Spoilers: Potential spoilers through season 4, including the finale.
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Disclaimer: Yeah, like I own anything related to CSI. Get real.
Author's Note: Thanks to Burked and Ann for the input on the multiple versions of this chapter! All mistakes are mine. Potential spoilers through season 4, including the finale.
Summary: Tensions rise when a dead body is found in the desert, and the only evidence suggests one of the team is the murderer.
"Look, what's killing me going to accomplish?"
"Dammit, Gil! Watch the road," Catherine exclaimed as the SUV bobbed dangerously over a deep hole in the path. "Sara's already freaked. Seeing two more corpses she knows tonight? Probably not a good thing."
Catherine watched her friend in confusion as he eased off the accelerator, slowing their speed from certain death to imminent demise. She braced as they hit another rut, trying to get a handle on his behavior. Something just didn't add up.
Their shift had started out calmly enough. She and Gil had been investigating a bomb found at an art gallery. A threat of an explosion was never a good thing in a town that relied on tourism, and the gallery was one of the mayor's pet projects. Sheriff Atwater had been hounding them, but at least she hadn't been in any danger of having all her fillings rattled loose.
An already irritated Grissom had been talking to the gallery owners when Warrick's call came through. Playing the message back a few minutes later, he became irked to learn there was a 'problem'. Catherine was bagging evidence while he returned the call, but she'd looked up in time to see his expression change. Before the phone was back in his pocket, Grissom had practically dragged her to the Denali. He'd briefly explained that Sara knew the DB, and it had upset her, but he'd been silent the rest of the trip.
"What the hell are we doing out here?" she eventually asked, waving her hand to indicate their surroundings.
Grissom glanced at her in confusion. "Sara can't work this case, and I don't want to leave Warrick stranded out here without a vehicle."
"So why drag me along? Atwater's going to be pissed we left our case. Remember? The important one?"
"The techs can handle the photographs and printing for a little while. And you'll be switching cases with Sara."
"Oh, goody," Catherine said, not bothering to hide her sarcasm. "I get a rank DB - in the middle of the desert on a day that will have record high temps - instead of a high-profile case in an air conditioned building."
Grissom gave her a brief stare. "It'll be quiet. Atwater won't be bothering you out here."
"One - I'm not the one that's politically tone deaf. I can deal with Atwater. Two - Where is here anyway? I never even knew this road existed."
"The desert is littered with these old mine roads. Most are closed off."
"Gee, I wonder why," she said as they cleared another bump. "Perfect place to dump a body."
"Not quite," Grissom pointed out. "This one got found."
"Talk about luck. Dammit, Gil! This isn't a roller coaster! Slow down," Catherine hissed as they bounced over a series of ruts.
"It's not that bad."
"Yeah, well if you break an axle, you're the one walking back for a tow truck."
"Cell phones, Catherine."
"Uh, huh," she replied, her look indicating he'd be walking anyway, for his own safety. After a moment, she looked at him in confusion. "So, I'll be switching cases with Sara. Got it. Why are you here?"
As she suspected, the question caught Grissom off guard. Things involving Sara usually did. Catherine had known him for over a decade, but this was one area about her friend that she made no claims of understanding.
Despite an obvious mutual attraction, Gil had never attempted to make a move on Sara. When she finally started dating someone else, it looked like he'd given up on the idea. Even after they broke up, Gil hadn't expressed an interest, instead spending the better part of the last two years distancing himself from Sara.
But all it took was something involving her for Grissom's mask of indifference to slip. He'd been obsessed when Sara's double, Debbie Marlin, had been murdered, working himself into near-exhaustion. Now, something had affected her deeply enough to become ill, and he had them flying like a bat out of hell down what could double as a path to hell.
"Gil?" she asked again.
"If Sara's ill, she shouldn't be driving," Grissom finally answered, the muscles in his jaw working.
The action didn't escape her notice. He was concerned about something. Catherine's forehead wrinkled as an idea came to her. Rumors in the department moved impossibly fast. Everyone knew he'd been called to get Sara from the police station after she'd been stopped.
"You're not thinking that, well, maybe there's another reason Sara got sick are you?" Catherine ventured, surprised by his angry glare. "Eyes front, Gil. She had a bad day; it doesn't mean she has a problem."
"I never said she did."
"Ooooo-kay" she said, holding her hands up in defeat at the vehement reply. An angry Grissom wasn't something she was in the mood to deal with. Did he still care? Did he even know? Well, if he hadn't figured it out in the past four years, he wasn't likely to reach a decision in the next few minutes. "And take your foot off the damn accelerator."
They reached the crime scene shortly afterwards, parking near the other Denali, where Sara sat sideways on the back seat, her head hanging low. Grissom and Catherine approached, steering clear of the area where Sara had collapsed earlier.
"Warrick wasn't kidding about her being sick," Catherine muttered, exchanging a concerned look with Grissom. That hadn't been a mild reaction. "Hey! You okay?"
"Yeah," came a discomfited reply. "Sorry."
Grissom moved in front of her, his head cocked in thought. Sara had yet to look up at them. A slight smile formed as realization struck: of course Sara would find this embarrassing. Resting his hands on her arms, he squatted in front of her.
"Grissom?" Sara's head shot up, looking at her supervisor in surprise before dropping back down again. Warrick had told her Catherine would be coming. He hadn't said anything about Grissom. And I didn't think tonight could get any worse. Bad enough I lost it at a scene. Some professional I am. Work's all I have, and I'm on shaky ground there. I've seen dead bodies before.
That wasn't 'a body'. That was Hank.
She looked at Grissom, his look cutting through her. His eyes were dark with concern and tenderness. For how long? Warrick must not of told him who the body... who we found. Now he decides to care. Damn it. Damn him. Why tonight? Why this case?
Grissom's smile wavered as he noticed Sara's apprehensive look.
"Sorry," she repeated. "You, uh, you didn't have to come out here. You don't need to hang around."
"It's not a problem," he said softly, leaning back and running his eyes over her. The knees of her jeans were scuffed. Looking at her hands, he noticed the abrasions on the knuckles. He tried another smile as he lifted her hand, running a finger lightly over the damaged skin. When she pulled back like she'd been shocked, he became nervous. "Are you hurt?"
"It's nothing. Uh, Warrick's down with the body," she said, resorting to nodding in the direction of the ravine when Grissom refused to let go of her hand.
"Down there?" Catherine said, looking pointedly from the yellow tape back to where Sara had been ill. It took a lot of self-control to avoid being sick that long. There was no reason for her to be upset about it. But Sara was obviously tense, and Grissom's attention seemed to be making it worse.
What was she hiding?
"I didn't want to contaminate the evidence."
"You did good," Grissom said, feeling uncomfortable when Sara still refused to meet his eye. He knew things between them were strained, but did she really think he'd get angry over this? Hearing the sound of approaching footprints, he turned his head to watch as Vartan moved closer, catching sight of Warrick in the background as he climbed up the gully.
"Feeling better?" the detective asked kindly.
"Yeah. Guys, really. Don't make a big deal over this."
"Relax," Grissom said. "Was it a friend of yours?"
Damn! Why couldn't he have left? He never could handle the fact I dated Hank. This is going to piss him off. I don't need to deal with Grissom's attitude on top of everything else tonight.
"A Hank Peddigrew," Vartan offered when Sara looked away.
"Peddigrew?" Grissom repeated harshly, snapping his head towards the detective. Vartan looked confused, while he could make out Catherine mouthing a silent curse. "The EMT?"
Peddigrew? He frowned as he remembered the athletic, younger man she'd dated the previous year. Her lover. Ex-lover. The one she picked over me. No wonder she doesn't want me around. Well, that makes two of us.
Turning back to Sara, Grissom was shocked by the look of pain in her eyes. He'd inadvertently dropped her hand when he faced the detective. What was worse was the resignation in her eyes; she'd expected him to react this way.
"Yeah, the EMT," Sara whispered. "Only child. Has parents who are going to be heartbroken."
"Stay here," Grissom said, wincing as he stood. His words had sounded cold even to him.
"Sara handle any evidence?" he heard Catherine ask as he approached the group, ignoring the pointed looks directed his way.
"How close did she get to the body? Close enough to leave any trace?"
"Not that close," Warrick answered, giving Catherine an odd look.
"Why are you worried?" Vartan asked.
"It's nothing," Catherine answered vaguely, prompting the detective to stare at her in disbelief.
"And I graduated from the academy yesterday. You think Sara's a suspect?" he asked sardonically.
"No! Look, that's Sara's ex. If a defense attorney learns she handled the evidence on this case, they'll have a field day with it. You know. Reasonable doubt."
The three men continued to stare at her, but she didn't say any more. Vartan sighed as he fished a notebook from his jacket pocket. "Right. Excuse me for a minute."
"What's going on?" Grissom asked firmly as the detective walked away.
"Yeah, Cath," Warrick added. "They broke up over a year ago. It wasn't a blowout. Even a shyster couldn't stretch that tale in court."
Catherine shrugged, debating how much information to supply. As far as she knew, no one else knew Hank had been two-timing. But they had been lovers. Sara wasn't a player; there had to have been some feeling there. Even after a bad break up, you couldn't forget that. No wonder she had lost it.
Catherine couldn't help but remember how hard it had been to see Eddie in the morgue. She had been prepared for it, and he hadn't been left exposed for days to the elements and bugs, and the experience had been terrible.
Between finding Hank's body and Grissom's attitude, Sara's night was going bad enough. She didn't need any more grief, regardless if the truth might have been pertinent. If it had been another case.
It wasn't like Sara really was a suspect.
"Sara may have been low key about it, but I don't think she kept Hank on her Christmas card list," was all she said before moving to join her colleague.
Grissom watched as she retreated, rubbing his hand over his beard. Had there been troubles? Sara hadn't said anything, but she rarely talked about her private life. To me anyway. Catherine seemed to know more. Which was odd considering the two weren't that close. Should I know these things?
Wordlessly, he headed back to the Denali, fishing out his kit before moving back to where Vartan was trying to cheer Sara up. Tonight would not be a good night to work with her. He didn't want to face her when she was still upset over the death of her lover. Ex-lover. It shocked her. Did she regret the breakup?
"I need to ask you a few questions. If you'd rather wait... okay. Had you seen Peddigrew recently?" Vartan asked.
"No. We didn't keep in touch. I'd see him at scenes sometimes. He works... worked... damn, as an EMT."
"When was the last time you saw him?"
"At a bar fight, maybe two, three months ago. It was at, uh, Tequila Mockingbird. It's off the Strip."
"I remember that fight. Did you talk to him at the time?"
"Not really. He came over and said 'hi'. I was busy. Didn't have time to talk," Sara answered, recalling the night. Hank had actually been nice, contrite even. She'd been professional with him.
I was a bitch.
No, I wasn't. I was busy. God, I never thought that would be the last time I'd see him. Alive. Not being eaten. Damn.
Grissom watched as Sara gave her head a shake, wondering if a fresh wave of nausea was bothering her. Walking to Catherine, he handed her the keys. "You and Sara head back now. Warrick and I will handle this."
"I'm working the bomb case again?" she asked, disdain dripping from her voice. He'd nearly killed them getting here, but now he decides to avoid Sara.
Grissom resisted the urge to sigh when she glared at him. "You wanted to be in the air conditioning."
Catherine snorted as she grabbed the keys from his hand. "Oh, it's plenty cold here, now."
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