A/N: This is my own personal alphabet challenge, telling a story with a different letter per chapter. Though all 26 letters are included, they are not in alphabetical order (clearly). I deliberately repeat the chapter word multiple times throughout that chapter. Also, my chapters aren't the same length – this one is the shortest, even with these notes and disclaimer, while the longest has almost 20x as many words (chp 22, in case you're wondering).

WARNING: This is an ANGSTY fic and painful and goes to some dark places (though not suicide or rape). Remember the genres, though, so there will be comfort for all the hurt (eventually). There is violence (they are part of the Violent Crimes Squad, after all), torture, and pain. Some language may be considered coarse, but I felt that grittiness was warranted given this story.

DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. I don't own Numb3rs. I've taken some dialogue straight from the Colby-seasons—I don't own that either (the majority of which is found in chp 7, btw).

Alphabet Soup

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." ~Albert Einstein

"H" is for Hurt

Colby Granger hurt.

Oh not the physical pain that came from broken bones or a beating or torture. That was known, a given, understood and expected. It was preferable. He wished that's all it was.

But this hurt twisting through his mind, his heart, his soul … he thought it could kill him. He almost wished it would.

He wasn't at that point—yet. But he thought they might push him there sooner or later. And that hurt most of all.

He'd been back at work for a couple of weeks now, had helped the team solve a few cases already. Hell, Don said he wanted Colby on the team, had made it official.

Yet Colby could see the reservations in his eyes, behind the disappointment and anger. The doubt. He said he welcomed Colby back, but he didn't actually accept him.

It seemed as if none of them had.

Not on the team. Not in the office.

Two weeks later, Colby was still greeted with glares, whispers behind his back, silence. Some were openly hostile; some chose to ignore him. He still hadn't decided which hurt worse.

Liz seemed honestly fine with him, same as she ever was. Except Colby couldn't rid himself of the niggling little suspicion that she reported to Don his every action in the field, that they were all constantly looking over his shoulder, waiting for him to screw up.

Maybe he thought entirely too much of himself. Maybe they thought nothing of him at all.

Megan seemed to have put it behind her, striving to treat him as she always had. But Megan had her own issues to deal with and didn't have time for Colby's. He understood. He tried to be there for her, but he could see it was getting to be too much for her.

It was wearing on him too.

David was especially wearing on him. His partner, his best friend, his brother. Only David wanted nothing to do with him, ignoring him completely and only acknowledging his presence if it was relevant to a case. He seemed to prefer a passive-aggressive approach to talking about it. Colby wished he'd shout at him … or get in his face … or even take a swing at him. Hell, David could beat him for all Colby cared as long as he gave him something other than silence or contempt or his back if they happened to be alone in the same room.

Colby was working his ass off and had precious little to show for it.

They resented him for doing his job, for completing his mission, but no one wanted to expend the effort to find out what he had to say about it. As if he wasn't worth it. As if the last two years meant nothing. As if he meant nothing.

And that hurt worst of all.

He got that they were pissed at him; he even understood it, accepted it. To an extent.

But everyone had tried him in the court of public opinion and found him guilty. He felt guilty. Even though he hadn't really done anything wrong.

He felt ashamed. They made sure of that with their actions, with what they did—and didn't—say.

He felt one step away from a precipice with no one willing to catch him if he fell or pull him back. Hell, he felt as if they were all jostling him, and it was only a matter of time before somebody gave him a shove over the edge.

Because they were angry and felt betrayed and wouldn't look at the bigger picture. They believed he was a liar and couldn't be trusted. Even though he had proven otherwise—had died rather than give up any information. How much more trustworthy could a man be?

They followed the leads he found, always with an air of disapproval about them, then pretended he didn't exist. Maybe they hoped if they tried hard enough, he wouldn't.

Made sense. He thought if he tried hard enough things would go back to how they were before the Janus List had been exposed. He was starting to think that was a fool's hope.

He should've given them what they wanted and taken the DC job. Colby shook his head. He just hurt.