Title: Come Undone
Explanation: Post-ep for Crash and Burn, though not exactly what I originally intended to write. It ended up all… I don’t know… odd.
Spoilers: slight ones for Crash and Burn, Lady Heather’s Box, You’ve Got Male
Archive: www.realmoftheshadow.com/harper. Should anyone else be interested, just ask.
Disclaimer: I don’t own the characters. CBS and Bruckheimer have that honor. I’m just playing around, and I’m sure as hell not making any money off of this.
A/N: This is first person POV, from Sara’s side of things. It is what it is (and one of the things it is would be unbeta’d). Feedback is always appreciated. I’ll be at Xfjnky2@yahoo.com.
Catherine knew. Catherine knew way before I did, probably way before she even pulled up the seating charts for the restaurant and saw Hank and Elaine’s table. Or, maybe she didn’t. Maybe she didn’t care enough about me or what was going on in my love life to even know I was dating Hank beyond the fact that she’d seen him drop by a few times, a latte in one hand and a doughnut in the other, goofy smile on his too tan face. Too tan, probably, because he’d been off to Tahiti or the Bahamas or where the fuck ever with his real girlfriend. Not me… I was just the girl on the side, a little sport fucking, good times and no strings attached, and too blind or too dumb or too naïve to know it.
Regardless of whether or not Catherine knew before she pulled up those pictures and saw them together, she knew then. Knew without even having to think about it twice, and I’d made excuses and told myself all kinds of lies and pretended like it didn’t mean a thing. And then I held on to those lies, clutching them so tightly that I almost lost sight of the case. Almost failed on another one, bringing my monthly tally up to a big, fat whopping two monumental screw-ups in a row. Hell, maybe Catherine was still so pissed off about the way I handled Eddie’s case that she just sat back and watched me make a fool of myself, laughing behind my back all the way.
No, she didn’t do that. I’ve got to give her more credit than that. I think, maybe, she just didn’t know how to tell me, or didn’t think meddling in my life was the right thing to do. Maybe she didn’t want to embarrass me by pointing out something I should have already seen, or maybe she thought I’d explode on her if she broke the news. Doesn’t matter, really, because she let me stumble my way through it, always there to get my back. She made sure the case came together, and that we didn’t lose anything more than what I missed spending my time chasing after Hank instead of following the evidence. Not that it was a good thing when we pulled it all together. Corporate America fucking over a little old lady at the altar of the almighty dollar, and a kid without a grandma or college tuition left with nothing but pain. Sometimes I almost wish we didn’t have to solve every case, that we could just pretend we didn’t figure that last part out. We turned her death into a waste, more so than she and her faulty GPS ever could, just by trying to do things right.
I don’t know how Hank found me. Maybe he had a GPS unit of his own, had a bug planted on me reading “my piece of ass on the side” and just followed it to where Catherine and I were closing things out. Doesn’t really matter, because there he was, waiting on me with this little boy ‘I’m sorry’ face, like it could make up for everything he’d done. And maybe I let him off easy. Maybe I should have told Elaine, should have fucked up the one relationship he apparently did care something about, but I didn’t. Not for him, really, but for her. She’d seemed happy, even if she was with a lying, cheating jerk, and vindictive retribution didn’t strike me as a good enough reason to bring her down too. Maybe I’d have felt better about the whole thing if I’d kicked him in the balls before storming out. Somehow, I think Catherine probably would have if she’d have been in my position, and I almost wish she’d stayed to witness our severely anti-climatic break-up just so she could have taken care of it for me. She’s got better shoes for the job anyway.
But, I didn’t do anything like that. Just felt sorrier for myself that I’d been played than I did that Hank was gone. He’d been… I don’t know what he’d been. A desperate attempt to get a life, maybe, or at least that’s what I told Catherine over my fourth beer.
She’d done everything right. There were no sad, sympathetic eyes, no compassionate hugs, just, “You got plans?” and the two of us heading off to get drunk, and I had to wonder why we’d never seemed to get along before. Of course, maybe we had gotten along before, and I just didn’t know it. With my people skills, it makes sense.
It was nine o’clock in the morning, probably not the best time to be hitting the bars, but we were in Vegas. The place we went to was out of the way, not one of those glitzy tourist traps on the Strip, and I was glad she knew this town better than I did. If it had been up to me, I’d have probably headed for one of the casinos and been miserable in the midst of all those flashing lights and Hawaiian print shirts, and ended up going home more depressed than when I got there. But, she was driving, and thankfully I didn’t bother breaking out of my brooding long enough to offer any suggestions.
Catherine had been there before, obviously, because when she walked in the bartender nodded and greeted her by name, reaching down for a glass like he already knew what she wanted. And he did, because they had Bass on draft and she just laughed when he pulled back the lever and said he knew her too well.
I took one too, with a shot of whiskey on the side, because it seemed like a good idea at the time. I guess I’d forgotten how long it’d been since I’d really drank, because the shot went straight to my head and I was already feeling woozy by the time we hit our second beer. I can only imagine I was already half-way drunk. It seems like the logical explanation for what happened next.
I started talking.
I don’t think anyone would ever accuse me of being an indiscriminate self-discloser. If anything, I’m so tight lipped people probably think I don’t have much to say at all. That’s not entirely true, because I can think of any number of things that I want to say, most of which I don’t. I guess I got tired of people looking at me like I was from another planet every time I opened my mouth, and discovered pretty quickly that it was just better to sit back and listen to everything other people were saying than to admit anything about myself. It had served me well on occasion, because having the upper hand in an informational war is highly preferable to being on the other side of that imbalance. But, Catherine was looking at me like she didn’t expect anything, and maybe that’s what I needed, because I opened up like a whore at confessional.
I started with the case that had really broken me. The woman, Donna Marks, who ordered all her stuff from catalogues, who had a refrigerator full of delivery food, and who was so desperate for human companionship that she invited a recently released convict into her home, sight unseen. And, after we’d closed the case, I’d gone home and looked in my fridge, seen the three shelves packed full of delivery food. I’d seen my stack of catalogues, the food delivery menus literally covering my refrigerator door, and lost it. I tore them all down, swore to myself I’d get a life, but it really is harder than you’d think. My job was my life, but I didn’t fit into any of the already established cliques. There was Catherine and Grissom, and to some extent, Catherine and Warrick. Then, there was Nick and Greg and Nick and Warrick, and Nick wanting there to be a Nick and Grissom so badly I almost felt sorry for him. But, there was no me and anybody else, and I tried to work my way into one of the groups but couldn’t figure out how to do it without looking like a fool, so I gave up.
Then I met Hank. He was distracting, pretty in a bland sort of way, and something of my own. And I tried… tried really hard to make it into something. Tried to convince myself that I was in a relationship headed toward love, that I was happy with my life with Hank in it.
Four beers turned into five, and soon I was lucky to be sitting up on my own. Actually, I probably wasn’t sitting up on my own, but just didn’t know it. I do know that when I got up to pee, I ended up tripping and slamming into the bar, joining Catherine as she erupted into a spate of the giggles that seemed to be catching. Somehow I managed to make it the rest of the way without embarrassing myself further, one of life’s small mercies. I felt a little bit better when my bladder wasn’t screaming at me and after I’d splashed some water on my face, but I was still drunk. Drunk off my ass, though if I didn’t watch out, I was pretty sure I was going to end up falling on it.
Catherine was dancing when I got back, jacket draped over the back of a chair and arms up in the air. The bartender had turned on the disco ball, and I had to stop for a minute to try and remember if I’d ever seen one in the light of day. I didn’t think I had, but it didn’t really matter because “Honky Tonk Woman” was playing on the jukebox and her arms were up over her head, and I’d always known Catherine could move but I’d never been witness to it before. Watching her then, when she didn’t yet know I was back, was an epiphany. I knew about her past, how she’d spent her twenties up on a stage in a g-string and stilettos, making money off selling the fantasy of herself to an assembly line of men, and probably a few women, hard up enough to throw cash at her feet like it was the snare for a siren. Seeing her dance, I had to wonder why she gave it up. Seems to me that if she’d stayed with it, she could’ve been a millionaire.
She caught sight of me, and I backed away as quickly as I could manage because there was a glint in her eye that I didn’t trust, but she was quicker. Before I knew it, she’d pulled me out there with her, wrapped her arms around my waist and was shaking her head like she was caught up in the moment and didn’t care. And, it was quintessential Catherine, the not caring. The unfettered permission to be herself she’d apparently gotten from her conscious sometime shortly after infancy, the freedom I was sure I’d never, ever have. Not that it wasn’t freeing, dancing with her with the artificial sparkle of that stupid disco ball shimmering around us, the bartender wiping lazily at the bar and the rest of the place surprisingly empty.
Then the music changed, went mellow on the flow of “Wild Horses”, and I started to pull away but she kept me there. That strawberry blonde head was leaning against my shoulder, making me think of things I hadn’t given thought to since college, and her eyes were sleepy, the half-lidded gaze of the inebriated. It took me a minute to relax into it, but I did, easing into the sway of her hips and forgetting, for a minute, just why we were there.
“You were too good for him anyway, Sara.”
The words pulled me back into focus, even as soft as they were, muffled by the fabric of my shirt. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything, just ran my hand up her back in a move I hoped she’d interpret as whatever the appropriate answer to that should have been.
“Thanks,” I finally managed, the words coming half a minute too late, and blushed at the croak in my voice. It’d always done that, cracked on me at the most inopportune times, like I was a teenaged boy. This time was just as embarrassing as the thousands of others that had come before, or maybe even more so since I’d done it in front of her.
I don’t think she noticed, though, because she just pulled back slightly, looked up at me with those wide gray-green eyes and I was lost. Lost because I’d just realized everything I hadn’t let myself admit I wanted was right there in front of my eyes. Everything, from the mischievous glint in her eyes to the brain behind them, with all of the sex appeal and sarcasm falling somewhere in between. It made sense, suddenly and in that way that made me wonder how I hadn’t figured it out before, that dancing with Catherine felt so incredibly right. And, in the span of a second, I was excited about something, really excited, for the first time in longer than I could remember. Scared too, because I’d only just realized how lost I was, realized what I hadn’t let myself acknowledge but now seemed painfully clear, and I pulled her to me a little closer, needing the comfort of the woman who’d just effectively, and quite innocently, torn my world apart.
As soon as I did it, her eyes widened slightly, back stiffening, and I thought maybe she knew, thought she’d seen something in my expression that gave me away and I was terrified. She opened her mouth like she was going to say something, and I waited, cringing, afraid of what it would be, but then something changed and she sighed and laid her head back on my chest, and I nearly fainted with relief.
Until, that is, she looked up again, something more in her eyes than there had been before. Something knowing and scary, and this time it was me who tried to pull away.
“Why are you dancing with me?” she asked, voice so soft I had to lean down to hear her, putting myself in dangerous proximity to a pair of the softest looking lips I’d ever seen.
“Because you’re dancing with me,” was all I could think to say, blushing and cursing myself just as soon as the words made their way past my lips. I felt trapped, held in place by her and my own fears, and the walls were closing in fast. I knew pretty soon I was going to flee, going to wreck the surreal magic of the moment. I was predictable that way, always afraid, my first instinct to run.
The song ended, segued into something calming and nondescript, but Catherine didn’t let go. Instead she licked her lips like she was nervous, disentangled herself from my grasp, wrapped her fingers through mine and led me over to a darkened corner. She slid into a booth, pulling me in after her, and turned so she was facing me, back to the pitted and scarred wall. I followed because really, there wasn’t anything else I could do.
“I’m drunk,” she said, and I nodded because I didn’t know where this was going and I didn’t want to say anything more than what I had to in the hopes that I could minimize my chance of making a fool out of myself. “I probably wouldn’t say this if I wasn’t because God knows I don’t need any more complications in my life, but I don’t think I’m exactly thinking clearly and for some reason, right now this seems like a good idea.”
I nodded again, hoping she wasn’t expecting anything more from me than that, and waited. She waited too, obviously thinking I was going to say something, and when I didn’t, she just sighed and ran a hand through her hair, sending the already carefully mussed locks in a variety of directions.
“I don’t think you notice a lot of things,” she said slowly, putting up a hand to forestall what she knew would be my automatic protest. After all, telling a CSI that they aren’t observant is about the equivalent of telling a musician they can’t play. “I’m not talking about on the job. You’re a damn good CSI, even if you do fuck up every once in a while. But hey, I fuck up too. That’s all just part of it.”
She paused, shook her head like she was angry at herself, took a deep breath, and started again. “Like I was saying, I don’t think you notice a lot of things. If you did, you probably would’ve known about Hank months ago, and wouldn’t have wasted all your time and energy on that jackass.”
That was a little bitter, and I felt a little Eddie-resentment seeping through, but figured it wasn’t the best time to get in a psychoanalytic debate on the roots of her own self-anger. Besides, she was probably right anyway, even if she was a little overzealous about it.
“And…” she paused again, took in another one of those long, fortifying breaths, “you probably would have noticed me.”
I’ll admit that she had me puzzled there. I’ve clearly noticed her. We work together, for Chrissakes. How can I not have noticed her?
She sees the confusion and rolls her eyes, and I have to think that I’ve somehow once again confirmed her barely hidden belief that I am a complete and total screw-up.
“You’re completely clueless,” she says, voice on the verge of angry, a mini-rant gearing its way up to a full-blown tantrum, and there’s nothing I can do but hunch my shoulders and prepare to ride out the storm. “Don’t you see what I’m trying to say here, Sara?”
She gets a blank look, which is about the best I can do. Well, that and a nod, but I don’t think it helps.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” she mutters, and then there she is, looming large in front of me, eyes full of dedicated intent. I don’t have time to scramble away, which is probably a good thing because if I’d moved, I would have slid my happy ass straight out of the booth and onto the floor. Not that I want to move, really, because she’s kissing me, the yeasty taste of the beer she’d been drinking earlier not even beginning to cover the taste that is somehow her. It’s not a perfect kiss. She’s too drunk to be subtle and I’m too naturally clumsy to be able to get it right the first time, but I don’t mind the way our teeth bump together or the way the vinyl seat of the booth creaks beneath me as I move in closer to her. I vaguely register the sound of her head slapping back against the wall behind her, too caught up in the feel of her tongue against my own, and pretty soon I’m feeling lightheaded from a combination of her and a lack of oxygen.
When I pull back, she’s rubbing the base of her skull and licking her lips and looking like she wants to do it all over again, and I moan and dart forward, intent on making that desire a reality. But, she puts a restraining hand on my shoulder, holding me just far enough away so that I can’t get to her, and laughs at what I know has to be the sad puppy dog look on my face.
“Do you get it now?” she asks, and her voice is breathy and low and I start to feel all cocky. I did that to her.
“I don’t know,” I say, not surprised that I sound a little arrogant. I can’t help it. It’s inbred, something I can’t shake. “Maybe you should tell me again.”
“Uh-uh,” she teases, pulling back when I lunge forward. “I want to make sure we understand one another first. I’m not some stand in for Hank. I’m not some surrogate, and I’m sure as hell not a rebound. You got that? If you want more, you’re asking for more of me, and you’re going to have to deal with what you get. I’m not talking a cheap one night stand here, Sara. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not talking forever either. I’m talking about right now, and you and me seeing how things go. What do you think?”
It doesn’t sound complicated, so I don’t know why she looks so unsure. I think it may be because it’s a big step, and I have to take a deep breath when it finally hits me what she just said. She’s not looking for some quick fuck or a friends with benefits package. Much to my eternal amazement, she seems to want something more from me. My heart speeds up a little bit at the prospect, though I really couldn’t say whether it was because I was excited or nervous. Either way, I know I want what she’s offering, and damn the potentially damaging future consequences. So she’s a coworker, so she’s Catherine… so Gris will probably kill me and Warrick will give me hell over it if he ever finds out.
“I think I say yes,” I hear myself saying, and can feel the idiotic grin I’m sporting widen even further.
Doesn’t really matter though, because she’s grinning too.
“Bart,” she calls out, and it takes me a minute to realize she’s talking to the bartender. “Call us a cab, will you? I think it’s time to head home.”
I don’t tell her, but I think that’s the best plan I’ve heard in a long, long while.