Sam met Catherine at the doors of the Rampart casino, a small, sympathetic smile on his face.
“Hey, Muggs,” he greeted her, leaning in to kiss her cheek.
“Hey,” she returned. “Thanks for calling.”
They continued to talk as they walked through the casino towards the bar.
“We started him on water half an hour ago, but he’s not really drinking it. Didn’t seem in any hurry to leave though,” Sam explained the reason for his phone call.
Catherine sighed. “How long has he been here?”
“About two hours… He’s been on his own the entire time… Speaking only when he wanted the next drink,” Sam told her.
Catherine’s heart broke just imagining what could have driven him to this. It was so out of character for him; but then, it wasn’t the first offbeat action he had taken lately. Perhaps she should not have been so surprised.
She stopped walking when she caught sight of him sitting at a table in the corner of the bar area, his head rested in his hands. A concerned frown creased her brow and tears prickled at her eyes. In twenty-five years, she had never seen him like this.
“I’ll leave you to it,” Sam said, softly. “Get the bartender to call me if you need me.”
Catherine nodded and tore her eyes away from the heart-wrenching puzzle in the corner to briefly smile her gratitude to her father. “Thanks, Sam.”
“I hope he’s okay,” Sam stated before walking away.
Catherine let out a small sigh. “So do I,” she whispered.
She approached the table cautiously, not wanting to startle him, and also wanting to take in as much information as she could, hopefully gaining some insight into why he was there.
His body language was, however, only telling her that he was distressed - a fact she had already derived from his presence in a bar in the early hours of the morning.
She slid into the booth, next to him, and spoke softly. “Gil?”
His head twitched slightly, indicating that he had heard her, but he made no verbal response.
She gently placed her hand on his elbow and tried again. “Gil, it’s Catherine… It’s time to go home, honey.”
He lifted his head and looked straight at her, the sadness and despair in his eyes causing her to draw back slightly in shock.
“Catherine?” he asked, as if he couldn’t believe she was really there. He reached a hand out and cupped her cheek. “Catherine,” he repeated more quietly, assured now of her presence.
Catherine’s concern tripled and she grasped his hand with hers. “Yeah, it’s me,” she smiled. “I’ve come to take you home.”
He simply said “Catherine” again, and this time pulled her to him and embraced her in a tight hug.
She briefly returned the embrace, her hand rubbing soothingly on his back as her mind raced, trying to figure out what was going on. He was definitely beyond drunk, and she had never seen Gil Grissom beyond drunk. Drunk, yes. In this state, never.
“Let’s go home,” she said softly into his ear, trying to pull away from him.
He shook his head and held her tighter.
“Gil… It’s three o’clock in the morning. You should be in bed… And I should be at work. We’re already short staffed.”
He pulled back suddenly, and took her face with both hands this time. “I’m sorry, Catherine… I’m sorry.”
Still completely at a loss for an explanation, Catherine just smiled. “It’s okay.”
He shook his head vehemently. “No… No it isn’t… Let me fix it.”
“No, Catherine! Let me fix it! You have to let me fix it. Tell me what I have to do and I’ll do it.”
She observed him for a moment frantically trying to figure out what had happened and what he meant. His eyes were pleading with her, full of desperate hope, and his hands were clinging to her as if she might cease to exist if he let go.
Seeing one way to get him to co-operate, she nodded once and said, “Okay. Okay. Well, the first thing you need to do is come with me now.”
He began to argue, but she placed a finger across his lips. “If you want to fix it, you have to come with me now,” she told him.
His eyes seemed to light up at the possibility of fixing whatever it was he thought was wrong, and he nodded quickly and repeatedly. “Yes. Okay. Yes.”
She smiled, with relief. “Good. Come on.” She took hold of one of his hands and led him out of the booth. Once he was standing, she put one arm across his back to help steady him, and wrapped her other hand around his.
“Thank you, Catherine,” he whispered into her hair as they staggered towards the exit.
Deciding that it was better not to try to have a conversation about what he was thanking her for, Catherine smiled up at him, but remained silent.
Telling him at each step along the way that what she needed him to do was the next stage in him ‘fixing it’, Catherine managed to get Gil into her car and then into his townhouse. Luckily she had her key with her, because she had no idea where his was, and he had made no attempt to retrieve it when they reached his front door.
Now she was guiding him towards his bedroom, still receiving the occasional ‘thank you’ or whisper of her name, but still choosing not to respond. Her only words to him were those necessary to get him to do as she needed.
She swung the door open and steered him into the room, beginning to feel the ache of his weight across her back.
They had taken two steps closer to the bed when he suddenly stopped and Catherine was jerked to a standstill, her shoulder putting up a painful protest.
“I’m not ready to sleep, Catherine,” he declared. “I can’t sleep until I’ve -”
She placed three fingers across his lips this time, with a more insistent force. “Gil, you can’t finish fixing it, until you’ve been to sleep… I won’t believe you, until you’ve been to sleep.”
His eyes locked on hers and he seemed to analyse her words, considering them for a long moment before he raised his hand and it hovered beside her cheek.
Catherine frowned as she saw tears form in the corner of his eyes and his expression shifted into what she could only describe as love.
Her heart skipped a beat and then increased the speed of its rhythm. She could feel his touch on the skin of her face, even though he had still not made a connection, and she was overcome by the familiar pull of attraction she had experienced many times since the day she met Gil.
His hand curled and his fingernails brushed gently on her cheekbone.
She tensed and edged backwards. “Gil – “
“I’ve really messed up, Catherine,” he said quietly, his eyes glistening with the unshed moisture.
She swallowed hard, feeling her own tears forming. “Just go to bed, Gil.”
“I’ve made a huge mistake… I don’t know why I did it… I wasn’t thinking… I just… I needed to feel… I needed to live… After Nick – “
“Not now, Gil.”
“I’m sorry I – “
“You don’t need to apologise to me… Unless you stand here much longer. You’re not as light as you used to be, my back can’t take this,” she smiled, but it was nothing more than a movement of her lips.
His back straightened immediately, taking his weight off her, but his arm remained around her, his other hand finding her cheek again to gently caress it.
She pulled herself away from his touch and slipped out from under his arm. “Time for bed,” she stated, placing her hands on his back and urging him forwards impatiently.
“She was so hurt,” he muttered as he walked. “So hurt… Crying and screaming… I tried to calm her down but she just screamed at me to get out… to go… to leave her the hell alone…”
Catherine felt a now all too familiar crushing, constricting sensation in her chest, and a tightening of her throat. She really didn’t need to hear this.
Gil stopped talking as he reached the bed, and he turned around and dropped himself into a sitting position on the edge. “It’s all so messed up,” he cringed, running his hands roughly over his face.
Despite not wanting to hear anymore about what had happened, Catherine couldn’t bear to see him suffering like that. She firmly agreed that it was all messed up and, in her eyes, it was all his fault. But in spite of everything, she couldn’t let him suffer alone.
She sat down beside him, leaving a small space between them. “Things’ll look better in like ten hours when you’ve rested and you’re not full of alcohol,” she assured him.
“She’ll still be hurt,” he said, looking at her with red-rimmed eyes. “There’ll be more screaming and crying and work will be tense and uncomfortable… I never meant for any of this… I feel like it wasn’t even me.”
She wanted to yell at him that it was him, and it was his fault and he just had to be a man and face up to his actions, but that would be far too much like kicking him while he was down, so she refrained. Instead she slipped onto the floor and undid his shoes. Then she stood, and slipped his jacket from his shoulders and over his arms.
His sad face looked up at her when she turned back from placing the jacket on a chair. He looked like a little lost child, so unsure of himself and his future.
Taking a deep breath to stimulate her ability to say what she needed to without gritting her teeth, she placed her right hand over his cheek. “Things are rarely as bad as they seem… You’ll get through this. Sara’ll get through this… And, who knows, maybe this will make your relationship stronger.” Her stomach rolled as she spoke, but she managed to get the words out. She dropped her hand and was about to tell him that she was leaving when he spoke instead.
“No it won’t… I told her it’s over, Cath… I told her it never should have started in the first place… I don’t want the relationship to be stronger. I don’t want the relationship. I don’t want Sara. I never did. I just wanted to feel wanted, needed, alive. I live to work, the lab has always been my life… and when Nick was taken, and when Brass got shot, I realised how easily the lab could also be my death… And if it were to end tomorrow, I wouldn’t be happy with the way I’ve lived my life.”
Catherine raised her hand to wipe the tears from his cheeks, only realising as she saw it that she was trembling. “There is nothing wrong with the way you have lived your life… Granted things have gotten… complicated these last few weeks, but you can sort it out… Everything seems worse right now because you’re exhausted and you’re drunk – “
He opened his mouth to protest but she ‘shh’d him.
“I know you don’t believe you’re drunk… But that’s because you are. Trust me.”
“I do. With my life,” he said solemnly.
That look was in his eyes again, and her breath caught in her throat. She forced a smile.
“Good… Then take my advice, and lie down. I’m gonna get you some water.”
He nodded once and moved to lie down on the bed, and she slipped quietly from the room.
Catherine braced herself against the kitchen counter, fighting back tears and any thoughts that were not to do with Gil’s well being. She was there as a friend, she couldn’t let her feelings about his relationship with Sara get in the way of taking care of him. And he seriously needed taking care of.
The extent of his distress was frightening her. Until this moment she had never considered that perhaps his recent seemingly out of character behaviour was a sign of an emotional issue. Granted the alcohol was probably making it appear worse, but what he had said about Nick and Brass must have been there, somewhere in his mind, to be brought out like this.
She shook herself back to normalcy, grabbed two glasses from the cupboard and filled them both with water – one to make him drink before he fell asleep, the other to leave beside his bed in case he woke up during the night.
Re-entering the bedroom, her eyes widened when she saw that the bed was empty.
“Gil?” she called, placing the glasses on his bedside cabinet and heading for the bathroom, as that was the only place he could be.
There was no answer.
She listened at the door, but there was no sound at all coming from inside the room. She tried the door and, finding it unlocked, pushed it open, carefully in case he was behind it.
He wasn’t. But he was slumped against the bath, staring up at her with those ‘lost’ eyes again.
If it weren’t so damn serious it would have been amusing to see Gil Grissom out of control like this.
“It’s all such a mess, Catherine,” he said, shaking his head slowly. “I don’t know how to fix it… I never meant to hurt anyone… I didn’t know… I didn’t realise – “
He stopped when she crouched in front of him. She held out her hands, palms up and waited for him to take hold of them.
“It’s time for bed,” she stated: slowly; clearly; definitively; helping him to his feet.
“I am tired,” he said as she led him towards his bed.
She nodded. “That’s because it’s late.”
“Am always awake at this time,” he stated, frowning.
She rolled her eyes, apparently some part of him could think logically. She decided not to respond.
He dropped onto the bed and she handed him a glass of water.
“Drink this,” she instructed.
He shook his head. “Not thirsty.”
She sighed. “Just drink it.”
He narrowed his eyes at her angrily for a second, and then snatched the glass from her hand and began drinking.
She waited patiently while he finished it all, and then took the glass back from him. “You need to sleep now.”
“Can’t,” he declared, his face twisted as if he was in pain. “Too much going on in my head.”
“Just lie down and relax. Sleep will come, I promise,” she assured him with a small smile.
He looked unsure, but he lifted his feet onto the bed and lay on his side, facing her. “Still awake,” he commented.
Her laugh escaped her before she realised it was going to happen, and she quickly raised her hand to her mouth to smother it.
“I didn’t say it would come immediately,” she told his pouting face.
He shuffled further towards the centre of the bed. “Wait with me?” he asked quietly, patting the bed in front of him.
All trace of humour left the situation as quickly as it had come, and Catherine fought to regain the composure his question knocked out of her.
“I have to go back to work,” she said, making her tone apologetic for him, but actually feeling pleased that she had a good reason to leave.
“Just ‘til I fall asleep,” he pleaded. “If I’m on my own I won’t relax… Too much to think about.”
God, she hated that she cared so much for him. Her determination to leave was wavering under his beseeching gaze.
“Please, Catherine? I know I’ve messed up, but I need you… That’s why I went to the Rampart… I knew Sam would call you if things got out of hand…”
Well, that explained that. She had been wondering why, when there are thousands of bars in Vegas, he had been in one owned by Sam Braun. He made no secret of his dislike for her estranged father.
She sighed again, finding that it came out shakily this time, and she sat down on the bed. “I’ll stay until you fall asleep… Then I really have to go back… I’ve put another glass of water there for you. You really should drink it at some point. You need to rehydrate,” she told him, trying to keep her mind on the situation at hand, rather than the feelings running rampant in her bloodstream.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he said with a small smile, edging closer to her, as he closed his eyes.
“Don’t get cheeky, else I’m out of here,” she teased, unable to keep from relaxing a little as she looked at his now peaceful, smiling face.
His hand reached up and took hold of hers, where it lay in her lap. She started at his ability to find it as if by instinct alone, and resisted the need to pull it free of his grasp.
“Thank you for staying,” he said quietly, his tone serious again. “And thank you for taking care of me… I’m sorry you had to.”
“It’s not a problem… You can make sure I get paid for the time at work I had to miss.”
He nodded. “I will.”
The next few minutes passed in silence and Catherine fell into an almost hypnotic state, watching his chest expand and contract. It startled her, therefore, when his arm suddenly moved, and fell across her waist. He gripped her hip and pulled himself closer, laying his head against her side.
Her body automatically reacted to his touch, responding to a position it had longed to be in. Her heart was pounding in her chest, she felt a cold shiver sweep through her, and her breathing trembled.
He moved in closer, and she was nudged nearer to the edge of the bed. She tried to stand but he held her tighter, mumbling a sleepy “Not yet.” Though she knew she was just torturing herself, she acquiesced, and lifted her legs onto the bed for balance, instead.
“Thank you,” he whispered, settling his head more comfortably atop her abdomen as if she were his pillow.
Tears stinging behind her eyes, she leaned her head back against the headboard, folding her arms high across her chest so she wouldn’t be tempted to touch him.
She had dreamed of lying like this with him, intimate and content, and years ago it had seemed like they were heading in that direction. They used to join each other for breakfast, she was no stranger to his home, they would flirt, and both had smiles reserved solely for the other. They definitely were growing closer, but then everything changed. As if some higher power decided they were no longer intended to be together. The last few years they had been drifting apart. They shared the occasional moment of closeness, a little flashback to the way things used to be, but they weren’t the same, the dynamic wasn’t the same. She was sure the incident with Adam Novak hadn’t helped matters but she wasn’t about to place all the blame on that. She had been lonely, seeking companionship, but nothing had happened, because his wasn’t the companionship she needed.
She was brought out of her thoughts by the sound of his voice, and briefly wondered how long she had been unaware that he was speaking.
“Gil?” she asked, wondering if he was awake.
He didn’t respond. She strained to distinguish exact words in his mutterings, and managed to pick out, “No, it’s over.”
Her heart broke for him as she realised he had not achieved a peaceful state of slumber, and then broke for herself, when his next words were:
“No, I’m in love with Catherine.”
She got to her sob before it escaped, but only managed to convert it to a strangled squeak. She felt like someone had hit her in the chest. Hard.
The involuntary tensing of her body upon hearing his words must have woken him up, because Gil turned to look up at her.
“Cath?” he asked, concern filling his drooping eyes.
“I really need to go,” she said quickly, sweeping from the bed, only to be stopped by his hand grabbing hers.
“Why are you crying?” he asked, those eyes now filled with terror.
“I’m not,” she said, knowing the tears streaming down her cheeks were kind of giving away the truth.
This seemed to only increase his worry. “Why are you lying to me?” His face fell. “Did I do something? Oh God, Cath if I touch – “
“No!” she stopped him quickly, not wanting to think about him touching her. Her stupid disloyal body was still longing to be close to him again. “I just really have to go.”
His grip on her hand tightened when she tried to pull it away. “Catherine, I must have done something. You don’t cry like this for nothing.” He raised his other hand to wipe away her tears. “What is it?”
Her grief only increased with his gentle stroking of her cheeks, and a withheld sob shook her body.
“Catherine?” he asked, insistent now, and she couldn’t help but notice that he seemed to have sobered up some. “What did I do?”
“You didn’t do anything, Gil… I just… I want to – “
“What did I say then?… A man cannot be held responsible for what he says when he’s asleep, you know,” he said, with a small smile as he obviously tried to make her feel at ease.
It made her heart melt. “I know,” she said, unable to not smile herself. “And especially when he’s drunk… That’s why I’m just gonna go.”
Even though this was the exact way that she had ended up here to overhear his sleepy confession in the first place, she still found herself unable to refuse him. It was that darn pull of attraction again, the voice of their forgotten closer friendship, pushing them back together.
“Tell me what I said, and let me apologise… I’ve hurt enough people lately Catherine.”
“If you apologise, it’ll hurt more,” she told him quietly.
He frowned. “I paid you a compliment in my sleep and reduced you to tears?” he asked, the smile softening her heart again.
She released one small tearful laugh, then realised how fitting his words actually were. “Effectively… yeah,” she answered, raising her eyes to hold his, wondering if he understood the meaning behind her words.
Understanding did seem to register on his face, and his face blanched. When he spoke his voice was barely louder than a whisper. “I was dreaming about when I told S – “ He stopped, horrified realisation gripping his features.
Catherine nodded slowly.
“I’m – “
She tensed as he started his instinctive apology and he quickly pulled her closer to him, where he kneeled on the edge of the bed.
“I’m not sorry I said it,” he insisted, his eyes holding hers, and expression deadly serious. “But I am sorry it made you cry… I am sorry that you heard it like that… You should have heard it from me when I was awake, and sober and – “
“And before you slept with another member of our team…. One who I always knew had a crush on you, I just never thought you would act on it… Seems like a strange thing to do… Especially if what you said is supposed to be true.”
She saw him recoil at the venom in her tone, but finally didn’t care. He seemed lucid now – she knew that fear could sober up the mind pretty quickly - and the side of her that just wanted to protect him and take care of him had stepped aside to allow her hurt, angry side its shot.
“It is true,” he stated, quietly.
“Well, then it’s a shame it took you so long to figure it out… A few months ago it might have meant something…. But, now… I don’t care.”
She fixed him with a strong look, to reinforce her words, and snatched her hands out of his. “Seeing as you’re sobering up, I’ll be going now.”
She turned away abruptly, glad that her new tears remained in her eyes until he couldn’t see them.
“If you don’t care, then why are you crying?” he called after her.
She stopped just inside the doorway.
“And why did you say it would hurt even more if I apologised for saying it?”
She wrapped her arms across her chest for strength.
She jumped when his voice was right beside her ear, his hands gently resting on her shoulders.
“… did you stop?”
She shrugged his hands off her shoulders defiantly, but let them stay there when he put them straight back.
“Your timing sucks!” she told him, voice squeaking through her emotional state.
“I know,” he whispered into her hair.
“And you stink of stale alcohol.”
He quickly pulled his head out of her personal space. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
She took a long, deep breath and let it all out on a sigh before turning her body to face him.
“And I really need to get back to work.”
He nodded, understandingly. “What did you tell them when Sam called?”
He nodded again.
“I’m gonna go… You should sleep… And if you … remember any of this when you wake up, then we’ll talk.”
He smiled, gratefully. “Thank you.”
She returned the smile. “You’ve a lot to fix… But I’m gonna help you… And then we’ll fix us.” She stepped forward and placed a tender kiss on his cheek, glad for the smell of the alcohol, because without it she would have been tempted to kiss his lips, and she wasn’t quite sure she could have trusted herself to stop there.
He took her hand gently as she pulled away. “Thanks, Cath… For being here.”
Reminded of the day he had his ear surgery, and the closeness of their friendship back then, she stepped forward again and embraced him tightly in a hug.
“You needed me,” she whispered as he returned the embrace. “Where else would I be?”