09 – The Nightmares that Come from Good Intentions

Continued from One (Not so Brief) Interlude on Insects.

Sara stirred to wake with Grissom’s arm around her and his face buried in the nape of her neck. She smiled contentedly at this, until she realized his grasp was more tight than tender; his shoulders taught and shaking slightly. And suddenly she didn’t feel quite so warm, satisfied or sleepy.

She slid her fingers through his and murmured, “Gil?” and when there was no reply, said, “Honey?”

“Go back to sleep,” he whispered. “It was… It was just a bad dream,” he eventually stammered before rolling away from her.

Although it hadn’t been just a bad dream. It had been much worse than that, but Grissom didn’t want to trouble her with it, not here and now. And honestly, he didn’t want to deal with it at the moment either.

He just wanted to be able to breathe again.

But Sara, having both used that exact excuse herself on more than one occasion, and been far too familiar with the clammy skin, patches of sweat and racing pulse, knew better than to believe him. She also knew not to press. So she merely watched in quiet concern as he attempted to extricate himself from the blankets and wasn’t surprised when that usually simple action turned out to not be so simple.

With his shaky feet finally flat on the floor, Grissom exhaled and finally hazarded to peer down at his empty hands. He was at once relieved to find them merely sweaty and not as he had just dreamt, or so often remembered, covered with blood. Still, he hurriedly wiped them on his cotton pants, trying hard to breathe past the memories so recently vividly reincarnated into dreams. How hot, sticky and glossily brilliant the fresh blood was. How hard the wet concrete had been beneath his knees. How the chill descended upon him as he felt the life leave Warrick’s body and he could do nothing but cradle him in his arms.

He wasn’t sure how long he sat there willing his breath to return to normal or precisely how he could over the thundering of his heart in his chest even hear the light rustle of sheets as Sara slipped from the bed or make out the sounds of her soft footfalls that stopped directly in front of him. He knew though, that she was real, perhaps the only real thing, so he leaned forward to rest his head on her stomach, buried his face into the soft fabric of her t-shirt and held her hard.

From the way his shoulders were shaking, Sara knew he was crying, something she had only ever seen Grissom do a handful of times in all the years she’d known him. But she didn’t move to stop him, she simply smoothed his hair and hugged him in return and let him. For she doubted if he’d really cried since that afternoon after Warrick’s funeral.

She didn’t really want to think about that day, remember it and immediately tried to as she had long had put it out of her mind, for while having to face the reality of loosing Warrick like that had been heartbreaking enough, to see Grissom like he was that day, it had been beyond devastating. The break in his voice. The stiffness. The aching vacancy that seemed to lie behind his eyes that she hadn’t seen there since Nick had been taken. How he haunted his townhouse in the same way as he had right after she had returned from the hospital: unable to eat or sleep or settle on anything for very long. Part of her had wished he had been angry like he had been when Greg had been beaten. Of the wistful pensiveness he had displayed after Brass had been shot, there had been no sign. There had been it seemed with little hope of relief, release or comfort, just the agony of absolute loss and the knowing that what was gone could never be found again.

When they had returned to his place that afternoon, Sara had drawn him over the threshold of his apartment, quietly closed the door behind them both and carefully folded him up in her arms. He had finally broken down then and sobbed as she gently rocked him, unable to keep her own tears from streaming down her cheeks. They had stayed like that for a long while until the exhaustion of the last several days overcame the two of them and they collapsed into the fitful sleep of the grieved.

Tonight, she waited for him to still before she knelt, took his face into her hands and rubbing her thumbs along the skin just above his beard, searched his face.

However tempting it might have been, she didn’t tell him that everything was going to be okay. In all the time they had known each other, Grissom had never stooped to saying such vapid and banal things to her and Sara was not about to start.

It took him a while to meet her gaze but when he did, she glimpsed relief rather than chagrin or heartache there.

Grissom let out a long, deep breath that contained her name as he leaned his head against hers to better breathe in deep the reassuring presence of her.

When she reached down to take them in hers, his hands were still damp with sweat and as cold as ice so Sara brought them up to her mouth to blow warmth back into them again, but before long, they slid around her cheeks and he kissed her, his lips soft, warm and tasting of tears.

She could feel him finally begin to relax, his breathing begin to slow again.  And when he pulled away, he chanced a soft smile as if to indicate that he was okay, even if they both knew better. Sara nodded in agreement anyway.

Judging from the way that thin strip of moonlight was insistently threading its way between the tent flaps, it had to be long past three, and as Sara was typically awake around five, she didn’t see much point in either of them attempting to go back to bed. Besides, there was just something about nightmares that always seemed to make even the mere prospect of sleep seem rather repugnant, no matter how little real rest had preceded it.

So after a while, Sara gently disengaged herself from him and whispered that she would be right back and that he should get his jacket and put on his boots.

She was as good as her word, and returned less than five minutes later, a thermos in hand.

“Not warm milk,” she said, seeing the wary way Grissom was eying it. “Come on,” she urged, tugging him toward the tent entrance, having hurriedly slipped on her own jacket and boots.

She knew just the place to go after bad dreams.

Even with just the faint illumination of her lantern (the canopy overhead obscured much of the moonlight), Grissom recognized the path they were on as the one leading towards the small river where they went to fetch water throughout the day.

But it was far different a place at night, for the bit of open sky above made the water seem to ripple and dance with a silvery glow.

“Sit with me,” Sara whispered, motioning to a pair of large boulders near the water’s edge. He did.

She followed his gaze skyward. “It’s beautiful. But sad, too,” she whispered, admiring the waning gibbous moon. “Like half of it is missing.” Then with a weary sort of smile she said, “I know that feeling.”

Grissom did too.

Sara pulled a bandana from a jacket pocket, dipped it into the water before wringing out the excess and draping it over the back of Grissom’s neck. Despite the bone-deep chill still left over from his dream, the cool of the water felt wonderfully refreshing. She let him simply savor the sensation for a few minutes before handing him a steaming cup.

“It’s just tea,” she said and left him to sip quietly at it before she said, “You haven’t been sleeping well,” with all the understanding of a person far too used to both insomnia and the horrors of nightmares.

He gave her a half smile. “Better since I decided to come.”

Sara seemed to consider her next question for a while. “Worse than after Warrick –” she started, but her voice got caught and she couldn’t quite get out the word died.

He nodded as did Sara.

Those had been bad enough, she knew. That they had been even worse after she had left, she gulped at the thought, and then at the fact that she had left, hadn’t been there for him, especially after all those times he had been for her.

“Gil –” Sara began. “Gil, I’m so sorry.”

Grissom, seeming to sense that her words weren’t merely ones of commiseration, but rather a genuine expression of regret, made no reply but to nod.

“I — I thought I was doing the right thing,” she eventually stammered. “I really did. The first time, I just didn’t want to put you through having to watch me self-destruct again.”

This Grissom certainly understood. In many ways, he had done the exact same thing with her.

“And I thought I could do it — handle it — on my own,” she was saying. “I mean I’ve spent my whole life fighting my battles on my own that I didn’t even think to ask for help.

“I thought if I went away, I could fix it. Or at least begin to figure out how to fix it. Fix me.

“But there are just some things you can’t fix.

“More often than not, once someone – something,” she hurriedly corrected, “is broken, it never goes back together again. You can’t make it whole. It will always be broken.”

“Sara,” he said softly. She shook her head as if to say she wanted to finish, to get all the words and the hurt out.

“I tried for so long to do that, to try and put the fragments back together into some semblance of a real life. And for a while, I really thought I had. But then everything began to unravel all over again and the damn pieces just wouldn’t fit –”

“‘And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men…’” Grissom intoned quietly.

“Yeah. And I didn’t know what to do,” she confessed. “All I knew was that I just couldn’t put you through that. For we saw enough sadness and grief and heartache at work. The kits and the latex gloves, the procedures and the science, they help distance us from that horror. But it’s still always there.

“And I didn’t want you to have to deal with all that at home, too, not when there were so many more important things going on.”

She paused, needing the breath, needing a moment before she continued.

“Then for a long time, I didn’t know if I could come back, to you, to CSI. If I even deserved to come back. So much time had passed.

“And then Warrick…” and she was at last able to get the word out, “died. And once I was back in Vegas again, I realized I hadn’t really fixed anything — anything at all.

“And it hurt. It hurt to see you hurting like you were then and not to be able to do one damn thing about it.

“Gil, I — I just couldn’t — couldn’t watch you rebuild all those walls again because it just hurt so much for you to feel anything anymore.

“It was just too much and too easy to get pulled back into that life of living for the dead again,” she said, the frustration evident in her voice.

She met his eyes and grasped his hand hard. “I just wanted to get you away, away for a little while, before the light went completely out of your eyes.”

Grissom returned the pressure and her gaze, but made no reply.

“Then you turned out to be right about Tom Adler. About all of it. The case. The need to stick to the science. To not let my emotions get too involved. To not let the case poison my own life and I didn’t listen.

“And I couldn’t face you after that,” she confessed. “Because if you were right about him needing her to leave him, then perhaps you were right about the rest of it, too. That you really did mean to say that I had to be the one to go because you couldn’t.

“And that was what you really wanted.”

Grissom’s voice was faint, almost forlorn when he said, “It wasn’t.”

“So while you ran to work, I ran away,” she finished.

“It didn’t work,” Grissom replied. “And it didn’t help.”

“No, it didn’t,” she quietly concurred.

“But I thought,” he said slightly perplexed, “I thought you were happy.”

Sara thought back on the flush and rush of those first few weeks after she had left Vegas. It had been easy for her to be happy far from all the things that made her ache and want to rage and roar. Easy to begin to breathe again. Easy to be lost in the here and now and not in the then and there. Easy to be swept up in the wonder of it all, in all the glory and beauty around her. Easy to be lost and not have to worry about being found.

Yes, it had felt like happiness, an almost intoxicating sort of euphoria. But that sort of satisfaction she was soon to find wasn’t permanent. It was a bit like trying to grasp water in your cupped hands. No matter how tight she tried to hold on to it, it still trickled through her fingers.

“No,” she reluctantly admitted, although at least she knew the admission was honest. Suddenly, her tone turned insistent, “I didn’t want you to worry. It would have just made it all worse.”

Grissom nodded, remembering that she had once said as much to him before, right before she left, when he had stopped by PD to make sure she was okay because he had been worried and seriously so. The thing was, receiving her message hadn’t made him worry any less.

“I wanted you to know,” continued Sara, “I needed you to know it was okay. Okay if you — if you –”

“Needed to walk away?” he finished.

“Or wanted to.”

“But what did you want?” Grissom asked.

Sara gave a sad sort of shrug, before saying, “The same thing you did: more than just to know I wasn’t alone.”

He gave this a sorrowful nod, having himself both feared and believed that she had misunderstood what he had meant when he said those words. He had wanted her. To be with her, not just for days or weeks or months. He wanted, he supposed, everything. He just hadn’t been willing or able to do anything to get it.

It wasn’t that he hadn’t thought about it, about going away with her. He had. For months really. Not that there was any way for her to have known that. He had never said as much to her before.

“That night Warrick was shot,” he said. “Just before, we’d all been having breakfast together. You know like we used to.”

Sara did. He had mentioned as much at Warrick’s funeral.

“I think that was the last moment of contentment I had for a very long time. But in that moment, it felt like everything was the way it was supposed to be. Finally back to normal. Well, as normal as things ever were or could be with you away.

“On the way back to the car, I stopped by the newsstand, not on purpose, but the latest copy of National Geographic Traveler had caught my eye. Since before April, I’d been thinking about getting away for a while, going away with you, as we’ve still never really had a vacation together,” he said with a soft smile. “It finally felt like the perfect time to do it.

“And then –”

Sara knew all too well what happened then.

“And I just couldn’t,” he confessed. “I just couldn’t do it.”

For a long moment, his words hung there between them as they always had, before she gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. In part, she understood, she did, while part of her she knew never could or would.

Grissom glanced down at their hands before saying, “I saw Natalie a few months ago. At her transfer hearing,” he explained. “All I could do the whole time was wonder if it was possible — if it was really possible for people who are damaged to change.

“But I wasn’t thinking about Natalie — or you — but myself.

“I guess I wanted to know if I could change. If I could….” But the rest seemed to get stuck in his throat.

Sara reached up to lightly caress his cheek as she simply waited for him to continue in his own time.

But he couldn’t quite say, If I could change and be able to leave the past, my past and all the patterns — the ones that have for so long both sheltered and imprisoned me — behind.

Instead, Grissom took a deep breath and said, his voice laden with regret, “Heather was right. It was time to stop and live my own life for once,” and then as if he thought his abrupt mention of Heather Kessler needed further explanation added, “I went to see her.”

“I hope it was a social call and not a professional one,” Sara replied.

“Both and neither,” he offered, slightly caught off guard by the casualness of her response. A part of him had thought, almost expected her to question his actions, perhaps even be upset that he had gone to see Heather, but Sara looked more understanding that anything.

She seemed to register his surprise, for she said with a slight shake of the head, “I’m not always irrationally jealous, Gilbert.”

Which earned her a hint of a bemused grin from him.

“She is your friend,” continued Sara. “Why wouldn’t you go see her?”

“After I got your message,” Grissom began and her smile swiftly vanished. “Honey, I honestly didn’t know, know what to do or think or even feel. I needed…”

“Someone to talk to. Someone outside that you trusted,” she finished.

“Yes,” he replied and then as if he didn’t want there to be any misunderstanding between them, Grissom said, “Nothing happened.”

“I know.”

Sara knew better than to believe otherwise. Nothing had happened the last time either. Even then, it wasn’t that he had spent the night with Heather Kessler that had really bothered her. It had been that she had had to hear about the whole thing from Catherine and not from him.

Grissom, remembering as much himself added, “She’s not my secret, Sara.”

“I didn’t think as much,” she replied. When he continued to look surprised, Sara said, “Gil, if you had wanted to be with her, you wouldn’t be here right now.”

He nodded in agreement.

“I’m glad,” she continued, “she was there,” and he could tell that she genuinely meant it.

“She’s a licensed therapist now,” he said.

Sara chuckled. “Now that doesn’t surprise me.”

Grissom smiled in reply before saying. “But she was right,” he said, “You were right. Not making a decision was making a decision.

“At first, I thought you were telling me that I had already made the wrong decision. That it was too late. But what you were telling me was that I still had a choice. If I just had the courage to make it, I could still choose to live my own life, to let myself have my own life.

“It just took a while for the words — for what they really meant — to sink in.”

“When I never heard back from you,” Sara murmured, “I was afraid that I would never see you again.”

“Honey, I wanted to write,” he whispered. “I did. I tried. I just couldn’t find the words.

“That’s when I knew I had to come.”

“You know I wasn’t asking you –”

“I know,” he replied. “But it was time to make a decision. I chose to go with the living — for once,” he said with a self-deprecating sort of smile, which she returned. He reached out, brushed a stray curl back behind her ear. His voice turned soft, tender, “You know, my mother was right, too. I always was a moron and a coward and a fool when it came to you.”

“So you keep telling me.”

But Grissom’s face soon turned somber again. “We never did talk about it,” he said. “Those hours in the desert and after.

“Sara, when we found you, I was so relieved that you were alive, too happy to still have you, that I didn’t want to dwell on how close I really came to losing you out there.

“And I didn’t stop to think about the afterwards. As long as you were there beside me, I could imagine that once your arm and all the scrapes and scratches and bruises healed, that would be the end of it. We could go on as if nothing had happened, as if Natalie had never happened.

“But it had. She had. And try as I might to ignore them, things were different.

“I tried to pretend that there wasn’t a problem with us being on separate shifts with separate days off. I thought the hints of sadness and distance I would glimpse from you from time to time were you having problems adjusting to the new shift, to the new schedule, to the new responsibilities with Ronnie. That those were the things frustrating you, keeping you awake.

“And I didn’t realize that during the times we were together, we were both trying so hard to make the most of it, so neither of us talked about empty beds and loneliness or the pain and nightmares.

“So I just kept acting as if things weren’t any different in hopes that they wouldn’t be. But Aldus Huxley had it right: ‘facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.’”

Sara nodded sadly.

“And then you were just gone,” Grissom continued. “And even then I guess I thought you’d come back. You’d go away for a little while and then you’d come back.”

“Like you did,” Sara supplied.

“Yes,” he said. “And then everything could go back to being the way it was. What I didn’t realize was that there could be a time when you just couldn’t come back.”

“It wasn’t because of you.”

“I know.”

“I thought they would go away, too,” Sara said. “That overwhelming sense of futility, the frustration, fatigue. I thought eventually they would go away and things would return back to normal.

“They didn’t.”

“I know,” he said. “I really do. The last few months. The work. The cases. Honestly, they sucked. But, Sara, nothing was as hard as going home and having to face the fact that you were gone and weren’t coming back.

“I couldn’t do it either. Not any more. Not without you.”

Suddenly, Sara found she needed to wipe the wetness from her cheeks, but Grissom pulled her hands away and kissed her.

In a wistful sort of voice he whispered, “I really should have taken Catherine’s advice.”

As this was the first Sara had heard about it, she simply waited for him to go on.

“Last year, that week after you left, she told me I should take some vacation time and go after you,” he said.

“Why didn’t you?”

“I guess I was trying to do…”

“The right thing?”

Grissom nodded. “I didn’t think that was what you wanted. And I wanted — I wanted you to be happy.”

“Gil –” Sara sighed.

“Then when I got your email, I guess it felt like that old adage — be careful what you wish for. I wanted you to be happy. I really did. But I guess what I really wanted was for you to be happy with me.

“It took me that year to figure out that you never did tell me you never wanted me to come.”

“Why is it,” she began both bemused and rueful all at once, “that every time we try to do the right thing, it ends up being the wrong one?”

“You know what they say about good intentions,” he replied.

“I know the road to hell is paved with them.”

“Yeah,” he agreed and then pensively asked, “Which is worse I wonder: the good intentions that we have and then don’t do, or the ones we have and actually do?” As there didn’t seem to be reply to this nor was it, it seemed required, he went on to question in a lighter, curious tone, “What is the road to heaven paved with then?”

“No clue,” Sara replied, shrugging her shoulders. “I leave philosophy to those highly intellectual guys like you. But,” she said leaning in to brush her lips along his, “I do remember a very smart man once telling me ‘the best intentions are fraught with disappointment.’”

“Very true,” he agreed and then puzzled asked, “Who said that?”

“You did.”

Grissom gave her an abbreviated chuckle. “Sometimes I really do think you memorize everything I say, dear.”

“No,” she laughed in return. “Just the important stuff.”

After a moment, his face lost a little of its jocularity. There was one last thing Grissom wanted to know.  “In that email,” he began. “You said that you thought we could survive anything. Do you still believe that?”

“I want to.”

Continued in The Shadow of a Doubt.

*******

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