Disclaimer: I do not own CSI.
AN: Another update. It's a miracle. There's more Cath/Sara this time around, and if I ever get around to writing another chapter, there will be even more in that one. Yay for them, but since it needs to be handled more delicately than usual for me, it could take a while to get the next one out. Not over two years though. Well, hopefully not.
Sara felt numb. Watching her Star's ashes fly into the ocean like this was something that she'd only ever imagined on her worst days at work; to see it happen and know that she wasn't dreaming felt horribly, horribly wrong. Almost worse than walking in to find Amy's dead body on the floor of their home. Star was never supposed to be gone—how many times had she always promised to be there?
A hand slipped into hers, and Sara jumped at the sudden contact. It was cold and unfamiliar. Sara blinked back the unexpected stinging in her eyes; the only touch that could possibly make her feel any warmth right now was her lover's, and that just wasn't possible.
Sara looked back at the person who had bothered to approach her. She was only mildly surprised to see Thomas standing there. His usually vibrant green eyes were dull with a misery that hadn't quite made its home in her heart yet. He was always quicker than she was with things like this.
"Do you need a ride back, or are you going to stay here a little longer? Riley needs to be with Jacob, so I'll be your chauffeur if you need me to." His voice was quiet and sad, but he met her eyes steadily and was standing up straight. He hadn't broken. No matter how close he and Amy were, this wouldn't break him. He was too steady. Reliable. Even if his world was falling apart, he'd be around and able to take care of everything.
But he couldn't fix this. No one could.
Another unhappy glance behind her and Sara saw that Tom's assessment was correct; Riley needed to comfort his crying son more than he needed to be here.
Riley looked as broken as she felt. The selfish part of her, the one desperate for any comfort, no matter what form it took, wished he'd come over and take Thomas' place for a second. Tom was handling this all far too well, and it hurt.
"I want to stay here," she whispered. She felt her legs give out, and she lowered herself to the ground. Thomas followed, keeping a firm grip on her hand. "I don't ever want to leave."
Thomas shook his head. "I know you don't, Sara, but you have to eventually. You know that, right? You can't—" He cut himself off, choking just a little on his words. "It never lasts forever, Sara. Even if we wish for it with all are hearts, it'll still end one day. And I know that your life with Amy ended earlier than it should've, and it's not fair, but you have to endure."
Sara didn't look at him. She couldn't. Nothing he said was going to bring the person she loved back to her.
"It's not fair," he repeated, "I know that, Sara. Don't make things even worse for yourself—clinging to her isn't going to solve anything in the end." He sounded like he was crying.
She couldn't help it. Without saying a word, she pushed herself closer to him, letting the small amount of warmth that her warped senses could feel envelop her.
They didn't leave for several hours.
It wouldn't be something Sara could think of rationally for a long time, but looking back, she had to wonder how much easier mourning Amy would have been if Zach hadn't broken Thomas.
I let Tom carry me to the couch because I'd probably fall to the floor without his support. The shock of seeing him here, in Zach's house, coupled with us colliding isn't doing much for my health. I think Zach's ranting about that right now, but it's hard to pay attention to anything he's saying while I'm trying to ignore his flustered attempts to button his shirt properly.
Thomas would be laughing at his ex-boyfriend if he weren't so upset, I think mildly, leaning back into the soft couch cushions. I think the embarrassment of this situation is finally starting to dawn on him, and I don't know if he thinks it's worse that I caught him and Zach on their morning-after or that I heard them arguing. Tom's always had issues with letting other people in on his fights with Zach, and now that they aren't together anymore it's probably only gotten worse.
"I hit you pretty hard there, didn't I? You going to be okay?"
Zach practically shoves Thomas aside when he hears that. "How badly did Thomas aggravate your injury? Are you bleeding at all?"
"I don't think so," I respond weakly. He ignores me and starts unbuttoning my shirt with a speed that seems almost ridiculous considering his current state of dress. I don't bother looking down to check my dressing; Tom didn't hit me hard enough to cause any real damage, just a lot of pain.
Zach examines me for a few moments before standing up and glaring at me. "Well at least we avoided that mess," he mutters. "Not that I'd have to worry in the first place if you hadn't decided to leave the house without telling me anything."
I come very close to wanting to hit him for that remark, but it's hard to think very clearly when in pain to begin with, and after my conversation with Greg, I'm even less sure of how to deal with Zach than usual.
Thomas, of course, has never had that problem.
"Oh for God's sake, Zachary! She's allowed to go out and have breakfast with friends! That's what normal, healthy human beings do! They interact! You being an idiot and hating just about everyone she knows doesn't change that!"
Pain may be dulling my senses more than I'm comfortable with, but I can still tell that that was a bad move on Thomas' part. Zach's expression turns into something with all the warmth and stoicism of a block of ice as he shifts he eyes to his ex-boyfriend.
You couldn't cut the tension with a knife. A chainsaw, maybe. Thomas is apparently realizing that he should have kept his mouth shut, but defiance is still written all over his face, and I can't help but think that he's preparing himself to get hit.
Surprisingly, Zach backs down before Tom does. He starts putting his shirt on properly again and stomps over to the door. Without sparing me more than a glance. Thomas doesn't even get that much.
"Since you don't really need two doctors watching over you, I might as well go to work. Food's in the kitchen, but don't let Sara make her own meal. Her opinion of what makes a proper meal leaves much to be desired. I will be back to take care of dinner." With that, he slams the door shut, leaving me and Thomas staring after him in shock.
"Huh," Tom says at last. He shakes his head with a quick jerk and smiles awkwardly down at me. "Sorry about costing you your primary physician. I probably should have seen that coming when I didn't leave."
"You tried to," I can't help but point out.
"Yes, but then I stuck around. Zachary had already lost his temper with me, so one of us needed to get out. When I stayed, he decided it should be him." Tom sighs and collapses on the floor next to the couch. "He really can be an idiot sometimes."
More than sometimes, I think, but I don't say it out loud. Thomas doesn't need me telling him that his taste in men is downright strange. Especially not the night after something happened between them. Tom's very good at keeping himself grounded, but he doesn't have very thick skin.
"I kind of agree with him about you going out with your friends for breakfast, though," he says, grinning a little. "Not that I have a problem with who you hang out with of course, but you should really be more careful about what you're putting in your stomach. To be honest, Zachary would have preferred you inviting your friends over here if it meant knowing that you're getting proper nutrition."
I look at him incredulously. "Somehow, I think it might have bothered him to wake up with you, me, and a couple of CSIs in his house. He already seemed pretty unhappy with just you."
Tom grimaces and rubs his reddening neck in embarrassment. "Ah—that—well, yes, that's true enough. We haven't truly gotten along in quite some time now, as I'm sure you've figured out." He looks sad about that, making me more uncomfortable than I thought possible. I've never really thought about how the two of them interacted privately as a couple, and honestly, thinking of Zach in any kind of serious, functional relationship is a little weird.
"We did talk civilly about you, though," he says with forced casualness. "And about why you're staying with him instead of one of your friends while you recover. That's actually why I'm here in the first place—he finally got around to telling me you were shot." Exasperation almost covers up his obvious concern for a moment when he says that.
"And that made you run off and show up on his doorstep in the middle of the night?" I'm amazed that he managed to stick around as long as he has if that's the case.
"That's right." He's smiling, but there's some steel behind his teeth. "And Zachary let me in on what's been happening in your life over the past year. He seems to think that you're obsessed with a dead woman."
An uncomfortable jolt of pain and shock drives its way through my heart, reminding me uncomfortably of my earlier conversation with Greg. That's why Zach's letting him stay for a while longer? He thinks I need someone to talk to me instead of just hammering uncomfortable truths into me? Chills try to take control of my body, but I fight them off, trying to warm myself up with the small amount of rage I can feel at the idea of Zach trying to fix me.
Thomas stands up, his smile completely gone. The sorrowful expression he'd adopted since hearing of Amy's death takes its place. He almost looks worse than he did when we watched Star's ashes fall into the ocean.
"I know it's not right for Zachary or myself to tell you how to grieve, Sara. And although I would have interfered in your life quite a bit over the last year if I had been around, I have to admit that at this point the only thing I could really do to help you would be to leave you alone. Zachary disagrees with this, of course," he adds bitterly, "but that is because you are now his patient, and he won't be able to stand having you in anything less than perfect condition. That's just who he is."
"He should just stay out of it." Pestering me into admitting the—feelings I have for Catherine was maybe something I needed. I can sort of recognize that at this point. But getting his ex-boyfriend to help me talk things out crosses some kind of delicate line that I wasn't even aware of before this moment. Even knowing that he cared enough to talk to someone he hasn't had a real conversation with in months isn't enough to make me think anything other than, he had no right.
Maybe I've made a horrible mess of my life since Amy died, but that doesn't mean I need people holding my hand over every little thing. I'm not a child anymore—he doesn't get to treat me like one.
Thomas' voice brings me out of the whirlwind of raging thoughts in my head.
"At this point, yes, there's very little he can do to help you beyond being the best doctor he can for you. Which he's doing," he feels the need to point out. "But what's keeping him from just leaving it alone—and me as well I suppose—is that you're starting to move on without your consent."
"Don't." I can hear the blood pumping in my ears faster than it should, and I don't know if it's fear or anger that I feel right now.
Thomas raises his hands in surrender—no, apology, he's not surrendering—and looks back at the picture of me and Amy that's on the mantle. Against my will, I follow his eyes, trying not to remember the happiness I felt that day—the happiness that I can never feel again.
"Can you remember the day we spread her ashes, Sara?"
I don't dignify that with a response.
"That day, you told me that you didn't ever want to leave that spot. That place where you first met—you wanted to stay there forever, in the spot that was closest to both of your hearts. And I don't think you would have left if I hadn't dragged you away. And even then, it was one of the hardest things either of us has ever done. You didn't want to leave, and I'm sure you hated me a little for dragging you away. But here's the thing, Sara: you would have died if I had left you alone. You would have sat there and wasted away, and I couldn't allow that to happen. It's the same thing now, really, which is why I'm siding with Zachary for the moment."
"Thomas," I practically snap, "I am dealing with this. I don't need the two of you to tell me how to handle things in my life. I'm perfectly capable of handling them on my own now. So thank you for the concern, but let it go."
He stays quiet for long enough that I start thinking that maybe he's going to bother listening to me, but I should really know better than that when I'm dealing with someone who dealt with Zach's stubbornness for so long.
"I would like to, but if I did that, I'm not sure if I'd be able to live with myself. Zachary told me about Catherine, Sara. How you feel about her—"
"Thomas, don't." I throw myself off the couch, ignoring the twinge that comes from the hole in my chest, and walk over to the fireplace, focusing on the picture so that I don't have to look at Tom. "I don't know what Zach told you, but I'm not ready—I don't want anyone in my life like that except for A-Amy, and you aren't going to convince me that I should." I doubt that's what he's doing, considering how much he cared for Star, but that's what it feels like.
"Sara, that's not what I'm trying to do, I promise." He comes up behind me and puts a hand on my shoulder. "It's just—damn it Sar, I'm happy for you. And… incredibly relieved. This is something healthy, Sara—something good for you—and because of that, I want to make sure that you don't ruin it for yourself."
Tears are starting to sting their way into my eyes, and I don't know if it's because of what he's saying or because I'm staring at Star's face.
Hell, I don't even know who I want to comfort me; Catherine or Amy. Right now, it doesn't seem important which. I just know that one of them could make all of this pain go away, and let me feel my emotions in peace, and that right now, that's all I want. Almost more than I want Amy back.
Blind terror strikes me at that thought, and I push it back down. No, I can't think that way. I don't want that. I don't want to want anything more than my Star. I love her, and I don't want anyone to force us apart the way it feels like Zach and Tom are trying to.
Thomas spins me around by force and rests both of his hands on my shoulders. We just stare at each other for a second, each noticing the special kind of misery in our eyes, before Tom smiles brokenly at me and takes me in his arms.
"Look, I don't know everything that Zachary told you, but it's been a week since then, and he says that you haven't seen Catherine since before that. What bothers me, Sara, is that from what Zachary has told me, the two of you care enough about each other to be called close friends."
Why the hell is Zach trying to take care of me using his worst, manipulative qualities? It's starting to make me feel antsy and paranoid along with the general horrified terror that these conversations keep inspiring.
"I'm not ready to—"
"I get that. That's not the point. I couldn't care less if you and Catherine get together. What I care about is that you've formed a solid connection with someone, and I don't want you to pull away from it because you're so caught up with feelings you don't want to have. The romantic aspect doesn't matter—look; I don't want to see you lose someone else you care about. Especially when this time, all you need to do is relax. You don't want a relationship, so there's no pressure for you to do anything. Just be her friend, and let her be yours."
"It's scary though," I let out before I can stop myself. I wince when I realize just how much of a child I sound like. Maybe it has something to do with being constantly lectured by people who are older than me and maybe (probably) know better than me, but I'm feeling more and more like the scared little kid I was before I met Amy.
I guess that's appropriate, since she's gone now.
I close my eyes, expecting the rusty knife of pain that's been going through my heart every time I've thought that for the past year.
Instead, I just feel a type of quiet sadness.
No. I don't get to want that yet. But… I want to be able to want it, and that's new.
"I know it's scary, Sara. But you have people who care about you, and we'll help you even if you're too stubborn to ask. We love you too much to act otherwise."
I grip the hand holding the phone as hard as I can to keep myself from slamming it back down on the receiver. I try to focus on the warmth that's spreading from my chest just from hearing her voice, and not on the cold fear that's threatening to take the warmth away.
"Uh, hey Cat. It's me. Sara." Somehow, I think she could've figured that out from the first sentence alone. It's not like we haven't spoken to each other on the phone before; I'm sure she's perfectly capable of recognizing my voice.
I don't know if it's good or bad that she sounds as awkward as I do right now. Probably bad. I doubt that Nick and Greg have kept quiet about braving Dr. Grouchy to come see me almost every day, and even if she didn't hear anything from them, Warrick probably mentioned his short visit. Grissom has a very good reason to avoid me, but she doesn't. And as far as she knows, I shouldn't have any reason to avoid her, so my behavior during this past week probably hasn't made her feel very good at all.
"I was wondering if you'd be interested in having lunch with me." Never mind that she probably woke you up from a pleasant nap, would you like to spend some time with the person who's been avoiding you and constantly manages to hurt you with her insensitivity? "At Zach's, of course, since I already got snapped at once today for eating out without telling him first. And he's at work, so I can't tell him."
"I thought he was taking time off to look after you?" She sounds like she's about to start ranting about what a bastard Zach is. I'd probably agree with most of it, but right now, I really don't want to hear it.
"Yes, but then his ex-boyfriend showed up and they slept together so now Tom's looking after me." I'm rambling, aren't I? Damn it, this isn't working well at all. I should tell her that for some reason Thomas just told me that I can't have any visitors. How's she supposed to know how much nicer than Zach Tom is?
"I take it Tom's the ex-boyfriend." She sounds amused now.
"Yes," I say, trying to keep it short before I say something else I really shouldn't. Not that I can really dig myself any deeper right now.
"Meeting him should be interesting."
"So you'll come over?" I hope I'm only imagining how desperate I sound, but considering how well things tend to go in my life, I probably sound worse.
"A chance to see Dr. Jerk's house without him in it? Oh yes, definitely." Her voice is warm and inviting and sends shivers down my spine, which I ignore. And then with a click, our thoroughly embarrassing conversation is over and done with.
I finally let go of the hand that's holding the phone and put it down on the receiver. I think my fingers are trembling. That was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Easier too, though, since I actually managed to live through it. Now there's just eating together.
"That took a lot of nerve," Thomas says quietly. I didn't even notice him entering the room. I try to smile at him for a moment before I realize that my nerves are too shot to do much of anything with my facial muscles.
I was wrong when I told Tom that this was scary. It goes far beyond that. It's terrifying.
But I miss her, and my avoidance has probably already hurt her quite a bit. I don't want to hurt her anymore. I can't lose our friendship. I just can't.
I rest my aching head into my hands and groan.
This is going to be hard.