DISCLAIMER: "CSI: Crime Scene Investigators," the characters, and situations depicted are the property of Jerry Bruckheimer Television, Alliance Atlantis, and CBS Productions. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes. Previously unrecognized characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. This site is in no way affiliated with "CSI: Crime Scene Investigators," CBS, or any representatives of Jorja Fox or Marg Helgenberger.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This started out as a challenge of sorts from Ralst for the 5th anniversary of Passion & Perfection. She'd given me the prompt of "the anniversary of Sara's father's death." I'd thought about it for a while, then this idea just came to me. It was intended to be a one-shot. Yeah, my Sofia muse didn't go for that, so it became a trilogy. Go figure…
BETA: Many thanks to shatterpath, ctorres, celievamp, mrswoman, and ralst for beta-type commentary. It was muchly appreciated…
WEBSITE: ShatterStorm Productions – Frisked & Conquered.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
DEDICATION: My muses, for obvious reasons…
Thorns And All ::
Soothing the Past
By A. Magiluna Stormwriter
When I walked into the labs that night, I could feel it. There was a different energy that was just…off. Making my usual rounds to check on my various open cases, I quickly noticed a startling absence.
Sara was nowhere to be found.
Thinking back, I knew it wasn't one of her normally scheduled days off. That was when I realized Catherine was in, and this was definitely one of her days off.
My curiosity now thoroughly piqued, I wandered over to the lab she was firmly ensconced in. Walking in, I instantly recognized the evidence and felt that pang of loss at Sara's absence. It wasn't often that I was given both female CSIs to work with, so the cases tended to be on the memorable side.
"Hey, Sofia," Catherine greeted warmly. "Sorry I don't have any news yet for you on this one."
I shook my head. "Not a problem. Just surprised to see you here. I thought you had plans?"
"Just with my mountains of laundry. You'd be surprised what Lindsey can go through in a week!"
I chuckled in sympathy, unconsciously moving to don latex gloves. "I can only imagine how you handle these dual duties. My mother did something similar. I don't know that I could."
"I don't know about your mother, but it wasn't really a choice for me. Eddie was pretty useless, and somebody had to play mommy to him and Lindsey." I felt her gaze on me, those shrewd eyes studying me. "But that's not why you're prowling down at this end of the building, is it?"
Not really surprised by her observation, I shook my head and replaced the photos I'd been rifling through. "Can't put anything past you, can I?" I asked, teasing lightly.
"You know, she called out sick this morning," she replied nonchalantly. "I'd barely gotten home when Grissom called to see if I could cover for her tonight. Said she'd requested it and would pay me back as soon as she could. Didn't take me long to--"
I didn't hear the rest of what she said, mind racing to recall anything out of the ordinary when I'd last seen Sara. Nothing stood out. What on earth could have happened? "Did she say anything when she left?"
Again, that intense scrutiny. I was missing something vital here. I could feel it, but had no clue how to find it.
"You don't know what today is, do you?" she asked softly. When I shook my head, she pointed to the door. "You need to talk to Grissom, Sofia."
Curiosity danced the Macarena with dread in the mosh pit of my stomach. I stripped off the latex gloves and stuffed them in a pocket. Finding Grissom's door open, I poked my head in to see Jim was already talking to him. They moved as one to study me before I was gestured in. I was starting to feel like some kind of insane experiment.
"I didn't mean to interrupt," I started, tucking hair behind my ear with suddenly nervous fingers. "Catherine said I needed to talk to you? Something about Sara being sick and the significance of today's date?"
"Have a seat, Sofia," Grissom replied, a tenseness to his tone I didn't often hear.
Armed with the bare facts of the murder that Grissom gave me, I dug a little further into the accounts and records of the murder. It all combined to give me a far too vivid look into Sara's past, her psyche. I had to admit that it made a lot of sense now how she reacted to cases like that.
It was with little surprise that I found myself parked in front of her apartment building. I was more surprised by my inability to get out of my car for long moments. I fingered the key Grissom had given me "just in case" as I made my way up to her apartment. I didn't want to consider what "just in case" might mean.
I knocked lightly on the door, ears straining for any sound on the other side of the wooden barrier. "Sara? It's Sofia. May I come in?"
There was the faintest sound of movement before the locks were thrown and she was opening the door. My sigh of relief was sharply sucked back in at the sight of her tear-ravaged face. I squeezed the key in my pocket painfully in an attempt to hold back from suddenly grabbing her in an encompassing embrace.
"What're you doing here?" she asked in a gravelly voice rough from too many tears. But she made no attempts to shut the door.
"Making sure you're okay," I replied honestly. Torn between concern an a sudden, surprising nervousness, I shoved both hands further into my pockets.
"Grissom send you? Or Catherine?"
"Both…neither," I replied, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other. "Does it really matter? I was worried about you. We all were, Sara."
"And you got sent as the spokesman for the group, hunh?" she finally asked. "And no, I haven't been drinking if that's what you're wondering. I know better than to fuck that up again."
"I wasn't thinking anything of the sort, Sara. I was wondering… Listen, can I come in? I'm feeling kind of self-conscious out here."
Her expressive eyes grew unreadable for a moment, and I could almost feel her withdrawing into herself. The cop in me understood the defense mechanism. Hell, the woman in me understood it. But I desperately wanted to remove the need for it from her life. If nothing else, I'd tell the other CSIs that I'd seen her and she was understandably upset, but okay.
"Come on in," she finally said, gesturing vaguely inside.
Stepping past her, I resisted the urge to pull her into a comforting hug. Instead, I simply touched her arm. We stood there for a moment before she closed the door and returned to the couch. Casting a practiced eye about her apartment, my gaze fell on her computer monitor. I wasn't exactly surprised to see a briefing of the trial there.
"There's coffee in the kitchen if you want it," Sara said softly, getting up just long enough to shut down the search on her computer.
"Thanks," I replied, grateful for the chance to do something. "Can I get you some as well?"
"Sure," she sighed. "What the hell? It's not like I’m gonna be sleeping any time soon."
She wandered into the kitchen and I was helpless to do anything but follow in her wake. I watched her move around the room by body memory, pouring two large mugs full of the dark liquid that often matched the color of her eyes.
The fact that I could pinpoint her eye color so easily was a delightfully dismal realization. As she added spoonful after spoonful of sugar to her mug, I also realized I was avidly counting for future reference. As she finished (seven spoonfuls for a largish mug) and stirred her coffee, she turned to face me with a curiously raised brow.
"Black is fine," I replied, reaching for the mug. "Unless you have cream of some kind?"
"Non-dairy stuff's in the fridge," she said, gesturing toward the appliance. "I don't like it room temperature, even if it's fake."
I moved past her in the cramped kitchen to add a bit of creamer to my coffee. Taking a sip, I sighed happily. "That's good," I said. "Thank you."
She shrugged with one shoulder, but I could see the faintest glimmer of a smile lighting her eyes. "It was a gift from Greg for my birthday."
I nodded, studying her surreptitiously for a moment. We stood there, close enough to touch her if I thought she'd welcome it for what it meant. But I didn't. And when she headed back into the living room, I followed her to settle on the couch across from her.
"Why are you here, Sofia?" she finally asked, pointedly studying my face.
I met her gaze openly. "I was concerned when you'd called out sick," I replied honestly. "It's not SOP for you, Sara, so I figured it had to be something pretty major. Especially when Catherine said you'd called out this morning."
"She tell you what today is?" A slightly defensive, fearful tone crept into her voice.
"Actually Grissom did." I let my tone soften even more. "I didn't know, and as trite as it may sound, I am sorry for your loss."
Sara snorted and curled into a tighter ball. "You have no idea," she muttered bitterly, and I fought off that protective instinct again, not wanting to spook her. "It was twenty-two years ago. Just a couple months before my thirteenth birthday. Great present, don't'cha think? Do you know what it was like to have to live through that? To wake up to the fighting, the beatings? That wasn't anything really unusual. To see the bloody knife in your mother's hand as she pulls it out of your father's back? Then shoves it back in with a maniacal laugh?"
Her voice grew huskier, eyes dropping to the mug in her hands. But not before I saw the naked emotion in her eyes, all of her barriers in ruins around her for that split second of opportunity I'd been presented.
"There are nights I still wake up in a cold sweat, swearing it's that night all over again," she finally continued. "The first few years, it was almost constant. And if it wasn't that night, it was the nights I'd been subjected to the beatings. I got transferred through a few foster homes by the time I was sixteen and had it mostly under control. Not many foster families can handle somebody like that. Not back then, at least. I didn't let anyone get close, for so many reasons…"
And you still don't, I thought to myself, marveling once again at her resilience. And her self-exile.
"Normally? I just work this day each year. It's not like it's something I need to celebrate, you know?"
"So what's different this year, Sara?" The words were out before I even realized they'd been more than a thought.
"I got a call on my way home this morning," she said, setting her mug on the coffee table. "She always calls me every year. Well, when she's lucid enough, she calls to remind me that it's all over, that we're safe, that he'll never hurt us again, that… That she did it for me. It was all for me. I usually ignore her calls, let them go to voicemail and then delete them, usually unheard." She went silent, collapsing in on herself for a long, painful couple of minutes. Just as I was about to ask her for more, she began speaking again, tears thick in her voice. "For some reason, I took the call this morning. Wasn't her, though. It was the facility warden. She hadn't shown up for breakfast, so the guards went to investigate. Found her dead in her bunk."
"Oh, Sara," I breathed, aching for her.
"They, um, think she went in her sleep, but won't know anything definite until the ME takes a look at her." She let out a sharp bark of bitter laughter. "Funny, isn't it? Both of them die on the same fucking day, so many years apart. It's like she fucking planned it! Made sure I'd never forget this fucking day until I died."
Explosively, she was on her feet pacing. I watched her, coffee mug now having joined hers, forgotten on the table. Every movement was a controlled, impotent fury smothered in grief. Damning myself for potentially screwing things up, I was on my feet and standing in her path with only a couple of steps. Sara stared at me balefully and only struggled minimally when I finally enveloped her in a warm embrace.
"Don't touch me," she muttered, fighting the emotions that had her trembling like a newborn foal.
"Shh," I murmured just as quietly, tightening my grip against her struggles. "It's okay, Sara. It's going to be okay, honey."
There was a strangled sob of protest, but she made no further attempts to pull away. I simply shifted slightly to hold her closer and began to murmur soothing nonsense. When her arms wrapped around my waist suffocatingly tightly, I gently pressed her head to my shoulder and began stroking her hair and back. My own head bent closer, cheek resting against the soft brunette tresses. Occasionally, after a particularly violent sobbing shudder, I'd press my lips to her head.
I'd closed my own eyes against the tears stinging in sympathy. I wanted nothing more than to take all of her pain and suffering into myself, relieve her of this burden she'd carried for so many years. And if I couldn't completely subsume it, I was certainly willing to shoulder it as often as she needed the relief.
"Why?" The word was barely breath against the skin of my neck, accompanied by another rib-cracking grip of my waist.
"I don't know, honey," I replied, voice cracking slightly. "I wish I had the answer for you, I really do."
Her grip loosened minimally and I felt her fingers wind into the ends of my hair, absently playing with it. There was a perverse part of me that was glad I'd left my hair down when I came to see her. I didn't let up on my own comforting stroking of her back and hair. Nor could I deny any longer how good it felt to hold her, even with the gravity of the current situation.
"Do you know that I took scissors to my hair for the first time when I was six years old? Hacked it all off. Pissed both my mother and father off something fierce."
"Why did you do it then?"
"He didn't have anything to grab onto when I got too close and he was in a violent mood," she admitted softly. "Which was most of the time. And my mom? Yeah, she was pissed because she thought I was being too much of a tomboy by cutting off my hair. It wasn't until she saw me escape one of his beatings that she understood why I did it."
"I'm glad you've grown it out since then," I said softly, my own fingers carding through her hair. "I think this length becomes you."
She pulled back to look at me for a moment, her gaze guarded and warily curious. I half-tensed, expecting her to pull away and build up those walls again. But she didn't. The faintest tug of a smile at the corners of her lips and she dropped her head back onto my shoulder, practically nuzzling into my neck. I chewed at my lower lip for a moment, wondering if I hadn't gone too far. Especially given the circumstances.
"Thank you," she whispered huskily. "For… For everything."
"Whatever you need, Sara," I replied sincerely. "All you need to do is ask. I will gladly take your burden for a time, so you can have even a moment's peace." She sighed and leaned more closely against me, some of the tension bleeding out. I couldn't help myself and began massaging her back, slowly making my way from the base of her scalp down to the small of her back. The pressure began to melt away even more with each deliberately tender attack of a knotted muscle, and Sara's weight became heavier against me. Of course, the push and pull of the massage also served to press her lips against my neck more regularly. Or… Surely Sara couldn't actually be kissing me repeatedly. Could she?
"'m gonna fall over," she murmured.
"Couch?" I asked, gently smoothing my hands down her back to lightly grip her hips for balance. She shook her head. "Okay… Where then? Do you want to try a shower?"
"My bed," came the shyly muttered reply.
Dear God, could she really be asking what I think she's asking me? "Sara, I don't--"
"If you keep that up, I'm gonna fall asleep," she said, pulling back enough to cause my grip to tighten in an attempt to keep us both upright. "My couch is not good for my back."
"Oh. Right. Of course." I could feel the blush heating my cheeks at my presumption.
"What were you thinking, Sofia?" she asked curiously, eyes narrowing in that analytical way I knew and loved.
I shook my head, suddenly unable to speak. She lifted a hand to tuck some hair back behind my ear, then let just a fingertip trace down the side of my face to rest against my lips. I stared at her, unsure of the situation suddenly. This was most definitely not what I'd planned on when I came over to check on her. I needed to distance myself from what was going on, get back to comforting a grieving friend. "Sara, I--" And I was still at a loss for words. "I'm sorry." It was so trite, so…
Sara simply shook her head and took a step back. Reluctantly I released my grip on her and watched her walk away. She picked up the two coffee mugs and headed into the kitchen. I stood there, debating just walking out the door without another word. I had no right to be taking advantage of Sara when she was in such emotional upheaval. I felt like the world's biggest ass for even considering it. Lost in these thoughts, I didn't notice when she finally returned to the room.
"Sofia?" she asked softly, touching my arm. "You didn't do anything wrong. Please don't beat yourself up over it."
"What?" Oh that was ever so eloquent, Curtis.
She chuckled, flashing me that enticing gap-toothed grin for the briefest of moments before turning serious again. "I may be focused, but I'm not blind, Sofia. I'm glad you came to see me. It's not that I'd have turned away Grissom or Catherine, or anyone else for that matter. But Grissom would be too analytical, Catherine too mothering. I need someone…" She paused for a long moment, staring down at her hand on my arm before turning back to face me. "I needed someone that would let me mourn the way I need to, not the way they expect me to. Does that make any sense?"
"Yeah, it does," I murmured huskily. "I was just… I wanted to make sure you were okay, more so when Grissom told me. I'm supposed to be giving you solace, not indulging in some stupid fantasy."
Her eyebrows raised at that. Me and my big mouth. I was about to apologize when I felt her fingers press against my lips again. "Don't. I appreciate what you've done for me so far. You didn't judge me, or my family; you listened; you gave me the support I needed." She dropped her gaze for just a moment, and I could see the pain replacing the brief interlude of amusement again. "Stay the night? I don't want to be alone."
Oddly galvanized by her pain, I pulled Sara close again and pressed my lips to her temple. "Of course," I murmured. "I told you, all you need to do is ask, Sara. I'd do anything for you."
She shuddered slightly, a sob escaping her lips again. "Promise?" came the ragged whisper as her grip once more tightened around my waist.
Continuation: Kindling the Present
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