Disclaimer: I don't own CSI someone else has that privilege. This is a Prequel to Mad World. I had thought about writing these scenes that played out in my head and finally got around to doing it. Mad World had to start with something, and this is that something.


OUTFLUX

Sara Sidle fell into the nearest chair, her head immediately falling into her waiting hands. Her head hurt and she could feel her stomach filling her with nausea and making her muscles weak. She kept her eyes open, only because she was afraid that if she closed them she'd be haunted by images she wouldn't be able to escape from.

She tried to gather back a resolve that had fled from her without her consent, and without giving her the courtesy of a warning. It left her without her defenses and barriers, allowing her to fall apart and buckle under the stress that had conveniently found a constant and happy home in her life. She had been falling to its mercy, and now she had nowhere else to fall. Her feet were touching the bottom of her hell and she couldn't even bother to lift her eyes to see how far she would have to climb to seek out the mercy of equilibrium.

All that she could control at the moment was her ability to sit, to stay still and not move into another regret born of another mistake. If she didn't move then she wouldn't flee again, away from whatever small prompt that could only offer her more pain. She tried to not focus on what had so recently happened and that was now burying itself into her long-term memory for her to bring out and torture herself with until the end of her life.

Her phone started to ring, and she didn't even bother to look at it. She was positive it would be Catherine calling her, trying to pull her into a conversation that would involve more actions that would prompt even more pain. She wanted to take a few moments to be done with whatever new torment would find her upon an inevitable return to human interaction.

She carefully got up from her chair and made her way to her small kitchen, and then opened her refrigerator. She opened it up, staring vacantly at the vast emptiness of it that unknowingly euphemized her current perception of her life. She reached into its cold depths and pulled out the only thing it offered: a bottle of light colored beer.

She easily accepted the guilt that came with her twisting the cap off the bottle, and just as easily accepted the second wave of guilt that came with putting the bottle to her lips and the third wave that came with swallowing the cool liquid. As she emptied the bottle into herself, she finally closed her eyes.

"Is that going to help you talk to me?" The voice startled her, and tore her out of an empty calmness that giving up on herself was easing her into. The bottle escaped from her hold and shattered on the floor.

"If I wanted to talk," She kept her eyes closed, for some reason unwilling to look at the broken bottle that lie at her feet, "I would have picked up the phone."

"That's why I didn't call," the voice tempted Sara to open her eyes and to turn around, but she resisted the temptation, knowing it was best to avoid a confrontation that would end everything she wanted to maintain. "I didn't think you'd bother to answer."

"So you invaded my privacy instead?" The anger in her tone was forced. She was trying desperately to infuse herself with an anger that just didn't exist. All that existed for her was the numbness of her pain.

"Yes." Conviction hurled itself out with the solitary word. "I don't think your privacy matters right now."

The moments she could take to submerge herself into the sanctuary of her own pain was over. So, she opened her eyes. She turned her body around and faced the woman standing only a meter away from her. "Then what does matter?"

"The sixteen year old girl who somehow found the courage to call you," the response was immediate. It didn't need to be thought out nor did the words need to be carefully chosen. They existed in a truth that was already built between them.

"I can't," she whispered, knowing this time that forcing an emotion to her voice that didn't exist was only a waste of energy.

"You don't get a choice this time, Sara," the firmness of the response was almost outshone by the wave of sympathy that came with them.

"Oh god," her body crumbled, shattering into the reality that her denial would never have been strong enough to guard away. Strong arms wrapped themselves around her, guiding her away from the broken glass. Both women fell to the floor. "I don't know what to do, Catherine," Sara confessed.

"I've already made arrangements for us to go to the funeral," Catherine kept control of her voice. She wanted to fall apart like the woman in her arms, but she couldn't. She couldn't start weeping for the pain she saw in her lover's eyes or the pain she was sure to find in the eyes of a girl who was miles away. "We have to bring Melinda back here."

The body she held stiffened, the tears that had started to appear stopped. "She'll hate me."

"It doesn't matter," Catherine tightened her grip. "You're all she has."

The tears didn't start again. They were gone now, effortlessly replaced by a resolve that would not have the privilege of being questioned. "When do we leave?"

"Tonight."

Sara nodded, the pain etched on her face slowly being buried and pushed down. "We should get ready." She tried to pull away from Catherine, but she met resistance.

"It's okay to mourn them," Catherine risked saying. "They were your parents."

"I don't think I'm strong enough to, not with M-Melinda."

Catherine released her hold, knowing and understanding that too much was happening. All of it couldn't be fixed and felt properly. Things would be looked over; emotion would have to be selflessly denied. What was important, what was most important, was that a sixteen year old girl was planning the funeral of both of her parents alone. Catherine promised herself to let the argument she had found herself having with Sara earlier that morning about the future of their relationship fade away out of her consciousness. She promised to push away everything that made her question Sara's love, because Sara now needed more from her than her doubts.


They had taken a late flight out, and then drove out to the address given to them by some woman they had never met. Melinda Sidle greeted them with an empty, "Hello" then informed them of the plans she had made for the ceremony that would be taking place in less than twenty-four hours. She talked about lawyers and florist's bills, and Catherine and Sara let her, neither knowing how to offer support to the girl neither of them actually knew.

When she was done talking, Melinda offered them a place to stay, and then she left them alone in an empty house Sara had never stepped foot in before.

"Did you notice the bandage on her arm?" Sara asked after Melinda had left. "Was she in the accident with them?"

"I don't know," Catherine answered. "I don't think so."

They had so little information about the details of what had happened. Melinda had somehow gotten a hold of Sara's work number and had called to coolly inform her sister that their parents had died in an accident. She didn't offer details and didn't even bother to let Sara ask any questions, if she had been able to through the shaken daze her brain had quickly entered into at hearing Melinda's voice.

"Her knuckles are bruised, too."

"Don't do this now," Catherine urged, knowing that each one of Sara's casual observations were just another way in which Sara could absorb more pain.

Sara blinked absently a few times, not knowing what to make of the brief encounter she had just experienced with a girl she hadn't seen for so long. "Do you think she's going to come back tonight?"

"No," Catherine answered honestly. "She doesn't seem comfortable with us being here."

"She's not comfortable with me being here," Sara corrected. "She actually bothered to look at you."

Catherine was right; Melinda didn't bother to return to the house that night. The next time they saw her was at the end of the funeral as Laura Sidle's and Mathew Sidle's bodies were slowly being lowered into the ground. She kept her distance from the two women who she knew would be moving her to Las Vegas, Nevada. She had never left California before. It was another fact about her life that Sara and Catherine knew nothing about.

Sara cautiously approached Melinda, not knowing how to broach the subject of leaving. She was relieved when Melinda brought it up. "I've already got a bag packed," the girl said to her mother's grave. "I know you have to take me back with you. I've already talked to CPS. They said you signed papers this morning."

"We don't have to leave now," Sara offered. "You can take the time you need."

Melinda looked over at her sister, looking upon a face she had long sense forgotten. "I'm done taking time."

The words hit Sara with such force that when she looked down and still saw herself standing, she was surprised. She looked into the eyes that Catherine had ventured to say were the same color as Sara's, and that's when she knew. That's when Sara first saw the anguish that resided inside of Melinda, and it was the first time she turned her back on it, unsure of how to cross the threshold into a relationship she had abandoned years before.

Melinda followed Sara and Catherine out of the cemetery, never bothering to walk beside them. She maintained her silence as she rode with them back to her home, and maintained it as they got on the plane that would take them to Las Vegas. She didn't cry as the plane took off, she didn't show any emotion at all. Her body was relaxed, but didn't look calm and Sara couldn't help staring at the girl who was more and more starting to remind her of herself.

She suddenly wished that Melinda would start talking, start filling in the gaps that Sara had created in the first place. She wanted Melinda to share with her all the things that had happened that she hadn't been around for, but Melinda only maintained silence.

Catherine bravely broke the silence by talking about Las Vegas, doing her best to offer Melinda some hope for her future. She talked about the high school Melinda would be enrolled in and the life that Sara and she had clumsily planned out. Melinda politely listened, offering Catherine feedback where it wasn't necessarily needed.

Melinda talked without really saying anything at all, and Sara hated it. She hated it because she knew that the distance between them was mostly her doing.

"We'll make this work," Sara awkwardly added into the conversation, having suddenly felt the urge to say something, anything that would break her out of the vigilant gaze she had focused on Melinda.

The teenager looked at Sara, still no emotion showing on her face, "We sort of have to." Melinda turned away again, dismissing anything else Sara might have wanted to say.

The words had stung, but Sara quickly realized that she would rather have Melinda's words than her silence. She had never wished before for the ability to read minds, but she desperately did so now. She wanted to know this stranger sitting next to her, desperately wanted to, and she had no idea where to begin. She didn't know how to start making bridges to cross when she wasn't sure even where they should be built.

It would be better if she had Melinda's words to guide her. She leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes, praying to a God she wasn't sure she believed in for a chance. When she opened them to her reality again, she saw Melinda looking at her, emotion finally showing on the teenager's face. But Sara didn't know what they meant, didn't know how to decipher them.

When the plane landed and after they had gathered their bags, Sara watched Melinda carefully. Seeking out the chance to catch another moment in which Melinda showed that she wasn't made of stone but of vulnerable flesh. Sara saw nothing, but she knew—figured out in the precious moment Melinda's guard had relaxed—that Melinda needed the chance and the time to tell her own story.