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 Ann and Burked for their beta skills! All mistakes are mine.
Author's Note 2: Keep up the effort to bring back Jorja and George. Until a formal statement has been issued by the stars, it's not too late. Go to amossley.com (remove the spaces) for information on contacting CBS executives and details on appreciation gifts/charity drive underway.
Summary: Tensions rise when a dead body is found in the desert, and the only evidence suggests one of the team is the murderer.
Entering the reception area, Grissom spotted Sara sitting alone in a corner. He tilted his head as he approached, surprised by how relaxed she seemed lounging in the chair. Given the intensity of the earlier exchange with Vartan, he expected her to be upset, but Sara was staring straight ahead with a look of calm concentration.
"It doesn't make any sense," she said levelly, finally looking up when he moved by her side. "The phone calls. I mean, they were made. We know that. It's a fact. But I can't explain it."
"Don't worry about it."
"Easy for you to say."
Grissom's eyebrow rose at the joking tone. This really wasn't the reaction he'd been expecting. "Let's go back to the lab. Brass got called away. I'll give you a lift."
"Oh. Okay. I don't pay that much attention to calls," she said as they moved into the parking lot. "I don't remember there being more wrong numbers lately, but it's not something I track, you know? They're irritating, but not that bad. God, hope I never need to be a witness."
"Witnesses are overrated anyway," he said, smiling at her tenacity in attempting to solve the riddle.
"No kidding," she laughed as they entered the car. Once under way, Sara began mentally reviewing the evidence again. "It's weird. Why would Hank call and not leave a message? He's not stalker material. Well, I don't think so. But I thought he was trustworthy, too. What do I know?"
Grissom frowned as he shot her a look. The self-deprecating remark didn't completely cover the hurt in her tone. He'd never considered that her breakup with the EMT would have been so painful. She never discussed it, never showed any outward signs of the turmoil this must have caused her.
How much is she hurting now? If she could bury what she was going through before, is she doing it again? That probably isn't considered healthy behavior. Maybe I should get Catherine to talk to her.
Right. Catherine knows how to bully me into talking, but that wouldn't work with Sara.
I can't imagine what this must feel like. Alcott's accusations, the interviews, the suspicions. Anyone at the lab can find this out. She may have let us check her things voluntarily, but I don't think she's happy about it. Sara's trying to prove she has nothing to hide. Until we resolve this, it's going to be hanging over her head.
"We'll figure it out," he offered kindly, turning in his seat to smile at her. When Sara dropped her head and looked out the side window, Grissom shifted position and started the car. Sara remained quiet until they reached the first traffic light.
"I didn't do it. I didn't talk to Hank. Not in months. Not over the phone."
"How?" she laughed. "The evidence, Grissom. Remember? It never lies."
"But it can be interpreted incorrectly. And I believe you."
Sara turned and gave him a half-hearted grin. "Thanks. That means a lot. From you."
Grissom frowned at Sara's continuing surprise at his support. What bothered him more was the realization that she had every right to be leery of him. He'd let her down too often. What's the friendly thing to do now?
"Would you like me to take you home?"
"Think you need to stay in practice?"
"What? No. No, of course not," Grissom stammered even though she was teasing him.
"I already ditched the skeletons from the closet. Neighborhood dogs loved me."
"I said I believed you."
"Glad someone does."
"You have every reason to be upset with Vartan."
"I'm not upset. I'm not. I'm pissed," she said serenely, crossing her arms. "Can you believe he thinks I'm dumb enough to not alter the gun barrel? Five minutes with a file, and it never could have been matched."
"True," Grissom conceded.
"And I would have made it look like an amateur did this. Do something stupid like clean the gun before I returned it," she said. When Grissom slammed on the brakes as they approached the next light and turned to stare at her open-mouthed, she started chuckling. "Let me guess: the killer did that. Could you forget that part of the conversation?"
"Don't tell me how serious this is, Grissom," Sara warned, her tone become firmer. "I know that. This is my life we're talking about."
"You seem very calm."
"Would you prefer if I freaked out?"
Grissom didn't answer, but considered the option. It might be uncomfortable for him, but he wondered if it might be healthier for her to vent. The past year would have been easier on her if she had confided in someone. "I don't think 'freaking' is necessary, but..."
Sara rolled her eyes before leaning her head against the headrest. Grissom encouraging me to be talkative. About my emotions. That's rich. "Grissom, what choice do I have? Every day, every case we work, we're deciding people's fates. Will an innocent man go to death row? Will a serial rapist go free?"
"Juries decide that."
"Based on what we tell them. You said it yourself: evidence is interpreted. If we screw up, we ruin someone. If I don't have faith that the system will work for me, how can I do that to other people? I didn't kill Hank. I know that. I have to wait to be cleared and go through the hassles like any other suspect."
"That's a very level-headed attitude to take," Grissom said as traffic started again.
"Managerial even? Not like that's ever going to be an option."
"Sara," he began, licking his lips as he collected his thoughts.
"Sorry. You didn't deserve that."
Grissom didn't respond, but did dart his eyes to her. Brass was right; before they could move forward, they'd have to talk about this. At the next intersection, he turned off the main highway to a side street.
"Where are we headed?" Sara asked.
"Neither of us has eaten. There's a quiet place up the road."
"I need to get back to work, Grissom."
"What's the rush? Your bomb will still be there when we get back. You did say it was a dud," he pointed out, trying to lighten the mood. "It won't explode on you."
"Around here, you never know," she muttered.
"It's safe. Catherine's in the field."
What did he say? Sara snapped her head around in time to catch Grissom's wink. "Let me buy you lunch."
Sara watched him with open curiosity. "Why?"
"We need to talk."
"Now?" she snorted. "You think it would do any good?"
"Can it do any harm?"
"Not really sure I want to find out."
"Sara," Grissom sighed, wondering how to proceed. What would be an effective way of convincing her to at least listen? She's fair. No one can argue that point. "Please."
Closing her eyes resignedly, she leaned back in the seat. At this point, she'd get back to work sooner by letting him have his say. This was Grissom. How long could a conversation take? "Fine."
Their destination was a virtually unknown eatery that catered to the truck drivers that brought in the early morning shipments of fresh produce and meats. At this time of night, it would be deserted. Still, Grissom felt it better to broach what promised to be a volatile subject while they were alone.
"I know you're upset over the promotion. But there will be other opportunities."
"Not for me."
The dejection in Sara's tone caused Grissom to start. It was in stark contrast to her earlier lighter mood. "There will be other opportunities," he repeated. "Prior recommendations aren't considered."
"Grissom, I'm screwed, recommendations or not."
"Don't worry about this case, Sara. It won't hurt your career. There's no evidence that can tie you to the murder."
"I know that," she exhaled. "It has nothing to do with this case, or any case. You don't get it, do you?"
"It would seem not," he said, pulling into a parking lot. "Tell me."
"What difference does it make now?"
"You're angry with me."
"I'm not. Not any more. Disappointed maybe. Doesn't really matter."
"It does to me," Grissom stated. "I want to understand what I did."
"Why? And I did this to myself. You just planted the seed."
Sara sighed silently. She wondered if Grissom really wanted to have this conversation. Confronting personal things head-on wasn't his normal style. She was certain he didn't know what he was getting into. Well, he asked for it. Might feel good to finally get this out.
"I'm not sure I understand," Grissom said.
"In Cavallo's mind. Look at it objectively. Both Nick and I have comparable experience. I have a better education. I have a better solve-rate. I got better evaluations. I never, ever, screwed up a case, or had a blemish on my record. Well, at that time. But you wouldn't recommend me," she said, turning in her seat to stare him down. "Get it yet?"
"No," he admitted.
"Why wouldn't you recommend me if I was more qualified professionally? Has to be something wrong with me, personally. Something that never got on my record. Maybe I had nasty BO. Stole people's lunches from the break room. Or being the office drunk qualifies."
Grissom opened and closed his mouth as she continued to glare at him. When he didn't respond, she shook her head and turned away. "It's not your fault. I did this to myself. Let's go."
"I think you're overreacting," Grissom said, reaching over to rest a hand on her shoulder. "What happened that night isn't being held against you. I've never mentioned it to Cavallo or Atwater."
"Do you honestly think they don't know what happened? The whole damn police force knows I got pulled over. The very first thing they do is check the license plate. It's on tape at the Call Center. They may not have charged me, but the record exists."
"We all make mistakes. If we were fired for all of them, there wouldn't be anyone left on the force."
"Like I said, Cavallo was already wondering why you didn't recommend me. You telling me he hasn't made any comments? No questions about my work?"
He was worried that Sara was working the Grimalkin Gallery bomb. But that wasn't because of the drinking incident. It's because of Peddigrew's murder. Cavallo's worried that - what? She's the killer? He would have suspended her immediately if he thought it was remotely possible.
"That was never my intention."
"Actions have consequences, Grissom," Sara said, shrugging his hand off her shoulder. "Too bad you picked those actions."
Grissom watched her quietly for a moment before getting out of the car. Walking around to her side, he politely opened her door, waiting for her to exit. "Let's go inside."
Sara looked around their surroundings with a baffled and apprehensive expression. "We're eating here?"
"It's not bad. Their main customers are the drivers making deliveries to the casinos. This time of night, they aren't very busy. We can talk without being bothered."
"You still want to talk?" she asked incredulously.
"I want to explain."
"What's to explain?"
"The promotion. I didn't recommend Nick to hurt you. At the time, I honestly thought I made the right decision. You deserve to know why."
"Oh, this I have to hear."
Grissom choose to ignore the obvious sarcasm as they entered the dinner, requesting a booth in a far corner. Once the waitress had delivered their coffee and taken their orders, he took a deep breath.
"On technical merits, you were the better candidate. But when it comes to personal merits, Nick was better. I had to choose between those. In the end, I picked Nick."
"I didn't get the job because I'm not a people person? This coming from you?"
"No. That's not what I'm saying. I don't mean personal when dealing with others. I meant dealing with yourself."
"That makes no sense."
Grissom looked down at his folded hands. There were so many things running through his mind when he made the promotion, he wasn't sure if he could truly isolate one. "Sara - you work too hard already. If you had gotten the promotion, you would have worked harder."
"What? You made a decision that affected my entire career over how I choose to spend my time? Do you have any idea how stupid that sounds?"
"The promotion was more a title than anything else. You'd have been flooded with extra paperwork."
"So? I'm not you, Grissom. You're the one who hates paperwork. I accept it as part of the job."
"But you'd have less time to spend in the field," he said.
"So what? I wanted that promotion. I knew what it meant. Dammit, Grissom, I know my life is shitty, but it's the only one I have," she said wearily. "You had no right to screw with me."
"That wasn't my intention."
"I didn't realize you weren't happy at the lab," he told her earnestly.
"I never said I wasn't. Maybe coming into the lab every day is enough for you. But it's not for me. I wanted more," she said, giving him an emotional look. "I need more."
Both remained quiet as their sandwiches were brought over. Grissom looked at Sara apologetically, but she remained focused on her sandwich. He could tell that his intentions had been misconstrued.
Well, that wasn't what I planned. Talking to her only made things worse. If I try to explain things, will I make her angrier? At this point, do I really have much to lose?
"I wanted you to have better."
"A better life."
Sara set down the sugar pourer in shock. Staring at him speechless for a minute, she turned her head, shaking it as she composed herself. When Sara did speak, it wasn't the reaction Grissom anticipated.
"What the hell kind of answer is that? And who the hell gave you permission to decide what was best for my life?"
He blinked in confusion. "I was worried."
"So trashing my career is how you show it? Thanks a lot, Grissom."
"I wasn't trying to hurt you. I thought I was acting in your best interests."
"Just drop it. What's done is done. There's nothing left to say."
"Yes, there is," he insisted, reaching over to take her hand. "I am sorry. It was never my intention to hurt you."
"What are your intentions, then? What made you do this? You could have just told me. I would have withdrawn my application."
Sara waited for him to drop her hand, to break eye contact, but he didn't. It took him a moment to respond, but when he did, his voice was full of pain.
"I didn't want you to wake up one day and realize that most of your life was gone. That you'd probably lost your only chance to ... I wanted you to be happy, to find a life outside of work," he said, moving his other hand over to massage her fingers. "I didn't want you to become me."
"I'm trying to find that other life, Grissom. I've tried. You saw how well it's turned out."
"Don't let that incident with Peddigrew discourage you."
"What makes you think that was my only mistake? The lab explosion? The reason I was caught in it - I was tracking you down to ask you out. Talk about not taking a hint."
Immediately after she said it, Sara wished she hadn't. Grissom paled dramatically, his eyes full of shock. He'd never known the reason why she'd been in the hallway at the time of the explosion. In his mind, he always wondered if Sara's invitation had been a reaction to her injuries; Grissom never considered it was the cause of them. "I didn't know."
She pulled her hand free, reaching for the coffee mug. "I'm sorry. You didn't deserve that. I'm not really hungry anymore. I'll go wait outside."
"Wait," he said, tossing some bills on the table. "I don't think I could eat now."
"I am sorry, Grissom. I shouldn't have said that."
"I think you needed to," he said tightly. I wanted her to vent. Sara doesn't disappoint, that's for certain.
The ride back to the lab was silent. Once he parked his car, Grissom rested his hand on Sara's arm to prevent her from leaving. "I won't let Cavallo hold any of this against you. I'll make sure of it."
"What can you do?" she asked sadly. "You can't change peoples' impressions. All I can do is try to rebuild my reputation."
"You can't, Grissom. I made this mess. I have to fix it."
Sara exited the car quickly, making a beeline for the lab. She was surprised at the footsteps behind her. She knew Grissom's knees bothered him; walking that fast would be uncomfortable for him. As much as the conversation had been? He never stopped me. He let me get this off my chest. That couldn't have been easy.
Partway across the parking lot, she paused and turned to stare at him. Grissom slowed his approach, watching her intently.
"I thought I knew you. I guess I was wrong."
Grissom rubbed a hand over his beard as she walked away. Sara hadn't been accusatory. If anything, she sounded remorseful. When she stopped again, he closed the distance between them, waiting as she rolled her shoulders and steeled herself.
"To make a choice, you have to have at least two options. I didn't think I had any choice," she said, turning to face him. "I never picked Hank over you. I honestly thought you weren't interested. I'm sorry."
As she headed into the lab, Grissom stood in the parking lot staring after her disbelievingly. He'd been her first choice?
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