Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: Thanks as always to ritt, the world's best beta and sounding board!
A/N2: This is a side project of mine that will be an ongoing series of oneshots that I post as they come to me. I've never tried anything like this before, so I hope you all enjoy!
I can't feel anything inside.
I'm empty. Void. Dead.
I need to feel. Pain, despair… something. Anything but the way I do.
I'm tired of being this way. What's wrong with me? I don't want to do anything I used to enjoy. Be around anyone who I care about.
No one wants to be with me either. I reach out in an awkward ways and get… nothing. Am I that bad? That no one – not even friends and family – cares enough to respond to me? Or have I lost all ability to communicate?
Oh God what I would give to feel again. To rid my mind and heart of this emptiness.
And why? Why do I feel this way? What did I do? My life's not bad – not by a long shot. I have family and friends who – despite their lack of response – I know on an instinctual level do care about me. So why don't they know what to do to help me?
I'm left to go through the motions of my days, just waiting for them to be over. I can't even bring myself to go to Charlie's house. I feel trapped and claustrophobic when I'm there. Why? What's so wrong with me that my own father and brother should make me feel so uncomfortable?
I sit in the dark in my apartment as I try to feel again. It's been six days since I've seen my family and three days since I last spoke to Charlie on the phone, tossing out assurances without any conviction in my voice.
So I'm sure that's why I hear a key turning in the lock… the door opening. I sense the small shadow creeping down the hallway. I hear footsteps – hesitant and uncertain – and wonder what my brother will say when he sees me. I don't even know what I would say to myself and, God help me, that's what hurts so bad.
The shadow comes to stand in front of me, no doubt studying the red-eyed, exhausted, soulless pile of flesh that I have become. He seems unsure of what to say. Well, that makes two of us.
A second shadow appears and I am compelled to look up. I see both of their worried expressions and I wish I could say I felt guilty about being the cause but again, that would mean actually being able to feel.
The silence stretches on until I'm certain I will drown in it. Then one word slips from my father's mouth, soft but full of love and concern. "Donny."
I don't respond – what is there to say?
Charlie pushes one step further. "Are you okay?"
And God help me, but I don't know what to say…
The next morning I wake to an overcast day. At least my mood and the weather have coordinated with each other. I lie still for a moment as I think about the day stretching out before me, dreading how I'll manage to face it. Then I notice something – there's someone moving around in the other room. Two 'someones' if the muffled voices are any indication. Then it rushes back to me – Dad and Charlie. They'd come over last night to check on me and apparently, despite my insistence that I would be okay, decided to stay the night.
I glance over the side of my bed and roll my eyes in resignation. The small armchair I keep in my room is still by the window where I keep it but the indentations in the carpet tell me it has been moved and put back. Apparently once I passed out for the night, I'd had two guardian angels watching over me. Good ol' Dad and Charlie.
As much as I appreciate their help, I just want to be left alone. I know they'll be hurt when I tell them so I take a deep breath and prepare myself for the chore as I get out of bed. I make a pit stop in my bathroom and catch my reflection in the mirror. My God, if I looked like that last night I should count my blessings they didn't have me committed. I splash cold water on my face, give up on the arduous – if not impossible – task of improving my appearance, and cautiously step into my living room.
"Good morning," Charlie greets me with a small smile as he sits on my couch. I'm a little surprised as my normally oblivious brother manages to find the perfect balance between morning cheer and sympathetic tone.
"Morning," I return, not quite up to calling it 'good'. "Dad's cooking?"
"Yeah. Should be ready in a few minutes."
"Nice of him but I'm not really hungry."
Charlie pauses for a moment, and I'm sure he must be gathering up courage, because I know what's coming next and I'm pretty sure it will irritate me. "You need to eat, Don. You've… you've lost some weight. That's not good."
Now that he's mentioned it, my clothes have been feeling a little looser. Still, if I wasn't hungry he and Dad shouldn't try to force me to eat. I almost groan out loud as it occurs to me that getting me to eat probably isn't their only goal this morning. "I'll see what I can manage. No promises, though."
"Well, it's Mom's old pancake recipe he's using, so I think you'll be able to choke something down." I swear there's a twinkle in his eye when he says that and I almost laugh…
But I don't. I can't. Laughing means feeling good and if I feel good, then that means what..? That I've been sitting around and moping out of self-pity? That I could have shaken the blues at any time, I just chose not to?
"Don? Are you okay?"
Oh God, the worry in his voice almost breaks my heart. To know that I'm doing this to him… probably Dad, too… what kind of person does that make me?
No mistaking the near-panic in his voice now. At first I wonder why but then I feel the moisture trickling down my cheek. I'm crying in front of Charlie. Me. The hard-ass, 'show-no-emotion' FBI agent is crying – check that – practically sobbing on his living room couch. I quickly cover my face because obviously that will keep Charlie from realizing how upset I am.
"Shh, Don," he whispers and scoots closer to me. I feel uncertain hands land on my shoulders and, if anything, my despair increases.
Why are you being so good to me, Charlie? Why are you wasting your time? I'm not worth it. Just somebody who can't get out of a little funk.
Another pair of hands surprise me, only these are stronger and more confident. I'm gathered into someone's arms and tightly embraced. I wish I could say it helps, but it doesn't. Not at all. And that scares me.
"Donny," my father whispers, his voice sounding as emotional as I feel. "It's going to be okay, son. We can get you help."
Help? What, Dad, you think I've finally lost my marbles? Big words I guess coming from a thirty-five year old man who is sobbing in his father's arms. Oh God, I just want this to end… I can't keep feeling this way.
"I know, Donny. I know."
I said that out loud? Please, just leave me alone Dad. Your love… it's making me feel worse. I feel guilty… I… I don't want to do this to you.
"Take some deep breaths," my father advises me. "I don't want you hyperventilating and passing out on me, okay?"
I nod against his chest and sniffle loudly as I obey. This is so embarrassing.
"That's better, son, Good job." I feel him shift beside me and he holds me out at shoulder length so he can look at me. I'm too embarrassed to return the gaze, so I find an interesting spot on the sofa to study. "I want you to listen to me very carefully, Donny."
I drag a hand across my eyes, wiping away the wetness I feel there. Once I think I've gotten what little composure I'm capable of, I nod for him to continue.
"Here's what I want to do. I want you to call in to work today – tell them you have the 'flu or something – but make arrangements not to go in. Can you do that for me?"
"I have cases…" I mumble.
"Be honest with me and with yourself… Do you really think you can make any progress on them when you're like this?" I shrug and he takes that as a sign of agreement. "Then let's call Doctor Bradford and get you an appointment, sometime today or tomorrow would be best."
I finally summon up the courage and look into his eyes. "Dad…" my voice gives out and I lick my lips. "I… I'm not suicidal."
He regards me in silence as he gently smiles at me. "I know that, Donny. And I know you'd never hurt anyone either." I firmly nod, thankful he knows me so well. "But… you don't have to live your life like this, son. There are treatments that can help."
I nod again – geez, is that all I'm capable of doing? Truth be told, I'm terrified of what I might discover about myself if I dig too deeply. That's one of the reasons I keep the real Don Eppes buried beneath layer upon layer of professional detachment. But at this point, things are so bad, I'm willing to face whatever I need to face to be able to move on. I miss being happy… I really do.
"Okay, Dad, I can do that."
"Good, son, That's really good."
I nervously finger the hem of my tee shirt. "Will you… I mean if it's not too much trouble… could you…"
"You want me to go with you?" he asks.
"Yeah." As much as I don't want to appear weak in front of him, I don't think I can face this alone. And that means… I glance over at Charlie, who has remained silent but hasn't let go of me yet. "Buddy?"
He nods with conviction. "Count me in, Don. For as long and whenever you need me, I'll be there." He flashes that playful grin of his and chuckles. "Probably more than that, too."
Before I can catch it, a laugh slips from my lips. I immediately frown but my father squeezes my shoulder to get my attention.
"It's okay to be happy, Donny. I know it doesn't feel like it, but it is okay."
He's right, it doesn't feel okay, but then nothing does right now. Maybe… maybe Dad's right about getting help. After all, I've reached a point where things can't get any worse. Might as well give it a shot. Especially if it will ease their minds, too. I smile weakly at the two of them as I free myself from their grasp. "I've got a phone call or two to make."
"Good," Dad beams. "We'll be right here when you're done."
I nod. "I know. And… thanks."
I sit and stare at the phone as if I'm not sure how to use it. I mean I've already called into work and told them I won't be there – that was easy enough. But now… Call Bradford and tell him I need an appointment ASAP because… what? I'm messed up? Royally screwed up in the head? Right, that's exactly the kind of thing I want to admit to. "Hey Doc, I've become a head case lately. Mind booking me an appointment?"
Yeah. Whoopee. Yee-haw. Let me go right ahead and do that. While we're at it, maybe we could book a room for me in some nice, peaceful facility where I can spend the rest of my days staring mindlessly at the sun.
Again I ask myself how in the hell did I get to this point? Sure, my job is full of stress but it always has been. And I function well at my job, despite what my dad seems to think. In fact, I can't think of a single trigger that might have sent me spiraling downward into this… Damn, I don't want to say it. I can't say it because it can't be true.
Oh wow, I can even picture it. Me and Bradford in his office and him informing me, "There's nothing wrong with you Eppes. Man up and quit being a baby." Gee, I wonder if it will be worse to find out that I am mentally messed up or that I'm perfectly normal. And who in the world ever thinks they'll eventually ask themselves that question?
"I'll be out in a minute." Don't push, Dad. At this point I'll probably push back just as hard.
The worry in his voice gnaws at my conscience. "Sorry, Bradford's line is busy." Oh Lord, where did that lie come from?
"Oh, okay. Well we can eat and you can try again later."
"Sounds like a plan." At least the first part does.
I toss the phone down onto the mattress and rise from the bed. Who knows? Maybe I will call after breakfast. Or maybe later this evening. Or tomorrow.