Don and Charlie were home alone. Alan was volunteering at the homeless shelter and hoped he could leave his sons home alone for a few hours. When he got home, he'd be taking Don to the hospital to get his bandages removed.
Needless to say, Don was nervous. He could hardly imagine being blind for the rest of his life. The doctors didn't seem to have reason to believe he would lose his sight, but Don still felt the odds were against him. He knew if he asked his little brother, Charlie could tell him the true odds. However, Don wouldn't because he didn't want to know.
Charlie was stretched out on the couch and Don was sitting in the arm chair in front of him. Charlie watched as his brother fiddled with a button on his shirt that was loose. He could see the worry on Don's face and he hated it.
Don was startled, though he knew his brother was there. "Y-yeah, Buddy?"
Charlie sat up and leaned forward. "You're going to be okay. You know that, right?"
Don would have said, yes, but there was that question on his mind. "What if I can't see?"
"Do you think that's going to change anything? You'll still be okay. We'll get you through this."
Don felt his greatest fear come to his mouth, and he couldn't stop it from spilling out. "If I'm blind, I'll never be an agent again. I'll have to find a new job."
Charlie felt his stomach lurch. Don not be an agent? Charlie could hardly remember how Don was before he worked for the FBI. That would kill his brother.
"I know you'll be okay. I'm confident that you'll be able to see. I-I can't imagine that not being the case."
Charlie's face scrunched up in confusion. "What are you talking about? What does that have to do with anything?"
"You don't stutter when you're confident about things. When you aren't sure about your math, you stutter. When you know you're right, you speak without any flaws. You're not positive I'll be able to see."
Charlie looked down at his hands. He felt tears cloud his vision and it caused his voice to turn scratchy. He looked up at his brother.
"I-I stutter other times, too... like when I'm scared."
Don's worry lines smoothed over on his forehead as he turned his head toward his brother's voice. "Are you scared now, Buddy?"
Charlie's tears spilled over and he caught them on the palm of his hand as they fell off his chin. "Yeah... yes, I'm scared."
Don stood and held his hand out as he trailed the edge of the chair and to the arm rest of the couch. He felt Charlie's arm and then sat down beside his brother.
"How are you scared now, but you went through a burning building to save me?" Don squeezed Charlie's shoulder and waited for an answer.
Charlie leaned into his brother's side for a moment as he gathered the courage to speak so openly with his brother.
"I... I wasn't afraid of the fire. I wasn't scared of getting burned. I... I was only afraid for you. But don't think I'm so selfless because I'm not.
"I was afraid you'd die alone up there. I can't think of you as being helpless. It's just not you. But I knew that you were helpless to that fate up there if I didn't come. The fire department couldn't get there in time. You would have died up there because you couldn't save yourself."
Charlie found it hard to say what he truly felt that day, what he was feeling now.
"Don, I wasn't afraid that day because I knew what I had to do and what would happen if I didn't. I had to save you, Don. That was all there was to it.
"But I'm scared now because... because I'm a selfish person. I want you to always be the big brother. I want you to be the hero, the protector, the one everyone looks to for help. I-I spouted off to Dad about how I'm as strong as you are, but I'm not, Don. I'm not."
Don could feel Charlie shaking beside him. He wished he could see his brother's face.
"If you're blind, you won't be the same. You won't be the same agent, you won't be as strong as you are now due to your limitations. And because of it... I'd probably take over your role as being the stronger one. You'll need someone to get you through this and I'll be that person for you.
"I-I can't do that, Don. I don't want to be the stronger one. I-I depend on you. I'm not strong enough for it to be the other way around. I need you to help me because I'm afraid that if I try to help you, that due to my weaknesses, I'll end up failing you. I can't stand that."
Don felt pride surge through him in waves. He hardly saw himself the way Charlie did. He didn't want that to happen to Charlie either. Don had always felt the pressure of being the older brother. He knew he had a responsibility to protect his little brother and as he grew up, that responsibility took over toward other people as well. He protected his team, the public, his friends, his father. He knew what he had to do and he had fit into the role. He was comfortable with it. If he was weakened by blindness, he'd never be the same.
"I don't want you to have to do that either, Buddy. It... it takes time to fall into this role. I know you're strong enough to do it. You always have been. But it's not you, Charlie. You're independent. You don't ask for help much, but you're willing to help others. You're more of a helper than a protector, you know?
"I... I just hope that it doesn't come to you having to do all that because I don't want you put under that pressure. I hope I'll be able to see, but if I don't, we'll get through it together. Just because I wouldn't be able to see doesn't mean that I wouldn't be able to give you advice. We'll get through this, Buddy. Just think, it may be over in a few hours."
Don wanted to think that it would be over soon, but the fear of what could happen still came first in his mind. Charlie feared it, too. Did that mean the odds were against him? He hoped that wasn't the case because his doctors spoke with such confidence. He'd hate for it to turn out to be empty hope.
Charlie grabbed onto his brother's arm, like he had when he was the one who couldn't see.
"Thank you," he whispered, knowing that Don's reassurance would calm his nerves for a while. But when it came time for Don's bandages to be removed...
Charlie didn't want to think about that. He'd be okay. That was all there was to it. But "what if" was a dangerous lasso that pulled him back to reality. The rope burned his skin to constantly remind him that there was a chance that Don wouldn't be able to see. And the more he tried to deny it, the tighter the bounds became.
"Charlie... how bad could this have been?" Don asked, and instinctively, Charlie knew what he was asking about.
"Bad. Dad would have had the worst of it because... well, because we both could have died that day."
Don blew out a breath. "That's what scares me the most. I would never have wanted you to come in there after me if I had known because I know what kind of a risk that would have been for you to take. If we both died, that would have been so... so wrong. I mean, you would have risked your life for nothing. All I want is for you to be safe. You know that, don't you, Buddy?"
Charlie nodded, but remembered Don couldn't see him. "Yes."
"Good. I can't have you getting hurt. Dad doesn't want me hurt either, but he accepted years ago the life I had chosen for myself. He understands that my job is dangerous. But, Charlie, you're a mathematician. You teach at a college and consult for the FBI, among other things. That's not a risky move for you. Dad understands that.
"Did you know that after you got out of college Dad and I had a long talk about your career choice? He... he was so happy. I felt like I was almost a disappointment to him with the way he talked about it. He just kept saying that he was so happy that at least one of his sons would be safe. He was so relieved. I-I-I hated when I told Mom and Dad what I wanted to do. They were supportive, of course, but I knew that they weren't too happy about it. They'd never say it to my face, or at least not in direct ways."
Don smiled and shook his head as he remembered their not too subtle ways of letting him know that they were reluctant for him to go into a career with the FBI.
"But, Buddy, you've come into my job, and I love that because we get to spend time together. But, I never, ever want you to be put in danger again, do you understand me? I can't let this happen again. You're a consultant, you're not a field agent. I want you to be safe, just like you'd be with your job at CalSci. Dad wants it that way, and I do too."
Charlie felt fear of losing his job with Don choke him. "Wh-what do you have in mind?"
Don squeezed Charlie's arm. "I think it best that you stay at the office, ours or yours."
Charlie felt confused. "But, Don, that's what I've always done."
"Until the other day. Please, Charlie, promise me you'll never do that again."
Don wasn't expecting that. "What?"
"I can't promise that. If you're ever in that situation again, I won't be thinking about any promise I have to you or anyone else. It'll be like it was before. I'll be thinking about helping you. It'll be the only thing on my mind. It's more of a reflex. I can't stop that. So, no, I don't promise that."
Don smiled and hugged his brother tightly. "You're too much like me, you know that? I think the same thing about you."
Charlie smiled as he pushed out of Don's arms. "So I can still consult?"
Don laughed. "Of course! What, do you think I'd actually fire my own brother? Dad would never let me hear the end of it!"
Charlie laughed and turned his head when he heard a car pulling into the driveway. He saw his father's car and turned to Don.
"Don... Dad's here."
Don's hands went could and his face paled. "Is... is it time?"
"Yeah," Charlie said quietly.
Don swallowed hard and stood. "Well. Let's go then."
Charlie led Don out to the car and the three silently went to the hospital. When they were in the waiting room, Alan looked at both his boys, who sat across from him.
"Are you two okay?"
Don nodded and Charlie said, "Yes."
"It'll be okay, boys. You know that, don't you? We're a family. We can get through anything together."
Don gave a small smile. "Yeah. I know."
Charlie looked off to the side, fighting the tears of fear.
"Don Eppes?" A nurse came out to take him back.
Don stood and turned to his brother. "Buddy? Will you come back with me?"
Charlie looked from Don to his father. Alan smiled and nodded, so Charlie moved to his brother's side and they walked back together.
Don sat down on the examining table and waited for the doctor come in. Charlie could see his brother's hands shaking and he himself was getting rather shaky.
"Hello, Don. Ready to get those bandages off?" Dr. Smith said as he walked into the room.
Dr. Smith easily removed the bandages and with perfect clarity, Don looked into his brother's face and smiled.