Summary: After viewing a horrific accident, Sara makes some hard decisions about her life. Obviously, a Sara-centered story, but with lots of friendship and a little bit of G/S at the end.

Rating: R for subject matter

A/N: No real spoilers. The chapter titles are opening lines from Emily Dickinson poems.

Chapter 1 - Because I could not stop for Death

It was a scene every photographer dreamed of: A clear sky so blue it looked like the ocean. Early morning sunlight accentuating angles without washing out details. A soft breeze gently blowing a stray lock of hair from the face of a tall brunette with looks which suited a model.

The blood flowing freely from the face of the crying child she cradled in her left arm. Her right arm wrapped protectively around a stunned boy with an obviously broken arm. A blood-soaked child on her left side holding onto the woman with a death grip. Behind them the multi-colored flames dancing from the twisted wreckage of a school bus and the tractor trailer which had collided with it.

For freelance photographer Jim Hewitt it was a scene guaranteed to launch his career. He was more than a photojournalist; he was an artist. He recognized the emotional impact of the scene as he quickly finished off a roll of film and moved to reload his camera.

There were dead kids on that burning bus; this story would go international. His shot would rank with baby Jessica being pulled from the well or the firefighter with the dead kid in Oklahoma. And he was the only photographer here. He grinned at his luck.

It was just chance that he was on the scene minutes before the accident. That the woman who rushed to rescue the kids was going to photograph beautifully was a bonus. He'd be able to get his spare fixed now, maybe even switch to a professional digital camera with the money he'd make from these shots.

While he loaded another roll of film into his camera, the paramedics ran to the woman and took the children for treatment. One tall, blondish EMT reached out to touch the woman on the shoulder. Hewitt recognized the anger in her face as she jerked away from him. He hoped she'd wait until he had his camera ready before decking the man. Instead, he backed off apologetically and she shrugged in reconciliation. Oh, well. Hewitt quickly moved to get photos of the injured kids being loaded in the ambulances, screaming adults in the crowds, the firefighters trying to extinguish the flames.

'Life is good!' he cheerfully thought as he moved through the carnage.

Later, he saw the tall woman talking with the sheriff and some people in overalls with 'Forensics' on the back. A police officer was taking her statements. After a few minutes, she walked over to her Tahoe - Hewitt hadn't noticed the flashing lights before - and drove off.

Running to the sheriff, Hewitt hoped to get some additional details. Seeing the guarded look Brian Mobley gave him, the photographer poured on the honey. "Sheriff, want can you tell me about the woman," he nodded in the direction the Tahoe had gone, "who saved all of those children?"

Mobley, recognizing a PR bonanza, smiled as he walked towards the photographer.


It was just chance that Sara Sidle had been on that road as well. She was due at a seminar that afternoon and had left work on time so she could take a quick nap first. She was getting ready to turn off to her apartment when she noticed the truck lose control and crash into the bus. Training took in and she immediately hit her lights and called dispatch for backup as she pulled over.

Running to the bus, she saw children rushing to the rear exit - the front end of the bus was destroyed. She helped the children down and told those who were mobile to run to the median and stay there. She handed injured children to other adults now running over to help. She could hear screams coming from within, and quickly climbed in to assess the situation. Sara never felt the frantic hands that tried to grab her jacket.

The closest boy was in shock, holding his broken arm. She walked to him and led him to the back of the bus. She tried to ignore what he had been staring at; she couldn't tell if the bodies had been boys or girls. Across the aisle a young girl was frozen. She didn't appear injured, but was covered in blood. Sara decided it was probably arterial spray from the dead children in the seat beside her.

Sara quickly pulled the child up and directed her to the back. The boy was still standing there. Where were all the other adults who had been helping her?

Running towards the front of the bus, Sara tried to localize the cries. She found a small boy - was he even old enough to be in school? - crushed between his seat and the mangled front of the tractor. She gently rubbed his hand to comfort him, wondering how long until the rescue crew made it. He turned sad brown eyes to her and gave her a weak smile. "I'm sorry, Mommy," was the last thing he'd ever say.

Sara's stomach wrenched. She was dizzy and felt like vomiting. Another small cry caught her attention. Bending down, Sara found the girl under a seat. She was bleeding heavily from multiple cuts to the head and upper body. 'Windshield shards,' her mind automatically categorized.

Grabbing the small child, she lifted her carefully. She hoped the girl didn't have any spinal injuries, but Sara had seen the flames in the truck. There wasn't time to wait for the rescue crew. "Explains where everyone else went," she muttered.

Running carefully to the back of the bus, Sara tried desperately to see if there were any more children still alive. Reaching the end of the bus without finding any more victims, she climbed down with the bleeding child. She reached up and pulled the boy with the broken arm down, wincing at his yelp of pain. When she pulled the frozen girl down she started to cry silently and wrapped her arms around Sara's waist. Sara wrapped her other arm around the boy and led them quickly to the approaching paramedics.

She could feel the flames growing behind her. The small girl in her arm began to cry harder. Sara prayed she hadn't caused more injuries to these children.

She felt a surge of relief when the paramedics came running over with backboards. Handing the children over, Sara shrugged Hank's concerned hand off of her shoulder. He had lost any right to be concerned about her. When he apologized and offered to get another EMT to check her out, she relented and insisted she wasn't hurt.

A small explosion from the wreckage caused her to start. Sara's eyes filled with tears for the children she had been too late to save and their parents who wouldn't even have a body left to bury.

"I'm sorry, Mommy."

God, how many years would that give her nightmares?

Giving herself a mental kick, Sara pushed that thought down. The sheriff had arrived along with the day shift from the Crime Lab. She had a job to do; she was a witness. Trying to remember any detail which would help explain this tragedy, Sara walked towards her co-workers.

Sara never noticed the photographer gleefully snapping her pictures. Jim Hewitt would never know how lucky he'd been.


While Sara quickly stripped out of her bloody clothes and deposited them in an evidence bag, Hewitt rushed through processing his film. By the time Sara had showered, changed and grabbed a quick meal, he had called his old college roommate who now worked with the Associated Press.

Sara ignored her ringing phone as she rushed out of her apartment to head to the seminar. She grabbed a handful of CDs to listen to during the drive. Singing along with Blondie would help her ignore the scenes replaying in her mind.

Hewitt arranged a lucrative deal with the AP for his photos and exclusive interviews. So far, he was the only one who knew the full story about what happened. Sara rechecked that she had turned off her pager and cell phone before entering the seminar.

Various images of Sara spread via the wire service. She would be on the front page of every evening paper in the region. Web-based news sites had her image at the top of their pages. Sara meanwhile dutifully took notes on processing waterside crimes scenes - an ironic choice for a required course in Las Vegas.

Sara pulled into a fast-food drive-thru for a quick dinner. She had progressed from Blondie to Pat Benatar. If she had remembered to turn her phone and pager back on, she'd would have had some warning about what awaited her at work.

Entering the building, Sara was surprised by the number of people who greeted her warmly. She started when the receptionist called out for her to get her messages. The thick stack of paper surprised Sara. Shifting the bagged clothes she brought from home, she walked towards the break room and checked her cell phone. Then her pager. What the hell? People must have been calling her non-stop all day. Had something happened to her parents?

"Well, our celebrity decided to show up," Catherine's laughing voice caused Sara to jerk her head up. She stopped in the doorway, mouth hanging open.

"What is all this?"

Every flat surface in the room was covered in flowers and baskets. Balloons danced around the ceilings.

"Modest much?" teased Nick as he squeezed in between Sara and the door.

"Yeah, how many marriage proposals were in there?" Warrick added.

"What the hell are you talking about? What is all this?" Sara felt like she should be changing her name to Alice and chasing after rabbits full-time.

"This." Grissom's voice caused her to turn around. He sounded like he was halfway between anger and pride.

In his hands was the front page of the Las Vegas Sun. Her photo started just below the masthead and ran below the fold. The headline screamed "Rescued!" In smaller type, the subhead read: "LVPD CSI rushes burning bus to rescue kids".

Barely making it into a chair, Sara snatched the paper from his hands. Before she could start reading, though, Archie called out, "Sara's on TV now!"

"I'm what?"

Catherine gestured to the wall-mounted TV while turning up the volume. Sara watched - mouth open again - as CNN splashed various still photos of her pulling kids out of the bus and the now-famous final shot. She barely noticed the glowing interviews from witnesses, greatly exaggerating in Sara's mind what she had done.

"It wasn't on fire." Looking around, she saw her friends looking at her doubtfully. "The bus wasn't on fire. Not when I got on. I heard the kids crying, they wouldn't come out." She looked around again. "Guys, I did not go running into a burning bus. I ran out as soon as I saw the truck was burning and there weren't any more kids who were still..."

"It's okay, Sara. People need heroes. It's natural they would color the true story," Grissom said with a smile. He was pleased to hear her side of this; the thought of Sara rushing into a suicidal situation had upset him. There was a thin line between bravery and stupidity and she hadn't crossed it today.

"Yeah, girl, we all know how reliable witness can be," Warrick added with a grin. "So, how many marriage proposals? I know that big bouquet of roses over there had one."

"God, tell me you are joking? Please? These can't all be for me," Sara said.

"What's the matter, Sara? You prefer plants?" Catherine joked, deliberating avoiding Grissom's glare.

"There's more in the Sheriff's office. You may want to send them over to a nursing home or the hospital. Let the patients enjoy them," Grissom suggested.

"More? Who's sending me this stuff?" Sara sat in shock. In one day she had received - by several orders of magnitude - more flowers than previously in her entire life. Did she even know any of these people?

"That's a good idea, Grissom," she finally said. "Let me get the cards so I know who to send thank you notes to," pausing at the laughter greeting her.

"Sar, people sent those to you as a 'thank you'. I don't think you have to thank them back," Nick teased.

Sara tried to crash her head onto the table, but a singing teddy bear cushioned her blow. This was going to be a long shift.

"Wanna a friend for Billy?" Sara slammed the bear into Grissom's chest, trying to ignore the laughter.

"I'm sorry, Mommy." Dark eyes which would never see again haunted her.