DISCLAIMER: CSI is in no way mine, though I wish it was there would have been no GSR.
WARNING: This story contains mention of self harm and suicide.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Sofrost for the beta.
Soft music flows from invisible speakers as we enter the room. Lindsay, Brenda and I are the last one in and I feel all eyes turn to watch us as we make our way to the front pew. I put my arms around both girls and pull them towards me in a protective gesture. The thought of people staring at me doesn't really faze me anymore, I kind of got used to it back in the old days, but the girls shouldn't have to deal with it. Not now, not when they are grieving.
Turning to face the front of the room I stop in my tracks. A picture of Sara with her eyes sparkling with laughter and a small smirk on her lips. I remember the when the picture was taken, in fact I took the picture. It was Lindsay's last birthday and somehow Sara had got roped into a water fight with Lindsay and her friends. Lindsay had been chasing Sara and she had just emptied her water canon all over Sara. Sara turned to soak Lindsay but as she turned Lindsay had slipped on the wet grass. After Lindsay had gotten over her shock she started to laugh and Sara joined in. That's when I grabbed my camera and snap the scene. First Sara and then Lindsay sprawled on the ground holding her sides. Thinking about it now, I must have known back then my feelings for her; why else would I have taken the picture?
Lindsay pulls me forward towards the pew and out of my memories. Looking down at her I can see that she remembers the day that photo was taken as much as I do.
"Happy days, Little One" I say to her sadly as I allow her to pull me forward.
Taking my seat I see Gil get up behind the pulpit. He puts on his glasses and pulls a sheet of paper from his pocket. He goes over it briefly before looking up. Clearing his throat he begins nervously.
"Ahem, I'm sure most of you know that I'm more used to making speeches about entomology rather than eulogies. Especially for someone who has come to mean a great deal to us all. I've known Sara for, oh, so many years. I remember her as an enthusiastic student. She practically accosted me after the lecture and shot, what felt like a thousand questions at me. Since that day we have been firm friends. Most of us here who knew and loved Sara, will know how, uh, stubborn Sara could be when she got a bee in her bonnet about something." A ripple of laughter runs through the hall as people remember their own experiences of a stubborn Sara.
"She was also the most self critical amongst us. She hid her lack of self confidence behind a shield of, well, of confidence. She would act as though what people said to and about her didn't faze her, but if you took a moment to look into her eyes you would see the scars that ran deep. Sara herself said that she was not good with interacting with people, they confused her. She tried to be more of a 'people' person. It was a skill she admired in others but never felt she quite mastered herself.
I remember a conversation I had with her once, when Nicky, Nick, was kidnapped. It was actually shortly after we got him back, she had wondered if Nick knew how much she cared, how much she loved him. She felt he was almost like a brother to her, her feelings for him was that powerful. She told me at the time that she loved the whole team, even Greg. To her, he was the annoying little brother of, what she had come to see as her family. I don't know if many of you know, Sara didn't come from a 'conventional' family. Her upbringing wasn't exactly the best. Sara got to where she was by sheer hard graft and dogged determination. So I think for her, finally finding a family her in Vegas meant a lot to her.
After that conversation, Sara came to me with a request. A request that I said yes to because I never thought this day would arrive. She asked me to make sure the following poem was read. She felt it best explained how she felt. How much she loved and cared for everyone in her 'family.' She told me that I might think it was a morbid thing to ask but she wanted to make sure that we knew how she felt." Gil pauses and clears his throat again. I watch him in amazement as I wonder how he has managed to make it this far without breaking down. Tears were rolling over my cheeks as soon as he said her name.
"The poem is called 'I Am Always With You.' Unfortunately Sara was unable to locate the name of the author, as was I.
When I am gone, release me, and let me go.
I have so many things to see and do, you mustn't tie yourself to me with too many tears, but be thankful we had so many good years.
I gave you my love, and you can only guess how much you've given me in happiness.
I thank you for the love that you have shown, but now it is time I travelled on alone.
So grieve for me a while, if grieve you must then let your grief be comforted by trust that it is only for a while that we must part, so treasure the memories within your heart.
I won't be far away for life goes on.
And if you need me, call and I will come.
Though you can't see or touch me, I will be near and if you listen with your heart, you'll hear all my love around you soft and clear.
And then, when you come this way alone, I'll greet you with a smile and a 'Welcome Home.'"
Gil bows his head as he finishes the poem. He raises his hand to his eyes and his shoulders shake. I'm torn between staying with Lindsay and going to him. Thankfully the decision is taken out of my hands. Greg leaps from his seat as though he had been electrified and is by Gil's side in a second. He wraps an arm around his mentor's shoulders. He turns to address the congregation.
"Hi, um, I'm Greg. The 'annoying little brother.' Thanks a lot Sara." He says looking at her picture with a sad, cheeky grin. "I couldn't be the 'fit little brother' could I?" He laughs. "I, erm, I just wanted to fill in some of the blanks that the Bugman here left out." He tells us. "Those of us who knew Sara, those that mattered, anyway, knew that Sara kept her feelings close to her chest. You never really knew whether or not she liked you until you got one of her rare but dazzling smiles." He says with tears rolling down his face. "Obviously, she liked me. I got one of those smiles on a daily basis. In fact I think some days I got two." He tries to act cocky, but I can see he's trying hard to keep his composure.
"Anyway, the reason I'm up here is to tell you all a secret that Sara had. One that she promised me to keep until the people involved was told. I now know that they know, if that makes sense." He pauses to think over his last words but shakes his head. "It doesn't matter, what does matter is that I'm now letting you all in on the secret. Sara was in love with Catherine, and if I'm right Catherine was in love with Sara?" He asks looking over to me. I nod my head to confirm. Although it's not really necessary all the important people know how we felt about each other before she died.
"Yup, love was all around. Sara used to talk about the times that 'Cath said this' or 'Cath did that.' Honestly, Catherine, I love you, you know I do but there are only so many times I can hear about you ripping a lowly lab tech a new one." He laughs. "She was smitten. And Lindsay, you have no idea how much Sara loved you too. Her days out with you were something she looked forward too. I bet she was worse than you when you were due to go out. She used to get really hyper and bounce about. If people seen her like that, they would have got her tested for drugs or something, it was something to see." I laugh along with him as I picture Sara bouncing off the walls with excitement the same way Lindsay used to do whenever Sara was due to pick her up. "Sorry I got off track there. My point is, Sara was in love. She was happy and in love for the first time in, well, in her life. And that was thanks to Catherine and Lindsay."
Greg's words warm my heart. Knowing that we made Sara happy in some small way has made me a little bit happy. Not as happy as I would be if she walked in through the door.
"Well, I think that's me finished. Does anyone else have anything else to say?" Greg asks looking around the room. I feel Lindsay and Brenda slide off the pew and watch in shock as they walk hand in hand to the front of the room. Gil and Greg both crouch down and give the girls a cuddle. I see Lindsay nod her head in answer to a question that Gil has asked and Brenda does the same thing when he turns to look at her. He smiles and gives them both another cuddle then stand and leaves them. Breathing becomes hard as I feel as though my heart has migrated north in my chest and lodged in my throat as I watch the two young girls stand there, looking nervous and unsure.
Once the information seeps slowly into my brain that it's my little girl standing up there I force myself to move. Leaving my seat as though it was electrified I propel myself forward until I am kneeling in front of Lindsay and Brenda.
"You don't have to do this." I tell them, taking a hand of each girl. "No one expects you to come up here and say anything."
"I know Mrs. Willows, but..." Brenda starts to say before Lindsay cuts her off.
"You never asked me, mummy. You asked everyone else, but you didn't ask me, if I wanted to say anything about Sara." She says. I know from experience that she's not going to move. She has a look in her eyes that I know means she won't be moving. Whenever she looks at me like that I feel sorry for my own mother, I've been told she gets it from me. "Plus, I think someone from Sara's 'proper' family should speak. That's where Brenda and I come in." She says with a smile, once again surprising me with how mature she can be. Looking at both girls I know I'm fighting a losing battle. They won't be moved until they have their say.
"Ok, do you want me to stay with you?" I ask, resigning myself to the fact that they'll do this with or without my support.
"No, thank you. We'll be fine." Brenda says, lifting their joined hands, showing me that they are drawing support from each other. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. They have more than one thing in common now, their love for Sara and their grief at losing her. With a nod of my head I stand and move back to my seat on the front pew. When Lindsay sees that I've sat back down she nods her head and tightens her grip on Brenda's hand which she returns.
"Um, hi, I'm Lindsay Willows."
"And I'm Brenda Collins."
"We wanted to tell you about the Sara Sidle we knew and how she helped us. Do you want to go first?" Lindsay asks turning to look at Brenda, she nods her head. I start to worry for her as I see that all the blood has drained from her face and she has started to shake. I think about ending it as Brenda stares out at the faces starting back at her. Her arms finally latch onto mine and I give her a gentle smile and nod my head, mentally trying to tell her that it's ok, no matter what she decides. It seems to have done the trick, keeping her eyes on mine; she takes a deep breath and begins to talk.
"I met Sara when most of my family was murdered. I was so scared, I couldn't talk, but Sara was really good. She held my hand all the way to the hospital. When we got there she explained everything to me. When she had to use her 'special' camera, she explained that it was to look at my muscles. I think she knew that it scared me because she told me that it wouldn't hurt and just to prove it wouldn't, she took a picture of her own arm. When the doctor came in to look at me, Sara explained everything. Sometimes, when the doctor hurt me, she would stroke my head and she would talk to me about the things she liked, just to take my mind off what was happening." Brenda pauses and I can see tears escape from her eyes and roll down her cheeks.
I feel tears sting my eyes in sympathy for this poor girl that has been through so much. Lindsay wraps her arm around Brenda's thin shoulder and rests her head atop of hers. I see her whisper something into Brenda's ear, but from where I am sitting I don't know what she said. Whatever Lindsay said, Brenda shakes her head in response and wipes her face dry. After another deep breath she continues speaking.
"Sara was there for me when I thought I had lost everything. She helped me see the light at the other end of the darkness I was in. When I went into care, Sara would come and visit me. She would come by once a week. She gave me something to look forward too. Last month she told me something. Well, she asked me something and I said yes. She asked if it would be alright with me if she applied to adopt me." Gasps fill the room and I turn to look at the guys, they look as shock as I am. Obviously it was a decision that Sara came to on her own. Turning I catch Ms. Finlay staring at me, I raise my eyebrow in silent question and she nods her head.
"But they wouldn't let me stay with her. Somebody I have never met thought it would be better that I stay in a care home rather than with Sara. I was so upset that I cried. Sara was crying too. Wilma, my social worker, told me how much Sara wanted to adopt me. She said that Sara was going to change her job and move to a bigger house. She had already been looking for them. Wilma said that it was some judge who said I had to stay where I was. He had said that Sara was an unsuitable role model. But he didn't know Sara, did he? He never knew how funny and kind and caring and loving Sara could be. He didn't know how happy I was when she came to visit or how much Sara loved me or how much I loved her. Now.....now Sara is dead and I'm left on my own." When she finishes, she buries her face in her hands and starts to sob. Before I can even think of going over to comfort the girl, Lindsay has both her arms wrapped around her.
"You can have me and my mum if you want." I hear Lindsay say. "Can't she mum?" Lindsay asks, looking at me over Brenda's shoulder. Without turning around I can feel everybody's eyes on me and I've never felt so uncomfortable.
"Of course she can." I answer honestly. "That's if she wants us too." I throw in, trying to break the tension with a little humour.
Any child that Sara cared enough about to change her life for is more than welcome in our lives. I'm sorry to say that I'm still shocked that she was prepared to change her whole life for one child. It really shouldn't surprise me. Once I allowed myself to get over my animosity towards her I could see how caring and loving she could be.
"Do you want to go and sit with my mum?" Lindsay asks Brenda.
"No, I'm alright now. I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it." Lindsay smiles. "We're allowed to cry when we need to." My heart swells at her words. Lindsay gives Brenda one more tight hug before turning to face everybody again.
"Hi, I'm Lindsay. Um, well I know Sara because of her job too. But in a different way to Brenda. I didn't need Sara's help until ages first after I met her. Sara worked with my mum and my Uncles. The first time I met her she was really shy. I don't think she knew how to talk to kids, but she didn't really need to talk. All she had to do was answer my questions. And she did. No matter how silly she thought the question was, she always answered it. She wasn't like any adult I had ever met before. Whenever I needed her help she was there. Especially when I needed her as a CSI. Sara tried to catch the guy who killed my dad and nearly killed me. But she couldn't. There wasn't enough evidence. Instead she became my friend. Not just the substitute teacher whenever I needed help with my homework.
We would hang out and talk. Sometimes she would pick me up from school and we'd go for a picnic. I used to love that. Everybody thought Sara was so cool. She would stand outside and lean against her car with her sunglasses on, looking really cool. Even my teachers asked who she was." As Lindsay smiles at the memory, I can't help wonder if the teachers were more worried about Sara's appearance rather than being gin awe of it.
"I got fantastic news when I got home from Disney land, Sara was at my house. Mum said that she was poorly and she was going to stay with us for a little while until she got better. I thought that would be great. It would be like a sleep over. It got even better. On her way to the doctor, Sara spilled the beans about her my mum. Sara wanted to date my mum and she wanted to make sure that I was ok with it. I never got a chance to tell her that I was. I was so shocked that I couldn't even speak. Sara had to go or she would have been late for her appointment. I never got a chance to tell her that I've been dreaming about her being my other mum.
I used to dream about going to the beach and going on picnics with Sara and my mum, but in my dreams I never called her Sara, I always called her mama. But since she died, all my dreams have been about men taking her away from us." She says her voice shaking and her eyes welling with tears threatening to fall. I silently beg her not to revel who the men are. Looking at Gil I don't think he could take it if he knew Lindsay was having nightmares about him being the one to take Sara from us.
Before she gets a chance to continue, Greg is out of his seat and kneeling in front of her, enveloping her in a tight cuddle. I don't think I've ever been more grateful to his as I am now. I know he doesn't know it, but he's managed to save Gil's feelings as well as comforting Lindsay. I watch helplessly as he scoops Lindsay into his arms and offers his other hand to Brenda. Standing to face the congregation, I see tears mark out tracks down his face.
"As you can see, Sara has touched these two lives, as she did with everyone she met. She was loved immensely and she will be greatly missed." He shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath and turns to look at the girls. "Can I ask you both a huge favour?" He asks them, when they nod he gives them a sad smile and says. "Would you both mind keeping me company for the rest of the day?" Brenda and Lindsay nod their heads. "Ok, let's go sit down beside Catherine."
As soon as the trio reach me, Lindsay wriggles out of Greg's arms and immediately crawls onto my lap. I wrap one arm around her and extend my other arm for Brenda to cuddle into my side. With my arms around both girls I look over Brenda's head to Greg.
"Thanks, Greggo." I smile.
"No problems, Cath. It hurt me too much to see them so sad." He whispers back.
My attention is once again directed to the front of the room, as an orderly stands behind the pulpit. Having had everything explained to me when I was making the arrangements I know what's going to happen now. The orderly will call everyone's attention to the front of the room, say a few words and push a button sending the casket with Sara's body into the furnace which can reach to temperatures of 1800 °F cremating the majority of her body into nothing but dried bones that will later be pulverised into the texture that most associate with the ashes of their loved ones. Call me anal but I had to know everything that would happen to her. In death I still had to know what was going to happen to her body.
"Ladies and gentlemen if I could have your attention, please. We have been gathered here today by the tragic loss of a woman I have learned to be an amazing person. I have never met Sara, but after hearing your accounts of her, I wish I did. She was a remarkable woman who has touched so many lives deeply. Even if I hadn't heard a single word about her, the amount of people who have come today to pay their respects shows how loved and respected she was." As he speaks, I feel Lindsay and Brenda hold on tighter to me and their tears soaking through my top. I can feel tears work their way from my eyes and down my face. As much as I want to, I know I can't stop them. The time has come for me to stop being strong for everyone else and grieve for the woman I had only recently learned loved me as much as I love her.
Slowly the casket slides forward, I know that this is the last we'll be in the same room together. From somewhere above the sound of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata fills the room. I know I requested this song to be played, but I never expected it to have such an effect on me. I feel as though my heart is breaking all over again. I feel as though she is being taken from me, from us all over again.
"Oh god, Sara!" I cry out, unable to stop myself. I feel arms tighten around me from behind not caring who it is but knowing it'll probably be one of the boys, I grab hold of them. I feel as though I'm drowning. I feel as though someone has sucked the air out of the room. Tears blur my view of the casket before a curtain comes down and hides it from view. I still stare after it as though I can see it, see her. I can sense people leaving but I continue to sit and hold onto the girls. I see Gil kneel down in front of me. Tears streak down his face too.
"She's gone for good, Gil." I whisper hoarsely around the lump that has firmly lodged itself in my throat. He doesn't speak, just nods his head in confirmation. "I've lost her forever. Do you think she knew how much I loved her? Do you think she really loved me?" I ask him; looking back at the place I had last seen her casket.
"Yes, she did." He finally says. "She knew you loved her and she loved you back. She told me herself." He clears his throat as I turn to look at him. "Long before she knew, I think, deep down I knew too. I could see it in her eyes, Cath. She was in love with you long before she ever realised it herself." He says quietly. I can only look at him in surprise. A question pops into my head and before I can stop myself I ask him.
"What about me, Gil? Could you see it too?"
"Yes." He admits quietly.
"Why didn't you ever say anything? You could have stopped all of this."
"It's not my place to interfere in the lives of my staff, Cath. You know that. As long as it wasn't effecting you work, I have no right to interfere." He says hesitantly.
"That's bull, Gil, and you know it. You've interfered before." I say angrily. I throw off the arms that are still wrapped around me. Standing, I turn to face Nick and Warrick. Both their faces are awash with tears. Nick's arms are resting on the back of the pew where I was sitting. I'm actually not surprised that he was the one holding me.
"Thanks guys, for everything." I tell them reaching over to give them both a kiss on the cheek. "Greg." He lifts his eyes from the floor to meet mine. "Thank you for taking care of my girls." I say before giving him a kiss on the cheek too. "You're all welcome to come back to my place for a few drinks."
"We'll be there, girl, don't you think you'll be getting rid of us that easily." Warrick says with a gentle smile as Nick and Greg nod their agreement. I smile at the three of them before holding my hands out the Lindsay and Brenda. Both of them stand and take a hand each and we head for the door. "Brenda, do you think Wilma will be ok with you staying over tonight?" I ask the young girl.
"I'm not sure, but I can ask her. If you're sure and it's ok with Lindsay." She says hesitantly.
"It's ok with me." Lindsay smiles sadly. "Come on, let's find Wilma and make her say yes." Both girls let go of my hand and walk ahead of me. As they reach the door Lindsay stops, she turns back and looks at the boys still sitting on the pews. "Uncle Grissom." She calls to get his attention. "Do you know who the men in my nightmare look like?" She asks in a calm voice.
"No, sweetheart, who do they look like?" He asks. Part of me desperately wants to stop Lindsay's next words but another part is happy that she's going to hurt him like he hurt us.
"They look like you. You're the one who takes Sara away in my nightmares." She says looking him straight in the eye. I can see his eyes widen in shock as her words hit their mark. He lets out a small 'Oh!' as though she had punched him in the guts. Lindsay just turns and leaves the room. I'm glad she never stayed around to see the tears raining down from his eyes. I find myself torn. Do I go and comfort the man that I once thought of as my best friend or do I walk away. In the end I decide to walk away. As much as I loved Gil, my love for Sara is deeper than anything I ever felt for him. Our friendship has taken a major blow and I don't think it will ever recover. My steps falter slightly as it sinks in that along with cremating the woman I love, I've also lost my best friend.
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