Author's Note: Thank you kindly for the reviews. For everyone who is curious, I didn't invent Sara's condition – nyctalopia is an actual condition, also know as congenital night blindness. I researched it a bit on ocular condition websites, so while all the facts might not be straight, I shall work on making them so. If you'd like an actual description, here's an abbreviated version:
Nyctalopia: An eye disorder that principally affects the rod photoreceptors in the retina, impairing night vision. There may also be moderate to high myopia (short sightedness). Under good lighting conditions, there is usually no visual deficit.
Inter caecos regnat strabo – Among the blind, the squinting rule. (Erasmus)
The first thing Sara noticed about the crime scene was the lack of light.
The actual scene was a large house, hacienda style, reminiscent of the times of slavery and plantations in the south, set on the very outskirts of the furthermost reaches of the city. This was a rich neighborhood, the habitat of doctors, business owners, renowned lawyers and such. The lawn outside was enormous and should have been considered a park in its own right; grass impeccably looked after, large, graceful weeping willows, enormous flower beds bursting with blooms of every imaginable color. Parked in the faux cobblestone driveway were a myriad of vehicles; three cars of the LVPD with all lights blazing, the coroner's van, and her own ebony Tahoe.
She was the first CSI on the scene, as she had been the only one at the lab when the call came in; Warrick and Grissom were just putting the wraps on their double homicide, Nick was working solo on a robbery/assault, and Catherine had a week off. Sara was unsure whether she'd been assigned to the lab because Grissom now knew of her condition, or whether she'd actually been needed there. Whatever the reason, she refused to dwell on the implications, but she couldn't suppress the sense of foreboding than ran through her when she received Brass's call. And following that ominous sensation came grief, because already she was doubting her ability to do her job.
The job she loved.
Pulled from her reverie, she turned to find Brass regarding her questioningly. She shook her head once, dispelling her worry, and flashed him a quick smile. He studied her for a moment longer, and she firmly quelled the urge to fidget. She knew he had suspicions about how she spent her free time; indeed, if he ever caught wind of her DUI a couple months ago ...
"Thanks for coming down." Brass said, and it struck Sara as a very uncharacteristic thing for him to say.
"No problem." She said briskly, and took a look around. They stood now in what was obviously the parlor. The interior style of the house was at odds with the exterior; everything, from the furniture to the decorating, screamed colonial. She squinted, trying to see into the rooms beyond the one they now stood in, wondering why it was so dark, and had just opened her mouth to ask when Brass, anticipating the question, answered.
"It seems the fuse box for this place has been ripped apart. Perp's work, probably. Shouldn't be a big deal. You CSIs work in the dark all the time."
It was meant to be a joke, a comment to be taken lightly, but something inside Sara tightened at his words; reality, briefly forgotten, came rushing back at her. Sensing she was still under scrutiny, she screwed her face into some semblance of a smile and nodded again. "Right. I guess I should get started."
Brass gestured to the right, where a spiral staircase rose from the wings of the parlor. "Body's up there. David went up a few minutes ago. I'll wait down here for Grissom."
Sara sucked in a breath as she turned and walked to the stairs. The only light working in this house was the one in the parlor, and as she climbed slowly to the second floor she realized with a sinking sensation that she was going to have to rely solely on her flashlight to see. Once upon a time, that hadn't been a problem, but now ... Outside, night was only minutes away.
I shouldn't be here.
She had come to a dead stop at the top of the stairs without realizing it. And it was then she realized the severity of this situation; she was terrified of continuing on, of learning how much further her vision had deteriorated.
She glanced down, to see Brass watching her. A flush suffused her cheeks, and she wondered with no small measure of bitterness whether he could notice that small detail in this dim light.
"Are you alright?"
"I ... yeah, I'm alright." And very quickly she left the landing, to make her way to a doorway from which a flashlight beam emanated. She paused then, setting down the kit she carried and withdrawing her own flashlight; she switched it on, careful to avoid shining it in David's eyes where he knelt at the side of the corpse. She took several hesitant steps into the room until she was at the coroner's side, and then she crouched. David, who had once been constantly flustered around her, but had seemed to gain some measure of confidence in her presence, offered her a tenuous grin. She conjured one of her own by way of greeting, and asked, "What do we have?"
David launched into an account of the DB's condition; lividity around the wrists and ankles, possible ligature marks ... as Sara listened to him speak, she tried to make out all those details on the DB with her own eyes -
And found she couldn't.
She could discern, just barely even in the powerful beam of their flashlights, that the corpse was that of a female, and that she was partially unclothed. She couldn't make out any specific details of the clothing, nor could she distinguish any features on the face that stared upwards with clouded eyes. David had finished speaking, and was waiting for her to give her input. Struggling desperately to maintain some facade of control and calm, she merely nodded and stood.
"Thanks, David. I'll ... I'll take a look around in here, see what I can find."
Apparently her bluff had worked, because he flashed her another smile and returned to examining the dead flesh before him. Sara returned to the door to grasp her kit, and then reentered what she slowly realized was a bedroom – a master bedroom. It was enormous; easily three times the size of her own. Scanning the room slowly with her flashlight, she found that there was a king size four poster bed, an armoire of heavy wood, a dressing vanity, and a couple of night tables. In the far corner, opposite of the door she had entered, she saw that there was an adjoining bathroom. She made her way there slowly, still scanning and attempting to convince herself she could do this efficiently. Something caught her eye almost immediately as she ran the beam over the tiled floor: shards of something – glass? - glittered back at her. Intuition made her raise the light to above the sink, and a shattered mirror stained with something dark greeted her gaze.
"Bingo," She murmured, and began to work.
Kneeling amid the shards, cataloguing them, her mind entered a familiar place, and she was aware only of her own theories, her own thoughts, tracing a path from the mirror to the body in the other room. Everything disappeared but for the methodical process of analyzing and deducting. And when she suddenly, out of instinct, looked up and saw that someone she could not recognize was looming in the doorway, she reacted, panicked, by coming to her feet and stumbling back. Her back struck the wall hard; seconds later her head impacted with something metal that produced a muted ringing sound, and with a strangled cry she fell to her knees.
Grissom. It was Grissom, and she had been afraid because she couldn't see him!
"Grissom - I'm sorry ... You scared me." She gasped, clutching at the back of her head and willing the throbbing pain to subside.
"Are you okay?"
She could hear him coming closer, walking carefully around the marked shards of glass; pieces that were too small to take note of were ground under his shoes. He crouched beside her, and she felt gentle fingers removing her own from the point of impact before probing through her hair. He said quietly, after his hand fell away, "I didn't mean to scare you."
She knew he hadn't. She also knew that he knew the real reason for her panic; unnecessarily, she began to explain. "Griss ... I couldn't see you – I didn't know it was you ..."
He was silent, and she cast him a glance, only to find that his features were shrouded, hidden from her by the dark. He came to his feet and offered his hand, but she ignored it and rose on her own. Feeling almost blindly behind her, her hand came in contact with something cold and narrow, and she realized that what had wounded her was merely a towel rack.
"Sara ... how bad is it?"
There was no trace of concern in his voice, no trace of empathy. He was the supervisor, wanting to know how badly compromised her position had become. Her throat suddenly tight, she said, "I can't see your face."
Another silence. And then, "Why did you let it go this far?"
Suddenly she was angry, irrationally so. "Why did you let your condition deteriorate so far?"
A sigh - one of impatience? She couldn't tell, not without seeing his expression, and she clenched one fist in frustration. She said in a tight, controlled voice, "This is the first time in a long time that I've had a scene this dark, Grissom. Usually there's some form of lighting, and I don't just have to rely on my flashlight. I didn't know –"here she paused, realizing her voice had risen, and after a deep breath she continued more softly, "I didn't know that it was already this bad in – in conditions like this."
He said nothing, and his long silences were wearing at the already frayed constraints of her temper and frustration. Finally she asked, "Would you like me to go back to the lab?"
He shook his head; she could see that, at least. "No. We need you here. Just – just take the perimeter. They've set up floodlights, so you should be okay."
"Fine." She made to brush past him hurriedly, but realized that to do so would risk another accident as the surroundings were unclear. As she stepped carefully past him he stopped her with a hand on her arm.
"Your head ... will you be alright?"
It wasn't her just recent injury he was asking about. She forced her mouth into a thin, brittle smile, knowing he could see it in the dimness and almost hating him for it. "I'll be fine. It hardly hurts." A blatant lie, that, as her head was pounding with enough force that she was sure he should be able to hear it. His grip tightened momentarily on her arm, as if to reassure her. She wondered suddenly if it was hard for him to comfort her, after all that had – and all that hadn't – transpired between them in terms of a relationship. And then, perhaps fueled by her misery, by her stress, she was angry at him for allowing himself to reach out to her here, now, when she was fast becoming something less than she once was ...
She reached out with her free hand, and removed his own from her arm. "I'll go downstairs and start on the perimeter." And she left him there, aware of his scrutiny and moving with great caution. He did not stir for a long time after she'd left, staring after her, wondering. He moved his eyes around the bathroom, taking in the almost insubstantial gleam of light caught from some faint source glinting off the metal faucets of the sink; the glitter from the crushed glass caught in his own flashlight beam.
What if, he wondered, I couldn't see those? What if everything were simply forms of shadow? Black upon blacker?
He shook his head then. He couldn't dwell on that, not here, not now. He had a job to do.