Title: Man's Best Friend

Author: FraidyCat

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. They do occasionally visit from time to time.

A/N: curtisbrothersfan actually pitched this Oneshot idea, and accidentally hit on something that really happened to me. This oughta be good! Just a tiny whump for y'all.

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Charlie stood at the bike rack at the side of the Math & Sciences building at CalSci and shivered, although the early fall afternoon was quite warm. He swallowed painfully and considered calling Don and begging off the briefing. After all, he had explained the whole thing to Don last night over dinner – he could give the others the general idea. It's not like this was an active case, it was just an algorithim Charlie had developed and wanted to pitch to the team. He hoped there was a certain universality to this algorithim, and that by applying it at the beginning of every case, the time it took to reach closure could be drastically reduced. The mere fact that they had time to work on more cases would dramatically increase their solve rate, already among the highest in the office. Don had seemed a little skeptical, but Don was a "glass-half-full" kind of guy, really. He needed to see something work before he would believe that it did. Charlie was sure that if he could convince the team to test this for three months, the numbers would speak for themselves.

He coughed once, and he felt it in his head. He hadn't felt great this morning when he woke up; it was probably a mistake to ride his bike…but the weather had held such promise! Now that fall was here, who knew how often he'd be able to ride? He hated to do this – Don was not committed enough to the project to effectively sell it – but he pulled his cell phone out of his jacket pocket and flipped it open. He had almost hit "1", Don's speed dial, before he remembered that Don wasn't even in the office today. That's why Charlie had given him an overview last night. Between cases and unexpectedly caught up on paperwork, Don had taken a rare day off, to make an even rarer three-day-weekend, and was driving Robin down to San Diego. Robin would be there at least a few weeks, on loan to the State's Attorney's office, but Don would be back Sunday evening. Charlie shivered again, even though he was also sweating, and stooped to unlock his bike. He had not spent the last two months working on this idea to give up on it because of a simple cold.

On his bike at last, Charlie headed across town, toward the FBI offices. A few minutes into the ride, he passed a bank, and saw the time flash on its outdoor sign. His hesitation at the beginning of the trip had combined with his lethargy to conspire against him. At this rate, he would be significantly late. He didn't want to do that. Maybe things had been slow enough for Don to take a day off, but that didn't mean they had stayed that way, and Charlie didn't want to make things difficult for the team. He grinned to himself, thinking. Plus, any salesman knows that a successful presentation begins with punctuality.

Later, he would understand that this was where he had really made his first mistake.

Charlie veered the bike off the beaten path. He was sure if he cut through a few of the rougher residential neighborhoods, he could shave ten minutes off his time. Sure, he would not always take this risk – East L.A. was not a location to be entered blindly – but it was early afternoon. He'd be fine.

He entered an alley between the backs of two high rows of tenement houses. It was darker and more secluded here, almost like a tunnel, and while he knew he should be speeding up, he was slowing down. About halfway into it, he sensed movement up ahead at a dumpster, and hit the hand brakes. Maybe he should turn around. He looked behind his shoulder, and saw at least two shapes walking toward him. He swallowed, Okay, keep going. He looked ahead again, settled his foot on the pedal, and saw a gigantic black lab, staring him almost in the face.

Later, he would be told by an animal expert that this is where he made his second mistake. He thought smiling was a good idea. The lab, however, saw Charlie's bared teeth as a challenge, and a low growl knocked the smile right off Charlie's face. The growl was also some sort of summons. Smaller dogs, mostly indiscriminate breeds, began to gather around the lab, adding their yips and growls for good measure. Just before the black lab sprang at him and knocked him off his bike, Charlie had a vision of some sort of twisted adaptation of "West Side Story". Then the lab flew into him, and Charlie flew backwards off his bike and landed hard on the asphalt. The air left his lungs, and this new dilemma of suffocation distracted him entirely from the lab, who nuzzled its face into Charlie's bicep, bit into it, wrestled the arm around a little by shaking its head, and finally left, chewing delicately on part of Charlie.

Once their pack leader had made the kill and taken the first taste, the smaller dogs crowded in to finish the job. Charlie was beginning to take horrifying gasps of air, but he couldn't seem to make himself do much else, and he began to feel sharp pains in both ankles, in his right calf, and hand. Still gasping, shocked almost senseless, he suddenly realized that the lab must be back. Something actually had him by the hair, and was dragging him backwards. He closed his eyes, terrified, and hoped his last thought was not that his father had been right about him needing that haircut.

He knew he must be close to passing out when the dogs began to threaten each other. "Get away!", one shouted. "Go on, get! Shoo!" He heard another one yelp as something connected with it, and if his eyes had been open he would have seen a terrier fly sideways as if this were an audition for "The Wizard of Oz", and he wanted to be Toto. At last Charlie's breathing evened out enough for him to concentrate on something else, and he raised both arms to cross them in front of his face.

Something grabbed one wrist, and he waited for the teeth to sink in while he pushed nearly hysterically against it. "Hey, take it easy, dude, they're gone. They're gone, man."

Charlie cautiously peered through the space between his arms, into a dark, concerned, undeniably human face. "G-g-gone?" It was all he could manage.

Brilliant white teeth flashed at him. "Yeah. Me and my posse chased 'em off. You okay?"

Charlie slowly lowered his arms, and saw that the man speaking was young, wearing colors, and surrounded by several more of the same. Seems his rescuer had his own pack. He and the black lab must be doing battle for this alley. Charlie tried to sit up, and hissed a little as someone grabbed his arm to help him. He ran a shaky hand through his hair. "M-m-my bike…"

"We got it, man. Don't look hurt, much." He saw the familiar spokes appear before him, and latched onto the aluminum crossbar, to pull himself up.

Unseen hands again assisted. "You should probably go to a hospital, or somethin'. Couple of them things nailed you pretty good."

Charlie just wanted out. Out of this alley, out of this nightmare. He would clean himself up in a bathroom at the FBI offices. He looked uneasily at the spokesman. "No, I'm okay. I'll take care of it." The kid looked at him doubtfully. Charlie itched to be on his bike, riding in the opposite direction from Dante's 5th layer of hell. "Um…thanks, you guys. Really."

The leader shrugged. "Ain't nuthin', dude."

Someone smaller spoke up, from the back. "You got any money? We's hungry."

The leader whipped his head around, frowning. "Shut-up, Damien! We ain't rollin' this guy!"

Charlie reached his bloody hand into the pocket of his jeans. "No, no, please. You saved my life. Let me…give you something, for, for your time…"

The leader turned his attention back to Charlie, frown still in place. "Don't insult me, dude. Don't ever insult me. If I was you, I'd be high-tailin' it outta here on that bike."

Charlie swallowed back bile against an ever-swelling sore throat, and did as he was told.

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He got back to the main route and broke land-speed records getting to the FBI. His right hand bled all over the handlebars, and he could feel blood dripping down his right calf, and into both socks. His left bicep, where the lab had tasted him, had become disconcertingly numb. He dumped his bike at the rack, not even bothering with the kickstand or the lock, and almost collapsed himself when it wasn't holding him up anymore. He looked at his hand and took off his jacket, wrapping his paw in it without considering the consequences to his favorite jacket. He just wanted to get inside. He was afraid the dogs, or the gang, or some other form of demon was still behind him. He craved the safety of the bullpen.

The security guard at the front entrance recognized him and looked only perfunctorily at his ID badge before waving him through. Charlie passed several people in the lobby, and while he waited for the elevator, considered a new study. There must be a mathematical way to show man's complete indifference to man. Finally the lift arrived, and although he was the only one on it this trip, Charlie moved to a corner and tried to make himself part of the wall.

He was shivering again by the time he was disgorged at the bullpen, and it took him almost too long to pop himself off the wall and exit the elevator. The shutting doors clipped him on the way out. As soon as he was safely in the bullpen, all adrenaline shut down, and he leaned heavily against the wall. Presently, he began to slide down it, and soon he was sitting on the floor, breathing shallowly. He didn't know how long he sat there before he heard Colby's voice. "Whiz Kid, look at me…come on, focus…"

Charlie forced himself back to full consciousness and tracked the voice. Colby was squatting on his haunches, looking at him worriedly. He could see David directly behind him. Charlie tried to smile. "Hey, guys. I think I may have screwed up."

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By the time his father was allowed to see him in the ER, Charlie was calm enough to be embarrassed. His hand, calf and bicep had been stitched. The wounds on his ankles were punctures that didn't require stitching, but they had been cleaned, along with a puncture on his foot that he hadn't even felt. Somebody exceptionally good at being a dog had gotten him right through his tennis shoe.

Alan pushed past a curtain, saw his flushed son, eyes closed, and emitted a sound of dismay. Not asleep, Charlie opened his eyes immediately and reached his bandaged hand toward his father. "I'm okay," he said, voice raspy. "Don't get all freaky on me."

Alan sighed, and moved close enough to grasp Charlie's hand carefully. "Good Lord, son, you scared me to death."

"Sorry," Charlie started, and a small cough escaped him.

Alan frowned. "Never enough for you, is it? Doing one thing at a time?"

Charlie looked up at him, confused. "Huh?"

"The doctor says you have an elevated white blood cell count, and a fever. He said you told him you'd been feeling poorly all day?"

Charlie looked away. "Oh. That."

Alan made a sound of frustration. "Yes. That. You felt badly, so you thought riding your bike was a good idea. And what the hell? Why not through the alleys of East L.A., while you're at it?"

Charlie visibly cringed, mostly at his father's anger, but also because the noise wasn't helping his headache. "I want to go home," he said, in a small voice.

Alan melted. In the time it took Charlie to whine those five words, Alan was a puddle, and all anger drained out of him. "Of course, Charlie. We'll have your release papers soon, and a prescription for antibiotics. You just rest for a while. I'll stay right here, son."

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After he had successfully maneuvered Charlie up the stairs, helped him change into a fresh t-shirt and some sweatpants and tucked him into bed, Alan headed for the kitchen and tore open the refrigerator. Time for soup. Did they have any chicken?

The house's landline rang, and Alan walked to the kitchen extension near the sink. "Yes?" He listened, then smiled. This was an improvement over the last phone call he had taken. "Donnie. You arrived safely?" He listened some more, turned and leaned against the counter. He sighed without realizing it. "Thank you for calling to tell me that. You know I worry." He sighed again, then rushed to reassure his eldest. "No, nothing's wrong. I mean, yes, something's wrong. But I'm fine. Charlie…will be fine." Alan held the phone a few inches away from his ear while Don's volume increased, then settled it to speak, again. "He had an accident, on his bike. A pack of dogs…." He shuddered. "It was bad, Donnie. They actually dug a tooth out of his calf. Doesn't help any that he was sick before that. Doctor says a virus." He listened some more, and shook his head. "No, you stay in San Diego, have a nice weekend with Robin. Charlie is fine, knocked out for the night, probably. He's upstairs in bed. I was just going to make some soup…" Alan heard Don's next question and wondered how his son could read him so well over the telephone. "It's just that…the animal control people think this was probably a feral pack of dogs, and we'll never find them for quarantine. So the doctor started Charlie on a series of rabies shots. He had two today, gets another one Monday, and three more after that." Alan allowed himself a small smile at Don's next comment. "Yes, there are usually needles involved in that sort of thing. Charlie's not too happy about that. Neither am I," he added, the smile leaving his face. "but at least they don't give them to you in your stomach, anymore." Over the next several seconds, Alan pulled himself up straight and summoned his "I-know-best" father tone from somewhere. "Absolutely not, Don. There's nothing you can do here, Charlie will sleep all weekend if I have anything to say about it. I will not have your weekend ruined, as well. You know Charlie wouldn't want that, either." He smiled, again. "Yes, son, I will. Don't worry, you have a good time. See you Sunday evening."

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David found a parking space at the curb and looked over at Colby. "You sure you want to do this? Charlie's already had two shots."

Colby put his hand on the door handle. "Look, I know the FBI doesn't ordinarily track down dog owners, but this could save the kid four more. Doc said if we find the dogs, and they have owners, he'll wait for a quarantine."

David nodded, and the two exited the car and approached the group of young men on the tenement stoop, all wearing the same type of bandana looped around their arms. They stopped a few feet in front of them, but where soon surrounded by them. David raised his hands. "Hey. It's obvious we're the heat, man. FBI, but we're not here for you."

One of the gang took a step toward them, and regarded them, dragging on a cigarette. He threw it onto the sidewalk and crushed it under a Nike. "Don't much care who you're here for," he stated.

Colby kept his hands in sight and looked at the guy talking. "Look, we're not even here for a person. We're after a dog. Or two."

"That dude in the alley this afternoon," someone else offered.

The gang's leader stilled him with a look, then turned back to David and Colby. "FBI busts dogs, now?"

David chanced a grin. "Not usually. The guy is a friend of ours, and we just want to make sure the dogs are healthy. You know, rabies?"

The leader tossed his hand in the air, a signal, and all the others began to wander back to the stoop where David and Colby had found them. The spokesman held their eyes. "Hell, man, them dogs ain't got nobody. They's just like us. They only got each other. Musta been 10 a the bitches, anyway, you'd nevah get 'em all."

David and Colby exchanged a glance, then started backing toward their vehicle. "Thanks anyway, man," David called. "Worth a try, ya know?"

The gang leader only raised his head to them, and watched them leave. In the car, Colby buckled up while David started the engine. David looked at him in surprise when Colby laughed a little. "What?"

Colby grinned. "Nobody ever said 'we always get our dog'!"

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Don approached the Craftsman in the late afternoon sun. He had called to speak with Charlie yesterday, but the poor kid hadn't made it long. His Dad said there was no telling if it was the virus or the shots, at this point, but Charlie was sick. Headache, nausea, dizziness, muscle aches – he'd assured Don he was fine, and then he had heard the phone clatter, followed by retching. Not exactly a reassuring phone call. Robin had understood when Don had left for home earlier than he had planned to, today.

Charlie limped his way down the stairs, expecting his father to hear him and show up to help any second. When he reached the bottom, he saw why that had not happened – Alan was sound asleep in his chair, book still clutched loosely in his hand, glasses slid down his nose. Charlie smiled. He was glad his Dad was getting some rest – he'd run him ragged since Friday afternoon. He headed as quietly as he could for the kitchen. When Charlie had woken up he had eyed the water bottle next to his bed, but had an undeniable craving for milk. He stopped in front of the refridgerator and pulled open the door. The closer he got to his goal, the more he wanted it. He felt as if his mouth was the Sahara Desert. He dug out the carton of milk and brought it to him. He hesitated, knowing his Dad might wake up and catch him, but it felt almost empty anyway. Why dirty a glass? Charlie lifted it, and chugged, closing his eyes in pleasure. When he had enough, he put the carton back – turns out it wasn't as close to empty as he thought – and closed the door. He heard the kitchen door opening behind him then, and turned around to face it.

Don pushed his way inside, stopping to pull his key out of the lock, then looked up to see his brother across the kitchen. He started to smile, then noticed the white foam above Charlie's mouth, the obvious flush to his skin. Don froze, unbelieving. Oh my God, he thought, he's got it already. The shots didn't take. He's foaming at the mouth. Charlie has rabies.

And before either one of them said anything out loud, Don dropped to his knees in a dead faint.

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He didn't intend to explain the bruise on his temple at work, Monday. Let them think he and Robin had done something kinky. Then his father had been requested at a late afternoon meeting by his business partner, Stan, and had called Don to see if he could pick up Charlie and take him for his next shot. Don was entering information in a file, and talking to his Dad on speakerphone. "Sure, Dad. I'm almost done here anyway."

Alan thanked him, then went on. "Oh, and Donnie, have his doctor look at his arm, again. Because of the nerve damage in the area of the bite, Charlie didn't feel anything, but when I redressed it this morning I saw that a couple of the stitches are broken. He must have used that arm to catch you when you passed out in the kitchen, yesterday. I still can't believe he got to you in time to keep you from hitting the floor harder than you did."

Don quickly picked up the receiver, terminating the speakerphone, but he saw Colby and Megan staring at him. David, at the files, had been too far away to hear, but Don was sure they'd fill him in. He felt himself reddening. "Yeah, right. I'll mention that. How's he doing, today?"

"A little better. We'll see if the shot changes that. If he doesn't get worse again, it must have been the virus."

Don grunted. "Good. Listen, take your time at the meeting. I'll stay until you get home."

"Thanks, Donnie."

Don said good-bye to his father and disconnected, slowly looked up to see Megan and Colby still staring at him. "What?" he snapped, and they glanced at each other, then back at their own work. Don stood and grabbed his jacket. "I just thought my brother had rabies for a second. No big deal."

Megan looked up again, her mouth an "o", and Colby smiled into his witness interview.

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Charlie was sick for about 24 hours after every shot, and after his fourth one, two weeks after the dog incident, he sat curled in the corner of the couch, head listlessly lolling against the back, arms wrapped protectively around his stomach.

Don pushed through the swinging door and approached him. He set a bottle of water on the table next to the couch. He felt badly for his brother, he really did – but it was his own fault, really, and he was lucky that all he got chewed on by in that alley were a few dogs. Still, he would like to cheer the guy up if he could, Besides, he was the Big Brother. It was his duty to tease him. "Hey, Charlie, maybe after your last shot next Friday you'll feel good enough to ride with me to San Diego. I'm picking up Robin."

Alan looked up from his book, unsuspecting. "That's nice, Don, but I'm not sure it's a good idea…"

Don smiled, still looking at Charlie. "I just thought he might want to visit the zoo, and see some of his other friends. Now that you're virtually a member of the animal kingdom yourself. I mean, you've had your shots…"

Don probably should have seen it coming. He probably should have remembered that Little Brothers had their own revenge. But he hadn't, and he didn't, and he lost a perfectly good pair of dress shoes, when Charlie leaned over, and threw up all over them.

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FINIS

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