DISCLAIMER: CSI and its characters are the property of Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS.
CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Sara/Sofia 'Let's Get Sassy' ficathon.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Somewhere Better Than Nowhere
By bluflamingo


Somewhere Better Than Nowhere

"You know, two miles that way," Sara says, pointing out the front window with the swab in her hand, "and this wouldn't even be our case."

"Better luck next time," Sofia says dryly.

"Yeah." Sara runs her swab through one of the many red smears and Sofia hands her the reagent, watching the swab turn bright pink. "Blood."

"What a surprise." Sofia looks round the room again, at the smears of blood on the walls and the fallen, broken photo frames. She can hear Greg working in the next room, but it's obvious the girl was attacked in her living room. From the amount of blood, they're probably looking for a body.

"Yeah." Sara drops the swab in an evidence bag and sighs. She looks tired, like everyone else on Grissom's team; Nick's still in hospital. "Listen, I'm gonna be a while in here yet. You want to take the outside?"

"You remember me saying I got transferred back to the detective division, right?" Sofia asks, but she picks up a camera anyway. CSI's stretched to the limit this week and she's lucky it's not just her and Sara out here.

Four hours later, they're back at the sheriff's office and Sofia's remembering why she hates their occasional road trips to tiny towns in the middle of nowhere. It's not that she doesn't know how to do basic lab work, or even minds it all that much any more, she just hates trying to do it without decent lab equipment. Everything takes twice as long, and there are no techs to hand it over to, which means more time in the lab doing it by hand and less time out in the field where she wants to be. Even the coffee seems to taste worse out here, although she's willing to admit that might just be her imagination.

Of course, some things don't need decent equipment: Sara's on the other side of the office running fingerprints through the database while Sofia runs the tire tracks she picked up outside the house; Greg's disappeared again, reprising his lab tech role in the sheriff's tiny lab. Considering how hard he fought to get out in the field, he was pretty happy to get back into the lab; it's one of many things that have changed lately.

Sara's computer beeps and Sofia looks over. "Something?"

Sara shakes her head. "Just the victim's prints so far." She turns the screen so Sofia can see the picture. "DUI three years ago, fine and community service."

"Probably not a reason to attack her."

"Probably not," Sara agrees, feeding another print into the scanner. "Any idea why someone would want to?"

Sofia shrugs. They went through the house with a couple of deputies, but if there was some clue to why anyone would attack her, Sofia didn't see it. "No forced entry," she says, spreading the crime scene photos over the table. Sara leans next to her, her arm warm against Sofia's. "So she must have known her attacker."

"Recognized the car, maybe?" Sara shuffles the pictures, pulling out several of the house's front yard and its tire tracks. "She'd see it from the window, it was late –" she pulls out another picture, of a broken clock stopped at half past ten – "most women wouldn't open the door unless it was someone they knew."

"Right." Sofia looks back at the computer, still searching for a match to her tire prints. "So we get a list of cars with those tires, take them round the neighborhood, find out if anyone saw the car."

"Get a list of registered owners, then match them against people she knew," Sara finishes with a satisfied smile. "Of course, there could be thousands of cars with the right tires, if they're a popular brand."

"Nothing like looking on the bright side," Sofia says pointedly, and her computer beeps.

"Hey guys." Greg leans in the doorway as Sofia turns back to her computer, pulling up the results in more detail. "That dust we found in the kitchen?" He holds a clear evidence tape between two fingers up to the light. "It's orchid pollen."

"Orchid pollen?" Sara repeats. Sofia watches her start shuffling the photos again before turning back to the tire report. "There are no orchids in this house."

"Maybe a date?" Greg suggests.

"At ten thirty at night?" Sara asks dubiously.

"You've never had a date start late?" Greg asks. Sofia turns to watch Sara, waiting to hear her response before she shares her own findings.

Sara glances over at her and smiles slightly. "I work night shift, Greg. Most of my dates are for breakfast." Sofia's not sure breakfast is exactly the word for it, but they do take place in the morning. Unless they have over-time.

"But you admit you date!" Greg says gleefully. It's the most lively Sofia's seen him in weeks, but Sara's beginning to look uncomfortable and Sofia's got a theory.

"The tires are mostly used on SUVs, but they only started being manufactured with this tread pattern in the last five years."

"A flower shop?" Greg suggests.

"Or a gardener," Sara adds.

"All right. So, a florist or a gardener with an SUV from the last five years that Shelley Burford knew," Sofia says. "That'll narrow it down."

Sitting in her own pale cream and leather front room, Shelley's best friend is a lot more composed than some of the people Sofia's interviewed over time. She supposes it helps that Andrea didn't find the crime scene, which was called in by a door-to-door cable salesman who happened to glance in the front window.

Andrea offers them tea then, when they refuse, sits quietly with her hands in her lap and looks at Sofia.

"We've matched the tire tracks we found in Shelley's front yard to a certain type of vehicle, SUV's manufactured in the last five years," Sofia explains carefully. "We also found pollen in her kitchen, but no flowers to match. We need you to think about anyone in Shelley's life who might drive that kind of car, or have some connection to plants. Maybe someone who works in a garden centre, or a florist's."

Andrea looks down at her hands, nodding slowly to herself. Sofia catches Sara's eye and shakes her head slightly when Sara looks ready to prompt her, ignoring Sara's glare since she follows Sofia's lead.

"There's a guy she works with," Andrea offers slowly. "He's really into his garden, Shelley's always laughing at the way he goes on about what he's planting. He keeps trying to teach her, like she'd care. The landscaping company does all of her work anyway."

"That's good," Sofia says. They didn't find any evidence of a landscaping company at Shelley's house, but the garden was pretty well cared for. "Do you know his name?"

"Yeah, um, James… something." Andrea's hands twist in her lap. "I don't know his last name, but… they can probably tell you at the school."

"I'm sure they can," Sofia agrees soothingly. "What about the landscaping company, do you know which one she used?"

"Yeah. Or, she gave me their card last week, I was thinking about getting rid of some of my grass, putting in some trees…" She trails off and flushes. "Sorry. You don't care about that, do you?"

"That's fine," Sofia says. "Could we borrow their card? We'll return it to you."

"Of course." Andrea jumps up. "Yes, I'll go find it. Are you sure you don't want any tea?"

"We're fine, thank you." Sofia waits till she's left the room, closing the door behind herself, then turns to Sara, who's already looking at her doubtfully. "What do you think?"

Sara shakes her head. "They both sound like old relationships, unless they suddenly turned violent."

"Hmm." Sofia thinks about the pollen in the kitchen. "Didn't Greg say orchid pollen?" Sara nods. "That doesn't sound like something a landscaping company would have. Orchids are inside flowers, right?"

"Right." Sara sighs. "Maybe it was a date. The plant lover from work, maybe?"

The door opens before Sofia can say anything else, and Andrea hands her the card. "You don't really think… I mean, Shel used that company for years. The guy they sent to her house was married – she wanted a cute young guy, and he must have been fifty, he had a beer belly…" She trails off again, and Sofia leans forward slightly to offer something comforting, except before she can, Andrea looks up, her eyes bright. "I forgot! God, I can't believe it, she told me about him, it completely slipped my mind…"

"Told you about who?" Sara asks.

"Derek Anders," Andrea says. "This guy she had a one night stand with. He was a delivery driver for a florist."

"A flower delivery guy," Sara says again, as they're heading north. Greg's going with one of the deputies to check out the landscaping company, and two others are going to see James-from-work, but Sofia thinks her and Sara have got the most likely suspect.

"It fits," Sofia agrees. "If it was a one night stand though…"

"Why'd she let him in?" Sofia likes this, finishing each others thoughts, in work and out of it. She feels guilty thinking it, but it's something good that's come out of what happened to Nick. Something about the shared trauma and the long nights at the hospital that made it easy to do what she'd wanted to for a long time. She's not entirely sure what's keeping it going, but she doesn't need to know, as long as it is. "Maybe she wanted to pick it up again?"

Andrea said she met him at the market when he was in town with a delivery, both of them buying asparagus, and ended up cooking for him. He slipped out in the night, didn't leave his number, and Shelley wasn't thrilled, but she wasn't heartbroken either.

"So why kill her?" Sofia asks, slowing for a red light.

"Guess we're about to find out."

When Sofia looks over, Sara's resting her head against the window, her eyes closed. She's pale, even allowing for them having been up almost twenty fours. "Sleep for a bit," she offers without much hope, resting her hand on Sara's knee and rubbing lightly with her thumb.

"No, I'm good." Sara pulls herself upright and opens her eyes. "I'm not tired." She waits till Sofia takes her hand back to pull away from the light, then unclips her phone from her belt. "Are the deputies meeting us there?"

"One deputy," Sofia says. They found drag marks out of the house – between that and the sheer volume of blood, everyone knows they're looking for a body.

"OK." Sara flips her phone open, closed, then open again.

"Any messages?" Sofia asks.

Sara shakes her head. "They were talking about letting Nick come home today. Cath said she'd call."

"Ring her," Sofia says, not surprised when Sara shakes her head and flips the phone closed.

"She's probably still sleeping, unless they had to stay late." She clips the phone back on her belt. "If he's our guy, we'll be back tomorrow anyway."

"All right," Sofia says, and makes a mental note to ring Brass when they get done with their suspect; if anything's happened, he'll know about it.

The whole case has gone so smoothly so far that Sofia's actually shocked when they knock on Anders' door and there's no answer. No sign of the SUV either, and nothing to say whether he's been home and gone out again or fled the state. The deputy gets on his phone to put out a BOLO for the SUV, and Sara sinks down on the front step of the house.

Sofia leans against the railing and looks down at her. Usually, all it takes is a glance for her to want to find the nearest private space with Sara, but right now she just wants to take her home and put her to bed.

"Maybe he's at work," Sara suggests without lifting her head.

"Maybe," Sofia agrees. Of course, that doesn't help them, since they don't know where he works. "If he left town after killing her…" She doesn't need to finish the thought. Sara sighs anyway, and flips open her phone again.

"Any news?" Sofia asks. Sara shakes her head. It's not exactly a no news is good news moment, and Sofia doesn't have anything reassuring to say. She rests her hand on Sara's head instead, stroking softly over her hair as Sara leans into the touch, momentarily vulnerable.

It gets cold and then it gets colder. They retreat to their vehicle and crank up the heat. The locals drop by with an offer to be relieved, but Sofia turns them down. This case is theirs, she can wait a few hours.

Sara dozes off against the window, and Sofia lowers her voice to talk to the deputy – he's told her his name twice and she's embarrassed to admit she's forgotten it again. He plays ice hockey, he tells her, and they talk sports for a while, then places they've traveled to. Sara wakes up and offers New York, then refuses to say why she was there.

They've just moved onto wacky crime scene tales when headlights sweep across the car.

"We have Shelley's blood on your clothes," Sofia says, dumping the evidence bag on the table. Apparently Derek Anders was confident enough in not being found that he didn't even bother washing his clothes, just tossed them.

"We have your fingerprints in her house, and pollen from one of your orchids in her kitchen." The former, like the latter, are thanks to Greg, who rang with a thumb print match from the murder weapon while they were on their way back to the police outpost, Anders in the backseat of the deputy's car.

"Tire tacks at her house match your SUV, and her best friend says you slept with her." Sofia wraps it up with a glare at Anders, who's looking at the table between them. "You're being charged with first degree murder, and the only slight possibility you have of any kind of deal is if you tell us where to find her body."

She drops into the seat next to Sara, who's silent, vibrating with suppressed tension, the exhaustion of their long wait gone.

Anders keeps his eyes down for a long moment, then asks, "you'll tell the court I cooperated?"

"We'll tell them everything that happened after we got to your house," Sofia says, grateful Anders refused a lawyer, since she isn't exactly agreeing to what he asked.

"There's a track, half a mile behind the house," Anders says. "Follow it for a mile, there's an old barn. Some of the floor boards come up."

Sofia nods to the officer at the door, who slips out to get the search team moving, and Sara starts gathering up the evidence.

"I just wanted to see her again," Anders says. He's watching Sara's hands move on the bags and Sofia wants to push him away. "I brought her a plant. She should have said yes."

Yes to sex, Sofia assumes, because she probably would have said yes to a date, if she let him in at half past ten at night.

"I didn't want to hurt her."

"You should have thought of that before you stabbed her," Sara says.

It's three am when they get back to the sheriff's office, leaving Anders in lockup at the outpost, and Shelley Burford's body with the local ME. Sofia's been up well over 30 hours, the world's getting fuzzy on the edges and she just wants to sleep.

The click of Sara's phone closing is loud in the silence of the car, and she drags her eyes away from the bright windows of the building. "Message from Grissom: we've been booked into a hotel down the road, Greg's already there and we're not expected in tomorrow night."

Sofia wants to point out that it's not Grissom's decision in her case, but it seems like too much effort. She puts the car in drive and tries to remember that she'll have to check her own voicemail when they've checked in.

It's a nice enough hotel: predictable cream walls, pine furniture and prints of sea-scapes, but the check-in staff go through the process quickly and without a lot of small talk, hand over two rooms keys and Greg's room number, and point them at the elevators.

Sofia doesn't think twice about following Sara into her room, happy to discover they've been booked into doubles. Not that she's planning on doing anything other than sleeping, but two adults just don't fit comfortably in a single bed, and neither of them like to be clung to in their sleep.

"You want the first shower?" Sara asks. She's already removed her jacket and shoes, her gun and badge on the pile of room service menus and tourist guides left on the desk behind her.

"Your room, you go," Sofia offers. She tries a smile. "I might join you."

Sara smiles back. "That'd be good," she says, pulling her shirt over her head as she disappears into the bathroom.

Sofia toes her shoes off as she flips open her cell and dials her voicemail. She hears the shower go on as the recorded voice informs her she has one new message, and starts unfastening her belt as her supervisor relays essentially the same message Grissom left for Sara. From the time stamp, it seems like Greg rang the lab after Sara rang him to report the arrest and the discovery of Shelley's body.

She's barefoot, down to her pants and the vest she wore under her shirt, when someone knocks on the door. She assumes it's room service, bringing coffee maybe, but when she opens the door, Greg's standing in the corridor, changed into jeans and a t-shirt with a legend Sofia's too tired to bother reading.

"Oh. Sorry." He tilts his head, checking the room number. "I didn't mean to disturb you, I thought this was Sara's room."

"It is," Sofia says, and waits. Juts because they're not telling anyone, they agreed this wouldn't be a secret if people asked, or found out.

"Oh," Greg says again, then seems to shrug it off. "Is she here?"

"Shower." Sofia takes pity on him, even after he glances at her bare feet and blushes slightly. "Something you want me to tell her?"

"Yeah. Warrick just called, they let Nick go home this morning, and his parents agreed to people visiting again in a couple of days." He grins then, looking ten years younger, and Sofia can't help smiling back.

"Thanks, Greg. I'll tell her." She waits for him to leave, then, when he doesn't, says pointedly, "see you tomorrow."

"Oh. Right." He takes a step back. "Just let me know when you're ready to head home."

"Will do," Sofia says, and closes the door firmly.

The shower's still going, so she flips the lock on the door, drops the rest of her clothes in a pile on the floor and heads into the bathroom.

Sara's got her eyes closed, her head tipped back to wash away the shampoo in her hair, and Sofia just watches her for a moment, the lines of her body half-obscured by the flow of water down the clear shower door, her earlier protective urges evaporating in the steam. She fills her picture of Sara's body in from memory, touch and sight after months of sniping across the lab and competing for Grissom's attention. Months of foreplay that are turning into weeks of sex and dates and, most days, more snarking, she thinks wryly, and she's smiling when Sara opens her eyes and looks at her.

"You coming in?" Sara asks, pushing the door open.

Sofia steps into the warm water, washing the last couple of days away, to be replaced by Sara's damp skin pressed against her. "Nick got out of hospital today," she says, before she forgets, and Sara's body relaxes further into hers. She doesn't say anything for a long minute, then her hands come up to run down Sofia's spine, making her shiver.

"Want me to wash your back?" Sara asks, and Sofia arches into her, agreement on her lips as they kiss.

The End

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