Chapter 1: blue lights and sirens
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.
Chapter 2: fireworks
Sara thinks back to first meeting Tony.
Times Square was not where Sara expected to spend New Year’s Eve. If asked, she would have said that she’d be at home, alone, curled up on her couch with a decent book and a bottle of wine, and that’s only if she was unlucky. If she was lucky, she’d be working, at a crime scene somewhere, or in the lab, and she wouldn’t have to think about herself, or her life, or how much she hates New Year’s Eve.
She wasn’t to know that Deb, one of her team-mates, her closest friend in San Francisco, in and out of work, would take umbrage at the bare notion of her spending the festive period in the lab. “No way,” she’d said, New York accent unusually pronounced. “No way are you working the whole of Christmas.” Sara had tried to protest, tell her that she didn’t mind, that she was going to request it, but that hadn’t been good enough for Deb. “Forget it,” Sara had been told, in a tone that brooked no argument. “You’re coming home with me.”
And so it was that Sara had been welcomed into the bosom of the O’Reilly family, a large boisterous crowd, Deb being the middle child of seven. The house was never less than packed, but very rarely were they inside for prolonged stretches of time, Deb having a sizeable contingent of friends and being intent on introducing Sara to every one of them.
It was when they went to a party with Deb’s brother Mark – well, Deb went voluntarily, Sara went because they threatened her with guns and badges – that things had taken an unexpected turn.
A detective in the NYPD, Mark brought them to a party thrown by one of his friends, a party that was, quite literally, wall to wall with New York’s finest. Some of them knew Deb, some of them didn’t, but all were quite eager to make the acquaintance of Mark’s sister, even if they did so with him looking over them with eagle eyes. Sara, however, was afforded quite a bit more anonymity, and though she never usually had a good time at affairs like this, was a bit too adept at playing the loner, she managed to mix quite successfully at this one, moving around, talking to various people, swapping tales of San Francisco and New York with ease. She picked up invitations to several New Year’s bashes, not to mention several suggestions about places she should visit, and when she’d had as many as she could handle, she tactfully excused herself to visit the buffet table.
She was scanning the choices available when she heard a new voice at her elbow.
“I’d skip the chicken if I were you… the barbeque sauce is kinda hinky.”
“I’m a vegetarian,” Sara said as she turned, “So that’s a no-brainer.”
The edges of her companion’s lips turned up in a small smile, and he lifted one eyebrow in appraisal. “Oh, so it’s like that is it?” he asked, turning his attention back to the buffet table, which gave Sara a moment to collect her self-possession, which had momentarily deserted her when she’d looked up at him. About the same height as her, maybe an inch or two taller, he had the kind of looks that had Deb’s voice screaming “Result!” in the back of her head. Dark hair, dark eyes, obviously had some kind of Latin blood in him, he was a handsome man, New York born and raised if the accent was anything to go by, and if he was frequenting this party, probably a cop. But what appealed to Sara, more than the obvious, was the way he’d smiled at her, how his eyes had seemed to dance with amusement as he’d spoken, how they still did so when he turned back to her, pointing to one of the bowls on the table. “I recommend the guacamole…and the salad seems to look particularly… green…” His tone made it clear what he thought of that option, and Sara surprised herself by laughing out loud.
“Let me guess… if there’s no meat there, it’s not a true meal?” She’d been on one disastrous blind date where the guy had actually told her that; it had made her swear that she’d never let anyone fix her up again.
“I’m not sure I’d go that far,” he replied. “Though I will say that if God intended me to eat salad all day, he’d’ve made me a rabbit…” Once again, Sara found herself laughing, and she dimly hoped that Deb wasn’t watching; she’d be picking out her bridesmaid’s dress.
“Well, I’m not actually that hungry anyway,” she told him. “But you’re right about the guacamole; I had some earlier. Skipped the salad though.”
“A woman of taste… I’m impressed.” Turning to face her, he tilted his head, looked her up and down. “No offence… but you don’t sound like you’re from around here.”
“San Francisco actually… I’m just here for the holidays.” She realised, somewhat belatedly, that she’d never introduced herself, and she’s sure she hadn’t met him already. A man who looked like that is a man she would have remembered. “I’m Sara… Sara Sidle.”
“Tony Rodriguez.” He surprised her by extending his hand; his grip was firm, strong. “Nice to meet you, Sara Sidle.”
Her immediate thought had been that it was nice to be met; thankfully, she retained enough common sense not to say as much out loud. Instead, he asked her about the friends she was staying with, and what she’d done with her vacation time, and she was enjoying talking to him so much that she didn’t realise how late it was until Deb appeared at her side, telling her that she and Mark were heading off. Her eyes lingered on Tony when she spoke, and when she turned to Sara, her face obscured from Tony’s eyes, her grin spoke volumes. “You don’t have to come with us though… I mean, if you’d rather stay…”
Sara could read the look on her friend’s face, a veiled order to stay put, but Tony took the matter out of her hands by looking at his watch. “I should be going myself actually… I’ve got an early start tomorrow…” He didn’t look any more eager to leave than Sara felt, and he glanced at Deb quickly before looking back at Sara, his gaze lingering. “Look, a gang of us are meeting up on New Year’s Eve… we’re gonna head for Times Square, see what’s going on there… would you ladies care to join us?”
The invitation was addressed to Sara, who looked at Deb for confirmation. Deb must have taken it as something else though, because she leaped in with, “We’d love to.”
“Great.” Tony reached for a napkin, pulling a pen from his pocket and scribbling something on it. “This is my number… if you call me tomorrow, we can sort something else…” He pressed it into Sara’s hand. “It was good talking to you Sara.”
“Yeah.” It was all Sara could say as she watched him walk away, her cheeks warmer than the temperature of the room could account for. Deb’s grip on her arm brought her back to reality in a hurry.
“Details, Sara… right now!”
With a little prompting, Sara told her friend everything in the cab on the way home, and when they’d reached the house, Deb had practically done a victory dance up to the front door. She’d been the one who, when Sara had had a crisis of confidence and told her that Tony was just being polite when he gave her his number, had insisted that she call him, and stood over her as she did it. It had been Deb who ransacked her wardrobe, and her sister’s wardrobe, to find Sara “something perfect” to wear, and it had been Deb who physically sat her down and did her hair and her makeup.
She hardly recognised herself when she looked in the mirror, and that alone had been enough to make her uncomfortable about going, even without Deb developing a sudden desire to ring the New Year in with her family. Sara tried her best, but Deb couldn’t be dissuaded, was just as insistent on putting Sara into a cab, and at that precise moment, Sara could have cheerfully killed her. However, when she stood in front of a small restaurant on a side street in Manhattan and saw the appreciative look in Tony’s eyes as he greeted her, she was very grateful to her friend.
True to Tony’s word, there was a large group assembled for dinner, but he introduced her to everyone, sat beside her, made sure she was included in the conversation. And, when they made their way down the street, heading towards Times Square, he walked slowly with her, unconcerned when they ended up at the back of the group, everyone else far ahead of them. All the while, they were chatting animatedly, and Sara barely even noticed when Tony’s hand slipped into hers.
She did notice, however, when she went to cross at an intersection they came to right before Times Square. Sara could see the lights in the distance, could hear the excited chatter of the crowd that was already building, and a tremor of anticipation ran through her body. She felt momentarily foolish, acting like a tourist around all these native New Yorkers, and she smiled to herself, looking across at Tony to share the joke. What she saw in his face, in his eyes, stopped her in her tracks, and she was about to open her mouth to ask him what was wrong when he laid his free hand on her cheek. His palm should have felt cold, but it was warm, sending goosebumps down Sara’s spine, or maybe that was his voice, low and sincere, saying words she’d never heard before.
She wanted to protest, to make some weak joke about how he needed his eyes checked, but the words wouldn’t come. Instead, her cheeks warmed, and she smiled up at him, and when he leaned in to kiss her, his lips were as warm as his hand on her cheek.
It was a brief kiss, because the crowd moved around them, the intersection crosslights having changed in their favour, and still hand in hand, walking closer together than ever, they moved up Times Square to join the crowd already waiting there.
This wasn’t where Sara would have planned to spend her New Year’s Eve.
But she couldn’t wait to see what the New Year would bring.
Chapter 3: the talk
Sara and Tony have a long overdue talk
“So, we ever gonna talk?”
Sara’s hands still for a moment in the flowers that she’s busily arranging in the vase – Tony’s mother insists on bringing him in a fresh bunch every week, muttering something about their calming properties. It’s something that normally makes Sara roll her eyes, but right now she’s happy for the diversion, happy to have something for her hands to do so that he won’t see them suddenly begin to shake.
“We talk every day,” she tells him, trying to keep her voice light and failing utterly. There’s no way he’s going to let her away with such a weak rejoinder, she knows he knows her too well for that.
“Not about what really matters,” he replies quietly, and she has to swallow hard at the truth of the words. “Look at me, Sara.” The words are said quietly, a plea rather than an order, and she’s powerless to resist, dropping her hands to her side and slowly turning to face him.
Tony, her husband, lies in his hospital bed, looking considerably more healthy than he had a couple of weeks ago when she’d flown from Las Vegas at a moment’s notice, terrified that she would get off the plane only to be told that she was too late. There is colour in his cheeks now, but he’s lost weight, looks weak, and she knows that underneath his grey cotton t-shirt, there is an ugly scar on his chest where surgeons pulled a bullet from his chest. The doctors say he’s healing nicely, but there are dark shadows in and under his eyes that were never there before, and she knows that it’s not only the shooting that put them there.
In that instant where she meets his eyes, she’s reminded once more how close she came to losing him, and the knowledge makes her feel cold all over.
“I love you Sara,” he tells her, still speaking quietly. “You know that… I never stopped.”
Sara can’t speak past the lump in her throat so she settles for a nod. The feeling, she’s sure he knows, is mutual.
“When I got shot… my only thought was that you might not know that. And waking up, finding you here… you’ve got no idea what that did for me.” He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes for a second. “Why did you come back?”
The question is asked with eyes wide open, and a look on his face that suggests he can’t quite believe he’s asking it. Time was he would have been afraid of scaring her off, of making her run again – he’s been very patient with her over the course of their relationship. But they’ve both had a lesson lately in how short life is, and she’s done running. She doesn’t have to think about her answer; it fairly trips off her tongue.
“Because I love you… and I never stopped either.”
He smiles at that, that same smile that’s been making her heart skip a beat since she’d first seen it over a buffet table at a Christmas party some years ago. “I never blamed you for leaving,” he tells her, and the words do something funny to her heart, either tearing it a little bit more, or stitching it back together again, she’s not sure which.
“I couldn’t stay,” she hears herself whisper. “I wanted to…”
He’s shaking his head, looking so stricken that she wants nothing more than to go to him, to tell him that nothing was his fault, but she can’t seem to move. “I wanted to help you… but I didn’t know what to say.”
“No,” she protests, tears streaming down her face. “It wasn’t you… it was me.” He opens his mouth as if to say something, but she stops him by holding up her hand. “Tony… when I found out I was pregnant… I was so scared. Because all I could think about… was my parents… and what my dad was like… and what my mom did… and I couldn’t stop thinking… what if I’m like them? What if I don’t know how to love our baby?”
Tony’s shaking his head again, holding out his hand to her, and she goes to him, takes it and holds onto it like it’s the only thing keeping her from drowning. “You’re not like that, Sara… you could never be like that.”
She sucks in a shuddering breath, willing herself to stop crying. “I was so scared, Tony… and then… when I lost the baby… I blamed myself… thought that if I’d wanted it more, hadn’t been so scared…”
“It was no-one’s fault,” he told her, not for the first time. “And you are going to make an amazing mother.”
Releasing her hand, he reaches up, brushes the tears from her face, and Sara leans into his touch, closing her eyes at how familiar it feels, how much she’s missed it. “I kept waiting for you to blame me…” she whispers. “To see that look in your eyes… and I knew I couldn’t survive that. So I left…” First, to Stella’s house, then to Las Vegas, trying to outrun her pain, only succeeding in bringing it with her, making it worse. “I should have stayed.” It’s the first time she’s admitted it, even to herself.
“And now?” His two hands close over hers, over the two rings that she never stopped wearing. “Will you stay now?”
Her throat swells with emotion, sending more tears rolling down her cheeks. This time, though, they’re good tears, the kind that heal rather than sting. “If you’ll have me,” she tells him, and the smile that splits his face is like sunshine, banishing the hated shadows from his face.
Chapter 4: clearing the air
Her locker isn’t the only thing that Sara clears out.
Sara’s almost finished cleaning out her locker – who knew that in a few short months so much junk could accumulate? – when she hears someone approaching the locker room. Not that that’s unusual; there are plenty of people in the lab and footsteps have been coming and going ever since she’s been in here. What’s unusual, however, is that these footsteps slow down as they approach the locker room, then stop completely just short of the door. She’s slightly perplexed but her confusion clears when she hears someone come into the room and say her name.
“Sara… I heard you were here.”
She turns, more than a little surprised to see Warrick there, because he’s never gone out of his way to see her before, and those might just be the most words he’s ever said to her at once outside of a case. “Just clearing out,” she says, tilting her head towards the box on the bench beside her.
“Yeah…” He looks from the box to the locker to her, then clears his throat. “Grissom said you were going back to New York?”
She nods, unable to stop a smile from spreading across her face. She doesn’t think she’s stopped smiling since she and Tony got back together, and she doesn’t want to either – not when she knows how close they came to losing everything. “I should’ve done this a while ago,” she says. “But Tony wanted to come… put faces to names…”
Warrick’s eyes widen in what looks like recognition. “Guy sitting in the break room with a cup of coffee, looking at everything?”
Sara laughs, because that’s Tony all right; she’d teased him earlier about having a need to rotate his head three hundred and sixty degrees as they walked through the halls. “Sounds right.”
“He’s ok? Gris didn’t know too many of the details…”
“Full recovery. He’s almost ready to go back to work… but we still have the trial…” Her voice trails off, because it’s not something that she’s looking forward to, and she knows Tony’s dreading it. Fraker’s going to have his defence team pull every trick in the book, and the problem is, there’s enough rumour and innuendo around the Fifteenth Precinct in general, and her and Tony in particular, that their job mightn’t be too hard. She shakes herself, not wanting to let her thoughts go in that particular direction, forces a smile to her face. “Thank you for the text message by the way.” She’d forgotten, in all the hoopla, that that was another thing that had surprised her; that after her quick exit to New York, among the messages she’d received from Vegas, there had been a text message from him, saying simply, “Hope everything’s working out for you, Warrick.”
His lips turn up in what’s supposed to be a smile, but looks more like a grimace. “Guess you weren’t expecting to hear from me.”
It’s the truth, and she meets it with the truth in return. “Let’s face it,” she shrugs, “We were hardly the best of friends when I was here…”
“And that was my fault.” She blinks at his interruption, and he shakes his head, rubbing a hand over his face. “Look, Sara, I know I wasn’t exactly rolling out the welcome wagon…”
“I recommended you be fired,” she tells him flatly. “I wouldn’t welcome me either.”
He tilts his head in silent acknowledgement. “Except for the fact that I owe you a thank you.” Her confusion must show on her face, because he chuckles. “What you did… the investigation, reporting me to Grissom, your recommendation…” Her cheeks darken, because the report pulled no punches, did him no favours. “Everything that happened with Holly… it woke me up. Made me realise what I was doing to myself… to everyone around me. I stopped gambling after that Sara… tried to make amends. Even though I was doing pretty well… I was just getting to the stage where I wasn’t thinking about it every day… then you showed up.”
Sara nods, finally understanding. “A walking talking reminder,” she murmurs.
“Exactly. And it was easier to act out than deal with that… it was only when you left that I figured out what the problem was. You didn’t deserve any of the crap that I gave you Sara… I’m sorry.”
“You don’t need to apologise,” she tells him quietly. “But thank you.”
He smiles then, a genuine smile, and for the first time, she realises what every other woman in the lab was talking about when they said that a Warrick Brown smile would get him anything he wanted. “We’re gonna miss you around here,” he says after a moment. “Sure we can’t convince you to stay?”
She doesn’t even blink. “Nope.” Closing her locker, she rips off the piece of masking tape with her name on it, crumples it in her hand and tosses it into the trash can. “I ran away from home to come here… time to go back and rebuild some bridges.”
Warrick nods, and she thinks that he understands what she means. “Maybe I’ll look you up if I’m ever in the city,” he suggests, and she finds herself grinning, looking forward to that.
“You’d better,” she says. “We’ll show you around.” She goes to pick up the box, and to her surprise, he gets there before her, hefting it easily.
“Allow me,” he says, turning smartly on his heel, heading out the door towards the break room.
When they get there, Tony stands, his smile for her quickly changing into a curious glance at Warrick. “Warrick, this is my husband Tony,” she says, standing beside Tony as Warrick places the box on the table. “Tony, this is Warrick Brown.”
Tony’s eyes betray his surprise, but when she squeezes his arm, he nods, extends his hand – he might not have expected this, based on all he’s heard about Warrick from her, but he’s not going to be rude. “Warrick… nice to meet you.”
“You too.” Warrick tilts his head towards Sara. “I’ve just been telling Sara how much we’re gonna miss her around here… New York’s lucky to have her.”
Tony grins as his arm slips around Sara’s waist, pulling her ever so slightly closer to him. “I know.”
Chapter 5: something in the water
After the Fraker verdict, Sara goes looking for Tony.
Sara’s not really surprised when she doesn’t hear from Tony by the end of her shift. Even though she told him – ordered him really – to call if he needed to talk, she’d know that he was going to hole up in his office, brooding over the verdict, wondering what it meant for him, rebuffing all enquiries from the detectives in the squad room who would be only trying to help him. She knows that’s how he’s going to react, because it’s the same way she would react if she were in his shoes; shut out the rest of the world, try to handle things on her own.
She also knows, from bitter experience, that Tony wouldn’t let her get away with that, and she’s damn sure not going to let him try it either.
So instead of going home, she makes her way over to the Fifteenth Precinct, bound and determined to drag her man out of there by the scruff of the neck if needs be. The desk sergeant recognises her on sight, nodding and waving her up, and as she takes the steps briskly, she tries not to notice the sensation of every pair of eyes on her. She fails utterly, just like she fails to suppress the memory of being thirteen years old and having everyone staring at her because she was the girl whose mother killed her father.
It’s an unsettling end to an unsettling day, and she only begins to relax when she reaches the second floor of the building, when she turns the corner and sees John Irving sitting at his desk. He looks up when he hears her footsteps, face instantly brightening in a smile of recognition, which turns quickly into surprise. “Mrs Rodriguez,” he says, and Sara as always has to check the urge to look behind her and see if Tony’s mother is standing there, has to bite her tongue against telling John to call her Sara. Whatever else the receptionist might be, he is a creature of habit, as well as impeccable manners. “I wasn’t expecting you…”
Sara smiles, glancing towards Tony’s office, surprised to see it empty. “Hey, John,” she says. “Is it ok if I wait inside?”
She gestures to the office, not expecting it to be a problem, but John looks stricken, gaze flickering between her and the office as if he’d rather be anywhere else in the world. “Well, of course it is… I mean, it would be… but I’m afraid the Lieutenant has already left for the evening.”
Usually possessing of a poker face, Sara can’t hold back her reaction, her gaze flying to the office, teeth biting into her lower lip, and once more, she’s uncomfortably aware of every eye in the squad room on her. John looks dismayed, half-rising from his seat. “He hasn’t been gone that long,” he says, as if he’s afraid that Tony is going to do something stupid. “I’m sure he’s…”
Sara holds up a hand, shakes her head. “It’s fine, John, really…I think I know where he’ll be. But thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” It’s said with unmistakeable relief, and Sara’s turning to go when John calls after her. “Mrs Rodriguez?” She lifts one eyebrow, inviting her to continue, and he tells her, “We’re all terribly upset about the verdict…”
“No, John.” A third voice, gravelly and growly, breaks into the conversation. “What we are is pissed off with the verdict.” Sara grins despite herself, because she’d bet every dime in her pocket that that wasn’t the first phrase that came to mind, and when the man who spoke rubs his hand over his brow, an action that doesn’t quite hide the flush on his cheeks, she knows she’s right. “Hey, Sara.”
“Andy.” Sipowicz, at least, doesn’t stand on ceremony with her, even though sometimes, on the odd occasion when she catches a case of his for example, she kinda wishes he would.
“It was a bullshit verdict,” Sipowicz continues, and heads all around the bullpen bob in agreement. “And it don’t reflect how anyone here feels about the Lieu, or how we feel about working for him.”
“That…that’s right.” From across the room, Greg Medavoy speaks up, looking towards Sipowicz, as if for his approval, and when Sipowicz nods, Medavoy continues. “We all know the truth.”
“Fraker’s an asshole…he’ll get his.” Sipowicz makes it sound like a solemn vow rather than an observation, and even though Sara knows she should be voicing wholehearted agreement, she still has to work hard to swallow past the lump in her throat.
“Thanks,” is all she can manage to get out, meeting each gaze in turn before she leaves to find her husband.
She’s fairly sure she knows where to find him, but just to be on the safe side, she calls home first. The machine picks up, and she’s brief and to the point. “It’s me… if you’re there, pick up.” Nothing until the beep, so she waits a minute and tries again, and when still no-one picks up, she hangs up and tries his cell phone, which is turned off. That clinches it in her mind, and she tosses her cell onto the seat beside her, turns the key in the ignition, and she’s on her way before she can think anymore.
She’s not surprised when she gets out of her car, sees his parked just a couple of spots down. Slowly, she makes her way down the boardwalk, breathing in the salty tang of the water, allowing the sounds of the few other people, punctuated by the lapping of the water against the pilings, to relax her. For a few minutes, it works, but then she sees Tony, and that damn lump is back in her throat again.
He’s leaning over the railings, looking out across the calm blue water, but she knows he’s not taking any notice of the water, or the buildings on the other side of the river. He’s back in that courtroom, coming up with a hundred things he could have said or done that would have changed the outcome of the trial. Or further back than that, back in his office on the twentieth of May, wondering what he could have done that would have stopped Fraker shooting him in the first place. Frustration and defeat is written all over his face, in the lines of his shoulders and back, and at first, she thinks she’s never seen him look like that.
Then she remembers that she has, in the months before she left for Vegas, when their marriage was falling apart around them.
That thought pushes the lump further up her throat, has tears stinging her eyes, and she brushes them back impatiently before she goes over to him, touches his arm lightly. She’s learned from her mistakes, and she’s not leaving him alone again, not now, not after what it’s taken to bring them back together again. He turns his head to her, meets her eyes for a moment, then looks away again, his head dropping, letting out a deep sigh. Biting her lip, Sara’s right arm lingers on his elbow, while her left slides up his back, over his shoulder. She wasn’t wrong about the tension in his body; if it looked bad from across the pier, it’s worse now that she can touch him, and she knows that no words can reach him, not now. Instead, she allows her head to fall forward, rests her cheek on his shoulder, looks out over the water with him.
They stay like that for a long time before he speaks. “How did you know I’d be here?”
She shrugs with the arm that’s not wrapped around him. “Some things never change,” she tells him, deliberately keeping her voice light, because after all, how many times had they wandered down this very boardwalk, or one like it, hand in hand, discussing something deep and meaningful, or light and innocent?
“You’re trying to tell me I’m predictable?” The fact that he can still tease her, even on one of the worst days of his life, means more to Sara than he’ll ever know, and she smiles to herself, pressing her cheek closer to the fabric of his jacket, taking a discreet deep breath. That done, she stands up straight, moves around so that she’s standing beside him, and he takes her hint, stepping back slightly so that she can fit in between him and the railing. His arms go around her waist, his chin rests on her shoulder, so that they’re standing cheek to cheek, able to share the view, and she drinks it in with greedy eyes.
“I missed this in Vegas.”
She means the view, but he chuckles, tightens his grip on her waist. “Me too,” he says, with unmistakable inflection, and she wants to tell him that she didn’t mean it like that before it dawns on her that she did.
“I stopped by the squad room,” she says instead. “Everyone there is behind you, you know.”
“Yeah.” The word is tinged with bitterness. “I almost think they like me.”
She brings her hands up to close on top of his. “They do. And they believe in you. So do I.”
“I know.” Sara knew that already, just like she also knows that that doesn’t matter to him right now, at least not as much as it should. What matters to him is the twelve men and women who didn’t believe him, the twelve men and women who believed the lies that Pat Fraker and James Sinclair spun them, who believed that Fraker was telling the truth. “You know this isn’t over, right?”
The words make no sense, and she moves so that she can see him. “I don’t understand.”
“Fraker’s had his day in court… and he got away with it. He’s not gonna stop there… he’ll sue the department… Rita… me… anyone he can get away with. And with today’s verdict under his belt…” His voice trails off, and Sara can only shake her head in disbelief.
“He wouldn’t.” But the words don’t ring true, because she’s heard all about Fraker from Tony, from the other detectives, and even though she shouldn’t, she’s devoured every news article about the trial she could get her hands on, has muttered Sipowicz-like imprecations under her breath about the direction the coverage was taking. She wouldn’t put anything past Fraker, or that lawyer of his, and now she understands just why Tony’s so worried. It’s not only his reputation that he’s worried about, but their life.
“He would,” Tony says flatly. He’s looking into her eyes when he speaks, then his gaze drops to their joined hands, and he moves them so that hers is on top, her ring finger sparkling gold and diamond through the evening shadows. “Maybe you’d’ve been better off staying in Vegas…”
“No.” Her reply is instant, decisive, surprising even to her in its tone. “No,” she says again, more quietly. “What happened… it shouldn’t have. And what happened today was wrong too… but it brought me back here.” She turns so that she’s facing him, her back against the railings, her right hand moving up to cup his cheek. “To you… and I’m not going anywhere.”
He tilts his head, leaning into her touch, letting his eyes flutter closed. A long breath escapes him, and just like that, she can feel most of the tension that’s been there all day leaving him. When his eyes open again, they’re bright with a mixture of tears and emotion. “I don’t know how I’d have got through this without you,” he tells her, and that’s all she needs to hear to have her pulling him into a hug. “God, I love you,” he mutters into her hair, and she straightens then, looking him in the eye.
“I love you too,” she tells him before winding her arms around his neck, pressing her lips to his. He holds onto her like he’s drowning, and she holds onto him the same way, and she loses all sense of time and place and self and just concentrates on him.
When they come back to reality, draw apart, she’s none-too-steady on her feet, and she’s gratified to see that Tony appears similarly affected. “Let’s go home,” she suggests, and she’s taken aback when he shakes his head.
“Let’s stick around for a little while… watch the world go by.”
She finds herself nodding, turning towards the water, resting her hands on the railing. She feels the warm weight of him at her back, grins as his hands cover hers, the grin changing to a contented smile as she closes her eyes, listens to the beat of his heart and the water moving before them.
There is nowhere she’d rather be.
Chapter 6: full circle
Growing up in California, Sara was always used to perpetual sunshine. Blue skies and warm weather were the norm for her, not the exception, and if she’d harboured any doubt that that was the kind of weather she preferred, the year she’d spent in Boston had removed them. Snow had been a novelty at first, as had ice and frost, but by the end of that cold winter, she’d taken to humming “California Dreaming” under her breath, had literally dreamed of the roar of the Pacific against the rocks of Tomales Bay, waking up with the smell of salt in her nostrils.
If you’d asked her, during her sophomore year when she’d transferred to Berkeley, if she’d ever move back to the East Coast, she would have said that there was more chance of her winning the lottery.
But then she’d met Tony.
She’d met Tony, and she hadn’t hesitated in packing up her life, moving clear across the country to be with him, and she’d never regretted that choice. Not even in those terrible months when their lives fell apart around them, when she’d run away to Las Vegas, spending nearly six months working with Gil Grissom’s team, had she regretted what she and Tony had.
But she’s home now, back where she belongs, and as she shifts in Tony’s arms, feeling them tighten momentarily around her, she reflects that this was one advantage that San Francisco and Las Vegas never had. Not the man, not exactly; after all, she knows Tony would have relocated with her if she’d asked him to. However, neither in Las Vegas, nor in San Francisco would they be doing this; sitting on the couch, wrapped in one another’s arms, in front of a roaring fire.
The fireplace had been, way back when, one of the reasons they’d bought this place, even though it had been in need of a little renovation, even if it was a little bigger than they’d originally planned. One look had been all it had taken to convince Sara that this was where she wanted to live; for the first time in her life, she’d walked into an empty room and had seen it decorated in a perfect mixture of her taste and Tony’s, her mind’s eye supplying the flames in the fireplace, the streets lights from outside reflecting in the large bay window opposite, and she’d seen herself and Tony, and who knows, maybe a kid or two, being happy there.
They had been happy, and they’re happy again now, together. The cold November night is securely kept outside, and, unlike so many nights in the previous few weeks, she knows that there will be no phone calls, no Time Bar killing. That case is closed now, safely put to bed, and when Tony walked in the door tonight, he looked as if ten tonnes of weight had been lifted from his shoulders. They’d had a quiet dinner – Chinese takeout that he’d picked up on the way – and a bottle of wine, and now her head is pillowed on his chest, one of his hands running through her hair.
“Andy and Connie came to see me today.” His quiet voice breaks the silence, breaks her reverie, and she shifts slightly so that she can look up at him.
“Oh?” she says, because it’s not exactly unheard of for two of his detectives to call into his office. However, considering it’s these two detectives, considering their aborted wedding plans in the summer, considering the semi-amused, semi-wistful tone of his voice, she’s listening very carefully.
“The wedding’s back on,” he says, which doesn’t surprise her, and, “Tonight,” which does. “Right about now,” he says, eyes darting to the clock above the mantelpiece which reads half past eight.
“And you know nothing about it,” Sara surmises, a statement that has his teeth flashing white between his lips, brown eyes dancing with amusement.
“Naturally,” he agrees. “But that’s not all they had to tell me.” Sara looks up at him again, tilts her head in silent question, and one hand tangles in the ends of her hair, the other resting on the small of her back as he tells her, “Connie’s pregnant.”
It’s the last thing she was expecting to hear. “Wow,” is her first spoken reaction, part surprise, part genuine happiness for the couple. But at the same time, she can’t help thinking back to another night spent here, in front of this fire, on this couch, when Tony had held her close and kissed her, his smile threatening to split his face wide open. She can see him coming home the next night, finding her already there, in his hands the tiniest baseball mitt she’d ever seen. More painfully, she remembers going to that couch when he took her home from the hospital, remembers the tears she cried into the cushions, the ache in her body nothing compared to the ache in her heart.
She shakes herself, trying to banish the memories, because she wants to be happy, genuinely happy, for Andy and Connie. “That’s great,” she says, trying to sound like she’s putting her whole heart into it, but she knows it falls a little short. She looks down, momentarily ashamed, but he doesn’t act surprised, or upset, just keeps his hands moving over her hair, her back.
“Yeah,” he says, sounding nothing so much as wistful. “It’s great.”
“How’s Andy taking it?”
She’s talking without any real idea of what she’s saying, needing to hear Tony’s voice, needs to feel it surrounding her, like his arms surround her. “I’ve never seen him happier… he even smiled.” She chuckles and so does he before he pulls her tighter against him, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “You ever think…”
His voice trails off, but she knows what he’s thinking, feels the knowledge burn her throat, make her eyes water. “Yeah,” she whispers. “Yeah, I do.”
It’s the first time they’ve ever come close to talking about it, certainly since she came back, and she feels him sigh. “Me too,” he murmurs. A pause, then, “I think about a little girl…looking exactly like you…”
She’s about to say that she wouldn’t wish that on any child, but stops when something else occurs to her. “I thought you wanted a boy,” she queries, lifting her head. “You brought home that baseball mitt…”
One shoulder rises and falls in a shrug. “What, you think girls can’t play baseball? What are you, stuck in the Dark Ages?” He’s teasing her, employing one of her more oft-used rants – usually directed at Andy Sipowicz – against her, and she swats his chest gently. “I wanted our baby, Sara… boy, girl…I didn’t care.”
Her throat seizes, and she buries her head in his chest, wanting to say a hundred different things, unable to come up with the right words. He doesn’t say anything, just strokes her hair, waits for her to be ready to look up again, to admit, “I was so scared.” She sucks in a deep breath, lets it out slowly. “You know what my childhood was like… I never had what you had… I didn’t know if I could be a good mother… and I didn’t know… I didn’t know how much I wanted our baby… not until it was too late.”
When she finishes, tears are sliding down her cheeks, and he reaches up, wipes them gently away before kissing her. “You’re going to be a phenomenal mother Sara,” he tells her, and, lying here with him, looking at her with more love than she’s ever seen shining from his eyes, she can almost believe him.
“Promise?” she asks, and he nods.
“I promise,” he tells her, drawing her close, pressing his lips against hers as the fire rises up between them, wrapping itself around them, shutting out all her fears, her doubts, her insecurities.
They stay there until that fire, as well as the one in the fireplace, burns itself out. Only then do they sleep.
Almost a month later, Sara thinks back to that night as she stares at the thin pink line in front of her, unsure whether to laugh or cry. Not that the result is a complete surprise to her; after all, she’d felt like this before. Never regular, the missed period hadn’t been a clue, but the queasiness every morning this week, this morning’s complete inability to stomach the smell of coffee were well remembered from a couple of years ago, had been enough to have her detouring into a drugstore on her way home from work.
The queasiness in her stomach at the moment doesn’t have anything to do with morning sickness though. Instead, it has everything to do with the memory of how she had indeed felt like that before, had found herself sitting in this very bathroom, staring at an identical pink line. More specifically, it’s because she remembers how that particular pregnancy – a complete surprise, and, at the time, not an entirely welcome one as far as she was concerned – ended. She can still see the worry on Stella’s face as she drove her to the hospital, hear the catch in Tony’s voice as he’d tried to be strong for her. Most of all though, she can still feel the pain, physical and mental, combined with the nagging guilt that maybe, just maybe, this was all her fault. That, somehow, her emotions, her fears, had caused the miscarriage, that somehow the child had known it wasn’t wanted.
She knows better now, knows too that the baby had been wanted, even if her fears had blinded her to that fact. Just as she knows that this baby, while just as unplanned – they hadn’t been trying to conceive, yet hadn’t been doing anything to prevent it – is just as wanted.
Now, she’s just afraid of history repeating itself, because she couldn’t go through that again.
A knock at the bathroom door makes her jump, because she hadn’t heard the front door open, hadn’t heard him come up the stairs, hadn’t realised how long she’s been sitting here, staring at that thin pink line. “Sara? You in there?”
She doesn’t answer, not sure she can speak. Instead, she stands on knees that are somewhat less than steady, opens the door and feels momentarily guilty when she sees his face drop as he looks at her.
“What is it?” he demands, gripping her by the shoulders, looking her up and down, as if expecting to see some kind of physical injury.
“I’m fine Tony,” she tells him, right hand smoothing down the lapel of his jacket, left hand rising, shaking, to point to the washbasin. She sees his eyes shift slowly from her face, sees him frown as he sees the box, eyes flying back to her face as he registers what’s written on the side of it.
“Sara?” He asks, voice sounding half-fearful, half-hopeful, and she nods slowly, tears unaccountably springing to her eyes.
“I’m pregnant,” she whispers, waiting for his reaction.
It’s not long in coming, because the next thing she knows, he’s pulling her close to him, lifting her clear off her feet, and her face is buried in his neck before she registers the beaming smile on his face.
In that moment, she smiles too, because it’s easy to believe that everything’s going to be all right.