You Locked Yourself in the Bathroom
series: Hold On, I Still Need You
tw: suicide attempt, ptsd, panic attacks, mildly graffic war flashbacks
set: pre-season 1 - one month after cordell’s exit from the marine corps
word count: 8,430
the joy and the chaos // the demons we're made of // I'd be so lost if you left me alone // you locked yourself in the bathroom // lying on the floor when I break through // I pull you in and feel your heartbeat // can you hear me screaming please don't leave me
Cordell made it out of Iraq, but he can't get Iraq out of his head. He'd rather bite the bullet himself than let the person he loves most get caught in the crossfire.
notes: I had the idea for this series at the beginning of the last hiatus, but it took me a hot minute to actually get this first part done. A million thanks to @trekkiehood for all of her help. From spending an hour in the middle of the night helping me figure out a timeline, to requesting what ended up being one of my favorite scenes, to reading and giving me feedback as I went, she’s definitely the only reason this is being published when and as it is.
“Cordell has never been like this. Why… why all of a sudden?”
“Abby, he did two tours in three years. Just because he doesn’t talk about it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
“But what happened? What isn’t he telling us? Hoyt?”
A hesitation, then a sigh. “Even if I felt right about tellin’ ya, I wouldn’t know where to start.”
The conversation continued, but Cordell pressed his eyes closed and desperately tried to drown it out.
The events of the past several hours were already making a terrible loop inside his head. His family’s two cents on it really wasn’t helping.
“What happened over there, happened over there,” Hoyt was saying now. “It’s what happened today that we need to focus on. Emma Grace, ya think you can fill us in a little?”
He didn’t have to see to know Hoyt was rubbing Emily’s shoulders in an attempt to comfort her.
The reminder of the devastated state she was currently in made Cordell sick to his stomach.
Emily’s sigh was tremblingly amused. “Hoyt, my name is not…”
“It is now, Darlin.”
She sighed again, but without the amusement. In his mind’s eye, Cordell could see her leaning on Hoyt’s shoulder, using all of her strength to piece together the nightmare that had been that night.
“Something was wrong when he got home from turning in his police application, but he wouldn’t tell me what.”
“You okay, Babe?”
Cordell looked up from his plate, forcing himself to meet the concerned eyes of his bride and fabricating a smile.
“I’m fine, Hon. Great, actually. How could I not be with a vision like you in front of me?”
She smiled softly at the compliment, but didn’t allow it to distract her. “You’ve barely touched your food.”
He looked back down, eyes finding a chicken and potato meal with maybe five bites missing. “Have I? Just got lost in thought, I guess.”
“ Cordell ,” she sighed. “Babe. Level with me. Something’s on your mind, and I wanna know.”
“It’s just the application.” Maybe if he gave her some kind of an answer, she’d be satisfied. “I really wanna get this right.”
Upon getting out of the Marines, he’d been on paid leave for a month and a half. He’d used the time to first finally marry Emily, and then to attempt to get used to civilian and married life at the same time.
But as that period drew to a close, he’d finally pursued the job he’d had his heart set on ever since he decided not to reenlist.
And in reality, he wasn’t really lying when he said that was what was bothering him.
“So, what did you find out?” she pressed.
He forced a bite down his throat before answering. “Just about what I expected. I got the initial app filled out and turned in. If they like what they see, they’ll run a background check, bring me in for physical and psych exams and then hopefully, I’ll go to academy.”
And it was almost what he’d expected. He’d been eager and prepared for every part except the psych evaluation.
He didn’t know why he hadn’t seen it coming. It made sense. He’d had to undergo one upon enlisting and had passed with no problems. But the emphasis there was that it had been before he enlisted. He’d gotten so caught up in getting out and the wedding and moving and the fact that his military background made him a perfect police candidate that he’d forgotten to consider the possibility of being subjected to another… and the reality that his mind had been forever changed by his time overseas.
Emily wasn’t allowing herself to be put off by surface-level answers. “So what’s the catch?” she asked. “What has you all in your head?”
When he’d turned in his application, he’d been given a list of what the next steps would be, and the reality of the psych evaluation had hit him like a ton of bricks. The rest of his afternoon had been spent researching the specifics of it. Three dozen horror stories from other veterans later, he’d had good reason to truly freak out.
“Nothing!” he insisted. “Seriously, Em, I’m fine.”
“Staring into oblivion, picking at your food, dodging all my questions,” she countered, “It’s all a very convincing picture of alright.”
He speared a bite of chicken and shoved it into his mouth, saying through it, “Look, I’m eating! Alright? Better?”
She was frowning, her brown eyes sad and concerned. “Is this about the nightmares you’ve been having?”
He looked away for a moment before forcing his gaze back to hers. He could feel his face twitch a little. “What nightmares? I haven’t been having nightmares.”
Emily exhaled heavily. “Cordell, we sleep in the same bed now, remember? I’m there, I know.”
“I must just be a restless sleeper,” he replied, shrugging a little. “Because I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“A restless sleeper?” she repeated, a little incredulously. “You’re just a restless sleeper when you fly upright at three am sweating and hyperventilating, and then you run to the bathroom and I hear the water run, and then you come back a few minutes later and I pretend like I’m asleep because you always seem so guilty and worried and I don’t want you to feel bad for waking me up?”
And he’d actually thought he was getting away with it.
He furrowed his brow and tilted his head a little, once again feeling the muscles in his face twitching. “Babe, the only thing I do at three o’clock in the morning is get up and pee.”
At the root of her emotion, his wife was still very clearly worried. But Emily Walker did not like being lied to, and that was all he’d been doing for their entire conversation.
“I pushed, and I pushed,” Emily recounted with that heartbreaking tremble in her voice, “but he just… kept brushing it off. I asked about his nightmares, I even mentioned Iraq by name.”
“Cordell, I’m not stupid,” she told him plainly. “And I just want to help. I can’t imagine what you must have gone through over in Iraq. I know that. But I’ll never understand if you refuse to talk to me about it.”
“That’s when he completely shut down the conversation and said we needed to go out.”
They were suddenly in very, very dangerous territory, and he was quickly running out of the words and energy it took to lie to the person he loved most in the world.
“Babe, for the last time,” he groaned. “I am fine. I’m better than fine!” He got to his feet and walked around the table to hold out his hand to her. “Let’s go out. We have to prove to Hoyt and Geri that getting married doesn’t make you forget how to have fun.”
“Cordell -” she started to argue, but he cut her off, grabbing her hand and pulling her to her feet.
“Hey, you said you wanted to help, right? Well, an evening at the Side Step with you is all the help I need.”
For a while, he’d believed his own words. Convinced himself that he just needed to relax, wait it out, push on through, and everything would be just fine. The PD hired veterans all the time. He couldn’t be the only one with a mind like he had. Every other thing he’d carried with him out of the military would put him at the top of the recruit list. Things would blow over and everything would be fine.
“So, we did go out.” She was no doubt looking up at Hoyt for his confirmation of the fact.
He did just that. “Something was wrong for sure. Another group made a little too much noise a little too suddenly and we both ended up hiding behind our chairs. Then he kinda… fell apart. But he said he didn’t wanna talk about it.”
There was a relatively rowdy party taking up one corner of the Side Step. They weren’t causing any trouble… just getting increasingly loud and rambunctious as they continued to call more drinks to their table.
Cordell was nursing a beer at the bar beside Hoyt while Emily was on the other side with Geri and the bar’s owner, undeniably fond of both her top bartender and her best friend, as they taught Emily the ropes of mixology.
They weren’t really talking. They didn’t have to. Sometimes, Cordell just needed to sit beside his best friend and know they’d just gotten back from the exact same hell.
The sudden clash of glass and plastic and wood in the corner of the room had them both on their feet in an instant, turning towards the sound at the same time they backed away from it. Knees bent under them out of instinct and made their bar stools barriers between them and what their minds were in the moment convinced was imminent danger.
A second passed, and reality seeped back over memory. Their eyes found that corner party. An arm wrestling match was going on between two members. The noise had been them shoving all of their bottles and glasses to the side of the table and against the wall to make room for the competition.
Two heavy, tired sighs passed two sets of lips, two heads dropped momentarily against the stools they were hiding behind.
But as his friend pulled himself upright and sat down once more with a certain exhausted resignation to the fact that these things just happened, Cordell felt a sudden rush of tears biting at his eyes.
He was never going to pass that test. They were going to label him every bit as crazy as he was and send him packing before he’d ever had a chance. He was useless. He hadn’t been able to handle the idea of reupping and facing another tour, but now that he was out, he couldn’t escape the two he’d already been on. He couldn’t move past it. He was a prisoner in his own mind, and it was destroying every hope he’d had for his coming life.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and realized he was still on the ground.
“Cordi, hey, hey, you’re okay,” Hoyt was down again too, pushing the bar stool aside so he could crouch in front of his friend. “We’re at the Side Step. Everything’s fine.”
Cordell shook his head a little, swiping angrily at the tears on his face. “No, I know. I know… I just.” He took a deep, shaky breath. “I just hate that I still do that.”
His best friend offered him a smile that was understanding, but more sad than happy, as he pulled him to his feet. “We haven’t been back that long. I’m sure it’ll get better.”
“I need it to be better now!” Cordell ran a hand down his face hard, inwardly cursing himself for the outburst. “I’m sorry. I just… I don’t know.”
“Hey, it’s okay. I get it, Cordi.” Hoyt looked at him for a long moment before compassion flooded his face. “Alright.”
He pulled him into a hug, and Cordell didn’t have it in him to do anything but return it and let his face drop onto the other man’s shoulder.
“Rough day?” Hoyt asked after a moment.
Cordell swallowed hard against a second rush of tears and nodded into his shoulder.
“You wanna talk about it?”
This time, he shook his head.
“You wanna take some shots?”
Cordell hesitated before nodding again. Anything that got him buzzed and out of the personal hell that was his mind.
“Alright.” Hoyt finally pulled back, though he kept both hands on Cordell’s shoulders. “Then let’s take some shots.”
“We didn’t get slammed or anything,” Emily continued. “I mean, I wasn’t even drunk. He was, but not bad. I drove us home and we were in bed by twelve-thirty.”
There was a long moment of silence.
“You’re doin’ great, Sweetheart.”
Hoyt would be rubbing Emily’s shoulder again, she’d be reaching up to squeeze his hand as a silent way of saying thank you.
“Sometime close to four in the morning,” she continued at last, “he woke up from a nightmare. He usually does. But this one was… different. Usually, it seems like he immediately knows where he is after he wakes up. Comes out of it to a point. But this time, he just sat there gasping. I… I was scared. It was so shallow. I thought he was going to stop breathing for real. So I put my hand on his arm to try to talk to him. Which… I know was stupid.”
His wife shouldn’t have to think like that. She shouldn’t have to consider whether it was a good idea to touch her husband in the middle of the night.
“He didn’t even hit me.”
She was beginning to cry again. He hated himself. Oh, how he hated himself.
“Just shoved me off in a panic. It didn’t hurt. It just surprised me. Scared me a little, I guess. I mean, Cordell… he’s never… so I… I think I gasped and flinched away. And then it’s like he woke up for real. And he… I’ve never seen him look so broken.”
One minute, he was watching his battle buddies die in front of him, trying to run to them, but his legs wouldn’t work. Trying to scream, but it was like there was cotton in his mouth and he couldn’t even breathe.
Then, someone was grabbing his arm. He was shoving them off, raising his gun.
And looking into the terrified eyes of his wife.
He opened his mouth, but no words came out. Her face seemed to flicker in the darkness, one minute an enemy with a grenade in hand and the next his bride again, shrinking away from him.
He blinked hard in an attempt to make it stop. An explosion flashed behind his lids.
“Cordell?” That was Emily’s voice, scared and worried at the same time.
He tried to speak, but all that came out was a slight, strangled croak. He sucked in a sharp breath. Why did the air seem so thin all of a sudden?
“Maybe he wasn’t really awake?” Emily sounded so helpless and confused. “He was looking right at me, but sometimes it was like I… like I wasn’t what he was looking at. He tried to talk, but he… he was barely breathing and he couldn’t. I shouldn’t have tried to touch him again, but he just… he looked so scared and I thought… but he pushed me away again. Then he looked so scared and sorry that he’d done it. I think he tried to apologize, but he still… he still couldn’t talk.”
“Cordell?” she repeated, reaching out and laying a hand on his shoulder.
He shoved her off again, harder than he meant to. She shuddered away, back pressed against the wall behind them, even more fear in her eyes.
I don’t want to hurt you , was what he willed off his tongue.
“I…” was all he could choke out before he ran out of oxygen.
“Then it’s like I wasn’t there again, but someone else was. And he panicked. Jerked back so hard he fell off the bed. He got tangled in the blankets, I think, and really just… he was thrashing and hyperventilating, and… I… He was just so terrified. I’ve never… I’ve never seen him so scared.”
She wasn’t supposed to have to see him scared. He was supposed to protect her. He was supposed to stay there next to her and be strong and be anything but a pathetic, quivering mess, bowed before things that lived only in his mind.
Her hand, retracted sharply when he’d pushed her away, was balled around her shirt sleeve, wrapped around her body.
A woman was running towards them with her head down and her arms wrapped around herself. Cordell started to retract his gun only to catch a glimpse of something on her back as someone behind him screamed, “Bomb!”
He reeled away from her so sharply that he fell off the side of the bed. His head slammed into the wall, his arm caught on the corner of the nightstand. The pain almost felt good.
But the blankets had come with him, and a second later he was kicking and gasping in sharp, ragged breaths, desperately trying to free himself from the linen tangled around him.
He didn’t know whose body had landed on top of him or what side they were on, but he knew instinctively that they were dead. Blind panic took over as he desperately tried to shove it off, a limp arm swinging down across his face, two lifeless legs bound by gravity to the ground on either side of him.
“After he got untangled, he just… bolted. I… I don’t know if he was running from me or something in his head.”
He was crazy. That sentence literally defined him as crazy.
He finally got the body off of him and ran, blind through the smoke and debris and sand, towards the sound of Hoyt screaming for him.
He found himself staring at his own haunted expression in the bathroom mirror. At least this was familiar. He stood here looking at his own blood-shot eyes at least once a night. He didn’t remember the last time he hadn’t.
He reached out to turn on the water, but his hand was shaking so much that it knocked into a little dish beside the sink, one Emily kept earring backs in. Ceramic plate loudly met ceramic sink and made him flinch before the little tray came to rest over the drain, the earring backs it had held collecting along its edge. As the water rushed out of the faucet, it began to fill the sink bowl, but Cordell didn’t think his hands had it in them to pick it up so it could drain.
He cupped them together to collect water to splash on his face, but they were shaking too much for that, too.
His fists clenched in frustration, his head dropped to his chest, and his eyes squeezed shut against a rush of tears.
A car alarm went off somewhere in the neighborhood. Fire and debri flashed behind his eyelids, and his upper body dropped in blind panic. His face met water before he realized he’d ducked straight into the fiilling sink.
Eyes flashed open and he froze for a moment of not knowing where he was. But then, he knew.
He was in his bathroom, in the apartment he shared with Emily, his wife. Iraq was an ocean away. He was never going back.
He came up gasping for air, but still grounded in the present. His hands weren’t shaking anymore as he turned the water off.
He stared at his reflection for a moment, trying to grasp the reality of the last few minutes.
Why was everything so blurry?
He remembered the shadows of dreams and the memories they’d been replaying in his head. He remembered shoving his wife away in accidental panic. Was that all he’d done? What if he’d hit her?
Even if he hadn’t. The way he’d shoved her was unforgivable enough.
And what if he had?
Only freaks had to wonder if they’d hit their wives.
She didn’t deserve this. She’d fallen in love with a care-free high school student, and he hadn’t been honest enough with her for her to know that she was marrying a psychotic, broken shell of a man who was never going to be good for anything again.
He knew that even if he knew where he was now, he still wasn’t thinking straight. But he also knew that he hated no one more than a man who couldn’t remember whether he’d hit his beloved Emily.
He couldn’t live with himself being that man.
“Gun,” he muttered, barely audible.
He could fix this. He could destroy the thing he hated most.
“Gun… where did I… gun.”
His own whisper was just another confirmation that he was crazy. Useless, broken, and crazy.
In a state of just-back-from-Iraq paranoia, he’d hidden them everywhere. Under the sink in the kitchen. Top of the closet in the laundry room. Nightstand drawer in the bedroom. And the back of the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.
He stumbled two steps to stand in front of it and yanked the door open. His height allowed him to easily reach behind the cold medicine and Ibuprofen and bandaids until his hand closed around the cool surface of the Ruger.
He pulled it out and hesitated, staring at the weapon, for only a moment. He couldn’t talk himself out of it. He had to do this. For Emily.
“I heard the water running. I always do when he leaves after a nightmare. He usually comes back a minute later and goes to sleep again. So I thought I’d give him a minute. But then… I…”
He heard her choke on tears.
He hated himself. He hated himself more than he’d ever hated anything.
“I just had this terrible feeling. So I went to check on him. And I… he… he had a gun… pressed to his forehead. His… his finger was on the trigger and if I’d come even a moment later, I…”
She broke down sobbing.
Cordell dug his nails into his skin as hard as he could and dragged them across the length of his forearm.
He cocked the gun, clicked the safety off, pressed it to his temple, and closed his eyes. He could hear his own heartbeat, pounding in his head. He swallowed hard as he moved his finger to the trigger.
“No!” It was a strangled, desperate, terrified scream, and it was the scream of the person he loved most in the world.
He jerked the gun away from his head, eyes flying open and finger coming off of the trigger like it was on fire.
“I screamed,” she managed through tears. “And he looked up and saw me and dropped the gun on the counter. “He… he seemed afraid of me. Or maybe afraid of hurting me? Just… so afraid.”
His gaze locked with Emily’s. She was standing in the hallway, mouth open and eyes wide with pure fear.
What if she thought he was going to shoot her?
His hands started to shake again, but he somehow managed to click the safety back on before practically dropping the gun onto the counter in front of him.
“Cordell?” she whispered, taking a trembling step towards him.
He backed two away. “Em…” His voice came out strangled, and he once again swore there was no oxygen in the room.
Please stay away. I don’t want to hurt you.
“Please… I… I don’t… you…”
“Then he ran back to the bedroom and locked the door.” She sniffled and took a shaky breath, obviously trying to get a hold on her tears. “And that’s when I called you.”
“Babe, it’s… it’s okay. I’m okay. You’re okay. I love you. You’re okay.” But her shaking voice gave away the fact that she was still absolutely terrified.
She took another step towards him, hands held in front of her placatingly.
He shook his head desperately since the words wouldn’t come out. He didn’t know how to communicate to her that it wasn’t that he wanted to keep her away from him… it was that he wanted to keep himself away from her.
She was well inside the bathroom now. The door was clear. As she took another step closer, he bolted. He couldn’t let her get close enough for him to hurt her again.
She yelled his name, but he just sprinted back to the bedroom. This time, he was mindful of the door, closing and locking it as he heard her run after him.
She desperately tried the knob as he backed as far away from it and her as he could get.
“Cordell!” she sobbed through the wood. “Cordell, please! Please, open up! I love you! I can’t… you can’t… please!”
His legs gave out under him and he dropped to the carpet, finding his nightstand at his back. There was another gun in the drawer. He could finish all of this right now.
“Cordell!” Emily screamed again, more desperate with every passing second. “Please! Cordell!”
He pressed his eyes shut, but he couldn’t fight the tears this time, and his head dropped to his knees as he sobbed.
The house went silent except for the sound of both of them crying on opposite sides of the door. Then he heard the electronic sounds of buttons being pressed and remembered the phone they kept in the hall.
Would she call the police? No. No, no, no, no…
“Hoyt!” She could barely speak given how hard she was crying. “Hoyt, please, it’s Cordell. I… he had a nightmare, and then I walked in on him… he had a gun, and it was against his head, and I… I think he was… he was going to… to…” She couldn’t get it out. “And now he locked himself in the bedroom and I think there’s another gun in there and I don’t know what to do! I… I can’t… he can’t…”
A pause. This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be happening.
“Okay. Okay, please hurry!”
He would be on his way. He needed to do it before he got there.
“Cordell, Baby, Hoyt’s coming,” Emily cried through the door. “Please just don’t… don’t… I love you. I love you so much. Whatever’s going on, we’ll get through it together. Please.”
He wanted to respond, wanted to comfort her, but he still couldn’t form words. And he didn’t trust himself with her. Not to touch her, not to speak to her, not anything. That was why he just had to do it.
More tones from the phone.
Please , he silently begged her. Please don’t call the police.
“I’m so sorry, Abby, I know it’s late, but I… I just…”
No. No… his parents… no.
“Cordell, he… he had a nightmare, and then he almost shot himself, and now he’s locked himself in the bedroom and won’t come out. I think he has another gun in there. And Hoyt’s on his way, but I just… I just don’t know what to do. I can’t… I can’t lose him! I… I…”
Cordell’s attention was grabbed by a buzzing on the nightstand above him. He reached up and found his cell phone, vibrating with an incoming call. Hoyt’s name was displayed on the outer screen.
He shoved the little device away from him as his head dropped back to his knees with a new rush of tears, reaching back above him without lifting it again. A moment of fumbling finally opened the drawer, and a moment later his hand found the handgun inside.
Now he only raised his head enough to make room for the gun between it and his knees. He didn’t even look as he clicked off the safety and pressed the barrel to his forehead.
It was like his wife knew what was going on, because her voice carried to him once more.
“Baby, please. Please just hold on. You can’t leave me, Cordell. Please.”
And then to his mother on the phone once more.
“No, he didn’t say anything. I just… I’m just so scared.”
He pressed the gun harder into his skin and tried to drown out the conversation. He just had to pull the trigger. That was all. For Emily. He had to do this for Emily.
But her desperate, terrified pleading was in his head and wouldn’t leave.
How could he do something for her that she was literally begging him not to?
But how could he sentence her to a life lived beside the dangerous mess he’d become?
He didn’t move the gun, but he also didn’t put his finger on the trigger.
So he just sat there… gun pressed against his forehead, sobbing and listening to his wife cry on the other side of the door.
“Cordell, I love you so much. We’ll get through this. I promise you we’ll get through this.”
He didn’t know how long passed. Probably a few minutes. Hoyt didn’t live far, and he’d be speeding like he had hellhounds on his heels.
Finally, he heard footsteps running up the stairs. They stopped, Hoyt’s spare key clicked in the lock, and Cordell heard the door open.
It was now or never.
He put his finger on the trigger.
Those running footsteps came down the hall. His best friend’s voice carried to him. “Emily? Cordell?”
“Hoyt, thank God,” Emily sobbed. “Please. Please help him, please!”
A fist pounded against the bedroom door. “Cordi!” He didn’t know if he’d ever heard Hoyt sound so scared. If he had, it was only over there. “Cordi, you gotta open up, Buddy, you gotta let me in!”
All Cordell could think of was the terrified look in his wife’s eyes when he’d shoved her away from him.
He pulled the trigger.
“Stand back, Emily. I’m sorry about your door.”
He hadn’t cocked the gun.
He couldn’t even kill himself right.
With a splintering crack, the door flew back against the wall, dangerously coming to rest hanging off of one hinge.
He allowed the hand holding the gun to drop as he broke entirely, sobbing into his knees like a child. He heard Hoyt rush across the room, felt him kneel in front of him and take the gun away.
The safety clicked on, then the magazine slid open, then the ammunition inside pattered onto the carpet, then the gun itself thumped into the far wall as Hoyt slid it as far away from Cordell as he possibly could.
Then, two arms wrapped around him, pulling him to his feet just for their owner to support his entire weight because he had neither will nor strength to stand on his own.
Hoyt staggered back a single step so his back was against the wall and the structure could help him keep his six-foot-four friend upright. Cordell’s head dropped onto his shoulder as he continued to helplessly sob.
“You’re okay, Buddy,” Hoyt murmured softly, holding him a little tighter. “You’re okay.”
Cordell wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that, until he could get a handle on the tears that were racking his entire body. When he finally had, Hoyt straightened off of the wall and gently set him back in a sitting position on the bed.
“Alright.” Hoyt laid a hand on his shoulder and bent so that he could stay in front of him and talk to him at eye-level. “Can you tell me what day it is?”
“I…” He brought a hand up to cover his eyes, squeezing until he saw colors behind their closed lids. “I don’t know.”
“Okay, that’s okay,” the other man replied steadily. “How about where we are? Do you know where we are?”
“At… at Emily and… and I’s apartment. In Austin.”
“Good. That’s right. That’s good.” Hoyt squeezed his shoulder a little. “Now what’s that?”
Cordell dropped his hand from his face so he could see what he was pointing at.
“Clock. It’s a… alarm clock.”
“You got it. And what about this?”
“And that over there?”
“It’s a… a lamp.”
“Good. Now what color is my shirt?”
Cordell blinked at it a few times. “Blue.”
“Now what day is it?”
It had been an impossible question a few seconds ago, but now it didn't seem so hard. “It’s Friday. Or… Saturday. What time is it?” He looked back at the clock. “Saturday. It’s Saturday.”
“You got it, Cordi. You got it.”
Hesitantly, Hoyt released him, slowly turning and sinking down on the bed beside him. “Okay.” He seemed to be talking more to himself than his friend. “We’re okay.”
“Cordell?” The whisper came from the door. He looked up, and his gaze locked with his wife’s.
He could feel his lips part a little, but he had absolutely no idea what to say.
She took a step forward, but he raised his hands a little as his eyes squeezed shut again. “Em, please. Please. I don’t… I don’t want to hurt you.”
He’d been trying to say it since he woke up, and now he finally had.
He forced his eyes open again to see her frozen where she was, a helpless and heartbroken expression on her face.
There was a moment of strained silence. It was broken by more footsteps outside, then a frantic knock.
Hoyt looked at Emily. “Did you call his parents?”
She nodded a little, her eyes still locked on her husband.
“Why don’t you go let ‘em in?” Hoyt prompted gently. “I’ll take care of Cordi, I promise. We’ll be out when he’s ready.”
Emily hesitated a moment, but finally nodded again and turned, disappearing out into the hallway.
Once she was gone, Hoyt looked back at Cordell, placing his hand on his shoulder once more. “You think you can tell me what happened?”
Cordell blinked a few times, his eyes locked on the carpet, before they squeezed shut yet again and he wordlessly shook his head.
He could feel his friend nod a little. “Not yet. Alright. You wanna go hug your momma?”
He shook his head again, more frantically this time.
Again, he felt Hoyt nod his understanding. There was a moment of silence before he asked, “You want a minute to yourself, or you want me to stay with you?”
He actually looked his friend in the face for the first time that night in response to the offer. “Can I… can I have a minute?”
It was asked as it was meant… he hadn’t thought that was an option, and he was looking for clarification that it really was.
Hoyt offered up the sliver of a sad smile. “Yeah. Yeah, Cordi, of course you can. Just…” He looked around until his eyes landed on the office across the hall. “Just follow me, alright?”
Cordell obediently trailed him into the smaller room, sinking into a chair as Hoyt quickly baby-proofed the area.
Every drawer was opened, and yet another handgun was quickly taken into the hall and completely disarmed as the one before it had been. Scissors, staples, and anything else even vaguely sharp or dangerous was dumped onto the bed in the other room.
He went over the whole room three times before he was finally satisfied.
When he was, he looked at Cordell and sighed a little. “Alright, Cordi. I’m gonna go talk to your folks. You yell if you need anything, you got it?”
And that was where he’d left him, to relive it all over again as Emily told the horrible story of the night.
“What’re we gonna do?” That was his mother’s voice. “Should we check him into a hospital?”
No. No, no, no, no they couldn’t do that, no.
“I don’t think Cordell needs to be in a mental hospital,” his father argued quickly, and Cordell felt a little relief wash over him.
“Bonham, he almost shot himself tonight! Twice!”
“I know that, Abeline, but…”
“If you ask Cordell, putting him in a hospital is about the worst thing we could possibly do to him,” Hoyt sighed. “Maybe he needs it and maybe he doesn’t, but if we do that, he’ll never trust us again.”
At least his best friend knew him well enough to know that.
“He mentioned that he had to pass a psych evaluation to go to academy,” Emily put in softly. “Forcing him into treatment could make him an automatic fail.”
“Suicide treatment?” Hoyt put in. “Yeah. They probably wouldn’t even consider him for another few years at least.”
Cordell dragged his nails across his arm again, right back over the smarting scratches he’d created the first time. He’d been so caught up in the fact that he was almost a sure fail already that he hadn’t even thought about the consequences if he didn’t get it done. Which he hadn’t.
“If he can’t keep his head on his shoulders, maybe that’s for the best,” his father sighed. The disappointment was heavy in his tone.
He hated himself so much.
“Cordell could be the finest cop you’ll know,” Hoyt stated, a little edge in his tone. “He just needs a little help coping. And he has the right to have a say in how he gets it.”
Even after everything that had happened that night, he’d still stick up for him to the end. Somehow, that almost made Cordell hate himself even more.
“And on that note,” his best friend went on before anyone could argue, “I’m gonna go see if he’s ready to talk.”
“I’m com…” Bonham started, but Hoyt cut him off.
“No. I don’t think that’s a good idea. Not yet. I promise I’ll bring him out as soon as he’s ready, but all of us coming in there and crowding him and pushing for answers isn’t going to help anyone.”
All Cordell could think about was how lucky he was that Emily had called Hoyt first.
Footsteps approached, then a light tap sounded on the door before Hoyt slowly eased it open. His eyes were compassionate as he regarded his friend.
“How we doin’, Cordi?”
Cordell sighed heavily, allowing his head to drop into his hands. “I don’t know.”
“Emily saved you from tellin’ the story,” Hoyt said as he crossed the room and sat down in the second desk chair. “But are ya up to tellin’ me what was going on up there?” He indicated his head.
“I don’t know, Hoyt.” He repeated, then hesitated, but his friend said nothing, waiting for him to go on. “I just… I forgot there was gonna be a psych test. And with the nightmares every night and the public triggers and…” He blinked back a sharp bout of tears. “And the way I feel right now, I just… I didn’t think I could pass it. And if I can’t become a cop, I just… I…” He blinked more water out of his eyes. “I just feel useless. Like I’m broken.” That part came out a whisper.
Hoyt was leaning forward, his hands on his knees and his eyes locked on his friend’s face, listening to and processing everything he was saying.
“So that’s what was wrong earlier, I guess,” he sighed. “And then I had this nightmare, but I didn’t… didn’t fully wake up. It’s fuzzy, but I… I would see Emily, and then I’d see… see something from over there. And when she tried to touch me, I just… pushed her away so hard. Harder than I… than I ever wanted to touch her. And when I finally got myself pulled out of it, I… I couldn’t remember everything. I knew I’d shoved her, but what if I did worse?”
His face contracted and his hand came back up to his eyes as he really started to cry all over again.
“If I ever hurt her, I… I couldn’t live with myself. And I didn’t know if I had. So I decided… I thought… it’d be better for both of us if I just…”
He shrugged helplessly.
“Emily said you dropped the gun as soon as she came in,” Hoyt prompted gently. “But then you picked another one up as soon as she wasn’t there.”
“I didn’t want her to think I was going to shoot her.”
Cordell didn’t know how his friend managed to respond in a way that didn’t make him feel absolutely insane.
“You had a few minutes alone while I was breaking every traffic law to get over here. I’m proud of you for not taking the shot, Cordi.”
Cordell wanted to just let him believe that, let him think that he was just a little stronger than he actually was, but something inside of him wouldn’t allow it. He shook his head a little, more tears freely sliding down his cheeks.
“No?” Hoyt asked, his brow creasing in confusion.
“I pulled the trigger,” he choked out, his voice barely audible. “ Right before you came in. I just… I forgot to cock it.”
Hoyt had taken everything he’d said in stride so far. That hit him hard. He processed it a moment, lips parted but nothing coming out, before finally swallowing hard, taking a deep breath, and trying again.
“Well.” He made a horrible attempt at a smile, blinking rapidly against sudden moisture in his eyes. “I guess your guardian angel worked some overtime tonight.”
There was another moment of silence before he spoke again.
“Cordi…” His voice was gentle. “You need some help.”
Cordell opened his mouth to argue, but his friend held up his hands to stop him.
“I’m not talkin’ a mental hospital. Just some counseling, alright? They don’t even have to know what happened tonight. I know how big a mark this would leave on your record for that psych test. I’m not trying to make it so you can’t pass. I’m trying to make it so you can.”
“But, I…” Cordell sucked in a breath, trying to keep his rising anxiety in check. “They… it… I shouldn’t need help.” The last part came out a whisper.
“Now, who told you that?” Hoyt asked, reaching out and placing a hand on his arm. “Cordi, there’s no shame in not knowing how to process through everything that happened over there. You lived through hell. It’s okay to admit that.”
“But you lived through it, too, Hoyt!” Cordell argued desperately. “And you don’t do this! What is wrong with me, that I need help and you don’t?”
“Hey, I may not have put a gun to my head tonight, but I haven’t been dealing with things so well either,” his friend sighed. “I don’t remember the last time I wasn’t buzzed or drunk or hungover. And it’s not about what’s wrong with you… nothing’s wrong with you. Our minds weren’t made for what we went through. They all react to it different.”
“And like I said, I haven’t been doing so great either,” Hoyt reiterated. “That’s why, if you want me to, I’ll go with you.”
Cordell froze, his eyes snapping up to his friend’s. “What?”
Hoyt just nodded a little. “We’ll find a group. I'm sure the VA can hook us up. It’s not even counseling. Just somewhere to go to learn some tools so this doesn’t happen again.”
“But…” He still couldn’t wrap his mind around the offer that had just been extended to him. “But why would you… You…”
“Because I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared as I was driving over here tonight,” Hoyt said softly. “Maybe in Iraq. Maybe. Because I would die for you without a second thought, so going to therapy for you’s an easy call. And because I’m sure it’ll do me good.”
Cordell shook his head slowly, unable to stop the tears that were still streaming down his face. “Hoyt, I… I don’t know.”
“We can talk about it later,” his friend stated. “For now, there’s some people out there who really need to hug ya and know you’re alright. Are you up to it yet?”
He wanted to say no, wanted to hide from them forever, bury himself in shame, but he nodded a little against his own will. “I… I think so.”
“Good man.” Hoyt got to his feet and offered him a hand up. He took it, and he was almost sure as he got his feet under him that he wouldn’t have had the strength to do it without the help.
With him somewhat steady, Hoyt’s hand moved to his shoulder instead and guided him from there, out of the office and down the hall.
Cordell’s head was hung low as he stepped into the living room. The mere thought of looking at any one of the three people waiting for him there was enough to make him wish he had that gun in his hand all over again.
They all got up as he entered the room. He glanced up for just long enough to see that it was Emily who stepped forward first, hesitant though she was.
“Cordell?” she asked softly. It was exactly how she'd greeted him several times that night, but this time the word was a request. She was asking him for permission to come closer.
He squeezed his eyes shut, jaw tight and head still hung low. “Hey, Em.”
His arms barely moved… just the slightest spread outwards… but the subtle invitation wasn’t lost on his wife. She crossed the room in just a few deliberate steps and wrapped him the tightest hug he’d ever been given.
He responded by gathering her up his arms, bending and smothering his face in her shoulder. “I’m sorry.” His voice came out hoarse and shaky. “I… I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” She was crying as well, squeezing him that much closer. “We’re okay.”
They held the embrace for several long moments before she finally stepped back, though not before leaning up to kiss the top of her husband’s bowed head.
“I love you.”
He swallowed hard, desperately trying to gain control of the water that was still sliding from his eyes. “I love you too. I love you so much.”
She pressed another kiss onto the back of his hand before stepping aside for real. Abilene was quick to replace her, rushing forward and throwing her arms around Cordell as well.
“Oh, I thought I was gonna lose you.” Her voice was trembling with devastated relief.
“I’m so sorry, Momma.” It was all he knew to say. He reached out over her shoulder, in the direction of his father. “I’m sorry, Daddy.”
Bonham stepped forward as well, taking his son’s outstretched hand and squeezing it briefly before letting go again.
“It’s in the past, Son,” he said, his voice low and gruff. “We’re just thankful the Good Lord kept you here.”
Before anyone else could speak, a bouncy, obnoxious tune began flowing brightly from Abby’s pocket. She released Cordell and took a step back as she pulled out her cell phone and made a sympathetic noise at the name on the outer screen.
“That’ll be Liam.”
She flipped it open and greeted her younger son, while Cordell processed panic anew.
“L… Liam?” The mere thought of his fourteen year-old brother knowing what he’d done that night made him sick. “Wha… what does Liam… what did you tell him, Daddy?”
The senior Walker regarded him just a little tiredly. “Well, we had to give him some good reason why we were rushing off in the middle of the night, Cordell,” he sighed. “He wanted to come, but we…” He swallowed hard. “Well, we didn’t know what we were gonna find here.”
Cordell was once again struggling to breathe as he processed that information. His brother… his kid brother who he never wanted to disappoint… knew that he’d kept his promise to come back from overseas alive only to come close to shooting himself in his own apartment.”
“He’s alright,” Abby was assuring into the phone. “He’s standing right here.”
A pause on her side.
She looked up at Cordell as if considering something, then nodded despite the fact that the person she was talking to couldn’t see the gesture.
“I don’t see why not.”
Then, she was holding out the phone to Cordell.
“Your brother would like to talk to you.”
He took a deep, shuddering breath as he accepted the device with a shaking hand. Pull it together. He had to pull it together.
“Cordi!” The blind terror in the teen’s voice hurt something deep inside of him. “Cordi, tell me you’re okay. Please tell me you’re okay.”
The kid was crying. Cordell’s face contracted sharply with a renewal of his own tears.
“Hey, listen to me. I’m fine. You hear me? I’m fine. I’m right here, and I’m fine.”
Liam choked on a sob. “Cordi… Cordi please don’t… don’t ever…”
“I won’t ever do it again.” It wasn’t a promise he was really ready to make, but the boy just sounded so scared . “Okay? I’m sorry for what I did tonight. I am so, so sorry, Liam. I know I scared you. But you do not need to worry about me. I will be just fine, alright?”
“But… but things don’t just work like that!” the younger Walker argued. “You can’t just… Cordi, please, you… I can’t… you need… I… I…”
“Hey, hey, hey, listen to me, Liam.” Few things tore his heart out like hearing his baby brother panic like this. “I’m alright. I am not going anywhere. And as soon as I know you’re okay too, I’ll hang up and come out there and hug you. Okay?”
The teenager on the other line took a deep, shaky breath. It was clear Cordell had just provided him with a very, very motivating incentive to calm down.
“Okay. Yeah. Okay. I… I’m good.”
“Good. I’ll see you in a little bit, Kid.”
“See you,” the boy whispered, then the line went dead.
Slowly, Cordell closed the phone and handed it back to his mother.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He felt his wife’s arms wrap around one of his own and bowed his head to rest on hers, inhaling the sweet, familiar scent of her shampoo. A hand gripped his shoulder, and he opened his eyes to meet Hoyt’s gaze.
“If you can’t do it for yourself, Cordi...” He didn’t have to say it for them to both know what it was. “Then can you do it for us? We won’t make you do it alone.”
As his wife snuggled into him a little closer, the ache in Cordell’s chest throbbed in a whole new way.
“You’ll really go with me?” The question came out a whisper, and he inwardly berated himself for sounding so completely pitiful.
“I’ll really go with you.”
He shut his eyes again as the shame hit him in another wave. He heard his own voice agreeing to something he still wasn’t sure he could do.
“Okay. I… I’ll try.”
With a small gasp of relief, Emily let go of his arm so she could wrap all of him in a hug all over again.
The reality that even after everything he’d put her through that night, she was still holding onto him like the world was going to end, both eased and intensified the ache in his chest.
And he wondered, as he so often did, what on earth he would do without her.
If you leave a comment (or a surprise in the tags), I will love you forever. Once again, @trekkiehood was a life-saver with this fic, so if you’re not already, go follow her here and on Ao3 and Twitter @Trekkiehood. You can find me on Ao3 and Wattpad @pricelesstrashpanda and on Twitter @riplineb. Thanks so much for reading!!!
Also, it hasn’t been canonically stated that Hoyt joined and served with Cordell, but we do know they went to high school together, and it’s also never stated that he didn’t, so it’s a personal headcanon of mine. Abby did say, “You saved my son,” and while there are about a million things that could be referring to (such as the plot you just read) and I really hope they expand on it in canon, one that makes a lot of sense is that he fought beside Cordell and saved his life in battle.
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