Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them; any others are mine, and if you want to play with them, you have to ask me first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
This is in response to the Elemental challenge at the Your Tax Dollars At Work forums.
Spoilers: none, but this is a futurefic.
of plastic crunched underfoot as they moved into the burned-out store.
It was hard to be careful--debris was scattered everywhere, and there
was no telling just yet what scorched or soaked scraps might be
pertinent to their investigation.
"So why does the owner think this was arson?" Sara peered down the beam of her flashlight, seeing water gleam from the puddled floor but looking beyond it.
"He has a sprinkler system," Warrick answered from her right. He shone his light upwards for a moment; in one of the peculiarities of fire, the vintage poster for "Singin' in the Rain" clinging to the wall by one corner was barely scorched. "Says he got it serviced last month. If this was an accident, it wouldn't have been so bad."
Sara stepped over a fallen rack of DVDs. The fire had wreaked serious havoc on the video store, and the firemen had wreaked more. "Hope he's got insurance." She blinked as the ruined ceiling dripped a little water on her face. "Lots of insurance."
"I hear you." Warrick pushed past a TV screen that had fallen from its overhead mounting and slid behind the register. The computer terminal was still sitting on the counter, but its screen was cracked; the keyboard was gone, though he looked down and saw a few keys scattered on the floor. He bent down to look under the counter; the shelf below held paper forms, again spared the flames; a chipped coffee cup; two half-empty bottles of soda; and a hairbrush. The fire hadn't done as much damage this close to the front of the building. "Any signs of accelerant?"
"Oh yeah." The satisfaction in Sara's voice made him grin, and he saw the flash of her camera.
The drawer below the terminal wasn't latched. Warrick slid it open with gloved fingers, then raised his head to gaze thoughtfully around the store. "Video" was fast becoming a misnomer, he reflected; the majority of the store's stock, for rental or purchase, was DVDs and computer games. "Hey, Sara?"
"Yeah?" She sounded distracted already, and he saw her camera flash again.
"I'm thinking this was a cover-up for robbery."
"Huh." She straightened from her crouch near the back of the store, and he saw her glance around. "Fire would be a good way to hide any loss of inventory." She turned to look at him, swinging her flash up so that the light diffused off of what was left of the ceiling. "What made you think of that?"
Warrick rolled the drawer back and forth gently. "The register still has the cash drawer in it...but it's empty."
Sara cocked her head. "The fire started an hour after closing. Shouldn't the drawer have been locked up in the safe?"
"Yeah. I'm thinking inside job, too." He took a photo of the drawer, and then moved on to the returned video drop--empty--and the cube fridge tucked into a corner. The reek when he opened it was bitter and familiar; six hours without electricity had exacerbated the deterioration of the carton of spoiled milk that sat cheek by jowl with a wilted sandwich. Warrick gave it all a cursory glance and then shut the door.
A peculiar groaning noise made him look up. It didn't sound human, but-- "Sara? Was that you?"
The noise came again, and he heard Sara curse. "Warrick! Get--"
A sharp crack blotted out her words, and then the sky fell on him, blotting him out.
Then the seat shifted as someone sat down next to her, and a strong arm slid around her waist. "He'll be fine, Sara," Grissom said, pressing a comforting kiss into her hair. "The doctor's very confident."
She relaxed against him, some of the tension leaving her. "Thank God," she muttered, meaning it, and widened her eyes against the image of Warrick's broad, clever hand lying so limp on the soaked carpet. It had been the only part of him not buried by the falling ceiling. "What did she say?"
Grissom's palm rubbed soothingly over her upper arm. "Concussion, which was to be expected; a few scratches and contusions. No broken bones, not even a cracked rib."
Sara exhaled slowly. "When can we see him?"
"Catherine's got first dibs, after his grandmother." Grissom released her, then took her shoulders in his hands. She turned her head, not willing to meet his eyes. "Sara..."
There was no hiding from him. "Y'know, if I'd spoken a little sooner--"
A gentle shake. "Stop it. The fire marshal cleared the place. It was supposed to be safe."
She finally looked at his face, and she could see the pain there, though the desperate worry of an hour before had eased somewhat. "But--"
This time the kiss was on her lips, a firm pressure lasting just long enough to make her stop talking. "You are not allowed to feel guilty about this," Grissom told her, half-stern, half-amused. "That is a direct order from your supervisor."
She couldn't prevent the small curling smile. "Mixing business and pleasure again, Griss?"
He snorted and let her go, and she picked up his hand and laced her fingers into his. "So who gets to talk to the fire marshal?" she asked, enjoying the warm squeeze he returned.
"Carvallo has already had that pleasure, I believe," Grissom said dryly. "And I'm thinking of aiming Catherine in his direction too."
"Oh, vicious!" Sara laughed. "You sure about that? It'll just mean another crime scene."
He shrugged, his face hardening. "One of my CSIs got hurt. That's inexcusable."
Sara didn't argue--she agreed with him. They sat in silence for a while; there would be no going home until they had at least seen Warrick with their own eyes. "Did someone call Nick?" Sara asked at last.
Grissom frowned. "Not yet. Since Warrick's going to be okay, I thought I'd wait until morning rather than waking up his family."
Sara nodded. "Sounds like a plan. Just tell him not to cut his vacation short, or he will."
"He's due back in two days anyway."
They lapsed back into silence, hands still intertwined. There was a lot of waiting involved in forensics, Sara mused, for test results or processes or red tape. But this was personal, and it definitely felt different.
Grissom's order notwithstanding, she couldn't help feeling as though she had failed Warrick. She'd yelled as soon as she'd realized the noise was coming from the ceiling, but she hadn't been paying attention, and because of that her colleague and friend lay wounded in a hospital bed instead of processing evidence and joshing with her. If she'd acted just a little sooner--
"To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late," she murmured to herself.
"And to be late is to be early for the next class," Grissom finished, making her jump. He raised a brow, a sardonic look. "What did I tell you?"
She laughed, caught out, and rested her head on his shoulder. He reached up with his other hand to touch her cheek briefly. "What would he tell you?" he added softly.
"Okay, okay," Sara muttered, giving in. They sat back and waited for Warrick, and for dawn.