Of the characters only Libby, Jim Maxwell and a few assorted goons, thugs and bad guys are my invention. The rest belong to CBS and people who are definitely not me; I'm just borrowing them for a little while. No harm, no foul.
Set in season 6, a day or so after the end of Gum Drops
With many, MANY thank yous to procrastin8or951 for the help and beta'ing
Content warning: While there's nothing in this chapter that you wouldn't see on screen in a CSI episode, this chapter does come with a content warning for a discussion about potentially triggering material.
And thank you also to everyone who's read and reviewed and enjoyed - I'm just sorry that updates are currently taking me so long. The good news is that the next four chapters are all pretty much written, so assuming I don't get struck by lightning...
The Stillness of Remembering
There was an ache beginning to build behind his eyes as Nick finally pulled up in front of his house. He needed sleep in the worst way, but there wouldn't be time for it. One glance at his watch told him he had less than an hour before he and Libby needed to get going for Catherine's. Way too little time for sleep. He'd have to settle for caffeine in large quantities and hope like hell that things had calmed down at the lab by the time he got back there.
As he climbed out of his truck, however, a new thought flashed through his mind. Grissom was back tonight. Nick groaned deeply. That figured. It was hard enough to face Grissom when you were on top of your game and feeling A-okay. Grissom was going to make mincemeat out of him.
He scrubbed a hand over his face. Somehow, he couldn't muster enough energy to worry about that. Not yet, at least. Maybe once he'd had a pot of coffee.
"C'mon. One foot in front of the other," he muttered, locking the truck. "You've done this before, you can do this again."
As he turned to go into the house, he caught a glimpse of the van parked opposite. He frowned. Why was it still there? Maybe it was the lack of sleep fueling his paranoia but something about its continued presence made him suspicious. For a second, he flashed back to Nigel Crane, then dismissed the idea. It wouldn't be Crane. Couldn't be; he'd had a letter only a week or so ago notifying him of a new competency hearing which meant that Crane was still safely incarcerated. That didn't mean it wasn't someone else keeping an eye on him, or on one of his neighbours, though.
Unlocking his front door, Nick pulled out his cell phone and found the number for PD. Then he hesitated. The last thing he needed was for the uniforms to have anything more to razz him about, particularly when he was almost positive his suspicions were borne purely out of paranoia. Then again...
Nick sighed and scrolled further through his contacts list until he found Sophia's number, then dialled it before he could talk himself out of it.
"Stokes, what the hell are you doing even being conscious right now?" Sophia sounded oddly annoyed by that fact.
Nick finally stepped inside his house and smiled faintly. "Seem to remember you volunteering me to track down that PO's number which, just so's you know, should be waiting for me when I clock in tonight. Look, could you do me a favour?"
"Sure, if it means you're gonna get some sleep."
Nick closed his eyes for a moment. The constant mothering from some of his colleagues was really beginning to annoy him. "If I can."
Perhaps Sophia picked up on his irritation because her next question was simply, "So what's this favour?"
He reopened his eyes and started towards the kitchen. "There's an unmarked van parked up outside my neighbour's house. It's been there all day, far as I can tell, and I think it was there last night, too. I know it isn't my neighbour's van - 'fact, I don't think there's anyone at this end of the street who drives anything that size, apart from me."
"And you think there's something off about it?"
"Either that or I'm having paranoia issues." Nick started pulling out the fixings to make a pot of coffee. "Could go either way."
Sophia snorted. "What's the address and do you have a plate number?"
Nick gave his neighbour's address and added, "It's an Arizona plate, last three letters PBK."
"All right; I'll take a look into it."
Sophia hung up before he could say anything else. Nick turned the coffee machine on and dumped his cell phone on the counter. At least she hadn't told him he was being ridiculous. And, he admitted, he supposed she probably had a point about that sleep thing, too - it just wasn't something he could fix. Maybe Catherine would let him sack out after diner.
Nick snorted. Who was he kidding? She'd probably take one look at him and lay him out on the couch before he could even say hello.
The coffee machine gurgled, letting him know it was done. Okay. Time to get moving again. He needed to shower, shave and change - he was already going to get crap from people for being tired without making them think the worst. He also needed to check Libby was up and ready.
That reminder made him pause. He'd subconsciously been expecting to find her sitting in the living room channel surfing or with her nose buried deep in one of his books. The fact that she wasn't worried him. Pouring himself a cup of coffee, he decided that the best course of action was to see if she was awake and then go from there.
Unfortunately, when Nick knocked on his bedroom door he got no response. Frowning, he called, "Libby?"
"In the bathroom," came the answer.
Nick's frown deepened. Libby sounded as if she was sick - which she definitely hadn't been when he'd left her that morning. Food poisoning was unlikely. So was some sort of bug. A hangover was improbable. What did that leave? "Libby, are you okay?"
It was the same lie he used. "Uh-huh." He moved towards the bathroom door. "So you're actually feeling like three-day-old crap and don't want to tell me because it's not what a Stokes is supposed to do. Right?"
The only answer was the sound of someone throwing up.
Nick sighed. "C'mon Libby, I'm the last person who's gonna give you crap about this."
"Fine doesn't include puking like you went to an all night kegger."
That provoked a tired snort. "I'm fine," she repeated.
Nick rolled his eyes. Sometimes Stokes Family stoicism could be a real pain in the ass. "Libby, we both know that is a pile of crap. If you were fine, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
The toilet flushed and a moment later the door opened. Libby looked pale and her eyes were red-rimmed. "I'm fine."
"Works even less well face to face," said Nick gently. "Stop trying to kid me. Better still, stop trying to kid yourself. You're not fine, and that's okay. No matter what your dad says, sometimes it really is okay to not be 'fine'."
"You don't understand."
Carefully, Nick wrapped his arm around her shoulders and gently led her into the living room. "Don't I?" He guided her down onto the couch, then perched on the coffee table in front of her, not letting her hide. "Libby, darlin', I'll tell you what I do understand, okay? I understand that there's a lot of very bad stuff goes on and happens to good people. I understand that some of that bad stuff can be so bad that you wind up feeling like it might somehow have been your fault. One thing I understand better than anything else, that bad stuff can be real difficult to talk about, so I know that this is hard. The kicker is, the longer you don't talk about it, the harder it gets and Grandma told me this has been going on more than a month, so I'm figuring right around now, you're feeling like this is the hardest thing you've ever had to do. And it is. I know it is. But, darlin', you need to tell someone."
"You gonna tell me to cowboy up?" Libby asked.
"Hell no." Nick smiled faintly. "I ain't your dad and you ain't been thrown from a horse."
"Kinda feel like I have."
"Then this is one horse you don't have to get back on, Libby. Whatever happened was not your fault, okay?"
"He said it was."
"He's a liar."
"I couldn't fight him off. If I could have fought him off it wouldn't have happened."
"You shouldn't have had to fight anyone off. No means no."
"He wouldn't stop. I couldn't get him to stop. It's my fault."
The tears came and all Nick could do was wrap his arms around her frail shoulders and hold her and repeat over and again, "No, it wasn't your fault, Libby. None of this is your fault."
He didn't think he'd ever felt so inadequate.
"Lindsey, have you done your homework yet?" Catherine called as she frantically tidied the living room.
"It's math," said Lindsey from the doorway. "And I wanted to ask Nick about it and why are you tidying up?"
"Because the house is a mess and we have company for dinner. And is math the only homework you have?"
"It's only Nick - he doesn't count as company."
"It's Nick and his niece Libby, so yes he does count as company - and you didn't answer my question." Catherine finally looked up from the pile of magazines she was shuffling. "Didn't you tell me last week you had a history quiz?"
"That was today," said Lindsey with an eye roll. "It sucked. And yes," she added, "I've done all my other homework. You can check my schedule if you have to."
"What was it?" Before her daughter could come up with a smart retort, Catherine added, "I'm only asking because I'm interested, okay? If you say you've done it, I believe you."
Lindsey didn't look remotely convinced, but she did condescend to answer: "Just some reading for English. I already finished the book, though."
That persuaded Catherine to stop her efforts altogether. "You did?"
"At the weekend," Lindsey clarified. "It was sorta cool."
From Lindsey, who was not much of a reader, that constituted high praise. Catherine smiled. "Sounds like it was a good book."
Lindsey might or might not have had something further to say, but at that moment the doorbell sounded and Catherine realised that she'd barely made a dent in the mess. She shook her head. Maybe Lindsey was right - it was only Nick and he had certainly seen the house looking far worse than this.
"Linds could you go check on the spaghetti sauce?" she asked, even as she started for the door.
Clearly pleased to get out of the homework discussion so easily, Lindsey departed in the direction of the kitchen. Catherine shook her head again and opened the front door, fully expecting Nick to greet her with an apology for being early and an offer to help out. Instead the sight that greeted her made her wonder, for a second, if she'd some how been transported back in time by six months. Nick looked pale and tired - just the same as when the ant bites and the nightmares had been at their very worst.
"Please don't tell me I look like crap," said Nick tiredly. "I already know."
Silently, Catherine stood aside to allow Nick into the house. He was followed by Libby who, if possible, looked even worse than her uncle. Her eyes were red-rimmed, as if she'd been crying, while her face was chalky white with a faintly greenish tinge. Long experience with Lindsey had taught her what that was likely to mean and instead of offering words of greeting, Catherine found herself saying, "There's a bathroom just through there, Libby."
Shame and humiliation flashed across Libby's face, before she vanished from view into the bathroom.
Catherine closed the front door and turned on Nick. "What the hell is going on?" she demanded softly.
Nick winced. "Dayshift were tapped out - some kind of drive-by or shoot out, not sure which - so when PD got a call about a DB floating in Lake Mead, they called me in on it."
"So you snagged a double and Libby's...what? Snagged food poisoning?"
"Not exactly." Nick sighed. "I think this may be morning sickness."
Catherine stared for a few moments. "What?"
"You have no idea how much I'm hoping that I'm wrong, but I can't get the facts to add up any other way."
Catherine led the way into the living room and gestured for Nick to sit down. "Start from the beginning," she directed.
"You remember Suzanna Kirkwood?" Nick asked.
Catherine felt her stomach turn over at the name. It was impossible to remember the names of every victim, but some cases were equally impossible to forget. The Kirkwood case was one of those. She knew it had haunted Sara for a long, long time and it hadn't been much better for anyone else. Silently, she nodded.
"I think that Libby's gone through something similar." He swallowed. "This is the kid I taught to ride when she was six, Cath. Played catch with, babysat...this is just wrong."
"It's always wrong, Nicky," said Catherine softly.
"I mean, she should have been able to go to her parents and tell them. She shouldn't have had to run clear across the country." Nick put his head in his hands. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
Catherine thought for a moment. "Just say this was a case."
She held up a hand. "Just say this was a case. You have a young girl who's too terrified by what's happened to talk to you. What would you do?"
"Ask you or Sara to talk to her, but I can't--"
"You're not," said Catherine firmly. "I'm offering. Let me talk to her. If this is what you're thinking, you're gonna need to talk with your brother--"
"More likely Cisco and Mom," said Nick softly.
"Well, whoever it is, you're gonna need to talk to them - but there's no point doing that until you know for sure. So let me talk to her, and while I do that, you can catch a nap."
"Cath, I can't--"
"You can. Put it another way, do you really want to deal with Warrick and Sara pointing out that you didn't look this bad in hospital? And don't think Grissom and Greg would be that far behind them, either. And then there's Hodges, Mandy, Archie..."
Nick winced. "No need to haul out the big guns."
Catherine pointed to the couch. "Right. Nap."
When he didn't make any further protest and, instead, meekly stretched out on the couch, Catherine realised exactly how tired he was feeling and inwardly cursed. Why couldn't the universe just give him a break?
Libby leaned against the sink and splashed a little cold water on her face. Her stomach did seem to finally be settling, although she wasn't exactly anxious to try eating anything just yet, just in case the sickness came back. She also wasn't sure how she was supposed to face either her uncle or Catherine after such a humiliating exit.
She supposed that she couldn't simply hide in the bathroom for the rest of the night, but it certainly was a tempting idea.
There was a light tap on the bathroom door, then, "Libby?" Catherine's voice was soft. "How're you doing?"
Libby sighed and unlocked the door. Opening it, she found Catherine waiting just outside. "I'm sorry."
"Hey, don't be," said Catherine offering a small smile. "When you're feeling crappy, you're feeling crappy." She held out a glass of ginger ale. "Thought this might help."
Cautiously, Libby accepted the glass and took a sip. When her stomach didn't immediately rebel, she heaved a sigh of relief. Maybe this was all over.
"So," Catherine continued, "I need to make a run to the store - I was wondering if you'd come with me?"
"Uncle Nicky asked you to talk to me," said Libby, torn between resignation and relief. She knew her uncle wouldn't - couldn't - let this go, not now that he'd heard so much, but maybe it would be easier to get it out that first time to someone else. Someone not family at all.
"Actually, I offered." Catherine smiled faintly. "But I really do need to run to the store."
"Okay," Libby whispered.
This time, Catherine's smile was a reassuring one. "All right; let's get out of here."
In almost no time at all, Libby found herself touring the aisles of Catherine's local supermarket, helping the older woman to pick out necessities and snacks. To her general surprise, the conversation remained rooted on groceries and gradually, Libby found herself relaxing under the normalcy of being asked if she preferred Chips Ahoy or Soft Batch.
It was only later, once the groceries had been bought and Catherine had directed her to the in-store coffee shop, that the conversation veered towards more dangerous territory.
"If I offer you a coffee, are you going to turn it down?" Catherine asked.
Reluctantly, Libby nodded.
"Because you don't like coffee or because you can't have caffeine?"
"No caffeine," said Libby miserably.
Catherine nodded slowly. "Okay. Take a seat - I won't be a minute."
Libby did as she was told and sat down at the nearest table while Catherine went up to the counter and ordered a couple of drinks. She found herself once more feeling torn between hoping for the drinks to be made quickly and wishing that the order would never be completed. A small part of her was tempted to use the delay to sneak away and avoid the conversation altogether, but the greater part of her knew just how silly that would be. Despite what she'd said to Nick when she'd first arrived, there really wasn't anywhere else she could go - Aunt Anna in Nebraska was just a shadowy figure she'd heard about but never met. And, she had to admit, now she'd got this far, there was a part of her ready to talk.
"Here," said Catherine, placing a cup on the table in front of her. "Just some chamomile tea."
"Thank you," Libby murmured, wrapping her hands around the warm mug and realising for the first time just how cold her hands had grown.
"So..." Catherine's voice was gentle. "Pregnant, huh?"
Libby felt her cheeks flame bright red. "I think so." She looked down at the table. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry? What the heck do you have to be sorry for, Libby?"
"I-- You won't-- I mean Lindsey--"
Catherine's hand squeezed her arm gently. "Libby, this was not your fault. It also doesn't mean you can't babysit for Lindsey. One of the things you learn, very quickly, as a CSI is that bad things happen to good people and the only people you can hold those bad things against are the people who make them happen."
"You-- you investigate this sort of thing?" Libby asked, still looking down.
"Yes, we do."
"So, Uncle Nicky already knows?"
"He suspects." Catherine gave Libby's arm another gentle squeeze. "Why don't you tell me what happened?"
Libby took in a long, shuddering breath. "I'm a junior in high school and I was on the Homecoming committee this year. We were going to organise a couple of big events this year - the school's fifty years old this year. I was going to try and get Uncle Nicky to come to one of them...he went to the school. All my aunts did as well. And my dad. Couple of my cousins, too."
"Sounds like there's been at least one Stokes at the school for most of the past twenty years," said Catherine lightly.
A laugh bubbled up in the back of Libby's throat. "Something like that."
"So, what happened?"
"We-- There was supposed to be a committee meeting. At least, that's what Brian told me. After school. There wasn't anything strange about that. We were kinda squeezing the meetings in whenever because we didn't have too much time to get things done. So, after class, I went along to where we were supposed to be meeting, but there wasn't anyone there and-- and then someone grabbed me. Blindfolded me." Libby swallowed. "I tried to scream for help but it was after school. There was no one around. I tried to fight them off but they were bigger than me and...I couldn't do it."
Catherine squeezed her arm again. "Libby, honey, there's no shame in that. Listen to me: this isn't your fault. None of it. They chose to do this, not you."
"No means no, right?" Libby whispered.
"That's what Uncle Nicky said. So why didn't they stop?"
"Because, unfortunately, there are some people who don't accept that. They're the ones in the wrong, though. Not you."
Libby swallowed again. "I want to believe that."
"Then do," Catherine urged. "What happened to you is something that should never, ever happen to anyone."
The clear conviction in Catherine's words soothed away the lingering doubts in Libby's mind. She finally found the strength to meet Catherine's gaze and found it full of sympathy which just brought forth more tears. Silently, Catherine simply offered a tissue and waited.
"I'm sorry," Libby finally managed.
"You have nothing to be sorry for, Libby. Trust me on that." Catherine sighed. "The people who attacked you, were they kids in your class?"
"I-- I know there was two of them. There was one holding me down, I didn't recognise his voice. The-- the other, the one who-- who raped me, he was in my class. Tommy Denly."
"What about this Brian - the one who told you about the meeting?"
Libby shook her head. "I don't know. He-- I don't think he was there but..."
"No; I know." Catherine gave her arm another squeeze. "I know how hard this is, Libby. You're doing great, though. I'm just gonna ask a couple more questions, okay, then we'll go home and get some dinner. Firstly, when did this happen?"
Libby sniffed. "September second."
"That means nearly twelve weeks ago, right?" Libby nodded. "Have you seen a doctor?"
Libby shook her head. "I've been too scared to."
"I can imagine," said Catherine.
With those three words, Libby realised that Catherine could - and did - understand it all. "It's such a mess."
"Yeah," Catherine agreed. "It's that all right, and I can't tell you that it's gonna get any easier just yet. But you will get through this."
And for the first time since early September, Libby thought she just might.
To be continued...