Disclaimer: The characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Spoilers: through 9x1
This one is for Beaujolais, because she asked. Though it might not be quite what she had in mind.
The envelope was a shock.
Jim looked down at it, half-hidden in the bills in his hand, and dropped his keys without checking to make sure they actually hit the hall table. He knew the handwriting, and that was what kept his eyes fixed, because he'd seen it uncounted times but never here.
And subconsciously, he'd thought he'd never see it again.
After a long moment, Jim extracted the envelope from the rest of his mail and set the bills down, distracted from his usual coming-home routine. It was just a letter, a thin one to judge by the feel, but looking at it brought a certain sense of dread, and part of him wanted to toss it out unopened--to spare himself whatever pain lay within.
But then, he'd never been one to shirk pain.
It was five strides to his living room. Jim sat down in his battered easy chair, ignoring the way his gun holster poked into his side, and turned the envelope over. There was nothing more than his name and address, a stamp, and a return address so scribbled as to be almost illegible; and that last was a true irony, because there was no one left to receive a returned letter.
Letting out a slow breath, Jim tore the flap open.
It held one sheet of notepaper, the handwriting a little clearer, as if the writer had slowed down. Dear Jim, it read.
I just wanted to say thanks for being there for me today. I know you're pissed, and I don't blame you, because I screwed up big time. And I'm sorry.
This whole mess has shown me a few things about myself. I've learned a lot from Grissom, but I learned things from you too, like persistence, and not giving in to the dirty. I know we didn't get along so good at first, but your friendship ended up being really important to me, even if I never say so.
You told me to never forget how lucky I am. I won't. With you looking out for me I don't think I can.
When you're done being pissed, maybe we can meet up for beers or something--
The scrawl at the bottom of the page started with a W but was otherwise an unreadable tangle.
It was on the third read-through that Jim became aware of the tears running down his cheeks. He closed his eyes, the paper creasing in his grip, and let them drip, hot and painful.
Under the grief, though, a knot was loosening, because he'd been forgiven.
When the lump in his throat was gone, Jim wiped his eyes, the moisture cool and slick across his fingers, and stood. Walking over to his bookcase, he took down the framed photo from the second shelf.
It was an old picture, back from when he'd still been a supervisor. Someone had herded the night shift together into a group, and they squinted and grinned into the sun and the lens, Catherine mock-pouting, Grissom impossibly cheerful, himself sardonic and needing a haircut.
Nick and Warrick, arms around each other's shoulders, brothers under the skin.
Jim looked at it for a long time. The faces blurred and sharpened as a decade's worth of memories passed through his mind, all the simple, insignificant pieces that made up life.
There was no conclusion to draw, no pithy statement to sum up a life. There were just the memories, and the picture, and words on a page.
He put the frame back on the shelf, folded the letter back into its envelope, and slid the envelope under the frame.
For this kind of thing, Scotch was usually his choice, but instead of fetching ice and a glass, Jim opened his fridge. There were three bottles left of the dark ale he saved for really good pizza, and he took one out.
Popping off the cap and shrugging out of his holster, he set the gun aside and returned to his chair. Ceremoniously, he lifted the bottle to the image in his mind's eye--a reckless young man, a clever CSI, a stubborn heart, an unexpected friend.
"I won't forget," he said, and drank.