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.
This is dedicated to the friendly folks at the Unbound forums, who are so kind.
Spoilers: general fourth season through "Turning the Screws"
He knew what it was the moment he saw it, and a sick feeling swelled in Grissom's throat at the sight of the long white envelope sitting so neatly on his desk. He'd cleared a space on his blotter just the past shift, and the overhead light seemed to spotlight it, crisp and flat between the stacks of papers. There was only one word on it, and while he didn't have the gift of reading upside down, he'd seen that handwriting often enough to recognize his own name without effort.
He rounded the edge of his desk slowly and sat down on the edge of his chair, unable to take his eyes from the evidence. Such hasty handwriting it always was, as though the fast-moving mind behind it was scarcely patient enough to let the hand write clearly, and he had often suspected that only strict discipline in writing reports kept it legible at all. Sara preferred shorthand anyway--anything to speed up the process, to avoid being slowed down.
It was scarcely a word in his mind, more a vision of her face and a tangled, aching knot of emotions--admiration, exasperation, pride and envy, warmth and anger and hopeless silent yearning. He couldn't look away from the envelope, the official shell surrounding the finality he had dreaded for so long. I waited too long. I was too slow.
Grissom kept comparing it to the one she'd left him before, the reason he knew what this one contained. He'd been so blind, then, willfully blind, and when she'd poured out her frustration it had taken him hours to understand what she was saying, to comprehend her reasons. Struggling, he'd put aside Catherine's pushes and done what he could--a silent apology that had somehow worked. A living thing to bear his meaning--I do respect you. I'm sorry. Don't go.
It wasn't going to work this time. He knew that. Sometime in the past few months Sara had stopped expecting things of him, just when he was beginning to feel that perhaps he could supply them. He'd tried to reconnect with her, but she didn't seem interested, not even in the banter they had once shared with such pleasure. It was almost as though they had never shared more than a working relationship.
I thought I had more time. No, that wasn't true. The truth was, he had never allowed himself to believe that she might leave. Oh, maybe someday, when she wanted to advance her career, but "someday" had always been far in the future. Maybe after he retired. There was no logic to it. But since when is self-delusion logical?
Bitter laughter stuck in his throat. The blasted business envelope held the death of all his hopes, and he couldn't even muster the courage to open it.
He picked it up. It wasn't heavy; but then, a resignation only needed one sheet of paper.
The rap on his doorframe made him look up, startled. Sara stood in the doorway, arms folded, and the hot pain rose up in him at the sight. Her expression was reserved, but hinted at guilt. "I'm sorry about that, Grissom."
He shook his head, and put the envelope down. "Not half as sorry as I am."
She blinked and frowned, looking perplexed, but the truth that had fallen out of his mouth seemed to Grissom to open the door to more. He tried to smile, but only one side of his mouth would go up. "I won't try to keep you this time, Sara, you don't have to worry. You have every right and reason to leave."
Her frown deepened. "Grissom--"
He held up a hand. "Please. Let me say this." He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes closing briefly. Courage was a heady, bitter draft.
"There are a handful of things in my life that I really regret, and the biggest one is you." He winced at the hurt that replaced the puzzlement. "That didn't come out right." He blinked rapidly, trying to marshal his thoughts. "What I mean is, I regret pushing you away, keeping you out. I regret the circumstances, the timing, the--the fact that I never quite dared to take you up on your offer."
Sara's eyes narrowed, and he could see her mind running over his words, working out what he meant. It took her about two seconds. He expected her to ask why he'd never dared, but she didn't. Her gaze flicked to the envelope and then back up to his face, and one brow went up in that elegant arch. She took two steps forward and shut the door behind her; with the blinds down, the move cocooned them in a space of silence and privacy. "If I made it again, would you take me up on it now?"
Grissom let out a pained breath. "But you don't want to any more, do you?"
Sara shook her head impatiently. "That's not what I'm asking. Answer the question, Griss."
It would be so easy to equivocate, to spin out oblique words and hedge them with the expressions that kept her from pushing further. But he had nothing left to lose but his dignity, and somehow it seemed right to sacrifice that as well. He'd lost her, and if humbling himself made up in some small way for the pain he'd caused, then it was appropriate to do so.
"Yes. I would take you up on it."
Her gaze pierced him, but he met it, having nothing left but the truth. And she gave a slow nod. "Good."
Sara reached out and picked up the envelope, stuffing it into her vest pocket. "Shift's over in half an hour. Are you free?"
Grissom's mind spun. Was it really that simple? Could it possibly be that simple? "You'll--stay?"
"You going to tell me that the lab needs me?"
Judging from her expression, doing so would not be a good idea. "Not right now."
"Good. I'll stay--on one condition." Her face was stern. "You have to be willing to give this a try, Grissom. You have to give us a try. We can't--I can't--go on like we have been."
A small part of him was wondering about the edge of humor lurking in her eyes, but the rest of him simply didn't care. "Okay." He got to his feet and did something he'd been wanting to do for months.
She went utterly still when the backs of his fingers brushed over her cheekbone, and he was reminded of the time he'd encountered a hunting falcon. All fierceness and beauty, wary but fearless. And he remembered that raptors kept by men stay by choice.
Her hand came up and covered his, as though she had to touch him to verify that this was really happening, and Grissom linked his fingers with hers and pulled her hand gently to his lips. "Half an hour?" he asked, letting her go.
Her mouth pursed, and then she gave him that blinding smile. "Meet you outside."
Sara shut the door to the toilet stall and pulled the envelope from her pocket. Her hands were shaking a little, she noticed, and her skin still tingled from Grissom's touch. What was that, serendipity? I've never seen him jump to a conclusion like that before. She shook her head. Whatever it was, she was going to grab on and hold tight.
She opened the envelope and took out the form, unfolding it for a brief glance before tearing it up and flushing the scraps. It would be easy to fill out another. If turning in her supervisor evaluation form two days late brought this kind of result, she would never turn it in on time again.
Emerging, she crumpled the envelope and tossed it in the trash, then looked in the mirror and blinked in surprise. She looked flushed and triumphant, and she grinned at herself, and schooled her expression to innocence. "I didn't do it on purpose," she told her reflection, watching the grin edge back. And he doesn't need to know.
Half an hour. Things were looking up.