Rating: PG-13, just in case.
Author's Notes: Finally I post something with more than one chapter! Nothing especially great about this except the fact that I get to thank all the beautiful people who reviewed and read this fic. I really, really appreciate it.
I say this with the best of intentions: Don't cheat and scroll down to look at the last line or a thunder will come from the sky and strike you in the head! Kidding.
There's no valet parking in my fic's world and there's a good reason for this: it fits my plot. I'm lame, I know, I know. Also, in my world elevators can be stationary for undetermined periods of time without an alarm screaming.
I'm sorry for the delay, I tried to post this last weekend but the Gods and ff.net were against me. Huge thanks to Peggie for the fast beta reading.
I must admit this fic made me beat my head against the wall -and against various other flat surfaces. Angst sucks the life right out of me. Ultimately, it's fun.
Hope you enjoy! Again, multiple thanks to all the people who read and reviewed!
"What is going on?" His voice was like a whisper, secretive almost, like the two of them shouldn't be heard speaking with each other.
"If you're going to ignore me at least be consistent, Grissom. Don't be nice one second and then act as if I had some kind of weird disease you don't want to catch the next. You want to treat me like that? Fine! But don't expect me to jump for joy and cheer like a little girl when you suddenly start treating me the way you used to. I'm not 25 anymore."
"I would tell you that you have to understand the circumstances and forget about whatever you're thinking right now or were a few minutes ago," he paused and then added, "I should too."
He realized that he didn't want to hear Sara talk, mention, allude to or hint about her "friend", where they had been together- if they had been together. And he'd made it clear in his Grissom-way one night by a pool. When had he told her to get a life with that bigamist in the making? Get a life but not with him.
So, what option did all those requirements leave?
Not too close. . .not too far away. Not with Hank. . . and probably not with any other man either.
Get a life. . .but don't be late when I page you.
Grissom took a deep wavering breath as if he were preparing for a long speech. He looked up and found her eyes on him. "Sara, I'm--."
"Grissom?" a voice behind them said.
Sara and Grissom turned around to face the voice's owner.
Standing arrogantly at the other end of the balcony, eyebrows raised in mock surprise, was Conrad Ecklie, smirking like the cat who ate the canary.
Grissom shared a small glance with Sara before his elbows left the balustrade and turned to face Ecklie. Grissom's first thought: he couldn't have seen them k---?
"You're insatiable, aren't you?" he said, sauntering over to them while ignoring his mousy date who just frowned, unable to grasp the full meaning of Ecklie's question.
When he came within an arm's length of Grissom, Ecklie halted, shaking his head. "First that Lady 'Leather' and now—." He finished his sentence by tilting his head suggestively in Sara's direction.
Sara's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, something about his eyes made her uneasy.
"Conrad?" Grissom interrupted in a tone of greeting, as if this had been the first time he'd seen him at the party. Grissom coolly dug his hands in his pockets as he padded towards Ecklie, his voice polite bordering on intentionally smarmy. "Enjoying yourself?"
"Not half as much as you, I bet," Ecklie quipped.
Sara's eyes processed every second of the encounter but she didn't utter a word, feeling this was some kind of old resentment going back to the first day Grissom and Ecklie had met. She knew she should stay far away from this war.
Leaning slightly over Grissom, so their heads almost met, Ecklie admonished. "At Atwater's party. God, Grissom, you're more stupid than I thought."
Tilting his body from the hip up, so he could see Sara, he gave her an appreciative once-over -for the fourth time that night- and then glanced back at Grissom. "Although I can understand why."
"Eating dessert, Grissom?" he goaded, prodding at the edge of Grissom's limits. Ecklie knew which buttons to press and when. He never missed an opening.
The fake smile that had been artificially plastered on Grissom face vanished as he stepped between Sara and Ecklie, blocking off his view of Sara and with that, the leer from Ecklie's face.
Ecklie's back straightened, and as he took a slow step backwards, hands coming out of his pockets, palms facing Grissom in a submissive gesture.
Grissom saw nothing remotely submissive in his eyes. Quite the contrary, Ecklie's black gaze resembled that of a shark: predatory, as though circling a bleeding prey.
Grissom jerked a thumb at Ecklie. "How many glasses of champagne has he had?" Grissom asked to Ecklie's date with one of those charming smiles of his that could (and usually did) completely fool anyone into thinking Grissom was the most outgoing and gregarious man in the world.
The woman chuckled and smiled flirtatiously at him. She was about to reply when Ecklie glared her into silence. She caught the drift –stay out of it- and lowered her eyes.
As tempers began to fray, Ecklie's cool front crumpled, losing the smile and gaining a scowl. "You may like to think I'm an idiot, Grissom, but the truth is, I'm not," he said, pointing a finger at Grissom's chest.
Grissom glanced at the finger with contempt and looked up at Ecklie again. Ecklie dropped the finger but not the attack.
Ecklie's eyes hardened, the taunting show was over. His next words were taut with anger and resentment. To him, Gil Grissom was nothing more than a spoiled prima-donna who had recently stuck his nose where it didn't belong again and with unbearable consequences to Ecklie: public knowledge of his mistakes.
He fixed his gaze on Grissom. "Next time Sheriff Atwater asks for your opinion on one of my cases, you may want to keep your thoughts to yourself or there'll be one more nasty rumour circulating the Lab's grapevine." He glanced in Sara's direction.
With considerable pleasure, Ecklie elucidated further. "You know how people like to talk, if certain sex-related details leaked to the press or happened find their way to Atwater's or Cavallo's ears. . .."
Grissom glare was so intense it suggested he was attempting to summon all his brain power in order to make Ecklie spontaneously combust. Grissom's right thumb started to rub itself against the tip of his fingers, over and over, as if the thumb had an obnoxiously persistent itch.
Ecklie shrugged and went on, unfazed and encouraged by Grissom's silence. "Who knows? A bunch of CSI that have managed to compromise evidence in a case involving a superstar, blow up the lab thus destroying evidence and cases, lead angry fathers to innocent people in protective custody. . . the list goes on, Gil. Let's add this, shall we? Love affairs between supervisors and employees. The all-time sizzling favorite combo of the press and masses. Now, that might just be the last straw. . .."
Ecklie held his gaze, knowing he'd touched a nerve, found a new Achilles' heel. He saw Grissom's jaw shift, teeth certainly grinding together.
Behind Ecklie, Sara saw his date eyeing them with great interest, almost as if she were memorizing their faces for later description to ten of her equally tongue-loose friends.
Hearing that flagrant attempt at a semi-extortion, Sara couldn't stay on the sidelines any longer.
"That's not true and you know it," Sara said, folding her arms over her chest, suddenly very cold. It was then that she realized she was still wearing Grissom's jacket.
She winced inwardly. That couldn't look too well.
Ecklie had always had a knack for smelling a rat, even when the rodent was very well hidden and marinated in perfume.
Grissom had been correct, Ecklie had not seen them kissing, he'd just seen them very cozy. He'd played the odds, threw the bait and suggested what he hadn't seen. The oldest trick in the book.
Now he knew something had happened before he'd arrived. What exactly he didn't know, but they didn't know that and as long as they acted as if they had something to hide, Ecklie would follow their lead.
Ecklie turned to her.
"It's not the truth what matters, it's what looks like the truth," Ecklie replied, patronizing in his every word, cynical to his very core.
As an afterthought he added, "And to be honest, people at the Lab wouldn't have to do much of a stretch of the imagination. If any of you bothered to listen to a bit of water-cooler talk, you'd know it. People will buy it in a heartbeat," he explained, snapping his finger at the word 'heartbeat'.
Ecklie lifted his arm for her date to loop hers around it and looked at Grissom. "Stay out of my cases," he repeated and started off towards the ballroom.
After getting a considerable distance away from them and before disappearing completely behind the lush plants that flanked the balcony's entrance, Ecklie delivered his last punch, this time aimed directly at Sara.
"Sidle," he said to get her attention. Sara looked at him. "There are other ways to get a promotion, you know."
Grissom sucked in a furious breath and stalked after him but Sara caught his arm before his third step.
He swivelled his head to look at her.
"You'll ruin your suit," she said with startling equanimity. "Which I know cost what Catherine forced you to pay. Much like this dress," she said with a smile, glancing down at herself.
With another shift on his jaw and a murderous look in Ecklie's direction, Grissom's temper simmered just below boiling point, clearing his head from the steam just enough for him to grasp the meaning of what just happened.
His gaze focused on her hand, clasped just above his elbow. Warm, delicate, long fingers. He couldn't help but to stare at it. People didn't usually touch him. He felt. . .it felt. . .
He looked up when her hand weakened its hold of his arm and slipped away as though chased away by his staring.
Better that way, Grissom thought bitterly.
Grissom took a deep breath and brought up that trademark indifferent veneer of his. Sara saw it coming and braced herself. Instantly, she knew where Grissom was going and she admitted it wouldn't be an unlikely end to an accidental kiss.
He didn't speak immediately and a thick silence swiftly imposed itself between them, a huge invisible wall that prevented words from reaching to the other side.
Blue eyes dropped to the impeccably polished floor. Unexplainable sadness wreathed its way around Grissom's heart, replacing the anger that'd been there moments ago. He stood unmoving, staring at his shoes like a repentant child who'd been scolded by his mother for playing with matches.
Sara studied him. Eyelashes swept over his eyes, lips pressed together in a small pensive pout. It was during moments like these that Sara felt she still had a lot to learn about Grissom the man, not the friend or the co-worker.
Grissom decided his course of action. His posture changed, his back straightened, his eyes looked up from the ground with steady, forlorn gaze, a glint of gloominess in his eyes.
"What happened here can't happen again," he said matter-of-factly. A shimmer of hope he didn't even know existed died with Ecklie's visit to the Hotel's balcony. "It was my fault and I'm sorry."
She shrugged off his jacket and handed it to him, outstretching her fingers towards him. "It looks suspicious" was all she said.
Grissom stepped forward and took it, careful not to graze her fingers. Sara noted this but didn't let herself be stung by it, one step forward always precluded four steps backwards with Grissom. She should be surprised.
She crossed her bare arms over her mid-section as Grissom slid his jacket back on in one smooth motion.
Sara ignored his apology.
"Ecklie's bluffing," Sara replied, giving the night a half-shrug. It wasn't a rebuttal just a statement of fact. She wasn't trying to make him change his mind.
"No, he's not." She turned to him and saw how serious he was. "And even if he were, I'm not calling it," he explained, blue eyes staring straight at hers. He shook his head and took a few restless steps away, and then spun around to face her again. Now he looked flustered.
Sara had never seen Grissom switch from one emotion to the other in so short a time. It baffled her.
"That's what I meant when I said you don't know who you are," he kept his voice tightly controlled.
She followed Grissom's finger. He was pointing to the spot where Ecklie had disappeared. Sara frowned.
Grissom rubbed his eyes with his index finger and thumb. "You heard him, scumbag that he is," –he shrugged his shoulders- "he's right!"
Sara opened her mouth to say something but Grissom lifted a finger, silencing her. "He virtually turned you into a whor--," he couldn't even say it. He sighed. "And...and we haven't even...That is what would happen if..."
He was so angry he couldn't even articulate half the things he wanted to say.
Grissom levelled his voice and continued. "Sara, we're supposed to work together, not. . .not 'this'. . ."
. . .this kissing, he thought. This urge to do more than kissing. . .
He wasn't telling her half of the things that scared him besides her name.
He didn't tell her that it scared him to death knowing that given the smallest chance, he was absolutely sure Sara would come to know him inside-out and exactly in the way he didn't want anyone to know him. Exactly in the way that left him ...exposed ...vulnerable.
Vulnerability was an anathema for Grissom. If he'd felt a little piece of him chip away when he found out Sara had been dating Hank, he didn't want to even imagine what would happen if they were together and something similar happened.
Images of Dr. Lurie and Debbie surfaced, uninvited. It certainly drove Lurie mad. Debbie, here one day, making him feel happy again; and, gone with a younger man the next.
Funny, intelligent, beautiful Sara, with him one day, gone the next, leaving a huge void in his life he'd never be able to fill.
He stopped himself, the mere prospect of it made his chest tighten with fear.
"It's- it's too complicated," he said instead. That revealed less about him, or so he thought.
Sara regarded him with a laser-like stare that made Grissom feel she was reading his thoughts. He didn't squirm on the outside, his façade had been practiced for too long for his nervousness to seep through it.
He didn't fidget but his eyes did waver and that was enough for Sara.
"I never hear you say that when you're working a case," she said. "You know, if you put half the energy you dedicate to every case to solve 'this'. . . " Her finger pointed to him and her. " . . .you would never say 'it's too complicated'."
Grissom stared at her, his head tilted half a degree to the left, indicative of his surprise. Her words had lowered his guard for a moment and unwillingly, one corner of his lips curled up into a sad you-got-me-there smile.
Why was it that despite all his efforts she just kept digging and digging? It came so natural to her, she countered each and every one of his arguments effortlessly.
Grissom shook his head, dispersing thoughts that told him he shouldn't push her away, that he should take the leap into that emotional darkness.
"That's different," he replied with not much conviction. He sauntered towards the balustrade and rested his elbows there, contemplating the city, the oldest and longest love affair of his life.
She looked at his back for a moment, understanding the message. She sighed, glanced skywards for a second and then looked back at him. Somewhere in that short period of time her eyes had turned a sad, resigned black.
"Yeah, it is different, Griss. One is about other people's lives and the other is about yours. Big difference."
Sara had to muster up all the energy and courage she had just to keep her voice from cracking. This night had shattered something inside her, she needed time to pick up the pieces and glue them back together.
She started towards the ballroom, she wanted to leave.
After taking a couple of steps, a thought popped into her head that made her heels stop. She turned around and waited to see if he would turn around to face her but he didn't.
"I give up," she said to his back, shrugging her shoulders with disenchantment, arms lifted at either side of her hips, palms facing him. "I give up."
She noticed how his head bowed slightly, almost as if he'd been expecting a similar statement.
Grissom didn't turn around, he remained as still as she'd been almost an eternity ago.
After he no longer sensed her presence, he looked around.
"Wait!" Grissom said, a bit breathless from the sprint. Inside the elevator Sara didn't lift a finger to stop the gliding doors. Just when they were an inch from closing, Grissom slid his fingers inside the door and pushed them open again.
"I won't tell anyone if that's what you're worried about," Sara said flintily.
Her tone made Grissom wince inwardly. He closed his eyes for a moment, searching for words.
Grissom held the doors open but didn't go in. "I'm not worried about that."
Grissom hesitated, not knowing what to say and feeling uncomfortable talking to her under those circumstances. "Could you step out? We can't talk like this."
Sara arched a perfect eyebrow. "I think you were pretty clear back there," she said.
Out of the thousand thoughts he had swarming inside his head what came out was: "I want to explain."
"You don't have to 'explain' anything."
She walked up to him and placing her hand over his, removed them from the elevators doors.
"I'm leaving," she informed and then stepped back inside the elevator. Grissom frowned and his eyes darted sideways, terror in them.
The doors started to slide.
"You're leaving? Las Vegas?" came his terrified voice from behind the moving doors.
Sara was dumbfounded.
I cannot believe this, Sara thought, jaw dropping slightly.
She pushed a button and the doors slid open again. She looked into Grissom's eyes and saw that he was in some kind of shock and she thought she saw fear too.
She let him stew in his own juice for a moment, strangely enjoying seeing him out of that emotional straightjacket he'd forced on himself. Though she would not reveal it to him now, the prospect of leaving Las Vegas had been hovering in her mind for a while. A long while. For reasons she didn't want to face just yet, she was tied to Sin city. Tied to a part of her life she didn't want to leave, tied to a part of her life that was slowly gnawing at her.
Gnawing at the rope that tied her too; one day someone or something would snap the rope in two and then she might start to consider leaving. But certainly not now –not after what happened- when it would make her look like an immature teenager running away when things didn't go as she planned.
"The building, Grissom," she replied and watched his whole body relax. Sara frowned and shook her head, even more confused and puzzled.
She raised a hand to her temple, rubbed it for a second, collecting her thoughts. "For the life of me I will never, never, understand why you push me away when I'm close but the minute you think I might leave you, you act like you don't want me too far away. Which is it, Grissom?"
He was unable to face her inquisitive stare head-on. His gaze sunk to the floor and his hands slid inside his pockets.
Sara didn't know whether to interpret that as shame or plain fear of the truth.
"See you tomorrow," she said dryly.
She leaned against one of the elevator's polished stainless-steel walls and watched Grissom's face slowly disappear behind the right sliding door. She sighed and closed her eyes, she was emotionally drained. She could not take more tonight. She needed a hot bath, bed and sleep. She was utterly exhausted, ready to move to a deserted island and spend the rest of her days alone.
Before the pair of sliding doors touched, Grissom mustered the courage, stuck his hand in the narrowing slit and pushed the doors open. He slid into the elevator, accidentally ending up standing too close to her. He took a step back and leaned on the wall opposite her.
"Can we talk?"
She pushed the "Lobby" button and the elevator glided down. "No."
Grissom tilted his head pleadingly and Sara arched an eyebrow, not knowing if he did it on purpose or if he didn't know his face was irresistible. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
"Talk. You have" –she glanced at the panel above the doors, numbers dropping fast- ". . .twenty seconds."
Grissom's eyes widened a bit, words jumbling inside his head.
"Eighteen, Grissom. Better summarize." Sara was making him suffer.
"Sara?" he pleaded.
She sighed, rolled her eyes. Grudgingly, she looked to her left and flicked a switch, halting the downward movement.
She wasn't going to make it easy for him.
"What happened up there can't happen again," he said again, looking into her eyes at the end, searching for a reaction or most likely, the question 'why'. Sara liked the word 'why'.
"If Ecklie does what he said, I don't even want to think what could happened to you."
"To us," she corrected.
"No, no." He shook his head and raised his index finger. "There's no 'us' to me," he paused. "There's just a 'you' and a 'me'. Separate." Grissom didn't know how harsh that had sounded, he was just speaking his mind.
Sara laughed quietly then took a deep breath and released it in a 'God'.
"You know," she started, eyes on the elevator's floor. "If you don't want anything to do with me it would be easier just to say it." She stressed the words 'say it' by rising her eyebrows invitingly.
She continued after watching Grissom lower his head. "Or maybe you could start acting like you don't want something from me. My life would get a lot simpler," she said confidently, when inside it took her entire strength to utter the sentence.
Grissom smiled at her and felt it again, that magnetic attraction towards her, that painful tug at his heartstrings. For a second he thought he wouldn't be able to fight it, as the memory of their earlier kiss taunted him, giving him a taste of what he couldn't have again, showing him flashes of what might have happened if he hadn't said 'no'. The battle had been tight, he could have just as easily have leaned forward again.
He would've kissed her again and he would made her turn around to face him. The kiss would've been deeper and . . . Ecklie wouldn't have had to invent the rumour.
He rested his back flat against the cold steel of the elevator's wall and calmly dug his hands in his pockets. He took a deep breath and swore she had left her perfume on his jacket as a kind of scented torture. He looked down, he couldn't speak if he met her eyes.
His voice was calm, almost lulling.
"If I could show you-" He paused and swallowed slowly, hard- "the amount of will power that I need just to keep myself here, on this wall and away from you, you wouldn't have ever asked the question."
Sara blinked. She'd never dreamed of hearing Grissom saying things like that but somehow, it had sounded like him. Unexpected, intense and fundamentally, not said while looking at her. His eyes had been on the floor he entire time.
A shy little boy in so many ways; a strong amazing man in so many others. The duality had been a slow-acting poison in her bloodstream since the day she'd met him.
"If you showed me anything we wouldn't be here," she countered, giving him a pointed look.
Grissom nodded his head and smiled almost to himself.
"A few months ago I took a leave of absence, remember?" She nodded hesitantly, not knowing the sudden relevance of that. "You know what I did those weeks?" he asked.
Sara shook her head hesitantly. You could say she was nervous of what his answer would be.
"Recovering from surgery." Her eyes grew wide so Grissom added more information. "Hearing problem," he said, pointing at one ear. "Nothing terminal. I'm ok now."
She asked about the specifics of the problem. He told her. She nodded to all in silence, processing his words with care, connecting the scattered dots Grissom had left over the years and specifically, over the last year-and-a-half.
"That's why you were acting so weird before you left?" she said finally, frowning.
Grissom shrugged and avoided her enquiring gaze. Which meant his answer was 'yes' but he didn't want to admit it. Everything was subtext and body language with him.
Sara crunched the new data. While it shone some light over the man's actions there was still one small huge detail that didn't add up.
"Why did I get the worst of it?" The tone of her voice matched the sadness of her eyes. She wasn't reproaching him, she was curious.
He frowned. "Yes Grissom, I got the worst of it. Everybody knows it. You didn't ignore Catherine, you didn't ignore Nick or Warrick or Greg. Everybody knows it, except you."
This was quickly veering towards to that off-limits territory. She kept venturing there, poking and probing and didn't even leave him time to think things through. He fidgeted and lowered his eyes.
"I don't know," he offered, with a small raise of his shoulders.
Oh, he knew.
"You don't know. . .," she repeated, resting her head on the metallic walls of the elevator. Her eyes glanced heavenwards and sighed. "You don't know why what happened up there happened either? You don't know why you did what you did?"
Their gazes collided and clung to each other. Sara daring him to answer and Grissom trying to end the discussion the same way he always did: staring and not saying anything because he couldn't think of what to say.
"Do you?" Was what came out of his mouth. Instantly, he recognized his mistake.
"I do," Sara replied confidently. "I'm on a self-destructive path, what's your excuse?"
"You always have an answer," he hedged, breaking the eye contact.
"That's not an excuse, Grissom," she pointed out, glancing towards the stainless steel panel and to the 'Stop' switch. She stared at it, mind seesawing between two choices.
She finally found her voice and to her surprise, she didn't sound angry anymore, it was as calm as his. "If you feel like you said then why don't you—?"
"Because we can't," his voice raised a little but when he spoke again his voice was calm. "Because of what Ecklie said to you tonight, remember?" He massaged his right temple with one hand before continuing, he was clearly getting to the end of his emotional rope. "Sara. . .try to understand—."
Sara could swerve into different moods as fast as any Ferrari could go from 0 to 100 m/p/h.
"No, I don't want to! You don't make any sense!" She folded her arms over her chest like stubborn child refusing to do her chores. "You're using that meddlesome moron as an excuse. And a poor one at that."
Grissom bowed his head to hide an amused smile. Sara could regress into childhood sometimes.
"Ok," Grissom conceded. It was best not to sail against the wind.
She tilted her head, not certain she'd heard correctly. "Ok? Ok?? What did you do? Take a Valium when I wasn't looking? How can you be so calm! What is---"
Maybe you can't sail in a Hurricane.
He held up his hands and interrupted her. "Sara, no matter what you do or say, you won't make me change my mind. I still think –and will think- that it's better for both of us if I keep being Grissom to you. Just Grissom."
She smiled and slowly her smile changed into a scowl. Grissom shrank a bit under her shrewd eyes.
"You'd love that wouldn't you, Grissom? To remain a mystery?" She'd blurted the words out, she didn't even knew she was going to say that but after the words were in the air, it dawned on her how fitting they were.
Grissom was speechless. She might say he confused her but more times than not, Sara managed to make her words hit right on target, like a secret-seeking missile.
This time she'd hit too close for comfort and Grissom had no way to escape from her next question.
He felt cornered.
He brushed past her without saying a word or so much as looking in her direction.
He flipped the 'Stop' switch into 'off' with one swat of his hand. A chime and a small jolt indicated the argument had been swiftly terminated. She'd careened into a dead end by getting so close to the truth of what made Grissom act like Grissom.
Leaning on her side of the elevator, she regarded Grissom with a glare. Now she was angry, he'd done it again. She had stopped the elevator because he had ask her and now, he was the one taking control, ending things. Always in control.
After a silence filled with unspoken words, they heard a chime and the metallic doors whirred open.
"I'll walk you to your car," Grissom said.
Sara glared at him, suddenly fed up with 'this'. "I'll walk myself," she said before stalking toward the double glass and brass doors.
The doorman snapped to attention at the sound of heels moving towards him. Straight-backed and gracefully, he swung open the door for Sara.
Sara mumbled a 'thank you' without looking at him and braced herself against the cold of the night that had suddenly taken over.
* * *
"It's late, it's a big parking lot, Sara, please," Grissom tried to reason but Sara's purposeful strides took her further away from him. He scanned the parking lot. The twinkling lights of the Strip didn't shine this far so the lot was a rectangular patch of darkness dotted by small circles of dim light coming from half-a-dozen scattered streetlights.
And Sara was heading straight into a dark zone, mugging-land.
"Would you wait a damn second?!" was what came out instead.
Sara's next unexpected words burned straight though him, and through that wall she'd always wanted to take apart, even if it was brick by brick, even if it was one brick a year.
She swirled around. He stopped walking.
"You know what? I was right. Warrick was right," she blurted.
"About what?!" he said, his voice strained.
"You're a robot! Convincing disguise of a human being though! You sure fooled me," she replied, eyes blazing with a mixture of anger and, creeping slowly without her noticing, disappointment.
She twirled on her right heel, not expecting a response from him and not wanting any either. Grissom didn't follow her, he was trying to collect his thoughts, bring some semblance of order into his head before continuing what he'd started by the simple act of telling Nick he'd look for Sara.
He carried on, feeling like he'd regained his composure, not knowing a brick in his wall had been chipped, all it needed was one more blow and it would smash into pieces.
She reached her car seconds before him. Her hand disappeared into one of her jacket pockets, rummaging for the car keys, ignoring Grissom's presence behind her.
"I'm not a robot," he said. Her hand was wrapped around the keys, she loosened her grasp and turned around.
"Oh really? Then prove it," she challenged. Grissom didn't know how to respond to that. "Prove it God dammit! Do something a human being would do! I'm sick of this tug-of-war! You resist, I push, you blow me off, I retreat, you come forward! Make up your mind!"
Few times in his life had people pushed the right button that sent him into a gut-instinct, long-repressed response. This time became one of those few.
Grissom stared at her for a second, blue eyes as black as the night sky. He paced for another second, putting some distance between them and then spun around and unleashed a tiny part of himself.
"What do you want me to do, Sara?! I can't change who I am! I'm tired of people saying I can't feel anything! Warrick. You. I'm not like you! I'm not like Warrick either! What the hell is going on? You've known me for years what's so different now? Huh?! Everything I do is a mistake!"
Sara frowned at his tone of voice and stood besides her car driver's door, sensing but not certain that Gil Grissom had just shed one layer of his social mask. He looked like a burdened man, not even aware of the multiple crosses he was bearing or the possibility of asking people for help to share a bit of the weight.
Damn him, she thought, now she couldn't be angry at him. She sighed and spoke calmly, setting the volume of the conversation down again, keeping them both on the rational side of the fence.
"Sure you make mistakes-who says I don't? But I'm not talking about Warrick, I'm not talking about Catherine or Nick or Greg and the things they might or might not tell you. We're talking about you and me."
Grissom blinked and looked up at her. Grissom felt as though the entire planet's population had disappeared. Ecklie, Cavallo, Nick, Warrick, Catherine. . .the whole of Las Vegas population was gone except the two of them, standing in a dark parking lot, having the confrontation he'd dreaded for years.
Sara seemed to be on a roll, a latch that had held all her thoughts concerning Grissom had snapped loose. Say it now, or say it never. She went on, "And you know what makes relationships more demanding? Years, Grissom. Years make people more demanding," she said as if explaining him a foreign concept. "Time changes people and relationships. But you, you don't change."
He frowned and though Sara couldn't see it, his eyes could not longer hold her gaze for too long, he was retreating again, like a man who'd been in the shadows for too long and when light came, his first response was to shield his eyes. Stop the aggression, hide back in the cave.
"No, that's a lie," she corrected herself immediately. "You do change. You have your good days and maybe let someone close and a week -or a day- later when that person thinks they'd made progress with you---"
"What?" He interrupted, scratching his beard nervously, looking for a way out, not ready to face all the facts in one night.
Sara paused, hastily tucking a loose strand of hair behind her left ear. "She hits a wall where yesterday had been a door. It's been that way for years. That's. . .that's disconcerting. That hurts, Griss. It hurts and you don't seem to know or care that it hurts."
Like any other human being when they're stressed, confused and emotionally hypersensitive, he said something horrible.
"If you've known this for years then why the did you stay?"
She felt as if he'd just slapped her.
Sara's chin dropped a degree.
He'd just made it clear she had wasted four years of her life.
She looked at him as a solitary tear slid down her cheek. Anger and sadness intertwined so intricately Sara didn't know exactly how she felt. She took a deep wavering breath, choking back a hundred tears he would never see and looked with two gleaming brown eyes.
"I don't know why I stayed," she said. She gave him a wan sad smile and as another tear slid down her cheek. "See? I don't always have an answer."
He felt something crack inside him. A lump had lodged in his throat, guilt.
"I. . .I didn't mean that," he said hesitantly, outstretching his hand towards her face. What had he done? "I'm sorry."
Sara retreated a step, lifting a hand in a 'stop' gesture. "Please don't. Don't look at me like that, like you care because it's clear that you don't."
She blinked and another tear glided down her cheek, Grissom stared at it as if it were the last drop of water on the Earth. "I'm. . .I. . .," he stammered.
He couldn't move, frozen from the inside out.
Sara shook her head. "Silence. I know what that means: 'Sara stop embarrassing yourself and leave me alone'. Fine, Grissom. Fine." She did a half-turn when his hand gently clasped her upper arm.
She didn't turn around.
"I'm. . .I'm sorry," he said, this time that sorry covered more ground than the one before and Sara felt it in his voice. I'm sorry I made it confusing, I'm sorry I hurt you, I'm sorry I caused those tears, I'm sorry I never seem to say the right thing. . .
Sara turned around and found him inches away from her. He let her arm free and waited for her response.
When Sara didn't say anything he spoke again, "If sometimes I don't say anything to you it's not because I don't want to, it's because you always make me forget what I want to say." He sighed. "You said you over-talked around me. . .well" –he shrugged his shoulders and looked sideways shyly- "I. . .under-talk."
That earned him a small smile from her. Grissom realized she might not know the power she had over him; power he didn't want to admit was stronger now that it had ever been before. He had to make her leave now.
He sighed and carefully leaned towards her as one of his hands slid inside her jacket's pocket, taking her car keys out. The gesture was incredibly intimate, as if they were old lovers instead of old friends. She didn't try to stop him.
The keys jingled in his right hand as he took them out. They both looked up at the same time, sensing this moment was a strange form of 'goodbye'. They had argued all that there was to argue and the tug-of-war Sara mentioned was still going on.
Despite it all, she didn't want to let go. Like a bad-habit, Grissom was so entrenched inside her it was difficult to stop, to forget him.
Hesitantly, his hand reached up to her face, stopping half-an-inch short of her cheek and then continuing. He ran his index finger over her cheek, following the path of a dry tear. For the first and last time he was touching her with his hands and not with his eyes.
His eyes followed his finger on her skin. It seemed so easy. The tear had slid close to her lips---He withdrew his hand. "You better leave now," he whispered, holding the keys between them.
Sara eyes went from his eyes, to the keys and then back to those blue eyes she sometimes knew and sometimes didn't recognize.
He licked his lips nervously, reading the negative in her eyes he sidestepped her and pushed the keys into the lock, Grissom pulled the door open and slid inside.
Sara closed her eyes at the sound of the engine revving.
One last try, she thought.
As he emerged from the car, Sara turned around and stood between the open door and him, pinning him against the passenger door.
Grissom felt something inside him curl up and hide in fear. At the same time, something else wanted to take the leap. His breath got caught inside his lungs, his pulse spiked. He pressed himself against the cold metal of the Yukon as if she could burn him with her touch.
He looked away from her. "Sara."
He'd never said her name like that. It sounded on edge, like saying 'don't push me more or I'll . . .
She saw it, for the first time, she saw it. No veneers, that was him. "What?" she asked, leaning slightly closer to his mouth.
He swallowed hard and though he knew he shouldn't, he looked into her eyes. He had ten seconds to put some distance between them or his self-control would be scorched to oblivion.
For the first time in years he knew he was going to say exactly what he thought.
"If I have you too close, I don't know what I would do."