A/N: Sorry for a) not updating in a little while and b) the ridiculous time I'm updating. Thanks for all the reviews, too :) love yous all!
Serena sat in Michael's office with her head in her arms on the desk, sobbing her heart out. She had had enough now. She couldn't keep living like this. She had been happy. Reasonably so, at least. Built a home with Ric and Eleanor and climbed a step higher on her career ladder. Made friends with Michael and Jac, Sacha and Chrissie, Malick and Hanssen. She had a support network around her.
Now she felt like that network was still around her but it couldn't support the weight of her troubles anymore. She was too much of a strain. Her habit of being a headcase could only be sustained for so long.
There was an enormous temptation to go back to Jac and Jonny's and grab her suitcase and just leave. She wouldn't have to face Mariah, she wouldn't have to face Ric and Eleanor and she would be able to start over yet again.
But she couldn't do that again. The prospect of having to start from scratch all over again was too much. So here she sat, in a friend's office, crying like she was never going to stop because everything she had dodged was now on top of her. She had pushed out her loved ones. She had took her temper out on the outside world, both living and inanimate. Now all that was left to do was just to cry.
Her chest hurt from all the sobbing she had done in the last quarter of an hour. Her head was pounding as her blood pressure went through the roof. Her body felt weak as her crying drained it of what little energy it had left to it.
She jumped and gasped when a hand fell on each of her shoulders but she calmed herself when she heard the American's drawl in the darkness of her closed eyes. "You OK?" he asked.
"Just peachy," she snapped grumpily through her tears.
"Now now," he retorted. She could just see the smirk on his face. He rubbed her shoulders gently as he tried to release some of the probably obvious tension in her body. "I hear there was trouble on Keller," he began. "Wanna talk about it?"
"You already know what happened," Serena accused. "Jac slapped a patient's wife."
"Who just so happens to be the step-sister of the man who raped you," he added harshly.
"Don't," moaned Serena. She didn't want to go there again. It just set off the crying again. She hated thinking herself a victim of something so awful but it was what she was, whether she rose above it or not. Whether she was a survivor or whether it beat her, it still happened, as much as she liked to pretend to herself it didn't happen.
"I hate seeing you cry," he sighed. She knew that. She knew Michael hated watching her cry. She knew he cared about her but she couldn't stop. She couldn't stop crying, or pushing people out, or losing her rag. She had finally cracked. After twenty years of keeping it together she had finally split right down the middle.
The door opened again and Serena shot up straight so that nobody but Michael would know just what state she had been in. She was horrified to see Ric Griffin standing before her, his back leaning against the door.
She tried to hold the tears in in front of Ric – the last thing she needed was for him to think she couldn't cope without him. "Give us a minute, Michael," Ric requested, never taking his eyes off Serena.
"Uh, I'm not sure that's a good idea," Michael reasoned.
"Oh, I think it's the perfect idea," Ric said. "I think it's high time I put my foot down. Throwing vases, sitting in here crying your eyes out," he listed. "Showdowns with patients' relatives on the ward, battering vending machines outside AAU," he added, raising his eyebrows at her. "Oh, yes, Sacha and Digby told me about that."
"They shouldn't have," Serena snapped as she started to regain some control over her breathing.
"Yeah, they should have," Michael interjected, coming to Ric's aid. "Levy should have told me about that if you've been kicking the crap outta vending machines outside my ward."
"Apparently he was going to come and get me but she told him, and I quote, 'Do it and die, Levy.' You can't keep doing this, Serena," Ric insisted. Michael moved towards the door, and Serena tried to stop him. She didn't want to be left alone with Ric when she was so vulnerable.
"Michael, don't leave me-"
"No, I'm gonna go and make Sacha grow a pair," Michael retorted. "He should know better than to listen to you when you're like this," he explained before slamming the door on his way out.
Ric sat down on the edge of the desk and looked down on her. She looked anywhere but up at him, her eyes eventually locking onto her own arms. In her line of sight was her scar, from when she had defended herself last year, and she remembered all the reasons she did this to herself. People couldn't be trusted. She was living – though only by the skin of her teeth – proof of that.
"This has got to stop," he sighed.
"Really?!" she barked a humourless laugh that sounded painful even to her. "You're telling me what to do now, are you?"
He just shook his head and Serena knew her behaviour was testing his patience. "As your partner I feel it's my right, if not my duty!" he replied. She stood up, trying to come across as threatening rather than defensive; she had learned many years ago that the difference between the two was the difference between looking weak and looking strong.
The problem was that she had allowed him to get to know her too well. He could see right through it all and though she hated acknowledging it, she knew it. He tried to take her hand but she instantly yanked it away. "Alright, this is nothing to do with not wanting to be touched!" he announced. He was frustrated now. "Michael was standing there rubbing your shoulders, for Christ's sake!" he reminded her, his voice rapidly rising.
"And that should be me doing that for you!" he yelled. "Not Michael bloody Spence! He's your friend. I know that. I have no issue with that! But you should be able to come to me!"
Serena met his gaze, uncomfortable that tears were still silently flowing from her eyes. She loved him to bits but she couldn't bring herself to force everything upon him.
"I knew what I was signing up for when I kissed you for the first time," he told her. "I knew I was signing up for sleepless nights and nightmares and panic attacks and a fear of the dark. I knew I was signing up for good days and bad days, and that the bad days would be horrible. But I went ahead and kissed you anyway. I went ahead and moved in with you and Eleanor. I've taken on your daughter as if she were my own!" he reminded her. "Why would I take all of that on if I didn't love you?!"
She didn't answer for a moment; he was right, of course. Said so bluntly it sounded odd to her. To be reminded she did not act as most did, that she was plagued with psychological barriers many lived their lives without, and that he had fallen in love with her regardless hurt her heart a bit.
That didn't, however, negate the fact he and Eleanor were better off without her. "I don't need you," she asserted, wiping tears from her cheeks. "You're better off without me and I'm fine without you."
"You're going mad, Serena!" Ric shouted harshly. "Admittedly you were probably halfway there before Mariah showed up but now you're completely losing the plot and everyone else is not only worried but wondering how long it'll be before Hanssen has you sectioned!"
Before she could stop herself, she slapped him hard across the face – Jac Naylor was not the only one with a temper.
She realised too late that those harsh, coarse words had been an attempt at drumming sense into her. Now she had thrown a base at Eleanor, slapped Ric and had allowed Jac to hit Mariah. What on Earth had got into her?!
She didn't notice that immediately after striking Ric, her hands had come up to cover her mouth. She had never thought she would ever have hit him; she was not normally a violent person. The fear and trepidation had changed her into this.
She watched Ric's face carefully. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm so sorry." A flash of anger crossed his face before he gently pulled her hands away from her face.
He shook his head slightly and kissed her softly; she felt his lips against hers and her subconscious allowed it against her better judgement. She kissed him back carefully and felt his hand light on her face and his arm around her waist, pulling her body carefully into his. She had forgotten that he was always so careful with her. Always so loving.
She pulled away from their kiss with the renewed realisation that he was right. "Now," he said with a small smile. "Why don't you stop this insanity and come home?"
"I can't come home," she whispered. "Not yet. I need space until this blows over. You've seen what I've been like and I can't risk hurting Eleanor again. Something just comes over me when I get desperate and there's nothing I wouldn't do," she explained, hoping he would understand.
"But you'll come home once everything's calmed down?" he asked her. It was again against her better judgement that she nodded, effectively promising to face her daughter.
"Eleanor. How is she?" Serena asked. She had tried not to think of her daughter because it only ever brought pain, regret and self-hatred when she recalled the last time they saw each other.
"Shaken," Ric allowed. "Worried. Upset."
"How much have you told her?"
"Everything I know, which, admittedly, isn't as much as you could tell her," he added. The look her gave her was laden with meaning and she couldn't deny the truth in his words. Serena only took a deep breath; strangely, she wanted to cry again. And again she couldn't stop it when it came.
Ric wiped her tears away and put an arm carefully around her neck, pulling her into a tight cuddle. She felt secure in his arms. While she was wrapped up in his embrace nothing could hurt her. "I love you, Serena," he told her softly into her ear. "No matter how mental you get, that isn't going to change."
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