Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: Thanks as always to ritt, the world's best beta and sounding board!
The angry cry was punctuated by a gun barrel being jammed into Don's already broken ribs, forcing him from the black SUV. He hissed in pain as he stumbled out of the vehicle and just managed to keep his footing when another shove hit the rapidly forming bruise over his kidneys. He did bite back a cry this time, but still nosedived into the soft grass.
"Get up, you klutz!"
Don would have loved nothing more than to obey and then punch the guy's lights out, but he knew that wasn't going to happen. He was too sore and too weak – and there was the slight matter of him versus his five captors.
"I said get up!" The yell was accompanied by one of the men grabbing his right arm and hauling him to his feet.
At least it wasn't my left arm, he thought to himself. That one's definitely dislocated.
Another prod into his back and he started stumbling forward, his gaze cast downward at the lush green lawn. He dragged his eyes up and gasped as he recognized his surroundings. Don stopped walking and shook his head. "No," he weakly protested.
"I wasn't asking!"
Two of the men grabbed him and Don let himself go slack in their grip but they doggedly dragged him forward. He looked up at the five men – all wearing black jumpsuits and ski masks – and desperately shook his head.
"Argue all you want," the man who had been inflicting all the pain snarled. "But you are going to send a message to your brother for us."
Don tried to twist out of the men's arms but they held him tight. The group reached their final destination and Don was knocked down, landing on his dislocated shoulder. He let a small cry of pain slip out but quickly clamped his mouth shut as he received a warning kick in one of his legs. "Stay put," an angry voice demanded.
Don obeyed, listening closely to the men as they discussed something. He couldn't make out the details, but they seemed to be having a heated argument about... no – he couldn't make that out. He knew, though, that whatever reason they had brought him here – to Charlie's house – couldn't be good. And they kept talking about using him to send Charlie a message, but considering he hadn't been told what it was and that they had already knocked him around quite a bit, Don was afraid he might not survive being their messenger.
Whatever they're arguing about, he thought to himself, they're not paying attention to me any more. If I'm really quiet... He sucked in a deep breath and silently pushed himself to his knees. Don checked to make sure the five men were still talking, and then managed to stand with only a quiet grunt of pain. He glanced over and was relieved to see that they still hadn't noticed his movements. He took a few silent steps toward the house in front of him, his heart stopping as he heard the lead captor's voice.
Don gritted his teeth against the overwhelming pain in his body and forced himself to run. He knew this house like the back of his hand and if he could just get inside he could get to the phone and call for help. Don reached his destination, smashed his fist through the pane of glass in the door and was reaching in to unlock it when he heard his captor right behind him. He looked over his left shoulder, trying to prepare to defend himself, when a blinding white pain exploded in his head. He dropped to the ground and clenched his eyes shut against the throbbing agony inside his skull, trying to curl up into a ball and protect his head and ribs, but a heavy pressure – a foot or a knee – in the small of his back prevented him from doing so.
"I told you not to run, you idiot," he heard the head captor's voice in his ear. "Now look what you made me do. I ought to..." He heard the man's voice trail off, muffled voices in the background and then something that sounded like 'someone's coming'. "Crap. Well, today is your lucky day. We're going to leave you alone now. But make sure you tell that brother of yours to..."
Don tried to listen – he really did – but the pain was too much. He felt himself slipping away before his captor had finished speaking.
"I told you it was a good movie," Charlie said as he strolled through the front door of his house.
"I didn't say it wouldn't be good – I said it would be expensive," Alan reminded him, adding with a grin, "Besides, I have my own in-house celebrity."
"Dad," Charlie groaned. "Enough. First Larry and Amita, now you…"
"It's true," the older man countered. "On TV… your name on the screen... And that reporter was absolutely fawning all over you. 'So tell me, Professor Eppes, you're saying that math really helped stop these drug shipments? Would you mind explaining to the viewers how that worked?' She was doing her best to flirt with you and you – as usual – seemed to be oblivious."
"I was not oblivious," he protested. "I just have other interests right now. At least Don didn't rag on me too badly. I guess that vacation is really doing him good…" Charlie trailed off and stared toward the kitchen, a look of confusion on his face.
"What is it?" Alan asked.
"Do you smell that?" Charlie whispered.
Alan sniffed the air and shook his head. "Smell what?"
"Lilacs," Charlie mumbled as he cautiously crept toward the dining room.
"We have some in the back yard," Alan pointed out.
"Yes… but I can smell them so strongly."
Alan took another whiff of the evening air and nodded. "You're right, Charlie. I can smell them too. Did you leave a window open?"
"You're sure? Sometimes you can be a little forgetful."
"There was a ninety percent chance of rain tonight. I know I closed the windows before we left." Alan watched as the younger man disappeared through the dining room and into the kitchen. A moment later, he heard Charlie's anxious whisper, "Dad!"
Alan heard the panic in his son's voice and moved to join him in the kitchen. "Oh," he mouthed as he eyed the broken pane of glass in the back door and the shards scattered on the kitchen floor. Someone tried to break in, he thought fearfully. He watched as Charlie picked up a cast iron skillet and took a step toward the door. "You're not serious?" he hissed quietly.
"You have a better idea?" Charlie shot back, his voice still a whisper.
Alan pointed back to the living room as a note of sarcasm rose in his voice. "I don't know – call the police, maybe?"
"You do that," the professor nodded. "But I want to check this out." Charlie, oblivious to his father's worry, proceeded to approach the back door and carefully peeked through the window. "Dad!" he yelled frantically, startling the other man. "Call an ambulance!"
Alan watched as his son dashed out the back door and then raced into the room to grab the cordless phone. As he called for help, he rushed back to the door and stepped onto the porch. His eyes teared up and he lost the ability to speak as he stared at the sight before him.
"Nine-one-one," the operator's voice came over the phone. "What is your emergency?"
"My son," he whispered as he looked at the prone figure next to Charlie. "He's been attacked." He lapsed into a silence as he watched Charlie nervously hover over Don's bloody, bruised, and crumpled form.
You can open your eyes and tell me you're joking now, Charlie silently begged his brother. Sure, he'd seen Don hurt before, but coming home to find him like this... It was like a knife had been plunged straight through his heart.
He leaned as close to his brother's body as he dared, his hands hovering uselessly as he didn't know where he could or even if he should touch Don. There was so much blood coming from a wound on the left side of his head and his left shoulder seemed to resting at an awkward angle to the rest of his body. Don was lying on his stomach with his right hand reaching toward the door, marred by bloody scrapes and gouges, the stoop light reflecting off of tiny slivers of glass embedded in his flesh.
"Don," Charlie breathed, his voice cracking on the one syllable. He had the urge to touch him, to do something – comfort him, ease his pain, make him open his eyes – but he forced himself to remain still. He had no way of knowing if there were any internal injuries or any possible damage to Don's neck or back and he wasn't about to chance doing something that would do permanent damage to his brother. If he lives, the thought raced unbidden into his mind.
Charlie blinked back the tears forming in his eyes and tore his gaze from the injured man to look up at his father. "Dad," he whispered, trying to break Alan's trance. "Are they coming?"
Alan gave a barely perceptible nod as he sank to his knees beside his oldest son's body. He too, reached out as if to touch Don, finally dropping his hand and lightly resting his fingers on the back of Don's head, away from the bleeding wound. "Donny," he whispered shakily. "Can you hear me?"
Neither man was surprised when Don remained silent.
"Hang in there, son," Alan whispered plaintively. "Help will be here soon."
Charlie met his father's eyes and drew strength from his gaze. "He'll be okay," Charlie spoke, half question and half plea.
Alan opened his mouth to speak but then quickly clamped it shut. He mutely nodded as they heard the sound of sirens approaching in the distance.
Charlie swallowed and dropped his gaze back to his brother. "You will be okay," he told him, his voice fierce. "You got that, Don?" After a moment's pause, a tear escaped and rolled down his cheek as he repeated in a soft whisper, "You'll be okay."