Disclaimers, etc: see Chapter 1


It was a swirl of color and sound, and Sara had to laugh as she was swept into it. Familiar faces, old friends, grinned at her from all corners of the room, and there was a cake there, and balloons on the ceiling. "Johnny, Mad Dog, you are so crazy!" She swept her captors into a hug, and the three of them laughed before she broke away to embrace the van's driver. "Kimmy! I knew it was you."

"Sure, after these two dweebs gave it away," Kim said wryly, hugging Sara back and then gesturing at the two men. The taller one snorted.

"She was going for her gun, Kimmy, we had to tell her who we were or she would have blown us away."

"Damn straight," Sara shot back, serious. "That was a stupid stunt, guys, what if one of my coworkers had seen you?"

"Nobody out there but you, sugar," Kim returned, slinging an arm around her shoulders. Sara looked around the big room, a bit incredulous at seeing all her old buddies from the SFPD.

"What brought this on?" she asked the room at large, and an older man stepped forward to collect a hug.

"Cheng looked at her calendar a couple of months back and realized it was your birthday," he said, gesturing at a woman sitting at one of the further tables. "Somebody mentioned a surprise party, and you know how it is once this lot gets an idea in their heads--it just kept getting bigger and bigger, and it took this long for everybody to get leave."

"Ari said you were having a rough summer," Kim put in, snagging a glass from a nearer table. "And we thought Vegas sounded like a good place to spend a weekend."

"And thus the first annual SFPD Gambling Retreat and Scare the Hell Out of Sidle weekend was born," the shorter kidnapper supplied.

Sara rolled her eyes, but it felt like all her melancholy had been chased away by the surprise and the joy of seeing them. "Like you all needed an excuse. Well, you came to party, let's do it!"

There was a general cheer, and someone turned on some music. Sara turned to Kim. "Any idea where the restrooms are in this place?"

The other woman smiled. "We rented the whole thing out. Down the hall on the right."

Sara nodded, and slipped out of the room, pausing to greet a couple more people. The surprise was delightful, but she needed a moment to herself; adrenaline was still pulsing through her. It was weird to see them all again, if pleasant; her communication with most of her old friends had waned over the past year or so, and it was a bit of a shock to see them all together again.

She got five yards down the corridor before realizing that there was someone at the end of it. Nerves still on edge, she reached for her Maglight and shone it down the hall. The figure immediately winced away, one hand rising to cover his face, but she knew him--she'd know him anywhere. "Grissom?"

He cleared his throat. "Yeah," he said, and his voice was rough. He straightened, moving towards the exit, and almost automatically she stepped forward to block him.

"What are you doing here? You're not part of this, are you?" She clicked off the light and put it back in her pocket, letting her eyes adjust to the dimness. Grissom hadn't been in the room when they'd taken off her blindfold, she was sure of it, and besides, he had never had anything to do with the SFPD beyond a few seminars.

"No." His face was blank, and his voice was still strained, and finally Sara glanced down and realized with sudden alarm that he was holding his service weapon in one white-knuckled fist. Her gaze snapped back up to his face, and now she could see the sweat gleaming along his temples, and the paleness of his skin.

"Grissom, what's wrong?" He looked downright ill, and worry pushed aside Sara's persistent hurt. "What's going on?"

He looked down at the gun in his hand as though he didn't know where it came from, then holstered it slowly, carefully snapping the cover into place. Then his hands came up, equally slowly, and cupped her face as though she were fragile. She could feel them shaking. "Sara," Grissom whispered, leaning forward until his lips brushed her cheek.

The light dawned. "Oh shit, you thought they'd really kidnapped me, didn't you?" Sara asked softly, horrified. He nodded, still holding her delicately, and his beard tickled her skin. Sara shook her own head and pulled him into a hug, squeezing him tightly as his hands slipped down from her face to find her back. The resultant pressure pushed air from her lungs, but she let him do it, trying to give him comfort.

She'd ceased to doubt that he cared for her the night she'd watched him through the interrogation room window. But his inability to act had hurt like crazy, and finally Sara had given up, deciding that the bittersweet pleasures of their interactions were more bitter than sweet, and choosing to retreat into a professional demeanor, no matter what he said or did.

Professionalism, however, had shattered at the look in his eyes. She stroked his spine, trying to soothe, trying to ease the tremors that still made him quiver a little in her arms. "I'm fine, Grissom," she said quietly. "It's just a surprise party."

She felt him swallow. "I know," he muttered. "But I thought..."

"Shh." She hugged him tighter. "It's okay."

He sighed. "No, it's not, Sara."

Grissom let her go, stepping back with obvious reluctance. Sara let her arms drop, shivering a little with the loss of his warmth. "It's not okay," he repeated, and hurt swelled inside her chest.

"Relax," she said, her voice harsher than she meant it to be. "I get it, this is a one-time thing. Don't worry, Grissom."

He closed his eyes briefly, looking exasperated as well as strained. "That's not what I meant."

Frustration was hot and sharp. "Then explain what you do mean, Grissom, so I can get back to my party."

Grissom shook his head, but she could see it was frustration equal to her own rather than negation. "I can't do this any more, Sara. I can't..." He sighed, and reached out to capture her hand in his. "Please let me in."

Sara blinked, incredulous. "What are you saying?" His thumb was stroking her palm gently, an alluring, tender sensation.

His other hand came up, fingers brushing lightly against her lips, her cheek. "You're so beautiful, and so alone," he said quietly. "Let me in. I don't know how to be what you want me to be, but I'll try." Another touch, soft as wings. "I promise."

Her heart was breaking wide open, and she struggled. "Grissom...this is just because of today...it's the adrenaline talking. You'll change your--"

One gentle finger tapped her lips, and he shook his head firmly. "I've been trying to do this for weeks, Sara. Months, even. But you were so closed. I thought I'd blown all my chances."

Her body was becoming more aware of his by the second, and it was distracting. "I...think...you have one more left," she said dazedly. His eyes were deepening, and then his hand slipped away and his mouth touched hers with fervent reverence.

It was sweet, so sweet, the perfect ache of completion. Sara took hold of his jacket, half-afraid he would pull away, but his arms were back around her and she was warm again. He laid his kiss on her again and again, and she returned them, marking him invisibly as her own. She was the one shaking now, and when they finally relaxed into each other, one silhouette in the dimness, it felt like her world had turned inside out. In a good way.

Finally she pulled back, looking him over and liking what she saw--the pallor of residual terror replaced by a good healthy flush, and the gleam in his eyes holding something of amusement and astonishment, and everything of acceptance.

She straightened out his jacket, grinning, her fingers lingering over his heart. "Come and meet my friends."