Disclaimer: I do not own the show Numb3rs, the cast or crew of Numb3rs, or the characters of Numb3rs. I do not claim to own any part of it. Honestly, if I did, do you really think I'd be on here?
Summary: When Don feels guilty for the death of a mother and child, it brings up pain and sorrow he thought he had buried too deep to resurface. But the guilt and grief overwhelm him until the tears he left unshed must fall.
Even heroes have the right to bleed.-Five for Fighting in the song "Superman"
Don Eppes couldn't breathe as the guilt choked him. He wouldn't allow himself to fall apart in front of his team. So now, in the safety of his car, he was overwhelmed with emotions.
Images flashed in his head, his brain's way of torturing him even more. If he had been five minutes quicker, they'd be alive. How could he have let it happen? Why couldn't he have been there in time?
Don couldn't get the sight of the mother and son out of his head. It brought on memories of his own mother, and he knew she would have done the same for him, no matter how old he was.
His team had finally gotten a lead on the hideout of three men who were holding a mother and her son hostage, wanting 100,000 in ransom from the husband. Knowing where they were keeping the hostages, Don's team went out. Less than ten minutes upon arrival, they heard two gunshots ring out. Don decided to move his team in. They found the three men, two holding guns, and the hostages, each with a bullet in their head.
Don's heart broke as he saw how their bodies were positioned. The mother had wrapped her arms around her son, trying to protect him. Her green eyes stared up unseeingly, her light brown hair spread behind her. Her son's face was buried in his mother's chest, hiding in his mother's arms. Blood spilled from the back of his head, showing up bright against the white-blonde of his hair.
Don couldn't stop blaming himself, like he did every time a case went wrong. He did it in his personal life, too. But this one... he took it real personal.
Megan had valiantly taken on the job of telling the father, husband. Don had heard the man's sorrowful cries and had felt his own throat tighten with emotion, knowing that five minutes sooner, he could have changed that.
The men had known they'd been had, and, knowing they were no use to them now, they shot and killed the two hostages. It had taken control he didn't know he had to keep from killing the three with his bare hands.
Subconsciously, Don drove to his brother's house. He longed for peace and quiet, but he knew in the silence his emotions would come forward and he wouldn't be able to handle the impact as the guilt and grief hit him. He knew he'd never find peace and quiet here. He longed for more than peace and quiet, but he would never admit it.
Don wiped away any trace of emotions as he stepped inside his childhood home. He could hear voices from the dining room, so he headed there.
"Donny! It's good to see you. It's been a while. Did you finish your latest case?" his father Alan spoke enthusiastically. Usually, after finishing a case, Don spoke with the same enthusiasm. But this time was different. Don sank into a chair at the table, facing his brother and beside his father.
"Yeah, I just got off work." He looked to his younger brother Charlie, who was working diligently on something he probably wouldn't understand.
"So how'd it go? I'm sorry I wasn't able to help this time," Charlie expressed his guilt, raising his head from the work he had been hunched over.
"It's fine. We got them." Don had vaguely described the case when he had asked for his brother's help. Once denied of help, Don hadn't gone further in explanation.
"That's good. And the hostages?"
Don stood and headed to the kitchen door.
"They're dead," he said with his back to his family so they wouldn't see the emotions on his face.
"What?" Charlie's surprised tone echoed after Don as he reached into the refrigerator for a beer, kept mainly for him.
"You heard me," Don said as he came back to his seat.
Alan and Charlie exchanged glances. Charlie turned back to his brother.
"What, um, what happened?"
"They knew we were there and the hostages were no good to them any more. So they killed them." Don surprised himself with the indifferent tone of his voice.
Alan sat quietly, searching for any underlining tone that would give him insight on his son's feelings.
"Are you all right?" Charlie asked his brother, only imagining how awful it must have been.
"Yeah, Charlie, I'm fine," Don spoke with a touch of sarcasm.
"It, it must have been-" Don cut off his brother.
"Look, I really don't want to talk about this, okay?"
Don stood with his can of beer and went to the living room and turned on the first sports game he could find on the TV: hockey.
Alan and Charlie followed soon after. Alan stepped to the side of Don's chair and snatched the remote from his oldest son's hand. He pressed the "power" button, turning off the TV. Don looked up angrily at his father.
"Donny," Alan began as he sat on the edge of the coffee table in front of Don, "you are obviously not all right. Now, I know I can't begin to understand what you went through today, but I do know it helps to talk about it. Your brother and I are here for you. Talk to us."
Charlie rounded the chair and leaned against the wall beside the couch, in plain view of Don.
Don groaned. "I just wanted some peace and quiet, but I can see that I'm not going to find it here." Don's voice held more anger than he intended. He stood up and headed for the door, preparing to leave.
"Don, you know if you wanted quiet you could find that at your apartment. You came here tonight for a reason and I plan on figuring out why," Alan said to his son's back.
Don stopped, considering his father's words.
Charlie moved to stand beside his brother.
"I understand this is hard for you-" With one word, Charlie caused Don to snap.
Don turned to Charlie angrily and shouted in his face as he shoved his younger brother in the chest.
"Understand? Charlie, you have no idea what I go through." Don gradually moved closer to his brother who, frightened, backed away.
"Hell, I'm glad you don't. It would eat you alive. You have no idea. Don't pretend you do. Sure, you've gotten a taste of it. You've seen a few pictures, been to a few crime scenes. But I see it every day. You see pictures, I see them up close. It doesn't leave my head, not for a second. It is my job and only people who have this job understand. So don't you dare lie to me and say, 'I understand,' because you don't. You don't have a clue."
Charlie was now backed against the wall, his brown eyes staring fearfully at his brother's angered face. He knew this was not normal for Don, and his reactions were beginning to scare him. Meanwhile, Alan stood, shocked, off to the side, watching in astonishment at the display of emotions on his oldest son's face.
"I-I-If you'd just help me understand-" Charlie began but, once again, was cut off by Don's angry shouts. This time, though, they were accompanied by Don grabbing his brother's wrists painfully tight, using them to shake Charlie until he hit the wall behind him.
"What? Do you want to see the bodies of innocent people? Do you want to shoot people? Do you want to feel the intense guilt when you fail?" Don sharpened each sentence by slamming Charlie into the wall.
"Do you want to see the bodies of someone you could have saved if you had been a damn five minutes quicker? Is that what you want?" Don lifted Charlie by the wrists and slammed him into the wall, holding him there as Charlie's feet dangled in the air. "Is it?" Don screamed.
"Donald Eppes! Let go of your brother! Now!" Alan intervened, seeing his youngest son being hurt. Don stood there, unmoving, as he glared up at Charlie. Alan moved to his sons and pried Don's death grip off Charlie's wrists. Charlie fell to the floor with a thud once released from his brother's hold.
"I'm out of here," Don hissed angrily as he glared at the two most important people in his life.
"Don! Get back here! We're not finished!" Alan yelled, but Don had already gone out the door.
He turned his attention to his youngest son, who lay crying on the floor, rubbing his aching wrists.
Alan sat beside his son, wiping at the tears on Charlie's face with a tissue.
"Are you okay?" Alan asked Charlie.
Charlie sniffled, wiping at his nose.
"I-I'm okay." It was more out of fear and sadness that he had cried, rather than pain, though that didn't go unnoticed either.
"Are you sure?"
"I think Don needs your concern more than I do."
Don drove angrily to his apartment, surprised he didn't get a speeding ticket. When he got inside, he went straight to his fridge and withdrew a whole six-pack of beer.
He held one in his hands as he sank down at his kitchen table. He looked at the moisture on the outside of the bottle, reminding him of tears he should have cried, but hadn't.
Don was unprepared for the wave of emotions that hit him. He thought he had mastered hiding his feelings, making them go away. Never had he cried a single tear over a failed case, or during his mother's illness. He hadn't even cried when he put his brother's life in danger, twice. Instead, he pushed the pain and sorrow down. It made him believe it was gone for good, but now, the pains and struggle he'd fought off resurfaced, causing him to cry out.
Don clutched the bottle in his hand. It remained unopened, but he planned to change that. He had to drown the emotions that threatened to strangle him. It amazed him that they hadn't succeeded yet.
With a yelp, Don broke into tears, burying his face in his folded arms on the table. Moments long past came to him, reminding him of the feelings he tried so hard to mask. Jealousy of his younger brother's intelligence and his capability of stealing their parents' attention. The breakup with Kim. His mother's death. Charlie's life endangerments. The cases he had failed, costing people their lives.
Don was so deep in his grief that he didn't hear Alan and Charlie let themselves in, using the spare key Don had given them in case of emergencies. He was surprised when he felt his father's hand pull the still unopened beer bottle out of his hand.
The tears stopped. Don couldn't break in front of his family, couldn't mess up his reputation.
Don stood and headed to the fridge, where Alan had replaced the six-pack of beer. Alan stood out of his son's way as he walked to the fridge.
"No. I-I need that. I can't... can't be alone with these memories." Don had said more than he had intended.
Alan stayed out of the way until he saw his oldest son's strength give out. He rushed to Don's side, holding him up as his legs went out from under him.
WIth a cry, Don succumbed to the strength of his father's arms, allowing himself to be pulled to the living room. Alan guided Don to the couch and they sat down. In the loving arms of his father, Don felt he could let go. Hiding much like the young son had earlier that day, Don buried his face in his father's shoulder.
"Dad," Don cried.
Charlie stood back, fearfully watching his older brother. It wasn't because Don had hurt him that he was scared. What frightened him was seeing Don break. Charlie couldn't remember the last time he'd seen his brother cry.
Alan held his son tightly, fearing also over Don's cries. Don sobbed hard into his father's shirt, shaking as he fought off the tears.
"Sh, sh. Let it all out," Alan encouraged. He was surprised when his son obeyed.
Don cried over things that had upset him years ago. By hiding the fears and sorrow, Don thought he had escaped them permanently. He should have known it would build up over time until the emotions would pour out of him, as they were now.
After a long period of tears and sobs, Don moved out of his father's arms. Alan, still worried about Don, continued to rub his son's shoulder.
Don's gaze immediately found his brother, who still stood off to the side. Don wiped at the dampness on his face and stood.
"I-I'm so sorry, Buddy. I...I didn't mean to hurt you."
It was enough for Charlie. He had already forgiven Don, knowing he wasn't himself when he acted out toward him. Charlie moved into his brother's open arms and was greeted by a tight hug.
Don held his brother tightly, feeling regret and guilt once more for hurting his brother.
"I'm sorry," he cried into Charlie's hair as the tears came once more.
"It's okay, Donny. I forgive you." Charlie's words were muffled against Don's chest, but Don heard them and it brought relief to his heart.
The three moved silently to the kitchen again. The sons took a seat while their father put on a pot of coffee. Once done, Alan poured three cups of coffee and placed one in front of each of his sons. Then he sat with a cup of his own.
"I take it you have a lot to talk about?" Alan said, looking at Don.
"I do, but it's late. You guys should go home," Don said, not wanting to be a burden to his family.
Now Alan looked at Charlie.
"I don't have anywhere I need to be. Do you?"
"I think I'm already where I need to be." Charlie smiled at Don, who returned the smile gratefully.
So the three Eppes men stayed in Don's kitchen. They stayed awake late into the night or, rather, early morning, listening to Don. No one felt any tiredness, no one mentioned getting to sleep. It was enough for them, being together and being able to help one of their own.
After all, isn't that what families are for?
"Sometimes we never know what's wrong without the pain."-The Fray in "All at Once"