Brass is not a man who’s ruffled easily, nor is Grissom. Yet when Sara’s late arriving for her shift, comes barrelling into the break room while Grissom has finished giving out assignments, Brass is distinctly ruffled at her appearance. Her hair is not only curly, but askew, as if she’s been running her fingers through it. Her face is pale, eyes red, and she looks every inch a woman who’s about to fall apart.
It’s a different look for her, because Brass has never seen her look like that before, not in all the time that he’s known her. The first time he’d met her, when she’d come to Vegas to investigate the Holly Gribbs shooting, he’d found her to be tough as nails, a dogged investigator, not someone who would be pushed around easily. He’d recognised that in a few sentences of conversation with her.
He’d still been moving into his new office, trying to put some order on the place, when a knock at his door had interrupted him. When he’d turned, she’d been there, all calm competence. “Captain Brass?” she’d asked, and he’d raised an eyebrow, waiting for her to continue. Being demoted hadn’t exactly improved his temper, but there was no sense in pissing off someone when he didn’t know who they were either. “I’m Sara Rodriguez,” she’d told him, and he’d known the shock he’d felt was written on his face plain as day.
“You’re Sara Rodriguez?” Because he’d been expecting Grissom’s CSI friend from New York to pay him a visit, but anyone who looked less likely to be called Sara Rodriguez he couldn’t imagine.
She could have been offended; instead, she'd looked amused, as if she’d heard that a hundred times. Her next words had gone some way to confirming that. “It’s my husband’s name,” she'd said simply, stepping into the office and closing the door behind him. “Now Captain… what can you tell me about Holly Gribbs and Warrick Brown?”
The whole interview had gone on from there, thoroughly clinical and professional, and when she’d left that day, he’d never given her a second thought. Not until almost two years later when Grissom had announced that since the latest CSI – the sixth since Holly’s death to be assigned to graveyard – had up and quit (leading to quite a bit of celebrating from Greg Sanders, who had taken that week in the betting pool), that Sara Rodriguez would be transferring in from New York.
Warrick hadn’t been best pleased, since her recommendation had been that Grissom fire him, but the paperwork had already been set in motion, and Sara had arrived the following week. She hadn’t drawn an easy case her first time out; cannibalistic cheerleaders did not a gentle introduction to a new job make. But she hadn’t turned a hair, impressing Cyrus Lockwood no end, and aside from Warrick, the rest of the CSI team had been eager to make her welcome, treat her like one of their own. She hadn’t proved easy to get to know though, and in the few months that she’s been here, Brass has heard them talk about her, has had his own suspicions confirmed. Outwardly, she’s the same as she was two years previously, but sometimes, every so often, there’s a hint of something lurking underneath the surface, some emotion that she never talks about. Most people put it down to her being a newly separated woman, trying to make a new life for herself, but Brass doesn’t buy that. After all, he knows what it’s like to try to make a new life for oneself in a new city, and he’s sure there’s more than that going on with Sara. Just like he’s sure that there’s a part of her – the part of her that still wears her wedding ring, the part of her that still refers to her ex as “my husband” before hastily correcting herself – that doesn’t want to be here.
Those are just his thoughts, and he’s never shared them with anyone, has just listened, collecting other people’s insights into the woman. No two people seem to agree on what makes her tick, and after the scenes a couple of weeks ago – when the lab blew up, when she went back to work too soon and ended up breaking protocol when they were raiding a suspect’s apartment – opinion was more divided than ever.
What opinion would make of her appearance tonight was another thing entirely, and a glance at Grissom tells Brass that the other man is just as alarmed as he is. Neither of them get a chance to ask what’s wrong, however, before Sara speaks.
“Gris, I know this is short notice,” she begins without preamble; for all Brass knows, she hasn’t even registered his presence. “But I need some time off. Immediately.”
Her demeanour suggests that this isn’t a request, more along the lines of a desperate plea, and Grissom nods, making it clear he’s not going to deny her. “What’s happened?” he asks, getting right to the heart of the matter, and suddenly Sara’s battling to keep back her tears.
“Tony’s been shot,” is all she says, all she has to say and everything falls into place. “I can make a flight tonight, but I need to be at McCarran soon… I’ve got a bag in the car and…”
“Go,” Grissom says, cutting her off. “I’ll farm out your cases, we’ll work from your notes… just go.”
Sara nods, can’t even frame the words “Thank you”, though Brass can see them in her eyes. She turns on her heel, all ready to dash, but Brass, without conscious thought, calls out after her.
She whips around, and he’s already halfway to her. “I’ll take you to the airport,” he hears himself saying, and when she narrows her eyes in question, he adds, “You’ll get there faster with blue lights and a siren.”
Tears flood Sara’s eyes again, and she swallows hard to keep them back. “Brass, you don’t have to…” she says, and just like Grissom moments earlier, he cuts her off.
“Your Tony… he’s a New York cop, right?” Sara nods, and he pats her shoulder, the gesture feeling somewhat awkward. “That makes him family… and so are you.”
When Sara steps into the arrivals hall in JFK, it’s all she can do to keep from reeling with shock. She’s been there a great many times in her life, but never this early in the morning, and she’d just assumed that there wouldn’t be that many people there. It’s thronged with people however, and as she scans frantically around her, she can’t imagine how she’s ever going to find anyone.
As it happens though, she doesn’t need to, because she hears a soft, familiar voice at her side, saying her name, and she spins round, finding herself face to face with her old boss, Mac Taylor. He’s giving her an uncertain almost-smile, and while it takes her a second to place that face, the moment she does, tears spring to her eyes and she steps towards him, throwing her arms around his neck.
It’s the exact same expression she saw on his face when she met him on the morning of September 12th, two years ago.
“There’s no word from the hospital,” he tells her as he holds her, in response to a question she wanted to ask but was afraid to. “I stopped by when you called me, told Sipowicz if there was any change that he’s to let me know.”
She pulls back at that, buoyed up by sudden relief. “Andy’s at the hospital?” she asks, and Mac’s grin is much closer to the real thing.
“Like a mother bear,” he tells her, and she figures that, knowing the detective as they both do, they’re probably sharing the same thought: that with Andy Sipowicz standing guard outside his hospital room, Tony would be too damn scared to die.
Then she realises that she’s just used the words “Tony” and “die” in the same thought, and suddenly, she can’t stop shaking.
Something must show on her face, because Mac’s arm tightens around her shoulders and he grips her so tightly she’s sure he’s going to leave bruises. “Hey, hey, it’s all right… it’s gonna be all right,” he tells her, and she wants to believe that more than she’s ever wanted anything in her life.
“Can you take me there?” she manages to whisper, swiping at her eyes with the back of her hand, and Mac’s arm is strong around her shoulders as they begin to walk.
Sara knows that as long as she lives, she’ll never remember that drive. She sits in the front seat in a daze, watching the headlights of the cars and the lights of the city blur into one another, dancing dizzily across her field of vision until she has to close her eyes. She couldn’t talk if she wanted to, and Mac must understand that, because he drives in silence, doesn’t say a word to her until they pull up at the hospital.
Even then, he only speaks because he has to, because even when he parks the car, she doesn’t make a move to get out. She’s suddenly remembered the last time that she was in this hospital, not as a visitor, not as a CSI, but as a patient. She’s tried very hard to block that from her memory, and up until now, she’s succeeded. But as she looks at the entrance to the hospital, she remembers everything; from the pain to the smell of the antiseptic, from Stella’s worried look as she walked in with her to the tears in Tony’s eyes as he told her what she already knew. Her stomach turns at the memory, and she rubs her eyes in a vain effort to make the memories disappear.
“Sara?” he says, in that tone of voice that makes her think he’s not saying it for the first time.
“I’m ok,” she lies, but Mac, being Mac, doesn’t call her on it. “Let’s go.”
She’s grateful that Mac’s there with her, but she’s even more grateful when she sees the throng of assembled reporters and television cameras that are gathered in the lobby. She wonders how they’re going to get past, but Mac simply nods at one of the uniforms, who promptly calls another one over to cover his post, then escorts them down a corridor and around a corner, and there it is.
Her old life.
Tony’s sister Anna is pacing restlessly, chewing on a thumbnail, her other hand wrapped around herself protectively. His mother Lucy sits on a red plastic chair, Rosary beads passing slowly through her fingers, lips moving in whispered Spanish prayers.
Two women sit side by side, just down from Tony’s mother, one blonde-haired, one dark, and Sara recognises them as Connie McDowell and Rita Ortiz, two detectives from Tony’s command. Across from them, arms crossed over his stomach, glowering fiercely, is Andy Sipowicz, standing guard over the doorway. Sara’s never found him a calming presence, and she knows that, on occasion, altercations with him have had a somewhat precarious effect on Tony’s blood pressure, but she knows that Sipowicz is loyal to a fault, that he’d do anything for the people he cares about. She knows Tony is on that list, and she knows that she used to be, and the sight of him standing there makes her feel better.
Sipowicz looks up when he hears them approaching, glower approaching nuclear threat proportions, but his face clears instantly when he sees her, and he shifts on his feet, rubbing his hand under his moustache. “Sara,” is all he says, but it’s enough to have Anna stopping dead in her tracks, spinning around, and Lucy’s Rosary stops moving as she looks up at Sara.
For a moment, Sara doesn’t know what to say, what to do, as it strikes her for the first time that she might not be welcome here. She tells herself that she’s being ridiculous, that it was Anna who called her, that she must have known that she’d be on the next flight to New York. But she still wonders, until Anna comes towards her, puts her arms around her and holds on tightly.
Tears have been near to the surface, sometimes tipping over, ever since Sara got the phone call, but when Anna holds her, it’s the first time that she’s really cried. Which makes her feel awkward, because she doesn’t cry in public, barely cries in private, but when Anna pulls back, looks into her eyes and nods once, and she thinks that it might be all right.
When Anna steps away, Sara is instantly engulfed by a human tornado, barely five feet tall, rattling tearful Spanish at a rate of knots. Lucy is speaking so quickly that Sara, whose four years of high school Spanish, brushed up when she married Tony, is rusty from lack of use, can barely keep up, but she thinks Lucy is saying that she’s glad she’s here, that she’s missed having her around. Tears are coming faster than she can wipe them away, so she just squeezes the other woman’s hand as hard as she can, hopes she can convey her message that way.
Anna leads her mother away, and Sara finds herself in front of Andy Sipowicz, a man who, it must be said, has never been noted for his warm and sympathetic nature. After the emotion of Anna and Lucy though, when Sipowicz stands in front of her with his hands in his pockets, nods once, sniffing hard, one hand emerging from his pocket to rub over his chin, his awkward reserve is just what Sara needs.
“Sara,” he says in greeting, but he makes no move to touch her, and for that she’s grateful.
He tilts his head in the direction of the doorway. “He’s doing better. Since we called you, I mean. His vitals look to have stabilised… the doc, he seemed real pleased about that…”
But Sara’s barely paying attention to him; instead she’s looking through the Plexiglas window at the still figure on the bed beyond. Machines stand all around him, and he’s covered with tubes, but he’s still her Tony. Her Tony, lying there still and pale, a man who epitomises strength looking so broken that her heart, which she’s been kidding herself that she’s put back together since she’s been living in Vegas, shatters at the sight. Her fingers touch the cold glass, and she’s not sure if she’s trying to touch him or just keep herself upright, but Mac’s hand is strong on her shoulder, bringing her back to reality as she turns back to Sipowicz.
“Andy, what the hell happened?” she whispers, because Anna didn’t have any of the details, just that Tony had been shot in his own office by another officer. There’s no good start or end to this story, but she knows she has to hear it. Andy shifts on his feet, throws a glance first to Connie and Rita, hanging on their every word, then at Mac, and Sara takes a deep breath, fighting for control again. “Andy, I need to know.”
She’s not prepared for the name, and the shock hits her like a physical blow. Her knees literally buckle, and she has to steady herself against the wall. Andy looks alarmed, and he and Mac look to be all ready to bundle her into a chair, but she waves them both off, managing to croak, “What does he have to do with this?”
Sipowicz and Mac exchange a fleeting look of alarm, and Sipowicz seems to decide that it’s better to get the news over with quickly. “He came into the squad room today…talked with the Lieu, all fire and brimstone… came back out, told me he was going to pull some of my old files, told me that make myself available for interviews.” His tone was not a little scornful, and from the corner of her eye, Sara sees movement, Rita and Connie coming over to stand beside them. “End of tour…we all left…” Here, and it could be Sara’s imagination, but she’s sure Connie and Sipowicz share a glance during which Sipowicz’s tale falters. “’Cept for Rita…”
He glances at Rita, who takes up the tale. “I’d gone to use the restroom… and when I came out, Fraker was in the Lieutenant’s office… I couldn’t hear what they were saying, exactly, but they were arguing… I saw Rodriguez stand up, like he was ordering Fraker out… and Fraker looked as if he was going… and then he pulled his gun and fired…”
Sara must make some kind of sound, because everyone looks sharply at her, and one of Mac’s arms is like iron around her waist, the other gripping her elbow. Rita, voice decidedly nervous, says, “Maybe I shouldn’t…”
“Rita… I need to know.”
A look passes between the two women, and suddenly Sara remembers that not too very long ago, Rita had been in her shoes, her husband gunned down in cold blood. Rita nods slowly. “Fraker went around the desk, like he was going to fire again… and that’s when I must have pulled my firearm. He went down, I went in, checked both of them… and that’s when I called the ambulance.”
Sipowicz’s lips purse in disgust. “Still alive… more’s the pity.”
Sara shudders visibly at the whole ugly tale, remembering the day when Tony first came home and told her all about the problems he was having with the new IAB captain. It had been ugly right from the start, full of dirty tricks from Fraker, and at the time, it had been just one more crack appearing in the fairytale that had been their life.
She’d never dreamed it would end like this.
She turns away from the crowd surrounding her, once more reaching out, touching the glass that separates her from Tony. “He’s gonna be ok,” Sipowicz’s voice is still gruff, but curiously tender. “The Lieu… he’s strong… he’s gonna beat this.”
In the distorted reflection, Sara sees a single tear make its way down her cheek. “Yeah,” she whispers, and she hopes saying it will make it true.
When Tony gets moved out of the ICU and into his own room upstairs, Lucy Rodriguez and her daughter are the first people to be allowed into see him. They don’t stay long, Anna almost physically dragging her mother out of the room and home to get some rest. Lucy’s last words to Sara are first in Spanish, and this time, Sara understands them perfectly.
“Take care of my boy.”
She nods, incapable of speech, and goes into the room to sit beside Tony’s bed. A great deal of the tubes have disappeared, including the ones from his mouth and nose, and that relieves her a great deal. It’s easier now to pretend that she’s just watching him sleep, the same way that she’s watched him sleep so many times over the last few years. She thinks of those times now, the sheer novelty of those early days together, to the happiness of their life together in New York, to the end when she’d done little but watch him sleep, because she hadn’t been getting much sleep herself. Those are the thoughts she pushes away, dismissing them as too painful, but the earlier memories, the happier ones, come attached to pain now, because they’re lost to the past, and she’s not sure if she’ll ever have them again. So, rather than remember, she finds herself concentrating on the rise and fall of his chest, allowing it to push all other thoughts out of her head, allowing it to relax her. But not enough that she’ll fall asleep; she means to keep watch on him, take care of him, just like Lucy asked her to.
He’s the only family she’s got, and she’s not going to lose him, not again.
She’s concentrating so fiercely on the rise and fall of his chest that when she sees a momentary hitch in the rhythm, her own heart all but stops with fear. She’s rising to her feet, about to call for a nurse, when she sees his fingers flicker, and her eyes dart to his face, where she sees a sliver of brown peeping out between his eyelids.
“Tony?” she says, or tries to say, at any rate, her voice coming out as nothing more than a croak. Her hand goes to his forehead, smoothes back the already smooth hair, and her vision blurs with tears. “Tony… it’s ok… you can wake up now… it’s ok…”
His eyelids flutter some more, finally opening halfway, and he frowns when he sees her standing there. “Sara?” he manages to whisper, and she takes heart in the fact that he sounds disbelieving rather than displeased.
“It’s me…” is all she can tell him, leaning as close to him as she can, needing to be near to him.
“What are you doin’ here?” he asks, and she lets out a sob in answer. “Don’t cry…” he says right away, but the words only make her want to cry more, because that’s just like Tony. He might have been shot, be lying in a hospital bed with monitors all around him, but he’s still more worried about her.
“You think I’d be anywhere else right now?” she asks him, smiling through her tears, gripping one of his hands tightly in hers. He frowns, eyes darting from her face to the room around them, and she squeezes his hand in an effort to bring his focus back on her. “Do you remember what happened?” she asks, and his brow furrows further.
“Fraker…” he finally says, and she nods.
“You’re gonna be ok,” she tells him, getting most vital piece of information out of the way. “And we got him Tony… Rita was in the squad room, she saw the whole thing… shot him through the window… he’s going away for a long time…”
Her voice fades, because a small smile appeared on Tony’s face at the mention of the other woman’s name. “Good day’s work hiring her…” he murmurs, eyes drifting closed, and Sara fights an irrational stab of jealousy. His eyes open again, and he must see as much on her face, because the edges of his lips turn up in the merest flicker of a smile. “But she’s not my girl… I told you that already…”
The words, the grip of his hand on hers, takes Sara back, to a time not long after Rita Ortiz had started at the Fifteenth Precinct, to a day when Tony came home early after another run-in with Fraker; a day which, she realises suddenly, held the first steps along the path to today. Fraker had been engaging in a nasty spot of mud-throwing, one of his salvos being that Rita and Tony were having an affair. She hadn’t believed it, not then, and not now, but the words Tony had said to her at the time ring in her ears. “There’s been no-one else in my life since I warned you about hinky barbeque sauce at a Christmas party… you’re my girl Sara… no-one else.”
“Yeah,” she whispers now, laying her hand on his cheek. “I know that.”
He moves his head into her touch, nuzzling her palm without taking his eyes off hers. “You’re here,” he whispers, eyes closing, voice quietening, and she nods, leaning forward to kiss the top of his head.
“I’m here,” she confirms. “Go to sleep Tony… it’s ok…”
“You stick around,” he mumbles, and she thinks he’s giving an order rather than asking a question, and she nods, because she can’t speak, her throat tight with tears. Her throat grows tighter still when his next words reach her ears. They’re even more mumbled, barely audible, but she can make them out. “I love you,” he says, and she bends her head, lets her tears fall freely.
“I love you too.”
She holds his hand until he falls asleep, even after that and she lets her mind drift back to the first time she met him, the time he'd just mentioned.