Most of 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; any others are mine, and if you want to play with them, you have to ask me first. 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.
This is not a character death story. I've probably taken liberties with the layout of Sara's apartment, but I've only had the one glimpse. If there are third-season views of it, then I haven't seen them. As for Ecklie...has anyone seen him since third season?
Spoilers: through "XX", to be safe
It was a lovely evening. Sara decided that the best place to enjoy her first cup of coffee of the night was outside, so she found a spot on the front steps of her apartment complex, where they could watch the sunset--just she and the little wisp of steam curling up from her mug. She leaned against the railing, her bare feet sensing the fading warmth of the sun stored in the stairs' concrete surface, and concluded that, despite complications, lacks, and a number of absurdities, life was okay.
The voice behind her chased all the contentment away. "Whatcha doing?"
Cringing inwardly, Sara fell back on one of her father's old responses to stupid questions. "Frying an egg."
The stare was burning a hole between her shoulderblades, but Sara refused to turn, instead taking another sip of the fragrant liquid.
"You're lying." The statement was one of fact, rather than an accusation.
Watch it, kid. Sara grumbled into her coffee. "I'm being sarcastic."
A long pause. "It's still lying," the voice pointed out.
Sara finally turned, glaring. "Shouldn't you be doing homework or something?"
The nine-year-old neighbor scoffed. "You're not my mother." She shoved skinny hands into grubby shorts that were too big, and returned Sara's stare without flinching.
"You're lucky I'm not," Sara returned. Her good humor had all fled. She'd never been fond of children, and this one was a nuisance. She reminded Sara far too much of herself at the same age--thin, extremely smart, and anti-social. And always asking questions. Sara wondered briefly if she herself had been as much a trial to the adults around her.
"You wear her out again?" Sara continued, sniffing at the fading steam from her mug.
The kid shrugged. Despite her appearance, she was well-cared-for; preadolescent femininity had simply passed her by, leaving her content with sneakers, t-shirts, and the accumulated dirt of an active day. "She's making dinner."
Sara drank her coffee, savoring the silence that fell. Usually the girl would pester Sara with questions about her work, having learned from her mother what Sara did for a living, and she was well-read--a science geek in the making. She also had a child's interest in icky things. Unfortunately, this meant that she would press Sara for all the details, gruesome or not, and she was not deterred by curt answers or refusals.
"Are you going to work?" The girl tossed dark bangs out of her eyes.
"'Cause your boss is dead."
Huh? Sara blinked at the child.
"I saw it on the news." The girl straightened, looking a little smug at having startled Sara. "They said he got killed in a car accident. Lots of blood, I bet."
A high-pitched ringing sounded in Sara's ears, but when she turned to find its source, it moved with her, and she realized it was coming from inside her head. The kid was still talking, but her words were lost beneath the sound.
"What are you talking about?" Sara managed as the ringing faded. Her voice sounded strained to her own ears.
The girl sighed. "The news. On TV." She bounced a little. "They showed a picture of the cars, they were all twisted up." Her smugness faded a little as Sara pushed past her, heading inside. "Hey!"
Sara ignored the protest, striding back to her apartment. The door slammed behind her and then bounced open again, unnoticed; she didn't even realize she was still holding the empty mug until she tried to turn on the TV with that hand.
At first, all she could find was commercials, but after a minute or so of channel-changing and impatience, she got a news program. The trim announcer informed her that more details on the major car crash "that took the life of one of the city's finest criminalists" would be forthcoming soon, and then a commercial came on. As Sara muted the sound, she realized that the remote was shaking in her hand.
Oh come on! I can't believe this. She bit her lip, her mind scrambling frantically for some way to confirm or deny the little girl's statement. It can't be true. Shift hasn't started yet. Why would Grissom be-- But he was just as likely to show up early for work as she, or run errands before coming in.
She reached for her phone, punching in the number for the lab's reception desk, but the line was busy. Sara resisted the urge to pitch the phone across the room, instead hitting redial. And then hitting it again. And again.
Judging from the silent images on the TV, the evening rush hour was in full swing and tomorrow would be--big surprise--warm and sunny. Sara snarled at the screen and then jumped when she got a ring instead of a busy signal. The receptionist answered on the third ring.
"This is CSI Sidle," Sara said in answer to the woman's greeting. "I'm calling about the news. Is it--" She broke off, swallowing.
"Oh, yes," the receptionist said, sounding distracted. "I have the official report right here. Supervisor Grissom was killed in a car accident this afternoon. Did you--"
"Thank you," Sara said automatically over the receptionist's words, and shut the phone off. After a moment of staring at the TV without seeing it, she shut that off too.
Something was rising in her, a painful, empty pressure. Sara looked down at her hand, which was wrapped tightly around the remote, and with deliberate effort opened her fingers and let it fall to the couch. The clock told her it was almost time for her to go to work, and for a moment she thought of the night ahead, of having to process the accident. Which was absurd, she knew; it had happened during the day and was therefore a dayshift case, if it was a case at all.
I'm not going to be rational. Her calm felt peculiar, but at least it was there for the moment. I can't go into work tonight. Screw what the others think.
She picked up the phone again and pressed the speed dial for Catherine's cellphone. The temporary leadership of night shift would fall to the older woman, if she was able to accept it; calling her was the correct procedure. But all that answered was voice mail.
"I'm not going to be able to make it in tonight. Sorry." Sara let a moment's worth of silence go by before she realized that she had nothing more to say, and disconnected. Somewhere in her mind she knew that Catherine would be devastated by Grissom's death, but the swelling pressure in Sara's chest left her no room for consideration. It threatened to unbalance her.
He's gone. He's really gone. No more Grissom. No more teacher, no more leader, no more hope that someday they might be able to repair their damaged friendship. No more of the warm voice, the scent of him, the occasional touch of his hand. The bright, wise eyes were gone, the quirky smile was gone. The brilliant, complex mind; the tender, hidden heart.
She shut off her phone's ringer, filled a glass with water, and then put one foot in front of the other and headed for her bedroom. The bottle was right where she'd left it, in the bottom drawer of her dresser, the contents unexpired. She popped it open.
Her own face stared back at her from her mirror, white to the lips and wide-eyed with pain. There was only one way to deal with this.
Grissom matched his pace to Catherine's as they crossed the parking lot. "Good evening, Catherine. How're you?"
"Fine, thanks." Catherine hitched her purse a little higher. "Sleep well?"
He gave her a smile, and held the door open for her. "Very."
The reception desk was unoccupied; Grissom leaned over and picked up the stack of messages that bore his name. Catherine waited for him. "Did Sara call you this evening?"
"No, why?" Grissom paged absently through the slips, then stuffed them all in his pocket.
"She left a message on my voice mail saying she wasn't coming in. Maybe your phone was out of range or something."
Grissom frowned. "I didn't go anywhere today. It should have worked."
Catherine shrugged. "Maybe the network was down."
He stopped to unlock his office door. "She sounded kind of weird," Catherine said over her shoulder, heading for the locker room. "You might want to call her and see what's up." And she vanished around the corner.
Grissom turned on his office lights and dumped the books he was carrying onto his desk. Maybe I should. He frowned. It was uncharacteristic for Sara to call out for the shift, and while he knew their relationship was strained, it was within his purview as her supervisor to check up on her.
Yeah. Keep telling yourself that. Maybe you'll even believe it.
He sighed and pulled out his cellphone, but Sara answered neither her home phone nor her cellphone. Grissom frowned, but decided not to leave a message. He could always call back later.
He collected assignments and headed for the conference room, where he found the rest of the night shift gathered around the television. Their heads turned as he entered, all looking a bit wild-eyed. Nick grinned. "Hey, Grissom, man, you're dead."
"I beg your pardon?" Grissom squinted at him, nonplussed.
"The TV says you died in a car accident this afternoon," Warrick explained. "News to you, huh?"
Catherine shushed them and turned up the volume. Sure enough, there was a picture of him behind the announcer--an old one, as it lacked the beard--and the woman's tone was suitably somber as she told her audience of the death that had taken place that afternoon.
"'The city's most valued criminalist'?" Warrick chuckled. "So what are the rest of us, chopped liver?"
Grissom shook his head, baffled. "This doesn't make sense. I didn't even leave the house until forty minutes ago." He unclipped his cellphone again, this time dialing the Sheriff's number. "Rory? It's Gil Grissom. What's going on?"
His CSIs waited, displaying varying levels of amusement, as he talked to Atwater. Finally, he shut his phone and turned to them.
"Well?" Catherine asked, her humor draining away at his sober expression.
"Clerical error," Grissom explained. "Somebody did die--the guy who replaced Eckley as day supervisor--but for some reason the official announcement has my name on it instead." Smiles faded at the news. None of them knew the man as more than a new face, but it was still a tragedy.
"So we know you're not dead, but nobody else does?" Nick shook his head in turn. "That's going to be fun to straighten out."
Grissom sighed and rubbed his forehead. "I'm not looking forward to it." He fished in his pocket and handed out assignment slips. "Cath, Warrick, you get an assault over at the Belmont. Nick, burglary on the north side. So far it's slow tonight, but with Sara out we're one short, so keep in mind that things could pick up later."
"What are you going to do?" Catherine asked as she gathered her things.
"Paperwork. What else?" Grissom replied, and left them to it.
Walking back to his office, he opened his cellphone again and tried Sara's numbers. Still no answer. Is she sick?
A small, cold knot was forming in his stomach. Don't be ridiculous, he told himself. She's not likely to have heard the news, and even if she did, she wouldn't take it for granted.
He halted in his office doorway. Maybe she didn't. Atwater said that the official announcement had my name on it...and that's what the front desk would have gotten...
Grissom bit his lip. She's barely spoken to me in weeks, he reminded himself. There's nothing to make me think she still cares about me at all, even if she did hear about it. Except for a "kind of weird" message on Catherine's phone.
On Catherine's phone. Not his.
Grissom spun in place and headed back out of the building at a fast stride, not even hearing the receptionist's surprised exclamation as she saw him pass.
Grissom tried Sara's numbers three more times during the drive, with no results. He was prepared to pound on her door if necessary, even as he told himself that he was being obsessive, that there was some innocent explanation for all of it, that she was just going to be annoyed when he showed up on her doorstep. But when he got there, the door was open, and the knot in his middle doubled in size.
"Sara?" he called through the opening, knocking lightly. When there was no response, he pushed the door open all the way and stepped inside. "Sara?"
There were no points of disturbance to be seen, just the slightly cluttered living space of someone who didn't have much time for housework. He listened, but heard nothing--no radio, no water running, no voice. "Sara, are you here?"
"She's in there."
He flinched and swore, turning to find a little girl about Lindsey's age standing in the front doorway. "What?"
The child eyed him with cool interest. "You're dead. I saw it on TV."
"No, I'm not," Grissom replied impatiently. "It was a mistake. You said Sara is here?"
The girl nodded. "I told her you were dead, and she went running inside, and she hasn't come back out."
Grissom suppressed his swearing this time. "Thank you," he said, and went forward to shut the door. He had no time to deal with children now.
For a moment, he thought the girl would refuse to move out of the doorway, but she gave him a long look and backed away just enough. He raised a brow at her, like recognizing like, and closed the door in her face.
He found Sara in her bedroom, a slender form lying limp on top of the comforter. Grissom hesitated in the hallway, unwilling to disturb her but equally unwilling to leave, and then his eyes caught on the glass and the amber bottle on her nightstand. His heart lurched.
"Sara?" She didn't move, and he realized dimly that he was having real trouble breathing. He took three steps forward and sat on the edge of the bed. She was paler than he'd ever seen her, and her skin was cool to the touch--but his shaking fingers found the pulse in her throat, slow but steady.
He closed his eyes briefly, then fumbled for the bottle, spilling the contents out into his palm. There were forty-six pills. He scanned the label; the dosage was two, and the prescription for fifty pills had been filled eight months prior. Grissom let his head fall back against the headboard, relief flooding his system. "Sara."
Grissom poured the pills back into the bottle and capped it, and set it back in its place. Reaching out, he gently stroked the hair from her forehead. Her face was drawn, and he could see the streaks where tears had dried. Her hands were fisted; he unfolded one to find fading marks where her nails had pressed into the skin. A sigh escaped him.
"What have we done to each other?" he asked her softly.
Tugging the comforter free, he covered her carefully, then returned to her living area. Opening his phone, he called Catherine.
"How's it going?" he asked, keeping his voice low. He didn't think Sara would wake, but he didn't want to take the chance.
"Bor-ing," Catherine replied. He could hear the hum of an engine under her words. "The assault turned out to be a bust. Lovers' quarrel; no one's pressing charges. Warrick and I are headed back to the lab now."
"Good," he told her. "Because something's come up, thanks to this afternoon's screwup, and I had to leave. You're in charge for the night."
"Gee, thanks," she said, a touch sarcastic. "You still dead?"
Grissom chuckled dryly. "Something like that. If it's an emergency, page me. Otherwise, I'm gone."
"Got it," Catherine said.
He finished the call and picked up a chair, returning to Sara's bedside with it. Settling himself to wait, he snagged a forensic journal from her dresser and opened it, but reading was out of the question for the moment. He had to think.
Grief waited for her at the edge of consciousness, heavy and poisonous, and Sara fought waking, trying to slip back into oblivion, where there was no hurt. But memory returned and her mind woke up, and a sob slipped out.
Something warm touched her face, blotting away the moisture that had forced its way past her eyelids. "Don't cry. Please," someone said gently.
She opened her eyes as the mattress dipped under a weight. Tears blurred her focus, but she recognized the shape in front of her as a leg and hip encased in slacks. She blinked to clear her eyes, and a hand entered her vision, fingers wiping away the fresh spill. "Sara?"
She tipped her head back and looked up, and reality wavered. Grissom was dead, yet there he sat in front of her, watching her with worry etched into his face. She couldn't form words, couldn't figure it out; was his death only a dream, and this the truth, or was it the other way around, and she dreaming now?
Now had to be the dream. There was no way that Grissom would be here in her apartment if it were real. And if it was a dream, then she could do as she liked. Her muscles were weak with medicated sleep, but Sara managed to lift herself enough to lay her head in Grissom's lap.
He confirmed her assumption by lifting one hand to stroke her hair with a light touch, again something that Grissom would never do. She lay still, enjoying it, her bliss warring with the knowledge that all this was an illusion, that soon she would wake cold and alone--more alone than ever.
"You scared me, Sidle," the illusion said with a touch of humor.
Shut up, she thought at it, finally able to form coherent thoughts and unwilling to spoil the dream with conversation. That was one of the reasons she hated taking the sleeping pills--they fogged her brain.
"Are you all right?"
She didn't answer. Something about the dream was making her uncomfortable. For instance, dreams were usually disjointed and absurd, and physical sensation was muted. But she could smell Grissom as though he were really there, clean cotton and clean male and a touch of something that she suspected was preserving fluid. She could see the room beyond his knee, every detail as it should be, nothing missing or out of place. And she could feel his hand still traveling over her scalp, hairline to nape, over and over.
She swallowed; her mouth was dry, another side effect of the pills. And reality snapped back into place, and she froze.
Grissom must have felt her sudden tension; his hand slid to her shoulder, and he gripped it gently. "Sara?"
She pushed herself up and away from him. The incredulous surge of joy was followed immediately by confusion and embarrassment. What--what is he doing here? How-- She pressed her hands into the mattress to keep herself upright, and stared at him, unable to pull words together.
Grissom watched her, his expression concerned. "Are you okay?" he asked again.
"You're not dead." Sara winced as the obvious statement fell out of her mouth.
"No. There was a mixup. It was the dayshift supervisor."
"Oh." Sara could barely hear her own voice. Oh no. I've done it again. Worse than ever this time. She'd acted like a lovesick idiot, right in front of him. The events of the last few hours seemed to condense into their own kind of nightmare.
She couldn't look at him. There was no place to go; her bed was tucked into one corner of the room. Kicking free of the comforter, she slid to the lower edge of the mattress and stood up, hoping to get past him until she could at least recover her dignity, but the room spun and she wobbled dizzily.
"Whoa." Strong arms surrounded her and eased her gently back down to a sitting position. "Take it easy."
Sara tried to pull away, but Grissom didn't let her go. "Relax, Sara," he said firmly. "I don't want you to fall and hit your head."
There was no point in fighting, not until she got her balance back. Sara sat stiffly, feeling Grissom's leg behind her on the bed, his hands on her shoulders. He began to stroke her again, this time moving his palm over her shoulderblades and spine in a soothing motion.
"You really had me worried there for a minute," he said casually, his other hand still curled around the curve of her shoulder.
The statement didn't make sense to her. "Worried how?" she asked, her voice rough with dryness.
Grissom's hand left her back, and she heard the rustle of cloth as he moved; then his arm appeared in her field of vision, holding the half-empty glass from her nightstand. "Here."
She took it, wrapping both hands around its solidity and noting absently that her fingers were trembling. When the water sloshed, Grissom's hand covered her own and helped her raise the glass to her lips, and she was still too dazed to argue.
The water soothed her throat and cleared her head a little. Grissom held her hands captive until she emptied the glass, and then he took it away again. Sara gathered her courage around her like armor, and pulled free of his grip, turning on the bed to look at him.
His heart hurt at the sight of her face. She was still deathly pale, eyes red-rimmed and heavy from the drug, and there was something so wounded in her expression that he had to remind himself sharply that he didn't have the right to try to take it away.
"I'm fine, Gris," she said, apparently dropping her earlier question. "It's just the sleeping pills. You don't need to--to hover."
Her tone was just right; he almost could believe her. But he'd seen the evidence, and there too were her hands, twisted together so tightly in her lap that he knew they had to hurt.
"Why were you taking sleeping pills, Sara?" he asked quietly. "It's not like you."
She glanced away, shrugging briefly. "What do you know about what I'm like?"
The question bore no malice, but it still stung. He answered it nonetheless, even though he knew she didn't expect him to.
"If you took them on a regular basis, you wouldn't come into work looking like you haven't slept in two days. Besides, I read the label."
One corner of her mouth bent upward for a moment. "Always the CSI."
"Mmm." He tilted his head, trying to catch her gaze, but she refused to look at him. "Sara?"
She bit her lip, and he hated to push. But there was no way he was going to leave her alone, not without some answers.
So he waited.
"Do you remember when my grandfather died?" she asked abruptly, still looking past him.
Grissom's mind supplied him with the memory on cue; a younger Sara in an office in San Francisco, taking a phone call that had snuffed her sparkle and made her excuse herself for the day. She'd told him stories, later, as she grieved; she had loved the old man with the intense devotion she gave to important things, and his death had been sudden and unexpected. "Yes."
"I went straight home and went to bed. I couldn't deal with it then. Sleep was the only thing I could do."
He nodded. "A temporary retreat from the stress of extreme grief. It's actually relatively common."
"Yeah." Sara rubbed her eyes with one hand. "There you go."
The paradoxical, stubborn hope that had seeded as soon as Grissom had made the connection about the message on Catherine's voice mail began uncurling beneath his breastbone. The feel of it made him almost giddy. He breathed out, trying to stay calm, and reached out, again covering her hands with his own. She looked down, surprised, and he took advantage and untangled her cold fingers, rubbing them gently to try to warm them.
"And I thought you didn't care any more." He kept his voice light, and started counting in his head. Three...two...
On "one", Sara blinked and jerked her hands from his grasp, covering her face. After a moment, she spoke, her voice muffled by her palms. "I want you to leave now."
As he'd hoped, his refusal took her aback, and she lowered her hands. But she still wouldn't look at him, and that hurt.
"Grissom. It's my apartment, and I'm asking you to leave. I'm fine."
"No, you're not," he countered, ignoring the first part of her statement. "You're not, and I'm not."
Her eyes met his at last as she glared at him, embarrassment apparently chased out by anger. "What do you want, Grissom? I'm not humiliated enough?"
He rose with her, alarmed, as she pushed to her feet and spoke. "You made it very clear that you didn't want me to care. Fine. As far as you're concerned, I don't. Now get out."
She shoved him in the chest, but all it did was make her unsteady, and he grabbed her arms to keep her from falling. The flush of anger faded from her face, and Grissom lowered her to sit on the bed again. "Are you going to pass out?"
Sara blinked rapidly. "No," she said in a thin voice. "I forgot how much I hate those drugs."
He raised one brow. "I don't blame you." He took his seat next to her again, putting his back to the headboard so he could face her, and waited until her eyes focused again. "Sara. I can't ignore the evidence."
She shrugged again, staring out into the room rather than looking at him. "You did for years."
"I was an idiot."
That brought her gaze around to him. She looked...baffled.
"I figured out how to do it," he said softly. "Things changed, and I figured it out. Then you asked me about the promotion, and I thought you didn't care any more."
Sara's lips trembled, and she pressed them together. Grissom picked up one of her hands again, holding it between both of his. Fear and hope sapped the volume from his voice. "But you do, don't you?"
Her hand flexed in his, and he made himself look up to her face. Her eyes were closed. "I never stopped," she said, her voice a hoarse whisper. "I couldn't stop."
The world was opening up around him, brilliant with possibility. "Sara..." He swallowed, trying to clear the lump in his throat. "Come here."
Her eyes opened, and he tugged gently on her hand. "Please?"
He had one moment to watch the wetness trail down her face; then she was in his arms, her grip fierce, and all of a sudden everything was right.
She'd dreamed about kissing Grissom, more times than she could count. But such fantasies always had the flat feel of something scripted; she knew what would happen, because it was her dream. Kissing him for real made her dizzy with astonishment. His lips were warm, and salty with her tears, and when he muttered a promise without lifting his mouth from hers, she knew the dream would never suffice again.