CSI: Obsession

Federal Involvement (Cont.)

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Chapter 11: Revelations and Resolutions

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Grissom's eyes looked like they were going to bug out of his head.

"What!"

Sara looked at the floor. "Grissom, please don't look at me like that."

"That's why you were in the hospital? This guy tried to kill you?"

"See, this is why I didn't tell you. I knew you'd do this..." Her hand moved to her still-bandaged temple. "I'm getting a headache."

"Well, no wonder. He damn near smashed your head in... At least, that's what I think happened. You haven't told me." He turned and swore under his breath.

"I'm fine!" she spat. "We just need to focus on catching him, so he can't do this to anyone else."

"No, Sara, I'd rather focus on what he did to you," he said as he turned back to face her, his voice raising. He pointed to the body. "Did he-"

"He damn well tried!" she yelled back, her voice cracking.

By this time, Nick had made his way to the hallway, amazed at the scene before him. Sara was at her wit's end, leaning against the window at the end of the hall. Grissom stared at her from the doorway, guilt and shock crossing his face. Nick watched as the scene continued to play out.

"Sara..."

"I fought him!" she sputtered, the tears breaking free. "I fought like hell to get him off me, but the last thing I remember is him punching me to get me to shut up... I turned my head and tried to block him, but he hit my temple and I blacked out..." She dropped to her knees, the memory proving too much for her to handle alone.

Speech was lost to Grissom as he watched her break down. After all that she had weathered in the past, life had dealt her yet another losing hand and she was collapsing under the weight of such a heavy burden.

"After that, all I remember is being cold, hearing him drive away, and then waking up in the hospital with you telling me that I've been there for a week..." She looked up at him with fear behind her eyes. "Do you know what that did to me? Do you!"

He moved closer, tears welling in his own eyes, and tried to comfort her. But she would have none of it, shuddering at his touch and backing away in a quick jerk.

"No, I can't..." She ran down the hall, past Nick and out the back door onto the porch.

Sighing, Grissom blinked back what wetness had gathered and met Nick at the end of the hall. "Call Ecklie and let him know we've got a high profile case on our hands, FBI assistance." He turned to follow Sara.

"Griss..." Nick hesitated. "Ecklie's gone."

He turned back, not believing what he had just heard. "What!"

"He's gone," Nick repeated. "He was blackmailing Catherine, holding the promotion over her head, so she went to Brass. They had her wear a mic and plant a camera in his office... What they saw brought the FBI in for close to two weeks, sniffin' around everywhere. They caught him grafting and embezzling lab funds, and they let it go for a while to see if he could lead them to any other sources, but after what he did to Cath..."

"What happened to Catherine?" he asked incredulously, suddenly remembering her nervousness when he'd mentioned the FBI.

"He had her in his office a few days ago, telling her that she'd better find you soon or he'd fire you both. She tried to fight back, calling him a monster... He accused her of insubordination and damn near strangled her. Warrick burst in just as Ecklie tried to leave, two agents on his tail, and punched him square in the nose. While they hauled him out of here, 'Rick went straight to Catherine."

"Is she okay?"

"Yeah. A few bruises, but she's alright."

"Great," he breathed. "Just great... What else could go wrong?"

"They want you to take over."

Grissom's jaw dropped. "Please tell me you're joking."

Nick shrugged. "I wish I was."

"Ugh..." he heaved a sigh in frustration. "I don't have time for this. I have to find Sara."

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Leaning against the railing, Sara took a deep breath. She had to pull herself together. She'd lived through that hell more than once and she could do it again, but to break down in front of the crew was unacceptable. After her suspension, she'd promised herself that she'd find another way to deal with her past, and she had. She'd left Vegas and started over, only to find that she couldn't escape it. She'd come back home to friends that were more like family, but the horror had followed her yet again, snapping at her heels... and now it had come to bite her in the ass. How much more abuse could she take?

Her thoughts were interrupted when the back door opened. Determined to stay strong, she collected herself and set her mind to the case.

Grissom, seeing Sara struggling to regain composure, tried to be delicate about approaching her. The last thing he wanted to do was upset her even more. Still not quite sure what he was going to say, he closed the door gently and started toward her, but he didn't make it further than a few feet before he heard her voice.

"They call him the Widower," she stated blankly, her back towards him.

Stung by the fact that she would hide her hurt from him after all they'd been through, he moved forward again to stand beside her. Taking her hand, he whispered, "Sara, you don't have to-"

She spun and faced him. "Grissom, after my suspension, I promised myself that I wouldn't go back to that place. If there's anything I can tell you about Rory McNabb, it's this: He takes pride in making his victims relive their worst nightmares... He dragged me back into my childhood, and it nearly killed me. All I ask is that you help me scrape my way back out by catching that son of a bitch."

Giving a small smile for reassurance, he nodded and squeezed her hand.

"So let's go get him."

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While Sara negotiated details of sharing FBI jurisdiction with the Vegas lab, Grissom took Nick into the bedroom to analyze the situation hands off. By the time she was off the phone and back in the room, they were ready to begin the investigation in earnest. Shoe prints were lifted, all surfaces were printed, hairs and fibers put into bindles, and casings collected. Bloodstains were swabbed, and both bodies were sent to the morgue. But the most interesting part came after all the evidence was logged in and the autopsies performed, when Sara pulled the case file for Nick and Grissom.

"This is what we're up against," she said, tossing the open file on the break room table. "He's a smart son of a bitch and he'll do anything to keep from getting caught."

Looking at photos of several scenes, Nick frowned. "This all seems so familiar... I thought you said that he killed all of his victims in Virginia."

Sara nodded. "Virginia and Vermont, but he's got homes in New Hampshire, Virginia, Arizona, Louisiana, Colorado, Nebraska, and Vegas. That's how he gets all of his planted evidence. He wants us to chase the lie... As for familiar, this is where he gets his ideas." She pulled out another file and dropped it on the table. When it flipped open to the crime scene photos, Grissom leaned back in his chair and took off his glasses.

"Strip Strangler... That's why they assigned you to the case. McNabb is a copycat."

She nodded again. "And a damn good one. That's why we haven't found much evidence against him. Lucky for us, he's not as smart as he thinks he is. He forgot about the semen stains outside the last two victims' windows, which is how we caught him the first time. He just got to me before I could get to him."

"What about the husband? None of the other spouses were killed," Nick observed.

"That's because he's evolving. This scene is different from the others."

"He left too much behind this time," Grissom said, leaning forward and staring at the photos. "It's almost as if this time were spontaneous... Shooting a victim isn't his style. Using a shotgun against an unarmed man suggests anger."

"Well, of course he's angry," Sara said, finally sitting and glancing over the destruction he'd caused. "His last cover up job didn't go very well, did it?"

Nick's brow furrowed in confusion. "What do you mean?"

Sara gave a small smile. "I survived."

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Chapter 12: A Fight To the Death

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That night, Sara slept fitfully, tossing and turning and twisting the covers. Though it was wonderful to be back in her apartment in Vegas, dreams haunted her subconscious, and visions of that horrid night brought her back to a place she dared not go in her waking moments...

She was in her car when he grabbed her... The picture flashed to being in his car. He stared at her from the rear-view mirror... Another flash, and he was in the backseat with her, the car pulled over on a deserted road. It was cold and dark, but she could see his face towering over her as she struggled to free her hands from their bondage. He pinned her down and started to undo her clothing, but she screamed, providing just enough distraction for her to jerk away, ripping her shirt in the process... Yet another flash, and she was fighting to deflect his blows as the brass knuckles cut into her face and chest, despite her screams and cries. A searing pain cut into her wrist, and then all went black as she was hit in the temple... One last picture flashed to reveal him tossing her limp and almost lifeless body from the car and into the snowy ditch. Immediately, she felt the cold and heard the engine roar as he skidded away.

A crack of thunder and the sound of her own whimper woke her. Sitting straight up and gasping for breath, she reached up to ease her throbbing temple, her bad wrist pressed tightly to her chest. In an effort to calm herself, she reached for the glass of water kept on the bedside table. Taking a sip and setting it back in its place, she laid back and tried to relax, which proved difficult as a cold shiver accompanied the terrifying memories of that horrid night. Rolling over, she tried to ignore the intensifying feeling of dread and paranoia, attributing it to the storm raging outside her window, but it seemed to grow stronger with each passing moment. Trusting her instincts, she slowly moved her good hand down the side of the bed, reaching for the spare pistol kept between the mattresses. She was almost there when she heard a small click and a chilling voice utter the command:

"Don't even think it, Agent Sidle."

Frozen in place, she looked up to see the reflection of metal in the darkness as the lightning flashed and the storm raged on, suddenly realizing she had a gun pointed at her. Mustering her courage, she found her voice.

"Put the gun away, Rory. Pulling a gun on an FBI agent is a federal offense."

"Oh," he retorted, "and who's gonna arrest me? You? If I remember correctly, the last time we met, I was the one on top." Chuckling at his own joke, he moved closer, the click of his boots echoing on the hardwood floor.

"News flash, Rory," she said, trying to stall him. "You're not much of a murderer if you leave your victim alive."

He hesitated, but when he spoke again, she could hear a hint of a smile in his voice. "Make no mistake, Ms. Sidle, that won't be the case this time... Stand up," he commanded, sheer arrogance clouding his tone.

Her eyes now adjusted to the dark, she found his face and met his cold stare with one of her own, taking a leaf out of Catherine's book as she began a battle of wits that could've lasted hours had she not been so afraid. Though outwardly she would never let it show, inside she was trembling, and when she heard the cock of the gun, she decided to use that to her advantage. Pulling back the covers, she stood before him, still and silent.

Shocked at first by her obedience, a smile spread slowly spread across his face and he began to laugh. "What happened to your defiance, Agent Sidle?" he cooed mockingly. "Finally realizing that no matter what you hope to accomplish by defying me you're still going to die? You know, that's smart, Sara. Very smart. That's what Grissom would've wanted."

A bright flash of lightning and loud crash of thunder mirrored the anger that burned inside her at his words. Her eyes became slits and she growled through clenched teeth, "Don't you dare bring him into this. He would've wanted me to stand strong and die fighting, you two-faced son of a-"

Before she could finish, she was silenced as he pulled her forward by the chin and shoved his tongue down her throat in a kiss so nauseating and filled with hunger she had to fight to breathe. When he was finished with her, he threw her to the floor and pointed the gun to her head.

"One day you're going to learn that language like that is going to get you in trouble... Say goodbye, Sara."

But before he could pull the trigger, she jumped up, taking him by surprise as she tried to grab the gun. A struggle ensued, and in an attempt to end this cover-up gone awry, he fired, sending a bullet whizzing past Sara's head and shattering the bedroom window. Stunned into silence for a split second, both stood simply staring at the shattered window, watching as the rain poured in and created a puddle on her hardwood floor.

Rory suddenly turned back to Sara, a fire in his eyes. "You bitch!" he cried, delivering a backhand that sent her crashing into the nightstand.

Though the fall upset her equilibrium, she managed to aim a kick shot in the groin powerful enough to bring him to her level and let the gun fall to the floor. As he lay crumpled in pain, she kicked the gun out of reach, and taking further advantage of his incapacitation, she reached over and grabbed her cell phone from the spilled contents of her purse. Her fingers flew over the keypad as she dialed the first number that came to mind. He answered almost immediately.

"Grissom," came the quick response.

"Grissom, it's Sara. You have to get over here, it's-"

"I don't think so," Rory sneered as he grabbed her by the hair and yanked her back, sending the phone skidding under the bed. Pinning her down with a knee on her chest, he put pressure on her windpipe, wrapping both hands around her neck. Her hands flew instantly to his, clawing and scratching at his arm from the elbow down, trying anything and everything to loosen his grip, but to no avail. The harder she fought, the tighter he squeezed, an evil smile spreading over his face in the process, knowing that he was slowly killing her. She could hear the loud screaming of her cell phone from under the bed, yelling at her that the call had been disconnected and that Grissom was no longer on the line. Her last attempt at freedom failed, her hope for survival was dwindling almost as quickly as her consciousness when she heard a crash from somewhere in the apartment.

Startled by the sound of shattering glass, Rory's grip loosened momentarily as he turned to the doorway, providing just enough time for Sara to punch him in the stomach and squirm out of his hold on her. His knee crashing to the hardwood floor fully brought his attention back to what was happening before him. As he swung at Sara, her weaponless combat training came out full force. This she could deal with, and the only thing that kept her from killing the son of a bitch was the knowledge that his crimes would earn him the death penalty anyway.

A few moments later as he skidded to a halt in the doorway holding his bleeding temple in pain, she rushed to the bed and lifted the mattress to grab her pistol. Kneeling to load it with ammunition from the side drawer, she felt her bad wrist begin to shake.

"Oh, not now," she whispered as another flash of lightning momentarily brightened the room. "Please, not now!"

Finally managing to load the pistol, she turned with weapon raised to see Rory facing her and pointing his own gun, ready to fire.

"Don't look so surprised, Agent Sidle, he laughed wickedly. "You had to know that it would come to this."

"Don't do this, Rory," she breathed. "Think about it, you're smarter than this."

Her words seemed to have the opposite effect of what she was hoping for. She watched as his face twisted in anger and frustration. "Of all the times you've run into me, you choose now for a pep talk?!"

"Well, I really wasn't in the position to give one last time, was I?" she retorted. "Come on, think. You've already got 10 breaking and entering charges, 11 for gross lewdness, 8 carjackings, 2 highjackings, grand theft auto, and 7 counts of murder under your belt, and that doesn't even count all the investigators you've dumped along the way, not to mention attempted murder for that little stunt you pulled with me in Virginia. Do you really want to add stalking, resisting arrest, and the murder of a federal agent to your ever-growing criminal record?"

For a moment it almost seemed as though he were listening. Stunned into silence by her words, he stood still, his brows furrowed and his head tilted to the side. But suddenly, he shook himself out of his stupor, his temper flaring and cocked his gun.

"I know what you're trying to do, bitch, and it's not going to work," he yelled. "You're still going to die!"

"Rory, don't!" she cried, her wrist shaking even worse now.

He was about to pull the trigger when a voice from the doorway caught their attention.

"Don't move!"

Startled and obviously threatened by Grissom pointing a gun at him, Rory panicked and fired.

"NO!" Sara shouted, raising her weapon once more and unloading four bullets into the chest of Rory McNabb.

At first he didn't move. He simply stared at her helplessly, and in shock he pressed his free hand to his chest. She looked on in horror as he fell to his knees, his gun dropping to the floor and his stare moving down to his bloody hand. Finally, he looked up and met her wide-eyed stare for a brief moment before falling forward and bleeding out on her hardwood floor.

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Still kneeling by the bed, Sara dropped her pistol and stared in horror at the scene before her. How had it come to this? That question and a million others clouded her brain like a storm as furious as the one still raging outside... Why hadn't she locked the doors that day in Virginia? Why hadn't she had a team to help her on the case? What made Rory McNabb think that he was any better than Syd Goggle in the first place?

But the question that bothered her the most was, why hadn't she called for backup? Why bring Grissom into it, only to have him become another victim of a sickeningly intelligent serial killer? At this thought, she began to cry. She cried like she'd never cried before, holding her head in her hands as she mourned the loss of the only man she'd ever love, leaving only one question...

What had she done?

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Chapter 13: Surprises

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Suddenly, a noise from the hallway put her back on her guard. Raising her head, she kept her gaze on the doorway as she reached for her weapon. Movement in the doorway made her pause; anticipation, fear, sadness, confusion, and rage all coursed through her nerve-racked body, but it was the voice that made her heart skip a beat.

"Sara? ..."

She began to shake when she saw him enter the room. He came in slowly, weapon still raised, scanning the room and surveying the scene. When she came into his line of sight, he immediately holstered his weapon and rushed over to her, a tear of relief wetting her hair as he pulled her to his chest.

"Oh, Sara... Thank God you're alright..." Grissom pressed her close as she clung to him, her body still shaking. A second later, he pushed her back in panic and quickly looked her over. "Wait, are you alright?"

At this, the fear in her eyes softened a bit. "I'm okay," she assured him. "A little shaken up, but okay. ... What about you?"

The thunder rolled outside the shattered window as they both glanced down at his left arm, His gray shirt was stained red with blood near his shoulder.

"It's alright, really," he told her when she stared at him in shock and concern. "It just grazed me. I'm okay... Your wall, on the other hand, may need some patching up."

Her look of worry changed to one of relief and a small smile graced her features at his attempt at humor, but he could still sense the tension filling the room.

"Come on," he said, standing and helping her up. "We need to get you out of here."

Reminding her to leave her weapon and everything else exactly as it was, he led her from the room, out of the apartment, and down the hall.

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"Where are we going?" she asked as they left her apartment.

"Not far," he assured her. "I just want to make sure that you're alright."

"I told you, I'm fine."

Lightning flashed as he turned and sent her a serious stare. "Forgive me Sara, but you have a habit of saying you're fine when you're not."

Before she could respond, they stopped at the door to the apartment directly below Sara's.

"What are we doing here?" she asked.

He didn't respond. Instead, the door opened and he led her inside, revealing a bare front room containing only a chair, a table and two laptops. The man who had opened the door now closed and locked it behind them.

"Backup is on the way. They'll want to talk to you."

"Alright," Grissom answered. "Thanks, Carlton." Continuing to walk past him, Grissom led Sara by the hand to another room in the back of the apartment, furnished solely with a couch, a side table, and a lamp. "Sit down," he offered, closing the door.

Sara, who had been silent since they'd entered the apartment, now let loose with a mother load of questions as she paced the small room.

"What's going on here, Grissom? Who was that guy? What are we doing here? What did he mean by backup?"

"Calm down," he urged. Again he motioned for her to sit. When it was clear that she preferred to remain standing, he sighed. "His name is Vince Carlton. He works for the FBI Vegas headquarters, and he's here because I asked him to be."

This earned him an angry and confused stare. "You went over my head? Did you think I couldn't handle the case on my own?"

Holding up a hand, he pleaded, "No, I- please, just listen... When you broke down at the scene a few days ago, I knew there was something extremely wrong. Then you said that you knew the suspect, and after you told me what had happened and we started to work the scene, I began to realize what we were up against. So I called the FBI, thinking that they'd want to protect one of their own. They sent me Carlton."

"That still doesn't explain why he's here," she huffed.

"He's here because I knew that something like this would happen, Sara! McNabb followed you from Virginia when he realized he'd left a witness. That meant that he'd try to find you, and when he did he'd strike in the place you felt most safe. After I explained the situation to Carlton, he set this up. He bugged your apartment and your phones, set up video surveillance on your floor and your front door, and kept in close contact with me..."

She plopped beside him on the couch. When she finally spoke, it was almost as if she were musing to herself. "So... when I called you..."

"... I was here," he nodded. "Carlton had sensed some activity outside your apartment earlier today, and had called me, so after shift I followed you home and came here. Later, we heard him come into your room. You sounded like you had it under control so we just listened, but the storm got worse and interfered with the system..." He paused, running a hand through his already ruffled silver hair. "The lightning knocked out our audio system. When we couldn't hear you anymore, I started preparing for the worst... and then you called, and..."

"And you saved my life," she finished.

All he could do was nod, and for a while nothing but the sounds of the storm outside echoed in the little room. Neither dared look at the other as they pondered what could have happened. Suddenly, Grissom's pager went off. He looked at the number, and then at Sara.

"I should call Brass... You need to rest."

He got up to leave, but she reached out and grabbed his hand.

"Ignore it," she said pleadingly. "Stay with me..."

When he saw the fear in her eyes, he stopped, unable to move. It was painful and disconcerting to see her so completely vulnerable. He wondered if she could see him tremble, if she knew what that look did to him, how much control she had over his life. Finally, he moved away from the door and sat beside her once again, a lump rising in his throat.

Before he could think of what to do or say next, she leaned into him, laying her head on his chest, and fell asleep.

 

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Chapter 14: Putting the Backup in Order

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Not fifteen minutes later, the apartment was buzzing with activity. Federal agents and members of LVPD filled the front room, asking questions and trying to bully Carlton into talking. By the time Grissom had managed to leave the back room without waking Sara, Catherine and Nick were already searching him out.

"There you are," Catherine exclaimed. "What's going o-Why are you bleeding?"

"I'll explain everything in a minute," Grissom said quickly. "Just follow me."

Pushing his way through the crowd, he searched for Carlton. He didn't make it very far before he bumped into someone he would've much rather avoided.

"Grissom! So glad you could make it to our little powwow."

The egocentric grin of Rick Culpepper turned his stomach upside-down. Pasting a smile on his face, Grissom asked as politely as he could, "What are you doing here, Culpepper?"

"Well, I heard that our little star Agent Sidle bagged The Widower. I came to congratulate her... and of course, try to put some order into this little circus of yours."

Grissom grimaced. "Of course you did... Wh-"

"Where is the little spitfire, anyways? You'd think she'd want to enjoy such a triumph with those who supported her..."

Grissom's face reddened and his hands balled into fists. It was all he could do not to respond to that...but then he remembered who he was looking for. "If you'll excuse me," he said quietly before pushing past Culpepper and towards the large crowd surrounding Carlton.

When he found him, he pulled him aside, away from the others. "What the hell is going on here?"

Carlton shook his head. "I called for backup when you went for Agent Sidle. I didn't know the whole damn department would show up."

Looking around, Grissom sighed. The group was getting louder and more impatient by the minute, and f it got any worse, Sara would be woken. He was going to have to say something.

Damn it, he thought. He hated people...

Pulling out a chair from the nearby table and pushing three people out of the way to do so, he stood on it and looked out over the heads of the crowd. Clearing his throat, he vied for their attention. Eventually, heads began to turn and the room began to quiet.

"Thank you," Grissom managed. "As you all most likely know, backup was called to this apartment 30 minutes ago in regards to another attack by the Widower, and-"

He was interrupted as the room erupted with questions.

"Where is he?"

   "What happened?"

      "Why are we here?"

         "Did Sidle catch him?"

Grissom held up a hand to quiet them. "If you'll hold your questions, I'll explain the situation." Silence once again returned, the air thick with curiosity and tension. "You're here because the attack happened in the apartment upstairs. You've all been informed of Agent Sidle's progress with the case, as well as the many struggles, and I'm sure that you're all eager to help, but right now what I need is for you to not go upstairs and trample on the scene. I need my CSIs to be able to go up and process undisturbed."

Culpepper struggled his way to the front. "What do you mean, your CSIs? This is a Federal case! I'm in charge here!"

"No, you're not, Culpepper," Grissom challenged, a look of satisfaction crossing his face. "Agent Sidle is. This is her case, and she is sharing jurisdiction with the Las Vegas lab, which means my CSIs process the scene."

Culpepper's face burned with anger. "But Sidle caught him! Why does the scene need to be processed at all?"

A voice rose from behind the crowd. "Because he's dead."

The crowd began to part, and Grissom watched as Sara made her way toward him.

Culpepper stared at her in confusion. "What do you mean, he's dead?"

"I killed him," she stated flatly. "After he threw me into my nightstand, it became clear that simple negotiation wasn't going to work, so when he tried to shoot us, I unloaded four bullets into his chest."

At this, Carlton spoke up. "We have most of the encounter on tape, sir."

Culpepper looked from one to other, not sure how he should respond, clearly not used to being out of the loop. Finally, his anger boiled over, and he shouted, "Why the hell wasn't I involved in this?"

Catherine smiled from behind Grissom. "I guess they didn't want to bother you while you were so busy on Ecklie's case."

Snickers rose from around the room as Culpepper's face flushed, staring at Catherine and Nick as they headed out the apartment door and up the stairs to process Sara's apartment, leaving Culpepper standing in the middle of the crowded room staring after them. He then turned, awestruck, toward Grissom and Sara, who now were level on the floor with him.

Sara spoke up. "You're no longer needed, Culpepper. You and your croonies can leave... Oh, and that's an order."

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Chapter 15: Federal Involvement

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The room filled with whispers of excitement while Culpepper stared at Sara in disbelief. "An order that I don't have to follow, Agent Sidle!" His words came out as more of a sneer. "Let's not forget that it was you who came to me. I gave you this job, not to mention this case! What and who gave you the authority to give orders to me?"

"I did."

The color in Culpepper's face drained as he turned to see the head of the FBI Vegas Department standing behind him.

"D-D-Director Heinsman! What are you doing here?"

The large man straightened up to his full height. "I came to congratulate Agent Sidle and Dr. Grissom on a job well done. They've managed to accomplish what the entire nation's FBI agents have been trying to do for a year and a half, and by doing so, Sidle has earned herself a bonus, not to mention a promotion."

At this, Culpepper's anger began to rise. "A promotion?! If it weren't for my supervision, she wouldn't even be on the case!"

"Your 'supervision' nearly got her killed, Culpepper! This case was high profile, and while she assisted on the original, a new field entry should never have been placed on such a case, especially a new forensics field entry. But as it stands, yes, she gets a promotion... and I believe that places her above you in rank, which means that order had better be taken seriously before I turn it into a pink slip!"

His face changing to a resilient shade of pink from humiliation, Culpepper turned to glare at them all before heading to the door looking as though he had just been slapped in the face.

As the room began to buzz with excitement, Brass gave an order for all LVPD officers to head back to the station. Following suit, Director Heinsman looked at the other field agents surrounding him. "That goes for the rest of you, too. Clear out!"

It took a full ten minutes to clear the apartment of everyone but the Director himself, Sara, Grissom, Brass, and Carlton. When the room was finally empty, Heinsman turned to Sara and shook her hand. "Congratulations, Agent Sidle. A job well done."

"Thank you, sir, but-"

"You handled the situation better than most of the agents on my task force would. You've done the nation a great service."

"Thank you, but-"

"Now, this promotion places you within a tight circle of well-trained top-notch agents at Quantico, so I expect you to be ready for duty as soon as you're cleared." He turned to leave.

Sara stepped forward and took a deep breath before answering, "No."

The Director turned back, confusion written on his face. "What do you mean, 'no'?"

"I'm sorry, Director Heinsman, but I'm going to have to decline your offer."

"What?"

"What?" Grissom echoed.

"I can't go back to Quantico. While I was working this case, I had a lot to think about, and I realized that at any time, any one of those bodies on a morgue slab right now could've been me. I came to the FBI looking to escape from what I thought was a ruin of a life, but what I discovered was that everything I need is right here." As she said this, she glanced back at Grissom and smiled. When he returned with a grin of his own, she turned back to Heinsman and continued. "I'm sorry, but I quit. This is where I belong."

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

Leaving the apartment building, Brass and Grissom walked out to the cars in the parking lot while Sara gathered some items from her apartment.

"So, is Sara going to stay with you for a while?" Brass asked, leaning on the door of his Taurus.

Opening the door to his Denali, Grissom nodded. "Yeah, I think so. She just needs a place to relax and get away from life for a bit."

A smile crept its way onto Brass's face. "Since when did you become friendly with the Feds? I didn't think you had it in you."

Grissom grinned back, remembering that conversation from what seemed like so long ago. He played along. "Never make an enemy when you can just as easily make a friend."

Brass snickered. "Or a girlfriend."

Laughing, Grissom sighed as he watched Sara come down the stairs and start to walk toward them. "Yeah, the FBI's okay... I've never kissed better ass."

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

THE END

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