Fruitless

TEASER: It might be too late . . . G/S

RATING: R

DISCLAIMER: Not mine – Bruckheimer's, Atlantis, and CBS get that right – but if someone wants to put any one of Grissom, Warrick, or Nick (or the actor who portrays any one of said characters) in my stocking Friday night, I won't say no!

SPOILERS: Through S5 to NHI

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I truly appreciate all the reviews for previously posted stories, even though I forgot to ask for them. I'm not holding anything hostage for reviews for this story, but if you're in the giving mood and want to give a gift that doesn't cost anything, I'll take them. I come armed with a fire extinguisher for flames. Really. I'm a minister and Christmas Eve candlelight services are coming up. Trust me, the extinguisher is VERY close by!

- - - - -

Sofia leaned over Grissom's desk to point out a line on a test result graph. Her scarlet v-neck blouse fell open as she traced the data with her matching fingernail.

Grissom swallowed hard, feeling trapped by her incursion into his personal space while willing himself to ignore the valley of milky skin that she presented six inches from his nose. Her lips were moving, but he couldn't hear her over the hammering of his heart in his ears.

"I can follow the graph myself, Ms. Curtis."

She jolted back from his desk. Anger flashed through her eyes and she pursed her lips as though to say something, but thought better of it and let out a low growl instead.

He must have snarled at her, which meant he probably owed her an apology. "Please continue," he said instead, in no mood to make amends for his reaction to her inappropriate behavior.

She sat down in his guest chair for the first time since she entered his office two minutes ago. Her voice rolled across his flesh like adhesive tape from an old wound, pulling at the hairs on his arms as it tore free from her lips. "The victim died from inhalation of dinitrogen tetroxide."

"Interesting." His pain forgotten, Grissom sat forward and took his glasses off, biting the earpiece as he thought through the information.

"Dinitrogen tetroxide is an accelerant used in – "

"Rocket fuels," he finished for her. She had not yet learned that he preferred to fill in blanks like that himself; why he wasn't in a charitable enough mood to cut her some slack for that gap in her knowledge, he couldn't say. "The Air Force sometimes ships across the desert south of here between Lockheed-Martin Marietta in Colorado and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Along the road where our crime scene is, as a matter of fact. The question is, how was our vic exposed to the gas?"

"We don't have a time of death nailed down yet, never mind an ID." Her scowl cooled the room even more than her frosty observation.

Grissom smiled, but it didn't feel authentic or pleasant. Sofia, as good as he had to admit she was, had been working for Ecklie too long and had a serious learning curve to climb. "Those two things will be a task of about 20 minutes. Once you figure out how to get that information."

Her mouth flapped open and closed a few times. She pushed herself out of the chair and snatched the report from his desk with a groan. "I don't know what I've done to deserve the cold shoulder from you lately, but whatever it is, get over it. I want to have a good relationship with you."

"Then get going. You will find that a good working relationship with me is best achieved by doing your job to the best of your ability."

She turned on her heel, but he heard her talking to herself before she stormed into the hallway. "I didn't say working relationship, damn it."

"Oh, hell," he murmured, closing his eyes against the pain that stabbed through his nasal bone and into his frontal lobe.

- - - - -

The dose of Imitrex he had taken in his office after Sofia left did nothing to relieve any of his initial symptoms, and now an hour later, the pain had become one of the worst full-blown migraines in his recent memory. He slumped against the counter in the break room as he tried to open his eyes wide enough to get cold water from the dispenser before he collapsed or threw up.

"Grissom?"

Sara's soft voice from the doorway ran like warm water down his back, relaxing him just enough for him to get his glass filled before the flickering florescent light overwhelmed him again. He heard her close the door, but she moved with such light steps that the touch of her cool hand across his forehead startled him.

"My God, Grissom, you're burning up. Are you having a migraine?" Her hands moved to his neck, kneading the contracted muscles with practiced ease he didn't know she possessed. She had never been so brazen in crossing his boundaries, even when she wiped the chalk dust off his face at that demolition site.

A lifetime ago, he relished the closeness with which he and Sara would tease each other, standing together with just enough room for a sheet of paper to pass between them, finishing each other's sentences, working entire crime scenes together with a dozen words spoken between them because they thought so much alike. Then they suffered through what he only now acknowledged as the "penalty phase", when he shut Sara out of everything because she dared to ask him to dinner. Well, that and date someone else after he told her to get a diversion from work.

Somewhere along the line, several months after her DUI, he realized that the "penalty phase" had ended, but they had not returned to their previous level of comfort with each other.

But right now . . . Now she had broken through every wall he had ever erected between the two of them, but he was in too much pain to even begin to figure out if it meant anything.

He succumbed to her ministrations, feeling his pain and nausea subsiding with each passing moment. The aura behind his eyelids faded as he felt his body temperature return to normal, a sign that the medication had worked through his system.

He moaned when Sara hit a particularly tight spot at the top of his spinal cord.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, more a breath in his ear than a spoken phrase.

This time, his visceral reaction came lower in his body, to his mortified surprise. This had once happened with some regularity in her presence, necessitating frequent hasty retreats from her immediate vicinity and more cold showers than any man should ever have to take. For more than two years, he had not allowed himself the guilty pleasure of her nearness in hopes of curing himself of his attraction to her. The evidence presenting itself in his trousers told him he had failed in that endeavor. Spectacularly.

He took a deep breath as he warred with himself about his next move. The caress of her hands worked an addictive magic. The pounding in his head eased more as the knot in his neck untied itself. But the less pain he felt, the more pleasure he took from her. He couldn't allow that.

"Um, thanks," he said, stepping away without turning around. He could see her reflection in the glass wall and allowed himself a memory of the wide gap-toothed smile that she had once reserved for him but now showed so rarely.

It wasn't a memory. When she noticed him watching her, she gave her grin an ironic twist and chuckled, waving at him in some gesture he couldn't decipher. "Now, what I really came in here for was some coffee. May I?"

He stepped aside, still facing away from her. "I think Greg made that pot about 20 minutes ago."

"Sweet! Greggo's special stash."

Sara poured herself a cup of coffee and left the room without another word, leaving Grissom in both less and more pain.

- - - - -

Greg's inexperience in ballistics and Sara's expertise meant that the next night's assignments fell in a way Grissom found distasteful. He sent his two remaining original team members out to a multiple shooting scene while he brought Sofia with him on an apparent murder/suicide.

He didn't know which annoyed him more, her talking to herself or her hovering over him, making contact with his body along his arms, shoulders, and once even brushing her hand along his thigh in a gesture so brassy that he backed away from her and sent her into another room of the house, telling her to process the entire room before she came out again.

"I haven't seen that in a while." Brass observed his actions from his post by the sliding glass door to the pool.

Grissom followed his gaze to Sofia's retreating backside. "What?"

"A woman with no fear."

Grissom tried to figure out what his friend meant, but he couldn't piece together the other man's thoughts. "How so?"

"You're her supervisor, Gil. She had Conrad wrapped around her little finger with half the effort she's put into making you take notice of her."

He felt his eyebrows shoot up and could do nothing to bring them down, an odd sensation that worried him for a second before he caught up with what he thought he had just heard. "Sofia and . . . and Conrad?"

Brass shook his head and laughed. "Only in his dreams. She played him like a virtuoso pianist."

"Why?" Grissom had never understood the penchant of some people to use sex to manipulate others. "I mean, she's good enough to advance on her own, and I would think she's smart enough not to want a black mark on her record like that."

"We're talking about Conrad 'Flattery will get you everywhere' Ecklie here, not Gilbert 'Do it by the book or don't do it at all' Grissom. I think Ms. Curtis reads people very well."

He shook his head and went back to the blood spatters on the marble floor. "Then why, pray tell, is she coming on to me like a lioness in heat?"

Brass gave no answer to that, but Grissom swore that when he looked up a minute later, the cop wore a knowing grin. Grissom wondered about that expression at some level of his conscious mind for the rest of the time he worked the site, much to his annoyance.

- - - - -

He returned to the lab with the collected evidence, Sofia, and an 18-wheeler of resentment packed so tightly he feared it would explode in the face of the next person he encountered. Six weeks ago, that person likely would have been Catherine, who was also the only person who might have taken his crap impersonally. Since her promotion, he had seen her only 10 to 15 minutes a night, which, he admitted to himself if no one else, was a bigger loss than he anticipated. Especially when he felt this way.

Had he not been an atheist, he would have said "Thank you" to God for the sight of her sitting on his couch thumbing through an old entomology journal when he pushed open the door to his sanctuary. As it was, he heaved a sigh of relief and nudged the door closed behind him.

The noise startled her. She gasped and swallowed before she chastised him in her motherly way. "God, Gil, you could kill a woman sneaking up on her like that."

"Since I had no idea you were here, Catherine, you'll forgive my lack of sympathy." He gave her a suppressed grin. Just seeing her relieved the pressure in that truckload of antipathy.

"Yeah, I will." She smiled at him, putting the journal down and reaching her arms over her head to stretch. "Sorry. Lindsay had a sleepover tonight and I'm off tomorrow, so I thought I'd come by to see if anyone wanted to do lunch."

He found his way to his desk and thumped into his chair, dumping his armload of papers in a disorganized heap on his uncluttered desk. "Sara and Greg probably won't be back before the very end of shift – multiple homicide with at least four different guns involved, or so said the voice mail."

Catherine grinned at him. "Who said either of them was my first choice?"

He blinked. "Me?"

"Who else would I willingly eat a meal with on night shift these days?"

"Good point."

"You game? I mean, I know you hardly ever leave the lab except to go to a scene, but I really want to not eat in the break room if that's okay with you."

For the first time since he saw Greg and Sara leave earlier, he smiled. "We can go in about 10 minutes, assuming nothing comes up. Stay put and I'll go inform Sofia when she can take her lunch."

He had just opened the door when he heard her parting shot and had to look down to verify that she wasn't talking about him. "Speaking of things coming up . . ."

- - - - -

The night shift had always had a favorite diner with slow enough service to call it their "hour for lunch" place. Grissom liked it because the quiet atmosphere allowed time for decompression in the midst of stressful cases; he knew Catherine liked it because she could focus on getting information out of people over the excellent meatloaf she enjoyed every single time he had ever eaten there with her.

Once their orders were placed, Catherine leaned back against the bench across from him and gave a muffled laugh.

"What?" So far as he knew, he'd done nothing to warrant being laughed at.

"You. Jim told me what happened last night. I would have enjoyed watching you squirm."

Grissom scowled, clenching his mug of coffee with enough force to whiten his knuckles. He forced himself to relax his hands, but his face stayed clenched. "Can't that man keep his mouth shut?"

"He only told me so I could steer you through this. I don't trust her as far as I can throw her, even if she did have the best solve rate on day shift."

He frowned and leaned forward to close the distance between them. "I haven't decided that I like her, but professionally she's given me no reason to distrust her."

"Call it woman's intuition, Gil. The other day shift -3 Ecklie transferred off that team, Jody Gillespie?"

He nodded to acknowledge that he knew the woman to whom she referred.

"Gillespie feels the same way about Conrad that we do. And before you say it, no, we're convinced she's not a plant. Her alternate theory about the Watkins case last year was just proved to be the actual way the killings happened – Conrad had fingered the wrong man all along and threatened to fire her if she even put her supposition in writing into the official case file. The Director overruled him, but he treated her like dirt until the day he became AD, then – "

"Catherine, I'm assuming there's a point to this."

Their server interrupted them to place their salads on the table.

Catherine took a forkful and chewed slowly before she resumed again. "I'm getting there. You've got to know the back story. Anyway, Gillespie thinks that her move to swing shift is punishment because her husband works nights for the fire department and her son is in first grade."

"That's our Conrad, always thoughtful of other's needs." He knew Catherine would hear his sarcasm around the field greens in his mouth.

"Yeah. So she told me that Sofia is being punished for two things: talking about you all the time and siding with you in the review. It seems that Conrad is convinced that Sofia has very personal feelings for you and thus he wants to see you fall."

Grissom snorted. "And he thinks Sofia can tempt me into that breach of ethics?"

Catherine smiled. "Apparently, he thinks if he isn't immune, you can't possibly be."

He sucked in a breath. "So he did have an affair with her." Brass had been so sure nothing had happened.

"No, no, he didn't. She turned him down. Gillespie said that everyone heard her say as he was leaving, in her inimitable talking to herself voice, 'You aren't Gil.'"

He puckered his lips and his brow as he contemplated this new information. He started to say something, but fell silent, deciding not to divulge how close he had come so often to crossing that line with Sara.

The silence hung while they finished their salads, but ultimately Catherine didn't need to hear him say anything to pick up the conversation after their server whisked their empty plates away. "This is just more proof that Conrad is an idiot. If you won't take the risk of breaking the rules with Sara, who you love more than life itself and furthermore with whom you are head over heels in love, then there is no way that someone as inconsequential and insubstantial as Sofia could ever penetrate that armor."

He stuttered and spluttered in an attempt to deny Catherine's assessment of his feelings for Sara, but could form nothing coherent. He opted for an attack on Sofia instead. "And she's a blonde. No offense."

"None taken. You've never been one for the fairer ones among us. Of course, I doubt there's been more than one among us for you in 10 years."

The arrival of their meals saved him from needing to answer. When conversation resumed, Catherine steered it toward updates on Warrick and Nick from her end and Sara and Greg from him, leaving him to heave a silent sigh of relief that his relationship – or lack thereof – with Sara was no longer on the table.

- - - - -

The topic might have left the table, but it didn't leave his mind, any more than Brass' indecipherable amused smirk had retreated to a moot point. Somehow, he thought the two might be related. Brass and Catherine talked regularly – and even though Catherine hadn't mentioned it, Grissom was pretty sure she knew about Sara's timely intervention in his migraine because Brass had seen Sara open the door of the break room and come in to find what he said was a "delirious expression of satisfaction" on Grissom's face.

Damn, he thought as he climbed into his Tahoe for the drive home. That's what Catherine meant when she said, "Speaking of things coming up . . ." Having a homicide detective and a CSI-3 for best friends who also talked to each other wasn't conducive to keeping much private if it happened where either of them could see or hear it.

He arrived at home at what should have been normal time – half an hour after the end of shift – and puttered around doing the little odd jobs that stacked up over the long hours of weekly overtime. Even this morning, as preoccupied as he had been at work, he found that his puttering allowed him to be a zombie of sorts, not thinking about anything at all.

At 10:30, he got in the shower, surprised at how much grime covered him from his house cleaning. Maybe it had been longer than two weeks since he dusted, mopped, and vacuumed, after all.

The warm water of the shower triggered thoughts of the gentle ministrations of Sara's fingers on his neck and shoulders as she eased his pain the previous day. He felt her breath caress his ear again, a physical memory of a fleeting moment. And as the previous day, he could not deny the powerful sexual attraction he felt for her with the evidence standing perpendicular to the blue tile floor of his shower stall.

A twist of the single dial transformed the balmy spray into an icy torrent, which alleviated his physical symptoms but left his mind whirling. Catherine's statement had been so matter of fact: . . . Sara, who you love more than life itself and furthermore with whom you are head over heels in love . . ."

He sagged against the unforgiving wall.

How did Catherine come to that conclusion? It wasn't like he had ever said it to anyone. He could understand how Catherine – anyone with observational powers, really – could think he had been attracted to her a while back. But why did Catherine state so boldly that he loved Sara? Was in fact in love with her?

Ridiculous. Sara was beautiful, had redefined the word for him. She was smart, talented, and tormented with many of the same flaws he saw in himself. Thick walls that prevented anyone from getting too close. Deep distaste for conformity to any norms. Perfectionism, even when perfection was an impossibility. Single minded focus on finding the truth, regardless of the cost.

He pushed himself vertical and shut off the water.

Finding the truth.

Regardless of the cost.

His towel took a beating as his hands kept pace with the frantic images of Sara cavorting along his synapses.

Across the table at the coffee shop in Cambridge oh so long ago, smiling with her gap showing as she listened to him prattle on about the spread of aedes albopictus from its first confirmed North American point of entry.

At the airport here in Vegas when she arrived to investigate Holly's death, her confusion evident in the creasing of her high brows.

In his office when he asked her to stay here, her brown eyes questioning his motives even as her berry-kissed lips said yes.

Outside that god-awful apartment where they couldn't find the body he knew was there, wiping non-existent chalk off his face in a gesture so full of innocent hope that he had to get away from her to avoid kissing her into submission.

Another coffee shop as realization took hold that the man she had been seeing was cheating on her, her shoulders slumped for just a moment before she walled her pain away.

At the police station after her DUI, looking so fragile and hopeless that all he wanted to do was envelop her in his arms and kiss her pain away.

In the lab just yesterday, her smile back in place and given solely for his benefit after she had taken his pain away.

He froze as the last image replayed itself three times, each time in more detail.

And then an aural memory, as though his brain had reacted to the trauma by refusing to store the visuals. Her voice, strained with disappointment, saying, "By the time you figure it out, you really could be too late."

Was he just now figuring it out?

Sara was his friend, like Catherine and Brass and even Warrick, Nick, and Greg. Like a few of his colleagues in the entomological world, men and women he saw every other year or so and sent holiday cards to if he happened to take the time. But she had always been a little more important than the others, more prominent in his thoughts when he wasn't with her, more capable of hurting him. Did that mean he liked her more than he liked the others?

Or had he crossed the line into loving her somewhere along the way?

What was the difference between loving someone and being in love with them? The poets never seemed to make such distinctions when it came to love between a man and a woman: love it was, and the physical passion between lovers came from the interweaving of two lonely souls who met each other in the dark of night and found themselves complete in the meeting of hearts and minds.

He reached out to hang up his towel, feeling the stiffness of age in his tired body and wanting to feel Sara's hands work the kinks and knots out of his spine before they crawled into bed and he wrapped his arms around her to sleep. Never mind that he had never slept well with anyone else in his bed; for her, he would relent from his solitude if she would do the same.

A line from Rainer Maria Rilke came to mind. "Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other."

Grissom would never doubt the testimony of anyone who described a religious experience again. The overwhelming feeling of awe and unworthiness that hit him drove him to his knees, not in prayer but in submission to something much, much larger than himself.

"I love her," he whispered to his bathroom cabinet. "I love Sara."

Heedless of the messes he left behind, he dropped his towel, ran into his bedroom, and pawed through his dresser, tossing the clothing he needed onto the bed and strewing extra pairs of socks and underwear across the intervening distance. In record time, he had the necessary undershirt, socks, and boxers in place, but stopped short in his haste when he realized that the only shirts hanging in his closet were ones Sara and Catherine had over time deemed "unfit to be seen in public."

"Damn! Should have done laundry this morning." He pounded the closet door with one fist even as he tore a shirt off its hanger, realizing that Sara's reaction to his plan would not be affected at all by his appearance.

- - - - -

He drove like Sara on his way to her apartment, crossing town in 20 minutes flat when it should have taken nearly 35.

He was sure that before he could say, "I know what to do about this," she would fix the breech in her walls created by the open door. He practiced saying it out loud until he could do so in under two heartbeats. She was fast, but he didn't think she could possibly be that fast.

As he steered the truck into an open space just down from her door, he found himself praying to the God in whom he didn't believe that he could convince her of his sincerity before she slammed the door in his face. The rest of what he had to say would take much, much longer and would be better saved for a conversation over coffee.

His nerves boycotted when he commanded his left hand to pull the door handle. His hand cramped in a half fist, fingers flexed to grasp the mechanism taunting him from two inches away. The phrase "get a grip" had never had such powerful meaning; the irony of his situation freed his mind from the fear and before he knew it he was standing outside his truck and staring up the walk toward the most important portal in the world.

Through that door lay his future.

Or not.

Go! he commanded his legs.

He didn't, couldn't, move.

This is ridiculous. I am a grown man who is perfectly capable of rational, reasonable conversation with a woman. Go, legs.

He still couldn't move.

You know, if it isn't too late, some of those dreams you never admit to having might come true before you have to go to work tonight.

He ran. To her door. Raised his hand. Rang the bell.

But if it is too late, you'll make a fool of yourself.

She opened the door with a smile. Not quite "the" smile, but one that showed her gapped teeth, at least. "Grissom. I, um, didn't expect to see you this morning."

Grissom moved his mouth, but to his horror, nothing came out.

"Gris? You're scaring me. What's going on?"

Again, he tried to speak, this time giving her a grunt and a short groan.

She reached out and took his arm to pull him inside. "I'm calling 911. I think you're having a stroke."

Before he was all the way inside, desperation overtook him and he wrenched her around into his embrace, smashing his lips into hers and molding her body along his length. He drenched her with every apology he owed her, every moment of love he had withheld, every promise of abiding faith he had within him as he felt her respond to his ravishing kiss.

She lay limp in his arms when he let go of her honey-sweet lips. Holding her up with one arm and cradling her cheek in the other so he could search for the truth in her rapt brown eyes, he took a deep breath and steeled himself to say what he had come to tell her.

"I know what to do about this, Sara."

"So do I, Gil," she whispered.

- - - - -

He watched her undress just out of his reach, each move torture on his overloaded senses.

Sara lifted her shirt over her head, revealing the defined arms he knew so well and a scrap of lace that cuddled herbreasts and showed her hardened pink nipples through the open weave. Her flat abdomen begged to be nuzzled as the muscles there contracted and relaxed with her ragged breathing.

She didn't need a garter and hose to make her long, muscular legs into erotic tools. Just the way she slid the hip hugging jeans off left him panting, wanting to touch her in ways he had only dreamed of before today.

She slid one strap of her bra down her shoulder and threw him a saucy look that nearly undid him right then. He took a deep breath to steady himself as the other strap fell. When she unhooked the bra in the front and allowed it to glide to the floor, he realized how perfect her breasts were and could restrain himself no longer.

He lunged forward, catching her around her slim waist and plunging his lips onto one erect, pebbled nipple. He dropped his hands to feel the silk that covered her beautifully firm rear and was rewarded with a low moan from somewhere deep within her.

"You're . . . over . . . dressed," she told him, panting out her words as he worked at her sensitive flesh.

He released her nipple and grinned up at her. "Not for now." He wanted to feast on this miracle that was Sara Sidle, to explore every willing inch of her so he could know the truth with every molecule of his being. He needed to bring her to the heights of ecstasy, to hear her say his name and no one else's as she writhed under his touch.

With restraint that tormented her to the edge of delirium and astonished him, he nibbled and nipped and licked his way from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet and back again, teasing without touching her sacred womanhood despite all her attempts to draw him to her center.

"God, Gil," she whimpered. "I need . . ."

Before she could finished, he obliged her demands. In seconds, her spasms of ecstasy were joined by the sounds he had waited his entire life to hear.

"Oh . . . mmh . . . ah . . . G-i-i-i-l-l-l . . ."

He smiled against her soaking skin for a moment before he broke contact long enough to shed his own clothes. He needed her now as he had never needed anyone before, and he was ready.

Ready to claim her body as his sole object of worship.

Ready to make "this" work, regardless of the cost to him professionally and personally.

Ready to declare to the world that he loved her, would die for her and live for her for the rest of his days.

He propped himself on his elbows over her, studying her as she came down from the high of her orgasm. "Sara, you are so beautiful," he murmured into her drowsy eyes.

"So are you," she whispered. She reached out to stroke his beard. "Don't ever shave your beard, Gil, please. It's such a turn on."

He grinned down at her. "Really?" He dipped his head to kiss her chin, earning giggles from her. He glanced up at her with a frown. "I thought you said it was a turn on."

She smiled back. "It is in the right places."

"Ah."

Her laughter rumbled through him, warm and welcoming.

"Sara, are you sure? Is this really what you want? Tell me now, because if I do what I'm getting ready to do and you tell me no later, it will kill me."

She crinkled her brow and reached up to take his face between her hands. "Do you love me?"

The words flowed from his heart, no effort or thought required. "I love you so much it hurts to hold it in. You are the sun in my day, the moon in my night . . . you are everything to me. Without you . . ."

Her thumbs moved along his jaw, sending a shiver of arousal and anticipation through him. "Do you know in your heart that I love you without reservation?"

He closed his eyes on hearing those words from her, allowing the power of her profession to blast free every sliver of doubt and negativity from his soul. "Yes, Sara, I do."

"Open your eyes."

He did, and was met with the most beatific smile he had ever seen. Her brown eyes sparkled in the dim light of her bedroom. The gold inner rings in each iris that he so rarely saw danced with unshed tears. His breath caught in his throat as his heart rate soared in anticipation.

She spoke in a silken, tender whisper. "Then I want this. I want to make love with you and fall asleep in your arms. I want to wake up with your face in my hair and suffer through our mutual morning breath for a kiss before we get out of bed. I want to argue about where to put the sofa and what to have for dinner. I want to raise brilliant, happy children who don't hide behind walls like their emotionally stunted parents. I want to grow old with you without you worrying that you're doing it faster than I am because age is a state of mind. I want you for the rest of my life."

He felt her wipe at his cheek and realized he was crying. "Sara." He lowered himself to take her lips, caressing them with his tongue, molding them with his nibbles. She rose into his touch and opened her mouth, twirling her tongue around his in a soul-bearing affirmation of her statement.

"Gil, let's make love."

Not many men have two soul shattering epiphanies in one day. For Grissom, the second proved more astonishing than the first. There really is a difference between having sex and making love.

Stretched out in Sara's cozy double bed, holding her against his shoulder with his chin tucked down against her head as she slept, he could analyze what happened in the hour after her proposal.

Neither was as experienced with actual intercourse as the other assumed, which was awkward in the beginning as they fumbled with the basics. He worried that she would be offended, but Sara laughed and went on with her own explorations of his body, assuring him in word and deed that they could overcome the foibles.

While he wanted to forget his less-than-proficient moments, he would cherish the artistry of the experience. The expressions flittering across Sara's face as they moved toward their peak pushed him ever higher. The slack-jawed glaze of wide-eyed passion that greeted him when he spent himself deep within her womb was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life. He resolved to give her that much pleasure as often as he possibly could.

Sex had never been like that for him. Even his dreams of Sara had lacked the power of their actual coupling, though he chided himself for being so perfect in his subconscious libido. The unquantifiable, unknowable power that is love changes the equation, I guess. He laughed, enough that Sara shifted against him, but not so much that she awoke. I think I've found my life's research project. I may never quantify the effect of love, but it will be the most enjoyable fruitless pursuit of knowledge I've ever undertaken.

-- FIN --

- - - - -

TECHNICAL NOTES: Dinitrogen tetroxide(N2O4) is a liquid oxidizing agent used to make rocket fuel more explosive. By itself it is nonflammable; inhaling it, however, can be hazardous to your health, particularly when the liquid evaporates and the gas fills a space. In case you're wondering, the victim I envisioned died when his driving partner decided to lock him in the cabin of their tanker truck and vented some of their cargo into the cabin through a makeshift hose. Then the other man drove the truck to its destination in California, claiming to have dropped the victim off at home because of an emergency when in reality the now dead body lay in the desert freezing faster than usual because of an arctic snap. The motive? The victim had an affair with the partner's wife. Sofia eventually solved the case when she realized that the answers would be available at Vandenberg or Lockheed Martin Marietta and started making phone calls.

Aedes albopictus is the Asian Tiger Mosquito, which found its way to North America via the Port of Houston, TX, in 1985. It carries dengue fever and has been known to carry Eastern Equine Encephalitis, as well.