Pairing: Lindsay/Stella [with appearances by Danny and Mac]
Challenge/Prompt: Written for rivers_bend [also fanfic100 065. Passing, and psych_30, #29. Repression]
Word Count: 3281
Copyright: Title is a Tori Amos song. Now there’s a surprise.
Summary: Lindsay wants to help Stella recover, but she’s not sure that she can.
Author’s Notes: River wanted snapshot fiction, and I hope that’s what this is! Based off season 2’s All Access, but with season 3 Lindsay’s character development, if that makes sense :)
You say the word you know I will find you or if you need some time I don’t mind.
Lindsay Monroe spends a lot of time around liars, you know. All the wild-eyed liars with blood on their conscience, doing their best not to admit it. Sometimes they even convince themselves, and those are the ones you really have to watch out for. People who can fool themselves with that degree of certainty are often capable of more than you’d ever believe, and they’re the ones that keep her awake at night, in spite of her best efforts to let them go.
The people she works with are liars too. Mac, pretending nothing at all can touch him and then cracking at terrifyingly unpredictable moments; and Danny, who claims to want nothing but friendship from her (but then the way he calls her Montana is altogether too provocative and she doesn’t know how to fix that, or if she’s let it get too far already).
And then there’s Stella, plastic smile behind a mug of coffee, shadows of barely-healed bruises on her face.
“I’m fine,” she says in response to Lindsay’s concerned look.
If she knew how to go about fixing this then she would, but sadly Lindsay can barely manage her own demons, let alone get involved with someone else’s. Some days, they’re so overwhelming it’s a wonder she can breathe, it’s a wonder she can walk down the hall knowing that every step she takes is one she hasn’t earned, doesn’t deserve.
It took her years and years of over-thinking things before she stopped wondering why she got to survive something that she so clearly should have been killed by.
Mac knows, he has to know, there must be a file somewhere on it with Monroe, Lindsay on it, with her history impassive in black on white paper. There has to be something like that, because you’re not supposed to work in a crime lab with all kinds of mutilated bodies if something that awful happened in your past. Hell, when she first said she had every intention of becoming a CSI, of solving crimes the way hers couldn’t be fixed (he’s still out there, peering through her windows, crawling into her ears as she sleeps), her parents blanched. Begged her not to.
Lindsay tells herself that her ability to walk into work every day and smile as she does it means she’s stronger than any of them will ever know.
It was terrifying, at first. Stella hospitalised and no one knew why and how and Lindsay was stuck fucking around with Kid Rock and marmosets and however hot Danny may have found her when her anger got the better of her (maybe he likes the fire in her eyes; he wants something from her and Lindsay is beginning to suspect that she won’t give it), it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t easy.
Everyone she loves just seems destined to be hurt, to be destroyed, by circumstances beyond anyone’s control. Lindsay is beginning to suspect that her friendship is a kiss of death, and patiently waits for Danny or Flack to be taken down to the morgue next.
“You can talk to me, you know,” she says quietly, coffee break and ooh, it’s three a.m. The point at which the world falls to pieces, and when barriers start pretending not to exist until it’s too late. “If you ever need to.”
“Thanks.” Stella’s smile doesn’t reach her eyes, and Lindsay practically makes her living out of reading people’s body language, so she can pretty much see the words Stella won’t ever say. “I think I’ll be all right, though.”
She won’t be. Lindsay could tell her that, about the sleepless nights and the waking up to the sounds of the shots and the way your hands tremble on too many coffee mugs. She could tell Stella about all that, but she doesn’t.
“Just so you know,” she murmurs.
“Have you talked to Stella?” Mac asks, which is Lindsay’s first indication that her boss has read some kind of file on just how fucked-up her past is.
“I’ve tried,” she replies, falling into step beside him. Mac is so, so strong that he seems almost superhuman some days. Lindsay often wants to break herself off a piece of that, carry that confidence and inner peace with her like a light in her palms. “She keeps pushing me out.”
Mac nods, concern flashing across his normally impassive features. He can talk about all kinds of past trauma – dead wife, a history in the Marines he’ll never go into, at least, not sober – but when it comes to women and the sound a gunshot makes when it’s hollow and too close… that’s Lindsay’s shadowy and sharp domain.
“You will try again, won’t you?” There’s so much concern on his face, concern Lindsay thinks he’s trying to shield from Stella. She can understand that, too. When your life’s taken an unexpected and terrifying turn, you don’t want to sit down and talk about it, and see the look in everyone else’s eyes.
“Of course.” Her tone is light, but she knows what she’s saying is a promise. “I’ll try my best.”
Mac’s touches are like gold dust, rare to earn and once you’ve had one you sometimes wonder if you dreamt it. His hand is warm when he squeezes Lindsay’s shoulder briefly, an unspoken thank you; an acceptance that maybe she’s not as ok inside as she wants to be.
Lindsay bites her lower lip and tells herself not to say anything.
In the hospital bed, Stella looked small and pale and not at all like herself. Lindsay brought flowers in crinkling cellophane, and the sound seemed too loud, echoing like the misery in the air was pulling itself to pieces.
There are no words to say, when your friend – well, Lindsay hoped Stella was her friend by now, though who can say just how much of a hole Aiden has left? – is tortured and forced into murdering her ex, after months of stalking and building terror. There’s nothing that doesn’t sound either patronising or insensitive, and it occurred to Lindsay that she didn’t know Stella well enough to tell what she needed. A few months in New York seemed like a lifetime, but it wasn’t enough.
“I brought…” she began a little lamely, then realised that it was fairly evident to anyone with eyes that she had brought Stella flowers, so she laid them down and let herself trail off.
“It’s ok,” Stella told her, mouth twisting into a smile that looked like it hurt. “Well, it’s not, but it will be.”
It takes a lot, to do what they do every single day. It hollows you out, freezes your emotions into cold storage and you’ll never get them back out again. You can deal with anything, in the end. Even with things that no one should have to deal with.
Lindsay didn’t say anything, didn’t offer her reassurances or any kind of concern, because she didn’t know how to say the right things. She’s not Mac, after all.
In the end they hugged too tight and too long and it was very nearly enough.
“Stella,” Lindsay begins, leaning around the door. The lab is empty and quiet but for the beeping of machines.
“I’m fine,” Stella half-snaps, corkscrew hair pulling itself from her ponytail to lie against her shoulders.
“I just wanted to know if you’d found what the trace on our vic’s arm was,” Lindsay replies, careful to keep her voice neutral.
Stella still looks so tired and hollow and mistreated.
“I’ll call you when the test’s finished,” she replies.
Lindsay nods, and doesn’t push it. Not right now. It’s not time yet.
The photographs were horrible, you know. Lindsay shouldn’t have looked, it was like voyeurism but worse. They couldn’t resist, though, none of them, needing to know what had happened to one of their own; Stella’s apartment and the blood in the bathtub.
That’s where the parallels stop, so fast there’s practically a collision. Lindsay crouched down in the restaurant bathroom with her hands over her ears, sobbing, hearing gunshots in her brain long after the actual shots had stopped, light glinting off the tiles and when she’s tired she still dreams she’s in there. But Stella… she was tied up with a telephone cord in her own bathroom, left to cut herself to shreds with a safety razor to stand even the slightest chance of escaping.
Flesh wounds always bleed badly, and fumbling a broken safety razor between your fingers is destined to slice you up in a nasty fashion, but still. Streaks of red against the white enamel, smeared with desperate intent. No matter how much of a necessary evil it was, no one should have to do that to themselves.
“You ok, Montana?” Danny interrupts her thoughts, and Lindsay realises she’s been staring at the blood under her microscope for too long. It’s red and it’s clouding her vision with cells and this person was breathing until someone else came along and then they weren’t.
“Yeah.” Lindsay struggles up a smile that isn’t genuine and sort of hurts, “I probably just need some caffeine or something. One of those days, you know?”
Danny nods, and offers to go get her soda. She thanks him, watches him out of sight, and then rubs her eyes hard.
Other people’s grief is somehow more cloying than her own, and it’s worse because Stella won’t even acknowledge its existence.
There’s a point at which empathy is no longer practical, and Lindsay supposes she hasn’t hardened herself sufficiently enough. Maybe she hasn’t dealt with enough bodies to kick out the last of the naïveté, maybe New York needs to crawl further under her skin and make her cold.
It would be a relief, to feel something other than this.
They compare marks at four a.m in the lab, sleep is for the weak
The world is wavering at the edges, and Lindsay turns her hands up. Stella runs a fingertip over the deadened skin, that distinctive line over the palm. She was ten, something to do over the holidays, braiding rawhide because there are times when it’s just easier to be the country girl cliché. Of course, if she’d known then that the scars were going to linger quite like this, she might not have agreed so willingly to her daddy’s suggestion.
She returns the favour, fingertip to fingertip, Stella’s thin razor-lines that slice right across. They don’t discuss how they were made, that’s not a conversation for four in the morning and not a conversation to have here, with all the glass and the professionalism they’re supposed to cling onto.
“Guess I’ve made my fingerprints pretty distinctive,” Stella murmurs, pulling her hands away like they’ve been touching too long (maybe they have. Lindsay’s lost all sense of how to interact with people over the last few years).
“They’ll heal,” Lindsay tells her easily, turning back to the pieces of paper found in a dead girl’s pockets. Weirdly enough, they make more sense than life does at the moment.
“She’s not getting better, is she.”
Lindsay almost feels guilt, this meeting for a coffee with Mac to discuss the way their co-worker – friend – is still falling apart, because there’s only so much counselling can do when you’ve killed a man because he was going to kill you. It feels like sneaking around, but no one knows what to do for Stella because she won’t admit that she needs someone to pick her up and put her back together.
Who’s to say the pieces even fit properly, any more.
“We just have to try harder,” Mac says. It’s entirely possible that, for him, that kind of thing works. He’s got the strength over the vulnerability, he won’t fall. For Mac, life is a series of musts and he can achieve them all because there’s nothing he can’t do if he puts his mind to it.
(Really, Lindsay does know that he’s not a superhero, she honestly does.)
“Ok,” she whispers, and the caffeine tastes more bitter than ever on her tongue.
There’s a body on the slab, as per usual, but today Lindsay isn’t in the mood. She leaves the morgue too fast, faking a headache or something.
Sitting with her head in her hands, for the first time, Lindsay considers the fact that she might be in the wrong career after all.
One last push. A push because she cannot watch Stella suffering, as her face heals and her fingers shake less, but her mind is pulling itself to shreds with the same questions on a loop, and Lindsay knows she hasn’t been able to pick her gun up again. Not that she can blame Stella. Her own gun training, years ago now, left her weak and sick with memories. Gunshot residue clinging, invisible, to her hands.
She catches Stella in the locker room.
“You want to sit down and talk about it,” Lindsay says, and she tries to keep her voice steady. “You want to sit down and talk about it all like a normal person, except that nothing you want to discuss is normal and some days you don’t even feel like a person.”
Stella closes her locker door with a jarring clang.
“Yes,” she murmurs.
Stella is strong, she is so strong, in a few months it will be like this never happened. She will forget the boyfriend who made a website with videos of her on it, she will forget shooting him dead on her living room floor. She’ll redecorate, and the world will move on.
It’s just that she needs a kick-start, she needs to let it out, not shut it inside.
Lindsay had so many false starts that it got embarrassing, the amount of therapists she just looked at with a helpless, apologetic expression.
“I’m trying,” she’d say.
It wasn’t the entire truth, but no one ever called her on it.
They’re not drinking, because it would be stupid to take this much vulnerability on both sides and then add alcohol. An interestingly explosive combination, that’s for certain, but Lindsay will never be that much of a bitch.
Stella’s hair curls in a way that Lindsay’s never will, it takes Lindsay hours in front of a mirror with a brush and sheer force of will to get hers to even wave in a way that doesn’t look utterly ridiculous. Stella’s just twirls naturally, and Lindsay stares at the twists of it lying against her cheeks rather than look at Stella properly.
It’s late; not so late that the words lose all meaning, but late enough that enough inhibitions have fallen and cracked by the roadside. Later, there will be cold street corners and bodies with their eyes wide open and caked in their own blood, but sometimes it’s easier to deal with them when you’re sleep deprived.
“I don’t know where to start,” Stella admits in a voice that refuses to crack. She’s not used to being weak, not like this.
They push and pull for a while longer, until Stella finally spills all the things she probably never meant to confess. Bits and pieces, tossed out in an order that probably makes sense only to her (although who’s to say what it’s like in her head right now, a mixture of uncontrolled memories and the parts she refuses to recall). Lindsay listens, and doesn’t ask questions, and mentally draws neat parallel lines every time Stella says something she can empathise with.
It was different for her, but there’s a loss of control on both sides.
Stella talks about the return to her apartment, blood on the bathroom floor, and Lindsay unwillingly remembers bloody footprints on the diner floor, some of which were hers. No one yelled at her for contaminating the crime scene, she didn’t figure out what she’d done until years later. She sometimes wonders if that’s why the murderer is still at large. A fourteen-year-old too terrified to admit her friends were dead, checking for a pulse when it was so obvious that there couldn’t be one. People with bullets in their hearts don’t have pulses, just rivers of red.
Stella says she hates sleeping in her own bed, now. That she dreams of being suffocated by the blankets and shot dead if she drifts off facing the window. Frankie, and the marks he left on everything.
Apparently, her summer dress is still crumpled in the bottom of her closet, she got it back out of the evidence bag when it wasn’t needed any more.
They all have their own personal ways of going mad.
“You can sleep here tonight, if you want,” Lindsay offers.
Stella looks almost surprised.
“If you don’t want to go back to your apartment,” Lindsay continues.
She kind of wants Stella here, so she won’t have to listen to the empty spaces and remember things she should have let go of long ago.
“Thank you,” Stella says, and doesn’t try to resist her.
It’s kind of a relief.
She could tell Stella her own personal trials and tribulations, what she’s been through and exactly how far she can understand what Stella is going through, but Lindsay knows that she won’t. Not yet. At the moment, it’s about Stella, what she needs, what she is struggling to deal with. If Lindsay tells her story, it will open up another load of issues that neither of them can cope with, it will put the focus on her and she thinks she’ll collapse if she has to walk back through her memories again.
“You know a lot about this,” Stella remarks, like she’s only just noticed.
“Bad things happen to people in Montana, too,” Lindsay points out. Question avoidance; she has it nailed. “I’ve picked a few things up.”
Stella nods, and accepts that answer. For the moment. One day, she’ll ask. Maybe, one day, Lindsay will be able to tell her.
In the morning, Stella’s slept on her couch and she looks more peaceful, like just saying a few helpless words has helped her to remember that she’s far more than a series of accidents that could never have been her fault.
Lindsay makes them both some coffee, she doesn’t know what she’ll say to Danny later, if she’ll say anything at all. At least she can tell Mac that she did her best.
“Thank you,” Stella tells her, shoulder pressed companionably to hers as they sit on her couch and watch the morning news (always more dead people; at least Lindsay will never be out of a job).
“It’s fine,” Lindsay tells her, not taking her eyes off the TV set, “You’d have done the same for me.”
“No, really.” Stella is smiling, and it’s almost a natural smile, like she really means it. It’s the first time Lindsay’s seen her smile like that in weeks. “Thank you.”
When Stella kisses Lindsay, she tastes like coffee, and it’s a tentative start to something they’ll bookmark and come back to when they’re ready. Not now, because God knows Stella won’t want to be touched in months and Lindsay’s half out of her mind with memories and vicarious pain, but still.
One day, things might be ok enough to pick this back up again, twist it around, and see if it could really work.
Lindsay kisses back, she might as well admit she does want this.
“You’re welcome,” she murmurs.
Maybe they will be all right after all.