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; most of the others are mine, and if you want to borrow 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.
Spoilers: through "No Humans Involved".
Note: The slight similarities to recent dialogue are making me a little uneasy, except that I wrote 'em all before the episodes aired. So I refuse to fuss.
Also Note: Many, many thanks to everyone who read and reviewed this story. Your feedback is what keeps me posting! And thanks one more time to Cincoflex-just because.
Sheriff Atwater regarded them skeptically across the expanse of his desk, and tapped his fingers on its gleaming surface. Sara and Grissom returned his gaze with equanimity. Grissom felt reasonably secure about the cards they were holding; Atwater might huff and bluster, but the two of them together contributed more to the lab than any four others, and the Sheriff knew it. Both Grissom and Sara were willing to let him have his show of being in charge.
"So what you're saying, Supervisor Grissom, is that you tendered your resignation for ethical reasons? And you, CSI Sidle, did so for personal ones?" he said at last, eyes sharp. Sara nodded, and Grissom merely tilted his head. They hadn't stated exactly why they'd resigned, phrasing it so that asking would mean violating their privacy.
"And Supervisor Ecklie refused both resignations."
"He didn't take me seriously," Sara stressed, still a little angry at Ecklie's presumption, but restraining herself. Atwater was by no means stupid.
"He implied that we were merely jockeying for concessions," Grissom added smoothly.
"More than implied, in my case," Sara noted, and Atwater frowned.
"I take it your ethical dilemma has been resolved, Dr. Grissom?"
Atwater's mustache twitched as he looked to Sara. "And you, CSI Sidle?"
She hesitated. "I've been feeling less than fulfilled by my work recently," she explained at last. Atwater's expression softened slightly at the reminder of her on-the-job accident, and she went on. "Dr. Grissom convinced me to reconsider." Which left the door open.
And Atwater obligingly stepped through. "Rest assured, we don't want to lose you," he said, falling into the practiced habit of negotiation.
Grissom watched with well-concealed appreciation as Sara ceremonially held up the hoops and Atwater jumped through them. A few weeks to make up her mind, then a discreet raise in pay, an assurance that Ecklie would be better-behaved in future - and the Sheriff got the bonus of feeling like a master manager, and of retaining an asset to his force.
As the two ran down with mutual assurances, Sara turned her wrist so that her hand was palm-up between herself and Grissom, and at that silent signal he enveloped it with his.
Atwater's sharp gaze did not miss the move. Grissom didn't back down from the Sheriff's eyes; this was a deliberate notice of how things were going to be. It gave Atwater the choice of confronting them, or of letting it pass and tacitly giving them permission.
There's no guarantee that this is going to work, of course. But they'd discussed it briefly, and decided that it was better to make a statement now rather than later. Besides, we're both highly motivated to make it work.
His dry thought did not match the distress he felt at the thought of losing Sara, now that he had her with him, but he had to acknowledge all reasonable possibilities. However, her firm grip on his hand belied some of the anxiety.
She wants this just as much as I do. He thought of the years she'd been patient with him. More.
One of the Sheriff's brows went up, but he didn't comment just then, instead placing his hands on his desk and rising slowly. "Ecklie's a capable bureaucrat and not a bad scientist," he said as they stood as well. "But personal situations cannot be permitted to interfere with the running of the lab, and I'll make sure he's reminded of that."
Sara smiled politely, and Grissom nodded in turn, both of them acknowledging the hidden warning. "Thank you, Rory," he said sincerely. The meeting had gone better than he'd dared hope.
Atwater smiled, the look unexpectedly human. "Good luck," he added to both of them, and waved them out the door.
Sara blew out her breath as they left the outer office. "Whew."
"That went well," Grissom said thoughtfully.
"Yeah, I was sure he was going to call us on the boss/employee thing," Sara said quietly. She headed for the water cooler standing nearby and pulled a cup from the holder.
Grissom shrugged, keeping his voice low as well to avoid being overheard by the workers passing by. "Promotions and raises are up to the lab's director; all I do is your performance evaluations, and those are mostly based on solve rates and other data. The real risk is in court."
"Yeah, well, let's burn that bridge when we get to it." Sara took a long drink. She still looked tired, Grissom noted, and somewhat strained, but her eyes were sparkling in a way that he hadn't seen in months, and it made him astonishingly happy to realize that he was the reason for it.
Warrick didn't usually come in for shift early, leaving that to the true workaholics like Sara. He had no objections to staying late, or even pulling doubles every so often - that was the nature of the job, after all, and he could get just as hooked on the chase as anyone else. But he also liked his sleep, and preferred to roll in right on time.
Not today, however. Swing didn't get as many cases as either of the main shifts, but it was still a stretch sometimes with just three people - especially when he was used to working with five. And a half, if you count Greggo. And Catherine had been looking pretty wiped the last few days. So he'd set the alarm a little earlier, and come in sooner to get a head start on things. Partly out of affection for his new supervisor, and partly because Catherine in a sour temper made life more difficult for everyone.
Today, starting work early meant a visit to the PD to talk to one of the detectives. So it just so happened that he got to see Sara and Grissom coming out of Atwater's office. It shocked him good - not only seeing them in that particular location and at that time of day, but -
Well, I'll be a - They're together.
It was obvious to anyone who'd had a ringside seat to their relationship, such as it was, for the past four years. They weren't touching, or even really looking at each other; but as Grissom held the office door for Sara with absentminded courtesy, Warrick could see that the tension that had increased to an unbearable pitch over the last few weeks was gone.
His mind immediately seized on the implications. Did they just work out whatever it was that was going on with them, or did they get farther than that? Not likely, but -
Fascinated, he drifted into the shadow of a doorway and watched as they paused at the water cooler for a drink and a brief conversation. To the casual observer, it looked like nothing more than a cordial moment of discussion, but Warrick saw Sara's lips purse, saw Grissom's mouth curve in that rare, charming one-sided smile...
Then Sara crumpled the cup she held and tossed it into the trash; Grissom touched her lightly on the small of her back, his usual gesture, and they started in Warrick's direction. He put on his own best poker face, that of mild, cool interest, stepped out of the doorway, and headed towards them. "Hey, guys."
Sara raised her brows at him, a friendly gesture. "Hey," she said; Grissom nodded back, and they were past. Nothing unusual, nothing out of place.
Warrick knew. He had no evidence, none at all, but he knew. "Daaaamn," he whispered. Nick is gonna be pissed that he missed this. They are so together.
He kept in the grin, barely. It was way past time that the two of them got themselves straightened out.
Sara found herself humming under her breath as she pushed open the locker room door. She'd only gotten a few hours of sleep, but she felt better than she had in months - and she knew why. It wasn't just the long, tender kiss she and Grissom had shared when they'd parted ways in his parking lot earlier, or the intense look in his eyes as he'd shut her car door for her. Nor was it entirely the satisfying knowledge that they'd gotten exactly what they'd wanted from the Sheriff, and that he would keep Ecklie from interfering with them.
It was both of those, and more. Sara felt good about coming to work, for the first time in a long time, and she was savoring it. Grissom had said that his work was his life, but in a sense it was hers, too. This was what she did, and she did it well. And it was very sweet to be looking forward to it again.
Yes, she was still giving her life a long, hard look. But in the meantime -
"Is it true?"
She jumped, nearly bumping into Nick as he stepped out in front of her. "Geez, Nick, you almost gave me a heart attack!"
"Is it true?" he repeated, looking almost grim.
"Is what true?" Sara asked, puzzled by his expression. She didn't think that the news of their abortive resignations had gotten out, but one never knew.
"You and Grissom are - " He tilted one hand back and forth. Sara rolled her eyes.
"I just got here!"
"And?" Nick folded his arms.
Annoyed, she slipped past him, heading for her locker. "If we're doing anything, Stokes, it's none of your business."
She half-expected an argument, but instead he was silent. Sara opened her locker, wondering moodily just what rumors were making the rounds.
Finally, she heard Nick sigh, and turned. His expression was sober, and slightly apologetic. "You're right," he said quietly.
"Damn straight," Sara replied, though mildly.
He met her eyes, chin up. "You know I'm only worried because I care about you," he added, and she softened.
"I do know, Nick. But I'm a big girl, I can take care of myself."
He cocked a brow at her, and they both knew he wasn't mentioning the fact that she hadn't been doing a very good job of it for a while. "Okay," he acknowledged. "Okay."
She punched him lightly on his right shoulder. "It's sweet of you to care, though. Who spilled the beans?"
"Warrick." Nick grinned at her acknowledgment, and the edge on it made her suspect that some kind of bet had been won or lost.
She huffed. "For a guy who pretends to be above it all, he's awfully nosy."
Nick snickered. "We're CSIs, Sar. We're supposed to be nosy."
Sara turned back to her locker and pulled out the items she'd need for the night before shutting the door again. "Don't...push it, Nick," she said, a little anxious. "We've only just..."
His hand on her shoulder was warm. "I won't."
She turned again, into his arms, savoring the strength of their friendship. He hugged her gently, both a reassurance and a quiet congratulation, before letting her go. "There'll be plenty of time to rag on you guys later."
Sara couldn't help laughing, which she knew was exactly what he intended.
Nick watched her go, watched her sling her badge chain over her head and stride towards the door - still a little fragile, but all the confidence that had been missing returned to her bearing. The door swung open as she neared it, and Grissom came through, reaching back to hold it open for her; she slipped past him with a casual hello, and if there was a flash of something more in their glances, it was a private thing, and Nick ignored it.
Grissom let the door close behind her and moved to his own locker, his face serene. "Good evening, Nick."
Nick nodded, popping open his own locker for his car keys and jacket. As he closed it again, he looked across at Grissom. "You hurt her again, I'll take you apart."
There was no surprise in his ex-supervisor's face, Nick noted - only amusement, and under that, both wonder and a faint shame. "I have no doubt of it."
Nick nodded again. "That said, congratulations." And grinned as the surprise showed up. Shrugging on his jacket, he threw the older man a casual salute, and headed out.
Work was, as Grissom half-expected, work. Both he and Sara were experienced professionals, and tucking their emotions away for later was something that came with the job. So apart from the occasional pulse of still-new joy that he felt from time to time throughout the night, he was able to treat Sara as simply a member of his team. She acted the same, falling into the old casual courtesy that had characterized the best of their working relationship.
All the same, for this first evening, he paired Sara with Greg. If nothing else, both Sara and himself needed a little more time apart from each other, to assimilate all the changes. So he gave Sara and Greg a child abuse case - not a light assignment, but he didn't get to choose the cases that came in - and took Sophia along to his bug-ridden pair of corpses outside of town.
The few long looks his new CSI gave him as he collected specimens didn't escape his attention, but he ignored them the same way he'd learned to ignore her out-loud method of working. And she said nothing that wasn't case-related, simply taking photos and collecting evidence in the capable fashion he'd come to expect from her.
But when Sofia was bent over some small fragment of something, he took a moment to think about her, and Ecklie's assumption. It was true that she'd flirted with Grissom, in a casual sort of way - more, he'd thought, because it was fun for her than because she was truly serious. And it wasn't that she was unattractive - she had nice curves, and that fall of thick hair was eye-catching.
But none of it made the least bit of difference. Sure, his male sensibilities could appreciate her looks, and his intellect could admire hers, but in the end he was far more interested in her as a CSI than as a female. Sara was the only woman who held his attention.
It was when they returned to the lab and he walked back into the locker room that he discovered one of the prices of this new miracle in his life. Sara and Greg sat close together on one of the benches, hunched over, and for a lurching, sick moment he thought that something terrible had happened. It took a major effort of will to not stride forward and touch her, now that the barriers between them were gone.
Then he realized that Sara was comforting Greg, not the other way around, and the rush of relief was tinged with guilt. Sara glanced up, but shook her head at him when he looked inquiring, and he nodded and went back out. She had things under control.
She came to his office later, near the end of shift, to collapse into a chair and let out a long breath. "You okay?" he asked, wanting very much to go around the desk and pull her up and into his arms, but restraining the impulse. Work is work.
She waved a hand in a gesture that implied eventual all-rightness. "That was a tough one. Greg took it pretty hard." Grissom opened his mouth, and she shook her head again. "He had to have an abuse case sometime, Grissom. It's okay."
Sara propped her elbows on her knees and rubbed her hands over her face. "This was worse than the Maltin case," she said tiredly. Grissom knew it - he'd read the slip - but he didn't say so. It was her turn to speak, and besides, on one level he was conscious of a great relief that Sara once again felt free to come to him to decompress. "I don't think Greg ever really thought about this aspect of it."
"Is he all right?" Grissom asked. He'd known this moment would come for Greg eventually, he just hadn't known what case would trigger it. It was one of the inevitable parts of the job.
"He will be, I think." Sara straightened. Stress showed on her face, but instead of just feeling helplessly worried, the back of Grissom's mind began making plans to take her home and feed her.
"Are you okay?" he asked again, tipping down his glasses to look at her, and her brief expression of irritation faded into sheepishness.
"I will be," she said. He nodded.
"Is there anything I can do?"
She grinned suddenly, a wicked look. "Can I get back to you on that?" And there it was, the old flirtatiousness, under control but definite. Grissom smirked.
Sara snickered, and pushed to her feet. Grissom picked up a report as she headed for his door, but she turned in the doorway and looked back at him. "Would you...like to have breakfast with me?"
Her face, her posture, were uncertain, and a pang hit him, but he didn't hesitate. "I would love to have breakfast with you."
And her smile was his reward.
Greg sat in the driver's seat of his little car, breathing the sweet dawn air that came in the open window and thinking. He was by no means ready to go home.
It was odd - he'd processed thousands of samples over the years, swabs and sheets and clothes and more swabs, but he'd never really considered what they meant. Probably a defensive mechanism, he thought now, with the clarity that comes with a certain level of desolation, and with shock.
After all, he'd never come close to that kind of horror. He'd grown up in what was almost a stereotypically happy family - loving parents, safe home, no major traumas. No one had ever touched him inappropriately, or raised a hand to him bar a mild spanking. He'd never gone hungry.
He'd had no concept. Not until now.
He could be proud of himself for one thing, at least - he'd got through it. He'd been professional and efficient, he'd collected evidence and taken photos and documented with appalled precision. He'd held in the shakes and the nausea until they'd gotten back to the lab.
And Sara had been his mainstay. She'd shown him what to do by example, mixing competence with gentle compassion; then she'd listened to his ranting, and put an arm around his shoulders when he'd wept a few desperate sobs for those poor kids.
And she'd told him there was no shame in it. That the trick, and it was a difficult one, was to balance the horror and the righteous rage with the knowledge of his own limits, and those of the system. It's hard, she'd told him, with a rueful smile. It's not something you can do, every time. But Grissom's right, you can't make it personal, because if you do you end up helping nobody.
Greg hadn't wanted to accept it at the time, but he could see the sense in it. Like it or not, he was part of the system, and the system had to function with a certain detachment. Fair enough.
But he still wasn't ready to go home.
Well, there was one place he could lose himself for a while, turn off the loop in his brain and just concentrate on one thing. Sure, the place would have a few kids in it, but not many at this hour of the morning, and he'd be staring at a screen most of the time anyway. A few rounds of Centipede to start with, maybe.
He pictured the big vintage game console in his head, trying to shut out the images of the night and their implications, but the sound of his name made him open his eyes.
Grissom was standing next to Greg's car, the early sunlight gilding him slightly. "You okay?" the older man asked kindly.
Greg gave the question some serious thought, and Grissom waited patiently. "I think so," he said at last. "I mean, I think I will be."
Grissom nodded. "It's always hard, the first time."
Greg looked up at him. "Does it get easier?"
Grissom pursed his lips. "No," he said simply.
"Good," Greg said, feeling fierce. "It shouldn't."
Grissom nodded again, and leaned one hand on the car's roof. "Pace yourself," he advised. "If you need a break during these kinds of cases, take it. You'll do a better job because of it."
"And don't get too involved." Greg couldn't resist the poke.
His supervisor shrugged. "Even I don't always take my own advice," he pointed out, unperturbed. "If you need to talk, Greg, you know where to find me."
Touched, Greg blinked. "Thanks."
Grissom patted the roof and left, moving across the parking lot with his distinctive lumpy stride. Greg idly watched him go, mulling over the surprise of Grissom's understanding; it took him a minute to realize that Grissom had stopped halfway across the lot to talk to someone standing by their car.
To talk to Sara, in fact. Greg sat up straight as he watched them; even at this distance it was clear that the acrimony was gone. Then Sara laughed - Greg could see the flash of her teeth - and laid her hand on Grissom's chest. The older man folded his own hand over it, and smiled back.
No way. Greg felt his jaw loosen as he watched Sara climb into her car and Grissom lean down to kiss her through the open window. Suddenly afraid of being caught spying, he started his engine and pulled quickly out of the lot. No way.
But it was amazement, not protest, and he felt a smile of his own growing as he headed for the arcade. At least something good had come out of the night. Maybe that means Sara will stay.
Greg put on his sunglasses as the light strengthened, feeling a bit better. He would go drown his thoughts in beeps and flashes and the thrill of high scores, because things were still too raw to think about. But later, he thought, he might look into volunteering at the local Y or something.
After all, there was more than one way to get involved. And to help.
Sara found that her stomach was tight with an odd mix of anticipation and nerves as she drove home. When impulse had made her blurt out an invitation to breakfast, she'd had a restaurant in mind, but somehow it had morphed into something less public, with Grissom looking secretive and telling her that he'd take care of things. She would have argued, but he seemed to want it so much...
She looked around as she closed her apartment door behind her. It was tidy - she was never able to let clutter accumulate - but...
A few minutes later she looked at the dusting cloth in her hand. "What are you doing?" she muttered. "The place is fine. He can live with it."
Replacing the cloth in its drawer, she looked down at herself. Nothing she'd done that evening had left a physical residue on her clothing or her skin, but remembering made her suddenly yearn for a shower and clothes without a psychic stink.
Scooping up her phone, she punched the speed dial for Grissom's number, and got his voice mail. Tucking the phone between her ear and her shoulder, she sat to unlace her boots. "Hey, Grissom. I'm going to take a shower, so let yourself in - the front door code is 8763, and I'll leave my door unlocked. See you in a bit."
One of the things she loved about apartment living was the near-inexhaustible supply of hot water. Sara let the steam and the soap wash away the night as best they could; it was by no means a perfect solution, but it helped.
And when she emerged from the bathroom, wearing comfortably worn jeans and a deep green T-shirt, she was greeted by the sight of an enormous bouquet of daisies on her breakfast bar. "Wow."
Grissom turned from her counter, where he was unloading a large paper bag, and his smile dissolved the last of her uneasiness. Sara took three steps forward and kissed him with enthusiasm.
He didn't hesitate to return the kiss, pulling her close. Sara made a pleased sound against his mouth, and then big hands closed on her waist and lifted her lightly onto the countertop. She squeaked, and let her fingers find his hair.
When he pulled away a few moments later, they were both slightly breathless, and his cheeks were a little flushed. Sara grinned down at him, enjoying the higher angle. "I've been wanting to do that all night."
Grissom laughed, and kissed her chin. "This is weird. In a good way," he confessed, his thumbs stroking her hips in an absent caress. "I keep feeling like I'm going to wake up."
Sara rubbed his scalp lightly, feeling him push into her hands at the sensation. "I won't set the alarm if you won't."
"Deal," he said, and lifted her back off the counter even though she was perfectly capable of jumping down herself. He stole one more kiss on the way, and when Sara stepped back, she had to laugh at his rumpled hair.
"Very cute," she teased, and he gave her a mock glare and tried to smooth it down, without much success. Sara turned her attention to the flowers, picking them up and inhaling the scent, which for some reason always brought baby powder to her mind. "You didn't have to do this, Griss."
He went back to the bag, lifting out containers. "It was good advice."
That didn't make any sense, but Sara was more interested in finding a vase for the bouquet. The flowers looked perfect at the end of her breakfast bar, an explosion of bright thin petals, and while they didn't match the placemats she dug out for breakfast, it didn't matter.
Grissom had brought a fruit salad and something quichelike, and a selection of bagels, and Sara found by the end of breakfast that she'd eaten half again as much as she usually did - either because the food was good, or because Grissom kept putting more of it on her plate, she wasn't sure which. It made her sleepy, but that too was a good thing; she felt full and contented, and had to smother the desire to go nap in the sunlight coming in her balcony door.
Instead, she cleared the bar, with Grissom wrapping up the remainder of the food and putting it away into the fridge. They ended up on the couch with their tea, arguing amiably about print powder, and then Grissom asked if he could turn on the TV to catch the news. Sara acquiesced, curling up next to him with unfamiliar delight, and smiling to herself at the relaxed sigh that escaped him as his arm went around her shoulders.
She remembered it, this time, in a vague and dreamy fashion - the low chuckle, the loss of warmth that made her growl a little, the slide of arms beneath her back and knees. She was lifted in a way she hadn't been since she was small, and cradled against him, and a moment later laid down on the cool sheets of her bed. The blanket floated down over her as she sighed. A delicate brief kiss at the corner of her mouth, a longer one pressed against her temple, and then she was asleep.
It was when she woke that the pain hit. He wasn't there. Sara felt her throat clog as she struggled with the emptiness, and the fear that had been lurking underneath her joy came rushing in to chill her. What happened, did he decide he couldn't do it after all?
Maybe it was because she kept falling asleep on him. No, that didn't make sense, but she was too upset to reach for logic. Hell. I knew this was too good to be true -
Her eyes were burning. Maybe we moved too fast. Maybe we can't do this, maybe it's too late or we hurt each other too much -
Sara yanked at the sheet, and heard the crackle of paper. Lifting her head, she saw a folded note on the other side of the bed, and gulped.
But Grissom's precise handwriting held no apologies or regrets. You're gorgeous when you're sleeping, the note read. I - and something was scribbled out - didn't feel comfortable invading your space without your permission. But you hereby have permission to invade mine any time you like.
See you tonight.
If her laughter was a little choked, she didn't mind. Sara blinked away the blur and folded the paper back up with care.
I guess I need to learn to have a little faith.
It wasn't going to be easy, this learning, not for either of them. But if we make it work -
It's going to be so worth it.
Sara threw back the covers and got out of bed. Time to get on with her life.
Grissom locked his car door behind him and walked towards the lab, wondering if Sara would be annoyed with him for leaving that morning. He had been very tempted to simply slide into her bed next to her, and hold through the day the way he'd got a taste of the day before, but it was her apartment and her bed, and he didn't want to push. After all, it had barely been twenty-four hours since they'd started over. Though in a way it feels like a lifetime.
He'd been delighted when Sara fell asleep against him again - first, because it made it clear that she trusted him, but also because she desperately needed the rest, whether she'd admit it or not. Her injuries might have healed, but her reserves were still dangerously low.
And what a strange joy it was to realize again that he could actually do something about it. Grissom's eyes narrowed with satisfaction as he entered the building, though he was still a little apprehensive. This was all so new, and he was desperately afraid that he would do or say the wrong thing.
Passing the DNA lab, he saw Sara already there, deep in conversation with Mia. As he unlocked his office door and pushed it open, he saw an envelope lying just inside the door, where it had been pushed in through the crack.
Scooping it up, he tore it open to discover the note he'd left for Sara that morning. Below the initial "G" was Sara's hasty scrawl. Next time, why don't you stay for dinner?
He glanced over his shoulder and saw her through the glass, looking at him, hands on her hips and one brow arched, and he couldn't help the smile that spread over his face. If this really is a dream...please don't let me wake up.