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; all others are mine, and if you want to borrow 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.

Post-ep for "No Humans Involved". For Cincoflex, because she asked.

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It was raining, and she hadn't brought an umbrella. Of course not. The thought was strong with irony. Who needs an umbrella in the middle of the desert?

A running joke, of course. It did rain in Vegas on occasion, and plenty in the mountains. One might keep an umbrella in the back of the closet instead of in front, but one kept one nonetheless.

But then, she wasn't in Vegas at the moment, either.

Sara regarded the gray sky, considered walking back to the little convenience shop and buying an overpriced bumbershoot, and decided to skip it. It wasn't raining hard.

She stepped off the curb and headed for the nearest taxi. One thing about airports--there's always a cab to be had.

The address was on a scrap of paper in her pocket, but she no longer needed it. She recited it to the driver from memory, and sat back, trying not to think about who--and what--had come into contact with the upholstery. Taxis were worse than hotel rooms, in some ways.

It wasn't a very long ride--just enough time to let her remember how she'd gotten here. Asking for a few days off was nothing out of the ordinary for most people, and watching Grissom try to figure out how to ask why she wanted them, and give up, had been bleakly amusing.

She hadn't told him. She didn't need another lecture on detachment, and anyway there was a certain cruel pleasure in watching him struggle. She had simply thanked him politely, and gone away to make flight reservations.

Now she was here, in the light rain and a somewhat shabby neighborhood, paying the driver and sliding out with her bag slung over her shoulder. She looked around as the cab pulled away; the houses were small and old, but most of them had tidy yards and clean windows. There were bikes and toys in some of the yards, and the occasional stroller.

Sara squared her shoulders and reached for the gate in front of her. The galvanized iron was wet and chilly under her fingers, and she shivered a little as she opened it and passed through. What am I doing here, really?

She turned to make sure it latched behind her, and hesitated. Are they really going to want to see me? It's not like I represent any good memories or anything.

For an instant she was back in that stinking darkness, frantically searching, wondering what she'd find at the end of her fingers--and then the hand on her shoulder, and all the memories she'd put away--

The front door of the house slammed open, and a small form hurtled down the steps. "Miss SARA!"

And her doubt evaporated.

She bent and opened her arms, and they were filled. "Hey, Raymond!" She was grinning so hard it hurt, and she didn't care one bit.

The arms around her neck as she straightened were still skinny, but the body clinging to her was heavier than the last time she'd held it, and she rejoiced.

"Ray, boy, you're too big for that now!" came the slightly exasperated voice from the door, and Sara turned her grin up to the woman standing there.

"It's okay, Candace, I don't mind." She gave Raymond one last hug and set him down. "How you doing, kiddo?"

The question resulted in a rapid-fire recital of school, soccer, and Cub Scouts as Raymond tugged on her hand to get her to come inside. Sara and Candace traded amused looks over his head, and the short, plump woman leaned up to kiss Sara's cheek as she passed into the house.

Candace Maltin looked like she was pushing forty-five instead of thirty-five, the deep grooves around her mouth and a scattering of white in her hair betraying the hard life she'd lived. But her eyes gleamed with humor, and Sara respected her.

Quite a change from the first time they'd met.

Sara paused at the entrance to the hospital room, watching the occupants with a broil of emotions so tangled that she couldn't sort them out. Her words to Brass came back to her--this was the woman who'd left her kids with her hooker cousin, and lost one because of it.

But this was also a woman who was sitting on one child's bed and holding the other tightly in her arms, and both of them were clinging to her as though she were the only thing in their world. Tears marked all three faces, and Sara could feel the ache of the missing Devon almost as though she had lost him herself.

Brass ghosted up beside her, watching the scene with his own grave eyes. "She didn't know," he said at last. "She didn't leave them with Devine, she left them with Devine's sister. Who ended up in the hospital not three weeks later with a heart attack, and has since moved to California to be with her ex." He shrugged, half impatient with the follies of humanity, half resigned. "She didn't know the sister left, and she didn't know what Devine did for a living."

Sara bit back the retort she wanted to make, and Brass shot her a look. "Give her a break, Sara," he said softly. "She will never forgive herself for what happened to her kids. It's punishment enough, believe me."

It had taken Sara a couple of days to see the truth in Brass' words. But eventually she'd found Candace to be someone worthy of respect, a woman doing the best she could for her children, who'd encountered some very bad luck.

And then, anyone who finally stood up to her abuser earned extra points in Sara's book anyway.

"They've been talking about nothing else but you for days," Candace said, taking Sara's coat and waving her into the small living room. "It's been 'Miss Sara this' and 'Miss Sara that' all week."

Sara laughed, and sat down on the couch; Raymond immediately plopped down beside her and leaned into her with unselfconscious pleasure. She put an arm around him and let her bag slip to the floor. "Where's Kevin?"

"Band practice," Candace threw over her shoulder as she went into the kitchen. "Coffee or tea?"

"Tea, thanks," Sara called back, and then bent to listen to Raymond's tales of first grade. He was so bright and happy, her throat ached to think of how he had been only two months before.

He shouldn't have trusted me. I was a stranger. And yet he had, implicitly. He'd seen her crouched over the unconscious Kevin, and had made the instant decision that she was safety.

She'd done her absolute best to live up to that trust. When Grissom had tried to talk to her about personal involvement, she'd blown him off and gone back to the hospital. Kevin and Raymond were not Pamela Adler. They were going to live.

The front door opened again, and a trombone case came in, followed by Kevin. His face lit at the sight of Sara, but he took the time to put the instrument carefully in its place in the corner before coming over to give her a shy hug.

The marks of starvation and abuse still lingered on the older boy, Sara could see that, though they were faint. But he'd suffered more, giving the lion's share of his meager food and water to his younger brothers--and then just to Raymond, when Devine had snatched away Devon in a fit of temper.

They'd never seen him again.

"Scootch over, kiddo." Sara shoved Raymond gently with her hip, and he slid across the sofa so that she could make room for Kevin. He settled in next to her, quieter than his little brother but no less pleased to see her. "What've you been up to?"

As he told her all about learning to play his horn, Sara remembered the moment when he'd roused--she'd been tucking the blanket around him with one hand while still hugging the clinging Raymond with the other arm. Kevin's eyes had traveled from her to Greg, who was kneeling next to him with a bottle of water and a kind, strained smile, to Raymond's clutching form, and back to her face. And then he'd sighed, as though letting go of a crushing burden. It had scared her for a second--she was afraid he had just died.

But he hadn't. And somehow she'd become the symbol of their rescue for the both of them. She'd reminded them that others had a hand in it, but while Brass had been there on occasion to escort Candace somewhere, he'd had no time for more than a quick affectionate word. Greg had taken Grissom's advice to heart and stayed away, though he'd passed Sara a couple of toy cars one morning to give to the boys.

As Kevin wound down and his mother appeared with a tray, Raymond squirmed, his stillness limit apparently exceeded. "Did you catch any bad guys?"

"A couple," Sara said, exchanging smiles with Candace. Raymond hadn't yet grasped the idea of crime scene investigator beyond the notion that it was something like being a cop, but that made no difference--right now it topped his list of "what I'm going to be when I grow up." Outstripping, at least for the moment, even the coveted career of astronaut.

"Did you shoot your gun?" Kevin asked, whose interest was piqued by firearms, much to his mother's disapproval. Sara, in complete sympathy with Candace, shook her head firmly.

"Nope. I try to leave that to Captain Brass." And he'd so choke if he could hear me now.

Anticipating the next question, she fished in her pocket and handed her badge to Raymond. He giggled happily, turning the shiny symbol over in his hands.

"Is Glynnis okay?" Kevin persisted. Out of all the children at the foster home, the rather motherly Glynnis had made the most impression on him, but he also seemed to harbor a fear that she would be hurt somehow.

"She's fine," Sara assured him. "I saw her just last week." Seeing herself in the teen's eyes had been a shock for Sara, but it had prompted her to take a leaf from Warrick's book. Mrs. Tenney still didn't like Sara very much, but there was no way she was going to turn down a Big Brother/Big Sister opportunity for any of her kids. "Tell me about school."

They spent a couple of happy hours chatting, with Raymond eventually falling asleep against Sara's side and Kevin getting up to do homework. Sara laid Raymond gently down on the couch and followed Candace into the small kitchen. "How're you doing?" Candace asked before Sara could, and Sara shrugged, not as uncomfortable with the question as she might have been.

"Okay. Work's busy as usual. How's your job going?"

Candace shot her a sharp look, but then shrugged, handing Sara a knife and an onion. "It's okay. The benefits are great, and that's the main thing."

Sara listened to her describe her job as a manager in a department store, knowing what Candace did not--that Brass had pulled a string or two to get the boys' mother a job that would let her keep them with her. I don't know how she does it. She's survived so much, and she keeps going.

Eventually Kevin interrupted them, asking for help with his math homework. Sara volunteered, and they were deep in a scientific discussion by the time Candace called them for the meal.

They sat together around the table, laughing and talking and eating, and if Devon's ghost was in the room, it was content. Sara looked from face to face--Kevin's happy, Raymond's smeared with spaghetti sauce, Candace's sorrow-edged but laugh-lined--and felt at home for the first time in a long time. Maybe there is such a thing as a happy ending. Once in a while.

And, after she'd distributed the small presents she'd brought with her, after she'd read two bedtime stories and shared a late-night cup of tea with Candace, when she folded her long frame into the lower bunk in the boys' room and on the edge of sleep felt Raymond climb in beside her to snuggle, she believed it.

End.