'This never gets any easier, does it?' Don shifted his weight slightly to find a better position, easing some of the pain in his injured shoulder. He tried propping a hospital pillow underneath, but finally gave up.
At least his parents were in LA and couldn't fuss or worry over him. Over the phone it would be easy to conceal the facts; they didn't need to know anyhow.
The door opened quietly, disrupting Don's thoughts.
"Charlie?" Don tried to straighten up into a sitting position. He grimaced, biting his lip not to cry out.
Charlie just stood in the open door, shifting uneasily from foot to foot. His head was bent, avoiding looking at Don directly. Don could feel his insecurity. Charlie's doubts whether he was welcome or not were obvious. It made Don angry and sad.
"Come in, Charlie! You're creating a draft!" Don ordered, grumpier than he intended.
Charlie lifted his head and grinned. "You know, a draft can only be created by two ..."
Don sighed. "No lecture, please. Just close the door."
Charlie shut the door behind him, but hesitated in coming in further. He just stood there, not closing the distance between him and Don's hospital bed. It seemed as if all his courage had left him, and he didn't really dare to go one step further. Again he started to shift his weight from one foot to the other, eyes downcast.
Don studied him. It had been a while since he had last seen Charlie, but his younger brother didn't seem to have changed much. 'Professor of Applied Mathematics' or not, he still appeared way too young to him.
"Charlie…," Don started, and finally Charlie dared to look at him. He smiled uneasily.
"Mom and Dad were worried ..."
Don sighed again and watched him carefully. "Oh Yeah?" His tone was way too defensive, even to his own ears.
Charlie nodded eagerly. "You haven't called, like you normally do, and you didn't return any of their messages." Charlie tilted his head and looked straight at Don. "So I told them I was going to a conference." He grinned sheepishly.
"You lied to Mom and Dad?" Don asked incredulously, a big grin forming on his face as well.
"So what?" Charlie shrugged his shoulders, smiling back at Don. Then he looked at Don's shoulder and turned serious, worry creeping across his face.
"You were shot!"
It sounded like an accusation. Don's grin broadened. His little brother still believed him to be invincible. He used to get angry at Charlie for that, since it always left him with the feeling he had to protect Charlie from everything. Surprised, he realized that now he was feeling warmth and pride building up inside him, instead. Charlie had come all the way down to see him—after all that had happened—after Don's hasty flight and the unceremonious way he deserted Charlie after Christmas. His little brother had lied to their parents and come to see him, thus sparing Don the reproach concerning his job, and the sermon about its dangers. Don realized he really appreciated this.
"Come on over." Don padded the side of his bed and Charlie scooted over to him. He was about to jump on the bed, as he loved to do as a kid, and Don prepared himself for the impact. But Charlie stopped short in his tracks. Don could see the worry resurfacing in Charlie's dark eyes as he pointed towards Don's shoulder.
Don shrugged his shoulder automatically, and then cursed himself. He had to squeeze his eyes shut against the wave of pain.
"It's nothing, Charlie. Just a scratch," Don breathed out, as the pain leveled off to its normal throb. But Don could see that Charlie wasn't buying it, though wanted to. His internal struggle was clearly visible on his face, and made him look even younger. Don put on his most reassuring smile and stretched out his uninjured hand.
"Come on! You traveled all this way to Albuquerque and you don't even give your big brother a hug?"
Charlie's face lit up with relief, as Don hoped it would, and he leaned forward into his brother's embrace. Don winced, as an overeager Charlie bumped into his shoulder, but was relieved when Charlie didn't notice and simply buried his head in Don's shoulder.
No matter what had happened, no matter how Don had felt when he left LA., Charlie was still his little brother, and he'd always love him.