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; most of the 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.
Spoilers: through "No Humans Involved".
Note: Clichés four, five, twelve, and forty-seven, but I've always wanted to write one of these. Rating may change later. Thanks yet again to Cincoflex, who never fails to be wonderfully encouraging, and who thought of the title.
It was a bit ironic, doing the research in the middle of everybody, digging up secrets she'd kept for a long time. But no one was paying the least bit of attention. The boys were talking in the breakroom, Catherine was busy, and Grissom--
She looked over, and saw Grissom talking to Sofia. Letting Sofia perch on the edge of his desk and invade his personal space. Smiling at her.
It made Sara angry, and it made her tired. She started her search query and looked back again, and this time Grissom looked up and saw her watching him.
Even at that distance she saw a faint flush tinge his face. He said something to Sofia and stood, and Sofia slid off the edge of the desk; they exchanged a few more words before she turned and left. Sara went back to her research.
He appeared on the edge of her vision a few minutes later, waiting for her to acknowledge him and finally sighing when she didn't. "Sara, it's not what it looks like."
"You don't have to explain anything to me." She didn't lift her eyes from the screen.
"I don't..." He trailed off, and she didn't move, didn't even blink. "It wasn't my idea."
A bitter, impish impulse hit her. "I didn't say anything, Grissom, but I suppose I'd have to go with the evidence."
Her peripheral vision was good. He was blinking, obviously struggling to articulate something. "It's...circumstantial at best."
"Better than hearsay." She didn't bother to look at him, instead clicking on another link on the computer screen. "Sure feels like shit, doesn't it, boss?"
She could almost feel the shock. He stared at her for another long moment, then apparently lost whatever battle he'd been waging, because he just sighed and walked away.
She didn't watch him go.
Out of all of it, the most annoying thing was the constant trickle of water coming in the broken window. Blip, blip, never quite regular enough for him to expect it, but each chilly splash was its own little irritation on his scorched cheek. Almost enough to make him mad.
Except, it was also a distraction from worse things, and he was already mad. Also upset, in pain, freezing cold, and scared. Very scared.
Get a grip, Stokes. Panicking won't help anything and it will make things worse. He shuddered, and tried yet again to free himself from his restraint, but he didn't have enough leverage.
Plus, his shoulder hurt like crazy, and pushing only made stars go off in the corners of his eyes.
What a laugh. I'm soaking wet in the middle of the desert and what should have been a lifesaver may kill me yet. Though that wasn't quite fair--if he hadn't been wearing his seatbelt, he would be very messily dead.
Nick relaxed as much as he could, which wasn't much, and tried again. "Sara?"
This time, he was rewarded. A groan filtered up from the space below him. "Sara, talk to me, sugar."
"Nick?" Her voice was slurred, but she was awake. He thanked God silently.
"It's me, all right. How do you feel?"
He couldn't see her down there; he couldn't see much of anything, in fact. The SUV's headlights were out, and there wasn't anything around to give off light. But he heard her stir, and suck in a breath that ended in a cough. "Like hell."
"Join the club." He pushed once more against the belt, but his right foot was held in the collapsed space that had held the SUV's pedals, and he'd scrabbled and struggled and he just couldn't get free. Fortunately for him, his foot didn't seem to be too badly injured--just caught. But that was plenty.
"Do you remember what happened?"
Another groan. "Sort of."
"Can you move? I'm kind of--stuck."
"I don't know, give me a minute." Her voice was strained, and Nick knew she had to be hurt too. There was a rustle of cloth, a rattle, and a grunt. "Uh...no."
Nick frowned into the dark, trying to figure out how she might be pinned. "Is there something on top of you?"
"Besides you?" There was just a hint of humor in her tone. "I'm...not stuck, Nick."
He was cold, and stressed, and that took a few seconds to process. When it did, he swallowed hard. "How bad is it?"
"I don't know." And somehow he knew that was half a lie. "But let's just say I'm gonna be stuck in the lab for a while if we get out of this."
"When we get out of this," he corrected immediately, denying Murphy and all his kin. "Grissom's going to miss us pretty soon, if he hasn't already."
A faint "Ya think?" was all he got. Nick shuddered at the cold and her sarcasm, and suddenly, absurdly, found himself thinking of the lights in the lab and wondering why they never seemed to get fixed.
Focus, man. Remember what happened.
He patterned it out in his head. Catherine had lent him to the night shift because both Greg and Sophia were out with the flu; it had felt nice but weird to be back, there'd been too much change lately, little of it good.
A mountain crime scene, and he and Sara summoned to it; driving into heavy rain; Sara calling Grissom for more specific directions; rounding the curve in the darkness, a slope up one side and a slope down on the other...
...And the rush and rumble of the hillside above them giving way, overburdened with rain.
Nick remembered the vibrations as the SUV's tires skidded sideways across the tarmac, and the dreadful slow tip over the edge, but the tumble was scarcely more than a racket of sound in his head--the crush of metal and glass, the slam of the vehicle as it rolled over and over, his own voice shouting some furious swearword. When the falling stopped, there had been a breath's worth of silence, and then--with timing a Vegas performer would envy--the airbag had activated in his face.
That, out of all the jolts, had made him lose consciousness, though he didn't think he'd been out for more than thirty seconds or so. He'd woken to rain, darkness, and a left shoulder that was a mass of pain; he must have hit it against the door at least once. His right hand was caught underneath his seatbelt and going numb.
His cheek stung and his mouth tasted of blood, thanks to the airbag, and he was half-dangling over the passenger seat. He didn't know how long it had taken for Sara to wake up, but he did know it was much longer than he liked. He could smell raw mud and the sharp green of damaged vegetation, mixed with the reek from the mangled engine, and counted his blessings that the vehicle hadn't caught on fire. Yet, anyway. And then cursed himself for the thought.
"Sara, sweetheart, can you reach your phone or your flashlight or anything?" The fact that she hadn't done so already alarmed him; normally she would be the first to try to better their situation.
Another rustle. "My light's...I can't reach it. I don't know where my phone is."
That's right, he remembered now that she'd been talking to Grissom when they'd slid off the road. It was probably lost somewhere in the mudslide.
This isn't good.
At least Sara was wearing her jacket, he distinctly remembered her zipping it up as they left the lab. His own was twisted around him, but he was grateful for its warmth. Though it won't be enough, eventually. It wasn't freezing, and wasn't likely to drop that far, but it was plenty cold enough to kill them both eventually if they didn't get help.
Of course, his injuries weren't that severe, as far as he could tell. He'd probably survive longer than Sara, he'd get to listen to her breathing slow down and stop--
Nick shook his head violently, ignoring the pain it brought. "Well, there's no way I can reach mine." It was lodged behind his right hip. "Don't suppose you could reach up here?"
Sara sighed in the darkness. "I don't think so, Nick."
He bit his lip. He remembered plenty of emergency first aid, but it was all useless at the moment. All he could do was try to keep them both from slipping into shock. "Tell me where it hurts."
A sniff, as though she would have snorted if she'd had the strength. "What, you're a doctor now, Stokes?"
"Closest thing we've got," he joked. "Unless you attended the last safety seminar. Which I know you didn't."
"I was working," she retorted. "Hot case."
"They're all hot to you. Answer the question, Sar."
"Ugh. I hurt all over. How about you?"
"Quit being evasive."
"Answer me and I'll answer you."
"Fine." He sighed. "I think I've got a busted shoulder, and I can't feel my right hand, but other than that I'm just banged up. Your turn."
Fear drove his words, made them harsh. "Tell me, Sara. Hiding it won't help anything."
She grunted. "Broken ribs," she said after a moment. "There's something sharp poking into my right arm. My head's bleeding. That enough for you?"
"Is that all?" he countered sternly.
A little silence, and then-- "I'm losing body heat kind of fast, Nick. I'm lying in a puddle here."
His mind raced helplessly over the implications. Rapid loss of body heat could indicate external bleeding from something besides a head wound. Not to mention, internal bleeding was a distinct possibility with broken ribs.
He said the only thing he could think of. "They'll find us soon."
She breathed out, a ghost of a chuckle. "Depends. Grissom has to notice first."
"You think he won't?"
"You know how he gets at a crime scene."
"He's not that bad." If nothing else, Nick knew, Grissom would notice when he wanted someone for a specific task. "Keep talking to me. We have to stay alert."
"Speak for yourself."
He chuckled at her tone, though it hurt his shoulder. "Aw, c'mon, don't go to sleep and leave me here all by my lonesome."
He couldn't see her at all, but he got the feeling she was smiling. "CSI Level Three Nicky Stokes, afraid of the dark?"
He clicked his tongue. "You guessed my secret."
"Don't worry. I'm good at keeping 'em." Her voice was a little fainter, and alarm ran down his spine.
"Grissom'll notice," he said firmly, and remembered. "Heck, you were on the phone with him when we crashed. He'd notice that."
Sara groaned a little. "I lost the phone when we started to slide, Nick. It probably shut off. He'll just think we lost the signal."
"But you didn't call back," he pointed out, wishing again that the rain would stop dripping on him.
"He's probably relieved," she muttered sourly.
"Hey now. Don't go getting all maudlin on me."
"Oh, please." There was anger in her voice now, and inwardly Nick cheered it; anger would keep her alert longer. If it took poking at her sore spot to keep her angry, he would do it. "This is logic."
"Logic? You'll have to explain that one to me, sugar, I'm feeling a little slow tonight."
Another sigh. "Nick, you may have gone to swing, but don't tell me you didn't notice before."
"Hey," he interrupted, not having to feign a flash of temper. "We didn't go to swing, we got moved there. Nobody asked us."
She was silent for a moment, and the fact that she didn't snap right back at him cooled his anger with a wash of fear. "Yeah. Sorry."
Shame trickled through him. "Me too."
"What's it like?" she asked, and he grimaced unseen.
"Weird. Not bad weird, just weird weird. Cath's still jumpy, but I think she'll be a good supervisor when she settles down. But we miss you guys."
"I miss you too," Sara answered, and Nick winced a little at the pronoun. He heard her move slightly, and it was a splashy sound.
"How's the head?"
He worked his ankle in tiny circles, trying yet again to figure out an angle to pull it free. "You sure it's not just the rain?"
"Rain's cold, Nick. Blood's warm."
"Oh." He bit his lip, and winced. Okay, genius, not when you've got a burned face. "So what are you going to do with the vacation we'll get after this?" He tried to sound cheerful.
"Stay warm," she returned, and he remembered anew how much she hated the cold. "Maybe look for another job."
Dismay had his lips parting. "You're thinking of leaving?"
She gave that faint chuckle. "I should have left long ago."
"C'mon, Sar, the shift thing'll settle down soon--"
"Give me a break, Nick." Her voice was hard. "This has nothing to do with that." She made another sound, one that was muffled but that still made his stomach twist, and when she spoke again her voice was noticeably weaker. "I should never have come. Or I should have gone right home again after I was done."
"I thought you liked it here." He had no trouble understanding her, and he couldn't keep the pain from his voice, though he tried.
"I did," she answered, as though trying to reassure him. "Once. Not anymore."
He was starting to get angry again. "It's Grissom's fault, isn't it?"
Another splash. "Not really, Nick. Or only partly. I did most of this to myself." She laughed without humor, and coughed.
"Sara, hold still!"
"I'm wet," she complained hoarsely.
"Live with it. What did you do to yourself?"
"Oh, let's see," she muttered. "Chased a guy for three years. Had him turn me down flat. Had one of my best friends use me. Found out my boyfriend was cheating on me. Nearly got blown up. Found out the guy I've been chasing cares about me, but not enough. Got turned down for a promotion. Got pulled over on a DUI." She coughed again. "Then the team I work with gets broken up, so there's nobody left to notice when I'm having a hard time. The guy I've been chasing turns out to be interested in the new girl. Everything's going to hell in a handbasket, and then I fall over a cliff and I'm lying in a puddle freezing while you ask me stupid questions "
Nick's head spun at her words, and he could feel his throat getting tight. I knew she was having a bad time...but... He wanted to apologize for all of them--he wanted to be able to give her the hug she deserved, to offer her comfort in the best way he knew. But there were more immediate concerns. Keep her mad, remember?
He made his voice harsh. "How're we supposed to notice, Sara? You never let anyone in anymore."
A longer silence, and it started to scare him; just as he was about to say her name, she broke it.
"You know what, Nick? It doesn't matter." She didn't sound angry; she just sounded weary. "None of it matters anymore. I give up. I can't advance professionally and I can't win personally."
Her voice was quieter. "No more brick walls, Nick. Grissom called me here, and all I've done since is make myself miserable. Gonna quit."
"Sara! Stop it." Panic was biting at him again.
One more ghost-chuckle. "Maybe I'll go work for the FBI. Or maybe I'll just go to sleep here."
"Sara, sugar, don't do this. Stay awake. You have to stay awake."
"Says who?" Softer still. "Damn Grissom anyway, for making me love him."
Nick seized on that with a desperate grip. "What'll it do to him if you die here, Sara, tell me that? You know he--cares about you."
"Does not. Prefers blondes." Her words were slurring a little.
"It'll destroy him to lose you."
"No it won't." She mumbled something he couldn't quite catch. "I'm cold, Nick."
"So'm I, Sara, stay with me!"
Another mumble. "Say that again, sugar, I didn't hear you."
"I'm here, Sara. Talk to me."
Her voice was almost inaudible now. "Take care of them, okay? Take care of him."
There was no answer.
His tears were scorching his cheeks. He didn't know how many times he called her name, begging her to answer, commanding her, without response. It seemed like forever before lights shone down from above, before voices shouted and bodies came sliding down the hill. He winced at the flashlight beams that pierced the broken windshield and caught on his face; one voice he didn't recognize, but the other was familiar. "Nick? Sara?"
"We're here," he shouted, seeing little besides the jumping lights until two forms rounded the crumpled SUV. A state trooper, and Grissom, both streaked with mud. "She needs help, you have to get her out!"
Somebody moaned, and someone else swore, and he didn't know which of any of them it was. Then they shone the lights down below him, and he looked, and he knew it was him swearing this time.
Sara lay on her side, still belted in, the shattered glass of the side window covered by a muddy puddle that had an ominous scarlet tint. Her hair was matted with blood and her lips were blue-tinged and red-smeared.
And she didn't move.
His thoughts started to come unraveled as more people appeared and the thunder of a helicopter approached.
"Get her out first!" he protested, as hands took hold of him and lifted. "Let me go, I can wait--"
"Nick, relax and let them help you." Grissom's voice was strained. "They can't move her until they move you."
He grunted in pain. "My foot's stuck."
There were long minutes of delay, discussion, and he wanted to scream at them. One of the troopers began carefully knocking out the remaining glass of the windshield, and as soon as he was done an EMT knelt in the mud outside, leaning in over Sara's still form. He blocked Nick's view, but it didn't matter as long as she was getting care--
He was starting to lose it. His awareness kept fading in and out, even though Grissom kept talking to him in that soft urgent voice. He couldn't concentrate. Then they brought in something that looked like a small chainsaw, and he was vaguely impressed at how low the EMT could crouch, and how the guy managed to ignore the racket just above his head as someone else cut through the tangle holding Nick's foot captive.
They lifted him free, telling him not to move, to let them do all the work. He recognized the stretcher they were strapping him on, and struggled a little, afraid that the chopper would leave too soon. "Sara," he pleaded, looking for understanding in the all-business faces above him. "We can't go without her--"
Grissom was there again, his face drawn, glancing back over his shoulder. "They won't leave without her, Nick. Just relax. Let them take care of you."
"I tried to keep her awake," Nick managed, trying to tell someone. "I tried."
"I know." Grissom's hand was warm on his head, the only part of him not covered. "I know you did."
He vanished, and there was no one left but strangers, talking over Nick like he wasn't even there. At least he was starting to get warm.
Then the helicopter roared, and he flew.
See Chapter 2