Title: Proximity

Author: Grissomgal71

Category: Angst/Drama

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: Still not mine, still love doing stuff to them, still hoping for a lease or a loan or something! grins

A/N: A huge thanks to my beta, Grissom, for her help, support, and friendship. Thanks, as well, to Leddy and Jazzfan for their never-ending loyalty and for letting me 'bend their ears' whenever I needed to. You're the best, ladies! I know it's been a while, but I hope everyone enjoys my latest foray into CSI fanfiction! I also just want to take a moment to say that I'm glad everything worked out well over at CBS, after that debacle with the firings. Thank goodness TPTB saw the light and kept our team together. September 23rd isn't that far away now, folks! Enjoy!

Chapter 1: The Collapse

Gil Grissom and Sara Sidle got out of the Denali carrying their field kits and squinting into the orange brightness of the desert sunrise. The mineshaft enclosure leaned crookedly against the side of the rocky slope, seeming like the only sign of human development for miles. It was hard to believe that the dilapidated wooden shed led to vast caverns where hopeful prospectors once hunted precious metals.

Complete focus engaging, Grissom moved purposefully toward the mine opening. Even Sara's long-legged strides couldn't quite keep pace with him, and she had to jog a little to catch up. When she was next to him again, she asked, slightly out of breath, "So, who found this guy, Grissom?"

His eyes remained trained forward on his goal of the wooden entrance as he answered. "A construction worker from a site about a mile away found the body. According to Brass, he had been looking for a quiet place to have breakfast before reporting to work, and he stumbled across this old mine. He noticed that the boards covering the entrance had been pulled off. Then, when he got closer to the opening, he smelled something…unpleasant." He finally turned toward Sara, and they exchanged a knowing glance. "He looked inside, saw the dead guy, and ran back out again. That's when he called the police. So here we are."

They had reached two vehicles parked next to each other—one was the coroner's van and the other was an ambulance. As they came around the side, they saw the coroner's assistant, David Phillips, talking to two young men in EMT uniforms. "Hey, David," Sara greeted.

"Hi, Sara," he replied, smiling shyly at her. He completely ignored Grissom, choosing instead to stare at the brunette object of his not-so-secret admiration.

"So, David, what have we got?" Grissom asked.

David didn't seem to hear the CSI supervisor; he was too busy ogling Sara.

Grissom smiled to himself as he noticed the coroner's distraction. He cleared his throat loudly and tapped the younger man on the shoulder. "David?" he repeated.

David turned, finally realizing that Grissom was also there, right next to Sara. "Oh, sir," he replied, quickly appointing his most respectful tone. "I'm sorry, sir. What did you say?"

"I asked you what our status was."

"Right," David began. "The paramedics were called in, but it really wasn't necessary. The guy was obviously dead. The decomposition isn't that far along, but the telltale odor was quite noticeable. We'll be able to get a more exact TOD when we get him on the autopsy table, but I'd say he's been dead for at least twenty-four hours."

Grissom glanced down at the crisscrossing of shoeprints leading to the mineshaft. Studying them from several different angles, he clicked his flashlight on to illuminate the shadowed areas. Then he squatted down for a closer view, cocking his head curiously. "Hey, fellas?" he called to the two EMTs who were getting back into their rig.

The two men exchanged glances, then climbed out of the cab and walked over to Grissom.

The CSI supervisor stood. "Did you guys leave these tracks?"

They looked down at the sandy ground, then back up at Grissom. "Uh…yes, sir," one of them began. "We walked up to the old mine and then back. We didn't have to go in, since we could see the body from the entrance."

"Thanks guys. You can go now," Grissom told them. "How about you, David?" he inquired, turning toward the coroner. "Where did you walk exactly?"

"I tried to step wherever the EMTs did," David explained. "I stayed behind them. When we got to the shaft, they stopped at the edge and I went in. The dead guy was only about eight feet in, leaning against the right side of the cave. I did my best to hug the walls and stepped over to the guy to pronounce and take a liver temp. Then I went back out the way I came. I tried to step where the others stepped on the way out, too."

"Okay, thanks, David," Grissom said, when the other man finally finished his report. He turned to Sara. "Let's go check out the body."

She nodded at him.

"We'll call you when we're ready, David," Grissom told him, before he and Sara began walking toward the mineshaft.

They both shined their lights onto the ground. "Didn't you want to take sample treads from the EMTs to exclude their shoeprints?" Sara asked.

"We don't need to," he clarified. "Whatever evidence had been on this path has been obliterated."

Looking down at the overlapping indentations, she had to agree.

"But, our dead guy might have entered the mine from a different direction," Grissom pointed out. "So, why don't you take the left and I'll take the right?"

"Sure," Sara answered.

"And make sure to step carefully, Sara. These may be the only clues we get."

"Don't worry, I will."

They each began slowly walking along their assigned side of the path. Sweeping their beams in long, horizontal arcs, they made sure to step down only on clean ground. They had made it almost to the mine entrance when Grissom suddenly announced, "I've got something."

Sara finished her sweep before joining him on the other side. He was hunkered down next to some shoe indentations in the dirt, photographing them.

"What did you find?" she asked him.

"A single set of footprints coming from the south, running directly into this main path and then into the mine."

She watched as he snapped several more pictures. "Do you want me to cast one of the prints?" she inquired, putting down her kit and starting to open it.

"No," he replied.

She was a bit surprised at his answer, and she just stood there, staring at his profile, her mind working.

"It's just a single set," he went on, pretending not to notice her confused silence. "These tracks could belong to the dead man. Let's see what kind of shoes he's wearing before we decided these prints are unknown."

He twisted his head around to look up at her, and she nodded in response, although she was mentally kicking herself for not having been able to follow his logical line of thinking.

Grissom reached into his kit and pulled out a tape measure. Extending it next to one of the shoeprints, he said, "Looks like a…twelve-and-a-half."

"We'll have to see what size shoes our guy is wearing."

He stood up, grabbing his kit, and then they both headed for the wooden entranceway, stepping cautiously. But there were no other discernible prints on the way to the mine opening.

They noticed several wooden planks lying on the ground that had obviously been pried off the entrance to the mine. The wood was old, faded, and dotted with rusty nails. Sara went to pick up a piece, but it practically disintegrated in her hand. "Well, we're not going to get any prints from these," she pointed out unnecessarily.

Grissom nodded in agreement. He bent down to turn over one of the rotted two-by-fours, and saw the hand-lettered sign still attached to it that warned: NO TRESPASSING. "I guess somebody doesn't read," he said, glancing toward Sara.

"I guess not," she replied.

He stood again. "Let's go in."

"Right behind you," she promised as she followed him into the dark passage.

They shined their bright flashlights into the blackness of the cavern. The walls were rough, strewn with rocks and sparkling flecks of metal. There were thick wooden support columns and overhead beams every fifteen feet or so. Cobwebs, along with other evidence of animal and insect life, were everywhere. The air inside was stale, hot, and dense with hanging dust and dirt.

After a visual sweep of the front part of the mine, they turned their beams to the body leaning against the right wall. They both crouched down close to the dead man and moved their lights over him.

He was curled up in a fetal position, his eyes closed. He was an older man—probably in his mid-sixties. His face was unshaven and dirty, and the similarly worn state of his clothing seemed to support the fact that he was most likely homeless. Grissom and Sara's twin circles of illumination danced over the dead man's face, and down his body to the wine bottle clutched between his hands.

"No sign of struggle, no visible injuries," Grissom said. He looked behind them at some shoeprints in the dirt. "A single set of tracks leading right to our dead guy." Shining his light on the man's feet, Grissom took note of the tread pattern. "The shoes he's wearing match the prints in here and outside. And if I had to bet, I would say he's exactly a size twelve-and-a-half. There's no evidence of anyone else being in here in recent memory. It could have been a heart attack or stroke—looks like natural causes."

Sara agreed with him for the moment. "It does seem like he could have just DFO'd. We'll have to wait on Robbins and toxicology to be sure, though."

"Yeah." He checked over the body one more time by flashlight. "Why don't you bag the bottle and then let David know he can come in and get this guy?"

"Sure, Gris," she replied with a small grin. She watched him move a bit further into the cave, his bobbing bulb illuminating some of the dark corners. She knew he was continuing to search because that was what they did. They searched until they found the truth. She had a feeling Grissom wasn't satisfied that this guy "done fell over." He had to be sure there was no foul play involved.

Sara slipped the wine bottle out of the corpse's grip and placed it in a plastic bag, which she sealed and labeled. Then she stepped outside to tell David he could collect the body. As the coroner and two assistants rolled a gurney to the mouth of the mine, Sara followed behind. The three guys began loading up the dead man, and Sara went back into the stuffy interior of the cave, looking for Grissom.

She found him crouched in the middle of the passage, right around the location of the first support column. He was obviously studying some possible piece of evidence that he thought might be related to their case.

"Did you find something?" Sara asked, coming up behind him.

"Maybe. I'm not sure." He stood and they both shined their flashlights onto the very small, sparkly item he held between his fingers. They squinted, trying to make it out in the dimness.

"Why don't you bag it, and we'll look at it out in the light where we can actually see," she suggested. "Besides, it's like an oven in here. I need some fresh air."

Grissom was also feeling the effects of the thick, constricting air. The further they moved back into the mine, the hotter it got, and the more difficult it became to breathe. "Yeah, let's get out of here," he agreed. "I didn't see anything else by flashlight, and it's much too dark to do any accurate evidence gathering. If we need to, we can always come back with spotlights."

He took a step toward his kit to grab a bindle for what he had found, but Sara reached out suddenly and grabbed his arm. "What?" he wondered, aiming his flashlight toward her face, and catching a look of unmistakable intensity on her features.

"Did you hear that?" she asked him.

"Hear what?" He cocked his head to try to discern the sound that had caught her attention.

Before she could describe it to him, a distant burst of sound made its way to their ears. It was similar to the rumbling she had heard a moment ago, but noticeably louder. "What was that?" she wondered, a tinge of panic to her voice.

"I don't…" he began, but his words were cut off as a deafening roar suddenly filled the thick air. The floor started quaking beneath their feet, and pebbles and chunks of rock fell from the walls and ceiling of the mine.

As their anxious glances flicked around, trying to process what was happening, a sharp crack sounded directly above their heads. Grissom's eyes and flashlight beam shot upward as he saw the huge support beam overhead starting to give way. There was another earsplitting crack, and he knew the thick beam was about to splinter in two.

Instinctively, he screamed, "Look out!" and pushed Sara roughly out of the way, just as the wood above him broke with one last groan and snap. Huge amounts of dirt and debris poured down on top of Grissom.

Sara slammed into the wall of the passage, the breath forced out of her lungs. As she slid limply to the ground, she could faintly see the curtain of earth and rubble rain down where Grissom had been standing, completely engulfing him and blocking him from her sight. "Grissom," she called weakly, right before everything went totally black.

To Be Continued…