Four cracked ribs. Ridiculous. Don Eppes moved painfully off the gurney. He wanted to check on Megan before he left. She had gotten the worst of it today with a grazed arm. She had tried to convince her fellow agents that she was fine, but they were worried when she passed out. Don, on the other hand, had taken two bullets in his vest.
Though the agents had found the home where the gang members hid, they didn't get to take them in without a fight. Besides Don and Megan, only two other agents were shot in the vest. Don was relieved when the shooting ended and his team took the gang into custody. It had taken him a while to catch his breath, taking both shots at once. Meanwhile, his team had handled it well. He was proud of them.
Don walked slowly to Megan's room, holding his side. Megan lay on a hospital bed with her hair pulled back in a bun, wearing one of those awful hospital gowns. Her right biceps were wrapped heavily with bandages. She looked up when her boss walked in.
"Hey, Meg. How you feeling?" Don asked softly as he stepped to her bedside.
"Annoyed. I have to spend the night here for observation. How about you? You okay?"
"Yeah, just a little sore, nothing like you, I'm sure."
Megan waved off his comment. "Eh, it's nothing. Are you headed home?"
"Probably to Charlie's house. I don't feel like going through town tonight. It's already late."
"Are you going to tell them?" Megan looked at Don closely.
"Dad will probably get up when he hears me come in. I'll have to tell him. Charlie, on the other hand, is a heavy sleeper. I'll tell Dad, but not Charlie, if I can keep from it."
"Don." Megan's voice held her disapproval.
"What? Forgive me if I don't want Charlie losing himself to P vs. NP over something as trivial as tonight," Don snapped.
"Don, four agents got shot, one of them being you. Charlie has a right to know."
"No. I'll tell him his equation was right and that we've solved this one, but that's it."
Megan sighed, annoyed. "If you won't, I won't."
Don let the fight leave him. "Thanks. You gonna be back Monday?"
"You know it."
Don grinned. "Good. I'm glad to hear it. Get some rest."
Don headed out the door.
"Tell Charlie!" he heard Megan call after him.
No. As much as he loved his brother, he couldn't tell him. He needed Charlie to be at his best for the next case that he helped them with. It wasn't just that, either. When Charlie went in his P vs. NP mode, he usually didn't take good care of himself, not that he usually did. For Charlie's safety, Don wouldn't tell him.
Don drove the fifteen minutes to his childhood home, now under the ownership of his little brother. With a sigh, knowing what he was about to face, Don walked up to the house and let himself in.
Charlie Eppes wasn't sure what woke him up so late at night. He looked at his clock which read 12:39. He listened for any sounds, wondering if his house was being robbed. Deciding to investigate, Charlie quietly slipped out of his room. He saw that the door to his father's room was open. Peering inside, he found it empty.
Figuring it was just his father's movements that woke him, Charlie headed back to his room, but voices from downstairs in the kitchen caught his attention. Charlie went down five steps and sat on the fourth, straining to hear the conversation.
"What are you doing here so late?" Charlie recognized his father's voice, then he heard his brother's.
"I'll tell you in a minute, if you promise not to tell Charlie."
"Like I've never lied to him for you before?"
The conversation demanding his attention, Charlie scooted down a few more steps.
"It's not lies, Dad, just... denying him the truth."
"That's just a better way of saying lying, son. But fine. What happened? Something bad, I take it, since I can't tell your brother."
"I got shot." Charlie heard his father's gasp echo his own.
"Where? Are you all right?" Alan asked frantically.
"In the vest okay? I'm fine, really. Just four cracked ribs." Don spoke as though it wasn't a big deal.
"Four? How do you get shot and end up with four cracked ribs?"
"Because I got shot twice, if you must know."
Again, the two gasps rang out.
"Oh, Donny. You must be in a lot of pain. Are you okay now? Not hurting too badly are you?"
"No, Dad. They gave me some pain killers for it. It's really not that bad."
"Not that bad? Don, you got shot twice! That counts as bad in my book."
"Well, it's not a big deal. Charlie's equation sent us to the right house. We just had a little crossfire before we had things under control."
Charlie placed his hands over his mouth. It was his fault. He was responsible for Don getting shot... again.
"Were any other agents hurt?" Alan asked, thinking about the ones he'd met.
"Two were shot in the vest and Megan's arm was grazed. She's in the hospital tonight for observation, since she lost so much blood and she passed out. But, she should be released tomorrow morning."
As if it wasn't bad enough being responsible for getting his brother shot twice, he also had three other agents, one being Megan, to feel responsible for.
"You should tell Charlie," Alan said to his oldest, though he knew Don wouldn't.
"No, Dad. You know I can't. He'll start working on P vs. NP again and he'll get all weepy and clingy. I don't need that. I need him at his best so he can help us with the next case we get." Don's words cut Charlie like a thousand knives, but the pain was hidden under the incredible guilt he was feeling.
"You shouldn't blame your brother for caring about you." Charlie was appreciative of his father's defense.
"I know, and I appreciate it, but forgive me for not wanting him to lock himself in the garage again."
"I know. I don't want that either. But I don't want you to lie to your brother... or 'deny him the truth' as you call it."
"I won't tell him, Dad. We've not told him about my injuries before."
What? There were others they hadn't told him about? How long had this been going on? Charlie wondered.
"Yes, but those were different. He wasn't involved in those cases."
"All the more reason not to tell him. Before, he was still wrapped up in P vs. NP. It wouldn't have made a difference if I'd told him or not."
"What about when he wasn't? Your mother was still alive then. You and Charlie just weren't talking much."
"Again, he wouldn't have known one way or the other."
"Yes, and your mother and I hated lying to him by saying we were going on a vacation. He was still working toward his doctorate. He wasn't that old."
"It worked, though, didn't it? Look, if I thought he could handle it, I'd tell him. But we can't afford for him to lock himself in the garage. Besides, you know what he does to himself."
Charlie couldn't take it any longer. He backed off the steps quietly and then rushed back into the safety of his room.
Is that what Don thought of him? He wasn't capable of handling the news that he was responsible for getting his brother and three other agents shot?
Deep down, though, Charlie knew Don was right. Already his mind reeled at the thought of causing Don so much pain. Charlie wondered how much more he could take working for the FBI.
Charlie knew he wouldn't resort to P vs. NP. It would only prove Don right about him. He had to do something, though.
For now, he closed his eyes, hoping for sleep to come. His face dampened as tears of guilt and hurt sped down Charlie's face, clinging there until he fell asleep.
"Did you hear that?" Don asked his father, noticing a noise from upstairs.
"Hear what?" Alan hadn't heard anything.
"I don't know." Don shook his head. "Maybe I'm hearing things."
Alan brought the main subject back. "I'm getting tired of lying to your brother for you, you know." Alan hated lies, even if they protected his son.
"I know, Dad. I'm sorry I have to do this to you, but you know why."
"He loves you, Don. He deserves the truth... from you."
Don sighed as his father walked out of the kitchen and up the steps to his room.
Don made use of his old room, now the "guest room," though he was the only guest who used it.
Don slept fitfully. Each way he turned hurt, but he couldn't stand sleeping on his back or his stomach. He ached throughout the night as he dared to sleep on his sides.
Don woke early after sleeping sporadically. He didn't have to go into the office today, for which he was thankful. The smell of coffee and french toast greeted him.
After showering and changing, Don went downstairs. His father had just finished two slices and handed them to his oldest son.
"Sleep okay?" Alan asked.
"Yeah," Don lied. "Charlie still asleep?"
"I suppose so. Why don't you go get him up? I have two more almost done."
Don headed up the steps to his little brother's room. Charlie was sleeping strangely, his head off the pillow and all his covers bunched up behind him, looking like another person. Don was about to scare Charlie by shouting at him to awake his brother, but ended up scared himself when Charlie jumped in the bed.
Charlie's body jerked upward and turned, falling out of the bed with a loud thump. Don rushed to his brother's side, who, somehow, had managed to remain asleep.
Don grunted as he sank to the floor beside Charlie. Charlie tossed again in his sleep, whimpering like a kicked puppy.
"Charlie. Charlie, wake up. Come on, Buddy." Don gently shook his brother, who woke up with a sharp gasp.
"Hey, easy. You're okay," Don soothed as he saw the wild-eyed look on his brother's face.
"Don?" Charlie spoke quietly as he turned to his big brother. Little did Don know, Charlie had been having a nightmare about Don getting shot.
"Yeah, Buddy. I'm here. You all right?"
Charlie took a deep breath, then nodded.
"I came up here to tell you Dad's got breakfast ready and waiting on us."
Don stood, fighting to hide his groan of pain.
"You all right?" Charlie asked, knowing exactly why his brother had groaned.
"Slept weird last night, I guess," Don lied.
Charlie wished Don would tell him the truth, though he already knew it. It hurt him that his brother didn't trust him.
The two went downstairs, greeted at the dining table with french toast and coffee. As delicious as the sugary toast looked, Charlie didn't feel hungry and ended up picking at his food. Alan noticed.
"Charlie? Are you all right?" Don looked to his brother at his father's question.
Charlie jumped, startled by his father's voice.
"You look like you're worried about something," Alan noted.
Charlie shook his head. "I'm okay. I'm just not very hungry." He stood up and left the dining area, returning to the safety of his room.
Meanwhile, Don and Alan looked worriedly after him.
"What was that all about?" Alan asked, turning to his oldest son.
"I don't know. He seemed to be having a nightmare when I got to his room. He fell out of bed even."
"Is that what that was?" Alan recalled the loud noise.
"Well, something is definitely bothering him." Alan stood and cleared the table.
"You don't think he knows, do you?" Don quietly asked.
"No. You know Charlie. He sleeps like the dead."
Don smiled. "Yeah. That he does."
Charlie felt the tears mix with the water from the shower. He tried to push down the pain and guilt, but he wasn't doing a very good job. He wanted to be mad at Don for lying to him, but he felt too guilty for getting Don shot. He couldn't shake the pain of it, though.
Once out of the shower, Charlie stayed in his room. Soon after getting out of the shower, he heard Don on the other side of the door.
"Charlie? Charlie, Buddy, can I come in?" Don knocked. Charlie waited for Don to enter, like he knew he would.
Charlie looked at Don when his brother walked in.
"You all right?" Don asked as he sat beside his brother on the bed.
"You sure?" Don was still doubtful, but Charlie nodded.
"I wanted to tell you that yesterday we caught the gang from downtown LA, the ones responsible for all those murders. Your equation worked."
"I'm glad I was able to help." His tone made him sound indifferent.
"Good job," Don said as he reached out and squeezed Charlie's shoulder.
Don stood. "Well, I just wanted to tell you that before I left."
"Where are you off to?"
"I was thinking about stopping at the gun range for a while, then I'll be at my apartment."
"You coming over for supper?"
"No. I pawn off you two enough." Don grinned.
"I'll see you later, then, Buddy."
Charlie watched as Don left. He couldn't imagine what would possess his brother to go to the shooting range after getting shot. Little did he know, for Don, it was therapeutic. Don had trouble hearing a gun shot after he'd been shot, so he stayed at the shooting range until it didn't bother him anymore.
Charlie couldn't take the thoughts rolling around in his head. His mind overwhelmed him. He wanted, needed to put his mind to work on P vs. NP. To try to keep his mind on other things, Charlie decided to go for a bike ride. Only, he headed in the direction of CalSci. Once there, he was drawn to his office, his office full of chalkboards.
Charlie could so easily fall into the numbers. But he was determined to prove Don wrong.
Charlie sank down on the chair behind his desk. He couldn't do nothing. He decided since he couldn't work on P vs. NP, he could at least work on his classes.
And he did. He worked until after dark. Then he worked a few more hours. All meals were skipped. No breaks were taken. He finally left when he realized something else had to be done. The math wasn't cutting it. So, at one-thirty in the morning, Charlie left his office after preparing over three weeks' worth of work.
Charlie rode his bike for a long time. It hadn't dawned on him that it was raining until he was almost at his destination. By then, he was soaked clear through.
Charlie went to the door of his brother's apartment. He wanted so badly to hear the truth from his brother. He longed for his comfort. But, seeing how late it was, Charlie fought with himself, wondering what to do.
Don was in his living room, watching TV. He didn't want to face another uncomfortable night of near sleeplessness. His FBI senses kicked in when he heard someone at his door, and it wasn't just the sound of rain.
Grabbing his gun, he kept it at his side as he quietly went to his door. He looked out the small hole in the door and was surprised and relieved to see his brother Charlie.
Don set down his gun and opened his door, scaring Charlie.
"Charlie? What the hell are you doing here?" Don slowly took in his brother's appearance. When he saw his brother's teeth chattering, Don quickly pulled Charlie inside.
"What are you doing here so late? You're soaked to the bone! Please, tell me you didn't ride your bike all the way here."
By the look on Charlie's face, Don got his answer.
"Charlie! Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?" Don went to his room and pulled out a towel and an outfit of Charlie's that had gotten mixed in with his stuff.
"Here. Go dry off and change into this." Don pointed to the bathroom.
Charlie mutely obeyed. Don was in the kitchen when Charlie came out. He waited for Don in the living room.
Don looked at Charlie, unnoticed, from the kitchen. His brother looked out of focus, or, as his father would say, going through the "other brood." Don knew something had been bothering Charlie earlier. Whatever it was, it must be serious.
Don stepped into the living room. He handed Charlie a cup of hot tea.
Don went to the chair across from his brother, holding his cup of coffee.
"Buddy, what's going on?" Don kept his tone gentle.
Charlie turned haunted eyes to his brother. He swallowed hard, then spoke.
"I... I heard you last night."
The breath rushed out of Don's lungs. How was he supposed to fix this?
Charlie nodded. "I-I heard something that woke me up. When I left my room, I heard you and Dad talking, so I listened on the steps."
In a failed attempt to lighten the mood, Don laughed. "You were always good at spying on people from the steps." Charlie didn't see the humor.
"I didn't work on P vs. NP today, as much as I wanted to. I've been at my office, working. I just... I lost track of time. And then I knew I had to come here. I'm sorry."
"It's okay. I'm glad you came."
The two sat in silence. Charlie ignored the steaming cup of tea in his hands. His damp curls still clung to his face and neck. He shivered involuntarily. Don noticed.
He set his cup on the table and then went to his room and took the comforter off his bed. Returning to the living room, Don wrapped the blanket around his little brother tightly.
"Better?" he asked.
Charlie nodded, sinking into its warmth.
"Look, Charlie, I'm sorry you had to hear all that last night."
"The truth," Charlie added.
Don sighed. "Unfortunately, yes. I-I know you mean well when you start working on P vs. NP and I'm sorry you start worrying about me so much, but I don't want you doing that. I want you to be happy. I'm sorry I lied to you, but understand I was just trying to protect you."
Charlie stared down at the floor. He fought off tears.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
Don was surprised that Charlie was apologizing to him, though he shouldn't be. He should have realized Charlie would feel guilty for hurting Don, rather than being angry at Don.
Don stood and sat down on the couch beside his brother. Charlie's gaze didn't leave the floor, but a tear fell before he could stop it. Don caught it with his fingertips.
"Charlie... you have nothing to be sorry for. You hear me? Without you, we would have had a lot of trouble trying to find the gang's whereabouts. If a few agents get shot in the process, so be it. It's a part of the job. We'll all recover quickly. Megan is going to be back to work Monday. I think she'd thank you before she'd blame you. I know I would."
He couldn't stop the tears now. Charlie knew he didn't deserve the nice things his brother was saying to him. Don saying it just made him feel more guilt.
"I'm sorry," he said again, desperately seeking something from his brother.
Don took hold of Charlie's chin, making Charlie meet his gaze. It was hard for Charlie to see through the tears.
"Though there is no call for it, I forgive you. It's okay, Buddy." Don gave Charlie exactly what he needed.
Charlie leaned forward and pressed his head against Don's shoulder. Don wrapped his arms around his little brother as he cried tears of relief.
When his tears were spent, Charlie leaned back.
"You want to get some sleep? You can sleep in my bed. I had too much trouble sleeping last night."
Charlie sat back against the couch. "I'm not tired."
After a few minutes of silence, Charlie turned to his brother.
"How were you hurt the other times?" he asked softly.
Don settled into the couch beside Charlie and laid his arm behind Charlie along the back of the couch.
"I'll tell you."
Don and Charlie kept each other company throughout the night. Don told his little brother how he'd been hurt before and promised not to lie to Charlie about his injuries again. The two eventually fell asleep, leaning against each other... as it should be.