Title: Beginnings
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Jack/Grace
Summary: She doesn't want to be seduced.
Author's Notes: Written for velvetwhip for Secret Santa 2008. Thanks to m_ravensblood for the read-through.
Disclaimer: Not my characters.


Grace is alone in the autopsy lab; the body on the table is covered with a sheet. Grace sits on a stool, her latex gloves and paper mask held loosely in her hands. She looks at the figure on the table but her gaze is unfocused, unseeing; her thoughts are miles away. She is thinking of an earlier scene: a house with the feel of death so strong it is almost tangible; a young woman's broken body lying in a pool of blood on her bed; a red rose in one hand, a white rose in the other.

"It's Jack," Sam says.

"No, it's not." Bailey.

"Of course it is."

"It's the wrong signature, Sam."

Grace has always loved white roses. As a child, she thought red roses too ordinary; the white ones were special, more beautiful. More fragile.

"Where's the message?" Bailey asks.

Sam says nothing.

Grace wants Sam to be wrong but she knows how rare that is. Sam is right so often that it's uncanny.

But Grace needs her to be wrong this time. She needs the white rose to signify something other than what she knows it does. She needs to believe that Jack's obsession has not touched her the way it touches Sam.

She's afraid of what it means, afraid that he'll kill Morgan, afraid that his obsession will consume her. She sees how Sam has to live and can't bear the thought of it for herself.

So she tells herself that she's over-reacting; tells herself that her work has made her paranoid; tells herself that Jack's obsession has no room for anyone other than Sam.

And then she wonders if Jack has grown bored, if he wants a new challenge, a new hobby. Or perhaps it has less to do with her, and more to do with Sam. Maybe he's using her to toy with Sam.

Grace feels cold, colder than she should. She looks down and notices her hands are trembling, and realizes she's shaking from head to toe. Jack's attention terrifies her more than anything else in the world and all she can think is that she, who works with the dead every day, is not ready to die.

Her cell phone's ring is jarring in the silence and she flinches as if struck; the gloves and mask fall to the floor. She fumbles in her pocket and hits the answer key; the lab falls into silence again.

"Yes?"

It's Sam. "I was right," she says without preamble. "The red rose is the same as Jack's others."

"Was there a message at the scene?" Grace's attention is fixed on the body again. She can't bring herself to lift the sheet yet, can't look at the woman who shares her birthdate.

Sam sighs. "Nothing."

"What do you think is going on?" Grace hears herself ask the question as if from a distance.

Sam hesitates before answering. "I'm not sure."

Grace knows she's not being completely honest and there's a part of her that's grateful for it.

"You'll let us know when the autopsy's done?"

"Yes." Grace hangs up and slips the phone back into her pocket. She knows she can't delay any longer. She throws the gloves and mask away before putting on clean ones, then stands over the body, her hand on the edge of the sheet.

Now or never, she thinks, then carefully rolls back the sheet.

The woman's eyes are still open. Grace wonders what her last sight was. She remembers a superstition about a murderer's image being caught in his victim's gaze; this woman's eyes tell Grace nothing.

She runs the black light over the clothes, front and back, but finds nothing. As she undresses the body, she lets herself relax. Before washing the body, she runs the light over the skin. There is nothing on the front, but as she passes the light over the victim's back, she sees 'HELLO' and a smiley-face.

For a moment, she cannot breathe.

She turns the black light off but she cannot look at the woman's back without seeing the message.

A message that was intended for her, that was left where she alone would find it.

What she should do now is call Sam, tell her about the message and wait for an assurance that it has nothing to do with her.

What she does instead is roll the body back over and begins the examination. Fingernail scrapings. Comb the hair. DNA swabs. Blood samples. Photographs.

She has a momentary twinge of guilt as she starts to wash the body, but it passes quickly. She is in denial; if she can wash the message away, then none of what she feels will be true. She will not be part of Jack's obsession; she will not be an excuse for this woman's murder.

When the body is clean, she begins the Y-incision. As her scalpel slices through skin, she thinks of Jack. He is the reason she is cutting into this woman.

She feels ill; he is already in her head. Is this how Sam feels? she wonders. Does he ever go away?

Grace already knows the answer. There is blood on her fingers – because of Jack – and she can't help but feel that she is to blame.

Sam has been haunted by him for years.

'HELLO' he'd written. An introduction. A beginning. Grace knows he's only just started to play with her.

She thinks she might just lose her mind and wonders if that is what he wants. She can't believe Sam is still sane after all this time. She doesn't want to become used to him, doesn't want his attention to become normal.

Her hand is shaking so badly that she cannot finish the incision.

A greeting, a smile and a white rose. It is the beginning of a courtship, a seduction.

She doesn't want to be seduced, not now, not like this. And the tiny part of her that craves the attention is what frightens her most of all.