Disclaimer: Today I found a magick lamp. I rubbed it and out pooped a genie who offered me three wishes. So Anthony Stewart Head is in the kitchen making me tea, Billy is reading me poetry, and the rights to CSI are now mine.
Spoilers: Strip Strangler, Nesting Dolls. Takes place early season 6.
A/N: My thanks go out to Dragon, who did an awesome job both beta'ing this story, and talking it out with me. Also to Stlchik and Ashura, who provided important legal information.
I wish that I could say that this story came from the dark and twisted recesses of my mind. It doesn't. Names and details have been changed to protect the innocent, but Katie and Laura are real. I met Katie (not her real name) when she was in foster care.
She was dirty. It was the first thing Sara noticed. The girl was sitting in one of the chairs in the corridor, staring at her feet. They, like the rest of her body, were covered in dirt. They were also red and raw, bare despite the fact that it was November. She looked to be about ten, but Sara knew from the brief statement the police officer had been able to get that she was actually fourteen. Her skin was so pale it was almost translucent, and she was so thin that the T-shirt she wore molded to the outline of her ribs.
It was clear now why Grissom had been reluctant to assign this case to her. She had just wrapped up a robbery, though, and had been the only CSI without a case to work. Catherine and Warrick had a murder, Grissom was working a casino heist with Greg, and Nick was gone for a week, visiting his parents. Grissom had frowned when handing the thin folder to Sara and telling her to collect evidence from the victim. Evidence of what, he didn't say.
Sara mentally reviewed what she knew. Laura, no last name, had been found by a patrolman huddled in the doorway of an abandoned apartment building. After much coaxing, and the offer of a teddy bear he had in the trunk of his car, the officer had brought the girl into the police station. That had been three hours ago, and all that they had been able to get from the girl was her name, age, and that she wanted to go home. It was Sara's job to find out more. If the girl wouldn't talk, hopefully the evidence would.
"Laura?" Sara approached the girl carefully, sliding into a seat two chairs away. "My name is Sara. I'm here to help you, okay?"
Laura didn't respond, she didn't so much as blink.
"Can you tell me your name?" Sara asked.
"Laura," the girl whispered, still staring at her feet.
"What's you last name, Laura?"
"Where do you live?"
"Can you tell me where your parents are?"
Again, silence. This was getting her nowhere.
"It's noisy out here in the hallway. Why don't we go somewhere
quieter?" Sara stood up and reached out her hand. Laura ignored the proffered help, but also stood up and followed Sara into an interrogation room.
Sara set her kit on the table and opened it up, withdrawing the items she needed. As she took out each object she kept up a running monologue. The girl, still not verbally responsive, easily complied with whatever Sara asked her to do.
"This is a swab. If you open your mouth, a little wider... that's good... I'm going to rub the inside of your cheek. This will go to my friend Mia, and she'll put it in a machine. If we're lucky, it will tell us who you are. If that doesn't work, this might." Sara took each one of the girl's fingers and pressed them onto an ink pad before repeating the motion on a ten card. The chances of a DNA match for a fourteen-year-old were slim, fingerprinting more likely. Many schools now were implementing fingerprinting as a safety procedure. Sara also scraped under Laura's fingernails and combed out her hair, looking for anything that might tell them where she was from. Combing was difficult; Laura's hair was twisted in knots.
Sara was almost done when there was a knock on the door. A moment later the door swung open and Brass stepped in.
"She tell you anything yet?"
Sara looked over her shoulder and shook her head slightly, trying not to let Laura see the motion.
"I brought some snacks. Thought you might be hungry." This time he addressed Laura directly. Walking to the table he set down the contents of his hands and squatted in front of the girl's chair. "Not much around here to eat, but I did manage to find some cookies and an apple. You hungry?"
Laura stared at the food, the naked desire in her eyes making clear that she was hungry. She didn't reach out for the food, though, until Brass nudged it closer to her. Looking from him to the food and back again, she finally snatched the cookies from the table. The first one went into her mouth whole. She barely chewed it before swallowing and sticking half of the next cookie in her mouth. Standing behind her, Sara winced. This was not the reaction of a child eager for a special treat, but rather of a person who has been denied food for too long. Less then a minute after Brass place the food on the table all the cookies were gone and the apple was half-eaten.
"Hey Brass, could you get us a couple of waters?" She was hoping that now that Laura's primary need for food was taken care of she would be more willing to talk. Sara figured her chances were better if it was just the two of them in the room.
"It might take me a little while, to find water." Brass let her know that he understood her silent request. Once he was gone, Sara returned her focus to the girl.
"Can you tell me your last name now, Laura?" She still wasn't responding. If it wasn't for the fact that she had heard the girl whisper her name, Sara would doubt she had the ability to speak. Switching tactics, Sara pulled a pen and paper out of her field kit.
"Can you write your name for me?" Laura picked up the pen, and for a moment Sara thought she was going to do what she had been asked. Her hopes were dashed when the pen went sailing across the room. It hit the wall and fell to the floor.
"No writing," she growled at Sara. "Mama says I'm retarded. Can't write, can't learn."
Damn it. Sara wanted to find this girl's mother, if only to slap the woman. She wanted to hug the girl and tell her that she wasn't stupid. Instead she took the opening Laura had presented.
"Where is you mother, Laura?" She leaned in until her ear was inches from the girl's mouth. "Can you whisper it to me?"
"Like a secret?" Laura asked. For the first time there was animation in her voice, as if the idea of a secret excited her at least a little bit. "Me and Katie have secrets."
"Who's Katie?" It was apparently the wrong question to ask, because Laura pressed her lips together and stopped talking.
"Can you tell me a secret, like you tell Katie?" Sara tried asking. She held her breath as she looked at the girl. After a long pause she nodded.
"Can you tell me where you live?"
Laura bent forward, getting so close to Sara's head that her lips brushed her hair. Sara stayed completely still and focused on the whisper, afraid to ask Laura to repeat the 'secret.'
"Thank you, Laura." Digging through her kit for another pen, Sara scrawled down an address she knew belonged to an area of town near Fremont street. Not a part of town she would want to live in, let alone raise a child in. Turning to glance at the mirror directly behind her, Sara gave a slight nod to signal the man she knew was waiting on the other side. Sure enough, the door to the room opened and Brass walked in with two bottles of water. He gave them to Sara as she slipped him the paper.
"Social services is sending someone over. They should be here in a little bit. I'll wait for you before leaving."
Sara nodded, glad that he knew her well enough to know that she would want to be in on the visit without having to ask. When he left Sara took the lids off both water bottles and placed one on the table in front of Laura. Like the food she didn't reach for it immediately, but eyed Sara cautiously. Sara moved the bottle until it touched the girls hand, and when Laura smiled shyly at her she cursed inwardly. What the hell had happened to this girl that basic necessities like food and water were things to be prized, not expected? She would find out, Sara promised herself, and do all in her power to make sure it didn't happen again.
It might have been a nice looking building at one time, but that time was long passed. When Sara and Brass pulled up in front of the address Laura had given them, they found a tired brick building fronted by a crumpling porch. A column of names scribbled on a piece of paper pinned next to the door informed them that the Hughes family lived on the third floor. Brass reached to open the front door, but before he turned the handle he looked over his shoulder at Sara.
"You stay behind me," he reminded her. Glancing at her hip, he made sure her gun was in its holster. "Don't enter the apartment until I give the all clear, understand? I mean it, Sara."
Sara nodded her agreement, and tried hard not to smile at the homicide detectives mini lecture. If anyone else had spoken to her the way Brass had, her eyes would have narrowed and she would have told them that she knew how to do her job, thank you very much. In the past few years, though, Brass had become almost an uncle figure to her. He gave out praise and scolding in equal measure, and she knew that it was due to him that the story of her DUI had never become part of the LVPD rumor mill.
Whatever Sara had been expecting when Brass knocked on the door, it hadn't been this. The girl who greeted them with a smile was almost a carbon copy of the girl Sara had left at the lab in the capable hands of a Clark County social worker.
"Are you selling somethin'? 'Cause mama says we don't need no damn magazine subscriptions, and she ain't givin' no money to no stinking charity." The girl was obviously parroting often heard words as she grinned at the strangers standing in the hallway. Sara noticed some important differences between this girl and the one she had met earlier at work. Though not squeaky clean, this girl wasn't stained with dirt. Her teeth were clean, her feet covered in socks, and there was a sparkle in her eyes that was missing from Laura's.
"Is your mom at home?" Brass bent his knees a little and leaned
forward, bringing himself closer to the girl's height.
"I'm supposed to say she's in the shower." Nervously she looked over her shoulder.
"Is she in the shower?" When the girl wouldn't meet his eyes, Brass reached for the badge clipped to his jacket pocket.
"See this, sweetheart? This is my badge. I'm a police man and this lady," he gestured to Sara with his hand, "she works with me. We need to talk to your mom. Is she here?"
"How come your not wearing clothes like the police people on TV?" she wanted to know.
"I'm a special kind of policeman, called a detective. Detectives get to wear their own clothes." Seemingly satisfied with the explanation, the young girl informed them that her mother was 'at the store.' Sara doubted it. She figured that it was more likely that the woman was at work or something. After completing a sweep of the apartment, Brass let Sara know that she could enter.
"Are you Katie?" Sara recalled the name Laura had mentioned earlier.
"How did you guess?"
"Laura told me."
"Laura," Katie whispered, her eyes widening in a mix of shock and fear. Taking a step back she looked at the front door, still standing open, as if she expected someone to walk through it at any moment. "No Laura here. There's no Laura here."
The sparkle was gone from her eye, and in that moment she could have been the mirror image of her sister. Sara took a step towards the girl, thinking to comfort her. Katie jolted, and ran across the room to a short hallway. Running into one of the rooms, she slammed the door behind her. Brass started to follow, but Sara stopped him.
"You call social services. I'll go in there." Brass reached for his cell to do as she suggested. Sara walked across the room, her pace much slower then Katie's had been. The other two doors were open. The first was a bathroom, the second a bedroom, belonging to the mother if the satin nightgown laying at the end of the bed was any indication.
Without knocking, Sara opened up the third door. The first thing she noticed was the smell. It was almost enough to make her take a step backwards; unwashed bodies and urine and sweet. This was a little girls refuge, the place she ran to when she was scared? The girl in question was seated in the middle of an unmade twin bed. On her way across the room Sara tripped over a pile of dirty laundry she hadn't noticed in the dim light. Veering from her main course, she headed for the window to draw back the curtains and raise the shade. Hoping to air out the room she tried to raise the window too, only to find it nailed shut.
"Mama's gonna be mad. She's gonna be so mad." Sara was pulling at the window, trying to see how firmly it was nailed, when the voice
returned her attention to the occupant of the bed. Forgetting her need for fresh air, she walked to the bed and sat on the edge, trying not to think about how long ago the sheets she was sitting on had been washed.
"Why is she going to be mad, Katie?"
"I let her out. I let her out and she ran away." She was trembling now, the shivers most obvious in her hands and voice.
"Let her out of where?"
"Her room," the girl whispered. "I let Laura out of her room."
"Is this her room?" Sara asked. The single twin bed seemed to
indicate that the room only belonged to one person, but perhaps there was a trundle bed or extra mattress she hadn't noticed. Katie shook her head.
"That's Laura's room," she said, pointing to a plain wood door in the corner of the room.
"Was Laura in trouble? Was that why she was sent to her room?" Katie looked at Sara in confusion.
"Laura stays in her room," she stated, as if the answer was obvious and Sara should have known better then to ask the question. Leaning towards Sara, she dropped her voice even lower. "Sometimes, when Mama is gone for a long time she comes in my room, but it's a secret."
Sara could feel the bile rise in her throat at the ideas Katie's words suggested. Was it possible that Laura had been living in a single room for some unknown about of time? It would explain the pale skin, lanky hair, and lack of muscle definition. Sickened at the though, Sara was still trying to think of a response when Brass knocked on the door.
"Social worker is here. She wants to see Katie." Brass reached for the girls hand and Sara was surprised at how easily the girl went with him. For a man who spent the better part of his waking hours with cops and criminals, he certainly had a way with children. Standing up from the bed, Sara went to the door Katie had pointed out. Opening it up, Sara pressed both hands to her stomach in an attempt to still the nausea.
Grissom arrived at the same time as the social worker. Never very comfortable with the idea of Sara working solo, especially on a case he suspected to include abuse, he had finished the collections on his case as quickly as possible and left Greg to take the evidence into the lab. Greeting Brass with a brisk 'hello,' he was about to ask where Sara was when he heard her voice. A single word; one syllable. Low and harsh, the sound coming from the room beyond this one surprised him. Sara didn't swear often. In fact, the only other time he could recall was a "damn it" when they had discovered another victim of the Strip Strangler five years ago. Without another thought, he walked in the direction of her voice.
When Grissom entered the bedroom he barely noticed the smell. All his attention was focused on the woman standing on the other side of the room. Her hands were clenched together in front of her. Her shoulders were stooped, her face devoid of color. A single tear made a path down her cheek. The open door blocked his view of whatever she was looking at.
"Sara?" he stepped up behind her, close enough that they were almost touching. Sara didn't look at him, just continued to stare straight ahead.
"She was living in here. This was her room, her world." There was pain in her voice, and when he pulled his eyes away from her he understood.
It was a closet. Three feet wide and maybe five feet deep with a sloped ceiling. A pillow and blanket lay heaped in one corner, a small pile of clothes in another. In the corner closest to the door was a pot. From the smell and the small amount of yellow liquid inside, Grissom didn't have to be told what it was meant for. Grissom's reaction was sudden and visceral. He wanted to throw something, hit someone. But Sara was the only one there. She still hadn't moved since he came in the room. He forced the anger back.
"Sara." He wanted to reach out and touch her. Squeeze her shoulder or caress her cheek. Reassure her that the children were safe and they would do what they had to to get the people who had done this. Instead he repeated her name.
"I need..." Looking away from the closet, she slowly pivoted to meet him.
"What?" he asked.
"I need my kit. I left it in the other room." The pain he had heard in her voice was magnified in her eyes. He cursed himself for assigning this case to her, leaving her open to this emotion.
"You don't have to. Why don't you go with the little girl. I'll process the closet."
"No," she uttered, almost growled. "My case. I'll process."
He wanted to argue, but knew that the only way he would win was if he played the 'supervisor' card and that would make things even worse. Retreating momentarily he collected her kit from the other room and brought it in for her.
"Thank you." She accepted the kit and turned back to the closet.
After a long pause she spoke again. "For the offer too. I just... I need to do this one."
He nodded, then realized she couldn't see him. "I understand. Could I- would it be okay if I stay in here, process this room while you work the closet?"
"Yeah, sure." Her words held no emotion, but Grissom noticed she lifted her head a little higher as she turned back to her job.
Sara slammed the locked door closed with a frustrated bang. Her shift was over, and it was time to go home. Mrs. Hughes, mother to Laura and Katie (and Sara used the term mother in the loosest sense of the word) had not returned to her apartment. Both girls were in emergency shelter. There was nothing Sara could do right now, except go home and stew.
She looked down the hall before stepping out of the locker room. The very last thing she needed this morning was to run into Ecklie. She didn't want to see anyone, really. With the way she was feeling, even a friendly moment of small talk would take too much energy. Fortunately the hall was clear, and if her luck held out she would be out of the building and headed for her car in less then a minute.
"Sara." She made it halfway to the front doors when he called her name. Not the last person she wanted to talk to, but close.
"I'm on my way home, Griss. I'm tired, and need to get some sleep." It was a lie, or at least half of one. She might need sleep but she knew she wouldn't be getting any. Every time she closed her eyes for longer then it took to blink she saw dirty little fists pounding on a door, begging to be let out.
"I just thought- maybe we could go out to breakfast. Talk."
Sara could only stare at Grissom as he slowly made his way through the offer. Timing is everything, her grandmother used to say, and if that was true Sara didn't have much. More then five years she had been waiting for this offer, a single meal shared by the two of them. And today, when all she wants is to lock herself in a dark room, is the day he chooses to extend it. Oh yeah, her luck was holding all right. It still sucked.
"I'm going home," she said, ignoring his offer and the confused look in his eye. Although she didn't run away from him, she did walk quickly, not making eye contact with anyone she passed.
"Is Sara alright? She looks kind of upset." Warrick joined Grissom in the hallway, where he stood and watched Sara disappear out the front doors of the lab.
"Child abuse case. A bad one." Grissom explained.
"Aren't they all?" Warrick questioned rhetorically.
Sara barely made it home when the memories of the day forced her into the bathroom. Hunched over the toilet she released what little food she had managed to eat the day. After rinsing her mouth out with Listerine, Sara entered her bedroom where she shed her work clothes and pulled on a pair of sweatpants and her oldest T-shirt. If she was going to be miserable, she might as well be comfortable.
She paused in the living room long enough to turn on her police
scanner before moving into the kitchen and filling her tea kettle with water. At work she drank coffee, but at home it was tea. The ritual involved with preparing a simple cup soothed her, and for a few minutes at least she was able to let go of the tension of the day. The mug, the strainer, the scoop of loose tea leaves. Her grandmother had taught her how to make tea. No tea bags or microwaved water for Grandma Laura.
Laura. That was her grandmother's name, and her mother's. It had been Sara's name too, when she was a child. At the second group home she had started going by her middle name, and at the age of eighteen had the change made legally. If she believed in fate and superstition, Sara might think that anyone with the name Laura was cursed. Sara put all her faith in science, though, and scoffed at the idea.
When the tea was seeped and the used leaves discarded, Sara carried the mug into the living room and settled onto the couch. Wrapping herself in a blanket, she tried to forget about hungry children, too small closets, and enigmatic men.
"Are you aware of the definition of child endangerment? How about child abuse?" When the woman sitting across the table from him just glared in response, Brass glared back. "All right, let's try this one. What about the phrase 'fifteen to twenty'. As in the number of years you can expect to rot in prison."
Mrs. Hughes sat in the interrogation room, arms crossed in stony
silence. She had been brought to the station an hour ago by the officer left to guard her apartment. It had been almost twenty four hours since Sara and Brass had first knocked on her door, and if Katie and Laura hadn't been taken in by social services they would have been alone that entire time.
Sara watched the standoff from behind the glass of the observation room. While she understood Brass' reasoning in asking her to stay out of the interview, Sara itched to storm into the room. Her hands clenched into fists as she examined the bleach blond in the blood red blouse and black leather pants. Not once had she asked how her children were, hadn't even mentioned them. The only words she had spoken were an abrasive "I ain't talkin' til I get me a lawyer."
Her demand and subsequent coldness hadn't stopped Brass from speaking, though. If Sara hadn't been so intent on containing her own emotions she might have enjoyed the show he put on. Without raising his voice, Brass told the woman about the state of her apartment and her children, and the penalties of each offense committed. The one-sided conversation was liberally sprinkled with adjectives like slime, hussy, and scum bag. Taking another look at her outfit, Brass added tramp and trollop for good measure.
"You can't talk to me like that, you donut eating pig. I got rights." Her face flushed with anger, making the caked red lipstick and heavy blue eyeshadow all the more hideous.
"Rights?" Brass spat out, his eyes narrowing. "You have rights? Last time I checked, keeping a kid locked up in a closet wasn't a right. More like a reason to get dragged through town behind a pickup truck over long stretches of gravel road."
"He certainly has a way with words."
Sara hadn't noticed the door to the door to the small room opening until Grissom spoke. He held a white Styrofoam cup in each hand, and when she turned slightly to acknowledge him he pressed one of the cups into her hand.
"It's tea. I know you normally drink coffee, but I figured you might need a break from the caffeine."
"I... thanks." She took a sip, and welcomed the spreading heat.
"You bastard." A shout from the other room drew their attention.
"Don't like being called names? You are going to hate prison." Brass was standing now, his palms resting on the edge of the table. "See, prison is a world unto itself, with rules and a very special pecking order. And you know who falls at the bottom of that order? Not thieves, not murderers. People who hurt kids. There are some things that are unacceptable even in the underbelly of society, and that would be people like you."
"What... what can I do?" She was scared. Sara could see the color drain from the woman's face; see the look in her eyes when Brass' words finally sunk in. This was not something she would be able to talk her way out of. Her demeanor changed, became more frantic and less hostile.
"Tell me your story." Brass reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a mini tape recorder.
It won't keep you out of prison, Sara wanted to tell the woman. She stayed where she was, however, and waited for answers.
"She was a fussy baby from the beginning..."
For ten minutes Sara listened to the 'poor me' sob story. Pregnant right out of high school, divorced shortly after Katie's birth, raising two daughters on her own. The list of injustices this woman felt she had suffered grew longer with each minute that passed. When she spoke of being 'forced' to leave her six and three-year-olds at home alone because of a lack of affordable childcare, Sara lost it. She slammed out of the observation room, unable to stomach any more. For a second she paused in front of the interrogation room door, the temptation to storm into the room and give the woman a piece of her mind, or better yet a piece of her fist, was strong. Knowing the blemish it would make on her job record didn't stop her, but the damage it could do to the case they were building did.
It was times like this that she hated the glass walls lining the hallways. Handy when you were trying to find someone or keep track of what was going on around you, they were just the opposite when you needed a place to escape. After rejecting the break room and locker room as too public, Sara found herself in the garage. None of their current cases involved a car of any kind, so the large room was dark and empty. It smelled of grease and oil, with a hint of superglue fumes and gun powder residue mixed in, and Sara took comfort in the odd bouquet. Finding a pile of old tires in the corner of the barren room, she kicked them a few times before collapsing on top of them and burying her face in her hands. She heard him this time. His footsteps echoed across the garage, reaching her ears before he came up on front of her.
"Mrs. Hughes' council has arrived. He's trying to work out a deal with Brass."
"She's not going to get enough time, is she?"
"What is enough?" Grissom asked, and Sara lifted up her head to glare at him. Her expression softened when she saw that rather then his usual philosophical gaze, his eyes were a mirror image of her own.
"Enough that this will never happen again. More then the twenty year maximum under Nevada state law. We don't know how long she kept that girl locked in that room, Griss. Don't know how much damage has been done. She should pay..."
"That's not our job, Sara."
"I'm not talking about our job. I'm talking about what's right." Sara couldn't keep still any longer, and rose from the make shift seating to pace the stained floor. "Laura and Katie should be telling secrets about boys, not about stolen moments out of the closet. Laura should be told she's smart and beautiful, not too dumb to learn anything. Katie should be laughing with friends after school, not hiding in an apartment while her mother goes to work or clubbing or whatever the hell she does."
"Who told you that you were smart and beautiful, when you were young? Who stayed with you after school?" he asked softly.
"We aren't talking about me," Sara stated defensively.
"We could be." There were times when she wished that Grissom didn't know as much about her as he did. To be fair, there were also times when she wished he knew more.
"They never locked me in a closet, or took away food and water and bathroom privileges. Whatever else I could say about them, my parents weren't complete monsters. This woman... if she's not a monster she's something close."
"All cruelty springs from weakness," Grissom quoted. "She isn't a monster, Sara. Just a horribly weak woman."
"Whatever delusion you have that your quotes are either helpful or charming, I'm going to burst that bubble right now."
"Sara." He ignored her comment and grabbed at her hand as she walked in front of him. "She's not going to get them back. No matter what happens, the kids are in the system now and she won't be able to hurt them again."
"Speaking as someone whose been in the system, it's not all it's
cracked up to be. And just because they don't have to live with her anymore doesn't mean she can't hurt them." She yanked her hand from his grasp and swiftly walked across the garage and out of his sight. Once again she had the last words and he was left watching her with his mouth open and words trapped in his throat.
He didn't see her again until the next shift. By the time he had recovered from her departure and gone to look for her, she had already left the building. He had stayed late to sit on the interview with Mrs. Hughes' boyfriend. The man had claimed that he didn't even know there was a second child living in the apartment. Acid burned Grissom's throat when he realized that he was telling the truth.
After a few nightmare soaked hours Grissom returned to the lab to find Sara had beaten him there. She was perched on one arm of the break room sofa, talking on her cell phone. Sensing his gaze, she looked up and met his eyes briefly before turning away.
"Yes. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me." A press of a button and the phone was returned to her pocket.
"Who was that?" Grissom asked curiously.
"No one important. Have you picked up assignments yet? What do we have tonight?" She tried to change the subject. It had been a long night with little sleep, and she was not in the mood for another Grissom lecture. If he knew who she was on the phone with he would try to talk to her, his voice soft and patient, his eyes concerned. And she would feel like hitting him.
"No cases yet, so you have time to tell me about your boring call from no one important."
"If you'd like to tell me," he added. Because he gave her the choice, instead of demanding, she relented.
"That was Laura and Katie Hughes' social worker. I asked her yesterday if she would call me and give me a progress report."
Grissom saw the shadow flicker across her eyes. He wanted to chase it away, but knew he did not have that power. He wanted to keep her from future pain, but knew that too was not possible. He could caution her again about becoming too involved with cases, but the last thing he wanted to do was alienate her. Intentional or not, he had done that often enough.
"Shift doesn't start for another hour. Why don't we go to the coffee shop across the street and you can tell me what the social worker had to say." 'A burden shared is a burdened halved', he remembered his mother telling him.
It was not at all what Sara expected him to say. Grissom lectured, ignored, buried himself in work. He did not offer cups of coffee and sympathetic ears. The expectant look he was giving her said that he was ernest though, and she decided to take his words at face value.
"They're breaking the girls up." They hadn't spoken on the walk across the street, or as they waited to be seated. Once they settled in the booth meant to seat more then just two, Sara started to talk. Grissom emptied part of a sugar packet into his coffee, not taking his eyes off the woman seated in front of him.
"They were together last night, at the emergency shelter. Today, though, they are being taken to more permanent placements. Katie is going to a foster family. She'll need therapy, obviously, but she can live with a family and go to a regular school. Laura is going to need a lot more. She can't read, can't write. According to her mother, she hasn't left the apartment in seven years. Seven years, damn it." Sara slammed her coffee cup down on the table. The hot brown liquid sloshed over the sides and onto the flat surface. Grissom grabbed a handful of napkins and handed them to her.
"Thanks," she mumbled as she mopped up the spill. "This wasn't the first time."
"First time for what, exactly?"
"First time she's had a child taken away," Sara spat out in disgust. "Before Katie was born there was another sister. Two years younger then Laura. A neighbor called social services when Mrs. Hughes asked her to baby-sit. The baby, Angie, was eight months old and only weighed as much as an average five month old. She couldn't sit up, or roll over. Social services took Angie away, but not Laura. They couldn't prove parental neglect or abuse. At least not then. Guess it's a different story now, huh?" she added sarcastically. Draining the rest of her coffee in a single gulp, Sara returned the mug to the table.
"I should go back to the lab."
"Not yet." He reached for her hands, captured them in his own. This time, when she tried to pull away he held firm.
"Sara, there is nothing at the lab that can't wait for forty five minutes, which is when our shift starts." He signaled a waitress over. When she arrived, he asked for more coffee, a club sandwich, and a tuna sandwich.
"You like tuna, right?" he asked.
"It's a little late if I don't."
"You could always have my club sandwich instead," he remarked.
"Doesn't matter. I'm not really hungry anyway." Really, she was a little nauseous. Stress did that to her, which is why she rarely ate at work.
"Good food is..." Sara glared at him, and recalling her comment the previous day he decided not to finish the quote. "Will you at least keep me company while I eat?"
"Okay," she agreed.
He tried to think of something to say to her, something to make her feel better or take her mind of the case. He took long enough that the food arrived before he could think of something to say. Squeezing her hand, he let her go.
"Did you want to trade?" he asked when the waitress placed the tuna sandwich in front of Sara.
"No. This is fine." Actually, it smelled good and Sara was surprised to find that she felt hungry. Thinking back she realized that the last time she had eaten was before yesterday's shift. Cautiously she took a bite of the sandwich, and when her stomach didn't rebel she took another.
Grissom was relieved to see her eating. It was not something he saw often, which troubled him since he was around her eight, ten, sometimes twenty hours a day. Sometimes he thought it was coffee alone that fueled her. Coffee and determination, with a large dose of stubbornness thrown in.
Silence blanketed the table as they ate their dinners, interrupted only by requests to pass the catsup and mustard. Only when her plate was almost empty did he ask the question that had been circling in his thoughts for more then a day.
"Sara, do you want off this case? Because I could have Warrick...'
"No." Her response was swift and feral. "This is my case, Grissom. Your not taking it from me."
"I'm not going to. I just want you to know it's an option."" He
wanted to; had never wanted her on the case to begin with. Sighing, he
admitted to himself that taking her off now probably wouldn't do any good. She had already seen herself reflected in a pair of wounded girls, and no matter what he did he couldn't take that memory from her. He could at least content himself with the fact that most of the evidence was gathered, the case almost wrapped up. Soon she would have to set it aside and move on. Another case, another crime.
The final report she handed him was twice as thick as usual. Always meticulous, she had write detailed observations of both her interview with Laura and her visit to the Hughes' apartment. Even being familiar with the case Grissom felt nauseous when he read the medical report on Laura Hughes. Besides the muscle weakness from her cramped living quarters, she was so badly malnourished that her height had been stunted. She would probably never grow past her current height of 4' 9. Her teeth were rotten from never seeing a dentist, and it would take several visits to repair them. It was reading Katie's interview, though, that made him clench his fist and long to hit something.
'Mama said that Laura was stupid, and we had to keep her from seeing other people. They would laugh at her, Mama said. When anyone came to visit Laura had to be real quite. Sometimes, when I knew Mama was going to be gone for a long time, I would unlock the closet door and let Laura out. We would play, but only real quiet. No one could know, or we would get in trouble. Laura always went back to her room before Mama came back. When I left for school I would leave the light in my bedroom on, so it would shine in the crack under the door of the closet, and not be to dark.'
Even more haunting then the transcript of the interview was Sara's notes. She wrote of how matter-of-fact Katie's story was. She had believe what her mother had told her, had thought her home life ordinary. Grissom was reminded of last year, and sitting on a couch listening to Sara talk. 'The fights, the yelling, the trips to the hospital. I thought it was the way that everybody lived.' Children know what their parents teach them. He was wrong when he told Sara that Mrs. Hughes wasn't a monster.
"Thinking serious thoughts?" Catherine noted the frown and the clenched jaw, but decided to enter the office anyway. Grissom's only greeting was a terse nod as he added his signature to the last page if the report and flung it onto the pile of papers in his 'out' box.
"You okay?" Her voice held a note of concern. Not that Grissom was the best conversationalist, but he didn't usually ignore her completely.
"I'm fine," he said tersely as he shoved a pile of papers into his briefcase and stood up. "Shift's over, Catherine. I'll see you
"Goodnight, Gil." Something was really bothering him. She was never one to leave anything alone. "You have my number. Use it, if riding a roller coaster isn't enough to pull you out of your funk, okay?"
He left without acknowledging her offer. Catherine decided that he must be working the same case as Sara. When Catherine had seen her in the locker room a few minutes ago, the other woman had that look in her eye that they all got when working particularly difficult cases. Taking a moment to flip through the report on Grissom's desk, she swore under her breath. Some people didn't deserve to live.
"Sara." She was reaching for her car's door handle when his voice stopped her.
"Report's on your desk, Griss."
"I know, I saw it." He was standing right next to her now. She
waited for him to speak again, knowing he hadn't stopped her from leaving just to say goodbye.
"I thought you might want to know I received a call from Katie's
social worker." It was a white lie. He had called her, but Sara didn't need to know that. After all the times he warned her about not becoming involved with cases, he wasn't about to confess to breaking his own rules. "They found placements for both girls. She also told me that they're only about ten minutes apart, and time has already been scheduled for weekly visits."
For the first time since walking down the hallway and seeing a dirty little girl starring at her feet, Sara smiled. It wasn't much, but it was something.
"See you tomorrow?" he questioned.
Grissom let his fingers run down Sara's arm before gently squeezing her hand. Taking a step back he watched as she got into her car and drove out of the parking lot. When her car rounded the corner, he picked up his briefcase and walked to his own car. He briefly though of Catherine's comment, and toyed with the idea of stopping at the New York New York but decided against it. The sooner he got home the soon he could eat and go to sleep, and the sooner it would be tomorrow.