"Martinez kidnapped us at random. He probably had no idea what to do with us. He talked a good game, but now I'm convinced he was just as scared as we were once he realized what he had done. He was looking good for murder and now had abducted two criminialists. I remember when I woke up, he was insistent on telling me that he wasn't a killer. Funny thing, now I believe him."
Paul Martinez felt the sweat pouring down his body as he carried the second CSI to the designated resting place. He had gone over several scenarios in his head as to what to do with them. Killing them was not an option. He just couldn't stomach the idea. Knowing his no good partner's body was stashed away in his trunk was enough to make him hurl. So no, he couldn't kill them, but this was good.
This was just evil enough to satisfy him and a big enough distraction for the local police. Dumping them here would give him enough time to escape. After driving straight for 8 hours, he was just finally glad he had a plan.
He felt a pinprick sting on his hand and jumped up. A little black spider hit the ground and crawled away. There was a minor itch, but nothing he couldn't handle. Besides, he only had time to get the hell out of Reno.
"I think Paul had dropped us near a patch of greenery. A place where water was abundant enough for spiders or any other creature to live richly. He was bitten, but completely unaware of the danger.
I woke up and he explained his plan to me. He made it clear that the road wasn't far and that we would live. So he drives away, starts to feel the symptoms and most likely steers his car off the road once delirium starts to set in. Now he knows it was the spider. Lucky for him, he's come across the trailer. He goes inside, finds some old canisters of antitoxin and tries to save himself. He's too late."
Paul stumbled out of the busted up trailer, the night air feeling frigid and remorseless. He had fallen asleep on the bed, at some point vomiting, but he couldn't remember when all that had happened. Letting sleep claim him had been such a stupid thing to let happen, but thank his lucky stars he had woken himself up. He even had the good sense to look around the trailer for a phone, but found something much better.
An old newspaper on the ground at his feet spoke words to him that were purely divine. The article spoke of a legend. A man who helped people in need. Paul rummaged through the trailer, hoping to find the miracle that the newspaper spoke of. Lucky for him, he did.
Once outside, he shivered again. He was beginning to fear hypothermia more than death, the shivers and shakes were getting that bad. In his hands were a syringe and a bottle of antitoxin. Or what he hoped to be antitoxin. He settled into his car, fumbling with the medical supplies. Then he heard footsteps.
"Paul, I can't let you have that," someone said. The voice was muffled, unclear. Maybe his ears were blocking up because of the toxin or maybe he was dreaming. He really couldn't tell. He got back out of the car, still holding what he hoped to be a cure. His cure.
He saw the dark figure approaching as it reiterated, "That wasn't meant for you. I'm sorry."
"What? Who the hell are you?" Paul demanded, his voice weakened and strained. He grasped the antitoxin tightly.
"She needs it. It's not her time," the mysterious stranger tried to explain. "I wish I didn't have to choose between two lives."
Paul's vision was still too blurry to make out who this person was and he sure as hell couldn't figure out why they deserved to live more than he. He hadn't killed anyone. . .on purpose.
"I'm not. . .giving it up," Paul stuttered, then collapsed against his car. He had to inject that cure into him as soon as possible. The figure stepped forward just as the cry of an eagle above washed over them. The eyes that were passing judgement on him glowed with a blue, fiery blaze. Paul was frozen in place due to fear, bewilderment and amazement. How could this be? "I . . .can't believe this. You. . .you shouldn't be here!"
Gentle hands had no trouble taking the antitoxin from him. Paul fell into his car and that's where he remained.
Sara looked up from her bed, watching Grissom as he watched her. She swallowed hard, "When I saw him in that car, I suddenly became aware...that maybe I had something to do with his death. Maybe I was the one who found him...took the antitoxin away from him."
Grissom frowned, letting her narrative sink in. Her educated guesses behind Paul's death seemed logical, but something about the last bit unnerved him. "Catherine said you went looking for someone. You claimed he was the one who saved you."
"Raji. His name was Raji," she stated woefully. She leaned forward and said with conviction, "I know this sounds crazy, Gris, but he found us. He carried Catherine back to that trailer. He gave her the antitoxin."
"You sound so sure. Just a moment ago, you told me it had to have been you who took the antitoxin from Martinez."
Sara fell back into her bed, frustrated. "I don't know. I. . .I don't remember taking the antitoxin from Martinez. I was just assuming because Raji. . ."
She couldn't finish her final thought. She couldn't accept that Raji didn't exist. Not yet.
"Sara, when you fainted, you were very frail and very pale," Grissom pointed out. "You were suffering from dehydration and fatigue. Catherine said you were very disoriented for most of your ordeal out there and it's very possible that your short term memory didn't allow some of those events to stick. Lastly, we can't find this Raji anywhere nor can we find his grandfather. You want to know what I think?"
"You think I'm crazy," Sara scoffed, closing her eyes.
"No. I think you dreamed up the Raji tale to explain what happened to you," Grissom stated, feeling very sure of himself. "I also believe Paul never got the chance to inject himself. He died before he could. Remember, he was hours ahead of you. There's no way both of you could've stumbled upon that trailer at the same time. You carried Catherine as far as you could go. In your disoriented state, you veered from the road and luckily enough stumbled upon the trailer. You found Martinez dead and found the bottle. You saved Catherine, Sara. Not this fictitious Raji."
"I saved her?" Sara repeated warily.
"Yes, you did," he repeated with a soft smile. He did shrug and add, "There's still some mystery around the origins of the antitoxin, but as Jim put it, you were just damn lucky to have found it. I think this time, I can accept luck over the evidence."
Sara said flatly, "Yeah. Luck. I guess I can accept that too."
Of course, she was lying. It wasn't luck.
Grissom's story sounded good. It sounded really good. She could remember feeling disoriented, lost. She could remember the dizzy spells, the shocking shrieks of the eagle always startling her. She could especially remember the fatigue. Yes, based on her current physical condition, his story sounded really good. It just didn't sound true.
"Catherine can't wait to see you," Grissom smiled. "She's very worried about you."
To this Sara smiled, "She's doing okay?"
He nodded and rose from his chair, "The doctor wants to observe you both for the night, but by morning, I'm sure you'll both be given clean bills of health."
She watched him leave than let her smile slowly fade.
The nurses fussed over Sara for nearly an hour the following morning, even though it was clear she didn't have any serious injuries. Aside from sore muscles and a whopping headache, she felt fine. All she really wanted was to find Catherine's room.
Finally allowed to leave, Sara practically jogged toward the designated room. Her heart rate picked up at the thought of seeing Catherine again after nearly ten hours of separation. And while that reaction may have confused her two days ago, nothing about the flutters racing through her chest puzzled her now. Raji was right. They were close. Maybe they were closer than either of them had known.
Sara paused, shaking her head. Raji. She kept speaking of him as if he were a real person. On the other hand, did she really believe that he was some kind of magical spirit? A miracle in disguise? A figment of her imagination?
Sara turned around to spy a young man with a remarkable resemblance to the man that apparently didn't exist. Only difference being his much smaller stature and baby face. She furrowed her brow with intrigue, "Yes?"
"My name is Sam. I was the one who found the body near the trailer," he introduced himself, extending a hand. She took it and he shook it heartily. He smiled and told her calmly, "You're not crazy, Sara."
"Crazy?" Sara repeated with a light laugh. This man seemed to have Raji's uncanny intuition as well. "What are you talking about?"
"My father, Raji. I know you keep wondering whether or not he was real," Sam continued to beam at her cordially.
"Your father?" Sara repeated. "That's not what you told the police."
"I know, but believe that Raji is my father. I held this information from your supervisor to keep my father's memory as quiet as the sands. Please, don't tell him." Sam pleaded. Before she could say anything in response to this, he handed her a newspaper. "That man, Paul, this paper was near his body and I took it from him. I know you frown upon such things, but these words were meant for your eyes, not his. Read this and than you'll understand. My father was a special man and he did help you last night. Eagle was his guide. Eagle helped him to save you."
Sara glanced at the aging paper in her hands, a part of her wanting to initiate protocol and turn this into evidence. A larger part didn't move at all. She returned her attention to Sam and asked quietly, "He was real?"
"As real as you and me," Sam promised, but added with a shrug, "He just only comes around when he's needed."
Sara shook her head, "I'm not sure I understand."
"It's not easy to explain. Sometimes, I'm not sure he's ever really there either," Sam admitted, then insisted. "Please. Read the article. I wish you all the best."
"I will and thanks," Sara smiled as she watched Sam walk away. She found a waiting room and took a seat in one of the chairs. She spread open the paper and began to read. First thing she noticed was the date. The paper was nearly four years old. The title of the article read "Local Medicine Man Found Dead in Desert". Sara could feel her chest getting tight as she saw Raji's name in the caption below his picture. Sadness washed over her immediately.
With a deep breath, she began to read aloud, "Raji was known as Reno's local medicine man and hero. Several tourists owed their lives to him, after he was able to administer antitoxins made from natural resources for dangerous insect bites. He was also known to craft splints out of raw materials for broken bones and use what he called "Eagle Medicine" to clean wounds and/or other injuries. Last Thursday, Raji set out and didn't return. His grandfather had said he heard the shriek of Eagle calling him; telling him his grandson was in danger. By the time he found Raji, he was already dead. The victim of several spider bites. The same illness he used to fight on a routine basis."
Sara paused, then repeated in complete disbelief, "Several spider bites?"
Just like Catherine.
With shaky hands, Sara folded up the paper and tried to stand, but fell back in her chair. She was dizzy, but thankfully not because of exhaustion or dehydration. This was a different kind of dizzy. A baffled dizzy. What was this Sam guy trying to say by giving her this paper? Sure it proved Raji was real, but it didn't explain how she saw him the previous night. It didn't confirm or deny anything for her concerning Paul or the antitoxin. Unfortunately, it also proved that Raji was dead and that was making Grissom's story sound better by the second.
Sara looked up and saw her in the doorway. Catherine looked ten times better than last night. Maybe better than Sara could ever remember. Warrick and Greg were shadowing her, but stayed back as Catherine came toward her. Sara rose from her chair just as the blond reached her. "I heard you were hiding in here."
Sara nodded. Words were failing her, so she opted for something she rarely did. She wrapped her lanky arms around the other woman tightly, burying her face in a sea of blond hair and not caring if the two men across the room were watching with great shock and curiosity. She could feel the embrace being returned twofold, fingers gripping onto her back with such force, she began to wonder if the manicured nails would actually tear through the fabric of her shirt.
Sara finally pulled back, her voice returning, "I'm sorry...I just...I was just. . ."
"I know," Catherine cut her off, her eyes softening.
The boys finally approached them. Warrick was all smiles as he faced Sara, "So, I hear you're the one who carried Catherine over miles and miles of desert."
"Yeah, on your back," Greg chimed in, clearly proud.
Sara's eyes widened, surprised Catherine would even admit something like that to her confidant, let alone Greg Sanders. It took her a moment to respond, but she replied with a wary smile, "Uh, yeah. I had no choice, really."
"We definitely have to celebrate," Greg announced happily.
"Yeah, sure," Sara agreed, shoving her hands nervously into the pockets of her slacks. She frowned, suddenly realizing these were the same clothes from nearly three days ago. She glanced up with a sheepish smile, before requesting, "Can we stop by my place on the way? I really have to change out of these clothes."
The lab welcomed them back with open arms. A small party was set up for Sara in the breakroom, a small thank you from everyone for saving Catherine's life. Questions poured in from all around her. How did she do it? Didn't the desert sun drive her crazy? What was it like fighting Paul for the last drop of antitoxin? How did it feel to have to choose between his life and Catherine's?
Well, that last one was easy. Sara would've killed Paul to save Catherine, there was no doubt. However, the truth of the matter was that she didn't. She didn't kill Paul. She didn't wrestle the antitoxin away from him and she didn't carry Catherine to that trailer. Of course, she kept all these thoughts to herself. Sam and the newspaper were all the evidence she had of Raji's existence and both attested to his unfortunate death some four years prior. Trying to convince others that Raji did in fact save them would be nothing short of impossible.
In true Ecklie fashion, after about twenty minutes of commotion, he told everyone that crimes needed to be solved and that evidence waited for no one. He added his sentiments on their safe return much later in the day.
Back in the deep corner of the lab, Sara found herself immersed in the latest case. It felt good to be alone. Away from the questions and all the confusion that accompanied them. It felt good to be doing what she was meant to do: solving crimes. Carrying people on her back and involuntarily conjuring up dead people was most definitely something she didn't want to be forced to do again. Even still, it felt good to know that she was capable of much more than simply analyzing data off a computer screen. She did have the ability to save a life, if such a time ever arose again. A small smile of accomplishment emerged. Yes, for the first time since getting back home, a sense of pride overcame her. She was capable of doing much more.
"That looks good on you."
Sara's head snapped up from her work. Catherine was leaning in the doorway with her arms crossed. A slight twinkle in her eye. She looked absolutely beautiful.
Sara glanced down at her well worn lab coat and chuckled, "Um, what looks good on me?"
Catherine stepped in, "That smile. You don't smile enough."
Sara could sense there was more and she waited patiently. Catherine's lips were pressed tightly together as if trying to hold back any emotion. She took a deep breath before saying, "Sara, I never got a chance to say thank you. A real thank you. You saved my life."
Sara tried to brush it off, her cheeks flushing, "I dunno what would've happened if . . .if. . ."
Catherine grew concerned and tried to coax the rest out of Sara, "If what, Sara?"
Sara couldn't fight the flustered emotions washing over her. She had almost mentioned Raji again. She amended, "I was so tired, Catherine."
"Hey, you told me that if you had to carry me another hundred miles, you would save me. You kept telling me to stay awake for you and I stayed awake for you, " Catherine pressed on.
Sara released a short, nervous laugh. "I didn't think you could hear me."
"Yeah, I heard you," Catherine confirmed, pulling Sara in for a hug. "You kept on believing in me. You have to know how much. . .Just thank you."
Sara smiled shyly, "You're welcome, Cath."
"And Sara, you know if the roles had been reversed, I would have done the same," Catherine rushed the words out, almost as if she were trying to convince a jury of her peers that she too could be trusted with someone's life. That she could be trusted specifically with Sara's life.
Sara was so engulfed in the sensation that was holding Catherine close to her, she almost forgot to answer. She whispered, "Yeah, I know."
It was the truth. Sara knew Catherine would've moved mountains for her, no question. In fact, that part of their relationship had never been up in the air. Sara trusted Catherine with her life, always had. They pulled back out of the hug slowly, reluctantly, as if ending this embrace would be the end of them forever.
Catherine's eyes held that same bit of intrigue and something else that Sara still couldn't identify. It was that something else that made Sara ask, "Catherine, what is. . .?"
"I don't know," was Catherine's immediate response. She could sense it too. Whatever shift that took place in their relationship, Sara was glad to know she wasn't the only one who felt it. Catherine flashed an abashed smile, putting a little space between them to ease up the tension that had started to build. She reached into her coat pocket and said, "I also wanted to give this back to you."
From her pocket she pulled up a beaded necklace. Sara's mouth fell open slightly realizing it was the same piece of jewelry Raji had draped around her neck! Sara managed to reach up and take it, the cool beads tingling her skin. If this necklace was real, than Raji. . .
"I saw it fall off when the EMTs picked you up off the ground," Catherine elaborated. "It looks to be handmade and I figured it was a special keepsake of yours. I made Gris grab it before we left."
"I, uh, thank you," Sara mumbled, her eyes finally meeting Catherine's. She smiled broadly and repeated, "Thank you. This does mean a lot to me. I'm glad it wasn't lost."
"No problem," Catherine grinned, than glanced at her watch. "Wanna go on break? Coffee's on me."
Sara grinned, "The coffee's free."
Catherine was already half way out the door as she insisted with a smile, "So, going on break with me or no?"
Sara put the necklace back on and shed her lab coat, "Yeah. A break sounds good."
They stood outside, the night sky a constant reminder of their desert plight. Only now, the Vegas skyline lit the vast black blanket from below and provided a strange sense of comfort and familiarity. They were home.
Sara felt a hand intertwine with hers. She turned her head to meet Catherine's gaze head on, her heart flittering in a crazy manner. She smiled as she tightened her hold on the other woman's hand. It was in that moment when she realized that this was home. Maybe Catherine had realized that too.
A sound grabbed her attention. She could've sworn she heard the screech of an eagle soaring high above them. She glanced up to find nothing but stars. Even though she couldn't spot the eagle, she knew it was there, somewhere. She knew this because it was just as Raji had said. Eagle soared close to the heavens. Eagle knew all. Eagle was always watching.
Everything will be fine once morning comes, she could hear him say. Only then can you understand.
A/N: A big thank you to all of you for the reviews! I'm grateful when anyone decides to take time out of their day to read, let alone review, so all your kind words and your enthusiasm was awesome. Ya'll rock. Until next time, take care.