Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

New York Downtown Hospital, New York City, NY, June 14, 2011

"We have to talk," you say, and touch Tricia on the elbow. If it hurts just being in the same room with her, touching her is like pressing your hand on purpose to a hot burner. She feels like aching love and grief and terror, the ancient animal fear of being left alone.

You know it, you know all about it, you know.

You wish to the bottom of your soul there were somebody else to say this. Somebody should be saying it to you, making you believe it, fighting through your denial and getting you to see the truth. You should be one of the ones hitting walls and having hysterics.

You aren't. You're the villain of the piece, and if it's not the final service you wanted to do your best friend, you know it's one she would have appreciated. Asked for, if she could ask.

You know exactly what she would have wanted.

It's not fair.

Tricia takes seconds to respond, as if the signals from your voice and touch have to travel a long way through her nerves to find her. When she looks up, leaning back from the hospital bed, the bandages and purpled flesh, you can tell from the blankness of her expression that whatever she heard, she did not understand you.

"I need to talk with you," you say again, squeezing her elbow, trying to let the chant of anxiety in her head wash through you without drowning in it.

She nods and stands, understanding without being told that this is not a conversation you can have in front of Daphne. The empty space that used to be Daphne. She follows you into the hall, and you lean a shoulder on the wall, needing the support, and try to get enough air into you to speak softly, calmly, like a reasonable human being. Not like somebody squeezing words out through a broken heart.

She's so patient with you, which is so unfair, because she has no reason to be, no reason to be kind. You'd trade places with her wife in a heartbeat. Not for Daphne, even--for you, because you are a selfish bastard and you don't want to do this alone.

But--you guess--that's what you're going to do.

Tricia looks at you, giving you time, and lets her fingertips rest lightly against your shirtsleeve. You gulp air in and try to find the words, everything you rehearsed gone now. So much for that eidetic memory.

"She's gone," you say, finally, because it's all you can say, two syllables the most you can get out into the awful space between you. And you don't know what's going to happen, if Tricia is going to explode in your face and blame you (the way you are blaming yourself, with every breath that scours you out inside).

"She's right--" Tricia says, turning her head, hand reaching back to the open door of the hospital room, the denial but not the anger yet, and you shake your head and say, "She's not in there, T. I . . ."

Her breath stops, but you choke on the words for so long she gets them out first anyway. "You looked."

You nod.

"What do you mean, she's not in there?"

She's a teacher, of course. She knows the right question to ask to unlock the floodgates, and you stand there watching all her long wavy hair locked up and uncombed over her shoulders, thinking about Daphne twining a lock absently around her fingers, and you wish, you wish, you wish--

Except you don't really wish you were dead. That's the worst part. You just wish you wished you were dead.

You don't deserve what they had. All you care about is yourself.

True, maybe. But you can pretend it's not all about you, for a minute at least.

"She's not in the mirror," you say, very softly. "It doesn't--there's nothing to reflect. Like holding it up to see if somebody is breathing. There's not even a fog. I'm so sorry, I'm so fucking sorry--"

Tricia's face does the most terrible things while she works her way through that. But while you're apologizing she's squeezing your shoulder, and when you find yourself bent almost double around the pain in your gut she moves close and lets you lean on her. And that's so wrong, it should be the other way around.

"You're sure?"

You nod, but before you finish, she's already shaking her head at herself as if she's the one who's done something insensitive: Of course he's sure, you idiot. Don't be a brute.

"Oh, Platypus," she says, the only one outside of the team who calls you that. "Oh, sweetie. How many times did you try?"

"Ten," you say, turning to look at the wall. Ten, except it was five tries before you could make yourself look, edging up on her hospital bed like her hand was a viper that might rear up and strike you. Ten, because you made yourself promise you would stop after one more after nine. "T.--"

"Shh," she says, and you shh. Because you trust her, because Daphne loved her. Because she's everything Daphne deserved, and you can't begrudge either of them that.

She touches your face to get your attention back. She's crying, you're crying. She says, "I need to think about this."

You nod. It's not like there's any hurry. She's not in there; ergo, she's not in pain. Spared that, at least, if nothing else.

"I am so sorry."

"Me too." Tricia looks up at you. She looks away. "I need to think about this. Get some sleep or something. We'll talk about it in a couple hours."

You don't sleep, and you won't sleep, and you couldn't leave the hospital if you tried. But Tricia deserves her time alone by Daphne's side, and this isn't about you, no matter how much every breath feels like it comes out your throat dragging your intestines up on fishhooks. So you find a corner of a waiting room the team isn't in and you sit there, staring at the TV with the sound turned down, wishing God accepted trades or bargaining.

Dammit, you think once, a thought so profoundly selfish you hate yourself for an hour afterward, it was supposed to be her burying me. You're the one with the life expectancy that should be measured with an egg timer. You're the one who takes the stupid risks.

You're still hating yourself for it when you feel Tricia come toward you, and though you're trying not to read her you can sense the resolve in the room. She sits down on your right side and leans her shoulder against yours. Maybe this is easier without eye contact. Maybe.

"We'll give her a week," she says. "So we can all say good-bye. And in case miracles happen."

"I think you are doing the right thing," you say, because you do, and because it might someday help her, to have heard it.

She starts to say something and chokes it back, so you know it was angry. That's okay; you don't mind her anger. You suspect you deserve it.

But because Tricia is better than you, she keeps it to herself, and when she finally says something, it's soft, and gentle, and it kills your breath in your lungs and your heartbeat in your chest. "She knew how you feel about her," Tricia says. "And she loved you, too."

Knew. Loved.

This is really happening. It has really happened. It's real and it's over and there's no take-backs and no do-overs now. You tip your head back, because it makes it easier to breathe through the tears. You breathe through your swollen nose because if you open your mouth you'll be sobbing.

Tricia says, "Did you hear me, Chaz?"

You nod. You have to say something. You have to, for Tricia, because it's monstrous to sit here in silence when she's so brave and in so much pain.

"I wish it was me," you say, which is the wrong thing and half a lie and you want to keep saying it anyway, over and over like a chant, so you stuff your fists against your mouth and bite down on your knuckles and fold forward over your knees.

"Don't say that," Tricia says. "She'd hate to hear you say that."

She's right, so you bite your knuckles harder, and Tricia puts her arms around you and you throw one of yours around her. People walk past, doctors and nurses and aids and administrators and patients and visitors, every one of them blessing you with their selective blindness, honoring the bubble of grief that embraces you two. You hold on to each other for dear life, because sometimes that's all you've got.

Maybe that's always all you've ever got, and the rest of the time you're fooling yourself.

Sooner or later, you can talk again. Tricia's just tucked under your chin, not shaking anymore. You take a breath; it holds. You take another.

There's one more thing you can do, though. So you do it. Not expecting a fight, because another time Tricia's pride might drive her to do it herself, but right now it's busy holding her up off the ground. "I'll tell her father."

"Thank you," Tricia says. And leans her head against your shoulder.