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Author's Note: Written for Suz for the Odyssey 5 ficathon. It's not exactly Kurt/Sarah so much as Kurt & Sarah, but I hope you like it!
Might Have Beens
by Tara LJC O'Shea
my most significant contribution to this planet
could very well be my decision
Sarah was there with him, the last day Kurt saw Zach Ambrose alive.
Senator Perry had, for reasons none of them had yet discerned but feared nonetheless, posted Kurt's bail. It had been weeks since Angela's disappearance, but the trail had gone cold. With no proof of corpus delicti the District Attorney had bowed to the considerable pressure the senator had exerted where Kurt's bail was concerned, and Kurt had only spent two nights in what Neil charmingly referred to as "stir."
Detective Marsden was obviously furious, despite the fact that, senator or no, the Felony Murder charges still stood. She'd been there at the sergeant's desk as he'd collected his things, arms crossed and glaring. He had not seen her since, and in truth, had no desire to, though he suspected he was still under surveillance. For that reason, the remaining four of them had forgone meeting at the Canary Diner, as had become their habit over the previous six months.
He'd kept in constant contact with Neil via email, but in the short term, there was little for him to do other than return to his vigil at Zach's bedside, while the Taggarts continued to investigate Angela's disappearance.
Sarah's absence, Kurt discovered, was for a very different reason. He was in the hospital cafeteria, ordering a truly appallingly awful cup of coffee while he waited for Claire to finish her shift and join him, when he realised the woman two places in line ahead of him was Sarah.
She was startled to see him, and he realised Angela must not have told her about his guilt-ridden vigil. He'd just assumed that they all knew, and he suddenly felt foolish for making any assumptions.
She was thinner even than usual, and the make-up she wore did little to hide the dark circles beneath her eyes, made even more frightening by the hollows of her cheeks stripped bare by worry and grief. Her co-anchor Kayli, she'd informed him, was taking over for her. Caught between her ex-husband Paul and her future-husband Troy, she seemed brittle and worn. As if any sudden movement would shatter her.
As they sat in the moulded plastic chairs in a corner of the cafeteria, Sarah told him about Corey, who was now in the paediatrics wing awaiting surgery. Without thinking, he reached out and taken her hand, wrapping her slim fingers in his.
"We caught it earlier, this time. We caught it over a month earlier. Maybe... I just keep thinking that maybe this time it'll be different..." She trailed off, staring at the Formica tabletop with dead dark eyes. "They think the medicine—the medicine I gave him? The—"
"—Gleevec," Kurt supplied automatically.
"Right. The reason Paul divorced me," she added beneath her breath. "Dr Kane thinks maybe it actually gave him more of a chance. It was only approved to treat GIST in February, and Corey's so young and the side-effects are so severe, but the studies thus far... it's helping 50 of GIST patients, so... So anyway, there's more of a chance."
"It's not enough."
She removed her hand from his and brought her coffee cup to her lips, grimacing at the taste, and swallowed anyway. He followed suite, glad of the wretched stuff, just to have something to do with his hands.
The silence stretched between them until it was like a third visitor at their table. Kurt opened his mouth to try and say anything that might dispel it, but Sarah beat him to it.
"I can't—I can't do this again," she said softly, still staring at the tabletop rather than meeting his eyes. "I can't watch my baby go through this again."
Tears welled up in her dark eyes, and he was reminded suddenly of the shuttle.
She had never cried in the shuttle. Her voice and her eyes had been wistful, as she'd shown him the photo. It had been creased and mangled from five years travelling from pocket to purse to pocket until it had remained all she had left of the child she'd once adored, miles above the cloud of dust that had been their world. But she hadn't cried, not even as the air had grown thin and they'd all felt light-headed, prone to laughter and tears.
He wondered if that photo, crisp and new, was in her pocket now. Or a photo like it.
Her shoulders hunched and her breath caught, and he didn't remember moving. Was suddenly just there, awkwardly reaching to pull her against him. She followed, unresisting, as the sobs came harder and faster now. He stroked her hair, whispering empty comforting sounds as she soaked the shoulder of his shirt with her tears.
He rocked her until the sobs subsided, and she awkwardly pulled away from him, rummaging in her purse.
Kurt pulled a linen handkerchief from the pocket of his jeans, and handed it to her.
"A gentleman's never without one," he said, and she chuckled. "Oh, I know. The irony."
"I just—I keep trying to tell myself that no matter what happens, at least... at least I've had another six months with my baby... But that just feels like bullshit right now, you know? It's not enough. It'll never be enough."
She blew her nose noisily, and then made an apologetic face as she handed the handkerchief back to him.
"Keep it," he said with a dismissive wave. "Sarah, I know someone at the Cancer Genetics branch of the National Human Genome Research Institute. I know it's a long shot—"
"Thanks. I really appreciate it."
"What are friends for?"
He moved back over to his chair, but the closeness he felt to her was somehow undiminished. When he'd broken down after Angela's disappearance, Sarah had been the one to listen to him rail at God, the Sentients, and himself. She had been the one to stay with him until Marsden had called him to the station to take his statement formally.
"I wish I'd known you, you know, the first time," she said and it was his turn to chuckle self-deprecatingly.
"No you don't, darling. This time five years ago, I was caught up in a very messy divorce, and drowning my sorrows in as much whiskey as the human body can consume without suffering renal failure."
At her confused look, he clarified. "Angela."
They grew silent again. Kirk took another swallow of the dreadful coffee, making a face at the cup.
"Christ, I'd trade that week with this one any time. At least then, she was just refusing to return my calls or see me."
"Have you heard anything?"
He shook his head. "According to Chuck, Leyton Scott's gone to ground, and there's no sign of the Sentients from Mars. Not even a peep on Chandra's little tracker. It's like the Earth opened up and swallowed her."
She reached across the table and wrapped her fingers around his. "We'll get her back."
She sounded so sure, and so hopeful. It made him feel worse, so he said nothing.
Claire was sitting in the chair at Zach's bedside when Kurt entered the hospital room. Her posture reminded him strongly of Sarah's.
"I brought another CD," Kirk said as he stepped inside, fumbling with the plastic shopping bag from Tower Records. "It's not the Beaudreaux Sisters, but the clerk assured me—Claire?"
He'd expected a smile, but her face was grim as she stood from the chair, stepping between him and Zach's prone form.
"What is it? Is it Zach? Have the doctors said anything—"
"You're not from Zach's school," she said softly, her eyes like chips of ice in her pale and drawn face.
Kurt felt the world fall away with a rush, and he wondered if the coffee he'd just drank with Sarah would stay down in the sudden rush of vertigo.
"Claire—" he reached for her, and she shied away from his touch.
"A police detective came to my home. She said—she said you were at the docks. She said—"
Marsden. Damn the woman. "Claire, please. Let me explain—"
"Why are you here?" she asked, her voice suddenly shrill, and Kurt took an involuntary step back. "Did you get some kind of sick thrill? Watching my son fade away?"
"No! That's not—"
"Get away from me! Get away from my family! Just get out."
"Claire—" he tried again.
"Get the fuck out!" she screamed, and Kurt backed away, almost tripping as he stumbled out of the room. He dropped the CD, and heard the plastic case crunch beneath his heel as he back-pedalled.
Sarah stood in the hallway, mouth open in a silent "O" of shock.
Without a word, she followed Kurt as he practically ran out of the hospital. Ran all the way to his car, where he leaned against the door, breath coming in gasps.
She laid a hand on his shoulder, but he shook it off.
"God. What the fuck is the matter with me?"
He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, feeling the tightness in his chest which signalled the unwanted tears. Sarah's hands hovered over his shoulders, before she pulled him into an embrace.
Leaning heavily against the car, he buried his face in her shoulder, shaking as she stroked his hair and his back.
This time, she was the one murmuring empty words of comfort.
Kurt set two whiskeys and the bottle down on the coffee table before he dropped onto the couch beside Sarah.
"I suppose it was only a matter of time before the charade blew up in my face."
"Kurt, you were just trying to help."
"Help. Yes. Help the family I destroyed through my idiocy."
Sarah shook her head. "You couldn't have known what was going to happen."
"Ah, but that's the thing, isn't it? My scientific curiosity. In trying to satisfy it, creating life just to see what would happen—I destroyed lives. That stevedore. Zach. Claire. Fuck, it almost got you."
"But it didn't," Sarah said, no doubt trying to alleviate some of his misery.
"But it almost did," he reminded her, flashing on the memory of Sarah's wide eyes as the thing had had grown in a tank by the docks had fed off her as he'd rushed into his loft. He'd tackled his monstrous child to the ground, sure he'd been too late. Sure in that split second that she'd end up lying in a hospital bed just like Zach Ambrose. That she hadn't was sheer dumb luck and timing. He could claim credit for neither, and felt responsible nonetheless.
"You can't beat yourself up about this." She touched his shoulder, as if to reassure him that she was indeed still here.
"Why? Do the Catholics have the corner on guilt?" he barked, pulling away from her touch.
Sarah's face clouded, as it always did when he made a disparaging comment about her faith. He felt an immediate pang of regret.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's just, this whole thing with Angela, on top of Zach..." He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes as if he could erase the memories. "Fuck, I'm just falling apart."
She pulled his much-abused handkerchief from her pocket, smoothing it before she offered it to him. "We're all allowed to fall apart, once in a while."
He pocketed the square of linen, and leaned back, resting his head on the back of the couch.
"How do you do it? How to you keep it together?"
"I don't. I'm not." She shook her head. "I'm just sleepwalking, from one day to the next."
She sipped her whiskey, and stared across the loft as if she was seeing through the walls out into the world beyond.
"Troy asked me to marry him."
Kurt digested this information.
"In the original time line...?" He wasn't sure how to phrase the question, exactly. Angela was usually Sarah's confidant where her love life was concerned. He didn't feel confident or qualified to take over in that regard, but he couldn't stop from asking.
"In the original time line, we didn't even start dating for another year."
"But you said yes?"
"I said yes, but that was before... We haven't really talked about it since Corey..." She trailed off, lapsing back into silence.
He set his glass down on the coffee table and leaned forward, taking her hand in his. "You deserve to be happy, Sarah."
She shrugged. "Paul needs me."
"No thanks." She carefully slipped her hand from his, and reached again for the glass, this time swallowing a bit more than she had before.
"You know what I mean. Christ, he's put you through hell the last six months—"
"And now he's in hell," she said simply.
Kurt opened his mouth and then closed it again on whatever he might have said. Sarah's marriage was going to fall apart no matter what, the universe had apparently decided. But in neither timeline, no matter what hell he put her through, did a man deserve to lose his child.
"I had a son," he said quietly. "His name was Anthony, and he had his mother's eyes."
"I never knew..." she said softly, obviously confused.
"No. Oddly enough, neither did I. A little gift from our friend the Traveller."
It occurred to him that this was hardly his secret alone to share. But considering the circumstances, Angela may never be able to give her consent. So he decided fuck it, and continued, because he had no one else to tell, and he suddenly felt the need to tell her.
"It seems, the first time around, while I was drowning my sorrows in grain alcohol, Angela was steadfastly avoiding me for a very different reason."
Sarah blinked, and he saw her make the connection and swallow her reaction so quickly it only flickered across her face and any other time, he would have missed so subtle a change.
"I had him for all of fifteen minutes, and then I lost him. Lost him twice, as it turns out. He was a Might Have Been, you see." He lifted his glass, as if in a silent toast. "Like anything good I might ever have contributed to this world, he exists only in theory, rather than in practice."
"That's not—Kurt, you've changed," she said, almost in wonder, rather than a token reassurance.
"How do you mean?" he murmured, knocking back what remained of his very good, meant-to-be-sipped single-malt.
"Just that, when this all started... I couldn't picture you as a father. Not in a million years."
"I'd be a terrible father."
"No, you wouldn't," she insisted. "I saw you with Stevie, remember?"
"Darling, a child on loan is hardly the same thing as a permanent fixture in one's life."
"Permanent..." she echoed, and he closed his eyes at the hollowness in her voice, and cursed his glibness.
"I'm so sorry. That was thoughtless."
"No, it's okay," she insisted, taking a deep if shaky breath. "No matter what happens, Corey will always be a permanent part of my life."
Might Have Beens, Kurt thought as he refilled their glasses.
Corey might die in a month. He might live, only to be swallowed by chaos when the world imploded. Or he might grow up strong and healthy, grow into the kind of man Sarah was raising him to be.
Zach Ambrose might sleep through the end of the world, unaware and untouched. Or he might wake up tomorrow, having missed half a semester, and scaring his mother senseless.
Kurt could open his door tomorrow, and Angela might be there, waiting for him. Or Detective Marsden could be there, to tell him they'd found a body.
Closing his eyes, Kurt leaned his head against Sarah's shoulder.
Sarah was there with him, the last day Kurt saw Zach Ambrose.
Kurt waited until all of the mourners had departed, before he approached the grave, which was already being filled in by two conscientious cemetery workers. They paused awkwardly in their labours as the gentleman in the dark suit and sunglasses approached, waiting to see what he would do. When it became apparent all he was going to do was watch, they resumed their work in silence.
She slipped her hand in his, and he didn't think to ask how she had known where he would be. Didn't need to look to see the concern shining in her dark eyes.
Her fingers were warm and dry, their pressure reassuring.
He remembered holding her hand in the shuttle, as they breathed what they thought was their last breath. He blinked rapidly, eyes stinging behind the polarised lenses as shovel after shovel of dirt landed on the polished wood with muffled thuds.
She didn't offer empty words of comfort. Instead, she pulled out a photo from her pocket, smoothing it before she handed it to him.
He glanced down at the smiling boy in the school portrait photo, a ghost of a smile touching his lips. He handed the photo back to her solemnly.
"Interesting choice of hairstyles."
"He said only babies have dreadlocks," she said with a chuckle. "Not big boys in the fourth grade."
She leaned over and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "He's my Might Have Been."
Hand in hand, they walked back to the parking lot, the Texas sky stretching blue above them like a canopy.