A/N: Well, this is the end of the line for this story. My intention was always to end it here, before Sara actually makes it to Las Vegas. I plan to write a second story that will detail her time in Vegas. I hope you'll join me for that one, too. I'll be away for the weekend, so I can't promise it being posted until the beginning of June, but I'll do my best to have it up sooner.
Thank you so much for taking this journey with me. I've had a lot of fun writing this story. I hope you've enjoyed reading it. Thank you so much for all your support.
I don't own CSI. Inspiration for this chapter was taken from episodes 101 and 102, "Pilot" and "Cool Change." Some lines are also borrowed from those episodes.
"So, how does it feel to be a CSI Level II?"
Sara grinned, even though Mary couldn't see it over the phone. "Great," she replied.
Mary laughed. "That's all you can say?"
"I love this job," Sara laughed. "Is that what you want to hear?"
"I don't know," Mary replied. "I just … I'm glad you like your job."
"I do," Sara confirmed. "How's Tom?"
"Subject change, much?"
Sara laughed. "What? I'm not allowed to ask about your boyfriend? I am the one who brought you two together, you know."
"Yes, I know," Mary replied tolerantly. "He's fine. We're fine."
"Mary!" Sara exclaimed. "Of course I am! I'm very happy for you guys!"
Mary hesitated. "I just …"
"I feel bad."
"What?" Sara was genuinely confused. "Why do you feel bad?"
"Sara. Are you ever going to start dating?"
"Who do you want me to date?" Sara asked. "My supervisor? I haven't exactly met many guys in San Francisco yet."
"Isn't Carl a little old for you?"
Sara laughed. "He's the same age as Grissom. I was more concerned about the fact that he's my supervisor."
"Honey, I'm not trying to be mean, but Grissom always was a little old for you."
"Your brutal honesty never ceases to amaze me. You know, Grissom and I never dated."
"I remember. And, as I recall, we decided ages ago that that was for the best."
"God, Mary, I miss you," Sara sighed, rather than replying to Mary's statement. "I need someone like you to keep me in line. I wish you were coming here for your doctorate."
"I do, too," Mary replied. "But, Middlebury is one of the premiere language schools in the country. Their doctor of modern languages program is so different … How can I turn them down?"
"I know," Sara sighed. "But, it's in Vermont."
"I know," Mary said quietly.
"I just …" Sara trailed off and sighed again. "It would be great to have a friend here."
"What about Carl and Anne?"
"They've been great. I love them both. But … I guess you can't be best friends with the people who train you at work."
"I guess," Mary said noncommittally.
"You don't sound very sure."
"Well, I'm not," Mary replied. "I think you can make a work relationship become friendship. You just have to work at it."
"Maybe I will," Sara said.
"Look, Sara, I've got to go," Mary said, feeling horrible about hanging up on her friend when she was headed into a rather depressed mood. "Tom's going to be here in a minute. He's taking me out for dinner. I'll call you later tonight when I get back home, okay?"
"Okay. I'm off today, so call whenever."
"I will," Mary promised. "I'll talk to you soon."
"All right. Tell Tom hi for me."
Sara hung up her phone and stared at it for a moment. How could talking to her best friend make her feel so terrible?
"It's because I miss her," Sara sighed. "I miss her and Tom. I miss having friends to go out with."
Sighing again, she reached down for one of the forensic journals on her coffee table. Maybe reading about forensics would cheer her up.
"Nicky's just come back from his hundredth," Catherine said with a beaming smile.
Grissom grinned back. "Well, shall we tell him?"
"Yes," she said excitedly. "He's in the break room with Warrick."
Grissom frowned slightly as he picked up Nick's new identification. "Isn't Warrick supposed to be with Holly?"
Catherine looked at him with a matching frown. "Holly must be around the lab somewhere. Warrick wouldn't have come back without her."
"Okay," Grissom said.
"We'll ask Warrick where she is," Catherine said. "Come on, Gil. Let's go give Nick his promotion and take him out for breakfast."
They left his office together and walked to the break room. As Catherine had promised, Nick and Warrick were sitting together, talking about their newest videogame acquisition.
Grissom proudly presented Nick with his new identification. Nick cheered for himself as the rest of them applauded him. Even Warrick was quick to offer his congratulations.
They were standing up to go out for breakfast together when Brass appeared in the doorway. His grim expression told them that something terrible had happened even before his words confirmed it.
"Holly Gribbs has been shot."
In that moment, their world was shattered.
Brass kept talking, but Grissom barely heard a word of what he said. His mind couldn't quite wrap itself around the fact that Holly, the girl he had defended from a group of dead bodies mere hours before, was clinging to life by a thread.
But, she was. Holly, their newest member, Holly, who was only there because it was what her mother wanted, Holly, who reminded him so much of Sara …
She's not Sara, he told himself firmly. Sara was safe in San Francisco. For the first time since she had walked into his office only hours before, he was glad that Holly wasn't Sara. The idea of Sara lying at the brink of death …
He needed a distraction. He looked around at his coworkers. Catherine and Warrick's faces both held the same expression he was sure was on his own: guilty shock. They all, each for his or her own reasons, felt responsible for this girl's shooting. Catherine's eyes slowly filled with tears. Grissom looked away.
He met Nick's eyes. Nick, while just as shocked as the rest of them, looked the most together. Grissom remembered then that Nick had not even met Holly. He would probably be the most detached of all of them in this case.
"Oh, my God," Catherine said as Brass walked away. "This is my fault."
"Cath, you didn't pull the trigger," Nick said quietly.
"I talked her into staying," she said, a tear sliding down her cheek. "She would have given up after that woman went off on her at the convenience store, but I had to go and give her some pep talk …" She trailed off and looked at Grissom. "I was wrong before. You should have gotten that call, not me."
Grissom stared at her. He heard the words; he even understood them. He was just powerless to respond.
"You didn't know, Catherine," Nick said, touching her arm. "Think of how many times you've talked Warrick and me into staying. We're still here."
Catherine looked at him with teary eyes, then buried her head in his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around her, trying to offer some comfort.
The mention of Warrick's name brought him back into focus for Grissom. He turned to look at the younger man, who was staring back at him in shock.
"I called you away," Grissom said quietly.
Warrick shook his head as though in a daze. "No …" he muttered. "I …" He swallowed. "I never should have left."
"You did as I asked."
"But, before …" He stopped, seeming to think better of his words. "You never asked …" he said instead.
Grissom knew that was true. He had never asked Warrick to meet him at that house, to watch as the man Warrick had always known to be a murderer was taken away. Warrick had come of his own accord. Still, Grissom felt responsible.
He should have thought it through better. He should have watched over her better. He should have been a better supervisor.
And, somehow, the one thing he wanted to do was to call Sara. He just needed to know that she was all right.
He looked up as Brass re-entered the room. "Yes?"
"I need you to take a leaper."
A new case? Grissom blinked. How could he leave now?
The answer was easy.
He couldn't stay and wait for word on Holly. He couldn't hold a bedside vigil for a woman he had known for less than twelve hours. He knew that he had barely had time to process what had happened when he left to investigate the death of a man who had apparently jumped from a hotel balcony. But, this was what he needed. He needed to do his job. He needed to work. He needed the distraction.
It wasn't all that much later when he returned to the lab with the body. He knew that he would find his teammates holding vigil in the break room for Holly. He just hoped that he would be able to convince Catherine or Nick to join him on the leaper case. He had some time before he was scheduled to be in autopsy; he decided to find his team and talk to them first.
He walked past the main desk on his way to the break room. "Messages?" he asked the receptionist.
She nodded, and handed him a small stack of message slips. He looked at them in shock, thumbing through them quickly. Every one was from the sheriff. Looking at the receptionist as though she must have made a mistake, he made his way into his office to return the calls. He could talk to his team later.
The phone only rang once before the sheriff answered.
"Hi, Sheriff, it's Gil Grissom," he said in response to the other man's greeting. "I can see that you've been trying to get in touch with me. I'm holding quite a few messages from you."
"That's right, Grissom," the sheriff replied. "We need to talk about your unit."
"Okay," Grissom said slowly, completely at a loss as to where this was going.
"Listen, Grissom, I know that you don't beat around the bush, so I'll get straight to the point. A girl was shot tonight. Her chances for survival are slim. I'm not laying blame, but I do see a need to change the way things are done on the graveyard shift."
"I'm sure some new safeguards can be put into place …"
"I'm not talking about safeguards," the sheriff interrupted. "I'm talking about leadership."
"I've already removed Brass as head of the unit," the sheriff said bluntly. "I want you to take over."
"I want you to run the unit, Gil. Are you willing to do it?"
He had no time to think, but, really, there was only one viable choice. "Yes – of course – but are you sure?"
"Yes," the sheriff said evenly. "I'm sure."
"Is this a permanent change?" Grissom asked.
"As far as I'm concerned, yes," the sheriff replied. "Gil, I know your work. You've been with us for years. You're one of the best CSIs we have. I wouldn't have asked you to take the unit if I didn't think you could do it. I trust you with this position. I know you can do it."
"But, Brass –"
"Brass does not belong in CSI," the sheriff interrupted. "He proved that last night."
Grissom swallowed. "I'll do my best, Sheriff."
"I know you will. And I know you will have great success."
"Is there anything I should know before I start?"
The sheriff's tone was grim. "Yeah. Make sure no one on your team gets shot."
Grissom hung up the phone and stared at it in shock. He was in charge of the unit. He had been Brass's second in command for so long, but had never really anticipated getting the supervisor's position – at least, not like this.
He had a thousand decisions to make, but several were very easy. First, he would have to tell the team as honestly as possible that he would be the new supervisor. He knew that Catherine would not be pleased. She had been hoping for that position for years. But, with his promotion she would receive her own. He just hoped she would be happy being his second in command.
His next decision was to uphold the administrative leave that Brass had assigned Warrick. He definitely needed some time to recover from this.
Holly's shooting would fall to his team to investigate. It was easy to choose the CSI responsible for her case: the newly-CSI III Nick. The only one who had no personal connection to Holly was the obvious choice to investigate her shooting.
Finally, they would need someone to replace Holly. Someone with no prior connection to the lab. Someone who could impartially investigate what had gone so horribly wrong.
Again, the choice was easy.
Sara flipped through the channels, wishing that there was something good on tv. She was bored, and needed a mindless distraction.
Her phone rang, bringing her focus away from the local news. She looked at it with raised eyebrows, surprised that Mary was already home from her date. Hoping that nothing had gone wrong for Mary and Tom, she stretched an arm out to pick up the phone.
"Hi. It's Gil Grissom."
"Grissom!" she exclaimed, sitting up a bit straighter. "Hi! How are you?"
"What's wrong?" she asked, fear jumping into her throat.
"I'm fine, if that's what you mean," he said. "But, unfortunately, one of my team isn't."
"What happened?" she asked, feeling the fear grip her heart. She had never met his team, yet, somehow, she felt connected to them.
"I told you about Holly, right?"
"Your new trainee?"
"Yes, that's the one."
"Didn't she just start this week?"
"Yeah, yesterday was her first day."
"How did she do?"
"Well … there was an accident."
"What happened?" Sara asked again.
Grissom drew a deep breath. "She was shot at a scene."
"My God," Sara said, her hand clenching in a fist. "Is she all right?"
"They're taking her into surgery."
"That doesn't sound good."
"I wish I could say that you're wrong, but they say that it doesn't look good for her."
"Oh, Griss. I'm so sorry."
"Thanks," he said awkwardly. He exhaled. "There's more."
"Warrick was working with Holly at the time."
"Is he all right?" Sara knew how special Warrick was to Grissom; she didn't want to think about how it would affect him if something were to happen to his protégé.
"He's fine," Grissom said slowly. "The problem is, he wasn't with her when it happened."
"Where was he?"
"That's another issue. I'm not sure."
"You're not sure?"
"I called him away from the scene."
"He had been working another case, but he was removed from it … long story … I took over, and I wanted him to be there when they took the guy away." He paused. "The thing is, it looks like Holly was shot before I called him away."
"So, you're saying that he left of his own accord before you asked him to leave."
"He may have." Grissom sighed. "I forgot about Holly, Sara. When I called Warrick, it never occurred to me that asking him to leave his scene meant that I was asking him to leave her."
"But, you didn't. You just said that he was already gone when you called him."
"Regardless, I didn't think –"
"You cannot blame yourself for this, Grissom," she interrupted. "This is not your fault."
"There are just so many questions, so many pieces of evidence and fact and fiction … I feel like it's all swirling around me and I'll never make sense of it." He drew a deep breath. "There's something else," he said slowly.
"Well, with everything that's happened with Holly, the sheriff has made some pretty big changes."
"I guess I can understand that."
"Sara, I've been promoted."
"Promoted?" Sara repeated.
"Yes. I'm running the graveyard shift."
"That's great! Congratulations!"
"Thanks," he said, not sounding the least bit excited about his new position. "I just wish it had happened because Jim chose to leave, rather than because he was forced out."
"Oh. I guess I can understand that."
"With my new position …" He trailed off and paused. "Sara, I need your help."
"What can I do?"
"I don't even know how to say this."
"Just say it," she said, frowning. What would have him so uncertain?
"Sara, I'd like you to come to Las Vegas to help with this investigation. We need to find out where Warrick was, and I want you to be the one to investigate him." He paused. "I don't just want you to help with this investigation," he clarified. "I'd like you to come to work with us in our lab."
She drew her breath in quickly. "You want me to move to Vegas?"
"You want me to work with you in your lab?"
"Yes." He paused. "I'll understand if you can't. It's just … I thought of you immediately when I found out what had happened. I trust you. I know you can do this. I want you to do this. I want you here, working with me." He paused again. When he continued, his voice was barely above a whisper. "I need you."
She didn't hesitate a moment longer. "I'll come."
"You will? You're sure?"
"I'm sure." She was now positively beaming. "I can't wait."
A grin stretched across Grissom's face. Maybe some good would come out of this horrible tragedy. "Neither can I."