I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
Catherine carefully wrapped the third sheet of newspaper round the framed photograph of Lindsey and Eddie, then placed it into the box that stood on a stool beside her.
The next picture showed Catherine as well as father and daughter. It was Lindsey's fourth birthday and, in a rare show of solidarity, Eddie had asked if both girls would join him for a trip to the zoo. Though apprehensive of his ulterior motives, Catherine had agreed for Lindsey's sake, and had ended up actually enjoying herself.
She stared at the smiling faces looking up at her from their wooden surround, crammed together tightly to make sure they were all included as Eddie held the camera out in front of them to capture the moment. A familiar wave of sadness washed over her, tears prickling at the back of her eyes. There had been so much loss in her life. Lindsey had lost too many people for such a young girl. She should be out enjoying her life, not sitting in her room mourning – first for her father, and only a few years later, for her grandfather.
As she enveloped this frame in newspaper, Catherine allowed a tear to make the journey down her cheek. Despite their history and hard times, Catherine had kept this photograph with the others on her mantelpiece because it held a happy memory. This doting father was the Eddie Lindsey would always remember, and, the Eddie that Catherine would always miss.
Her hand paused before lifting up the next photograph, hesitant as to whether her mind wanted to pursue reflections on what that image showed. Lowering her palm to the marble of the fire surround as she decided, her fingertips gently stroked the dark leather of the frame. It seemed this collection of images, intended to chart the happy moments in her life, now mapped her losses.
Seeing her daughter nestled snugly among the smiling faces of her work colleagues used to make her smile involuntarily. Just the memory of the day the photograph was taken had been known to instantaneously relieve any stress her night at work may have caused. But now the image made her cringe. Somewhere in the two years since they all celebrated Gil's recovery from his operation, something had gone very wrong.
Feeling the lump of emotion forming in her throat, and the tense rise of anger gripping her chest, Catherine quickly forced all thoughts about the events of the last few days from her mind. The best way to get past the hurt was to move on.
She picked up the photograph, and began surrounding it with newspaper. It held bad memories now, but if the moving on worked, then one day she would be able to look upon that moment with a smile again.
Since she was sixteen, Catherine Willows had been moving on, and letting go of friends she had known and loved. She knew with time all sins could be forgiven and friends would be remembered for the good they had brought into her life.
Satisfied that it was sufficiently padded for protection, she placed the memory into the box with the rest of her past.
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
The last picture that had held pride of place above Catherine's fire was of her mother and Lindsey, taken the day they had moved into this new house. Hugging tightly, grandmother and granddaughter were both laughing so naturally and freely, oblivious to the camera that was watching them.
Catherine felt her throat constrict as she remembered the same two people, huddled together tightly like that just days ago. There had been no laughter on this occasion. Only tears as they couldn't bear to watch Sam's coffin being lowered into the ground.
Smothering a sob, Catherine gripped the side of the frame and trailed her thumb across their glowing faces. This was the reason she was doing this. And the reason she knew she had made the right decision.
As she lifted the picture from its home, something fluttered from the mantle to the floor. Holding her mother and Lindsey to her chest, as had been her intention; she crouched down and picked up the loose photograph.
She perched on the edge of the coffee table as she turned over her hand to view the picture.
Her eyes burned with heavy tears that soon streamed down her cheeks, despite her frustration that they were even there at all. Her eyes had no right to cry when she wanted to feel nothing but anger towards the subject of the photo. The continuing tears, however, told her she was in no position to control her emotions.
She remembered having placed this photograph on the mantelpiece, originally resting against the picture of the team that she had already moved. At some point in time it must have slipped downwards and she had failed to notice.
That was a scary resonation of what had happened in real life with the two people the image depicted.
Taken sixteen years ago, on the day the Las Vegas Crime Lab got new cameras, she held in her hand a photo of herself and Gil, standing back to back, posed Charlie's Angels style. Lindsey had come across the long forgotten photograph when she was looking for pictures of Catherine in her youth for a school project. Catherine had laughed as she remembered how surprised Jim had been when Gil had suggested that pose. Then she had placed the photo among the others, intending to frame it.
The edge of the paper crumpled as she held on too tightly, part of her wanting to cling to that time and place. She and Eddie had been at their happiest then; she was content and settled in at the Crime Lab and Jim and Gil had become good friends of hers: there to support each other through thick and thin.
Just a few years later, cracks had begun to open up, Eddie's true self began to come through, and she needed those friends more than she ever had before. And they were there for her. Particularly Gil.
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you
There were many events in her life that would have ended so differently if Gil had not been there to chart her course step by step; to hold her hand when she lost her way; and to hold up her body when she couldn't do it herself.
Her cocaine addiction, her separation and ultimately her divorce, would have left her devoid of energy and emotion if Gil had not been a shoulder for her to cry on, and a sounding board for her to scream at.
She slid herself to the floor, resting her back against the low table, and closed her eyes as she permitted more tears to fall now.
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
She did not doubt the action she was taking. It needed to be done to keep Lindsey and her mother as safe as possible. But she was beginning to doubt her decision not to tell anyone at the lab. Ecklie knew, because he needed to, and he had agreed not to mention anything to the others until it was absolutely necessary. She was on compassionate leave for a few weeks anyway so no suspicions would be raised. She had it all figured out. Feeling anger and hurt towards people she had long considered friends had made it easy to choose to cut them out of her life.
However, remembering that Gil had been a part of her life for much longer than the others had reminded her that they used to share something much stronger. Certain actions and words he had used in the last few years might have hurt her, but a far greater proportion had helped her. Up until this last week, there was no major event in her adult life that he was not a part of. Though it broke her heart that he had not been around to hold her after she had watched Sam die in her arms, or to lend her strength when she needed to stay strong at Sam's funeral, the thought of never seeing him again, without having said goodbye, broke it even further.
With one last look at the "Charlie's Angels", she placed the photo on top of the one of Lily and Lindsey, and wrapped them both together.
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good
Once she had secured the last photograph in the box, Catherine straightened up and looked around the now empty shell of her home. Boxes sat in piles ready for moving – mostly into storage – and her larger furniture items remained. Every personal touch was gone now though. This was no longer home – it was ready to move on.
"But are you?" she asked herself with a sigh.
Realising she had subconsciously glanced towards the box she had just sealed, she knew her answer.
She had accepted that she had to make the move, but she knew she couldn't live with it if she didn't say goodbye first.
She had never been haunted by the friends she left in Montana, or the few friends she had made in Seattle, but none of them had featured in almost every happy memory she had of her time in those places. Now that her anger had been given reason to subside, it made her sick to her stomach to think that her memories of Gil would end now; that her last memory would be of him walking down her path, having dropped off some flowers and a sympathy card. He hadn't been inside; she hadn't offered and he hadn't asked. Her lasting impression of the longest relationship, outside her family, she had ever been in, would be one of sadness – of walking away.
She couldn't do it.
It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
The door in front of her had never seemed so daunting. Gil's office had always been a symbol of refuge – creepy, full of insects refuge, but refuge all the same. Even in the last few years when their friendship had not been as close as it used to be, she had continued to believe that should she ever need it, she could find comfort beyond this door. That she had never chosen to act on that belief was perhaps an indication that she wasn't as secure in it as she needed to think.
That was irrelevant now however. She wasn't here for the comfort or support that she missed, she was here to say goodbye.
She knocked once and then slowly took hold of the handle, and pushed the door open. From his seat behind the desk, Gil looked up as she peeped her head around the door, his glasses rested on the end of his nose.
"Hey," she said quietly, letting her body follow her head and enter the room. "I'm sorry to… interrupt."
"You're not," he said simply, sitting back in his chair and placing his glasses on the desk. "How are you?"
She subconsciously straightened her posture, as if that would somehow make her words more convincing. "I'm… dealing with things."
He nodded, but his eyes were narrowed slightly, as if he sensed her reply was more cryptic than he was supposed to think.
The corners of her lips quirked upwards a little as she absorbed his appearance, committing to memory all the tiny details that were innately Gil – the crinkle at the corner of his eyes, the furrow of his brow, the pursing of his lips. This was Gil concentrating, observing, analysing. It was an expression she had adored since day one at the lab. She couldn't help but smile, though it was tinged with the sadness of what she was about to do.
She knew he would ask where she was going, what she planned to do, but she didn't want him to know. Not just him, none of them. It was safer that way. The fewer people that knew, the less chance of the information falling into the wrong hands. Not that she thought for one second that any of them would put her and her family at risk; she just knew that it was better to keep the information to herself. They didn't need to know where she was.
His analysis had turned to concern now she noticed, and she bit down a remark about it being a bit late now for him to decide he cares again. She wasn't here to argue or pick at old wounds – even if they were only days old. She was here to close this chapter of her life on amicable terms. After all he had done for her, he didn't deserve to have her just walk away.
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
"Gil," she began, her voice trembling on that one little word: She briefly wondered how she was going to get through the rest. "There's no easy way to say what I'm here to say, so… er… please just let me finish before you say anything." Her vision was blurred with tears now, and her voice was breaking with emotion.
"Catherine?" he queried already, now standing behind his desk, his hands resting on it as he leaned forward in alarm.
"Gil… Please?" she pleaded, holding up her hand in a `stop' motion.
He nodded once and watched her expectantly.
She took a deep breath and tried to continue more steadily, wringing her hands together to pretend they weren't shaking as well. "I need to … leave Vegas…"
She saw shock and discomfort cross his features, but he remained silent as he had promised.
"… I can't relax here knowing that someone might try to use Lindsey again to get at Sam's money… So until she's old enough to take care of herself – so like fifty –," she tried to joke, "I need to make sure she's safe." Her eyes were still wide and pleading now for him to understand why she was going.
He was silent for a few seconds, obviously determining whether he was allowed to speak, then he said, as she had expected, "Where are you going?"
"You don't need to know that… It's safer if you don't," she stated as matter-of-factly as she could.
"How will we contact – "
She cut him off with a shake of her head, not wanting him to force her to voice the fact that she didn't want contact with them.
His face grew tight with anger. "You expect to just walk out of my life?" he asked, his tone and teeth clenched.
Hearing her earlier thoughts echoed, brought fresh tears to her eyes. "That was my original plan… I wasn't even going to come here. But then I thought about what an important part you have played in my life, and I couldn't just leave without at least saying goodbye… I need you to know that…" She paused to fight down a sob, and backed up slightly when Gil rounded the desk and approached her. He took the hint and stopped a few feet away. "I need you to know that I am so grateful for everything you have done for me… My life would have gone in a very different direction if I'd never met you – "
"Cath – " He stepped towards her, pain and helplessness creasing his features.
She shook her head. "I have to do this, Gil… For Lindsey's safety…" She was crying openly now, unable to stop herself. "Please don't ask me to reconsider."
She bit her bottom lip in apprehension, as she waited to hear what he would say. Her eyes, locked on his, could see his own tears forming, and there was an ache across her chest.
His expression suddenly shifted: the anger left, his urge to argue seemed to vanish, and they were replaced by reluctant understanding. He nodded his head as he accepted the inevitable, and she smiled her gratitude to him as he stepped forward and enveloped her in his arms.
Her hands clung to his shirt as she cried into his chest releasing not only her anxiety about leaving, but also tears for her father, whom she had not yet allowed herself to properly mourn; tears for Lindsey, who had almost been lost to her again. And she also cried for all the times she had not been able to stand here, in this embrace; for the friendship that had started out so strong, and had been such an integral part of who she became, that had become lost somewhere in the last few years without her taking the time to notice and prevent it.
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend
His hands stroked her back soothingly as she wept, then, when her sobs had calmed to hiccups, he gently pulled her head back, and brushed her hair off her tear-stained cheeks, cupping her face in his hands when he'd finished.
Catherine smiled, sadly, as she looked into his eyes and saw a level of love he'd never permitted her to see before. Reaching up with her right hand, she rested it atop his left and squeezed affectionately. "I don't think Sara would be very pleased to see us standing like this," she whispered softly.
He didn't even flinch at her revelation that she knew about his `secret' relationship with Sara – and that saddened her further as it just confirmed that they knew each other well enough to know that some things between them didn't need to be said, they would just pick up on them.
He closed the space between them and tenderly pressed his lips to hers. A kiss goodbye.
She smiled a thank you when they stepped apart, and his thumb wiped a lone tear from her cheek, remaining to stroke her cheekbone gently as he asked, "Will you be in touch?"
She shook her head as much as she could with his hand on her cheek. "At least, not for a while… You knew Sam, Gil… There are a lot of not nice people out there who would – "
"Shhh," he whispered, moving his thumb to seal her lips when the topic of conversation began to bring her tears again. "I understand… I would never ask you to put Lindsey in danger." He wrapped his arms round her again, and she wound hers round his back, pulling herself as snugly into his personal space as she could get. "I just don't want to let you go," he admitted quietly, tightening his hold.
"I'll miss you too," she told him, moving her head to his shoulder so he would hear words rather than muffled sound. "You'll always be a part of me though. Please don't think I could ever forget you."
"I'm sorry I haven't been there for you this week, Catherine, I didn't know how – "
She pulled back and placed her fingers across his lips. "When I was outside that door, the hurt and anger about that seemed to matter. The moment I began to tell you…" Her voice was breaking again as more tears spilled onto her cheeks. "I realised how much I'm going to miss you and every harsh thought paled into insignificance… I was crazy to think I could leave any of you without saying goodbye… But I was so lost last week and nobody seemed to care; not one of you hugged me; that's all I needed, someone to hold me; to let me cry…"
His face fell. "Cath I had no idea – "
"Like I said… It doesn't matter now. You've all been too important to me for me to let that one moment of pain cloud all the happy memories… I need to see the others… I'd like to leave with an image of you all together."
Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
When the rest of the team arrived for shift, Gil stood beside Catherine as she explained to them – only marginally less emotionally than she had done to Gil – that she was leaving. She explained her motives before allowing them to speak, because she knew they wouldn't try to dissuade her from ensuring Lindsey's safety. It was possible that none of Sam's enemies would try anything, but there was no way to be sure. And they all understood that.
She stayed a few minutes and the group retold stories of their joint past; each comic moment laughed at with amusement dampened by the ticking clock and knowledge of what time's passing would bring.
Catherine carefully catalogued the expressions and personalities of each of her friends as she listened to what they remembered the most. Each person in the group was so different – varying backgrounds, a variety of interests – and yet they had managed to gel as a unit, and had always been stronger as one – their time apart had proved that.
Slightly shaken by that thought, and the realisation that she was breaking up the team again, she made each of them promise that they would always be there for each other as they had been in the past.
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
"I'm going to miss you all so much," Catherine said as she stood up to leave so that they could get on with some work. "We've made a great team. Take care of yourselves, and each other… and especially Gil… He's getting old now, you know," she teased with a teary grin aimed at Gil.
"Hey!" he protested, as the younger members of his team stepped forward one by one to hug Catherine and say their goodbyes.
Sara was the last, and then the team seemed to drop back when Catherine turned to Gil.
"I believe we've had our goodbye," she said, softly.
He smiled and leaned forward for a final hug. "Even if Lindsey is fifty," he said quietly as he held her, "when you decide it might be safe to make contact again… Call. I'll be waiting to pick up the phone."
She pulled back and looked at him with amusement sparkling in her eyes.
He shrugged. "I'm planning a long life."
She laughed and stretched up to kiss his cheek. "Then I'll be in touch," she assured him softly in his ear before her lips pressed to his cheek once more, and then she stepped away.
She addressed them all one last time. "Thank you… For everything. Please stay in here, and get started on your work… I really need to stop crying before I try to drive home." She laughed as she spoke the words, to try to lighten the mood of what she had needed to ask them.
She could see their reluctance, but they all nodded at her insistence, and offered her final words of goodbye and good luck.
She locked her eyes on Gil's and smiled a smile she hoped conveyed twenty years worth of gratitude and love, then she squeezed his hand gently as she passed him and walked out of the room.
Because I knew you:
I have been changed…
She hesitated briefly when she reached the external doors of the building, but the smiling picture of Lindsey and Lily popped into her mind, renewing her failing faith.
She had come to Vegas alone and nervous, but determined to make a life for herself. The people she had met along the way had shaped that life into what it was now – and for that she would be forever grateful. But now she had to ensure security in her daughter's life. Their support would never be forgotten, but she had come full circle and now had to rely solely on her own determination once more.
With her hand poised on the door, she closed her eyes and said a silent `thank you' that no one had followed her out of the break room.
Opening her eyes to the outside world again, Catherine Willows took a deep breath and stepped out of her present, and into her future.