Title: Senseless: Bitter Lasts Longest
Author: QWERTYfaced
Wordcount: ~550
Rating: PG
Characters: Neal Caffrey
Genre: Angst
Notes: Part 1 of 5 of the "Senseless" exercise. [Depression and minor Neal!whump.]
Summary: Neal Caffrey always thought he lived by his wits, but then something deprives him of one of his senses. One premise, five short standalone scenarios, each progressively whumpier. (It's a new word.) Part 1: Sense of taste.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction. All characters and settings belong to their respective copyright holders, not me. Which is why I don't have my own evil lair yet.

1. Bitter Lasts Longest

The doctor told him that the bullet that clipped the angle of his jaw had also partially severed his lingual nerve. The damage to the muscle, to the skin lying atop it was easily reparable, but he had probably lost forever the ability to taste with that side of his tongue—or at least the front two-thirds of that side of his tongue.

It really hadn't sounded as though it would matter. In fact, he'd laughed it off, a little embarrassed by the seeming smallness of the issue.

If you narrowly escape being shot in the head, a small scar and the loss of a third of your sense of taste should be a trivial cost.

Only now that the scar was fading was he starting to wonder.

It was better to be alive, of course it was...

Everyone knew that Neal Caffrey loved the finer things of life. And yes, he could still enjoy the exquisite in an example of musical virtuosity, a masterful work of art, a perfectly tailored suit, an expert game of chess.

Fine wines and fine foods?

Well, it wasn't that he couldn't taste them anymore. He could. After all, most of the sensation of taste is the sense of smell, and that was unaffected. But somehow, by some strange alchemy, nothing was right. The refined tastes he'd adored were transformed, because the doctors had been wrong, and the damaged nerve still transmitted one signal:


Bitter, bitter, shouted over and over with the maddening, piercing persistence of an obsessive with a single-word vocabulary. Bitter, almost always, no matter what he tried to eat or drink.

He'd never known there was so much in life that was bitter. He found it in the most unlikely places. It was a discordant one-note theme that endlessly muddled the symphony.

And time and again, the cognitive dissonance made him put down fork or glass.

He still went to dinner at the Burkes' whenever Elizabeth invited him, and naturally, he ate every bite, smiled and told her how wonderful it all was. But only because his praise made her face light up with pleasure; only because her gift of kindness, unasked and undeserved, was a debt he could never adequately repay. He would never be so ungracious or ungrateful as to forget that.


Mozzie didn't come around as much anymore. Their conversations flowed less freely without a glass or two to linger over, and all the wine had been moved to Mozzie's place, anyway. Neal drank water alone in the evenings, and even there, that one insistent note pushed its way in.

He ate when he remembered that he had to in order to survive. Ate bland food, as free from taste as possible, because spices and seasonings were no longer something he could enjoy.

He went to work, where his tracking anklet would forever set him apart, even once it was gone.

He sat at his desk every morning at nine. Read endless forms. Waited to be called upon.

And he drank coffee to keep himself alert. Bureau coffee, because what difference did it make anymore? The taste was on his tongue for hours, wrenchingly strong at first, never quite dying away.

It was bitter.

Author's postscript: The loss or impairment of the sense of taste, though often little regarded by outsiders, not uncommonly causes depression. (Although not as prevalently as damage to the sense of smell. And that's next in this little exercise.)