Comments: This fic was originally written for the LJ community, fraternizing. Thanks to my beta for doing what she always does, as well as finding the LJ group in the first place. Without her, I would have never been able to write this. Thank you so much, Olly. Spoilers up through "Empty Eyes."
Disclaimer: I don't own it, so don't sue. :-)
Under the Skin
By Duckie Nicks
"I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all." -- Richard Wright
The remnants of a bubble bath skim across the top of the tepid water, the leftover oil swirling around her legs and arms. Sara knows she should get out, now that her skin is puckered and wrinkled, but she doesn't have it in her. Instead, she picks up the nearly drained glass of red wine sitting precariously on the silver edge of the tub and polishes it off.
All that's missing from this decidedly "female" activity, she thinks sarcastically, are candles. But after all the darkness she'd seen in this job, lived through in the past few days, Sara hadn't wanted them. And chances are she doesn't have candles anyway, the CSI knows, because she rarely feels the need to do something like this.
The brunette has never been of the belief that mood lighting and hot water can make things all better. Maybe they can with small events in life, but certainly not this. Setting the wineglass back down onto the tub edge, she relaxes back into the cool water. No, Sara knows, nothing in this tiny room could undo what had happened.
Years ago, Grissom had told her that she needed distractions. That without something else in her life, she would burn out, and as time passed, the CSI had heeded his advice. The days of overtime, police scanners, and forensic textbooks had faded into a more balanced life. But that doesn't mean Sara's able to fully leave the job behind at the end of the day.
This case is no exception.
She had known when she'd come home that nothing would be a sufficient distraction. Because while some part of her wanted to relax on the couch with the dog and her boyfriend, the rest of her needed to agonize over what had happened. Her body ached for comfort, but her mind kept shouting, reminding her, that someone had died. And, in the end, with her conscience winning, a bath had been the perfect way to escape the indescribable look on Grissom's face.
While he was walking the dog, Sara grabbed a glass of wine and quickly made her way to the bathroom, locking the door behind her. She sighed, then, before setting the flute down on the sink.
And as her hand reached out to grab the handle to turn the water on, she was reminded once more of how she had held both of their hands. Cammie's, like the tap, had been cold, though the palms sticky with blood. The murderer's – the one responsible for all of this – fingers had only the thinnest trails of crimson on them. He was still warm with life, while the victim had felt like the cool faucet.
If they had found her only five minutes earlier… if Sara had gotten to the bedroom sooner, maybe the young woman could have been saved.
As the small tub filled with water, it was a thought Sara couldn't avoid. Maybe she didn't want to, she understood. But either way, her mind refused to think of anything else. All she could do was imagine Cammie, scared and alone underneath the bed. The young woman had held on for so long, and in the end, all it had gotten her was a slow agonizing death.
Sara slipped into the too hot water, the steaming liquid surrounding her body in an uncomfortable cocoon. But the memory of holding both of their hands didn't slip from her consciousness easily. And her senses seemed equally stuck.
The bubbles surrounding her body had some sort of scent to them. Apple, she thought, but it didn't matter. The crime had happened a while ago, but still… amidst the fruity bubbles, Sara could only smell blood, metallic and heady. She tried to console herself with the thought that it wasn't her job to save Cammie. But it felt empty.
Her mouth dried at the thought, and perhaps, she understood then, she should have stayed with Grissom and the dog. Maybe this decision to agonize alone was a mistake – to say the least.
Clutching the wineglass, she drank down the remnants of fermented grapes. But her taste buds were similarly stuck… traitorous. Through the notes of cherry and oak, Sara could only remember how the blood clung to her tongue as she opened her mouth in shock as Cammie scratched her.
She put her glass down, the sound of crystal on silver clinking in the heavy air. Quickly submerging herself, the hot water flooded through her thick brown hair, washing over her forehead and splashing around her jaw line. There was almost something relaxing about the way the popping bubble bath tickled her nose. But the sting on her cheek served as a painful reminder of what had happened nonetheless. The slight twinge made her sit up abruptly, and there she's been ever since.
Now Sara wants to forget, wants to see something other than the look on Cammie's face as she died. Wants to forget the way the younger woman's eyes widened and the way she had choked out "port wine."
The CSI doesn't want to remember any of it anymore – knows that it had been a mistake to get so caught up in her emotions. She'd wanted to play savior and had, instead, ended up comforting the devil himself. Grissom has said before that she gets too involved in cases, and he is right… once again. There had been times, before, where his words had been proven correct, but not like this. Sara's not sure she's ever been this far off the path.
She feels adrift, paralyzed by what she'd seen and how she had reacted. Lost in her thoughts, the woman fails to notice the bathroom door being opened. Only after Grissom calls her name twice does she realize he's in the small, steamy room with her.
"Sara?" His voice is tentative, concerned. The brunette looks at him, watches him. His eyes rake over her naked form, but she says nothing. "Aren't you getting cold?"
Somewhere, she thinks the answer is yes, but her body feels foreign to her now, and Sara can only give a shrug in response.
The older CSI narrows the distance between them and crouches down. His hand plucks the wineglass off of the edge of the tub and sets the flute on the sink. Grissom, she thinks, understands that this has hit her hard, but instead of pushing her, he waits. His forearms rest lightly on the bathtub rim.
And as she looks down at his hands, Sara is reminded of what she had told him earlier before he brushed a stubborn tear off of her face. "I held their hands the same way," she repeats to him. "I shouldn't have… I got distracted."
He nods his head in agreement. "It happens," Grissom half consoles.
"I don't need you to coddle me," Sara says, feeling as though her boyfriend is merely humoring her. "I know how you feel on this subject."
"Yes. You do. I think that identifying yourself with the victim – getting personally involved is dangerous. We do our jobs best when we remain as objective as we can." The words are what she expects from the older CSI, but it doesn't ease the knot in her stomach.
He smiles ever so slightly at her. "But it happens," Grissom repeats. "It's impossible to do this job without ever expressing an emotion. It happens, and the important thing, Sara, is that you were able to see past your sympathy. We caught him – you did."
"Yeah." One of his hands cups her chin briefly, before he strokes her cheek with his knuckles, and she feels compelled to say more. It's something Sara doesn't really understand, doesn't know why something as simple as his touch can coax her to talk about everything on her mind. But it does, and she tells him, then, "I just wonder... if I betrayed those girls by looking at him like…"
He waits for her to finish the thought, but instead, the brunette switches directions. "Every day, we do our jobs. We tell ourselves that it's one less criminal, one less monster. But that doesn't mean anything to the victims. And I'm not even sure it means much to the criminals anymore. We used to have six homicides in a week – not in one day."
Grissom mulls the words over in his head. "Do you think," he starts. "Do you think the people of Las Vegas would be better served if we stopped telling ourselves those things? If we stopped doing our jobs?"
"No." Her answer is immediate. "No…" And now her voice is filled with regret, and she feels unsure. "I just… what good did any of that do for Cammie?"
"Probably none." It's not what Sara expected him to say. "But you were with her. She didn't die alone."
The silence permeates the cool air, the only noise a distant, soft squeak of the dog playing with a chew toy. Grissom is right, and they both know it. Cammie hadn't died alone, had instead spent her last moments with someone trying to help. The truth offers some relief, already has the CSI feeling less lost.
Grissom promptly stands up, perhaps knowing that he's gotten through. He starts to walk away, but says as he opens the door, "Come to bed soon. It'll help." And she nods, though he doesn't turn to see.
The brunette sits in the tub a little longer before getting out. As she dries herself off, Sara understands: there wasn't any way she could have prevented this. It makes her heart feel heavy, but it's the truth, nonetheless. There is nothing she could have done or should have done differently.
Sara had found her – a task no one else had been capable of, it seems. And maybe that was – is enough.
She blindly finds her way to the bed in the dark and quickly crawls under the covers. Her body moves, her feet pushing through the linens, until her head finds Grissom's chest. They do not usually sleep this close. Near one another, yes, but Sara has never really felt the need to be practically on top of him. If it bothers him, he says nothing, his arms easily wrapping around her waist.
And as the steady heartbeat and warmth from her boyfriend lull her into a state of peace, Sara understands that perhaps holding Cammie's hand… perhaps that little bit of contact had been enough from the CSI. There was no way the brunette could save the younger woman. No way, she tells herself again, as the bed creeks under the dog's weight.
Bruno settles on top of the covers, guaranteeing Sara will wake up with drool-soaked sheets. But she doesn't have the heart to command the boxer off the bed. Especially not when there's something comforting in how normal this is. And maybe, the CSI finally accepts, she had done enough for Cammie by guiding her through those last few moments, through the darkness – by offering the young woman a similar comfort.
Maybe it had been the only thing had that mattered at all.