DISCLAIMER: CSI and its characters are the property of Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: A very special thank you to Debbie for taking on the job of beta for this fic as well as the 22 others and especially for agreeing to write her specialty, Birds of Prey, as part of this 24 fandom series. Thanks, Deb, I truly do appreciate it.
CHALLENGE: Written for the first International Day of Femslash.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Photographs and Memories
A dark figure trudged up the stairs to a corner apartment as fatigue, courtesy of an insane triple shift, made itself known in the form of slouched shoulders and heavy boots scuffing against the front of every step of the concrete stairway. With a soft groan, the woman reached the top landing and veered to the left. She couldn't wait to climb into the shower to wash off all physical traces of the horrific case. It was bad enough that the mental images would stay with her for awhile.
"Shit," she cursed, her keys slipping from her hand and dropping to the floor just outside her apartment. She hadn't realized how sore she was until now, the simple act of bending over sending shooting pains down her lower back and legs. She really shouldn't have spent so long hovering over evidence on the layout table.
"You're getting too old for these marathon shifts, Sidle." Sara finally got a hold of her keys and stood, slipping the appropriate one into the lock before she could drop them again. The cool air of her apartment hit her in the face and gave her the strength to forge on. Closing the door behind her, she headed straight for the shower.
"Damn it!" Sara stood in front of her linen closet, staring at the empty shelf. Now was not exactly the time to remember that she'd put her soiled towels into the washer. After sitting in the machine for two days, she was fairly certain none would be suitable to use. She cursed under her breath and walked toward the basement stairs, hoping to find the extra towels she hadn't yet unpacked from her move last month.
As luck would have it, the box she was searching for was on the top of the stack instead of the bottom. A very grateful Sara gripped the clear tape and pulled it across the top of the box, freeing the lid and allowing easy access. As she lifted one side of the cardboard, an envelope popped straight up and flipped onto the floor. Sara stared down at it, wondering if it was worth bending over to pick it up. The familiar scrawl across the front answered her question. She forgot all about her sore legs and back as she reached down and gently lifted the envelope from the floor.
"Sofia." Sara raised a shaky hand to her lips and swallowed hard. She hadn't spoken to her former lover, still very much her lover in her mind, since she'd moved. In fact, she and Sofia had had a huge fight the week before Sarah had left Vegas, and she'd just assumed that Sofia had no more words left to say. Her lover had turned and walked out the door, never to be heard from again. Sara had simply let her go.
Taking a couple of steps backward, Sara eased down on the basement steps and ran her finger over Sofia's handwriting, her investigative mind wondering how the envelope had gotten into the box in the first place - it had been the last one she'd packed. She remembered coming home her final night of work and grabbing the tape from the counter. She'd sealed up the box and taken it down with the others to her car. She hadn't seen any sign of the envelope.
Blowing out a tired breath, Sara moved her finger to the edge of the flap and slid it underneath, not bothering to hiss in pain when she sustained a paper cut. She just pulled back the flap and slipped the contents out. A single, folded sheet of paper remained in her hand for several minutes, before she slowly separated the top from the bottom. Holding the opened page in front of her, she began to read:
My Dearest Sara,
I've been a fool, acting irrationally and allowing my anger to get the better of me. I simply couldn't understand why you felt the need to take a job in Frisco. Why couldn't you just stay here and let me help you face your fears? Why couldn't you let me help you - period? So many questions, Sara, and so few answers. I realize now that it's my own fault for not facing you and forcing you to give me answers any answers. I was just so hurt at you for choosing to run away. But now I think I understand. In fact, it would be rather hypocritical of me if I didn't.
Sara shifted on the hard step and frowned. Hypocritical? What did that mean? Focusing on the next paragraph, she looked for answers, too.
I wrote this letter the morning you left, knowing that you'd find it when you unpacked my plan, by the way, was to get the super to let me in and leave this letter behind chicken of me, I know, but I just couldn't face you.
Sara nodded. At least she had one answer. She read on.
I've accepted a job in San Jose and am leaving today. Can you believe the irony? We both leave the same day, our destinations an hour apart? Unbelievable, huh? I just can't stay here without you, Sara.
Irony didn't begin to describe the situation. Sara closed her eyes and then opened them again to focus on the words. They didn't change. Sofia had been in San Jose this entire time. She'd left the same damned day, too! Why hadn't she called?
I'm leaving my information with Brass in case you ever want to contact me, but if I don't hear from you, I understand. I'm just sorry I couldn't help you, that I wasn't the one you needed. Maybe one day, you'll realize that I loved you, that I will always love you. I guess it wasn't enough.
Anyway, I'm enclosing some photos I thought you might like to have. We did have some fun times, didn't we?
Okay, I've got to close now. I just wanted you to know that I'll always be here for you.
Sara sat frozen on the steps, reading and re-reading Sofia's words, trying to make sense out of them. Her mind shifted to the photographs, and she picked up the envelope. She turned it practically inside out, but there weren't any photos to be found. Sofia must have forgotten to put them with the letter. Sighing, Sara stood and placed the letter in her back pocket as she moved back toward the box. She still needed a towel.
Reaching inside the packed box, her hand hit something solid, and Sara peered over the edge. A manila folder sat perched atop her solid grey towels, Sofia's handwriting scrolled across its front. Sara gently lifted the folder and moved back to the seat she'd just vacated. Undoing the clasp, she tilted the container and barely caught the photos as they slipped free. Bright yellow eyes of a large dog stared back at her.
Sara looked down at the photo and laughed, remembering the dog that had come across their path, while they'd been snowmobiling. The pair had just climbed off the vehicles when the dog had come rushing around the corner. Thinking it was a wolf, Sara had freaked out and hidden behind Sofia. The large animal had just run up to her lover and immediately sat down in front of her, his tongue hanging out of his mouth. Sofia had laughed until she'd cried. Taking one last look at the photo, Sara moved it to the side and focused on the next one. She smiled.
Sofia stood next to their rental car brushing the snow from her jacket after Sara had ambushed her with snowball after snowball. Her lover hadn't tried to retaliate at the time, but had sure made up for it that night, forcing Sara to surrender to her over and over and over again. It was the first night they'd verbally professed their love for each other.
A tear sliding down her face, she moved to the next photo this one of herself. Sara remembered hitting a slick patch in the snow and falling hard. Sofia had been quick to snap a picture, just as quick as Sara had been to raise her middle finger high in the air, the dark heavy glove exaggerating the gesture. Chuckling, Sara flipped the photo to the back of the stack and froze at the image of the last photo.
She and Sofia had just started off on a nature hike when a passerby had asked if they'd like him to snap a photo before they'd begun their journey. They'd shrugged and offered him the camera, moving next to a large rock for the pose. Sara stared down at the image of the two of them, leaning into each other and smiling widely. They looked so happy, they looked so in love.
Sara continued to stare at the photo as she slowly reached to her belt, removing her cell phone from its holder. Hitting '7' on her speed dial, she returned her focus to the loving couple and waited for someone to answer. She smiled at the gruff response.
"Hey Jim, it's Sara."
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