DISCLAIMER: CSI and its characters are the property of Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to darandkerry for the beta. Lyrics borrowed from Missy Higgins.
SPOILERS: Monster in the Box (7x16), Empty Eyes (7x18), mild season 6 spoilers.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Alone you find yourself just hanging
And to fill the hole you cling to all that seems
To hide the little girl that's crying
Underneath the rage that you let others see.
I hated going to Boulder City. I truly hated it. But, life was about trade-offs, at least that was the way I saw it. When I was acting as the lab's Quality Control Officer and investigating Grissom's case, I took great satisfaction in making it clear to Ecklie that I wouldn't find procedural mistakes where there weren't any just to suck up to him. For that, I got demoted, which, in retrospect, perhaps wasn't such a bad thing after all. Then, the opportunity to finally pursue the career I'd always worked towards came along, but it was another trade-off. I had the choice of either becoming a detective and moving to Boulder City or continuing my stint as a CSI and staying in Vegas.
Of course, it wasn't a real choice, my mother made sure of that. She was good like that. When it came to my career, she tended to be a little pushy. But, I did want to join the police force, so I went. I had no reason to stay.
When I returned to Vegas as a detective, I felt my life was finally getting a sense of direction. I had the job I wanted, in the city I loved, and thought I'd gotten lucky at last. Brass was a good mentor from the start and had my back the minute I walked into the precinct. It felt good to finally have my LVPD badge, and I quickly settled into the routine of being on the beat and clearing crime scenes. I thought everything would run smoothly for me from then on out.
Instead, things with Sara started. Our relationship had never been easy; nothing was ever easy with her. While I'd been a CSI, she'd made it clear to me on more than one occasion that my presence in the lab was a nuisance to her; however, every now and then, she'd be joking and smiling about such things as cash cows and liquid assets. I'd never understood her; it was as simple as that. I hadn't tried very hard, either; she could go jump in a lake as far as I was concerned. I didn't need her.
Upon my return from Boulder City, I couldn't make much of the reaction she displayed the first time we crossed paths. Looking back, it made more sense to me later.
"You're back," she simply stated. As usual, her expression betrayed none of her emotions. But, I could feel there was something going on underneath the surface, something larger than the mere acknowledgement of my presence. What it was, I couldn't figure out, why my senses seemed to be attuned to Sara's moods was beyond me.
I responded with a curt nod and a verbal confirmation of her statement. I didn't know what she expected from me, if she expected anything at all. Perhaps I was hoping to strike up something similar to a friendship with her now that I wasn't poaching in her territory any longer. As a CSI, I'd been somewhat bitter about being stuck in a shift that required permanent artificial light and that forced me to work with a team that didn't really want me, so I hadn't tried to make friends with anyone. Being a detective, I was ready to make a fresh start with everyone, even Sara.
Then, the little snide remarks began and dashed all hopes of working together on friendly terms. Sara made it crystal clear that she didn't consider me part of the team, and it hurt. I'm not sure why I was so stung by her words, and I still wonder now whether it would've been the same with Catherine, or Warrick, or even Nick. Nothing she said really got to me before Boulder City, and I wasn't sure what had changed. At that particular point in time, I didn't care to delve into that corner of my soul too deeply, subconsciously afraid of what I would've found.
I never let on how much her hostility affected me, partly not willing to admit it to myself, but mostly to not let those around me see behind my guard. It was part of the character I portrayed for my environment. It didn't mean that what I showed people wasn't real; it simply meant I chose to keep certain parts of me hidden inside. You had to be tough in this job or else you'd be eaten alive, both by perps and by colleagues, my mother taught me that. It was one thing I was glad to inherit from her. I acted rough, like nothing could throw me off balance, and people were buying it. Most took me for a well-balanced, self-confident woman, but the truth was, like everyone else I'd had my share of shit to deal with, and sometimes the need to hold onto someone almost suffocated me.
People didn't see that. In Sara's case, it was different. Even though she rarely granted anyone a peek inside her head, everybody knew she was a bit of a troubled soul. It was an open secret. You could see it in the way the muscles in her face tightened when she was confronted with a particularly gruesome case, you could tell by her obsessive dedication to her job, hell, one just needed to count the hours of overtime she put in just so she didn't have to go home.
Nobody would ever get the notion to say we were similar. But, we weren't so different. I knew Sara perceived me as a threat in those months, for whatever reason, but I was just trying to do my job, be a good cop, and live up to my mother's expectations, trying not to become jaded by the inhumanity I witnessed every day, just like Sara. On some days, I had a hard time controlling my anger when facing a suspect, especially when children were involved, and I knew Sara was no stranger to that either. Somewhere deep inside, we were so very much alike. It took Sara a long time to understand that. It took me an even longer time to accept it. Looking into a mirror could be painful, but your reflection was still a part of you, even if you found it in other people.
Months later, her distrust eventually subsided, and we began to talk. Not much, but we talked.
"Why did you go to Boulder City?" she asked after finishing up a crime scene, pulling the gloves off her hands with a soft pop. Typical Sara; no introduction, no warning; a casual question that could be mistaken for making conversation, but the gaze intently focused on me told me otherwise.
"I was offered a job there," I replied, confused. She knew that, why did she ask?
She frowned. "That's not what I meant. Why did you leave Las Vegas? You knew people here."
Sometimes, people didn't run away because they feared they wouldn't be followed. Sometimes, they ran away anyway because they hoped someone would stop them. "Nobody asked me to stay."
"Would that have changed anything?"
"It would have changed everything."
She didn't say anything, just looked at me, but I think for the first time, she really saw me. I don't know why I decided to show my vulnerability to Sara of all people. Maybe it was because she was the only one who'd ever asked.
I didn't regret it. She never used it against me. A small comment dropped in the right moment could have been devastating, but it never came. After that short conversation, I had the feeling she was looking out for me.
When I spent thirty-six hours at one of the bloodiest crime scenes I'd ever set eyes on, questioning witnesses and, after finishing my job, surveying the messy place with an empty feeling inside of me, Sara came to stand next to me, close, following my line of sight with her eyes. "Go home," she said gently. I slowly turned my head to look at her and saw nothing but sincere concern in her dark eyes.
Why she had done it, I had no idea. Perhaps she was trying to make up for her previous animosity, or, maybe, it was an attempt to chase away her own demons by soothing mine. My mind knew no facts of her troubles but my heart knew everything. I sensed how complex Sara was, how much she had to deal with. And yet, she reached out to me, tentatively, to me, someone most conceived as a strong woman not needing anyone.
At first, I struggled against letting her slip into my life so quietly. Not because I was afraid I'd end up getting hurt but because of who she was. In a way, I didn't want her to be the one who understood me, and I never asked for the ability to read her so easily, either. I didn't want Sara, I wanted somebody safe. Nevertheless, I felt strangely connected to her, and the harder I tried to jerk free, the more impossible it became. At the time, I often resented my heart for picking her. Only later did I realise that in spite of all her awkwardness, her reticence, her emotional baggage, she was exactly what I needed.
After the death of officer Kamen, Sara came to me. Without waiting for me to invite her in, she brushed past me in the door frame and headed for the couch to take a seat. I hesitantly joined her. Interacting at work was one thing, but coming to my apartment and stepping inside like it was an everyday occurrence was a different matter altogether. She carefully loosened my grip on the wine glass I'd forgotten I was still holding and set the drink down on the coffee table. Never letting go of my fingers, she replaced the cold glass with her hand, pressing her palm against mine. A simple gesture, it was all I needed, all I could take at that moment. The enormity this tiny piece of human warmth presented to both of us scared her as much as it did me, I sensed that. I hadn't let anyone in for such a long time, and neither had she. Yet, she was here to offer comfort in her very own Sara way, and it meant so much to me. She never uttered a single word, simply sat with me all day, holding my hand, occasionally running her thumb over my knuckles. At dusk, she briefly squeezed it, then let go, rising to her feet. A touch to my cheek with her fingertips for a fleeting moment, then she was gone.
Over the next few weeks, I gradually came to realise what a good team we were. Thinking back on our CSI time together, we'd always functioned well on a purely professional basis. Her reasoning, my levelheadedness, our dedication job-wise, we'd always been a good match, though neither of us would've admitted that. After we started to talk, working together was not only efficient but also became more comfortable. We were still careful around one another, afraid of breaking what we'd so slowly built thus far, perhaps somewhat distrustful of the peace we seemed to have made. But, the tension was relieved, we chatted a little, there was even the occasional joke and light banter.
Except for that one day, we never saw each other outside of work. I think the lab or the precinct as neutral territory gave both of us a sense of security that we weren't ready to give up just yet. There, we could enjoy a few minutes of casual conversation that was not related to work. Sara seemed genuinely interested in getting to know me.
"You used to beat up your brothers when you were a kid? No wonder you became such a tough-ass cop." Her attempt at a disapproving facial expression was weak, and the faint sparkle in her eyes let me know she was rather amused.
I shrugged. "Dad always told me to stick up for myself if they picked on me. And they picked on me a lot, so I fought back."
She wanted to know more about my family and how I grew up. I answered everything but knew better than to ask the same questions. I didn't know back then what I know now, but I had a hunch that her family background had something to do with her inner turmoil and with her intense reactions to certain cases.
When the stripper girl had died in Sara's arms, it tore her apart. In our line of work, we were confronted with death every day, but we rarely saw it happen. Watching life become death was not part of our repertoire, seeing life seep out of a human being was not what we were used to. When we arrived at a scene, we found soulless, battered bodies, like shells left behind by an animal.
Consequently, we became all the more desperate in our fight to preserve life whenever we had the chance. I could only imagine what it must've been like for Sara to realise that trying to save the girl's life was like trying to grasp water. We barely saw each other during the case, but I knew how much it got to her. She was so angry when she discovered she'd been holding the killer's hand and had wasted kind words on him. She'd snapped at me coldly in the corridor, and in spite of knowing that it was merely an overreaction caused by her pain, I was worried that we'd gone back to the early stage of our relationship.
I went to see her at home, feeling that I needed to return the favour of providing comfort. But, it was more than that. I didn't go because I felt obliged to. I genuinely wanted to go. It gave me the chance to be what people saw in me - a strong, calm woman who offered comfort to others. I was struggling so hard to keep up that image of me. But again, that wasn't the whole truth either. Sara made me want to stand between her and the world to shield her from all harm. I wondered when and how that had happened. I suspected it had something to do with her being there for me when I needed it. Show me that you cared for me, and I'd do anything for you. You got all of me with that single gesture.
Before I knocked on her door that day, I stood in front of it for a long time, hesitating, not understanding why the simple act of raising my hand and rapping my knuckles on the wood cost me such an effort. In my mind, the harsh words from a few hours before kept replaying, over and over again. Along with the uncertainty of what Sara's reaction would be to me turning up at her apartment uninvited, I found myself unsettled. Sure, she'd done the same for me, but Sara was Sara, capricious, you never knew how she'd take something. I was scared, scared of finding that she didn't need me as much as I'd needed her, that she'd suddenly decided I wasn't good for her.
When I finally got up the courage to make my presence known, she opened the door, her appearance so defenceless, so stricken. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, and I knew nothing had changed. She stepped aside and gestured me inside awkwardly. In the apartment, I simply stood there, silently berating myself for being at a loss of what to do or say.
I had many shortcomings but not knowing how to deal with people in their darkest moments had never been one of them. It was part of my job, and over the years I had perfected the art of schooling my face into a calm expression and saying all the right words to the bereaved, providing them with at least a little of the comfort they craved so much. I never let them know how much their loss sometimes affected me, too.
But, with Sara, it was different. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing, of not being able to make things better for her, of upsetting her even more, so I didn't say anything at all. I had come to do what I do best, be strong for others, and, suddenly, I found myself incapable of it. And she understood. I knew by the way she looked at me. Her eyes told me it was okay, her small nod acknowledged my good intentions. I was annoyed that I seemed to have left all the support I'd been planning to lend her outside, that in this moment, when I was supposed to be her shoulder to cry on, it was her who made me feel more comfortable and made words seem unnecessary so damned easily.
It took me awhile to realise that my presence was enough for her. Just like a few weeks ago when she'd sat with me, I now kept her company. Once again, it reminded me how much we had in common. It still struck me how so little could do so much, and I never figured out why it felt so much like Sara was my rock that day and not vice versa. This was wrong, only it didn't feel wrong.
"Stop thinking, Sofia," she smiled through the sadness etched on her face. How did she do this? How could she look beyond her pain and see right into me? She made me feel weak and adequate at the same time. In that moment, I understood that there was no way back for me. She'd cast off her shell, for reasons I could not quite grasp and, now, it was time to discard mine.
As we sat on the couch, oddly paralleling the situation from a few weeks before, I carefully put my arm around her, gently pulling her closer. She leaned into me and rested her weary head on my shoulder, wrapping an arm around my middle. How long we stayed like that, I had no idea, and it didn't matter. I closed my eyes and let the events that had led us here pass before my inner eye. Still, I couldn't believe we were here, that each of us allowed the other to get so close, but, somehow, both of us being a little fucked up made us a perfect match in a sort of twisted way.
At some point, Sara shifted slightly, and I looked down on her. She had her face turned up as she studied me pensively. Our eyes locked for a long moment and, once again, I felt completely defenceless. She lifted her head and brought her lips close to mine, so close I could feel the heat emanating from them, but, not yet touching mine, giving me the chance to pull away.
When I didn't, she closed the tiny distance and let her mouth melt into mine. A soft kiss, chaste but sweet, appropriate for the situation and the subdued mood, then she put her head back to where it had been and I closed my eyes once more, bringing my fingers up to my lips where Sara's warmth still lingered.
My doubts had subsided and, yet, I was searching for the trade-off in all of this because speaking from my own experience, you never got anything without losing something else, right? But, I couldn't find any then and still can't today. Sure, having Sara in my life meant I had to give up a little of my tough exterior and let her see what was lurking behind, but that wasn't really such a bad thing, was it?
It's been said that no one ever gets healed, that wounds only get buried. I didn't know if that was true but, if it was, I was certain that with Sara I'd be able to bury them so deeply that I could forget about them, and in the end, that was all that really mattered. I was no longer afraid that no one would follow me, simply because there wasn't any reason to run away anymore.
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