Title: A View from the Glass House

Author: Jeanine (jeanine@iol.ie)

Rating: PG

Pairing:  Tim/OFC, slight Tim/Calleigh

Spoilers: We'll say everything to be safe, but nothing in particular.

Feedback: Makes my day

Disclaimer: If it was in the show, it's not mine.

Archive: At my site The Band Gazebo; anywhere else, please ask.

Summary:  News of Megan's departure makes Tim think about his past…and his future.

Author's Notes: You know things are bad when you start writing post-eps for eps that you've not yet seen…Television Without Pity recaps are a glorious thing. This refers to the one where Megan left, but you don't need to have seen this to understand the story, and I'm certainly in a position to say. Dedicated to Heidi who supplied the tapes that generated the plot bunnies which supplied the enormous amount of curses that flew around my room as I wrote this…you can stop snickering any time!

***

The sun was just making its way down below the horizon when he left the bar, but Speedle didn't even glance at his watch to check the time. He only knew that it was earlier than he'd planned to leave the bar, and he hadn't missed Eric's frown and Calleigh's worried eyes when he'd sculled down the remainder of his first beer, slamming the bottle down on the table before making his excuses and leaving. He hadn't missed them, but he hadn't made any moves to soothe them either, instead knowing that he just had to get out of there, any impulse to spend time with his co-workers vanishing with Sevilla's news.

The detective had followed them to the bar, having volunteered to stop by Horatio's office and invite him along. It hadn't been a huge surprise when she'd walked in on her own; they'd expected as much. What they hadn't expected was for her to sit down with them and announce that Horatio had told her that Megan had resigned, that she was going to live in Chicago for a while.

He'd sat mute, too stunned to say anything, as the others voiced their disbelief. He'd known of course that it was a long road back for Megan, that she still wasn't fully over Sean's death. She'd taken six months to deal with it, sure, but he knew that she still wasn't anywhere near to fully healed. He'd kept a close eye on her, wanting to be there for her any way he could, and he'd never caught the slightest hint that she was considering leaving, certainly not without telling anyone.

Of course, he reflected as he walked across the asphalt to his bike, sitting in this particular glass house, he had no right to throw stones.

Usually, that was a train of thought that he'd never let himself pursue. That way lay pain and madness. Tonight however was different. Tonight, he put on his helmet, started up the bike and began driving, no particular destination, just driving. And as he was driving, he let himself remember.

***

To say that he'd never made friends easily would be an understatement. Until the age of thirteen, he'd been an only child, spending most of his formative years in one of the many restaurants his father owned, surrounded by adults rather than children. His parents hadn't been unduly worried about that, figuring that when he got to school that he would mix with the other children, make friends. It hadn't worked out that way. He'd been naturally quiet and introverted, preferring to read rather than play, think rather than talk, and those weren't traits that went down well with his peers. His parents and teachers had worried about him, tried to get him to open up, but Tim hadn't minded. He didn't need other people; he had all the friends that he needed in his books.

High school changed his life.

His first day there, he'd taken five minutes of lunch to actually eat before going to find the library, and he'd spent the rest of the time just wandering around, every so often finding a book that looked interesting, taking it out and flicking through it before placing it back on the shelf and going on to the next new discovery, making mental note of what was there and where to find it again.

His second day there, once again, he ate his lunch in five minutes before heading back to the library. He was in the English section, lost in thought as he looked at the titles on the dustjackets when he literally walked into someone who was standing beside him. He blinked in surprise, because there'd been no-one there a second ago, but surprise quickly turned to embarrassment, which turned to concern when his mind registered her yelp of pain.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered, stepping back as she steadied herself by gripping onto the shelf with one hand, holding her foot with the other. "Are you ok?"

He'd expected anger and recrimination. What he got instead was two red cheeks and a sheepish smile. "Guess I should watch where I'm going huh?"

He shook his head, trying to recover his equilibrium. "It was my fault," he told her. "Did I hurt you?"

She put her foot down, moving it from side to side experimentally. "Just my pride." She shook her head, tucking an auburn curl behind her ear. "I'm looking for To Kill A Mockingbird," she told him. "I was up till two this morning reading mine, slept through my alarm and left the stupid thing on the bedside table."

As she spoke, she was scanning through the titles again, but he was standing right beside the book in question and lifted it out. "Here you go." Her choice of book told him that she was a freshman, like him, and her story surprised him, because he didn't know too many of his peers who would stay up to that hour of the night reading a book, a book for school no less.

She stopped scanning, turning to him and grabbing the book from his hands. "My hero!" she quipped, giving him another beaming smile. He just shrugged, because he wasn't exactly used to talking to people full stop, girls less so, and he was even more at a loss when she crossed her arms, looking him up and down. "Got a name, hero?"

"Tim. Tim Speedle."

She grinned, holding out her hand. "Nice to meet you Tim Speedle. I'm Jessie Walker." He took her hand, shook it, but otherwise had nothing to say, and she tilted her head. "Fellow freshman?"

He nodded. "Yeah."

"Cool." She took a step back. "Well, I'll see you around." Something occurred to her then, and she made a face. "I'll try not to walk into you next time."

He'd just stood there, looking after her, feeling like an idiot, but he'd tried to put it out of his mind, because it was a big school, a big freshman class, and the odds of meeting her any time soon, much less her remembering him, were remote.

Of course, that being the case, he met up with her sooner than he expected; the very next class in fact. It was the one he'd been most looking forward to, his first chemistry class, and he was sitting in the front row, flipping through the textbook when he was startled by the sound of someone putting their books down on the table beside him with a loud clatter. He wasn't going to look up to see who it was, not until he heard the voice whispering beside him, "Well, if it isn't my hero."

He looked up at that, into the same sparkling blue eyes that he'd looked into at lunchtime. "You're in this class?" he asked, not bothering to keep the surprise out of his voice. Somehow, he hadn't figured her for the science type.

She nodded, straightening her books as if it was the most natural thing in the world. "And I'm so glad you're here," she confided, leaning closer to him. "None of my friends are taking this class, and I was sure I wouldn't know a soul…I hate that."

He was staring at her, wondering what to make of a girl like this, when the teacher came in and started talking, and for once in his life, Tim was so all at sea that he barely paid attention. He even managed to miss the first question that the teacher asked, one that fell into a predictable sea of first day silence. Until, that is, Jessie raised her hand and gave a word-perfect definition of "catalyst" that had the teacher smiling at her, and the rest of the class glancing through their books. Tim shot her an impressed look, and she just winked quickly at him, looking down at her book while the teacher praised her. The incident had loosened his tongue though, and when the next question was asked, the two of them were the only ones in the class to put their hands up straight away.

The period flew by, and when the bell rang, he took his time organising his books. "Where are you next?" she asked him, brightening when she heard who he had for English. "I'm in that class too," she told him. "You read the book?"

Her question was cautiously phrased, a tone Tim recognised as the one you used when your own answer was in the affirmative, and you didn't want the other person to know straight away. He wouldn't normally have done it, but after the last hour, he felt comfortable enough to attempt a joke. "I know you have," he told her, and her cheeks flushed in embarrassment. "I'm halfway through."

"Great," was her frank reply. "Let's go."

English went the same way as Chemistry, and by the end of the first week of school, Tim had something that he'd never had before in his entire life - a real friend.

Despite what she might have led him to believe that first day in Chemistry, she would have been just fine if he hadn't been there; he learned that quickly. Jessie could talk to anyone, had a wide circle of friends, and thanks to her, he ended up doing the normal teenage things that his parents had been pressuring him to do - hanging out with other kids, going to the movies, to football games - simply because she wouldn't permit him not to. Her interests were more varied than his, though she shared his love of all things academic, but she didn't see why they should sit in and study if it was a nice day outside and they could go and shoot hoops or something else. He'd resist, but she'd beg and she'd plead and she'd look at him with those big blue eyes and there was no way he could resist her. His parents were thrilled with his new-found social life, but what they never quite understood was that all the other people, he could take or leave.

Jessie was different.

She was the only one that he could talk to, the only one who understood him. And while she had other friends, lots of them, and some very good girlfriends, he knew that he was the only one who knew her deepest secrets. He knew that she hated it when people used her full name, Jessica making her feel as if she was in a world of trouble, and that she abhorred worse than that the shortening to Jess, from anyone but him that is. From him, it was all right, though she threatened bloody violence on anyone else who used it. It was she who gave him his nickname, Speed, and that was what everyone ended up calling him. Occasionally though, she'd still refer to him as "Hero", reminding him of the way they'd first met.

 They connected, on a way that they could never define as teenagers, just knowing that there was some strange bond between them that drew them together. They were consistently at the head of their classes, trading the position in the ones that they shared, as they competed good-naturedly against one another. On the Science team, they were a fearsome combination, and the other members learned very quickly that they were simply making up the numbers. As long as Tim and Jessie were on the team, they were a shoo-in to win, and they did, State Champions four years in a row.

She was fearless, the one who would do anything, try anything. She was the one who convinced him to buy his first motorcycle, her parents having absolutely refused to let her get one of her own, his parents being far more amenable. While their classmates talked about cars, borrowing their parents' and hoping that no disaster would befall them, Tim had his own set of wheels, and he liked nothing better than to head off into the sunset, Jessie behind him, arms around his waist, holding on tight and urging him to go faster.

When time for the Junior Prom rolled around, he never gave it any thought one way or another, not until he was walking to the cafeteria one day, and was joined by Ruth, one of Jessie's girlfriends, an enthusiastically bouncy girl, who that day was more enthusiastically bouncy than usual. He was about to ask her what she was so excited about, but he didn't get a chance to, Ruth practically bursting to tell him her news; that she'd overheard Eric Plummer, football hero and quote, the best looking guy in their class, asking Jessie to the prom. Tim listened to the news, didn't say anything, but was surprised to find his appetite disappearing. Not that he was upset as such, after all, he wasn't even planning to go to the prom. He'd just assumed that Jessie wouldn't be going either, that they'd hang out together that night.

He didn't eat at their regular table that day, sitting in a corner on his own, and he looked up in surprise when a familiar figure bounced down beside him, bumping her shoulder against his in greeting, grabbing a fry from his plate. "What are you doing over here?" she asked, instantly curious. "Everyone else is over there." She waved in the general direction, but didn't look away from him, and he shrugged.

"I didn't see them," he said simply, and she frowned, looking at him oddly, then she shrugged.

"OK." She accepted his explanation without further ado, opening her drink and taking a sip. "It's probably a good thing," she told him. "I'm trying to avoid Ruth." She looked around furtively, as if she was afraid that Ruth was going to appear behind them, and his curiosity was piqued.

"Why?"

She looked down at the tabletop, cheeks turning slightly rosy. "She kind of overheard Eric Plummer asking me to prom. She got this look on her face like it was Christmas morning and ran off, presumably to spread the news." She didn't look happy about it.

"So, you're going to the prom with Eric?" Tim thought he did a good job of keeping the distaste off his face, and was concentrating so hard on that that her next words were almost lost on him.

"That's the thing," she sighed, running a hand through her hair. "She didn't stick around to hear me tell him that I already had a date. She's probably going around telling everyone that I'm going with him, and when she finds out I'm not, you know she's going to go ballistic on me…" She stopped when she realised that he was looking at her as if she was speaking Greek. "What?"

"You already have a date?" In a day of surprises, Tim wasn't doing so well, and she nodded, as if she couldn't understand why he was asking her that.

"Sure," she said simply. "I'm going with you." His reaction must have been a picture because he knew that his eyes were wide and his jaw was slack, and she put down her drink, her own eyes growing wide. "We are, aren't we? I mean, I just assumed that we would…I mean, we do everything else together, so I guess I just thought that you would want…I mean, if you don't, that's fine-"

"Jess." His voice was firm, his decision made, and he felt a smile creeping across his face. "That sounds like fun."

She considered him for a long moment, then let her breath out in a whoosh, hand going to her chest. "Phew," she said. "You had me going for a minute there."

He shrugged, not looking at her, turning his confusion into an opportunity to tease her. "Well, since you left it so late…" he joked. "I suppose I can help you out…force myself to go with you…"

"Shut up," she laughed, throwing a french fry at him before changing the subject back to how she was going to break the news to Ruth.

Turned out that Ruth wasn't that upset at all; in fact, she'd expressed surprise only that Eric had asked Jessie at all. To her, to all of their friends she said, there had never been any doubt that she'd be going with Tim.

She refused to tell him anything about her dress beforehand, enjoying, he knew, teasing him about it, dropping hints about what it looked like. He'd been to her house hundreds of times before that night, but he still remembers standing on the front porch in his rented tuxedo, corsage in one hand, chocolates for her mother in the other, shaking with nerves; not helped by the talk about the birds and the bees that his father had tried to administer prior to his leaving the house. Blushing furiously, Tim had told him that there was no need for it, that he and Jessie were just good friends, but his father had had none of it, holding the car keys in a vice grip until he was finished.

Tim told himself in the car the entire way over that he'd told his father the truth, that nothing like that was going to happen.

Then he saw Jessie, and all thoughts of "just good friends" - as well as all other thoughts - went right out of his head.

She'd gone for something very simple, a long sleeveless silky thing that flowed from her body, the jade green colour setting off the auburn curls that floated down her back. The only jewellery she wore was a small gold locket, one that Tim had given to her for her sweet sixteen. He'd worked in his father's restaurant to save up for it, and when he was still short, borrowed the rest from his dad, spending months working to pay off the debt. It had all been worth it when Jessie saw it though, because she'd told him that she loved it, and she'd never taken it off since. He'd managed to mumble something about her looking lovely as he gave her the corsage, and her father took pictures of the two of them. He could see that Jessie was close to bursting out laughing on several occasions, but to her credit, she kept it back until they were sitting in the car. Then her laughter pealed out, and he couldn't help but join her. "I have never seen you so nervous," she got out, head thrown back against the seat.

"That's because your family never cared about me that much before," he retorted.

"Just tell me one thing," she wanted to know. "Did you get the whole sex talk as well?"

For years afterwards, he would reflect that it was just as well that he wasn't driving at that stage, because he would surely have crashed the car. No matter how much time he spent with Jessie, there were still times when her forthright nature shocked him. "Yep," was all he said, and she laughed again, shaking her head.

"Why do parents think that, just because we're all dressed up that we're going to turn into some alternate reality versions of ourselves?" He shrugged, but didn't say anything, and she leaned over, tugging at his lapel with a devilish grin. "Though I must say Tim, you do look delectable in that tux…" He batted her hand away, but she tried again. "Oh, I think I'll have to be keeping an eye on you…" she continued, and he dodged her hand once more, turning the key in the ignition.

"Not if we don't get there," he pointed out, and she distracted herself as he drove by trying to find a decent song on the radio. She gave up with a grunt of disgust, mollified only when he reached out, pushing a tape into the player. It was a band that Jessie had discovered months ago, told everyone that they were going to be huge. Tim had been the first one to roll his eyes over her enthusiasm, but by prom night, Nirvana were one of the biggest bands around, and Jessie never let him forget that she'd been right about them.

When they got to the gym, they hardly recognised the place, as well as a few of their classmates, who looked completely different when they were all dressed up. Tim knew that he should be able to remember more about the night, more about who else was there and who did what and who said what, but he couldn't. All he could remember about that night was Jessie. Considering they'd gone as friends, he'd half expected not to see much of her during the night, expected her to spend a lot of her time with other people. Instead, she'd hardly left his side, on occasion dragging him up to dance, even, to his great surprise, during the slow songs. Not that anything happened between them; he was too much her friend to even think about trying anything, and they spent those dances whispering to one another about who was drunkenly dancing with whoever wasn't their date. He could still remember how she felt in his arms, could still smell the perfume she wore that night, some light floral fragrance that always reminded him of her.

He took her home late that night; rather early the next morning, walking her to her door, leaving her with a gentle kiss on the cheek and hug. He could see her still, standing on the front porch looking after him, hair by now a riotous mess of curls, standing up all over the place, a beaming smile on her face.

The summer between their junior and senior years of high school, they'd both spent working, save for the week that they'd spent in Miami, visiting one of Jessie's uncles. Jack had invited her down, hoping that he could convince her to go to the University of Miami to study science there, and to placate him, and her parents, she'd agreed to check the place out. Her uncle had told her that she could take someone with her, and she'd asked Tim, which had once more meant that they each got a talk about the birds and the bees from their parents. They'd laughed in private about it, and they'd gone down to Miami, spent a day on the university campus, spent the rest of the time on the beach, where they'd tried everything; scuba diving, water skiing, paragliding. Once again, he'd learned that there was no limit to Jessie's fearlessness.

The last night, the two of them had cooked dinner together for her uncle, as a thank you for letting them stay, and he'd smiled, told them that they were welcome there anytime. He'd looked at them then, his whole face lit up with amusement and he'd said, "But you're not going to be going to college here, are you?" Jessie and Tim had simply looked at one another and come clean; that Jessie had never had any intention of going to college in Florida. She was planning on heading to Columbia, with Tim.

When they got home, they got straight into planning for their senior year, and for a while, all went according to plan. School was, as usual, easy for them, and they breezed through their classes. They finished four for four in the State Championship with the science team, the only two people in their high school ever to achieve that particular feat. They applied to Columbia, and both were confident of being accepted, Tim to study biology, Jessie chemistry. She decided that she wanted to go to Europe for the summer after graduation, and it didn't take much to talk Tim into going with her, and by this stage, her parents knew better than to object to it. She even told him with a laugh that they'd told her that at least when she was going with Tim, they knew that she'd be safe, because he wouldn't let anything happen to her. He left all the planning up to her, all he knew was that it involved something called inter-railing, whatever the heck that was, but she had books upon books about Europe, and told him about all the places that she was going to bring him to visit.

She had so many plans for the two of them, and they were going to finalise everything once they got back from their senior class trip.

It was a skiing trip, and Jessie was really looking forward to it, telling him that he might as well enjoy some cold weather before they hit Europe in the summer. He'd been non-committal about going, but he went because of Jessie, just like he'd done a lot of things because of Jessie. He surprised himself by having quite a good time, even managing to ski the runs without falling over, while Jessie soared ahead of him.

She always did love speed.

One of the things that was most popular, not just with Jessie, but with all their classmates, were the snowmobiles. Most of them had never seen such a thing before, and Jessie was the first to try one out, wasting no time telling Tim and everyone else that it was just like a motorbike, except it went over snow. Thereafter, everyone was trying them out, having great fun racing one another.

He would relive the last race over and over again for years, in his memories, in his nightmares. See Jessie pulling ahead, the ends of her auburn hair peeking out below her ski cap, bouncing against her black jacket. Hear the cheers of their classmates beside him as they watched the snowmobiles race along the snow. Feel every molecule of air being sucked out of his body in a rush as Jessie's snowmobile upended itself, flying into the air, sending her flying with it; the whole world suddenly going into slow motion.

The first part of her to hit the ground was her forehead.

He didn't remember feeling the snow underneath his feet, just remembered the cold seeping through the layers of clothes he was wearing, but it seemed to move from the inside out rather than the other way around as he knelt beside her on the ground, instinct screaming not to move her even as his mouth refused to work. Her eyes were shut, but she was breathing, which he didn't think would have been possible, not with her body lying the way it was, all bent and broken, and he was only dimly aware of his classmates crowding around them, of someone shouting to get help, of Ruth crouching beside him, gripping his arm tightly, tears rolling down her cheeks.

It seemed to take forever for the paramedics to arrive, though he was told later that the response time had been less than two minutes. It took three of his classmates to get him to move though, and only Ruth, ever present beside him, her arm around him, kept him from slumping to his knees again. He remembers thinking as they moved her so carefully, oh so carefully, on to a stretcher, that he'd never seen her so still, that she shouldn't be so still.

Then she was gone.

Their teachers shepherded them up, brought them back to the lodge, gave them all hot chocolate, but the only thing Tim wanted was to go to the hospital. They refused at first, but he persisted, and one of the science teachers, Mr McGregor, who knew them both, knew that Tim wasn't given to being obstreperous for the sake of it, took pity on him, took him there. They weren't told anything of course, but they were still there when Jessie's parents arrived, and when the doctor told the Walkers to come to his office, they'd told him that anything that he had to say, he could say in front of Tim.

He told them that Jessie had sustained a very serious spinal injury, that she'd broken her fourth cervical vertebra and that she was on a respirator.

That's as far as he got before Mrs Walker broke down into hysterical sobs.

Tim didn't cry though. He was too shocked for that, and he listened to what the doctor had said, absorbed every word. That, while Jessie would be able to breathe on her own, she was a quadriplegic, paralysed from the neck down, that she'd be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

Jessie. His lively, smiling Jessie.

How could this be happening?

Arrangements were swiftly made to bring her back home to New York, to a hospital there, so Tim had to endure the journey back home with the rest of his classmates; the silence only broken by occasional whispers and sobs, a stark counterpoint to the exuberance and high spirits that had marked their outbound journey.

Tim went to the hospital every day, but was never allowed to see her. She was heavily sedated most of the time in the ICU, they told him, but he didn't care about that. He just wanted to see her, that was all. For the first time in his life, school meant nothing to him, and for the first few days after they brought her back to New York, he didn't even think about it, instead spending all his time on the same uncomfortable chair in that sterile hallway outside the ICU, long hours spent sitting beside Jessie's younger brother Dean, the two of them barely able to string a sentence together.

On the fifth day, she was fully conscious, and the doctor, Doctor Williams, and her parents told her what had happened to her, told her what her prognosis was. She had a tracheotomy tube in her throat at that stage, helping her to breathe, so she couldn't talk, and when they told her, she wouldn't even look at them. Her parents were both crying when they came out of the room, her mother incoherent, her father shaking his head. He didn't even know if she'd understood them, she just turned her eyes away from them, eventually closing them, and they didn't know what to say to get through to her.

It was Dean who came up with the solution. "Let Tim go in," he said, and Tim had looked up at him in surprise, Mr Walker shaking his head ruefully.

"Nothing doing Deano," he replied. "Family only, you know that."

Dean chuckled, but there was no amusement in the sound. "Dad, it's Tim," he said, emphasising the name. "If he's not family, who is?"

His father had just stood there and stared at the two of them, sitting side by side, and finally he'd nodded, promising to go to talk to the doctors. Whatever he'd said, it had worked, and in short order, he'd found himself standing at the door, waiting to go in, marshalling his courage.

There were machines all around her, beeping and whirring. It seemed as if her whole body was covered in tubes, her neck immobilised in a collar. Her eyes were closed tight, her jaw set. Hardly breathing himself, he moved closer to the bed, her name crossing his lips in a whisper. "Hey Jess."

Her eyes flickered open at the sound of his voice, and honed in on his face. Slowly, they filled with tears, and Tim hurriedly moved over to the bed, pulling up a chair and sitting down beside her. "Tim," she mouthed, no sound coming out.

He forced a smile to his face. "I'm telling you," he whispered. "It's amazing the lengths some people will go to to get out of class."

It was a weak joke, but her lips quirked up in the tiniest of smiles, one that vanished quickly. "I'm scared," were the next words she mouthed, and that's when his heart shattered into a million pieces.

He tried not to let her see it, but this was Jessie, and he saw it register with her, felt it in the tear that rolled down her cheek. "Me too," he told her honestly, reaching out with one hand to wipe the tear away, the other reaching up to touch her hair, fingering it gently.

She closed her eyes for a moment under his touch, but they opened again as she mouthed one final word. "Stay?" Her eyes were pleading, and he didn't hesitate.

"I'm not going anywhere."

He'd never lied to her in all the time he'd known her, and he wasn't lying then. He continued to spend every day with her, arriving in the hospital in the morning, not leaving until they sedated her at night. That lasted for a week, until she could talk again, and she asked him why he wasn't at school. When he didn't have a good enough reason for her - and although he thought it was good enough, "I'd rather be here with you," didn't fly with her - she sent him back to school with a flea in his ear. So he compromised, going to school, going straight to the hospital afterwards, telling her all the news, catching her up on everything they'd done in their classes, and there were still times when she ended up helping him with the work.

When Prom Night rolled around, once more, she tried to convince him to go, but on this one at least, she came out the loser. He hadn't wanted to go the year before, had only gone because she'd been with him. There was no way he was going to go without her. So when the rest of the senior class were living it up, he was sitting at her bedside, listening to music on a portable radio, both of them trying not to think about where they'd been the previous year, both of them failing miserably.

Graduation Day rolled around next, and for the longest time, Tim wasn't even going to go. He reckoned without Jessie though, and the work that the doctors had done to get her better. Against all odds, and only a couple of months after her accident, she was able to attend the ceremony, was able to be wheeled up on to the stage to get her diploma, to a standing ovation from the audience. Tears rolled down her cheeks as their principal placed the scroll on her lap, and down Tim's cheeks as he watched her; in fact, there were very few dry eyes in the house that day. And when the ceremony was over, when people went off to dinners with their families, and parties with their friends that night, once again, Tim went to the hospital with Jessie.

That summer, when they should have been in Europe, they stayed in Syracuse, Tim working in one of his dad's restaurants, and when the fall rolled around, they finally went their separate ways.

Tim, as planned, went to Columbia.

Jessie went to rehab.

As planned, Tim majored in biology, what changed was his motivation. Before the accident, he had only a vague notion of what he wanted to do with his life. Afterwards, he'd found a purpose. He wanted to help Jessie put her life back together, and to that end, he studied harder than he ever had in his life. Parties, friends, all the college pursuits that others took for granted; he cared about none of them. All he cared about was Jessie. He travelled home every weekend so that he could spend time with her, and he called her most days, the nurse or her mom propping the phone against her ear, allowing her to talk to him, allowing them to still be a part of one another's lives even through the miles.

Two years after the accident, they'd more or less reached a point where they were used to things as they were, used to the phone calls, the distances, and for Tim, the travelling. He'd was doing well at school, was at the top of his class, even if he couldn't go a full day without turning around to tell Jessie something, expecting her to be there by his side. Jessie was living at home, her parents' house converted to suit her needs, and had long since mastered the art of manoeuvring her wheelchair, the motor controlled by a straw that she could blow into; and she'd joked with Tim that she'd race him on his bike any time he felt ready. She'd even started taking some correspondence classes, nothing heavy as she told Tim, "Just something to keep my mind ticking over." He still went home every weekend to see her, spending his nights on a rollout bed beside hers, her parents and his long since having reconciled themselves to that particular arrangement.

One side effect of Jessie's conditions was the amount of time that she had to spend in hospital, either from rehab or from some opportunistic infection that came along and waylaid her. Most serious were the two attacks of pneumonia; both times dangerous in the extreme, Tim spending more days in the corridor outside the ICU, nights sleeping in a chair beside her. He once made the drive from Columbia to Syracuse at one o'clock in the morning after a particularly bad bout of dysreflexia, when her blood pressure had climbed so high that she'd been in real danger of having a stroke. She wouldn't have called him, her mother explained tearfully, except that Jessie had been terrified and asking for him, and once he'd heard that, he would have driven all night if that's what it had meant.

He was reminded of that conversation nearly two years to the day after the accident, when once again her mother called him. She told him that Jessie had to have an operation, and he hadn't been unduly alarmed, after all, it seemed like she'd had hundreds of them. Mrs Walker had seemed worried though, telling him that she was sure everything was going to be fine, but that Jessie seemed to be very depressed lately, very down, probably due to the anniversary, and asked would Tim be able to talk to her about it.

Once Tim saw her that weekend, two days before the operation, he instantly realised that what Mrs Walker had said was true, and he called up his room-mate in college, asking him to explain his absence for the next couple of days, that he had a family situation to deal with. He'd stayed with her again, accompanying her to the hospital, and the night before the operation saw the two of them alone in her room, her lying on her right side, facing him, his chair pulled as close to the bed as humanly possible, head almost touching hers. His left hand was lying across her pillow, stroking her hair, because that was something that always relaxed her, and they were talking quietly about college when she brought up something that surprised him.

"You know," she said lightly, a teasing grin on her face. "You never mention any girls from college."

He chuckled, trying not to let her see how taken aback he was, though he wasn't sure that he quite succeeded. "Hey," he shrugged. "Who has time with all the work?"

She lifted an eyebrow. "Ruth's doing well at school," she told him. "And she's got a new guy every week."

He didn't doubt it; he'd heard enough of Ruth's Berkeley stories straight from the horse's mouth in the days that they'd spent in Jessie's house, the gang of friends and acquaintances that had been around since high school now diluted to three. "That's Ruth," he said simply.

She sighed, clucking her tongue and shaking her head. "Tim, Tim, Tim," she murmured. "You're going to end up old and alone if you're not careful, you know."

She was teasing him, she knew that, but there was something in her eyes at that moment, something that he'd never seen there before, something that he'd never thought he'd see there, but that he'd often dreamed of. And while he knew he might be making the biggest mistake of his life, his heart, for once, over-ruled his head as he spoke. "Oh, I don't know about that…"

He let his voice trail off teasingly, and she grinned, as if she sensed gossip. "Oh?"

"There is one girl…"

Her smile was still there, but it looked the slightest bit false. "Tell me about her."

"Well…" He paused for thought, looking off into the distance, his hand still absently running through her hair. "She's brainy. Not as brainy as me mind you, but she's not bad. Kinda mouthy, more than a little bossy if you want to know the truth. Stubborn as a bag of rocks…tough as old boots…" He looked down at her then, a knowing smile on his face, and he could see doubt and uncertainty in hers. "And she's got the most amazing blue eyes," he whispered, his right hand going up to her cheek, cupping it gently.

Tears filled her eyes as the gesture finally confirmed who it was he was talking about. "Tim…" she whispered, but he shook his head, cutting her off.

"And I've been crazy about her since I danced with her at our junior prom." It was the truth; it had just taken him this long to realise it.

"Tim," she whispered again, but he cut her off again, this time by pressing his lips to hers. He purposely kept the kiss as gentle as he could, not wanting to alarm her, or scare her in any way, but when she responded, he deepened the kiss, tracing his tongue along her upper lip, her mouth opening to him, granting him access. He didn't know how long they stayed like that, just kissing, but when the need for air got too great and they parted, her cheeks were flushed, her eyes dancing. "That was nice," she told him after a long moment of looking at him, and he pretended affront.

"Just nice?" He kissed her forehead, his hands still on her cheek, in her hair. "I can see we have some work to do here…"

He would have kissed her again, but she moved her head. "Tim…" she breathed, a frown creasing her brow, and he pulled back slightly, but he didn't move his hands, just waited for her to speak. "We can't do this…"

He was sure she'd be able to hear his heart breaking, and he was surprised at how steady his voice was when he contradicted her. "Sure we can."

"Tim…" She squeezed her eyes shut, and her throat muscles worked furiously as she swallowed hard. "You deserve so much more than someone like me…"

"Listen to me." His voice left no room for argument, and her eyes flew open in surprise. Tim was pretty surprised himself, because not once in all the years he'd known her had he ever raised his voice to her. "I don't want to hear that shit. You have been my best friend since the first day I met you, and I can't imagine my life without you in it. I can't remember a time I haven't loved you, and if you think that an accident is going to change that, then frankly, they're giving you too many funny pills." Tears crept under his hand, and he wiped them away. "Don't you ever let me hear you talk like that again, you understand?"

Tears continued to fall, but she took a ragged breath, and expelled two words that made everything all right again. "My hero."

Grinning then, he leaned down and kissed her again, and this time, she responded enthusiastically from the outset, and they stayed there like that, talking and kissing in turns, until a nurse came in, eyes darting from one to the other, a knowing smile hovering around her lips as she surveyed them. "Time for someone to take her meds and get some sleep," was all she said, but Tim still flushed red under her gaze.

Jessie was completely unfazed though. "C'mon, so early? Gertie, can't we stay up a little longer?"

Gertie, long familiar with Jessie and Tim, shook her head, though she looked amused. "Miss Walker, by rights I should have kicked this boy out of here two hours ago and left you here all by your lonesome. Did I do that?" Like most of the nurses in the hospital, she'd turned a blind eye to him being there; and those who didn't were soon over-ruled by other, longer-serving nurses.

"No…" Jessie was forced to admit ruefully, and Tim stifled a grin.

"Well then, don't make my life harder than it is. You've got a big day tomorrow, you need your rest."

"Gertie's right," Tim told her, flashing the nurse his best smile. "I'll be here tomorrow when you wake up." Strictly speaking, that wouldn't be allowed either, but Gertie didn't contradict him.

"Will you stay till the meds kick in?" Jessie whispered, eyes wide, and Tim just nodded.

"Where else would I be?" He moved as little as possible, still cradling her face in his hands, because he knew that she being touched, liked the human contact, and Gertie worked around him, bidding them both goodnight when she was done. Tim didn't watch her go, watched Jessie instead, saw the drug-induced oblivion begin to take her over, and as her eyes fluttered shut, he leaned forward and kissed her forehead tenderly. "I love you," he whispered, and her lips turned up in a smile.

"I love you too."

He stayed there for a long time after she fell asleep, etching every feature into his memory, every feeling that was coursing through him, knowing that this was something that he always wanted to remember. And true to his word, he was there the next morning when she woke up, even before her parents and her brother, only leaving the room when she was being prepared for surgery. They were allowed into the room just before she went down, and Tim was the last to go up to her bed, and he cupped her head in his hands, just as he had the previous night, kissing her lips gently, telling her that he loved her. She gave him a brilliant smile, sleep evidently having erased the night's worries, and told him that she loved him too.

Tim walked beside the bed as they wheeled her out of the room, kept pace with her as far as he could, and he continued watching her progress through the small glass windows in the door. When she finally vanished from his sight, he turned, and found himself looking into the questioning face of Jessie's brother.

"What?" he asked, because he could see that further down the hall, Jessie's parents were looking at the two of them, their faces torn between worry and outright mirth.

Dean gestured with his chin in the direction that Jessie had gone. "How long has that been going on?"

Tim's head dropped, and he jammed his hands into his pockets, shrugging his shoulders, momentarily nervous as to how these people were going to react to a change in his and Jessie's relationship. "Since last night," he admitted, only looking up when he heard Dean laughing.

"It's about damn time," were the only words he said before he turned, walking back in the direction that they'd come. He stopped and turned when he realised that Tim wasn't following him. "Coming?"

Bemused, Tim just about managed to make his legs work, and while they waited for news on Jessie, Dean clued him in on the fact that his parents, Tim parents, and basically anyone who'd ever spent any time around him and Jessie in the last couple of years had known that it was only a matter of time before they realised what was going on, and that far from being upset about it, everyone was supportive.

Tim hadn't realised how much he'd needed to hear that until the words were out there, settled in his head, in his heart. He couldn't wait to tell Jessie.

Two years experience had taught Tim that hospitals ran on their own time, that one hour anywhere else seemed like at least three there. So when the operation seemed to drag on interminably, he wasn't worried. But then as the hour when they were supposed to be finished came and went, and there was still no word, a coil of apprehension began to slowly unfurl itself in his stomach. He tried to will it away, but when Dean, the most laid back person he'd ever met began pacing, he found himself biting his fingernails nervously, glancing at the clock every few seconds, willing it to move faster.

Apprehension became full-blown panic when Doctor Williams, still clad in surgical scrubs, came towards them, taking Jessie's parents into one of the side rooms to talk to them. Dean and Tim were left looking at one another, the same fear in both their hearts, and it was Dean who gave voice to it. His face was white as he whispered, "That can't be good."

Tim couldn't make his voice work, and before he could, a scream shattered the silence of the hospital.

Tim would have known Mrs Walker's voice anywhere, and his heart stopped, cold flooding his body, rendering him immobile. Not so Dean, who leaped out of his seat, rushing to the room where his parents were, privacy be damned. Soon, the sound of three sobbing voices echoed down the silent halls, and Doctor Williams emerged, eyes rimmed in red, and he walked towards Tim, dropping a hand onto his shoulder, offering wordless comfort before he continued on his way. Tim watched him go, not able to comprehend, not wanting to comprehend what his brain told him to be true, and he didn't know how long he sat there before he sensed someone sit down beside him. He turned his head slowly, hoping it was someone who would tell him it was all a dream.

Instead he saw Gertie, her kindly face wet with tears. "I'm so sorry," she whispered, and in that instant, Tim knew that it was true.

And he wept.

He was dimly aware of her taking him in her arms, rocking him back and forth, but he didn't return the embrace, just sat there. Then his parents were there, both of them, his father's face more sombre and drawn than he'd ever seen it, his mother crying, and they took him home, tried to make him eat, tried to make him sleep, but he could do neither.

The next few days were a blur, as people he hadn't seen in months, years, came to him to offer their condolences. Ruth came home from California and ended up practically living in their spare room until the funeral. They talked about Jessie, and she'd told him how Jessie had wanted to tell him that she had feelings for him for a long time, but she'd been afraid that he didn't feel the same. "I told her that she was crazy," she sobbed. "We all knew Tim…since high school. We could all see it."

The funeral itself was a blur, though there were certain things in sharp relief. Seeing her lying there like that, so beautiful, just as she had that night before she'd died as he sat beside her and watched her sleep. Auburn curls made a halo around her face, accentuated, as they had been at the Junior Prom so long ago, by a green dress, and again as then, around her neck was the locket that Tim had given her.

He kept expecting her to wake up.

He remembers being in the front pew with her parents and Dean; remembers her mother insisting on it. "You're family," she told him firmly through her tears.

He remembers Jessie's uncle Jack from Miami giving the eulogy, telling anecdotes about Jessie as a child, then as a young woman, ending up with the story of the last time she'd visited him, "When she brought a young man with her who can only be described as the other half of her soul." 

He remembers the graveyard, the bright blue sky and the shiny mahogany casket, the green of the trees and the red of the rose in his hand.

He remembers the car radio breaking into his thoughts on the way back to Jessie's house, when the DJ told them that Kurt Cobain had died that day; when he remembered another day, another car, listening to Nirvana with Jessie as they drove to the Junior Prom and danced the night away.

He remembers waking up the next morning and for one blessed moment thinking that it had all been a bad dream, that he could just hop on his bike and go to Jessie's house, and find her there, waiting for him.

He went back to Columbia a couple of days later. His parents had wanted him to take some time off, to give himself a chance to grieve, but he'd refused point blank. He couldn't be there, seeing every day all the places where he and Jessie used to go, couldn't live in a world defined by her absence.

So he went back to school, only to find that his purpose there was gone. For two years, he'd studied in detail the biology of paralysis, his only goal to help Jessie in some small way.

Now there was no Jessie to help.

He lasted less than two weeks there, then he called his parents to tell them that he was dropping out of school. His mother cried, and his father tried to convince him not to throw away his life, even told him that Jessie wouldn't want that for him, but he hadn't listened. The next day, he'd signed the appropriate papers in the college and shipped home everything that he wanted to keep. The last thing did on campus was mail a letter to his parents, apologising for doing this to them, telling them that he needed some space, needed to get away for a while. He told them he loved them, but that he needed to do this, and that he'd get in touch when he'd sorted himself out.

Then he got on his bike and drove away.

For a full year, he drifted, doing odd jobs here and there, never staying anywhere long, never putting down roots, and never really succeeding in outrunning his ghosts either. He might not have been in Syracuse, might not have been at Columbia anymore, the sights and people around him might have been completely different. But Jessie was always there, always with him, no matter what he did. There were so many times that he wanted to tell her something, wanted to pick up the phone and call her, just wanted to see her face, hear her voice one more time, but he knew he never could.

Worse than those times though were the nights, when he would dream of her. Bad enough were the dreams where he would relive times past, like their holiday in Miami, the night of the Junior Prom, or even simpler than that, times when the two of them were just sitting quietly, talking. Worse were the times when he would dream of what might have been, the life that he and Jessie might have had together, their wedding, their kids. The funny thing was that in his dreams, Jessie was never in her wheelchair. She was always better, dancing with him, walking down the aisle towards him, walking arm in arm down the street with him, riding on his motorbike with him, her arms wrapped around his waist.

He didn't know why, but one day, he found himself in Miami, and, on a whim, immersed himself in his memories, going to all the places they'd once gone together. That night, he went to a familiar house, knocked on the door, and in the few seconds that he was waiting for the answer, he wondered if he was doing the right thing. Then the door opened, and it was too late to move, as Jessie's uncle stood in front of him, his jaw going slack as he realised who was standing in front of him.

"Hi Jack," was all Tim could say, and his speaking galvanised Jack into action, and he grabbed him by the arm, propelling him into the house, telling him how great it was to see him. He'd brought him into the kitchen, whipped up an omelette, never once asking Tim where he'd been or what he'd been doing, allowing Tim to open up in his own time. He'd insisted that he stay with him that night, and the next morning, he'd woken Tim up as he was going to work, telling him where everything was, throwing a spare key on to the bedside locker. The last thing he'd said was that he was welcome to use the phone if he wanted to.

Tim knew a hint when he heard one; that particular brand of unsubtlety ran in Jack's family. He took his time getting up and dressed, made sure that he had a good breakfast before he picked up the phone and called his parents.

"Mom? It's me."

The first thing his mother did was burst into tears, which of course, got his father on the other line, and the two of them peppered him with questions, which he did his best to answer.

"I'm fine."

"I'm in Miami."

"I'm at Jack's house. Jessie's uncle?"

"No Dad…I don't know what I want to do with my life."

He knew only two things; that he didn't want to go back to Syracuse, and that he didn't want to just drift aimlessly any more. What he didn't know was what he'd do instead, but when he showed no signs of leaving Miami, Jack made him an offer. They were short of manpower in the lab, he said; they could always do with another lab tech, and even with only two years of college, Tim had more than enough experience to at least get started. It paid well enough, and science was something that had long interested Tim, so he found himself following Jack to work, being put to work in the lab, surprising himself by enjoying it.

To start with, he didn't have any real appreciation for what he was doing; it was just one long science experiment. Then he became interested in what happened to the samples that he worked on, wondered why he was doing what he was doing. Jack explained some of it, and once more he found himself haunting the library, reading voraciously, and questioning the CSIs about what was going on with a case. But it took asking Megan Donner a question one day, getting a long and detailed response, which grew into a long and detailed conversation, to really ignite his interest in becoming a CSI himself.

After a few months, on Megan's advice, he went back to Columbia, and in a year, he'd finished his degree. He kept in touch with both Megan and Jack, let them know how he was getting on, and they both told him that an internship was ready and waiting for him at the Miami-Dade Crime Lab when he graduated. He could have worked with either Jack or Megan; both offered, but he elected Megan, for the pure and simple reason that she didn't know about Jessie, and that suited him just fine.

Six months later, he was a full-time CSI, and that's where he'd been ever since. He'd moved out of Jack's house after a couple of months working there, got a place to himself, got on with his life. He loved his work, even if there were cases that hit him harder than others; the worst being when Megan's husband was killed. He hadn't known Sean all that well, though he'd certainly met him numerous times. What he did know was how much he'd meant to Megan, how devastated she was by his death. He'd visited her at her home a couple of days after the funeral, and he'd seen the look in her eyes, remembered it well. But what struck him was when she was talking about their life together, how she didn't even know how to describe what he'd meant to her. Without even being aware of the thought being formed, Tim murmured softly, "The other part of your soul."

Megan had looked at him sharply, her eyes narrowing in suspicion, because she'd never asked about his life before he came to Miami, had never asked how he knew Jack. She knew there was a story there to be sure, but she was circumspect enough to respect his space. As soon as he noticed the suspicion though, it disappeared, to be replaced by a soft smile, and a thin sheen of tears. "Yeah…" she whispered. "That's it exactly."

When he heard that she was taking a leave of absence, he wasn't really surprised. After all, who knew better than him what it was like to need some space? He was surprised when she came back so quickly though; six months didn't seem like enough time when you'd lost what she'd lost, the way that she'd lost it. Nor could he believe that she was coming back to the same house, to the same job, to the same life she'd had before Sean's death. Those had been the very factors that had made him relocate to Miami. He'd resolved to keep a close eye on her, and he hadn't missed the air of fragility that hung like a shroud around her shoulders; the Megan who stepped out of that SUV to investigate a plane crash wasn't the same no-nonsense woman who'd mentored him for years.

Still, he'd thought she was getting better.

Which is why Sevilla's announcement had come as such a shock to him.

Sighing, he pulled the bike over to the side of road, looking around him, trying to figure out where he'd ended up. To his right, there was a beach, and in the gathering darkness, he could just about make out some shadowy figures on the shore, could only hear the murmuring voices of people talking quietly to one another. The boardwalk was a little more crowded, couples walking arm in arm, some intent on a particular destination, others ambling slowly, content in one another's company.

A few years ago, he and Jessie had been like that.

Taking one last look at his past, he shook his head slowly, restarting the bike and heading for home, trying to ignore the ghostly sensation of another person at his back, her arms tight around his waist, face pressed against his shoulder blade.

When he got home, he grabbed a beer from the fridge, then moved into the living room, intending to throw his feet up on the table and channel surf until he fell asleep. To his surprise, the light on his answering machine was flashing, telling him that he had one message. Frowning curiously, he pressed the button, an unexpected voice filling the room.

"Tim, it's me." A southern twang on the line, but nothing in the background; so she wasn't in the bar anymore. A glance at his watch told him that it was late; she must be at home. "Nothing to worry about…you just left the bar in a hurry, and I was wondering if you were all right. I'm at home, if you should need to talk… if not, I guess I'll see you tomorrow. Night."

Calleigh. Tim felt his lips quirk up in an involuntary smile at the thought of the blonde CSI. While Megan had always been his mentor, his friend, his feelings about Calleigh were slightly more complex. She was smart as a whip, stubborn, and she didn't let him get away with anything. Outgoing and vivacious, she was a natural flirt, someone he found it easy to talk to. He also knew that she would do anything for her friends, and there were times when he thought that he wouldn't mind getting to know her a little bit better.

There were also times that he realised that a lot of the things that he found attractive in her were things that reminded him of Jessie. Not that they were anything alike; characteristics, yes, but there was a hard shell around Calleigh that had never been there with Jessie. He had a feeling that Calleigh had her own backstory, her own set of secrets that she was keeping, and the notion of solving that puzzle was both appealing and terrifying to him.

Then of course, there was the plain old fact that he had a feeling that, if he let himself, he could really end up caring about Calleigh. And he knew that a girl like her was never going to go for a guy like him. For now and then maybe, but long term? Never. And what Tim knew, what he knew beyond all doubt was that he couldn't live through losing someone he cared about as much as he'd cared about Jessie, as much as he could care about Calleigh, again. He wasn't strong enough to go through that a second time.

But she'd called him, a little voice reminded him. She sounded worried about him.

The reasons for not returning the call ran through his head. It was late. She was probably asleep by now. She was just being polite. She didn't really want to talk to him. Besides which, he'd handled everything on his own just fine up to now; why would he all of a sudden need to talk to Calleigh about it.

But Megan had handled everything on her own as well; not talking to anyone about Sean's death.

And a voice that he hadn't heard in years chuckled softly in his ear. "Tim, Tim, Tim," it murmured. "You're going to end up old and alone if you're not careful, you know."

His decision made, he reached out and punched in a number he knew by heart, taking a gulp of beer as he moved to the couch, counting the rings until she picked up. He was sitting down, legs up on the table when she finally did, her voice sleepy but alert. "Hello?"

He took a deep breath. "Calleigh? It's me."