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.

Feedback is most appreciated, feel free to post; if you want a personal response you can e-mail me.

Many, many thanks to Kate and Ina, my generous editors, and another thank you to Joan Keith, who understands migraines! This one is for Penn O'Hara, who likes 'em open-ended. *grin*

Okay, okay, I believe in the 'ship now... Spoilers: through "Butterflied".

* * * * * *

The sun was up. Grissom blinked against its light, even through his sunglasses, and was grateful to reach the shade of his townhouse. Shutting the door behind him, he tossed down his keys on the counter, an automatic move, and then winced at the clink. His head hurt.

In fact, hurt was a thoroughly insufficient word for the astonishing pressure within his skull. His migraines didn't come often, but when they did, they usually commanded all his attention. Fortunately, this one had only begun its slow approach at the end of shift, and he'd put off taking the medication until he got home. It was safer to finish driving before the drug took hold.

Within three minutes he had shed his shoes and glasses, filled a water glass, and downed two pills. Within twenty, he was immobile on the couch and the pain was beginning to seem a little further away. It didn't exactly lessen, but the medicine moved him into a place where it was slightly more tolerable.

Recovery from his surgery had pushed him to purchase a larger, wider piece of furniture than the two-seater that had occupied the space before. This one let him stretch out to his full length. The room was dim, but he kept his eyes shut against what light there was, and let the pills drift him further still.

The whisper insinuated itself into his half-consciousness, and when he finally paid attention, it seemed to him that it had repeated itself several times before he focused on it. Too dazed to wonder, he merely listened.

What are you afraid of?

Easy answers rose to the surface of his mind like bubbles. Infirmity. Deafness. Loss of mind. Loss of purpose.

What else?

Exposure. The thought was slower. Vulnerability.

What else?

If Grissom had been fully awake, he would have retreated from the question and the questioner, but the drug and the pain kept his defenses at bay. Being hurt. Losing everything.

What's everything?

His eyelids twitched, but didn't part. My work. My purpose. My self-respect. The phantom push of the question didn't diminish, and he offered one last, reluctant answer. My friends.

Their images rose up behind the thought, rich in context--Robbins in the morgue, David with a body bag; Brass sardonic, Nick enthusiastic; Greg bouncing and Warrick thoughtful; confident Catherine and brilliant Sara. His colleagues, his pupils, the people who respected him yet joked with him--the people who cared about him. He remembered Catherine telling him that they would build a family around him, will he, nil he, and with a muted rush of sorrow he saw the stresses that had appeared in the net of relationships the lab had spun.

Yes. Do you know why?

It's me, isn't it? I'm part of the reason. He felt the questioner's silent confirmation. ...How do I fix it?

You already are. You're reaching out again. He'd thought he'd lost the trick of it somehow, that it had slipped away with his hearing, but he was trying.

His attention dissipated under a fresh wave of pain. When it subsided, the whisper returned. What do you want?

The question baffled him. What do you mean?

Look. The word carried implications of soul-searching. What would you change?

The whisper sounded faintly, faintly familiar, but that perception was immediately lost as the question demanded an answer.

Change?

What do you miss? the questioner asked, trying a different angle.

Answering was easy. I miss having time. I miss the brightness, the closeness. Paperwork and duties had limited his teamwork, forced him to make harsh decisions. Impending deafness had strained his relationships, pushed friends away.

What do you want?

The meaning was clearer now. I want to be a better friend. I want to have time again. I don't want to be so stressed.

What else?

Sorrow hit him hard this time, a swell of grief as the question pierced to his sore spot. He'd thought it was beginning to callous, until he'd walked into a crime scene and walked out with a nightmare. I want what Sara offered me.

A cascade of images, light and dark--Sara bent over evidence in San Francisco, reporting to him soberly on Warrick, sitting in an SUV with her face wet with tears; draping a blanket around him, smiling and flushing as he taped her wrists together, watching him when he offered her a job; sitting in a Harvard lecture hall, standing in his office doorway, crawling on a carpet. With them came the emotions--pleasure, friendship, exasperation, fear. Love.

He couldn't have it. He knew that. But apparently the questioner didn't.

So take her up on it.

I can't. The risk's too great. Risk to him, risk to her; their careers, their hearts, their stability. He knew her well; she would have considered those risks. But I have more to lose.

You have all the pieces. The whisper almost sounded amused, almost tender. Put them together.

Grissom's brows drew together. Comprehension hovered just out of reach, and his struggle to understand cleared the haze of medication a fraction. He formed a question of his own. Why are you asking me questions?

You were kind to me, came the puzzling answer. You cared about me.

He struggled towards clarity, ignoring the pain. Who are you?

His eyes sprang open at the sudden, vivid awareness of something other in the room, something so alien and outside logic that a chill ran across his skin. Nothing out of the ordinary met his sight, but for an instant he was convinced that someone--something--was there, not two feet away from his couch. At the same moment, his own voice spoke to him from memory. "Gotta breathe through your ears, Gribbs."

Shocked awake, he sat up abruptly, and then moaned at the fresh knife of agony through his skull. Everything fled before a wave of nausea, and he barely made it to the bathroom in time. The next few hours were lost in a morass of pain and dry heaves, interspersed with the coolness of the tub's rim against his temple and the merciful, temporary fade into unconsciousness.

* * * * * *

At some point he must have made it to his feet, because when he woke from the heavy post-migraine sleep, he was in his bed. Grissom managed to drag himself to the shower, body heavy with aftereffects, and washed away the sweat, though the hot water did little to clear the cottony feeling in his head. Clean and rehydrated, he shrugged into a robe and padded out to his kitchen. His answering machine blinked at him, so he pressed the button.

"Hey Gil, it's Cat. I saw your little face twitches before I left this morning, so I figure you're coming down with a migraine again. Go back to bed. We'll cover for you."

Grissom shook his head and smiled. It's a good thing she did, he thought, glancing at the clock. He'd slept half the shift away.

Picking up the phone, he punched in her cell number. She picked up on the second ring. "Willows."

"Thanks for the save," he said, cradling his phone between ear and shoulder and moving to fill his coffeemaker with water.

"Hey, no problem. I take it you're feeling better?"

"Finally. Do you need me to come in?"

"Are you kidding? I love playing supervisor." Her tone was laden with amusement. "Besides, it's a slow night. I've actually got Sara and Warrick working on a cold case." Voices broke out in laughing argument in the background. "And if you two don't quit fighting, I'm going to have to separate you!"

Grissom winced and chuckled at Catherine's shout, obviously directed at the two CSIs. "You tell 'em, Mom," he said, and Catherine snorted.

"It's like junior high around here sometimes. We'll see you tomorrow night?"

"Count on it," Grissom answered confidently. They said their goodbyes and he hung up, inhaling appreciatively as the coffee began to brew. What was it she told me once about family?

His hand stilled on a mug as the previous morning began to filter through his memory. A whispering voice that wouldn't let him rest, asking uncomfortable questions. A presence beside his couch--

He cut off the thought. Ridiculous, he scolded sharply. Impossible.

But the memories were rapidly becoming clearer. A voice that wasn't there, he realized. The sound of it had never touched his ears.

Okay, a hallucination then. But migraines usually produced visual hallucinations, not auditory ones. A dream.

That was more logical. He knew quite well that the human brain was capable of entering a dream state even when not fully asleep, and the migraine medicine probably helped.

Fine. A dream. Which didn't explain why the questions and answers were still so clear. Dreams usually lost sharpness quickly, leaving few details behind.

Grissom finally picked up the mug, annoyed, and poured himself some coffee. A dream that turned into a nightmare at the end. My mind's trying to work through something.

He drank his coffee and made some toast, trying to ignore the puzzle of questions by concentrating on the case he'd just wrapped up. But by the time he was fed and dressed, he had to give up. His brain just wasn't going to let it go.

"All right, all right," he grumbled under his breath, and poured another cup. Setting it on his coffee table, he sat on the couch to try to work through the puzzle.

Questions, and answers. His fears, his desires. Suddenly he realized that both were not about his present, but about the future. Not what is now, but what could happen.

What do I fear? Not only the things he'd listed before, but some things he'd already faced. Deafness...averted, at least for the foreseeable future. Losing his friends--well, he was working on that, trying to repair the damage his self-absorption had caused. Losing Sara--

He'd faced that before, too. The first time, he'd barely dealt with it, too buried in self-denial to offer more than an oblique apology, but it had somehow been enough. She'd stayed.

The second time had been his personal nightmare. Not Sara herself, but a case that turned into a distorted mirror of his fear. Exhausted, frustrated, emotionally drained, he had found a weird clarity at the end, enough to summarize the murders they couldn't prove and the risks one man had taken and one had refused.

What do I want? The impossible. He didn't even know if Sara was still willing to offer him a chance. She'd warned him...but then, she was still there. Still at the lab. Still working for him. And therein lies the problem.

He couldn't do it. Couldn't risk both his career and his heart on the chance that the wonderful life might be temporary. And it would be, too; a relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate was untenable. He wouldn't ruin her chances like that, or see his own future destroyed.

You have all the pieces, the memory nagged him.

What's that supposed to mean? The whole thing was getting downright irritating. He was spending too much time on it. He had paperwork to do--he might as well get caught up, if he was going to miss the rest of shift. Certainly there was going to be a fresh stack waiting for him when he got in tomorrow.

Grissom sighed, and took a drink of coffee. Pushing paper took up too much of his time. He could remember before he'd been saddled with the supervisor's position, when Brass had still run the night shift. One corner of his mouth quirked up at the memory. Jim sure has mellowed out since then.

He'd had time, then. Time to run experiments, to spend all night in the field, to talk anatomy with Robbins until the sun came up. Sometimes I wish--

He could almost hear the pieces snapping into place. His eyes widened and he stared into space, dizzy at the simplicity of it. Why didn't I see it before?

His first impulse, to go straight to the lab and inform the brass, was checked by his inherent caution. A decision like this couldn't be made lightly. But he could see it laid out before him, a clear path, one that opened into possibility.

* * * * * *

It was absolutely typical of Grissom, Sara thought tolerantly, to make a change like that and just not bother to tell anyone. The entire lab was buzzing with speculation and amazement, and he sailed right through it, apparently oblivious.

She looked down again at the memo from the lab director. It informed readers crisply that Dr. Grissom was resigning his position as night shift supervisor as soon as a replacement could be found. Dr. Grissom would not be leaving the lab; instead, he would return to his previous position as a regular night shift CSI. The administration wanted to fill the position of supervisor as quickly as possible; all interested candidates were encouraged to apply.

I'll bet Cat's application is already in. Sara wondered what working under the older woman might be like. Catherine was not nearly as oblivious as Grissom could be, but she was also more volatile. Still, better her than me.

Sara returned to her microscope, shifting the slide and then adjusting the focus before writing down her observations.

What on earth made him do it now? That was her real question. The benefits were clear to her. Grissom hated being the supervisor, he always had. He didn't mind running a case, but he hated the administrative parts and the politics, and he didn't like having to tell people when they were screwing up. Sara thought it was an excellent decision. In fact, I don't know why he didn't do it sooner. When she'd first arrived in Las Vegas, he'd told her that the position was temporary, and certainly moving up the command chain wasn't one of his ambitions. Habit, I suppose.

She finished with her samples, flipping the folder shut and powering down the microscope. Glancing at her watch, she realized that she was already forty minutes into the next shift. "Might as well go home," she murmured to herself, and headed for the locker room.

Grissom filled her thoughts during her drive. Ever since she'd overheard his strange confession during the Debbie Marlin case, Sara had felt an odd calmness around him. Knowing that, at some point, he did care, had soothed a hurt she'd carried ever since he'd rejected her offer of dinner. Knowing why he'd done so gave her a measure of peace. He was older, more set in his ways; his work was his life. The risks she was willing to take were too much for him. It made sense.

It didn't make the wanting go away, though.

Sara sighed as she pulled into her apartment's parking lot. She was glad Grissom was making changes in his life; it was good to see him pulling out of that frightening isolation. But she couldn't help feeling like he was getting further away.

Or...maybe not. She felt her brows go up in surprise as she approached her apartment and saw her soon-to-be-ex-supervisor standing there, arms folded, staring into space. Baffled, she spoke his name.

"Grissom? What are you doing here?"

He turned to face her, arms dropping and a slow smile lighting his face. "Sara."

There was something in his tone that she hadn't heard in a very long time, something that kindled a fragile warmth inside her. He held out one hand to her, meeting her eyes, not looking away. "Can we talk?"

End.