03 – Unexpected

After a surprise visit from Grissom and some startling confessions of her own, Sara deals with her week suspension from the lab as best she can. That is until another unexpected visitor turns up at her apartment bearing news that leads her to decide it is finally time to leave Las Vegas and Grissom behind for good. 

This time it will take more than a plant to persuade her to stay.

Post episode 513, “Nesting Dolls,” circa February 2005

*******

Sara Sidle gave an amused half-laugh at the unexpected knock on her apartment door. She wasn’t really altogether used to having visitors.

Although this visitor wasn’t all that unlooked-for.

He had said that he would stop by later.

But as she glanced at her watch, she realized he was several hours earlier than he should have been.

He should be at work right now.

And Gil Grissom was not a man to skive off work for anything.

To her knowledge, the man had never called in sick, had more bankable vacation time than even she did and never conducted personal business on company time.

Of course, this particular meeting might not be of the personal variety.

Not like she wasn’t expecting it, but still, no one liked to be notified that they were being fired whether in person or not.

Besides, even if it was bad news, Sara had to admit that she was looking forward to seeing Grissom again.

At first, she thought it would be mortifying seeing him right after the afternoon’s revelations.

She had always imagined that telling him about her family would have been an extremely difficult task, which was probably why she had waited as long as she had to tell him.

Instead, the entire experience had proven profoundly cathartic.

Then, after she had taken the risk and told him everything, Grissom had, instead of shrinking away, instead of retreating in terror, disgust or embarrassment, had actually reached out to her – literally.

Now Sara could probably count the number of time Gil Grissom had taken her hand on a single one of her own and still would have had several fingers left over.

Sadly, most of those times — hell, all of those times — weren’t exactly some of her finest moments.

The first time had been after the lab explosion.

She could hardly remember anything, except for the gentle way he had cradled her hand in his as he examined the gash the glass fragments had left behind.

The second time, she had been horrified.

Being pulled over for driving under the influence had been bad enough.

Having your supervisor called in was unpleasant to say the least, especially when said supervisor was someone who you perhaps not so secretly had harbored feelings for ever since the first time you met.

Yet, he had been gentle then, too.

All the recriminations she’d been afraid to hear, all the disappointment she expected to see when she could finally get up the nerve to face him weren’t there.

Instead, he looked hurt, concerned and perhaps a little scared.

Scared of what, she didn’t know and didn’t dare ask.

He had merely taken her hand in his, told her he was going to take her home and escorted her out of the Police Department and into his car.

After they parked in a vacant space in her apartment complex’s lot, he took her hand again and led her up the stairs to her own front door. He only released his grasp to use her keys to let them inside.

There had been so much she had wanted to say to him at that moment – explanations, apologies, anything really.

She merely let him wordlessly take her coat and drape it over a chair before he disappeared into the kitchen. Sara, for her own part, simply sank onto the sofa and covered her face with her hands, trying hard not to be sick.

After a few minutes, the ever-comforting aroma of freshly brewed coffee perfumed the small apartment.

When he returned to living room, Grissom placed a single steaming cup on the table. As Sara reached for it, he handed her a tall glass of orange juice instead. She tried to look grateful for the juice as she greedily watched him consume the coffee.

As if he had been reading her mind, he said, “You need the vitamins. Plus, you need to get some sleep.”

She almost asked him when was the last time he had slept, but decided against opening that can of worms.

Instead, she tried with a great deal of difficulty to sound slightly amused rather than annoyed when she retorted, “Practicing your bedside manner, Doctor Grissom?”

Although each unseen by the other, they both smiled slightly.

“Entomologists don’t have to worry about having a good bedside manner,” he replied in a matter of fact tone. “Our subjects usually don’t care what sort of mood you’re in.”

“Makes it easier that way, doesn’t it?” Sara asked, finishing her juice.

“Sometimes,” he conceded, replacing his mug on the table.

He seemed to feel that the consumption of the perfunctory beverages was the signal for him to go. Yet, he almost seemed reluctant as he rose from his place beside her on the couch. They had been sitting close, but not close enough for the gesture to be construed into anything but a sign of friendly camaraderie.

“Will you call me if you need anything?” Grissom had asked, his voice still full of concern.

“Yeah,” Sara had replied, though she had no intention of entangling Grissom any further into her already screwed up life.

That extremely well-meant resolution had seemed to hold until Sara had managed to cross the line with a murder suspect (even if the man was a misogynistic prick), had a very public argument with Catherine (Sara really was in the right here) and been wholly and completely insubordinate with Conrad Ecklie (though telling off the incompetent ass  had felt incredibly satisfying at the time) all in the space of less than twenty minutes.

None of those things were particularly wise career moves and put together she had probably deserved worse than the week suspension without pay the Deputy Director had slapped on her.

When Supervisor Gil Grissom had shown up, Sara was sure he had come to fire her.

Surprisingly, he hadn’t.

He’d come to listen, a trait she’d seen him employ with great success with both crime victims and criminal suspects, but not so frequenly with the members of the team he managed.

It wasn’t that he didn’t care. He did. He just wasn’t very good at showing it — usually.

This time, however, he would not let Sara hide behind all the anger and hurt that she carried around as a shield to protect herself from other people. He merely sat and listened, saying little, and not uttering those however well-meant trite sentiments that everybody always seemed to think you want to hear for some reason, when the truth is that those words were the last thing in the world you wanted ever wanted anyone to say.

Then when she had finally broken down and cried – hell, sobbed – he simply took her hand to silently let her know that he was still there.

After she had stopped crying, he had handed her a clean handkerchief from his jacket pocket and although Sara never really thought of handkerchiefs as being particularly hygienic, she took it gratefully, hurriedly wiped her eyes with it and then further employed it — with a very little show of grace — to blow her nose in a rather loud, almost goose honking manner.

That had earned her a rare smile as Grissom had told her to keep the handkerchief. His mother had apparently given him enough to keep him well-stocked.

He gave her free hand a slight squeeze as he got up and vanished into the kitchen. This time he emerged with two cups of coffee.

“If I knew you were that handy in the kitchen, I would have invited you over a lot sooner,” Sara tried to joke as she sipped at the hot beverage.

“I’m better with breakfast,” he said, returning her smile.

After that, they merely sat together, she on her chair and he on the sofa, drinking that life-blood that serves to sustain all night shift workers, both saying nothing, as if at that particular moment nothing needed to be said.

That had been one of the first companionable silences Sara and Grissom had shared in a long time — in ages — in years, perhaps.

The whole thing had been, if she truly allowed herself to admit it, even if only to herself — nice.

Just before he left, he gave her hand another gentle squeeze and said that he would be by later, if that was all right with her. She had given him a soft, grateful smile when she told him it was.

However, it was still way too early for him to have returned. He had only been gone for a few hours and it was just after the graveyard shift had begun.

So it was with a bemused, yet befuddled look on her face that she opened the door.

“Shouldn’t you be…” Sara began, but the slight smirk slid off her face as she caught sight of the person standing on her doorstep.

Needless to say, it was not whom she had been expecting, nor indeed was it really someone she really wanted to see at this particular moment.

Still, she regained her composure or at least tried to, as she stammered “Uh, hi,” in surprise. “What can I do for you, Catherine?”

Catherine Willows, not being the sort of person who tended to beat around the bush when she had something in particular that she deemed important to say, said without greeting, preamble, explanation or apology, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

Sara took an almost automatic step backwards, opening the door a bit wider and indicating for her erstwhile colleague and her now — as Ecklie had so insistently reminded her – superior to enter.

Besides, Sara was fairly sure that this conversation was not one her neighbors really needed to hear.

Especially as she wasn’t sure that she wanted to hear it herself.

“Why don’t you sit down?” she suggested, trying to diffuse the almost palpable tension with an attempt at civility. “Would you like something to drink? Water? Juice? I’m sorry but I don’t have anything stronger.”

She had dumped the last few bottles of beer in her fridge down the drain after Grissom had left.

Catherine didn’t answer her. Instead, she asked, “He’s been here, hasn’t he?”

There was no question of the “he” she was talking about.

How Catherine had instantly known perplexed Sara until she realized she hadn’t removed the pair of coffee cups from where she and Grissom had left them several hours earlier. She had been so exhausted from the afternoon’s revelations that she stumbled into bed right after she had closed the door on Grissom’s retreating form.

Even without the mugs, Catherine hadn’t been promoted to CSI supervisor for nothing.

She had years of experience in reading a room, plus incredible instincts, traits that Sara rued at this moment.

Sara saw no point in denying Catherine’s accusations. She and Grissom hadn’t been up to anything. It had been a purely platonic interlude between a concerned boss and a troubled member of his team.

At least that was what Sara told herself.

In reality, it had been a bit more intimate than that, in some ways a lot more intimate than that, with her sharing her deepest, darkest secrets and fears with him and Grissom being there quiet and still and yet infinitely comforting.

Sara knew she had to tell Catherine at least part of the truth, because if she just categorically denied it, Catherine would assume that a lot more had happened than what did and the lab’s gossip mills would put both her and Grissom through the wringer and that was the absolute last thing Sara wanted.

Not so much for herself, as gossip never really got to her, but for Grissom’s sake.

For a man like Gil Grissom, appearance and reputation were key. They were the things that he had worked his whole life to achieve and he valued them accordingly. Sara knew he had worked too long and too hard to have it all ruined by some silly rumors and childish innuendo.

So she simply said, “Yes,” and invited her not quite welcome guest to sit again.

Catherine, however, did not seem to have come with hospitality on her mind and the sooner Sara let her get out whatever was on her mind, the quicker the two women might be able to return to some semblance of normality.

Hopefully, one that did not include Catherine barging into her apartment looking like she was about to spit fire, Sara mused.

The younger woman thought that perhaps it might help if she extended an olive branch of sorts.

“Look, Catherine, back at the lab, I was out of line. I never should have…”

Catherine raised a hand in an almost imperious manner while she kept the other perched jauntily on her hip.

“I didn’t come here for an apology,” she said dismissively. Then giving Sara a piercing sort of look, she continued, “I really do hope you know what you are doing.”

Sara was dumbfounded and probably looked it, too. “I have no idea what –”

“Cut the crap, Sara. If you want to screw up your own life, that’s your business and you’re welcome to it, but you don’t have to take Gil down with you.”

Sara stood speechless for a moment, then frowned, completely at a loss.

What had she done to take Grissom down with her?

The whole volatile situation had been purely between herself, Catherine and Ecklie; Grissom hadn’t figured in the argument at all. He hadn’t even been present. So how was he in trouble?

“Honestly,” Sara began, “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You’re telling me you didn’t put him up to it?” Catherine asked, or rather demanded, in a harsh, disparaging tone.

“Up to what?”

Instead of answering Sara’s confused query, Catherine answered the question with one of her own –

“What did you say to him?”

“Catherine, that’s private.”

Not only did Sara not want to rehash the horrors of her childhood for a second time in twenty-four hours, she really did not want to be having a conversation about the relationship (or lack thereof) between herself and the said Gil Grissom with anyone, and certainly not with Catherine.

Things had been more tense than usual between her and the older CSI ever since Eddie had been murdered and Catherine had blamed Sara for not getting Lindsay the justice she thought her daughter deserved.

Sara thought things had thawed slightly when the two women had commiserated about the perfidy of men over a few drinks at a local bar.

Apparently, Sara’s little outburst had managed to sour things again.

“He had words with Ecklie,” Catherine explained.

That surprised her. “Grissom? About?”

“You, dammit, Sara. Grissom told Ecklie that he had taken care of things. That you were a good criminalist and that the lab needed you.”

For some reason, Grissom’s words didn’t strike Sara as all together that surprising. He had pretty much said the same thing to her a few years back, except for the taking care of things part.

That bit puzzled her, but she didn’t see anything all that worrisome about any of that, or at least nothing so worrisome as to cause Catherine to practically race from the lab, break down Sara’s door and proceed to give her the third degree.

“Grissom said your outbursts, your attitude and actions over the last few months were a direct fault of his mismanagement.”

“That’s not true,” Sara protested.

Her problems were her problems. She wasn’t about to let anyone else take the blame for her choices or her mistakes.

Certainly not Grissom.

“After he refused to fire you, Ecklie suggested that perhaps he should fire him instead,” Catherine continued.

“Fire Grissom?”

“Yeah.”

A sudden sense of panic filled Sara. She wasn’t quite sure she wanted to hear the answer to her next question, but she had to ask it, to know the truth before the suspense killed her.

“He didn’t…”

Catherine laughed at this, a cruel, mirthless sort of laugh.

“Fire Grissom? Hell no. Of course not. Ecklie’s not that stupid. But you know Conrad…”

Catherine’s use of the deputy director’s given name made the hair on the back of Sara’s neck stand up on end. The apparent familiarity between her former co-worker and the goon who had been promoted to boss over the entire lab, made Sara distinctly uncomfortable.

As if completely obvious to Sara’s discomfort, Catherine kept talking —

“… Been looking for a way to get at Grissom since he was promoted. And Gil wouldn’t know how to play politics if his career depended on it. Hence that stupid stunt he pulled to save your ass. By the way, just so you know, and this is per Ecklie – you’re Grissom’s problem now.”

Before Sara could come up with any semblance of a suitable reply to this revelation, Catherine’s cell phone chirped noisily.

“Excuse me,” Catherine said, abruptly turning her back on Sara and taking a few steps closer to the door. “Yes, Lindsay. Yes, I will be home as soon as I can. Yes, tomorrow I will drop you and your friends at the movies. No, I haven’t forgotten that I promised to take you to the mall. Yes. No, Lindsay, that wasn’t part of the deal. Look the sooner I get off the phone, the sooner I can get home. We’ll talk about it then. Yeah. See you soon.” Catherine turned back to Sara, looking a little harried after the conversation with her daughter. As she snapped her phone shut impatiently, she said, “Look, Sara, just be careful. For both your sakes.”

Sara nodded wordlessly, still trying to take in everything she had just been told. As she shut the door behind Catherine’s hurriedly retreating form, she picked up her own phone from her desk and began dialing, thankful for the fact that it was relatively speaking still early.

After the line rang a few times, a familiar voice greeted her warmly.

Throwing all courtesy and custom out the window, Sara asked without preamble,

“Jack, does your invitation still stand?”

*******

Normally, Gil Grissom hated paperwork. It was the anathema of his supervisory existence.

Tonight, he almost welcomed it.

Almost.

Reviewing case files, signing off on supply requisition forms and approving overtime requests all from within the relative comfort and solitude of his office, required very little of his actual attention as he had always been very good at being able to focus on many disparate tasks at once.

So attacking the voluminous piles of paperwork that had seeming multiplied through some form of unidentified asexual reproduction to the point where the stacks took up almost half of his rather large desk, allowed him several uninterrupted hours to be free to think.

Everyone in the lab knew not to disturb him while he was on Paperwork Patrol as they all had tongue-in-cheek dubbed it.

If you did, the odds were certainly in your favor that you would be the next one on Dumpster Duty, perhaps indefinitely. The only caveat to the Do not disturb on pain of having to reek of garbage rule was if the matter in question were literally a matter of life or death.

Of course, as this was Las Vegas, it very often was a matter of life or death, although thankfully tonight had proven to be uneventful, leaving Grissom the liberty to thoroughly review the events that had transpired over the past twenty-four hours.

His mind kept returning to a single thought.

Had he really said THAT to Conrad Ecklie?

“I need her.”

It was true, he was forced to admit it to himself after years of self-enforced denial.

Gil Grissom did need Sara. Had for – well since he had first met her really.

Of course, he had never told Sara that, never really spoken those precise words to her per se.

Not that he hadn’t tried.

Didn’t she know that he meant I need you when he had told her the lab needed her? That those were the words he had meant to say when he sent her the plant? Or that sentiment was what lay behind the comment he had made about having been interested in beauty ever since he had met her?

Then when he had taken her hand on that nerve-wrecking night when he had received the call from PD that Sara had been picked up for DUI, didn’t she know that when he said he would take her home, he was telling her he needed her then, too?

Maybe, he thought with a slight twinge of regret, maybe he should have said those specific words to her then.

In his own defense, Sara had looked so embarrassed, so afraid that he was going to be angry at her, that he was going to rage and storm and reprimand her to high heaven, that any words he might have said would probably been lost anyway.

The truth of it was, all he had really wanted to do was hold her tight to him and although he wasn’t a particularly religious man say, “Thank God. Thank God. Thank God you’re alive. Thank God you’re okay.”

Sara hadn’t been okay, not then, and if he were completely honest with himself, hadn’t been for a long time.

How could he not have seen the signs before?

Catherine had once told him that he needed to poke his head up from his microscope every now and then.

What she should have told him was that he really needed to extract his head out of his ass.

After Sara’s almost arrest, Grissom had resolved to pay more attention, to take better care of her, to help her in whatever way he could or in whatever way she would let him. To ultimately show her that he really did care.

Work, however, kept getting in the way.

And then Ecklie had done the unforgivable and broken up the team, resulting in a trying number of months for all of them.

It had been difficult coming to terms with all the changes and as it always seemed to happen when it came to his relationship (for lack of a better word) with Sara, he’d let his resolutions fall between the cracks.

Not this time, he swore.

He wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do about the two of them. He just knew that he wanted – no, he needed — to do something, anything.

Maybe he’d stop by that new vegetarian restaurant he had overheard Sara and Greg talking about one night when the three of them had been on route to the far reaches of Vegas for yet another 419.

Yes, he’d pick up dinner.

Although he had no idea what he would be eating as he had never truly regarded tofu as actual food.

That didn’t matter. They’d sit down in Sara’s living room. He’d noticed on his last visit that she didn’t have a dining room let alone a dinning room table in that tiny studio apartment of hers and break bread together and just perhaps break the ice.

Just to be able to sit down and talk to her would be a start, a start of what was still uncertain, but he was sure as hell willing to try.

Besides, despite how uncomfortable it might be at first, they really did need to talk.

Grissom rubbed the tiredness from his face.

God, he was not getting any younger.

He swore that twelve hours of paper pushing always left him more drained and stiff than a week’s worth of triples.

All he wanted to do was go home, have a nice long, hot shower and an even longer nap before he gathered up what little courage he could muster and went to see Sara.

After all, he had promised to stop by to see her and now was most certainly not the time to start breaking promises.

As he slipped his house key into the lock, a flash of something white lying on the doormat caught his eye. With a strange sense of foreboding, he gingerly picked up the envelope and regarded it warily.

It was a plain legal envelope with just the words Dr. Gil Grissom precisely centered in generic inkjet type.

He cautiously turned it over. It had not been sealed, the flap had merely been tucked neatly inside.

Grissom drew out the single page of printed text.

His heart almost stopped as he read: Dr. Grissom, I regret to inform you

Gil Grissom was back in his car with the engine restarted before he could even breathe again.

He pushed the two button on his cell’s speed dial.

“Pick up the phone. Sara, please pick up the phone.”

Her phone merely continued to ring and ring and ring and when her voicemail finally picked up, he hit the end button in frustration and made a quick turn that he knew led to a shortcut to Sara’s apartment.

*******

The one good thing about working nights, mused Sara, as she extricated a stack of books from the bookcase beside her desk and placed them in a box on her coffee table, is that after 10 am you could play your music as loud as you liked.

Today was definitely a need as much noise as possible sort of day.

The din kept her from having to think about what she was doing, and allowed her to focus on the actual doing it part.

She hadn’t been off the phone with Jack Peters for more than twenty minutes, when she had sat down at her laptop and hurriedly finished typing up her resignation.

It felt sort of cold and impersonal, but she didn’t know of any easier way to break the news. Besides, doing it formally the first time meant one less difficult letter to write later.

She hadn’t been sure about leaving the envelope on the doorstep of his townhouse, but she was under strict injunction to not step a single foot on lab property until her suspension was over.

This couldn’t wait that long and Sara did not have the greatest amount of faith in the U.S. Postal Service to begin with.

She supposed she could have asked Greg or Nick to deliver it for her, but that would have meant having to answer a fair number of questions she wasn’t quite ready to answer at the moment.

The obligatory letter dutifully dispatched, Sara quickly moved on to her next task.

As she was off-duty for an entire week, she decided the best use of her involuntary free time would be to start packing.

Sara hated leaving anything to the last minute and she knew that once she was back at work, even for the short time she would still be on staff, work would take up pretty much all of her free time, just as it always had.

So on the way home from Grissom’s, she had stopped by the Store-n-Go Center a few blocks over and picked up as many boxes as her tiny Prius would hold.

After a few hours of energetic packing, Sara had boxed up most of her books. There were her old physics textbooks from college that she just couldn’t seem to part with despite the fact that the books had to be horrendously out of date by now. Her art books took up an entire box on their own due to their unusual shape and size. Plus, there was the veritable mountain of forensic journals she still insisted on getting in paper form even though every issue was now available on-line.  Then there was the small collection of books that she had enjoyed reading growing up. These were all fairly new copies, as none of her original copies had survived the break up of her family or her foster care system ordeal. As she peered around at her progress, she had to own that her apartment was beginning to look more like a warehouse than a place to live.

Well, she thought as she taped yet another box closed, you could never have too many books.

And she was in dire need of a bath.

*******

Gil Grissom could hear music blaring from the other side of Sara’s door.

On the plus side, this meant that she had to be home. On the negative, it was exceedingly apparent that she was spending way too much time with Greg. The young man’s dubious taste in what Grissom would have loosely – very loosely – labeled as music was unfortunately rubbing off on her.

He gave the door a firm rap that he hoped could be heard over the noise and waited a little less patiently than he probably should have.

No answer.

He tried again.

No answer.

Then he tried her cell — again.

Nothing.

He practically pounded on the door on his third try.

Getting frustrated, he navigated his way through the address book function on his phone until he unearthed Sara’s home number.

This time when she didn’t pick up, he left an almost irate message.

“Sara, I know you’re home. Will you please just let me in?”

Then suddenly his irritation turned into worry.

What if something had happened to her?

A thousand awful possibilities flew through his mind, each one more horrible than the last.

Sometimes being a crime scene investigator was a bad thing. You never could quite get the work completely out of your head, which was a particular side effect that always left you thinking and fearing the worst.

Grissom tried the doorknob, even though he was sure Sara would never leave her door unlocked.

It turned.

He cautiously pushed the door open calling, “Sara?” as he stepped inside an apartment that looked nothing like the one he had left merely the day before.

******

Sara shut off the faucet, shaking her head as she did so.

This was the absolute last time she was going to let Greg persuade her into trying out yet another of his CD’s.

Greg was a likable enough guy, a good and loyal friend and would probably shape up into a first rate CSI, but sometimes his choice in music left a great deal to be desired.

If feeling that way meant she was getting old and becoming a fuddy-duddy, then so be it.

As she tested the water with her hand to make sure the temperature was just right, Sara thought with a slight smile that there wasn’t much in this life she was sure of anymore, but she did know this – a good hot bath inevitably made life just a bit more bearable.

But first she had to change that CD.

She slipped on the thin cotton robe she liked to wear in the warmer months, which in Vegas meant for most of the year and gave the sash a firm tug. She wasn’t quite sure if she had left the curtains open or closed. Either way, there was no reason to give the neighborhood a show, even if most of them were busy off at work.

Besides, Sara had always been a little self-conscious about her body and seldom liked to show any more skin than that of her bare arms and that at her throat.

As she stepped from the bathroom into the hall, two things happened in quick succession: she promptly ran into a very surprised Grissom and then immediately crashed with a rather loud thud, flat on her ass.

“What the –” she began, trying to collect her tangled thoughts and limbs.

The flash of anger that crossed her face was quickly extinguished by the sight of Grissom’s worried, yet sheepish look.

If she wasn’t just imagining it, it looked as though he too were more than just a little flustered.

And was he blushing?

“Sorry,” he said a little too loudly, trying to be heard over the blaring music. “Did I hurt you?”

“The only thing injured is my pride,” she replied with a smile.

It was only as he continued to look down at her, that she realized that all she was wearing was that thin cotton robe that had not entirely remained in place after her tumble. She discretely tried to make herself a bit more presentable before she took Grissom’s proffered hand and allowed him to help her back on her feet.

“I called your cell and knocked and called your home phone, but you didn’t answer,” he began by means of providing an explanation for his unexpected presence in her hallway. “I was afraid something had happened to you.”

“Well, I’m fine,” Sara replied. She didn’t mean to sound as indignant as the words had come out, but she was feeling slightly too exposed here.

“I can see that,” he answered simply. Although how he could see any bit of her besides her toes with his eyes now firmly fixed on the floor, she had no idea.

It was at that moment that the state of her dress, or rather undress really struck her. Her robe was certainly more revealing than what she usually wore to work and was completely inappropriate for a boss-subordinate discussion of any sort.

It was more in keeping with a sort of intimacy that the two of them had never shared.

Not that Sara hadn’t thought about it – often, too often, really.

Not that Grissom hadn’t thought of it either, but this wasn’t exactly the circumstances under which he had envisioned seeing that much of her.

He shifted a little uneasily, not quite sure what to do next.

Sara put a warm hand on his arm and trying to save both of them any more embarrassment said, “Why don’t you go make some coffee so that I can have a few minutes to get dressed and then we can sit down and talk about why you’re really here.”

“Sara -”

“Coffee, Grissom,” she insisted as she turned back into the bathroom and moved to close the door behind her.

She almost missed his soft reply, “Yes, dear.”

That little endearment made her pause. She tried to hide her smile.

“Oh and Grissom –”

“Yes?”

“Could you please turn the music off?”

He finally met her eyes at this. She could see the hint of the once familiar flicker of a tease there.

“You call that music?”

For her part, Sara fixed him with a mock-withering glare.

“Coffee –”

He replied with a smile, “Yes, dear.”

Sara shook her head as she closed the bathroom door at a complete loss for what the hell she was going to do next.

*******

Gil Grissom for his part, was deep in a different sort of contemplation – a now very much quieter one, as he had gladly shut off Sara’s CD player the first chance he got.

No, it was her kitchen that had him deep in thought.

A thorough search of Sara’s cupboards had yielded no further supplies of coffee. He had forgotten to tell her that he had used the last of her supply when he had made them some the day before.

Although it was apparent that Sara had ventured out for boxes since he had last paid her a visit, she had not replenished the coffee, nor had it seemed had she stopped for groceries of any kind.

In fact, it appeared that she hadn’t been to the store for quite some time.

There were some canned vegetables, a few boxes of half-opened noodles of various shapes and sizes and a couple of jars of generic pasta sauce taking up space on the highest shelf. The detritus of crackers and other miscellanea occupied the rest of the cabinets.

After seeing the state of her food supply, Grissom began to wonder if Sara had stopped eating regularly.

Perhaps, that is why she seemed so pale and wan lately, fragile almost.

When he had helped her to her feet just moments before, she had hardly felt as if she weighed anything at all. And the glimpse of her bare legs and arms had left him with the impression that her limbs looked a just little too thin, the skin stretched a little too tight against her collarbones.

He should have followed his original plan and brought food with him. The receipt of her letter, however, had quickly expelled all thought, save for the one that demanded he see her immediately, out of his head.

For a few minutes, Grissom puttered in the kitchen trying to get the image of Sara in that robe out of his mind.

Now was not the time or place to be indulging in one of his Sara Sidle fantasies, especially as he knew she was getting dressed in the next room.

With a sigh, he surrendered any hope of finding coffee and knocked hesitantly on her bathroom door.

“Sara –”

There was a loud thud, a soft curse (which made Grissom smile for some reason) and then a hesitant, if slightly annoyed, “Yes?”

“You –?”

“Yeah, just clumsy,” she answered, having just tripped as she tried to sit down to pull on a pair of jeans.

Then observing the shadow of his feet darkening the lower edge of the doorframe, she realized he was still standing on the other side of her door.

“Did you need something?” she finally asked as she hurriedly pulled her disheveled hair into a crude ponytail.

With a quick glance at the mirror, she frowned slightly at her appearance, but it would have to do, she told herself.

From the other side of the door, Grissom finally answered,

“You’re out of coffee.”

It had taken him a few minutes to reply because his now in some ways better than it had been before hearing caught the rasp of a zipper, the slither of cotton on skin and her light footfalls on the tile.

So intent on listening to the sounds of her, he had almost missed her words.

“– Tea, in the tin in the cupboard by the stove. It’s labeled Tea, Grissom.”

Ah, how could he have missed the obvious? he wondered.

“I don’t have any cream, but I think the milk in the fridge is still good – and no, its not soy milk. Sugar’s on the counter…”

Grissom had retreated into the relative safety of the kitchen sometime around the time she mentioned soy milk, barely able to hear her continue to prattle on in that way she always seemed to do when she was flustered.

Sara knew she couldn’t help it. She was always over-talking when it came to Gil Grissom, a habit she had never quite grown out of and one that had caused her an endless amount of embarrassment.

By the time Sara joined him in the kitchen, Grissom was pouring steaming water into a pair of mugs with all the due care and diligence he exuded over his many and varied experiments.

That was something Sara had long ago noticed and admired about him, Grissom always did everything with meticulous care.

At least until she came up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder, causing him to start and drop the kettle, splashing hot water all over both of his hands.

He gave an involuntary cry of pain and accidentally knocked one of the mugs off the counter. It shattered noisily on the tiled floor.

Both Sara and Grissom apologized profusely as they simultaneously bent down to clear up the mess.

He quickly shooed her away, gesturing to her bare feet as the reason for why she had to vacate the kitchen immediately.

Having been banished to the entrance way, Sara took this moment to watch an unguarded Gil Grissom.

Truth be told, Grissom was looking a little tired. He probably hadn’t slept much in the past day or so.

Neither had she, but that was normal for her.

Sleep had always been problematic for her, a twisted sort of game of Russian Roulette with the nightmares, more often than not, haunting her dreams and leaving her to wake up with her heart practically pounding out of her chest and her feeling breathless, dazed, confused and, if truth be told, a little afraid.

The old memories never seemed to die away.

Even if she could manage to banish them from her waking mind, they would simply return when she slept.

Of course, she had never really told anyone about the frequent night terrors, although they were, strictly speaking, day terrors, as she slept not at night, but during the day.

She had mentioned it to Grissom once, years and years and years ago, almost flippantly.

“Do you want to sleep with me?” she had asked.

There had been nothing sexual about the invitation. She had only thought of the inevitable nightmares and how it would be to have him there to hold her after the night sweats and screaming to tell her it was just a nightmare, a dream, and that she was safe and no one and nothing was going to hurt her.

However, at this moment, it was Gil Grissom who worried her.

His movements were more hesitant than usual, as if something had propelled him into a state of perpetual slow motion. His eyes never met hers as he brushed up all the broken glass and carefully dumped it into a double-bagged trash bag.

“I think I got most of it.” Then he said, with a note of care and caution in his voice, “But you shouldn’t be walking in here with bare feet for a while.”

She stepped back to let him pass. As he did so, she snagged one of his burnt hands.

It was red and slightly tender to the touch.

“It’s nothing,” he protested as he tried to extract it from her grasp.

She shook her head and proceeded to lead him, half-protesting, down the hall to the bathroom.

“Sit,” she commanded, pointing to the toilet. Grissom seemed to know better than to argue with her when she used that particular tone.

So he relented and allowed her to guide both of his injured hands under the cool water.

He decided to take this opportunity to observe her up close.

Sara was not conventionally beautiful, not in the way women like Catherine were, but Sara exuded a presence Grissom had always found irresistible.

He smiled faintly, despite the ache in his hands, as he watched her chew on her lower lip in the exact same way she did when she was intently focused on something.

He had never quite noticed that look directed at him before.

Although if he had been paying closer attention, he probably would have known that she gave him that look perhaps a bit more often than she should have.

“Thank you,” Grissom said sincerely, as Sara secured the last piece of tape around the bandage, securing the gauze into place after she had liberally anointed both of his hands with burn cream.

“Anything else hurt?” she asked giving him a slight smile.

He thought it would sound too melodramatic to say, “my heart” so he said nothing.

“I suppose tea is out of the question then,” she continued, peering up at him from where she was kneeling.

She hadn’t quite let go of his hands yet, suddenly remembering a moment eerily familiar to this one, but with their roles reversed.

He had seemed to care then, the least she could do was show him that same kind of care in return.

As she still cradled his hands in hers, she mused that it had never ceased to amaze her that for a man of his size, who worked with his hands in not always the most delicate of situations, that his skin was so surprisingly soft.

It was the same sort of softness that she remembered from the day before when he had pressed his palm against the back of her hand and curled his fingers around the space between her thumb and forefinger.

This time, however, there was a slight measure of stiffness in the way he held his fingers, as if he wasn’t entirely relaxed.

“Why don’t we take this to the living room,” she offered, taking his elbow and helping him up this time.

His hands felt strangely bereft at the loss of her touch.

“Besides,” she said in a teasing sort of tone, hoping to lighten the mood a little. “You didn’t just come here to break into my apartment, criticize my – or rather Greg’s – taste in music, and keep me from having a well-deserved hot bath.”

“No,” he replied simply as they both unconsciously took up the same positions they had held the day before – she in the chair and he on the sofa.

He was perched a little too close to the edge of the cushions to be entirely comfortable.

Grissom hadn’t come for the sake of comfort.

Sara’s next question did not put him any more at ease.

“Then why are you here?” she asked. “We both know that you’re not one to make social calls for purely social reasons. Unless this is all part of some new touchy-feely departmental policy I wasn’t aware of.”

He smiled a soft, sad sort of smile and placed a hand on top of a box on her coffee table. “Redecorating?” he asked.

“More like relocating,” she answered, all amusement gone from her voice.

“So that would explain this then,” he said, drawing the white envelope he had found on his doorstep from out of his jacket pocket.

Sara sighed heavily.

The time for the truth had come.

“Yes.”

When Grissom did not seem to be satisfied by her answer, she continued hesitantly.

“You remember Jack Peters from the San Francisco crime lab?”

“Vaguely.”

Grissom had met the man in passing when he had come up to San Francisco for the American Academy of Forensic Sciences conference. He hadn’t remembered much of the man, as Peters had been busy with a case and Grissom had been rather distracted.   

It was there, after all, that he and Sara had first met all those years ago.

Now that he thought about it, this wasn’t the way he had pictured their relationship turning out, with the two of them practically more like strangers than when the two of them had originally met.

Sara had come up to him after one of his obligatory lectures and began asking a litany of rather incisive questions. She had seemed so bright and engaging, captivating, even then.

She had certainly not lost any of her charms. The intervening years had not only deepened his attraction for her, but dare he even admit it to himself, his feelings for her as well.

He had tried for years to push them — and her — aside, thinking that they would just fade with time and he could happily go back to the misanthropic and almost monastic existence in which he had spent most of his life. Perhaps he had not exactly been happy in that Spartan sort of being, but he had been content in his work, in what he could accomplish with his mind, in all the things he knew.

This thing with Sara always threw him for a loop.

He was never quite sure what to do around her.

He wondered if this awkwardness was what he had missed out on when he was younger and was more interested in dissecting the dead things that washed up on the shore than girls.

Yet, with this awkwardness with Sara, there was also this undeniable connection.

In some ways, they knew each other so well and in other ways not at all.

Paradox.

That was the best word to describe his relationship with Sara.

It was a paradox.

Grissom had been so lost in his own musings that he missed hearing Sara calling his name.

Only her light touch on his arm succeeded in bringing him out of his revelry.

“You disappeared there for a second,” Sara said gently, concern in her voice.

“Sorry,” he apologized hurriedly. “You were talking about Jack Peters.”

Sara nodded and continued, “Yes. Well, he was promoted to deputy director not long ago. He’s been begging me to come back and work for him ever since.” She paused and then admitted, “You know, he wasn’t that happy when I left to come to Vegas.”

Something that looked remarkably like the faint hint of jealousy clouded Grissom’s face.

“Oh, no, nothing like that,” she reassured him. “I wasn’t his type. Hell, I wasn’t even a member of his gender of choice,” she laughed. “He was more upset that I was leaving the lab for you than anything else. Thought it wasn’t the best of reasons to go.”

Her reasons to go –

Something Sara had said a few weeks before suddenly resurfaced in Grissom’s memory.

She had sat there in his office and ever so nonchalantly practically confessed that he had been the reason she had come to Vegas.

At first, he had taken her comments to mean that she had come here to work with him –and the team, too, of course. The Las Vegas Crime Lab wasn’t number two in the country without good reason after all. A post there was quite the coveted position.

He had to revise his assumptions after she had made the comment that he had always been more than a boss to her.

He had wanted to say something after that, but before he could say anything, before he could even get his head around the possibilities of what she was trying to tell him, she had vanished.

Neither of them had spoken of the incident since.

“So, Jack’s been hounding me,” Sara continued, seemingly oblivious to Grissom’s train of thought. “I guess his persistence paid off. There were only so many times I could say no, before I felt I had to say yes.”

She stopped, noticing that Grissom was no longer looking at her, but rather at his hands, which she couldn’t know felt very empty to him at this moment.

But Sara had to get it out, all of it out. She had to.

“I know Grave is short-staffed right now, so I will stay on until you can find and orientate my replacement.”

Replacement? Grissom wondered. How was there any possible way for him to replace Sara?

Sure, he could hire another CSI. There was always a large pool of incredibly acceptable candidates to choose from to fill any open position. The only reason nights had been short wasn’t for a dearth of applicants, but for the slight, yet rather looming, problem of a lack of governmental funding.

Yes, hiring a competent CSI would be no trouble at all.

But replacing Sara? That was impossible.

Of course, he had never told her that either.

Chalk that one up to yet another thing Gil Grissom didn’t have the guts to say to the one person who meant more to him than anything – his work — his bugs — his quiet, cloistered existence.

He took a deep breath. It was now or never, he reasoned.

She had been honest with him when she had told him about her family. The least he could do was let her in to see that he, too, had secrets and fears and scars that would never quite heal.

“Sara –”

All the air seemed to leave the room with those two syllables.

Never in all of her life had Sara heard her name spoken with such feeling. She almost decided to not continue to say what she knew in her heart that she needed to tell him.

“It’s time, Grissom. It’s been time for a long time now.”

Grissom shook his head in protest. “I know you’ve been unhappy, Sara. And I know that lately I haven’t been the friend you deserve, but I had never thought it had come to this.”

“It’s just better for everyone if I just go.”

Not for me, he thought, but instead he said, “If this has anything to do with Ecklie…”

She abruptly cut him off. “This has nothing to do with Ecklie. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.”

It seemed that they both shared the same deep dislike for the lab’s deputy director.

The thought made Grissom’s lips twitch slightly.

It had been incredibly satisfying to lay down the law with Conrad. He wondered if Sara had felt equally pleased at telling off the incompetent ass herself.

Boy, would he have liked to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting. Perhaps someday she would tell him exactly what she had said that had made Ecklie so irate.

Right now though that didn’t matter.

Right now he wanted so desperately to know why Sara felt so strongly that she had to leave.

“Then why?” he asked, braving a look up at her. Their eyes met for a moment, before she turned away.

“Does it matter?”

Disregarding the fact that his right hand still ached, he reached out and covered the one of hers that lay limp in her lap with his own. He wanted her to know he was serious about this.

“It does to me.”

Sara laughed, not a sweet happy sort of laugh that brightened up her whole face, but of the sad sort of variety that made her look all the more dejected.

“This is the second time in half as many days you’ve said those words to me,” she said resignedly. “I know you want answers, Grissom. But you know as well as I do that sometimes you just don’t get them. And sometimes you just have to live with that fact.”

“I don’t want to have to live with that.”

“Tough,” she said, jerking her hand free and retreating to her desk where she started piling more books into an open box.

A wordless silence stretched on between them as neither of them spoke, leaving the only sound in the room that of the books thumping noisily against each other.

Then even that stopped.

Grissom looked up from his determined contemplation of his shoes and hazarded a look at Sara.

She stood there frozen, a thick volume in her hand, a very familiar thick volume — the book on entomology that he had given her for Christmas a few years back.

After a moment, she began turning it over and over in her hands.

“You know the guys were a little disappointed that you hadn’t given them anything for Christmas,” she said as she smiled a wisp of a smile, but the smile was gone as quick as it had come as she opened the front cover.

The front piece was blank.

“You never inscribed it.”

“I wasn’t quite sure what to say,” he answered truthfully.

She gave him a disbelieving look. “You? The man who has an appropriate quotation for every situation?”

“I didn’t want them to be someone else’s words. I wanted them to be mine.”

There was something almost endearing about that, but that didn’t change the fact that the page was still empty.

“And you didn’t know what to say,” she said sadly, coming to terms with the fact that this was how their relationship had always been and probably would always be like.

“No, just not how to say it.”

It was a moment of absolute honesty and Sara recognized it as such. The least she could do was be absolutely honest with him. She reverently replaced one of the few gifts Grissom had ever given her on her desk and returned to her seat.

“Catherine stopped by last night,” Sara said simply as if that might explain everything.

Of course, she knew and he knew that nothing between the two of them was ever going to be that easy.

Grissom wanted to ask a thousand different questions, but he said nothing, knowing that he had to let Sara tell it her in own way.

“She said you had words with Ecklie.”

“They weren’t exactly words, Sara,” he countered. “I just wanted to make sure he was completely clear on some things. I guess I should have made sure you and I were clear on those things first.”

“We are clear,” Sara replied. “You think I am a good criminalist –”

“No, I think you are a great criminalist, Sara.”

“And that the lab needs me,” she finished. “Grissom, if this is going to be another of those stay for the good of the lab speeches, I’ve already heard it from you.”

“Actually, that’s not what I said,” he said, peering into her face, a patient, knowing sort of look on his features, that she recognized as one of those I’m going to drop the bombshell that is going to make everything make sense at last sort of looks.

“But Catherine –” Sara protested.

“Sometimes both you and Catherine only hear what you expect to hear.”

Sara didn’t feel that that particular comparison was entirely true or fair, but she wasn’t about to start an argument with Grissom when he seemed to be in the middle of saying something that was important to him.

Although, as the moments ticked on, he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to continue.

“So what did you say?” Her throat seemed to catch on the words.

“Sara –”

“What did you say?” she asked again, feeling more nervous than she could remember ever having felt in her life.

“I told Ecklie I needed you.”

“I don’t see…” She began, still confused.

“Not the lab, Sara. I need you.”

“I don’t understand.”

Grissom took a deep breath and then explained, “I didn’t ask you to come to Vegas because the lab needed you. I didn’t ask you to stay because the lab needed you, not the first time when I offered you the position here, nor after you had put in for that leave of absence.”

He stopped there.

Sara wondered if he thought he had said too much and regretted it.

She wasn’t quite sure herself where this conversation was going.

This sort of openness was uncharted territory for both of them. She knew this had to be even harder on Grissom, than it was for her. She knew he was an infinitely private man.

It wasn’t that he didn’t feel; he did, just as much as the rest of them; maybe even more so. He just wasn’t the sort of person to share those feelings with just anyone.

That he was choosing to share them so openly with her now was a sign of just how much he trusted her.

Although Sara didn’t want to push him, she could barely breathe, so she settled on a half-formed quizzical sort of, “Oh?”

“Yes,” was all he replied.

He was staring down at his hands again and had taken to absentmindedly fiddling with the edges of the tape that held the gauze covering secure over the burn on his left hand. He seemed to be getting up the nerve to say what he had come all the way straight over to Sara’s to say.

When he finally did speak, his voice was strangely even, as if he were desperately trying to retain some slight measure of control over it.

“I’m not asking you to stay now because the lab needs you. Sara, honey, look at me.”

Sara hadn’t realized how engrossed she had become in watching Grissom’s hands. Her eyes flicked up to his.

It had grown harder and harder over the past few years to look him full in the face without the mask of anger or fight to hide behind. She had been too afraid to see his disappointment — or her own — there.

This time his eyes didn’t seem to be harboring any signs of disappointment.

Instead, they crinkled at the edges with a sort of verity and vulnerability that she had not seen there in a long time.

“I –” Grissom began, his eyes never leaving hers.

Sara put a hand to his lips. As much as it hurt to do it, she had to.

“Don’t,” she said softly. “Please don’t.”

“Sara –”

His voice was almost a plea.

She still shook her head and stumbled to her feet as she stammered, “I can’t. I can’t play this game anymore.”

Grissom caught her hand and held it fast.

“What game?”

“You’re hot one moment, cold the next. Grissom, I never know where I stand with you. And I’m not going to let you risk your job for me either.”

“Is that what this is all about?” he asked, just beginning to understand why she had done what she had done. “Sara, that’s my choice.”

“No!” she almost shouted. “I know how important your career is to you. Believe me, you have made abundantly — and repeatedly — clear that I wasn’t worth the risk.”

Sara was starting to feel all the old hurt and anger and frustration from over the past few years rise up again inside of her.

“I never said –”

“You don’t have to lie. I was there.”

Grissom was horribly confused.

It seemed as if everything that could go wrong, had gone wrong. He had come to ask her to stay and it seemed that all he was succeeding in doing was driving her further away.

He uttered a very bewildered, “What?”

Lurie.”

The sound of that name on her lips struck him as if the word had been an actual physical blow.

That name brought with it a flash of memories.

The bathroom.

The body in the bathroom.

The woman who bore such an uncanny resemblance to Sara that even seeing her alive and breathing on Debbie Marlin’s front lawn had not lessened the horrible certainty that it was her, it was Sara, his Sara, posed on the floor.

Sara murdered.

It hadn’t just been thoughts of Debbie – vibrant, beautiful, engaging Debbie — that had plagued him during the case.

No, in everywhere he looked, in everything he touched, in everything he felt, Sara had haunted him, too.

Those were the moments, the images, that had replayed themselves over and over again in his worst nightmares.

Sara dead.

Sara gone.

It wasn’t until Sara – the very real and present Sara – said, “I was there –” that Grissom was able to pull himself back into the present. His eyes began to widen in horror as she continued, “In the observation room while you and Brass interrogated Lurie.”

Vincent Lurie – that man had almost frightened him more than any other killer Grissom had ever met, because for the first time in his career, Gil Grissom saw himself in a suspect.

They were so alike, he and the good doctor – two middle-aged men who were married to their work, who felt nothing and touched no one except through a protective layer of latex. They had both had their perfectly anesthetized worlds turned upside down and inside out by the presence of a beautiful woman who showed them everything they had been missing in this life.

Neither man, however, had gotten their happy ending.

Lurie had loved and lost and Grissom, well, he had just lost.

“That wasn’t how I would have wanted you to find out,” he said, regret ringing in his voice.

“Find out what? That I wasn’t alone in feeling the way I did?” she asked, the hurt plain in her voice. “It didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, because in the end you couldn’t do it. Those were your words, Grissom, not mine. You couldn’t do it.”

“Did you ever stop to think for one moment that the reason I couldn’t do it had absolutely nothing to do with you?” Grissom asked, something akin to anguish on his face. “Sara, I am not a young man.”

Her lips moved to protest, but he shook his head to indicate that he needed to finish saying what he needed to say without interruption.

“I’m not good with people. And I’m certainly not good at relationships. I’ve never been good at relationships. I’m not good with feelings. I am exactly as you said I am, emotionally unavailable. You deserve better Sara – more.”

“I only ever wanted you.”

“For now,” he conceded. “But then someday all of those faults that you are so willing to overlook will still be there and then they will matter and –”

Grissom pulled off his glasses and squeezed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.

Telling Sara the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth had proven a lot harder than he had ever imagined, but she deserved it, no matter how hard it was for him to say the words.

“You were scared.” Sara’s words weren’t a question. Neither was her “You still are.”

He nodded with his eyes still closed as he tried to regain some measure of equilibrium.

“From the moment I met you, you turned my world of order into one of chaos. You don’t know how scary that can be.”

“I can imagine,” she replied with an understanding half-smile.

Grissom rose.

Sara thought for a moment that he was going to leave, that this was going to be their real good-bye, the one not on display for everyone else to see.

Instead, he walked over to her desk, picked up the entomology textbook he had given her, flipped it open and after retrieving a pen from his pocket, began to write.

When he had finished, he placed the heavy volume in Sara’s lap and said, “But not half as scary as the thought of loosing you for good.”

This time he did move towards the door. He paused, his hand hovering just over the doorknob.

“I guess you were right. By the time I figured it out it was too late.”

He closed the door wordlessly behind him, leaving only the image of his slumped shoulders and sad eyes.

Sara slowly opened the book to read in the neat, orderly quintessentially Grissom-like hand the words:

I need you.

I’m asking you to stay because I need you.

– Gil

*******

Have a question or want to leave a comment or concern and don’t have a wordpress account? Please feel free to email me at kadhmercer@gmail.com

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