51 – Surviving Christmas

With Grissom stuck in Paris and Sara having volunteered to work what everyone in the lab regarded as the holiday shift from hell, it wasn’t shaping up to be the merriest of Christmases.

But it being Christmas, the unexpected was bound to happen.

Follows A Lover’s Gift and takes place Christmas 2009.

With my not entirely heartfelt apologies for your having to humor my indulgence in a little wishful thinking – I just couldn’t resist.

*******

At 2 a.m. on the twenty-fifth of December, all of Vegas should be quiet and snug in their beds, but this was Vegas and Sin City never slept. Not even on Christmas.

If anything, crime was on the rise. Accidents, assault, arson, all sorts of alcohol-induced mayhem, burglary, larceny, suicide, homicide – you name it, it happened at Christmas.

So there was good reason why those who worked Grave always regarded the time from mid-afternoon Christmas Eve until mid-morning the day after Christmas as the holiday shift from hell. For those who had the misfortune to be scheduled to be on, the holiday wasn’t about celebrating, but surviving Christmas.

This year seemed to be worse than most.

Peace on earth, good will toward men certainly seemed to be in even sparser supply.

Perhaps it was the economy. Maybe people were just feeling a lot less jolly and a lot more reckless. It didn’t really matter. Mischief was mischief and Santa’s list for Vegas had a lot more naughty than nice.

Sara was feeling more than a little short of merriment herself that night.

Not that she’d ever really been all that keen on Christmas. Not really.

For much of her life, Christmas had been at best, just a day like any other day, and at worst, a day whose occasions she’d rather forget.

There had of course been notable exceptions. Like the one where out of the blue Grissom had given her that old entomology textbook of his for Christmas, or the one right before he’d left for Williams when against all odds, she’d been able to make him smile. And then there had been last year, where Grissom had given her the best gift she ever could have received: him back in her life again and this time for good.

But this year, she was back on her own in Vegas, having talked her way into having the dubious distinction of being acting shift supervisor for Grave, while her husband was 5,000 miles away in Paris.

Originally, Sara had thought it really wouldn’t have mattered, being apart this Christmas. After all, they had just seen each other a little over a week before. Even if it hadn’t turned out to be the most restful of times away, they’d still been together.

But she had been missing him, more and more as of late. The holidays had nothing to do with that, not really. It was just getting harder and harder for her to return to Vegas after her hours and days in Paris, and it had even become harder while she was in Paris to forget just how soon she’d have to come back.

So this year, like it or not, want it to be more or not, a phone call would just have to do.

Except for some strange reason she hadn’t been able to reach Grissom. She’d tried around midnight Vegas time, so it had been after eight in the morning in Paris, but there’d been no answer either at home or on his cell. Which was strange, as he was generally up and about at that hour and it wasn’t like he could be out working in one of his usual phone-free haunts. Almost everything in Paris was shut down. And from what she’d seen of their current weather, it wasn’t really one of those mornings for a long walk with Hank in the park. Besides, ever since she’d come back to Vegas Grissom had been a lot better about both carrying his phone wherever he went and making sure it was on.

Hopefully, she’d have better luck later.

Of course she really couldn’t be upset about how things had turned out, or for the situation she’d found herself in. After all, she’d practically volunteered.

*******

Just before shift on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Catherine had been not so pleasantly ensconced in her office, busy working on what Sara was soon to discover was the December Duty Roster.

“You wanted to see me?” Sara asked, still wary of interrupting her at the task. Even after the three months she’d been back and working under Catherine, Sara wasn’t sure how the new boss felt about Paper Work Patrol. With Grissom you had to be careful. If Ecklie had managed to overwhelm his inbox, Grissom tended to get more than a little cranky.

Perhaps she shouldn’t have worried, for Catherine greeted her arrival with a slight smile as she slipped off her reading glasses before motioning for Sara to take a seat.

“I can’t seem to find a request for time off for you,” she said.

“I didn’t submit one,” Sara replied.

That seemed to surprise her boss. “No Christmas in Paris?”

Sara shook her head. “I think I’ve trespassed enough on the team and department’s generosity.”

Although no one on Grave had let out even a murmur about her frequent long absences. And while the truth was even with the time she spent in Paris each month she still ended up with at least the same number of total hours worked as the rest of them (and frequently more), Sara wasn’t about to push her luck. Even if Ecklie had turned an unexpected blind eye to her unusual schedule. But even that was only because it was advantageous for him to do so. As long as Sara was here, he didn’t have to worry about the lab needing to recruit and train a new CSI. And it was hard enough to keep Days and Swing fully staffed as it was.

“And I don’t think Greg or Nick have had a chance to go back to see their families for a few years now,” Sara added. “Besides, Paris would be pointless. Grissom has lectures almost right up to Christmas, then a meeting with the American Board of Forensic Entomology at Michigan State University starting on the 27th, and exams to prep for when he gets back.”

“What’s he doing with the ABFE?”

“Some sort of planning session. Part of the whole coping with the push for a stricter certification process I guess,” Sara replied.

“Sounds like so much fun,” Catherine said, her tone heavy on the sarcasm. She shook her head. “You’d think he’d want a break after all these years.”

Sara had to smirk at that. “You know how Grissom feels about idle hands.”

Catherine sighed. “At least it keeps him out of mischief.”

“For the most part,” Sara conceded with a knowing sort of laugh.

While Catherine knew there had to be a story behind that she also knew better than to ask. In any case, Sara had returned to the topic of scheduling. “Even with you, Greg and Nick gone,” she was saying, “Langston and I can hold down the fort. We’d always have Wendy to help fill in if we needed it. Hodges can handle the lab. We should be fine. Besides, you’re not planning to actually leave town this year are you?”

“No.”

“So you’ll only be a phone call away if we need anything.”

******

Which had been how Sara had found herself acting supervisor that Christmas. After her third solo call of the night (and technically Grave had barely gotten started), she was seriously beginning to regret her words.

She’d stopped by the lab just long enough to drop off her latest batch of evidence from a string of armed robberies that seemed to be plaguing Vegas that night. Several all night liquor stores just off the strip had been hit. And as the M.O. in each case was virtually identical, it was likely to be the same trio of guys. After all, how many rifle toting Santas could there be, even in Vegas?

At least no one was dead – yet.

Although the night — and the holiday — was still young.

No, it had certainly not been a silent night. Wouldn’t likely get any quieter either, if the burgeoning pile of call sheets she was thumbing through on her way back out were any indication.

At least the lab was relatively peaceful. Should be with just the skeleton crew on and the place virtually empty. It really was just Hodges. Wendy was out with Langston, for while she wasn’t clear to work scenes on her own, she was still an excellent pair of eyes and a much welcome set of hands at a crime scene. Sara knew Wendy had the potential to be a first rate CSI, if only Ecklie would lift his asinine no more transfers out of the lab policy.

With all the calls and the shortage of staff, for the most part, the priority that night was evidence collection. The analysis on everything that didn’t require immediate attention would be tabled until after the twenty-sixth. Even though no one really was in favor of adding to the already long list of backlogged cases, it was the only way that Vegas got covered and some of the staff still had a chance to be with their families for the holiday.

Even that tonight was starting to look like a stretch. But there was no way in hell Sara was going to call Catherine in.

It was just going to be a long night. A really long night.

Which meant that by the time Sara would be able to clock out the next day, all she’d really want for Christmas was a long shower and sleep.

Right now she just needed a quick cup of coffee before she headed back out the door (she hadn’t even bothered to remove her coat).

Feeling more than a little harried and overwhelmed with everything that needed to be done, Sara wasn’t entirely pleased to find Hodges sitting in the break room, his nose buried in yesterday’s newspaper.

“Don’t you have something you should be…” she began, but never finished that thought, as when the paper lowered, it wasn’t the king lab rat sitting there.

“Christmas spirit running a little short this year, dear?” Gil Grissom asked with an amused grin.

Sara was too busy gawking to even begin to formulate a reply.

How she ever could have mistaken him for Hodges —

Except Grissom was supposed to be in Paris, not sitting in the lab break room as if he’d never left.

And while over the better part of the last year, Grissom  seemed to be enjoying making a habit of surprising her – this was honestly a bit bigger of a surprise than she was used to.

Sara was still mutely gaping at him when Wendy appeared beside her, open case file in hand. Although Wendy didn’t get much past “Sara” before being caught up short herself at the sight of Grissom there.

To her credit, she simply resumed what she had come to say as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on.

While the two women discussed the trick roll gone bad at the Sphere that Wendy and Langston had been working, Grissom rose and silently proceeded to place a steaming cup of coffee in front of Sara. She accepted it with a momentary smile and a slight nod, then began to sip at it, all without missing a beat of conversation. He wordlessly offered one to Wendy (who declined) before pouring a fresh mug for himself and resuming his seat.

The update soon completed, Sara drew a call slip from her pile and passed it to the DNA tech turned CSI for the night, who seemed genuinely pleased at the prospect of another case. Wendy’s eagerness hadn’t surprised Sara. She’d been ecstatic to find she’d scored field duty for the entire holiday shift.

Although there was a bit of awkwardness when she went to go. Wendy seemed unsure how and if she should acknowledge Grissom’s presence there. In the end the three of them simply exchanged smiles – still slightly bemused and bewildered ones on the part of Wendy and Sara, and a blithely unconcerned one on his.

Sara was about to finally ask her husband exactly what he was doing there when Hodges came barreling in.

“It really is you,” he gasped slightly breathless, as if he had been running, which he probably had. “Wendy said… But I had to come and see for myself –”

“Good to see you too, Dave,” Grissom replied, attempting not to be taken aback as he often was by Hodges’ enthusiasm.

Hodges turned to Sara and with a wounded expression asked, “Why didn’t you tell us he was coming?”

However it was Grissom who answered.

“She didn’t know.”

“Well, it’s about time you showed up around here,” Hodges continued. “People were starting to talk.”

“About?” Grissom asked this time genuinely at a loss.

“Your absence,” came Hodges matter-of-fact reply.

Grissom gave an exasperated shake of the head as he said, “I’m retired, Hodges. By definition I’m not supposed to be here.”

Hodges was spared having to come up with a rejoinder to this by Ray Langston’s sudden appearance in the doorway. Although Sara had serious doubts about it being either all that sudden or impromptu.

“Hodges, have you got a moment?” Ray was saying, his attention fixed on the file folder he had open in his hands. “Wendy and I are just about to head out, but I had a question about the results of that laser ablation test you ran on that unknown sample we found at the Sawyer scene on Wednesday. I don’t understand what…” but the rest of his query trailed off as he looked up. He hurriedly apologized. “I didn’t mean to interrupt,” he said, although his mien indicated otherwise.

“It’s fine. We were just about finished here,” Sara replied, giving Langston an appreciative smile, which he returned with a barely perceptive nod. “Right?”

While Grissom promptly agreed, Hodges didn’t look quite as certain; still he followed Ray out anyway.

At least Grissom seemed more amused than annoyed by the whole thing.

Which made one of them at least.

Although perplexed would have probably been a better word for what Sara was feeling.

Most of the time she took Grissom’s surprises in stride and just accepted and enjoyed them for what they were.

But this – this really was something else entirely.

At least all the interruptions had done one thing. Sara finally had a clue where to start her questions.

“So what are you doing here,” she asked.

“Waiting for you to get back. Dispatch said you were intending to stop before heading out again,” came his utterly nonchalant and unhelpful reply.

“You know what I mean,” she said both amused and yet not. “I thought you weren’t leaving for Michigan until the twenty-seventh?”

“I’m not. I just decided to catch an earlier flight. One with a layover in Vegas.”

“Gil, you do realize that Vegas isn’t on the way to Michigan?”

He only grinned.

“So how long is this layover of yours?” Sara asked.

“Until about midnight on the twenty-sixth.”

“You know, I’m not sure that really qualifies as a layover,” Sara said with a half laugh to hide the fact that she was torn between feeling overjoyed to see him and knowing that she was scheduled to work for the next thirty hours. So it was with equal parts reluctance and concern that she said, “I thought I told you I volunteered to pull Christmas duty this year.”

“You did.”

“It’s just that – there’s only four of us on the shift–”

“Five, actually,” he corrected.

“Five?” Sara echoed.

Grissom nodded, gave her a self-deprecating shrug. “I know I’m a little late for the start of shift,” he said. “But my flight was delayed.”

“Why? How?” she stammered.

“Ecklie agreed to bring in a temporary consultant for the holiday.”

“On his budget?” Sara scoffed.

“I said the magic word.”

Her voice was incredulous as she said, “Please?”

Free,” he smiled.

“So you came all this way to work Christmas?”

“No,” Grissom replied. “I came for Christmas. Work was incidental. Besides,” he said his smile growing in both size and warmth, “it’s tradition. We always work Christmas.”

“You have a strange sense of tradition, Gil.”

Though now that she thought about it, she supposed it was actually. They had worked every Christmas she’d been in Vegas. Even during those years when they hadn’t been on the best of terms, they’d still spent the holiday working. That probably did make it a tradition, as much as anything was.

Grissom gestured to the stack of call slips she was still holding. “Things busy as usual I see.”

“Vegas is still Vegas.”

“And crime never takes a holiday,” he lamented knowingly. “So what do you have for me?”

“You’re serious?”

“You’re acting shift supervisor tonight, aren’t you?” he said by way of a reply.

“Yes.”

Grissom chuckled. “I do still know how to follow directions, my dear.”

“Wow,” Sara replied with a laugh of her own. “You’re here and I get to be boss. It really must be Christmas.”

He chose to concede to the tease by saying. “Well, boss?”

“Okay,” she agreed, although still a little hesitant. Sara glanced down at the top assignment slip. The one that had been marked Urgent and Top Priority. She’d been on her way out the door to the scene when she’d been so unexpectedly and yet pleasantly detained.  “Burglary. Seven Hills. F.O.S.”

Putting someone of Grissom’s experience and expertise on what was likely to prove to be a straightforward case of B&E was by its very definition overkill. But while Sara might have hated the fact that being a friend of the sheriff meant you got special privileges, even she was politically astute enough to know that putting someone of Grissom’s experience and expertise on the investigation would help placate the victims’ unease and likely prevent a middle of the night call to either Ecklie or Catherine.

When Grissom, whom she knew hated playing politics, didn’t look entirely thrilled at the prospect, she grinned broadly at him and said, “You should be happy Greg isn’t the one in charge tonight. He’d have given you the trash call off Industrial.”

But Grissom merely motioned for her to hand the slip over, gave it a quick perusal before pocketing it.

“I’ll hit it on my way back. It’s in the neighborhood.”

Sara had to laugh at that. “Your grasp of Vegas geography as bad as your general geography? It’s in the neighborhood as much as Vegas is on the way to Michigan.”

He just grinned and got to his feet, grabbing his coat as he went.

She knew her husband well enough not to fight him. So she simply sighed and said, “Go ahead and knock yourself out.”

As they walked out together, Sara turned to him and said, “Please tell me you didn’t bring that snow with you.”

“Meteorological impossibility,” he rejoined. “Not cold enough.”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “Didn’t you tell me it snowed last year?”

“That was a freak storm.”

Sara nodded. “Ah. But didn’t you also say snow was rare in Paris too, and yet… I’m starting to think it must be you.”

“It was flurries and fog,” he countered.

“And cold.”

“Yes, and cold,” he agreed.

*******

The rest of that night passed in a blur. There were several more robbery calls. Sara rued that she’d probably be washing the fingerprint dust from her hair for a while. At least the Santa-suited liquor store bandits seemed sated. When there hadn’t been a single sighting for more than six hours, Sara started to breathe a sigh of relief. She would take her Christmas miracles wherever she could get them.

Ray and Wendy handled a slew of calls of the more routine variety – routine in this case being relative. The holidays always had more than their share of bizarre accidents and domestic disputes gone bad.

PD handled most of the less serious domestic calls. Although Sara spent an hour at Desert Palms collecting samples from a family party that stopped being family-friendly not long after the supply of alcohol had run out.

Just after sunrise on Christmas morning the first call for the coroner’s office came in. Two men had been found dead under an interstate underpass. Even though it hadn’t taken Sara all that long to determine that neither were victims of foul play, but rather suffered from long term exposure, it didn’t diminish the tragedy of it.

Grissom, Wendy and Langston had been out on a potential arson investigation and spent much of Christmas Day sorting through what evidence remained after the fire department had gotten done with the scene.

Though by that time, technically the five of them were only on call – or should have been, at least for much of the actual day itself. But as with Day and Swing shifts even more short than usual, on-call always seemed to lead to at a scene (it was fruitless to pretend otherwise), Sara didn’t see the point in attempting to go home.

Although she had tried to get the others to do so. She’d the same luck as Grissom had with her all those years. None at all.

Probably served her right.

Wasn’t like there wasn’t plenty to do.

Even if Grissom had returned to the job as if he hadn’t been away a day, let alone more than an entire year.

Things finally started to wind down just after dawn on the twenty-sixth. Wendy and Langston had gone to help Hodges continue to tackle the ever-mounting backlog. Sara used the time to catch up with the enormous pile of paperwork that had accumulated over the past thirty-plus hours.

As she contemplated all the reports she still had to get through, Sara really couldn’t imagine why she’d ever wanted that promotion all those years back. She’d much rather stick to the science, thank you very much. No wonder Grissom had always been testy when stuck with Paperwork Patrol.

From over the top of her file folders, Sara paused to glance at her husband. Grissom had finally succumbed to the long hours and jet lag and was dozing in a chair in the corner of the break room. She shook her head and sighed, still amazed that he was actually there.

Neither of them were aware that they had an audience. Wendy had been about to ask Sara a question regarding a point of evidence collecting protocol. But there was just something about seeing the two of them like that. The moment just felt too domestic to disturb. So Wendy decided her question could wait.

It had been like that all shift, watching the two of them when they worked together with that quiet ease that had been in some ways even more intimate a sight than any embrace or kiss.

*******

At last, the seemingly interminable shift was done.

And Vegas was someone else’s responsibility – at least for the next twelve hours or so.

They’d survived Christmas.

And that was something worth celebrating.

They’d all been in the locker room gathering up their things and putting on their coats when Sara suggested breakfast.

While Hodges seemed up for the idea, looked about to accept her invitation, Wendy nudged him, muttering the word “Plans” under her breath.

As this only served to confuse Hodges, he blurted out, “Plans?”

Wendy, realizing that he just wasn’t going to get it, decided to take charge.

“Yeah. Sorry, Sara,” she said having hurriedly adopted an apologetic air. “But uh… we… we already have plans. Right, Hodges?”

But before Hodges could answer, Wendy steered him towards the door, mumbling about having left something in her lab.

With an amused grin still playing about her lips, Sara looked to Ray.

“Rain check?” he simply replied, extending as he did so, a hand towards Grissom. “It was a pleasure working with you again.”

And with that handshake he was gone. Leaving the two of them standing there alone together.

When Gil Grissom turned to his wife, his bright eyes and warm smile plainly said, Home. Sara nodded, and took her husband’s proffered arm.

They walked out together like that. Quietly talking. As if it had been the most ordinary of days.

Wendy, who was still standing in DNA with Hodges, watched them pass and let out a sigh.

“You do realize that Grissom knew Sara had to work Christmas,” she said. “And even afterwards they’d have less than twelve hours before she had to be back in again. Still he came all that way. Just to spend Christmas with her. And then they barely even got to work together.”

Hodges, preoccupied as he was, didn’t seem to hear any of this however. He only looked at Wendy and said, “Plans? What plans?”

*******

Story continued in Home for the Holiday

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: