Disclaimers: see Part I
Once more, a thousand thanks to Nire the Evil, my marvelous editor. Any mistakes are mine. Thanks also to you who sent feedback!
Sara gulped down the last bite of her sandwich and pushed through the lab's main doors in a hurry. She was late--not by much, but still late. She'd been so tired after court that she'd managed to get in six dreamless hours of sleep, but she'd also slept right through her alarm.
Turning the corner near the conference room, she almost ran into a fast-moving Grissom, and flinched back, startled. "What are you doing here? You're off tonight."
He seemed to stiffen a little. "Bugs," he explained, and detoured around her, shrugging on a jacket. She bit her lip, but he was already gone, and she didn't know what she wanted to say to him anyway. The morning's puzzling conversation still sat undigested in her brain; she hadn't had time yet to sort it out.
"There you are." Sara turned to see Warrick leaning out of the conference room door. "Girl, you're late!"
"Tell me about it," she riposted, and slid past him into the room. "Cath, I'm sorry--"
The older woman shook her head and smiled. "Good grief, Sara, don't worry about it. If I call you on being late then I have to call me, and I really don't want to do that." She raised her brows at the snickers from Nick and Warrick. "Pipe down there, boys. Here."
She passed out slips. "Nick, you and Sara have a DB at a library on Vine. Some kind of fight. Warrick, you and I are going to Tops for a robbery."
Warrick raised his brows, and Nick whistled at the mention of the strip club, but both refrained from commenting in front of Catherine.
"No Greg tonight?" Sara asked.
"No Greg tonight," Catherine confirmed. "The whole lab is swamped, and he's needed in DNA. Grissom had to come in to deal with some insects on a body, and the only reason I'm not splitting us all up is because I think things will go faster if we work together. No dawdling, guys." She gave the three a stern look. "Let's go."
Sara snatched up the SUV keys, just beating out Nick's grab. "You snooze, you lose," she told him, and dodged his mock punch.
"Yeah, yeah. C'mon, Sidle, last one to the car has to do the interviews!"
The library was chaos--a corpse with no obvious cause of death, books and paper scattered all over, and four people with bruises and eleven restive witnesses under police supervision. Sara stared at the huge bookcase lying on its side before snapping photographs. "How'd they get that to fall over? It must weigh a ton!"
"Good question," Nick said, crouching over some blood staining the carpet. "How much you wanna bet we're going to get fifteen different stories?"
"No bet," Sara said dismally. "Hey, David."
The coroner gave her his usual shy smile. "Hi, guys. Busy night, huh?"
"Just getting started," Nick grunted, and stood as David knelt by the body.
The large, heavy-set man's eyes were staring at the ceiling; his shirt had been ripped open by the paramedics. "No blood, aside from the cut lip," David murmured, half to himself. "No obvious wounds."
"You thinking heart attack?" Sara asked, leaning over for a closer look.
"Possibly," David said. "But we won't really know until we get him back to the morgue. Bring it in, Frank," he added, looking over his shoulder for his assistant and the gurney.
"Hey!" The irate shout came from the lobby, where the witnesses were being held. "I need to get home! You can't keep me here--"
Sara and Nick exchanged exasperated glances as the woman ranted on. "Flip you for it," Nick said gloomily, fishing a quarter from his pocket.
"Heads," Sara said as the coin spun through the air.
Nick caught it and slapped his palm onto his wrist, then lifted his hand to display an eagle. "Sorry, Sar."
She grumbled under her breath, handed him her camera, and stalked out to start the interviews.
Grissom, crouching over the corpse, closed his fingers delicately on his tweezers and lifted an impressive specimen to light, but his mind wasn't entirely on the vigorously squirming larva.
Did I go too far?
He hadn't meant to say so much so soon. And yet, something had compelled the truth from him. Maybe it had been Sara's irritation and obvious exhaustion; maybe it had just been time to say it, to stop backing away. He'd told Brass the truth; he was terrified. But when the only alternative was loss, the risk didn't seem too high.
He sighed, and deposited the larva in a jar, automatically shifting to ease the ache in his knees. Part of his consciousness was already running preliminary time-of-death calculations based on the specimens he'd collected so far, but another part was wondering what Sara would say to him the next time she saw him...what choice she would make.
It was odd--he'd spent so much time trying to contain what he felt for her. Years, in fact. And now that he was allowing himself the possibility of something more than friendship, an unfamiliar impatience was nudging him in directions he might not normally choose to go.
Grissom capped the last jar, spoke with the attending officer, and returned to his SUV. Pulling onto the highway, he headed back to the lab, and as he settled into the routine of driving, Sara once again rose to the forefront of his thoughts. In his mind's eye, he saw her as she had been earlier in the day--crisply dressed, but drawn with stress and weariness. He'd wanted so much to simply ease her, in whatever way he could, and instead, he feared he'd only added to her strain.
She's an investigator. Of course she would insist on knowing why I was there. And maybe he'd realized that too, on some level. He wondered ironically if his own subconscious was conspiring against him.
His memory shifted to an earlier time--perhaps not happier, but less charged. Sara and Warrick standing in a flood of sun in his townhouse, the rich colors of Warrick's hair and skin all but glowing in the light that, at the same time, underscored the pure lines of Sara's face and darkened her eyes to velvet. Their voices mingled as they told Grissom of their findings, Warrick's deep and deliberate, Sara's sharper; they'd both watched his face for cues, loyal to him beyond all his expectations. His protégés, his friends. Two of the finest people he knew.
Grissom's hands tightened on the steering wheel, fighting the urge to reach out and touch the vivid memory. The past was immutable.
What if I'm wrong? What if she doesn't want this...me...any more? The fear brought an ache deep in his chest. If I've thrown this away...
But she was still there. He held to the thought.
Sara looked up from her paperwork at the sharp word, a bit wary, to find Catherine standing next to the table. "Hmm?"
"Go home." Catherine put her hands on her hips, gimlet-eyed.
Sara blinked. "But I haven't--"
"It's paperwork. It can wait. Go home." Catherine shook her head. "You've been going like blazes all night, it is now an hour past the end of shift, and you worked a double shift last night. You're not going to work one tonight."
"C'mon, Cath, there's still a lot of work to do, and Greg said Grissom went home at midnight."
"So? He had the night off in the first place." The older woman smiled, her stern expression softening. "Give me a break and go home, Sara. I don't want to be responsible for trying to justify your overtime. That's Grissom's bag."
Sara gave up, and grinned. "If you're sure--"
"Nick's staying late too. I'm sure between the two of us we can finish up."
"All right, Cath. Thanks." Sara stood and began stacking papers.
"Nope." Catherine put her hand over the paperwork. "Leave it. Out!"
Sara raised her hands and backed away, laughing. "Okay, okay!"
Her drive home was occupied with swearing at traffic and trying to sort out the night that had just passed. It had been so busy that she'd barely had time to breathe, let alone think about anything but the cases they'd worked on. Shutting her front door behind her, she dropped her bag at her feet and leaned back against the door, just reveling in the quiet. Which was promptly broken by a knock between her shoulder blades.
Sara swore, half in startlement, and spun to yank the door open. "What?"
The young woman on the other side took a step backwards. "Um...Ms. Sidle?"
Sara looked her over in one quick glance. Uniform, cap, long box, timid expression.
"Yeah, that's me." She smiled a bit sheepishly. "Sorry. Long night."
The teenager blinked, clearly not understanding, and held out the box and a clipboard. "These are for you. Sign here, please." As soon as Sara took the box and scrawled her signature, the young woman scurried away, obviously spooked.
Great. Now I'm scaring kids. Sara shut her door again and looked down at the container in her arm. Setting the box on her counter, she eased off the lid and parted the tissue paper, and drew in her breath. The irises, a rich violet-blue, glowed against the green paper, and she worked her hands carefully under the stems and lifted. The scent of vanilla rushed out into the room, and she held the blossoms to her nose to get a deeper whiff.
"Wow," she murmured. "I've never seen anything like these."
Putting them gingerly back in the box, she fished out the small envelope that had been tucked among them and opened it. This time, the card was in Grissom's own handwriting, and bore more than two words.
"Sara--I was going to send you roses, but when I saw these they reminded me of you--brilliant, unusual, and stunning. I'm sure you have questions. Feel free to ask them. --Grissom"
Her mouth dropped open. Once again, emotions flooded her in such a tangle that she couldn't sort them out, but somewhere in there was fury, and amazement, and something that put warmth in her chest and a lump in her throat. Is this what he meant by "courting"?
She leaned back against the edge of the sink, reading the words again. I guess it's time to think about this.
Two hours later, she found herself staring down into her cereal. What remained of it was soggy and unappetizing, and she finally dumped the whole mess into her sink. She knew she should eat something more--lunch had never happened--but she had no appetite. And it was all Grissom's fault.
Sara rinsed out the bowl and set it aside. What is he doing? What am I doing? Did she want to take a chance on Grissom any more, maddening as he was? After all this time, all the hurt, was he really capable of following through? Every time she remembered the feel of his fingers against her cheek, the look in his eyes, she wanted to go find him and kiss him senseless, then burrow into him and never come out. It's what I wanted, after all.
But then reason would kick in. He said he couldn't. He's hurt me so often-- Though if she were honest, he hadn't always known that he was hurting her. Can I still do this?
Do I still want to?
The truth was, she didn't know what to think. She simply didn't have enough information.
Her gaze caught on the irises, now upright in a vase left over from Christmas. This is ridiculous. She grabbed her phone. He'd be awake, she knew it as well as she knew his name.
"I want to talk," she said abruptly when he answered.
He didn't equivocate, which--despite his recent actions--surprised her. "All right," he replied calmly. "Where? My place? Yours? Somewhere more...neutral?"
She'd only thought in terms of their homes. Neutral sounded very good. "Um. You know that park near my apartment?"
"The one with the big blue swingset? Yes."
"I'll meet you there." It wasn't until she hung up that it occurred to her that she had just assumed he had the time to meet her now, but he hadn't said anything, and she wasn't in a mood to worry about it.
She was closer, so she reached the park first, but it wasn't ten minutes before Grissom arrived. She sat on the back of a bench, resting her feet on the seat and her elbows on her knees, and watched him approach with his distinctive tilting stride. Fortunately for her sense of privacy, the mothers and small children taking advantage of a mild morning were all some distance away.
He halted a few feet away from the bench, and simply looked at her. Sara pursed her lips, struggling to master the roil of emotions in her gut, and finally spoke. "What is it with you, Grissom?"
The words came out in a harsher tone than she'd intended, but all he did was raise a brow. "What do you mean?"
"I mean...all this." She gestured as though to encompass his recent peculiar behavior. Her nerves drove her to her feet, and she faced him. "This--this--attention. Why now?"
He cocked his head the way he did when he was looking for an answer he already knew. "Isn't it obvious?"
"The Marlin case." Sara exhaled sharply.
"In part." His mouth twisted. "The parallels were...disturbing."
She shook her head, compelled to the truth. "You could never be like that. Never in a million years."
His smile was small, and sad. "Sara, I already am." He put his hands in his pockets. "You heard what I said. Two middle-aged men who never touch anyone unless they're wearing gloves."
Sara choked. "You knew I was there?"
"Of course." He gave her a professorial look, briefly scolding. "I'll admit, if I hadn't been so tired I might not have said all that I did, but..."
She stared at him a moment, reorganizing her assumptions, before going on. "You said you couldn't take the risk."
"Couldn't. Past tense."
"Grissom..." She shivered. Something was changing, but she couldn't tell if it was good or bad.
"Do you even know what I was talking about, Sara?" He squinted up briefly at the sky. "I've spent most of my life alone. I've worked hard, not always consciously, to keep things on an even keel. To avoid...messiness."
She felt the corner of her mouth curve up without her permission. "And I'm messy?"
Grissom snorted. "No, but you're a source of energy. If I let you into my life, there's no telling where it would go." He sighed. "Sara, I wasn't able to risk my stability, my contentment, the...the balance of my heart. It just took so long for me to figure out that contentment had very little to do with how I felt any more."
His voice went lower, as though the words were harder to get out. "I eventually realized that I was losing you anyway." He swallowed. "I don't want to lose you, Sara."
His admission made her throat hurt, but she ignored the pain and thought for a moment, absorbing his words. "What if I'm not willing to take the risk anymore?"
His brows shot up, and she elaborated. "Grissom...I've spent years wanting you. I never made a secret of how I felt. And now, after all that time, I finally quit. I gave up. You want to know when?"
He nodded slowly, never taking his eyes from her.
"When I asked you to pin me down." She saw him wince a little. "We could have powered the Strip from the energy between us, and you just ignored it like it wasn't there."
"So you decided to hurt me." There was no accusation in his voice, but the words stung all the same.
"I didn't plan it," she blurted. "But...yeah, probably."
They were both silent; then Sara let out a long breath of frustration. "I gave up. I figured, if all you wanted was to be colleagues, then that's what I'd do. And now you come and tell me you've changed your mind."
She chose her words very carefully. "I should put you through hell for what you've done to me, Gil."
His gaze didn't waver. "I'd let you," he replied.
The soft words took her aback, puncturing her anger. It was so strange to see him lay himself open to her, and she found herself without an answer.
When she failed to respond, Grissom seemed to come to a decision. Pulling his hands from his pockets, he stepped a little closer and took her hand in his. Keeping his eyes on hers, he raised it to his face and pressed his mouth gently against her fingers. Sara drew in a sharp breath; the warmth, the silky prickle, the look in his eyes all combined to start a familiar quiver in her belly.
"Take a chance." The words were low and coaxing, and she could feel the vibration of his voice in her fingertips...and the tremor running under his skin. "Give me one more chance, Sara. Please."
Part of her wanted to pull violently away, to retreat from the swell of emotion that was threatening her control. Part of her wanted him to overwhelm her, to take the choice from her, even though she despised such a thought. I could end this, with one word.
She studied his face. That tiny smile was there, half-hidden by her hand, and his expression was calm--but she could see something in his gaze, something that pierced her through and through. There was nothing casual about this for him, nothing light. He was offering her a choice, letting her decide, but it wasn't just her heart in the balance. Something desperate lurked in the back of his eyes, something strained and aching.
Oh. It was the first time in so long that she'd seen so clearly. It's his soul.
The months of anguish and stubbornness, the nasty little justifiable desire to hurt that gnawed at her--her perspective tilted, and they became, not insignificant, but outweighed. He'd suffered as much as she had, in his own way, and while it was mostly his own fault, she couldn't bear to see his pain.
I want this.
She pulled her hand from his grasp, and heard his breath catch, but before he could move she laid her palm against his face and put her other hand on his waist. Delicately, carefully, she ran her fingertips over his cheek, moving from warm skin to soft hair. He stopped breathing altogether as she cupped his jaw and let her thumb stroke over his chin and throat.
There were no words in her. She watched her hand drift down to his shoulder and slowly leaned into him, her arms sliding around him, and it was with inexpressible comfort that she felt him pull her close and hard. She turned her head just a little, just enough to push her face into his hair, and her trembling broke free as he exhaled, deep and unsteady.
For a moment his embrace grew so strong that he almost lifted her off her feet, but at her intake of breath he relaxed a little. She moved closer, greedy and incredulous, and his hands made slow circles on her back, spreading warmth, soothing her shivers.
It was several minutes before Grissom spoke; his voice was quiet and rough. "As I've said before, I'm deficient in a lot of ways. Are you sure?"
Sara tightened her grip, as though he might try to get free. "I told you. I've wanted this for years. What makes you think I'm going to back away now?"
She felt his chest move as he let out a faint laugh. "I don't know. I guess I don't feel like this is real."
She made a small noise of agreement, then raised her head so she could look at him. "Are you sure? I'm no picnic to be around sometimes, you know."
She watched, mildly fascinated, as his gaze scanned her face--eyes, nose, mouth, chin--as though cataloguing, and then returned to meet hers. "I know. But--it's you. That's all that matters."
She swallowed, and smiled at him. As if it were a signal, he kissed her. His mouth on hers was firm and gentle at the same time, and she barely heard the soft sound he made; it felt like her personal electrical system was in overload. The instant he began to lift away, she put her hand on the back of his head and pulled him back. The kiss didn't stay gentle.
By the time it was over, she could feel the deep shaking running through him. One of his arms was wrapped around her waist, and the other hand cupped her skull, fingers buried in her hair. She pressed her cheek against his, delighting in the feel of his beard against her skin. "I won't take it away," she whispered fiercely in his ear. "Ever."
Grissom had had similar moments of triumph in his life, but they were very rare. And none of them had ever had quite the marveling bliss of Sara's arms around him, the absolute, stunned joy of knowing that she still wanted him. He sat in silence now, squinting a little against the light that filled his townhouse, and simply basked in the warm weight in his arms. Sara was sleeping, and he didn't want to wake her.
When she'd touched him, when she'd held him, his heart had hurt with relief. Even now, the ache was still fading. He'd taken her home with him, claiming the right to feed her, neither of them wanting to separate. And it had pained him to see her get up from her seat and come to him where he stood at the sink, and embrace him with a hesitancy that showed him--again--how much he'd hurt her in the past. He wondered bitterly how long it would take for her confidence to assert itself.
Grissom sighed, and leaned his cheek against her hair. She's here now. It is not always given to mortals to change the decisions they make, but sometimes they get the chance. He'd chosen again, chosen to take the risk, to chase the wonderful life she offered. I don't know if I've ever wanted anything more.
Well, yes, he did. He wanted Sara's happiness. Fortunately for him, it seemed to lie with him.
The slender form leaning against him stirred. "Y'know, Griss, you so need a bigger couch," she said sleepily.
He looked her over, noting how tightly her long legs were curled against the opposite armrest. "You're right," he said, amused. "One big enough for two."
Sara pressed her face against his chest for a moment. "How long have I been asleep?"
He glanced at the clock. "About three hours."
"And no nightmares." She sat up, stretching. "Sweet!"
A yawn caught him by surprise, and Sara grinned, that wide smile he loved so much. He blinked as she reached up and removed his glasses; she folded them and set them aside, then leaned back against the far end of the couch and opened her arms. "Come here. It's your turn."
A number of objections tumbled through his head--the couch was too short, she needed more sleep, he was too heavy. He shut them all firmly away, and let her pull him down to rest on her, his hands finding their way around her as though they already knew. She was soft, and real, and she smelled of lemons and warmth; her arms held him close, one hand rubbing his shoulder, and she pressed a kiss to the top of his head. "Sleep," she told him.
So he did.
"I still can't believe she talked you into this," Catherine said, amused.
Grissom shrugged and tugged his cap further down over his eyes to shade them from the Saturday sun. "This is Lindsey's first soccer game of the season. How could I miss it?"
Warrick chuckled from Catherine's other side. "Yeah, she's got you wrapped around her finger, 'Uncle Gil'." He ignored the glare Grissom shot in his direction, and leaned back on the grass, resting his elbows on the slight slope. "Where is Sara, anyway? The game's about to start."
"Right here," Sara said from behind them. "I finally found a parking space."
Grissom edged over to give her room to sit next to him, but she surprised him by sitting down behind instead. The ref's whistle blew, and they all turned to look down at the field at the game's beginning; before Grissom could look back again, Sara settled herself with her knees on either side of him, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. A grin spread slowly over his face, and he leaned back against her, one hand rising to encircle her wrist. Catherine and Warrick were watching the players; Grissom pulled Sara's hand to his mouth and pressed a kiss to the palm. Her soft chuckle teased his ears.
He sighed, content.