Disclaimer: CSI Miami and all recognizable characters below are exclusively the property of CBS and affiliated parties.
Summary: Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation - Kahlil Gibran. S/C/H triangle. Angst/tragedy. First person Calleigh POV. Spoilers for3x1, Lost Son.
A/N: For the MiamiFicTalk challenge. Prompt # 014 - Choices.
Some choices we live not once but a thousand times over,
remembering them for the rest of our lives.
The first time I met Tim Speedle was certainly memorable, but it was hardly pleasant. I was new to Miami, new to the job, and sticking close to Horatio. Horatio and I had arrived at a crime scene just behind Tim and Megan. Horatio and Megan, never friends and often adversaries, wore grim expressions as they stepped from their cars and made their way to one another. I was two paces behind and slightly off to Horatio's side, grinning broadly, unaware of their acrimonious history. Tim was also walking off to Megan's side, but he was matching her pace step for step, his balance slightly skewed due to the large kit in his left hand. When Megan and Horatio met, they instantly fell into a heated argument, so I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Tim, holding out my hand. Tim put down his kit, folded his arms across his chest, and looked at me. He glanced down at my hand, and then looked back up at me.
"So you're Horatio's new lap dog?" he asked dryly.
I frowned. "I'm the new ballistics expert, if that's what you mean."
Tim shrugged. "Whatever. They're really the same thing, aren't they?Our next few meetings were just as caustic. Tim would stick up for Megan, telling me to drag Horatio back to the bomb squad where he belonged, and I would vehemently defend Horatio's right to be at the crime scene.
Several months later, as we were watching Horatio and Megan argue, Tim said, "They're never going to change, are they?" I slid my eyes to the side to look at him, but his eyes were glued on Megan, and I saw in that moment that his concern for her went beyond the professional. Tim had the look of someone who knew he'd never get what he wanted, but couldn't help still wanting it anyhow. I thought about my infatuation with Horatio, which was looking more and more hopeless as the weeks went by. I had been so certain when I'd met him that there was something between us, but my confidence was beginning to waver. Perhaps Tim and I weren't so different after all.
I focused my gaze back on Horatio. "I don't think so."
Tim sighed heavily and pushed off the car we had been leaning against. "That doesn't mean we don't have to get along, does it?"
"No," I said hesitantly, wanting to remind him that it was him, not me, who had gotten us off on the wrong foot.
"Good," he said, bending down to pick up his kit. "Do you think then that you could give me some insight into the ballistics evidence for this case?"
It was as close to an apology as Tim would come for calling me Horatio's lap dog, but it gave us a fresh start, and we soon found that unlike our superiors, we worked quite well together. I enjoyed Tim's company, and my heartache over Horatio's continued disinterest faded when we were together. Even Tim, prone to frowns and melancholy, could be seen laughing heartily in my presence. Our good work relationship also had the advantage in that we could run interference for Megan and Horatio, thus keeping their meetings and the ensuing spats to a minimum.
I've no doubt that Tim was aware of my crush on Horatio. More than once after Horatio dropped in to check on our progress, Tim would have to shake me out of a dazed fog. He could have teased me then, but he never did, probably because I was forever losing his attention at crime scenes. I'd be talking on and on, only to realize that I'd lost Tim five minutes earlier. His gaze would always be centered on Megan, following her movements as she interviewed witnesses or collaborated with other officers. Our crushes, however, remained just that – admirations of others that had no basis in reality and existed only in our minds. Megan was married and devoted to her husband, and Horatio's feelings for me were more paternal than anything else. It took awhile, but I finally saw that his romantic interests lay wholly with a sassy detective who inconveniently happened to be his sister-in-law. So I collected my feelings, my hopes and my dreams considering Horatio and knowing that I could never be fully rid of them, banished them to a back corner of my heart, freeing myself from the obsession that had ruled me ever since moving to Miami.
I was more than ready to start dating then, but by that time I'd turned down offers of dates from nearly every available (and some unavailable) man in the police department, and had been mostly written off as "one of those career-oriented types." Seeing as how I was always at work or at home sleeping, I didn't have much of a social life outside the lab, and my options were limited. Janet set me up with a few of her lawyer buddies, with no results. Still, I was surprisingly okay with my lack of a boyfriend. At least I finally was open to the idea of caring for someone who was capable of and willing to love me in return. And although Tim and I continued to remain good friends, and occasionally socialized outside of work, I never considered him as anything more. His heart belonged to Megan, and even if it was a hopeless situation, I still respected it. I had been there myself.
A few years later, Megan's husband was killed, and Megan, drowning in grief, took first a six month sabbatical and then left Miami shortly thereafter, her good-byes unsaid and her future whereabouts unknown.
Tim was crushed. It wasn't anything he said, so much as how his demeanor changed, although I was probably one of the few people who noticed. His shoulders slumped just a hair more, his eyes glittered just a touch less, and his sarcasm aimed for even rawer nerves. Standoffish at best, he became downright anti-social. Even I occasionally caught the brunt of his foul mood. Megan had been ever bit the mentor to him that Horatio was to me, and she'd left him without so much as a goodbye.
But Tim, like me, eventually accepted his lot and tried to move on, and it was then that his affections focused on me, although I was at first completely oblivious to them. I don't think Tim would have ever owned up to his feelings for me, had I not caught him red-handed one day, watching me with an interest so intense that my heart skipped a beat and my breath caught in my throat. We were at a crime scene, and I'd taken to keeping my eye on Tim, much as he'd once kept his eyes on Megan. I'd found him staring off into space more than once, and I didn't want anyone else to catch him at it. One afternoon I looked over my shoulder and saw Tim staring back at me, his brown eyes dark with desire. Heat rose in my cheeks and I spun my head back around. I was so flustered that I nearly mislabeled the evidence I was processing. It was such a novel idea that Tim might be interested in me that it took me several days to fully wrap my head around the concept. I'd never considered him as anything other than a friend, but I quickly warmed up to the idea of us being more.
It wasn't long after that I was returning Tim's smoldering glances with heated looks of my own, and that was all the encouragement he needed to ask me out. We were an unlikely pair, the two of us – him, the dark-haired, sarcastic, jaded New Yorker – me, the blond, cheerful, optimistic Southerner, but somehow it worked.
We dated for nearly two years, a fact that neither of us bothered to try and hide from the lab. Tim never laid so much as a finger on me at work, but it was clear to anyone who saw us together that we were more than just co-workers. Amazingly, it never once bothered me that our status as a couple was common knowledge around the lab. I had snagged a great guy, and even if he wasn't the one I'd originally wanted, I was never ashamed to admit that we were together.
I was happier than I'd been in a long time – for once both my personal and professional life were in fine order, and I'd very nearly forgotten about my feelings for Horatio. He'd become less and less involved with our team, spending most of his time with Frank or Yelina. I didn't resent it, although I did miss having him around. It was a bold statement of his faith in our team's abilities that he gave us so much freedom. I loved Tim, I enjoyed my job. I couldn't imagine having things any other way.
But Miami is a big town, brimming with hustle and bustle, coming and going at the same time. Nothing stays the same in this town, and my life was no exception.
Things began to unravel when Yelina saw Horatio with Susie and Madison, and assuming the worst, began to give Horatio the cold shoulder. Horatio was left with no choice but to lose the woman he loved in order to save her from the unkind truth that her supposedly deceased husband had been unfaithful. With Yelina having told Horatio in no uncertain terms to stay out of her life, he too was finally freed from his obsession, much as Tim and I had been freed from ours. And apparently, Horatio was neither as oblivious to my feelings as I'd believed nor aware that I had moved on, which is rather strange considering that he knew Tim and I were dating, and had been for some time.
"I know I'm a little late," he said out of the blue one day, after swinging by ballistics to drop off several bullets. I thought he was referring to the evidence.
"It's okay," I said, my eyes glued to a microscope. "I've had plenty to keep me busy."
"I can see that," he said, and something in his tone told me that he was talking about something other than the bullet I was examining. I looked up from my microscope and stared at him.
"You're not talking about this bullet, are you?"
He shook his head. "No, I'm not."
I pursed my lips and waited. Whatever he had to say, I wasn't about to force it. He'd had more than enough encouragement from me in the past.
"How are things with Tim?" he asked.
"Fine," I told him, refusing to go more in depth. We were better than fine, actually. But what no one knew, not even Tim, was that I couldn't stop looking back over my shoulder, wondering if there was something – someone - out there that I was missing.
It's not that I didn't love Tim. I did love him, very much. Underneath his prickly, sarcastic exterior was a loving, caring, considerate man, who made me smile every time he walked into the room. But reaching the conclusion of if he was the one was a whole other story. Fortunately, Tim didn't seem to be in any sort of rush when it came to us settling down and playing house together, or at least making it legal and official. I've often wondered if things would have turned out differently if he had been.
"Good, good," he said, nodding his head up and down. "It looks like I'm too late then," he added after a moment, and made to turn around and leave.
"For what?" I cried out in exasperation, tired of playing games.
He shook his head. "You're happy with Tim," he said, his eyes wistful and his face looking much older than I'd remembered. "He's good for you. You're good for each other. I'm not going to get in the way of that. I just regret…I just regret that I didn't see it sooner."
"Me and Tim?" I asked, confused. "But you knew we were dating."
He smiled at me. "I'm talking about me and you, sweetheart. I just wish I'd seen that there was something there sooner." He spun on his heel and left before I recovered my ability to speak.
Hoartio's near confession sent me into a state of frenzied agitation. I fussed around in the lab for a few hours longer, accomplishing nothing but managing to get most of my paperwork into a jumbled mess. When Tim rapped softly on the door at six pm, my head shot up, my eyes meeting his in a challenging glare. Tim knew better than to directly acknowledge my bad mood, so instead he gathered my things together, handed me my purse, and with a gentle but persistent touch, pushed me out of the lab.
We went out for dinner that evening, and Tim waited patiently for me to explode with whatever was clearly bothering me. After all, that was how it had always worked in the past. But how could I tell my boyfriend, my lover, my best friend that my source of agitation was another man, one I'd never fully gotten over?
Tim's confidence that I'd break began to fade once we reached his apartment. I flopped down onto the couch while Tim retreated to his bedroom to change and regroup. He finally came back and lay down on the couch next to me, pulling me against him until our noses bumped up against each other.
"Okay, girl," he said, kissing me on the forehead, "What did I do this time?"
I laughed in spite of my foul mood. "Nothing," I said, snuggling into his embrace and returning his kiss with a more passionate, lip-based version. And really, what had he done, other than love me?
My kiss effectively ended the conversation. But I lay awake for a long time afterwards, tangled in the sheets with Tim's arms wrapped loosely around my waist, staring up into darkness. What had Horatio really wanted when he came to my lab? What was the point of telling me now, after all this time, that maybe he did have feelings for me? And was that even what he was trying to say? And why did I even care what he meant? I was over Horatio, with Tim now, and quite content. Wasn't I his second choice? Would he have even said those words to me had Yelina not blown him off?
My thoughts took a darker turn after that. I was clearly Horatio's second choice, but wasn't I Tim's second choice as well? Would we even be where we were now had Megan not left? And wasn't Tim my second choice as well? The longer I thought about it, the more muddled and distorted my thoughts became, until I somehow convinced myself that breaking up with Tim was the right thing to do. It was a decision that will haunt me the rest of my life.
We didn't break up right away, of course. Two years of nothing but good memories isn't something you toss aside lightly, even if what you think you've always wanted is suddenly within reach. I stayed in an agitated state for two weeks, my foul mood so impenetrable that Tim and I began spending more nights apart than together. I wouldn't tell him what was wrong, and he was tired of trying to coax it out of me.
Finally, exasperated with myself and needing firmer answers, I stalked over to Horatio's one evening, banging on his door until he opened it.
"Calleigh?" he asked, stepping sideways and gesturing for me to come in.
"What do you want from me?" I asked him, my eyes fiery with challenge. "Why did you say what you said to me in the lab the other day?"
Horatio's eyes widened with surprise. Taking a moment to collect himself, he shut the door and took a deep breath. "I was being selfish," he admitted. "I shouldn't have said anything." He walked away from me then, retreating into the living room.
I followed, grabbing his arm to make him look at me. "You've ruined my relationship with Tim. You know that, right? I was in love with you for a long time, Horatio. And it took me a long time to realize that you weren't ever going to love me back. And then I found Tim, and I thought everything was perfect. But then you had to go and open your mouth and ruin everything. Can't you see what you did?"
Horatio bowed his head. "I really am sorry, Calleigh. I shouldn't have said anything."
"But you did. And now everything's all messed up."
"Are you sure?" he asked, his brow marred with concern.
I nodded, turning my head away. Just being here, talking to Horatio like this, felt like a betrayal to Tim. Hell, I felt like I'd been betraying Tim every day since Horatio had made his cryptic remark. And yet, knowing that what I had always wanted, what I had always craved, was so close kept me from walking out of Horatio's house. I should have realized then that this mess would never end well, but I was a little crazy by that point, and not thinking straight.
"You haven't told him anything, have you?" It wasn't so much a question as a statement of fact.
I shook my head.
"Then go home, Calleigh," he told me in firm and unwavering voice. "Go home to Tim."
I bit my bottom lip and stared at him. I had come from my apartment, where I'd spent the last week with only my pillow as a bedmate. Tim was at his apartment, trying not to be angry with me. I hadn't seen him outside of work in over a week. He had no idea I was over here.
Horatio stared back at me, seeming to read my mind. He opened his mouth to speak, but I beat him to it, pushing back his words with the force of my lips against his.
Horatio's body stiffened, and then started moving backwards. In two short steps he was trapped against a wall, and my body molded, soft and pliable, against his unyielding one.
I could hear nothing aside from the whoosh of blood running through my head, could feel little other than my fluttering heart beating faster and faster. I poured every ounce of myself into that kiss, desperate to show Horatio how I felt about him. It was only when I began to feel as though I would pass out from lack of oxygen that I pulled away. Horatio's lips followed, not yet ready to give me up. I didn't - couldn't - pull back; at some point Horatio's arms had latched around my waist, and as I pulled away they tightened, keeping me from going too far. Having stopped my half-hearted retreat, Horatio's lips managed to find mine once more.
A giggle escaped from me in between the feather-light kisses he was brushing across my lips.
"Horatio," I sighed.
"Yes?" he murmured, sliding his lips down to my collarbone, where he left a trail of kisses. I shivered in response.
"Cold?" he asked.
"Mmm," I mumbled, not capable of saying anymore.
He took my indecision as a yes and tightened his grip around my waist. "Come here," he said, and I could feel his lips curling up into a smile against my skin. I obliged him - how could I not? - and snuggled up against his body. Horatio chuckled softly, in that way of his, and brought his head up, pulling me close against him until my face was buried in his chest. This was a side of Horatio I'd never seen, although it was one I'd often imagined, and one I was finding that I enjoyed far too much.
Despite this newfound sensation of satisfaction, my mind was not completely lost in the clouds. I still had a boyfriend whose sole fault was that he wasn't Horatio Caine, and my disloyalty to him was weighing heavy on my heart. "This is nice," I murmured into Horatio's chest, unable to resist kissing him a few times more in the process. I brought my head up and looked him in the eye. "But I have some things I need to take care off." I crinkled my nose, worried that Horatio would choose yet again to take the higher ground.
He nodded, his face serious. "Don't do anything rash," he said, then shook his head as he realized the ridiculousness of the statement. He corrected himself. "Make sure you choose what's going to make you happy."
I answered him with a kiss. "This is what makes me happy," I whispered against his lips, pulling away and rushing out the door before anything else could happen.
My words would, of course, later come back to haunt me. I still remember a conversation Tim and I had had, less than a week before he died. After we broke-up (a strangely quiet affair to which Tim put up little resistance), we remained civil at work, but only because we avoided each other as much as possible, managing to keep from being assigned to work cases together and using other people to send our work along to each other's labs. There was no escaping the morning staff meeting, but Tim always hung back, leaning against the rear counter with his face hidden behind a coffee mug, sneaking out of the meeting as soon as it broke up. Everyone at work, with the exception of Alexx, acted as if they had no idea what was going on, even though my affair with Horatio was providing ample fodder for the office gossip mill. Alexx had taken Tim's side, and wasn't speaking to either Horatio or me. Tim and I hadn't talked, much less done the obligatory redistribution of clothes, books and whatnots left at each other's apartments over the years. Tim had more or less moved into my apartment six months into our relationship, but had never given up his own. I had needed to be able to tell my mother that I wasn't living with my boyfriend, which was a half-truth at best, but it kept my guilt at bay. Tim had - well, I can't seem to remember now Tim's reasons for keeping his apartment - but I think he needed to feel like he had a place to run to if things between us got rough, never quite able to believe that what we had was entirely real. He'd certainly made a quick retreat to his apartment after Horatio had unloaded his secret on me and I had in turn unloaded my anxiety and guilt onto him.
One day however, I turned onto a rarely used back hallway, only to find Tim headed in my direction. He stopped when he neared me, and I was so surprised by this move that I stopped too. We'd had less than three direct conversations with each other since breaking up several months earlier.
"Hey," he said, waving a piece of paper at me. "I was just coming to find you."
"Well, here I am," I said, my voice too falsely cheerful for us both. "What's that?" I asked, pointing at the paper in his hand.
Tim handed the paper to me and shrugged. "Nothing that we didn't already know. I ran that trace on the bullet that you sent up with Eric earlier this week." I was so surprised that he had sought me out to hand-deliver the report that I said nothing. Tim had taken to emailing me the results of trace analysis that I requested, or worse, simply adding the report to the case file and leaving me to search it out when I needed it. He hadn't called with results, much less hand-delivered them, since we broke up.
"How have you been?" he asked. When it was clear that I wouldn't answer, he added, "I haven't seen you much recently." He chuckled grimly at his own joke, but there was no joy in his dark eyes.
I felt my ears turning red. I hadn't been to Trace since Tim and I had broken up, although I'd sent plenty of bullets his way. Likewise, this was Tim's first trip down to Ballistics. All of our previous conversations had taken place in the break room, the result of poorly timed coffee breaks. The demise of our relationship had come about so suddenly that I still wasn't sure what to say to Tim, so I avoided him. He, in turn, avoided me, just as he tended to avoid anything in his life that made him uncomfortable. I think he still wasn't entirely convinced we were really over, and until he got his head worked around that idea, he was staying away from me. "Okay," I finally said. "You?"
"I've been better," he admitted. I didn't have to look hard to know this was true. Tim, already thin, had lost weight, and I could tell from the bruises under his eyes that he wasn't sleeping well either. I wanted to believe this was because of the busy caseload we'd been carrying recently, but in my heart I knew it was all my fault.
We paused, the moment becoming awkward and tense as each of us grappled for something to say. Tim surprised me - again - by speaking first.
"Are you happy?" he asked, and I realized as I met his eyes that his happiness was dependent on my own, regardless of whether or not we were together. His first concern, now as always, was my happiness. It was why he'd let me walk away from our relationship without a struggle, even though my leaving broke him.
And with this realization, how could I lie to him? "Not really," I said, dropping my eyes and staring at my feet. Things with Horatio were good, but they weren't great, and fell far short of how I'd imagined they would be. He worked long hours, disappeared off in the middle of the night without a word, and was frequently preoccupied when he was at home. I'd changed my entire life to be with him, but he'd done little to alter his, aside from giving me a copy of his house key and remembering - for the most part - to keep his kitchen stocked with sugar for my coffee. I had yet to give him a spare key to my own apartment, but if it bothered him, he never said so. As it was, we'd spent very few evenings at my apartment. I wasn't ready to remove every trace of Tim from the apartment I still considered to be ours, and it was more convenient for Horatio to stay at his apartment. Horatio had a demanding mistress in the city of Miami, and he was at her beck and call. I wasn't sure how to feel about having to compete with the welfare of a city for his affections, but I certainly hadn't expected to lose so easily.
But beyond all that, I simply missed Tim. I missed his sarcasm, his moodiness, the way he draped his wet towel over the chair in our bedroom no matter how many times I told him not to. I missed the way he held me after we made love, the way he threaded his fingers through my hair in the morning, how he always prepared my cup of coffee before his own. I missed everything about him - everything I'd adored, everything that had annoyed me, everything I wasn't even aware I had noticed. I would be lying if I had said that recently I didn't close my eyes when I opened the door to my apartment, praying that when I opened them he'd be sitting on the couch, waiting for me.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Tim said, the regret in his voice genuine. He looked down at his feet, then stuck his hand in his front pocket and pulled out his keys. I watched in stunned silence as he pulled an all too familiar key off his key ring. Was this why he'd sought me out that afternoon? "I've been meaning to get this back to you," he said, holding the key out to me. "I just haven't really felt up to it. Unless, of course, you've already changed the locks?"
I choked back the lump that had formed in the back of my throat and shook my head. "Keep it," I said, realizing that perhaps I hadn't given Horatio a key to my apartment yet because I wasn't quite ready for Tim to surrender his. My relationship with Horatio was starting to feel more like a casual affair than an actual relationship. On more than one occasion I'd found myself thinking that I was still with Tim, and the necessary mental correction pained me acutely.
Tim shrugged, but slipped the key back on his key ring. "Did you make him another copy? You know you shouldn't have so many copies of the key to your apartment out floating around." I noticed that Tim never called Horatio by name when speaking to me. How he managed to separate Horatio his boss from Horatio the man who had stolen away his girlfriend was something I never learned. Maybe he never did. He certainly hadn't worked any cases with Horatio recently. As the senior CSI, he had first choice when it came to picking cases, and he always chose either to work a case solo or took Eric with him.
I bristled slightly at the implication that I handed out keys to my apartment as if they were party favors. Tim, still adept at reading my mind, sighed. "I didn't mean it like that. I'm just worried about your safety, that's all."
"You shouldn't be," I snapped, before adding more softly, "You're the only one with a key."
Tim raised his eyebrows, but remained silent. He started to shift his weight from one foot to another, a sign I instantly recognized as restlessness. I knew that he was about to leave unless I could find a way to stop him.
"I miss you," I confessed. I looked up at him then, my eyes shiny and full of hope. Tim, knowing exactly what I wanted without my saying another word, started to shake his head.
"We can't go back to how things were, Calleigh," he told me. I flinched. Before we'd broken up, I'd always been Cal to him - a nickname others had often tried to employ, but one that only Tim had ever been given permission to use. I wasn't even Cal to Horatio. Now, I was once again Calleigh to Tim as well, and likely to stay only that.
"Why not?" I asked. Tim gave me a withering look. "I know I screwed things up," I said. "You have no reason to trust me, but I still love you. I only love you. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to earn back your trust. Can't that be enough to start over?"
"Stop it," he said sternly, stepping away from me. "Please, don't say those things." The desperation was clear in his eyes. "I can't - I can't hear those things, okay, Calleigh? Can you understand that? I need to be able to convince myself that you're better off." He paused, took a deep breath, and continued. "That's why I came down here today. I had to see with my own eyes that you were happy, that the decision you made and I didn't protest was the right one."
I didn't stop. I should have, but I had to get out the words that had been budding in me for months, the result of seeds that had likely been sown the very day we'd broken up.
"Don't you get it, Tim? I've never loved anyone the way I love you. I've never been loved by anyone the way you loved me. And I didn't realize that at the time, because I hadn't ever experienced love like that before. How could I know that what we had was perfect when I've never had anything to compare it to? All the love I've ever known was bad, a disappointment at best. And then you came along, and I was too blind to see how wonderful you were."
Tim snorted. "So you had to leave me to figure that out? Obviously, I messed up somewhere along the line. Somehow, I didn't tell you, didn't show you, just how much you were loved. Because if you had known, you never would have left."
I couldn't meet his eyes then. My ears, face and neck flooded with blood and shame.
"Hey, hey," Tim interrupted, seeing my discomfort. He reached out to rub my arm in reassurance, and I leaned into his hand. I then took a few stumbling steps towards him and fell into his arms completely, grateful when he wrapped his arms around me instead of pushing me away. I buried my face in his chest and inhaled deeply as he rubbed my back soothingly, pulling me tight against him. I had missed this even more than I'd realized. "It's okay," he whispered, all anger and resentment gone from him. "I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry, okay? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I just didn't love you enough. Maybe I didn't love you the way you needed to be loved."
I shook my head violently. "No, no," I said, my words muffled. "You never did anything wrong."
"I didn't keep you from leaving," he said quietly.
"Cal?" he said softly after a moment, waiting patiently until I looked up at him, my eyes shiny. I wouldn't cry, but I was close. Tim's face was full of concern. "Is it that bad?"
"I miss you," I told him simply, because that was the truth. I'd never missed anything or anyone the way I missed him. I'd known that all along, but being back in his arms confirmed that it was no passing fancy. It didn't matter whether things with Horatio were good, bad or just so-so. I needed Tim. Memories of him haunted me daily. I couldn't have gotten them out of my mind even if I'd wanted to. I felt lost, incomplete, and far from whole, and Tim was the only person who could fix that.
Tim scrunched his face into an indiscernible look. Finally, he nodded. He gently pried me off of him and took a few steps back, holding onto my upper arms to keep me from coming any closer. "You need to figure yourself out. You need to decide what you really want, who you really want. And that's going to take time. It's not something you can decide today, or tomorrow, or even next week. You need to think long and hard about it. You do that for me and then we'll talk, okay? I can't – I can't go through this twice. I need to know that if we try this again, then that's it. Deal?" He released my arms.
I nodded - twice - very slowly. His words were cold, and delivered without emotion, but he'd given me something to work towards. Winning him back wasn't entirely out of the question, and that was more than I'd hoped for. I knew without a doubt that if I did what he asked, that he would take me back. And I also knew that if I ever found my way into Tim's arms again, I would never leave them.
We stared at each other for a while longer, until Tim broke his gaze. "I should go," he said, looking uncomfortable. He reached out and took one of my hands in his own, squeezing it briefly before releasing it. "I've missed you too," he added quietly. And then he turned around sharply and headed in the direction from which he had come, leaving me alone in the hallway with my thoughts.
We never did get to have that talk. The following Monday afternoon, Tim was brought down by a single bullet, and my dreams and hopes of what might have been drowned in the blood that poured from his dying body. When I walked into that jewelry store, and saw Horatio covered in Tim's blood, it was all I could do to remain standing. Horatio looked up at me, one side of his face painted red and his blue shirt - one I'd bought him not two months earlier - hopelessly stained with Tim's blood. Tim's shirt, once a brilliant shade of cobalt blue, was now a dark purple, and ripped from where the bullet had torn into his body. I had bought that shirt too. What can I say? I preferred Tim and Horatio in blue, yet they were both inclined to dress in solid black from head to toe. Neither was willing to admit, as I stood them in front of the full-length mirror, that they looked much better in blue, but both of them had been willing to humor me, and had worn the shirts. After that day, I don't think I've ever looked at blue the same way. I certainly haven't bought any more blue shirts. All I see when I look at them is death.
Horatio looked up at me, as if to ask, "What have we done?" He knew that Tim had only cleaned his gun because of me, and was likely thinking that Tim probably hadn't cleaned his gun after we had broken up. Horatio and I had paid the ultimate price for our relationship, and I knew then, as Horatio stared down at his gun and Tim's, that we were over, even if Horatio didn't. He was in shock, sticky with Tim's blood, and barely remembering to breath. But I was the one who had started it all, the one whose choices had brought this very moment into being, and I knew exactly what was coming.
I took Tim and Horatio's guns and hightailed it out of there, suddenly finding it hard to breath. Back at the lab, I pulled Tim's gun out and prepared to take it apart. But I didn't need to look inside the chamber to know what I would find.
I've always been fastidious about cleaning my guns. Tim quickly realized once we starting dating that when I was cleaning my guns he'd best find something to occupy himself because I would not be distracted. With little else to entertain him and wanting to remain in my presence, he started cleaning his gun alongside me. He'd tried at first just to sit at the kitchen table next to me, but he would inevitably end up being banished from the room, accused of being too fidgety. His gun gleamed during the two years we dated. After we broke up, I'd often thought about him when I cleaned my guns, wondering if he had kept up the habit that I had instilled in him.
"Apparently not," I whispered to myself, and that was when my first and only tear fell. I wiped at my eyes desperately, smearing any other tears that might have dared to fall across my cheeks. The last thing I needed was to further contaminate Tim's gun.
Horatio picked me up at my place three days later to take me to the funeral. We hadn't seen or talked to each other at all since Tim had been killed. Horatio had been buried in a mound of paperwork, and I'd spent a lot of time thinking about things, just as I'd told Tim I would, although it was a rather futile exercise at that point. I'd lost Tim forever to a bullet, and I knew that I would soon be losing Horatio as well. I'd been fairly certain the moment he'd met my eyes in the jewelry store, and I was one hundred percent certain when he stayed away from my apartment the night Tim had died. I'd sat in bed, absently thumbing through a celebrity gossip rag, my mind elsewhere. My ears were tuned, waiting to hear the sound of Horatio knocking on my door. But he never came, and eventually I fell into a deep sleep, lost in a dream world where there was only Tim and me. There was no past, no future, no Horatio, no Megan, no distrust, no heartbreak, no fatal gunshot wound. It was just us, just that moment, just love.
Horatio and I broke up for good a few months after Tim died, sometime after an awkward Thanksgiving but before we could repeat the mistake at Christmas. We'd been lurching along by then for months, knowing that we were over but not wanting to take the steps to end it. We never discussed it directly, but I knew, and figured Horatio did as well, that Tim's shoddy gun keeping and the reason behind it was directly related to the delay in our breakup. Tim had died because I'd broken up with him and hadn't bothered to make sure that he kept up the practice of regularly cleaning his gun. And I'd only broken up with Tim because Horatio had admitted to having feelings for me. From this twisted logic we arrived at the conclusion that if we broke up, Tim's death would somehow be in vain. Horatio was feeling as much guilt as I was, and that guilt weighed heavily on us both the few nights he did stay over. Our lovemaking was stilted, awkward and completely out of sync. Afterwards, we would each lay on our side of the bed, not touching, a gulf of space between us and Tim's death hanging over us.
It was Horatio who finally ended it, or at least, vocalized what we both knew to be true. I barely heard the words as they flowed from his mouth - something like "better this way" or "two very different people" and "just not meant to be." I nodded through his quiet words, his face going fuzzy as my eyes refused to focus. I had lost Tim, and now I had lost Horatio as well. I had gambled and had lost it all.
It took me a long time to recover from Tim's death and the events proceeding and following it, so I don't remember much about what happened during the following two years. I do know that I worked too much and slept too little, and that I finally made it home to Louisiana for Christmas, my first trip back since leaving for Miami. My mother, discerning more than I could ever tell her, hugged me tightly and said nothing. She'd been sober then for nearly five years, and it felt good to hug my mother and have her spell like coffee and pumpkin pie instead of vodka and gin.
The third time I went home for Christmas, I realized that I didn't want to return to Miami. I would be leaving Tim, whose gravestone I still visited a couple times each month, but aside from that there was nothing left for me there. Everything I'd gone down there for, and everything I'd found upon arriving, was now gone, destroyed by my own hand. I called a moving company two days after Christmas and had my entire apartment packed up and shipped to Louisiana. Deleting the life that I'd made for myself in Miami was easy, in these days of internet access, and aside from my water bill, I was able to cancel everything online with a few clicks of the mouse. I even emailed my resignation letter to Horatio, the official version coming first, the personal email explaining why next. His only reply was to wish me the best.
I took a job in Vicksburg, Mississippi, doing some contract CSI work. Vicksburg is not a large town by any means, but the casinos that now define it generate enough crime that the local police force was eager to hire me. I bought a house in Darnell, just a few blocks away from my parents, who were once again working on reconciling their broken marriage. My brothers had all married by then, and I had six nieces and nephews within a 10-mile radius of my house. The commute was long, but there is no traffic in northern Louisiana, and I was treated every day to the joy of driving over the Mississippi River. Despite having grown up next to it, the sight of its broad, churning muddy waters, forever fighting against the forces striving to contain it, never fail to wonder and amaze me. Every drive across that bridge has an almost magical feel to it, as if everything the Mississippi River is cannot be fully expressed or explained by simple physics.
And perhaps it's this mystical quality of the Mississippi that contributed to what happened to me one warm spring day as I was driving across it. I can't explain it, and I know if I told anyone that I'd be labeled crazy, but that makes it no less real to me. As I was crossing the river, I felt warmness spread throughout my entire body. Tim's presence, so unique and so long gone from my life, was back, magnified a thousand fold. The heaviness that had settled in my heart the day he died lifted, replaced by a surge of love so strong and so intense that I tightened my grip on the wheel, turning my knuckles white. Tim had found me. He was with me now, and I knew that he would never leave me. We were past all blame and regret, beyond everything that had torn us apart in Miami. Now it was just me and Tim, and I was deliriously happy. My life was finally complete, not in the way that I'd ever imagined it would be, but complete all the same.
Joyous from this realization, I rolled down the windows in my car, laughing as the wind whipped my hair across my face. Tim was once again by my side, and nothing could stop us now.