tells me it looks like a road rage thing. Somebody out there lost it…Dad…the other professor was DOA."
He heard Alan's quick intake of breath. "I should come home. You'll be working."
Don made the decision on the spot, didn't even think about it – or question it later. "No, Dad, I'll take a few days. I have a lot of time piling up, anyway." He tried to lighten the mood. "And as long as you're gone, this will count under the family emergency leave act – won't even use any vacation time!"
"I won't have a good time anyway, worrying about…" Don heard a small wrestling match and then his Uncle Morty's voice came over the line.
"Everything's really okay there, Donnie? Your brother will be all right?"
Don reassured him. "Yes, sir."
"And you can take some time off to make sure he's taking it easy for a few days?"
His uncle grunted. "Good. You take care of your brother – and I'll take care of mine." Don smiled as he heard the wrestling match again.
"You'll call again, if there's anything…ANYTHING I should know."
"Yes, Dad. You'll be in Sitka tomorrow?"
Alan sighed. "Yes."
"I'll take Charlie home in the morning. Why don't you call – say around 3or 4 – you can talk to him yourself."
Alan brightened. "Good idea. Donnie, thank-you for taking care of things."
"Not a problem, Dad. He's my brother." And Don had meant it.
Standing next to Charlie at the graveside, watching his curls lift slightly in the gentle wind, he still meant it.