CSI: Obsession

Federal Involvement (Cont.)

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Chapter 6: Virginia’s Hope

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Catherine was at the end of her rope. To most in the lab, the FBI's presence was still unknown, but Ecklie was becoming unbearable, and the fear of discovery weighed heavier on her every time she crossed his path. The fact that Carvallo was also laying it on her to find Grissom and a replacement for Sara didn't help.

Looking around the crime scene, she called out to Nick, "You got this?"

He nodded. "Yeah, no problem. Not much left to do."

"Alright... I got some paperwork to handle. I'm going back to the lab. Check in with me in my office when you log everything in."

"You got it, boss."

Heading for her car, she was startled by a ringing at her hip. Looking down at her cell, she took it out of its pocket and flipped it open.

"Willows," she answered.

"Catherine, I need you and Sofia to take over graveyard for a while."

She stopped in her tracks. "Gil, is that you?"

"No Catherine, it's Santa Clause... You asked me to call and let you know I'm alright... Well, i'm alright, but I'm going away, and-"

"Wait, Grissom, stop... Going away? Where? Why?"

"Don't worry, I'll be back. I'm just not sure when. I'm going to Virginia."

"VIRGINIA!" she nearly screamed, causing Grissom to have to momentarily pull the phone from his ear. "What the hell is in Virginia?"

"Sara," was his only response.

Her car door now open, Catherine plopped down into the seat and was silent. After a moment, she said quietly, "Gil, I don't know if that's such a good idea."

"She's in the hospital, Catherine." Static crackled over the phone line. "Look, I'm already at the airport and my flight number was just called. I have to go. Just do me a favor and don't tell the others."

She sighed. "No problem. We got enough of a mess over here as it is. The last thing we need is more bad news... Be careful, Gil. Good luck."

"There's no such thing as luck. Only hope."

She thought for a moment. "Whitman?"

He shook his head. "Grissom." Click.

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

The flight to Richmond was somber and quiet. He couldn't sleep and reading proved to be a waste of time. Al his thoughts centered around Sara. His mind kept coming up with different reasons why she'd be in the hospital, and each scenario was worse than the last. He was somewhat relieved when the plane landed and he walked off into the noisy Richmond airport.

On his way to baggage claim, he thought about the phone call from Susan Barnes. She'd promised to meet him at the hospital and take him to Sara's room, as Sara was her main patient between 10:00 and 3:00 rounds. Though she refused to discuss Sara's condition, she did say that she knew Sara would want him there.

A while later, luggage in hand and being put into the trunk of a taxi, he realized how terrified he was. He was 20 minutes from finding out if the woman he loved would ever come back home where she belonged... 20 minutes from learning if she even cared about any of them anymore... 20 minutes from discovering if she would even live.

"Where to?" asked the cabbie?

Though fearing what lie ahead, he took a deep breath and said firmly, "Mercy Hospital, please."

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

"Where the hell is he! I thought you were bringing him back!"

"I would, except he's in Virginia right now," Catherine retorted.

"WHAT THE HELL IS IN VIRGINIA!" Ecklie yelled, placing the ball firmly in her court.

She hesitated. "I-I don't know," she lied, shifting in her chair. That's all he would tell me."

"Well," he said, taking control, "you tell him that he's got three days to get his ass back here before he loses his job." He turned to leave.

She huffed and stared in shock at the back of his head. "You - you can't do that!"

"Oh, yes I can," he sneered, turning back to face her. "As I told Grissom the night I split you up, as Assistant Director, it is clearly within my purview not only to fill any open positions in this lab, but to create them." As he spoke, he walked toward her, causing her to slowly walk backwards until she was both figuratively and literally backed into a corner. "I have plans, Ms. Willows and no smartass like you or Grissom is going to ruin them."

His evil smile infuriated Catherine. "You asshole!" she whispered. "You're a monster, a conniving, power-hungry-"

She was cut off by his hand closing around her windpipe, pinning her to the wall. Her body went rigid and her eyes opened wide as her fingers clawed at his hand and arm, trying to pull it away. Her labored breathing quickened in panic as her heart beat faster and faster, threatening to pound through her chest. White sparkles began to appear in her peripheral vision as she caught his eye, and another devilish grin crossed his face.

"I told you, Catherine: I don't tolerate insubordination."

Black dots began to replace the sparkles in her eyes, but just as she felt herself start to slip away, his hand dropped with a snap and he walked to the door, leaving her doubled over gasping for breath. He waited in the doorway a moment watching, before he caught her attention once more.

"Get him back, Catherine. I don't care how you do it, just get it done."

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Taking the elevator to the third floor, Grissom's stomach was in knots. He could never remember being as nervous as he was in that moment, and the tinkling elevator music wasn't helping. Their conversation from her first and only phone call rang in his ears, her voice raw and shaky, almost afraid. He hoped she wasn't afraid now, though knowing Sara, when she found out that she was in the hospital, she was probably just pissed.

Looking up, he realized that in his nervousness, he'd missed his floor and had gone up one too many. When he found his way again, he stopped at the third floor nursing station and looked around. There were people everywhere: some in scrubs, some in street clothes, others in suits; many that passed by were wearing hospital gowns and laying on gurneys. He scanned the crowd for Sara, but instead a young nurse about Sara's age was heading his direction. Her blue and purple scrubs parting the crowd, she got closer.

"Mr. Grissom?" she asked, extending her hand.


She shook his hand. "I'm Susan Barnes. We spoke on the phone."

"Yes, I remember..."

Sensing his anxiousness, she pointed down the hall. "Sara's room is just down the corridor there. Room 317. You go on ahead, and I'll be in to check on her after I finish my rounds."

Nodding, he watched as she made her way past him, excusing herself as she moved through the crowd down to the next hallway. He sighed, and looking around once more, made his way in the direction of Sara's room. As he walked, Grissom had the sensation that he was in one of those old movies where it seems that no matter how far you walk, you never get any closer to your goal. His destination seemed miles away, and with every step his stomach tied in another knot. Questions flew through his mind... What had happened to her? Was she awake? Would she be happy to see him? Would she be angry? Would he come out with a bruise?

When he came to the door, he put all his questions to rest as he felt for a slip of paper in his breast pocket. With a sigh, he left it there. That was a last resort, and he told himself that he would only take it out when all other options disappeared.

With a deep sigh, he opened the door and walked inside.

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Chapter 7: The Hardest Words

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The first thing Grissom saw once he was in the room was the curtain around the bed partially pulled back. He could hear a heart monitor singing it's lonely tune and Sara's slow, steady breathing, meaning she was probably asleep. Pulling back the curtain, he was surprised how much she had changed. In her month and a half away from Vegas, her hair had grown longer and darker, but her complexion was paler.

'That may just be from the lighting, though,' he thought.

His eyes darted around like he was at a crime scene. He noticed the IV in her right arm and her broken left wrist wrapped in an ACE bandage. She had bruises on her arms, cheeks and neck. What worried him the most was the gauze covering her left temple, which had not been changed for he could only guess how long. It broke his heart to see her like this, laying helpless in a hospital bed hurting. He sat in the chair next to her bed and put his head in his hands, mad at himself for making her leave her home in search of the love and acceptance she didn't know she had.

He was startled out of his thoughts by a low groan and a whimper. He looked up to see Sara tossing and turning in her sleep. She shifted again, wincing in pain, this time whispering something so softly that he couldn't quite make it out. He moved his chair closer to the bed and took her hand in his, hoping to calm her. Instead, she called out louder, shifting back and forth as if trying to escape some dangerous fate. He let go of her and stepped back in guilt and shock at her words.

Again, she cried out, "Grissom!"

A tear escaped as he sat again in the chair. "I'm here," he whispered. "I'm right here, Sara."

"It's strange, isn't it?"

Grissom whirled around to see Susan Barnes standing in the doorway. Coming in and adjusting Sara's IV, both watched as she began to calm.

"She was unconscious when the paramedics got there. Someone had found her on the side of the road, lying in the snow with no jacket. Her clothes were torn and she was covered in bruises, bleeding from the temple. They still don't know how long she was lying there... Anyways, she's been here for three days and she still hasn't woken up, but every once in a while she'll have these fits. Adjusting the morphine is the only way to calm her."

When a million different possibilities came racing to his mind, Grissom had to push his investigative nature aside. Never taking his eyes off of Sara, he took a deep breath and asked, "Who found her?"

"The police officer at the scene said that a couple traveling through had stalled their car. When they got out to check under the hood, they saw her in the ditch."

He sighed, sinking deeper into his chair. This was too much to handle.

"She has a concussion, doesn't she?"

Susan nodded.

"So she may never wake up..."

The nurse gave a sad smile. "There's always hope."

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Days passed. Grissom slept in the chair by Sara's bed, no longer bothered by the constant ins and outs of the doctors and nurses. If anything, it was comforting to know that she had so much attention. He passed the time by talking to her, telling her stories of things that had happened while she was gone, and sharing memories of what now seemed so long ago.

It was now the third day since he'd arrived. He'd been comfortably sleeping in his chair when he was awakened by movement beside him. Blinking a few times to adjust his eyes to the light in the room, he looked over to see Sara growing restless again. As the nurses had taken to letting him try to calm her, he knew they'd be alone. He took her hand and stroked it, coupling the action with words of comfort, hoping to God that this time she might awaken.

"It's alright, Sara. I'm here," he whispered. "I'm not going anywhere, I promise."

For a while, it seemed to be working. Her shifting slowed and became less violent, her breathing relaxed, her heart rate dropped, and her whispers faded, leaving Grissom relieved and filled with hope for the coming days.

But a few minutes later it started again, worse then before. Her head turned back and forth, her body thrashed as if she were having a seizure, and her whispers turned into cries so loud that he was surprised they couldn't be heard down the hall. Nothing he tried worked. His words of comfort were lost in the din, and every time she called out, his heart broke a little more. Not knowing what else to do, he pulled back, but her hand clenched so tightly to his that he couldn't let go. He moved to adjust the morphine. He didn't get the chance.

Suddenly, she sat bolt upright, eyes wide open and breathing heavily, only to fall back onto one elbow and grasp her wrapped wrist in pain. Looking around wildly to try and figure out where she was, she was taken by surprise when she finally realized that someone else was in the room. When she saw who it was, her heart wrenched and her brain went haywire.

"Grissom?" she gasped, still trying to control her breathing. "What the hell are you doing here? ... And where the hell am I?"

He managed to move away from the IV and sit back down in the chair. "Mercy Hospital in Richmond," he said quickly swiping at a tear of mixed emotion. "You've been here for almost a week. They'll want to know that you're awake..."

"No," she said quickly, reaching out her good hand to stop him from pressing the call button. "Not yet... I know what happened was terrible, but you don't belong here, and I just want to go home, okay?"

At this Grissom perked up. "The team will be thrilled. They miss you so much, Sara, and-"

"Vegas is not my home anymore," she cut in, her voice cracking. "I'm fine here. My handler trusts me, and I am this close to solving the biggest case of my career..."

Grissom was hurt. Again, the trust issue had reared its ugly head and opened up the chasm between them even wider.


"No, Grissom. I don't want to hear it! Just answer my question... What are you doing here?"

All emotion draining from his face, he answered softly, "Nurse Barnes called me, saying that I was the only listed next of kin."

She sighed. "I knew I forgot something."

"Sara, please, just listen-"

"No, you listen: I came out here to heal, to put the whole thing behind me. But I can't do that with you here... Just- please, just go."

Grissom was cut to the core. Happiness he could have handled easily, even being unwelcome was expected, but to be completely shunned was beyond his power to understand. But, he'd promised to end the hurt, and if this was what it would take to make her happy, he would do it.

"Alright," he sighed. "I have my cell... You know the number."

Getting up from the chair, he took the letter from his breast pocket and laid it on the bedside table. The tear that graced his cheekbone went unnoticed; she had turned her back to him, and was now staring resolutely out the window.

On his way out the door, he took one final backward glance, and though he couldn't see her face, he knew there was a tear in her eye as well. With a broken heart and a deep breath, he uttered the two hardest words he'd ever had to say:

"Goodbye, Sara."

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Chapter 8: His Letter

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When the door closed behind him, Sara took a ragged breath.

"I'm not going to cry," she told herself firmly, blinking away the tears that had begun to form. "I won't...I'm just going to hit the call button, and focus on getting out of here."

Before she could reach it, however, the door opened and a blonde nurse in pink and purple scrubs walked in, her eyes never leaving the chart in her hands. Sara remained silent, waiting for the nurse to look her way. She watched as the young woman flitted about the room, flipping charts, changing the rotation schedules, and recording information on her clipboard. Finally, Sara cleared her throat in an effort to gain the woman's attention.

The sudden noise clearly startled her out of her thoughts, but when she looked up, she seemed delighted to see Sara awake.

"Ms. Sidle! ... Well, welcome back to us. I'm glad to see that you're finally awake."

Sara gave a shy smile. "Thank you..."

"You know," continued the nurse, "I wondered why Mr. Grissom had left. After three days in that chair, he must have been very relieved to see you feeling better and-"

"Wait," Sara interrupted, holding up a hand to stop the woman's rambling. "He was here that long?"

The woman nodded. "He stayed right there next to you the whole time. It was hard for him to see you suffer through those nightmarish fits, but he stayed. He spoke to you, told you stories... anything to calm you. He even-"

"Held my hand..." Sara finished the sentence, laying back in her bed, her mind reeling.

The nurse smiled. "Yes."

"Then I wasn't imagining it..."

Ignoring this last statement, the woman laid her clipboard on the bedside table. "I'll go and tell the doctor you're awake. If everything checks out and he gives the okay, you should be able to sign the release paperwork and go home."

As the nurse left, the dull ache behind Sara's eyes intensified with a growing headache that no aspirin would relieve. Home? At this point, she was so confused that she wasn't even sure where that was. She'd told Grissom that Vegas wasn't home anymore; she'd be completely out of place in Boston, having left there ages ago. She couldn't go back to San Francisco, and staying with the FBI had nearly gotten her killed.

Swiping at yet another unbidden tear, she laid back and asked the ceiling,

"Now what am I supposed to do?"

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Several hours later, Sara sat in her apartment near Quantico thinking she'd answered that question. The doctor had come in and looked her over, saying that there appeared to nothing wrong at first glance, other than a few scratches and bruises and her broken wrist. Just to be safe, though, he'd run a few tests. Blood pressure, reflexes, and other simple ones to start, and then later, they'd drawn blood, taken X-rays, and done a CAT scan, along with countless other things she didn't know the names of. But, eventually, they'd all come to the same conclusion: she was fit as a fiddle and ready to leave. So they'd packed a large paper bag with all her personal belongings, got all the paperwork in order, and let her go.

Now, she sat on the couch and was going through the bag. She took out her weapon and her badge, staring at the latter for a moment and tracing the letters 'FBI' with her finger. Setting it on the coffee table, she set the bag down and dove back in. The next item was her purse, which surprised her... She hadn't expected to get it back. She then pulled out her pager and cell phone, both of which were laden with messages. Sighing, she swore she'd get back to them later and set them aside.

To make sure that was everything, she turned the bag upside down and shook it. An envelope fluttered out and onto the floor, peaking Sara's interest as she bent to pick it up. Turning it over in her hand, she saw her name scrawled on the front in neat print, but no other inscriptions anywhere. Wary of who might be sending her such a note, she hesitated, but eventually her curiosity got the better of her. She pulled out the letter from within and read:

Dear Sara,

If you are reading this, it means that you are still angry with me, and rightfully so. I've been terrible to you and I know that I deserve everything you've dished out at me, but please don't give up on me yet. I still have so much to explain.

Things have been rough since you left. With you gone, both swing and graveyard shift crews are pulling doubles just to carry the regular load. We're incredibly short-staffed, and Carvallo and Ecklie wanted me to replace you, but I couldn't... I guess I still held out hope that, somehow, you'd come back.

The guys miss you terribly and everyone asks about you, assuming that you've kept in touch. They were glad to know that you think of them, but jealous that I had spoken to you. I told them that they hadn't missed anything, but they didn't believe me... I guess they were right, though, because it was wonderful to hear your voice and know that you were thinking of me too.

In truth, I never stopped thinking of you, Sara. I realize that I've made a lot made a lot of stupid mistakes over the years, and have driven you away in the process. I have so much to apologize for, and much of it is unforgivable, but I hope you can find it in your heart to do so. If not, then I leave you with this:

I love you, Sara, and I can't lose you again. I've loved you for years but didn't know how to express it, and it nearly killed me when you left thinking that I hated you.

Forgive me... Forgive me all my stupid mistakes and help me to repair the damage I've done.

Come home to me.

Forever Yours,


The letter fell to the floor. She was speechless. If she'd had any idea...

'My God,' she thought. 'What's wrong with me?'

Remembering his final words to her, she grabbed her cell phone and dialed the number she knew by heart. Her pulse quickened as the phone rang without answer, which she supposed was a blessing in disguise for, in reality, she didn't know what she would say. Hanging up and tossing the phone into her purse, she ran to the bedroom and started packing her things as quickly as she possibly could. About 20 minutes later, she tossed the small bags into the trunk of her car and headed for the airport in Richmond, the words "Come home to me" floating through her mind, and hoping to God she wasn't too late.

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Chapter 9: What Love Is Worth

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Arriving at the airport just in time to watch the arrival/departure board change, Sara went straight to the information desk.

"Excuse me," she called, trying to get the attention of the man behind the desk. "Excuse me, is there any flight leaving today for Las Vegas? I'm in a terrible hurry."

Turning to the computer, he typed something in and clicked the mouse a few times. What was actually only a few minutes of waiting seemed like an eternity to Sara. She didn't want to be rude, but she had a terrible feeling in the pit of her stomach.

'Please,' she pleaded silently, 'please let him still be here.'

The man turned and pulled her out of her thoughts.

"Yes, Delta had one scheduled for earlier this morning that was delayed, but-"

"Are there any others?" she asked.

"No, miss, but-"

Not waiting for the rest of his response, Sara grabbed her bags and ran as fast as she could to the other side of the airport. Twice she nearly fell in her haste to reach the Delta gate, but arriving there are getting back to Vegas was all that kept her from giving up. When she reached the gate, it was crowded. From the conversations floating all around her, a flight had just come in from the neighboring gate, and making her way through the mass of people was like trying to part the Red Sea.

Making her way to the ticket desk, she finally got the attention of the woman behind the counter.

"Can I help you, miss?"

"Yes, I was told that there was a flight scheduled for this morning that was delayed? ..."

"Yes," the smiling woman replied. "It was supposed to leave at 11:36 this morning, but it was delayed because of the storms nearby."

"I need to get on that flight," Sara said emphatically.

"Oh..." The woman's smile disappeared. "I'm sorry, but you've just missed it... It left about five minutes ago."

Her words hit Sara like a brick. Her only chance to stop the man she loved from leaving forever had just flown away. Turning back to the woman, she managed a weak "Thank you" before working her way back through the crowd to find a place to sit. Finding a row of seats near the gate door, she dumped her bags on the floor around her and buried her face in her hands, finally opening the floodgate that had threatened to break loose on several occasions. Anger, despair, and hopelessness coursed through her, causing her to shake as she sobbed.

How stupid could she have been?

Suddenly the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Her tears stopped and her sobs dissolved into hiccups as she stood and looked around. Only one thing gave her that feeling, even after so long, and she knew what that meant... He was here.

Frantically, she searched face after face in the crowd, looking for his. Not seeing him, she moved a few feet closer to the sea of people, in hopes of a better vantage point.

A shiver ran down her spine, raising the hairs still further and intensifying the magnetic pull. She could feel him... If only she could-

"Hello Sara."

She wheeled around to see Grissom standing among her luggage beside the row of seats, one small suitcase in hand. At the sight of him, her heart melted and the only place she wanted to be was in his arms. She started to run. Immediately he dropped his bag and caught her as she threw her arms around him, closing her swollen eyes and taking him in.

"Oh, God," she cried, "I thought you'd left..."

"Shhh," he whispered. "I'm right here." He ran his fingers through her hair, stroking her for comfort.

They stayed there for a few moments, both content to hold on to the other forever. But suddenly, he began to pull back.

Sniffling, Sara looked up in concern. "What's wrong?"

"Why are you here?" he asked. "How did you get out of the hospital?"

"They released me. Said I was fine and I could go home, which is what I was trying to do..."

"They said you were fine?" he asked incredulously. "You had a concussion and a blow to the head that should have killed you... You were in a coma for a week! How can they say that you were fine?"

Sara gave a dry chuckle. "Believe me, they had a test for everything... I'm okay, really. They even packed my things for me..." She hesitated. "Which is where I found your letter."

Grissom watched her gaze drop as she said those last words. "You read it?"

She nodded, then slowly looked up, gazing into his ever-changing eyes. The deepest blue of the ocean looked back at her from those eyes, telling her that he was just as emotionally on the edge as she was, and that he too needed to understand exactly what it was between them. Swallowing her pride, she went on.

"Grissom, I wasn't mad at you. I was never mad at you... I left because I was heartbroken. I was tired of being pulled in by your praises only to be pushed away again by your silence. It hurt, and hearing about Sofia was the last bit of hurt I could take."

He remained silent. While not exactly the response he'd hoped for, it told him what he needed to know. He waited a moment before he made his reply.

"Where did you hear it from?" he asked quietly.

"Sofia was telling Greg and Mia about it in the DNA lab, and-"

"Did she talk to you about it?"

"She didn't have to, she spelled it out loud and clear... She told Greg that the rest of the night was none of his business."

She turned from him, embarrassed, but he wouldn't give up. Taking her by the elbow, he turned her around again gently.

"Sara, look at me," he pleaded. "Sofia is an employee who was given the raw end of a deal. She didn't deserve the demotion and she knew it, so she was going to quit. I asked her to dinner because she was going on Ecklie's word, and you know as well as I do that Ecklie's full of shit... We ate, and we talked. That's all."

She looked up and met his pleading gaze, breaking his heart with the questions in her eyes. In a small childlike voice, she asked, "Promise?"

He pulled her into a hug and held her tight. "I promise you... I didn't come three thousand miles and get off my flight home to get you back and then lie to you."

She pulled back, simply staring at him in awe and confusion. When speech came back to her, she managed, "You were on that flight? ... But they told me that it left five minutes before I got there."

"It did."

"Then, how-"

"I sat on that plane through the entire delay with every intention of returning to Vegas. But when I heard the announcement that we were about to take off, I realized that I couldn't leave you without giving it one last chance. So I got off the plane, prepared to let you go if that's what you wanted, but hoping to God that you'd come after me... and you did."

"You did all that for me?" she whispered.

He pulled her back in against himself, holding her tightly. "It was worth it."



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

Chapter 10: A Homecoming to Remember

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Two days later, Catherine sat in the locker room putting an a last few touches of makeup to cover up the bruises on her face and neck. As she was closing her locker, Sofia appeared in the doorway.

"Any word?"

Catherine shook her head. "I'm really starting to get worried. It's been two weeks, and no one's heard from him."

"Well," Sofia sighed, "looks like we get to start another double."

"No, you don't," came a voice from behind them.

Confused, they both turned to see Grissom standing in the hall. Before they could get over their shock, he added, "Find the boys and get them all into the conference room. I've looked over the cases for tonight, and Vegas is a mess."

With that, he disappeared in the direction of the conference room.

"Wait, Griss-"

Catherine's cry went unanswered and she was left gaping at the now empty hall from her place on the bench. She and Sofia stood staring in silence for a moment, trying desperately to understand what the hell had just happened when Greg, Warrick and Nick walked in laughing.

"Hey!" Nick called.

"What's up, boss ladies?" Warrick acknowledged the women before heading to his locker.

"Grissom just walked in and told us to go to the conference room for assignments," Sofia said flatly, as if still trying to absorb it.

"No way!" Nick and Greg shouted simultaneously, as all three men stopped what they were doing to stare disbelievingly.

"He's back?" Warrick asked in shock. "He's been gone for two weeks without a word, and now he's just suddenly shown up?"

Catherine hesitated. "Well," she said slowly, "not completely without a word..."

All heads turned her way.

"You spoke to him?" Sofia asked. "...And you didn't say anything!"

"He told me not to!" Catherine yelled in her effort to defend herself. "It was about a week ago. He said that he was fine, but he was going out of town and didn't know when he'd be back..."

"Oh, I've gotta figure this one out. Come on, guys." Warrick closed his locker and headed or the conference room, the rest in tow, with Catherine bringing up the rear.

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

"Good, you're all here. Before I pass out tonight's assignments, I'd like to thank Catherine and Sofia for taking over shifts while I was gone. Now, by the looks of things-"

"Wait," Nick interrupted. "You're not even going to tell us where you were for the last two weeks?"

Grissom shrugged. "No. Now, as I was saying, by the looks of things, we're still short-staffed, so I'm afraid we're going to have to continue pulling double shifts until all our empty positions are filled."

"Ahh, man!" Greg sighed. "I don't know how much longer I can hold out. We've been pulling doubles for over a month, ever since Sara left, and-"

Grissom held up a hand. "I never said that I was finished. On that note, I've brought in some backup to help carry the load." Heads turned and interests peaked at his words. "She's a good friend of mine, and I think you'll approve. I have to warn you, though, she's been stationed in Quantico for some time, and-"

"Wait," Catherine stopped him, he hand unconsciously moving to her neck. "You brought in a Fed?"

"That's the last thing we need around here," Nick agreed. "They practically took over the lab for the past two weeks."

"She didn't have anything to do with that, I promise. In fact, you'll have to fill us in on that later. I'm sure she'll be interested to know what's been going on lately." As confused looks were passed around the table, Grissom glanced behind them to see Sara in the doorway, silently smiling and awaiting her cue. Looking back to the others, he said, "Guys, I'd like you to meet my good friend, Agent Sidle."

At the sound of the name, all heads snapped to the door. Within seconds, everyone but Sofia was out of their chairs and crowded around her, all trying to get the first hugs. Smiling, Grissom watched the celebration from his place at the head of the table as they all began bombarding her with questions.

"Oh, my God," Warrick cried. "Is it really you?"

"You're a Fed?!" Catherine asked incredulously.

"We missed you so much, Sara!" Greg's voice came from behind her.

Finally, Nick broke through, asking, "What's up? Why'd you leave?"

With that question, the room grew quiet once more as they waited for her response.

Sara sighed, glancing at Grissom and then looking at each of them in turn. "I'm sorry, guys. Why I left was... a personal issue, but it was something that had been bothering me for a long time, and I couldn't stand it anymore. But, that was no excuse for me to leave without saying goodbye. I should've at least warned you, but it all happened so quickly... I'm so sorry." Pulling each of them in, she squeezed her group of friends in a hug.

Watching from the table, Grissom turned to Sofia. "Nothing to say?"

She shrugged. "Nothing else needs to be said."

Soon they were joined at the table by the rest of the crew, talking and laughing as they took their seats. Sara took her regular seat next to Grissom.

"Okay, sorry to break up the party, but assignments are waiting," he started, clearing her throat. "Catherine and Warrick, 419 at the Belagio. A man was found dead at the craps table. O'Riley's there waiting for you. Greg and Sofia, you have the Parisian heist. Looks like the vault's been cleaned out, so don't forget to check surveillance."

"Man, Vegas is going for the big bucks tonight," Warrick sighed.

"Not all of Vegas. Nick, you're coming with me and Sara. We got a 419 out in Henderson, suspicious circs."

"Alright!" Nick started to stand. "Let's roll!"

Sara gave one last round of hugs to those working on other cases and promised to hang out after shift, then hurried after Nick and Grissom, jumping in the back of the Tahoe, kit in hand.

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

Arriving at the scene, the three friends climbed out of the SUV to find cops everywhere, and none of them seemed want to go anywhere near the house. Climbing under the yellow tape, they were met at the door by Brass.

"Hey, guys," he started, then took a double take. "Sara! Is that you?"

She nodded and leaned in for a quick hug.

"Hey! Welcome back, kiddo! Good to see you.."

"Brass," Grissom chided. "the case, please."

"Oh, right, sorry. Where were we?"

"The body," Grissom prompted.

"Bodies," Brass corrected.

"There's more than one?" Nick asked with a raised eyebrow.

"There's two. Mailman saw the husband through the mail slot, all bled out on the living room floor. No one knew about the wife till we did searched the rest of the house, standard procedure."

"Why is everyone outside behind the tape?" Sara asked.

Brass smiled. "You know cops... No one could stand the smell." A few chuckles later, he continued. "The wife's in the back bedroom. Last door on the left. Coroner already pronounced."

"Thanks," Grissom said, moving inside and setting his kit on the hall table, snapping on a pair of gloves in the process. Sara and Nick were close behind, following his lead.

"Wow," breathed Nick. "This place is a mess."

"Evidence of a struggle," Sara agreed. "There's shoe prints everywhere."

"Including a pair leading down the hallway," came Grissom's voice.

"Let's follow them."

"You two go ahead," Nick said. "I got this."

Nodding, Sara and Grissom grabbed their kits and headed for the back bedroom, careful not to disturb the prints, but when they got to the door Sara stopped short. The scene was hauntingly familiar. The wife was tied to the bed with cotton strips, the cord ripped off the bedside lamp and wrapped around her neck. Sara looked down to see that the doorknob had been wiped clean, and looking around the room, a glossy sheen reflected in the window told her that it had wiped down too.

"Lividity's set," Grissom noted. "She died here."

"Peticheal hemorrhaging? Defensive wounds on the hands and wrists?" she asked, not having move an inch.

He glanced at her questioningly, then checked. "Yeah, how'd you-?"

"Grissom, don't touch her."

"Sara, this is a case, I have to-"

"I really hate to do this, Grissom, but I outrank you and I'm telling you now to step away from that body."

A hurt and confused look crossed his face momentarily, but he obeyed, moving away from the bed and slowly towards her.

"I can't believe he followed me," she whispered.

"What's going on?" he asked, coming up beside her.

"This is my case... from Virginia. I was working this case."

"How can you be sure?"

"Everything's the same... Body position, ligature marks, defensive wounds, same kind of cloth, and you won't find any prints. He's wiped everything down. Almost all his vics were married-"

"Wait," he stopped her. "We don't know that."

"Dude, you're slackin'." She pointed to the body. "Check out the left hand. Wedding ring."

"Alright, so what about the husband?"

Sara shook her head. "That part's new."

"Damn, he 's evolving... Alright, I'm calling Catherine and Sofia over here. We need all the help we can get."

"NO!" she yelled. "Don't bring them anywhere near this case! All the investigators that have worked it so far have been women, and they've all been drugged, raped, killed, and dumped. We never even found their bodies."

Grissom stood rooted to the spot, afraid of the answer to his next question. "If you never found them, then how do you know that?"

She sighed, then looked up and took a deep breath before answering.

"Because I was one of them."


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