DISCLAIMER: As much as I'd like lay claim to Nick and Sara, they're not mine. Emily is, though. And I'm making no money, and all the stuff you've all read countless times.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, I usually ship Grissom/Sara, but Grissom is annoying me right now (and I haven't even seen season four). Then the plot bunnies attacked for this. I wanted to see Grissom really being 'too late' for Sara and realising what he's lost, although he's barely in this. Besides, I think Nick and Sara would make a gorgeous couple. And that, of course, is always a really good reason for writing a fic...
"Look, Nick, it's not going to take both of us to sit here and wait for AFIS to come up with a match," Greg Sanders said with slightly more sympathy than usual. "Go home. I'll page you if something interesting comes up."
Nick shifted his gaze from the computer screen to the younger CSI. "I might just take you up on that one."
Greg grinned. "I knew you would. Go home. I'll see you tonight."
Nick stood. "I owe you one, man."
"You bet you do. Say hi to Sara!" Greg yelled as Nick left the room.
Walking down the corridor to the locker room, Nick passed the person he never really wanted to see. Relations between them were strained at best. Nick had never realised how much easier it made things to have a personal relationship of some kind with the people you worked with. Keeping it strictly professional and polite was hard, especially with the job they did. You needed your friends.
Thinking Grissom would not look at him, Nick stole a glance at the older man. Grissom, probably making the same assumption Nick had, met his eyes. In a flash, both looked elsewhere and continued on their way.
It didn't take much of Nick's imagination or skills of deduction to figure out what the problem was. He had something which could have been Grissom's, and it was Grissom's own fault that he didn't have it. It was Nick who was living with Sara, Nick who was the father of her child. Grissom had waited too long and hurt Sara too much.
The whole sorry saga wasn't something Nick liked to dwell on much. He hated the thought that he was Sara's second choice. Life was far from perfect as it was and lingering on the mess that was all their personal lives didn't make it much better.
Sara was breastfeeding baby Emily when she heard Nick come home, shutting the door gently behind him. She looked up as he entered the room. "How was work?"
Nick shrugged, standing behind the sofa and leaning over Sara's shoulder to stroke Emily's cheek. "Hectic. Greg and I charged the father in the Kennedy case... and then we went straight onto the next one. Break and enter. Change of pace."
"How did the father react?" Sara asked, carefully, as Nick went over to the coffee pot.
"Coffee?" When Sara shook her head, Nick turned back to the pot and continued. "When we laid out all the evidence, told him he was screwed, he confessed. Thought we might go easier on him. He admitted to smothering all three children, just to get back at their mother for remarrying." He came back over the sofa carrying his mug, kicked his shoes off, and sat down. "I don't understand it. I don't. How the hell does someone kill his own children?" He reached out and touched Emily again, as if to reassure himself that she was still alive. "Didn't he look down and see their little faces? They trusted him, Sara, and he killed them."
Shifting Emily gently into one arm, Sara took Nick's hand and squeezed it. "I don't know," she said sadly. It had been Nick's first case involving children since Emily's birth and it had affected them both. The youngest child had only been a year old. "You got justice for those kids, Nick."
"It won't bring them back."
Sara had felt the same thing too many times in her own career as a C.S.I to argue the truth of that statement.
"How's Em been?" Nick asked, a little too brightly and obviously changing the subject. Sara seized on it, gratefully.
"She's a good girl, aren't you, Bubba? She slept for four hours earlier, but it's just about time for another sleep, isn't it?"
Nick smiled at this habit Sara had developed, of directing the conversation both at him and at the baby. He'd never quite pictured Sara as the maternal type, and, if truth be told, it had taken her a week or so to settle into the role. But now he was firmly convinced that Emily, now three months old, could not possibly have a better mother. Sara had, he thought, latched onto the idea of having someone to love, rather like a lonely child with a doll.
Emily had finished feeding, so Sara handed her over to Nick, carefully, to burp her. Nick, the experienced uncle to countless children, had proved himself a wonderful father as well as Sara's rock. He was honestly her best friend. Sara never tired of watching Nick's gentle competence with his daughter, first as he made Emily burp, then as he held her in his arms, gazing down at her with the age old expression of the proud father as her eyes began to close. "Is it bedtime, then?" he asked her, quietly, not expecting an answer. "Shall Mommy and I put you to bed?" As far as talking to the baby went, he was about as bad – or as good – as Sara, he realised.
Sara led the way into the small room which was the baby's nursery, and Nick lowered her gently into the crib. Emily wasn't always this eager to sleep, but a full belly always made her sleepy. As Sara tucked her in, Nick wound the key on the music box his parents had given them, and the gentle strains of Fur Elise filled the room.
Nick was conscious of the warmth of Sara's body as they watched their daughter succumb to sleep. The faces of the Kennedy children were still with him, even as he saw his own child. He wouldn't hurt Emily or give her up for the world. And Sara... he loved her, too. Feeling the weight of a huge, bad world pushing in on him and suddenly desperately needing comfort, he put his arms around Sara and buried his face against her hair.
"Nicky," she whispered, softly. "What's wrong? The Kennedys?"
When she spoke, Nick realised that he was clutching her shirt in both hands and was probably holding her too tightly for some particularly tender parts of her body to cope with right now. He loosened his grip, but couldn't let her go completely.
He nodded. "I look at Emily... and that's what I see. I love her, Sara. I love her so much and it just makes things... different. Before, a case like that would have made me mad, but now it makes me sad and I – don't know how I can cope with it."
"It takes time," she whispered. "Cath copes with the children. I cope with violence against women."
"But you don't cope," Nick whispered back. "Neither of you do. You try to push it back and get on with the job, but that's not the same as coping. Coping is being able to deal with it."
"Maybe pushing it back's the only way I can deal with it. And – and then when the case is over – that's when I have to let it hit me. Get it out of my system. You've seen me..."
He had. In the early days of their relationship, after not going home for three days straight Sara had gotten together the evidence to convict a man of raping and then murdering his girlfriend. Nick had been alarmed, to say the least, when he'd gone round to her place to find her sobbing her heart out into her pillows. In fact, he'd been terrified at the idea that her job affected her so much.
"That's my way of coping," she murmured. Nick could feel her breath against his ear. "You'll have to find your own way. I'll always be here. And Emily."
"I know. And it helps. Being with you. Being with both of you." Nick wasn't ready to let her go yet. The thoughts about Grissom had come flooding back, unbidden. Maybe it was primitive and Neanderthal, but he needed to prove to himself that it was him who had the right to hold Sara like this. She'd stay in his arms for as long as he needed her. He knew that. Sara was like the lonely child he'd thought of before, learning to love. She'd been hurt so many times in the past that she was literally too scared to let herself love. She could love Emily, but Nick knew Sara was terrified he was going to hurt her one day. It was hard, living under a shadow like that, but he had to have Sara. He loved her. One day she'd realise that, really begin to understand what that meant. "I love you, Sara."
She held him a little tighter.
It had never been meant to work out like it did. Neither of them had planned on falling for each other. They'd just meant to comfort each other. Sara had been coming to the realization, that, while she'd overheard Grissom telling an unwitting Brass and suspect what he felt about her (Brass had been perplexed, to say the least. She knew he suspected Grissom had been talking about her, but he wasn't sure), he was either incapable or unwilling of doing anything about it. Every time she got close, he pushed her away, so many times that she lost hope and heart. Nick had been the person who'd noticed, even while thoughts of Nigel Crane were bothering him, as they always did at that time of year.
A mutual pity party over beer, pizza and video had led to a slightly drunken heart to heart before they'd fallen asleep in each other's arms on Nick's living room floor. Waking the next morning with mild hangovers amid pizza boxes and beer cans, they'd decided that the only way out was up and that they'd drag each other there if they had to.
Friendship, not love, had been the plan.
Things had changed, subtly, scaring Sara and, to a lesser extent, Nick. When Sara tried to cool their friendship down a little, they'd each acutely felt the loss of the other and come back together after only a few days.
Their relationship had just began to build and they'd just begun to hope that life would throw them some sunshine when Sara fell pregnant with Emily and they had a whole other set of concerns. Nick's escorting Sara to Grissom to apply for maternity leave had been excruciatingly painful to all concerned. Sara's anxiety and almost irrational guilt over having flirted with Grissom for years before becoming pregnant to another man, Grissom's obvious misery and Nick's embarrassment had not made for a pleasant interview. Nor had explaining to their colleagues, when the thickening around Sara's waist had become impossible to ignore, been any easier.
So here they were, a family, of sorts. Sara had been terrified at the prospect of becoming a mother, convinced she was too emotionally crippled and that they both had too many horrors in their pasts to successfully raise a child. Nick had been scared for Sara. Somehow, they'd both made it through (including through a twenty eight hour labor, during which Nick was called every obscene name in Sara's vocabulary at least ten times) and here they were.
They weren't staying in Las Vegas. Sara, who had some curious and fixed ideas about parenting, insisted that it was no place to raise a child. Nick agreed, with reasons of his own for wanting to get out of Vegas. He'd miss Warrick, and Greg, and maybe Catherine, but as long as he had Sara there was nothing left for him here. When Emily was a little older, they were going to start sounding out labs, preferably in New England (Sara missed Boston. Nick didn't really care where they went) which would take a couple onto their day shift and had an onsite crèche for Emily ("I am not having my daughter in childcare where I can't see her all day!"). They'd get a house in the suburbs, and a dog, and try to be a normal family.
Two years ago, neither would have predicted that they would ever be in the position they were now in.
Sara's increased domesticity involved, on admittedly sporadic occasions, cooking enough food for dinner that Nick could take some to work for lunch. That day was one of those occasions. They'd had pasta (one of her more successful meals) for dinner when Nick came home from work before heading straight for bed. Emily woke twice for feeds, and Nick had noticed, vaguely, that Sara hadn't come back to bed after Emily's second feed. He assumed she'd been reading one of her countless forensic journals, and she was happy enough as they had breakfast out in their small courtyard with the sun setting in the background. Before he left for work, she thrust a plastic bag at him. "It's got your lunch in it."
Nick took it and couldn't resist teasing her a little. "We're a real suburban American family."
Sara grinned. "Go to work, before I smack you."
"Is that a threat or a promise?"
"Go away, Nick."
So he went to work, discovered Greg had closed their B&E, and spent a few relatively leisurely hours getting paperwork up to date before pulling out his lunch to eat in the break room with Catherine, Warrick and Greg. Grissom, as he did more and more frequently, was closeted in his office with his bugs.
He hadn't told Sara, but the teasing he got about his lunches was much greater than what he gave her about them. The general opinion appeared to be that Nick and Sara as a happily not-married couple was utterly hilarious, to Warrick and Greg in particular. Their hilarity only increased as Nick discovered a purple envelope in the plastic bag, his name scrawled on the outside in Sara's handwriting. He recognised the envelope, it was from the stationery set Sara had used to send (under duress) thank-you notes after Emily's birth.
Unfortunately, Catherine had recognised it too. "What do you get a thank you note for?" she asked, cheerfully. "Being a good domesticated father? Diapers?"
Nick shoved the envelope into his pocket and tried to decide whether it was Sara or that lot who he was going to be more irritated with. As he didn't have to live with his colleagues, he got up and walked out, taking his lunch with him.
He liked them all. He really did. Catherine had been really helpful, and Warrick and Greg were good mates. They just happened to have a habit of prodding Nick in his most sensitive spots, and almost everything involving his life with Sara fell into that category.
Deciding the locker room would be a safe refuge, he sat down and pulled Sara's letter out of his pocket.
I'm writing this, well, I'm not sure really. I think it's because I'm not very good at saying what I want to say. Either I overtalk, or freeze before I say what I want to, or what I end up saying isn't quite what I want to say.
All of which I'm in danger of doing right now.
I've just given Emily her second feed for the 'night'. I love our daughter, Nick. More than anything. Sometimes I just stand there and watch her sleep and I can't believe that she's really ours, that we created her and that it's our job to shape her as she grows up. Which, as you've probably guessed, scares the hell out of me. But I love her, and that counts for a lot.
I want you to know how much I love you. I'm not good at saying those words, not out loud. There have been so many times that I've tried to tell you how I feel, but the words just won't come, and so I say nothing. It's not fair to you. You deserve to know how much you mean to me. You rescued me when I was at one of the lowest points of my life and you were the person who gave me hope again.
What I'm going to tell you now, I'm telling you because you deserve to know and I want you to know. It's really hard for me to put this into words, so I'm doing it the only way I can.
You know what happened to me when I was in college, and you know that shortly after that I met Grissom for the first time. When I met him, I was twenty and I thought that I'd never enjoy life again, that that man had ruined me forever. I thought the only way to get back the Sara I remembered was to be perfect and that being perfect would push the pain away. I rarely slept because I was studying so hard, and no matter what my grades were they were never good enough. I was at the top of my class, but I wasn't getting perfect marks. I was getting straight As in Harvard's physics program, and I thought I wasn't good enough.
Where I should have been losing weight I was gaining it, because, while I wasn't sleeping, I was bingeing on junk food and fast food and doing no exercise of any kind. So I decided that I needed to be perfect physically as well as intellectually, convinced I'd like myself more if I looked in the mirror and saw a skinny person. I cut down drastically on what I ate and started exercising an hour a day. When I met Grissom, I was exhausted, falling asleep in class, depressed, and heading down the path towards a serious eating disorder.
He was teaching a seminar on forensics, and I went. I went to every seminar the Science faculty offered. And I loved it. It was fascinating. I wanted to learn more. I went and introduced myself to Grissom after the first lecture. He agreed to tutor me during the two weeks he'd be in Boston, but he insisted that if he was to do that, I had to see a counselor. I did. It took a long time, but I slowly learnt to accept myself as I was and put weight back on. Even when he left Boston, Grissom kept in touch with me, and he helped me get into forensics.
I fell for Grissom because he'd noticed something was wrong with me, a complete stranger, and he'd cared enough to do something about it. I think there was an element of hero-worship there too, at first.
Loving Grissom turned into a habit. I was in San Francisco and he was in Vegas, but we were still in frequent contact. None of my relationships worked because I always compared the men I was with to my idealized version of Grissom. That and the major trust issues I was still working through.
When he asked me to come to Vegas after Holly Gribbs died, I thought my chance had come. I enjoyed the work in Vegas, and especially working with Grissom (having a gorgeous guy named Nick Stokes floating around the lab was great, too!). I could tell that he was becoming interested in me, but I was so scared of rejection that I couldn't ask him out, and of course, he'd never had asked me. The day the lab exploded he called me honey, and I thought it was his way of making of move. So I asked him dinner, he turned me down, and things got progressively worse. I couldn't believe that the man who'd saved me from that living hell in Harvard would be prepared to hurt me now.
I don't for a minute believe he purposely set out to hurt me. I don't believe he would be capable of deliberating hurting anyone.
And that was where you came in. That was where I noticed that you were always there for me, that no matter how much I pushed you away, you never rejected me. It was a nice change and for once, when I compared Grissom with another man, it was Grissom that fell short of the mark.
And then I fell in love with you. And it scared me, because, like Grissom, you'd rescued me, and I couldn't – can't – help thinking that you'd reject me, too. I know you won't. You stuck with me when I got pregnant with Emily and you put up with mood swings, morning sickness, labor, raging hormones... I love you, Nick Stokes. I may not say it enough, but I do. You're a wonderful partner and a wonderful father. I know Emily and I are going to do just fine with you around. I'm glad things never worked out with Grissom, I think I know now that I could never handle a relationship with him.
I've been thinking for ages than when we get out of Vegas, you, me and Em would be a proper family. I think I had backyards, picket fences and dogs on the brain. But I realised, last night, that we are a family already. We've got each other and Em's got us.
I bet Warrick and co are giving you hell for the lunch and the letter, and I'm sorry, but I wanted you to have this and to read it before you got home. This was the only way I could think of doing it. If they're too bad, tell them they'll face the wrath of Sara Sidle... although, now I think about it, that may make matters worse.
Give them all my love, anyway.
I love you, Nicky.
Nick read the letter through three consecutive times. It explained rather a lot about Sara's relationship with Grissom and rather assuaged his fears about being her second choice. It was nice, too, to have her repeat the fact that she loved him.
Eating his lunch absent mindedly, he re-read her description of what she'd been like when she met Grissom. Nick could understand how someone like Sara would have fallen into the trap of perfectionism and eating disorders. Her self esteem wasn't particularly brilliant at the best of times. It scared him, though. If it hadn't been for Grissom, maybe she wouldn't be here today. He wouldn't have her and he wouldn't have Emily. And Nick Stokes couldn't imagine life without them.
Sara loved reading to Emily. She wanted her daughter to love reading and learning new things as much as she did, although Nick had jokingly made her promise not to read forensics textbooks to the baby.
That was what she was doing, her daughter in her lap, but her mind wasn't on the Dr Seuss book. Nick was probably eating his lunch right now, and he'd probably read the letter she'd enclosed.
It was irrational, and she knew it, but she was scared that Nick would leave her after he'd read about what she'd really been like. Somehow she'd decided that, if you expected the worst, it was easier to cope with when it came.
Nick called her a pessimist.
She knew he wouldn't leave her and Emily because he loved them both too much, but there is more than one way of 'knowing' things and her head and her heart were warring inside her.
When the cordless phone sitting beside her began to ring, she picked it up anxiously, knowing that in the middle of the night it would only be Nick or some kind of an emergency.
Sara smiled in relief. "Hey, yourself."
"I read your letter... Sara, I'm so sorry, about all that stuff. And I just wanted to say... I understand. And I love you, too."
"You don't know how glad I am to hear that."
"I can guess. I'm taking you out for dinner tomorrow. Somewhere nice."
"Catherine's going to baby-sit. I've got it all sorted out."
Sara grinned, and forced herself to say the words she found so hard. "I love you, Nick."
He paused for a second. "I love you too, Sara. And there are two places opening on the day shift at a lab in New Hampshire in six months... think about it."
"I will. I'll see you when you get home, Nick."
"Bye, sweetheart. Give Emily a kiss for me."
Switching the phone off, Sara took her daughter in her arms and gave her a kiss. "I love you. And I love your Daddy, very much. And Daddy loves you, too."