Title: Permanent Consequences
Genre: Drama, Angst
Summary: Sometimes, sorrow makes no difference at all.
Disclaimer: Yonder goes the ownership of all things "numb3rs"; and alas, it ain't me…
A/N: Look, I took a little whump break with my last story; a deep breath, if you will. My roots call to me now. Watch the timeline hints at the beginning of the chapters – there could be some jumping around.
Chapter 1: Roll With the PunchesTIMELINE: Present Day
Hunched over his desk, largely ignoring a turkey sandwich that sat next to him, Don's fingers were starting to cramp. It was decent of Megan to think of adding something extra to the office take-out order that morning. Since he had still been in Assistant Director Merrick's office when the Intern came through, making his list, Megan had known that Don would probably be unable to join the rest of the team for lunch. Being Team Leader involved signing off on everybody else's reports, as well as carrying the lion's share of other administrative tasks that Merrick tossed their way.
So, exhausted after a morning seminar introducing new protocol to all Team Leaders, Don had been gratified to find a note on his desk when he got back there just after noon. He found the turkey sandwich in the refrigerator, stopped at the machine for a bottle of water – that must be Charlie's influence, he had been on a real health kick lately – and carried it back to his desk. He wasn't really supposed to eat in the office, but he slammed the sandwich on the desk and dared anyone to mention it.
He nibbled on it as he made slow headway through the paperwork that had piled up in his absence. His appetite had never really come back after the accident. If Megan hadn't thought to leave him something, he probably would have skipped lunch. He wasn't trying to hurt himself, or make himself sick; he just honestly forgot half the time. When he did sit down at a meal, enjoying it almost seemed like…some sort of betrayal. So he picked at it.
At least, that's what the therapist they had made him see had said. After almost three months of having problems with both eating and sleeping, he had passed out at a crime scene and landed in a hospital. It was an eye opener. It had terrified him that the team may have been on a bust, at the time. He could have been backing somebody up when his body decided to imitate a wet noodle. It scared him enough that he went willingly, when Merrick suggested counseling. He already had one shooting on his conscience, and he would be damned if he could handle another one.
He had actually been taken off field duty for six weeks while he bulked up a little, and took sleeping pills. The entire office had been very understanding. His own team always stood behind him in support, and pretty much everyone at the Bureau had an interest in what had happened. Their sympathy and kid-glove treatment would have been humiliating and enraging, if Don had been able to care.
Despite all the counseling, all the private soul-searching, all the interrogations from his father, Don was still not sure what was different, this time. Anger and action had always been his coping mechanisms. Hell, the last few months his mother was alive, he had been angry all the time. Charlie, coping in his own solitude in the garage, had been a convenient target. Don had been able to focus his energy and round up enough anger to last long after his mother had finally died.
No matter what happened, he had always been able to count on his first round of self-defense.
Until this time.
This time, he didn't have the energy to get angry. It took all that he had just to keep from killing himself, some days.
When Charlie got off the elevator and started into the bullpen, he noted the lack of activity. Truth be told, it was why he wanted to get here during the lunch hour, if he could. There would be fewer curious and sympathetic glances, and negotiation was easier the less crowded a place was.
He approached Don's desk, a little surprised to see him sitting there. The rest of the team was obviously gone. He observed the barely-touched sandwich on Don's desk, shifted the folder he was carrying awkwardly, and sighed unhappily. Don was taking this so hard. He was more of a different man these days than Charlie was, and it broke his heart. He stopped a few feet from the desk. "Donnie. You need to eat your lunch, not just sit it on your desk."
Don's head whipped around at Charlie's voice, and he smiled nervously. "Hey, Charlie, what are you doing here?"
Charlie started moving again, and Don frowned, dropping his eyes. "I wish you would get one of those electric ones. If your insurance won't pay, you know the Bureau will."
Charlie rolled beside the desk and stopped, his hand on the wheel. "We've discussed this, Don. You know it's not a question of money. I want to use my arms. It's helping me develop upper body strength." He smiled, a little proudly. "Did Dad tell you that I can load the chair into the car by myself, now? Once I transfer into the front seat, I can lean over far enough to get a grip on my wheelchair; and now that I have some resistance, I don't just tumble back out!" He laughed a little at the end, and Don tried to smile.
He picked up the sandwich and took a huge bite so he wouldn't have to, and wiggled his eyebrows at the folder in Charlie's lap. Charlie looked down, and picked it up. "Oh. Forgot I moved that there from the backpack. Listen, I don't know if you want this. I was cleaning up my office and I found this old case file. The Zimmerman case, remember? It's almost a year old. I didn't know if you needed to file it, or something."
Don swallowed and accepted the file. "Thanks, Charlie, but you didn't have to bring this all the way over here. Most of the stuff we gave you was copies; we try to keep all originals on-site."
Charlie nodded. "That makes sense. I have some appointments downtown today anyway, and…I wanted to see you."
Don's smile was more genuine, but laced with worry. "Charlie, you don't need an excuse to see me. Just call, and you know I'll come right over."
Charlie played with the spokes of his wheels and lowered his voice. "You don't have to come to me all the time, Don. I'm back to an active lifestyle, now. I've returned to CalSci part-time, and I'm still involved in therapy, and I'm working with Larry on a paper about his experiences on the space shuttle…. Dad says he hardly ever sees me, anymore!"
Don didn't answer, so Charlie pushed on. "Don, I wanted you to see I can do this. I can come here, to the office, and get to the bullpen. I want to talk about consulting, again."
Don's head started shaking, and Charlie allowed a small plea to enter his voice. "I know we may encounter some new challenges, especially if I need to see a crime scene, but there is still a lot I can do, Donnie, and I…"
Don stood and spoke with a barely-controlled anger, having suddenly rediscovered it, slapping the Zimmerman file on the desk. "NO! Absolutely not, Charlie, not in ANY capacity. This is not open for discussion. Do you understand me?"
Charlie stiffened in his chair and glared up at Don. "I beg your pardon? I'm an adult, Don – and you are not the only agent in this office. I can go over your head, to Merrick, and let him know I'm available again."
Furious, Don leaned over and grabbed the arms of Charlie's wheelchair. He shook them twice. "You do that," he hissed, "and I will submit my resignation. It's already written, in the top drawer of my desk."
Charlie paled a little, and placed his hands on top of Don's. He was beginning to develop callouses from operating the manual wheelchair. He'd have to do something about that, because he did not want to stop touching people. "What do you mean, your resignation is already written?", he asked fearfully.
Don's face closed as if curtains had been drawn, and he straightened up and then sank down in his own chair again. He ran a hand through his hair. God in heaven. He had just used physical force on his paralyzed brother. "I'm sorry," he choked. "God, I'm sorry."
Charlie stared at him and wondered if he was talking about the wheelchair shake, the threat, the accident – or all three. "So am I," he finally said, deciding it was an appropriate response to any of the above. His heart ached at the misery lined on Don's thin face. "Will you come home for dinner tonight? Please?"
Don closed his eyes, then opened them again. He avoided Charlie's gaze. "I will not discuss your coming back as a consultant," he warned.
Charlie rubbed his hands together, preparing to back out of Don's space. "I just want you to come over," he answered in a small voice. It was apparent to him that Don was broken, and the only way to help him was to make him face the truth; no matter how painful that was for all of them.
Don picked up the sandwich and dropped it unceremoniously into the trash can beside his desk. He took a moment, then finally let his wounded eyes meet Charlie's. "Whatever you want, Charlie. I'll do whatever you want."