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.
Final chapter, and definitely a US rating (Unabashedly Sentimental). You have been warned!
She still didn't look dangerous, Grissom thought, watching through the glass as the slight woman in chains and a jumpsuit sat down at the interrogation room table. She looked a little fey, perhaps, but not so much that she would stand out in a crowd.
Brass sat down opposite Laurie Carroll, placing his folded hands on the table, and Grissom could see that he was going to be avuncular, choosing to treat Carroll as insane rather than straight-out evil. The results of her psych evaluation were still pending, but it was a sucker bet that her lawyer would advise her to plead not guilty by reason of mental disease.
"So, Ms. Carroll, are you going to tell me why?" Brass asked calmly.
Carroll shifted, eyeing him. Grissom heard the door open and shut behind him, but didn't turn, instead holding out one hand; Sara's hand slid into it, and he drew her to his side. There was no one here to observe them, and they both needed the reassurance.
"I told her. She took my treasures." Carroll's gaze flicked to the window, and Grissom tightened his grip on Sara's fingers, realizing that the small woman had guessed that they were there.
"The CSIs work as a team," Brass pointed out mildly. "Why CSI Sidle in particular?"
"The paper said so," Carroll replied, and Sara hissed slightly. "She was the one who figured it out. She's the only one who ever figured it out."
Brass made an affirming noise, and Carroll's eyes went back to him. "I saw them, you know. While they were plundering my house."
The two CSIs exchanged glances, remembering the feeling of being watched. Brass frowned. "How did you do that?"
Carroll snorted, looking contemptuous. "Did you think I wouldn't watch? I was on the hill behind my home. You made me leave, but I wasn't going to just run away."
Grissom's beeper went off, and as he reached down for it, so did Sara's. They looked at the displays and then at each other. "Greg," they said simultaneously.
Grissom sighed. "Do you want to stay? I don't think he needs both of us."
Sara hesitated, then shook her head. "I think I've heard what I need to."
Grissom nodded, and leaned over to shut off the sound, then let Sara's hand go. "You know," he said, trying to keep his voice light, "I wonder what she'd have done if we hadn't been together."
Sara snorted. "Probably just killed me straight out." She ignored Grissom's faintly horrified look. "Hey, I keep forgetting to ask you. What did Carvallo say yesterday?"
Grissom blew out his breath. "Well, actually, it went better than I expected. He said that as long as we remain professional in the workplace, he has no objections, since I'm not directly responsible for your potential promotions."
He shrugged, not wanting either to worry Sara or to turn her considerable wrath in the director's direction. The truth was, Carvallo had taken one look at Grissom's expression, and had obviously changed his mind, choosing to be concilatory rather than piss off one of his most valuable employees. His attitude had both amused and irritated Grissom, but the quiet advice to "Marry the girl, Grissom," had wiped away the humor.
It wasn't that he didn't want to. But having someone like the lab director voice the idea seemed to smirch it somehow. And he wasn't about to mention it to Sara just yet.
She gave him a long look, and he figured she suspected there was more to the story than what he was telling her, but for once she let it go.
He considered that a sign that he was rebuilding her trust.
The annual LVPD softball game wasn't for months yet, but Grissom had insisted that he needed to work on his throwing arm, so Sara had dug up their gloves and brought them along. She had to admit that the stretch of throwing and the dull smack of the ball hitting her glove was a little addictive. They stood in the small cul-de-sac outside the house and tossed the ball back and forth in an easy rhythm, standing just far apart that they had to shout a little.
"I like this place," Grissom said loudly, sending the ball in a perfect high arc that dropped precisely into Sara's glove. She grinned.
"It is nice, isn't it? I always loved coming here as a kid." Her aunt's place, high in the Oakland hills, was to Sara almost the epitome of what a retreat should be. The house and its garden tumbled gently down a slope, presenting a closed face to the world but cherishing the tangled plant life within its high fences as a secret. A basket chair swung on the patio and a small swimming pool and jacuzzi sat at the bottom of the garden, gemlike; dwarf fruit trees and a musical little streamlet and pond gave the enclosed space the feel of something from a fairy tale.
She threw the ball back a bit wide, making Grissom reach for it and absently admiring the lines of his body as he moved. "It's one of those places where nothing really changes."
Grissom nodded, opting for a grounder this time. "So your aunt leases it out every year?"
"Not exactly." Sara let the big sphere leave her grip, feeling the pull in muscles she didn't usually use and savoring the thought of the jacuzzi for later. "She likes traveling, so four months out of the year, the place is open to anybody in the family who signs up for it. That way it stays occupied and cared for." A gardener came in once a week, but other than that maintenance was up to the people who stayed there. "I haven't been here since I left California, so I kind of got first dibs."
They fell silent for a while, letting their expressions speak for them as they tossed and caught, trading small jokes and compliments with smiles and gestures. Despite the success of their relationship so far, Sara hadn't been sure how taking a vacation together would work. Leisure time was not something they'd had a lot of. So far, so good, though. She'd been right, Grissom had worn himself out preparing for two weeks off, but two days of sleeping late had restored his energy, and they'd simply taken their time, lazing around the kitchen or patio or driving out to explore the wineries and wilderness.
It was wonderful.
Eventually they wound down, edging closer as their arms got tired, and finally Grissom made one last toss and rushed Sara as she caught the ball, grabbing her in his arms and lifting her off her feet. She squealed, laughing. "Don't you dare drop me!"
"Not a chance." Grissom spun her around once, laughing himself, and kissed her soundly before setting her back on her feet. "What time is it?"
Sara slipped off her glove and looked at her watch. "It's only eleven."
"Let's go down to the city. I want seafood for dinner."
She looked up at him, a little surprised; they'd been sticking mostly to quieter areas in their sojourns, enjoying the change from the bustle of Vegas. "You don't want to go to Fred and Harry's?" They'd eaten at the local restaurant twice already.
"San Francisco," Grissom insisted, removing his own glove. His hair was ruffled and curlier than usual, and Sara thought he looked adorable. "We have to go back in three days and we still haven't been to the city."
Sara shrugged, not averse to spending time in her home town. "Okay. I want to change clothes first." Her T-shirt and jeans were rather scruffy.
Grissom opened the front door for her. "Wear something nice," he told her as she passed him, and she turned, curious. He grinned again. "Let's make a night of it."
They took BART into the city. "Baghdad by the Bay," Grissom murmured as the train made its way down towards the water, and Sara glanced over at him.
"I didn't know you knew that one. Did my dad tell you?"
Grissom shook his head, remembering Christmas Day. He'd met Sara's parents before, briefly, but it had been years since he'd seen them. This time, he and Sara had arrived at Tamales Bay to find her parents' bed-and-breakfast overflowing with friends and family; her brother Ed, for instance, had brought a couple of pals with him, a quiet dark man obviously in love with a vivacious redhead who had embraced Sara with the glee of old friends reunited. For a moment Grissom had felt left out, isolated from the swirl of chattering people, but then Sara had dragged him into the heart of it, and over the course of the day he'd found that while he himself could be counted as fairly peculiar, he was downright normal compared to many of the guests. But they were open and friendly, for the most part, and if he barely got to talk to Sara's parents it didn't seem to matter. The food was plentiful and everyone was cheerful.
At one point, though, it had all gotten to be a bit much, and he'd withdrawn a little--retreating from the noise and cheer, ducking out a side door and finding a small path that led towards the ocean.
The day was sunny but fairly chilly, and goosebumps were springing up on his arms, but he didn't feel like going back for his jacket. The slow hiss of the waves on the beach was soothing, but despite the small sense of relief at getting out of the bustle, Grissom felt melancholy creeping up on him. The people were great, if odd, and he felt easier in that group of strangers than he had in many a more familiar party, but none of them were his except Sara. Loss hit him hard in the pit of the stomach. This was nothing like the quiet holidays he had spent with his mother and her family, the church services and the warm, formal dinners, and suddenly he felt very alone.
Then footsteps crunched in the sand behind him, and something warm covered his shoulders. He looked down to see his jacket, and Sara's arms around his waist. "Do you really want to be by yourself?" she murmured next to his ear.
And that was when he realized it, for the first time, for the thousandth. He wasn't alone.
He wrapped his hands around her wrists, leaning back a little, absorbing the bliss of her. "Nope."
"That shirt looks good on you," Sara commented, and Grissom pulled out of his reverie and glanced down. He'd forgotten what he was wearing almost as soon as he'd put on the green shirt and dark sports coat.
"Thanks." He tugged at his cuffs. "You look stunning, yourself."
She laughed, but he could see her cheeks tinting faintly. "So you said."
Grissom felt his mouth twitch up. In fact, he'd merely wolf-whistled when she'd walked out of the bathroom in the long silky skirt and jacket, their rosy-red color a perfect foil to her skin and the black sleeveless blouse and puzzle necklace fitting accents. He loved it when she pulled up her hair and let the little curls dangle, and he loved making her blush even more. The whistle had done it nicely.
It was a weekend, so the rapid transit would run until the wee hours; they left the station holding hands, a guilty pleasure transmuted to innocence by leaving Las Vegas. Grissom had been here before, but this was Sara's city, and it was only early afternoon. She led him through the Conservatory of Flowers, and then he insisted on a closer look at the Golden Gate, saying that it had been too foggy the last time he'd been in town. They thought about the Exploratorium, but decided it required a day of its own, so Grissom took Sara to a tiny museum she'd never encountered--one that held nothing but coin-operated novelties. She insisted on trying nearly all of them.
As the sun set, they found themselves on Fisherman's Wharf--cliché, as Sara said, but still lots of fun. She dragged Grissom into the Turbo Ride, on the grounds that it was the closest thing around to a roller coaster, and then nearly had to drag him back out again.
Finally they ended up leaning over the railing at the West Marina, looking at the glistening humps of the sea lions as they slept. Grissom's feet hurt, but he couldn't remember having so much fun since the last time he'd visited Six Flags. Scratch that. Today was much more fun.
"Whatcha thinking?" Sara asked idly, watching one enormous pinniped roll ponderously over. Grissom turned around to lean back against the rail and admire her profile, sharp-edged in the light from the streetlamp.
"How lucky I am," he said lightly. "Hungry?"
Dinner was seafood for both of them, reminding Sara of their months-ago supper in Marina del Rey, where she had wished for something very much like what she had now. Her sudden grin caught Grissom's attention, but instead of querying her, he merely raised his brows and smiled back. When he looked back down at his plate, Sara took her time watching him, savoring every second.
The last couple of weeks had been as much a time out of time as their previous visit to California, she knew, even though they were very different emotionally. The last few years had seen she and Grissom build a friendship, destroy it, painfully recreate it, and finally dare to risk more. In the months they had been together, they had dealt with arguments, exhaustion, the tensions of keeping secrets, and the terror of Laurie Carroll's madness. They still had to face the ramifications of their relationship at work when they returned.
And I so don't care right now.
Nothing was perfect, Sara knew that. Grissom wasn't always easy to live with; he could still be abstracted and unintentionally distant, and sometimes he just forgot to tell her things. Sara knew herself to be difficult at times as well, and was still amazed at times how hard Grissom was to annoy.
But the last two weeks had been as close to perfect as she hoped to get. Nothing lasts forever, but it does give us something to shoot for in the future. And shivered a little with delight. Geez, we have a future.
They lingered over dessert this time, sharing the chocolate mousse and the fruit tarte, laughing when Sara got a smear of mousse on her upper lip, and Grissom taking the opportunity to kiss it away. Finally they made their way back to the train, finding themselves on an empty car but snuggling into one seat together nonetheless. Sara leaned back against Grissom's arm and wondered happily at the strangeness of life. This time last year I wouldn't have thought this was possible.
Grissom shifted next to her, and she rolled her head around to look at him. "Something the matter?"
He made a soft, resigned sound. "I'm nervous," he said after a moment, eyes crinkled with amusement mingled with something she couldn't name.
"Nervous? How come?" Sara straightened, puzzled. Grissom shook his head.
"When you think about the future, Sara, what do you want?"
She frowned a little, thinking. "I don't know. Maybe to go back to school for my doctorate someday."
"But you're happy now?"
She looked up at him, at the face she loved because it was his, at the eyes watching her with loving intensity, and smiled. His beard was silky under her fingertips. "I used to wish for a lot of things, Gil. I don't, anymore."
He turned his head to kiss her fingers. "How long have we known each other?"
"Almost ten years." Sara cocked her head playfully. "Are you trying to tell me something?"
"I'm trying to ask you something." Grissom blew out his breath, and Sara realized he really was nervous. She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his lips, warm and brief.
"I have no secrets," she teased. "Go for it."
She'd never been the sentimental type, but in that moment all of reality seemed to pulse around her with shock, and then with joy. Their eyes locked, and this time he didn't look away, didn't look away... "Okay."
He blinked, then. "Really?"
He said something else, but she couldn't make it out, since it was said against her mouth. He hadn't held her so tightly since the last time she'd had a nightmare, and it was perfect; she clutched him back, reflecting dimly that nervousness wasn't necessary. He tasted of coffee and chocolate and joy, and the train entered a station and left it before they managed to find words again.
"Did you really think I'd say no?" she mumbled against his cheek, and felt the vibration as he laughed.
"No...I don't know. It wasn't rational, Sara." He leaned back a little to look at her. "We haven't been dating that long and--"
She cut him off with another kiss. He never quite seemed to get that being with him was her heart's desire. "I want this, trust me," she said at last. breathless. "We've known each other for years, Gil. We know each other. It makes sense."
He nodded, relaxing. "Yes. Yes, it does." Kissing her one last time, he pulled out of her arms and fumbled in his coat pocket. "If you don't like this, we can find another, of course."
Sara blinked, astonished again, as he opened the worn little box and tilted it to show her the contents. The ring was delicate, and done in the style of an era long past; two small garnets framed a slightly larger diamond, and the gold band was intricately engraved with a leafy pattern. "It was my grandmother's," Grissom added.
"It's gorgeous," Sara said, her voice catching a little. She'd always found the idea of engagement rings a little silly, but this one touched her. Coming from Grissom, it meant so much more than something new.
Grissom picked up her hand and slid the ring onto her finger. Oddly enough, it fit perfectly.
"Brass says that Carroll had a hideout on the hill behind her house, kind of like a duck blind," Grissom explained, sitting at the breakfast bar. Sara made an encouraging noise, though her bottom lip was caught between her teeth as she concentrated on flipping the pancakes. "She was up there the whole time, watching us through binoculars."
"Definitely paranoid," Sara offered, frowning at the griddle.
"In any case, not our problem for a while," he said, standing to begin setting the table but keeping an eye on Sara's efforts. She was determined to learn to cook--because, she said, becoming a Grissom would entitle her to the family chocolate torte recipe. Grissom, laughing, had asked her if she only loved him for his pastry, and her wordless response had distracted them for quite some time.
Now, however, it was an uphill battle. Grissom had always regarded cooking as a mix of art and science, but was amazed at how easily Sara could ruin something. It wasn't that she didn't pay attention; things simply seemed to go wrong around her with diabolical frequency. Nevertheless, progress was being made, and so far that morning she had only scorched two pancakes.
Grissom had set out all the silverware and poured the juice by the time Sara turned off the stove. He watched her as she piled the last few cakes onto the plate, her ring catching the light and twinkling at him, and sighed a little. They'd had a mild argument on the way home--nothing serious, but it had culminated with Sara ordering him in an irritated voice to remember to just tell her things. She didn't seem annoyed any longer, but doubt still nibbled at him.
Sara came around the breakfast bar to put the plate on the table, looking extremely pleased with herself, and they sat down together, but then she frowned and sprang up again. "Forgot the syrup," she explained, going back to the kitchen. Grissom turned in his seat, putting one elbow over the back of it.
"Mmm?" she replied, reaching into the refrigerator.
"Am I too...difficult?" Grissom bit the inside of his cheek, afraid of what his question might spark, but unable to avoid asking it.
Sara straightened with the syrup bottle, looking perplexed, and shut the fridge door. "What?"
He shrugged a little, trying not to show how uncertain he felt. Sara regarded him a long moment, one of her narrow-eyed, calculating looks. Then, as she walked back over, her brilliant smile spread slowly over her face. "You're like treasure, Gil." She ruffled his hair with one hand, eyes warm. "It takes some digging to get to you, but you are so worth it."
Exhaling, relieved, he leaned his head against her stomach, and she set down the bottle so she could stroke his hair with both hands. He put his arms around her hips, and they were silent for a moment, holding the balance of togetherness.
Finally Grissom turned his head, kissing the skin of Sara's abdomen where her shirt had ridden up and making her squeak as his beard tickled her. "The pancakes are getting cold," he pointed out, releasing her.
She wrinkled her nose at him, taking her seat. "That's what the microwave's for."
They were through with the meal and were discussing the weekend when Sara sat up straight. "Wait a minute. You've got that budget meeting on Thursday, right?"
Grissom rolled his eyes. "Don't remind me."
"Phone, please." Sara held out a hand, and Grissom snagged the receiver for her. She punched the speed dial and put the phone between her shoulder and ear, freeing her hands to begin stacking the plates. Grissom started collecting silverware, listening curiously.
He didn't hear anyone answer, but Sara spoke after a moment. "Hey, Jim, it's Sara. --Yeah, I'm fine." She met Grissom's eyes, smiling at him. "Are you free Thursday afternoon?"
Content, he smiled back.