I'd left Grissom's townhouse soon after breakfast, stopping at Catherine's for a long visit before heading back to the hotel to change clothes. He'd insisted that tonight would be a real date - jacket, tie, the works. No Chinese takeout this time. I was just slipping into black pinstriped pants when my IM dinged. I leaned over to see his message: "I have to cancel tonight. Sorry." I asked why, and he replied, "I just do." This was an unacceptable answer, but rather than continue online, I replied with, "I'll be over in a minute." Before he could write anything more, I had shut the laptop down and caught a cab.
Upon arriving, I realized what the problem was immediately. Sometime in the intervening hours, Grissom's hearing had wavered again.
"We should wait," he repeated.
"No," I insisted, signing as quickly as I could. "I waited too long already. No more waiting."
"No 'but'," I signed emphatically. "We can go out, or we can stay here, but we're having this date."
"I promised you a restaurant," he replied, his face reflecting something I had never seen in him: regret.
I shrugged, signing awkwardly. "I don't mind. Pizza?" I offered, saying the words aloud, so Grissom could supplement my still somewhat limited ASL vocabulary by reading my lips.
Grissom relaxed slightly, signing back, "Okay."
"Where's the menu? I'll call."
He strode to the kitchen and pulled two sheets out of a drawer, holding them up for me to pick one. I chose Pizza Hut, sliding it out of his hand with a smile. I reached for the phone, dialed and tucked it between my ear and my shoulder. "Mushrooms okay?" I signed.
"Allergic," Grissom replied quickly, spelling the word in letter-signs.
"Extra cheese?" The phone was answered as Grissom nodded his consent. I ordered quickly, then turned to him with a smile. "Half hour," I signed, using the individual signs for "halve" and "hour".
Grissom shook his head and chuckled silently, his mouth forming a grin. He stepped closer to me, taking my hands in his. I inhaled sharply, grateful for a split second that he couldn't hear me. My stomach was fluttering, as if we'd never touched before.
He turned my hands in his, holding one open and facing left, and circled the other in a half-moon motion around my stilled hand. "Half hour," he mouthed.
"Thank you," I signed back. "I'm still learning." Grissom released my hands, turning and heading to the couch, and I followed.
"You're learning quickly." He was signing, as well as mouthing the words, as we settled onto the couch. He did this so I was able to interpret signs I didn't recognize by speech-reading. Watching Grissom signing was a truly unique experience. I was translating the signs into words in my head, still not practiced enough in sign language to understand the movements instinctively. Overlapping with my mental translation was the sound of Grissom's voice, as I'd heard it so many times, encouraging me.
"It's important to me." 'You're important to me,' was what I wanted to say, but I had no intention of rushing overt declarations of feeling and watching Grissom run for the hills. I knew how big a step he was taking that night - not only because he had been the one to initiate the date, but because he knew he was vulnerable, yet he didn't insist on rescheduling. I hoped this meant that somewhere inside, he understood that I would never look at him with anything less than the deepest respect.
Grissom nodded, as if accepting that statement and filing it away. "Did I tell you about the article I read last week?" He was signing slowly for my benefit, and I appreciated it wholly. We signed back and forth, talking about every aspect of work, until the pizza arrived. Any words I didn't recognize and couldn't place contextually, Grissom wrote out on paper and repeated the sign for me. While we ate, we continued talking, segueing from work to the team. I told him about Catherine's new boyfriend, information she apparently had not shared with him yet, and watched the flicker of jealousy in his eyes. Grissom told me more about my replacement, Corinne, and how protective Nick still was of me. He'd deeply resented my leaving - he had said as much to me - and had apparently taken it out on the new CSI, until Grissom had to threaten Nick with suspension if he wasn't able to work as part of a team. I made the appropriate signs to indicate my displeasure with his behavior, but deep down, I gloated just a little that I hadn't truly been replaced.
"She's a Level 3?" I asked, sipping at my iced tea.
"Two," Grissom signed back. "Every three I interviewed was ... better suited to Ecklie's team," he finished with a wicked smirk.
I laughed aloud, closing my eyes for a second. When I opened them, he was watching me. I cleared my throat in embarrassment, then realized he couldn't hear me. Grinning, I spelled out, "A-h-e-m."
Grissom's grin widened. "Yes?"
"Watching me?" I asked.
I tilted my head, watching him. "Thinking what?"
"This feels..." He paused, his hands mid-air. "Comfortable."
"Good." I found it hard to breathe suddenly.
"If you want to come back, I have room for you." His burst of signing caught me off-guard and I had to ask Grissom to repeat himself.
"Room for me?"
"At the lab," he explained. "Corinne's a Level 2. We can afford one more CSI for the team, since I'll be cutting back my field hours."
I smiled and shook my head. "Maybe," I signed. As much as I wanted to run back to Vegas simply because he had suggested it, I knew that half the reason we were there that night was that I had quit CSI and him, establishing my own identity away from Grissom. I couldn't give that up without getting what I'd wanted all along - an explicit request. Otherwise, I risked being trapped in the quagmire of Grissom's shadow again.
"Think about it." It was the closest he had come to outright asking me to come home.
"I will," I promised. "G-r-i-s-s-o-m," I spelled out. Looking at him curiously, I asked, "What does your mom call you?" He shook his head. "Please? It's too hard to spell your name."
"Too hard?" Grissom signed, rolling his eyes. "Hard is spelling a-n-t-i-d-i-s-e-s-t-a-b-l-i-s-h-m-e-n-t-a-r-i-a-n-i-s-m." I chuckled at that, and he added, "G-r-i-s-s-o-m is much easier, isn't it?"
"Still too long," I insisted. "I'll just call you 'G'." That was how he had always signed his e-mails, so I pinched my forefinger and thumb together, pointing to the right, the sign for the letter 'g'. Struck by inspiration, I took my 'g' and brought it to my chest, covering my heart. Grissom saw this and a ghost of a smile crossed his lips. He signed something I didn't recognize and quickly reached for the pad and pen. I read upside down as he was writing: 'Sensitive Gil'. "Your nickname?"
"Unfortunately," he wrote beside it.
I grinned, bowled over by the physical need to touch him. As I reached out, cupping his cheek, I remembered another time I'd done the same thing, on the pretense of wiping chalk off his face. This time, he flinched but didn't pull away. I lowered my hand, signing, "Sorry."
"It's...okay," he replied, moving his hands slowly and pausing between words.
"Is it?" I murmured audibly as I signed.
"Grissom," I made my sign for his name, unable to keep my smile from wavering slightly. Our eyes were locked. Mine, I was sure, were terrified, but excited; his were a deep, aquatic blue, revealing only confusion. "You look...lost."
"Evaluating my options," he signed, his eyes never leaving mine.
"Several." Grissom smiled wryly. His hand covered mine and I felt the corners of my mouth inch higher. "Sara," he spelled my name swiftly.
"I just wanted to see how it felt to say your name."
My grin widened and I shook my head. Grissom's fingers were still twined with mine, so I reached for the pad and pen with my free hand, scribbling a note. 'Sensitive Gil,' I teased him.
Grissom rolled his eyes with a grin. "Why didn't we do this before?" I signed slowly, holding my breath as I waited for an answer.
"I don't know." I exhaled softly. It wasn't the answer I wanted, but it would have to do. "But I'm glad we're doing it now," Grissom added.
I saw the fear in his eyes and flipped my hand over beneath his, so I could wrap my fingers around his hand and squeeze gently. "I am, too."
"I still don't want to have to depend on you."
"I don't want you to. Have to," I signed with hesitating movements. "I mean, I like you independent." I spelled out the word.
I heard the rush of breath as it left his chest. "Some women...need someone to care for."
"Grissom," I signed, slipping my hand away from his momentarily, "does that sound like me?"
"I...no." Grissom shrugged. He lowered his eyes, hoping to end the conversation, I think.
I slid my hand over his, making a 'g' and resting it on his knuckles, trying to get his attention. He took a deep breath, raising his eyes to meet mine again. I started to sign, but squeezed my hand into a fist, the sign language equivalent of biting my tongue. My stomach was a fluttering mass of anxious butterfly wings, and I ached in my very core to kiss him. His eyes held an irresistible mixture of childish innocence and worldly wisdom.
Grissom slid his hand from beneath mine, carefully extricating his fingers. He lifted the half-empty pizza box and cups from the coffee table, carrying them into the kitchen. Sliding the pizza box into the fridge, he turned and signed, "Wine?"
"Please." He came back with two wineglasses, filled with a sweetly scented cabernet. The silence, which we once would have filled with irrelevant factoids or work-related discussion, was somehow welcome in that moment, as we sipped our wine and exchanged nervous half-smiles.
"Sara," Grissom signed, "would it...I mean, could I..." He stopped, and let out an empty sigh.
"Talk to me," I signed back. He shook his head. "Please?"
"I want to hold you."
I swallowed hard, suddenly unsure of my interpretation skills. "Hold me?"
"Y-yes." Grissom's hands shook slightly and I could imagine the stammer that would've been in his voice.
I had no reply. I set my wineglass on the coffee table and slid across the couch, until our knees were pressed together. Grissom stretched his arm across the back cushions and I leaned carefully against his side. His hand came down onto my shoulder and I sighed in contentment. I pulled one leg underneath myself and curled into him. My arm slid around his waist, slowly, unsure whether it was welcome. Grissom's fingers curled around mine, and I opened my eyes, looking up to see him peering down at me. "So this is Gil Grissom on a real date," I signed, my eyes sparkling.
"This isn't our first real date," Grissom reminded me, signing one-handed
I shook my head, sitting up and leaning out of his embrace to reply, "Takeout Chinese in the conference room doesn't count."
"I was talking about the seminar," Grissom signed, spelling out 'seminar' so I would understand.
I was taken aback by his sudden willingness to discuss something that, until now, had been off-limits. "One night isn't a date," I contradicted, shaking my head. "Not if you run away in the morning."
"I didn't..." He paused, and I shook my head minutely. "okay, I ran away," Grissom signed his admission, and my eyes widened. Grissom, talking about his feelings - wasn't that a sign of the apocalypse?
"Thank you for..." I grabbed the pad, scribbling 'acknowledging that'.
"It's the least I can do."
I smiled at Grissom, leaning back into his arms. We sat quietly, our fingers splayed over one another, for a long time - I'm not even sure how long. Time seemed to stand still in the silent fortress of his townhouse, where we were protected from the sounds of the outside world - and by extension, the meaning of those sounds. There was no CSI, no Long Beach, no worried Catherine with which to contend. Nothing existed, except the two of us, until the silence was shaken by a low, vibrating hum. I glanced around as Grissom shifted beneath me, tugging his beeper out of his pocket. I sighed as he checked the number and frowned apologetically in my direction. "Work?" I signed.
He nodded, signing simply, "Bugs."
I nodded too, sighing again. "Okay." I stood, stretching slightly after being curled so tightly against Grissom. The warmth of his touch lingered on my arms, where his fingers had brushed my skin. He reached for his coat, and when Grissom turned in my direction again, I signed, "How are you going to get there? You can't drive if you can't hear."
"Cab," he signed back tightly.
"Can I…go with you?"
His face brightened noticeably. "You want to?"
"Hell, yes! I'm driving." Instead of signing, I pointed to myself and made a child's interpretation of a steering wheel. The last thing I saw as I grabbed the car keys and headed out was Grissom's mouth, open in laughter.
* * *
He crouched over the hole, three feet wide by six feet long and a good three feet deep. I peered over his shoulder, trying not to crowd him as I satiated my curiosity. "Oooh," I murmured to myself. It appeared to be one very old corpse, eaten through by a menagerie of different beetles and maggots. I tapped his shoulder and he turned. "Husband did it," I signed quickly.
"How do you know?"
I chuckled loudly and the detective in charge turned to stare at me. Grissom and I had attracted a number of anxious looks and impolite whispers since we'd arrived, and I'd introduced him and myself to Detective Chase. I'd quickly found out that the detective was aptly named – everywhere I turned, there he was, two steps behind me, flirting his little Southwestern heart out.
"What'd he say?"
I replied to Detective Chase without turning, so Grissom could read my lips. "I suggested the husband did it, and Grissom agreed with me." Grissom elbowed me lightly, shaking his head, and I just grinned.
"Oh. Ya'll find any evidence of that yet?" he drawled.
"Working on it." I returned my attention to where it belonged – Grissom. He held out his hand for an evidence jar and I passed it over to him. He dropped in one tiny larva and handed the jar back to me for sealing. I added it to the pile, leaning around him to peer down at the hole again. I pointed silently and watched Grissom's eyes follow my finger. He nodded abruptly, reaching in with tweezers to pull out a tiny scrap of burned paper.
"Got somethin' there?"
I sighed silently. "Might be something, might be nothing," I told the detective. I heard a whisper, and a chuckle, and I whirled my head around. Two beat cops stood behind Detective Chase, giggling like high school girls. "You got a problem?" I asked, hearing the anger in my voice.
"Nope." One of the officers chuckled again, and I heard him mutter, "Just sad when it takes two of ya to do the job."
I stood and spun on my heel, coming face-to-face with the startled cop. "Listen, you arrogant little prick! Gil Grissom," I snapped, gesturing to his crouched form, "is *the* best criminalist you'll ever meet. He's forgotten more than you'll ever know, and if I hear one more smart comment out of your mouth—" I was ready to threaten the cops with hand-to-hand combat, but Grissom's tight grip on my arm stopped me. I turned to see him shaking his head at me. "They're stupid," he signed quickly.
"I won't let them…" I stopped, as Grissom's fingers closed over mine. He shook his head again, slower this time, and with a gentle smile I had never seen on him.
I nodded, relaying the message to Detective Chase. Grissom gathered up the evidence and started for the Tahoe. I grabbed his kit and was about to follow, when the detective placed a hand on my shoulder. "Uh, Sara, listen, I was wondering."
"Maybe if you're not busy later on, we could, you know, get together."
I glanced toward the car, feeling guilty, though I'd done nothing wrong. Grissom was watching us, his eyes knowing. I think he could tell by the body language what the detective wanted. I shrugged away from his hand and shook my head. "Thanks but no thanks. We've got plans." I tilted my head toward the car.
"Oh." He turned and strode away, presumably to lick his wounded ego. As I made my way to the Tahoe, a few more comments followed me. "The old guy? Dude, that's so wrong."
I climbed in, my face suffused crimson with suppressed anger. I turned on Grissom, my fingers stammering as I signed as fast as possible. "Why did you let him talk about you like that?"
Grissom's face was the model of calm. "What he thinks doesn't matter. What matters is that I have confidence in my ability to do my job. Thank you for your help with the scene."
I had a reply ready, but his thank-you threw me. "You're welcome," I signed. "I was afraid you wouldn't like having me right there."
"It was different." Grissom quirked a small smile and gestured toward the road. "Home?"
* * *
I stopped by the hotel to pick up a change of clothes, then drove Grissom home. We took turns showering, to get the smell of corpse off. I dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and pulled my hair back into an easy ponytail. When I came out of his bathroom, he was sitting on the couch, bent over the coffee table. Remembering his trick of recognizing me by scent, I didn't flick the lights to announce my presence. Instead, I walked over and stood beside Grissom, leaning over to see what he was investigating so closely. As I did, I rested my hand on the back of his neck for balance. He didn't jump, and I realized he must've known I was in the room as soon as the vibrato of my footsteps stopped echoing against the soles of his bare feet. Grissom didn't look up, intent on the book he was studying. My eyes roamed over the page and I began to rub the back of his neck without conscious thought.
The shiver that ran through Grissom was palpable, and I couldn't help grinning. He turned and looked up at me in time to see my grin. My heart started to pound and as I stared down at him, still damp from the shower, glasses slipping down his nose, I couldn't wait any longer. I leaned over and brushed a kiss across his lips. Straightening, I signed, "You have anything to eat around here? I'm starving."
"Leftover pizza," Grissom replied, his hands moving in slow motion as he stared at me in disbelief. Sandwiched between the nervousness and fear squeezing my heart, I felt a surge of pride. I had finally stopped waiting.
::sing-song:: She finally got a kiss, she finally got a kiss. I love feedback, I love feedback.