ACQUAINTED WITH THE NIGHT

Disclaimer: Anyone/anything you recognise belongs to the people at CBS. I don't own Nick and Sara, unfortunately. I do get to lay claim to Emily, Savannah, Troy, Diane, and anything else you don't recognise. Oh, and, funnily enough, I don't own McDonalds.

Author's Note: While this is a sequel to Building Castles, you don't really have to have read that to understand this one. Of course, I recommend you read it, anyway...

The phrase used for the title, Acquainted With the Night, is borrowed from the Robert Frost poem of the same name in accordance with my tradition of pinching other people's phrases for my titles. Hey, if F. Scott Fitzgerald could take Tender is the Night from Keats' Ode to a Nightingale, I can do it too.

All constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain – and back in rain.

(Robert Frost)

***

CHAPTER ONE

"Mommy," said six year old Emily Stokes in her most ingratiating tone, "if I'm really good today, can we go to McDonald's tomorrow?" She beamed at her mother's reflection in the rear view mirror.

Sara rolled her eyes as Nick swung the car into the school parking lot. "You're as bad as your father."

"She learnt from the best."

"Please?" Emily begged, leaning between the seats to kiss her parents goodbye.

Sara sighed, her eyes meeting Nick's for a split second. "We'll see."

"That means yes!" Emily squealed, kissing her mother on the cheek.

"It means maybe," Sara corrected, kissing her back. "Love you."

"Love you too, Mommy, even if you won't let me go to McDonald's. Bye Daddy. Love you." Emily kissed Nick, too, then leaped out the door, school bag in hand, in pursuit of her friend Libby.

"We'll see you this afternoon," Nick shouted out the window as Emily caught up with Libby, her parents seemingly already forgotten. He put the car in gear again and swung out of the school, heading for the lab. They drove in silence for a while, Nick concentrating on the busy morning traffic, Sara staring out the window barely noticing what they passed. She could see Nick's reflection, albeit weak and transparent, in the window and that was what she was focusing on. Seven years. Seven years to get here.

"I'm sorry," she blurted out, abruptly, finally looking at her husband. "I... shouldn't have had a go at you last night."

Nick placed his hand over hers for a second before returning it to the wheel. "I can see where you were coming from. I do leave the bathroom in an awful mess sometimes."

"Yes, but I should have discussed it rationally, not..." Sara winced, remembering some of the things she'd said, or rather, whispered harshly so Emily wouldn't hear. "It's only the bathroom."

"I know." Nick smiled. "And you're a self-confessed control freak and I'm a self-confessed slob and that's bound to cause problems sometimes."

"I just want everything to be perfect," Sara confessed, not for the first time in their seven year relationship. "I've been trying to choose my battles, but..."

"It's not a war, Sara. We don't have battles. At least, I hope we don't. And no one's life is perfect. The harder you try, the worse things will get."

Sara looked at him, knowing logically that he was right, and smiled weakly. "What did I do to deserve you? I don't think there's another man in the world who could put up with me."

Nick pulled the car into the parking lot of the lab. "There's not another woman in the world I'd want to put up with." He grinned at Sara. "Ready to stop being my wife and start being my boss?"

Sara grinned back, glad she'd apologized. "I'm your boss all the time. Just you remember that."

***

Sara was sitting with her feet propped up on her desk, eating an apple as she spent her lunch break with her friend, Savannah Davies. Savannah was several years younger than Sara, and the highest ranked member of the shift after Sara and Nick. She was very smart, and very similar to Sara in a lot of ways.

The phone rang with the particular ring that signaled an in-house call. Sara took her feet off the desk rapidly, as if afraid the caller might see the day shift supervisor doing something so indecorous, and picked up the phone. "Sara Stokes."

"Sara, there's a call for you on line one."

"Okay, Ruth." Sara swallowed the bit of apple in her mouth. "Put them through." She heard the clicking sound of the call being transferred.

"Sara Stokes."

"Mrs Stokes, this is Jean Adams from Cedar Street Elementary."

Emily's school. Sara fought back the sudden urge to panic. "Yes?" she asked, trying to keep her voice calm. Why was she worried? It was probably just a routine phone call. Of some kind. Did schools do that? She couldn't remember from her own school days and Em hadn't been at school long enough... Calm down.

"Mrs Stokes – Emily's, uh, disappeared."

"What do you mean she's disappeared?" Sara demanded, in a dangerous voice she barely recognised as her own. Somewhere in the back of her mind she registered Savannah's bright green eyes staring at her, concerned.

"She went out with the others during the lunch break and she hasn't come back to class. None of the children have seen her."

"What about Libby Henderson? She's always with Libby."

"Libby spent lunchtime in the nurse's office with a stomach-ache. We've searched the school and there's been no sign of Emily."

"Have you called the police?"

"Yes, they're on their way."

"All right." Sara realised she had twisted the phone cord around her wrist and was cutting off the blood flow to her hand. She let the cord go. "Look, I'll just get my husband and we'll come down to the school, all right?" Her voice was measured now. Calm. That was good.

"All right. I'm – terribly sorry, Mrs Stokes."

Not wanting to hear the woman's platitudes, Sara hung up and looked at Savannah. "Well," she said, still in that calm tone, "my daughter's disappeared from school." Her brain suddenly lurching into motion, Sara picked up the phone and dialed reception. "Ruth, it's Sara. Can you put out a call to Nick? I need to see him. Now."

***

Nick was helping a young CSI write up the report for a case they'd just closed when he heard his own name over the intercom. "Nick Stokes, please meet Sara in her office."

Nick met his colleague's eye. "Can you finish this? I'll just go and see what Sara wants."

The young man nodded and Nick hurried out of the room, trying not to be worried. It wasn't like Sara to call him like that. Some nagging doubt suggested something was wrong, and this was only compounded when he opened the door to her office without knocking and discovered Sara sitting behind her desk with her head in her hands and Savannah Davies hovering anxiously nearby. "Sara?"

"I'll – take care of all that stuff," Savannah said hurriedly, with a quick glance at Nick as she almost scurried out of the office.

"Sara, what's happened?" Nick asked, fear clutching at his heart and stomach. "Has something happened to Em?"

Sara shrugged and raised her head. "The school just called. She's disappeared. Went for lunch with the rest of the class, didn't show up again. The police are on their way." She stood up. "I've put Savannah in charge."

"All right." Nick took her arm, needing her comfort as much as she needed his. He felt like his whole world had just collapsed. "Let's go. Who knows," he said, trying to sound hopeful, "they might've found her by the time we get there."

Sara didn't answer.

***

Diane looked at the girl in the back of the van. Somewhere in her mind she realised that the girl wasn't really her baby, wasn't really Melanie, but she looked so much like her... She needed this little girl, this girl with the big brown eyes and the wide grin. She needed her Melanie back.

Diane hadn't wanted to use the chloroform, but the girl hadn't listened, hadn't wanted to go with her mother. Fate had let Diane take the girl. She had been watching the playground as she always did and seen the girl alone, without the giggly friend she was usually with. If Fate didn't want her to have Melanie back, someone would have seen her, stopped her.

Diane wasn't sure where they were going. They had to leave Boston, get away from the imposters who called themselves Melanie's parents. They would head West and she wouldn't stop until she was sure they were safe. LA, maybe. And then they'd start a new life as mother and daughter.

Diane smiled to herself.

***

The shrill ringing of a phone tore through the soft dark quietness of a bedroom in Las Vegas, Nevada. Catherine Willows, feeling highly annoyed and mostly asleep, fumbled for the phone, cursing Warrick's ability to sleep through anything which made less noise than a tornado. "Willows... Grissom... this had better be good..."

As she listened, Catherine began poking Warrick in the side with one hand, trying to wake him up. He prised one eye open and stared groggily at her as Catherine finished talking to Grissom and hung up, immediately letting loose a string of swear words. "Please don't tell me you just told him we'd go in. We've worked five consecutive doubles and we're entitled to some sleep."

Catherine flopped down on the bed beside him. "I just told him we'd go in."

It was Warrick's turn to swear. "What's so important?"

"Emily's gone missing."

Warrick stared at her. "Nick and Sara's Emily?" When Catherine nodded, he swore again. "Someone's going to have to go through case files looking for someone who might have a motive to hurt them," she said.

"There's got to be thousands all over the country. Vegas, Dallas, San Francisco, New Hampshire, Boston..."

"I know." Catherine pushed herself out of bed. "We'll have to start with everyone they investigated who's been paroled or released recently."

"And Grissom wants us to do it?"

"He was just calling to let us know. He was going to get officers to do it, but I told him I'd help. If it was Linds..."

"All right. Of course we'll help. But what if it's not personal, what if it's just some freak off the streets who's got her? She could have just run away, gone for a walk, okay, maybe not. Not a six year old. Damn! Life doesn't get any easier for them, does it?"