Title: The Good of the Many

Author: Burked

Disclaimer: I renounce you! I renounce you! Oh, wait, that's for Satan, not CSI fanfic. The closest I've come to owning CSI are the DVDs.

A/N: Betaed, as usual, by the inestimable Mossley. Thanks to Marlou for typo-patrol. Blame neither if there are still mistakes.

CHAPTER 1

"Sara," Greg said in a conspiratorial stage whisper loud enough to be heard over the hum and whirr of his equipment. "Look at this. It's too weird."

Her curiosity piqued, Sara walked deeper into the DNA/Chem Lab, joining up with Greg in front of the monitor that displayed the results of the DNA test, juxtaposed against another DNA record.

"Greg, all I see are squiggles on a chart that look like the EKG of someone who's in serious cardiac trouble. Or maybe the EEG of someone this close to being brain-dead," she said, holding her finger and thumb together. "No offense, if it happens to be yours," she said, grinning.

"That's the problem with you, Sara. You're a good CSI, but you're always joking around. You should be more serious ... like me," Greg said, putting on a perfectly straight face.

"All I can do is try to learn from your example."

"Anyway, these are the peaks of each genetic locus that I'm comparing. The little ones are called stutter; you can ignore them. The wide ones are blobs, so you can ignore them, too. Just look at the tall, thin ones."

"Wow, 'stutter' and 'blobs.' You biochemists sure use fancy scientific words. And it must be nice to be able to just ignore data that's inconvenient or confusing."

"It is. And we may be geeks, but we have our playful side," Greg said, grinning.

"Okay, I'm looking. I see peaks in different colors on one row. I see another row of them below that one. I see a spreadsheet-looking thing below it that matches the colors and has numbers. Now, are you gonna tell me what's so weird about this?"

"I'm not going to tell you. You've got to see it for yourself. Here, let me clean this up for you a little." Greg moved directly in front of the computer and tapped in a set of commands, nodding approvingly at the screen after each one. In a few minutes, he stepped back triumphantly, waving an arm towards the screen as if he were introducing a nightclub act.

Sara leaned in closer, knowing that Greg thought that it must be obvious now. She spoke hesitantly, "The two look similar now, at least in places. What are the numbers at the bottom?"

"Those are the measured heights of each locus. That's how we score them. Next to those numbers are the frequencies of that particular measurement in the general population of white American males, since that's the presumed ethnic group of your vic."

"In other words, the odds of having that value for that particular locus in your DNA."

"Right," he said, smiling.

"If I understand the theory of DNA analysis – and I don't claim to be an expert by any means – the overall odds are determined by multiplying every one of those numbers together. Is that right?"

"Yep. You want to trade jobs?"

"It wouldn't be my first choice," she said sardonically. "Now, unless you want me to take back the last several minutes of my life by shortening yours, you need to come to the point."

"So, Little Miss Does-Math-In-Her-Head, what are the odds that these two samples are from the same person?"

"That's a trick question. As I understand it, the odds that are quoted aren't that they are from the same person, but that they are from different people."

"Oh, you're too good! And you're right. DNA analysts state the odds that the samples aren't related. So what are the odds?"

"Roughly, it would seem that the likelihood that these two samples are not related is about 13 million to one. So, that would mean that there could be probably 20 people in the United States that have the same nine alleles."

"Right. Now what does that say about our two samples?" he asked socratically.

"That the two people are probably related," she posited.

"Ding, ding, ding, ding," Greg intoned excitedly. "Especially since a few of the values aren't in the typical range."

"Our vic is a genetic mutant?" she asked teasingly. "Is that what's weird about it?"

"No, smarty pants. But most values for a locus fall within a certain statistical range, based on standard deviation, as usual in statistics. A couple of these would be considered 'outliers', because they fall outside the curve of plus or minus two standard deviations of the mean."

"Greg, have I ever told you how much I hated my statistics class? It gives me tired-head. If we're going to do a statistical analysis now, I'm outta here."

"It's just math, Sara. I thought you like math."

"First of all, I'm good at math. That's not necessarily the same as liking it. And, second, statistics is an unholy bastardization of math."

"Well, if your point is that they don't prove anything, you're right. But the odds are that these two men are related somewhere down the line. And the fact that they share so many alleles in common suggests that they're closely related, like part of the same nuclear family."

"So the donor of Sample B might know who the donor of Sample A is."

"Uh-huh."

"I'm tired of playing with you, Greg. You have less than 10 seconds to make this worth my while, or I'll stuff you in the thermocycler and bake you like a Thanksgiving turkey."

"Sample B belongs to ... Grissom," he said, looking around for eavesdroppers. One could almost hear a musical underscoring of 'Dun-dun-dun!" at the mention of Grissom's name.

"What?" Sara gasped, clearly thunderstruck.

"Grissom."

"Grissom is related to my DB?" Her mouth and eyes were open wide, a picture of shocked confusion.

"Yep. I told you it was weird."

"Are you sure?"

"Hey, you did the math."

"Have you told him?" she asked.

"What? And spoil your fun? I'm telling the primary on the case. It's your problem to tell him." Greg handed her a printout, symbolically giving her the responsibility as well.

"Gee, thanks. I'll try to find Warrick. Maybe he'll do it," she mumbled, turning around to leave.

"Too bad you aren't working the case with Catherine or Nick. They'd break all human speed records getting to Grissom's office."

"They have immunity. I'm too close to being voted off the island," she said.

"Fortunes change. Look at Nick. A few months ago Grissom treated him like the village idiot. Now he's Super Nick: Model CSI. And no one's really sure what he did to earn that immunity."

"He sucked up when he couldn't win, and challenged Grissom when it didn't matter. Made him look good – maybe better than he really is. But he was always better than Grissom gave him credit for."

"You could do that," Greg suggested, glad that he was several feet away from Sara.

"I'd slit my wrists first," she huffed. "And, Greg, you could have just told me, instead of dragging it out for the last 15 minutes."

"Anticipation heightens the response. Think of it as foreplay," he said suggestively, overdoing the swagger.

"Think of it as flirting with death," she countered as she left.

CHAPTER 2

"Got a minute?" Sara asked from her usual station at Grissom's door.

"Sure. Come on in," he said, taking off his glasses and setting them down on the casefile he'd been reviewing.

"Greg gave me what he's got so far on the DNA from my unidentified elderly man." Sara had unconsciously changed how they had been referring to the body, now that it was possible that Grissom could be related to the victim. Until that moment, they'd been calling him DOWD, for Dead Old White Dude.

"The elderly DB in the empty warehouse?"

"Yeah, that guy. We found someone who might be related to the victim. Nine alleles in common, and a few of the alleles have relatively rare values."

"That's fortuitous," he nodded.

"Yeah. But it could be coincidental," she shrugged.

"Any partial match could be coincidental," he said evenly, holding out his hand for the report.

"That's true. In this case, there's a 13 million to one chance that the two men are unrelated."

"Closely related, it would appear. Father, brother, uncle. Maybe cousin."

"Right," she said, nodding. It was clear that there was something unspoken, something she was struggling with.

"So, what's the problem? Why are you bringing this to me?" he asked.

"I need you to do something for me," she said, hoping that she'd find just the right words before she blurted out the wrong ones.

"I'll do what I can. What do you need?"

"I need you to come down to the morgue with me, to see if you can identify the body," she said quickly, like ripping off a bandage.

Grissom stared at her owlishly, uncomprehending. "Why would I be able to identify the body?"

"You're Sample B," she said flatly.

Grissom quickly picked up his glasses, and moved the report closer to the desk lamp. His brows knit as he peered at the two matching sets of results.

"What?" he said automatically, though he'd heard her.

"Sample A is the unidentified murder victim. Sample B is from your DNA record in the Compliance database. It would appear that it's possible that you're related to the victim in some manner," she said, minimizing the astronomical odds.

"I don't have any close male relatives. I don't have any siblings, and the only two close relatives I have are my mother and my aunt – her sister."

"Cousin, maybe? Did your aunt have any male children?"

Grissom looked up at her suddenly, a flash of pain showing briefly in his eyes.

"Just one, but he died very young. They never had any more children. My aunt always treated me like her own."

"So you are the last of your family?" Sara asked as gently as possible.

"So I thought," he said in confusion.

"Will you at least just take a look at this guy?"

"I'll go look at him, but I don't know of any male relatives, so I don't know what I'd be able to tell you."

The two rose and walked wordlessly down to the morgue. Despite all that she knew, Sara felt the same as when she had led many a grieving family member to that cold, metallic room to take what could be their last look at a loved one.

Grissom paused briefly just inside the doors to the crypt, taking a deep breath then forging resolutely ahead. He stopped next to the corpse, initially focusing on the dime-sized hole in the area of the 'third eye' of the victim's forehead, out of habit. He was unaccustomed to paying much attention to the physical features of the victims.

He looked for several seconds straight on at the face, moving his gaze down the body. He then knelt down and looked at the profile. Standing, he shook his head, turning to face Sara.

"I don't know him," he said simply, shrugging.

"Damn," Sara murmured. "I mean, I'm glad it's not someone you cared about, but I was hoping to get a positive ID."

"I knew what you meant," he said, a tiny smile turning up the corners of his mouth. "Sorry I couldn't help you."

"Maybe your mother or aunt might recognize him. He's a lot closer to their age, right? Maybe a cousin of theirs. Or of your father's," she said hopefully.

"Send me a digitized picture of him and I'll e-mail it to them. But cover up that hole in his head first – just in case they know him."

"Of course, Grissom," she said edgily. "I'm not completely callous ... yet."

"I didn't mean ... I'm sorry. I just ... well, my mother and aunt are elderly. I don't want to shock them."

"I understand that," Sara said. There was something almost pleading in her voice, as though she were asking him why he didn't trust her to be empathetic. How many times had he chided her for being too empathetic?

"I know," he said, breathing out sharply. He turned to look again at the sallow corpse, squinting as though it would add some new perspective.

"Who are you?" he asked in a whisper. "Should I know you?" His eyes shifted back and forth between the open, unseeing blue eyes of the cadaver.

He turned suddenly and walked quickly to the door, leaving Sara still standing by the slab. He spoke over his shoulder, without looking at her. "Get me that picture as soon as you can."

CHAPTER 3

All of his CSIs were assigned to investigate what had become a string of serial murders, but Grissom sat alone in the darkened A/V Lab. The serial murder case was threatening to blow up into a media frenzy. Earlier tonight, the body of a tourist had been found in an alleyway, all his valuables gone. It was the third such body in the last month.

The Sheriff made it clear when the second body had been found two weeks ago that he saw this as a potential catastrophe for the city as a whole, and the police department and crime lab in particular.

The exchange still annoyed Grissom, even in retrospect:

"I want this man caught ... now!" Sheriff Atwater ordered. "He could devastate this city. If he keeps killing tourists, it could have a major economic impact."

"I never knew you were such a softie," Grissom mumbled.

"I'm a pragmatist," Atwater countered.

"A victim is a victim. We always put forth our best effort, regardless of whether it's a wealthy tourist or a street person."

"Well, put forth more than your best effort, Gil. We can't tolerate this."

"But we could tolerate it if he were killing drunks or prostitutes or junkies?"

"Don't put words into my mouth. Just find this guy before the press gives him some catchy name and the tourists start staying away in droves," Atwater barked, leaving abruptly, just as Grissom had hoped when he issued his invective.

Earlier tonight, a third body had been found. The call had come in during the swing shift, but it was apparent that it was linked to the other two unsolved murders still being investigated by graveyard.

Different shifts didn't often work the same case, but Grissom and the swing shift supervisor, Philip Broussard, had agreed over coffee that it was prudent for both shifts to work the case, especially now that it had become a serial killing, and high-profile at that.

It might not have gone the same way if it had been the day shift that investigated the third body, but Grissom had never had any run-ins with Broussard. He might not be the most brilliant scientist in Grissom's estimation, but he was competent and trustworthy.

The investigation could now span the better part of the whole day, with each shift providing four CSIs for 16 hours a day.

Though neither supervisor had spoken it aloud, one of the main reasons they teamed up and put the whole crew on the case was to try to keep Ecklie out of it. Grissom could just imagine that Conrad was seething, knowing he was the supervisor of the only shift to not be working on the most critical case that had come along in years.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Grissom couldn't refrain from a soft chuckle, imagining Ecklie's discomfort when the case would be solved.

Refocusing on the task at hand, he didn't project the image on the large screen mounted on the wall, but instead stared intently at the computer monitor.

He very carefully zeroed his mouse pointer in on predetermined points on the face that filled the screen: outline of the lips, nose, and eyes. The arch of the eyebrows. The outline of the face and ears. The hairline. He connected the dots that were related, that outlined each major feature of the face.

He filled in what information he knew or could surmise about the man, such as his approximate age, his height, weight, and ethnic background.

Satisfied that he'd done all that he could do to assist the computer, he unconsciously held his breath as he pressed the button to execute the program to regress the age of the man. Grissom had programmed it to go back 10 years. He studied the resulting image, still not seeing anyone he knew.

He regressed the picture another 10 years. He paused and studied it, trying to think of any visiting relatives from his youth. He replaced the 20 with 40, taking four decades of life off the man's face.

An image appeared on the screen that seemed familiar to him – though vaguely disturbing. He sent the image to the photographic-quality printer, which took a few minutes to painstakingly reproduce the man's face in a high-resolution 8x10 printout.

He shut down the program, and leaned back in his chair, suddenly recalling something that propelled him from the chair.

CHAPTER 4

Catherine slowly scanned the faces seated around a large conference table. The meeting was too big to hold in the break room, but the conference room also seemed to impart more of an air of official importance to the case.

The room quieted as she made eye contact with each of the other seven CSIs and the swing shift supervisor. Despite not being the highest-ranking person there, it was obvious that Catherine was running the meeting, and apparently Broussard couldn't care less.

"Before we get started on correlating the evidence our groups have gathered so far, I'd like to say something."

Every eye was trained on her as she let just exactly the right amount of time go by before she spoke.

"I think I speak for all of the graveyard shift," she said, quickly scanning her group for emphasis, "and I know I speak for our supervisor, when I say how pleased I am that we're getting the opportunity to work with the swing shift on this case."

The graveyard CSIs almost imperceptibly nodded their heads in agreement.

"Now, I have no doubts in my mind that you could crack this last murder on your own, and we could do the same on our shift for the previous two murders. Maybe other crime labs would let this descend into some sort of rivalry, a competition. I'm glad that we've got the professionalism and maturity to pull together into one super-team instead. We're going to nail this bastard a lot quicker with this much talent behind the investigation," she said smiling at each CSI.

God, she's good.

Sara watched in awe as Catherine worked the room, making eye contact, drawing everyone in, firing them up.

Our pasts make us who and what we are. People might look down on Cath's past as an exotic dancer, but it's prepared her well for things like this. She knows how to get the audience's attention, how to appeal to them, how to focus them, how to play them. She has them all in the palm of her hand.

That's what makes her so good with the press. She comes across as a tough, no-nonsense professional. Meanwhile, she's feeding them only as much as she wants them to know, manipulating them instead of being manipulated. And every one of them walks away happy, thinking that they've gotten something, when really she's given them nothing. Just like stripping.

Broussard began to outline what little evidence they'd found. The body wasn't molested in any way other than at least one bullet through the head. It was clothed, but even microscopic evaluation of the clothes didn't turn up any trace evidence other than the expected gunshot residue and blood spatter.

Their victim had been shot at point-blank range. The entry wounds were relatively small and well-defined, indicating that the gun had been flush to the forehead when the trigger was pulled.

Sara winced when she realized that meant that the killer and victim were face to face, with the victim knowing in advance that he was going to die.

What do you think about in a situation like that?

Did the man concentrate on trying to find a way out of the danger? Or did he freeze up, unable to think at all? Did he think of the people he loved, that he was leaving behind?

Was he scared? Or did he have an unnatural peace, knowing that the struggles of this life were over?

Did he fight his destiny? Or did he give into it willingly, accepting that it was inevitable?

What would I be thinking if there were a gun to my head? What if the last set of eyes that I looked deeply into were the eyes of my killer?

"Empty luggage was found two blocks away. It had tags on it, so we used that as a starting place to find his ID. His name is Bruce Cantor, and like the others, he's a tourist. From Chicago. Once a year he comes to Vegas to play poker with the big boys. Unmarried. No children. Works at a car dealership, saves his money, and comes here for vacation."

"Were any of his belonging recovered?" Nick asked.

"None that we can verify. All I can say is that those were the best-dressed street people I've ever seen. I'm thinking that the killer either left the luggage and the homeless folk recycled the contents, or he gave it to them to spread the evidence out."

"Valuables?" Catherine interjected.

"We presume that he had some jewelry by his tan lines. Looks like a watch and a ring are missing. Of course, the pawnshops won't be open for a few more hours. The PD will be all over them later this morning."

"Thanks, Phil," Catherine said. "Okay, let's start building some timelines, see if we can find any patterns." She walked over to a large whiteboard and began to fill in what was known about the two murders from her shift. Broussard stood to her right, drawing his own.

"Like they say on Sesame Street, all of these things have something in common. We have to figure out what."

"Time of death," Roisin threw out first, her Irish brogue thick enough to cut with a knife.

"Of course, that stands to reason," Sara agreed. "Most murders are committed among people who know each other, crimes of passion, so they can happen any time of the day or night. But premeditated murders of strangers is most often done under the cover of darkness."

"Right," Broussard agreed.

"All the victims are tourists," Nick said.

"Known," Catherine said almost curtly.

"Two men and a woman, so gender isn't a factor," the youngest swing shift CSI threw in. To Sara, he looked barely old enough to shave, though she'd been told he was actually 27. His name was Charles, but all of his coworkers called him 'Chuckie,' adding to the perception that he was just a boy.

"What about interval?" Warrick asked.

"Roughly two weeks apart, but not exactly," Broussard answered.

"So, while the murders may be premeditated, they aren't on a specific timetable or they're reliant on some sort of opportunity," Sara surmised.

"We could sit here and brainstorm all night long, and probably come up with a pretty good profile ... at least a solid victimology. But if you agree, Philip, I'd prefer to leave this exercise to a couple of the CSIs, and the rest of us go back over the evidence with a fresh eye. Your group looking at our evidence, and our group looking at yours."

"Sounds good," he agreed.

"Sara, I think you should work the victimology angle. You're the best we have at that," Catherine said, taking Sara completely by surprise. While Catherine had from time to time complimented her in private, she'd never done so in public.

"You got it," Sara nodded.

"She's really good," Catherine assured Philip.

"So I've heard," Philip said, smiling at Sara.

It's not always a good thing for management to know your name, especially those not in your direct chain-of-command. Makes you wonder what else they've heard.

"Chuckie, you work with Sara on the victimology."

The young man nodded eagerly at his supervisor.

"He's really good at computer stuff," Philip shared with the rest of the team.

"Before we break, I know this is going to be hard on all of us, working doubles until this is solved. But we'll lose too much momentum if we pass it back and forth. Is everybody up for this?" she asked, sounding more like a football coach than a scientist.

All heads firmly nodded, and Catherine released the group with a confident smile. "Let's go get him!" she said, leading the way out of the conference room.

"She's certainly ... charismatic," Chuckie said carefully.

"Yeah, charismatic," Sara agreed, unwilling to discuss her team member with someone outside of the group. The two teams might be working together, but they were still two teams, and Sara didn't feel comfortable sharing any of her own insights into Catherine's character with someone outside their own small clan.

"I hear you went to Berkeley," Chuckie said, following Sara to the white boards to help fill in what they could to tie the victims together.

"For a while. I started grad school there," Sara said casually.

"Where'd you do your undergrad?"

"Harvard. Hey, Chuck," Sara interrupted, purposefully not calling him the diminutive 'Chuckie', "We need to concentrate on finding out everything we can about these three people. We can tell each other our life stories some other time. Okay?"

"Oh, sure. Just trying to get to know my new partner," he said, clearly embarrassed.

"I understand that. But the sooner we get to know these people, the sooner we'll get this psycho off the streets," she said, stepping back to take in the whole board. "Ready to man the computer?"

"Yes, ma'am," Chuckie said instinctively.

"My name is Sara, not ma'am," Sara chortled.

"Yes, ma'am," he said again, visibly cringing at himself as Sara burst into full-blown laughter.

I haven't heard that in a long time.

Grissom almost stopped short when the sounds of Sara's laughter floated down the corridor. Despite all the ambient noise in the lab, the sound was unmistakably Sara.

I used to be able to make Sara laugh. And that smile. That huge grin that showed all her teeth and seemed to light up the room. I miss that smile.

As Grissom passed by the conference room, at first he felt an irrational stab of jealousy, seeing that there was a young man standing next to her, the object of the sort of smile that Grissom coveted.

Seeing the flushed embarrassment on the young man's face, Grissom realized that he'd probably said something ridiculous, causing Sara's outburst.

I feel for you. We men always seem to say the wrong things at the wrong time. But at least whatever you said made her laugh. When I put my foot in my mouth, it makes her cry.

CHAPTER 5

Grissom took a deep breath and quickly strode out of the building. Within minutes, he was at his townhouse, pulling a box down from the coat closet, taking it to the living room.

He opened the box and took out the album that his mother had given him several years ago. It had no real significance to him, but it seemed important to her to pass on what he presumed to be mementos of his childhood, and probably pictures of family members and ancestors. He'd never taken the time to look through it.

He thought that he might be able to save his mother and aunt from the trauma of looking at a dead man, if only he could find a picture of the relative in his album. Knowing his mother, he wasn't surprised that each picture was meticulously labeled.

Grissom smiled warmly at the first page -- a picture of his mother holding him just after birth, a happy grin on her face. A tiny footprint was affixed to the page, beneath the photograph, next to an announcement of his birth in the local paper.

He turned the page and froze. His mother and father were standing next to a priest as he was being christened. A man he didn't recognize was on the other side, presumably acting as his godfather.

"Some godfather you turned out to be. I never saw you around. You never took my father's place in my life when he left."

Grissom was surprised at the wave of bitterness that washed over him. But the bile turned to ice when he focused on his father's face. His father: the man who deserted them. The man who obviously chose his criminal life over his family life.

"Wait a minute. Just wait," he said to no one. He pulled out the computer's estimation of the dead man when he was in his 30s. He compared it to the picture of his father. They seemed eerily similar.

"Maybe my father had relatives I never met," Grissom wondered, flipping more quickly through the album, hoping to see the face among the previously nameless, faceless relatives who seem to appear more often in pictures than in actual life.

"Who's this guy?" Grissom asked aloud, pulling out his reading glasses to read his mother's captioning. "He looks even more like the printout."

Grissom read the caption, and set down the album. "My God. Tell me it's not true. I don't even want to think about this," he said aloud, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose, then to rub his eyes. He picked the book up again.

He carried it over to his desk and stared at it while his computer booted up. He scanned both the original picture of the victim and the age-regressed version.

After staring at the monitor for several minutes, Grissom began an e-mail to his mother.

Dear Mother,

I hope this note finds you well and happy. Everything is fine here. I miss you, as always. I hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day. I'm sorry I couldn't be there with you. I hope that you don't mind that I sent a gift certificate instead of picking out something for you. I know that I'm not very good at that sort of thing, and I wanted you to be able to buy something you really liked.

I have to ask you to do something very difficult, and I apologize in advance. I tried to do this myself, to spare you, but I couldn't be sure. I'm attaching two pictures: one is a man we found deceased, and the other is a computer simulation of him 40 years ago. I'm hoping that you might recognize him.

It seems that the victim and I share a lot of DNA, suggesting that we're closely related. I don't remember many of my father's relatives, since they didn't see fit to stay in contact with us after my father left. I'm sorry. That came out very harshly, didn't it? Some wounds never heal.

Anyway, Mother, I think this man is a close relative of his. I can't tell, because I don't remember him all that well. I need for you to look at them for me, please. I'm so sorry that I have to ask you to do this.

I love you,

Gil

He pressed the Send key and sat back. It was still the middle of the night, as far as most people were concerned, but he knew that his mother awoke very early. She should probably read his missive within the next few hours, if she held to her usual routine.

He drove back to the lab, his mind seemingly a vortex where thoughts swirled around too fast for him to comprehend, only to disappear down the hole in the center, eventually rising back up to the surface to begin the harrowing trip anew.

Grissom couldn't remember the walk from his SUV to the morgue, but he found himself standing yet again over the lifeless form that was connected to him biochemically, if not emotionally.

What if you're my father? What am I supposed to feel?

I'd be angry that the first time I've seen you in over 42 years, you're dead. But I'd also feel a strange satisfaction that you got what you deserved. You wanted this life, now accept the death that comes with it.

I wonder if you ever thought about me, about my mother. I wonder if you ever missed us, the way we missed you.

Were you living in the lap of luxury while we scrimped by until my mother's gallery became successful? Were you surrounded by people who respected you and catered to you while we were shunned?

Or did you feel like there was a gaping hole in your soul, a hole that only your missing family could fill? I did.

Did you spend the rest of your life afraid to let anyone near you, certain that they'd desert you once you allowed yourself to care? I did.

Did you ever lie in bed at night, crying? I did.

Did you look at all the faces you passed on the street, hoping to find a particular one? I did.

Did you let all your love turn to disgust and hatred? I did.

Am I supposed to let bygones be bygones and forgive you? I don't think I can.

If you are my father, does your death mean I'm free from all of that? Or does it mean that I can never be free now?

Grissom gradually became aware that someone else was in the room with him, and he turned to see the kindly smile of Albert Robbins.

"You okay, Gil?"

"Of course."

"Do you know who this man is?" Robbins asked gently.

"It might be my father. Or one of his relatives," Grissom answered in a measured voice.

"I'm sorry."

"I'm not," Grissom said, turning as if to leave. "I didn't know him."

"Gil, I know how you must be feeling," Robbins said, causing Grissom to stop at the door, his hand raised to push it open.

"I doubt that," Grissom said, not turning around.

"I was raised by a single mother, too. If that were my father lying on that table, I know that I'd have a lot of conflicting emotions. I'd feel a loss, but I'd also be happy to see him dead, as cold as that sounds."

"I couldn't care less about him," Grissom said, pushing each word out purposefully, attempting to convince himself more than Dr. Robbins.

"I doubt that. If you're anything like me, most of your life has been shaped by him, even if he was never around. You probably did things to prove yourself to him in absentia, unconsciously hoping you'd be worthy enough to get him back. And later you did things to rebel against him, to prove you were as different from him as possible."

"Are you a pathologist or a psychiatrist, Albert?" Grissom asked, his voice tending towards bitter.

"I'm the son of a man who didn't care enough about his family to stay with them," Robbins answered, his own voice bilious.

Grissom let his head drop, but still couldn't turn to face the man who shared much with him, the man who was reaching out to him.

"I don't know what I'm supposed to feel, Albert. Part of me hopes it's really my father, that I can finally close that chapter of my life. At least I'll finally know where he is. But part of me hopes it's not, that one day ... Never mind."

"I haven't seen my dad in almost 50 years, but I still hope I'll see him sometime, that he'll have some explanation for why he left. I fantasize that he'll tell me he's always loved me, and that he's proud of the man I've become. But, I know it'll never happen."

"I doubt my father would have been proud of me. I didn't exactly follow in his footsteps."

"Maybe he didn't want you to. Maybe that's why he left."

"Don't make excuses for him, Albert," Grissom said, whirling around to face his friend, anger flashing in his eyes.

Robbins knew the emotion wasn't directed at him, but at the pale cadaver he stood next to.

"I'm not. There's no excuse good enough."

Grissom exhaled loudly, looking over at the body coldly, then forcing an apologetic smile to form as he turned to look back at Robbins.

"Gil, don't let him ruin the rest of your life. You very well may have 30 or 40 more years left. Or maybe just 30 or 40 hours. Either way, you can choose to live it to please yourself instead of him," Robbins said, nodding his head once towards the dead man.

"I've been trying to do that for four decades, Albert, and I've failed. As hard as I fought it, I turned out just like him."

In his mind he finished the statement: "... incapable of showing love to the people who care about me. Anyone foolish enough to try to get close to me ends up hurt."

"That's what I thought about myself. I didn't connect with anyone. But my wife eventually wore me down. I gave up, figuring that she knew what she was in for. My God, I had no idea how strong she was ... she is. Even after we married, I put her through hell. She never left. I don't know if I was testing her, or purposefully trying to drive her away. It doesn't matter, because she stayed. She flat-out told me to give it up, that she wasn't going anywhere."

"You're a fortunate man to have found such a woman," Grissom said.

"As are you," Robbins said, smiling mischievously.

"I don't know what you're implying, Albert," Grissom said, adopting the most innocent visage he could muster.

"Then you aren't as smart as I thought you were," he replied simply.

"Evidently not," Grissom huffed, turning yet again to leave.

"Gil, she's the one. You know it, she knows it. Give in to it. You won't be sorry."

"But she might be," he breathed out heavily as he pushed out of the morgue doors.

"Asshole," Robbins spat at the cadaver, turning abruptly to return to his work.

CHAPTER 6

Fifteen hours had passed, and the nine-person team was assembling again in the conference room. There was little of the animation that had been apparent at the beginning of their workday, with each CSI slumped in a chair, the exhaustion evident in their faces and their body language.

"Where are we now?" Catherine asked simply, looking first to Sara, who was sitting directly to her right.

"The victims were all tourists who arrived in Vegas by air, landing between 6:00 and 9:00 pm."

"Same airline?" Broussard asked hopefully.

"No. Not staying at the same hotel, either. But none of them even made it to their hotels. All were killed shortly after their arrivals here."

"Rental cars?" Catherine asked.

"No. None of them rented cars. Tomorrow Chuck and I plan to take photos to the airport, see if anyone remembers them."

"Good. What else?"

"They all come from different cities and have different types of jobs, so those are out. But all made six-figure incomes. None of them were stinking rich, but they were doing all right."

"Do we know why they came here?" Roisin asked.

"The first and last victim were here on vacation. The middle victim was here for a conference."

"Damn! Those three people seem to have nothing in common, other than being from somewhere else and having a little spending money. Maybe his targets are random," Warrick suggested.

"Too random," Sara suggested. "So random that they're not random at all, I bet. It's just that whatever it is that the killer is keying on is subtle. It may never be apparent to us. It could be anything – from a color they wore to a specific word they said to the wrong person."

"We know they made it from the plane to luggage pick-up, since their luggage was recovered. But they never made it to their hotels, so they were evidently chosen and abducted directly from the airport," Sara reiterated.

"Did you cross-reference the passenger manifests to see if there was any person common to all the flights?" Nick asked.

"Yes, I did," Chuckie answered. "No dice."

"What else did you look into?" Catherine asked.

"We did extensive background checks on all three victims, looking for any commonalities, but we didn't find anything. We looked at everything we could think of – physical characteristics, educational background, memberships in clubs, doctors, dentists, insurance coverage, political affiliations, friends and relatives, birth places and dates, hobbies, right- or left-handedness, police records, including traffic violations, their credit histories, apartment-dwellers or home-owners, types of pets, makes of cars, and magazine subscriptions."

Warrick huffed a short laugh, smiling.

"Damn! You two have been busy little bees, haven't you?" Nick said appreciatively.

"One thing just led to another," Sara demurred, though shooting a brief grin at Chuckie.

"I knew we had the right CSIs for that job," Catherine said.

If she keeps this up and I don't get some rest soon, Catherine may actually brainwash me into thinking that she respects me. Maybe even likes me. Okay, maybe not that.

"Airport video?" Broussard asked, looking pointedly at Nick, then at Roisin.

"The 9-11 terrorist attacks may have stepped up security, but it didn't suddenly make the airport rich enough to have surveillance everywhere. But we did get video for those three nights from the security stations, the boarding area, and the luggage claim area," Nick answered.

Taking up the narrative seamlessly, Roisin told the group, "We went through every frame from 6:00 to 9:00 in the evening. We printed a still of every single person who appeared. To try to make the crosschecking a little quicker, we grouped them according to gender and physical characteristics, looking at one group at a time. No commonalities."

"How 'bout the airport staff?" Catherine asked.

"Not the same baggage claim attendant on duty all three nights. Not the same security personnel."

"Okay, so it looks like the three of them probably cleared the airport. But none of them got to their hotels. None rented a car," Catherine reiterated, looking off blankly into space, deep in thought.

"Right. So that leaves cabs, shuttles, buses, and limos to check out," Sara said.

"Exterior surveillance?" Broussard asked hopefully.

"None," Roisin answered. "If you're not in the building, you're not their problem."

"There are going to be a lot of people to interview tomorrow. I'd like the whole team on it, if you agree, Philip."

"Fine. Now, what about trace?"

Warrick and his swing-shift partner, Alonzo Cruz, sat up. Alonzo, affectionately known as "Gonzo" to him teammates, had been a CSI for seven years, starting his career in his hometown of New York City.

He'd been part of the team with the horrible task of attempting to recover and identify the 9-11 victims. When it was all over, the only thing he could think of was getting as far from New York and its memories as possible.

There was an unbelievably long waiting list of people applying for positions in the Las Vegas Crime Lab, due to its standing as the top local crime lab in America. Gonzo's stint on the 9-11 crew earned him extra points, bumping him to the top tier of candidates when there was an opening on the swing shift a year ago.

He'd never regretted the move, though he missed his family and the large Puerto Rican community in New York. While he was generically classified as Hispanic, there was a vast difference between being Puerto Rican and being of Mexican extraction.

"Gonzo and I checked the clothing and luggage microscopically. Every inch of it. There weren't any fibers or hairs that didn't belong to the victims. Their autopsy reports all say that they were killed elsewhere and dumped in the alleys, so we're hoping that the killer left some DNA when he handled the bodies."

"Weren't swabs already taken?" Sara asked.

"Yeah, a few. But we literally swabbed every inch of their clothes. Greg and Cherisse are going to check every swab for epithelials or saliva spray. They'll analyze anything with so much as a germ on it."

"Good, good," Broussard acknowledged, looking at the two DNA analysts. Philip had heard that Greg was somewhat less-than-serious, but he'd seen no evidence of it so far, other than perhaps the wild bleached-blonde spikes of hair.

However, that didn't strike him as all that odd, considering that Cherisse Washington sported dreadlocks, tattoos, and several visible piercings that told him that she wore a fair amount of metal on her body when she wasn't at the lab.

People who think that all science geeks are nerds with short hair, taped-up glasses, pocket-protectors, and a belt holster for their calculators have never seen our geeks. Maybe it's some psychological rebellion against the stereotype. I don't know ... and I don't care. All I know is that we have two of the best DNA analysts on the planet.

Who cares what's on the outside? It's what's up top, in those high-IQ brains that I care about.

"We've got the swabs incubating in the fridge. They'll be ready at the beginning of shift this afternoon," Greg said.

"Okay, everyone better try to get some rest and some nourishment. It's been a long day, and we have another one ahead of us in just over six hours," Catherine said, rising to indicate that the meeting was over.

"I've got dibs on the break room couch," Sara said to the group.

"Go home, Sara. Get some real rest," Catherine ordered.

"Not worth the drive. I can catch more Z's by staying here. It's cool – I do it all the time," she said matter-of-factly.

"Use Grissom's couch then, or Broussard's," Catherine said, looking over at Philip for confirmation.

"You can take mine. I'll use Grissom's," Broussard offered. "No one will bother you in my office, but you know Grissom. He's liable to come in any minute now."

"What about you?" Sara asked.

"I can sleep through a nuclear blast. Grissom isn't going to bother me," he shrugged.

"Me either. I'm too tired. I'll take Grissom's office and leave you to your own couch."

"Whatever you want," Broussard shrugged, trudging tiredly out of the conference room.

"How are you holding up, Cath?" Sara asked as they ambled down the corridor.

"I'm good."

"Really? What about your daughter? It's got to be rough on both of you for you to be pulling one double after the next."

"She'll be okay. She's used to it," Catherine answered.

"I'm not so sure that's a good thing ... to be used to being without your parents, I mean."

Catherine looked over at Sara sharply, her annoyance evident, but she quickly regained her composure.

"I make sure I spend quality time with her every day," Catherine rejoined.

"That's what I figured. Which means that you don't get much sleep," Sara ventured.

"I've found out that sleep is highly overrated," Catherine huffed.

"I've known that for years," Sara said, joining Catherine in a tired chuckle. She stopped in front of Grissom's door as Catherine continued down the corridor, headed for the locker room. She suddenly stopped and turned.

"Sara, I meant what I said in there. You're doing great work on this case, but then that's not surprising. You're very good at your job."

Sara looked into Catherine's eyes, reading that she wasn't trying to manipulate her. She seemed to be sincere.

"Uh, thanks, Cath. I'm glad that I've been able to regain your trust. We haven't really talked about it, but I want you to know that I worked just as hard on Eddie's murder. Maybe even harder. I really did try, but there wasn't anything I could do."

Catherine sighed heavily, wishing she hadn't left an opening for a conversation about Eddie.

"I believe you. I'm sorry that I overreacted," Catherine said tiredly. "It was a shock, even though it shouldn't have been. Eddie was a loser. Always had been; always would be. It shouldn't have been surprising at all that someone killed him. It was more surprising that he lived as long as he did."

"The reaction was because he was Lindsey's father, wasn't it? You grew up without a father, and you were empathizing with her."

"Yeah, I guess so. You've got an intact family, so you can't know what it's like."

"No, I can't relate to it personally, but I can see how it's affected you, Warrick and Grissom. But you've pulled together into a sort of family."

"Sara, I don't have any designs on Gil," Catherine whispered, looking around to ensure no one could hear.

"No, I didn't mean it like that," Sara countered quickly. "It just seems that the type of bond he has with both of you is more like a family thing. You're like a support group of people who grew up without fathers."

"If that's what drew us together, Warrick must be starting to get really worried."

"Why do you say that?" Sara asked, confused at the sudden change in direction.

"Gil and I have both had our fathers come back into our lives, and it's been a disaster. Warrick's probably wondering if his father or mother are going to show up any minute and screw up his life, too."

"We don't know that the vic is Grissom's father."

"It doesn't have to really be his father. Just the idea of having him still impact his life, having to deal with the subject again, is enough."

"Sounds like you and Grissom have something else in common now," Sara said.

Catherine looked up and down the corridor conspiratorially, then pulled Sara into Grissom's office, closing the door behind her.

"Do you want to understand Grissom?"

"Of course. He's the boss. I have to work with him every day."

"No, I mean really understand him."

Sara swallowed and nodded slowly.

"Okay. You've probably heard people talk about kids feeling guilty that one of their parents left, thinking maybe it was their fault. It's practically a psychological certainty."

"Yeah, that seems to be a typical reaction. But they grow out of it, don't they?"

"Intellectually, yes. But your childhood, especially your early years, are when you form your concept of yourself, your value. What if you're convinced that you meant so little to the person who was supposed to love and protect you that he left? What does that say about your worth? What does that tell you about your lovability?"

"So you're telling me that Grissom doesn't feel lovable because his father left them?" Sara asked.

"You've got to see it through the eyes of the man-child inside of him. What if he allows himself to care for someone, trusting them to care about him, and then they betray him like his father did? He's got to be careful of people who couldn't possibly know how it feels to be him. They could destroy him without a second thought. To them, he's just a guy it didn't work out with. To him, it's another indication that he's worthless."

"It would be an unacceptable risk," Sara said hoarsely, her mind's eye seeing Grissom slumped down in a chair in the interrogation room after Dr. Lurie left. Grissom had told the doctor that someone had come into his life that he could care about, but he couldn't risk everything for her the way Lurie had.

His words had hurt her deeply, implying to her that Grissom didn't think she was worthy. It now hit her like a ton of bricks what the nature of the risk truly was, the enormity of it. Not only might he lose his career, but it would devastate him emotionally to trust again, only to be rejected.

"Cath, I'm not really sure what to do with that information," Sara said honestly.

"You don't have to do anything with it. Just keep it in mind any time you deal with Grissom on a personal level. Like anyone else, he wants to be loved and respected, but something inside of him tells him that it's not possible, that he doesn't really deserve it. It'll make him seem inconsistent, but really it's just a case of being able to trust only so much before warning bells go off in his subconscious. He can't help it, Sara."

"Sounds hopeless," Sara breathed out.

"No, not hopeless. Just be as consistent as he is inconsistent. Prove to the little boy inside his head that he's worth putting up with."

"I've stayed here through thick and thin for four years, Cath. I don't think the message is getting through."

"Yeah, but you've sent some mixed signals, too, which is only human. I'm certainly not judging you. I'm just telling you what will sink in over time. You don't have to believe me," Catherine said, shrugging.

"Why are you telling me this?" Sara asked, her voice almost suspicious.

"One of us in our little support group has to find a way to be happy. If just one can, then any of us can. If you can make him happy, it means there's hope for the rest of us that we can overcome our pasts, too."

"I have a lot to think about. This throws everything I thought I knew into a different light."

"One thing, though. If you aren't serious about making it work, Sara, don't start anything. That's another reason I told you what I have – not just to help you, but to protect him. He's not an Eddie or a Hank, or some other guy who'll just blow off the rejection and move on to the next woman. If he allows himself to get into a relationship, it'll be intense, no matter which way it goes. Are you ready for that? Are you willing to be the center of someone's universe? I know it sounds romantic, but in reality it can be a terrible burden ... suffocating. And if you allow it to get to that point, then decide you can't take it, he'll crack."

"You're not suggesting he'd pull a Lurie," Sara said, unbelieving.

"No, I don't think he'd take it out on you," Catherine countered quickly. "But he might be worried about that. He saw the parallels between himself and Lurie. He had to wonder what he would have done in the same circumstance. It would have to worry him."

"So you think that he believes he's protecting me?"

"He protecting both of you, in his twisted way."

"Why didn't he just let me leave?" Sara asked weakly.

"And lose the only opportunity he has for happiness?"

"But, he doesn't want ..."

"No, Sara, that's what I'm saying. What he wants and what he thinks he deserves are two different things. Just because he hasn't been able to seize the opportunity doesn't mean he wants it to disappear."

"Does that mean that he thinks I should just hang around for the rest of my life, never being too close, but never being far away?"

"He knows that's not going to last forever."

"This is all so heavy. And I'm too tired to really take it all in. But I guess there's no hurry," Sara huffed without humor.

"If your DOWD turns out to be his father, he's going to be really emotionally vulnerable. Just be careful with him, okay?"

"Okay. I hear you," Sara nodded, practically collapsing on his couch, as Catherine let herself out, closing the door behind her. Sara briefly scanned the room before closing her eyes, knowing that in this place, she would only be able to dream of one thing.

CHAPTER 7

Dear Gil,

I'm pleased to read that all is well with you.

I did as you asked, and examined the photos you sent. My memory isn't as hazy as yours, since I was an adult at the time. Yes, the man in the pictures appears to be your father. If you need to have scientific certainty, as I assume you will, I can possibly provide that.

I'm sending you some envelopes from letters he'd written me before we were married. They've been stored away, so maybe there's still DNA on the stamps or envelope flaps, if I understand the process correctly.

Please let me know as soon as you are certain, one way or the other.

Love,

Mom

Grissom stared at the screen of the computer on the desk that took up a prominent place in his living room. The ringing of his cellular phone brought him back to the present.

"Grissom," he answered, after clearing his throat.

"Hey."

"Hello, Sara."

"You okay?"

"Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

"I think I'd be a little weirded out if I saw a body that might be related to me."

"I'm fine. I e-mailed the pictures to my mother. She knows much more of the family than I do."

A quiet moment passed, with nothing but breathing passing through the airwaves. Each thought that the other could probably hear their heart pounding.

"Grissom?"

"Yes?"

"Do you know who that man is?"

"I don't know with any level of certainty," he answered truthfully.

"Who do you suspect it is?" she asked.

"I'd prefer not to surmise until I have concrete evidence."

"Grissom, I'm not asking as a CSI. I'm asking as a friend."

"The answer's the same."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Not until my mother provides us with some information."

"I'm not talking about the case," she replied, her voice strident with frustration.

"I am."

"It's obvious you've heard back from your mother. Who does she think it is?"

Grissom breathed out heavily. Relentless. She won't give up until I give in.

"My father," he answered coolly.

Sara could feel the oppression of the tension, even across the phone.

"Damn, Grissom, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to press you about something that's painful," she finally said, apologetically. Sara slumped down on his couch, her free hand rubbing her forehead.

"I'm a grown man, Sara. It doesn't matter anymore."

"Of course it matters."

"What could you possibly know about it?" he asked, his voice almost venomous.

"Nothing. There's no way I could even begin to know how you feel. Unless you tell me."

Grissom closed his eyes, two imperatives warring in his mind: Tell her! Let her know why you can never be with her. No! Keep your feelings to yourself. Protect them. If you expose yourself, you'll only end up hurt ... again.

"Sara," he said, trying to achieve some measure of calmness in his voice, "I appreciate what you're trying to do. It's very thoughtful. But this is something very personal to me. I've got to work through it alone."

"No, you don't," she argued softly.

"Please," he breathed out desperately.

"I understand about you not wanting more of a relationship ... but ... can't you at least let me be your friend? You're allowed to have more than one, you know. You were my friend when I needed one."

"Sara, I ... you ..." Grissom stopped and swallowed, shutting his eyes tightly. "Don't get close. Stay away. For your own good. Please. Do that for me. Do it for yourself."

"Too late, Grissom," she replied.

"Then don't blame me," he shot back instinctively.

"I never have," she answered softly, her own voice wavering with emotion.

"What do you want from me?" he asked with a measure of resignation.

"Nothing. I don't want to take anything from you. I don't care if you have anything to give to me, as long as you'll accept what I have to give to you."

"I can't."

"I know."

"I'm sorry."

"I know."

"I'll see you at work tonight," he said resolutely, not waiting to hear her reply as he hurriedly shut the phone.

He remembered something Robbins had once said to him:

"... Sooner or later one will come along who won't give up. You'll push her away and hurt her, time and again, and she'll keep coming back."

"I hope you're wrong, Albert," Grissom said aloud.

CHAPTER 8

When Grissom arrived at work that night, there were two men standing next to the receptionist. Judy looked at Grissom with a warning in her eyes.

"Dr. Grissom?" one of the men asked simply.

"I'm Gil Grissom. And you are?" he asked the men whose appearances fairly screamed federal agents.

"Representatives of the United States government," one answered cryptically. I'm Special Agent Tessier, and this is Agent Conroe.

"Feds? Really?" Grissom asked drolly. "I wouldn't have guessed."

"May we speak with you privately?" Conroe, the younger agent, asked.

"Follow me," Grissom said testily, wondering which case the Feds were about to stick their noses into. He led them silently to his office. For a moment Grissom could have sworn that he could smell Sara, not knowing she had left only moments earlier.

"Supervisor Grissom, we understand that you are investigating the death of this man," Tessier led off, holding up a photo of the deceased, obviously taken several years ago.

"May I see some identification?" Grissom asked.

"Certainly." The two men each pulled out a badge, Tessier's indicating that he was a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Conroe's showing that he was with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

"Two federal agencies working together? What's this world coming to?" Grissom asked sarcastically.

"These are perilous times, Dr. Grissom," the elder of the two rather non-descript agents answered.

"Indeed, they are," Grissom nodded. "What's your interest in the case?"

"We have a court order for you to cease and desist in your investigation, and turn over all materials to us. We've already taken possession of the body. We'll need to verify that you don't retain any facsimiles of anything pertaining to this case."

Grissom took the court order brusquely from the agent's hand, sitting down to read it. The two agents stood stiffly in front of his desk.

"What's this about?"

"That's not your concern, sir."

"It is if you want my cooperation," Grissom snapped.

"We don't need your cooperation, sir. We have a court order. You'll be detained if you do not comply, and someone else here will still do as directed."

"Why is this a federal issue?"

"We have a court order, sir. That's all we know, and it's all you need to know."

"It'll take some time to get everything together," Grissom said in resignation.

"We'll wait."

The two agents followed Grissom from his office. As he approached the break room, he walked inside, turning to face the two men.

"Do you also have a court order to surveil me?" he asked.

"No, sir."

"Then wait here. The lab is a secure area, and you could compromise any number of cases inadvertently. No one but authorized personnel are allowed in."

The two grudgingly took seats at the table, at least confident that he probably couldn't leave the lab without them seeing him.

"Help yourself to some coffee," Grissom said at the door, feigning a graciousness he didn't feel.

Grissom returned quickly to his office, picking up the ringing phone automatically.

"Grissom, it's Robbins. Look, I wanted to let you know that some Federales came and took your father's body."

"My alleged father," Grissom corrected him. "They're here now, and they already told me."

"I'm sorry. I didn't have a chance to call you earlier, to warn you about them and their handful of federal court orders."

"Thanks, Albert. I've got to get everything together to give to them."

"They told us to give them the autopsy reports, and to expunge our records."

"Yeah, they want our records, too."

"I was going to do just that, but then I got distracted. I might think about it later, when they come back by to check on it. Or I could forget to do it. And if you happened to come by and get a copy, how would I know?"

"But of course I wouldn't do that, since it would be violating a court order."

"Unless you were getting it to give to the Feds," Robbins countered.

"That's true. Thanks, Al."

Grissom sat at his desk unmoving except for the tapping of a pen against a legal pad. His eyes were unfocused as he weighed his options.

Keeping a copy of the files is a violation of a federal court order. That would be a crime. Unlike my father, I'm not a criminal.

But I wouldn't do it to continue the investigation. That's not our problem anymore, and we have plenty of other work to do.

I just need to know who he is. When I find out if the body is really my father, I'll destroy the copies. I might not be following the letter of the law, but the spirit of it. I was told to cease and desist investigating the murder of the man. I will. I'll just continue to work on verifying his identity. On my own time.

CHAPTER 9

"Greg, I need you to do something for me," Grissom said, holding out a FedEx envelope towards the young man.

"Sure, Grissom," he said, taking the package. "Uh, there's no Chain of Custody form for this evidence." Greg looked at his boss, confused.

"It's not exactly evidence," Grissom said lowly.

"What is it?"

"Envelopes from letters my father wrote to my mother about 50 years ago."

Greg stared at Grissom, seemingly frozen in space and time.

"Deja vu," Greg said, shaking his head. "When I did that for Catherine, you reprimanded me. I think your exact words was that this lab isn't in the business of running paternity tests for its employees."

"I'm not asking you to compare the DNA to mine. I'm asking you to compare it to Sara's DB."

"I thought we were off that case."

"We are."

"But you want me to run the DNA anyway?"

"Yes."

"So that you'll know if the guy is your father?"

"Yes," Grissom admitted.

"And that's different ... how?"

Grissom stood immobile, looking at Greg with an inscrutable expression.

"Then I can't do it," Greg said with finality, turning away to escape what he assumed would be Grissom's death glare.

"Have you expunged the DNA records from the database yet?" Grissom asked.

"No. I was just about to do that. But I've been busy working with Cherisse on this serial murder thing."

"You look tired. I think it's time for you to take a break, Greg. You can delete them when you get back."

"I could use a cup of coffee. I'll need to brew a fresh pot, so I could be away from the lab for a little while. I'll be in the break room if you need me." What Grissom did while he was out of the lab was none of his concern.

"Where's Cherisse?" Grissom asked.

"She just went to the little girl's room. I'll grab her and make us both some decent coffee," Greg said nonchalantly.

Grissom watched the young man vacate the DNA lab and saunter down the hall towards the break room, never looking back.

He called up the case on the DNA computer, printing out a copy, folding the results to tuck into his pocket. Exiting the record, Grissom left the computer just as he'd found it.

Grissom soon followed the young man, handing a file folder to the federal agents who were still sitting there, appreciative of Greg's freshly brewed coffee.

"Are all these records expunged?"

"Yes, I did it myself. If you'll follow me to my office, you can verify that the data has been deleted."

"We appreciate your cooperation, Dr. Grissom," the elder man said as they rose to follow the supervisor to his office.

Moments later, having shown the agents that the case file was expunged, Grissom walked the two men to the parking lot, bidding them a less-than-fond farewell before getting into his car.

It was after 8:00 am now, and Grissom drove aimlessly around the city, watching for any signs of being tailed. He thought it typical that his father, even in death, could complicate his life. The elder Grissom was apparently the focus of a national security issue, which didn't surprise the younger Grissom.

The old man had come to Las Vegas, perhaps coincidentally, not knowing his son lived there. But federal agents are nothing if not thorough, and it would be natural for them to suspect that the two met here, if they knew that the deceased was Grissom's father.

A few times he thought that a dark SUV with tinted windows was following him, but they always turned off. He assured himself that he was being paranoid – after all, a lot of people drive dark SUVs. He himself was frequently in one, as was every field agent of the crime lab.

He drove to a commercial DNA lab, hoping that no one there would recognize him. There were meetings and conventions he'd attended that also attracted DNA analysts from academia and the private sector.

Fortunately, submissions were handled by a clerk in an office separated from the lab, where Grissom filled out the paperwork using a false name. He would pay by money order when he picked up the results of the paternity test. He was willing to pay extra to put a rush on the test, with a promise that he'd have the results within 48 hours rather than three weeks.

Why am I doing this? What difference does it make? He's dead to me whether that's his body or not.

But I need to know for my mother's sake. I don't know why she cares, but she seems to. Maybe she just wants closure. She deserves that.

CHAPTER 10

The quiet drive home was interrupted by the peal of his cell phone.

"Grissom."

"Hey, it's Sara.

"Yes?"

"Uh, I accidentally took a copy of the casefile from my warehouse DB home. I was wondering if you'd like to come get it ... to give to the Feds," she said conspiratorially.

"You could give it to them tonight," he said.

"I'm off tonight. Besides, I doubt they'll be hanging out at the lab now. I'm assuming they gave you a card or something, so you could contact them if need be."

"Yes, they did."

"So, do you want to come get it?"

"Be careful, Sara."

"I'm always careful, Grissom. Well, most of the time."

"They could misunderstand your motives."

"Paranoid much? You have real trust issues with federal agents, don't you?" she laughed.

"They always seem to have a different agenda, and they rarely share it. I don't like being played when I don't know the game."

"They're just doing their jobs."

After a brief silence, not know what else to say, Grissom grunted a "Yeah."

"So, you coming to get this thing?"

"Sure. Is now a good time?"

"You're always welcome in my home," she said graciously.

Grissom felt the mood begin to shift. His father – alleged father – was no longer the focus of the conversation. He felt himself drawn towards her apartment, becoming increasingly anxious as he approached.

The day he took her home from the police station, he'd walked her to her door, holding her hand again, fingers interlocked with hers. She had opened the door and turned to look him in the eyes for the first time that night.

They looked into each other's eyes, both trying to peer deeply into the other, trying to read each other's thoughts. Not a word was spoken to spoil the moment when both felt that the attachment they'd shared years before resurfaced.

They felt drawn towards each other, seemingly moving closer without trying to, as though some magnetic field was pulling at them.

When they were so close that Grissom could only see her eyes, he pulled away suddenly, breaking the spell. "I better go," he had said almost breathlessly.

"You want to come in?" she had asked hoarsely, her throat as dry as the desert sand that surrounded them.

"Want to?" he sighed in frustration. "I better not."

"Suit yourself," she had said a little too briskly. She had been trying for nonchalant, but her disappointment was evident.

Now as he stood at her door again, he wondered what it would have been like to have kissed her. He'd tried over the past few weeks not to think about it, but the mental image kept reappearing.

The door opened almost the very moment he knocked, as though she had been waiting just on the other side.

"Come on in," she said casually, turning to retreat back into the small apartment before the expected rebuff.

"Thanks," he said, surprising her. She turned and looked at him incredulously, then turned away so that he wouldn't see her grin.

"Here's that file," she said, handing him the photocopies of all the results so far in the aborted investigation. "Want some coffee? Juice?"

"Water would be fine," he said, unashamedly looking around the apartment. His eyes froze on a picture prominently displayed on a bookshelf. It was a photograph of Sara and a handsome young man, leaning their heads together, arms wrapped around each other.

Grissom felt a cold spear pierce his heart. He knew he had no right to ask her to not seek any relationships, but it hurt nonetheless.

"My brother," she said simply, handing him the bottle of spring water.

"Oh," Grissom exhaled, relieved. "There's not much family resemblance."

"He takes after our mother. I take after our dad."

"I see."

"You must favor your mother," Sara added gingerly. "Though your father has the same eyes."

"So I've been told," Grissom said tightly, his jaw muscle twitching.

"He's gone now, Grissom. You can finally let it go," she said softly, running a hand comfortingly up and down his arm.

"Let bygones by bygones?" he asked with a short, huffing laugh.

"Not for his sake. For yours. Let it go. Free yourself from him," she almost whispered.

"Actually, he did the whole family a favor by leaving," Grissom said heavily, turning to look at Sara.

Her raising eyebrows asked the question.

"He was a criminal. Worse ... a traitor," Grissom answered bitterly, looking down to avoid the revulsion he was sure he'd see in Sara's eyes.

"A traitor?" she asked simply, unwilling to let Grissom crawl back into his shell of privacy.

"He'd tell people he was in the import/export business. What he neglected to tell them was that he traded with Communist China."

"Arms or drugs?" she asked.

"Who knows? Maybe both. He might have traded weapons for drugs. I only know what little I've overheard. My mother never spoke of it."

"That's a heavy burden to carry your whole life," Sara said empathetically, stopping the stroking of his arm, leaving her hand against his shoulder.

"I've never told anyone that before," he said in a coarse whisper.

"Thank you," she said simply, her voice failing to add any more to the acknowledgement of his trust.

"I better go."

"You always seem to say that just as it's getting interesting," she said, smiling weakly.

"I'm trying to keep it from getting any more ... interesting," he said, adding his own small smile.

Sara risked running both hands up his arms, leaning her body into him as she clasped her hands behind his neck. "How 'bout just a little interesting?" she asked mischievously.

Grissom unconsciously set his hands lightly on her waist, just above her hips. His brow furrowed as he looked back and forth between her two eyes, seeing something there that he wanted more than anything else in the world.

"You shouldn't take advantage of me in my current emotional state," he said mock-seriously.

"You've gotta strike while the iron's hot. How else could I take advantage of you?"

"Did you bring that file home just to lure me here?" he asked, his lips so close to hers that she felt his every breath.

"It worked, didn't it?" she asked.

"Yes, it did," he answered, pulling her the remaining few inches towards his lips.

As they pulled themselves apart, Sara smiled broadly at him. "Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?"

"No," Grissom said, shaking his head. "But I've got to leave before it gets any better."

"I'll see you tonight," she said, releasing him.

"I thought you had the night off," Grissom said in confusion.

"I was mistaken," she shrugged. "I must have looked at the wrong date on the calendar."

"Sara, we can't ..."

Grissom was silenced by her finger across his lips.

"Don't worry about it, Grissom. It was just a little kiss, not a lifetime commitment."

Her smile told him that she wasn't angry. Despite all that had happened, there was a new spring in his step as he walked alone back to his car.

The world all looked different to him now, the colors richer, the textures more vibrant. Even the black SUV that pulled out just after him didn't seem as menacing as it would have an hour ago.

CHAPTER 11

If the driver of the SUV was trying to be discreet, it wasn't working. Grissom noticed that he didn't even hang back several cars, but stayed directly behind him. When Grissom turned, the SUV turned. When he increased his speed, the SUV kept pace.

Grissom turned east, deciding to head for the hills, both literally and figuratively. He knew he'd never lose the tail in the city, and the desert didn't offer many hiding places for anything the size of a car. But there were plenty of places to pull off the road once he was in the hills, hoping he might find a copse of trees to hide behind until the SUV was safely out of sight.

He thought it strange that the man tailing him did nothing to hide the fact, yet didn't pressure him at all. He never approached too closely, nor did he attempt to force Grissom from the road. It was as though he were content to be his shadow.

Grissom came to an area with some hairpin turns, and the switchbacks gave him an opportunity to be out of his follower's line of sight for a few moments. He took the opportunity to pull off the road, quickly maneuvering the car over the rough ground to park behind some brush and a few trees.

With no hesitation, and no sense of hurry, the shadowing SUV gently pulled off the road and eased forward until he could see Grissom's car. He pulled up behind Grissom, effectively blocking him from being able to leave.

Nervously, Grissom opened the glove compartment, relieved that his weapon was still there. In his trepidation, he was at first unsure whether he had it with him. He cocked it, thumbed off the safety and held it beside him while he took several deep breaths to calm himself as the man approached on foot, keeping close to the side of the car, making him a more difficult target.

"Dr. Grissom?" he called out.

"Who are you and why are you following me?" Grissom shouted out of the window.

"I'm a friend of your father's. I'm following you because I have something to give you," he said, stopping well back of the door.

"Is that supposed to make me feel safer?"

"I'm going to approach your window, Dr. Grissom. I'd appreciate it immensely if you wouldn't shoot me."

"Why didn't you approach me back in Vegas? Why follow me all the way out here?" Grissom asked suspiciously.

"You were being tailed in Vegas. I needed to give my crew time to divert them, get them off your tail."

Grissom cocked his head in curiosity.

"While we're here talking, two FBI agents are busy tailing a car that looks amazingly like yours, even down to the license plate number. Your doppelganger is leading them out west an hour or two. By the time they find out that it's not you, you'll be back safe and sound in your townhouse. Meanwhile, we'll have a little privacy."

"Why is the FBI tailing me?" Grissom asked.

"Because you've had contact with known terrorists."

"I have?"

"The two gentlemen who came to your lab. They aren't ours."

"Ours? Who are you with?"

"I'm retired CIA."

"They had ID."

"Wow. That's hard to fake," the man laughed.

"Who are you? What's going on here?" Grissom said gruffly, his patience for the confusion and intrigue wearing thin.

"My name is John Spencer. Or at least that's my name today," he shrugged. "As I told you, I'm a retired spook. I worked with your father."

"See, that's where you keep losing me," Grissom said.

"Your father was an agent in the CIA, a specialist in antiterrorism."

"My father was a smuggler and a traitor," Grissom snapped back.

"That was his cover, not his choice," Spencer replied. "Did he try to contact you in any way while he was here?"

"No." Grissom rubbed his forehead furiously, his thoughts a tangled mass. Everything he had ever believed about his father was being refuted by a total stranger. Of course, what little he knew about his father came from strangers as well. He didn't know what to believe.

"The two agents ... or terrorists ... may have lied to me. Maybe you're lying to me. Maybe you're a terrorist, for all I know."

"All that's true. Welcome to my world. No one is who they seem to be. No one can be trusted. Nothing can be believed. You can't know what it's like to live your whole life in some nightmare where reality seems to shift on you moment by moment. And just one false move can get you killed ... or worse."

"So what is it that you have to give to me?" Grissom asked, wanting the exchange to end so that he could have some time alone to think through all the new possibilities.

"This," the elderly man said, handing Grissom an envelope. "Your father wrote it a few years ago and gave a copy to me and to another man we worked with. Actually, we all exchanged letters with each other, with instructions about to whom to deliver them upon our deaths."

Grissom held the letter gingerly, as if he expected it to contain anthrax. He wasn't sure he really wanted to read anything his father had written to him, but he did at least know that it was a moment that he didn't want to share with anyone, especially not a stranger.

"Be careful, Dr. Grissom. I doubt that the people who are keeping tabs on you intend you any harm, or they would have already made their move. But that doesn't mean you're safe. Their aim is to ensure that the mistake that one of their 'soldiers' made, leaving the body when your father was executed, is corrected. I imagine that's their only concern. If they think it's all over, they'll leave you in peace. If they think that the issue might get out of their control, you'll be in imminent danger. You can't let them know that you know he's your father. Assume that your phones are tapped, that you're being followed 24/7, and that even your cell phone is being monitored."

"I thought you said it's the FBI following me," Grissom said.

"They are. So are the bad guys, but a lot more discreetly. They can tap your phones, bug your house, or anything else, since they don't have those pesky laws to worry about."

Spencer turned and walked back to his SUV, backing it out from behind Grissom's car, then stopping. He leaned his left arm and his head out of the open side window.

"I know this must be an awful lot to process right now, Dr. Grissom. But I have to let you know that your father was a good man ... the best I've ever known. He was a patriot, a loyal friend, and a loving husband and father – despite what it may seem like to you."

Without waiting for a reply, Spencer drove off, leaving Grissom to process the confusion and irritation that his words had stirred up.

Loving husband and father. Right. Even if what Spencer says about my father being a government agent is true, that doesn't excuse leaving his family. Spencer may be being honest, but that doesn't mean my father was honest with him.

The letter seemed to emanate its own heat in his pocket as he drove back to Las Vegas. He stopped at the paternity lab on his way home, picking up the results of his test. As with the letter, rather than read it in the presence of strangers, he put the printout into his breast pocket, with the letter. Once home, he planned to look at both, hoping irrationally that one or both of them would somehow make this whole episode disappear.

CHAPTER 12

"What are you doing here?" Grissom asked Sara a bit curtly as he approached the steps to his townhouse.

"Well, excuse the hell out of me!" she spat back, standing abruptly. "I'm sorry for being worried about you," she said over her shoulder as she walked briskly back to her car.

"Sara!" Grissom called out, causing her to pause but not turn around. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. It's just been a very strange day. I meant the question literally."

"I'm here because I've been calling you at your home number, your cell phone and your beeper, and you haven't returned my calls. I got worried, so I came over to make sure you're all right."

"I'm fine, as you can see. I was in the mountains, so I guess cellular coverage cut in and out." As he spoke, Grissom pulled out the cellular to see that she'd called the number several times, leaving a message at least once. His beeper also had her calling several times, one with a text message asking if he were all right and imploring him to call her.

"In the mountains?" she asked.

"Yeah, I was trying to shake a tail, but I couldn't."

"Any idea why you're being followed, and by whom?"

"It's long, involved story, and frankly I'm not sure I could work my way through it in any rational way right now."

"I'm not trying to pry, Grissom. I thought that maybe you could use a friend, someone to talk things out with."

"I appreciate the offer, Sara. But this is something very personal."

"Do I seem like the sort of person who'd tell anyone else anything personal about you? Or maybe you think I'm judgmental."

"No, neither. It's just that ... well ... I guess I'm just used to not talking to anyone about it."

"You know, something hit me since all this started with your father. I've always wondered what tied you to Catherine and Warrick. It always seemed that no matter what they did, you'd cover for them."

"And?" Grissom asked, genuinely curious.

"The common thread is growing up without your biological father. I doubt that any of you have thought about it as it relates to your relationships, but all three of you grew up without your father. Maybe you guys subconsciously think that Nick and I can't relate, since we grew up in intact families."

"I never really thought about that," Grissom said honestly, shoving the key in his door's deadbolt lock.

"It's the only thing that makes sense. The three of you are so different from each other, yet you seem to have some sort of almost family-like relationship. Think about it. Catherine turned out to be just like the women who raised you guys – not just strong, but tough as nails. And now here she is, having to do the same thing, raising a kid without a father. No wonder Eddie's death hit her so hard. Now Lindsey will have to grow up fatherless, too."

"Would you like to come in?" Grissom asked, not really wanting to have this conversation at all, but especially not out on his front porch.

Sara walked through the door, still elaborating. "Warrick is young and still could use a stable male influence, which you try to provide. It's like you're the father he never had ... the father none of you had. You may feel that it's too late for you and Cath, but there's still time for Warrick."

"You seem to have given this a great deal of thought," Grissom said, huffing a short laugh as he carefully measured coffee into the filter basket.

"Actually, no. I'm really just thinking out loud," Sara demurred, hoping she hadn't gone too far.

"There could be merit to your theory," Grissom agreed, surprising her.

"And within a year, you and Catherine both are faced with your fathers, after all this time. It must be very difficult to come to grips with."

"You have no idea," he said, his back still turned to her.

"Talk to me, Grissom. Tell me what you're feeling," Sara said, moving up behind him. He lifted his head, but didn't turn around. Gingerly, Sara placed a hand on his shoulder.

"I can't," he shrugged, pulling the carafe out of the coffee maker to pour them two cups. He turned to hand Sara her coffee, at first avoiding her eyes, but finding himself unable to.

"Because you don't trust me with your feelings?" she asked softly, trying not to sound either disappointed or accusing.

"No, because I'm not sure what they are," he said, walking past her to take a seat in the living room.

"You're confused."

"Yes. And it's just getting more confusing by the moment. A man followed me up into the mountains. He said he was a friend of my father's. He claimed that they had worked for the CIA in an antiterrorism unit, that my father was only pretending to be a smuggler."

"Wow. Emotional whiplash," Sara said gently. "I can see why you'd feel confused. Just when you think the story's over, there's a new twist."

"He gave me this," Grissom said, pulling the letter from his pocket. "He said my father wrote it, and wanted me to have it on his death."

"How did this guy know your father was dead?"

"I don't know," Grissom said, his eyebrows furrowing. "I was so shocked that I didn't think to ask."

"It's not like we have a positive ID yet to release the name to the media. He might have been here with your father. Or he might be one of the men who killed him, trying to play you."

"God, it just keeps getting more confusing!" Grissom said, shaking his head in disbelief. "If he's lying about that, he might be lying about all of it. I still wouldn't know the truth about my father."

"Maybe the truth is in the letter," Sara suggested.

"Before I read it, would you do me a favor?" Grissom ask.

"Of course."

"These are the results of a paternity test, comparing the 13 loci Greg isolated from the body with the old DNA from envelopes my mother sent me. I had a private lab compare them. Look at them for me, and tell me what it says. I can't seem to bring myself to do it."

Sara took the folded report from Grissom, respectfully straightening it out, taking a moment to read the entire report before replying.

"I'm sorry, Grissom, but the results are inconclusive. The DNA from the envelopes was somewhat degraded, and they couldn't get good values on all 13 loci. They suggest either trying again with actual samples of each, instead of using Greg's report."

"That would take weeks. Maybe months," Grissom groused. "And I don't have access to the body to get a sample. The agents, if they really were agents, took the samples we had, too."

"Are you going to read his letter?" Sara asked gently. "It might answer some of your questions."

"Or raise more," Grissom mumbled, handling the envelope.

"Do you want me to leave?" Sara asked, thinking Grissom might feel more comfortable reading the letter alone.

Grissom looked at her uncomprehendingly.

"I mean, do you want to be alone?" she asked gently, smiling to counteract the double-entendre of her previous question.

He furrowed his brows.

"To read the letter," she sputtered, realizing that almost everything she'd said could be misconstrued, especially in his current frame of mind.

"You don't have to stay," he shrugged non-chalantly.

"Just once, Grissom, say it plainly: 'stay' or 'go'." Sara looked at him intently.

"It's your decision," he countered.

"As usual," she mumbled to herself, dropping her head for a moment. Looking back up, she batted the ball strongly back into his court, "Tell me what you want. Should I stay or should I go?"

"Yes," he answered.

"Uh, that was not a 'yes' or 'no' question," she said, smiling. "It's an 'either/or'."

"Both," he replied, a smile of his own pulling at one side of his mouth. "Think outside the box, Sara. We see choices as two diametrically opposed alternatives, when in reality there are a continuum of options, with the two obvious choices being the extremes."

"Oooooookay," she drawled, her smile forming into a more mischievous grin. "Then where along the continuum of my being here or not being here would you prefer? And you may have to help me out, 'cause I really don't know how to be partially here and partially not here."

Grissom chuckled. "The continuum isn't whether you're here or not here, but whether I want you here or not here."

"You sure have said a lot, considering you still haven't answered the question."

"I don't know the answer."

"You're giving me tired-head," Sara exhaled, smiling wanly.

"Then maybe you should go," Grissom said, unsure himself whether he was disappointed or relieved.

"Okay, I have an idea. How about if I go pick us up some food and give you time to read the letter privately? Then when I come back, we can either talk about it, or not. Whatever you want."

"You don't have to do that."

"That's the beauty of it," she said quixotically.

CHAPTER 13

Dear Gil,

It seems strange to think that I'm writing this to a middle-aged man. In my mind, you're still a little boy, not yet in school. I guess I'll always cherish the memories of what little time we had together.

But that doesn't mean I haven't kept up with you. You didn't know it, but I was there when you graduated high school and college. I was so proud when you got your Ph.D., though at the time I wondered what you were going to do with a doctorate in bugs.

I've been following your career with a lot of interest and great pride. It's so satisfying to see that you've devoted your worklife to the justice system.

It may come as a shock to you to find out that I did the same thing. Unfortunately, because of the nature of my work, I had to devote my entire life to it. While I'm proud of what I've done for my country, I do regret not being with my family. You probably believe the cover story that I was a career criminal. But ask yourself this: Would a woman like your mother marry a criminal?

I loved you and your mother, and I never planned to get into anything that would make me have to leave you. But the sort of assignments I started getting were dangerous, and I was afraid that the other side would come after you to get to me. If they thought I just walked away from you, they'd think I didn't care, and would leave you alone. Or so I hoped. It seems to have worked out that way.

It was especially hard when I found out that your mother lost her hearing. I wanted to come back to help her, but there was no way to do it and keep you safe. There's nowhere to hide from the sort of people I deal with every day. It's frightening to know that such people exist, but I did all that I could to prevent them from destroying our country.

As hard as it may be to believe, I did all of this for you, Gil. When I was deciding whether to join the antiterrorism team, all I had to do was take one look at my little blue-eyed boy. I had to do whatever I could to make sure the world was a safer place for you. I realized that the good of the many outweighed the good of the few. We had to sacrifice for a greater good.

Since you're reading this letter, I assume that I'm dead. I wish I had been able to see you face-to-face one last time. But even if I can't die with the peace of knowing that you understand why I did what I did, at least you can hopefully live the rest of your life at peace.

I'm also writing a letter to your mother. I want her to know the truth, and know that I didn't lie to her when I promised to love, honor, and cherish her all the days of my life. I never had any interest in any other woman, and I never will.

I have one request of you: While I'm very proud of you for devoting yourself to the pursuit of justice, don't let it consume your life like I did. Find someone to love, who will love you, and never, never let them go. Don't get to be an old man like I am, thinking of all that could have been. Your job won't hold your hand and tell you it loves you to the end of time. You may not think you miss that now, but I can guarantee that when your time on this Earth is near its end, you'll realize that you missed it all along.

I love you,

Dad

CHAPTER 14

Sara shifted the bags to her left hand, raising her right to tap on Grissom's door. She waited, looking right and left almost guiltily. It felt strange to be standing outside his townhouse in the light of day, able to be seen by neighbors and passers-by. She had to remind herself that she was there as a friend, and had no need to feel self-conscious.

When there was no answer within a few seconds, she knocked a bit harder, tempted to call out his name. After what seemed a reasonable amount of time, she reached down and tried the doorknob, a bit surprised that it turned, giving her access.

"Grissom?" she called, stepping gingerly into the townhouse. "Hey, it's me. Where are you?" The blinds had been drawn, letting in less of the waning afternoon sun.

He walked into the room from the hallway, still rubbing his face with a cold washcloth.

"You okay?" she asked softly.

"I was hoping you were an armed intruder and would shoot me."

"Sorry. Left my gun at the office," she said flippantly, carrying the bags to the breakfast bar, where she unpacked two Mediterranean salads. "I wasn't sure if you had salad dressing, or what kind you liked, so I got some of everything."

"I don't have much of an appetite," he said, carrying his salad to the refrigerator. "But feel free to go ahead."

"That bad?" she asked, opening her salad container.

"I'm confused," he said, shrugging his shoulders helplessly. "I'm not sure what to do next, if anything. I don't know what or who to believe."

"Grissom," Sara said firmly, setting down her fork. "You're a seasoned professional. You have to step outside of this thing and look at it professionally. Forget that it's about you. What would you do if this was just any random guy?"

"Not much I can do with no body and no evidence," he said, sitting down.

"Yeah, and who has all that?"

"I don't know. Could be the Feds. Could be terrorists. Depends on who you believe."

"You're acting like this is hard to check out," she said, handing him her cell phone. "Call the FBI. Tell them what happened and ask if the alleged FBI agent was on the up-and-up."

"I knew that," he said with an embarrassed smile as he took the phone and called the local FBI office.

Sara bit back all the wisecracks that sprang to mind, merely smiling and nodding, putting a forkful of salad in her mouth to occupy it.

Grissom was as economical with words as usual, which didn't give Sara many clues as to what was being said on the other end of the line. In a few moments, he hung up.

"I need to go to the lab and meet the Field Agent that they'll be sending. Seems that the alleged G-Men weren't legit after all. They don't know anything about the murder, but they take impersonating a federal agent very seriously."

"Cool. You've handled that part. Now what about the letter?"

"What about it?"

"Don't you think you should find out if it's legit, too?" she asked.

"I guess I could ask Ronnie if he'd do it on his own time," Grissom mused. "I'd pay him, of course."

"Grissom, duh! You really are confused. Bogus federal agents said to drop the case. There's no reason why Ronnie can't do it on lab time. We're back on the case."

"I knew that, too," he said, adding a wink to his smile.

"But stay out of the case," she said firmly, but not rudely. She gathered up the remaining salad and putting it back in the plastic bag. "If there's any chance this guy really is your father, you can't work the case. Think Catherine," she said, smiling more with her eyes than her lips.

"You and Warrick are on the case, not me," Grissom said, gathering his keys and cell phone.

CHAPTER 15

Warrick leaned back in the chair of the interrogation room, his lanky form more than filling the chair, his legs splayed out before him. He leaned almost laconically on his arm, resting his jaw in the palm of his hand. Those who didn't know him might think he's terminally bored, or on the verge of dropping off to sleep. Those who did know him would recognize that he was in observation mode.

Sara and Special Agent Tinah Gates sat across the table from Grissom. As Warrick had seen a hundred, maybe a thousand, times before, Grissom was positioned a bit diagonally to the table. He rarely began square to the table. Warrick knew that when Grissom pulled himself to fully face the table, typically leaning over on both forearms, that he was fully engaged with the person being questioned, honing in on the suspect's soft spot, baring his forensic teeth.

But this was an unusual day, in that Grissom was the subject being questioned – not as a suspect, of course, but as a witness. Still, it seemed strange to see Grissom cast in the role of the questioned. The mere concept of someone interrogating Grissom seemed completely foreign to Warrick. He was at once discomfited and intrigued at the thought of Grissom being asked to divulge anything other than the barest facts of a case.

Without moving his body in the slightest, Warrick's eyes swept across the table to take in the two women. They were very much alike, and yet very different. Special Agent Gates was blonde, with her hair pulled tightly behind her head, not a hair out of place. Her makeup was understated, but meticulous. She was wearing a gray pantsuit with a black silk shell, accented by a simple short strand of pearls.

Warrick estimated that she was probably around their age, lower to mid-thirties. If she was older, she took amazing care of her skin. But he acknowledged that was possible. She seemed like the type who would – not because of vanity, but as part of her daily ritual, like brushing her teeth or taking a shower.

Sara stood out in stark contrast: dark hair, pale skin, with eyes as clear and dark as Greg's overpriced coffee. She hadn't been home in a while, so what little makeup she had started with was long gone. Errant wisps of hair would tell the keen observer that her locks weren't naturally straight. Warrick smiled, but only on the inside, when a fleeting thought passed his consciousness: Sara's hair was as stubborn as she was. No matter what she did with it, it would fight to spring back to its natural, unruly state.

"Special Agent Tinah Gates, deposing Dr. Gil Grissom," the agent began, pressing the Record button on the small digital recorder. After giving the date and the time, she looked at Grissom with the complete lack of expression and emotion that comes with years of practice.

"Dr. Grissom, let's begin with you giving me your statement in your own words. I'll hold my questions until the end."

Grissom nodded and reeled off the story as factually as possible, completely devoid of commentary or emotion.

"Just the facts, ma'am," played through Warrick's mind – Sgt. Joe Friday's voice emanating from Grissom's body.

Warrick watched the reactions of the two women. SA Gates sat immobile, emotionless, unmoved. Her expression never changed through Grissom's discourse.

Sara seemed to be the only person in the room for whom this was real, though it was just as obvious that she was fighting it. Warrick could feel the energy building within her, like a spring being coiled tighter and tighter. He wondered sometimes how her skin managed to contain her.

SA Gates had few questions, as Warrick expected. After all, Grissom was experienced enough to give all the facts that he had, in logical order. She shut off the recorder and began to rise.

"Wait!" Sara exclaimed. "Aren't you going to depose me? Warrick? We investigated the man's death."

"I have no interest in the deceased," Gates said plainly. "That is a metropolitan matter, not a federal matter."

"Don't you think it impinges on your case?" Sara asked incredulously.

"Inasmuch as it establishes motive, perhaps," Gates answered. "However, I believe that I already have a sufficient understanding of the pertinent facts. Unless you believe that there was something probative that Dr. Grissom didn't divulge," she said, raising an eyebrow almost challengingly.

"It would be a federal matter if he were a federal agent, acting on behalf of the government," Sara said firmly.

"That has not been established," Gates replied.

"So, establish it," Sara retorted sharply.

"Tell you what, CSI Sidle. Don't tell me how to do my job, and I won't tell you how to do yours," she shot back.

Warrick's eyes played between the two women. On another day, on another case, they might have formed a bond. He pitied any poor bastard who found himself firmly in the target zone of these two women if they could ever join forces.

As it was, Warrick half-expected the tightly wound Sara to at least verbally tear the agent's heart out, just to see if it was still beating.

"Sara ..." Grissom exhaled tiredly.

After a beat, Sara's eyes disengaged in their battle of wills with the eyes of the agent, turning instead towards the voice she'd barely heard.

Grissom's eyes didn't meet hers, but his head shook slightly back and forth, bidding her to let it go.

"Well, will you at least check to see if the deceased was a federal agent, for the purposes of our investigation?" she asked.

"I can check. That doesn't mean that I'll find out. And it certainly doesn't mean I'll tell you," the agent said, heading toward the door. "If, indeed, the deceased was operating on behalf of Homeland Security, the likelihood is that it is a matter of national security, and would be classified as such. Considering that even I don't necessarily have the clearance for that information, I sincerely doubt that you do." The agent left, ending the discussion.

"Bitch," Sara muttered as she paced off some of the excess energy the confrontation had created.

Warrick smiled, this time allowing it to show.

"And just what are you grinning at?" she fired at him.

Warrick raised his hands in surrender, shaking his head, but unable to fully remove the smile. It wasn't often that he saw Sara bested in a contest, but this one was hardly a fair fight.

"If Special Agent Tinah Gates thinks I should be impressed that she's FBI, she may want to rethink," Sara growled as she stormed out the door.

"If I were still a gambling man, I'd start a pool on how and when Sara's going to kill that woman," Warrick said, gathering himself up to stand.

"Sara's a professional," Grissom said simply as he rose. "She'll wait until after the case is settled. And she'll kill her with her bare hands."

"I guess there's nothing to bet on if we agree," Warrick said, chuckling slightly.

CHAPTER 16

"You look tired," Sara said to Catherine as the serial murder team convened in the conference room.

"Passed by a mirror lately?" Catherine retorted.

"I try to avoid them at all costs," Sara chuckled.

"Let's see, you are working doubles on this case, and you're also working a murder with Warrick. Don't you think that's stretching yourself a little thin? Even for you."

"We've got to catch a break in one of them soon. I can rest then," Sara said matter-of-factly.

"We've got plenty of people on this team. I'm cutting you loose," Catherine said firmly.

"We're closing in on this guy. If you cut me loose now, that wouldn't be fair, Cath. I've put in as much effort as anyone else. I want to be in on it when it's cracked."

"I'll make sure you still get credit for the solve," Catherine said.

"You think that's what this is about?" Sara asked incredulously.

"How the hell should I know? I don't know what motivates you to drive yourself this way. If it's not your career, what is it?"

"Just give it another 24 hours. If we haven't zeroed in by then, take me off the team. Fair enough?"

"Can you make it another 24 hours with no sleep?" Catherine asked.

"I'm asleep now. You just can't tell," Sara said, smiling. "It's an art I perfected in college. Anyone can learn to sleep sitting up in class, pretending to be paying attention. I perfected a method for sleeping while walking, talking, eating, or doing anything else."

"Handy. You should teach classes in it at the lab," Catherine chuckled.

"And give away my advantage? I don't think so," Sara huffed in jest.

"Bitch," Catherine mumbled under her breath, just loudly enough for Sara to hear.

"You ought to know."

Catherine turned to face Sara, but was too tired to be able to pretend to be offended. The two women shared secret smiles as the meeting was called to order.

"We assumed that the victims took some sort of vehicle-for-hire from the airport," Broussard began without preamble. "A few people have called in that think they may have seen the victims get into cabs."

"How can they be sure? They didn't know the victims, so they didn't have any reason to burn the memories into their minds," Greg asked.

"One of the people who came forward was a midshipman at the Naval Academy, coming home for a visit before the new term begins."

"And that means?" Greg asked.

"It's part of officer training to be keenly observant. A cadet can be stopped at any time and asked a question about even the most mundane things. He or she better remember it vividly," Sara answered.

"Exactly," Broussard said, nodding. "This midshipman, Lori Ault, said that it was somewhere between 6:45 and 7:00 p.m. She apologized for being vague," Broussard reported, his eyebrows raised in disbelief. "She saw the last victim get into a cab as she was waiting for her parents to pick her up. She didn't see the cabby well, but he was approximately 5 foot 10, dark complexion, black hair."

"That should narrow it down," Sara grumbled. "That only describes 90 percent of the cab drivers, not only in Las Vegas, but every metropolitan area in the United States."

"But wait, there's more," Broussard said, mimicking the announcers on late-night infomercials.

"His hair was long and he was clean-shaven," he said, triumphantly.

"Not typical of cabbies of middle-eastern extraction," Sara agreed.

"According to the swing shift supervisor at the cab company, there are two men who could fit that description on his shift. One is Southern Paiute. The other's Hispanic. The cops are running background checks on them as we speak."

"That's assuming that the killer really does work for the cab company," Cherisse offered.

"He probably does," Catherine said. "After all, these guys see each other at the airport every day. A stranger would stand out like a sore thumb."

"You just get me and Greg some DNA, and we'll break this case wide open for you," Cherisse said confidently.

"Delusions of grandeur must be job-related," Sara murmured, as Catherine nodded almost imperceptibly.

"And you'll match it to what?" Chuck asked, speaking up for the first time.

"The DNA we so expertly managed to glean from two of the victims' shirts," Greg said, smiling broadly.

"Yeah, we're good," Cherisse said, holding up a hand for Greg to high-five.

"Now all we have to do it get samples from the suspects. Problem is that we don't really have any probable cause on any one of them, and I doubt a judge is going to issue a warrant on three men on based on a statement of someone who didn't actually witness the crime," Broussard said.

"DNA highjack," Sara said, her night-shift companions nodding.

"What? Follow them around, hoping to get a paper coffee cup or something?" Chuckie asked.

"We could. But there's an easier way," Catherine countered.

The graveyard crew turned almost as one to face Greg.

"Why me? Why do I always have to crawl into storm drains and go dumpster-diving?"

"Because you're younger than we are, and ..." Catherine began.

"Because you're the newbie and you've got to pay your dues," Sara summarized.

"I'm becoming the lab's expert on the forensics of trash," Greg mumbled.

"It's a calling," Sara chuckled. "We all have our areas of expertise. Mine is materials analysis. Nick's is hair and fiber. Warrick's is A/V. Cath's is blood spatter. Your area is garbage."

"You're wanting to leave DNA analysis for that?" Cherisse asked in amazement.

Greg blanched, but sighed in resignation. "I hope all of them put out their trash on the same day. I don't want to have to do this over and over."

"That's the spirit!" Chuckie said, earning him a glare.

CHAPTER 17

"I think you should go," Sara said softly, looking up from the coffee cup that warmed her fingers. Technically, it wasn't time for his shift to start, and she was taking a break between the end of her swing shift and the graveyard shift.

"Seems ... hypocritical," Grissom breathed out. "I've spent a lifetime separating myself from him. To go to a memorial honoring him goes against every fiber of my being."

"Funerals aren't for the dead. They're for the living. If you don't want to go to honor your dad, go to support your mother."

"She could be setting herself up for even more disappointment from him," Grissom said bitterly. "We have no idea what the truth is."

"She's decided on what the truth is ... at least for her," Sara almost whispered.

"The truth is the truth, Sara. It's an objective reality."

"That's where you're wrong, Grissom."

He looked at her questioningly.

"You've always told us that the evidence doesn't lie."

Grissom nodded.

"But you've also told us that people make mistakes in how they interpret the evidence, so sometimes it appears to lie."

Grissom nodded again, but more slowly.

"So perception counts. An objective reality may exist, but we may not know what it is. We may never know. In that case, the only reality that exists is whatever our perception of reality is."

"It's our job to ferret out the truth," he rejoined.

"Not really. It's our job to find a reality that the majority of a jury can agree on. But if it wasn't subjective, we wouldn't need twelve people on the jury. We wouldn't even need trials."

"I never knew you were so philosophical," Grissom said, smiling sadly at her.

"All scientists are philosophers, but flawed," she chuckled. "Our drive to quantify and rationalize reality is what we have in place of faith."

"I believe in what I can prove," Grissom agreed.

"Not everything can be proven, Grissom. There are some things you just have to take on faith. Or walk away," she said. "We don't have any alternative but to choose. To not choose is still a choice."

"You make me sound like a coward," Grissom said lowly.

"You don't mean to be. You're just so afraid you'll do something wrong that sometimes you do nothing at all. I don't think you realize that you're still making a choice. And that it's just as likely to still be wrong."

"Are we still talking about my father?" Grissom asked, meeting her eyes.

"We're just talking," Sara said, trying to break the tension when she rose to retrieve more coffee. But the tension merely stretched elastically between them, never snapping.

After a few moments of strained silence, Grissom spoke. "She can't expect me to change how I feel about him like that," he said, snapping his fingers.

"You're basing your decision on the wrong criterion. It doesn't matter how you feel about him. It only matters how you feel about her, about your mother. Don't you love your mother?"

"Of course I do! She's the one who's always been there, always supported me, no matter what."

"Doesn't she deserve at least a little of the same devotion from you?"

Grissom's eyes squinted slightly, but Sara held her gaze wide-eyed, challengingly.

"We're still talking about my mother, right?"

"We're just talking," Sara repeated.

"When this conversation began, I was pretty sure that I was talking about whether or not to go to the memorial service my mother is holding in Santa Barbara. Now, I'm not so sure what we were talking about," he said, one side of his mouth barely showing a smile.

"Welcome to my world," Sara huffed, allowing a bemused curve to pull at one eyebrow.

"Okay, I'll go. Because my mother needs me."

"No, she doesn't," Sara retorted.

"Damn, Sara! Is it your goal in life to confuse me?"

"She doesn't need you. She's lived most of her life just fine without you around. She wants you to be there. You'll go either because you want to be with her, or don't go at all. But don't do her any favors."

"I feel like I should be writing this down to decode later," Grissom mumbled.

"Who's in charge while you're gone?" Sara asked, suddenly shifting mental gears.

"Uh, Nick is," Grissom said uncertainly.

"That figures," Sara said, pouring her cold coffee into the sink.

"Sara, it's not what you think," he said, reaching out to catch her arm as she passed him to leave.

"What do I think, Grissom?" she asked challengingly.

"You think that I think he's more qualified than you are for some reason."

"And just what would make me think that?"

"Look, you and Warrick will be busy on my father's case, not to mention the serial murder you're on. The last thing you should want to do is hang out in my office taking phone calls and shuffling papers."

"Is that the real reason?"

"Yes. I really don't think you'd like the job. Catherine isn't in a position right now for me to give the reins to her. Besides that, she's got a ... well, she probably won't want to devote the extra time."

"Catherine's got a boyfriend," Sara filled in for him.

"I didn't say a thing," Grissom said defensively.

"Yeah, Grissom, that was so hard to figure out. Ms. Hardass has been walking around here with a smile on her face for the past few months. Either she's on some really good meds, or she's got a boyfriend. Either one works for me. At least she's not riding my ass anymore. She's been relatively decent. She even complimented me in public."

"Sara, you need to learn to quit holding back. Say what you really think," Grissom teased.

"Go be with your family," Sara said, smiling. "We'll manage here just fine for a few days. Bad guys will keep committing crimes and we'll keep catching them." She grabbed him by the shoulders and held them a moment before she twisted him around to face the door.

"You seem awfully anxious to get rid of me," Grissom mumbled.

"As if," she huffed.

CHAPTER 18

"State your full name for the record."

"David Tomas Montantez."

"You got something against tourists, Dave?" Brass asked.

"David. And, no, I got nothing against tourists. Why? Why am I here?"

"We've got a witness that says someone who looks just like you picked up these people," Brass said, laying out the photos one at a time.

"Oh, those are the people who got killed at the airport," Montantez said.

"Is that where you killed them?"

"I didn't kill them, man. You crazy? Look, dude, I got a wife and three kids. Another on the way. This is the best job I ever had. People get here and start thinking they're high rollers. They tip pretty good, especially if I turn them onto some of the good spots to go."

"What made these three different? They piss you off? Not give you a tip?"

"Dude, you're loco! I was a little hotheaded when I was a kid, but I'm a man now. I got responsibilities, you know?"

"You've also got a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon," Brass said drolly, raising an eyebrow questioningly.

"Like I said, I used to be a little wild. Some dude started a fight one night at the bar I was at. He started it; I finished it."

"You almost finished him."

"I just pulled out a knife to get him to back off. He rushed me and got cut."

"Got cut?"

"I didn't mean to stab him, man. We just sort of ran into each other. With the knife in between us, you know? But I did my time."

"Two years in the state prison. That's not much time for almost killing a man."

"I kept out of trouble. And I'm still keeping out of trouble. I got a family and a job. I don't want to lose either one of them. I didn't do nothing to the turistas. Go find some other Mexican to harass."

"I like you for these murders," Brass said, smiling evilly. "You've got anger issues."

"Look, killing tourists is bad for business. My tips have already gone down, and it's just now hit the network news. Some people aren't coming here that would have. I hope they're just waiting until the cops finally catch this dude. But this killing stuff is costing me money."

"Maybe you're making up for it by robbing the victims."

"I ain't gonna confess to some crimes I didn't commit," Montantez growled.

"I didn't exactly expect you to come in here and confess that you're a serial murderer. It'd be nice, for a change. But I didn't expect it."

"Look, can't you do some of that DNA stuff? You'll see I didn't kill nobody. I've watched those shows on cable. You know, where the scientists get all those clues from spit or blood and stuff like that. You can have all the blood and spit you want, man. I ain't got nothing to hide."

Brass nodded toward the CSI Technician, who pulled out a DNA evidence collection kit. He took hair samples, buccal swabs, and a blood sample.

"Now, either arrest me, gringo, or let me go. I got to get to work in an hour. I got a family to support."

Brass opened the door to the interrogation room and stepped back, allowing the irritated young cabbie to storm past him.

"Get that to Cherisse and Greg right away," Brass instructed.

CHAPTER 19

"State your full name for the record."

"Sinapu."

"Is that your first name or your last name?"

"It's just my name. Sinapu."

"Okay, Sinapu. Look at these pictures. Do you know any of these people?" Vega asked, laying down the morgue photos of the three victims from the airport.

"Should I?" the young Paiute answered.

"I don't know. That's why I'm asking," Vega said, staring intently at the young man.

"I don't know them."

"You haven't seen them on the news?" Vega asked in disbelief.

"I don't watch the news," the young Indian said, shrugging. "If it didn't happen in my house or my cab, I don't care."

"Yeah, well, maybe this did happen in your house or your cab," Vega retorted.

"I didn't kill nobody."

"What makes you say that? I didn't say they were killed. And you don't watch the news, remember?" Vega said.

The young Paiute shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

"People talk. I heard some people got killed. The guys said the cops been talking to cab drivers. I figured it was about that."

A deputy peeked in the door, holding a piece of paper out to Vega.

"Says here that your birth name was John G. Thompson."

"That was my white name."

"What's the 'G' stand for?" Vega asked.

"Greywolf. My mother's idea."

"So, you're mother was Native American, and your father was ...?"

"White," Sinapu said curtly.

"You don't seem too happy about that," Vega surmised.

"Am I supposed to feel honored to be half-white? Like that makes me half-human? Half a man?"

"Is that what it was all about? Killing them because they're white?"

"Man, I'm surrounded by white people every minute I'm at work. If I killed people for being white, I'd be one busy Indian."

"Yeah, you see a lot of white people. You didn't kill them all. Why these three?"

"You ain't got shit. If you did, you woulda arrested me by now. You ain't got no witnesses and you ain't got no evidence. I'm outta here," the dark young man said, standing up abruptly.

"How about giving us a DNA sample to clear this up?" Vega suggested.

"How 'bout you go fuck yourself," Sinapu barked, his dark eyes glaring at the detective.

"I'll take that as a 'no'," Vega said, returning the glare.

As the door slammed behind Sinapu, Vega flipped open his cell phone.

"Yeah, this is Vega. I think this Sinapu guy is a strong suspect. And he refused to give a DNA sample."

"We're on it," Broussard said. He turned towards Catherine. "Get Greg on the DNA hijack of Sinapu. He should be at work in an hour."

"You got it," she said, blowing past him like the hot, desert wind.

CHAPTER 20

Grissom hadn't been in a Catholic church for a mass in three decades – since he moved from his mother's house. It was a decade before that when he went to his first and last funeral mass, when his cousin died.

It was at once unnerving, and yet deeply familiar. Much like how he felt staying in his old room at his mother's house. It also hadn't changed much in all the years of his life. There wasn't one inch of it that he didn't know, yet he seemed strangely disconnected from it, aware that he no longer belonged there.

You can never go home.

The first shock was seeing the open casket before the funeral, his father's body lying in state.

"How the hell?" he asked no one in particular.

A middle-aged man whispered into his ear, "We have our resources, too. This is our home turf. Wasn't that hard to find him."

After the others had passed by the pay their respects, Grissom made his way back to his father's body. He leaned over slightly, peering, it would seem, at his father's face. He reached down, as if to touch him, but came up with a hair that was lying on the silk pillow, next to his head. He placed the hair casually into his suit pocket, knowing that the root would settle it once and for all for him.

Everyone at the funeral accepted that the elderly man in the coffin was Arthur Grissom, but no one in his family had seen him in over 40 years, and he wasn't a man prone to leaps of faith.

Grissom wasn't surprised at the number of people at the memorial. After all, his mother had been a resident here for most of her life. And she was a respected member of the business and art communities.

But he was surprised at the number of men who approached her to offer their condolences. Men who introduced themselves with names like Smith, Brown, Jones. Obviously fake names. Some were more creative with their names, but all seemed to be taking great pains to be as unrecognizable as possible without drawing additional attention to themselves.

Friends of my father's, I suppose. I never thought of him as a man who'd have any friends.

With no more proof than the word of a stranger and a letter of unknown origin, Grissom felt uneasy to see what he knew to be an empty coffin, covered by an American flag. He still couldn't reconcile the revision of his life's history.

An old man was helped up the steps to take the podium. After a moment taken to gather himself, he began to give the eulogy. He spoke at first quietly, his voice weak and at times cracking.

He spoke of his long relationship with the deceased – at first just a working relationship, then a friendship.

Grissom's jaw set firmly as the man spoke of his friend's devotion to his family. He talked of being regaled with stories about his wife's success with the gallery and his son's accomplishments in his profession. Even at their last meeting less than four months ago, Arthur still beamed when he spoke of his family.

He spoke of the elder Grissom's firm commitment that his sacrifice and the sacrifices required of his family were for the greater good.

"He often reminded me, or maybe he was reminding himself, that the good of the many outweighed the good of the few."

The eulogist stopped for a moment and cleared his throat.

"Today we celebrate with our friend that he finally got to do what he'd been dreaming about for over forty years: he got to come home and be with his family. I am confident that he is here with us now in spirit."

The old man walked forward, laying his hand gently on the flag-draped casket.

"If I were half the man he was, I'd be twice the man I ever hoped to be," he said, stepping back so that the pallbearers, all men of military carriage, could remove the flag. Two men took their stations on each end of it, folding it deftly into a triangle. They handed it to the elder eulogist, who walked forward to present it to Grissom's mother.

"The nation mourns the loss of your husband," he said simply, holding out the flag.

Grissom couldn't remain oblivious of the emotion in the cathedral as his mother began to weep tears of loss and joy combined. His heart went out to her. While he was still concerned that she would yet be disappointed by her erstwhile husband, Grissom couldn't deny that, even in this moment of grief, he could tell that his mother was happier and more at peace than he'd ever known. Her faith in her husband had been vindicated.

Grissom wrapped an arm around her, pulling her to his side. His free hand moved over to rest atop his mother's as it rested on the flag. Whether he was convinced or not was irrelevant to him now. He knew that his mother needed for him to believe, for them to join together this one last time as a family. He loved her too much to deny her that, regardless of how he might truly feel.

People began to rise and mill about, and others seemed to beat a hasty retreat. A murmur of conversation arose as Grissom began to lead his mother down the main aisle, following his father's casket.

It was when they were nearly at the door when he saw her, though he barely recognized her in the simple sleeveless black dress. He got his mother's attention and signed that he would be right back. She nodded and stood by the door, receiving the condolences of those who passed by her.

"What are you doing here?" Grissom asked.

"You seem to ask me that a lot. I might get a complex soon," Sara answered.

"You seem to pop up when I least expect it," Grissom said, taking her hand to lead her to the back of the church where they could find some privacy.

"Just came to pay my respects," she said simply.

"Are you actually taking some vacation time?" he asked, smiling for the first time in days.

"No. Day trip. I flew in a couple of hours ago. I'll be flying out in a couple of hours. I'm on duty tonight," she answered, shrugging almost apologetically.

"Why did you come?" he asked moving towards her slowly.

"To pay my respects, like I said," she answered.

"You didn't know my father."

"Neither did you," she said, smiling sadly to try to take the sting out of her words.

"I'm here to support my mother, remember?"

"Yeah, I remember. And I'm here to support you."

"I appreciate it, but you needn't have bothered. I'm fine."

"I know. You're always fine. You don't need me. I don't know why I came. I'm sorry," she said, her voice quivering slightly. Sara turned to leave, but was held up by the bottleneck of mourners at the door.

"Sara!" Grissom called, reaching out to take her by the arm, tugging at her gently to urge her to follow him.

"I've got to go, Grissom. I've got to catch a plane."

"You can fly out later."

"I've got to go to work tonight. I haven't slept in days. I'll see you when you get back to Vegas."

"You can rest at my mother's house," he offered. "I'll cover for you with the boss. I have a certain amount of influence, you know."

"I don't want to intrude," Sara said, shaking her head back and forth.

"I thought you might want to meet my mother. I think you'd like her," he said, smiling hopefully.

"I'm sure I would. But ..."

"But what? Just come over and eat with us. Rest a little. Keep me company while all these strangers come to pay their respects to my mother. I don't know any of these people, other than my aunt."

"It wouldn't be right. I'm sure your mother would rather you spend the time with her."

"I'll be with her. But I feel ... unsettled. I'd feel better if you were there, too."

"And all this time I thought that I unsettled you," Sara said, as though talking to herself.

"You do definitely unsettle me," Grissom said lowly, leaning in towards her.

"Grissom, this isn't the time or place. You're just confused right now. I understand that. I'm not going to hold you to any of this."

"I was hoping we could spend some time together away from work and prying eyes. I was hoping we could get to know each other again."

"We can. But it doesn't have to be now, here."

Grissom straightened up and breathed out heavily.

"I'm sorry. I thought ... I thought that you were here because ... I'm sorry," he said, turning quickly to rejoin his mother.

In a few moments he was faced with her again as she held out her hand to Mrs. Grissom, smiling sympathetically and expressing her condolences.

"Grissom, aren't you going to introduce me to your mother?" she asked, peering intently at him.

The older woman's eyes narrowed in thought, and Sara could see where Grissom acquired that feature. She turned and signed to her son, and he answered back. A brief conversation passed between them.

"Sara, I'd like to introduce you to my mother, Amanda Grissom. Mother, this is Sara Sidle. She works with me."

Another flurry of signs before Grissom nodded, and Mrs. Grissom smiled.

"My mother is inviting you to come take supper with us. I told her you have to catch a plane."

"Tell your mother I'd be honored," Sara said, moving to stand with the Grissoms as the remaining mourners filed by.

"I wish I knew the rules to this game you're playing, Sara," Grissom said under his breath, just loudly enough for her to hear.

"If it's the same game we've been playing for years, all I can say is 'Good Luck!' There are a lot of rules, and they change every few months."

"Maybe we can at least agree on some rules," he said as he took his mother's arm to lead her to her limousine. "Ride with us to the cemetery?"

"If you wish," Sara said, sliding into the voluminous back seat.

CHAPTER 21

Grissom's Aunt Claire had insisted that the two CSIs rest for the remainder of the afternoon, knowing they were accustomed to sleeping in the day. She wasn't shy about telling Grissom that Sara looked overworked, and she gave him a stern look that used to shoot cold fear through his body as a boy.

"She's pale as a ghost and skinny as a broomhandle," his aunt chided him.

"Aunt Claire, she always looks like that," he said, shaking his head when he realized that the defense didn't come out right. "What I mean is that she's naturally fair and lean."

"Does she naturally have dark circles under her eyes?" she countered.

"I'm not her keeper! It's not like I work her 24 hours a day. Okay, sometimes we work 24 hours straight, but not often. She's been on an important case."

"With you, they're all important cases."

"Well ..."

"Show her to my sister's room. I'll stay with your mother."

"All right, Aunt Claire," Grissom said, almost boyishly.

"And, Gil ..." she said, stopping him in the door from the kitchen into the dining room. "No hanky panky."

"Oh, for God's sake," he mumbled, shaking his head as he turned to scan the room for Sara.

"My aunt has decreed that we'll rest now. I'll show you to my mother's room," Grissom said, putting his hand at the small of her back to guide her through the throng gathered in the living room.

"I'm fine. I can sleep on the flight."

"Okay, but you go tell her. I've already had this argument, and lost in about two sentences. I, for one, am going up to my room for my nap, like a good boy."

"I'll come with you," Sara said, drawing a mock-horrified look from Grissom.

"My aunt specifically said, 'No hanky panky'."

"I'll try to control myself. I thought maybe we could just talk for a few minutes."

Grissom was reluctant to open the door to his room, feeling strangely like it was tantamount to inviting her into his past.

"So this has always been your room?" she asked, her trained eye immediately scanning the room for every clue it could offer up.

"Yes. I would have thought my mother would have converted it into a guest room, but she hasn't changed anything since I left for college. Other than the sheets, I hope," he said, with a lopsided grin.

There was a microscope and a deluxe chemistry set on a desk near the window, and another desk with reference books on the opposite wall, where he presumably did his schoolwork.

The walls were adorned with the sort of art that only nature can provide: framed butterflies, shadow boxes with colorful beetles, sand dollars, a chart with seashells glued to it with the scientific names written under them.

Sara leaned over the desk to examine several clear plastic bags tacked to the wall. She raised an eyebrow at the collection of bones in each bag.

"Sometimes I'd find bones when I'd play outside. So I'd bring them home and try to identify what animal they came from."

"How old were you?"

"At that time, oh, I guess about seven or eight. Somewhere around there."

"What's this?" Sara asked, approaching a large, but flat, glass case on the top shelf.

"My ant farm," Grissom confessed.

"That has got to be the world's biggest ant farm," she said, moving to the bookshelves to look at the books and memorabilia there.

"It won first place in the science fair when I was 10," he said, a small amount of pride still showing.

"Is this you?" Sara asked excitedly, grabbing up a framed picture.

"Yes," Grissom answered, peering over her shoulder.

"How old were you?"

"Sixteen. It was my first job in forensics, I guess you'd say. The local police department would call me in for animal necropsies. I was a lot cheaper than a veterinarian, and I was more familiar with the forensic aspects."

"That's awesome."

"It should have been."

"How many 16-year-olds have worked at the coroner's office? Nobody else I've ever heard of."

"I was sort of the odd man out. I was obviously a lot younger than the other techs."

"Did they give you a hard time?" Sara asked compassionately.

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger," Grissom said philosophically as he replaced the picture on the shelf.

"Oh! Look at you here!" Sara fairly squealed, snatching up a picture of a young man with brown, curly hair sticking out from under a surgical cap. He was wearing scrubs covered in blood, standing next to two older men similarly dressed. They had a faraway look, like one who's been awake for days or has looked terror in the eye and not blinked.

"That's the Los Angeles coroner's office. I used to work there."

"Were you a diener?"

"I was a coroner."

"You're kidding! How old were you? Maybe 25?"

"Twenty-two," he said, placing the picture back on the shelf.

"So you were an actual coroner? Without a medical degree?"

"You didn't have to be a doctor back then. That was a long, long time ago. A lifetime ago," Grissom said absently.

"No wonder you can keep up with Robbins like you do. Man, I can't believe I didn't know any of this stuff about you. I feel like I didn't know you at all," Sara said, turning from the shelf to meet his eyes.

"You probably know most of the rest," Grissom replied, shrugging slightly. "I went to grad school at Chicago. Did my internship in Minnesota. Then I went to work in Las Vegas. Now you're caught up."

"You're one of the few people I know who can summarize 20 years in three sentences. Short sentences at that," Sara said, pulling out the chair from his study desk and taking a seat.

Grissom sat on the edge of his bed, facing her. "Not much else to tell."

"You worked for Gerard in Minnesota, right?"

"Yes," Grissom answered heavily. "I learned a lot there."

"Were you that naïve back then, or was he not such a bastard back then?"

"A little of both, I think."

"He betrayed you. That's got to hurt," Sara said, her voice turning from bitter to empathetic.

"He wasn't the first, won't be the last."

"You thought I'd betrayed you, too. I didn't."

"Doesn't matter now."

"It matters to me, Grissom. You know, I think that's what's come between us these past few years. It wasn't really because I dated Hank. I didn't start dating him until later. I was hurt that you believed a man that made his living twisting the facts, instead of believing me. And you were hurt because you thought I'd betrayed you."

"It's ancient history now," Grissom said, exhaling loudly.

"Is it really? We never did really talk about it. Are you sure it's all in the past? Because I know that I don't feel like I got any real closure on it."

"What's left to talk about? Maybe we betrayed each other ... without really meaning to. But you're not dating Hank anymore."

"Because he betrayed me. That wasn't an assumption on my part. He admitted it."

"I didn't know the particulars," Grissom said.

"Catherine didn't tell you?"

"Why would she?"

"Because you're friends. I just thought she might share sometime over a vodka and orange juice."

"No. We never talked about you and Hank."

"We were friends for longer than we actually dated."

"You know, Sara, I'm not sure I'm really in the kind of mood to hear this. It was a rough time for me in a lot of ways. And I'm not sure I want to try to work through it now, during another rough time."

"It relates, Grissom. What I'm saying is that sometimes you think that people have betrayed you, when really they haven't."

"You're talking about my father now," Grissom surmised.

"Yeah. Your father. And me. And maybe you. I felt betrayed that you didn't believe me, but I can see now why it was hard for you. I felt betrayed that you recommended Nick for the promotion. I'm still trying to figure that one out."

"It seemed like the thing to do at the time," Grissom sighed, absently raising a hand to rub his forehead.

"But when I was in trouble, you were there to help me. And you didn't get on my case and try to make me feel worse about it. You were a good friend that night."

"I want to be your friend again, Sara. I've missed that."

"Me, too. I guess, when you get down to it, that's why I'm here. Friends are there for each other, right?"

"That's the theory. But I can't help but wonder how long you'll be there for me."

"I'm still right here."

"How many times have you thought about leaving Las Vegas?"

"Thinking isn't doing, Grissom. People think a lot of things. It helps you work through things to consider your options. That doesn't mean anything. I didn't leave."

"Someday you will."

"Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe you will. No one knows the future, Grissom. We don't live in the future. Why can't you be happy living in the present?"

"It's hard to when you think the future holds nothing but disappointment."

"Well, then, you need to quit thinking about the future. Let me show you something," Sara said, opening her purse. She pulled her wallet free and began to rummage through it, retracting a folded piece of paper and handing it to him.

"What's this?" he asked, gingerly unfolding the paper that looked worn, like it had been in her purse for some time, and looked at from time to time by the look of the creases.

"Read it."

"You were offered a permanent position in the FBI Crime Lab? My God, Sara, when did you get this?"

"Look at the date."

"That was almost three years ago," Grissom said quietly, the breath seeming to not come easily to him.

"Yep. See, if I wanted to leave here, I could have done it. And had a job at the best crime lab in the world. Are you hearing this, Grissom?"

"Why did you stay?" he asked, refolding the paper.

"Doesn't matter. I stayed. I've kept this with me to remind myself that I'm here because I choose to be here, because I want to be here. Not because it's the best job I could get. Not because I didn't have other options. But because I wanted to be. Whenever I'm feeling like things aren't going well at work, I pull it out to remind myself that I was good enough for the FBI to come recruit me."

"Sara, I can't believe you passed that up. You should have gone."

"I'm hoping that didn't come out right," she said, looking askance at him.

"You might not get an opportunity like that again."

"I had a better opportunity here. Or I thought so at the time."

"What could be better than working for the top crime lab in the country – hell, in the world?"

"Working in the second-best crime lab in the country, and having a relationship with someone that I can care about?"

"You could have had a better job, and still had a chance to have a relationship. You're a beautiful woman, with a brain to match. A lot of men would find that attractive."

"Thanks, but I already have a job, and I already care about someone."

"But you can do better," Grissom said with resignation weighing down his words.

"Life isn't some game where you get extra points for having the 'best' job or finding the 'best' relationship. Who determines what's 'best'? Who's handing out the points? Do I really care if I win the game? I think that life is a school where you learn lessons, and one of the important lessons is that you've got to do what's right for you, regardless of whether other people think you did what's best."

"That's very Zen of you," Grissom said, smiling.

"Chalk it up to my parents. They drive me crazy in a thousand ways, but one thing I'll always love about them is that they completely supported that I had to find my own path. They've never criticized me for my choices, even though I know they would have chosen differently for me."

"You obviously had very enlightened parents."

"In ways."

"To be honest, my mother was much the same way. She's always been supportive of me, even though she couldn't relate to my love of science, or the job that I do now. All she knows is that it's important to me, so she's behind me all the way."

"Considering that we've both been raised by parents who have done everything they can to make sure that we find and live our most authentic lives, why are we fighting it so much when it comes to our personal lives?"

"Perhaps we weren't always sure about the wisdom of our choices. As scientists, we're accustomed to more objective criteria than whether we feel something is right."

"I understand that," Sara said, slowing pouring from the chair to the floor in front of Grissom as he sat on the edge of the bed. "And it works when you're talking about science. But we're talking about feelings. The scientific method may not be valid when you're talking about relationships."

Grissom watched her approach him as she spoke. Rather than think about what she was doing and allowing himself to become anxious, his mind was open, drinking in the anticipation. He felt the electricity building between them, but instead of it frightening him, it excited him like it used to.

She stopped at his feet, laying her hands on the bed to the side of each leg. Grissom found himself covering her hands with his, then running them slowly up her arms. He gently grasped her, pulling her up towards him as he bent down. When their lips met, neither thought about whether it was wise, or right, or best. It was what it was: a release of years of imprisoned emotions.

She pushed up towards him, and he pulled her up, then back, lying them along the twin bed that had seen a lot in the last almost-50 years – but it had never seen anything like this.

It had been witness to cries of loneliness, but had never heard the sounds of desire. It had absorbed the tears of loss, but never the sweat born of passion.

As Grissom moved his hand to the zipper at the back of her dress, he pulled just far enough from her lips to speak, lowly, his voice breaking into only breath at times.

"Sara ... if we ... you know we can never go back."

"I don't want to go back," she said, covering his mouth again.

CHAPTER 22

Claire saw the jumble of clothes before she glimpsed the tangle of bodies, and she pulled the door closed again. Taking a deep breath to even out her voice, she knocked loudly and called through the door, "Gil! Supper will be ready in about half an hour. I've got to go back downstairs. Will you let Sara know?"

Grissom woke with a start, briefly panicked at the thought that his aunt might come into the room. But he called out his agreement to her, and listened for the footfalls on the stairs, receding from them.

"Sara," he said softly, running his fingers along her face, if not for pleasure then to convince himself that she was really there. It wasn't one of his constant dreams of their union, but reality, though he could scarcely believe it was real.

"Um?" she groaned, snuggling even closer to his chest. In the smallness of the twin bed, they'd already been forced to maintain their closeness, though neither was inclined to complain.

"Supper's almost ready. We should get cleaned up and head downstairs."

"We could save time and shower together," Sara suggested with a groggy smile.

"Somehow I doubt that would save us much time," Grissom laughed, pulling her to his lips.

"You keep that up and we'll never make it downstairs," she admonished.

"Was that a pun?" he asked.

"An inadvertent one," she laughed, pecking him on the lips as she pulled herself up from the bed.

Sara gathered her clothes to head to the small bathroom that was thankfully attached to his room. She fought against a feeling of self-consciousness. Seeing someone nude while you're making love is one thing; having him look at her now seemed all the more revealing. He was no longer blinded by passion, but would be able to truly see her as she really was.

Grissom was grateful that she was the first out of bed. If Sara thought that she was self-conscious, it was minor compared to how Grissom felt. Gravity had benefited him in bed, but would betray him when he rose. His belly sagged into a paunch. Even his own genitals seemed embarrassing to him now that his passion was spent and it had returned to its natural state.

I can't hide from her forever. And at my age it'll take forever to get back into shape. What's she going to think when she sees me like this?

The joy he'd felt only a few hours ago was starting to be supplanted by cold dread. He knew she'd expect more. He knew he wanted more of her. And their time away from work, the only time they could spend together, was in the harsh light of day. There was no way for him to hide from her.

God, what have I done? There's no good way out now. I've really gone too far this time.

Grissom had expected that she'd be in the shower for some time, so he was almost panic-stricken when she burst out of the bathroom with a towel around her hair and her dress draped on her.

"Would you zip me up?" she asked, smiling as she approached.

"Uh, yeah," he answered, wishing he could snap his fingers and be dressed.

"Thanks," she said, turning to kiss him lightly, fighting the urge to let it blossom into passion. "I kept it short so that you'd have some hot water, too."

"Thanks," he said nervously, gathering his clothes. He tried to hold them in front of them in such a way as to cover what he considered the worst of his flaws, but trying not to look like he was purposefully covering himself.

"I felt the same way," Sara said just as he was entering the bathroom. "I'm sure we'll get more comfortable in time."

Grissom nodded, though he wasn't sure he really agreed, and closed the door gratefully. He felt much better when he reappeared, fully clothed in his black suit.

"You look very handsome in a suit," Sara said, smiling. "Of course, I thought you looked pretty good out of the suit," she added, smiling salaciously.

Grissom walked up to her, reaching out to run his hands appraisingly down her sides, following the form of the black silk dress.

"You look beautiful," he breathed out, unable to resist the pull towards her.

This time their kiss was different. It still conveyed the desire they felt for each other, but it was more controlled now. It was more a promise of what could be than a headlong rush into passion.

Pulling back, Grissom looked deeply into her eyes, his brow creasing.

"Sara, I hope this wasn't a mistake."

"Does it feel like a mistake?" she asked, her own features turning serious.

"No. It feels more right than I ever imagined."

"Same here. Don't try to foretell the future, Grissom. If you want to dwell on something, think about the past few hours. You can't convince me that you weren't happy."

"Yes, I was happy. Maybe the happiest I've ever been," he admitted.

"Me, too. Can we just focus on that? At least for now."

"At least for now," he agreed. "But how's this going to work when we get back to Vegas?"

"We'll worry about that then, okay? We better get downstairs before Aunt Claire starts to suspect hanky-panky," she said, allowing a grin to transform her face.

Claire, Amanda, Gil and Sara sat at the kitchen table sampling the variety of food brought by friends and family. The conversation was at first a little awkward, with its combination of sign language and spoken words, but it soon began to flow in a comfortable stream.

Grissom had a turn at learning more of the details of Sara's past as Claire and Amanda took turns asking her questions. Not knowing that the two women had spent the last half-hour signing excitedly about what they hoped was more than a physical relationship, he wondered why they were asking her so many questions. But since it gave him a chance to get to know her better, he decided not to ask why they were suddenly so interested in his guest.

After the plates had been cleared away and the coffee served, Amanda asked if Sara really had to return to Vegas so quickly. Sara explained about the serial murder case she was working on, and that she really couldn't afford to be gone for too long.

"Why don't you call in and see what the status is?" Grissom suggested.

Sara excused herself from the table and went upstairs to call Catherine on her cell phone.

"Hey, Cath."

"Hey. How's Grissom?"

"He's good. It was a long day for him, I think. But you know Grissom."

"Yeah."

"Where are we on the serial?"

"Nothing left but the paperwork," Catherine answered.

"Damn! And I missed it! Who was it?"

"Name's Sinapu, or at least that's what he changed it to."

"Sinapu. That means 'wolf'."

"I'm not even going to ask you how you know that."

"It's a species of wolf. I did a paper in my bioethics class about the repatriation of various wolf species in the western U.S."

"And here all the rest of us were doing our papers on cloning and stem cell research. Anyway, it was pretty much the DNA that sealed it. Greg and Cherisse matched the DNA from the victims to some he got from trash. That was enough to get a warrant for a swab. I can't tell you how insufferable he and Cherisse have been."

"I can only imagine. Maybe I should be glad I'm not there. What was Sinapu's motive?"

"They pissed him off."

"Well, that's pretty evident. How?"

"They bad-mouthed Las Vegas."

"You're kidding. He murdered three people for dissing Vegas? If that happened all the time we'd be ass-deep in bodies."

"Well, it seems that it all stems from his childhood."

"It always does," Sara said, nodding.

"His mother was a Paiute who worked and lived in Las Vegas. Dad was a Caucasian who had transferred there with his job. He met the mother, they married, had a kid. But the dad never did like Vegas. When he had a chance to transfer out, he took it. But mom didn't want to go, and she took the boy with her to the reservation where her family lived. She figured dad wouldn't dare follow her there. It seems he wasn't much of a keeper anyway. The kid had always heard dad talking down Vegas. He'd seen him beat his mother. Then when he left, that was the last straw. He hated his dad with a fiery passion. So, whenever one of his fares started saying the same things, it would set him off."

"So he was actually killing his father," Sara surmised.

"That's what the shrink says," Catherine agreed. "When you coming back? It's getting kind of late for you to make it in on time tonight."

"Grissom's family is insisting that I stay a little longer. Think it would be a problem?"

"Not for me, but I'm not in charge. You'll have to talk to Nick," Catherine said with more than a hint of exasperation.

"I should beg off. With two of us gone, you guys can't catch up on your rest."

"What does Grissom think? It's not like he can't just call Nicky and tell him what's what."

"I don't pretend to be able to read Grissom's mind," Sara laughed. "He doesn't seem opposed to the idea, but he might feel more comfortable if I left. Maybe he's just being a gracious host, since his family invited me to stay."

"Yeah, Grissom as gracious host. Not likely!"

"Cath ..."

"The way you just said my name scares me. Like you're about to tell me something I probably don't need to hear. La la la la la." Catherine began singing like she was blocking out any personal revelations.

"You have obviously cracked. You need to get some sleep!" Sara said, laughing.

"Just remember this: I can't testify to what I don't know."

"I hear you."

"Good. Oh, here's our Fearless Leader now. Want to talk to him?"

Sara could hear Catherine mouth 'Sara' and Nick say 'Lemme talk to her.'

"I missed the last flight out, Nick. Mrs. Grissom insisted I stay for supper, and I guess I forgot about how all the airlines have reduced their schedules."

"You're fired!" he shouted, doing his best Donald Trump impression.

"Thank God! I've been angling for someone to fire me for a long time. I knew I could count on you!"

"Hey, you're there with the boss anyway. If he says you don't have to come back to work ..."

"Nick, you're in charge right now, not Grissom. I wouldn't undercut your authority like that."

"You are so sucking up, Sara Sidle!"

"Did it work?"

"Works for me. I'll see ya when I see ya."

CHAPTER 23

The knock on the door was quiet enough that if she were asleep, the sound wouldn't wake her. Grissom had made his bed down on the couch, but he was unaccustomed to sleeping during the night. He turned on the TV, but couldn't find anything all that interesting. Besides that, he found the closed captioning distracting because it was so often very different from what was being said, and they seemed to have a penchant for misspellings.

The door opened and Sara nodded him in.

"Can't sleep either?" she asked.

"No. You want to go somewhere?"

"I don't have any clothes other than that dress, and it's starting to look pretty rough."

"You look fetching in that undershirt," Grissom said admiringly.

"I can't believe you still have clothes here."

"I told you that my mother never changes anything in here."

"Like a shrine."

"I don't think that's her motivation. Let's see what we've got," Grissom said, opening one drawer after the next, as Sara perused the closet.

"I bet those jeans would fit you. I was quite a bit leaner when I left for college," Grissom said with more than a hint of embarrassment.

"With a belt, they'll do," she said, sliding them on. She picked out one of the solid white tee shirts and pulled it over her head. "I doubt you'd have any shoes that would fit me."

"Where I was thinking of going, you wouldn't need them," he said.

"I'm intrigued," she said, moving close to him.

"Stay away from me, you siren!" he said, mock-seriously. "Temptress! Seductress!"

"And that's just in my spare time," she deadpanned.

"I have the keys to my mother's car and twenty bucks in my pocket."

"You're a party just waiting to happen," she teased, following him down the stairs. Even at their ages they had the nervously giddy feeling of sneaking out of the house while the grown-ups slept.

It wasn't a long way to the beach – as a child he used to walk it almost every day. He led her by the hand down to the water's edge where they walked barefoot through the foam of the surf, pants rolled up to their knees.

"I miss the ocean," Sara said, stopping to look out across its expanse. The moon was full, giving them more than enough light.

"I don't think about it much anymore," Grissom said, moving up behind her. The night air was a little chilly, and he draped his arms around her, pulling her back to his chest to warm her.

"Um, that feels good," she moaned, leaning back into him. "We went from the seaside to the desert. That's quite a change."

"And we both spent time in the frozen tundra before we arrived in Vegas."

"In Nevada, we're still surrounded by sand, though, just like the beach."

"And hills to the east of us."

"And palm trees."

"See, Las Vegas isn't so different from home," Grissom chuckled, giving her a squeeze.

"Home is where the heart is."

"So it is. The few times I've come back here to visit, it didn't feel like home anymore."

"I choose to take that as a compliment," Sara teased.

"As you wish," he countered.

Sara turned in his grasp and playfully slapped him across the top of an arm.

"This is like a dream. I may have even had this dream. The empty beach at night. A cool breeze. The gentle pounding of the surf. The moon playing across the waves. And Sara Sidle in my arms."

"I've had dreams like that too, but there was more to them," she said, leaning forward slightly.

"Have you ever had sex on the beach?" Grissom asked as he caught his breath after their kiss.

"The mixed drink or the carnal activity?" she retorted.

"The latter," he said, as he began to lead her again across the water's edge.

"I think this might be a good time to invoke my Fifth Amendment rights," she said, grimacing.

"And here I was hoping it would be a first for you, too," he said, pretending to be disappointed.

"It would be the first time I ever made love on the beach," she offered.

"All the better," he said, turning to grin boyishly.

He led her to a stand of sand dunes set back from the beach, where there had once been a house, but no more. He spread out his dress shirt for her to lay on, surmising that sand and sex would be an uncomfortable combination, despite his lack of first-hand knowledge.

The full moon proved to be perfect lighting for them at this stage of their relationship. They could see each other dimly, but only in the varying shades of gray that such light offered. The effect was almost artistic, allowing them to experience each other without the distraction of color.

They had all night to spend together, and they used it getting to know each other, both in body and in mind. They would spend quite a long time at foreplay, then stop and talk, holding each other and staring up at the night sky. As the conversation lulled, they would return to their ravishment of each other.

The sun was probably just coming up over Las Vegas when they could no longer pull themselves apart, finally answering the demands of the anticipation that had been building almost all night.

Once they had been united a few minutes, Grissom slowly rolled them over so that he was on his back. He'd never felt such a mind-body connection with anyone before as he watched her moving over him in the moonlight. He diverted himself by memorizing every facial expression as she became more aroused. His hands roamed freely over her, making a mental map of her body.

He wanted to make sure that if this all fell apart when they got back home, he'd still have these sights, sounds, tastes, scents, and feels burned into his memory. He'd never have to wonder again what it would be like to have Sara make love to him. He'd remember every sensation vividly.

She lowered herself down to his chest, hungrily seeking his lips as her tempo increased. Grissom instinctively knew when the moment was nigh, and he rolled them over and did all he could to push her over the edge. Her cries rang out, but were swallowed up by the pounding surf and Grissom's own growls.

Never in Grissom's imaginings had he ever thought that he'd watch the sun come up while lying naked and happy on the beach.

"We better get back before Aunt Claire and your mother get up."

"Too late," Grissom said. "My mother is up with the chickens, as she used to say. I imagine she's already making her breakfast. I left a note that we were going for an early morning walk."

"Technically true," Sara said.

"I've still got the twenty bucks, if you'd like to stop and have breakfast somewhere."

"Grissom, you're wearing black dress slacks and an undershirt. There is no way you'd be able to wear your dress shirt. And I'm wearing jeans, a tee shirt, and no shoes. I think we'd be arrested before we even got seated. Let's just go back to the house. I've got just one question: what are you going to do about this?" she asked, holding up the pale gray dress shirt with a very obvious stain across the back of it.

"Destroy the evidence," he said, pulling her up. He walked to the surf and dunked the shirt into it, swirling it around in the water.

"And your cover story for that is ...?"

"I haven't made it up yet," he said, almost giggling.

"Let's see, the shirt is wet, and the rest of your clothes are dry. Can't make the shirt dry, so ..." she stopped and suddenly pushed him over into the water, shrieking as he pulled her down, too. After a few moments of wrestling in the tide, they stood up, weakened by their laughter, not to mention hours of lovemaking.

"Now it won't seem suspicious," she said.

The excess water at first dribbled, then dripped, from them as they walked back up the beach towards his mother's car. After a moment of contented silence, Grissom stopped, turning around to face Sara, his face turning serious.

"How much my world has changed lately. Things I had accepted as truth turned out to be false."

"You think you know somebody," Sara said, hoping he'd recall a conversation they had more than a year ago.

"I never think that," he said seriously.

"Ever?" she asked challengingly.

"I didn't, but that's all changing," he said, reaching out to stroke her face.