a/n: written for the livejournal group 'fraternizing.' enjoy
"the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses" ee cummings
By the time she realizes what has happened, Catherine is already an expert at saying goodbye. Some goodbyes are easier, of course. In the mornings, when she exhaustedly drops Lindsey off at school, she waves goodbye, her fingers rippling like reeds in the wind. She says goodbye to her mother over the phone, she bids Wendy farewell at the end of the shift.
And then, there are the harder goodbyes. Eddie, just a body in her morgue. Sam Braun, a sudden though still anticipated ending. She's said goodbye to Warrick and now watches him slog through the first years of his marriage – one step forward and two stumbles back.
So, with time marching uniformly forward, Catherine must now say goodbye to Grissom. Maybe she already has or maybe she's been letting go for years but still, it's strange and painful to realize one day that he is gone. It's like stepping into a shoe that is half a size too small.
He's there, of course. She can see him, now, pouring himself a cup of coffee, taking a seat, organizing the assignments for the shift. His motions are predictable and expected. She watches the rest of the team trickle in and soon, she is the only one missing. It takes Grissom a while to raise his head, to glance around, to say, "Where's Catherine?"
There was a time where she would have been first in the room; when he would have already poured her a cup of coffee and it would sit on the table waiting for her – steaming and fresh.
There is something satisfying about making him wait. But he doesn't even look at her when she finally arrives. He merely doles out the assignments and says the phrase they are all used to hearing by now.
"Sara, you're with me,"
Catherine isn't jealous. She's had her years of working cases with him, learning from his quiet, acute attention to detail. Now Catherine is high ranked, a specialist, sought after in her field. Now she is the master taking the younger CSIs out with her, showing them what she knows. It's a cycle and one day Grissom will leave for good and she will rise up, she will take his place rightfully.
Today, he has her alone. She isn't even out in the field. She's in the lab with Doc Robbins going through the overspill of autopsies from Swing Shift's gruesome drive-by. By the time she makes it home, she is exhausted and disturbed. She has to squeeze lemon into her hair to wash out the stench.
At the start of the next shift, it's another rerun. Coffee, assignments, Grissom standing to dismiss his team. He doesn't, though, have a sheet for her.
He says, "Catherine, you're with me," He doesn't hang around to gauge responses but Nick glances at Warrick and Greg whistles and Sara looks right at Catherine, devoid of any discernable expression. Catherine has to jog down the hall, a little, to catch up with Grissom.
"What's up?" she asks, taking the sheet from his hand. She thinks it might be something high profile – that Ecklie is behind this but it's just an abandoned car outside a convenience store robbery. A job for two people, surely but for them?
"Henderson," he says with a lilt of complaint. Grissom hates to leave the city limits, hates to be too far from the lab in case of emergency.
"Want me to go alone?" she offers. It would take her all day, but she expects him to agree.
"No," he says. She decides to just go with it, to let him drive, to keep the radio off as they fly down the highway. The sun is bright, so much so that it almost hurts as it sets on the horizon.
She finds a body in a dumpster which is never pleasant. Grissom calls David and then they have to wait – they can't continue until David arrives and pronounces and carries the poor corpse away. They sit in the Denali with the doors open to encourage a small breeze to pass through. Grissom asks after Lindsey and her mother. All are fine. Catherine isn't good at small talk with Grissom and so finally she just says what's on her mind.
"I could have done this alone, Gil," she says.
"It would have taken you forever," he admits. "I know. Maybe I just wanted to work a case with you. It's been a while,"
She has to resist being lured in by this apparent sweetness. It has been a while since a lot of things – breakfast together, movies, going to the park with Lindsey. Instead, she says bitingly, "How are things with Sara?" She doesn't mean to sound like such a shrew, God, she doesn't, but he has to know that she knows. Has to know that he isn't as unreadable as he would like to be. She can see him deciding whether or not he is going to lie to her. The pause is too long and she doesn't want to wait.
"New," he says. Catherine wants to ask him what changed his mind, why after years of denying her. He'd let such a desperate woman into his life. "And personal," he adds.
Now, that is offensive. He can see, immediately, that he has upset her. She gets out of the car just as David pulls up.
"I'm going across the street," she says. She has to pee and the Taco Bell across the way is the most promising prospect. Later, driving back to the lab, she is tired and says with her hoarse, sleepy voice,
"We used to be friends," It sounds more maudlin out loud, a little whiny, but appropriately pained.
"What do you want from me?" he asks. She wants a lot from him, actually. Acknowledgment, equality, devotion. The things she'd once had that had some how slipped away, escaped her.
"Not a damn thing," she says instead.
Gil Grissom cannot be rushed. Just because he knows something has gone wrong with Catherine doesn't mean he knows how to fix it. Catherine now ignores him – she is punishing him with her silence.
He will not take responsibility for this lapsed friendship, however. He spent over ten years praying at the altar of Catherine Willows and there was just a time when it had to stop. He had to give up on the dream of the unattainable woman – Hermione on her pedestal both alive and made of stone.
He doesn't think of Sara as settling. Sara is simply moving forward. Accepting reality and looking for happiness in another place. He loves Sara and she is a good balance for him. She brings him coffee when he is tired and remains silent when he doesn't want to talk. She is devoted to him and that is a desirable quality in a mate.
But this obvious rift between Catherine and himself bothers him. He can't sleep – he stays quiet, brooding. Sara tries to get him to confide in her but he doesn't. There is a hint of jealousy in Sara's probing questions that rubs Grissom the wrong way. Finally she, too, lapses into silence and for the first night in a while, goes home to sleep by herself. Grissom is alone to consider his options. This thing with Catherine is not something that can be mended by a bouquet of bright pink roses and a well-worded note. This has more to do with the structure bearing elements of their friendship and now it is unclear whether they can hold up any longer. Grissom hates being on the verge of collapse.
After a few weeks, things are more or less back to normal. Catherine doesn't punish him any more because they are all consumed with the miniatures. Catherine is a professional and the case always comes before personal issues when on the clock.
Grissom likes to work with her. He likes to go with her to casinos. She moves through the lights and the people and the machines with a fluid grace. People want to talk to Catherine, even people who know she works for the crime lab, even people who have done something wrong. She walks and reads beside him and he hands her his glasses because he can see her squinting – he can see the tiny lines around her eyes that weren't there five years ago. She puts them on her face and keeps them there in the car as they go over and over the case file. They desperately search for new details that might have been missed but there are no new insights from the strip to the lab and he can see that she is frustrated.
Sara is hovering around outside Grissom's office when they return and when Catherine looks up, Sara has a wary and confused expression.
"What's up?" she asks, confused.
"New glasses?" Sara asked and Catherine rolls her eyes and hands the glasses back to Grissom, who smirks. The frames are too big for Catherine's delicate face. She has her own, of course, but they have been misplaced. They are smaller, sleeker, her actual prescription, and about three hundred dollars more expensive. Grissom puts his glasses back on and they are warm from her skin. She walks away without saying goodbye and then Sara is saying something about going home.
"I'm going to stay," Grissom tells her. "I'll see you later,"
She tries to get him to go with her, but he brushes her off. He doesn't go.
Catherine really doesn't want Sara to die this way. She looks down at the overturned car and the tiny, plastic hand that twitches underneath and she feels a wave of anger. First Nick, and last year they almost lost Brass and now this? It's too much.
Grissom comes out of the interrogation room and does something Catherine has never seen him do before. He begins to cry. Catherine can't seem to move, can't seem to comfort him in any way. She just stands there and watches him cry. Finally Sophia comes by and leads Grissom away.
Sara now holds Grissom in a unique way. Catherine had been careless with him and their friendship in the same way she was careless with all men. She wants to find Sara so that Grissom can be happy again. So that he can be in love.
In the end, she is sort of responsible for finding Sara. On the dashboard of the toy car, there is a tiny odometer. The toy car's odometer is different than the odometer of the real car at the time of the initial crash and this gives them the radius to search in. After that, it's just a matter of time.
Natalie Davis hadn't accounted for rain, though. Catherine is one of the first people to see the body. She can see from yards away that Sara isn't really Sara anymore, but one more corpse for David to come and pronounce. Everyone stands in a half-circle around the scene feeling helpless and getting drenched. Soon Nick and Warrick appear, and then Doc Robbins comes himself instead of sending David.
"Catherine," Warrick says, and touches her shoulder. She jumps. She is soaked to the skin and shivering. Her hair is stringy and plastered to her forehead and her shoes are ruined. Sara's body looks blue and translucent in the floodlights. Later, Doc Robbins will find muddy water in her lungs. He will find that she had been drugged and that one of her legs was broken from the weight of the car. Doc Robbins will tell Catherine later, confidentially, that it must have been a slow and fairly painful death.
"Yeah," she says to Warrick.
"You have to call Grissom," he says. "You have to tell him,"
Nick shrugs off his jacket and puts it over Catherine's shoulders, but it's too late and the jacket just seems to trap the cold around her. She goes and sits in her Denali and looks at her cell phone. He probably already knows but she has to call him anyway. It's the right thing to do. It takes him two rings to answer.
"Grissom," he says.
"Gil," she says. "Gil, I'm sorry,"
The day of the funeral, Lindsey takes too long to get ready and they are almost late. She doesn't do it on purpose – she is just being sixteen. Her hair won't curl right and her black nylons have a run. She has to borrow a pair of Catherine's and then she can't find her other black pump.
"Just wear a different pair," Catherine snaps and Lindsey frowns and disappears back into her closet. Catherine stands in the hallway and looks at herself in the oval mirror that hangs there. Two days before, on her day off, she'd gone to the salon and gotten her hair dyed. She'd spent years bleaching the strawberry out of her hair but something in her had snapped and she'd gone for red, a deep red, very Hepburn and curled just so. Now, every time she walked by something reflective, she startled herself.
"Let's go already," Lindsey says, reappearing with more make-up on and her blonde hair pulled back in a barrette that Catherine has never seen before. In the car, Catherine snaps off the radio and drives too fast. Lindsey's arm hangs outside of the window. "How long is this going to last?" Lindsey asks.
"As long as it takes," Catherine says. "Sara was a good friend, you knew Sara, so just deal with it,"
"I know, I didn't mean…" Lindsey trails off and decides not to try. Catherine and Lindsey fight all the time these days and over stupid, meaningless things. Catherine puts her hand on her daughter's leg and gives it a little squeeze.
"We're doing this for Gil, okay?" Catherine says.
"Yeah," Lindsey says, "Okay,"
At the church, which Catherine finds only mildly ironic, Grissom has left a space for Catherine and Lindsey in the front pew with the rest of the night shift. Catherine is the last to arrive, of course, and they sit quietly. Lindsey sits next to Grissom and Catherine is happy for the buffer. Lindsey slides her pale hand into Grissom's and he squeezes. He glances at Catherine and has to blink a few times at this new, bright version but maybe he's just blinking back tears. It's hard to say.
Grissom feels a little dead inside, but people keep dying and so he has to go back to work. He sends the Natalie Davis case to Ecklie's desk to give to day or swing shift but there isn't any way he can process it any longer. Ecklie tells him to take some time off, but he doesn't. Sara's stuff is all over his apartment. She didn't really have any family and had Grissom listed as her next of kin. Her superintendent calls him and says,
"Hey, I'm sorry about Miss… uh… Sidle, but is anyone coming to clean out the apartment or should I just ship it off to Goodwill or what?"
Grissom looks down at his phone and feels like smashing it. He sighs.
"I'll come over in the morning to take care of it," he says.
He can't imagine doing it, though. All of her things, her smell, it would be everywhere. He feels a little sick just thinking about it and so he stops thinking and just calls the first person who seems like they would know what to do.
"Willows," she answers.
"It's Grissom," he says. "Where are you?"
"Henderson," she says. "That drive by thing, but I'm heading back now,"
"I have a favor to ask you," he says. "When you come back,"
He waits in his office for her to show up but it takes almost thirty-five minutes. She comes in with that sour look she gets from sitting in traffic. He can see her school her features when she steps in though; she's been nice to him all week.
"What's up?" she asks.
"Would you help me with something?" he asks.
"Anything," she says.
"Tomorrow," he says. "I have to pack up the apartment,"
It takes her a second and he can see when she understands just what he is asking of her. She presses her lips together and fiddles with the dark sunglasses on the top of her red head. She shifts her weight on her feet.
"Okay," she says. "Tomorrow,"
Catherine shows up at his townhouse with collapsed boxes and garbage bags. She's in faded jeans and a t-shirt – ready to work. That hair is tied back but he has to reach out and touch it and she jumps a little.
"I like it," he says.
"Thanks," she says. No one has said much about the new color. It was like Sara's death and then the hair color was too much change, too drastic to be put into words. Everyone simply tucked their chins against their chests and tried to sleep through the daylight. But Grissom liked her hair and she felt kind of breathless and kind of guilty because of it. Here she was ready to sort a dead woman's things and she was excited about his comment. Still, Grissom was so stingy with compliments.
"I'll take the bedroom," he says and disappears. She starts in the kitchen; examines dishes and cutlery like she's working a crime scene. There is one matching set and several mismatched pieces. She puts all flatware in a box for goodwill and ends up putting most of the silverware and glasses and mugs in a box to throw into a dumpster. Grissom will look through it all at Catherine's urging to see if he wants to keep anything, but it then end, it is too morbid even for him to drink his coffee from the mug of his dead lover. The kitchen is easy – there is no food in the refrigerator and no pictures held onto the door by magnets. Sara lived a sparse life, or perhaps she just stopped inhabiting the apartment.
She moves to the living space and starts folding up throw blankets and collecting trinkets. The things there are meaningless to her and she moves methodically. She spirals the room because it is habit. It is so easy, now, to pick apart a woman's life. There are a lot of DVDs. There is a lot of music and these things she will insist Grissom take home or at least sell. Everything is labeled and boxed until she has to walk down the hallway. It's time to check on Grissom, anyhow.
She expects him to be stalled by his grief but he is just as methodical as she herself has been. There are piles of neatly folded clothes and boxes filled with hair product, beaded jewelry, and other things that Grissom knows about that Catherine shouldn't and does not.
"Maybe we should take a load over," Catherine says. It would be a break from the packing and he nods and silently helps her load the back of the car. She drives alone to the Goodwill donation site though she is reluctant to leave him alone. The man at the truck helps her unload her Denali somewhat begrudgingly and writes her a hasty receipt. She speeds back to the apartment but Grissom is fine, of course.
"I want to keep all of her books," he says. It is the only thing he really wants and so they take the books off the shelves and carry them in armfuls to the car because they have run out of boxes.
"In the morning, the Salvation Army is going to come and collect the furniture," she tells Grissom, like he is young or slow. "I've arranged it with the superintendent to let them in,"
"Okay," he says. "That's fine,"
"I'll be in the car," she says, thinking he needs to say goodbye, but he trails her closely and gets in the car when she does. He and Sara had never stayed at Sara's apartment anyway, but Catherine doesn't know that small detail. The Denali is heavy with this second load composed mostly of Sara's library. She drives slowly and overcautiously to Grissom's townhouse. She is tired and he unloads more than she does. There isn't room for Sara's books on any of his shelves, so they just set them in piles on the floor. When it is time for Catherine to leave, she has to navigate the stacks.
"Thank you," he says.
"You're welcome," she replies.
Ecklie tells Grissom that he really needs to hire a new CSI to balance the workload on the nightshift. Grissom resists at first – Greg has been an extra member for some time now but the death toll in Las Vegas has always been exponential. His first instinct is to ask Catherine to do it, but he has been shirking too many responsibilities onto Catherine and he can see that she is reaching her limit. It is she who passes out assignments at the start of the shift, she who takes care of scheduling problems and he… he lurks in his office doing paper work or filling out order forms or pouring over old case files. He can't stop looking at the miniature cases. He searches for something that would have led them to Natalie Davis sooner; something that could have stopped the tragic chain of events that lead to the loss of Sara.
Now he has this to overcome. This anxiety of replacement. In some ways, he has already replaced Sara. Instead, he eats his lunch with Catherine and she comes over a few times a week to fix him a meal or watch TV with him. She is babysitting him but it is unnecessary. He isn't going to kill himself and he certainly isn't going to kill anyone else. He ought to tell Catherine to go home and reclaim her social life but he doesn't. He likes her there and he chooses, somewhat selfishly, to take what she is offering. She who such a short time ago had been hurt by their lapsing friendship was offering that friendship back with no strings attached and he was not too proud to accept.
Catherine is making a marinara sauce from scratch in his kitchen.
"I'm thinking of promotion Wendy into the field," he says. They don't usually talk about work – they don't usually talk at all.
"Good luck," Catherine snorts.
"What does that mean?"
"I doubt she wants to leave the lab, Grissom." Catherine says this like it's common knowledge. Grissom rarely speaks with Wendy but it's not because he doesn't like her. It's just that Wendy runs a tight ship and maybe that's why Grissom likes her.
"Oh," he says.
"Maybe it's time for some new blood," Catherine says.
"Someone from the outside?"
"The lab is getting a little incestuous," Catherine says, lowering her voice. She doesn't mean to hurt Grissom, but it feels a little like a stab at him and Sara, though unintentional. Catherine crushes another clove of garlic with the flat side of a knife and then rocks the knife back and forth, mincing.
"Maybe," he says. He hasn't hired someone from the outside since Holly who died on her first shift. "Maybe you should take over the night shift for a while," he says without really thinking about it. Catherine's knife stops.
"What are you saying?"
"I don't know," he shrugs. "I'm tired,"
"You're not tired, Gil, you're sad," she says. "It's okay to be sad but you aren't ready to move on yet,"
Catherine does this; Catherine informs him of what he's feeling all the time. Sometimes she's right, but sometimes he wants to shake her. He wants to grab her by her hips and handle her so roughly that he leaves bruises. Grissom feels like he's gotten so old, so heavy, so exhausted and Catherine has just stayed Catherine and it isn't fair.
She pushes the garlic into the stock pot with one perfectly manicured finger.
Six months after Sara's death, Catherine receives a dozen red roses at her house. She is surprised to see they are from Grissom. Grissom has given her flowers before, but he preferred to send her yellow or pink roses. These are red like blood and just beginning to open. She thanks the delivery man and hurries the stems into water. The small card thanks her for her friendship.
She calls him right away because the note reads like goodbye.
"Can I come over?" she says. She can tell Grissom had been asleep but he doesn't tell her no, so she gets into her car and drives over in black yoga pants and a tank top that belongs to Lindsey. She'd been asleep, too. The sun is bright and she puts on sunglasses against the glare. Grissom has unlocked the front door for her but he isn't in the living room or the kitchen. She finds him in the bedroom snoring.
"Gil," she says, and he rolls over and looks at her with squinting eyes.
"Hey," he says.
"Thanks for the flowers," she says.
"You couldn't have said that over the phone?"
"Nope," she says. "I wanted to make sure…" She wanted to make sure he was still there, in Vegas, but that seems too silly to say out loud. "That you were okay," He puts his head back down onto the pillow and she chuckles. "I'll go,"
"You can stay," he says and makes it a point to scoot over half an inch in some sort of invitation. "Stay,"
It is not the sort of invitation that Catherine Willows is used to. He's not asking her for sex, but merely for her company, for the feeling of more weight on the mattress and the steady breathing of another person in the bed. She wants to accept so she does. She toes off her shoes and climbs on in.
It is easy to fall asleep. His sheets smell like old spice and laundry detergent. She pulls the comforter over her and rolls over so her back is to him. She closes her eyes and sleeps. Though, only for a few hours. His sleep is deeper, heavier, and she thinks induced by alcohol. When she opens her eyes, she sees something she hadn't before and reprimands herself silently for the lack of observation. In the corner of the room is an air purifier and next to that an arrangement from Sara's funeral. Perhaps the corner was shadowed before, but now the sun hit it and she could see the dead roses clearly. It wasn't a particularly nice arrangement, especially at six months old – appropriately drab though tasteful. It had been there far too long that it was now just stems. All the petals had dropped and were on the rug, dark and curled black like dried blood.
She will throw it away and he will not comment. She will vacuum up the brittle remains and he will linger in the doorway. It seems strange to Catherine now, her face still creased from the pillowcase, that Grissom had decided to keep one of the few arrangements made of roses. They were so unlike Sara, this elegant and romantic flower. There was a nice arrangement that Catherine remembers with tall, stalky sunflowers that reminded her much more of Sara. Truth be told, it bothers Catherine that Grissom associated roses with both Sara's death and Catherine's friendship. She thinks of the bouquet at home and scrunches up her nose.
Catherine getting out of the bed doesn't wake up Grissom. She goes to the living room and rummages through her purse for her cell phone. There is a text message from Lindsey that reads, You're never at home anymore. Lindsey's style is passive aggressive, a trait Catherine attributes to Eddie but really comes from her side of the family. She should go home and see her daughter but she can't leave Grissom passed out next to dead flowers.
She wakes him up.
"Get dressed," she says. He pulls on pants as she dumps the arrangement and she waits impatiently while he shaves with sleepy eyes. He follows her dutifully to the car and doesn't ask where they are going. She drives and drives and finally they reach the spot. The very spot.
Grissom hadn't gone to the crime scene; he hadn't been allowed.
It just looks like desert now. Catherine gets out of the car and leans against the hood and Grissom follows suit. He doesn't say much at first. The silence is long and the sun is unyielding.
"She must have felt so alone," he says, finally.
"Do you remember what you told me when I first started going to school?" Catherine says. "You told me to change my major. You didn't want me getting hurt. You said, Miss Willows, this job is dangerous,"
"I remember," he mutters.
"I almost did. After Eddie, I almost left. After Nick, after Brass, after Sam, I almost left," she says. "And now, after Sara, I know that I won't ever leave. Sure, it's a dangerous job, only something in me understands…" She shakes her head. "To turn your back is to encourage death,"
"I do not know what it is about you that closes and opens – only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses. Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands," Grissom says. He speaks elegantly and flawlessly and despite that, she doesn't know what the hell he is talking about.
"Gil…" she says.
"E. E. Cummings," he says. "That was from Sara's favorite poem,"
"Oh," she says.
"Not my favorite. I always teased her – I thought it was an easy choice for a favorite. Good poem, but well studied. Popular. Easy," he says.
"People have their taste," Catherine says.
"I know," he says. He rubs his face. "I was critical of her, too much and now she's gone,"
"I think she appreciated your candor," Catherine says but she doesn't know if this is at all true. The truth of the matter is that Grissom is extremely critical. After all, it took Sara six years to earn her way into Grissom's bed.
"Why did you bring me here?" he asks.
"To help you move on," she says.
"Well it's hotter than hell," he says. "Let's go,"
Catherine will remember this moment as the moment their friendship is fully restored. Grissom wiping his brow and getting back in the car. He isn't over the loss, clearly, but she is fairly certain he is going to be fine. On the drive back, they have the air conditioning on high.
"We're okay, right?" Catherine asks.
"Yes," he says. "I believe we are,"
"No more hiding in your office," she says.
"Check," he says. "Any other rules?"
"No more listening to Ecklie," she says. "No more dead flowers in your bedroom and no more blaming yourself,"
"Something to work on," he says, quietly. She drives too fast. They are both going to be late to work, especially if they go home to shower and change, which they will. Ecklie will be mad – he will pitch a fit but Grissom will not apologize. He will not shuffle silently into his office; he will not hold his tongue.
"The good thing about the dead, Conrad, is they have all the time in the world," he will say. Ecklie will glower and walk away. Catherine will smile. Greg will spill his soda in the break room. Warrick will argue with his wife on his cell phone and Nick will tell a mildly dirty joke to cheer him up. Grissom will hand out assignments and then start looking at applications to fill Sara's position.
The sun will rise, set, and rise again.
And Catherine, for nearly a year, will keep her hair red.