DISCLAIMER: CSI and its characters are the property of Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wrote a fic of the same name some time ago, but I decided against posting it because it wasn't as well written as I'd like. In honor of the International Day of Femslash, however, I have done the best I could to take some of the ideas behind that story and turn them into something better and more condensed. If anyone is interested in seeing the original, I'd be open to posting it once I've done some editing, but for now here is the revamped version written for IDF. I hope those who read it will let me know what they think, as I rarely write in the first person, and this was an experiment and a challenge I gave myself in honor of the day.
SPOILERS: Not much, just kind of general references to the show. Set some time during season 7.
CHALLENGE: Written for the first International Day of Femslash.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Maslow's Hierarchy: Through Her Eyes
"A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write,
if he is to be at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be."
Dr. Abraham Maslow
I sat back in my seat, inwardly asking myself what I was doing there. It was a formal banquet, and I hated formal events. I couldn't help it. There were too many people in too small a space, and I couldn't breathe. I didn't belong in this room, so why was I here in the first place? Oh, right. Because my mentor wanted me to "make nice" with the people who were about to become my colleagues, my superiors, and, he hoped, my friends. I scoffed at that last, shaking my head inwardly. He was an optimist in that regard, but I held no such high hopes. I sighed, turning my attention to the plate in front of me. I was far too edgy to eat, even though I hadn't eaten all day, but it was best to keep up appearances of normalcy. To take the edge off my nerves I turned my attention to the people around me, knowing my mentor would have insured I sat with the people I had moved across the country to work with. They had all come for the seminar, like I had. Maslow's Hierarchy had been the subject of my thesis, so it wasn't exactly new information for me.
Dr. Maslow had been on to something with his theory, and as I watched the CSI's interact I wondered what they would think of a person who barely made the bottom two. That, I decided, was not something they needed to know about me. They'd find out eventually, sure, but not now. Tonight I needed to make a good impression somehow. I silently cursed my mentor for putting me in this position as I picked at my food, trying to just open my mouth and somehow insert myself into their group.
"Grissom, could you pass the potatoes?" the woman across from me asked, and I glanced up at her as the man at my side handed over the bowl, my curiosity getting the better of me at the way her voice seemed to hitch when she said the name. It was the brunette she'd noticed before. It was hard to miss her. She was striking, in more ways than one. Tall, wavy brown hair, dark, shadowed eyes, and a gap in her teeth when she smiled, which wasn't often, set her apart physically, but that wasn't what I had noticed first. When I looked at her what I saw first was the way she seemed to be armored in shadows and pain, and the look in her eyes was something I knew all too well. She had seen too much in her life, and she had learned that sometimes shutting out the world was the only way to stay alive.
"You forgot the magic word, Sara," the woman next to her teased, and I turned my head a bit, startled by the contrast the two made. Where Sara was all darkness and shadows, this woman was almost pure light. Her hair was long and strawberry-blonde, curling a bit at the ends, and her blue eyes were bright and full of laughter. She was older, too, and had the lean body of a dancer or skater. It struck me as odd that the two of them sat so close together, but as the old saying went, opposites attracted. I smiled to myself when the brunette's expression softened just a little as she turned to the woman at her side.
"Would you like some, Catherine?" Sara asked politely, but her face betrayed both her amusement and something I couldn't quite put a name to. Her voice was just a little too cold to match her expression, and I wondered if she realized how open she really was. She was obviously trying to pretend she didn't care for the other CSI, but anyone with eyes and ears would know better. As someone who studied human behavior for a living, I found myself fascinated by the battle of wills that seemed to be happening in the silence between them, but I shook myself before my mind could start analyzing too closely. I was supposed to be talking to these people, not dissecting their every move and word.
"No thanks, Sara," the blonde replied, her voice, like Sara's, laden with subtle, and not so subtle, undercurrents I wished I could study but knew I shouldn't. Instead I glanced at the man on my left side, noting the tolerant but pained expression on his face as the two CSI's interacted. I wondered about that, made more curious by the knowledge that the man was Gil Grissom and would soon be my boss. Suddenly a chill ran down the back of my neck and I turned to find its source, startled to find myself meeting Sara's dark eyes, and more than a little taken aback by the hostility in them. Had she done something wrong already? She hadn't even had a chance to introduce herself yet.
"Did you want any?" Sara asked, and I had the impression that even if I had wanted some of the mashed potatoes, which I didn't, the correct answer was no.
"No," I answered quietly, making an effort not to drop my gaze from the Sara's, knowing if I did she'd win whatever battle she was waging with me and I couldn't afford that, "Thank you for offering, though."
Sara frowned at me as if confused by my response to her, handing the bowl over to the man on her left. He was taller than Sara by at least a few inches, dark skinned, dark eyed, and his dark hair went off in various directions that looked chaotic, but I would have bet money he had worked hard to make it that way. His face was kind, if a bit reserved, and he seemed entirely relaxed, even with all the tension between the two women, Grissom, and now myself. He was probably used to it, I decided. After all, he worked with these people.
"Are you sure you don't want any?" he asked me with a smile that had just a hint of curious appraisal behind it, "These mashed potatoes are great, and if you don't have any now Greg and Nick will chow down until there's nothing left."
I decided that I liked him. He hadn't been outwardly antagonistic, and for that I was grateful. The man on my right and across from him, who reminded me of the fraternity brothers I'd known in college, turned to the guy on the dark man's right, this one younger with hair that looked like he'd been yanked out of bed too early.
"Warrick really means you, Greg," he remarked, and the younger man sputtered, looking between the two men and then at me.
"Hey! I'm a gentleman, I'll have you know!"
"You're a little mixed up there, Grego," the frat guy, Nick, commented with a grin and a hint of Texas drawl, "I'm the southern gentleman. You are the geek from high school that can't leave a girl to eat in peace."
The others at the table laughed while Greg glared at Nick, all offended dignity and indignation. I listened to the sounds around me, picking out Grissom's subtler laughter, Sara's low chuckles, and Catherine's amused snort from what I'd heard of their voices previously. Warrick was laughing whole-heartedly, but there was another voice I couldn't identify from Grissom's other side. Greg finally realized he wasn't going to get anywhere with Nick and turned to me, his eyes reminded me of a puppy's.
"That's not true," he protested, "I'm not that guy, really."
I turned at the sound of that voice, unable to quite see its owner. It was a woman's voice, low and a bit husky, and if I wasn't mistaken there was just a hint of what sounded like a british accent. I was starting to consider getting up so I could see past my new supervisor when the woman leaned forward, revealing a wave of long, straight blonde hair and pale blue eyes that took me in with all the intensity of a laser before turning on Greg.
"You just keep telling yourself that, Greg."
"Sofia!" he almost whined, but I didn't look back at him. So that was her name. She was gorgeous. I wondered, and rather hoped, that she was a CSI, but the badge she wore on her tailored black suit told me she was a cop or detective with the LVPD. I took another long look, noticing that under the suit her body was long and lean, though not like Catherine. This woman looked more like a runner than a dancer.
"That's enough," Grissom interrupted, breaking me out of my curious assessment and bringing my attention back to him. His eyes and faint smile gave away his amusement as he added, "we shouldn't pick on Greg too much. His ego might implode."
The CSI's and Sofia laughed as Greg groaned, and I smiled to myself. I liked Grissom's dry humor, but I could tell he didn't let it out much. When he turned to look at me, however, the smile faded under his intelligent regard. This was the person I had to make the best impression on, and I didn't have a clue how to go about doing that. For just a second my eyes slipped past him, catching on crystal blue, and to my surprise their owner gave me a gentle, reassuring smile. So. I might just have one ally in this room. I focused on Grissom again, my courage bolstered by Sofia's kindness.
"I don't think we've been introduced," the team leader remarked, his eyes catching on my badge and widening just slightly, "but you do look familiar. Have we met?"
I forced myself to meet his eyes, my mind flashing back to the cop's encouraging smile.
"Yes sir. You've lectured for my mentor, Dr. Stiels. I was his assistant at the time, and I've attended several of your lectures."
He cocked his head, the wheels turning almost audibly then clicking into place.
"That's right. Jacob mentioned he was recommending one of his students to our department. What's you're name?"
"Adrian, sir," I answered, aware my voice betrayed some of my confusion. He didn't know he was getting a new CSI? Surely someone had told him.
"Adrian Zeti," I went on, seeing his expression clearing as I gave my full name, "Dr. Stiels wanted me to work with you and your team. He said your graveyard shift was disgustingly understaffed and overworked, and he had some pull with the department."
All throughout the exchange I could feel the eyes of the rest of the team on me, and it made me decidedly uncomfortable. The expressions ranged from surprise and warmth from Sofia to guarded acceptance from Catherine and Warrick to outright hostility from Sara. I disliked being the center of attention at all, but it was worse with such conflicting responses to me.
"Have you worked in forensics before?" Nick asked curiously, though I could see the question echoed on everyone's faces. I nodded, not quite turning from Grissom.
"Yes, though mostly as an observer or tech."
"Are you even certified for field work?" Sara asked coldly, though her antagonistic expression faded a bit when Catherine nudged her, giving her a warning look. I sighed, unsure what I had done to provoke that hostile a reaction from the brunette but unable to address it now.
"Yes ma'am," I answered, falling back on formality, "I passed my proficiencies over a year ago. The department I was in just didn't have a lot of need for me to be in the field. I was brought in more for my background in behavioral psychology than for forensics."
Before Sara could say anything to go with the deadly look she was giving me, Catherine nudged her again and spoke up.
"That should come in handy," she observed, giving the woman at her side a sharp look when it seemed she might say something, "In our line of work having even a basic knowledge of psychology can be a big help, and we could use more hands, especially since Sofia went over to the other side."
Sofia laughed, and I was struck by the richness of the sound.
"Catherine's right," she agreed with another smile for me, "I worked in that department, and on graveyard, for a while. Las Vegas is crazy at the best of times, but for some reason the middle of the night is the worst. And one big problem was funding, so I'm surprised they were able to get someone else."
Though Sara's expression continued to darken, Warrick laughed, and I reluctantly turned from Sofia to him. Those blue eyes...
"Sofia's not kidding," he commented thoughtfully, "We have slow nights from time to time, but it's rare and sometimes we're so busy it doesn't even seem to make any difference."
She gave him a small smile, grateful for his apparent acceptance of her presence.
"I'd be happy to help in any way I can."
Another chill ran down my spine and I glanced at Sara. Why was she so angry? It wasn't as if I were going to get any of them fired, but still the brunette was looking at her as if she wanted to strangle her.
"Well," Grissom remarked, drawing attention back to himself with a slightly awkward clearing of his throat, "welcome to Graveyard. I'm sure you already know this, but I'm Gil Grissom."
I shook his outstretched hand, liking the shift leader all the more for his very human display of nerves.
"Warrick Brown. Nice to meet you, Adrian," the big man across from me chimed in, rising a bit to shake my hand across the table. Greg straightened as if preparing himself to meet a dignitary rather than a new colleague. It was cute, in a nervous puppy sort of way.
"I'm Greg Sanders. I used to be the DNA guy but-"
"I think that's enough out of you," Nick interrupted with a grin, turning to me with what, to another woman, might have been a charming smile, "Nick Stokes. It's a pleasure."
I shook his hand, biting my lip to keep from laughing and wondering how long it would take him to figure out he didn't have a snowball's chance in hell no matter how well he flirted.
The blonde across the table smiled at the other CSI's before turning that look on me. I noticed one of her hands slip under the table, and suddenly Sara started, turning to stare at her with a faint blush on her face.
"I'm Catherine Willows, graveyard supervisor when Gil's off at his bug conventions."
What I could see of her arm shifted a little, and I could swear Sara's eyes were going to fall out of her head. I didn't need to be able to see through the table to guess what Catherine was doing to the woman next to her.
"Sara Sidle," the brunette mumbled, her voice a little throaty. I laughed silently, understanding the tension between the two. They were both strong-willed, and their relationship was probably full of conflict because of that. The only way it could work was if what they did behind closed doors, or wherever, balanced out all the fighting I would have bet they did in public. The sound of Sofia's voice threw all thoughts of the couple out of my head, and I looked down the table at the other blonde, aware that she'd been watching me watch her colleagues.
"Don't worry about Sara," she declared, earning a glare from the brunette that was cut off by another blush, "She doesn't like anyone at first. I should know. Give her a chance and you should find out she's actually very kind."
I decided I'd better take her word for it, since Sara didn't seem too kind right now. As I thought about it, I wondered if she felt at all threatened. If my sense about her was accurate, she was rather insecure. What if she thought I were the type to be gunning for her position or even the woman at her side? I laughed internally at that idea. Catherine was beautiful, but not exactly my type, and I didn't go for women who were taken. I sobered after just a minute though, realizing I needed to get the issue sorted out as quickly as possible.
"Ms. Sidle?" I asked hesitantly, immediately finding myself pinned by none-too-friendly brown eyes.
"It's just Sara," the brunette growled, and I nodded to appease her.
"I'm not here to take anyone's job," I declared firmly, this time finding it no difficulty to meet her gaze as I added, "Or anything else. I apologize if I've given any other impression, but I came out here to do a job that I'm fully trained for and capable of doing. Nothing more or less than that."
Sara looked down and away, not meeting my eyes or Catherine's. The strawberry-blonde was watching her companion with a mix of resigned irritation and sadness, and I decided there was some story behind the brunette's response to me.
"And now you have the poor girl thinking she's not welcome, Sara," Sofia remarked quietly. When I looked over I saw she was smiling, but her eyes were clear and a touch angry. When she saw me watching she rose gracefully and, much to my surprise, strode around Grissom in two long strides, holding out her hand to me. I turned in my seat and stood slightly, taking her hand and shaking it, all the while hoping I didn't look as confused or disoriented as I felt. There was something about Sofia's piercing gaze that made me feel both incredibly comfortable and extremely unnerved, and I shifted, grimacing inwardly as some black hair fell across my glasses. I really hated when that happened, but on the other hand it put a barrier between me and the intense cop.
"I'm Sofia Curtis, a detective with the LVPD," the blonde murmured huskily, and I stared, forgetting all about the rest of the crowded banquet hall. God, those eyes were going to kill me.
"It's... It's a pleasure, Detective Curtis," I replied shakily, kicking myself for sounding like a nervous teenager. There I was, nearly thirty, a trained and certified psychologist and crime scene investigator, and I felt like I was coming across like a gawky boy with his first crush on an authority figure. I didn't even have the excuse of being a guy, damn it!
"That's Sofia to you, Adrian," the detective almost purred, and I swear I nearly fell over then and there. This wasn't fair. My name wasn't supposed to sound that seductive. I was the invisible woman, the one who blended in and didn't say a word until there was work to do. When Sofia leaned toward me I froze, my legs shaking at the feeling of warm breath right next to my ear.
"Don't worry about Sara," she added warmly, "she's not the majority. If you ever need anyone to talk to, or just someone to go out to breakfast with, let me know."
"Th-thank you," I stuttered, cursing silently. I did not stutter. What the hell was the woman doing to me?
"No problem," Sofia answered with a grin and a wink, and I almost fell back into my chair. Thankfully, or not, I wasn't sure, Grissom made his presence known as he pushed back his chair and rose, setting his napkin aside.
"Well, it was a pleasure meeting you, but it's been a long day. I'm going to get going."
I nodded, shifting out of his way. Naturally that meant I stepped into Sofia, and for the first time I realized how much taller than the detective I was. That didn't lessen the sense of her towering over me, however. She just had so much personality.
"We should get going too," Catherine commented, rising out of her chair and pulling Sara with her, "Adrian, it was nice meeting you. I guess we'll see you at work."
She all but yanked Sara out with her, and I had the impression that I wanted to stay well out of their path. Whatever they ended up doing, I didn't want to be in the middle of it.
"I should get going," I decided aloud, surprised by the touch of disappointment in Sofia's eyes. I thought rapidly and added in a much quieter tone for the detective's ears only, "I'm new to Las Vegas, you know. It'd be nice to have someone help me find my way around."
I almost laughed at the pleasure in the blonde's face, gratified to see that I wasn't the only one who was being affected. Sofia took a step back, allowing me to gather my coat and glance back at her and the rest of the team.
"It was great meeting you all," I said, my eyes finding themselves drawn back to the blue ones still watching me, "Really."
I nodded to them before turning and walking away, sighing gratefully once I was out of the crowded room and making a mental note to berate Dr. Stiels for making me attend the banquet as well as the seminar. Thinking back over the evening, however, I reconsidered. I might have to send him a nice thank you card. With a chuckle I pushed off the wall I was leaning against and headed down the hall to where I remembered a bathroom was located. It was where I had thought it would be, and I slipped in, washing my hands and setting my glasses aside, scrubbing at my face, grateful that I wasn't the type to wear make-up. I looked into the mirror, taking in my short, layered black hair, dark gray eyes, and weary expression with a sigh. I had always hated mirrors. They reminded me why I rarely, if ever, thought about flirting, especially with a woman like Sofia. I shook my head, shaking off the self-doubt and dried my face and hands, picking up my glasses to clean them off. At some point they had gotten something on them, and I had to drive back to my hotel. I didn't want to risk anything obstructing my view. Once they were clean I started for the door, drying them as I went. I don't know if I heard something or just had some gut feeling, but I hesitated just a step before reaching the door, just as it was shoved open with a great deal of force. Had I taken that last step it would have caught me full in the face. Instead, the edge caught me in the arm, knocking me off balance and into a partial spin. I slipped backwards, catching my temple on the corner of a sink. The next thing I knew I was sitting on the floor, propped up against one wall. I must have blacked out for a second, I decided, looking up to find a blurry face peering down at me. I groped around, trying to find my glasses, hoping they hadn't been stepped on. Someone pressed them into my hand and I gave them what I hoped was a grateful look as I slipped them on. Things came into better focus, but even so my vision was blurry.
"Adrian, don't try to talk for a minute," a voice ordered me, and I looked around, trying to find it. Ah, Catherine Willows. Now I remembered. Just before I had hit the sink I had seen Sara and Catherine. They were what had turned the door into a projectile of sorts. I chuckled at that, then winced as the noise made the pounding sensation in my head worsen.
"Next time you two feel the need to make out in a bathroom, could you send out a memo?" I asked wryly, doing my best to grin at them despite the pain and pounding. The two CSI's blushed, and I laughed, moving to get up. Catherine stopped me immediately, however, pressing a wet paper towel to the side of my face.
"You hit that sink pretty hard," she explained, looking both worried and guilty, "you're bleeding a bit."
That made sense, and explained the blurriness. It was possible I had a concussion. I snorted at the irony of it, leaning back against the cool wall and waiting for the pounding to ease up. When I heard the door opening I groaned at the idea of yet more people in the cramped space.
"What's going on in here?"
I flushed as soon as I identified that voice, burying my face in my arm as I found myself torn between laughing and crying. Of course Sofia Curtis would walk in just in time to see me bleeding on the floor of a convention center bathroom.
"Is someone hurt?" she demanded, and I heard her come forward, then stop abruptly.
Suddenly there was a cool hand bringing my head up, and I resigned myself to whatever I saw. The one thing I didn't expect, however, was the tender concern in the blue eyes I found peering into mine.
"What happened?" the detective asked, shifting to wet a fresh paper towel before turning back to me, pressing it against the sticky substance on my temple. I jerked my head at the two CSI's behind her, regretting it instantly when my head spun. Fortunately she was already turning to glare at them, though her hand kept up the pressure to what must have been the cut Catherine mentioned.
"What happened?" she asked again, this time sounding almost threatening. Both women blushed, looking at each other before turning to stare in opposite directions like schoolgirls who had been caught making out by their headmistress or something.
"They were looking for a private place to work out some frustration," I explained helpfully when I decided they weren't going to say anything, "I was just in the wrong place."
Sofia's expression darkened as she turned back to me, probably hearing the pain I could keep out of my voice.
"Come on," she stated decisively, "I'm taking you to a hospital."
"Sofia," I started, trying to sound reassuring, but the detective cut me off.
"You could have a concussion, Adrian. You're going to the hospital."
I looked up at her, watching surprise spread across her face as I grinned.
"People don't tell you no very often, do they detective?"
She blinked, confused for a moment, then laughed, carefully helping me to my feet. She was a lot stronger than she looked, I realized. She was largely supporting me while I caught my balance and while I wasn't fat, I also wasn't a light weight.
"No, Adrian, I don't think they do."
"Good quality in a detective, I guess," I observed, only slightly sarcastically. She gave me a sardonic smile, leading me down the hall to the elevator. Once we were in and the door had closed, she turned, giving me a curious look.
"Were they really making out when you saw them?"
I couldn't help it. I cracked up, almost falling down I was laughing so hard.
"Yes ma'am, that they were," I managed to choke out, putting in as much of a country drawl as I could. Sofia laughed along with me, and I sighed contentedly, leaning into her supportive grip. I sighed, giving in to the pain and exhaustion. I felt, rather than heard, her gasp of surprise, and then there was nothing. Even as I slipped into unconsciousness I was still smiling. I was looking forward to working for the LVPD. But first... I needed some sleep.
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