Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them; any others are mine, and if you want to play with them, you have to ask me first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
This is a sequel to "In the Center", and as such has spoilers through the end of Season 4 but will not take Season 5 into account.
Thank you to everyone who said yes to the idea. If it weren't for you, I probably wouldn't have. The first chapter's for Penn, who said I should keep going one of these times. (wink)
"It was the most precious thing I had," the woman said, bewildered, tears making their slow way along her worn cheeks. "Why would someone take it?"
Grissom watched in silent compassion as Det. Vartan leaned over to pat her rough hand. "I don't know, Mrs. Habrano, but we'll do our best to get it back for you."
She shook her head, and Grissom could see that she didn't believe she would regain her stolen property. "It was my son's. It would be worthless to anyone else. It's--it's cruel."
Grissom turned back to dusting the back door of the Habrano household, but he wasn't expecting much; the lock had been picked with skill, and whoever had done so was probably smart enough to wear gloves. But procedure was procedure, and Grissom reminded himself not to assume anything. Their perpetrator might have slipped up.
There wasn't much evidence to collect. Grissom finished fairly quickly and faded out of the little house, past the round woman sitting on her couch with her eyes still wet. Vartan was out on the front lawn, making a phone call; he closed his phone as Grissom came out and shot the CSI a humorous look. "So what's a supervisor doing at a B&E?"
"Avoiding paperwork," Grissom said mildly. He didn't know the detective well, though Vartan reminded Grissom somewhat of a gazehound, with his lean face and sharp eyes.
Vartan sighed, sobering. "I hear ya. Anything turn up?"
Grissom shook his head. "A few prints, but they'll probably be Mrs. Habrano's. This was quick and clean."
The detective frowned as they walked towards their vehicles. "It doesn't make sense, though. Why take her deceased son's flute? It wasn't a valuable instrument."
"I don't know." Grissom shifted his case to his other hand. "Revenge, perhaps. Motive is your department."
"Great." Vartan gave him a wave and headed for his sedan. Grissom watched him go for a moment, reflecting on the gossip he had heard circulating around the lab. Rumor had it that Sara and the detective were eyeing each other, or even already dating, though apparently no one had yet had the guts to ask either of them for the truth. Grissom smiled to himself, a small quiet smile, as he put his case in his SUV and climbed into the driver's seat. They don't know what I know.
It was a mistake. He knew it would be a mistake, and he went ahead and did it anyway. And of course things turned out just as he'd feared. Dark eyes were fierce on his, and all his instincts were telling him to find someplace to hide.
He ran the conversation back through his head, remembering just when things had gone wrong--when he'd opened his big mouth and said what he knew he shouldn't.
"By the way ... congratulations on your new--um--relationship."
She straightened, put down what she was holding, and turned, eyes wide. "My what?"
"Don't bother, Sara. I saw you two at the grocery store on Jackson Road."
Her mouth had dropped open, then snapped into a thin line, and he knew he was in trouble. And now she had him backed up against the wall, fist in his chest, and while he outweighed her by almost eighty pounds, Nick knew he wasn't about to win this one. "You so much as breathe a word of this, Stokes, and your ass is grass!"
He held up both hands in surrender. "Geez, Sara, get a grip! This is me, remember, I can keep a secret."
She held the stare for a moment longer, suspicion narrowing her eyes, and he gave her a smile. "It's about time you two got together anyway."
Another three heartbeats, and then Sara snorted, releasing him. "Shows how much you know." But humor tugged at her mouth. "Seriously, though, we could get into a ton of trouble if this gets out, and I don't want him to get hurt."
Nick stepped away from the Drying Room wall. "It's gonna get out sooner or later, you know that."
She sighed. "Yeah. But later would be nice."
Nick could just imagine the fuss. He didn't think Grissom could be anything but impartial--the man had an amazing talent for compartmentalization--but the upper-ups might not see it that way. "Well, if it does, you can just point out how much more relaxed things have been since you guys quit picking at each other."
The suspicious look was back. "Yeah? How long has that been?"
Nick grinned, his best innocent look. "Gee, I don't know..."
This time Sara laughed, and whirled away to get back to the task of seeing which pieces of evidence were dry enough to handle. Nick felt eyes on him and looked up; Grissom was standing in the doorway.
The two men exchanged a long look. Nick half-expected Grissom to be jealous, but there was no hint of that in the older man's stare--just an evaluation. Nick wondered how long he'd been standing there, what he'd overheard; he felt his own brow lifting in a silent challenge--you take good care of her, hear?--and saw Grissom's mouth twitch in acknowledgement. Then their supervisor's gaze moved to the slender form now paging slowly through dirty shirts. "Sara? Did O'Reilly get back to you on the warrant?"
She pulled one shirt off the rack and turned towards the room's table, giving Grissom a casual, cool glance. "Yeah, he called about an hour ago. Said he'd be by before the end of shift."
"Good. Keep me informed." And Nick had to admire how the two of them had managed to subsume the complexities of their relationship beneath a perfectly friendly professional interaction. "Nick--Jacqui was looking for you."
"Thanks, Griss." The older man nodded and left, and Nick looked back over at Sara. "Back in a minute."
"Sure," she replied absently, already deep in her examination of the shirt. Nick shook his head, amused, and went out.
"Nick knows," Sara said, collapsing bonelessly onto one of Grissom's bar stools and picking up a knife and a mango.
"I figured," Grissom replied calmly, turning bacon carefully in one skillet and keeping an eye on the omelette in another. "He won't give us away, Sara."
She peeled the fruit with all the intensity she gave to a crime scene, so she wouldn't have to meet his eyes. "I know. But somebody else is going to find out eventually."
"True." Grissom laid down his fork and leaned against the counter. "Have you actually read that part of the employee handbook?"
Sara did look at him at that, arching one brow. "Are you kidding? I double-checked it before I asked you out the first time."
He laughed, but she saw faint shame in his eyes. "I should have known."
She reached across the counter to snag the towel from his shoulder, and wiped her hands before coming around the end of the bar to put her arms around him. "No feeling guilty," she said sternly, lips next to his ear. "You weren't ready, Gil, that's all there was to it."
He sighed, returning her embrace. "I don't deserve you," he muttered, and Sara grinned against his hair.
"Sure you do." She pulled back and kissed him quickly. "Though I wouldn't be so nice about it if you hadn't come around."
Grissom pressed a kiss to her nose and put his hands on her waist, moving her gently out of the way so he could tend to the skillets. "Good thing I did, then. And you know that the handbook says nothing about relationships at work."
"But just because it isn't forbidden doesn't mean that we won't get in trouble for it, yeah." Sara slid back onto her stool and sliced the mango.
"Which means we need to be ready for it." Grissom lifted the bacon onto a paper towel to drain and cut the omelette neatly in half. "Hand me the plates please?"
Sara blotted her hands again and picked up the plates, passing them across the counter. "You have something in mind?" She knew he did; the quirk of his mouth gave him away.
"Let's sit down first."
Grissom liked small rituals, Sara knew that; breakfast was one of them. Where she would normally eat standing up in her tiny kitchen, were she alone, he made a pattern out of it--setting places for the two of them no matter whose home they were eating at, even supplying placemats and a sugar bowl. And, she had to admit, she liked it too. It gave her a sense of peace, offered a winding-down after the nights that were so often long and too often harrowing. Sure, it took more time, but time spent didn't seem to matter when they were together. These days they mostly ate at Grissom's townhouse; while Sara liked to tease him that he preferred it because he could fix himself the bacon or sausage she wouldn't stock, the truth was that he felt more comfortable in his own space, and she didn't mind at all.
After all, she'd dreamed for a long time of being welcome there. And she was.
They were seated, the second cups of coffee poured, the butter melting on the toast, and Sara knew from the tiny smirk on Grissom's face that he was teasing her. "Give," she said, pointing her fork at him.
He chuckled and sipped his coffee. "To choose the appropriate if well-worn metaphor, we have a few aces in our collective sleeve," he said, slicing into his half of the omelette. "Your solve rate is one of them; the fact that there are very few forensic entomologists is another."
Sara felt her own mouth turning up in response, and sank her fork into a slice of mango. "Nothing like a little creative threatening," she returned cheerfully, and bit into the fruit.
Grissom nodded, sobering. "There's still a substantial risk involved, though," he pointed out. "While I can present data indicating impartiality, there's still a chance that the director will call our bluff. And that would mean some hard choices."
Sara swallowed, her throat suddenly tight. She knew Grissom loved her with the same intensity she loved him, if more quietly; but she very definitely did not want him to have to choose between their relationship and the work that was so much of his life. "Well," she said deliberately, "UNLV has a pretty good doctorate program."
Grissom glanced up from his bacon, alarmed. "Sara--"
"I never did finish my degree," she pointed out, overriding him, but he looked so distressed that she reached across the table to put a hand on his. "Grissom, it's only an option."
He blew out his breath, fingers linking with hers. "It's just--I'd hate to see you give up such a promising career."
She shrugged, squeezing his fingers gently and then letting go to pick up her mug. "Physics was my first love, Gil. I'd miss the team, and the puzzles, but it might be fun getting back into research. Besides, your career is a lot more important, you've put much more time into it."
Grissom looked like he wanted to contradict her, but she knew her evidence, and he was stuck. "I could always teach."
"That's another option," she agreed gravely, hiding her dismay at the thought. Grissom would make an excellent professor eventually, Sara knew, but he wasn't anywhere near ready to leave the forensics lab yet. She bit into her toast. "Maybe the director'll just knock you back down to a regular CSI," she said indistinctly, and swallowed. "You'd be just one of the peons again."
He returned her smile, face lightening. "Wouldn't Cath love that? She'd be the most likely pick for supervisor."
Sara pursed her lips at the thought of working under the older woman. "Maybe they'd give the slot back to Brass."
Grissom chuckled again. "I honestly don't think he'd take it. Jim'll never admit it, but he's really more comfortable doing straight police work."
"Was he really as much of an ass as I've heard?"
"Oh, yeah." Grissom handed her the jam before she could ask for it. "Not so much with me, but he and Warrick were at each others' throats, and I know he antagonized plenty of other people. He'll never forgive himself for Holly's death, but I think getting busted back to Homicide was a relief for him."
Sorrow deepened the lines around Grissom's eyes for a moment, and this time Sara didn't try to take the pain away; sorrow wasn't guilt, and it was Grissom's way of honoring the determined young rookie.
That was one ghost who didn't haunt her, Sara mused, even though the young woman's murder had been part of the catalyst that had brought Sara to Vegas and Grissom. But then, Sara had never seen Holly's face.
"Well, he's always seemed pretty nice to me," she said, and Grissom's smile reappeared.
"He likes you. He and Warrick get along well now, but he seems to think you're something special."
Sara rolled her eyes to hide the small surge of pleasure. She liked Brass very much, and while his fatherly concern had been uncomfortable for her from time to time, it was on another level extraordinarily comforting as well. "He just seems so sad sometimes."
"He is sad," Grissom agreed, carefully doubling up a strip of bacon. "Life hasn't been easy for him."
Sara finished her omelette and sat back a little. "Didn't you two used to get together for dinner every so often?"
Grissom blinked. "Yeah..."
"You should do that again," she said firmly. "For both your sakes."
"I'd rather have dinner with you."
She smiled at him. "We don't eat together every day. Pick a day when we're not. Seriously, Gil, I think he's lonely."
"Why don't you ask him out, then?" Grissom challenged, raising a brow, though she knew he'd think about what she'd said.
"Maybe I will," she replied, turning over the idea. "I owe him."
"For caring." And she absorbed Grissom's slow nod.
See Chapter 2