Spoilers: Potential spoilers through season 4, including the finale.
Archive: Please ask first!
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.
Summary: Tensions rise when a dead body is found in the desert, and the only evidence suggests one of the team is the murderer.
"You had no idea?" Hodges asked, spinning around on his lab stool and clutching a printout to his chest.
Sara stared at the lab tech in silent bewilderment. She knew it was only a matter of time before the truth about her relationship with Hank became common knowledge around the lab. She knew it would then become the grist of the office rumor mill. She expected to be the recipient of awkward attempts at obligatory condolences, maybe the subject of nervous, whispered conversations.
Being a source of amusement never crossed her mind.
"No. I didn't. Do you have my results?" Sara said coolly, giving him a stony glare as she held out her hand for the report.
"He was cheating on you that whole time, and you never suspected a thing? Nothing at all?"
"No. My results?" she repeated, taking a step forward to snatch the papers from him, but Hodges hopped off the stool and moved towards his bench, laughing all the way. She watched him incredulously, fighting to keep her temper under control. "You think this is funny?"
"No, I think it's hilarious! Oh, come on! This is too rich! I mean a CSI in one of the best labs in the country and you can't spot when your boyfriend cheats on you. For months! You never noticed any of the warning signs. No pictures at his place. Never visited his parents. None of that stuff."
"I wasn't looking," Sara replied, a warning clear in her tone.
"You must feel so stupid."
"Don't page me again unless you actually have my results," she snapped. Plans for a sharper retort died when she noticed Grissom observing from the hallway. Chewing out Hodges - no matter how much he deserved it - wouldn't be the best career move at the moment.
Grissom hadn't said anything since her near-DUI, but she knew he'd been keeping tabs on her. As far as she could tell, he was treating the entire incident as an unfortunate mistake, not as a sign that she had a drinking problem. And she didn't; a hell of a lot of other problems, yeah, but being an alcoholic wasn't one of them. Sara knew she was lucky to still have her job. She wasn't going to do anything to jeopardize it.
Marching back to the Layout Room, she took a deep breath to help calm her nerves. She hadn't slept since finding Hank's body. Normally, it wouldn't bother her, but the last two days hadn't been normal. Not only had she found the partially eaten body of the only lover she had in years, she was a suspect in his murder. Both her personal and private lives were being scrutinized. Her reputation had been maligned, a fact that would remain part of the permanent record in this case.
And the worst part was Sara couldn't do anything about it. Clearing her name rested entirely on her co-workers. She trusted their abilities, and her earlier comments to Grissom about having to have faith in the system were true, but it still grated Sara that she had to be passive. It wasn't in her nature to leave her fate to others.
And I can't nail whoever did this to Hank.
Taking another deep breath, Sara rested the palms of her hands on the table. Why did she care about that?
Because Hank was a bastard, but he didn't deserve to die like that. No one does. No matter what he did to me, he's the victim now. He needs justice.
The others can solve that, too. I don't owe him anything. Hank used me. It was a meaningless fling to him.
Like Alcott would know. She never saw us together. Hank probably lied about that, too, but he did care. I couldn't have been that blind. He went out of his way to do things for me, to check up on me. You can't fake something like that, can you?
Closing her eyes, Sara's mind wandered back to her time with Hank. She would never forget the way he'd hurt her, but at the same time she couldn't dismiss what they had. He'd been the only man she'd been involved with since she moved to Vegas. At the time, Hank provided her with something she needed in her life. It seemed like they had a future. She hadn't been in love with him then, but she wasn't using him, either. She was willing to try; she wanted it to work between them.
And she thought Hank felt the same. They'd had fun together, but he also helped her. Hank could always tell when something was bothering her, and had a way of coaxing it out without pressuring her. He never judged, but would pull her into a hug, a compassionate look in his eyes.
The maggots eating the eyes in his rotting corpse.
With a shudder, Sara snapped her own eyes open, feeling a cold sweat trickling down her back. A shaky hand reached out to start sorting her remaining evidence. That wasn't the way she wanted to remember Hank. Actually, she'd prefer to forget about him entirely, but she knew that would never happen.
For better or worse, he been part of her life, and the experience would stay with her. It had been a painful, humiliating realization that he'd been lying and cheating on her the entire time. How someone could do that to another person surprised her. How she could fall for it concerned her.
Sara liked to think of herself an independent, self-reliant person. She was well educated, intelligent, and capable. Not counting her recent troubles, she'd always been responsible. So why didn't she want to be alone? What was it that scared her? Was it a normal need, to be with someone?
Especially a certain someone. Someone who, despite his recent support, had already decided she wasn't worth an effort. Why couldn't she move on?
Lost in her thoughts, Sara didn't realize that someone had entered the room until Grissom moved beside her. Jerking her head up, she smiled sheepishly as she took the Trace report he held out to her.
"I guess it can't be too bad," she began with an embarrassed shoulder shrug. "People must not think I'm killer material if they're deliberately pissing me off."
Grissom's lips twitched as he watched her. She was taking all of this much better than he would have if their positions had been switched. Alcott's insults, Vartan's suspicions, Sara's admissions about her failed relationship - they were all part of the evidence in this case. Anyone in the lab could retrieve it from the LIMS database. Well, if she could joke about it, so could he.
"Actually, you're not everyone's primary suspect. Brass thinks that's me. That I killed Peddigrew in a jealous rage."
Sara's fumbling the folder in her hand was Grissom's first clue that his joke had failed miserably. When she darted first her eyes, then her whole head to stare at him in shock, he quickly tried to recover.
"He's wrong. About killing him. I didn't," he explained with a sigh. "That sounded funnier in my head."
"Don't sweat it, Grissom," Sara said after a long silence, shrugging as she went back to work on her evidence. When he didn't leave, she braced her arms on the table.
"I warned you before. About over-talking. What I said at the diner? I shouldn't have. That wasn't fair to you. It wasn't your fault I got caught in the blast. Just bad timing."
"In more ways than you know," he responded softly. He held out his hands when she gave him a sharp look. "When you asked me to dinner later, I was on my way to an appointment. It was a bad time. And I thought that your asking, well, maybe that was a reaction to the explosion."
"That's not an excuse. I'm not trying to rationalize my behavior. You deserved an answer that wasn't so curt."
"Grissom, look. Don't worry."
"I want you to know that I was being honest when I said I didn't know what to do," he said slowly. "This, all of this,... "
"Grissom, please," Sara urged. Taking a deep breath, she gave him a sad look. "Just drop it. I know. Okay? I know. What's done is done. Don't dwell on it."
He watched quietly as she walked around the table and began examining her evidence. It was clear Sara didn't want to talk about it, but he didn't want to give up so easily. Her comments from earlier still stung, but they also gave him hope. She had wanted to be with him. It was a fact that he was having trouble fully comprehending, but maybe they still had a chance. If she wouldn't accept his apology, he could at least let her know that he did care.
"How's the case coming?"
"Good. One of the artists on the gallery owner's list of people with grudges is from Ohio. Arvel Belcher. Less than 35 miles from the construction site where the blasting caps were stolen. Has the same last name as the site's foreman. That can't be a common name."
"I can only imagine the etymology behind it."
Sara flashed him a grin. "The local police are checking up for us, seeing if the two are actually related. O'Riley's been talking to Belcher. He's pretty nervous."
"Think you'll have this wrapped up soon?"
"I think so. The Trace results show that some of the bomb components are consistent with Belcher's art entry that Grimalkin rejected. Is something up?"
"You still have plenty of vacation time left," Grissom stated, giving her an appraising look. "Why don't you use it?"
"You don't want me handling cases. Or you're getting pressure from Atwater."
"No. To both. This can't be easy. Having to listen to all the gossip and speculation can't be helping."
"And you actually think my leaving won't cause more gossip?" Sara asked, twisting her head and raising an eyebrow in challenge.
"You won't have to listen to it," he offered.
"Thanks, but I'd rather stay in the loop. Besides, I think I'm going to have to answer some more questions soon."
After her mysterious answer, Grissom moved to stand beside her, tilting his head as he took in her appearance.
"Have you slept?"
"Since you found his body?"
Sara paused in her examination of the digital thermometer that had been used as the bomb's 'timer' to consider his question. True to form, just when she thought Grissom couldn't confuse her anymore, he found a way to do it. Looking up at him, a small smile formed at his obvious concern.
"I'll be fine," she said, rolling her eyes when he crossed his arms. "I'm off tomorrow."
He rested his hand on the small of her back, but before he could say anything, Sara firmly repeated her assertion.
"Right," he said slowly, giving her a backwards look as he moved into the hallway. Knowing Sara, he doubted she'd actually use the time to rest, but even he could tell she didn't want to discuss it further.
Making his way to his office, Grissom couldn't shake the feeling that he'd missed something. Sara had cut him off when he tried to apologize. Didn't she believe him? No, it seemed she was ... what? Resigned? What had she said? 'I know.' What did she know? And why did it make her so sad?
He directed a scowl at the still nervous Hodges as he passed Trace. The tech's boorish comments to Sara were unprofessional and totally uncalled for, and Grissom had made sure he knew it. The LIMS system wasn't intended to be a source of gossip.
Grissom stopped short, causing Jacqui to almost run into him. "Sorry," he muttered as he turned back to look at the Layout Room. Anything said in the interrogation room would eventually be entered into evidence. Anyone in the lab could access it.
That included his conversation with Dr. Lurie.
God, had Sara read that? If so ... damn. I never meant for her to find out, not like that. I wasn't thinking straight. Dammit. All that's happened since then - how would she interpret my actions?
Grissom knew he'd have to do something. A germ of a plan started forming in the back of his mind; now wasn't the time, though. Turning around to head to his office, he caught sight of Warrick ducking into one of the labs and called out to him.
With a groan, Warrick moved deeper into the room and set down the bags of evidence. It was bad enough he had to process Sara's apartment, but he wanted a chance to talk to her before he had to report to Grissom. There had to be a logical explanation for all the things he found.
"How did it go?" Grissom asked, frowning when Warrick closed the door to the room.
"For processing your friend?"
"She volunteered. Sara wants her name cleared," Grissom pointed out levelly.
Warrick nodded, hoping his boss's calm approach remained. There was no telling how he'd react to this. Best to get the mundane stuff out of the way first.
"Her place was really clean, but this is Sara. No big surprise there. I grabbed her appointment book. It's written in shorthand, but I knew that already. I dropped the answering machine off with Archie. He'll start on it first thing tomorrow. He has to be in court this morning."
"Make sure Catherine gets the appointment book. She's checking the time of the phone calls. What else?"
"I left her computer in A/V as well. I took a quick look while I was in her place. Basic stuff, mainly. E-mails, online banking."
"Her resume had been updated before she went on vacation."
Grissom shrugged. "I'm not surprised. She wasn't happy about the promotion."
"Understatement," Warrick said, fidgeting with the last paper sack until Grissom gave him a sharp look. "I found these, but they were in a box, in the back of the closet. They weren't out in the open."
"Hank's clothes and stuff. Well, I guess they're Hank's. Size is right, t-shirt is from the Fire and Rescue," he added as he pulled out individual plastic bags of boxers, shirts, sweat suit, a watch and other odds and ends. "But the bed was clean - hadn't been shared with anyone recently."
"Get that logged. Sara's in Layout," Grissom said, scratching his beard as he left the room. The clothes were packed away. They weren't being used. It wasn't anything to be concerned about.
He repeated the mantra as he made his way to his office. Not trusting Sara once had caused all of their troubles. His inter-personal skills may not be the best, but Grissom wasn't stupid. That wasn't a mistake he was going to make again. Looking at the bugs collected from Peddigrew's corpse, he began to update his logs. Clearing her name was the best thing he could do for Sara now.
Sara smiled as Warrick hesitantly entered the examination room with his kit. She had to bite her lip to keep from laughing when he reluctantly began unpacking supplies.
"Hey, yourself! Find anything good at your scene?" she teased.
Warrick gave her a pointed look as he pulled on a pair of gloves. Leave it to Sara to try to relieve his tension when she was the one with the problems.
"Oh, relax. I'd be investigating me if this were my investigation. And I don't have anything to hide."
"Well, I gotta tell you," he said gravely. "That stuff growing around your toilet - that was really nasty."
"Gotcha," Warrick laughed, smiling at her indignant snarl. "If I hadn't known it was your place, I'd have been suspicious over how clean it was. Control freak like you, though, that's normal."
"I'm not a control freak," she protested, giving him a smirk.
"Right. Hey, I was as neat as I could be, but..."
"Yeah, I know. The place is a mess. Gives me something to do when I get home."
"You could sleep you know," Warrick said as he took her hand in his, running a finger lightly over the scraped knuckles. "That happened when you tripped?"
"Yeah. And I never sleep. Ever. I'm a robot," she retorted, wondering when her sleep patterns became of so much interest to the lab.
"A robot that runs off caffeine?"
"Sugar. Caffeine's just for kicks."
"Makes sense. And those people in the apartment above you?"
"Don't ask. I have no idea what they do up there. Well, I know what they're doing, just not how they're doing it. And you did that," Sara said when he noticed the bruising around her wrist. "When you drove us off the road. I hit it on the dash."
"Sorry. Your resume was up-to-date," he stated, giving her a pointed stare before he began examining her other hand.
"But you're still here."
"Very observant! I decided not to go." The thought of taking a job in another city had been tempting, but it was too much like running away. Moving wouldn't solve her troubles; it would only make them more distant.
"Good thing. Well, you wouldn't be in this mess if you had, but you know what I mean."
"Yeah, I do. And thanks."
"No problem. So, when did you become a fetish freak?"
"What's the deal with keeping Hank's underwear?"
"He left them at my place," Sara replied simply. "I wasn't going to take them back to him, but they weren't mine to toss. When we broke up, I didn't know if he'd come back for his stuff or not. Tossed it in the closet. Didn't think any more about it."
"You would do that," Warrick decided as he released her hand.
"Do I have to process myself? 'Cause that would really suck, you know. And I don't think it would be admissible in court."
"What? Oh, yeah," Warrick said when she pointed to the camera. He quickly snapped photos of her hands from multiple angles.
"Don't get carried away. You're not getting full-body shots without a warrant."
"Damn, girl! Take away the one fun thing I had to look forward to."
Sara snorted as she held her arms for him to photograph. "This is Vegas, Warrick You could find a lot better without any trouble."
"Don't sell yourself short," he said, grinning when Sara blushed. After scrapping under her nails, he gave her a questioning look when she opened her mouth.
"DNA. I could have altered the compliance database. Get my prints, too."
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
"Hating the whole thing," Sara admitted once he finished with the mouth swab. "I hate not being able to do anything, not being able to explain what's going on. I hate why there's an investigation to begin with. No point in making your life miserable, too."
"Yeah, let me tell you, this isn't my idea of fun," Warrick stated as he gathered his fingerprinting supplies.
"I know what you mean."
"I guess you do," Warrick admitted as he leaned back on his heals. "But you weren't investigating a friend."
Sara gave him an embarrassed smile. "Doesn't mean I liked it. Or that the others made it any easier. I didn't want to investigate you. Either time."
Warrick stood up slowly, giving her a level gaze as he did so. "Look, if you'd rather have someone else doing the investigation, I'd understand."
"Why would I want that?"
"If you're worried about payback."
"I'm not," she said, giving him a friendly smile. "There's no one on the team I'd rather have doing this."
"Thanks. Really. This sucks. I know you didn't kill Hank Not in cold-blood. But I know we have to treat you like any other suspect."
"But you're still not getting full-body shots."
Warrick laughed as he began to expertly print both of her hands. "I probably should let Greg do this for practice, but I don't think that's a good idea. He's not taking your being questioned very well."
"My hero," she said sarcastically. "Hey, if anyone in the lab gives you any trouble, send them to me. I'll take care of them."
Warrick paused in his work, looking at her in mock-horror. "You know, under the circumstances, a comment like that should scare me. Really scare me."
It started as a chortle, but a full laugh soon followed, surprising Sara with its intensity. She knew it was a stress release, a reaction to the constant tension she'd been under since finding Hank's body. Still, when the tears started, she blushed, wiping them away quickly before Warrick pulled her into a brief hug.
"Thanks," she whispered gratefully to her friend.
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