Pressing her forehead against the window, Kelly was surprised when she felt the cool glass against her skin; the sun continuing to glare at her face through the transparent surface. She turned her head to the side, pressing herself further into the window. She wanted nothing more than to cover her ears, block out the sound of the other students who were part of the happy atmosphere she clearly didn't belong to.
Sighing inwardly, she bit her bottom lip in anticipation when the bus began to break, coming to a complete stop; the familiar squeaking of the door opening somehow still discernable amidst the clamour of talking and laughter.
Kelly was quick to remove herself from the tanned leather seat on the bus, taking advantage of sitting in the front where Mr. Carter, the driver, was able to see her. She always sat alone and sometimes she wished otherwise, but she didn't have enough strength to press her luck.
She manoeuvred quickly through the black and narrow aisle, pulling the straps of her backpack tighter around her shoulders; nearly missing a step when she hurried off the bus and almost falling when she landed on the street. As she began walking, her stride lengthened, her body moving as fast as her short legs could take her when she heard the pointed laughter behind her; four voices meshing into a familiar and hurtful sound.
"Aren't you going to wait for us?" one of the girls asked and Kelly could picture the four of them, waiting at the bus stop, watching her. "We just wanted to say how much we like your new skirt."
But Kelly knew she didn't mean it…not with a voice that cruel.
"Ahh…little Kelly doesn't want to play, anymore?" another girl said, cooing at her in a patronising manner. "What…you too good to talk to us now?" she chided.
"Just because you're dressed up doesn't mean anything, you know."
Kelly tried to walk faster without running, her braces scraping against the underside of her lip. She didn't dress up for them and she didn't dress up to impress Michael; no matter what the girls said. School pictures were today and her parents wanted her to look nice.
"Going to go crying home to mommy, again, Kelly?" a different girl mocked and Kelly could almost see her standing beside her; could almost feel the warm breath on her face.
"No wonder she doesn't have any friends," someone else remarked dispassionately, causing the rest of the girls to break into forced and meaningless giggles; if only because they knew it was making Kelly feel worse.
She did her best to ignore the voices, the taunts seemingly growing louder the further she moved away. Eyes stinging, she blinked, wiping her nose with her sleeve. It was only a few steps until she made it home, but she couldn't wait; not with their laughter ringing in her ears.
She gripped the straps of her backpack and ran past her mom's car in the driveway. She rushed to the backyard, fumbling with the latch on the wooden fence. Their voices still haunted her mind, but Kelly didn't want to give them the satisfaction of seeing that their words could still hurt her.
Even if they already knew.
She nearly jumped at the sound of the door slamming behind her; inhaling deeply in an attempt to catch her breath. She braced herself against the wide, wooden bars, using them as a barrier against the eyes she could still feel gazing at her, examining and belittling her. Not looking back, she darted to the large tree in the yard, ominous in the foreground and stark against the sky.
Unnatural amidst the colourful foliage of the surrounding trees and the bright hues of the sky.
Leaning heavily against the tree, she let her body fall, ignoring the sound of her bag scraping against the bark of the trunk. The branches loomed over her figure, shadows reaching past her legs that were extended and grazed by the grass.
She didn't want her life to be like this.
Her breath hitched and she swallowed the urge to cry, wiping the corners of her eyes with her hands. She didn't want to live here anymore; didn't want to move here at all. She missed her old friends, people who liked her. She missed her old house, someplace she knew.
Biting her lip, she pressed her palms against the dry soil surrounding the tree. She made two fists with her hands, gathering the dirt and kneading it between her fingers. She uncurled her hands in surprise, feeling something foreign in her grasp and quickly dropping it to the ground.
Kelly looked to her right, slowly crawling away from the object almost lost in the soil. It was a small piece of jewellery and seemed like something for a child. It looked like it could have been gold, but given how likely that would be, she assumed that it probably wasn't real. Because if anything, it looked old and used, something nobody would want anymore.
She reached out for it, placing her hand over it and cautiously picking it up; looking it over it carefully. It was a charm bracelet with seven little pieces attached to the chain: four small seashells, two starfish, and a dolphin. Holding it in her palm, she brushed the remaining soil off it, using her fingernails to scrap away some of the hardened dirt. It appeared to glow for a moment, the sun piercing through the shadows of the tree and briefly shining upon the bracelet.
Her backpack rustled against the grass as she released her arms from its straps and set it on the ground; her mind too preoccupied with her newly found treasure to notice the nonexistent wind brushing against the nape of her neck. She traced the small dolphin with the tip of her finger, the material smooth against her skin and capturing her full attention.
But it wasn't until she felt a chill run down her spine that Kelly noticed the faint voice behind her.
One week later
Grissom closed the car door behind him, making his way around it as he walked toward the house; Catherine following his steps. He placed his hand over his eyes, a neutral expression on his face as he tried to see through the rays of the sun.
"What are we looking at?" he asked as Brass approached them, body tense and arms appearing stiff at his sides.
"Paige Darlington," he answered tersely, looking away from his colleagues; his gaze fixed on two people being questioned by an officer. He nodded in their direction. "Her parents are over there. They were out late last night and didn't get back until a couple of hours ago. Said she wasn't breathing when they found her on the floor."
"How old was she?" Catherine asked softly, placing her sunglasses on her head as she pushed her hair behind her ear.
Grissom pursued his lips, walking away from Brass and in the direction of the house. "Did David get a cause of death, yet?"
Brass shook his head, quickening his pace as he began to walk beside the other man. He stopped by the yellow police tape, lifting it high enough for the three of them to walk underneath it. "He can't be sure until the autopsy."
"Any ideas at all?" Catherine asked, walking past the threshold and into the house. It didn't appear any less usual on the inside than it did on the outside. It was the stereotypical, average American home; white picket fence and all.
Brass shrugged helplessly. "None that he could tell me at the time."
They walked past the foyer and the small table littered with framed photographs; presumably of the family. The collection portrayed the mother and father, but mostly consisted of a little girl; baby pictures, preschool and elementary graduation pictures. She was their only child.
Catherine looked away, forcing her mind to focus on following Grissom up the stairs and away from thoughts of her daughter. The sound of her heels clacking against the hardwood floor in the hallway was muffled as she ascended the stairs.
Grissom nodded to the officer by the door as he stepped carefully into the room, his shoes making little noise against the carpet. David was kneeling over the body of a young girl lying flat on her back with her arms bent at the sides. Her legs were positioned perpendicular to the rest of her body, one crossed over the other. And Grissom would hesitate to think she was dead if it wasn't for the pallor of her skin, the long, dark hair curling around her face emphasising the lack of colour in her face.
Catherine paused abruptly when the room came into view, nearly making Brass walk into her. It almost reminded her of her daughter's room; the cherry wood furniture, papers strewed all over the desk, and a handful of stuffed animals thrown unceremoniously in various places.
But it wasn't Lindsey, Catherine assured herself when she glanced at the young girl lying brokenly on the floor. Lindsey wasn't here. She was in school and she was safe.
"Hey, guys," David greeted solemnly. He stood up from his position on the floor, using the back of his hand to push his sliding glasses closer to his eyes. "Liver temp indicates she died about four or five hours ago."
"The parents' alibi checks out and we haven't seen any signs of a break in," Brass said when his colleagues looked at him.
"It still doesn't rule out many possibilities," Grissom retorted, taking a quick glance around the room. "Someone close to the family or close to her…and we still can't exclude suicide."
"When she seemed to have everything in the world," Catherine said softly, taking in the amount of things in the little girl's room – everything pointing to high quality and value. She set her kit on the ground, picking up the camera that was hanging from the strap around her neck. She turned it on, taking off the lens cover as she moved past Grissom.
"Any ideas about internal causes?" Grissom asked as he walked closer to David, his gaze still on the young girl. "Maybe poison?"
"No outward symptoms so far, but if there are any, they'll probably be more prevalent by the time we get her back to the lab." David followed the older man's gaze. "But I did find something that may help eliminate the suicide angle." He lowered himself once more, a gloved hand carefully moving the young girl's head to the side. "There's a small bruise at the base of her head." He moved some of her hair out of the way, indicating a small area of discolouration. "It was made post-mortem."
"Really?" Grissom raised his eyebrows in interest.
"Suggesting her death was sudden," Catherine added, the camera flashing and humming when she took another picture. "Or at least she wasn't expecting it."
"And it may also explain her body position. The most I can come up with now is some kind of heart failure. At least that's my best guess."
"…for a thirteen-year old?" Catherine asked; her finger shy of pressing the shutter button as she looked at the coroner.
David nodded his head. "I couldn't even begin to think of what caused it, though…too many things could lead to internal complications; especially when we're talking about the heart."
Grissom bent down to open his kit, noting that Brass had already left the room. He shielded his eyes from the light coming through the window and something caught his eye. He turned his attention to a small object on the floor, almost lost within the beige carpet. "What's this?"
"What's what?" Catherine asked, watching him pick up something from the floor. She walked away from the little girl's body, kneeling next to Grissom.
Grissom held the small item in between his fingers, holding it out in the light so Catherine could see. "It looks like some kind of…gold?" he said questioningly, hearing the feet of the coroner shuffle across the carpet as the younger man made his way towards Grissom. He was careful not block the light shining on the small object in Grissom's hand.
"Looks like a seashell," David said, squinting as he looked at the object held between the other man's fingers.
Catherine quickly glanced at the little girl, studying her bare ankles and wrists. She scrunched her brow when she didn't find what she wanted. "I would say it looks like it could go on a charm bracelet or something."
"It's small enough," Grissom said, narrowing his eyes at the dark smudge in between one of the ridges of the seashell.
"Yeah, but I didn't notice any jewellery on her…except for the two earrings."
"Somebody else could have been in here, then," David said, straightening the frames of his glasses.
Grissom frowned, placing the small seashell in the palm of his hand. "Take a look at this," he said, motioning with his other hand for Catherine to come closer. "I think this might be dirt."
"Definitely somebody from the outside if her room is anything to go by. I didn't even see dust on the TV." Catherine pushed her hair out of her face. "Brass didn't say anything about a maid…so someone must have been here."
"We don't have anything so far that says it wasn't hers," Grissom pointed out, turning around to get an evidence bag out of his kit. "For all we know, this is something she may have forgotten about."
"It's too small to get prints…I doubt we could even pull a partial off of it," Catherine said, standing as she watched Grissom put the charm in the bag.
"At least we can send the dirt to trace." Grissom shrugged his shoulders, turning around to face Catherine. "But in the meantime, I'll finish up in here and the rest of what's upstairs…and-"
"I can take what's left downstairs." Catherine titled her head. "I'll start with the kitchen."
Three days later
After making another seemingly endless stop, they were finally on the road again.
The sun had already disappeared behind them, the stars made their presence known above them, and Dean could only concentrate on what lay ahead of them. He grinned when he saw the green, tell-tale sign coming up in the distance.
Barstow was twenty-nine miles, Baker was ninety-one, but the only city he was concerned about was only a hundred and eighty-seven miles away. Dean would drive all night to make sure they found an affordable motel by morning.
Hopefully Sam wouldn't have to use the bathroom anytime soon.
Dean glanced at his brother, who had been surprisingly quiet since they left Utah. It wouldn't bother him if it weren't for the fact that a quiet Sam didn't necessarily equal a sleeping Sam.
And sleep was something Sam didn't seem to be receiving much of lately.
"Finally," Dean sighed in exaggerated relief, hoping to get the other man's attention. "It's about time, don't you think?" He spared another glance at Sam, trying to ignore the bags underneath red eyes; highlighted by the light of the car passing them on the left lane.
"Dean…" the other man said with barely veiled annoyance.
"The lights, the women…the money..." Dean turned to his brother with a large grin, hands resting languidly on the steering wheel. "Hey, think you can come up with your shining thing in time?"
"Shut up, Dean."
The older man laughed at the sour expression on Sam's face. "Come on, Sammy…" he tried to beguile. He was teasing his brother, but only because it was easy to get Sam riled up; and even more so for Dean when he was bored. "Lighten up, would you?"
"Las Vegas doesn't just mean casinos."
"Obviously," Dean snorted. "But when are we going to get a chance to come here again, huh?" He raised his eyebrows suggestively, sticking out his thumb as he pointed behind him. "There's a spoon in the back you can practice on just in case," he added; the beginnings of laughter cracking the serious tone in his voice.
"You're a jerk."
"And you're a bitch."
"Anyway," Sam said pointedly, breaking up any more thoughts Dean had on the subject. Though, the irony of going to Las Vegas for a hunt didn't escape him. "I picked up a paper from the gas station."
"Yeah…what's it say? Anything about the girl?"
"It's a local paper, but her death still managed to make a small section on the front page." He opened the small stack of folded paper in front of him; placing it against the surface of the console. "Young girl dies of heart attack," he read. "She was thirteen years-old."
"Lucky number," Dean remarked; no trace of the teasing from earlier in his voice.
Sam gave the other man a nervous look, turning to another section in the paper to read the rest of the article. "She died suddenly in her room. It doesn't say whether or not she had any past complications."
"Maybe it was just a freak accident?" Dean suggested; even though he knew better than to believe in the remote possibility.
"I don't think so…I've been looking through Dad's journal. He has a record of separate events listed like this over the last twenty years. The first three cases occurred in Henderson, Nevada; there was another one in San Gabriel, California, and then two more in Carson City, Nevada. All about kids dying from heart problems."
"And then this one in Las Vegas," Dean remarked quietly. Apart from the fact that evil actually existed, few things actually bothered him while hunting. Children being victimised by the things they couldn't see in the dark was one of them. "It's not like dad has been sending us any more coordinates, right?"
"I guess," Sam agreed, nodding distractedly as he looked at his brother warily. The fact that their dad was missing was something he wanted – needed – to talk about with his brother. But he resisted the urge to bring it up because if Dean wasn't ready to talk about it, Sam knew it wasn't going to come into any of their conversations any time soon; especially since what happened at the Roosevelt Asylum.
That would lead to a discussion even Sam wasn't sure he was prepared to enter.
"The only thing is that the earlier deaths weren't highly publicised…or at all really."
"So…why was this girl's, then?"
Sam shrugged his shoulders. "My best bet is that she comes from a wealthy family. Or at least one that has some kind of influence in Clark county."
Dean kept his eyes on the road, failing to keep the twisted smile off his face. "Funny how things work out, isn't it?"
Sam didn't answer, looking away from the expression on his brother's face. He took Dean's comment in stride, silently agreeing with him.
Entering the break room, Nick shook his head at the sight of Greg sprawled out on the weathered brown couch. One arm was hovering over his head and lying across the arm rest. The other arm was limp, hanging off the side of the couch and his hand was pressed flat against the floor. His legs looked as if they were positioned uncomfortably, crunched together against the other arm rest.
Nick uncrossed his arms, walking towards the other man and smirking at the sheen coming from the corner of Greg's mouth; trailing down to his chin. He kneeled down, arms resting on his knees as he balanced himself on his feet.
"Greggo," he whispered, raising an eyebrow when Greg didn't move. He frowned, noticing how tired the younger man appeared. He looked as if he was detached from the rest of the world.
"Hey, Greg," he said; raising his voice. He tried again, this time reaching out to shake the shoulder of the other man.
Greg woke with a start, eyes wide as he scrambled to get off the couch; only succeeding in falling to the floor. He cringed at the impact of the fall, blinking when he heard a familiar laughter.
"You okay, man?" Nick asked, laughter dying down as he extended his hand to Greg, tightening his grip when Greg accepted and helping pull the other man up.
"Yeah…I think so," Greg answered, a hint of confusion in his voice. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, the tips of his ears becoming red as he hoped Nick didn't notice the drool on his face.
Nick looked over Greg quickly, satisfied when the other man seemed able to stand on his own. "You haven't been sleeping?"
"Something like that…" Greg began, covering his mouth when his voice was cut off by the need to yawn. "I think it's more about this case, though."
"Well, nobody likes it when kids are the victims."
"Yeah," Greg agreed quietly, though there was something else in particular adding to his feelings about the situation. He knew it was possible; kids dying from heart problems. He knew it happened, actually knew someone it happened to, but it just didn't seem plausible. If anything, he still couldn't wrap his mind around it.
Kids were too young to die.
No matter what the cause.
Though, aside from that, he couldn't help but feel a familiar tinge at the way Paige died. "You ever had that feeling – almost like déjà vu?" He held the older man's gaze, almost desperate as he searched Nick's eyes for some kind of answer. "Though, it's not really déjà vu because you know it's happened before…but just not the same way."
Nick stopped himself from backing away at the look in Greg's eyes, eager for something from Nick the older man knew he wouldn't be able to give. He wasn't unaware of how much Greg looked up to him; all of them really. But it still surprised Nick to note how much faith the youngest member had in the rest of team.
It was a kind of naiveté that Nick was still trying to hold on to.
"Can't say that I have," he replied, inwardly relieved when the intensity in Greg's eyes lessened considerably and the younger man took a step back.
"It's like…" Greg turned his head, vision focused on the coffeemaker on the dark counter. "It's like something's nagging at me, trying to tell me to remember something important." He moved his gaze back to Nick. "Like that whole wrapping a piece of string around your finger…"
"Because you're telling yourself not to forget," Nick added.
"The only thing is you can't remember what you're forgetting." Greg laughed nervously, moving a hand to scratch the back of his neck. "I know it's stupid-"
"It's not stupid," Nick assured him, shaking his head. He gave the other man an encouraging smile. "It'll probably come back to you."
"You think?" Greg asked, giving Nick a shy smile in return. There was still something bothering him, but he felt a little better knowing Nick didn't chastise him about it.
"Yeah…after you get some sleep."
"I should, shouldn't I?" Greg licked his lips, surprised to find them chapped as he put his thumbs in his pockets. "I didn't mean to fall asleep…well…not here, at least."
"When's the last time you caught some shut-eye?"
Greg frowned at the question, looking at the circular clock hanging on the wall.
"And I'm not talking about those power naps, either," Nick added quickly before the other man had a chance to open his mouth.
"Maybe a couple of hours?" Greg answered meekly, feeling small beneath the weight of Nick's glare. "Or maybe a couple of days."
"That's not good for you, man," Nick admonished, slightly frowning at Greg's response.
"I know," Greg conceded, the smile on his face becoming more strained. "I guess I just got caught up in the evidence." He paused, groaning when he realised what he said. "I bet Grissom would love that one."
Nick smirked, putting a hand on Greg's shoulder. "As much as knowing you conked out while you were processing it."
"Yeah, yeah," Greg said, rolling his eyes as he let Nick lead him out of the break room. "I'm just picking up your slack."
"If that's what makes you feel better."
:insert standard issue disclaimer here:
Unfortunately (fortunately?), this will not be slash or have any romance, really.
I suppose if you want to, you could squint for preslash between Nick and Greg, but my intentions for them revolve strictly around friendship. I won't even bring up wincest. I do read it and I will write one as it was requested from me, but I'm too taken by Dean and Sam's brotherly relationship (swoons) to do much else with it.