Title: Killing Time
Rating: T for now
Spoilers: Through GBaGL
Summary: Set awhile after Sara's return, when the team ends up tracking another serial killer.
Disclaimer: I don't own CSI, and make no profit from them.
A/N: Thanks to wallacek for her idea on Sara's new job. Thanks to Seattlecsifan for the awesome beta.
X X X
He drove the Denali through the dust and dirt of the desert east of Ice Box Canyon, stealing an occasional glance at the occupant of the passenger seat. She looks determined, Grissom thought, as Sara stared out the side window of the dim vehicle. Everything around them lay dark, illuminated only by the headlights stealing through the moonless night, illuminating kicked up dust. Braking softly, he reduced the speed to a slow crawl, coming to an eventual stop. Setting the parking brake, he leaned back in the driver's seat.
In his mind, the dark disappeared, and he saw the red Mustang, upside-down, and buried in the sand. His grip on the steering wheel tightened, as he stared into his own mind. Every possible scenario had blared down on him in the burning sun, with the single thought of, she's tougher than hell repeating through his mind over and over.
When Sara touched his arm, he let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. The vivid images that swam in front of him dissipated and he was once again enveloped in the dark.
Reaching up to the pulse point on his neck, Sara felt the accelerated pounding of blood roaring through his veins and simply stated, "You didn't find me here," with a casual shrug of her shoulder.
"We dug," he stated in a monotone voice, still staring straight ahead. "We saw the car, and Nick and I dug." Taking a deep silent breath, trying to force his heart rate down, he added, "Nick found your vest."
Moving her hand up to his cheek, she turned his head, rubbing the rocks forming his clenched jaw muscles. His eyes were dark as a stormy sea. As she swiped her thumb over his cheek, she smiled a bit, and said, "Chalk," making him grin at the memory that had excused a simple touch years before.
As his eyes calmed to cobalt, he huffed a laugh. "I never did believe that excuse." Pausing for a moment, he thought back to the case that had him checking his pulse outside a building with dust from walls he'd ripped out coating him. Eventually, he said, "I was just thankful you wanted to touch me." Turning his eyes away from her, she wondered if it was in shame or regret when he said, "The simple fact is I was terrified of what you wanted from me."
"I loved you then," she offhandedly stated, as if making any other factual statement. "I love you now. I'll love you always. Back then, I had to have an excuse to touch you. I don't now." One of the things he admired most about her straight-forward, no excuses manner.
For several moments, in the dark of the vehicle, with only the glow of the dash illuminating their profiles, they sat together, thinking about what had happened and what was to come. When he breathed in and exhaled slow, the final calm set over him, and her lips turned up slightly.
He said, "You're sure you want to do this," and glanced once again through the windshield of the SUV into the ink stained night. He knew there would be no way of arguing or cajoling her out of her decision. The question – or statement – had been rhetorical. In some respects, he admired her desire to drive away the last of it – that hint that remained in the form of occasional nightmares.
"Yeah," Sara replied, soberly, a sudden apprehension coursing through. The ramifications of her decision hit full force. "I think I need to do this. It's time to let the last of it go."
"Alone?" he asked, trying not to sound hopeful that she'd change her mind at least on this point and invite him to go with her. His forehead creased slightly, showing the only sign of worry on his face – worry that often went missed by others. However, Sara knew him better than anyone and could read the slight changes in his face easily.
"Yeah. I was alone then. I need to be alone now," she resolutely stated, picking up the small back pack in the seat behind her. Stepping out into the desert night, Sara looked up at the stars firing up the sky, and noted the changes the two years had made. It wasn't raining, and around her she could hear the night sounds of small creatures scurrying from the human presence. A soft breeze wafted across the desert, cooling the night and leveling sand, so she zipped up her jacket.
"I'll be fine," she said, although part of her still felt her arms tingle as hairs stood on end with small bursting shots of fear. Part of her still felt bitterly angry at becoming a victim. She'd had to fight her way through, breaking her own limb in the process. Yet it also brought her full circle in her life, making her redefine that secret part of her that continuously struggled with self-victimization.
Stepping out of the Denali, Grissom made his way around to her.
Holding up her cell phone before slipping it into her jacket pocket, and then holding up the bulky satellite radio before clipping it to her belt, she said, "I'm pretty sure I could call E.T. with the hardware you and Archie provided." The smirk on her face had her relaxing a bit, although she knew he still worried.
"I have several water bottles, a GPS unit with tracking capabilities, and an emergency locator beacon in my pack, baby," she said, smiling through her nerves. "If anything happens, I'll set off the beacon and give you a call, all right?"
The crease in his brow turned to a full frown before he said, "I'll be out on the highway. If anything happens, the Marines will be sent in immediately."
X X X
Sara snorted, knowing he was talking about Brass, who'd appeared even more edgy than Gris over the prospect of Sara making the trek from where she'd been trapped under the car out to the highway. The detective's reaction had surprised her, when she'd informed him of her intent last week, asking for a couple of days off.
As her boss, Brass needed to sign off her vacation slip. He'd quietly recognized the date of her abduction and its anniversary, and asked his detective if she needed some company. He'd talked about keeping things bottled up, until he'd realized she'd zoned out on him and wasn't even pretending to listen. Sara figured he'd been concerned she'd drink herself into oblivion, instead of 'handling' it. That look in his eyes of feeling like she needed 'watching over' had made her cringe, but her track record hadn't exactly bolstered the remnants of his attitude. By the time she'd gotten out of sin city, she'd been about to explode. For that matter, when she'd returned and asked to be hired on in the squad, it had taken Brass more than just the standard probationary period before he'd considered himself satisfied with her mental state. So when she'd talked to him about the vacation slip, she shouldn't have been surprised by that look he gave her.
She'd tried to be nonchalant when telling him about wanting to walk her desert path from car to highway, but the anxiety humming through her blood had been sniffed out by him. He's like a damn bloodhound, she'd thought.
"Detective," he'd said to her, using the title of her new position within LVPD, in his no-nonsense manner, "I don't think this is a good idea."
"Brass, I'm doing it," she'd stated in a manner that brooked no argument. The determined, stony look on her face had told her supervisor that if he wanted to argue with her that was fine, but she would win. Instead, he'd let out a long-suffering sigh and signed the form with, "I still think it's a bad idea."
X X X
When Grissom curved his palm across her cheek, it broke her reverie, and she leaned into the support his hand provided, taking in the feel of his calloused fingers. The scent of standard issue soap from the lab's bathroom permeated the still air around her, intermingled with the dry earthy smell that only desert sand could provide.
"If you don't leave now, I'll never do it," she stated, her fortitude battling her nerves. Pulling away from him, she stated, "I need you to go."
Nodding, he stepped out of reach. In the silent dark of night, he moved behind the driver's wheel, and headed back the direction in which they came, leaving her alone, kicking up dirt on his way out. He was troubled by what could happen to her in the desert. Part of him would repeatedly relive the events of that day, and he'd come to accept it as part of the penance he would continually pay for loving her. A cheap price in all.
She didn't move from the area at first, instead using the time to gaze up into the sky, and simply listen to life echoing off the canyon hills. Eventually, the dark became too much, and she pulled out her industrial flashlight and flipped it on.
Kneeling, Sara ran her hand through the sand in the run-off area. She had a good idea of the general location in which she'd been placed, and remembered the feel of the sand moving under the vehicle. The pouring water had shifted her and the car in an extraordinarily painful manner. Picking up a handful of the fine sand, she extended her fingers, and watched it cascade to the ground under the high wattage light she held in the other hand. Standing, she decided to examine the area around the gully.
The beam passed over a Joshua tree, surrounded by typical underbrush intermingled with cholla cacti. She made her way in that direction, and found the desert soil at her feet sturdier – more like soil than the sand in which she'd been trapped. Desert grass waved in the air moving swiftly about her, and she could smell the desert life surrounding the place. Crouching down next to the nearby Joshua tree, she peered at a withering wild primrose, and plucked the remaining bloom. All around her were scents of dry brush, sage, and wildflowers. She didn't remember them from that night, and that was fine in her mind. Unfortunately, she did remember the coyote. The damn thing still gave her chills.
Wandering around the perimeter of where she'd been buried in a known wash-out region of the basin, she laid out the area in her mind. The Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area was rimmed – canyons on the west, and mountains on the north and east, leaving a massive desert basin in the center. A huge run-off area lay near the canyons in the west, running north and south.
There was something almost comical that had she simply walked a single direction, she would have eventually found pavement. Sara didn't smirk at people who got lost and walked in circles anymore, as she'd done that herself.
With a self-deprecating snort, she decided she'd better check in or he'd worry.
Knowing she'd have no cell reception this close to the canyons, she flipped on the satellite radio. Dialing in the frequency they'd agreed upon, she held down the button, "Bugman, this is Desert Wanderer, come in," and waited for a response.
"Bugman?" he replied, a tinge of humor in his voice, and her shoulders relaxed a fraction. She hadn't realized how tense she'd become standing still in the dead of night; a time those rare waking nightmares came out to play in the form of a crime scene or an image too vivid running through her head.
Breathing out, she held down the button and grinned into the radio with a stern, "You're supposed to say 'over', Grissom. Over."
"I know," he replied from where he'd parked. He'd gotten off of highway one fifty nine onto the scenice byway that bordered the mountains to the east of the large basin of the conservation area, and settled himself up by Turtle Peak. "How far have you made it, dear? Over." He frowned, squinting out into the dark in her general direction when she didn't immediately reply.
"Not far. Over," she finally responded.
In half an hour, she'd rooted herself in place. With a rueful grin, she admitted to herself that Grissom's habit of procrastination at unwanted tasks had begun to rub off on her.
She didn't know the affect it had on Grissom until he asked, "Need me to come get you? Over." It wasn't hard for her to hear the distinctive edge in his voice, and she sighed.
"No. I'm heading out now. I just… I needed… This place has a history. I needed to hear and see the animals, bugs and vegetation around here. I needed to see the breeze move the dust across the floor of the desert, and cause the desert grasses to bend. I had to know that there's a history besides mine here. Over."
Blowing out a harsh breath, Grissom glanced at the clock. Four twenty seven in the morning, in the dead of night, and he had left his best friend in the middle of a desert.
"I'm taking off now. I'll talk to you in awhile. Over and out," she said into the radio, and clipped it back onto her belt. She was just east of Ice Box Canyon – barely east of both the paved scenic byway and the dirt road that had taken her to the overturned Mustang. Feeling slightly ridiculous at knowing a paved road lay just a few football fields lengths west of her, she pulled out the map Nick had drawn her… and headed south and east.
She remembered that night. It had been overcast, the thick clouds still rolling above, even though the rain had passed. She'd struggled to find a point of reference, failing miserably since she had no idea where she had been placed. The only thing she'd been able to think to do was follow the water, and pray it led her to a road. Unfortunately, numbness had eventually settled into her bones at that point, and a heavy fog had enveloped her brain. She could focus on very little, but she'd remembered her training – leave clues.
Sara realized within just a hundred yards, that having the light on defeated the purpose of the trip, and flicked the button. The bright beam suddenly left everything in a dense dark, and she took a moment to calm her suddenly harsh breath. Letting her eyes adjust and her body calm, she realized that even on a moonless night, the dark gave off its own light. She also recognized that she didn't need Nick's map for this part. With sudden clarity, she remembered it all… and began to walk.
Stumbling over a rock and falling to her knees, she pushed herself up with trembling hands. One step after another. You can do this. Onwfard she marched into the blackness, the wind beginning to pick up, blowing a disorienting tune. Still, she could see the stars, and continued forward, noting the change in hue as the sky turned from ink black to cobalt and getting lighter, as rays of sun lit the unseen sky below the horizon. Step by step, she moved forward, and for a moment her pulse skittered, remembering the mind-numbing pain that accompanied the trek. Then she pulled her shoulders back, fiercely stated, "I'm not alone," into the wind and continued.
When Grissom glanced at the clock, he noted the time, finally gave in, and picked up the radio. It had been over an hour with no word. He knew she was moving, as the tracking device in her pack moved slowly south east. This was what she needed, but he couldn't stand the silence.
"Desert Wanderer, this is Bugman. Come in," he called into the radio. He stared into the two-way device, until he received, "Hey Bugman. Over."
"Is everything all right? Over."
"I didn't realize I would be this… uneasy. Over," she admitted, stilling at the sound of a coyote's call in the distance. There was nothing she could do about the wavering in her voice, so she didn't try.
He didn't offer to get her, but it took a lot to deny himself the desire. "What do you need? Over," he finally responded.
"I need to finish," she stated, the fear in her admittance gone, and steel back in her voice. "Over and out."
The sun was rising over the mountains when she came upon the trail leading up – the protruding rock providing a look-out. Standing in the light, letting the morning rays shine over her face, she took a couple swigs of water and contemplated the hill. The heat of the day had already begun to rise. However, morning desert heat of the eighties was not uncommon, and it would only get higher – fast.
Staring up at the small peak above her, she remembered standing in the very spot, and peered down at the dirt below her feet. Apparently, she'd walked past some unfortunate hiker caught in the run-off, drowned in the fine grains of sand. She hadn't been lucid at that point, so she noticed nothing beside specific things, like leaving a trail and getting to the hill to find out where the hell she'd landed.
She also remembered feeling a rush of adrenaline at the elation of finding that map on the desert floor, not because it would guide her out, but it meant she was somewhere where other people hiked and camped. Taking a few steps, she found three rocks and stacked them, leaving a trail. She thought, You can be damn brilliant at times, and was proud of that maneuver. Smiling, full of energy, she climbed the hill, and stood out on the peak, staring off into every direction and admiring the scenery.
Pulling out her cell phone, she was surprised to find she had a semi-decent signal. He answered on the first ring. "Hello, Sara."
"I'm as far as the peak," she informed Grissom. Talking her way through what had happened, as if it were any crime scene, she noted, "I think this is where I got turned around. When I went down the other side, I was still headed slightly toward the east, but I started working my way north instead of south." She took note of the route she'd taken, and actually felt fairly ridiculous standing on the peak.
"How's it going?" he asked.
"It's fine. I think I expected to feel something more… traumatizing, I guess," she stated, watching a hazy heat echo up from the basin, giving waves to the ground below. "I've got a beautiful view," she stated, "and it's getting hot." A trickle of sweat ran down the back of her neck at that statement, and her mouth felt dry in the beating sun. Turning around, she admired the canyons on her right, then turned to glance over at the mountains. The view from her small ridge was stunning in the heat of the morning sun.
"You don't sound even remotely nervous," he stated, and tugged a drink from his water bottle. Smiling, he got out of the SUV, starting to feel confined in the driver's seat. Making his way to the back, he popped the hatch, and sat in the shade provided.
"Do you have enough water?" he asked, and Sara rolled her eyes. Typically, it fell to her to ask questions like that. In an ordinary situation, Grissom would become so focused, he'd lose track of everything around him, until prodded.
"I've got a couple bottles left," she replied, and scanned off into the horizon, making a mental note of the next part of her trek. "I think I've had enough of a break at this point, so I'm going to head out."
"Take care and check in when you start getting closer," Grissom stated.
"Will do," she said, hanging up, and sliding the cell phone into her pack. Taking off the light jacket, she slid it into the pack as well, and grabbed a fresh water bottle. Hoisting the backpack to her shoulders, she said to the empty desert around her, "Time to go," and made her way forward.
One vivid memory came to mind as she half slid and half walked down the other side of the peak. She remembered falling, and for a moment a stabbing pain shot through her arm. Shaking the limb, she let the memory fall away, and made her way north. The swelling heat blazed down on her as she walked, and for half a moment she contemplated sacrificing her skin by removing her shirt.
Wiping her dusty arm across her forehead, she could feel the dirt on her arms spread to the thin layer of dust across her face. For a moment, her mind conjured the sensitivity of having dirt cake her, dry and scratching. It wasn't something she ever wanted to repeat.
As a general principal, Sara hated dwelling on the past, and resented that the desert brought so much of it back to her. Contemplating the changes the past two years had brought, she shook off the worst of the memories, and continued to march. Stopping at one point as the sun rose high, blaring down onto her shoulders, she grabbed her LVPD baseball cap from the pack, and covered her dark curls.
Taking a swig of water, she recapped the bottle, and made the call. She was surprised her cell still received a signal, albeit a weak one.
"I'm close to where I finally dropped," she stated through the obscure static, peering out onto the sand, wild grass, and brush. "I think I see the bush I collapsed under."
Watching the GPS tracking system, Grissom had seen her slowly move throughout the very dark morning and into the blaring heat of day. He still didn't know what to say to her about seeing her there in that place – no pulse, barely breathing. It wasn't one of his more fond memories.
Finally, he responded, "You're almost there, honey. I'm sitting on the side of the road. Keep heading the direction you are and you'll land straight in my lap."
Glancing at her cell, she noted the full battery and asked, "Mind if I walk and talk?"
"I wouldn't mind at all," he replied, sitting in the shade of the vehicle's open hatch. "So, Sara. Tell me about your day so far," he quipped, and winced at how crass he probably came across.
Her light laugh broke the silence surrounding her, as she headed toward the paved scenic byway she knew lay only a quarter mile or away. "It was a little freaky at first," she admitted. "I thought I'd feel a lot of the same things I did that night, but… I don't. It's just a desert."
"You're not dehydrated, you haven't been buried under a car, nearly drowned, broken your arm, and been walking in the heat of a blazing sun with no water for almost sixteen hours. It's not even past the end of graveyard shift. I can imagine you wouldn't feel the same," Grissom factually stated. Wiping sweat from his neck with a handkerchief, he then swiped his brow and stuffed it back into his pocket.
"Tell me what you see," he said, and she stopped in her tracks.
Looking around, she began to describe the desert surrounding her. "There are a lot of different types of underbrush, some gray and some green. I've passed a variety of cholla cacti today, along with Joshua trees, some primroses, and a variety of assorted other wild flowers. Right now, I'm looking at some common yellow desert flowers." Continuing to walk, she added, "There's a lot of different kinds of bugs, but I've seen the majority of them when I've kicked over a stone, particularly now that the sun's up. I imagine they're seeking shade right now."
To prove the point, she kicked her foot at a rock in the sand. When it didn't move, she got annoyed and kicked it again. "This is stupid. The rock won't move," she muttered. Feeling like a kid who had to overturn that particular rock out of sheer spite if nothing else, she bent down on one knee and began to dig at its edges. It wasn't until she'd wiped away a thick layer of caked on sand that she spoke again.
While he was used to hearing everything from 'Gil' to 'Gris' to 'Grissom' tumble from her mouth, it was the tone that had him standing from his relaxed spot in the back of the SUV and taking a step in her direction. The tone was all business.
"Hey Sara? What's going on?"
"You need to bring out your field kit," she stated before letting out a long sigh. Standing up she waved to him just a few hundred feet from the road. Lowering her arm, she added, "I think I just found a body."
X X X