Disclaimers: I don't own CSI…if I did, you can bet Keppler would still be alive. With thanks to Justin Furstenfeld of Blue October for the wonderful lyrics, of course.
Author's note: As much as I hate the fact TPTB killed Keppler, I have to admit the way they did it was…poignantly beautiful. Catherine's reaction was absolutely heartbreaking, but somehow refreshing in the knowledge she was there for him. This is simply my take on how she might deal with his death.
In Another Life, Perhaps…
by la, the dreary puppett
i changed my color for you
i shed my coat with caution
i lack the beauty you display
see here there are the bruises
and some are self-inflicted
and some showed up along the way
so i nod my head
i'm ready for the world to see
the secret i kept here inside
the man you thought i'd be…
--blue october, chameleon boy
i lost a piece of me in you
i think i left it in your arms
i forget the reasons i got scared
but remember that i cared
quite a lot.
He had considered coming here earlier in the evening, rejecting the notion because she would probably rather be alone. But when Doc Robbins phoned to say she had stopped by to pick up a note addressed to her among Keppler's effects, he was out the door in a matter of moments and on his way to the VIP lounge at the Tangiers. The bouncer on duty nodded to him as he passed, thankfully a regular who knew he was a friend of Catherine's and therefore an acceptable customer. It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the low light of the pub, all the while scanning the wall of booths until his sight fell upon her familiar figure.
She sat with her back to the wall of the far corner booth, feet on the seat and arms across her knees, a brimming tumbler dangling from her fingers, the bottle on the table next to her nearly empty. Her appearance was non-descript, without her signature flair—a plain, black sweater, dark jeans, and what he jokingly called her bowling shoes completed her attire. She had pulled her hair back into a lamentable ponytail that allowed him to see clearly her red-rimmed, sorrow-filled eyes as he neared the table. He hovered at the edge of privacy curtain, trying to remember a time he had seen her so despondent, either after the deaths of Eddie or Sam, and failed. No, this was something new.
She did not immediately rouse, her gaze fixed in the space before her, until slowly she moved to meet his eye with a movement he likened to a diver coming up for air. It hurt to see his friend, someone so characteristically vibrant, devoid of emotion. Though she stared at him, hollowly and unspeaking, her expression barely registered acknowledgement.
Gil cleared his throat nervously. "May I join you?"
Her only response was to slide her legs from their perch and turn toward the tabletop, taking a nip from her drink in a single, fluid shift that again suggested his earlier thought of her being suspended underwater. When she still declined to speak, he sat across from her, reaching for a clean tumbler and filling it from the decanter of scotch—from the taste he deduced Jimmie the barkeep had selected his finest bottle of single-malt. Catherine continued occupying herself with reading and rereading a rumpled sheet of paper that lay on the wooden surface between them, her silence intermittently punctuated by soft sniffling. Gil didn't need to read what the miniscule writing held to know it was an explanation of sorts, a dead man's last words in attempt of comfort should the worst have befallen him. He only wished it was achieving its purpose.
"Aren't you on duty?"
The unexpectedness of her soft voice made him look up, startled, to find her watching as he sipped the scotch, faint questioning briefly overtaking her blank expression. He shook his head. "I was."
She nodded, looking away as tears filled her eyes. "Thank you."
There was an awkward pause as she regained her composure, Gil looking away in an attempt to offer her a piece of privacy, until finally she gave a strained smile and tried unsuccessfully to shrug off her sorrow. "He apologized." At Gil's quizzical glance she gestured to the letter, laughing vacantly. "Apologized. As if the entire thing was his fault. God, you would have thought he had shot Graves instead of…" she bit back a sob, "that man."
"I…" he didn't know what to say, "I'm sorry."
Suddenly she slammed her fist on the table, tears streaming down her cheek. "Are you?! You were ready to dismiss him—'we have to treat him like a suspect,' isn't that right? No," she shook her head angrily, "don't you dare tell me you're sorry, Gil Grissom! All of you, every single one of you, couldn't lend yourselves to trust him for even a second! I heard Nick and Warrick found the hand—the evidence every one of you said he tampered with! He made sure we would find it, yet even in death, you still likened him to a villain. But you of all people, couldn't even trust me…"
Just as abruptly as she began, Catherine managed to restrain herself from further accusations, wrapping her arms around herself and rocking gently. Without a word, Gil moved to close the open panel of curtain, attempting to shield her from onlookers as much as hide the pang of guilt he knew that would register plainly on his face. It wasn't necessarily the combination of grief and alcohol that worried him, Catherine could manage to drink anyone under the table if she so chose, but the extent of her mourning was something for which he had not been prepared. A cold realization began to steal across him as he watched her struggle, one so apparent he felt daft at not considering such a notion sooner, if at all.
Asking, he felt, was inadequate at such a time as this. Cautiously, he nodded at the letter, "May I?"
Catherine took a breath before making a noncommittal gesture, opting instead to look anywhere but in his direction.
Of all the people in my life, you are perhaps the one to most complete me. As trite as it sounds, it's true. These past few weeks made me wonder that in another life, perhaps… Were I a different man, without my baggage, my scars, we could have been something special. You trusted me—loved me—when everyone around you viewed me with suspicion, perhaps rightly so. I wasn't lying when I said I loved you. But you don't deserve to be dragged down with me.
I made a mistake, one that will continue to haunt me. Take the key to my apartment—you know where to look. It explains everything.
I'm sorry…for everything I have done, what I have put you through, your team.
Hollowness began to take shelter in the pit of his stomach as Gil finished reading, finally managing to meet Catherine's wounded gaze after a long hesitation.
"Did you…?" He managed finally.
She gave a slight nod, reaching for something on the bench next to her before producing a black, leather-bound book, snatching her hand back quickly as if burned by its touch upon delivering it to the tabletop. When he stretched to retrieve the journal, she countered him by placing her palm on its cover, an indignant light in her eyes refusing its defilement. He understood—it was left for her, and he had previously tainted their privacy with the act of reading the letter.
"The blood on the gun belongs to a kid in Trenton…" she sniffed, fighting back tears, but she continued, "Mike…Mike killed him."
Gil struggled to keep his expression neutral. When she was sure he would not interrupt, Catherine carried on.
"Frank's daughter, Mike's high school girlfriend, committed suicide…Frank," she spat the name, "told Mike she had been raped, gave him the name of the guy who had supposedly done it…" she didn't need to explain what had happened next. "Frank covered it up, put Mike through school…held it over Mike's head on a couple of occasions to cover his own ass…"
Feeling her accusatory stare, Gil bowed his head lower, fiddling with his empty tumbler.
"He wasn't willingly deceiving us. Why couldn't you trust me—my judgment?"
When he did not answer immediately, she sighed, turning away and moving to resume the position in which he had first observed her—clutching the journal to her chest. He reached into his pocket for a roll of bills, tossing them beside the decanter before realizing the barkeep would never charge Catherine for anything, especially tonight. They ruffled slightly as the curtain fell closed once again.