Fede portai al glorioso offizio, tanto ch'io ne perde' li sonni e' polsi. [I did my job so faithfully that I lost my peace and my life] Divina Commedia, Inferno, XIII, 62–63
Sara doesn't get it. And her feet hurt. She slumps on a nearby bench and considers her failings.
I'm in Paris. At the Louvre and every painting, every statue, every goddamn "objet d'art" I've seen has only reminded me of the work I'm supposedly on vacation from...Those fat chicks from Ruebens? All I can think of is gross obesity as a contributing cause of morbidity...Mummies from the Egyptian Collection? And I think about Grissom and that lye desiccated body we worked together...
Unaware she is doing so, a frown creases her brow at the thought of Gil Grissom. As always the familiar ache flares in her; lust and longing mixed up with more than a little anger. I wonder if he's asked Sofia to dinner again? She chews on her lip, worrying at it. Despite her best intentions to let this, whatever "this" was, go for once and for all, the ache sharpens into prickly hurt. Why? What does she have that I don't? Her teeth bite down on her lip; blood wells, making her hiss in pain. She dabs at her mouth, staring moodily at the red smudges on her fingertips.
"You seem to have an injury miss..." The snowy white handkerchief suddenly appears over her left shoulder.
Started she turns to face the man standing behind her.
Jesus! I didn't even hear him come up behind me! Sara stares for a moment at the man, mentally cataloguing him out of long habit. 5'8''-5'9'', Caucasian male, late fifties, stocky but muscular build, well dressed, elegant even, educated with an accent, maybe—
"Miss?" The man proffers the handkerchief again.
Aware she's staring at the man like a specimen—usual for her but she's learned that others find it disconcerting in social situations—Sara flushes and accepts the cloth and brings it to her mouth.
"Thanks." She mumbles. "I guess I bit my lip..."
"Indeed. A primal response to the overwhelming beauty that surrounds us perhaps?" The man's voice is soft and silky; it flows over Sara like water. Unconsciously, she finds herself nodding in agreement and then she catches herself.
"Uh, no actually. I hate to admit it but I've been woolgathering. I don't even really remember the last two rooms I've walked through to tell you the truth."
"Ah well that won't do. That won't do at all. Especially considering how far you have traveled to get here..."
"How did you—?"
"West coast correct? Love the drawl."
He's wearing glasses; the rounded frames compliment the aristocratic blade of his nose, softening it slightly. His eyes are hidden by the slight tint of the lenses but when he tilts his head they flash in the light. Turning his eyes into bright coins.
"Yeah. Las Vegas actually. But I grew up in San Francisco—"
A thought strikes Sara, "How'd you know I was an American?"
The man sits on the bench beside Sara and taps the battered copy of Fodor's; the spine is creased from many consultations, thick clusters of yellow Post-it notes march in orderly progression through the book. Once she had decided to go—well Ecklie didn't really leave me much choice when it came to my vacation days, "use them or lose them Sidle!"—Sara had thrown herself into making travel arrangements. Like any endeavor she undertook, she planned with a ruthless thoroughness. Not once did she consider how her meticulous care and attention to detail separated her from the majority of individuals taking a vacation.
"Fodor's is a bit of a giveaway...Miss—?" Effortlessly draws her name from her.
"Sidle. Sara Sidle."
She extends her hand to shake and the heat of the man's hand enclosing her own surprises her. The museum is chilly; Sara's own hands are cool. He grips her hand with both of his for a moment, thumbs lightly stroking. She shivers at the unexpected intimacy. His hands are rougher than she expected, palms hard and strong. He gazes over his glasses into her eyes, faint smile still playing about his mouth; Sara notices his teeth, they are small and very white. Slowly he brings her hand up, brushing the barest kiss on the back of it.
"Enchanted, Miss Sidle. I am Dr. Fell."
Sara fights the sudden unexplained urge to pull her hand from his and is absurdly grateful when he releases it.
"A doctor?" This isn't her; she's not one for small talk but Dr. Fell has unnerved her. "Like a medical doctor or..."
"Medieval literature. I have a particular interest in Dante..."
"I think we have something in common—Dante I mean."
Dr. Fell cocks his head and regards her with a lifted eyebrow. She's suddenly struck by how like Grissom he seems just then.
"Well so far, my vacation has been pretty miserable. I mean it's not a descent into Hell—well not yet anyway..." She smiles crookedly at him.
Dr. Fell's laughter fills the gallery; several patrons turn and look with disapproving frowns. She rarely makes Grissom laugh so openly, so she's filled with pleasure at the affect her small joke has had on Dr. Fell; she doesn't notice that the laughter never touches his eyes behind the smoked glasses.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that. It's just that I come all the way over here and I can't stop thinking about home. Maybe I should have stayed in Vegas..."
"I think not Sara. Allow me to be perfectly blunt, but the only reason a pretty young woman is unhappy in Paris is if her lover isn't there to share the city with her...if he is in fact "back home in Vegas", am I right?"
Sara blinks, startled at how easily Dr. Fell has put his finger on the heart of her melancholia.
"Paris is a bitch when you're single Ms. Sidle." The coarseness is at odds with the sleek elegant man before her. This entire encounter is taking on a dreamlike quality; Ugh I'm sick of jet lag and bad food and hotel beds and next he'll be asking me to come up to his apartment to look at his etchings in his oh-so-worldweary-Eurotrash fashion...
But perhaps sensing his transgression Dr. Fell smiles an innocent smile and sits quietly beside Sara. His silent, self-contained air is soothing and Sara relaxes and gradually becomes aware of the paintings in front of her.
The Louvre had acquired some Vermeer's from the Rijksmuseum on loan and had organized a small exhibition. Sara only knew this because she read the placards in French, English and Japanese placed discreetly throughout the display space. She picks up her Fodor's guide and starts thumbing the section book marked on the Louvre, then she rummages in her backpack for the brochure she'd been given when she entered, finally she hauls out a hefty book "Treasures of European Art". That book is heavily studded with Post-its as well.
"No, no Sara. Put those away. Look at the paintings. Use your eyes and look." Dr. Fell's voice is a low murmur in her ear. "The world will open itself to you, offer itself like a lover if only you would look."
In addition to The Lacemaker, the museum was displaying Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, and The Loveletter. This last one in particular grabs Sara's attention.
As seen through a drawn curtain, a richly dressed woman sits in a brilliantly lit room. She has paused in her lute playing to take the letter being offered by her maid. She wears a questioning look on her face but hopeful expectation is there as well—it is obvious that the letter is from a lover. The painting is beautifully rendered in almost photographic detail. The colors of the painting pour out, filling her head; the yellow fabric of the woman's dress is a sensual caress on her eyes. Sara's gut clenches with a longing that's almost sexual.
"...oh..." Her voice is a breathy whisper.
"Yes. Oh. My sentiments exactly." Dr. Fell's voice is quietly amused.
They sit in silence for a few moments more, Sara isn't aware she's crying until Dr. Fell once again pushes his handkerchief into her hands.
"Whoever he is...he doesn't deserve you...Sara Sidle; she of the laser focus and diamond hardness undone by a Vermeer..."
It's not pity in his voice but it's close enough to it that she's stung. Oddly, it doesn't sting as much as she thought it might.
"It's complicated. It's someone—someone I work with..."
"The workplace romance is not unheard of. Is he otherwise engaged? Married to another?"
"Just his job. He thinks we're held to different standards...because we're in law enforcement."
The eyes gleam behind the lenses and cat-quick Dr. Fell's tongue darts out to lick his lips.
"Ah, you're a cop. I should have guessed..."
"No. Criminalists actually. I work for the Las Vegas Crime Scene Investigation Unit."
"How wonderful for you...Saint Sara, Our Lady of the Corpses..."
The peculiarity of that reply doesn't strike Sara until later, when it's too late, she's too busy trying to hide the fact she's been crying in public that it slips past, unnoticed.
"Tell me...who is your intended. Whose name do you whisper in the dark, Sara?" His voice hypnotizes her; it curls round her limbs and holds her fast, demanding an answer.
"Grissom. Dr. Gil Grissom."
She can't look away from his eyes, the mad intensity burning in them now can't be hidden by the tinted lenses.
"Ah the entomologist. I know of him. He has consulted with some very dear colleagues of mine..."
Slow panic bubbles up in Sara's gut—thick and heavy. Why would a professor of Medieval literature know Grissom?
Dr. Fell reaches out and lazily draws a strand of Sara's hair through his fingers, his eyes close in ecstasy when he leans in close to smell the silky strands. She can't speak, merely clutches the handkerchief in fingers suddenly gone numb.
"You remind me of someone Ms. Sidle...she too was driven. Bound by her sense of duty...of justice. Trying so hard to overcome her fear that deep down she was nothing...dear Clarice."
Dr. Fell slides a hand through her hair and cups the back of Sara's head, drawing her close like a lover. His breath tickles the cup of her ear when he whispers, "She had some Daddy issues too—just like you do, Sara, with Dr. Grissom. You spend yourself at work slaving over dead flesh because he won't spend himself in your dead flesh and fill up your empty soul. You want his approval, his love...to fuck him... "
She jerks involuntarily when he says that, but Dr. Fell tightens his grip and holds her closer.
"That's the root of it, isn't it Sara? What a naughty little girl you are...wanting to sleep with Daddy. I'll bet you wanted to kill Mommy too? How pathetic you are..."
Tears are rolling down her cheeks in earnest now but Sara doesn't care, her chest heaves as she sucks in a breath through a chest that's suddenly tight.
"Scream and I'll kill you." Dr. Fell's voice is honeyed and loving "I'll tear your throat open with my bare teeth."
Gently he kisses her neck and she shudders when those white teeth touch her skin.
"Be sure to tell Jack Crawford I said hi..."
And Dr. Fell releases her and disappears into the milling crowds, leaving only his handkerchief and the memory of his teeth on her flesh.
It's only when Sara leans forward and vomits messily between her feet that the guards think to help the sobbing girl on the bench. After all this is Paris, city of lovers, and the course of true love never did run smooth.
A/N: In case you haven't guessed yet...the mystery guest is Hannibal Lecter. Cree. Pee. But oh so wonderful to write. This will eventually be included in a "Five Things" story cycle I'm writing; Five Crossovers That Never Happened To Sara Sidle. The next big part (With OMG!Zombies!) is being workshopped at my Livejournal if you are so inclined.
Summary: During a chance encounter in the Louvre Sara pays a price when she truly sees a Vermeer for the first time.