Don and Charlie sat uncomfortably together on the brown leather couch in front of Dr. Bradford. They were spaced just so on the couch so that they weren't touching each other, but Charlie could feel Don as if they were arm to arm. Don could feel exactly where Charlie was, felt every shift his brother made and it took all of his willpower not to turn to Charlie and make sure he was okay.
Dr. Bradford sat at ease in his black arm chair, as if it were made for him. The Eppes brothers had just sat down for their session and neither one of them looked like they were there willingly.
"So, a lot has happened since we lost spoke, I understand," Dr. Bradford started casually.
Don and Charlie shared a look that said, "That's the biggest understatement of the century." Don gave Charlie a reassuring wink before they turned back to Dr. Bradford.
"Charlie, how are you doing since your latest capture?" Dr. Bradford asked, poising his pen above paper, ready to write.
"I'm okay. I'm obviously not one hundred percent, but I'm doing all right so far. I can't wait to get the casts off though," Charlie said lightly.
"I can imagine. And you, Don? How are you doing?"
"I'm fine. My shoulder is pretty well healed. I'm enjoying my time off, but ready to get back to work."
Dr. Bradford nodded. "Well, you told me how you are physically. What about mentally? Emotionally? Charlie, I understand you've been having nightmares."
Charlie's body stiffened. "Yes, but that's normal, right?"
"Yes, but that doesn't mean you should needlessly deal with them alone."
Charlie worked his lower hip nervously. Don couldn't help taking a sideways glance at his brother, wondering how he was feeling.
"I had one really bad one... I pulled a knife on Don."
"In your nightmare?"
Charlie gave Don a guilty look. "No. It really happened."
Dr. Bradford looked Don's way, but saw no anger on the older brother's face. He turned back to Charlie and saw the guilt written there.
"I was dreaming, having a nightmare about the last time I had been captured. I was half asleep and I could hear Don walking in my room, only I didn't know it was him. When Don reached out and touched me, I snapped. I grabbed the knife under my pillow and I pounced on Don. I pushed him against the wall and held a knife to his throat." Charlie shivered again at the thought, of what could have happened if he hadn't hesitated.
Dr. Bradford nodded in understanding. "How long have you had a knife under your pillow?"
Don's eyebrows rose. He should have thought of that question but he had been too distracted that night to ask. It hadn't come up since.
"Since... since I came back from the NSA case."
"What prompted that?"
Charlie gave Dr. Bradford a frustrated look, like he shouldn't have to answer that question. The answer was obvious. "Because I didn't feel safe anymore. I'd been tortured and abused for a week. I didn't exactly feel back to normal."
Dr. Bradford could see Charlie's anger and distress. Taking the focus off of Charlie, he turned to Don. "So, Don, how did you handle that?"
Don frowned in confusion. "Um, I don't know. I just told him that it was me. He snapped out of it and stopped. It was fine."
"But after that? How did it feel to have your brother hold a knife on you?"
Don's anger began to rise. "He didn't hold a knife on me. He thought I was someone else. He wasn't trying to hurt me."
"Yes, but it happened nonetheless."
"I was fine. I was more worried about Charlie than about me."
Dr. Bradford knew he wouldn't get anything else out of Don about the subject. "How was it to see your brother chained up? I understand you were there, apart of the rescue team that saved Charlie. Despite medical advice."
Don nodded smugly. "Yes, I was there." His smile faded as he thought back to how Charlie looked that day. "It was awful. All I wanted to do was run up and get him off those chains. But I knew I couldn't. I had to force myself to act like a professional. I knew if I acted out of instinct I could have ended up getting me or Charlie killed. That wasn't a risk I was willing to take."
"And then what? How did it feel taking the shot that killed Charlie's attacker?"
"Well it wasn't just my shot. There were four shots. Who knows which one was really the one that took him out for good?"
Dr. Bradford leaned forward slightly. "Did that upset you? Not being able to take the attacker out yourself?"
Don's eyes flared. "No! I'm not bent on killing everyone with a bad bone in their body! It's not easy killing people, no matter who they are!"
"Unless they hurt your brother."
Don angry clenched his fists. "Yeah, it might be a little easier if they hurt or threaten my family, which he did. But I never take killing someone lightly. There's a cost for taking someone's life, and anyone who has ever killed knows that."
Charlie nodded in understanding and both Don and Dr. Bradford turned to look at him. He was staring down at the floor, his eyes intent on the corner of the room, as though something would happen fast and he had to keep his eyes open and fixed on it or he'd miss out for sure.
"It's true. It... it changes you."
Dr. Bradford frowned, not knowing that Charlie had killed Jose Romero. "Charlie?"
Charlie finally looked up to Dr. Bradford. "I killed someone. My... my first attacker. I killed him. It... it hurt me. I knew he deserved it! He had done so many things to me, I thought he had killed Don. But it still hurt! I wanted him dead but to actually do it killed a part of me. It's like a section of my heart just died and fell off. It chipped away at me like nothing else ever had. And I could feel it deep in the pit of my stomach. I shut down. I wasn't there for a while, because I couldn't look at myself. I couldn't see my hands, knowing that they were hands that had killed. They were my hands, but I felt like I was wearing gloves. Like I had on someone else's hands on my body. 'Cause there was no way I could be a killer, right? But I knew they were mine, so I shut down to block myself from seeing my hands, my reflection that owned those hands. 'Cause then I'd have to admit that I had done it. And that's not something I ever will be okay with. Never. I ended a life and that's all there is to it."
Don had never heard Charlie talk so much about killing Jose. He wished that he had because Don would have been able to relate, since even now he shared those feelings. Sure he had gotten past the point of shutting down and he managed better with taking a life. But it was never easy, and he never thought it was okay, even though it's necessary.
Dr. Bradford raised his brows, sharing a look with Don. "Charlie, did you come to grips with what you did? You understand that the man who did that to you, the man you killed, he deserved to be killed? I know it won't making killing any better or that it makes it right, but you weren't wrong. It might not be right, but it wasn't wrong either."
Charlie gave Dr. Bradford a teary look. "I know that. But I still don't feel good about it."
Don nodded in understanding. "You never feel good about it, Buddy. Never."
Don blinked gently as he let his mind drift to his first kill. The man had been robbing a bank and aimed his gun right at Don. It had been instinct, though he had never shot another person before in his life. The fight or flight mode kicked in and he squeezed the trigger. The man dropped like a ton of bricks, his blood staining the white tiles on the floor, splaying out like waves on the shore. Don had been speechless. His mouth had hung open and he had fallen to his knees, unable to catch a full breath. He had known he had to do it. There was no one else to react fast enough. If he hadn't fired, he would have been killed. As much as Don valued his own life, he never felt good about the kill. Never.
Don reached out and grasped his brothers fingers through the cast, like the head of a turtle coming out of the shell. Charlie looked up at him with eyes that begged for his reassurance.
"It's okay, Buddy. You did the right thing. I know it doesn't feel good, but know you made the right decision. He would have killed you, Charlie. That's something I would never be okay with. I know it hurts, but if you did what you had to do and I'm proud of you for it. I wasn't there to save you that time. You had to do it for yourself and you did. That's all that matters to me."
Charlie smiled tentatively at his brother. It was what he needed to hear. Though the guilt of taking a life was still strong in his mind, he knew if Don thought it was okay, it had to be all right.
Dr. Bradford smiled as he seemed to go unnoticed by the brothers. He watched the interaction, knowing the feelings that went unsaid between them.
"And how do you feel about it, Don? You said yourself you weren't there to save him that time. Is that hard for you?"
Don swallowed hard, looking at his brother. Charlie's eyes pleaded with him to open up, like he had. Charlie had bared his soul over how he felt about taking Jose's life. It was Don's turn.
"I hated it. He was gone for months and I had no idea where he was. That's not something I ever enjoy. I didn't know where he was, what he was doing. He had a story, sure. But deep down I knew that it wasn't true. Then I get some weird email from him saying he couldn't email for a while and would write as soon as he could. It just... it didn't sound like Charlie. I didn't believe it was him. Deep in my heart I knew something was wrong. I knew, and it drove me nuts. I'm the older brother, you know? If anyone is going to take care of Charlie, it sure as hell better be me."
"Do you trust anyone else to take care of Charlie?" Dr. Bradford asked, curious.
"My dad," Don answered shortly, honestly.
Dr. Bradford smiled. "What about Charlie? He seems capable of taking care of himself."
Charlie gave Don a look that asked, "Do you trust me?" His raised brow questioned Don, awaiting an answer.
"Yes. I do. But I feel better if I'm with him."
Charlie smiled in response. He knew his brother well enough to know that Don liked being the protector. It was easy enough to tell. Don's ever-watchful eye pretty much screamed "overprotective older brother."
Dr. Bradford looked between the brothers. He moved back to Charlie, watching him closely.
"Tell me more about your nightmares, Charlie. Do they happen often?"
Don looked over at Charlie quickly. What? He hadn't known.
"It must be hard getting sleep then," Dr. Bradford commented.
Charlie nodded. "Three hours a night isn't much." He laughed, no humor in the sound.
Don's heart constricted and he had to swallow hard to push the emotion down. He hated hearing his brother struggling like that. Charlie had been through enough lately. He didn't need to be sleep deprived on top of all that.
"What usually happens when you wake up from the nightmare?"
"I usually force myself to wake up in my dream. I wake up, shaking or sweaty. Sometimes I scream. I try my best to get to sleep, but it's like someone put adrenaline in an IV and pumped it through my veins. I can't calm down enough to sleep, so I usually go to the garage and work on my cognitive emergence theory, or I watch TV. Something quiet so I don't wake Dad."
"Does he usually wake up?"
"No. He's a pretty sound sleeper." Charlie smiled fondly.
"Tell me about your dreams. What usually happens?"
Don turned toward Charlie silently, trying to catch every word. His brother hadn't exactly been the most open about what he was dreaming. Though Dr. Bradford was the professional, Don wanted to help his brother in any way he could. If going to a therapy session together was the only way to get Charlie to open up, Don would schedule one every day if that's what it took.
"It's always about what happened to me. Sometimes it's something that really did happen me. Sometimes it's something worse, or something different. Dad has been there. Don has been there before."
"What happens when they're with you?"
Charlie swallowed hard, his lower lip quivering slightly as the images flashed in his head. "Dad was killed once. He was... electrocuted and had a heart attack. He was tortured for every time I screamed in pain while they tortured me. I bit my own tongue off in the dream, just trying not to utter a sound. Then Don was tortured with me. I watched him bleed out, get whipped and burned. Eventually he was burned alive. His clothes were caught on fire and he... burned up."
Charlie's eyes got huge, his breathing coming out in shaky puffs. He got a far away look as his whole body tensed.
"Charlie? You okay, Buddy?" Don asked, reaching out to touch his brother's arm. Charlie shied away from him, out of reach.
"Charlie?" Dr. Bradford questioned, wondering how the professor was doing.
"I'm always back there, chained like an animal. Sometimes it's the first time and I can just barely run away. I try but there's not enough slack in the chain. I run, but I fall. The chain holds me back. Other times I'm there the second time, hanging from the ceiling like a hunter's kill. I just... can't ever get away. I just keep telling myself, 'Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.' But sometimes it's like I'm never going to wake up. I feel it and it goes on, and on, and on." Charlie stood, pacing toward the window. Don started to get up, to stop him, but Dr. Bradford held up a hand to stay him.
"I feel everything again, like I'm back there. And sometimes I wonder if it really was a dream. If maybe I'm never going to wake up because I'm really there. I'm back there every night and sometimes I wonder if it's really worth going to sleep."
Don stood this time, going to Charlie. He grasped his brother's shoulder, trying to comfort him. Charlie spun around, his eyes wild and panicked. He reached for Don, grasping the front of his brother's shirt with both hands as if it were his only lifeline. His legs went completely out from under him and Don had to hold up his brother's weight. Charlie gasped, breathing heavy and choking.
"Charlie!" Don shouted in response. Dr. Bradford stood quickly and joined them. Don lowered Charlie to the floor, who had been hanging limply from his shirt and in his arms.
Charlie moved his hands from Don's shirt to his hand. He clutched one in his hand, holding tightly. He closed his eyes, fighting off the pain that came with the memories. It was like every marking on his body flared read hot with pain, re-igniting old pains.
"Charlie. Listen to me. It's okay. Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. You're all right. You can open your eyes," Dr. Bradford said in an attempt to calm Charlie down. However, his voice never broke through. Nothing could until his brother's voice sounded.
"Buddy, calm down. You're okay. I'm right here. You don't have to be scared. Just open your eyes for me. Let Don see those eyes," Don said, reverting back to a phrase he had often told his brother when waking him up for school.
Charlie managed to open his eyes, looking at Don. His breathing slowed but the shaking continued. He leaned his weight into his brother as Don wrapped his arms around Charlie.
Dr. Bradford smiled as he watched the brothers. Don's protective side was out full force and Charlie's trust could be seen from a mile away. The brothers were okay, no matter what. Charlie might be hurt and scared and still a little traumatized. Don might be worried, overprotective, and feeling guilty for not protecting Charlie. But through it all, they were okay. They were still brothers, still were there for each other when it was needed most. Dr. Bradford had no doubt in his mind that those two brothers would be able to weather any storm that would be thrown their way.
Because as soon as the storm was over, they'd still be standing side by side... as brothers.
Hey guys! As always, I'm sorry for the delay in updating! Supernatural has been taking over and so has school. Busy, busy, busy! I only expect there will be one more chapter this. The next chapter will be the explanation chapter that explains the whole NSA case. If I failed to add something that you would like to see, please let me know. I will try my best to update soon. Thanks for sticking with me this far! It's been over a YEAR. Crazy, right? Love to all!