Disclaimer: Completely. Absolutely. With enthusiasm.
Summary: Oneshot. For DreamBrother, who left this word as a challenge on the "What a Line" thread in the forum "Calling All Authors".
It started with conscious sedation.
Charlie was supposed to be able to walk away from the procedure 45 minutes after it started, although his waiting father would have to drive him home. The last clear memory he had was of the oral surgeon saying, "Uh-oh", and the acute alarm that shot through his befuddled brain when that happened. Surely it was never good when a man digging around in your mouth said, "Uh-oh".
After that, life became a phantasmagorical whirlwind, the likes of which he had never experienced before. Bizarre, dream-like images floated by in an ever-changing scene, a ludicrous Power Point slide-show with no "off" button. There was a pure white kitten, whose head kept expanding like a balloon until it popped in a bloody kaleidoscope of oddly beautiful designs that dripped down the back of his eyelids, running in rivulets that became twisting and writhing snakes, complete with hissing and darting, forked tongues. An elephant with seven trunks walked slowly across the expanse of Charlie's mind, the symbol for Pi painted in white on its tough gray skin. The creature turned to face the camera operator — whom was apparently himself — and lifted Trunk Number 3 to blow a stream of water directly at the lens. Each droplet that careened off the prism dripped downward plopping into a cavern that was opening wider, and wider, dark and foreboding...and gone a moment later, taking the elephant and his trunks with it, replaced by a Glock 9mm semi-automatic in blue steel. An invisible finger squeezed the trigger, and a wilted carnation shot out of the barrel and bounced harmlessly off the gigantic breast that had appeared Stage Left.
Charlie was having a very odd day.
Colby reached across the table for another slice of pizza and growled. "I swear, if I see one more attorney..."
David pushed the box a little closer to his partner and grinned, winking at Megan. "Come on, Granger. You're just sore because the judge threw out your evidence. You heard about the terrorists who hijacked a 747 full of lawyers, right?"
Colby paused, his hand halfway to his mouth with a slice of cheese. "No," he answered, frowning a little. "Where was this?"
David shrugged. "Doesn't really matter. Point is, they threatened to release one every hour until their demands were met."
Colby dropped his head and groaned, and Don laughed over the ring of his cell. He still felt the vibration, though, and he plucked the phone off his belt and strolled a few feet away from the break table. He saw his father's name on the caller display and kept grinning. "Hey, Dad. You got Chuckles home okay?"
"I'm going to need you to bring some things by the house."
His father's voice was tight with tension, and Don's own body stiffened. "What's wrong?" he asked, and all lunchtime murmuring ceased.
"They had to break his jaw."
Don's eyes widened in shock and confusion. "What? When I had my wisdom teeth out, it was no big deal."
Alan grew testy, and Don knew it was worry talking. "That's all very good and well, but yours were not impacted, as I recall."
Don tilted his head in acquiescence. "Well, no, but…Kim's were. She had hers out during the time we were…together, and…"
His father interrupted, which is when Don knew it was really serious. "Just tell me if you've got time to help me. We can reminisce about the good old days some other time, all right?"
Don took a breath, willing himself to transmit calmness through the satellite tower. "Dad, of course I'll help. Tell me what happened. Start at the beginning."
There was an answering breath, and then a lower-key Alan. "The two on the left were fine, easy. They knew the one on the right was impacted, but they thought that only one had come in on that side. The doctor had to break it up into little pieces to get it out, and while he was digging around in there he found Number Four. Something called a…a… 'full bony' impaction. The tooth was completed encased in his jaw bone. The poor man had to call in his partner to help him. Thank God Charlie opted to have this done in the hospital. They had to page an anesthesiologist and put him under a general before they could finish."
Don winced, rubbing his own jaw. "Ouch."
Alan sighed. "No kidding. They said he can still leave today, but I have to wait until later this afternoon for the general to wear off, and I don't want to have to stop at the pharmacy on the way home."
Don started to pace the perimeter of the break room. "What do you need there? I thought they gave Charlie the prescription for pain killers before the surgery, so he'd already have it."
Alan spoke slowly, as if to a child. "They. Broke. His. Jaw. It's wired shut, son. We need to get some liquid Vicodin, now."
Don blinked, turning around at the refrigerator and starting for the other end of the room. "Crap."
Suddenly Alan sounded almost cheerful. "Oh, that's not all. While they had every instrument in the hospital and four hands in his mouth, somebody managed to dislodge the blood clot on the left side. Now he's got a 'dry socket', and his mouth is wired shut; they can't treat it with pre-moistened gauze as they normally would."
An unwelcome thought occurred to Don, and he stopped pacing. "Uh, Dad…Charlie's not great with pain."
A snort. "Hence the liquid Vicodin."
"Yeah. Thing is, Charlie's not great with drugs, either."
Alan was starting to get exasperated. "What's your point, Donnie?"
"What happens if he has to throw up?"
Alan actually laughed, and Don started to worry that the stress was getting to his old man. "Oh, that's one of the things I need you to pick up. At the hardware store."
Don actually lowered the phone from his ear and stared at it a moment before he finally returned it to position and answered. "The hardware store?"
"Yes. Charlie has to travel with wire cutters until they take out the wire in about five weeks. We'll need several pair, because you know how forgetful he is. We should have a pair in all of our vehicles, one in the kitchen, one in his bedroom, one for him to carry in his pocket…one more to replace that one when he loses it. Hmmm." Alan made the universal thinking noise. "Surely he won't try to teach with his jaw wired shut, but you'd better get another pair for the office. Oh, and the garage. Just get an even ten pair. To start."
Don turned toward the breakroom table, and three pair of eyes met his own. He made a quick writing motion with his hand, and David interpreted the action first, pulling his notebook from his pocket and opening it. He paused a pen over the blank paper and waited. "Wire cutters, 10 pair," Don repeated, and after a glance at Colby, David shrugged and wrote it down. "Liquid Vicodin," Don said next, and David scribbled some more. "Did they call that in to the pharmacy a couple of miles from the house, where Charlie usually goes?"
"They will," Alan assured him. "Oh. While you're at the pharmacy, get some of that nutritional drink stuff. " He sounded a little aggrieved. "I had plenty of Jell-O made up, but he won't be able to eat that, now."
"Ensure," Don said, moving to stand behind David. "Anything else?"
"Better stop at the grocery and get several packages of frozen peas. Some ginger ale. And maybe some fresh shrimp."
"Froz…" Don started, and then stopped. "What? I get the frozen peas, I use them for ice packs all the time. I can even figure out the ginger ale. But did you just say 'fresh shrimp'?"
Alan's response was matter-of-fact. "I'm fairly certain I have everything else for a quick shrimp alfredo. You'll stay for dinner, of course."
Don rolled his eyes and huffed out a laugh. "If I didn't know how anti-pain Chuck is, I'd think the two of you planned this whole thing."
Don left work at 4:30, but by the time he had stopped at the hardware store, the pharmacy and the grocery, it was after 6 by the time he arrived at the Craftsman. His father met him at the kitchen door, transferring packages from Don to the table. "He's in the living room," he shared. He peeked in the bag from the pharmacy and frowned. "They said not to give him this until tomorrow; they gave him another shot of morphine right before they let him go."
Don grinned. "So Charlie flew home, huh?"
Alan shook his head and tried not to smile. He was rummaging in the bag from the hardware store and removed a couple of pair of wire cutters. "Is there more in the SUV? I want to go put one of these in the garage."
Don nodded, reaching out for a pair himself. "Yeah, I got a whole case of that drink. Variety pack. I'll take one of these in and say hello."
Alan nodded and shot out the door in a bundle of nervous energy. "Take him some peas!" he called on the way out, so Don grabbed a package of those as well, pausing to put three more in the freezer. Then, since he was stopped at the refrigerator anyway, he opened the door and grabbed a beer. Thus laden, he pushed through the swinging door into the dining room and began a quadrant search for his brother.
He found instead a chipmunk. "Damn, Chuck," he whispered respectfully when he got a good look at his little brother. Charlie was sitting on the end of the couch, holding his hand up to the light, mesmerized. While Don was expecting the swelling, the bruising took him by surprise. The right side of Charlie's face was nearly black, from just under the eye extending down past the collar of his soft t-shirt.
Charlie lowered his hand and turned his entire body slightly until he focused – or, rather, didn't focus – on Don. He looked at him with eyes glazed and dark with pain, but parted his lips in a frightening Jack-O-Lantern grimace anyway. "Uhhhhhh," he grunted, immediately closing his lips again. His head wobbled a little and he blinked. "Dat urt."
Don quickly crouched at the end of the couch, setting his beer aside for a moment and wishing he had brought two packages of peas with him. The left side of Charlie's face wasn't bruised, but it was still swollen to three times its natural size. He smiled as he made his offering. "I brought you something," he said, extending the peas. "Can you hold this?"
Charlie looked at the peas and his eyes glistened as if Don held the Holy Grail. He grabbed for them and completely missed, knocking his hand into Don's bicep instead. An indiscriminate noise of displeasure emitted from him and he tried again, this time latching onto Don's shirt.
He frowned and twisted his hand in the fabric, and Don placed his own hand over his brother's. "Yeah. Maybe you'd better just lie down for a while. Let your cheek sort-of rest on the peas. You think that will work?"
Charlie's eyes were on his hand now, and his fingers were twisting harder at the fabric. His breath began to shoot through his nose in labored puffs, and Don was terrified to see tears welling in his eyes. He tried to calm Charlie's hand with his own, petting him, and reached out the other thinking to smooth his hair, but pulled back, afraid that he would cause even more pain. "Charlie, what's wrong? Do you want Dad? Let me get Dad." Don tried to rise from his crouch, but Charlie's grip was surprisingly strong.
He leaned forward a little on the couch and brought his other hand up. After two tries he managed to bury it in Don's polo as well. Don could feel him shaking. All ten fingers twisted in the material and Charlie began to make obvious noises of distress. "Uhhh aaaapppp, uhhhh apppp??" His eyes fought to focus on Don's own, and then dropped to his hands in Don's shirt. "Urrrr uuuuu oooak?"
Don had dropped everything to the floor, peas and wire cutters, and now gripped both of Charlie's hands with both of his. Desperately he wished for his father to come back into the house. "Sshh, Charlie," he begged. "You're okay. You're all right." Charlie continued to keen, dropping his eyes to the shirt again, and this time Don followed his gaze. Charlie's right hand was clenched around a large stain from the lunchtime pizza; a circle of dark red marinara sauce centered over Don's heart. With a flash of sudden understanding, Don let go of Charlie's hands and buried his own in his brother's curls. "Be still, Charlie," he commanded, holding on as tightly as he dared. "It's pizza sauce. It's pizza sauce, Buddy. I'm fine. I'm okay."
Charlie tentatively let go of Don's shirt with one hand, reaching up to caress the warm stubble on his brother's face. His next words were enunciated clearly enough for Don to understand. "Nnnntt shttt?"
Tears threatened at the back of his own eyes, but Don smiled tenderly and patted Charlie's hand. "No, Buddy. I'm not shot." He waited until Charlie's breathing became less labored and he wilted back into the couch a little, finally believing it was safe to let go of his brother. "You, though," Don grinned. "You look like something the cat dragged in."
Charlie rolled his eyes, which got stuck on the ceiling for a while, but eventually worked their way back to Don, the lids at half mast. "Peees," he said, and Don stood, his knees creaking.
"Yeah, I got your peas," he said softly. "Let me help you lay down first." He helped his brother settle on the couch, lifting his legs for him and arranging the bag of peas between the back of the couch and the black side of his face. Charlie made a sound that must have been a jaw-wired-shut yawn, and Don grabbed the afghan off the back of the couch and draped it over Charlie.
Charlie's eyes had drifted closed, but when he felt the warmth of the blanket, they popped open again, and he looked up into his brother's eyes. "Gad ur oaka," he said tiredly, eyes closing again, and Don smiled.
He lowered himself to sit on the floor in front of the couch, in case Charlie needed anything, and leaned over to retrieve his beer. "I'm glad you're okay too, Buddy," he whispered, and then he leaned his head back and rested for a while on Charlie's knee.