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; all others are my property, 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.

Many, many thanks to Psyched, who put up with my insecurities and betaed most of this. Again, any errors are mine.

Spoilers: this begins just after "No More Bets" and will eventually continue past "Bloodlines". Anything's fair game.

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"Oww."

"The painkiller will kick in soon," the doctor said with a touch of sympathy. He fastened down the edge of the wrap around Grissom's elbow. "How did you manage to do this?"

Grissom shrugged his other shoulder irritably. "I slipped."

Warrick, looming in the doorway of the ER cubicle, snorted. "At least you didn't contaminate the evidence, boss." He folded his arms and returned an amused look for Grissom's glare. "That pop when your elbow went out, though, that was so wrong."

Grissom sighed. "Don't remind me." At least the doctor had been able to put it back in joint with a minimum of work. He gave Warrick a pointed look. "You really should be processing that scene. The uniform could have brought me in."

"Nick can handle it," Warrick countered easily. "Besides, the girls would have killed me if I hadn't stuck with you."

Grissom's lips twitched, his humor starting to return as the painkiller took effect. "Don't let them hear you call them that."

Warrick snorted again. "I'm not stupid."

The doctor, who looked younger than either CSI, chuckled. "Well, you're driving him home," he informed Warrick. Turning to Grissom, he handed over a sheet of paper. "You shouldn't have any real problems, but that is going to hurt for a few days. The prescription will help; you can get it filled at the hospital pharmacy, or wherever you usually go."

"Thanks," Grissom said shortly, getting to his feet. The bruises from his fall were making themselves felt.

The doctor gave them a cheerful wave and disappeared back into the controlled chaos of the ER. Warrick felt for his keys. "Ready to go?"

"More than," Grissom answered. Warrick carefully did not offer any help as his superior limped out of the cubicle; Grissom wasn't badly hurt, and Warrick didn't want to set off his temper. The two men made their way back to the SUV, and without comment, Warrick helped Grissom fasten his seatbelt when his immobilized left arm couldn't reach.

"Where do you want to go to get your prescription filled?" Warrick asked as he pulled out onto the road.

Grissom's eyes were closed and he was leaning back against the headrest. "The pharmacy on Addison Road will do."

At the next stoplight, Warrick took the opportunity to study his supervisor's unguarded face in the harsh glare of a streetlight. The lines in Grissom's face were deepened by pain, but Warrick could see sorrow there too. He wondered bleakly why the older man put himself through so much, denied himself the possibilities that life offered. And he wondered how much longer Grissom could go on this way. Or Sara.

What's going to happen when she finally gives up? She might have already. What's it going to do to him when she leaves? Warrick knew she would eventually. She was too strong a spirit to stay tied forever to an impossibility. He dreaded the thought of what it would do to Grissom. But he'll have nobody but himself to blame.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Grissom sighed, and dropped yet another piece of paper into his out-box. One thing about being unable to work a scene--at least I'm getting caught up on this! The thought wasn't much comfort, though. Paperwork bored him, but without both arms functional he was limited to supervising and the occasional piece of advice. He almost wished that it had been his right elbow...though on reflection, he knew he would have gone crazy inside of two nights with nothing to do at all. One shift off of work was all he'd been able to manage, and now three shifts of little besides pushing paper had almost cleared his desk.

Grissom glanced up in time to see Sara stride by outside his office window. She was studying a printout and didn't look up, and his chest ached a little as he watched her vanish. Time was, she would have at least looked up and waved.

He wondered wearily how things had gotten so strained between them. He'd been trying to repair their friendship, at least, but Sara had greeted his tentative overtures over the past few months with polite, distant puzzlement. As though she doesn't believe I'm trying to be anything but professional. He grimaced, and leaned back in his chair, his elbow twinging in its sling. Maybe she doesn't. I wouldn't blame her.

He still ached over that stilted conversation in Sam Braun's limousine. The decision had made sense to him when he'd made it, but he couldn't figure out how to explain that to Sara, not when she was so obviously hurt and angry over the whole situation.

He scratched absently at his beard. It was quiet tonight; Warrick had the shift off, since he had been in court the day before and was due to return the next morning, and Catherine and Nick were working on evidence from a multiple homicide. Sara was mulling over an older case that might be linked to a rash of burglaries; not exactly brain-stretching, but he was hoping her sharp mind might find a connection that no one else had seen. It was indicative of their crippled relationship, he thought ruefully, that she had accepted the boring assignment without so much as a frown of annoyance.

A rap on the doorframe made him look up. Nick stepped inside, holding a sheaf of papers. "Hey, Grissom. Cath finished the splatter analysis, and we think we might have something."

Grissom brightened. "Let me see." He stood and held out one hand for the papers, then dropped it as his phone rang. "Hang on a second. --Grissom."

Nick had seen his supervisor in a number of stressful situations, but had never seen him react like this. The older man grew so pale that Nick thought he was about to be sick; Grissom swayed, then caught himself and widened his stance for balance. "Yes," he said tersely. "Yes. All right. No, as soon as possible. I'll let you know when."

He hung up the phone, and his stare went over Nick's shoulder, blank and far away. "Grissom?" Nick ventured, alarm knotting inside him. "You okay?"

Grissom blinked, and his gaze returned to Nick. "What?" he asked, his voice almost absent.

"What's the matter?"

Grissom shook his head, and sat down heavily, as though his knees would no longer support him. "It's...um. It's my mother. She's had a stroke."

"Oh, man." Nick checked the rush of sympathetic words; now was not the time. "You need to get out there, huh?"

"Yeah." Grissom reached mechanically for his Rolodex and flipped through it. "Will you do me a favor, Nick, and book me a flight to Los Angeles and call me a cab?" He stood again, and fumbled in his pocket and extracted a credit card from his wallet. "I'll...I need to get some things from my locker."

"Sure thing, Griss," Nick answered steadily, stepping aside so Grissom could pass. "I'll take care of it."

Five minutes later, he cornered Sara in the Drying Room. "Sar...we have a problem."

She looked up and raised a brow. "That doesn't sound good."

Nick grunted in agreement. The situation was bad, but he didn't have much choice. "I need you to drive Grissom to Los Angeles."

She blinked. "Care to repeat that?"

"His mother's sick. He has to get out there right away."

She muttered a curse, brief sympathy morphing into dry inquiry. "And the planes aren't flying?"

"You got it." He shrugged at her incredulous look. "McCarran's having some kind of terrorist scare. The whole place is shut down. He can't drive himself with that elbow, Sara, you know that."

Her fist clenched. "I'm probably the last person he'll want along, Nick. Why don't you or Catherine drive him?"

"Cath has to be in court with Warrick tomorrow, and I have that lecture at the high school to give. I promised."

"What about Brass?" she asked, a bit desperately.

"He's out of town."

She sighed. "Greg?"

"Yeah, right."

"Ugh." She rubbed her hands over her face. "All right. But you explain it to him."

"Great, Sar, thanks. I owe you one." Nick patted her shoulder. "Better grab your gear. He'll want to hit the road as soon as possible."

"Yeah," she said grimly, and brushed past him.

XXX

Nick had rather surprised her with his efficiency, Sara thought. Within ten minutes, he had arranged for their absence and promised to make sure that Grissom's bugs were cared for in his absence. When she brought her car around to the lab's entrance, Grissom was standing with Catherine at the door, a duffel at his feet. Sara popped the trunk latch and Catherine dropped the bag inside and slammed the trunk shut, then gave Grissom a hug before he climbed into the car.

"You'll have to fasten the belt for me," Grissom said without emotion as he shut the passenger door. "I can't quite reach."

Sara leaned over and took the buckle from his right hand, locking it into place. Straightening, she returned Catherine's wave and pulled out of the parking lot.

They had reached the highway and settled into cruising speed before Grissom spoke again. "Thank you."

Sara shrugged. "No problem." A lie, but a polite one. And, she admitted to herself, in the end she was still pleased to be able to help him in some small way.

It was the last words they spoke for the next two hours. Sara pointed the car west and let it tunnel through the night, racing the sunrise towards someone she'd never met, someone lying still in a hospital bed. After an hour or so she glanced over at Grissom; his eyes were closed, but she knew by his tension that he was awake, and she figured that his mind wasn't in the car.

When the first wash of pink and pearl showed in her rear view mirror, Sara began looking for a rest stop. Grissom opened his eyes when the car slowed.

"Pit stop," Sara said, a bit apologetically. "I'm not going to last another hundred miles."

He only nodded, sitting up a bit straighter as she parked. Sara got out of the car and took a moment to stretch out the kinks, pulling her arms high over her head and arching her neck back. Glancing over the roof, she saw Grissom rotating his head on his neck and grimacing, straightening his uninjured arm awkwardly. The two of them headed silently into the brightly-lit building, blinking a little against the array of light and sound, and peeled off to their respective restrooms.

Sara took her time in the bathroom, running a brush through her hair and splashing water on her face. She knew Grissom wanted to get to his mother as quickly as possible, but fatigue was starting to dog Sara, and she needed to keep awake. Emerging from the restroom, she found Grissom waiting for her, and was surprised to see the tray he balanced in one hand, with two cups on it. "Are you hungry?" he asked, proffering the tray.

Sara snagged the nearest cup and inhaled the coffee steam gratefully. "No, I'm fine," she answered, touched that he had thought of this in the midst of his trouble. "Thanks."

Grissom only nodded, and set down the tray so he could pick up the other cup and follow her back out to the car. She pulled out the cupholder in the dash and helped him fasten his seatbelt again. "Do you mind if I turn on the radio?" she asked.

"No." Grissom picked up his cup once more and sipped at it. "Sara--if you need another break, just say so."

She bit her tongue to suppress the response she wanted to make. "Okay."

XXX

They reached the hospital by midmorning, having stopped only once more to fill the tank but becoming hopelessly snarled in traffic outside of Los Angeles. Somewhere in the back of Grissom's mind was the thought that he should have first directed Sara to his mother's house, so that she would at least have a place to rest, but the urgency that had begun when his aunt had called was beating in his brain, harder and harder the closer he got. Without comment, Sara dropped him off at the hospital entrance, and he strode inside, knowing without her saying so that she would find him after she had parked the car.

A few terse questions led him to the correct wing and floor, but his steps slowed as he reached the corridor. Fear and pain were gnawing at his vitals, and he almost had to force himself to the nurses' station. He cleared his throat as he reached it, and the young man seated behind the counter looked up politely. "I'm here to see Mrs. Grissom. I'm her son."

A flicker of distress passed over the nurse's face, cool and fleeting. "Mr. Grissom...I'm afraid I have bad news."

And the world was suddenly a cold, cold place.

XXX

She found him in the beeping hush of the ICU, alone in a small room...more alone than she had ever seen him, even though a still form occupied one of the beds. Grissom was holding the delicate hand in his, head bowed, and Sara knew at a glance that they had arrived too late. The body was stripped of IV lines and monitor pads; someone had taken the time to brush her silvery hair and draw the sheet neatly over her chest, but the soul that had inhabited the flesh was gone. Sara pressed her fist to her mouth to hold in the swell of regret and sorrow. The woman's face was serene and empty on one side; the other side was marred, as though gravity pressed harder there, and Sara knew it was the legacy of the stroke that had probably killed her.

Unwilling to intrude on so private an anguish, Sara retreated as silently as she had come.

See Chapter 2