Broken Worlds, Fractured Fairytales
by Valerie Vancollie
valeriev84 at hotmail dot com
Spoilers: Pilot, Traffic, One Hour
Note: This fic was written for the Don round at Numb3rs Write-Off, an LJ community. I was a member of Team Angst and choose the word prompt 'anchor.'
Donny's carefree laughter tugged at Alan's heartstrings and he struggled to keep the fake smile plastered on his own face. To think it was only a year ago that he'd wished his eldest wouldn't work so hard and would smile more, maybe even laugh. At the time the thought had swiftly been followed by a very familiar sense of guilt. The guilt of knowing that Don had been forced to grow up far too quickly; that he'd had to learn to take care of himself early on as he and Margaret focused on nurturing Charlie's genius.
"What's wrong?" Donny asked, his dark eyes studying his father closely.
"Nothing," Alan lied, mentally berating himself for being so transparent.
Don had always been good at reading people and his eyes, despite all that had happened, were still as sharp as ever.
"Oh, right, so it is," Alan said, drawing a card and moving his piece the allotted three paces forwards.
He didn't even have to try and lose, his luck seemed to be doing that all on its own. He forced the tears down as he watched Donny take his turn. Oh how he wished he could go back and stop himself from wishing it were possible to redo Don's childhood, to see if he couldn't find a better balance between nurturing Charlie while still being there for Don. At the time neither he nor Margaret had realized just how much they were relying on Don to take care of himself. It hadn't really hit him until Margaret's illness. Don had been his anchor during those horrible months, always ensuring that everything else was taken care of so that he could focus on Margaret. Well, Margaret and Charlie.
He still didn't know how Don had known what to do and how, yet somehow he'd managed to get all the necessary bills paid on time, kept food and drink stocked and any other of a dozen menial chores that had to continue to be done despite the disaster that had struck their family. On top of all that, Don had also managed to help with his mother's care, attempt to get Charlie to do the same and perform his various tasks for the FBI. He'd been their rock and they'd all depended on him to get through those hellish days.
Alan knew that it wouldn't really change anything, that his wish had nothing to do with what happened that faithful August day, but it would make him feel so much better. It would ease the unreasonable guilt that he was somehow responsible for this tragedy. He was hardly aware of the game board, instead mechanically doing his part and observing Donny instead.
Once it had been a nickname, an endearment given when Don was just an infant, but now it was a way of differentiating between the two sides of his eldest. Don now meant the man he had been: the son, brother, lover, friend, FBI agent and leader. Donny, instead, was the... the shell that was left: the emotionally unstable and volatile child trapped in an adult's body.
It still shocked Alan every time he came to visit and he saw his son. After the original surgery, the doctors had talked of plastic surgery to repair the superficial damage. That had been before Don had slipped into a coma, before the extent of the brain damage had became apparent. He could still feel the cold that had seeped in when Colby had appeared at his door with the news; Don and David in the hospital, both critical. It had never gone away, not really.
The doctors said it was one in a million that the bullet hadn't outright killed Don or resulted in his death after the fact. They'd called it luck. Alan had occasionally wondered if he really was the lucky one. The Sinclairs had lost their son that night, the doctors having lost the fight after four hours of emergency treatment.
Sometimes... sometimes at night, when he was alone in bed completely exhausted yet unable to sleep, Alan wondered if it wouldn't have been better if Donny had died that day. Certainly Don would never have wanted to be in this situation, to exist like this, completely dependent upon others for practically everything. To be so completely helpless. He knew Don had secretly feared loosing control of his body, but to lose his mind... he wasn't sure if Don had ever dared contemplate the possibility. Perhaps in his nightmares, not that he'd know if Don had suffered any, those days were long past decades before the bullet struck him.
He had nightmares now. The nurses told him about them when he inquired how Donny had passed the night. Apparently not a night went by that he didn't wake up at least once screaming, terrified of one monster or another that lurked in the dark recesses of his shattered mind. Alan's hand trembled as he moved his pawn. He'd known Don had demons, he'd seen the darkness enter his son's eyes often enough before he started seeing Dr. Bradford, but he'd never been entirely aware of the extent to which they plagued him. At least not until the nurses informed him of some of what Donny said both before and after waking.
Although Alan hated the sympathy those revelations garnered him, he was thankful of the respect Donny received as a result. When his son had first been transferred here, he'd been merely another patient to the staff. It wasn't until the first of his violent outbursts that they'd learned differently. An orderly had been forced to physically try and subdue Donny and had been expertly taken down. The incident was still painful for him to remember, both for the undeniable proof it provided about Don's condition and for the false hope it had so briefly provided.
He'd thought it was a sign of potential, that Don still remembered and could perfectly execute something as complex as that particular self-defense maneuver. One of the doctors had been forced to take him aside and explain the situation to him. Muscle memory. Apparently, having practiced the maneuver so often, it had become an almost reflexive action in the right circumstances and, without Don's normal control to dictate whether the situation called for it or not, it had been triggered when the orderly attempted to restrain him. Alan had been afraid it would cause them to treat Donny poorly, knowing that he could fight back and that his body was still in excellent physical condition even though his mind had failed him, and while he'd seen more reluctance, he'd also seen respect. Respect for his abilities, respect for what he'd done and respect for the sacrifice he'd made.
Not that it mattered anymore now. Unlike Don, Donny was quite happy to spend hours at a time inactive, silently contemplating God only knew what. Often he'd just sit there, staring at nothing. As a result, the muscles he'd once possessed had slowly wasted away and with it the muscle memory, leaving behind a mere shadow-memory of his former body. In a lot of ways it made things easier for Alan, as he no longer saw the man his son had once been every time he looked at him. That had been the hardest part of those first few nightmarish weeks after Donny had awoken from the coma. To look upon him and see Don, only to be forcefully reminded that Don was gone and only a shade remained. At least now that illusion was no longer possible as his body was as wraithlike as his mind.
His precious broken child whose mind was now shattered beyond repair.
Yet... yet there were the occasional flashes of Don, glimpses of who he'd once been. Those moments were bittersweet, a sharp and painful reminder of what had been lost. If he didn't get the impression that, on some level, it penetrated to what had once been Don, Alan would have treasured each and every one of those fleeting moments. As it was, they were often tinged with just enough horror that he worried perhaps some sliver of Don was still there, imprisoned within Donny and his fractured mind.
For the first time since her death, Alan was glad that Margaret was gone. They say a parent should not outlive their children, but neither should they live to see one broken like this. He could only imagine what this would have done to her, to watch their firstborn brought so low. He was having a hard enough time dealing with it himself. It was a thousand times worse than when they were fighting the cancer as now there was no one for Alan to lean on. The anchor he'd so depended upon to get him through Margaret's illness was gone and he was adrift in a changed world. Gone were his love and firstborn.
"Play!" the disgruntled demand startled Alan out of his thoughts and he realized he'd completely lost track of the game.
"Is it my turn? I'm sorry," Alan scrambled to do his part but he could tell it was already too late.
"No!" Donny shouted, his temper flaring as he swiped aside the board with a single flick of his arm before he shoved the table away as well, toppling it. "You no play! Yous never play with me!"
"Donny, that's not true."
"Yes! Charlie. Always with Charlie and nows you no play!"
"I'm sorry," Alan tried, getting to his feet as Donny got up and kicked away his chair. "I want to play, can we try again?"
The door to the room opened and an orderly came in along with one of the nurses.
"No!" Donny screamed again and Alan could tell a fully fledged tantrum was brewing.
"You need to calm down, Donny," the nurse stated firmly.
"I don't wanna! I won't, I won't, I won't!"
"If you don't calm down, you'll be put in your room."
"I hates you! I stay."
"Mr. Eppes," the nurse said, looking at him sympathetically.
"I understand," Alan said softly, feeling every day of his age.
Since they couldn't heal Donny, the psychologists had decided to try to at least wean him away from the violent mood swings so he could be trusted to interact safely with others at the facility. At the moment they were trying to see if they could modify his behavior through a reward and punishment scheme before they resorted to using drugs to control the situation. Although he agreed to the principle, it was hard to watch Donny being treated like a misbehaving and out-of-control child.
Unable to look Donny in the eye and knowing it would only make matters worse for both of them, he quietly stepped out of the room. His presence was considered a reward as Donny clearly enjoyed spending time with him, at least normally. At the start Megan, Colby and Don's other friends had come by, but those visits had been quickly curtailed when it became obvious that Donny didn't recognize them and their presence only agitated him, as if some part of him sensed he was missing something. Not even Robin had been rewarded with so much as a glimmer of recognition and he'd been helpless to watch as the realization tore her apart.
Alan forced himself to walk away from the cries, knowing that if he returned and helped calm Donny, it would not only be counterproductive, but would merely delay the inevitable as this scene would repeat itself when he left later on. It happened every time he had to leave, and leave he had to. Not only was it hospital policy, but Charlie needed him at home. Although his youngest had tried his best to resist his precious numbers, he'd eventually succumbed to the blissful oblivion of P vs. NP when Don had finally woken from the coma and his condition had became apparent.
It broke Alan's heart to realize that he was once again placing Charlie's needs above Don's, but he simply couldn't look after both of them and an out-of-touch-with-reality mathematician was easier to care for than an emotionally-unstable child trapped in an adult's body.
This fic was dreamed up nearly a year ago, but couldn't seem to get written. When I realized I wouldn't have the time to do my original idea for this round of Numb3rs Write-Off, this one came back to me and it just clicked.
Please let me know what you think of this fic! Leave a review or send me an e-mail. Thanks.