A/N, 4/7/08: Believe it or not, I never considered this story abandoned. It's just taken me this long (admittedly at the rate of working about 1 day a month) to beat this chapter into shape. It is a bit different in that it's composed of mini ficlets from the perspectives of four other characters; each is separated by a line of a verse from the song. They work surprisingly well for dividers/quasi-titles, especially considering that I wrote the bulk of the content before I ever considered including lyrics.
Tattered thought balloons above our heads
He and Eric have their best conversations in hospitals.
The thought strikes him in the middle of counting the scuff marks between his feet, and Ryan almost laughs aloud at the absurdity of its truth.
He'd figured out long ago that they were never going to be the kind of pals who hung out after work, and that on this team he'd never have the same easy camaraderie he did on patrol. But he'd also somehow thought a life lived half in the lab would mean he didn't have to worry that any day could take one of them out. His mind always conveniently left out the memory of how he'd gotten the job in the first place.
Talking seems superfluous, and he'd probably only embarrass himself, so Ryan doesn't say anything at all. Instead he hangs half in and half out of the room, standing sentinel. Against what, he doesn't know, when the most dangerous foes lurk in the room already, but it's a role with purpose and he needs direction.
The walls inside the hospital, expanses of confining white, make him uneasy. Glaring lights point out imperfections in a place that can afford none and flimsy curtains provide mere illusions of privacy. Everywhere, reminders of his last visit to a place like this - not the stay, but the aftermath, Eric offering him a ride home without needing to say much more. They understand each other best, Ryan notes, without words involved. Words between them get in the way; comments become jokes become barbs breed resentment and suddenly they're at loggerheads again, with no clear reason why.
He should go in. Tell him not to give up. Promise to work on curbing those stupid, petty disagreements.
He crosses his arms the other way and resumes his watch.
Sinking in the weight of all we need to say
The rosary seems inconsequential in the weight of the room, too pale as its tiny beads play across her skin, slipping into his hand. It's nearly identical to one she collected at a crime scene last week; take it to evidence, seal it in a bag, holiness lost amidst the bullets and blood. The object is a symbol more of his faith than hers, and she wonders if it means the same when she had to dig it out of the back of her locker, buried there so many months ago it must have been years. But it's something, at least, a talisman of hope for them both.
His hands are very still, unresponsive, and that's the most frightening thing in all of this. Eric makes her think of little boys and constant motion. He's always occupied with something, juggling three leads at once and tapping out drumbeat melodies when the computers run slow. Calleigh wonders if even his dreams have agendas.
She folds his fingers over the metal to give them something to do, and lets hers linger to feel the independent pulse in his thumb. His nails are short and rough in contrast to the smooth polish of hers, with one bruised dark purple, almost black, like a stain. She tries not to think of omens.
When she speaks, her words echo off spaces, and the sentences sound hollow.
Whys and what-ifs have since long played out
It's Alexx who sees his family arrive, Alexx who shoos Calleigh and Ryan home for sleep and makes the order stick in a way that Horatio's mere suggestion didn't. In the quiet interim she sits on the corner of the unforgiving mattress and lets her voice fill the time, easy and measured with none of her inner tremor present. "You're holding the team together, honey," she says softly, watching the future without him spin sideways. It will be the last straw for Calleigh, already distanced from Horatio. Alexx has a pretty good idea where she'll go, and it won't involve the mentor who's stopped acknowledging her existence except to authorize her timecards. They'll be left with Ryan and Natalia and the third new person in as many years, a collection of misfits with nowhere else to go.
When the words run out she moves to another language, scanning the charts and test results, her dialect, reading records of chances that another life never had. Sixteen minutes and a hypodermic needle had made the difference between his lying on the bed or her table. The memory stings bittersweet: Tim could have lived.
But she's in the business of closure, knows better than anyone how questioning what might have been will only drive you mad. This far to the right, Eric wouldn't have any options. This far to the left, there wouldn't be a bandage on his head at all. Phantasmagorias not worth chasing - the only truth lies where it's fallen, possibilities written in invisible ink alongside the painstaking detail of his injuries. The rest is a game of patience and perseverance.
Platitudes never solve as much as she hopes.
Left us short on happy endings
Never mind that her teammate might be dead, Natalia's first priority is the evidence. Never mind that Ryan had shot past her at a dead run, or that in two hours her only update had been a secondhand report from Frank; the case takes precedence. When she calls the apology in Calleigh's voice sounds thin. "We just, we really need you there, okay?" So she smiles and agrees, because it's not like she ever really earned their trust as a permanent member of the team. The voice in her head mockingly twists the instructions. Stay here and hold down the fort, that's a good rookie. We'll call you if anything changes. You know, like if he dies.
At that her stomach revolts, but there's nothing there except the morning's coffee, so her calves stay pinned against the chair as her fingers run mechanical searches for license plates and car models. All of it seems futile, suddenly, when their hostage was probably dead before Eric started looking. This is not what she signed up for, if she ever knew.
They're not anything now. Even then, they were only an office affair. Everyone knew about it and knew it wasn't anything special, and everyone knew it didn't give Natalia any right to be there at this side a year and a half later. She could do her waiting and worrying from the crime lab.
Last November, Natalia would have been there waiting for him to wake up, office gossip be damned. Last November: before she'd started over from the bottom, before he'd looked at her with resentment and a clear accusation of betrayal, deaf to any other explanation.
And when she hears that his mind's still stuck in last November, all she can think is that she'll betray him once more.