"A hundred days have made me older
Since the last time that I saw your pretty face
A thousand lies have made me colder
And I don't think I can look at this the same
But all the miles that separate
Disappear now when I'm dreaming of your face"
Lyrics from Here without you by Three Doors Down
He sat at the bar, fingering the fine cut crystal pattern of the tumbler before him, the deep amber liquid within calling out to his darkened soul.
His lips tightened in a mixture of simmering anger and almost overwhelming sorrow. He grabbed the glass in a crushing grip and drained it in a single gulp, motioning for another as soon as the tumbler hit the counter.
The dark leathers and red velvet of the expensive, essentially private club suited his mood and his desire for solitude. Here, he'd be left alone and be away from well-meaning, prying, pitying eyes. He didn't want pity. He didn't want to acknowledge that it was grief he was dealing with. He didn't want to see it in his friends' eyes, in his brother's eyes, not his colleagues... He just... he didn't know what he wanted exactly, other than to stop feeling like this. But mostly, he just wanted to get away, from everyone, from himself, mostly.
His jacket purposefully hung on the back of his holster, displaying his Glock to anyone who cared to look, a clear Do Not Disturb message.
He didn't really care if his badge didn't show.
He heard more than saw the Bourbon pour into his glass, felt the thump of the bottle as it hit the polished oak right next to it. The bartender had finally gotten the hint. Don wasn't just here to relax and have a quiet drink. Oblivion was on his mind more than anything else.
He closed his eyes as he tossed back the fifth measure of Bourbon, the liquor burning a searing path down his throat. He refilled the glass and brought it to his lips again.
And again, and again until he began to lose count.
He set the glass back down and reached for the bottle, pausing mid-gesture; a tendril of light sparkled off the gold band on his left hand. For a moment, it was the only light in the world, in his universe.
He let his eyes roam over the band, taking in the familiar nicks and scratches, absently turning it with his thumb. He wondered, for a crazy, insane moment, if he should take it off. For an even more insane instant, he wanted to rip it off and toss it as far away from him as he could and never lay eyes on it again.
A sharp lance of pain just above his brow cut the thought short. He rubbed his forehead and swore quietly. He was getting too old to drink like this. But then, he had reason to. Reason or need; he didn't care to contemplate the difference or the meaning.
She'd left him.
For no reason at all. For reasons that didn't exist. For things she thought had happened but never had.
She hadn't even given him a chance to explain. She hadn't let him say a single fucking word. She'd said her piece and left, the divorce papers coming by messenger the very next morning. It had cut him deep. He was pretty sure he was still bleeding.
He'd stood in shock, in the middle of his office with the papers in his hand until Colby had walked in for their planned meeting. They still lay on his desk, untouched after a week.
It felt like an eternity.
He closed his eyes and cursed, the sad love song pouring from the speakers hitting much too close to home. He took another deep swallow of Bourbon. Every time he closed his eyes, all he could see was her face, smiling softly at him. He hated it. He hated that he still loved her so much. He hated needing her back. He took another drink.
He knew where she was but he wouldn't call, wouldn't beg, wouldn't try to explain. He didn't apparently deserve the benefit of the doubt, hadn't earned her trust despite their seven plus years of history. He wasn't about to plead for forgiveness for something he hadn't done or to ask her to come back if she wasn't capable of...
His line of thought disintegrated as enough of the alcohol made it to his blood to muddle his hurt feelings, his resentment, his anger, leaving only the pain he'd sought to erase behind.
This was why he'd never let himself fall before; because he knew just how much it could hurt, how much destruction love could do. He took a slow breath, willing the tears not to wet his eyes.
The hand landing on his shoulder should have startled him but he barely registered the touch. He slowly lifted his head and turned, opening weary eyes.
"Hey Don," the younger man greeted as he sat next to him.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, the words thick on his tongue, blurred by the drink.
"I think you need to go home," Colby said softly. The tone was kind, burnished by the ten years of friendship, camaraderie and saved lives the two of them shared.
Don wanted to ask how Colby had found him but it didn't matter. Part of him wanted to be angry, furious even, at having his privacy invaded. Part of him was just so, so incredibly tired.
"Okay," he said, the single word filled with much more defeat and grief he ever intended to show.
He shrugged off Colby's touch as he stood, keeping a hand on the bar for balance. He made his way to the door, steadying himself on chairs and walls and other cars until he reached his truck. He dug into his pocket and handed over his keys before somehow climbing into the passenger seat. Slowly, as the landscape flew by, the world faded away.
He woke to a fierce headache, the foul taste of bile on his tongue, his memories a jumble of disconnected images and sounds; a car window, grass, sirens, a flash of yellow, asphalt, rushing water and the chink of metal.
He exhaled slowly and opened his eyes to his darkened bedroom. He scrunched his eyes shut again and groaned. God, he felt like crap. He hadn't had a hangover this bad in over a decade; or maybe since the first time she'd left him.
A gentle knock on the door had him sitting up much too quickly and he swallowed repeatedly, panting and praying to keep the bile in his throat from spilling to the carpet.
It was a few seconds before he dared dropping his head in his hands.
"Yeah?" he rasped.
The door cracked open. "Hey. Just wanted to make sure you were still breathing."
Don sighed, not really surprised to find Colby still there. "God, that was stupid," he muttered, as Colby walked in with a steaming mug of coffee.
"I agree. But I'd rather hold your head out of a toilet than try and keep you from bleeding to death. I still have nightmares about that night."
"Yeah well, at least I didn't get stabbed on purpose," he said, accepting the coffee, wilfully ignoring the fact he'd gotten drunk enough to get sick and not remember it. He wondered for an instant where his clothes were but he decided the details were better left in his absent memory.
He took a careful sip and lifted his eyes to meet Colby's, holding his gaze meaningfully.
Colby gave him a half-smile. "You'll owe me for the day Deb finally figures what an ass I can be and splits."
There were a million things on Don's tongue but none he wanted to say so he kept silent, taking careful sips of scalding hot coffee. "Then hurry up and marry her," Don said eventually, the words soft and low. He took another swallow of coffee.
"Charlie called twice."
Don cast him an irate glance. "You answer my phone now?"
"No. He called me, looking for you. He's worried."
Don shrugged, his head pounding with the movement. He huffed a sigh. "I'm supposed to go have dinner with them tonight. I just don't think I'm up for the wedded bliss and endless baby talk."
"C'mon. You can't expect Charlie not to be thrilled at having the first Eppes girl in two generations."
"Right. Still. He took over the father hen routine ever since Dad died and it's kinda freaking me out."
"He knows what it's like to have kids now."
"Yeah. Man, I need a shower," he said, running a hand through his hair.
"I'll be downstairs."
"Go home, Colby. I have my brother to keep an eye on me. I don't need my Violent Crimes squad supervisor as a minder too."
"I'll be downstairs," Colby repeated.
She was standing there when he came down, just inside the front door, tears in her eyes and trembling. He stopped at the foot of the stairs, jaw tight with anger, caught between fight and flight.
"Don," she said.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, not bothering to hide the bitterness and the hurt in his tone.
"Colby. He told me everything," she whispered, tears trailing down her cheeks. "I... I don't... I'm sorry. I..."
"You're sorry? You're sorry?" he yelled, the anger winning over the hurt. "You didn't even spare one second to think, let alone let me explain, make life-shattering decisions and just walk out and you're sorry? It isn't good enough!"
Her head dropped, her shoulders shaking with quiet sobs. "Tell me what I can do to take it back," she pleaded.
"There's nothing you can do," he replied, his tone hard. "You obviously never trusted me so there's nothing to build back," he growled, heart suddenly at his throat, the weight of his words suddenly catching up to his brain. She was the one who'd gone down that road, he reasoned. He'd had no choice but to follow. At least that was what he was trying to tell himself.
She lifted her head. "That's not true!"
"No? You chose to believe I slept around on you!"
"You were arrested for solicitation! What was I supposed to think?"
"You were supposed to trust me! To ask me to explain! I could have told you the party was a sting and that I was undercover!"
"You've been out of the field for five years!" she yelled right back. "There was no way I could know!"
"You still should have trusted me," he said quietly, his tone full of betrayal. "You never even gave me a chance. You just left. Do you know how much it hurt to get those papers, Robin?"
"Probably as much as finding out your husband is sleeping with a five-hundred dollar hooker in the best hotel in town."
"I never. Touched. Her," he roared, incensed. "You'd have known the whole thing was a setup if you'd simply bothered to ask me!" he growled, anger boiling over again.
"I was too hurt to think, too hurt to listen. Because I did trust you, so completely it never occurred to me I could be betrayed. So it hurt and I reacted in the worst possible way and no matter how much I try and explain and justify what I did, I can't. I made a mistake, Don. A stupid, stupid, hurtful mistake. I can't begin to say how sorry I am. But put yourself in my shoes for a minute, Don. How would you have reacted?"
He thought for a moment. "I don't know."
"Yeah you do. You'd have left too."
He inhaled slowly, forcing the anger down. He pushed a long breath through his teeth. "Yeah. Probably. But I would at least have asked if it was true."
"Would you have believed me, if I was the one who'd supposedly been caught cheating?"
"I don't know."
"I couldn't bear the idea of you either lying to my face or begging for forgiveness. So I ran."
"Doesn't make it hurt any less."
"Why didn't you tell me beforehand?"
"Because I never thought we'd actually have to let the arrest happen. Besides, you know even if you're in the loop, there are things that are need-to-know, especially the case against another ADA! He's got friends in your department and if he got wind of the sting..."
"That you were trying to provoke Jeffries into a jealous rage? That part I knew. But that you'd be the one to try and draw him out wasn't part of what I was told at the time!" Robin snapped. "All the desk sergeant said to me was that you'd been arrested for paying for sex!"
"And you believed it? Without question? Without looking me in the eye and asking me?"
"Yes! I believed it. No. Maybe. I don't know what I thought. And no. I didn't ask."
"Why?" he asked. "Why didn't you just ask me? Why, Robin?" he repeated, hating the hint of desperation he could hear in his own voice.
Robin sighed, swiping a hand over her eyes, finally lifting them up to meet his. The remorse he saw there was like a punch to the gut. The ache in his heart changed, his anger softening, transforming into regret.
"I'm asking now. What happened?" she said quietly, fresh tears rolling on her cheeks.
"I went into the room with Mellissa Hargrove, Jeffries' exclusive girl, to make him jealous, draw him out into confronting me. Didn't work. He wasn't at the hotel as he usually is. His car broke down. So we had to make sure he found out somehow. So Walker threw me into the tank, called Jeffries to file the charges. It worked. He saw Mellissa's name on the arrest sheet right after mine. He went ballistic. Why the desk sergeant called you, I have no idea. I would have told you myself as soon as I got home," Don finished quietly. "That match what you got from Colby, councillor? Satisfied it's not a rehearsed story?"
Robin nodded. "I... don't even know how to say how sorry I am, how stupid I feel..."
Don shook his head. "I just... I can't understand why you couldn't talk to me, look me in the eye and tell if I was lying to you or not."
Robin tossed her head, a flash of irritation crossing over her features. "I got scared. I reacted the best way I know how. Like a lawyer."
"So this is what's gonna happen every time you get scared?"
"When you thought I was on the take, you reacted like an FBI agent. Not like my boyfriend."
"I wasn't your boyfriend then. We've been married for five years."
"They told me you were caught in bed with her."
"You believed it? Really?"
Robin sighed. "No."
"Then why didn't you trust your gut?"
"Because I didn't want to be the one that didn't see it coming, that got strung along."
"Oh come on! You sent me divorce papers over a rumor you didn't bother to check out! Is that all I'm worth to you?" Don snapped, not buying it for one second. He wanted to turn around and leave, to hit something, put his fist through a wall. But then he wanted so badly to take her in his arms and make her tears go away because he couldn't stand to see her cry... He was too deeply hurt, feeling too raw and betrayed to let it go. He stood still.
"No! I... I did something stupid, okay?" she snapped right back.
"Not good enough!" he yelled.
"Because I was scared, okay? Because I am scared! Because I'm completely terrified I'm gonna have to raise this child alone!"
Don froze and blinked twice. "Say what, now?"
Robin's shoulders dropped, her eyes closing. "I'm pregnant," she whispered.
Don gaped at her for a second, shaking his head. He turned to the stairs, the room doing a sharp spin around him. He grabbed the banister for support as his knees buckled, the world going white around him.
He found himself on his knees, trying for the second time that day not to spill his stomach's content all over the floor. Somewhere in his misery, he felt a pair of soft, warm hands on his shoulders.
"Don? You okay? What's wrong?"
He brought up one of his hands to cover hers, unable to speak or move. He took a few more deep breaths through his nose, until his gut settled.
"Ugh..." he breathed.
"Yeah. Just... hung over." He swallowed slowly, letting his head drop. He felt her head come to rest on his back as she knelt behind him and he let himself get lost in how good, how right it felt. Suddenly, the anger didn't matter quite so much, nor did the bitterness in his heart. He was going to be a father...
For a moment, he forgot all about the hurt and he just wanted to turn around and grab her in his arms and never let go but a thought stopped him. What if she got scared again? What would she do then? Take their child away with her? Abandon them?
Her voice resonated through his chest as she spoke, before he could put words to the jumbled thoughts in his mid.
"I don't have words to express how sorry I am, how stupid I feel. I just... Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?"
"Why didn't you tell me you were pregnant right off the bat?"
"Because I didn't want your decision to be only about that," she said quietly. "God, I was so stupid."
"Yeah, you were."
"Will you forgive me?"
Don sighed and lifted his head from his chest to look at her over his shoulder. "I love you, Robin. But I need your trust. Don't ever leave like that again. Just... talk to me. Okay?"
"And... if you ever get scared again... Don't run. Come to me. Please, baby, just... Come to me, okay?
"Okay. I won't run ever again. I'm sorry."
He turned towards her and caressed her tear-stained cheek. He leaned close and brushed his lips to hers. "We'll work it out."
Robin's hopeful gaze turned slightly disappointed. He knew it wasn't the absolution she wanted but that was the best he could do for now. Forgiveness felt too easy and he was still too bruised. But he didn't want to give up. He loved her, that much was true but he was also deeply hurt and wounds take time to heal. He would heal, in time, and she'd learn, know better next time. At least, he hoped. But in order to be proven right, he had to give her the chance.
"I love you, Robin," he said again, his voice soft and warm.
They melted into each other, holding each other close, a week's worth of pain, sorrow and anger wilting away. He felt her still flat belly on his and he was overwhelmed by a rush of elation and fear so complete he'd have fallen again if he hadn't already been on his knees.
He tightened his embrace and swallowed hard.
"So... I'm gonna be a dad?" he managed to say, his voice thick, the emotion in it muffled by her hair.
"Yeah. In about thirty-four weeks. March 21st."
Don smiled, feeling wetness collect into his eyes. "Wow. Wait till Charlie hears this."
"Charlie?" Robin said, tensing. "He... knows, I guess."
"Yeah. He'll be thrilled to see you. And about this."
She turned a worried glance on him. "Are we gonna be okay?"
"We're gonna be okay. We're not perfect, but we'll be all right."
Robin nodded against his chest. A sudden ray of sunlight pierced through the blinds, catching the band on his left hand. He watched it shine brightly and smiled. Everything was back into place, where it belonged.