The characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
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Spoilers: through "Eleven Angry Jurors".
"Well," the Goddess said,"your heart didn't heal straight the last time it broke. So we'll break it again and reset it so it heals straight this time." --Diane Duane, Children's Tales of North Arlen/The Door Into Shadow
They gathered at the bank one by one, summoned from other tasks by beepers and text messages, carrying their cases into the coolness of the echoing, high-ceilinged space and all remembering, uncomfortably, a similar case that had seen one of their own lying too still on the floor. Poor Cyrus.
But no one was dead this time, Sara reminded herself. It was just a bank heist. She grinned at Nick, waved at Warrick as he came in, complimented Catherine on her new blouse as they made the initial survey of the scene. Multiple perps, lots of confusion; she could hear Brass' gravelly voice as he herded witnesses over by the door.
Grissom breezed in, as calm as ever, taking in the scene with one slow look. "All right, people," he began. "They got away with a major haul, and the Sheriff's getting antsy." His mouth twisted in obvious distaste for the political aspects of the case. "That's why you're all here tonight. I'd like to get this one out of the way as soon as possible." He glanced around. "Warrick, Sara, print the vault; we might get lucky. Nick, the surveillance videos. Cat, you come with me."
And with that, they dispersed. Sara followed Warrick into the vault, which was a mess of pulled-out safety-deposit boxes and scattered papers. "Wow, they really did a number on this place, didn't they?"
Warrick set down his case. "Pretty thorough for a bunch of cowboys."
Sara arched a brow at him as she snapped on gloves. "Cowboys?"
He chuckled a little. "According to Brass, preliminary witness reports show these guys as amateurs, not professionals. It didn't look like they knew what they were doing, and they were really nervous. Lucky no one got shot, in fact."
"Huh." Sara opened a jar of printing powder. "Yet, we get stuck in here. Even morons know to wear gloves these days."
Warrick glanced over his shoulder at her. "Get real, Sara. You and me doing the printing? It might be a long shot, but Grissom knows that neither of us will miss it if it's here." He shook his head, turning back to begin dusting one wall of boxes. "What is it with you two these days, anyway?"
Sara sighed, and dipped her brush in the powder. "I wish I knew," she said, but so softly that he probably didn't hear.
Dusting for prints, particularly over a large surface, often gave Sara time for thought, and this was a very large surface. Close examination and concentration came after the application of powder; the actual dusting required delicacy and attention, but not so much that a stream of consciousness couldn't run underneath as skilled hands did their work. Sara moved slowly along the expanse of drawers, brush in gloved hand, pondering how human relationships could be so complex when their interactions were so often simple.
For instance. Me and Grissom. Or is that Grissom and I? Her thought had a definite ironic flavor. They weren't linked anymore beyond the positions of subordinate and supervisor. Their deep friendship had eroded, fading away under the pressure of her emotion and his remoteness.
Sara dipped her brush in powder again, and twirled the instrument carefully over a fresh section of metal. It's sad, really. That relationship had brought her to Vegas, induced her to stay, but all the enjoyment she'd gotten from their friendship had vanished under Grissom's inexplicable behavior, to the point where even her work gave her little satisfaction.
They had started out so well--she'd only meant to give Grissom a hand with his problem, and then he'd offered her the job, and she'd figured, why not? A new place, an old friend, lots of opportunity.
The first year had been fun, learning and teaching, making new friends; savoring the growing, unacknowledged attraction between Grissom and herself. They both knew it was there, but aside from some double entendres, they'd chosen to let it lie...until Grissom started to have problems with his hearing.
He probably still thought she never knew, but she did. And she'd watched as her friend and mentor had aged five years in the span of one, going from someone energetic and cheerful to withdrawn and abstracted. Sara had done her best to be there for him, but he'd turned to her less and less; even the double entendres had become infrequent.
Eventually, shaken and lonely, she'd tried to force things. It hadn't worked. And the whole situation had gone downhill from there. There were still moments of rapport, when the two of them worked together on a case and thought in patterns so twinned that they didn't have to speak to communicate. But there was nothing else, and the loss sat hollow inside her, a constant ache.
So what does a normal human being do when experiencing pain?
Sara crouched down, absently noting the three beautifully defined prints blossoming under her brush, and listened to Warrick humming behind her as he worked. She didn't recognize the tune.
The answer had been staring her in the face for a long time, but she hadn't wanted to accept it. On some level, it felt like a failure. But my record's outstanding. This is one of the country's best labs. I won't have any problem getting a job somewhere else.
Grissom would give her a good recommendation, she knew. A small kernel of shame still burned in her for what she'd said to him before, about letting their relationship or lack thereof affect his decisions. She knew it was an unfair accusation, but she'd wanted to shake him up, make him acknowledge the tensions that sang between them. Instead, he'd only looked at her in utter, apparently genuine, confusion...and then hurt. And she'd babbled, and then turned and walked out. Nothing she did got through to him, it seemed. All it did was dig her deeper.
It was time she paid attention to what was going on, instead of just reacting. What was work going to be like six months in the future, a year, two years? Was the situation acceptable, as it stood?
Maybe I shouldn't settle for "acceptable." She felt a fresh pulse of hurt at the thought, but pushed it away. Emotion had done her little good so far. Logic might serve her better.
Her powder jar was almost empty, but she'd come to the end of the wall. Heading back to her kit, Sara set introspection aside. She needed all her concentration now.
Sara looked up as Warrick swung into Jacqui's domain. "Hey to you too. What happened, you get stuck in traffic?"
The taller man came to stand beside her. "Nah, Nick was just being slow. Hey, Jacqui."
The print expert didn't look up from her magnifier, but her nose wrinkled. "DB?"
Sara grinned at Warrick's comical shrug. "You guessed it," he said.
"No, I smelled it," Jacqui retorted, moving her magnifier to another print. "Sometimes I think you guys shouldn't be allowed back into the lab without a shower."
"Oooh, I'm hurt. " Warrick laid a hand on his chest in mock pain.
"Lemons," Sara reminded him succinctly. "Anything interesting?"
"Just a DFO," Warrick replied. "David's prelim suggests heart attack. Not worth getting pulled away from the heist for."
"Speaking of which," Jacqui said, straightening, "it's not necessary for you guys to stand around while I do this. Don't you have evidence to process or something?"
"All done," Sara said mendaciously. It wasn't quite true, of course, but she hadn't turned up anything probative, and she'd decided to take a break to see if she could refocus her concentration.
For some reason--yeah, right, you know exactly why--it was getting harder to concentrate on her job these days.
"If I give you something, will you get out of here and leave me in peace?" Jacqui asked, folding her arms and giving them her small smile.
"Sure," the two CSIs chorused.
"Fine then. AFIS shows a match on three of the prints so far. One belongs to the janitor--he was printed more than twenty years ago--but the other two are printing out now." She snickered as Sara elbowed Warrick out of the way to get to the printer first. "Happy hunting, guys."
They left the print lab behind, trading paper back and forth as they read, and dodging other pedestrians in the hallways. "Looks good," Warrick said at last. "Look, Sara, can you take these to Grissom? I really need to get that shower."
"Yeah, all right." It was just another part of the job she loved, Sara told herself. She took the sheet from Warrick and turned towards their supervisor's office.
The door was open, and she knocked lightly on the frame to get his attention. Grissom looked up from the file he was studying, his gaze inquiring over the rim of his glasses. "What's up?"
"Jacqui's turned up two prints so far," Sara reported, walking forward to hand him the papers. "Doug Fresham and Marshall Black, both of them arrested for armed robbery in 2002."
"Good. I'll put Brass on them," Grissom said. "Are Warrick and Nick back yet?"
"Yeah--I haven't seen Nick, but Warrick went to take a shower," Sara said, knowing that he would understand why. She turned towards the door, but his voice stopped her.
"Sara...are you all right?"
She glanced back over her shoulder at him. "You know, you keep asking me that, and the answer's always the same. I'm fine."
"Yes, but somehow I don't believe you," he answered dryly.
Sara grimaced, trying to keep her emotions in check. It was worst when he said something outside the confines of work, when for an instant her treacherous heart believed that he meant something by it...something more than avuncular concern, anyway.
"If I'm not, you'll be the first to know," she said shortly. "I have to get back to my processing." Two quick strides took her out of the office, and she swore silently at herself. This is not acceptable.
The sun was well up by the time Sara made it home. She shut off the engine, but found herself without the energy to move just yet, and sat staring blindly through the windshield, options going around and around in her head. If he'd just leave it alone...if we were strictly professional...maybe I could manage this. Or maybe not. Somewhere over the past weeks, even her desire for the promotion had vanished.
It's affecting my ability to do my job. Perhaps not noticeably, not yet, but her job was the one thing Sara took great pride in. Let's look at this objectively.
The heat in the car was rising, but she welcomed it as it soaked into muscles tense with long strain.
Despite everything, she still wanted Grissom. Loved him, even, as much as she could when she had so little part in his life. She'd tried to move on, but--Hank's betrayal aside--it hadn't worked. I can't get over him if I stay near him.
If we go on like this, my performance will suffer. Ergo, my career will suffer. Her career...it seemed a bit cold to concentrate only on that, but on the other hand, what else did she have?
Therefore. She didn't finish the thought; a drop of sweat trickled into her eye, and she blinked at the sudden sting. Oops, time to get out.
She made her way into her apartment and straight to her shower, dropping her clothes on the bathroom floor and turning the water on hard. Already, her mind was humming with calculations.
I have tons of vacation built up. If I take two weeks' worth, and resign at the beginning, that'll give me time to contact the feds about work and Grissom a little time to find a replacement. Sara flinched at the thought of working through the expected two weeks' notice. I don't want to deal with it. Not from him, and not from the others.
Her teammates would not be pleased, that was a given. But it's not like I won't stay in touch. I can apologize afterwards. Better that than two weeks of strain.
She poured shampoo into her hand and began working the lather through her hair, and was suddenly reminded of the time Grissom had told she and Nick how to get the smell of a decomp off their skins. More memories crowded in--arguments, meals, laughter; inflating a car, rappelling from a helicopter, sorting through a landfill's worth of trash; 3 a.m. brainstorming sessions, dead pigs, lighting up a pickle; slapping hands with Warrick, teasing Greg, Catherine's wicked smile, flirting with David, Nick's wide grin. The sound of Grissom's voice.
I never even got to the body farm.
She blamed the sting in her eyes on the shampoo.
Never one to procrastinate, she put her plan into action the next shift, taking five minutes from sorting through evidence to find her way to Grissom's office.
"Hey, boss," Sara said, leaning casually on the doorframe. Her request was bound to make Grissom suspicious.
Grissom was holding his small terrarium, watching the tarantula within as it tapped furry legs against the glass. "What's up?"
"I want to take some vacation time. My parents are making noises about my not coming to visit." Both statements were the truth--she knew better than to try to lie to him--but they were unrelated, at least at the moment.
Grissom set the tank on its shelf and pivoted to face her. "Well, it's about time." His eyes were twinkling. "I was beginning to wonder if they were going to call the lab and ask if we were holding you prisoner."
Sara smiled a little. "Hey, I went back last Christmas."
"Yeah, for how long? Three days?" Grissom snorted. "How much time do you need?"
She took a deep breath. "Two weeks."
His brows went up. "That must have been some phone call." He sat down behind his desk and flipped open his planner. "Well, if you can wait until the end of next week, I think we can accommodate you."
Sara blinked in surprise. "Really?"
He grinned. "Really. Sara, you're a valuable member of this lab. You work most holidays and max out on overtime. Giving you the vacation you're entitled to is the least we can do."
His effusiveness took her aback. Darn it, Grissom, why do you have to be so nice when I'm planning on pulling the rug out from under you? "Thanks," she managed, trying to look suitably pleased.
"Get some rest while you're at it," he added. "You may say you're fine, but you're looking a little stressed these days."
She breathed out a silent, ironic laugh. "I'll do that."
Sara scrawled a hasty signature on the paper, as though speed would make it easier to ignore the evidence. "Chicken scratch," Nick's voice teased her from memory, but she pushed it away, glanced down to make sure that the important parts were legible, and folded the paper precisely in thirds. It was going to be easy enough; she would stay late at work, as she so often did, and would drop the paper on Grissom's desk after he left, along with her badge and gun. A duffel bag stood ready to carry off the contents of her locker. Quick, simple, clean.
It felt extremely odd to go about her business--dropping off samples, filing reports--when all the time that neatly enveloped resignation was sitting in her locker. It seemed to hover at the edge of her consciousness, a decision she thought she'd made presenting itself over and over. But each time, Sara forced it back down with the same arguments. She hung over Greg's shoulder, joined Nick in processing a minivan, and sat around the table with the others, eating lunch and discussing their cases. And all the time, the back of her mind kept thinking, this is the last time...the last time.
At shift's end, Catherine wished her a good vacation in the locker room, and Sara thanked her and dawdled at her locker until the older woman was gone. She had to get the timing right; Grissom was running some experiment in one of the labs and was going to stay late. But it all went like clockwork. Sara swung out of the locker room, duffel on her shoulder, to spot Grissom lecturing Greg over an array of equipment. Perfect. That would keep him occupied for a while, certainly long enough for Sara to slip in and out of his office.
She had expected him to be angry. He got annoyed from time to time, irritated, frustrated, but she'd only seen him truly angry a couple of times. And his fury was a force to be reckoned with.
So Sara almost didn't pick up the phone when the caller ID showed his number. The fact that it was his home number wasn't lost on her; certainly the privacy of his home was a better place for yelling. His office wasn't soundproof.
But while part of her argued that she owed him nothing, another part of her felt that as Grissom's subordinate, she owed him an explanation if he wanted it. I can always hang up.
"Sara." He spoke her name as an acknowledgement, and then let a breath's worth of silence pass. "Would you care to explain this?"
He didn't sound angry, just curious. "I'm leaving. Permanently."
"That much is obvious." His voice was calm. "Why now?"
She hadn't really planned out what she was going to say; she'd thought they would trade volleys of heated words before slamming down their phones. A partial truth rose to her lips, and she let it out. "I don't love my job any more."
"Why not?" When she didn't answer, he continued. "If you're unhappy, you should at least give us a chance to straighten things out. I've said it before, and you didn't seem to believe me, but the lab does need you, Sara. If there's a change we can make to make you happier--"
It hurt too much to listen to him saying those things, when she knew he was only talking about the job. "It's not the lab."
Another silence. "Then what is it?"
She forced the words out. "It's personal." Let it go, she begged silently. Don't make me say it.
"Personal," he repeated. "You don't--"
He cut off the words, and was quiet for so long that she wondered if he'd simply set down the phone.
"It's me, isn't it? This...thing...between us."
Sara swallowed. "Yeah." She stared around her apartment, not really seeing anything. "Grissom, when you pay attention you're a good boss, and you're an amazing teacher. But I just can't deal with the emotional aspect any more."
"It has gotten pretty awkward," he agreed, surprising her again. "But I don't understand why."
She gave a frustrated laugh. "Oh, come on! I...I cared about you enough to ask you out to dinner, and you treated me like I was...was..." She couldn't think of a word for how she'd felt. "And you ignore me, and then flirt with me, and ignore me again, and I don't know what I'm supposed to think. Or feel." She bit her lip. "But let me tell you, it definitely hurts."
"Sara." His voice was quiet, without the edge of annoyance she'd expected. "Sara, I never...I just didn't realize. I never thought it meant that much to you."
"That you meant that much to me. Say what you mean, Griss." The irritation was familiar, but worn, and she realized that mostly she felt tired. Tired of all the unspoken emotion, the avoidance.
"That I meant that much to you," he repeated obediently, his voice even softer, and she wondered abruptly how hard it was for him to say it. "I didn't think."
"No, you didn't," she answered. "It's easier not to, isn't it?" Her irritation was slipping, morphing into sympathy, and she struggled with it. Right now she hated how just the sound of his voice could sap her anger.
"I suppose." A faint thread of humor. "Catherine tried to get me to see what was going on, but..." He trailed off, and she heard him sigh. "Look, Sara, I...I'd rather not discuss this over the phone. Is there any way I can convince you to talk to me in person?"
She arched a brow at him even though he couldn't see her. "You want to see me."
It wasn't a question, but he treated it like one. "Yes. I do."
She let out a breath. "Grissom, why should I come anywhere near you? You've treated me like crap, jerked me around..."
"Because," he broke in firmly. "Sara, we were friends once. Aside from work, aside from everything else. Trust me one last time." There was something in his voice, something that made her wince, but she couldn't identify it. "And, at the very least, I owe you an apology. A big one."
She pursed her lips in silent agreement, and considered. "I don't know."
"Sara, please." His tone wasn't pleading; he sounded like a supervisor. She wondered why it didn't anger her, and sighed.
"I don't think so, Griss." She closed her eyes briefly. "I'm finished, you know? I'm done. Seeing you again would just mess things up."
He didn't respond for a moment. A slight noise reached her ear through the phone, but she couldn't make out what it was.
"I really screwed up, didn't I?" he said finally, sounding resigned.
"Yeah, you did." She could picture him, elbows on his table, one hand rubbing his forehead.
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
She felt one corner of her mouth move in acknowledgment. "Actually, it's worth a lot." And it was. If nothing else, the whole mess was finally out in the open. Admitted to.
A quiet breath, and was it relief or resignation? "All right."
"Okay." She hesitated, as all their complications, all their history, came down to one awkward word. "'Bye."
Silence, and then-- "Do you still--"
She waited, but he didn't go on. "Still what?" It was obvious what he meant, but if he was going to put her through this he was going to have to say it straight out.
"Do you still...care?"
It was so unfair. She didn't want to give him anything at this point, but the word left her mouth anyway, unbidden. "Yeah."
She hung up before he could speak, before he could draw anything more from her, and cursed herself for being so vulnerable. In a fit of fury, she unplugged the phone. She didn't want him calling back.