DISCLAIMER: CSI is the property of CBS and Jerry Bruckheimer.
THANKS: To fewthistle for the beta and zennie for the prompt.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The bar was dark, the reflective light from the casino muted by the smoked glass and mahogany bar. An oasis of subdued pleasure amidst the desert of flashing lights and fleeting joys. Head bowed, eyes downcast, Sara toyed with her drink. The colourful label had already been stripped from the bottle's surface and tiny swirls of condensation painted on its sides.
"Do you plan on drinking that?"
Sara looked up into a pair of concerned blue eyes. Sofia's smile was as false as her own and soon the two women found themselves neighbours on adjoining stools, a forgotten beer in front of them both.
Silence lingered and the sombre tone became oppressive.
"We did all we could," Sofia eventually confided. "They were dea--"
"Don't." A hand waved in her defence, Sara cut off all mention of their previous case and the images that were still haunting her. "I can't talk about that now."
Sofia would have pressed, her mother having warned her time and again about the dangers of suppressing her feelings when it came to the horrors of her work, but on this occassion she was as loathe as Sara to relive the nightmare they'd just witnessed.
"Do you come here often?"
The falsely cheery question brought a smile to Sara's face. "That sounds like the kind of pick-up line Hodges would use."
With the shake of her head Sofia disagreed, "He's much more of a 'what's your sign' kind of guy."
Sara's smile widened. "Are you speaking from experience?"
"No, thank God. You?" Sofia interpreted Sara's sour look as a 'no'. "I wish I could say the same about some of my new colleagues."
Sara looked far too amused. "Have some of our boys in blue been hitting on you?"
"Had. Past tense." Sofia motioned to the bartender and exchanged their forgotten beers for something a little cooler. "Apparently hitting on a CSI is fine, but the second that CSI becomes a cop, all those lewd remarks and propositions become embarrassing."
Sara thought back to the weeks following her unsuccessful attempt to invite Grissom to dinner. There had been a few embarrassing silences and a lingering sense of 'what if' but it had never impeded their working relationship. Perhaps the difference lay in their already established friendship and respect for each other's work.
"Let me guess, Vartan?"
Sofia nodded. "How did you know?"
"He has a thing for beautiful blondes." Sofia looked at her sharply, but Sara appeared unaware of the compliment she'd just bestowed. "I overheard him talking about Catherine a few years ago, but he never went as far as asking her out."
"Should I feel honoured?"
Sara slowly began peeling the label off her second beer, her gaze fixed on the crumbling paper. "I've never managed to beat Catherine in the desirability stakes, so I guess you should."
"You're wrong." Sofia moved Sara's bottle out of her reach and in the process gained the other woman's full attention. "As far as I'm concerned, Catherine doesn't hold a candle to you, and I'm not the only one who thinks so." She held up her hand to stop Sara's interruption and then used her extended fingers to count off the list of names. "There's Greg, Grissom, Mia, Archie, Ortega, Dave--"
Sofia handed back the bottle. "He gets this little smile on his face whenever he sees you. It's nothing his fiancée needs to worry about, but it's there."
"How do you know? I don't just mean about Super Dave, I mean all of them. Did you take a poll or something?"
The comment was light-hearted enough but Sofia could detect a real trace of anxiety beneath. She just couldn't decide if it was the idea of all those people finding her desirable that upset Sara, or Sofia being interested enough to take note.
"It doesn't take a genius to notice Greg's interest and you're the only person I know who scares Grissom, and that's a sure sign of his interest. As for the others, you're not the only one who overhears the odd conversation or two."
The more Sofia talked of her desirability, the more reserved Sara became, until eventually they were left in silence. The drone of the air-conditioning changed pitch and a chill worked its way down Sofia's spine, prompting her to reach for her wallet.
Sofia shook off the apology. "Every time I think we're getting past this antagonism you--" As her voice trailed off Sofia laid a pile of bills on the bar. "Goodnight Sara."
Sara's hand on her arm stopped Sofia's retreat but it was the quietly voiced 'please' that convinced her to retake her seat.
The silence that descended following Sofia's return was one of impending revelation and distress, as Sara searched her mind for the words she needed to explain her behaviour and at the same time make sense of it to herself. It was the kind of talk that should happen late at night, snuggled together before the fire, tissues and understanding touches within reach. Not in some dingy bar off the strip after a very disturbing day.
Sofia stuck out her hand. "Hi, my name's Sofia."
Sara just looked at her.
"New beginnings," Sofia explained. "No work, no past, no expectations, just two women meeting in a bar and sharing a drink."
"All right." Sara hesitated a moment before reaching out to shake Sofia's hand. "I'm Sara."
The silence that followed was filled with half smiles and racing minds.
"It's been so long since I've just sat down and talked to a stranger for no other reason than just to get to know them that I've forgotten how," said Sara.
Sofia chuckled. "The last time I spoke to a woman in a bar we finished the evening half naked in the back of her Volvo--" The startled look in Sara's eyes quickly derailed that anecdote. "Are you from Vegas?"
"No." There was that moment of possibilities, where you were able to reinvent yourself and the stranger sitting before you would never know. It was an illusion, of course, because Sofia already knew more about Sara than made her comfortable, but the draw of the illusion was too strong. "I grew up in San Francisco."
"The city by the bay." Sofia smiled, accepting the lie. "That must have been nice."
Childhood fantasies cascaded through Sara's mind and settled in her heart. Her long forgotten world of make believe bringing a smile to her face. "We lived on Russian Hill, in this beautiful old house my great-grandfather had built in the thirties. It had wooden floors and a half veranda, and on summer nights my brother and I would be allowed to snooze in one of the hammocks while my mother played old gramophone records for our neighbours."
"Did your father ever join you?"
"No." Sara's smile was momentarily blinding. "There was just the three of us."
Pieces began to fall into place and suddenly Sofia felt as if she was prying, but she couldn't stop from wanting to know more. "It sounds like a peaceful life."
"Not really. My mother used to work for an advocacy group, so we spent a lot of time helping her fold leaflets and standing on street corners handing out flyers and shouting slogans."
"Wasn't that dangerous?"
"Oh no, there'd always be a group of us, and occasionally one of my brother's friends would bring his guitar and we'd all start singing and dancing with the passers-by. We were arrested a couple of times, but my mom always managed to sort things out." Her smile brightened. "She would march into the police station and go toe to toe with the custody sergeant, accusing him of violating our civil rights and destroying the entire fabric of society." Sara chuckled. "I think the only reason they let us go was so she'd leave."
"Not my mom, she'd have stood her ground and traded insult for insult until the cows came home, then--" Sofia's voice faltered as she remembered they were supposed to be inventing their lives, not reliving them.
Sofia shook her head. "Strangers in a bar, remember?"
"Strangers sometimes tell the truth," Sara countered. "And I want to know."
It seemed right, to tell the truth, especially after Sara's lies had revealed so much of what was hidden beneath. "My mom loved a good argument but she'd have ended up bringing yours home for dinner and a fine bottle of wine." Sofia sipped from her beer. "It didn't happen often but there would be days when I'd walk into the kitchen and find my mom and dad sitting around the table with some stranger, shouting and laughing and talking about things I didn't understand. As soon as they saw me, my dad would pick me up and put me in his lap and whisper in my ear that they were in the middle of changing the world."
"Maybe my mom was one of those strangers?"
"No," Sofia disagreed. "Those strangers always ended up friends, their kids and partners sitting around our dining room table on a Sunday evening, listening to music and talking big." Her eyes lingered on Sara's mouth before transferring to her eyes. "If you'd have been there I would have remembered."
Sara's eyes dimmed and reality invaded her fantasies. "No one remembers the shadows."
"I could never forget you." Taking her hand, Sofia forced Sara to meet her gaze. "Never."
Sofia's hand remained long after her words had trailed away and Sara realised that she didn't want her to let go. "Was your father a policeman, too?"
"No." With slow deliberation Sofia allowed her fingers to trail along the plane of Sara's hand, memorising the texture and contours of the skin beneath her touch. "He taught freshman chemistry."
"A scientist and a cop," Sara sighed, the urge to remove her hand at odds with the desire to prolong the contact. "So I guess you finally decided to follow in your mother's footsteps and not his."
A wave of guilt gave Sofia pause and she slowly withdrew her hand.
"One of my earliest memories of my dad is sitting beside him at the kitchen table, watching the clock and waiting for my mom to get home. For years we kept up a vigil every time she had to work late. The underlying fear that one day she wouldn't come home both real and unspoken." She took a swallow of her beer. "Even later, when my mom was home and filling my head with silly stories about forgetful thieves and jaywalking priests, I could never forget the fear in my dad's eyes."
"But you still became a cop."
Sofia nodded. "Because she always came home, but he didn't." She wiped at her eyes, angry at the moisture that had gathered, but unashamed of her grief. "A car jacking on his way to work."
It was Sara's turn to reach out and offer comfort, Sofia's hand wrapped securely in both of hers.
"No. I'm the one who should be sorry. We're meant to be cheering each other up and I go and--"
"It's okay," Sara interrupted, a smile lightening her features as she squeezed their joined hands. "Now tell me about that woman in the Volvo."
Pink tinged Sofia's cheeks and a smile transformed her face as memories of that evening replayed in her mind. "It was a long time ago."
"And we met in a bar, had a few drinks and she invited me back to her place." Pink darkened to red as Sofia spoke, "We were parked in the driveway of her house, the windows steamed and my jeans halfway down my thighs, when I heard a knock on the glass. I'd barely managed to cover myself when a man opened the door and shone a flashlight in my face."
"You were caught?"
"Yes." Sofia did her best to ignore Sara's amusement. "It turned out that she was married and her husband didn't take too kindly to being woken up at three in the morning by one of his wife's 'booty calls'."
Laughter rose in Sara's throat but she did her best to quell the response. "So, I guess I don't have to worry about her storming in and accusing me of holding hands with her girlfriend?"
"Anyone else I need worry about?"
"No." Sofia wasn't sure if they were still two strangers swapping stories or two colleagues flirting with the idea of taking things further. "Should I be on the lookout for someone shouting accusations?"
"Not unless you find Greg's puppy dog eyes threatening."
Reality had been re-established and it left them both feeling slightly overexposed. Their conversation was both innocent and laced with something more than friendly chatter. Their clasped hands more than just a sign of comfort. It was that uncertain time when nothing definitive has been said but they both knew things had changed.
"What happens now?"
Sofia didn't have an answer. "Nothing, everything, something."
"That narrows it down."
"If you really were a stranger I'd ask you to come home with me." Sofia shook her head. "That's a lie. If you were a stranger I'd suggest we get a room."
"And if I was a stranger I'd say 'yes'."
"But we're not."
"We could pretend."
The idea was tempting but Sofia knew it would only complicate an already complicated situation. "Perhaps for tonight but tomorrow, when we pass each other in the corridor, I won't be able to forget. I'm just not that good a liar, especially to myself."
"I've lied to myself for years."
"Then maybe it's time you stopped."
Some lies run too deep to be brushed away and Sara's ran deeper than most. Not the whimsy of a perfect childhood or the lies of attraction that allowed her the safety of Grissom's distance. The lies she feared were those of strength and worth; lies that masked the truth from her own eyes.
"It's been a long day." She released Sofia's hand. "I think it's time we said our goodnights."
"Just like that?"
"We're just strangers in a bar, trading stories. Everything else is an illusion."
As Sara moved away from her stool, Sofia wrapped an arm around her waist. "Come upstairs with me."
Sara shuddered, the whispered words trampling over her defences "As strangers?"
"No. As friends. As lovers. As the truth."
Sofia's kiss was gentle but sure, her touch fleetingly reverent. "That's for us to decide."
"And tomorrow," Sara hesitated. "When we pass each other in the corridor. What happens then?"
"That's easy." Releasing her hold, Sofia took Sara's hand in her own and began leading her towards the lights of the casino. "I look at you and for a second I forget everything but how much I want to be the one walking by your side, and then, as our eyes meet, we share a smile that is just for us and in that moment we both remember tonight and, hopefully, look forward to what the new day will bring."
"It's that simple?"
"No. It's that complicated."
Sara stopped, her hesitancy dissolved. "Hotel rooms are for strangers and liars." She pulled on their joined hands. "Come home with me."
Return to C.S.I. Fiction
Return to Main Page