CSI: Obsession

Federal Involvement

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Federal Involvement

Disclaimer: If I owned CSI or anything associated with it other than the DVDs, I wouldn't be compelled to write this, now would I?

Summary: G/S Sara finally gets fed up with Grissom's games, and the whole she leaves behind will bring the rest of the team through hell and back. -set after eppy 514: Unbearable-

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Chapter 1: Her Letter

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'No way!' Nick squealed.
'I don't believe it... Sofia'
   'Yeah, man. This morning after shift. Heard it when I passed by his office on my way out,' Warrick afirmed.
        Catherine snickered. 'No woman should be subjected to that office'
  'Man,' Nick sighed. 'Sara's gonna be pissed.'
----- ----- -----

The conversation still rang in Sara's ears. They'd had no idea that she'd overheard the conversation and she intended to keep it that way, but it made her wonder: was she always the last one to know everything?

Sitting on the couch in her apartment living room, she took another sip from her long-necked bottle and pondered the situation. So much had happened in her now 5 years in Vegas, from the flirting to Hank to Teri Miller to her DUI, and their most recent encounter, the reliving of her childhood nightmare. Rumors had flown through the lab whispering news of Warrick's gambling, Catherine's father, and Nick's stalker. Sara had chosen to disregard those concerning Grissom's indiscretion with Lady Heather, hoping to God that they were false, but now with the rumors flying again, she didn't know what to believe.

'It's probably nothing,' she chided herself. 'Warrick probably just heard wrong. Besides, he wouldn't go out with me. Why would he go out with that scum-sucking ho-bag?'

'But then again,' whispered a voice in the back of her mind, 'she didn't ask him. He asked her, and that puts a whole new spin on things, doesn't it?'

Sara mentally shook herself for giving into the temptation of believing the gossip. Afer all, they'd been wrong before, right?

----- ----- -----

Grissom sat in his office looking over what had now become known as "the Bentley bust." The red fibers from the trunk, the plant pods from the tree, and the rest of the evidence had all ben sent to the vault and the date for the preliminary hearing had been set. The DA was pleased with the team's hard work, and so was Grissom. He was proud of them. Despite the chaos that had followed the staff changes, they'd handled their cases with ease and professionalism, helping to make as smooth a transition as possible. Even Sara was doing better since her return from suspension.

Sara. With the thought of her name, Grissom's mind raced back to the night at her apartment. Pictures of her curled up in her chair and sobbing as she relived thepast that haunted her rushed to the forefront of his memory. He couldn't get her out of his head.. The thought of her being abused and violated haunted his dreams, but even more so did the daunting question: Why hadn't he noticed it before?

Of course there had been signs. He hadn't wanted to accept them, knowing what that would mean. He hadn't wanted to believe them, but they were there. The time he had to restrain her from physically assaulting the abusive husband of a victim; the night she'd cried in his office, grieving for the young rape victim who would remain in a vegetative state for the rest of her life; the home invasion case that had turned into a gang rape, and later, a murder because the girl was too afraid to identify her attacker; and finally, the straw that broke the camal's back, the mail order brides used, in Sara's words as "punching bags" for their dominating American husbands. At first, Grissom had read the signs wrong, thinking that she was on the brink of burnout, but after the incident with Catherine and Ecklie, he knew there was something deeper, and it troubled him.

The picture of a broken-spirited Sara once again occupied his thoughts. 'How had it come to this?' he wondered. Se had come to Vegas full of life, and now it seemed to have all but gone, leaving her a shell of who she was. A heaviness set on his heart wen he realized how much he missed her, and right then and there, he made a silent vow to end the hurt and bring back the Sara he had fallen in love with all those years ago.Sara walked into the lab with a smile that hse hoped looked more confident than she felt. She wanted to believe that nothing had changed since her episode with Catherine, but the growing intensity in the atmosphere as she felt several sets of eyes upon her told her that everything was different. Walking onward, she made her way toward the locker room.

----- ----- -----

Sara walked into the lab with a smile tha she hoped looked more confident than she felt. She wanted to believe that nothing had changed since her episode with Catherine, but the rowing intensity inthe atmosphere as she felt several sets of eyes upon her told her that everything was different. Walking onward, she made her way to the locker room.

She was stopped, however, by the voices coming from the nearby DNA lab. If she had heard correctly... no, she couldn't have. She thought she had just heard Greg ask Sofia how her date with Grissom had gone. Trying not to make it completly obvious that she was eavesdropping, Sara strained to hear the conversation through the glass wall.

"Oh, come on!" Greg was saying. "At least tell us where you went!"

"Alright, alright... He took me to his townhouse, and-"

"Wait a minute," Mia interrupted. "He took you to his house and cooked for you!"

"Yeah. This great veggie pasta dish. It turned out excellent."

"And the rest of the night?" Greg probed.

"The rest of the night is none of your business! We just-"

Sara couldn't stand it anymore. Spinning on her heel, she headed back to the locker room, keeping her head down so no one would see the tears trailing a path down her face. Grabbing her things, she got in her car and left the lab, a place that had once offered hope and shelter, but no longer held any joy for her apart from the people that she loved.

Once she hit the highway. she pulled out her cell phone and a business card, dialing the long distance number on the bottom. After three rings, someone finally picked up.

"Yes," Sara answered. "Rick Culpepper, please."

----- ----- -----

The next night, Grissom walked into the break room for assignments and immediately sensed something wrong, though he couldn't quite put his finger on it. His concern was echoed a moment later when Greg asked,

"Where's Sara?"

"Yes, where is she? We were supposed to be finishing a B & E." Sofia crossed the room, coffee in hand. Setting one cup in frint of Grissom, she took a seat beside him.

"The final paperwork for that case was left on my desk, so it's been taken care of," Grisom told her. "And as for Sara's absense, it's her day off. Maybe she decided to take one for a change." Hoping that his response was convincing enough, he continued with assignments. "Things are light tonight. You two are looking into a419 in Henderson. Teenage party gone wild with suspected drugs and alcohol use. Brass is covering asic crowd control, but be sure to get pictures of everyone at the scene."

He watched as the two made to leave, and after a moment he looked down at his hands, feeling Sara's absense stronger than ever. But even through the emptiness, he suddenly realized that he wasn't alone. Looking up, he saw that Greg had stayed behind.

"What is it, Greg?"

He hesitated. "Well, I just..."

When he stopped, Grissom once again got the feeling that the young new CSI was afraid of him. "Spit it out, Greg."

"Are you sure Sara's okay?"

"I'm sure she's fine. Like I said, she probably decided to take her night off."

"Oh, come on, Grissom! You know as well as I do that Sara always comes in on her days off, and on top of that, she takes double shifts! Not to mention a week's suspension would have killed her. She'd be itchin' to come back and you know it!"

Greg's outburst startled Grissom, and though he knew Greg was right, he fought to keep an impassive face. "Worrying won't do anybody any good, Greg. She's probably fine. Go take care of your case; it'll take your mind off things. Then, after shift, you can do whatever you want."

With that, Grissom brushed past him and headed towards her office as quickly as possible so that no one would see the worry in his eyes. Closing the door,behind him, he sat at his desk and tried to clear his mind. Instead, it suddenly hit him how ironic the situation was. He'd told Greg not to worry, but in all actuality, when he looked at it logically, he had every reason to worry. Greg was right: Sara never took a night off. The only time he ever remembered her taking one, he had called her in anyway to take the canabalized cheerleader case, and she'd been pissed. She never took off holidays; having no one to spend them with, she usually requested to work so that others could be at homewith their loved ones. Much like Grissom, she didn't understand people, so she lost herself in the job. She even came in when she was sick.

Feeling the chasm in his heart growing deeper by the second, he used the process of elimination and realized that left only two possibilities: either she'd been fired or she'd left. Knowing that there had to be some realy serious issues or some damn good competition for the first one to even be possible, he racked his brain to find a reason stong enough for her to leave.

It wasn't trust; he was positive they'd settled that issue. She couldn't have found another guy; she didn't have the time, seeing as she now spent every waking moment buried in the job. Much of the Las Vegas lifestyle disgusted her, so it was unlikely she had gone anywhere else in the city. She wouldn't go back to San Fransisco, not with all the pain associated with the surrounding area. No, Sara liked to distance herself from her problems. That in itself suggested the east coast. Boston, perhaps?

Grissom put his head down on the desk. This was giving him a headache... no, a migraine. Deciding to take the rest of the night off, he glanced at the clock. It was 3:08, well into shift, but if anything came up Sofia could take over if need be. Grabbing his jacket, he walked quickly toward the parking lot via the front exit. Judy stopped him at the front desk.

"Mr. Grissom?"

He turned. "Yes?"

"You have some mail." She held out a single slender envelope.

"Leave it on my desk. I'll read it when I get a chance." He turned to go, but was halted when he heard her voice call out again. "It's marked urgent..." Her voice trailed as she continued to hold out the letter.

Sighing, Grissom reached forward and took the letter, mumbling a hurried "Thank you," while stufing it into his breast pocket and continuing his trek to the Denali. He tried to ignore his nagging curiosity as he climbed into the driver's seat, even tried rubing his temples to ease the pounding ache, but to no avail. The envelope seemed to burn a holein his chest, flaming with inside knowledge and steaming with secrets until he pulled it out, if only to ebb the crashing waves of guilt, curiosity,a nd frustration.

Looking down at the paper in his hands, his breath caugh in his throat when he recognized the familiar scrawl. Ripping it open,he snatched out the paper within, smooting the creases as he unfolded it, revealing a short hand-written note. Emotion surged through him as he scanned the tear-stained mesage, and the not-so-neatly scrawled signiture that struck a chord within him.

Questions swarmed in his brain like a hive full of buzzing bees. Likewise, his emotions wreaked havoc within him. First confusion, then helplesness, anger, frustration, giult,a d the deepest sadness he had ever known when he realized that she was gone and it was most likely his fault. Gazing back at the page, he read:

Dear Grissom,

I'm sorry to have to leave like this, but it's the only way I know how. I had to put distance between myself and Vegas before it got any worse.

I've said before that our relationship was complicated and I know it's my fault, but whatever I did to make you hate me, I am truely sorry.Imade a mistake... I trusted you with the one thing I've never told anyone else and I thought you cared.

Well, I won't be in your way anymore. Maybe with me gone, you can enjoy whatever relationship with Sofia you might have had if you'd never met me.

Goodbye, Grissom. Enjoy your freedom, and tell the others I will miss them.


"With life traveling at 100 miles per hour, maybe one day you'll find the time to say I love you." -Anonymous

The letter slipped from his fingers as reality set in, wrenching his heart from his chest. She thought it was her fault, that he didn't care. What's worse, she thought that he hated her... God, how could she possibly think that? So much had happened between them, and just because he couldn't express it didn't mean that he didn't love her. What had he done?

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Chapter 2: After Everything That Happened...

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Grissom didn't remember the drive home. He didn't rememebr coming inside and going straight to the bottom left cabinet in his kitchen. He didn't even remember pulling out the box of photographs from under his bed. All he knew was that he was now siting on his couch looking at pictures and siping his third screwdriver of the morning.

The picture he held in his hand was his favorite. Taking another sip from his glass, he stared at the image, remembering the events associated with it. It was four years ago at a Christmas party, Sara's first Christmas in Vegas. She'd brought her camera and had taken pictures of everything, including Warrick and Catherine under the mistletoe, Gregand Jacqui by the tree, and even the daytime coroner, Gary Telgenhoff on his guitar singing his first song to hit radio. She'd handed out the developed photos as gifts that year, a special way to remember how much fun they'd all had that night, despite the jabs from day shift.

This picture, however, she'd had someone else take. It was of Sara right after she'd opened her Secret Santa gift (which happened to be from him). He remembered the joy on her face when she saw the beautiful cover to a book of Shakespeare. She figured out right away who it was from, and to the surprise of nearly everyone there, thanked him with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. It was at that moment that the camera clicked, forever capturing that moment on film. Flipping it over, Grissom read the message she'd written on the back:

What a night! Thanks for the book...

Now I can quote Shakespeare too!

Forever Yours,


His mind drifted back to the letter, and he realized once again how much she had canged and how much he missed her. What had changed? He'd struggled with that question for years; what made him think he could answer it now was beyond him. Instead, he settled on another that plagued him: What had changed enough to make her leave?

A moment later, he felt his palm smack into his brow as it hit him like a brick. How could he have been so stupid? The letter had all but spelled it out: Sofia. She knew about his date with Sofia.

No, he corrected himself, not a date. He was only trying to convince her to stay.

Wait, he thought. Maybe she wasn't gone yet... Maybe he'd gotten the letter earlier than she had intended... If that was the case, then there was a chance she was still in Vegas. Finding his phone, he called her house... Disconnected. He tried her pager... No luck; it was turned off. In desperation, he dialed her cell phone... It rang. He let out a sigh of relief then took a dep breath as he tried to figure out what exactly he was going to say, only to let it out in frustration a moment later when he heard th recording:

"We're sorry. The customer you are trying to reach is currently out of the calling area. Please-"

"Damn it!"

In frustration, Grissom heaved his phone across the room, too consumed by anger to notice, much less care, when it smashed into one of his mounted butterfly cases and sent it crashing to the floor, shattered glass flying everywhere. Plopping back down on the couch, he laid back and cursed himself for the likely irreversible damage he had done to ther nonrelationship. He felt the hot tears course down the side of his face as he kicked the box of photographs to the floor, the pictures of his past now scattered among the shards of glass.

The one photo still lovingly cradled in his hand faded as more tears blurred his vision and memories of Sara floated in and out of his mind. Soon,it joined the others on the floor as his sadness lured him into a restless sleep, only to have her haunt his dreams.

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"I'd forgotten how cold the East Coast is this time of year," Sara sighed as she stared out the car window at the rain and miserable greyness that had settled over the city since her arrival, mirroring her mood. She knew it would be hard leaving Vegas, but she never knew that it would hurt this much. Leaving without saying goodbye was the hardest thing she'd ever had to do; she missed her friends, and as much as she hated to admit it, she missed Grissom.

The spell was broken when the man beside her interrupted her thoughts.

"Actually, the rain is a nice relief from the snow and sleet we've been having, but then again, Virginia isn't exactly known for having nice winter weather. Better than Vegas though, isn't it?"

"Culpepper, just because I left Vegas to take the FBI up on their offer to join Quantico's crime lab doesn't suddenly make us the bst of friends. Just get me to where I'm supposed to be and give me my assignment."

Culpepper smiled. "Eager, are we? Well, since I'm not your supervisor, technically I can't assign you to anything-"

"Thank God!"

"-but I did put in a few good words with the director, and we've got a case all lined up for you. One which I think you'll find very ineresting."

----- ----- -----

The next week seemed to crawl by. Vegas was bing its usual big bad self, but with both swing shift and graveyard being short-staffed, the entire team had to pull doubles just to cover the normal load, and with Sara gone, the time just seemed to lag. As the team made ready to leave after yet another trying day, the conversation one again turned to their former teammate.

'it's so different around here with her gone... emptier," Greg sighed as he changed his socks.

"Don't we know it..." Warrick's soulfull voice sounded from behind him. "The kind of cases we've been getting lately are her kind of mystery. they're like puzzles to her... They give her purpose. She'd have a ield day with the victimologies."

Nick chuckled a bit. "Yeah, that's where she shines, alright." Turning to his locker, the photos taped to the inside of the door caught his eye, though on inparticular stood out. Smack in the middle of his collage wa a picture of him with Warrick and Sara at a banquet a few years ago. the lab had been honored for its performance on a high profile case and for rising to the second highest ranking in the nation. He and the other guys had felt pretty ridiculous in the penguin suits that society called tuxedos, but Sara had insisted that they all looked quite handsome; which was ironic seeing as from the time she had walked into the room, no one could take their eyes off of her. They'd all agreed that she pulle off black in just the right way, and that night was no exception. She looked absolutely ravishing in her deep V-neck, spaghetti-strapped, open-backed black gown, and must have been asked to dance by every guy in the lab with the obvious exceptions of Hodges, Carvallo, and Ecklie. Yet she still insisted that she was the one who felt out of place. She'd taken the picture reluctantly, but looking back, Nick was glad he'd insisited.

He was startled out of his thoughts by Warrick's voice behind him.

"Whatcha lookin' at?"

Nick sighed and continued to stare at the photo, hearing Warrick hold his breath for a moment when he came up beside him.

"I remember that night," Warrick said, his memory drifting back. "Everyone staring at her all night made her nervous, but she still managed to dance with almost every guy there."

"Yeah," Nick replied. "Even Grissom took a chance... Man, she was gorgeous in that dress."

"She was beautiful," came Grissom's voice from the doorway. Nick and Warrick spun around, unaware that he'd even been in the room, let alone listening to the conversation. Stepping in, Grissom moved alongside them to stare at the picture. "I learned to waltz just for that night... I was nervous as hell when I asked her to join me, but once the music started, the world disappeared..."

Warrick glanced over at Nick. It was strange, he thought he'd just seen a teary mist cloud Grissom's typically unreadable eyes. Nick barely nodded, as if to say that he'd seen it too.

"Griss..." Warrick hesitated.

"Carvallo wants me to replace her," he said shortly.

"WHAT!" Both of the younger men turned away from the photos to stare at him.

"You can't!" Nick cried. "You can't replace someone like Sara!"

"I know, Nick, trust me, but-"

"She's been gone, what, a week? She didn't even say goodbye, and she wouldn't-"

"I BLEW IT!" Grissom blurted, the tears clearly beginning to pool now. "After everything that's happened, I tried to protect her. I was careful what cases I gave her, but I only held her back! I was stupid to think she'd stay after the wayI treated her, and now she's gone! She left, and she's not coming back!"

When a tear spilled over onto his cheek, he turned away from the others no longer able to stand the shock and sorrow in their eyes. Going to his own locker, he put in his badge, grabbed his jacket and slammed the door before heading quickly past them and out the door.


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Chapter 3: The Truth About The Truth

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"You've got to be joking me!"

Flipping through the file, Sara was appalled. Though there were subtle differences in this case, thephotos of the victims were so hauntinglyfamiliar it made her nausious. The cord was ripped off the bedsid lamp. The girls' bodies were tied to the beds instead of posed. From the greasy streaks on the bedside tables, doorknobs, and window panes, it seemed as though the suspect had wiped everything down rather than wear gloves. Unlike other criminals, this suspect was smart enough to not ejaculate in the room, leaving no DNA other than a few stray hairs which turned out to be of no help as the DNA wasn't a match to anyone in CODIS.

Flipping through once more, Sara further noticed that anyone who had previously worked the case had turned up missing. All the names on the list were female.

Staring at Culpepper, she yelled again, "You've got to be kidding!"

"No, I'm not," he sighed. "I thought you'd be happy with a case like this."

"A copycat case? Come on, you know as well as I do that copycats are harder, since they always fix whatever mistakes the original made, especally the ones that got them caught... And this particular original was maticulous!"

"All the more reason for you to take it. You always said you enjoyed a challenge," he crooned.

"I never-"

"Think of it as a way to make a great first impression. After your eagerness to stop the original, we figured this would be the perfect case for you. Good luck, and welcome to the team."

She stared at his retreating form in shock, anger, and confusion, but a half an hour later, as she locked the door to her new apartment behind her, the most overwhelming emotion she felt surging through her was fear. Not just fear for her life, but fear that she'd fail and that her failure would lead to the torture and death of more innocent women. How could they expect her to take this on alone? It had taken the entire Vegas eam to take down the original, and Grissom had almost-

'No,' she chided herself. 'I didn't move 3,000 miles across the country for his name to pop back up. I'll do it alone and I'll show them all... I don't need him...'

Sighing and wiping away the beginnings of a pool of tears, she realized this was going to be a very long - however long she would stay. Coming to the bedroom, she strew the case files on the bed, grabbed some clothes from her yet to be unpacked suitcase, and went to the bathroom. A good soak in the tub would straighten her out.

As she waited for the warm bubbly water to fill the tub, she set about making the room a bit less empty. She set her few candles by the tub and lit them with a match. She brought in and put away what few toiletries she'd brought with her. She even started taking clothes out of her bag and putting them in the small armoir, suddenly very glad she'd chosen an already furnished apartment until she could send for her things and find a larger place of her own.

But each item she pulled out of her suitcase brought with it another memory and a fresh onslaught of tears, leaving her with a sudden and overwhelming desire to hear the voices of those she'd left behind. Deserting all notions of a hot bath, Sara drained the tub and dug through her purse for her new cell. Without any thought of hesitation, her fingers flew over the keypad, automatically dialing the number she knew by heart. Only when she heard him answer did the memories of all that had happened between them resurface.


Surging emotion replaced all concious thought. Despair, anger, confusion, and frustration alternately assaulted her brain as she fought to remember exactly why she had called him. She iped at the wetness that had trailed down her face, tasting the salt left on her lips.


When he spoke again, she realized she had to say something, though her mouth was dry and her brain was blank. She considered simply hanging up, but she couldn't do that to him, not now... not after the way she'd left. But what was there to say?

When he called out a third time, he sounded agitated yet somehow desperate.


"I-" Her voice cracked as she stammered. "I - I'm sorry... I - I don't know why I called.."

With that she hung up, no hearing him call her name.

----- ----- -----

"Sara? ... Sara, please don't-"

The dial tone was shrill in his ear as he clung to the phne in desperation and disbelief. Could it have been her? The answer was immediate: He'd known it was her from the moment he'd heard her voice. The only question now was should he call her back... She was obviously distraught, but once again the answer was clear. If she'd called here after a week away without a word, that could only mean that se missed him, which was a good sign.

Thumbing his way to the Call History, he redialed the number hoping against hope that she'd answer. By the third ring, he'd almost given up, but just as he was about to pull the phone from his ear, he heard a click and a sniffle, foolowed by the harsh command:

"Leave me alone, Grissom. I don't know why I bothered."

"No, Sara, please don't go," he pleaded. "There's so much that I need to explain."

She scoffed. "Now you want to explain? Uh-uh, you know what? Save it for Sofia!"

Grissom stared at the ground. As much as the comment stung, he couldn't say that he didn't deserve it.

"Sara, I don't know what you think happened between me and Sofia, but watever it is, it's not true."

She let out a forced chuckle and then sniffled again. "It doesn't matter, Grissom. It was true to me. 'Truth is only that which is taken to be true. ... There may be nothing behind it, but it doesn't make any difference so long as it's honored.'"

He paused for a moment before speaking. "I would've thought Stoppard to be a bit modern for you."

"Whatever," she sighed. "The point is, I'm sick of playing your games. I'm done with it... Goodbye, Grissom."

He heard a click and a second later, the dial tone once again asaulted his eardrum.

----- ----- -----

Chapter 4: Asses on Platters and Bullets in Bindles

----- ----- -----

"I don't care what it takes, you find him and tell him to get his ass back here now! He has a responsibility to this city and to this lab. We're short-staffed on two shifts, graveyard is backlogged more than a hundred cases, and Sidle was due to be replaced two weeks ago. If he thinks he can just disappear, he's sadly mistaken... Oh, and Catherine, you be sure to tell him that if we weren't so short-staffed right now, I'd fire his ass!"

"No, you wouldn't," she challenged. "Carvallo'd have your ass on a platter before you could even get the words out, and don't think for a minute that I haven't tried to get in touch with him. He won't answer his phone and if he's at home, he's not answering his door either."

"Then you had better try harder. I don't have to remind you how this works, do I?"

She sighed in response.

"Good, because it would do the city a disservice to lose such a talented individual." An evil smile crossed his face as he watched emotions rage within her.

"You bastard," she breathed, clearly battling to restrain herself. "You self-absorbed, egotistical, pig-headed, sniviling little bastard!"

At this, he laughed. "Good show, Catherine! And such an extended vocabulary!"

"You don't even what to hear my full vocab-"

"That's enough!" He cut her off and stood before her, his look trained to kill. "I thought you'd've learned from Sidle's mistake: I don't tolerate insubordination. Don't forget, Ms. Willows, you owe me and that means that I hold the cards. You find Grissom and get him back here, or it'll be your ass on a platter."

Catherine stood still, challenging his stare and trying like hell to keep her composure. For a moment it seemed she would withstand the battle, but the pressure became too much and when she knew she couldn't last much longer, she spit at his feet and left without a word.

----- ----- -----

Two days later, while she waited on her evidence, Sara decided to take a personal tour of the Quantico lab. Twice the size of the Vegas lab with twice the equipment, there was something new around every corner, and every bt of it fascinated her. The DNA lab was separate from the chem lab, the morgue was separate from the X-ray room which was separate from the autopsy room, all of which were filled with equipment she had only read about in books.

But as she neared the back of the lab, and consequently the end of her tour, there was one room that held her captive. A woman had just walked into the ballistics lab with evidence from a case. Sara watched as she handed a young man in a wheelchair, who looked to be about Greg's age,two separate bindles and a highly powered rifle that had been found in a suspect's home. As the lab tech took the evidence, he noticed Sara in the doorway.

"Can I help you?" he asked, somewhat coldly as the other woman brushed past her.

Sara blushed. "Uh, no, sorry... I - I'm new here, and was just looking around... Ballistics always interested me because of the physics, and I was just admiring your lab."

"Well, admire quietly, I have work to do." He wheeled around and over to his workstation, taking the evidence from his lap to spread on the table top before him. As he opened the bindles and dumped their contents, Sara unconsiously inched forward, her curiousity getting the better of her. Out of the first bindle dropped 3 shell casings. Moving one to a microscope and another to the scanner, the young tech ran the casings through IBIS while making a comparison to a casing from another scene. Proclaiming a match a moment later, he turned to the other bindle. Sara leaned closer to see a large bullet fall into the tech's hand.

"Wow," she said. "BFB-"

The tech spun at her, effectively cutting her off. "Yes," he hissed, "a big freaking bullet. Is that all you damn interns know how to do? Go around harrassing all the real agents in this lab with all your newly learned vocabulary?"

Taken aback by his comment, Sara furrowed her brow. "I'm not an intern, I'm-"

"Look, I don't care who you are or where you're from; Just get the hell out of my lab so I can work!" Wheeling his chair back to his station, he heaved a sigh of fruustration before returning to his analysis of the bullet.

Sara backed out of the room, irritated but not really angry at the man. If anything, her pride was hurt, but she reminded herself that this was not her first less-than-warm welcome here. More than once she'd been greeted with cold stares and whispered remarks. Taking a glance back before heading to check on her own evidence, Sara sighed. While the young tech may have momentarily reminded her of a combination of Bobby D and Greg, he definitely had an attitude reminiscent of Hodges.

----- ----- -----

Catherine sat at the break room table staring at the phone in her hand, a silent war raging within her. Looking at the name in her phone book, she wondered what he was doing right now. They all knew that he was upset; Sara had left without a word to any of them, and three weeks later, they'd still heard nothing of her. Now Grissom had disappeared. It had been four days since anyone had seen him at the lab, and Catherine was worried. If she knew Grissom (and after 15 years of friendship, she knew him well), something like this was likely to throw him into depression, and a depression for Grissom was not a good thing.

On the other hand, if she couldn't get him to come back...

"Hey Catherine, you all right?"

She turned to see Warrick staring at her from the doorway. When she put her head down on the table in response, he came in and took the chair next to her.

"What's been thrown at you this time?"

Her response was muffled: "Ecklie."

"Now what does he want? Hasn't he done enough?" His soulful voie was colored with anger.

"Aparently not," she sighed. "He certainly enjoys playing puppetmaster..."

Warrick's head snapped up, not liking the sound of that comment. Choosing his words carefully, he asked, "What do you mean? ..." When she didn't answer, he continued. "Cath, what's going on? Is everything alright?"

She hesitated, looking around as if to see anyone was watching nearby. Speaking softly, she explained. "He thinks I owe him for giving me the promotion. He keeps hanging it over my head so I'l do things for him, saying that he can take things away just as easliy as he can dish them out. At one point he even threatened to-"

"He threatened you!" he exclaimed, clearly shocked that even Ecklie would go that low.

"No," she said quickly, "not me. He knows better than that, but he threatened all I hold dear, and he knows what that entails..." Her voice was shaking, and though she tried to cover it up, Warrick knew she was scared for her daughter. Worried for a woma who was rarely rattled, he tried to calm her.

"Look, Cath, you can't let him get to you. Ecklie's an ass, and this is exactly what he wants... Be the bigger person; go to Brass."

She shook her head. "He'd find out... Besides, who's going to believe me? I've had to be such a jerk to people throughout this whole thing, especially to Sara, not because I wanted to but because it takes all the blame off of Ecklie and makes it look like it was all me-"

Warrick held his hand up. "Whoa, slow down... I believe you, remember? Besides, they believed me when I had the judge all over my back." Laying a hand on her shoulder, he continued. "Go to Brass. He'll know what to do, and before you know it, we'll catch the bastard and it'll be over."

----- ----- -----

Chapter 5: Hell Shows No Mercy

----- ----- -----

"Positive for two sets of epithelials. One is the victim's, but the other has no match in CODIS."

Sara stared back and forth between the printed results and the DNA lab tech's face as if the results would change.


"Nothing that makes sense." The tech held out a series of printouts and sighed. "The hairs you sent, one of them belonged to the vic, which was no surprise since you found it in her bed. But the other belonged to a toddler who drowned in Lake Michigan three years ago near Chicago. The third set of epithelials you sent in belonged to a 78-year-old homebound patient in the care of Brunswick, Maine's Memorial Hospital who died of a heart attack last month. The print on the footboard of the last vic's bed was that of a felon with a life sentence in a female correctional facility in New Mexico... Your suspect has been planting evidence everywhere."

Sara's shoulders slumped. "I should've known. Serials get smarter with every attack...Okay, thanks Tanya." She turned to leave.

"Don't you turn your back on me, Agent Sidle! I never said that I was finished!"

Sara looked back with a raised eyebrow and a smile. "Really? Well, enlighten me."

Smiling back, Tanya pulled out one last results page. "Your suspect may have been planting evidence, but the ones who think that they're smart always forget something. In this case, the semen stain on the wall outside the last victim's window."

"He left love gaffitti!"

"Yeah, stupid prick. The DNA didn't match anything in CODIS, but lucky for you it's a match to the stain found at another victim's home."

Sara smiled. "Lucky for me and all the other girls in Virginia. Tanya, you're a genious!"

"I know... Now get outta here and catch the bastard!"

----- ----- -----

"What do you mean you can't do anything!"

Warrick stared at Brass unbelieveingly. Standing next to him, Catherine wore much the same look.

"I told you: it goes over my head-"

"I wore the mic and planted the spy camera in his office. You heard him threaten me and my job. Tell me again why you can't do anything?" Catherine was pissed, and her face showed it. More than that, her voice was just below a dull roar.

Brass walked past her to close the door. "Look, Catherine, I want to do something, I really do, but it's over my head. Now you know I can't discuss and ongoing investigation, but-"

"Wait, 'ongoing investigation'?" Warrick cried as his deep green eyes opened wider than thought possible.

"Yes," Brass sighed, "an ongoing investigation. The recordings are being sent to... a higher power."

By now, Catherine was shaking with anger. "Blackmail needs to be sent to a higher power?"

"No, blackmail we could've handled, but we decided to keep the tapes rolling after you left the office, and what he did when he thought that no one was watching calls for a higher power to step in. If I could do any more myself I would, really, but it's out of my hands now."

Catherine walked out of the office feeling empty and betrayed. Once again, it seemed that justice had forsaken the Willows family.

----- ----- -----

Walking out of the interrogation room, Sara felt triumphant. This was the guy, she could feel it in her gut, and the DNA would prove it. He didn't know that they'd found the semen stains. He thought that the DNA sample was just for comparison purposes, and to his knowledge, he'd left nothing for them to compare it to anyways. Sara smiled. That had to be her favorite part of being in the interrogation room: she could legally lie to suspects.

The only part of this entire process that bothered her was the fact that since the DNA sample was voluntary and technically they couldn't charge Rory McNabb with anything yet, he was free to go rape, torture and kill more innocent women, or worse, move on to another state all together if he thought that they were on to him.

Looking at her watch, Sara yawned. Shift was over, and she could do with a good night's sleep. Chuckling, she realized just how odd that sounded. She still wasn't quite used to sleeping in the dark, but she told herself that over time, that would change. Over time, she'd adjust to the normal world. She grabbed her coat and purse, hung up her lab coat, and headed out to her car. As she had done several times before, she climbed in, closed the door, and stared at the case files for a few moments.

But suddenly, something bothered her... Hadn't she locked the doors earlier? The unsettling feeling in her stomach increased as she set the files aside and made ready to leave. Adjusting the seat and side mirrors, she finally fixed the rear view mirror, only to reveal a dark and deadly familiar face. He covered her face to stifle her screams.

"You made a mistake, Agent Sidle," said the sinister voice of Rory McNabb. "You shouldn't have brought me into this. Now you're going to wish you'd left it alone."

----- ----- -----

"Hey Cath, some guy in an Armani was just tearing me a new one with questions, and-"

"SHHH!" Pulling him into her office and shutting the door, Catherine eyed Nick wearily. "Don't shout. Who was asking questions?"

"Some guy who flashed a badge too quick for me to read. It was bizarre," he said, his brows furowed in thought. "All his questions were about you and Ecklie."

She sat down in her desk chair and rubbed her temples in an effort to ease the throbbing behind her eyes. "That's because he's a Fed."

His eyes went wide. "A Fed! As in the FBI! What's goin-"

"Whatdid you tell him, Nick?"

"Nothing, just that it's no secret around here that Ecklie's a kissass to everyone above himand a pain in the ass to everyone else."

That gave Catherine a small smile. "Good... that's good, Nicky. I like that." She sighed. "Look, Ecklie's a tricky situation right now. He's under investigation, but we can't let him know that. He has to think that he's completely safe so they can catch him redhanded."

"Doing what?"

"I'm not exactly sure. They won't let me in on that part, but it's above and beyond Brass... Right now, I have to focus on getting Grissom back. It's been a week since anyone has seen him and I'm really starting to get worried."

----- ----- -----

Grissom lay still on the couch, listening to the seemingly neverending "beep... beep... beep..." of his answering machine, canstantly alternating between not caring and wanting to smash it against a wall. Of course, that would require getting up off the couch on which he had been living for a week straight, and so he sat wallowing in his guilt and grief, simply staring at his broken butterfly cse and the shattered glass which he hadn't the heart to clean up.

The sudden ring of his telephone no longer startled him. Glancing briefly at the caller id and recognizing the number as Catherine's cell, he ignored the inecessant noise and let the answering machine pick up again.

"Grissom," her voice squaked over the speaker, "I know you're there. Please pick up... (sigh) Please? ... Grissom, come on, we need you over here. It's getting crazy! We're incredibly short-staffed, and Ecklie's gone haywire! Not that you care about Ecklie... We got Feds everywhere, asking questions and digging through records and case files. It's a madhouse! Please pick up. We need you... Alright, just give me a call, okay? At least let me know that you're alive... Bye." Beep... Beep... Beep...

'Well,' he thought, 'at least I'm not imagining the world going to Hell.' He rolled over and was completely content to go back to sleep when the phone rang again. Giving an exasperated sigh, he turned back to check the caller ID.

Suddenly, he sat straight up and whirled around. If he remembered correctly, that was the same area code as the number Sara had called from. With any luck, she was calling from a different phone. He got up and started searching for his cordless phone. He knew it was around here somewhere... He remembered throwing it across the room one day.

By the time he found the dent it had made in the wall, the answering machine picked up.

"Hello, Mr. Grissom. My name is Susan Barnes, and I'm a nurse at the Mercy Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. We have you down as the only next of kin for a Miss Sara Sidle. If you could..."

'Oh God, please no,' he thought, now searching even more fervently. Finally, he found the phone behind the entertainment center's left speaker.

"Hello?" he called out to the nurse.

"Yes, Mr. Grissom, are you still the next of-"

"Yes, I am," he interrupted. He hesitated, not knowing quite how to describe his relationship with Sara. "I'm a ... friend of hers. Is she okay?"

"That, Mr. Grissom, I would prefer to discuss when you get here."

----- ----- -----

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