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 who also helped me out with the word this time.
Stupid, Eppes, Don silently chastised himself. Really, really stupid.
He tried to again to free his leg from beneath the pile of rubble, stopping and swearing as spots danced in front of his eyes.
Blacking out would be even more stupid, he reminded himself. Don took some deep breaths until he felt a little more centered. He studied his surroundings and sighed as he remembered his backpack falling over the edge of the ledge and into the deep valley below. If it hadn't been for the jagged rocks that had caught his leg, Don knew he would have followed the pack on its journey with a sudden – and final – stop several thousand feet below. At least I'm still alive. That's something.
He blinked sweat out of his eyes as the sun relentlessly beat down upon him, lamenting the fact that his water bottle was safely tucked into his backpack along with his cell phone, sleeping bag and change of clothes. Don realized he was well and truly stuck for at least the next day and half, when he hoped Charlie would notice his failure to return from the camping trip and come looking for him, preferably bringing help.
Ironic, Don thought bitterly. All those times he asked me to go camping with him and the one time I'm ready, he bugs off to catch up on his classes. I guess I should have taken that as an omen. He sighed. Too late now. At least I had the foresight to leave him a note at his office. Don groaned and pressed a hand to his forehead as it suddenly occurred to him how many notes had fallen victim to the chaotic mess that ruled his brother's office. Please don't lose this one, Chuck.
Resigning himself to the fact that he wouldn't be going anywhere for several hours, Don wearily settled himself against the uncomfortable, rocky ground. The way his leg was trapped meant he could only lie on his back, so he was afforded a nice view of the mountain face that loomed above him. His eyes widened as he saw the area from which the latest volley of boulders had been released and realized he'd been incredibly lucky that his leg had been the only part of him injured. Don quickly closed his eyes, deciding that he didn't want to see what else might be ready to fall on top of him.
After a while, he gradually became aware of a drop in temperature and cracked his eyes open to find that the sun was already setting. Don frowned, knowing he would be in for a long, miserable night when the sun finally disappeared and the temperature sank even lower. He longed for the warmth of the sleeping bag he'd brought with him – which only served to make him feel colder, setting off a round of shivering. The tremors raced through his body, paying no heed to the barrier of rocks on his leg, and he clenched his eyes shut as wave after wave of pain washed through his trapped limb.
Take your mind off the situation, Don told himself. He frantically wracked his brain and grabbed at the first thing that popped into his head. Unfortunately, the memory he chose was recent and none-too-pleasant…
A bright sun shone down from a beautiful, clear blue sky as Don maneuvered along the rough trail. He'd chosen this particular route because it was seldom used and offered the best chance for him to enjoy some peace and quiet as he decompressed from a torturous month of cases at work. After a few hours of hiking, he decided to sit for a while, drink some water and enjoy the scenery around him. He set his pack down beside him and sipped the cool liquid until he felt reenergized. After tucking the bottle into his pack, Don leaned over and peered down the sharp drop along the ledge. A rumbling noise behind him made him wonder if the weather reporter had forgotten to mention any incoming storms, only to realize – too late – what was headed his way.
The first rock slammed into his shoulder, knocking him dangerously close to the edge of the trail. As he pushed himself onto his back and away from the ridge, a blinding pain slammed through his right leg. Don gasped in shock as his hands reflexively moved toward the injured limb, his left one knocking the pack from the ledge. He choked back a scream of frustration as he realized he'd just sent any possible form of rescue or comfort hurtling to the valley below.
Don was jerked from his thoughts as he heard the telltale sound of pebbles bouncing down the mountain face. He closed his eyes and prayed that they weren't the precursors of another round of boulders.
He opened his eyes and squinted at the blurry figure gazing down at him from where the trail switch-backed above. "Charlie?"
"Hang on, bro," Charlie called. "I'll be down there in a minute."
"What are you doing here?" the bemused agent asked. "Have I been here two days already?" He waited for his brother's answer, concerned when all he heard was silence. Oh God… am I hallucinating now? "Charlie?"
"Right here," his brother's soft, sad voice responded as a hand rested on his shoulder. "Oh, Don… What did you get yourself into?"
"Rockslide," he muttered in frustration.
"How long has…?" Charlie's voice trailed off as he studied the pile of rocks burying Don's leg.
Don shrugged, wincing at the twinge of pain in his shoulder. "A while."
"You didn't bring your cell phone?" Before Don could reply, he heard Charlie mutter, "You didn't bring anything?"
Don rolled his eyes, wondering if Charlie really thought he was that careless. He gestured to the ledge. "My bag met with a worse fate than I did."
Charlie followed his gesture and frowned. "That could have been you," he breathed as he moved his hand to rest over his brother's still-beating heart.
Don covered the hand with his own and mustered up a smile. "Good thing these nice boulders here stopped me, huh?"
Charlie swiveled his head around to meet Don's gaze, scowling at his brother's levity. "This isn't funny."
Don gasped as a sudden cramp seized his buried leg. "I don't think it is," he assured Charlie as he gritted his teeth against the pain. He watched as his brother shifted from his line of sight, welcoming the strong, determined fingers that began massaging his thigh just before it disappeared beneath the rocks. "Thanks."
"Hang in there," Charlie soothed as he tirelessly worked as much of the tense flesh as he could reach. When Don nodded that the cramp had eased up, the young man pulled out his cell phone and placed a call. Don listened as Charlie relayed his rough estimate of their location and his brother's condition before growing quiet as the person on the other end spoke. He finally offered his thanks and disconnected the call. "Help will be here soon," the younger man happily announced.
Don nodded and closed his eyes as relief washed over him. "Why'd you decide to come looking for me so early?"
"What do you mean?"
Don cracked open one eye and studied his brother's confused countenance. "The note I left you." He paused as Charlie looked even more lost. "That's why you came, right?"
"I never got any note."
Don's eyelid slid shut as he bumped Charlie's knee with his fist. "I left it in your office, genius."
Charlie blushed a deep, dark shade of red. "Oh. About that… I wasn't at my office."
"I thought that's why you couldn't go?" Don tried but failed to keep the hurt from his voice.
"It was," the young man promised him. "But then Larry invited me to the monastery to visit and you know how hard he's been to connect with lately…"
Don smiled, completely understanding what his brother was saying. "How'd the visit go?"
"Charlie," he groaned as he rubbed his forehead. "Are you messing with me on purpose?"
"Sorry," the professor said. "I meant I was on my way to visit and something happened."
"What?" Don's eyes shot open. "What happened? Are you okay?"
Charlie rolled his eyes and laughed. "I'm fine, bro. I found you, didn't I?"
The injured man nodded. "So… what happened?"
"I was driving and out of nowhere, I had this sharp pain in my leg. I pulled over onto the side of the road and looked to see if I'd hurt it." He fixed Don with an intense look. "There was nothing wrong with it… nothing. Then I had this sensation of being up high. You know, where your stomach kind of knots and tenses?"
"The scariest thing though, was the feeling of hopelessness that came over me. I felt like I was all alone, waiting for help that I suspected wouldn't come in time."
Don raised his eyebrows.
"I know. Weird, huh?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
"It gets weirder."
"Is that possible?" Don inquired.
"While I was sitting on the side of the road, a semi drove past me."
"How is that weird?"
Charlie grinned. "It was a Don's Bakery truck."
"No. And…" Charlie watched his brother's face as he added the next part. "No more than thirty seconds after that, an ambulance passed me, lights and sirens full blast."
Don snorted in disbelief. "You're lying."
"You were never a scout," Don shot back.
"So I made the last part up," Charlie admitted with a playful shrug. "Sounded good though."
"The first part actually happened? You actually had a pain in your leg?"
Charlie's expression grew serious. "Yes."
"Wow." Don quirked an eyebrow. "Wait… if you never got the note, how'd you know where I was?"
"I know which trails you prefer and this one literally popped into my head. I didn't even go home – came straight here."
It struck him then that Charlie was, indeed, without any hiking gear. "I'm glad you did, bro. I wasn't looking forward to spending the next few evenings here."
"Now you can spend them at home, with Dad hovering over you."
"And you waiting on me hand and foot," Don smiled sweetly.
Charlie snorted. "You must have hit your head pretty hard." He glanced over his shoulder as they heard the sound of men approaching in the distance. "Help's arrived. Hang tight while I go get them."
"Like I was going to get up and leave," Don remarked dryly, earning him a playful slap on his arm. As his brother stood to leave, Don called to him. "Hey, Buddy."
"Good thing you can experience telesthesia even though you don't believe in it."
Charlie opened his mouth to protest but no sound came out. He regarded his brother for a moment and when he finally spoke, it was with unmistakable admiration and love in his voice. "I've found, Don, that when it comes to you, I can believe in just about anything."