Even Heroes Have the Right to Bleed
Don craned his neck uncomfortably to peer over the doctor's shoulder at the X-ray, feeling a little ridiculous since he lacked the necessary degree to evaluate what he was looking at. The doctor caught him looking, smiled, stepped to one side and pointed.
"See here? Your lungs aren't supposed to look like that. You've got fluid in them, which is why you're having such a hard time breathing and you keep coughing and scaring your poor father."
Don nodded, the visual making his urge to cough even stronger. His father had left during the X-ray, since they gave Don's curtained area to another patient, for which Don was somewhat relieved. Much as he loved his father, having his parent and his doctor gang up on him when he was this miserable just didn't strike him as fair.
The doctor pulled up a chair and sat across from Don. "I don't want to be the bad guy here, Agent Eppes," he began, and Don cringed. Here came the lecture. "But very few people would let things get this bad before they went to a doctor. You have a fever of 103, your blood pressure was worryingly low, and you are quite clearly miserable. But I hear from your father that you were at work less than twelve hours ago. Level with me."
Don finally allowed himself to break into a fit of coughing, purposefully postponing answering until he could come up with a reasonable explanation. When he finally caught his breath, he said briefly "there was a threat of terrorism that couldn't really be delayed."
"Prior to that. You mentioned you haven't been sleeping. How much sleep would you estimate you get each night?"
"I don't know, three, maybe four hours?" Don admitted. "Things have been," he paused, searching for a word to describe the things that kept him lying awake at night though his exhaustion was overwhelming. "Hectic."
Don cringed again. This guy was not going to let it go. "Well, my team fell apart. And when we put it back together, there were a lot of kinks to work out. I broke up with my girlfriend. And we've had a rough caseload lately."
The doctor nodded sympathetically. "I can see how any one of those things could keep you up." He paused, his demeanor becoming slightly less formal. "I'm not looking to pry into your personal life, Agent Eppes. I just want to help you. Now, I'm not one to give people pills for every little thing, but if you're interested, I can write you a prescription for something to help you sleep. This would be very, very temporary. Just long enough for you to get rested up and back on your feet. You've been running yourself into the ground, and even a healthy young guy like you is going to feel the effects at some point. Is that something you're interested in?"
Don shook his head. "I'm not one to take a pill for most things either," he said.
Dr. Metzger nodded approvingly. "You didn't seem like the type. However, I'm about to give you some pills you have to take. I'm giving you a prescription for antibiotics. You have to take it every day, until you run out. Don't just stop when you feel better, or it could come back even worse, okay?" At Don's tired nod, he continued, "Good. We've given you IV fluids and medication here. You can take Tylenol to help reduce your fever and to help with some of that achiness you've been experiencing."
Don nodded again and moved to stand up.
"Whoa there," Dr. Metzger admonished. "I've got one more prescription for you."
Don raised his eyebrows, waiting.
"Take a minimum of three days off work. Rest, relax. Push fluids. And let your family take care of you. I mean it."
Don took the note from the doctor, shook his hand, and mumbled something vaguely affirmative sounding, before turning to go.
"What you do…I'm very grateful," Dr. Metzger said sincerely. "You do a great service to all of us. But please, keep in mind, even FBI agents get sick. And even heroes have the right to heal."
Never one to pass up an opportunity to do math, Charlie had done the calculations. It took him most of a day, a few minutes here or there between bringing Don soup or sitting with him to watch the Stanley Cup. He didn't dare let himself get too involved in the work, lest he not hear Don call for him – which Don had yet to do, because, as always, Don was the older brother and he did not want or need help from anyone. This being the case, Charlie was forced to check on Don fairly frequently. Though "forced," he would admit might be a bit of a stretch, since no one had asked or ordered him to do anything. But he did feel obligated, despite the fact that Don had been in pretty much the same spot on the couch under a heap of blankets, remote poised and prepared for commercial breaks, since they arrived home from the hospital. Not to mention the fact that Alan was checking on Don as much as Charlie was, if not more, to find mostly the same thing. Don either flipped through channels, was riveted by hockey, or slept for most of the day. Charlie would calculate exactly how much, but if he were being quite honest, some numbers just aren't interesting enough to bother with.
But between each of these trips, Charlie snuck out to the garage to scribble a few figures on his chalkboards, the comforting grate of chalk soothing his nerves. He let the worry seep into the quiet scratching, all the anxiety about Don replaced by the story of the numbers. After all, Don was taking his medication without complaint, resting fairly quietly, and he had only been caught calling work twice. So far. All was slowly righting itself. Charlie could afford to spend some time with the numbers.
Charlie began his calculations with an extrapolation of his observed data to figure a rough estimate of how many cases Don had covered in his FBI career. And with a few basic algorithms covering risk factors, results, averages and a few other basic statistics, the rest was just solving.
According to the math, Charlie could safely say that Don had saved more millions of lives. The last case alone was a few million. And if Don wanted to get technical and say he hadn't done it on his own, Charlie was ready with figures on how much of this was a direct result of Don and his influence, and he would give Don credit for just that percentage. Either way, a few million lives was well within the range of standard error, and even on the low side of that range.
Charlie, of course, did not stop there, but continued to analyze, considering how many times Don had laid his life on the line for someone else. And the number was staggering.
Don putting himself first was a statistical anomaly. He was self-sacrificing to what Charlie would usually call "almost a fault," but the last few days were enough to convince him that the almost was an unjust kindness. Don was never the type to accept accolades, but Charlie was sure even Don wouldn't argue with the numbers.
Don was a hero, plain and simple. As plain as day, as obvious as a differential equation, in Charlie's mind, was the fact that his brother was an unsung hero. Now that he had proven it, there were only two things he had to do. The first was to convince Don that this was the case. He doubted that would ever happen – his brother was something of an immovable object and even head to head with unstoppable forces he typically got his way. Charlie would settle for Don accepting that he was important, that what he did was just as great, if not greater, than what Charlie did.
The second would be even tougher. Charlie somehow had to convince Don that no matter how heroic he might be, no matter how many lives he saved and how many were left to save, his own was just as important as any of theirs. That Don deserved more than just a life of serving everyone else, working quietly in the background where most people would never hear his name, all to ensure their lives went smoothly. That he could have more than just his work. That he was more than just an agent. That even heroes have the right to dream.
Author's Note: Thank you all so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed it, and I'd love it if you dropped me a line and let me know what you think. This was my first Numb3rs story, and it was mostly for the purpose of me getting a handle on some of the characters (I hope). I know it probably feels a little bit unresolved, but that is mostly because I am leaving things a little open for my next story, which is already in the works, though none has been posted yet. It wouldn't be fun if Don resolved all his issues already, right? Anyways, thank you so much for reading and letting me know what you think! ~procrastin8or951