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 belong to me, 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.

Pure self-indulgence, and not particularly in-character. Not one of my better efforts either, but what the hey. Yes, the wineries exist, and while I don't know from wine, those who do tell me that Madroña's outstanding. I've not heard their opinion of Black Sheep. Both wineries make nice T-shirts.

Spoilers: all four seasons

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"Uncle Gil!"

Grissom's head snapped around at the voice coming from behind his shoulder, and Catherine almost choked on her coffee in shock. A tall young man in a policeman's uniform was making his way through the crowded diner, smiling hugely. "Hey, it's good to see you!"

Grissom blinked several times, and a return smile found its way to his face, surprised but sincere. "Eric! Your mother told me you were moving here, but I'll admit I forgot." He reached out and shook hands with the young man, and Catherine found herself summing up the situation as any investigator might.

The cop was well-built and handsome, with brown hair streaked by sun and a deep tan; his grin was wide and sincere, and she saw real affection on his face as he looked at her supervisor. Grissom himself was obviously--to someone who knew him--taken aback by this sudden appearance, but was equally obviously pleased. Catherine estimated the young man's age at late twenties, possibly thirty, but as both men turned to her, she saw the open hazel eyes and came down on the side of twenty-eight or so.

"Catherine, this is Eric Lipelt. Eric, Catherine Willows, one of my CSIs and a very dear friend."

Catherine raised a brow at the unexpected qualifier and held out a hand, smiling up at the tall figure. "It's a pleasure."

His grip was firm, and his answering grin was unaffected. "Nice to meet you, ma'am."

Ouch. She hid her wince at the title and let him go. "What brings you to Vegas, Eric?"

"Career change." He patted the badge affixed to his shirt. "I've spent all my life in California; I decided it was time to see other places."

A throat cleared behind him, and they turned to see the waitress with the CSIs' orders. Grissom slid over in the booth. "Sit down, Eric, and let me buy you breakfast."

The young man took the seat next to Grissom but shook his head. "That's okay, I just finished. I'm due in in an hour and I didn't want to rush."

Grissom spread butter on his toast and raised a brow. "You're not doing your own cooking? I'm shocked." One corner of his mouth twitched in amusement.

Eric laughed. "Hey, I just got here. My kitchen isn't set up yet."

Grissom looked over at Catherine. "Eric here is a passionate amateur chef, and an excellent one."

Eric blushed, which Catherine found endearing. "Well, I had a good teacher."

Grissom snorted into his coffee, but Eric's elbow in his ribs told Catherine that not only were the two on a good footing now, they must have been close for some time. She wasn't surprised that Grissom had never mentioned Eric, but she was a little surprised that he had obviously spent so much time with his young relation.

"So will we ever be working together?" Eric asked, and Catherine could all but see the energy crackling off him. Reminds me of Sara.

"Unlikely, unless you start working night shift," Grissom told him, and Eric grimaced.

"Riiight, I forgot, you like working nights. Well, I might; have to see how things shake out." He looked thoughtful. "Working nights would give me more time for hiking."

So that's where you get the tan. Catherine grinned at him. "You know, Eric, when you work night shift, the days are for sleeping."

The young man laughed. "Sleep is for people who don't have anything better to do." He turned to the man sitting next to him. "Right, Uncle Gil?"

"Grissom," came the quiet correction. "That's what people call me here."

A blink of confusion, and a shrug, carefree. "Okay, sure."

Eric spent fifteen more minutes chatting with the two CSIs before leaving for work, promising Grissom that he would stop by sometime and say hello. His departure seemed to leave a little space of quiet behind as his energy went with him. Catherine let two breaths of silence pass before fixing Grissom with an interested stare. "'Uncle Gil'? I thought you didn't have any siblings."

Grissom's answering look warned her that Eric's name for him had better stay between the two of them. "I don't. Eric is actually the son of one of my cousins--my mother's sister's grandson, to be exact."

"Well, he's sure cute." Catherine picked up her coffee cup.

"He is that," Grissom replied, relaxing a little. "Always has been."

xxxx

It was scarcely two weeks before the officer assigned to the first case of the night turned out to be the young cop. Grissom swung out of his SUV, hearing the passenger door close as Sara did the same, and spotted a tall, familiar figure among the mill of police and rescue personnel outside the small home.

"Hey Grissom!" Eric's face lit up as he saw the CSIs approach. "That didn't take long."

"Eric." Grissom gave him a pleased nod. "What do we have?"

"Two bodies," the cop said, gesturing towards the house. "Multiple gunshot wounds." His eyes were lingering on Sara, who was paying him no attention at all; she was focused on the task ahead.

Grissom recalled his obligations at the sight. "Oh--Sara, this is Officer Eric Lipelt. Eric, Sara Sidle, CSI Level Three."

He watched them clasp hands, Eric's face blossoming with admiration, and Sara's shifting from preoccupation to mild interest. "Eric's my second cousin," Grissom added. "Actually, you two grew up not far apart."

"Rancho Cordova," Eric specified, as Sara drew her hand from his. "You?"

Sara smiled at him, but her cheeks were faintly flushed, and the sight made Grissom slightly uneasy for a reason he didn't care to identify. "Tamales Bay," she replied, and cocked a brow at Grissom. "That's not exactly close, Griss."

He saw Eric blink at the shortened version of his name, but ignored it. "I'll see you around, Eric," he said, and gestured for Sara to follow him into the house. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her wave back at the cop, and Eric's full grin as she walked away. Grissom shrugged mentally. Another notch for Sara's belt. No surprise there.

Processing the scene took several hours, as usual; when they were wrapping up, Sara volunteered to take their evidence out to the SUV as Grissom made one last walk-through. When he emerged from the house, Sara and Eric were deep in conversation, and Grissom smiled a little at the enthusiasm on his relative's face. Then Sara grinned up at the younger man, and Grissom blinked in startlement.

"Hey, U--Grissom, tell your CSI that Black Sheep Winery's better than--what was that again?" Eric turned sparkling eyes back to Sara, who was still grinning.

"Madroña," she repeated. Her face, as she glanced at Grissom, was amused and more open than he'd seen it in weeks, at least directed at him. "Your cousin has no taste, Grissom."

Amused himself, Grissom raised his brows. "Eric, didn't your mother teach you never to correct a lady?"

Eric hooted; Sara smirked, one brow arching in return. "Nice save, Griss."

The cop caught her attention again. "I brought half a case of Zin with me. Come over sometime for dinner and I'll prove I'm right."

Grissom waited for her to laugh the invitation off, but instead Sara cocked her head. "I'll think about it," she said casually. "Ready to go, boss?"

Grissom blinked twice in surprise, then shook himself. "After you."

The drive back to the lab was silent as usual, until Sara spoke. "Your cousin's nice," she said thoughtfully into the darkness. "Smart."

"Yes, he is," Grissom agreed, his gut tightening. "He's a good kid."

It tightened more at the sound of her rich laugh, so seldom heard these days. "He's a little more than a kid, Griss!"

His temper prodded him at her words. "At my age, you all look like kids," he shot back.

Sara made a hissing noise, but Grissom refused to look over and gauge her expression. He expected a rebuttal, or at least a pungent comment, but it didn't come, and the silence returned for the rest of the ride.

xxxx

Two days later, Nick stuck his head into the Trace lab, where Grissom was examining a dirt sample and trying to ignore the obsequious Hodges. "Hey, Griss, we're back from lunch."

Grissom raised his head from the microscope. Nick and Sara had called from the police department to say that they were taking their break after interviewing a suspect. "What happened?"

"Oh, he broke down right quick." Nick folded his arms, grinning. "We slapped that DNA evidence down in front of him and he folded faster than a gambler with a busted flush." He shot Grissom a curious look. "The supervising officer--he's a relation of yours, I think. Says hi."

"Eric Lipelt, yes." Grissom smiled a little.

"He was awfully taken with Sara. Went to lunch with us and couldn't keep his eyes off her."

Grissom snorted. "What did she do to him?"

Nick's face was innocent, but his eyes were sharp. "Nothing. Just flirted right back."

"Huh." Unusual.

xxxx

Grissom didn't take long to ask Eric over for dinner. The two of them had never spent long periods of time together, but when Eric was growing up and came down to Los Angeles for visits, Grissom had found his young second cousin to be a surprisingly congenial companion. Eric had no love for bugs, but he shared Grissom's interest in cooking, and they had spent many hours trying new recipes or inventing their own, oblivious to the rarity of their hobby among men. Time and distance had come between them, but Grissom anticipated the occasional pleasure of sharing a meal with Eric, now that he was in Las Vegas.

Or he did, until Eric dropped his bombshell after dessert.

"You want me to what? "

Grissom glared at the tall young man sprawled over one of his dining-room chairs. He knew he'd heard correctly--he just was astonished at his visitor's chutzpah. Has he no idea?

Apparently not. The grin was wide and toothy and, some annoyed and petty part of Grissom's mind noted, perfect. "Help me woo her. Kinda old-fashioned, but Sara's special."

You have that right, at least. Grissom regarded Eric dispassionately, keeping his turmoil inside with decades of practice. "What makes you think she's even interested in you?"

A shrug. "I don't know if she is, but I've heard the stories. I'm a whole lot nicer than her last boyfriend. You know me, Un--ah--Grissom." The hazel eyes were suddenly sober. "I'd never cheat on a girl. I'd never hurt her like he did."

"You're younger than she is," Grissom pointed out.

"So? Age is just a number."

Wait until your number is higher, Grissom thought dryly, and moved on to logic. "Eric. I haven't been in a relationship in years. Why do you want my help?"

The young man brightened again. "'Cause you know her. Mom says you've known her for ages. You have to know what she likes."

"I'm not sure about that," Grissom demurred, even as his own mind refuted him with a cascade of facts and images--Sara's taste in beer, her vegetarianism, how she liked her coffee, the music she listened to. The way she wouldn't give up. The way her shoulders would kink and ache after her third double shift. Her preferences in forceps and print powder, her shoe size, the way she got cold so easily and how the others teased her about it--

He cut off the unwanted list. Eric was staring at him, hopeful and open, and he felt his resistance weakening. Maybe...maybe he would be good for her. She's so unhappy now. He's nice, he's good-looking, he's young--he wouldn't hurt her. Unlike Hank.

Or himself.

"I don't know, Eric," he said slowly. "I'll have to think about this."

"No problem, Grissom," Eric said cheerfully. "I'm gonna do it anyway, I just think it would be easier if I had your help." He got to his feet. "See you around--you'll have to come over to my place pretty soon."

"Sure," Grissom said automatically, rising to show his guest out.

He shut the door behind Eric and resumed his seat, already lost in thought, his mind returning helplessly to the moment over a year ago when Sara had offered him dinner. She was interested then--but not now. These days, it seemed, she was hard-pressed to be civil to him; every time he thought they'd regained a little cordiality, something happened to break it down again, like she cornering him about his recommendation for the lead CSI position. He knew it would hurt her when she found out, just as he knew she couldn't begin to understand his reasons why. To her, it no doubt looked petty or vindictive, when in truth he had done what seemed right to him, making the choice out of logic.

He'd tried again when he'd been summoned to the police station after she got pulled over. Tried to reach out. But she'd been so embarrassed that she was barely able to speak to him, and that attempt too had fallen into nothing.

It still hurt like fury, though. He'd turned Sara and her dinner invitation down flat--harder than he'd meant to, but he'd been so startled--but he'd wished, then and constantly since, that he'd had the courage--say truth, now, the recklessness--to take her up on it.

Grissom shook his head at his thoughts. He'd taken the safe bet, and kept his job and his heart instead of risking them, but he'd lost Sara's friendship, and that cut deep. I can't do this! It's ridiculous anyway. I can't help Eric woo her. He ignored the small thought that wondered if Eric might not be able to make her happy again.

That worked all day, through his struggle to sleep and his bad temper on awakening, until he got to work at the same time Sara did. He got out of his car and watched her striding towards the lab entrance past Nick, who was bestowing a goodbye kiss on his new girlfriend just outside. An ache settled in Grissom's chest as he saw Sara's expression go wistful and sad.

It wasn't jealousy, he knew that; Sara and Nick might be rivals or friends or both, but lovers never. He knew exactly why she looked away fast and increased her pace. She saw something she didn't have...the comforting touch and affection of another.

When he neared the breakroom a few minutes later, he heard Sara and Catherine discussing "desperation dates", with Sara laughingly admitting to having had a few, and when Grissom's eyes fell on her, he was suddenly, inexplicably reminded of the flush that had crept over her face when he had introduced her to Eric.

Unfortunately for Grissom, it was a slow night. He sent his team out on their assignments, but none required his supervision or assistance, and he discovered that it was no good trying to concentrate on paperwork. Eventually he tossed it all aside and opened up his terrarium. The arachnid within climbed out onto Grissom's palm without hesitation, and Grissom sat and let his pet wander up one arm and back down again. It occurred to him, not for the first time, that handing his tarantula was often the most contact he had with a living creature in a week, unless one counted the occasional insect collections.

Annoyed, mostly at himself, he watched the spider explore his paper-covered desk and tried to organize his thoughts. Eric wants to date Sara. He deliberately avoided the more old-fashioned word and its undertones of devotion. He's a determined kid; if he says he will, he will--if she lets him. And she just might.

The concept hurt. But, Grissom realized, his own feelings really had no bearing on the matter. Eric was a good man. If he won Sara's heart, he would do well by her. He was intelligent, athletic, handsome, kind--ideal, in fact, for a brilliant woman with a bruised soul. His energy matched hers and he understood as few others might the emotional difficulties of law enforcement work.

She's been hurt enough. If you really care about her, you should do whatever it takes to make her happy. Grissom held out one hand and felt the delicate legs tap against it inquisitively.

The spider was large for an arachnid, but compared to him it was such a tiny thing, fragile and wholly dependent on him despite its venom. Occasionally Grissom wondered if it had enough consciousness to be aware of the change in its surroundings, to wonder why its world had become so small and why the prey appeared with such regularity. He seriously doubted that it yearned for the space it had once known.

Some things one may keep captive without harm. Some things must have freedom, or their beauty will be lost. His gaze flicked to the case of moths on one wall. Feathery antennae and snowy wings, forever still.

If the tarantula sensed his sigh, the spider ignored it.

xxxx

In the end, he sent Eric an e-mail rather than talking to him face-to-face. It was easier that way, distilling onto a screen what he knew of Sara's likes and dislikes, her quirks and tendencies. Eric, for all his bluff innocence, was sharp-eyed, and Grissom didn't want the younger man to even suspect that Grissom himself might have any feelings for his colleague beyond casual friendship, since Eric didn't appear to know already. He didn't think Eric would say anything, but he couldn't bear the pity.

So he typed it out--a little of Sara's history, her major in college, her forensic specialty, her favorite salad dressing and how she liked sesame candy and the fact that she hated bourbon. Her parents' occupation; the reason she'd come to Las Vegas. Nothing that was privacy-invading, just little details that Eric could have easily found out by asking questions or spending time with her. Grissom didn't mention Sara's sensitivity to certain kinds of cases or the fact that she listened to her police scanner, or that one of her coworkers in San Francisco had tried to harass her sexually until she'd put an end to it with one well-placed punch and a perfectly-detailed report to their supervisor. He didn't list her tattoo, the scar on her right knee or how she got it, or her frustration with her parents' easy-going ways. And he certainly didn't mention her recent run-in with the police. It was a toss-up, Grissom reflected dully, as to whether the police gossip would send it Eric's way or whether the law enforcement fraternity would keep up its silent protection of its own.

It surprised Grissom how much he knew, and how much of it he wanted to keep for himself. If Eric's suit prospered, he would find out a lot of it eventually, but there were moments that were Grissom's alone, and he wanted to keep them that way. Irrational, he knew it, but nonetheless he would.

Sara flushed and beautiful in a rage. The scent of her. The curve of her mouth when he taped her wrists together. The gleam of a tear on her cheek. The sight of her with her hair tossed wildly in an artificial breeze. The sight of her asleep in the breakroom, head pillowed on her arms. The laughter they'd shared, the jokes, the teasing that was theirs alone, before everything had crumbled.

I can't have her. I can at least have those memories.

xxxx

Grissom didn't know whether Eric had put his plan into motion, until he and Sara were occupied with a pickup truck in the CSI garage. Grissom was dusting the dashboard for prints when Sara's voice, casual and slightly muffled, came from under the car. "I keep running into your cousin."

"I'm not surprised," Grissom returned, equally casual. "He said he was thinking of switching to night shift. Apparently it gives him more time for hiking."

A chuckle floated to his ears. "He seems like a pretty cool guy."

"He is." The answer was natural. Eric had his faults, but Grissom had no doubts of his integrity. The next words were harder, but Grissom had promised to help. "Has he asked you out yet?"

There was an odd little silence, and then a clank as Sara did something to the undercarriage. "Twice." Her tone was neutral.

"And?"

The silence was longer this time. Grissom wondered what on earth he was doing--taking an interest in Sara's romantic life was so out of character for him that he expected an incredulous demand for explanation at any second. But she said nothing.

Finally he couldn't stand it. "You couldn't do better, Sara. Honestly."

A sibilant sound, almost as though she were swearing. "You think so?"

"Yes. I do."

Another clank. Another silence. Finally Sara slid out from under the truck with a rattle of wheels. "Nothing there," she said, completely professional. "If you don't need me I'm going to go start those sample comparisons."

She didn't give Grissom a chance to reply, rising gracefully to her feet and striding out of the garage. Grissom watched her go, then turned back to his task, only then realizing that he was gripping the brush so tightly that his fingers were white.

xxxx

Eric's plan worked beautifully, as far as Grissom could tell. Eric didn't become a fixture, exactly, not at first, but he had a tendency to call Grissom and tell him how his suit was prospering, and ask for more details or advice. Grissom would grit his teeth and reply pleasantly, reminding himself that he'd got into the situation deliberately. It hurt like fury to hear Eric enthuse when Sara first agreed to a date, though he assured Grissom that he was being a gentleman. Grissom had no doubt of it. He knew his cousin--and he knew that Sara would not permit anything else.

The evidence of Eric's success slowly mounted. Sara smiled more often, and started spending less time at work, though her concentration never wavered. Grissom knew, for instance--without having to read the card--who had sent the bouquet of yellow roses that waited at the lab reception desk the shift after Sara's night off, and who they were for. And when he saw the color on Sara's cheeks when she read the card, his stomach did a slow, queasy roll. Something in him had been hoping that she would brush off Eric's attentions the way she had brushed off so many others'.

But she buried her nose in the flowers and laughed at Catherine's admiring comment, and Grissom turned on his heel and went to the safe darkness of his office. It's working. She's happier.

Good.

xxxx

Of course, he had to emerge to hand out assignments. When he joined his team, Sara was pouring herself some coffee, and the others were grilling her about her night off.

"Did you have a good time?" Catherine asked, and Sara shot her a grin.

"Great. We went to see a play."

"Huh!" Catherine's brows went up. "Eric doesn't strike me as the play type."

"Well, this one had swordfighting, rope-climbing, stuff like that." Sara collapsed into a chair, looking pleased.

"Sounds like fun," Nick said. "What's it called?"

Sara looked up at Grissom as he came in. "Cyrano de Bergerac," she said deliberately.

Grissom stared back, caught in her gaze. She raised one brow, and looked away.

He tore his eyes from her. She can't...Eric wouldn't have told her...she doesn't know, it's impossible. He cleared his throat. "An excellent play, good choice. Catherine, you're with me downtown for a drive-by shooting. Nick, Sara, robbery; Warrick, you drew the short straw. Trick roll." Ignoring the various noises of interest and disgust, he looked to Catherine and waved at the door. "Shall we?"

xxxx

He tried to deal with it when he got home that morning. You have to stop this, he told himself sternly. It's doing no one any good. He reminded himself that he had no claim on Sara, that in fact he had deliberately given up any claim to her long before. He listed all the reasons that Eric was a good match for her, all the reasons why Grissom himself was the wrong choice; he deliberately called his own appearance to mind, underscoring the grey in his hair, the lines on his face, the body that wasn't in the best of shape, the brain that didn't know how to make anyone happy. He put down, yet again, the small desperate voice that asked why he had to be so alone.

And then he picked up the phone. "Hello, Eric," he said when the connection was made. "There's a great restaurant on Lake Mead that would be perfect for Sara."

Grissom gave him the information, accepted Eric's thanks, participated in a brief, casual discussion of a series of robberies taking place east of town, and hung up.

His throat ached, and he wondered vaguely if he was coming down with something. Mechanically, he swallowed two Vitamin C tablets and brushed his teeth, and pulled back the covers and lay down in bed. But sleep would not come, and all he could do was watch the ceiling fan spin slowly overhead.

The desperate voice was silent.

xxxx

Three months. It had been three months since Eric had begun his campaign, and Grissom simply couldn't shake the melancholy. Catherine scolded him for withdrawing into his shell again, Warrick's gaze was concerned when he asked if Grissom were all right, Dr. Robbins gave him long stares and shook his head, and Sara...Sara avoided Grissom's eyes, as though she felt guilty. She barely spoke to him, talking only about work when necessary, and when she stopped by his office to ask for an extra day off, she kept her eyes on the floor. Grissom granted her request without question, knowing perfectly well what she wanted it for. As she turned for the door, he cleared his throat. "Sara..."

She turned back, but still would not look at him. "Yeah?"

"I'm glad you've found a diversion."

He watched her hungrily, knowing that she wasn't going to see his face.

"Yeah, me too," she said, and if her voice lacked energy he dismissed that. "See you tomorrow."

"'Bye." He watched her go, and tried not to care.

xxxx

The next evening, Grissom recognized the two tall figures standing in the shadows beyond the lab entrance's lights; Sara had her head cocked back to look up into Eric's face, and Grissom realized that Sara didn't have to do that to meet his eyes. They were only slightly higher than her own.

Eric leaned down, his lips touching Sara's briefly, and Grissom looked away hastily, but it was too late. The kiss was like a needle through his breastbone, icy and sickening.

It took all of his self-control, but Grissom treated Sara no differently that night. He'd learned his lesson--he might not be able to have her, but he wasn't going to lose what he did have. So he smiled at her as he did at Nick, and assigned she and Warrick an intriguing murder, giving Nick and himself a robbery and assigning Catherine a trick roll just because she hadn't done one in a while. It was just Grissom's luck that Eric was the officer at the scene of the robbery.

The younger man was all business, but he smiled at Grissom. "Got something to show you when you have a minute," he said in a low tone, ushering them inside the house. Grissom wondered wearily why he didn't hate his cousin for his success, but was grateful. None of it was Eric's fault. Grissom had gotten himself into his own mess.

Eric's "something" turned out to be a box of the honey sesame candy that Grissom had told him Sara enjoyed. "It was hard to find," Eric said, closing the box again and grinning. "I finally had to order it from San Francisco. But if she likes it..."

"She does," Grissom assured him.

xxxx

The next night was Grissom's night off, and he spent it doing small chores, trying to distract himself from the endless round of his Sara-centered thoughts. Fortunately, Las Vegas was a twenty-four hour town, giving him plenty of errands to choose from. When he got back to his townhouse, dawn was just beginning to lighten the sky...and leaning against her car in the parking lot was the last person he wanted to see.

"Sara?" He closed his car door behind him. "What are you doing here?"

"I broke up with Eric," she said simply.

Grissom frowned, confusion foremost in the whirl of emotions that came at her words. He tried to quash the guilty pleasure. "What happened?"

"Oh, not much." She put her hands on her hips, and he realized that she was angry. "I found out that he'd enlisted your help to get me to go out with him."

"...What?" He blinked, trying to figure out how she'd realized it.

"Don't try to deny it," she said harshly.

"I'm not," he said with some asperity, struggling to get a grip on the conversation. "But why would that make you break up with him?"

"Because he lied to me." The words were lead on the dawn breeze. "He sat there for half an hour and tried to tell me it was intuition, or love, that let him figure out all that stuff about me, and I could see he was lying the whole time. Like he could lie to a CSI and get away with it."

Grissom winced. He must have panicked. "Sara, he didn't mean any harm..."

"It wasn't just then, Grissom. He's been lying all along, telling me it was a good guess, or he'd asked Nick, or stuff like that." Her face was closed and set, her eyes looking past his shoulder, and he knew that his cousin's suit was beyond saving. It never occurred to me that he would lie to her. Eric, you fool...you should have known better.

Somehow he managed to get the words out, and was surprised at his ordinary tone. "How long have you known?"

Sara shrugged, the wind ruffling her hair. "Just since yesterday." She turned to look at him at last, and her eyes grave and bleak. "You were the only person who knew I liked sesame candy, Grissom. I never eat it at work, only at home. It didn't take long for me to get it out of him."

Such a little thing, to bring it all down. He closed his eyes, exhaling defeat. "Sara, I..."

"Don't, Griss. Don't apologize." He opened his eyes again, and saw only sadness in her face. "I don't know why you thought you had to help Eric with this...project of his. But I wish you hadn't."

"He really does care about you," Grissom pointed out, and she frowned with an edge of anger.

"That's very nice, but I don't feel that way about him. And not all the presents or knowledge in the world can make a difference." The anger faded. "I let him try, Grissom, because he is such a nice guy, and I hoped he would be able to change my mind. And..." She looked away, that faint flush rising to her cheeks. "...because you seemed to want me to."

She folded her arms tightly against her body, and laughed a little, a sad sound. "How pathetic is that? He's trying to make me love him, and I'm letting him waste his time because you like it."

A hot pressure was rising in him, something he didn't recognize and didn't dare look at too closely. "It was his idea."

"Yeah, I know." Sara brushed the errant hair from her eyes. "I made him tell me the whole thing before I chewed his ass out." She looked back up, a bit of defiance emerging at his frown. "It wasn't the fact that he tried, Griss, it was because he wasn't honest with me." She hunched a little. "I don't know what it is about me that every guy in my life seems to think he has to lie to me."

The pressure was hurting his chest, and it took all Grissom's self-control to keep his hands at his sides rather than reaching out for her. "Sara, it's not like that."

She rounded on him sharply. "Not like that for who? Hank? At least Eric meant well!"

Sara's rage was somehow easier to deal with than her despair. "Hank...didn't deserve you. But you couldn't do better than Eric."

"Oh yes I could." Her eyes were glittering with fury, and she clenched her fists. "Except he lied too--to himself."

The accusation was plain on her face. "My mistake."

"Yeah." His admission seemed to sap a little of her anger. "Grissom...what's wrong with me, that you can't take the risk?"

That one hurt worse than anything she'd said so far. "Nothing. Nothing's wrong with you, Sara, it's my problem."

"What's the problem, then?" She folded her arms again. "What is it?"

He took refuge in his own anger, though he didn't know if it was at Sara for finding him out, or at himself. "Look at me, Sara. I'm fifteen years older than you and I haven't had a successful relationship in a quarter of a century. I don't have half your energy. I don't understand why you even want to look at me, let alone why you might stay for more than a little while."

He thought for a moment that she was going to start yelling at him, but instead she laughed again. "All those years of investigation, and you still aren't paying attention to the evidence." Her arms opened wide, a frustrated gesture. "Grissom, I want you because you're you. There's no logic to it, there never is. It's just what is." She dropped her arms to her sides. "As for leaving you--well, I'm still here, aren't I?"

He couldn't answer; he couldn't seem to verbalize a coherent thought. Sara went on.

"I've stayed through all of it--through your lack of respect, through your hearing problems--" She gave an ironic look at his start. "--through your deciding not to talk to me except about cases. I've put up with it all, Griss. If I had you, no way would I leave."

Her shoulders slumped and she looked away, all her angry energy seeming to run out. "Of course, after this, I don't suppose I'll stick around much longer. I'll bet you won't even be able to look at me at work." She rubbed a hand over her mouth, and he saw her throat move as she swallowed. "You know, Griss, it could have been wonderful. If you had let it."

She turned. "See you around," she muttered, and took a step.

His sudden grip on her arm was probably too tight, but at the moment he just didn't care. "Don't you dare walk away from me."

She stiffened, glaring as he pulled her back around. "I've said what I meant to, Griss, you--"

Some dim, analytical corner of his mind wondered how she would have finished the sentence, but it was quickly swallowed up in the rush of chemicals through his bloodstream. Sara's lips were pliant under his, probably with shock, and he half-expected her to shove him away, but instead her mouth came alive and her hands came up on either side of his jaw, and he found out just what bliss it was to be kissed by Sara Sidle.

Eventually, he let her lips go, but only long enough for her to get a breath of air while he yanked her into his arms. Her half-formed word trailed off into his mouth, becoming a pleased little noise. He held her as close as possible. All his caution and doubts had been outweighed by the sight of her turning away from him, and now he was in freefall, wondering a little when he was going to land and how hard, but mostly just absorbing all he could with unfettered greed.

When she broke away, gasping, he realized that her arms had made their way around him, one around his neck and the other around his torso. "How do you do that?" Sara asked, panting a little, her eyes gleaming.

"Greater lung capacity," Grissom managed, his gaze roaming over her face. The arm around his neck slid up, and Sara took his jaw in her hand, making him look into her eyes.

"You are not getting away from me, do you understand that?" she said sternly. "If we do this--" Her mouth curved as he tightened his embrace. "If we do this, Grissom, it's for the long run. I am not backing out, got it?"

For some reason, he did. He was remembering just how stubborn Sara could be. "Perfectly."

"Good." She let his jaw go and put her arm back around his neck. He raised his brows at her.

"How's your blood oxygen level?"

She blinked, and inhaled, which made him quite aware of how close she was. "Back up to par, I think."

"Good," he said in turn, and set about reducing it again.

End.