Rating: R for subject matter
Spoilers: No real spoilers.
Archive: Please ask first!
Disclaimer: Obviously, I don't own anything related to CSI. If I did, I'd be on a tropical beach right now.
Author's Note: The chapter titles are opening lines from Emily Dickinson poems. Thanks to Burked and all the others who previewed this for me.
Summary: After viewing a horrific accident, Sara makes some hard decisions about her life. Obviously, a Sara-centered story, but with lots of friendship and a little bit of G/S at the end.
Chapter 20 - Pain has an element of blank
Catherine discreetly led her colleagues out of the anteroom, placing a reassuring hand on Grissom's arm. He kept looking back at Sara nervously. If the setting had been more private, she would have used the time to talk to him.
After a few minutes, Father Duncan left the room, smiling sheepishly as he passed the group. Sara was leaning against the far wall, staring out of a window. Quickly crossing the room, Grissom ignored Catherine, who was trying to restrain him without making it obvious what she was doing.
Looking up at their approach, the brunette gave them an embarrassed smile when she saw the show. Realization hit Grissom and he stopped suddenly. Barreling up to her after the emotional encounter wouldn't be helpful. Instead, he began absentmindedly searching through his pockets.
"I think we all know the answer to that," she sighed darkly. Sara held out her hand when he moved to step closer.
"Sorry," he said, pulling out the package of tissues he'd been searching for. "Here."
"Don't be sorry. I'm just jumpy. It's not you," she said, wiping her eyes. Sara hadn't worn mascara, anticipating the tears, but she hadn't thought to bring tissue. The obvious oversight irked her. "Thanks."
The corner of Grissom's lip turned up slightly, but never turned into a real smile. He watched Sara sadly. It was obvious she was in pain. Grissom tried to imagine what she was going through, but found he couldn't. While he understood it was a distressing, he knew he lacked both the personal experience and empathy to fully appreciate what she was going through.
He turned to look around. The detectives hadn't followed them in, but were talking at the entrance to the anteroom. Catherine was studying the carpet, giving them some privacy, but staying close enough to intervene if necessary.
"I wish I could make this better, Sara. I wish I knew how," he whispered. "I feel lost. Nothing I do seems to be right, but making no move is too painful. I have no idea what I should be doing."
"Welcome to my world," she said softly, turning to face out the window.
A shocked expression briefly crossed his face, before he masked his pain. Grissom started to speak, hesitated and left to join Brass and O'Riley.
Catherine winced at the exchange. There had been no trace of venom in Sara's voice, no hint that she was referring to anything other than her current situation. She may not have meant the comment to be some type of payback, but the effect was the same. Well, Grissom could get over it. He'd dished out enough to her over the years.
The blonde went to stand silently next to Sara until the younger woman regained her composure. Moving from the anteroom, they headed into the main chamber of the cathedral. Sara took a deep breath as she scanned her surroundings.
The large room was packed with the families and classmates of those killed. Many were already crying. Large framed photos of each of the victims stood before the altar, surrounded by flowers, candles and homemade cards.
Catherine gave a silent prayer of thanks that the reporters had been kept outside. A single video camera was set up to provide a live feed to the press pool outside. While Sara was maintaining a calm exterior, the older woman knew her well enough to recognize the signs of stress in her posture.
A friendly deacon came over and pointed out a reserved pew towards the front of the church. A number of co-workers from the sheriff's department were already there and in the row behind. Getting there proved to be difficult.
This was the first chance most of the survivors' families had had to greet Sara. Every few steps, another group would come over, grabbing her hands and offering their thanks, some adding hugs and kisses. She accepted the gratitude in a confused daze, giving a polite "You're welcome" to each exchange.
Catherine tried to deflect some of the attention away from Sara, but the families were insistent. She turned pleading eyes to the front and saw Grissom whispering to the staff, which quickly dispersed.
The brunette tried to stay calm, but her thoughts were in a jumble. She came her to apologize to the victims' families, not to be apologized to, and certainly not to be thanked. The attention was unsettling. Her composure finally broke when a young girl rushed over and wrapped her arms around Sara.
It was the same blood-soaked girl she'd helped from the bus. She had been crying then, too. A burst of light caused her to break her thoughts before the flashback could start. Sara turned to stare at the photographer, politely responding to the girl's parents as they pulled her away. Sensing her discomfort, they kept their thanks restrained.
Jim Hewitt smiled. What a perfect photograph to add to his portfolio. It would bookend his earlier shot perfectly. It had been risky, sneaking in earlier and hiding the camera, but it was going to pay off. His grin froze when he recognized the look of pure hatred that settled on Sara's face.
She recognized him. This was the photographer who never bothered to help. The one who had been interviewed numerous times, bragging about his shots. The one who never expressed any sympathy for the families. Now he was trying to profit from their grief.
"You bastard," she whispered, moving to stand directly in his face. All the conflicting emotions she'd been struggling with coalesced into anger. "You fucking bastard. It doesn't bother you, does it? That those kids died? That you never even tried to help? You just don't care, do you?"
"Nice camera. May I?" Brass asked, yanking it from Hewitt's hands before he could respond. He quickly pressed the release, opening the back and pulling out the film. "Oops. Butterfingers," he said, shoving the camera back into his hand. Quickly walking over, he grabbed one of Sara's elbows while Catherine took the other. They led her to their pew, with the other lab staff acting as a buffer to keep the crowd away from her.
Hewitt started to protest angrily, but he picked up the muttered threats directed at him. Sidle's voice had been very low, but in the quiet church had carried to the next pews. From there, it was being repeated across the room quickly. Already 1,000 angry eyes were directed at him. Hewitt considered his options and fled.
Grissom watched the scene from the aisle, a feeling of dread settling over him. He knew letting Sara come here would be a mistake. Kane had been adamant that she needed to be isolated from things that could remind her of the accident until she came to terms with it. Yet, she was in a room surrounded by the survivors and the families of those who died. This whole night was a disaster waiting to happen.
He was too far away to have heard the conversation and Sara was turned so he couldn't read her lips, but he knew her well enough to know what had transpired. Hewitt was smart to have left.
As the group approached, he gave Brass a nod of thanks as the police captain slipped into the pew, resisting the urge to touch Sara. It had been clear earlier that it would be unwelcome. Grissom was surprised when she let Catherine into the pew before her. Trying to be respectful, he sat down, leaving as much distance as possible between them on the crowded bench.
Sara slid closer to him.
Catherine suppressed her grin at the quick look of shock that crossed his face. It wasn't intentional, but Sara was giving him a highly condensed version of his push-then-pull treatment. The constant shift in attitude was clearly confusing him. Good. Maybe it would drive home an important point.
As the service began, Sara crossed her arms and slid even slightly closer to him. Grissom mimicked the action, smiling briefly as she slipped her hand over top of his.
It took all of his control not to jerk away when she gripped it painfully when the service moved to Hunter Lawrence. As friends of the family came forward to talk about the little boy, eyes turned towards his parents. It wasn't hard to see how the boy, deeply in shock, could have confused Sara for his mother. The woman was only slightly taller and heavier, with the same pale complexion and brown hair and eyes.
She turned towards Sara, and the two brunettes locked gazes for a minute. Sara looked away first, breaking contact with Grissom to wipe away at her tears. He uncrossed his arms, placing his uninjured hand next to her on the seat. She didn't take it or look up through the rest of the memorial.
As the service ended, Sara stood up quickly, Grissom in close pursuit. She walked towards the Lawrence family, but an older man stopped her. "Don't. Not now," he said. "I'm John Lawrence, Hunter's grandfather. They're too upset now. Hunter was always afraid to be alone when he was hurt. That you were there, well, it's hard on his mother. She blames herself and I don't think she can face you now."
"I'm so sorry," Sara said softly. "I wish I could have done something, that I could have gotten him out."
The older man nodded, but walked away without another word. Sara closed her eyes as Grissom placed a hand on her back. "I'm okay," she said quietly, walking over to another family. As she tried to apologize, a man grabbed her quickly, telling her to stop. The rest of the family joined in the hug, all thanking Sara for trying to help.
She walked away, slightly dazed. While not as extreme, she was greeted by the remaining families in a similar manner. The elderly grandmother of the bus driver gave her a firm hug. "You tried, dear. You're the only one who went on the bus. You have nothing to be sorry about. At least you tried."
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