Disclaimer: I don't own CSI or any of the characters, but I have some of the DVDs.
A/N: Thanks to Nightblight, who took time out of her incredibly busy life to Beta this for me. She is the best!
The metal rail mounted to the base of the checkout counter was digging into her lower back, but sitting pressed against it was better than the three hours she had spent standing. She looked around trying to spot a flat space to move to, but the only place possible was in the inset of the opposite register, where Brass was already sitting.
Sara eyed him appraisingly…his eyes were closed. He was pale and looked exhausted, but other than that he seemed no worse for the wear. She wondered if his arms were aching as much as hers were; probably more she figured, due to the damage to his muscles and the pull against his healing wounds.
She kept glancing back to his chest, checking for any signs of seepage from the bandages she knew were hidden under the navy golf shirt he wore. He had only been out of the hospital a few days and this was his first trip out of the house. He had sworn he was going stir crazy and she was going to the store anyway; she calculated she wouldn't be gone longer than an hour doorstep to doorstep, so she saw no reason why he couldn't come along. His doctor and physical therapist had said he would need to slowly build his strength back; she had reasoned a short trip to the store couldn't hurt.
Three hours, 25 minutes and one dead body later she was afraid this particular trip to the store could hurt a lot. She just hoped Brass wasn't the next one that got hurt.
She stretched out one long leg and tapped his foot with her own. "Hey."
His eyes opened, slowly. "Hey."
"How are you doing?" She half smiled at him, though at this point, there wasn't a whole lot to smile about.
He stretched as best he could from his seated position with hands behind his back. "Uhh…I'm stiff and I'm tired, but I'm OK. How are you doing?"
She shrugged, "About the same." There was a silence between them. Not uncomfortable, just a moment of quiet because there really was no rush to say anything, no matter how much there was to say. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure, ask me anything, I'm an open book at this point."
Sara tilted her head and posed her question. "What is it with you and hostage situations lately?"
The detective snorted. "It's my new hobby. Bowling just wasn't doing it for me anymore." Then he gave her a real smile and she gave him her Sara smile in return and just for an instant nothing was wrong.
In the distance, from the outside, she heard the faint crackle and hiss of radio traffic and the accompanying noise of at least half of the Clark County sheriff's department in the parking lot. She had caught a few glimpses of the patrol cars, county SUVs and ambulances through the large plate glass windows of the small natural food store. She wondered absently if the team was out there;
They probably were.
Well, everybody but Grissom... He had sent her a text message shortly before she and Brass had ventured to the store. 419 in desert w/bugs! out of cell range 5-6 hours Brass better? Miss you. Home soon?
Normally, Grissom didn't care to text message, but since Brass had been released from the hospital and she had been staying with him, there had been too few opportunities for private phone calls and he'd suddenly become an avid text messenger. His e-mails were much more detailed but smaller in number. Each of his messages had stated that he missed her and the most recent ones had asked when she was coming home.
They had talked about it while Brass was still in the hospital. She knew it would be hard on both of them to be separated; they had spent very little time apart since finally finding their way to each other. But they had each other now, and Brass really had no one to care for him.
"I've been thinking," her head was resting on his shoulder, their breathing and heart rates finally beginning to even out, after an intense round of lovemaking. He was holding her against his chest, pressing small, sleepy kisses onto the top of her head.
"Mmm…" another small kiss.
"Brass said Ellie hasn't been to see him. Has anybody seen her?" She thought she knew the answer but wanted it confirmed.
"No. I think she's gone back to LA," another small kiss, as he inhaled the scent of her hair… peaches and mangoes and something uniquely Sara.
"He's going to need somebody to take care of him when he comes home," she had tried to keep her tone neutral, but a hint of hopeful inquiry crept in anyway.
There was a Grissom-thinking pause, then, "He could stay with us."
She pulled back, just a little, to fully meet his gaze and she shook her head. "No, Babe. You know Ecklie has been unbelievably decent about us and all he's asked for in return is for us to keep it under wraps until you and he can work it out with McKeen and the sheriff."
Grissom shrugged, "It's just Brass. He wouldn't let on to anybody else."
Again, she shook her head. "But it wouldn't be just Brass. Half the department, probably including the sheriff, would come to visit."
He grimaced. "I hadn't thought of that."
She settled back to his shoulder, "So, I was thinking..."
"You're always doing that; it worries me a little," he interrupted in a mock consternation.
"Funny." She gave a quick kiss to his chest where her head rested. "I was thinking I should stay with him for a few days."
"Sara…" his tone was not happy. "I don't think that's such a good idea right now. It'll be too much. You've been working so hard and you're tired all the time and looking after Brass would just be more…"
"No, really, listen…I'll take a week's vacation. He won't be demanding. He just needs someone to look out for him until he gets his strength back. He'll sleep a lot and that'll give me an opportunity to rest, too." She knew he wouldn't tell her not to, but she wouldn't do it if he objected too much, either. This was what their love was like. There was no struggle for the upper hand, no arguments about who was right and who was wrong. They just quietly worked things out. It had surprised them both, that after all of the years of tension, doubt, want and pain, how easy it was for them to be together.
There was silence and she could almost hear him struggling with his over-protectiveness. His voice was plaintive as he questioned, "A whole week?"
She smiled against his skin, "I'll take a week's vacation, but he'll probably only need help for two or three days. Four days, max. The rest of the time I can be home. Maybe you could arrange your days off to fall towards the end of my week's vacation," she suggested, hoping that would help make her time away more acceptable to him.
He rolled to his side to look at her. "But, I'll miss you." One hand came up to caress her soft cheek.
"I'll miss you, too, Babe. But I really need to do this for Brass. We do…" She corrected herself; after all they would both be sacrificing for their friend.
Only Grissom knew that for the past 2 and a half years, once a week, Sara and Brass gone to breakfast and taken in a movie. The ritual had begun in the aftermath of Sara's near DUI and had continued simply because they liked it. They had never discussed it, but both knew that on some level he was like the father she wished her own father had been before he bled out in front of her eyes. It had also remained unsaid between them, how sometimes she was the daughter that he hadn't failed by affairs and countless absences. But mostly they were just friends, quiet, solid and healing.
Grissom had not understood the quiet strength of their bond until the first tentative days of his and Sara's relationship. It had been a clearing the air period when they had talked about everything; all of her hurts and all of his fears, and one night when they had been embroiled in a deep conversation about their age difference, he had blurted, "How do I know I'm not just a father figure to you?"
Sara had laughed as she explained, "Brass is my father figure. You're my hot genius sexy entomologist figure."
Grissom had grinned in response and there'd been no talking for quite a while afterwards.
He knew she was right. Brass would need some help and it would do Sara good to help him. "You promise to rest, too? And not overdo? You won't completely reorganize all of his cabinets and arrange his spices according to acidity and alphabetize his cds and organize his books according to the Dewey decimal system?"
She made a crossing motion over her heart and held up two fingers in mock pledge.
"And you'll come home to me as soon as he can fend for himself?" he asked, seeming to need some sort of assurance.
"I promise," she said softly and sealed it with a sweet, lingering kiss against his lips.
God, she hoped Grissom stayed in the desert playing with his bugs, blissfully unaware of the drama going on in the small health food store just a few miles from their home. He'd worry himself into a frenzy if he knew.
Sara looked at the man opposite her and said, hesitantly, "I'm sorry, Brass."
He didn't pretend not to know what she was referring to, "Not your fault, Doll. The guy's a grade A nut job. This is his fault, not yours."
She nodded slightly, although uncertainty was written all over her face. "I shouldn't have let you come with me. I should have left your whiny butt at home, resting." She tapped her shoe against his again to lighten her words.
"Yeah, well, if you'd come without me, he'd probably have you bound and gagged and three hours out of Vegas and nobody would believe me that you were gone." He grinned at her. "They'd just think you were tired of taking care of my sorry ass and had gone back to your own place. I'm glad I tagged along," and in spite of everything, he gave her an outrageous wink.
Sara swallowed around a sudden, large lump in her throat. "You know, I wish you weren't caught up in the middle of this, but I've got to admit, as selfish as it is, I'm glad I'm not alone."
He considered for a minute. "Did you know he was following you?"
Sara shook her head, "No, I thought I saw him one day when I came to see you at the hospital, but I wasn't sure… " She looked perplexed. "It's been almost three years and I only saw him from the observation room." She hesitated for a minute, "Do you think he has a plan?"
Brass shook his head. "I think whatever plan he had went all to hell the second the manager put that shot gun in his face."
She thanked whatever fates were in charge of this particular nightmare that the store was small, with few employees and there had been so few customers late in the evening on a week night. They had been wandering the aisles while Brass mock whined to her about making him eat rabbit food, tofu and refined cardboard. She had been laughing at some particularly snarky comment he was making when they had turned the corner to come face to face with a tall distinguished man in his early fifties with a gun in his hand.
"I don't want to hurt anyone," his gun had been solidly trained on them. "Don't move!" he had shouted when Brass had tried to push Sara behind him. His voice was completely calm but his eyes were wide and wild; Brass and Sara froze. Of course neither of them had their weapons. "Sara, I want you to step away from Detective Brass." Sara had looked at Brass, wide eyed, trying to figure the least dangerous move to make. When she didn't move, he spoke more firmly, "Sara, please step away from him or I will be forced to hurt him." She immediately took two steps away from Brass's side. He motioned to Brass with the gun, "Raise your hands, Detective Brass."
Brass did so and sucked in a breath. "Hey, now, Buddy," he began in his good cop, everyman voice. "You're Dr. Lurie, right? Vincent Lurie, we met a few years ago…"
"Be quiet, Detective Brass. I know you and you know me. I doubt either of us has forgotten any details of our brief association. I repeat, I do not want to hurt anyone, but I will if you get in my way. Just be quiet, and don't move." He kept the gun trained on Brass but glanced at the slender brunette in front of him. "Sara, please come to stand beside me."
The young CSI was at a loss for what to do. Every instinct she had screamed at her not to put herself in a position where she had to go with him. That was the number one rule all women were taught in self defense. Don't let your attacker take you anywhere. She felt driven to resist, but Lurie's grip on the gun pointed at Brass was unwavering, and she refused to be responsible for anyone, least of all Brass, being hurt.
She had no choice.
She'd taken one hesitant step toward him when Brass uttered "Sara…" an urgent warning in his voice.
A middle-aged woman in search of vegan refried beans had rounded the corner into the aisle behind them, just as the store manager charged up behind Lurie holding a shotgun. The woman let out a high pitched scream and the manager shouted, "You… put the gun down! The police are on their way."
Everything from that moment on appeared to happen in slow motion.
Lurie turned toward the man with the shotgun and the woman screamed again.
Brass dove at Sara, taking them both down, his body completely covering hers.
She found herself oddly worrying about the bandages on his chest and hoping he hadn't opened any wounds, as gunfire erupted around them.
In retrospect, it was hard to say who was the first to fire, but who was the better shot was easily apparent.
The woman who'd been searching for refried beans lay on the tiled floor where she'd dropped, still screaming. Sara thought she would be screaming too if she had just been the recipient of a gunshot to the thigh. At the opposite end of the aisle, the store manager lay silent where his body had landed, minus his brain matter, which was heavily spattered over cans of organic creamed corn and bags of dry garbanzo beans.
The wails of both sirens and patrons echoed through the store.
The subsequent three hours had been oddly calm. Lurie had gathered the three remaining employees and two other customers into a huddled, hysterical mass. Sara had provided First Aid to the woman under the direction of the doctor, And after an hour and a half of talking to the negotiators, and with assurances of Brass and Sara's cooperation, Lurie had let the remainder of the hostages go, the two teenage cashiers helping the injured woman to one of the waiting ambulances.
Lurie had found some rope in the store's stock room and tied both of their hands behind their backs. At the moment, he was on his cell phone screaming at the hostage negotiators about a car and not being followed.
Brass and Sara both knew this could only end badly. The only question at this point was how badly and for whom.
Conrad Ecklie knew he was not held in high esteem by most members of the Las Vegas Crime Lab. When he considered some of his actions in years previous, he couldn't say he blamed them. He knew he had been an ass a lot of times. Sometimes he had been aware of it, but had rationalized it was for the good of the lab. And then, when even his delusions couldn't rationalize his asinine behavior, he had blamed others.
He had seen it more times than he could count during his extensive career - the stunned and grieving family members exiting the morgue, begging the cold air and the sterile steel for a second chance, just one more chance. He'd remembered those families; the mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, daughters and sons when in the aftermath of a suicide attempt by his fifteen year old daughter, he'd found himself going through family therapy, and alternately individual therapy. He had been given a second chance, a new perspective; and he was grateful for it. That gratitude was renewed every time he watched the expansion and compression of his daughter's torso as she drew and expelled her breaths. He remembered how close he had come to losing her, losing her to her own hand, from emotional poisons he had helped to plant, products of petty professional jealousies and an over inflated ego.
For years, his mantra for years had been, "For the good of the lab." When he really meant, "For the good of my ego." He finally accepted it. He was a decent scientist, but he was a better administrator. He would never be the genius that was the great Gil Grissom. No, but he could stop fighting the facts and accept them. And in accepting them, it really could be about what was good for the lab. He could be a better boss. He could be a better man. And in doing those things, maybe he could be a better father.
When Stokes had been kidnapped and the race to save him had been won, he thought of Judge and Mrs. Stokes, waiting, crying, supporting each other as they held on helplessly, not knowing if their child would live or die. That night he had shown up on the doorstep of his ex-wife's home at 4:00 am and asked her for another chance; a chance to be a better husband.
He had been "dating" his ex-wife for five months when Grissom and Sidle had asked for an appointment. The two of them had sat in front of his desk and confessed. They were nervous but still slightly defiant. They had been seeing each other and had plans to move in together. His first instinct had been to thoroughly blast both of them, but as he had started to wind up for a rant his eyes fell on the newest picture on his desk; his daughter standing in front of her parents, him with his arms wrapped comfortably around his ex-wife, a woman he hoped desperately would forgive him enough to drop the ex from the equation. All three of them were laughing and happy.
He had taken a deep breath, spoken with them about discretion and gathered the appropriate paperwork for them to fill out for their personnel files. To prevent any possible accusations of sexual harassment, he informed them that either Willows or he would handle Sidle's evaluations in future and wished them well.
They had both been stunned and grateful. Their surprise had amused him; their gratitude had gratified him and given him hope. Maybe he was making progress, maybe he was a better man than he had been.
From then on, things had been smoother. Grissom had been more accommodating and Sidle had been pleasant and while they would never be the best of friends, they had fallen into an easygoing working relationship. So, two weeks ago, when Grissom had made another appointment he had not really been surprised to find the older man wanted his help in navigating the professional ramifications of marrying Sidle.
It could have been accomplished easily enough if they had been willing to work on separate shifts, but they both wanted to stay on graveyard. Grissom was offering to step down as supervisor, but that would impact the grants the lab was currently receiving and Ecklie didn't want that.
It was a political minefield and it was just the sort of thing Conrad Ecklie navigated best.
To his knowledge, no one else in the lab knew of their relationship. He had set up an "off the record" meeting with McKeen outside of the lab. They were both trying to figure out the best way to keep Grissom as supervisor, Sidle on graveyard, and allow them to be married. It wouldn't be an internal problem but it could become an issue if, or when, court testimony grew vicious. They were working on an unofficial plan before taking it to the sheriff.
He was out to dinner with his "new" wife when the call came in. Hostage situation involving a cop and somebody from the lab at a health food store.
'How the hell does a hostage situation occur at a health food store?' was the first thing that ran through his mind.
He hadn't been given details, just the address, so he put Jenny in a cab and went to the scene.
When he arrived, Willows, Brown, Sanders, Stokes and a couple of people from swing were already camped out front. No Grissom, no Sidle. The CSIs all wore blank, solemn faces, and he suddenly felt sick to his stomach. "What's going on, Catherine?"
Catherine's voice was coming out at a higher pitch than normal in her agitation, "Sara and Brass are in there with Vincent Lurie. He's the suspect from…"
"The Marlin case a few years ago, yeah, I remember," he closed his eyes and shook his head. The girl had looked just like Sidle. The entire night shift had been wrecked for days, Grissom especially. This was not random. This was bad. "Where's Grissom?"
"DB with insect activity out in the desert before shift started. He's out of cell and radio range," her voice was steadier with this response. "We just got here; I haven't had a chance to send for him, yet."
Ecklie exhaled loudly. He didn't want to leave with one of his CSIs in danger, but Grissom would need to be handled carefully. He felt sure none of Grissom's people knew of his relationship with Sidle or they would have already sent for him. If he went to get Grissom himself, people would wonder what was up.
Discretion and secrecy didn't matter any more. Neither did how it looked. "I'll go get him. Just let me have a word with McKeen." He pointed to one of the swing shift CSIs, "Get your kit, you'll need to take over for Grissom."
McKeen had agreed this was the best plan and had commandeered a cruiser and a deputy to drive him to Grissom's crime scene. This is how he found himself speeding through the desert night, sirens screaming and red and blue lights chasing each other over the flat expanse of sand and scrub. In his head he searched, trying to find the words that would be the best way to tell Gil Grissom that his best friend and the woman he wanted to marry were being held captive by a mad man.
After his latest conversation with the negotiator, Vincent Lurie snapped the cell phone shut and threw himself down next to Sara, the gun still loosely clasped in his hand. "I'm sorry, Sara, it wasn't supposed to be this way. We should have been well on our way by now." He gave her his most charming smile, "I promise I'll make this up to you."
Sara shook her head at him, "Why are you doing this?"
"I want us to be together. I messed up before, but I know what's important now. I've got one more chance and I'm going to take it. We just need to get away from here and start over. You'll see. I won't rush you…" he seemed to want to add more, but after a glance across the aisle at Brass, he stopped.
"I don't understand why you think…" Sara stumbled over her words. "It makes no sense… I don't know you. How can you think…"
"But I know you Sara. I know we're meant to be together." He paused, briefly and then continued in a calmer tone, "Look, knowing who your boyfriends are," he waved the gun at Brass. "What they accused me of with Debbie… It's not like I could walk up and introduce myself and ask you out to dinner. It had to be this way."
She shook her head again and looked at Brass for some sort of clue as to what she should say or do. She knew whatever they were planning from the outside could only benefit from more time, but she wasn't sure how to draw it out without agitating Lurie too much.
He saw her looking at Brass and his control snapped, briefly. "Don't look at him!" he screamed. Then, he immediately calmed and said in a soothing voice, "Don't look at him. He's not your boyfriend any more. Don't look at him. Look at me."
Brass began to speak, but was immediately interrupted by Lurie pointing the gun directly at his head. "Shut up!" he snarled.
Suddenly more frightened than before, Sara turned wide eyes to him and said through dry lips, "He's not my boyfriend. He's never been my boyfriend. He's just a good friend."
"You visited him almost everyday in the hospital. You've been sleeping at his house the last three days." The doctor stated as though that proved his point. "Doesn't the other one mind?"
Remembering the rage let loose on Debbie Marlin's surgical intern boyfriend it suddenly became imperative that Lurie understand Brass was a friend, nothing more. "Yes, I've been sleeping at his house. He just got out of the hospital. I've been making him tea and fixing him soup and talking to him about basketball and golf and playing gin with him. I've been sleeping in his guest room. We are friends. Very good friends, but he is not my boyfriend."
Lurie considered her answer with a dark, twisted pout on his face. After a while his face relaxed and he nodded. "So, there's just the other one? Or are there more?"
Sara hesitated, wondering how long Lurie had been stalking her and how much he knew. She was sure an admission of a lover would not be a good idea, but being caught in a lie by a deranged murderer would probably be worse.
As if he could read her thoughts, Lurie shook his head. "Don't start lying to me, Sara. No matter how many there are, they're all in the past. I just need to know how many men have you been sleeping with the last three weeks." Three weeks since he had first seen her. Three weeks since she became his. "Is there just the one or are there more?"
He seemed to be certain that she had a lover. She had to assume he knew about Grissom. "Just the one," she agreed softly, aware of Brass's eyes on her, but without the heated intensity of the doctor's gaze.
If somehow Lurie made it out of this alive she would have to deal with her fears for Grissom's safety. That was of course assuming she made it out alive as well. But, right here… right now… Lurie couldn't hurt him and that offered her a small measure of comfort.
"You live with him?" Lurie's voice had an almost hurt quality to it. Eyes downcast, she nodded. He paused a minute, then continued, "Is he the father of your baby, too?"