Title: Of Smoke and Shadows
Disclaimer: I don't own CSI; I just like to borrow the characters.
Author's Note: This story's a little strange
Summary: Sara reflects on Smoke and Shadows
X X X
I've always been tense. Sometimes intense. There's always been something coiled in me, even when I was a kid. Maybe it was the constant waiting – who was going to get hit tonight? Maybe it was knowing that if I made the wrong move, something could go really really wrong.
The coil wrapped tighter once she killed him. Honestly, I don't know if I felt relief or fear. Maybe neither. That night is like a terror and a blur. I vaguely remember someone taking me from the house. Everyone assumed that was the night I learned what blood smelled like, but it wasn't. I'd known the smell of iron for as long as my memory holds. In some ways it's familiar… a twisted sort of comfort.
Then I was afraid to breathe too hard for fear of making too much noise. The louder you are, the more likely that someone will notice you. That always seemed to be such a bad thing, because somehow a past you never caused caught up with you. Whispers, points, more whispers, more points, and on and on.
I hid in books, where no one could find me. Always reading, always studying. The girl with the label would shake her head when I wanted to whimper and cry to my social worker. Shhh… don't make a sound.
Sometimes people would notice me. They'd smile or say something nice. Especially my teachers. They'd notice me, and congratulate me on my last paper or test that scored a hundred. My own smile would feel fake and I'd pull back, trying to fade into nothing. If they knew me, if they saw me, they'd know what I was.
I'd go and hide someplace, where I could lose myself. In a story, I could find a peace that nothing else offered, so I read everything from Heinlein to Shakespeare by the time I was fifteen. Everyone learned to ignore me, once they realized I didn't want to be disturbed.
I was like that withdrawn kid, hunched over in the corner at a crime scene trying to be quiet and obscure. To myself, I was always hidden away, and no one could really see me. As a criminalist, I would look at these kids at domestic disputes or homicides, and I'd see them. I'd see the pain and the secrets obscured by shadows. Sometimes, when they looked at me, I wondered if they could recognize in my eyes the secrets I never told anyone about.
It would unnerve me, because I've gotten so good at hiding the worst of the secrets – the ones worse than murder and abuse. The six year old in me would shiver and place her finger over her lips. Shhh… don't make a sound.
So I went away as far from California as I could. I ran to a place where no one knew me and I heard no echoes of my origins. Boston was a relief and a new start. It became the place where I could let myself act like someone besides me.
I can remember the touch and taste of my first real boyfriend – the one I met my freshman year in college. I'd dated some of the nerd squad back in high school, but here I could do whatever I wanted. Studying didn't make me a dork, either. At Harvard I really fit into my environment. Days filled with study. Nights filled with passion.
Was I promiscuous? Maybe a little. Not that it meant much, though. I felt like a stranger in my own body at times, because years of training kept that coil so tight. That coil. It was so nice to pretend I wasn't always wound so tight. I'd pretend to be happy, footloose, fancy free. The coil got tighter instead of looser.
Every time I went to a party and smiled, my stomach clenched tight and I'd fight the fear in my throat. Drinking helped. It loosened the inhibitions, and for a moment I felt okay falling into bed with whatever guy I was with for the night. Waking to the pre-dawn light in the aftermath, the ramifications would hit. By the end of my freshman year, I was a total party girl, and some of the guys talked about me. Whispers, whispers, everywhere.
It took a year of hiding myself in the library before I went out again. I made friends, but I felt so fake, because in me always hid that child, waiting for the next punch in the gut. So I held them at arms length, because the closer they got, the worst I felt. If someone looks at me, can they see the worst of me? The ten year old girl in me whispers reminders of who I am and what I've done. She reminds me of who I really am when I open my mouth to talk to my friends about everything that happened – about me. Shhh… don't make a sound.
In the end I wanted the coast back. I wanted the smell of the bay back again, and the warmth that accompanied it. And I knew I'd changed. I'd learned the real trick to being alive –I can be as forward as I want, and as long as I keep people at arm's length then no one can see through me. In some ways, I felt more free… more brave. The whispers couldn't follow me all the way back, could they?
Oh but they can. On my back, I carried them, and felt their breath tickle my neck.
But part of me had changed enough to stand up and stand forward. That shell that could pretend so well became the forefront. I wasn't some idiot kid who no one gave a damn about. Being back in that place – so close to where my life began – made me sink the real part of me deep and breathe more life into the shell. After so much time had passed, how could anyone really be able to find out about the deepest secrets and shove them in my face? As long as things stayed casual, life could be good. Still lonely, but the best I'd known.
Alone, I didn't have to hide or stand in the shadows. Then I just got tired of college. Tired of studying. So, I left school just a few credits shy of my masters. The problem of being alone all the time is that it's easy for aching shadows to find you there. In solitude, they can hammer you deeper and deeper into the dark, until the dark is the only place you feel comfortable. Because somewhere that little part of me with blood on her hands looked me in the eye. Shhh… don't make a sound.
Over time, I built my walls of solid steel with tiny little windows covered by iron bars. My job with the SFPD had begun just a year before. I didn't have many friends. Instead, I was known as the kick ass kid that kept to herself. After all, inside my own prison, I can sit still in the dark. I'm still surprised how quickly my cell was built.
Truthfully, I had no intention of ever leaving the cell. Somehow, I'd struck a balance in myself. So when I was sent to a seminar, I ended up wrapped up in an internal war. When I met someone that seemed to really connect with me, that cell suddenly seemed awfully small.
My shell… my cell… all of it became too much, and I thought, Maybe I can leave it all behind, when he called. When blue eyes called, I ran to him, because he made that part of me that wanted to shuck of the past, really move into what I could become. I ran to him, knowing that he knew nothing of the real me, and wondering if I could let him inside my cell. Because I realized my cell had become lonely.
So I struggled. I pushed him too hard. I wanted the loneliness, alone in my cell, to end. I could see him struggling, so I pushed him harder, until he proved it once again that I drove everyone away; the smoky shadows settled on my shoulders once again. That part of me that tried to move forward struggled with the achy part of me hidden deep. The smoky shadows strangled the optimistic piece, and once again I settled myself in my cell with my memories of what I was, and what I'd done. Shhh… don't make a sound.
In time, I became a zombie, and when I felt too much, I overreacted. Each response to each case became my defining moment, and they were not shining. My DUI should have been my wake-up call. It should have reminded me to hide deeper, but it didn't. I was back to being that child, but I tried to learn. I tried to become better, and less harmful. I tried to be less of a waste of air. Instead, I screwed everything up. It's my fault they broke up the team.
Each day that passed, I would see my new team – Grissom, Greg, Sofia – work on cases, but they weren't my team anymore. That's when I realized that I had a family of sorts. I had people who didn't see the smoky shadows that followed me everywhere. Whether it was they didn't care if I had ghosts sitting on my shoulders or simply didn't judge them, I had people who actually cared.
Now they were gone. I could see them around me, but we were broken up. Grissom wasn't happy, Greg wasn't happy. I could care less what Sofia felt, because she wasn't part of my family. Nick and Warrick still laughed, and Catherine looked like she belonged in a position of leadership, but they were family and they weren't there any longer.
Every single day turned into a nightmare when I would pass them, but feel like I couldn't reach them. And I realized I needed them in a way I hadn't ever needed anyone before. They'd never wanted to look beyond what I'd offered, and waves of shame rolled over me, because my actions had split up the team. Yeah, maybe Grissom should have done his duty, but I knew Ecklie was looking for a way to take Grissom down a notch. It was my fault, because I answered Ecklie's questions. It was always my fault. So I hid away again, trying to be invisible. Trying to hide myself in the smoke. Shhh…. don't make a sound.
Then one day, I lost it. I let words loose that I'm surprised didn't get me fired… on Catherine and Ecklie. Without a second thought, I said things to them that I knew would get me nothing but trouble, but I'd been alone inside my cell for so long, that they had to escape somehow. I was like the balloon that someone blew up so much that it burst. And my blue eyes showed up.
He wanted to know about my shadows… about my ghosts… about why I was fading into nothing but distraught anger in front of him. So I talked. And I told Grissom what I am – what I came from. He simply held my hand and let me cry. He remembered being my friend in that moment, and the burning loneliness that always felt so familiar backed off enough so I could breathe for the first time in such a very long time. Yet I held myself back, even though what I'd wanted stood right in front of me. I still sat alone in my cell, with him talking through the bars.
When Nick went missing, I had to make a choice, though. Do I continue to hide, or do I try and feel again? Alone in my cell, I struggled with the door, and finally freed it. Maybe I'd be able to hear him again – feel him again if I could find him. Maybe I had to find him because nobody found me. It drove me. My 'bro' drove me. And we found him, and in the process, we got the team back. And in my haste, standing outside of my cell, with those smoky shadows still sitting on my shoulders, I resolutely slammed the cell door shut. I never wanted to go in there again.
It was an amazing ride. Day by day, on the roller coaster with Grissom, I could breathe and feel. He never looked at me differently, except in the occasionally lustful way only a lover can. We took each step together.
Until the day I was trapped. Pinned. Then walking through the desert. So much time to think. So much time to wonder and second guess. Would they look for me? Would they care enough? But they did look for me. Nick found me. Grissom held my hand. But too much time, physically alone let my ghosts crawl up my back and cover me again. I was alone, and so lonely once more, because the biggest secret I kept locked away got out and weighed so very very heavy. Shhh… don't make a sound.
So I left. Because I couldn't take the secret that haunted me… I couldn't hide away the worst of me.
X X X
While the psychologist, Dr. Emerson, wrote down a couple of notes, Sara sat back in the chair, and tried to compose herself. It was the first time she'd spoken so freely about what she'd felt – how she'd been tormented. For the first time, she talked about her secret… the one even Gil didn't know about.
"I'd ask you about your secret," Dr. Emerson, a middle-aged woman with auburn hair and a neutral smile said. "However, I think I know your secret."
Laying down her pad of paper, the psychologist leaned forward, grasped Sara's hand, and boldly stated, "It's all right that you were happy he was dead." Giving Sara's hand a squeeze, she continued, "Feeling happy over a death doesn't make you bad, Sara." When Sara looked up at the woman in the chair just in front of her, her breath hitched; because the therapist said, "It's okay you felt happy that the monster was dead."
Sara felt her face flush and ducked her head. For the first time in her life, she felt the smoky shadows back away. Maybe. Just maybe. No more shhh… maybe now it's okay to make a sound.