75 – Sooner Rather than Later

The fallout after finding Gina Sinclair wasn’t guilty for the latest dismembered girl in concrete leaves Sara longing for something more than a break from the lab.

Takes place post episode 1203 “Bittersweet,” circa October 2011.

*******

“It seems so hopeless, dear, I know. But lift your head; do not cry. And sometimes when you see me morbid and depressed, comfort me and calm me, and I in turn, when you despair, will comfort you with love.

For love is all we have, the only way that each can help each other…

… You are all my help; you are my hope,”

Orestes, Euripides, translation by William Arrowsmith

*******

Quarter to five in the evening found Sara Sidle slumped on a bench in the lab locker room trying to get up the energy to go home. They’d only just finished packing up the last of the evidence against Colleen Hughes and Ryan Thomas. Well, Sara had. Insisted on it actually. There were just some cases you needed to physically put to bed no matter how prolonged and disheartening a process it proved.

After three full days of cataloguing, Sara should have felt relieved. She didn’t.

Besides, even though she was almost a week past tired, it wasn’t like she was going to go home and sleep. She certainly hadn’t been. Of course that was normal. About the only normal thing about the last week. The only problem was it made for really, really long days.

Keeping busy – moving — working were one of the few ways Sara knew to keep the horror of it all at bay, at least long enough to give time and space a chance to begin to mitigate the madness. That overwhelming sense of powerlessness she knew would take a lot longer to fade. For no matter how determinedly you tried to shrug them off, the difficult cases had the unfortunate habit of sticking with you.

Which meant she really wasn’t looking forward to being off the clock for the next few days. But then investigations like these always made it a hell of a lot harder to return home to an empty house. Not that Hank wasn’t welcome company, but he wasn’t Grissom and right now her husband was what was sorely wanted. Except as he frequently was these days, Grissom was away and no amount of wishing would make him magically appear.

She hadn’t even had the comfort of a call. Unfortunately that, too, came with the territory. For while they tried to speak everyday, his various assignments as of late frequently had the annoying and rather inconvenient tendency of placing him out of cell range for long intervals. Sometimes too long, as in for the better part of the last week too long.

Most of the time the whole him there, her here nature of their marriage didn’t overly trouble Sara. They made it work and it did. Didn’t mean she missed him any less. If anything, time had made it harder rather than easier to be apart. And there were just some cases that beat you down and cut you to the quick and made you long for the sort of solace presence alone could provide.

As if someone had been eavesdropping on her musings, Sara’s phone let out its usual insistent peal and she immediately perked up at the name on the caller ID. But then her husband did have the oddest habit of calling just when she was thinking about him.

Picking up before the end of the second ring, Sara gave him a welcoming, if as yet a little weary, “Hey.”

“You still at the lab?” he said, more statement than actual query.

“What do you think?”

There was a pause as if Grissom was carefully considering his answer before he settled on quipping, “Stupid questions get smart answers,” a reply which despite everything, earned him a half laugh from his wife. “But,” he continued, “stranger things have happened, my dear.”

“I’m on my way out the door if you must know.”

Although his subsequent “Physically or just mentally?” was technically a fair question, Sara opted to rejoin, “Physically, if I ever get off the phone,” even if she wasn’t in the least bit of a hurry to hang up.

And while her apparent flippancy might have fooled her coworkers, Grissom knew her too well. “You okay?” he asked.

However tempting the automatic Yeah might have been, she decided to go with the truth: “Better since you called. Though not as good as when you finally get home. And when will that be exactly, Gil?”

When last they’d spoken, Grissom had said something about his work finishing up earlier than he’d originally expected. Unfortunately, that had been the extent of his communication on the subject. At this point, Sara was hoping for an actual date.

But all he said was “Soon.”

Bientôt. Presto. Pronto. Whether in English, French, Italian, Spanish, or ASL, it didn’t matter, soon was ever his usual response, strange as it was for a man who was usually so precise about everything else.

Normally, this attempt of his at caginess would elicit an eye roll and shake of the head, but today it only made her heart ache even more for him, silly as Sara knew it to be. But she couldn’t quite help it. She loved him, missed him, wanted and needed him.

But it was only for a few more days. And a few more days she could do. That didn’t mean she had to like it.

“Soon,” she echoed and sighed, thinking he couldn’t come soon enough. “Of course.”

The sense wasn’t lost on him. “Week that good?”

“Finding cut up pieces of girl in cement isn’t my favorite.”

Nor his either.

“Want to talk about it?”

“It’s a long story.”

“They usually are. I’ve got time.”

In the past, too often the two of them had both been equally guilty of going quiet when it came to the worst investigations. Only thing was the not talking about it hadn’t made them go away or be any easier. Strangely, sharing however actually did. So Grissom set to listen in that quiet, patient way of his while Sara gave or at least attempted to give him the Cliff Notes version.

“You know how they say history repeats itself? Sometimes sadly it does.”

Certain this was but the preamble to a far more complicated story, he simply waited for her to continue. And Sara did, after a long steadying breath:

“Remember the Sinclair case? Todd and Gina. Husband and wife rape team,” she added unnecessarily.

Five years ago or no, Grissom wasn’t likely to forget it or them. Or the days, weeks, almost months she worked the evidence. Or how Sara’s insomnia and nightmares had been even worse than usual. Nor her bitter disappointment in the verdict.

What was worse, the Sinclair’s had only been one of many in a long line of tough cases that Sara seemed to have the misfortune to catch. Too long a line. And one which had culminated in Sara nearly losing her life and ultimately leaving the lab — and him. No wonder she spoke of that time as being one where she could barely breathe, let alone think.

No, he was certainly not about to forget them.

Or how all that while, he’d been preoccupied, too lost in his own world — as usual — trying to catch the eponymous “Miniature Killer.”

At least he knew better now, even if not always any better what to do about it, apart from trying to be there and support her in anyway he could. It had taken him a long time, nearly the better part of a decade if he was being completely honest, to realize that when it came to cases like these, Sara just needed to talk it out, get it all – all the anger and frustration – out of her head. Which strangely enough was all that was wanted. She wasn’t wanting or even looking for real answers, mostly she just wanted the chance to ask the questions. So he let her.

“Todd got 120 years, Gina got five. Didn’t even serve that. Out three weeks ago. Early parole for good behavior,” Sara supplied unable to keep the animus at bay. “So when we find another body, same M.O., I track her down. And there she was, sunning herself by the pool, admiring the flowers. Her words, not mine.

“And you know me. The usual,” she offered abashed but honest. “I lost perspective. And my temper. Again.

“Announced she was a rapist and a killer in front of her entire neighborhood. But at least I only called her a psychopath to her face.

“Almost got pulled off the case. Rightly,” Sara readily admitted. “When they can’t put the evidence on trial, the defense goes after us. Russell’s right. You’re right.” Grissom had more than once given her a similar admonishment over the years. “Doesn’t mean I have to like it, Gil.”

For one of the pitfalls of having married an overly erudite spouse was the inevitable, yet no less irritating, habit he possessed of being right pretty much most of the time.

Sara waited for the reproof, well warranted as she knew it was. But it didn’t come.

“Anyway,” she plowed on, “turned out Gina didn’t do it.”

“Copycat?”

“Worse. Colleen Hughes.”

“Their last victim?” Grissom was genuinely aghast.

“The only one we found alive, yeah. Recruited her boyfriend and the two of them literally picked up right where Gina and Todd left off. She wanted to give Gina another flower. A getting out of jail gift I guess.”

What Sara did know was it was going to be a very long, long time before she got Colleen’s plaintive “I’m a good girl,” out of her head.

“So much for second chances and happy endings. You’d think I’d have learned by now.”

That her voice had grown ever more weary as she went didn’t escape her husband’s notice. Nor did the tightness and the trace of what he was fairly sure was tears.

“Well,” he began, “they do say that sometimes our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses,” thinking as he was with more admiration than rue of his wife’s fierce, instinctive, almost tigress-like protectiveness.

Sara smiled in spite of herself. Quotes and sage advice and all, this was the Grissom she knew and loved so well, even if it wasn’t exactly the response she’d been expecting or even recognized.

“They who?” she asked. “I don’t know that one.”

To which Grissom gave a succinct: “Me,” followed by a playfully nettled, “I am capable of original thought, Sara.”

True. Not that she would ever let on.

“Except,” she countered, “I don’t recall that being your response when you were the boss.”

“One of the many benefits of not being the boss: don’t have to play politics or worry about the good of the lab.”

“Just me?” said Sara with a half chuckle before adding, far more tease than tart in her tone, “You make it sound like that’s a full time job.”

When he rather astutely made no reply, she sighed, “You just don’t want to have to sleep on the couch when you get home.”

Also true. But even she knew it was more than that. Besides, it wasn’t as if she didn’t do her fair share of worrying about him while he was away.

“I just wanted to nail her.” Her words went wistful and urgent all at once. “So wanted to nail her.”

“I know.”

“And because of double jeopardy, the only thing we could possibly charge her with is being a smug cow. Which sadly isn’t illegal. So Gina gets away with it while Ed Burrows goes to jail for kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder. I know I shouldn’t, but part of me wishes we had gotten there ten minutes later.”

Sara had certainly never wanted to hit anyone more in her life than Gina after that self-satisfied Thank you of hers. If only looks could kill, the smug bitch would thankfully be dead. Sara wasn’t entirely proud of that thought either.

“I mean when does justice get served?”

Having no answer to this, Grissom only let her continue. “And you know what, maybe I did cross the line with Gina. Okay, there’s no maybe about it. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat. If it saved one life – I mean it’s probably only time before she starts up again. It just never stops, does it?”

Though he knew it was the harder answer to hear, he went with the truth anyway. “No.”

If more than a quarter century as a CSI had taught Gil Grissom anything, it was just when you thought you’d finally seen the worst, there was always something worse.

“You ever wonder what it’s all for?” she asked and not for the first time. What the hours and days and weeks of separation were for. All the nights apart, she thought but did not say.

“I did. All the time.”

“And?”

“Sometimes you’ve got to leave the good to God. And the bad, too.”

There was a deep breath from Sara’s side. One Grissom knew meant she’d heard and was seriously weighing his words. And yet he was unsurprised to hear her finally say:

“I can’t. I — I just can’t.”

That was the difference between them. And they each knew it.

“I know.”

“I guess part of me still stupidly expects justice or else what are we doing it all for?”

Neither replied. They didn’t have to. To this they both knew the answer: Because somebody has to. Because kids should be able to walk home from the library.

“It’s just not –”

“Fair?” he offered once she faltered.

“I am more than five, Gil. I know the world isn’t fair.”

“Doesn’t keep us from wishing it was,” he said evenly. “Sara, tell me something. Why did you read all those crime books for all those years? We both know it wasn’t to pick up pointers.”

There was definitely no disputing that. For when it came to the actual crime, more often than not, novels tended to screw up the details or neglect them entirely. So no, she hadn’t read them for their forensics.

“Because they always get the guy,” she said. “Justice wins.”

“Exactly. And you remember how you once told me you thought we made up God just to have someone to blame for our mistakes?”

“Yeah. Almost five years ago,” she said surprised and not that he recalled that particular conversation.

“Sometimes I think we need to believe in hell as much as heaven.”

Even if she knew it a response he couldn’t see, she nodded knowingly at this.

“Sara –” he murmured, this time two syllables drawn out soft and warm, tender and gentle as the embrace she really needed right now.

She closed her eyes, letting it and him wash over her for a while, before reality returned and she registered the fact that it was after five and she was still in the lab locker room. If she lingered any longer, she might get roped into helping Swing, short staffed as it always was.

What’s more, the prospect of heading home suddenly didn’t seem as daunting as before.

“I know we didn’t get to talk about what you’ve been up to at all, but if I don’t get out of here soon, I’ll probably run into Ecklie doing his last rounds and –”

“Not a good idea,” Grissom agreed.

“You going to be up and available for a while?”

“Yeah.”

“Call you later? I promise to be better company.”

She could hear the smile in his “Your company’s just fine.”

“Catch you when I catch you?” she said by way of parting, one they’d frequently employed over the years.

“I’ll see you soon. Promise.”

*******

While she did manage to avoid the undersheriff, Sara had a few stops to make on her way home. Dry cleaning to be picked up. The grocer’s to restock the basics. Even if Grissom hadn’t been any more definitive in the date, she wasn’t about to have him return home to find the cupboards as bare as she habitually kept them while he was away. Albeit her thoughtfulness had far more to do with adverting the inescapable teasing she knew she would be in for if she didn’t.

Hank had been happy to see her when she’d finally picked him up. Although at this particular moment he was being more hindrance than help, pawing anxiously at the front door and tugging at his leash while she, not all that keen on crushed bread, spilt milk or broken eggs, tried to balance her reusable grocery bags on one hip while digging out her keys.

When another of his wrenchings caused her to fumble them onto the floor, Sara let out an exasperated, “Look, Hank, I know I was late and it’s past your dinner time, but if you don’t stand still for one second, we’ll be out here all –”

She was cut off in mid bent and admonition by the sound of the lock disengaging on its own.

The smell of toasted bread, browned butter and melted cheese wafted over her, but it was the sight of the figure in the doorway which arrested Sara: Grissom in that green apron of his.

For a very long moment she just stood there gaping at him. Long enough she was still standing there wide-eyed and open-mouthed when her husband rose from retrieving her keys and lavishing attention on a very insistent Hank.

So long in fact he teased, “It’s good to see you too, dear.”

In the end, the best Sara could manage was an agog stammer of “How?”

“Robin phoned after you stopped by to pick up Hank,” he replied, taking the shopping bags from her as he explained.

“That’s not what I was –” she began, dinner being the very last thing on her mind, but she gave up asking. However spending as much of her life as she did with questions, none of them mattered all that much at the moment. Not at least nor not near as much as that he was here pulling her close. His arms were about her and his lips on hers.

“Soon enough for you?” he asked into her hair.

Sara shook her head. “No,” but she was beaming as she said it and drew him in for another kiss.

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