He dropped his arm as the echo of the gunshots faded away through the snow laden trees. He was completely numb, emotionally and physically, not even noticing that his body was so cold his hands were purple. He knew why he'd fired. He'd had to release something – anything - before his head exploded. It had startled Keen and Malik, and scared Jonica as the shots rang out, but Ressler didn't notice. He'd been standing in the snow, torn between Keen begging him not to kill Jonica, while Jonica goaded him to shoot. He'd fired, oblivious to the irony that he'd actually done what both of them were telling him to do, ever the company man. He'd pulled the trigger over and over, deliberately missing Bobby by aiming his shots to the right of the man's head.
"Donnie, I'm sorry..." he heard Bobby moan over and over, but Ressler didn't care. Sorry wasn't good enough. Sorry didn't cut it. He drew his eyes away from Bobby, dropping his gaze, suddenly feeling completely and utterly spent. He slowly walked toward Keen, knowing full well this was an 'agent involved shooting' and he must surrender his weapon. Somewhere in the depths of his mind, protocol was still alive and well.
He kept walking toward Keen, the snow crunching under his frozen feet. Passing her by, he extended his arm to her as she gently took his weapon from him. He didn't look at her, didn't see the hurt in her eyes. He was aware of her hand reaching out and touching his arm, wanting to comfort him, but he didn't want it. He pulled his arm out of her reach and kept walking away.
He heard the blade being unsheathed and stopped, turning his head to the right in time to see Jonica plunging Tanida's knife below his vest. Ressler felt nothing. He'd just stood for what felt like forever, facing Bobby with his gun, yelling at him to end his life or he'd do it for him. He'd begged him to pick up the knife, yet felt nothing when Jonica suddenly did and took his life.
Impassive, he turned and walked steadily back up the hill in the deep snow, still unaware of how wet and cold he was. Keen and Malik followed some distance behind him, while other agents saw to Jonica's body. Ressler returned to the overturned vehicle and looked inside for Tanida. He was gone. He crawled inside, seeing the empty cuffs, and flung them down. How the heck did he get away? He made his way back out of the vehicle and stood, looking out to the trees. Tanida should be easy to find in this snow and several agents were already walking the perimeter. He was aware of Keen behind him again, and turned and looked down at her, almost looking through her.
She reached her hand up toward him again, but not to touch him. She knew better this time. Motioning to the other vehicle, he understood. Time to go. With a final look around at the snowy landscape, he walked silently behind her to the black Suburban. She held the passenger door open for him and he climbed in, keeping his gaze out the window. Walking to the driver's side, she looked at him, wanting to say something, yet thought better of it and started the ignition. She followed Malik who was in the lead car, back toward the city.
Ressler's mind was swirling with how his world had been turned upside down in little more than 24 hours. Audrey was gone. Audrey! I told you to stay with me! He'd told Reddington all he felt was hate, but he knew now that wasn't true. Underneath that was great sorrow and grief. Red had been right about that. Damn the man!
And what of his actions since he'd lost Audrey, sitting in the street, willing her not to leave him? He'd dismissed his security detail, schemed with Jonica, shot people while hunting down Tanida, kidnapped the man, and would have killed him. The realization hit him that he had turned into the person he'd been hunting for 5 years. He'd done just what Red had done when he lost his family. Red had warned him, but he hadn't listened. Red knew what stepping into the darkness felt like, and now Ressler knew it too.
All that training, all that discipline to be the best FBI agent he could be had been tossed aside in a heartbeat. He'd lost himself in blind hate and revenge. How can I go back to being "by the book Special Agent Ressler" after I've done this?! I'm no different to Reddington! Panic rose in him, and he grasped the door rest, suddenly feeling claustrophobic in the confined space. No, no, no, no! He was swallowing hard, trying to control himself. Closing his eyes, he pushed his head back into the headrest, trying to open up his airway. Calm down! He was breathing fast and hard, unable to take a full breath.
Keen looked quickly at him, knowing he was in trouble. She was supposed to get Ressler back to the Post Office where Cooper needed to talk to him, but it was clear she needed to give him some time to collect himself first. She picked up the radio and called Malik, telling her they were making a stop. Malik asked if everything was okay, and if she needed to turn back, but Keen sent her on her way.
"Tell Cooper we'll be there soon." She told Malik, looking at Ressler, who was frantically gulping for air.
She quickly pulled over at an empty truck stop, parking under some trees on the edge of the snowy landscape. Ressler didn't even seem to notice, keeping his eyes closed and breathing hard. Why is it so hard to breathe? He couldn't take in a full breath. His chest was going to explode. Audrey!
"Ressler ... Don..." said Keen quickly. He barely heard her before he felt her hand suddenly on his forearm, but he didn't pull it away this time. He was trying so hard to keep his breathing in order, keeping his eyes closed to block out everything. Don't you dare lose it in front of her!
"Don..." She repeated, moving her hand down to hold his clenched fist. The warmth on his frigid cold hand suddenly felt safe, and instinctively he turned his hand upside down and held hers firmly. What is wrong with you? Let go of her hand! She returned the grip, holding onto his cold hand.
"I'm here ... it's okay Don ... breathe in, and breathe out ... steady..." She spoke softly to him, knowing he could hyperventilate if this continued. Damn it Keen, I'm trying! He couldn't do it though, not with her right there and her hand clutching his. He let out a gasp, and she moved closer to him. No!
"I'm right here ... look at me and breathe with me ... breathe in, and let it out..." She said soothingly, trying to help him get his breathing under control, but he wouldn't look at her.
He gasped again, trying desperately to keep it together, but it was no use. In one motion, he withdrew his hand from her grip, had the door open and was out of the vehicle, running. He ran to the only place he could find cover, that being the truck stop bathrooms. He ran to the wall, leaned against it heavily and suddenly vomited onto the concrete. Still retching, he ran inside, slammed his back against the wall and sank to the concrete floor, dropping his face into his hands.
Arms were suddenly around him as Keen crouched beside him. Damn it Keen! Leave me alone! His mind screamed at her. No! I don't want you to do this! But his body had other ideas. His arms reached up around her back, as he buried his face in her neck, clinging to her as the tears finally flowed. He shook as she held him tight, the pain of the last 24 hours pouring out of him.
Slowly he quieted down and his breathing steadied. As he began to pull away from her he saw that her coat was soaked with his tears. No ... you lost it in front of her ... No... He couldn't look at her. She kept one hand on his arm, rubbing it gently.
"I'm so sorry Don, I really am..."
He nodded, acknowledging he'd heard her, before he picked himself up off the floor and let her hand fall from his arm. He walked over to the wash basin and splashed freezing cold water on his face before drying it roughly with some paper towels. She waited quietly for him as he stood there a few moments more, before he turned and headed back outside. She followed him immediately and they walked back to the vehicle together. He hadn't said a word. Nor did he need to. She knew exactly what he was saying.
After getting back in the vehicle she looked worriedly at him again, wanting to make sure he was okay. He wasn't though, she knew that. He sat quietly with his head down, his breathing finally steady. He might be composed now, but he was going to need time to process this. He was also going to need a good friend.
He was aware of her starting up the car and pulling out of the rest stop, as he leaned on the headrest, looking but not seeing what was outside. He should have listened to Reddington when he'd told him "go home Donald". That was all he wanted to do now. Just get me home so I can drink myself into oblivion and fall into bed. He'd be alone in that bed though. Audrey would never again grace her side of the bed. Audrey! He breathed in sharply and gasped at that thought, aware that Keen quickly looked at him.
The drive back to the Post Office was quiet. He never spoke to her, and once there, he silently walked with her to the elevator. I don't want to be here, Keen. Malik looked questioningly at Keen as they entered the bullpen, but one look at Ressler told her all she needed to know. If he'd been an expressionless mask in the snow, he was far from that now. His eyes were red raw, and she saw the pain behind them.
Once in Cooper's office, he sat still while Cooper tried talking to him. Cooper had never seen his lead agent like this, and he was deeply concerned.
"Agent Ressler, do you need medical attention?" Cooper repeated worriedly, leaning down to face Ressler. His face was bleeding from the broken glass during the car accident, but Cooper was more concerned about his emotional state. Do I need medical attention? Well my head hurts like a son-of-a-bitch, and I just became a criminal, but what the heck would I know? Ressler made eye contact then, shook his head and mouthed the word 'no'. He'd tried to say it, but his throat wasn't working. Straightening, Cooper looked at Keen, who was standing right behind Ressler.
"I think he just needs some rest sir, and time to grieve and process all this. With your permission, I'd like to take him home." She said, fully aware she was discussing Ressler as if he weren't even in the room.
Cooper reluctantly agreed, and told Ressler to take a few days off. He'd deal with his lead agent when he'd got some rest and was better able to discuss this. Ressler nodded, only half hearing what his superior was telling him before taking leave of Cooper. Just get me the hell out of here, Keen. He followed her as they made their way back through the bullpen. Aram looked up cautiously as they passed by his desk. He'd always admired Agent Ressler, with his stern, by the book countenance, but now he was shocked at seeing Ressler look so ... broken. Keen led him to the elevator, not even caring that the other agents saw her hand on his back. Once in the parking garage, he climbed silently into the passenger side before she drove to his apartment.
His head throbbed and felt heavy, his eyes were sore and hot, and his chest ached. All he wanted to do was to fall into bed and sleep – and forget. Keen understood completely, and once at his apartment she again placed her hand on his back and gently told him to go take a shower first. He didn't have the strength to argue with her, and headed to his bathroom.
He stood under the hot water, and as much as he'd told himself tears were done when they'd left the truck stop, they flowed with the heat of the water on his face. Damn it, give it a rest! He leaned against the shower wall, holding his hand against his mouth to stifle the sound of his sobs. Exhausted, he slid down to the shower floor, feeling the hot water rain down on him.
His tears under control again, he finished his shower, dressed in track pants and t-shirt and towel dried his hair. He looked at himself in the mirror and barely recognized the bloodshot eyes and haunted expression staring back. Whoa... Unnerved, he turned from the mirror and let himself out the bathroom.
Keen had made him a cup of tea. Tea? I need something stronger than that. She was sitting in the living room, and he sat down on the couch across from her. He looked to his right ... at Audrey's suitcase on the chair, with some of her stuff strewn on the floor around it. I need to pick that up for her. She won't like coming home and seeing... He quickly looked away, focusing instead on the tea Keen was sliding over to him.
"Here ... drink this, then get some rest Don..."
He automatically reached for it and drank, feeling the warm liquid slide down his tight throat. Tea wasn't going to cut it though. He got up and reached for the bottle of whiskey on the bar. Pouring himself a shot he drank it one gulp, poured another and drank it straight down before reluctantly corking the bottle again. Drink the whole bottle. Just do it. Instant pain relief.
"Get some rest here Don..." He felt her hand resting gently on the small of his back, motioning for him to move. Please don't keep touching me like that, Keen. It makes me ... Makes me what? She let him walk by her on his way to his bedroom. She followed, feeling for the first time like she was intruding as she entered his bedroom, but he didn't even notice. As he slipped into bed, she noticed Audrey's side of the bed with her brush and some nail polish on the bedside table. He looked toward her empty side of the bed also, before snapping his eyes shut and quickly looking away. Audrey!
"I'd like to stay a bit longer, while you sleep, if that's okay Don..." He opened his eyes and looked at her as she knelt before him and he nodded. He wasn't ready to be alone either. But I am alone - Audrey is gone.
She was about to say something else, but then he spoke for the first time in hours, since screaming at Bobby Jonica to 'pick it up!'
"I'm sorry ... Thank you Liz..." His voice was taut, completely unlike his usual soft, deep voice. She barely recognized it. His eyes silently spoke volumes as he looked at her, before they closed and he fell almost instantly asleep. Keen suddenly fought the urge to stroke his tousled hair, to soothe the pain out of him and with an effort she dropped her hand. She retired to the recliner, settled in with a blanket, and watched him sleep an exhausted, heartbroken sleep.