DISCLAIMER: CSI and its characters are the property of Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: 1: Thanks to darandkerry for the beta. 2: GSR never happened, and Sofia hasn't been absent for the past few weeks. Still, I'm afraid this isn't gonna ease the pain, so consider yourself warned.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: 8x07 - Goodbye & Good Luck
When Sara left Las Vegas, I went through a wide range of emotions, but surprise wasn't one of them. Although I hadn't expected her to just walk away like that, I'd felt for weeks that something was brewing and, in spite of trying to close my eyes to reality for at least awhile, I knew it'd only be a matter of time until the bombshell dropped.
I was well aware Sara wouldn't emerge from under that Mustang without any psychological damage. Things like this brought your life to a halt and made you look at it from a distance, wondering if you belonged in this surreal scene. They put things in perspective, which could be a good thing for some people, but for Sara, it wasn't, and, ultimately, it wasn't for me either.
Bracing myself for a rough time, I was ready to help her get through the difficult aftermath, providing her with the safety I thought she needed after everything she'd been through. With patience and serenity, I was determined to do whatever it took to support her settling back into normalcy, whether it was silent comfort or my willingness to listen. Sara chose silence, and while I generally accepted that, I didn't think it was healthy to pretend everything was business as usual, and one day, I tried to coax her into talking about Natalie and her night in the desert.
"Sofia," she said and squeezed my hand, "I'm okay, really."
Her smile almost convinced me.
I wanted to trust her words and deny that she was getting worse instead of better, but after awhile, I had to acknowledge that a dark shadow had settled over her and that she was losing ground.
I noticed it first at work. She wasn't as into her job as she used to be; she seemed disenchanted, frustrated even. I attributed her sullen mood to her still dealing with her abduction. Never once did it occur to me that it might actually be the circumstances she faced in her line of work that got to her and not what Natalie had done. A discrepancy between who Sara was and what she did was the last thing I expected to be the cause of her state of mind.
Weeks later, I should've made the connection when I overheard her saying to Ronnie that they'd probably be back the following week for the body of an abused woman. She sounded so callous and cynical, her voice a nuance deeper than usual, and from the look Ronnie gave me, I knew I wasn't the only one who was surprised. This wasn't Sara; she loved her job, always cared more about the victims than any of us, and I refused to accept that this part of her had changed. That's probably why I'd firmly believed that her behaviour was merely a symptom of something else bubbling beneath the surface.
When she passed me on her way out the door of the crime scene, I caught her by the wrist and forced her to face me. "What's wrong with you, Sara? Since when are you so nonchalant about domestic violence? I don't even recognise you anymore."
"Just a bad day," she murmured, shrugging off my hand and walking over to the Denali to stow away her kit and the evidence.
I was confused, could no longer tell why she was so different. For weeks, I thought I knew, thought it all came down to that one night, but it turned out that I really had no clue, and it didn't seem to be Sara's intention to tell me either. I knew better than to push her, but I just wished she'd talk to me because it was so obvious that something tortured her, and as time passed, the distinct feeling that it wasn't something she'd eventually get over got hold of me, clasping around my heart like a cold hand.
We went on living our life; worked, ate together, slept together. Sometimes, it was like things were back to normal, and I almost dared to relax, more than ready to believe it. But often, Sara was quiet and distant, sorrow lurking beneath the layer of everyday life she was holding onto. I could see that she was trying to function like before, for her own sake as well as mine, and it pained me to witness that she wasn't succeeding, that she only sank into her depression more deeply. And still, she wasn't talking to me, and still, I didn't know why. Gradually, she slipped away from me.
The nights were the worst. Working different shifts often meant we came home at different times, and on many nights I lay in bed half-asleep for hours, waiting for her to return because I couldn't sleep without her next to me. It was always the same. The rustling of the sheets roused me from my semi-wakeful state as she slipped into bed. Without saying a word, she gently stroked my face but stayed on her side, never venturing across even halfway. Weeks ago, she would have slid close to me and wrapped an arm around my body, but now, the only physical contact was her hand on my face. Denying me both emotional and physical intimacy nearly broke my heart. I desperately wanted to reach out and pull her close to me, but something stopped me. There had to be a reason for her reluctance to be near me, and, eventually, I understood what it was.
She was trying to protect me. Like a mother kept all harm from her child, Sara didn't want to burden me with her worries because she was aware how sad it'd make me to see her struggle, how I'd ache for her in sympathy. Keeping her distance was the only way to maintain her composure. She knew that if she allowed my warmth to envelop her, her precariously upheld guard would crumble easily, and I'd see everything behind it. She loved me so much that she didn't want to trouble me, but how could that be a comfort when her silence was my greatest fear?
And yet, I couldn't even ask what was going on with her when it was the one thing I craved most. I longed to know how she really felt but was too scared to find out. I should've shaken her and yelled at her to share her thoughts with me because if she couldn't talk to me, then who the hell could she talk to? We'd long gotten over the phase of her hiding her feelings from me and developed a deep trust over the months. Perhaps this was why I was too paralysed to say anything. I instinctively knew this was more serious than anything before, something so intensely agonising that she didn't dare to tell me about it. My subconscious kept me silent because it was too afraid to disturb a balance, too afraid to make all walls come crashing down if we began to delve into her soul.
On rare occasions, Sara's strategy to avoid talking to me was different. As soon as she'd joined me in bed, she pressed up against me and kissed me hard, tugging roughly on my shorts and pushing her hand between my thighs. I let her ravish me with so little tenderness once, twice, three times because the sad truth was that it was better than not being touched by her at all. When she rolled off and away from me, my body cried out at the loss of contact. At least she held my hand as she drifted off on those nights. I would curl my fingers around hers and watch until her breathing evened out before I closed my eyes and succumbed to the blissful ignorance of sleep.
One morning, I observed her sitting at the kitchen table and stirring her coffee absent-mindedly. The spoon clanked against the mug rhythmically as it twirled through the dark liquid. Sara's hand moved mechanically; her eyes were glued to a headline of the newspaper lying in front of her without really reading it.
I leaned against the counter and shoved my hands into the pockets of my slacks like I always did when I was uncomfortable. "How are you doing?"
Sara looked up, mildly amused by this unusual initiation of a morning conversation. "I'm fine, thank you."
"No, how are you really doing?" I wasn't trying to challenge her, but she must have perceived the urgency in my voice.
The stirring stopped. Her eyes narrowed, and a crease appeared on her brow. "I'm really doing fine," she said softly, her tone belying her facial expression.
She was lying, but I didn't want to put her on the spot. "Sara " my voice trailed off. I wanted to plead with her to not shut me out but didn't know how.
Strong feelings for someone could really get in the way of communication. I couldn't tell her all this 'I'm here for you, talk to me' crap, even though it was the essence of what I wanted to say to her. It just sounded too damn trite. Besides, I believed she knew all that; I just couldn't figure out what kept her from confiding in me. Her wish to protect me couldn't be the sole reason.
Helplessly, I turned away to hide my glassy eyes, rinsing out my own mug in the sink. I wondered if she sensed how hard it was for me to stand outside her life as nothing but an onlooker. Of course, I never would have let on to any of that; it only would have given her a guilty conscience. If it hadn't been so sad and wrong, I would have laughed at how each of us tried to spare the other's feelings. It was a noble intent, but, in the end, it didn't get us anywhere.
On the afternoon of the day that Sara left, I was getting ready to go to the precinct when she stepped close and embraced me for the first time in weeks. She clung to me tightly for just a few seconds, barely granting me time to revel in the familiarity of her scent and touch. Then, she let go, smiled at me warmly and said, "Have a good day."
As I walked downstairs and to my car, my brain made a feeble attempt at convincing me that things were looking up for us, that Sara was doing better, while my heart was sick with fear and knew, deep down, that I wouldn't see her again.
Closing the door behind me upon returning from work that night, I saw the letter with my name scrawled across the front on the table. I thought how redundant it was to scribble my name on the envelope because nobody else could have read the words in our apartment, and even though it was so clearly addressed to me, I avoided touching it for hours. When I finally did open it, it sent me tumbling into a deep black hole that I didn't manage to climb out from for a long time.
Sara wasn't one for long and sappy goodbyes, I was aware of that, and yet, I was angry that not even I seemed to deserve a proper farewell or at least a warning that she was about to disappear. But what was worse was her not taking me into account for the equation that was her life. I'd hoped that, eventually, she'd open up and let me in again. With all the effort she made to keep her turmoil away from me, there was no doubt that she loved me, and it hurt me beyond words that in the end, she didn't believe I was the person whose hand she could grasp to guide her along this difficult path, that she thought she had to figure out everything on her own, her need to get away from work and Vegas stronger than her wish to be with me.
When the raw emotions subsided and numbness set in, I found the strength to sort through the few things Sara had left behind in our apartment. On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I carefully placed the items in a cardboard box, each of them triggering a happy, silly, or completely pointless memory.
After sealing the box tightly with duct tape, I set it atop a stack of other boxes in the back of the closet. Taking a marker to label it, I let my hand hover over the brown cardboard for a moment, wondering how on earth one labelled a box full of love and loss, of things that would probably never be seen by their owner again. Then, in bold black letters, I simply wrote, "Sara's Box".
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