Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name and headers.
RATING: PG13 for adult concepts.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Living Doll, with allusions to Dead Doll spoilers (some of which turned out to be incorrect).
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Grissom/Sara, character death.
SUMMARY: They loved her while they had the chance.
MORE STORIES: http://fiction.deslea.com
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How it happened doesn't matter.
It used to matter. He has devoted months of his life to the study of C. perfringens
and its role in gangrene and septic shock. Searching, he supposes, for that one little thing he could have done to save her (and correspondingly for that one little thing to blame himself for). Seeking to understand the enemy, although the moment for defeating it has long passed. He has devoted lectures to the topic, and for those who sincerely ask, he provides answers in unflinching detail.
This earned him wary looks in San Francisco.
The wake was neither his idea nor hers - indeed, Sara had forbidden one. But her mother, in her more lucid moments, had insisted. Her sanity may have been tenuous, but her grief was real enough, and Gil had relented. It was everything he dreaded and more, and he dealt with it by immersing himself and a small audience of fellow aficionados of the macabre in the clinical details.
Now, more than eleven months on, it doesn't seem to matter anymore. The minutia doesn't matter. He thinks that it is part of the same phenomenon that has led him to count in months and parts thereof, rather than weeks or days or, at its worst, hours and minutes and seconds. He considers the fact that he can round it down to months to be a minor miracle. He suspects that it will become hours and minutes as eleven months melds into twelve, but for now it is months, and that is a mercy he is thankful for.
It was dark when he found her.
It had rained overnight, and again the next day - uncharacteristically early in the year for such a long shower. But the rain eased off and the sun streamed through the clouds, and the air was still, and it didn't interfere with the helicopter. Up there in the quiet and the peace, it was tempting, to let his mind retreat to memories of her - to take shelter from the reality of what Natalie had done. Only the thought of her out there alone made him keep focus.
And then at last, there it was. The upended car, bang in the middle of nothingness, just like he knew it would be. Nothing but a hand protruding limply from beneath. It could have been anyone's - not only when he jumped from the helicopter as it touched down, but right up until he took it in his own. He wasn't sure whether he wanted it to be hers or not. Which was worse - Sara hurt or Sara missing? The devil you know or the devil you don't?
He thought he was in time. When she squeezed his hand, just a little, he really thought there was still time. He kept on thinking it as he held her hand in the rain, waiting for the ambulance and the team and the crane as the pilot smoked and paced.
It wasn't until the car was lifted free that he started to suspect. It wasn't her cry of pain and the arched back and flinching limbs that went with it - if anything, that reassured him. She was not, at least, a paraplegic. But as he dropped down beside her, covering her with his jacket and kissing her hair in the dirt before the car was even completely clear, he could smell the dull strains of decay. It was a familiar smell - sometimes even a comforting one. But not now. Not from her.
But even then he didn't really understand. With the luxurious detail of gnawing worry, he considered how she would cope if they removed an arm or a leg. In the hour it took them to get to the hospital, the notion took on almost-romantic overtones. He would nurse her. Everything he'd ever been unable to say to her, he would show her with his care. By the time the glittering lights of the city came into view, the prospect of dealing with a gangrenous amputation - especially compared to what could have been - had been reduced to a minor irritation. He stroked her face and told her everything would be all right, and she smiled weakly up at him and pretended to believe him.
But Sara knew. She knew the prevalence of C. perfringens
- its presence in virtually every soil in the world. She knew the manifestations of internal gangrene, of septic shock - hadn't she assessed more than one victim of exposure? And most importantly, she could feel the symptoms, had hours to note their buildup in her own body: the gas buildup, the chills, the rapid breathing. Although confusion had set in a little, she was lucid enough to beckon to a paramedic as they arrived, and suddenly the scene changed. Things became hurried...no longer routine.
He doesn't really remember being given the news. He knows that it happened - he knows exactly what was said, and where, and how many anxious hours of activity and surgery took place before it happened - but the moment itself is simply absent. The words echo in his mind, but they are in his own voice, not the doctor's. As though he is reading a court transcript.
What he remembers is walking into her room afterwards, walking with dull thudding steps. He remembers rounding the corner and coming face to face with the sign at her door: Sara Sidle, and then, on the next line, Do Not Resuscitate. Her orders. He was the witness to her living will. Why on earth had he signed it?
He stared at that sign for a long, long moment. An eternity lived in seconds.
He remembers seeing her awake and propped up and talking lucidly to the nurse, pale against the pillows and wincing in discomfort but otherwise just Sara, and he couldn't understand how she could be like that and dying at the same time.
He remembers that she knew without him telling her, and that she wasn't distressed, and he didn't understand why when it was tearing him apart.
'I'm happy,' she said simply. 'I've never been happy before.' And he understood - part of him understood - but he wanted to make her hungry for more, wanted to make her fight, and he would have pushed her if it hadn't been futile. And so he wiped his eyes with the heels of his hands and asked her what he'd been meaning to ask her for weeks, and she said yes, as simple as that.
He remembers calling Catherine.
'Sara and I are getting married,' he said. 'Can you be here?'
'Uh, sure,' her voice came across the miles. 'I mean, yeah, of course. When?'
'This morning,' he said. Then, in a lower voice, 'She hasn't got long.'
A pause. Then, in a very different voice, 'Oh. Oh, Gil.' Another pause. 'Is there time to bring some things?'
He looked at Sara through the glass. Time? There was not nearly enough time left in the world. Not for anything. But if he thought too much about that, then he would spend her last hours screaming, if not outright insane. He didn't want to do that to her.
He forced himself to consider the question. 'Yes,' he said at last. 'But make it fast.'
She was fast. They all were.
He had just meant the invitation for Catherine, but she had obviously taken it in the collective. He was surprised to find that he didn't mind.
She'd brought him a fresh set of clothes from his office. She'd broken into Sara's locker and brought her a white tee-shirt, and added a frilly white overshirt of her own. Warrick maxed out the little breathing room left on his credit card on a pair of rings. Greg brought red roses, and Brass brought cheap champagne, and strawberries from a street vendor. It was paltry in the scheme of things, but it counted for a lot.
So they were married, and then they toasted and celebrated, and Sara laughed a lot with pink spots high on her deathly pale cheeks. She sneaked a few sips of champagne. The nurses pretended not to notice. The last thing she ate was strawberries, and she gasped softly as they went down.
Gil and Catherine exchanged looks then, and Catherine ushered the rest of them out. Sara said goodbye to each of them, and pretended not to notice when they averted their eyes and coughed and shuffled their feet, and threw in a wisecrack for good measure.
Things went downhill very fast after that. They had maybe an hour before she lost consciousness, an hour of hurried talk, of hastening to share a lifetime of thoughts and feelings and anecdotes and secrets.
'I want you to bury me in San Francisco. As Sara Grissom,' she said towards the end.
He wanted to argue with her, but he couldn't do that without lying to her, and he couldn't lie to her. Not ever, and especially not now.
'Yeah? Why's that?' he said, like she'd just said she wanted to learn to learn to water-ski.
'Because for every moment I've been Sara Grissom, I've been happy.'
He nearly lost it then. Every defence he'd summoned in order to enjoy his wedding and his all-too-brief marriage nearly deserted him in that moment. But he pulled them back. Just.
He bent forward and laid his head on her pillow, facing her. 'I promise,' he said.
There were just a few more moments after that. He had only the shortest of lifetimes to be the husband he wanted to be for her, and he believes he did all right, in the circumstances. He held it together and he loved her and he let her go. The tears didn't come until her eyes fluttered closed. And the wracking sobs didn't come until after she died. His own struggle with the darkness didn't come until after he'd buried her the way she'd asked.
He has been married for a year, he thinks, looking at his watch for the hundredth time this day, and widowed for an hour less. He doesn't think about that intervening year very much. He doesn't dare. But he looks at the cocoon in his office and he thinks of her and he thinks of himself and the way she died and the way he is still standing.
He thinks of the confident extravagance of love - the enormous presumption of life and of endurance that love entails - and he thinks that they were blessed to be able to cram a lifetime of love and friendship into those final hours. He has learned to appreciate his blessings while they are his, and he thinks that is why he has survived.
And when I go to sleep at night
I'll thank you for each blessed thing surrounding me
For every fall I'll ever break
Each moment's breath I want to taste
Confidence and conscience, decadent extravagance
Never ending providence, I loved you when I had the chance
Angel - I hope they love you like we do, forever
Angel - I'll be proud to be like you
-- Angel, The Corrs