DISCLAIMER: CSI and its characters are the property of Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS. No infringement intended.
CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Sara/Sofia 'Let's Get Sassy' ficathon.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to darandkerry for the beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
With long strides, I made my way to where the corpse lay on the ground, lighting the narrow path with my flashlight. The desert sand crunched beneath my boots, and the chilly night wind rustled through the low, dry bushes. For a moment, these were the only sounds I perceived; then, voices slowly filtered through them and into my mind. Not long after I'd heard their murmur, Sofia and David came into view as I approached the body.
The assistant coroner crouched next to the dead woman and was in the process of taking the victim's temperature. Just as I joined him and Sofia, he withdrew the thermometer from the liver and peered down on the scale to determine the time of death.
"87.2 degrees," he read. "She's been dead for about seven hours, taking the ambient temperature into consideration, maybe less." He wiped the thermometer clean with a piece of cloth and placed it back in his kit.
"COD?" I enquired and snapped a few photos before the body would be moved. Sofia stood behind David and looked down on the body, scanning its appearance with alert eyes, but keeping her distance. I knew that on some days, she preferred to not get in close contact with death, and it made me wonder how she could've ever been a CSI.
David began scrutinising the dead woman closely, examining her head, the bare arms and legs, gently lifting up her top to look at her torso, rolling her over to see her back and, eventually, bringing her back into her original position. "No visible injuries no signs of trauma," he inspected her hands, "no defence wounds. I'm afraid I can't tell you how she died until after the autopsy."
Having silently listened to David's preliminary evaluation, Sofia now began to survey the immediate surroundings of the scene, pointing her own flashlight here and there to illuminate the dark night. "No signs of a struggle. Looks like she was only dumped here. You got any shoeprints or skidmarks?"
"Nick's on it," I confirmed and opened my kit to retrieve a pair of tweezers. I made quick but thorough work of collecting and bagging trace evidence from the body. Rising to my feet, I safely stored the small sealed envelopes away. "I have to get this back to the lab. I'll see the two of you later at the morgue."
David furrowed his brow. "Why's she so pale?" he mused, giving no indication that he'd heard me.
"She's dead, David," Sofia replied laconically in a tone that someone who didn't know her might have mistaken for nonchalance.
I knelt back down next to the assistant coroner to get a better look at the victim's face. "He's right," I interjected, "corpses aren't usually this pale."
Now Sofia, too, stepped closer to the body and looked down on it. The flashing lights of the police cruisers alternatingly cast an eerie red or blue glow on the woman's face, but both of us saw what David meant. There was no doubt about it the skin was of an extreme pallor, even for a corpse. It made the woman appear almost ghostly, and I felt a chill running down my spine.
Shaking the feeling off, I refocused my gaze on Sofia, who seemed to be just as uncomfortable as I was when she spoke. "If you don't need me here anymore, I'll go back to the precinct to see if anyone fitting her description has been reported missing, and I'll meet you later at the morgue. I guess then we'll find out why she looks so pasty."
I nodded. "I'll give you a call." We locked eyes for a moment, and as Sofia walked around the body and passed me on her way to the car, she briefly brushed her hand against mine in a small, but intimate gesture.
I quickly hid the makings of my smile when David looked up at me and asked if he could now bag the body. I confirmed with a nod, bid him goodbye, and went back to the Denali to return to the lab with my evidence.
Three hours later, I stood in the gloomy examination room, staring down at the naked body, and wondering if anybody was missing her. Sofia pushing through the door startled me; I must have flinched a little because she gave me an apologetic glance before asking, "Where's Doc Robbins?"
"Right here," he said, emerging from the back room. "Just been waiting for you."
"So, what have you got?" I enquired and noticed that Sofia looked at him just as expectantly as I probably did.
"She died from multiple organ failure, caused by insufficient blood circulation. There was no blood in her."
Sofia looked surprised. "She bled to death? She had no wounds."
"She didn't simply bleed to death," Robbins explained. "I found tiny needle holes in both of her arms. She was purposely drained of all blood."
I was dumbstruck. "Wait, so you're saying someone drew all the blood from her veins, killing her?"
He nodded. "A slow death, but she probably passed out pretty quickly and didn't feel much of the life being sucked from her body."
"How comforting," was Sofia's sarcastic comment.
My eyes wandered back to the victim, fixing my gaze on the sallow-skinned body. From the corner of my eye, I saw that Sofia tried to read my face and guess my thoughts, attempting to find out whether this was one of the cases in which I would get more involved than I should and to stop me if necessary.
It's not that I cared more about this woman than about most other victims, but something about the circumstances of her death triggered a chain reaction of thoughts in my mind.
"A body without blood is like a mind without dreams," I heard myself murmur, most likely making sense to no one but me and not really speaking to anyone in particular.
Doc Robbins and Sofia exchanged a look, confused. There was a question in his eyes, but she silently shook her head. Even after several months of being with me, I was still a mystery to her sometimes; I was aware of that, but in certain situations, no one could expect an answer from me, and that much she knew.
The awkward moment passed, and after going over some additional results, we each went our separate ways, but I knew Sofia wouldn't forget about what I'd said. She was trying so hard to get into my head and understand me; I had to give her credit for that.
That morning after shift, when we were nestled together comfortably on the couch in front of the TV, I sensed that she was still mulling over my earlier words.
"Hey," I gently nudged her. "The neighbours can hear your brain working. What are you thinking about?"
"Why'd you say that?"
Even with the unspecific question, I knew what she was referring to. I wasn't sure I could explain it, it seemed silly to me, and so I shrugged softly. "It just struck me in that particular moment."
Sofia shifted on the cushions to face me, and she eyed me carefully, a look of concern evident on her face. "No," she said, "that didn't just come out of the blue. It's something you've been thinking about, isn't it?
I had underestimated how well she knew my way of thinking and was surprised by how much it made my heart flutter. "Well," I began hesitantly, "without blood, a body exists, but it's not alive. It's the same with the mind and dreams." I watched warily for her reaction.
Tilting her head a little, she looked at me curiously. "Since when do you have a philosophic streak? Doesn't that clash with the scientist in you?" The faintest of smiles played on her lips.
That comment coming from any other person would've driven me up the wall, but I knew Sofia was just teasing me, and so, I took it for what it was, a simple little joke.
She grinned when I playfully slapped her shoulder but then grew serious once more to let me know she was ready for an explanation.
"I just think that dreams are essential to life," I continued. "They enrich our existence and influence us, in both good and bad ways. What would we be without dreams to help us through dark times and give us hope for the future? Sometimes, there are things you will never achieve, but it's comforting to at least be able to dream about them as either an escape or as a source of energy and inspiration. We can learn from them because they represent our subconscious. Life would be dull without dreams. If someone takes your blood, you lose your life. If he takes your dreams, you lose your soul."
While speaking, I hadn't focused my gaze on Sofia, afraid of receiving an incredulous or even mocking look at the outpouring of my thoughts. Instead, I had my eyes pinned to the blanket we were sharing. Now, I glanced up at her and was relieved to find sincere interest on her face, but I also saw that she was ready to argue.
"But dreams can also keep you captured in the past. People are haunted by nightmares of what once had been or what had happened to them. In that case, dreams don't enrich our life but oppress it." She withdrew her hands from under the blanket to let them support her point with a wave. "Similarly, daydreams can deceive us into holding onto a vision that will never come true; they are a painful reminder of what we can't have." The sound of her voice told me she'd been there, like almost every one of us had.
"That's not the point," I insisted. "I agree that dreams can make us prisoners of the past, heaven knows how long it took me to stop having nightmares of my childhood every night and to finally escape the grip they had on me. What I'm trying to say is that dreams are an important part of our being, whether they are good or bad. They let us know we're alive, and we'd be numb without them. If you'd been through as many different dream phases as I have, you'd learn to embrace them. Having no dreams means there's something wrong with your imagination. If I had to choose between having no dreams at all and enjoying good dreams and daydreams while also having to cope with nightmares, I'd choose the latter every time."
Sofia gazed at me pensively, her clear blue eyes full of doubt. I could see that her mind was working feverishly, turning what I had said over, around, and upside down as she tried to understand me, wanting to grasp what I'd meant. When she spoke, she didn't seem convinced. "I don't know," she finally stated, "I think I'd rather enjoy a peaceful sleep than have surreal visions riot through my head without me being able to do something about it."
I was slightly disappointed by her answer and, yet, I wasn't completely taken aback by it. Sofia was the kind of person who felt she needed to be in control of herself and the situations she got into at all times, and being completely powerless in the dream realm made her uneasy. Still, I could've accepted her disagreeing with me, but there was something else. I knew she'd made an effort to follow my train of thought but, in the end, she'd failed to comprehend why I considered the images in my head just as important as the blood in my veins, and it bugged me a little.
People often complained that they couldn't get into my head, but the truth was that a lot of them simply weren't capable of putting the puzzle pieces together when I attempted to convey my thoughts. I tried not to doubt Sofia but, before falling asleep next to her a few hours later, I couldn't help but wonder whether I'd been wrong to assume that if there was anyone who could ever truly know me, it was her.
I wasn't given much time to brood over the matter since the next day, as if to mock my blood and dream analogy, another dead woman with the same extraordinarily pale skin was found in the desert.
Both Sofia and I were assigned to the case, and from the way she stared down at the victim, obviously lost in thought when I arrived at the scene, I could tell that our conversation from the previous night was still on her mind. When she raised her eyes to meet mine, searching them, I got the feeling that she was worried that I was irked because she'd disagreed with me. We hadn't had the chance to speak in the afternoon, and I suspected that my leaving for shift early had given her the wrong impression. I flashed a brief, reassuring smile and saw her relax instantly.
Meanwhile, David had determined the time of death and found that the woman, like the other victim, seemed to have no wounds of any sort. But, this time, he knew what to look for, and it didn't take him long to discover it.
"Needle holes," he noted and indicated a tiny red dot in the crook of each arm, so small they were barely visible. It wasn't at all surprising he'd missed them at the other crime scene. Pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose, he let his eyes wander up the woman's body, to her face, fixating on the pale cheeks and bluish lips. "Damn, she reminds me of my wife; similar facial features." He shook his head.
"Looks like we have a serial killer," Sofia sighed, ignoring David's comment.
I gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder, adding, "And a psycho. Killing someone is one thing; killing someone by exsanguination is personal."
"She looks so cold a life extinguished. Now, she's empty, of everything ," Sofia's voice trailed off, almost inaudible at the end of the sentence. She wasn't the type to reveal her emotions at a crime scene, and for a moment, I wondered if she was mocking me before I quickly discarded the thought she'd never do that. I inwardly scolded myself for being suspicious of her once again when she was the one person I wanted to trust. But what did that sudden emotional display mean?
The unusualness of Sofia's behaviour, combined with me gazing at her intently and somewhat incredulously, must have been palpable because a moment later, I realised David was looking back and forth between the two of us, seemingly torn with being curious and wanting to be in a whole different place.
Sofia resurfaced from inside her mind, and it dawned on me that she possibly hadn't uttered those words consciously. In fact I wasn't even certain she knew she'd said something. Looking helplessly at David, I silently begged him to lighten the mood and help us all to get over the awkwardness of the situation.
He nervously scrambled for his equipment. "She she's all yours," he said to me, and then quickly backpedaled, "I mean, not that way! You, um, might already have someone else, and she's dead, obviously, and you can collect the evidence now." I almost laughed out loud at how flustered he was and was relieved to see Sofia stifle a grin.
I finished up the scene quickly and, with David still around, Sofia and I didn't talk, but I sensed that she did remember what she'd said and was slightly embarrassed by her little outburst. Packing up my kit and placing it in the Denali, I made a mental note to ask her about it later and thought that she must've been just as bewildered by my odd statement the night before as I was by hers now, and it probably served me right.
However, I didn't get the chance to resume our discussion because that morning at breakfast, she beat me to it. Out of the blue, she put down her fork with a little too much force, making our glasses clang, and said, "You know, I get what you mean about the importance of dreams, and I believe I also understand your analogy of blood and dreams."
Surprised, I looked up at her from my plate and quirked an eyebrow questioningly. There was a peculiar expression on her face, an odd mix of being pleased and being in disbelief. This time, it was my turn to tease before we were ready to delve into the topic. "You had an epiphany?"
She glared at me. "Don't mock me. I'm trying to make sense of Sara Sidle here, which, as you know, is quite a feat."
"Touché," I chuckled. "But, please, do tell me. Perhaps it will help me make sense of Sofia Curtis because, contrary to popular belief and after your uncharacteristically philosophical rambling at the crime scene today, it seems to me that it's quite a feat, too."
A slight blush was followed by a grimace. "Yeah, no idea what got into me, but I thought about what you said and tried to see what you meant, and the longer I considered it, the clearer it became to me." She paused briefly.
Now I, too, placed my fork on the table to completely focus on the conversation. Folding one of my legs under me to sit more comfortably, I waited for her to continue. When she did, she spoke slowly and chose her words carefully and deliberately.
"The flow of blood keeps us warm. It helps us move, breathe, function. With dreams, it's the same. They warm the mind and the soul, day or night. Both are constantly in motion. Blood passes through different locations of the body; dreams move in a more symbolic manner, their subjects and moods change and shift with our state of mind. If a body is drained of blood, it grows cold, and so does the mind when the ability to dream is taken from us. Unlike the loss of too much blood, the absence of dreams doesn't kill us, but, eventually, we'll be so dead inside that it doesn't make a difference. The two women were empty in more ways than one."
I swallowed but kept quiet, almost not daring to believe what I was hearing, too amazed by how Sofia's words reflected my thoughts and seemed to illuminate the most obscure corners of my mind.
"That's why I also understand why you value dreams so much, Sara," she went on. "When you were younger, dreams were all you had, pointing you to a brighter future. As you grew up, you fulfilled some of those dreams, while at the same time, your nightmares kept you in the past. Now, you've put those behind you and can dare to dream once again. The images in your head have shaped you."
"Wow," I whispered. It was all I could manage at that moment. I was too overwhelmed by how Sofia had finally made her way into my head, settled down comfortably, and had curiously discovered what was in it. Slipping my leg out from under me and placing both feet firmly on the floor, I rose and walked around the table. Once I was on at her side, I leaned down, lightly touched my lips to hers, and said, "I think I love you, Detective Curtis."
She laughed. "In previous relationships, I normally got that after mind-blowing sex. No one's ever told me that after I simply voiced my thoughts. You truly are one of a kind, Miss Sidle."
"That was so much better than sex. You finally managed to make sense of me," I stated teasingly, feeling rather light-hearted now. I hadn't realised how much it meant to me that she understand me. The case was still on my mind, but for the moment, I revelled in having made myself clear to someone for a change. Oddly enough, I didn't have any dreams when I finally fell asleep later after replaying her speech in my mind countless times. Perhaps, the absence of any images in my head was supposed to tell me that we were close to catching the man who had so coldly taken two women's lives and dreams.
The next morning, during the early hours just before the end of my shift, my cell chimed, and upon answering it, Sofia informed me that they'd arrested a suspect in, what we'd come to call, the Dracula case. The evidence clearly pointed to him as the killer. She didn't think that we'd need any more proof to nail him but asked me to come down to the precinct anyway, to take his prints and match them to a partial I'd lifted off from one victim's shoes. "I'll be right there," I told her.
When I arrived at police headquarters, Sofia led me to one of the dimly lit interrogation rooms where the man was waiting. He was middle-aged, inconspicious-looking, not necessarily like someone who'd exsanguinate women. I introduced myself and proceeded to take his prints. He merely stared blankly at his blackened fingertips, and I wondered whether he felt remorse for the cruel murders he'd committed. Although, in a way, he was responsible for some progress in Sofia's and my relationship, I didn't wish to speak to him and silently finished my work.
"You wanna know why he did it?" Sofia asked me when I stepped out of the room with my kit. I could see that she'd been drawn into this case just as much as I had been.
"He told you?"
"Sure did. Said their blood was dirty, saw it from a bad aura around them. He wanted to clean them by drawing the blood from their veins, to free their spirits. He drugged them so they wouldn't resist." She paused, obviously disgusted. After a moment, she continued. "And you know what's the creepiest of all? He said he saw their spirits in his dreams and knew that he had done the right thing."
I snorted. "Good for him that he can still dream because they sure as hell can't. I'd really like to believe that their spirits are free now, but somehow, the fact that they had the life sucked from them makes me doubt that."
"Yeah it's pretty sick, isn't it? At least we can put him behind bars. I'd really like to forget about this, and I think the best way to do that is to get out of here and have a nice, big breakfast. What do you say?"
We were both in dire need of some distraction, so I didn't hesitate to nod my consent. I was grateful to have Sofia to take my mind off the case, knowing that I didn't have to explain anything to her and that she was trying to put it behind her just as much as I was.
Later in bed, I lay wrapped around her, safely cocooned in her arms, my head resting against her warm neck. Her slow, even breathing gave me a sense of peace, and the regular rise and fall of her chest pressing into me made me feel the close intimacy we shared. I could feel her strong and steady pulse point against my forehead, and I slowly counted the beats pounding against my skin, raising my hand to lightly run my fingers along the visible veins in her forearm.
There was no doubt about it, Sofia was very much alive, the warm energy flowing through her body and nurturing it, not dead and empty like the two victims; however, just like the women before they were killed, she had to have dreams, too, and I wondered what they were as I traced a fingertip along one of the blue lines under her skin. She shuddered slightly but didn't wake.
Strength and safety were the words that came to mind when I thought about her, when I thought about me with her. I trusted her, but I realised I knew little about her dreams and nightmares, past or present, things she wished for, or visions creeping into her subconscious when she slept. Had she always wanted to become a detective? I imagined a skinny little blonde girl playing with her mother's badge and proudly declaring to her father that one day, she'd be a police officer, too.
What were her nightmares and unfulfilled dreams that had left a mark on her soul? She had them; I could tell from her reaction in our first dream talk, and I wanted to hear about them. I wasn't sure why, perhaps I had the feeling that exploring that side of her would bring us closer. I truly believed that you could get to know someone by knowing their dreams; it was another reason why I deemed them so crucial. It wasn't that I thought I didn't know Sofia, but now that she'd made such an intense effort to understand me, I wanted to find out even more about her.
Pulling my hand away from her arm and carefully placing my palm on the sheet next to her sleeping form, I slowly pushed myself up to study her face. What did she dream about these days or in this very moment? Judging from her peaceful expression, she was either having a pleasant dream or wasn't dreaming at all.
"Sofia," I whispered. She was a sound sleeper, she would've slept through a fire engine parking under the window with its siren on, but somehow, my voice always woke her. Stirring a little, she responded with a grunt. "Mmh."
"There's something I need to ask you."
Without opening her eyes, she slurred sleepily, "Whatissit?"
"What do you dream about when you sleep?"
She groaned. "Will you stop with this dream thing? Does the dream department in your brain have a switch that I can flip so you'll stop badgering me? Or could you at least ask me at a more convenient time?"
I couldn't blame her for her reluctance to discuss her dreams with me at this time of the day, but I really needed to know. "Please?"
Squinting, she half-opened one eye to look at me. "I dream about fluffy rabbits, hopping around in sunny, green meadows, to counterbalance my job."
In spite of myself, a short chuckle escaped me; I got the hint and decided to let it slide for the time being and ask her again when she was less disgruntled about being yanked out of sleep for a question like this. However, I had to give another, more important question at least a try. "What about daydreams? What do you wish for?"
Close to drifting back to sleep, she reached up to place her hand on the back of my head to pull it back down to rest against her neck once more. "I don't dream when I'm awake. I have everything I want right here," she murmured, already half asleep.
With that, the conversation was over, and I was left with a smile slowly spreading on my face. We still had plenty of time to discover every facet of the other. She'd said she had everything she wanted, and perhaps that was all I needed to know.
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