blue flamingos

Worth Staying For

Fandom: CSI/CSI:New York

Category/Rated: Slash, PG-13

Year/Length: 2006/ ~7395 words

Pairing: Mild Sara/Aiden

Spoilers:

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Warning:

Summary: It's like punishment and redemption, all rolled into one.

Series:

Author's Notes: Prompt: Mac was able to get Aiden a job at a different lab (he had to pull quite a few strings to do this, and had to change the terms of Aiden's leaving from being fired to her having quit in order to do this) and she ended up in Las Vegas. Write about her coming into the labs there. Who did she dislike immediately, who was an instant favorite, who did she have to be around a little while before she could get used to them. What did it take for her to become a more or less accepted member of the team? You can use as many or as few LV characters as you want to (though use of Greg and Catherine is mandatory), and please include at least one conversation in which Aiden tells one of her new co-workers about the case that got her fired from the NY labs.

Beta:

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.

hr

The first thing Aiden thinks when she walks into the lab is that it's much more like their old lab than their new one, all glass walls and corridors that go in circles. The old lab, she corrects herself sharply, the old lab and the new lab because this is *her* new lab, bang in the middle of Las Vegas and she never expected to think of New York as quiet but after a week in Vegas she does. It was calmer, anyway, less neon, fewer tourists, and it felt more like a place people lived than a place they went to get away from their lives. It felt like a real city, not just some collection of casinos dropped in the middle of the desert, and the pang of longing is so familiar that she barely even notices the hurt now.

She's lucky to be here; she keeps telling herself this, lucky she didn't have to go back to being a waitress or some dead end office job, because no police department in New York would've taken her after what happened. Plus, this is one of the top labs in the country, a promotion, which is more than she deserves after Mac fired her.

"Can I help you?" Aiden shakes herself out of her thoughts at the receptionist's voice.

"Yeah, I'm Aiden Burn, I'm looking for Gil Grissom." Gil Grissom, the guy every CSI wants to be like, work for, hear speak, and she's got a place on his team. She's not sure if this'll be a good thing or not – she was at a lecture he gave once and he's obviously smart but... Mac's hardly been chatty since Claire died, but even then he still seems human.

The receptionist looks at her assessing her for a moment then nods. "He said to send you down to the break-room, he's just started his briefing." She gives Aiden directions and a not-entirely-welcoming smile and turns to answer the phone.

It'll be fine, Aiden tells herself. This is what I wanted. She smoothes her jacket one more time and opens the door.

Grissom beckons her in without breaking off his sentence, addressed to a guy with what Aiden charitably calls experimental hair, who nods along silently, his expression vaguely mutinous, and just says yes when Grissom finishes.

"This is Aiden Burn, CSI 3. She's joining us from the New York lab, initially temporarily until Nick gets back." Aiden glances round the table, a ring of neutral faces, and it's nothing like the welcome she got in New York, with Stella's warm friendliness and Danny and Flack's teasing. That aside, the group's make-up is not unlike theirs: if Grissom is Mac, the blond woman at his side could be Stella, his right hand; the two younger guys, they'd be Danny and...Hawkes, she guesses, and the other woman, young, dark hair, almost hostile expression, that'd be her, in another life. "Warrick, Greg, take her out with you to your suspicious circs. Catherine –." He stops, looking almost flustered, and the blond – Catherine – jumps in.

"Come on, let's find you some kit, and pick up your ID. Guys, we'll meet you in reception." A quick hand on Aiden's elbow and they're back in the corridors, Catherine leading. "Grissom said you'd be coming, so you stuff should all be ready. When did you get in?"

"Last week." Aiden catches a glimpse of familiar lab equipment, a couple of light boxes with photos stuck up as they turn down another corridor. She was just beginning to feel comfortable in the new lab and now she wonders if she'll ever find her way round here.

"You like Vegas?" Catherine holds the door for her and they step into the locker room.

"It's, er..." Aiden struggles for something tactful but truthful to say when the truth is that she hates the place. "Pretty different from New York."

"Yeah?" Catherine unlocks a cupboard and starts pulling things out – cap, crime scene kit, torch – "I've never been to New York" – bulletproof vest. She waves a book under Aiden's nose for her to sign then shoves the whole lot at her. No gun, but Aiden got her own back from Mac when he set this up. "Cap's optional," Catherine says, grinning.

"And the vest?" She can't remember the last time she wore a vest once she got out of uniform, and she's sure she never did once she joined CSI.

Catherine's face goes tight, "Not optional," she says, her voice just like her face.

Aiden pulls it on, doesn't ask. It's obviously a touchy subject and she's got to work with these people. She doesn't need to upset them on her first day – night.

"Come on." Catherine nods approvingly and leads her back out into the corridors, this time pointing out different labs as she goes. Aiden's barely listening, concentrating on the feel of the crime scene kit in her hand. The same silver case she carried back home, but this one feels heavier. She tells herself they're just more prepared over here, but the other CSI supervisors used to joke that Mac's team were equipped to collect evidence on an alien landing if they needed to, and she knows it's her imagination, the renewed responsibility weighing on her. What if the same thing happens again – not if, when – what if the temptation is just as strong? She told Mac it would never happen again, that she'd learned her lesson but the truth is she thinks maybe she just learned to be more careful.

This is what you wanted, she tells herself.

"Hey Kate, you got Aiden Burns' ID?"

The receptionist hands over a manila envelope: ID card, locker key, new cell phone. No badge. She's a civilian here, even as a CSI. That's another thing she had to give up for this job: Police Academy, years on the street, detective's exam, it's all washed away now, leaving nothing behind but the scientist.

She clips on her ID card and tries to ignore the feeling of being incomplete. This is who she is now.

"You ready?" The other guy, the one Grissom wasn't lecturing, gestures towards the door and Aiden follows him out into the searing heat of the Vegas evening.

hr

They ride out to the crime scene in mostly silence. Greg, the one with the experimental hair, introduces himself and Warrick and makes a few attempts at conversation, but Warrick's silence in the driver's seat seems to absorb all the energy in the air and Greg quickly gives up.

It gets better when they reach the crime scene, a big house with a garden that seems far too lush for the middle of the desert. Warrick quickly claims the gardens and sends her with Greg to process the room in which their body was found. Aiden can't remember the last time she processed a house not an apartment, and certainly not one this nice. Whoever the dead guy is, he's obviously got money.

Money and a small calibre weapon, dropped on the desk he's sprawled over. Looks like suicide, but Grissom said suspicious circs, so presumably someone knows more than they're letting on.

She snaps her gloves on, the latex seeming to melt into her hands with the heat.

"You want photos or prints?" Greg asks, then hefts the camera he's holding.

"Fingerprints," Aiden says, taking the hint.

They work quietly for a while, no noise but the uniforms moving around outside. Aiden pulls several sets of prints and bags the gun once Greg's done photographing it.

He wanders over as she's labelling it, clicking back through the photos he's taken. "New York, huh?" he asks.

"Yeah." She initials the evidence seal neatly and doesn't think about the last one of these she did.

"I studied there," Greg offers. "NYU. Did my first year after graduation in their lab."

The Vegas team are even more like New York than she first noticed, she realises, thinking of Hawkes. They never got a chance to work together after he moved into the lab.

"It's a great city." Greg clicks through the last of the pictures and glances sideways at her. "Don't mind Warrick," he says, his voice low so Aiden's forced to lean in slightly. "He's just... he'll get used to you being here."

"Sure." She picks up the fingerprint brush again and doesn't tell him that she's far more worried about whether she'll get used to herself being here.

hr

She's surprised by how fast she falls back into the pattern of work, skills she'd already half forgotten coming rushing back, though the night shifts are taking some getting used to. The second night, she buys thick lined curtains for her bedroom, but her body clock still protests.

She and Greg close out their suspicious circs as suicide after all, then a car accident and a house fire with Catherine, while Warrick and Sara pair up on a drowning that Aiden's glad to have nothing to do with.

She's been there nearly two weeks when Greg invites her out to breakfast with some of the lab techs as they're waiting for Grissom to hand out assignments. She actually kind of surprises herself when she says yes, but she's sick of staring at the news till she can sleep, desperate for a shot of home, a glimpse of her old friends.

Their case drags on well past the day shift rolling in, pinning them to the lab with a mound of evidence to work through. She barely registers Archie and Wendy stopping by on their way out, offering to wait for them, or Greg telling them not to bother.

"So." Greg's voice comes up from behind her as she's shoving her sunglasses on against the painfully bright sun. "We still on or are you ditching me too?"

Her head's killing her and she just wants to sleep. "Sure. But you're buying."

Greg gives her a long-suffering look then nudges her forward. "Place on the corner. It's the only one with decent coffee round here."

They settle into a booth, order, and Aiden swallows a couple of Tylenol with her first sip of coffee. It is pretty good. Greg raises his eyebrows knowingly and she smiles back. "How long you been in Vegas?" she asks.

"Eight years."

She still can't really imagine staying here eight weeks, never mind eight years. "All at CSI?"

"Most of them. In the lab, then out in the field." He grins proudly and sips at his coffee. "What made you leave New York?"

"I've been doing some facial reconstruction work there, but I wanted to develop it more," she lies smoothly, hoping she doesn't sound too rehearsed. "My old boss set this up, said he'd heard you were down a CSI and that Grissom's trying to build up that side of the lab." She has no idea how Mac knows Grissom – she can't imagine them striking up a conversation at a conference – but apparently he does. Either that, or he did some major string pulling.

Something flickers across Greg's face. "So, you like us so far?"

Aiden concentrates on the pancakes that have just arrived. "I guess it takes a while to settle into a new place," she says finally, but Greg's an investigator like her and he smiles, acknowledging her half-lie.

"They'll... you know, they've been together a long time, they took a bit of getting used to me as well." Greg's tone is sympathetic and she knows that's partly true. She watches him for a moment, trying to assess him like she would a witness or a suspect. Can she trust him? Will he tell her the truth? Will he understand what she's saying?

"You, er... I get the impression Warrick doesn't, you know, doesn't really like me," she says hesitantly. Sara either, but she's only really seen Sara in passing in the hallways and it's hard to tell.

"No." Greg sounds uncomfortable but he puts his coffee mug down and leans forwards. She leans in automatically, waiting for whatever confidence he's about to share. "The guy you're filling in for, Nick?" She nods. "He was kidnapped, buried alive. We only just found him in time."

As soon as he says it, she remembers the buzz round the lab when the news filtered through to them, remembers shivering in revulsion at just the thought of it. Of course it was the Vegas lab, and she can't believe she forgot.

"I'm so... I'm sorry." She stumbles on the words but Greg brushes them away.

"He and Warrick were tight, and Nick's still in hospital. I guess it looks like Gris is trying to replace him." To Greg as well, she realises suddenly, because they don't know she'd give anything to leave here and Nick's return will be the perfect excuse.

No wonder they haven't exactly welcomed her with open arms.

hr

She rings Danny a couple of days later, after a particularly bad day, needing to hear a friendly voice, even if it is just his rather abrupt voicemail machine. It's a message she's getting very familiar with, between his day shifts and her night shifts and the time difference between Vegas and New York. To her surprise, he picks up.

"So?" she asks when they've dispensed with the pleasantries. "Do you miss me?"

"Hell yes," he says with surprising vehemence since she was mostly joking. The fact that Danny Messer, whose girlfriends occasionally ring the lab to check he hasn't died because he's so bad at returning phone calls has left five messages on her voicemail tells her that. "You need to come back and help me hide the body."

"The body?" She tells herself she's being ridiculous but Danny was on a short fuse before she left and she can't imagine this will have done anything to lengthen it.

"Lindsay Monroe. Montana," he spits. A pause, then, "your replacement."

"Oh," Aiden says. It's not that she didn't know that Mac would find someone to take her place – Hawkes makes up the numbers but he's still being trained – it's just a shock to hear that Mac actually did it. Gratifying to know that Danny seems to hate her on sight though. "What's she like?"

"Fucking – goody two shoes. Solved some big case in Montana, I dunno and now she thinks she knows it all." Danny sounds more than annoyed with Mac's hiring choices, his voice low and bitter and angry. For the first time since she left her badge on Mac's desk, she's actually glad not to be in the lab, not to have to watch the inevitable fall-out of this in Danny and Mac's relationship. Bad enough last spring without going through it again and trying to keep Danny from doing something even more stupid, for all the good that ever did.

"Aiden?" Danny says and she realizes she's just completely missed whatever he said.

"Sorry, tuned you out while you were ranting," she tells him and gets a huff of laughter that makes her grin.

"Forget about her. She'll run off back to her corn fields eventually." She pictures him making a dismissive gesture. "What's the number two lab in America like?"

She intends to tell him the good stuff, build up to the bad bits gradually, but what comes out is, "Sara hates me."

"You want me to have her got rid of?" Danny asks immediately, faking a god-awful Mafia accent, and she feels like crying. Most of the time she could kill him and Flack for their protective tendencies, but right now it just feels like home. She'll probably never see either of them again.

"She hates me," she repeats, horrified to hear tears in her voice. "She thinks I'm trying to take her place."

"Aiden..." Danny sighs. He sounds like he's in pain, like he doesn't know what to say. He sounds completely unlike himself.

Aiden takes a deep breath and wipes her eyes. "I'm fine," she says, though she knows Danny won't buy it.

"Of course. They don't deserve you."

"All right Messer, what are they putting in your coffee these days?"

"You saying I'm wrong?"

"Please. No one deserves me. I just didn't realize I'd have to move to the other side of the country for you to admit it."

"Whatever you say, Burn."

"Hey, Danny?" She takes another deep breath. "I miss you guys."

"You too, Aiden."

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"I'll go look round." Sara picks up her kit. "You go talk to the husband with Catherine."

Aiden thinks of objecting, but there's no real point and it'll just make her look petty. She turns and finds Catherine smiling at her, like they're her squabbling daughters. She expects a reprimand like she used to get when she fought with her little sister – Catherine's got a teenage daughter after all – but instead Catherine just grins at her and gestures for her to lead the way.

The dead woman's husband is sitting at the kitchen table under the watchful eye of a uniform, staring into a cup of coffee. He's still wearing his suit.

"Mr Andrews?" Catherine asks gently. She introduces them both to the top of the guy's head – must be forty, max, and he's already balding – and takes a few details. He's a real estate agent, married two years, second marriage, no kids.

"What time did you get home from work?" Catherine asks and they're off into the story. He was working late, he rang his wife to tell her, no answer, but, no, he wasn't worried, she sometimes sees friends in the evening. He came home and just found her on the bedroom floor, dead – strangled, Aiden fills in, if the bruises round her throat are any indication.

Catherine starts asking him about possible enemies – there's no sign of a break-in – friends who could have called round, service men they'd had in lately. Aiden takes it all in, but she's not really listening. She'd love to know what made Grissom assign them the way he did; she's used to switching around partners in New York, that's not the problem. She just doesn't get why on earth he'd put her with Sara, who obviously can't stand her. Even Warrick would have been better, at least he just ignores her, mostly.

Battle of the Sexes, Greg had crowed when Grissom assigned them, until Grissom glared him into flushing and apologising.

She can't wait for them to wrap this case but from what Mr Andrews is saying, that's not going to happen too fast. Everyone loved his wife, no-one would want to hurt her, or him... she'd like to point out that someone must not have loved Mrs Andrews that much or she wouldn't be in a body bag, but she bites down on the cruel impulse.

"Mr Andrews, we're going to take a look around, if that's all right with you," Catherine says. He nods, still staring down into the coffee mug. He hasn't looked up the whole time they've been talking to him.

It's a nice house, Aiden thinks, wandering through it with Catherine. There are lots of pictures of the couple, including a big shot of them on their wedding day, cutting the cake. A couple of shelves of books: real estate law, detective novels, cooking books. More pictures in the upstairs hall: Mr Andrews with a large fish, the couple in front of their house, Mrs Andrews holding the keys. Mr Andrews and a group of men, all in baseball shirts with his firm's name on them...

"Hey Catherine? What did Mrs Andrews do for a living?"

"Stay at home, I think." Catherine flips back through her notes and nods. "Why?"

"I dunno. It's just... there's no pictures of her with anyone but her husband."

"Some women are pretty camera shy," Catherine offers, but she looks back over the photos again.

"I know." She can't put her finger on what's bugging her. "But he said she was out with friends and there's plenty of pictures of his but..."

"None of hers," Catherine finishes.

"Did he say who she might have been out with?"

Catherine scans through her notes again and shakes her head. "Says he doesn't know any of them."

"After they were married for two years? That's kind of weird."

"Maybe. Why don't you find her bag, see if there's any receipts?"

The latest receipt in Mrs Andrews' purse is from three days ago, for toothpaste and hand cream. Her husband shrugs, says maybe she was just in the bath. Aiden takes her bag anyway, ignoring Sara's glare. Maybe it's nothing, maybe he really *doesn't* know his wife very well, but she can't shake the feeling there's something else there.

They plough slowly through all their evidence and find nothing to suggest anyone else was in the house with Mrs Andrews, aside from the finger shaped bruises on her neck, with nothing to show for their efforts when they finish the shift.

Aiden tosses and turns and finally gives up on sleep after two hours. She sits on her tiny balcony instead, staring at the house opposite but barely seeing it. If she was still in New York – well, she'd be at work, for one thing, but even if she wasn't, she'd have friends to see, plans for her time. Stella was talking about some guy she met who was exhibiting at a gallery, about getting tickets for when they both had the day off.

She sighs and goes inside, feeling at a loss. She's tired but she knows she won't sleep. She picks up her phone but she doesn't have anyone to call: everyone's either sleeping or working.

She stares down at her unmade bed and abruptly catches a glimpse of her reflection in the full-length mirror. She looks the way her sister did, back when she was spending every evening in detention, and it's pathetic for someone her age.

Aiden shakes her head at herself, hops in the shower and heads out into the sun. There must be something to do in Vegas.

hr

Catherine's waiting for her when she arrives at the lab, even though she's early, waving a DNA report. "Skin tag under her finger nail. Guess who?"

Aiden can't help smiling. She knew it. "Mr Andrews?"

"Mr Andrews." Catherine taps her on her on arm with the file. "I want you and Sara to look into his background a bit. Check with his work if he was there yesterday."

"Sure," Aiden says, and goes to toss her bag in her locker.

"Hey." Sara's already there, twisting her hair up into a ponytail. "You seen Catherine?" Aiden nods. "We ought to head over to his office, check out what they have to say."

"Sure."

"I'll wait out front."

The door slams closed behind Sara and Greg leans round the bank of lockers to grin at her. "Looking forward to the shift?"

"Can't wait. You wanna switch?"

"No, thanks."

Sara drives in silence while Aiden flicks through the case notes again. It seems almost too easy: wife never goes out, husband kills her, goes back to work, comes home and finds her... She remembers him staring down into his coffee; she'd thought grief but maybe it was guilt.

"I wonder what happened to his first wife," she says as Sara pulls into the parking lot.

"Ask Catherine when we get back to the lab," Sara says over her shoulder.

hr

Mr Andrews' secretary explains that he often doesn't tell her where he's going on evening viewings, though he's supposed to, which is possibly helpful and possibly not. A search back at the lab reveals that he divorced his first wife and kept the house when she moved out of state.

They reconvene in the break-room midway through the shift to look through what they've got.

Which is, basically, not a lot.

"So he could have been showing someone round the house," Catherine says.

"Yeah, or over at his own house, murdering his wife." Sara sighs. "Who was meant to be looking at the house?"

Catherine shakes her head. "Says here they never showed."

"Maybe they rang him to cancel?" Aiden suggests. "We could check his cell phone."

And for a while they're moving forward again, Sara digging out the cell records and pouring through them next to Aiden. The man gets a lot of phone calls, during the day at least, but they gradually account for each one.

"Nobody rang to cancel a viewing, and the secretary doesn't have one booked in," Sara tells Catherine. "Which means -."

"Which means he could've been at the house waiting for a visit he didn't tell the secretary about to show up," Catherine finishes. She frowns, looking down at the file spread out before her. Aiden follows her gaze to the crime scene photos, to Mrs Andrews lying dead in her bedroom. "Let's get him in for questioning," Catherine says finally. "Se what he has to say about his evening."

hr

Mr Andrews gets nervous when they knock at his door, worrying over whether to call his lawyer until Catherine and Brass suggest they just talk at the house, no need to get formal. Catherine catches Sara's eye then Aiden's and nods for them to go look round the house.

Aiden doesn't know what they're looking for – they've already been through the house once, that first night – but that doesn't stop her finding it. A door they didn't notice then, half-covered with a large print of Mount Everest. "Sara."

Sara takes in the door and the poster and nods. "Is it locked?"

Aiden turns the handle. It's not.

Behind it is a wooden staircase, leading down. There's no light switch, so they descend into the cold basement under the bouncing light of their flashlights. It's mostly empty: some old furniture pushed into one corner, a half-rolled rug in another and a second rug on the floor.

"Who puts a rug down in their basement?" Sara asks, and lifts one corner.

Hidden by the rug is a patch of mismatched concrete, just the right size for a body. "What the hell?" Sara says.

hr

The body, laid out on the autopsy table, is recognisably female, but that's about all they can say for it. She's more bone than skin now. "The ex-wife?" Catherine suggests.

Aiden shakes her head. "I tried her number while they were getting the body up. She's in Ohio, secretary to a legal firm." To Aiden's amazement. She'd been so sure the body had to be hers. Why else would Mr Andrews have a body in his basement? Discounting, obviously, his tearful pleas that he never knew it was there, he'd never hurt anyone, least of all his wife.

"So if she's not his ex-wife, and we know she's not his new wife, who is she?" Catherine addresses this to Dr Robbins, who raises his eyebrows at her.

"I'd say that's really your job. I'd suggest calling in someone who specialises in facial reconstruction."

Catherine turns to Aiden before Aiden even has chance to speak. "We've got our own, right here."

hr

The clay feels good beneath her fingers, cool and familiar, safe like nothing else she's done since she got to Vegas. This is what she's supposed to have come here for and, focussed on the skull under her hands, on building the muscle structure exactly right, she can actually believe it's true.

Catherine watches her for a while when she starts but seems to get bored or distracted and drifts away. Greg stops by, exclaiming over the detail until Aiden sends him packing. She likes the guy, it's just that she can't concentrate. Grissom passes through, stands quietly watching her and finally nods and leaves. Aiden glances up to watch him go, wondering whether the silence indicates approval or not, then decides she doesn't care. She's better at this than anyone else in his lab; turns out a degree in art is useful for police work after all.

It's not until she's scanning the face onto the big screen, ready to add hair and eye colour, that Sara turns up. Aiden can't stop herself tensing – even after two days working together, rather than just near each other, she's still waiting for Sara to give her the brush off with some dismissive comment.

Instead, she stands just behind Aiden's right shoulder, watching the picture – the person – take shape on the screen. Aiden catches her reflection once, her face drawn with concentration, and wonders if Sara even sees her anymore.

She cuts the hair off at shoulder length and Sara's hand flashes out to catch her arm. "Can you make it longer?" she asks. "And straighter?"

Aiden complies. She recognises that voice, the way Danny sounds when he's one step from losing it, or Mac when the victim looks too much like his wife. "Like that?" she asks and then she sees what Sara sees. "I just spoke to his ex-wife," she says. There's no way someone else was pretending.

"It's his daughter," Sara says, her voice completely flat.

hr

Mr Andrews confesses as soon as they put the picture in front of him. His daughter with his first wife ran away, two years before they divorced. She and her mother didn't get on, fought a lot, they'd get letters sometimes, no return address, but they thought she was OK. She was an adult, after all.

She turned up at the house, six months ago, he never told his new wife about her; he didn't mean to kill her, just to make her go away. And then his wife went down to the basement, he always told her not to go down there, rang him at work, crying, frightened, and he rushed home to comfort her and the next thing he knew, she was still under his hands.

"Temporary insanity." Sara's tone is loaded with disgust.

In the interview room with Catherine and Brass, Mr Andrews starts to cry. Aiden turns away. She doesn't feel sorry for him but she suspects the jury will. The whole thing makes her feel sick.

"Hey." Sara touches her arm lightly. "The reconstruction – that was amazing."

Aiden feels cold air over the place Sara just touched, and she can't help smiling when she says thanks.

hr

Two days later, Sara invites her to a seminar on a new technique for DNA profiling at the university. Aiden suggests grabbing dinner after, before their shift starts, but the seminar runs over and they end up dashing across town to be in on time. Warrick glares at both of them when they slip into the breakroom right before Grissom, but Sara just catches Aiden's eye and grins.

They end up having dinner together at the end of a double a few days later instead, too tired for any meaningful conversation, but it's nice.

A week after that, the phone rings as she's on her way out. She contemplates not answering, but it might be work and anyway, she's still a few minutes early.

"Hello?"

"Aiden, hey, it's Danny." She works the time difference in her head and figures he must have the day off. Either that or Mac's sent him home, but he doesn't sound either tired or pissed off.

"Hey Danny, how's it going?"

"Good. You?"

"Good," she says, and it sounds kind of true. At least, she doesn't feel the same tightening inside that she did when he asked last time. "I can't talk now, actually, I'm on my way out."

"You starting early? That's keen," he says, laughing like he never goes to the lab early and stays there late.

"Nah. Dinner plans. What're you doing home anyway?" Just like she knew it wouldn't, the question doesn't distract him.

"Dinner?" he asks and she can hear him grinning. "Like a date? You holding out on me, Burn?"

"Perish the thought. It's just dinner with a friend from work."

"You never took me out to dinner," Danny says. Aiden adds, 'not for lack of trying on your part', silently. "Must be a pretty special 'friend'."

She's almost tempted to ask exactly what's put him in such a good mood – she can barely remember the last time he teased her like this – but she's afraid if she does he might snap out of it. "A friend, Danny, like you. Only less likely to complain about the quality of the pasta."

"A male friend then?" Danny asks.

"A female friend, actually." Aiden glances at her watch and seriously contemplates hanging up on Danny. She's going to be on time at best now.

"Jeez, Aiden, I feel like I should have Flack glaring at you and threatening incarceration. Does she have a name?"

"It's Sara, all right? Sara and I are having dinner, we're going to discuss my case and hers and then we're going to go to work. And if you don't let me get off the phone, we'll be going straight to work with no dinner and you'll cease to be my favourite Italian teacher."

There's a pause while Danny takes all this in and then, predictably, ignores the whole lot. "Sara who hates you?"

"Yes, Sara who hates me," Aiden says. "And who's going to go back to hating me if I'm any later, Danny, I have to go." The defensive edge in her voice tips over into pleading at the end of the sentence and she's not sure which is worse.

"All right, calm down." Danny sounds confused, a little impatient. "You're not..." He trails off, half-questioning, leaving Aiden to fill in the blanks.

"She's just someone I work with," Aiden tells him firmly. "Danny, I have to go now. I'll talk to you soon, OK?"

She hangs up before Danny's finished saying goodbye and blows out of her apartment, juggling keys, jacket and purse, praying for the traffic to go her way.

Sara's already sitting at a table in the corner when Aiden arrives, a little breathless. "Sorry, sorry I'm late." She sinks into the other chair and meets Sara's smile.

"No problem. I thought maybe you'd forgotten?"

"No. Couldn't get off the phone with a friend from New York, that's all."

Something flickers across Sara's face but it's gone before Aiden can figure out what it was. She smiles and lifts her menu. "So what's good here?"

hr

They go out for breakfast a few times at the end of the shift, mostly with the lab techs and Greg, who's taken to grinning knowingly at Aiden every time he thinks Sara isn't looking, and making comments about their relationship warming up. Aiden ignores him and thinks how, if it were Flack or Danny, if she knew him as well as she does them, she could slap him.

She mentions one day that she needs a new bed, and Sara comes with her, bouncing beside her like a little kid as they test different mattresses, and telling the salesman in no uncertain terms that they're perfectly capable of putting it together themselves, though this ends up taking them the entire day and they go into work without any sleep, thankful for a quiet night with their paperwork.

They go to the cinema on their next day off, where Aiden misses most of the film, trying not to reach for the popcorn at the same moment as Sara, and then to a photo exhibition Aiden reads about in the paper the following weekend.

She's been in Vegas for exactly a month when Sara catches her arm as they pass each other in the locker room doorway and leans in close to whisper, "you up for a surprise?" in her ear.

Aiden was planning to go home, try to sleep, resist calling Flack, who she knows has today off, and generally mope around missing New York, but Sara's breath against her ear makes her fingertips tingle and she ends up nodding, enjoying the sense of conspiracy as Sara's gaze flickers round the corridors.

"OK. Meet me at my car."

Sara won't tell her where they're going, just slips on her sunglasses and grins as she pulls out of the parking lot. She turns the radio on low to a classical station and Aiden dozes against the window, lulled by the motion, thinking how different things are from when she started at the lab. How much she thought she'd hate it and how not bad it's turned out to be. About Greg, who's becoming a friend, and about Catherine, who seems to mother everyone except Warrick, who's still as aloof as her first day, and about Grissom, who still seems as remote now as he did when she only knew him through journal articles. About Sara, about telling Danny that she was just a colleague and the way she wants to smile whenever she walks into work and sees Sara's familiar brown hair.

"We're here."

Aiden opens her eyes and they're in the middle of the desert. Sara must have pulled off actual roads without her noticing because there's nothing in any direction but the desert and the sun beating down on them. "Wow," Aiden says. She's been out in the desert a couple of times, but to crime scenes, never to just stands and look around, to appreciate just how empty it is.

"Here." Sara steps up beside her and presses a glass into her hand. When Aiden looks at her, she shrugs, her face flushing pale pink. "I, er... you've been here a month... I thought we should, you know, celebrate."

"Yeah," Aiden says, not sure what else to say. She sips the champagne and smiles at Sara over her glass.

A few minutes later, when Sara backs her gently against the car and kisses her, she tastes bubbles dancing over her tongue.

hr

"Aiden." She backtracks to Grissom's office, from which he's just emerged. "Come in here for a minute. Shut the door."

She complies, telling herself firmly not to panic. There's no way he can know about her and Sara. Just because it's barely been ten days since they kissed and Sara's spent every night – day – at Aiden's place, they've been nothing but professional at work. Apart from that one time in the locker room, but she's sure Grissom had gone by then. Fairly sure.

"Have a seat." Grissom leans back behind his desk and looks at her for a minute then nods. "Nick's coming back next week," he says. "Ecklie's moved some staff around, and there's a place for you on the swing shift if you want it."

"I -," Aiden says and stops, trying to absorb the offer along with the relief that he really *doesn't* know about her and Sara. She remembers thinking that she couldn't imagine staying for eight weeks, back in her first few days when she hated the city and the lab and the other CSIs and just wanted to go home. Now she's been here well over a month, got used to them – most of them. If she transfers to swing, she'll hardly see Sara. If she doesn't, she'll probably have to move again and then she'll never see her. One more person to miss, like she doesn't already have enough. "Can I think about it?" she asks finally.

"Of course. Take a couple of days and let me know." She wonders, not for the first time, what Mac said to get her this job. All she knows is that he changed the status of her leaving New York from being fired to resigning. She kind of thinks Stella might have had something to do with that, but she hasn't spoken to Stella since she left.

She nearly walks into Sara, half her mind still back in the office with Grissom and his offer. Sara steadies her then removes her hand, not touching for any longer than a colleague would. She knows Bobby in Ballistics is gay and no one seems to care; maybe if she and Sara were on different shifts, they wouldn't need to hide like this.

"You OK?" Sara asks, her eyes full of concern.

"Yeah." Aiden shakes herself back into the present. "You want to have breakfast after the shift? I need to talk to you."

"Sure." Sara frowns and her hand twitches as though she's going to reach for Aiden. "Is everything OK?"

"Everything's fine." Aiden tries for a reassuring smile that doesn't feel right. "I just need to tell you something."

hr

They end up in a little diner off the main street, away from anywhere the rest of the lab might go. Sara's twitchy, picking up her tea spoon and putting it down again half a dozen times before folding her hands firmly in front of her, but Aiden feels totally clam. If this ends things with Sara – so stupid to feel this way, this attached, after less than two weeks – then it ends it. Better to know now than later and at least she'll know what to do.

"Grissom's offered me a permanent job when Nick comes back," she says, starting with the good – maybe good – news. "On swing shift."

Sara smiles uncertainly. "Are you going to take it?"

"I don't know yet." Aiden sips her coffee and ignores the muffin in front of her. Now she's doing it, she feels a little sick. "I have to tell you something first."

"OK." Actually, Sara looks kind of sick as well. Aiden reaches forward and covers the tips of Sara's fingers with her own. "I didn't resign from New York. And I didn't come here to work in facial reconstruction. I was fired from my last job." Across the table, Sara goes very still. Aiden looks down at their joined hands and takes a deep breath. "A friend of mine was raped. Twice, by the same guy. I worked the case, I knew who did it, but I didn't have any evidence."

In her head, she's back in the lab, slitting open the evidence seal. Danny asked her why she didn't go through with it and she couldn't explain. She'd looked at the hair in her hand and thought how she'd be getting justice, how she'd never be able to look any of them in the eye again, and felt like crying.

She thinks, now, that it was like a cry for help. When Mac fired her, she thought he'd heard it, but when he found her this job she knew he'd blocked it out, just like he does with Danny. Las Vegas is like punishment and redemption all rolled into one, and she wants to want to stay, but talking about Pratt makes her wish she could go back and finish what she started.

"What happened?" Sara asks finally. Her hands are cold under Aiden's, and Aiden thinks she knows.

"I had one of his hairs, and her underwear. I was going to plant it, to get enough to make the case. I couldn't do it, but Mac found out. That's why he fired me." She stares down at their hands, blinking until her vision goes clear again. He's still out there somewhere, thinking he's won.

Sara doesn't say anything for a very long time. When she does, he voice sounds scratchy. "Did you get him?" she asks. Aiden shakes her head. "Do you think you could?"

Aiden looks up, surprised. Sara's skipped right over the breach of protocol, the way Aiden nearly committed a crime, right onto the part that keeps Aiden awake some nights. Sara meets her eye and smiles, a little reassuringly and a little sadly, like she knows what's coming.

"Yes," Aiden says, and the word feels good coming out. Strong, like saying it makes it true. Sara's smile flickers, then she turns her hand and grips Aiden's, hard.

"Then you should turn this job down," she says quietly.

hr

A week later, Aiden watches the neon of Las Vegas fall away from the window of the plane. In her jacket pocket, she's got an appointment card to go look at an apartment, an application to start working on her PI license, and a key to Sara's place, wrapped in a note that says, 'when you've caught him, come home.'


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