Chapter 1: Another Try
Spoilers: "Strip Strangler" (122)
A/N: Rated 'R' for language, violence, and adult situations.
Summary: After the first decoy experiment fails, Sara avails herself for a second time.
Sara stalked back to the car with a scowl firmly set on her face, being escorted out by Grissom, his hand feather-lightly touching her back as he glanced over his shoulder, to the alleged suspect the Feds were currently reprimanding. They'd been so close. They'd found who they thought to be the Strip Strangler, but came up empty. Now there was a fourth murder to attend to at the Monaco casino.
Grissom grasped her elbow gently, his voice soft... soothing. "You stay here," he told her, "And ride back to the lab with the Feds. I'm going to meet up with Catherine at the Monaco."
"Fine," she grumbled, leaning against the FBI's special stake-out van. Her gaze fell to her shoes, until his voice brought her head back up.
She met his eyes, noting his now seemed a little bit more... harsh? Stern, almost. He gestured with his hands, like a baseball usher indicating 'safe.' "Just let it go..." he told her.
She shook her head lightly, her shoulder-length brunette strands shining under the parking lot's lights. "You know I can't," she murmured, narrowing her eyes slightly at her supervisor. Almost a year they'd been working together, and he still didn't understand how passionate she was about her cases.
The pair just exchanged a glance, before Grissom turned, shook his head just barely, and headed for the Tahoe; his head cocked slightly as he clenched and unclenched his fists. Sara watched him go and sighed, then slowly turned at the sound of another voice... "Sidle."
Special Agent Rick Culpepper stepped up to her, and she straightened her posture, holding her head up. "Yes?"
"We apologize that our operation was unsuccessful, but with your permission, we'd like to try again, at a different location." His sky blue eyes searched hers, looking for any resistance or reluctance.
Tearing her eyes briefly from his, Sara turned over her shoulder to glance at the empty spot where Grissom's Tahoe had just been. He would be so upset with her if she agreed to do it again, and she knew that. She knew he would lecture her about putting herself in harm's way. But she also knew that by following Grissom's rules, more and more women would die. The murders would pile up, and he would still be trying to figure this guy out. She turned back to Culpepper with a confident smile on her face. "Sure. I'll do it."
Now I just gotta find a way to keep this from Grissom... she thought.
When Grissom and Catherine had returned from the Monaco, Grissom headed off to interrogate the latest victim's husband. Sara stole this opportunity to pull Catherine aside. "I need to talk to you..." she muttered hastily, before grabbing the older woman's arm and practically dragging her to the break room.
Catherine wrenched her arm out of Sara's almost bruising grasp. "Easy there, Vice-Grip," she teased. When the young woman spun to face her, she searched her eyes. "What do you need?"
"I kind of agreed to something..." she began, "Something that I'm not so sure Grissom would be too pleased about."
"Sara, I already know you did that decoy thing for the Feds. I heard that didn't turn out all that great."
"It didn't," she sighed, "Which is why Culpepper asked if I would be willing to do it again."
Catherine cocked her head slightly, eyeing her warily. "You... didn't say yes, did you?"
Sara merely cringed, waiting for Catherine's reaction... and she got one quickly. Her aquamarine eyes widened, and she threw her arms up in the air. "Sara, what were you THINKING?! No shit Grissom's not gonna be too pleased!"
"Catherine, lower your voice," she hissed through clenched teeth, watching as Nick began to wander toward the break room. "And just relax. I'm doing this because we need to catch this guy. And we aren't gonna catch him very quickly using Grissom's methods." She pointed at her sternly when she began to scoff. "You KNOW it's true."
"What's true?" Nick asked, his Southern drawl filling the break room. He leaned between the two women to grab an apple from the center of the table, nodding a greeting at each of them as he grinned. "Ladies..."
They both rolled their eyes at his antics, Sara cracking just a hint of a smile as she folded her arms across her chest. "We were just discussing the possible methods for catching the Strip Strangler."
Nick tore a chunk out of his apple. "What are you talking about?" he asked, his full mouth muffling his voice.
Sara flinched as tiny pieces of apple landed on her collarbone, and she glared at Nick as she wiped them away. "God, didn't your mother ever teach you manners?" she quipped, receiving a toothy, apple-infested grin in return.
Catherine sighed, not up for dealing with Nick and Sara's childish flirting methods at the moment... and she jumped right into it. "Sara's gonna act as a decoy AGAIN."
"AGAIN?!" Nick practically shrieked, chunks of apple now flying through the air with wild abandon as he continued to rant, "You already put yourself in danger once, but twice? Sara, are you CRAZY?!"
Sara sighed, glaring disgustedly at him, and picked the pieces of apple from her hair before swiping at her face and neck area. "Okay, first of all, I'm not crazy. And second of all, if I get so much as ONE more piece of apple on me, you're gonna lose a valuable appendage!"
Nick glanced down at the apple in his hand, and, smiling sheepishly, placed it behind his back. He swallowed what was left in his mouth, before mumbling a quick apology. He sighed, setting his apple down on the table. "Sara, listen to me." He grasped her shoulders. "Okay, I really admire your dedication to your job and everything," he began, giving her a reassuring smile. With his next comment, however, the smile dropped. "But you're nuts. You're putting yourself in a position where you could get raped, or even worse... killed."
"I know, Nick," she reminded him, her hands reaching up to touch his elbows while his hands remained on her shoulders. "Believe me, I know." She shook her head. "I don't care."
"You don't care?!"
Catherine glanced down at her watch, sighing heavily. "Well kids, this has been entertaining, but it's about time I meet Grissom at that press conference." She headed for the door, calling a brief, "Later..." over her shoulder.
Nick and Sara took no notice. His sable eyes narrowed slightly, staring into hers. "How can you not care, Sara?" he asked softly. "You're telling me that you would be willing to die for the sake of a case?"
Her reply was immediate, and spoken with conviction. "Yes. In a heartbeat." She shook her head, gently pushing his hands from her shoulders back to his sides. "Nick, if you don't know by now how important these cases are to me, then..." she trailed off with a shrug, either not knowing how to finish her sentence, or not wanting to. She moved to brush past him, mumbling, "Wish me luck."
He reached out and grabbed hold of her hand, preventing her from leaving his sight. "Wait."
She spun silently to face him, squeezing his hand in response before threading her fingers through his. "What?"
"Sara," he whispered, "I know how dedicated you are to your job." He nodded emphatically. "Trust me, I know that. I believe in showing dedication to your job. But... to risk your life for it?" He shook his head, diverting his gaze to their clasped hands. His voice came out soft... deep. "I don't believe in that at all."
Her sable eyes met his as he glanced up, and for a moment they just stared sadly at one another. Sara slowly brought their clasped hands up, taking a step back as she disentangled their fingers, her tone mirroring his... "Then I guess that's the difference between us." She backed toward the door, never taking her eyes off his until he spun around, turning his back on her.
He placed his hands on his hips, glancing toward the ceiling as he blinked several times in succession, fighting to keep his emotions in check despite the sinking feeling he had that they were about to lose another CSI. He heard her voice when she'd reached the doorway. "Wish me luck, Nick."
He chuckled grimly, shaking his head as he whispered a defeated, "I can't." He then listened for the sounds of her walking out the door, and... quite possibly... walking out of their lives for good. He sighed. This would be Holly Gribbs all over again. Only this time, he mused, it would be ten million times worse. Not only had they all worked with Sara for a longer period of time than they'd worked with Holly, but... they'd actually all gotten to know her fairly well. Nick especially, it seemed. Out of everybody at CSI, he was most likely the one that knew her the best.
And he could admit to himself that he cared for Sara, deeply. The thought of her putting herself in danger to help out that asshole of a Fed, Culpepper, made his insides boil. Those damn decoy operations of his were going to do more harm than good. Sure, he agreed with Sara's view that Grissom's methods would take longer, but his methods were also safer. He had to face the obvious question... what if something went wrong? What if the Feds, despite all their high-tech gear and over-inflated egos, overlooked something very important? And something that could very well mean life or death for Sara Sidle.
"I gotta go with her," he muttered to himself, and he was out the door in a matter of seconds.
On the way out, he crashed into Grissom and Catherine, both of them holding their hands up and exclaiming a, "Whoa!" in unison. Grissom arched an eyebrow at his young CSI. "Off to the races, Nicky?"
"Did you guys see where Sara went?" he asked, his eyes flitting toward Catherine momentarily.
"No..." Grissom replied slowly, "Why?"
Nick held Catherine's gaze, and caught the minute shaking of her head, as if she was telling him not to say a word. He nodded once in understanding and turned to Grissom. "I just was looking for her... no reason."
"We haven't seen her, Nick," Catherine told him, and gave him a meaningful look while she squeezed Grissom's arm through his brown suede jacket. "Gil, let's go... we're gonna be late for that press conference thing."
After Grissom cocked his head and stared at Nick quizzically for a moment, he nodded and blindly followed the strawberry blond out to the parking lot. Nick sighed heavily, and glanced around the lab. Where the hell did she go?
Startled at hearing her name being shouted, Sara's head snapped up, the daze she'd been in fading into the background. When she saw Nick jogging toward her, her breath caught in her throat, and she cast a nervous glance over her shoulder... glancing through the window in the back door of the Fed van, toward the large white building where the Strip Strangler press conference was being held. She'd rode with Culpepper in secret, being told to wait outside until the press conference was over. Although, she mused, if they were having a press conference about having caught the Strip Strangler, was there really any need to do another decoy operation?
"Sara..." Nick bent at the waist when he reached her, placing his hands on his knees as he attempted to catch his breath.
She made a face, patting his back as he stood. "Easy, Wheezy," she teased, smirking as he glared at her in return. She turned serious, though her smirk still threatened to burst forth... she searched his eyes, allowing her own to wander over every inch of his face... noting the creases in his forehead and around his eyes, and the tension in his jaw. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm going with you," he whispered.
"Nick, there might not even be another decoy operation. Culpepper's pretty sure we've got the right guy in custody."
Nick shook his head. "No, we don't. Warrick told me what's going on with that guy. It's pretty certain that he killed his wife, but he was just copy-catting the Strip Strangler." He sighed. "So there WILL be another decoy op. And when there is, I'll be going with you."
"Because, Sara, I just..." He struggled with himself, wondering what his reasons really were. "I don't want anything to happen to you."
She smiled at his sweet nature, squeezing his shoulder where it met his neck. "Nick, I appreciate your concern, but ya know what? I'm a big girl. I'm quite capable of handling whatever could come my way."
"But what if something goes wrong? What if... what if you DO find this guy, and he starts strangling you, and pouring that sodium amytal down your throat?" He shook his head. "I don't think any of your self-defense classes covered what to do in a situation like that."
She sighed, folding her arms across her chest. She hated it when he could win an argument. "You're right," she quietly admitted, "But... the Feds will be there with me! I'll have backup!"
"Pfff!" He scoffed at this, mirroring her stance as he folded his arms across his chest. "Culpepper?! You think I'd trust Culpepper with looking after you? I couldn't trust Culpepper any further than I could throw him!"
"Why does somebody have to 'look after' me?" she countered.
"Didn't we just cover this? Something could go seriously wrong, Sara. I'm going with you... and I'm not taking any more arguments from you." He held up a hand to stop her as she once more opened her mouth, and smirked. "Sara, I've got an apple in the truck..." he warned her, "Don't make me use it."
She smiled and nodded, holding her hands up in resignation. "Point taken." She sighed. "Fine, you can come with."
He nodded, grinning triumphantly at her... before his eyes drifted to the window of the open rear van door just over her shoulder. He nodded toward it. "Look, there's Grissom and Mobley."
"Shit!" she hissed, and jumped into the back of the van, grabbing Nick by a belt loop and hauling him inside with her. She toppled in on her back, and with a grunt, Nick landed on top of her, his hands splaying out on both sides of Sara's abdomen to catch himself.
"What the hell'd you do that for?" he whispered, his breathing heavy from the abruptness of her actions.
She wriggled a bit underneath him, her own breathing heavy from his weight pressing on her. "I didn't want Grissom to see us," she whispered shakily. "It would look suspicious."
"And this doesn't?" he questioned with an arched brow, indicating their current compromising position.
She laughed, meeting his eyes as he winced. "What?"
"My gun jabbed into my leg when I landed on you... it hurts."
She grinned. "Oh, that's what that was." She chuckled. "I thought you were just happy to see me."
He shot her a look, narrowing his eyes at her. "Cute."
She shot him a Cheshire grin, shrugging her shoulders impishly. "Hey, I try." She squirmed under him a bit more, pausing as she heard his forceful exhalation. "If it's so uncomfortable, Nick, just get up..." she whispered, bringing her eyes up to meet his.
His mouth dropped open part-way, as if he was about to say something. Upon catching the look sparkling in her sable eyes, though, he closed it momentarily, before trying again. "I'm going to," he stammered unconvincingly, and cast a glance over his shoulder slightly. "I just... wanna make sure Grissom's gone first, before I do."
"And how will laying on top of me help you figure out when Grissom's gone?" she asked softly, something different in her tone, but undetectable.
Nick met her eyes once more, his own sparkling back at her. He smirked just slightly. "Are you complaining about having a gorgeous guy on top of you?"
"Hardly," she replied quickly... then her cheeks flushed crimson at her Freudian slip. "I mean..."
A boyish, mischievous twinkle sprung to his eye. "See, now a comment like that makes me think you don't want me to get off you."
She glared, pushing her fists against his chest, struggling to throw him off of her. "Don't flatter yourself, Nick," she snipped.
He just laughed at her, grabbing her fists in his hands and prying them away, holding them against the coarse carpet of the van. "Yeah, yeah, yeah..."
When her wrists hit the carpet, she gasped... this action drawing Nick's questioning glance back to her face. She just stared, frozen, into his eyes... and he reciprocated the gesture. An awkward silence settled over the pair as they contemplated what to do next, if anything.
Then, before he could process what was happening, Nick found his lips on her neck... found her arching against him, wanting more. His tongue branded her... left a trail of moisture along one side of her neck, while she just gasped and let out soft, barely audible moans... encouraging him. "Sara..." he whispered shakily, his hands gliding down to her hips and giving them a squeeze.
Culpepper's booming voice, drawing closer and closer to the van, broke them apart, both hurriedly sitting up and fixing any clothes that rumpled during the commotion. Nick stood, taking Sara's hand to help her up, and the pair met each other's eyes before simultaneously blushing and looking away. It was at this moment that Culpepper stepped up to the back of the van, his hands clasped behind his back as he eyed Nick. "CSI Stokes... what are you doing here?"
Nick nodded toward his brunette companion. "I'm with Sara."
Before she could stop it, a broad grin had made its way across her face at Nick's comment; and when both men turned to look at her, she spun away, the back door of the van suddenly becoming very intriguing. Culpepper just eyed her quizzically for a moment before turning to Nick. "What do you mean, you're 'with' her?"
"Well, a CSI was killed in the line of duty nine months ago, and I'm here to make sure that doesn't happen again."
Culpepper let out a tense chuckle, his teeth clenching for moment. "Mr. Stokes, that's what we're here for."
"Nonetheless, I'll be riding with you."
"I want him here, Culpepper," Sara chimed in, spinning around after she'd made sure any evidence of her grin was gone.
Upon noticing the CSIs' stances brooked no argument, Culpepper sighed in resignation. "Fine, he can tag along. But he's not interfering with the operation." With that, the special agent spun on his heel and strode off toward the sheriff.
Nick glared at his back and shook his head, folding his arms across his chest. "Tag along? Tag this, buddy, I'm not Huck Finn."
Sara rolled her eyes, grabbing hold of his arm. "Nick..."
A smirk slowly made its way across her lips, and she shook her head at him. "Shut up."