A/N: This is my first Numb3rs fanfic, and my first time ever writing something more than just a oneshot. The next few chapters will be up in the next week. Please review! Thanks!
Standard Disclaimers: Chars aren't mine, show isn't mine, blah blah blah. Not making any money off this.
Exhausted, Don dropped onto his couch. His jacket was unbuttoned; tie hanging loose around his neck. Leaning forward so his elbows were propped on his knees, Don rubbed his eyes with his palms. He hadn't slept more than six cumulative hours in the last five days, and meals were almost as sporadic as his sleep. Power naps and coffee always managed to get him through the case, but once it was over, reality came crashing back.
His team had conducted a raid on a kidnapper's house around two o'clock in the morning, only to find the two missing girls dead by an hour. The only satisfaction was that the perp was now behind bars, unable to hurt more children. The case had started two weeks ago with the kidnapping of two apparently unrelated girls. They were dead within thirty-six hours, and two new victims snatched within the next thirty-six. All the victims were between the ages of seven and ten, all girls, and always snatched two at a time. Other than that information, the victims had almost nothing in common. Different ethnicities, different hair color, different levels of intelligence, different interests. Studying the victims hadn't gotten them anywhere, so Don had turned to Charlie to help.
The kidnapper took each set of girls to a new house where he held and killed them after a day and a half. The houses were chosen because the owners were on vacation, planning to be out of town for at least a week. If there wasn't a connection between the victims, maybe Charlie could find a connection between the houses. Charlie had hoped to find the connection and use it to predict the next hide-away. His math had given them two likely addresses, and Don had sent teams to follow up on both. Don had sent Charlie home shortly after midnight, as soon as he had found the two probable locations. If neither house was correct, Don would need Charlie to be alert in the morning to rework the equation. As it turned out, Charlie was right, and he wouldn't need to recalculate anything. Unfortunately, the FBI hadn't managed to get there in time.
Failure never stopped haunting Don. They had caught the guy, but they had failed two more little girls. The parents' accusing eyes seemed to follow Don everywhere he went. Why hadn't he been able to save their daughters? His team had tried to encourage each other with the fact that they had caught the kidnapper, and had enough evidence that prosecution would be easy. Even if the girls' parents or the Assistant Director didn't say anything, Don would always bear the guilt of failure. All the members of his team had done their jobs well. Charlie had done his best to quickly develop his expression to determine where the girls were being held. Everything went right. Except they were too late. As team leader, Don bore the responsibility. He wouldn't allow the weight of the failure fall on his team, it was his alone.
Ever since he could remember, Don had learned to bury all his feelings. Ignore the pain and it would go away… eventually. He had to stay strong for everyone else, so he couldn't afford to let anything show. It was probably why he did so well in the FBI. He was able to absorb all the pain and emotion and ignore it while working on the case. When it was over, and he was alone, he would deal with all the hurt. But no-one else would ever know what was going on inside.
The only problem was: what happens when there's too much bottled up inside? Don had never learned to actually deal with the pain, only to bury it and pretend it would go away. The past couple years had been tough on Don. His mother's long battle with cancer, his brother's tendency to shut out the world, his failed relationships, seeing Charlie and his father in danger from snipers or the Russian mob. Sometimes it was more than he could handle. Still, he had to be strong. For his team. For his family. He could never, and would never, break down in front of anyone. When something was too overwhelming, he would push it aside until later, when he was alone. Only then could he let his composure slip.
Charlie always invited Don to come back to the house for dinner after a hard case. Sometimes, Don would accept the invitation. A bottle or two of beer would help drown any pain. It was also nice to be able to spend time with his family, but sometimes it was just too much. Some nights, Don just couldn't stand to go to the house. Charlie never understood, but there were nights when Don just needed to be alone. To deal.
Charlie and Alan would never know how he dealt with the pressure from his job. He had seen too many horrific crimes… things men were never supposed to see. He had failed too many times. Failure demanded payment. And Don made that payment with blood. In the solitude of his apartment, a knife was all Don could use to make the pain go away. He had used the same blade for the last couple years, but he always made sure to keep it clean. His knife wasn't sharp enough to break skin in one slice. Razor blades were too easy, too quick. One swipe would produce blood, almost before his body would recognize the pain. The only way to get the desired response with a sharp blade was to cut deep, and that was dangerous. With his slightly dull knife, he never had to cut very deep, and never close to veins. He didn't want to risk killing himself by bleeding out… he just needed the pain as the blade pressed into his skin, and the rivulets of blood that would seep out of the wound.
It was a wonderful feeling of controlled pain as he repeated the same line two or three times before the blood made its way to the surface. Control. That was what his job lacked. There was no way to control the criminal actions of other people. By cutting himself, he could stop or start any time he wanted, produce as much or little pain as he needed. Control. And then, release. As the blood would start to trickle out, he could feel the pain and overwhelming emotion seep out of his body.
His upper arms and shoulders were lined with thin scars from his blade. It was easy enough to hide the scars… at work, he never rolled up his sleeves more than a couple inches above his elbows. When working out or playing baseball, his t-shirt sleeves always covered most of his upper arms. If they rode up for a moment, it wouldn't matter. The scars were thin enough and inconspicuous enough to not draw too much attention at a brief glance. Sometimes, the marks would fade within a few weeks. Other times, they would remain as pale reminders for the cost of failure. He didn't mind the scars. He deserved them.
Tonight, Don hadn't needed to hurt Charlie by not coming to the house. His family would be in bed, securely unaware of all the evil that lurked in the city. Don couldn't ignore it, but tonight all his thoughts were on the case he had just completed. Two more little girls dead because he couldn't figure it out in time. Dead because he had failed. With practiced movements, Don removed his shirt and retrieved his knife. It was hidden from casual observers in an end-stand drawer. Looking down at his right shoulder, Don counted the red stripes. There were already eight. One for each abducted girl that he couldn't save in time. His left hand held the knife and his right shoulder tightened. He traced out the first line three times before beads of blood began to show. One more time along the same path started a trail of blood that began to trickle down his arm. The crushing weight in his chest eased up a bit, but he wasn't done. Two girls, two cuts. That's the way it had to work. The second cut was a bit harder, thereby requiring another swipe of the knife before there was enough blood.
Ten neat, parallel lines. Don just looked at the marks for a couple minutes before walking to his sink to clean the knife. He picked an ice cube out of his freezer and rubbed it on his shoulder. The ice would clean the wounds, and the intensity of the cold would add just a bit more pain before his skin went numb. At the first signs that he was losing feeling, Don would stop. The point was to release the pain, not numb it away. After drying his shoulder, Don applied antibiotic cream to the whole area. It wouldn't be helpful for the cuts to get infected because he was careless.
With the pressure in his chest gone, Don was suddenly unable to keep his eyes open. He stumbled back to the couch, not even bothering to finish undressing or make it to his bed. The couch would have to do for now. He was asleep before his head hit the cushion.