by Camilla Sandman
Author's Note: For laiwethel, as asked for.
The roar seems to be everywhere, around her, within her, as her. There is a buzzing in her ears, seeming to grow with each breath she takes. Shock, an analytical part of her mind has established, listing the symptoms with an almost singing voice. She wants to hush it all, shut everything up, the wind, the earth, the fire still burning, the time still seeping forward and the life still beating.
They're dead and she's not.
She looks at her bloodied hands and sits still as the world roars around her and the ambulance pulls up with screeching breaks.
Nothing's going to be fine ever again.
By the time she's given her statement to five different people, been looked over by two paramedics and felt Grissom's awkward stare on her for what seems an hour, she feels as if there is only sound and exhaustion in her, everything else washed away.
Two children. One bomb. One CSI surviving.
Catherine Willows should not be alive.
Yet she is, not much hurt at all, the light burns feeling like mockery of injuries.
She's seen a child die before her eyes, seen a child kill and she can still smell the blood. It shouldn't haunt her. She's used to blood and death and killers. But this is different, must be different or she's already dead.
"Kids tinkering with bombs," she distantly hears Nick say, sounding dismayed. "Cath, would you…"
She doesn't hear the rest, something like a scream within her drowning it out. Or perhaps it's the car pulling violently over, the engine protesting its treatment. She doesn't need to look up to know who it is.
She listens to the door open and slam close, the steps across the asphalt, the one, slow exhale of relief as he sees she is not seriously injured.
"I'm driving you home," Warrick says a moment later, his hand warm on her shoulder. Another day and she might be annoyed at him for acting territorial. Another day and she would still have strength.
Instead, she stands up and follows him, each step like agony, but the pain seems to come from within her bones. Perhaps it's her body protesting that she's alive when she should be still and dead and ash.
He's silent as he drives, and she leans against the window, the glass cool. Air is humming in her ears as the car cuts through it, almost like a boat through water. The sun feels strangely cold after the flash of the fire, or perhaps she's become winter and permafrost.
The glass offers a faint reflection and she looks at herself. There is no grey in her hair, no visible sign of death but the lines on her face marking age. Yet she feels a thousand, flesh rotted and bones crumbled. No strength left. Too much seen, too much heard.
Dying eyes of bleeding boy. A child's scream when fire claims her.
For a moment, it had seemed Lindsey's scream, is still Lindsey's scream in the roar of her mind.
She closes her eyes to her reflection but even as she sleeps, there is noise.
Grissom tells her to see a shrink, Ecklie tells her to take time off, and her mother tells she's taking Lindsey on a holiday, leaving Catherine alone 'to sort things out in peace'. The house is silent, but life is not and she lies awake listening to the day. Her phone rings every now and then, cars pass her window, the wind rattle her shutters and the filtered sunlight seem to hum. She moves her arm and her skin stretches and the pulse in her wrist is never silent.
She wonders if this is post-traumatic stress disorder, or if the blast has in one explosion burned her out. She's always known the job carried that risk, but she rebels against the thought. She's been a CSI so long she's not sure what else she is. Lindsey's mother, but Lindsey's growing up. Sam's daughter, but that is only blood and blood reeks.
She takes her fifth shower that day until there is no more hot water and her skin feels torn and sore. She can wash away the smells, but not the memories. Memories are the spine of who she is, but she almost wishes she could tear them all down, learn to walk again, re-grow the bones.
She is looking back, because forward ended with a bomb and two dead kids. Jim, a ten-year-old bomb maker and Susan, an eight-year-old little bully who had stolen his bike. And Catherine Willows, at the wrong place at almost the right time, looking into the theft of dynamite and being just a moment too late to take it from him. Too late to stop it, but not too late to see.
If she had only driven a little bit faster.
If she had only gotten up a little bit earlier in the morning.
If she had only not taken a coffee break.
If she had only been someone else.
Her whole life seems an endless path of 'if only' and she wanders it, feet bleeding against the shards of regret.
It is dark when the doorbells rings, sounding almost unfamiliar, as if she hears differently. She opens it without really thinking, almost an automatic response she's trained to. It's Warrick dressed casually, but his expression is anything but casual.
"Hey," he says and she leans against him, clutching his t-shirt with one hand. "I would've come sooner, but I thought you wanted some space."
"I'm drowning in space," she replies, stepping away slightly, feeling the draft from outside chill her as she stands there in only a t-shirt and shorts. "Coffee?"
"I brought whiskey. Been saving it for a special occasion."
She laughs without humour. "I guess this is it."
It has always been an almost unspoken agreement between them that sooner or later, they would sleep together. It's been sealed by looks, touches and personal space violations, a pact between her body and his.
She's decided to collect.
She kisses him after the third drink, tasting whiskey as he parts his lips to her. She fumbles with his shirt, feeling the carpet rub against her knees as she straddles him. He doesn't ask her to stop, and his hands are warm, silently caressing and exploring her.
"Warrick," she whispers, lacing her fingers in his hair and feeling only skin.
When she awakes to hangover and sunlight, he is still there. She isn't surprised, but feels strangely relieved. What that means, she refuses to consider. Not yet.
"I wouldn't have blamed you if you left," she says quietly, but he only shakes his head. "I used you."
"You needed; I gave."
"Simple as that?"
"Sometimes, it's simple," he says. "We'll do the complications tomorrow."
He drives her to the police department psychologist in the morning sun, and she feels the rays burrow into her skin, the light only slightly cold from the long journey through the hushed emptiness of space. She closes her eyes and travels with it into the void between planets and lives, feeling and being nothing.
"I'll wait for you," Warrick says as he parks and she opens her eyes to his gaze. "However long you'll be."
It is going to be all right, she knows after a week. The noise is going to quiet, her mind will ease the punishment of herself and the scars will fade. The will to survive heals much, though not all. She will remember.
She sits on the patio with Warrick, listening to the crickets speak to each other in the language only they know. Sometimes, only the same species can understand each other, and Warrick is of her kind.
"You haven't asked what happened," she says, watching her fingers follow the veins on his hand.
"No, I haven't."
"Hush," he says simply. "I've read the reports. You don't have to tell me."
She knows she doesn't, and he wouldn't hold it against her if she didn't. It wouldn't be a problem between them, but somehow, she still wants to share it.
"I'll tell you anyway," she says, "but not tonight."
He nods; and then he kisses her in the still, still dark of the night and for a moment, she feels the stillness within her too. Not a void, not emptiness, but a hush under the light of the stars.
'They've come a long way,' she thinks, 'but they're still light.'