Disclaimer: CSI is the property of CBS, Anthony E. Zuiker, and Jerry Bruckheimer.
Summary: Grissom and Sara head upstate to solve a murder. While there they uncover small town secrets, and are forced to confront their own intensifying relationship.
Author's Note: I'm taking a small, much needed break from An Exercise in Futility to get some help on a few things. Don't worry, I will update soon. In the meantime, this was just a fun idea I had that demanded attention. I hope you enjoy it.
Carry like a threatened thing your soul away
And do not look too long to left or right
For he whose soul wears the strict chains of day
Will lose it in this landscape of charcoal and moonlight
--Judith Wright, 1915-2000
Streaks of evening light filtered through the half closed blinds, dancing shadows across the bland brown walls, and glinting off the frames of perfectly positioned diplomas and certificates. Empty spaces were occasionally littered with photographs of nameless faces posed in pseudo smiles, hiding their truth behind a blanket of feigned happiness.
"I'm sorry, Gil, I really am. But I have to close the case".
Grissom stared blankly back at the assistant director Conrad Ecklie, who had the grace to look genuinely remorseful as he closed the folder on his desk. His round, bald head shone in the amber glow of his office, a sight that mocked his credibility, and betrayed the sincerity of his expression.
Grissom felt the injustice surge deep within him, affecting him in its raw, unadulterated finality. Cases came and went, and he maintained a façade of detachment until he was labelled cold and heartless. But he felt so utterly consumed by this young girl's death. This girl who would be committed to the earth forever without a proper identity, without anyone to mourn her as her innocence was cut frighteningly short.
"You gave it the best you could. You should be happy with that".
Ecklie was obviously attempting to conclude their meeting as briskly as possible, but Grissom was unable to move. He stared at the man who had once considered himself his rival with mute incredulity, feeling his hands clench around the arms of his chair.
"She's going to be buried without a name, Conrad. How can I be happy about that?"
Ecklie sighed deeply, clasping his hands grimly over the top of his folders. "It's been two months, Grissom. I can't afford to sacrifice any of the lab's resources to a dead end case any longer."
Grissom scoffed. He couldn't help it. It occurred to him that this young, nameless girl epitomised everything that was now wrong with their lab. The politics, the mindless power games, the money, always the money. Never mind the dead, never mind the living. Never mind justice.
"I can't accept that".
Ecklie pressed his lips together, in a thin, hard line of impatience. "You're going to have to, Grissom. It's over."
Grissom rose to his feet, an abrupt movement that rocked the few belongings scattered on Ecklie's desk. "You know what, Conrad? You're wrong. I don't have to accept that. If you gave me more of my team to work with—"
"We've had this discussion before", Ecklie snapped. "They aren't your team anymore. I understand your frustration, but there isn't a lot I can do about that—"
"No", Grissom said shortly, as he came to an inner realisation. "There isn't. But I can".
"Now wait a minute--!"
Grissom started for the door, newfound determination colouring his steps.
Ecklie also rose to his feet, glaring after him with a mounting loss of control. "If you do anything to compromise my decision, so help me God I will fire you—"
"No. You won't", Grissom replied bluntly, opening and closing the door with a resounding slam.
He strode towards his office with long, brisk strides, the bluish light of his inner sanctum unable to comfort him in its familiarity as he finally came to a halt within. He slowly maneuvered around his large desk, riffling through the muddle of casefiles and evaluation forms that made up the bulk of his desk.
He barely paused when he heard footsteps slow and eventually stop outside his door, not even when the gentle, lilting cadence swept through the silence of the room.
"Grissom? What are you doing?"
Grissom glanced up as Sara frowned at him, striding hesitantly to the other side of his desk. Her soft, brown eyes trailed over the mess of paperwork hindering his search, and she lifted a slender eyebrow.
Her natural intuition, and penchant for knowing him better than she ever let on, caused her to gaze at him calmly, hampering her obvious curiosity. "What did Ecklie say about the Jane Doe case?"
"He's closing it", Grissom replied, equally calmly, at last retrieving the offending file from the bottom of the bundle.
Sara nodded slowly, looking infinitely confused. "Uh-huh. And why are you looking through her casefile now?"
Sara had also worked the case with him, had empathised with the victim with a human ease he briefly envied, and often wondered at. She found it so hard to relate to others, perhaps a by-product of her own dysfunctional childhood, yet when it came to those lost, she campaigned for their justice without wavering in her conviction.
"Do you remember the name of the town written on those books she was carrying when we found her?"
She had been found facedown in a small lake in one of Henderson's less popular parks. The homeless frequented it regularly, and their Jane Doe had been found with few belongings, in a backpack not far from where her body was located. They had assumed she was homeless herself, which wasn't such a stretch when they took into consideration the state she had been found in. Her clothes were torn and shabby, and it was clear she hadn't bathed for a while. She was severely undernourished, and Doc Robbins had extracted her stomach contents, which revealed that she had not eaten anything of substance for a long time.
"Uh, yeah…" Sara answered slowly. He continued to search for the name in the file, but he knew she would remember it. She had a near photographic memory, and remembered case details with vivid accuracy. "Eildonbrook. Greg looked it up on the computer. It's a small town in Northern Nevada with a population of barely five hundred".
He paused, closing the folder when he saw that she was, indeed, correct. "And we found nothing linking her there?"
"No". Sara looked deeply perplexed, and more than a little concerned. "Grissom, I thought you said that Ecklie closed the case—"
"He did. Do you know where this town is, exactly? Do you think you could get me a map?"
She frowned. "Yeah, of course…"
Grissom nodded. He was sorry he was worrying her, but he wasn't in the mood to explain his motives. "If I left you in charge of the nightshift for a few days, do you think you could handle that?"
Now Sara's eyebrows rose to her hairline. "Wait, Grissom… you can't be serious." She opened her mouth, stepping forward uncertainly. "If you're going to do what I think you're going to do…" She lifted her arms unthinkingly. He knew, to her, that it must have appeared that he'd seriously lost it. "I can't believe you're even… Eildonbrook is four hours away, Grissom. You can't just leave and expect you're going to find something. Why can't you just tell Ecklie about this?"
"The department won't fund it", he said shortly. "He's determined to close on this".
"Okay…" she said carefully. "But—"
"Sara, can I trust you to stay in charge?" he interrupted her flatly. "I need to know that you won't say anything about this".
Sara opened her mouth disbelievingly. "Grissom… Ecklie could fire you".
He smiled humourlessly. "We both know he's not going to".
Her pretty eyes darted over his nervously. He knew the prospect of being in charge thrilled her, and considering the potential damage he'd already done to her career, he thought it was a worthy penance. But something unreadable also flickered behind her eyes, some conflicting emotion he couldn't get a grasp on.
"Okay", she said, measuring her words. "Then I'll come with you".
The thought that she would willingly put her own career on the line just to help him flattered him immensely, but he couldn't allow her to do that. He sighed tiredly. "Sara…"
She narrowed her eyes, and he could see that familiar Sidle temper flaring dangerously close underneath the surface. "Do you really think I want to let this case go any more than you do?" she demanded fiercely. "Do you know where this town is, how to get there? Do you really think you're going to get a small, closeted town to open up and give you all of their secrets without help? You need me."
He hid a small, wry smile. She would never know how true that really was.
"Besides", she added with a shrug, looking away from his piercing gaze. "I still have weeks of leave stored up."
"Sara…" He gazed at her intently, struggling to convey to her the risk she would be undertaking. "Who else am I going to leave in charge?" he prompted, unsuccessfully attempting to appeal to her sense of logic, when he knew that concept had gone out the window as soon as she entered his office.
She rolled her eyes. "You know Sofia would be happy to do it. She'll jump at a chance to be a supervisor again, and she'll do anything to personally stick it to Ecklie".
He had to admit that was probably true. He didn't like the idea of putting Sara in this situation when he couldn't guarantee she would come out of it with her job intact. His own reckless actions were starting to fall under the impending light of reality.
Then he remembered their Jane Doe, and everything she represented.
He didn't realise that he had already opened his mouth and agreed until Sara departed once more from his office.