Author's Notes: I'm sorry to anyone who read my email story and was looking forward to reading more. I took it off the site after I was threatened with being reported. I might repost it someday because there's absolutely nothing in the TOS that forbade it, but for now, I offer you something more...usual. Thanks for reading;)
by Kristen Elizabeth
He hadn't lost his hearing, but he had lost something much worse.
It had been bothering her for a long time. Catherine Willows, infamous for her maternal intuitions, had known something was wrong with her dear friend and co-worker, perhaps as far back as the morning he'd woken up after the surgery that had saved him from a lifetime of silence. But it wasn't something she could put a finger on, or define in absolute terms. There was no scientific method for figuring out Gil Grissom.
She only knew that the man who stood in front of her now was not the man she'd known five years earlier.
"Catherine? Have you heard any of this?"
Blinking twice, she focused in on his face. "Of course," she lied. "Every word."
Grissom's eyebrow lifted just enough to indicate that he did not believe her. "Good. Then you don't mind?"
Although she had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, Catherine shook her head. "I don't mind at all." She paused. "What is it that I don't mind?"
He managed to sigh and smile at the same time as he folded his arms across his chest. "Feeding Huck and Tom while I'm in Chicago." When she said nothing, he elaborated. "All you have to do is toss in a couple of crickets and check to make sure their water doesn't get too low. I'll only be gone for two days."
"There's no one else in this entire building…in this entire city who could do this but me?" That would teach her to zone out when Grissom started talking about his pets. "What about Greg?"
"Greg has arachnophobia. Or so he claimed when I asked him."
"Nick? Warrick?" She threw him a desperate look. "What about Sara? Anybody!"
"I trust you," Grissom said simply.
"Oh, but Sara's going to let your cockroaches starve, is that it?" Catherine threw up her hands. "Fine, fine. I'll feed the disgusting little beasts. But if any one of them even thinks about escaping, I will Raid them out of existence, are we clear, Gilbert?"
He chuckled. "Mother Catherine, patron of all exoskeletoned creatures."
"Careful there. Someone might accuse you of having regained your sense of humor."
Almost instantly, a shadow crossed his face and his smile faded. "Yes. Well, thank you, Catherine."
She reached out a hand to stop him before he left her office. It was a rare thing for them to get a chance to talk now that they no longer worked together. "Hey, I didn't mean…you know."
"It's all right."
"Is it?" Catherine cocked her head to one side and studied him. Although the beard he'd kept in the past couple of years did him a service, the slight slump in his shoulders made him look years older than he was. He'd always been a science nerd, but now he seemed like a character of one, not the surprising antithesis he'd once been. "Are you all right?"
The question caught him off guard, but he recovered quickly. "Why do you ask?"
"I'm not sure," she replied. "I'm just looking at you…and I'm wondering why I haven't noticed before."
"You look old."
Annoyance shone through his eyes more than hurt. "Thank you again, Catherine. On that note, I'm on the clock now. Have a good night."
"Grissom!" Catherine chased him down the hall. Halfway to the DNA lab, she caught up with him. "You know I didn't mean it to come out like that."
"It's hard to make 'you look old' come out any other way."
She tossed her hair out of her eyes. "Okay, true, but let me explain. It's not so much that you look old. Hell, I found three new lines around my eyes the other night and I nearly called in sick. I'm not one to talk about aging. But you…you just look too old. Older than you should."
"Catherine." He was using his patient tone, the one he reserved for new lab techs and students at his seminars. "I'm forty-eight."
"Hardly ready for the nursing home just yet." She pulled him into an empty room to escape the bustle of the hallway. "Have you really looked at yourself in the mirror lately?"
"'Vanity plays lurid tricks.' Joseph Conrad."
"You're not going to quote your way out of this one. You've changed, Gil Grissom. I can't say exactly when it happened, but in the past couple of years you've gone from loving life to just trying to get through it."
Grissom looked away for a moment. "We're all just trying to get through it. Some of us merely exist better than others."
Catherine planted her hands on her hips. "You've just got an answer for everything, don't you?"
At that precise moment, like some otherworldly force was working against her, his cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his jacket pocket and flipped it open. "Grissom." A moment passed. "Yes, I'm her supervisor. What's this about?"
She watched the blood drain from his face, and at the pit of her stomach, she knew something was seriously wrong.
"Where did they take her?" he said, biting off the words like they tasted bad in his mouth. "I'll be right there."
"What's happened?" Catherine swallowed a sudden lump in her throat. "Gil?"
He tucked his phone away and cleared his throat. "Sara's been in an accident and they took her to Desert Palm. I was her emergency contact, apparently." Grissom looked up at the ceiling. "I'm supposed to…"
"Go," Catherine urged him. "I'll cover for you."
All he seemed able to do was nod. He kept nodding even as he turned and walked away, his shoulders hunched over even more than usual, his walk unsteady. It was how he had looked as he'd walked into his surgery. Scared. Scared and beaten down by things over which he'd had no control.
That was it. Catherine nearly laughed out loud from the sheer simplicity of the concept that had escaped her for so long. That was what had happened to Gil Grissom. His hearing had been saved, but his spark, his life force, the joie de vie that had once made him so much fun to be around…he'd lost it.
And suddenly, Catherine was very afraid.
Greg Sanders was fairly certain that the accident was his fault. If his car hadn't broken down, he wouldn't have had to call Sara for a ride to work. If he hadn't been alone with her in her car, he wouldn't have had the nerve to ask her out to dinner. And if he hadn't asked her out to dinner, she wouldn't have been distracted and would have seen the other car as it ran the red light and slammed into them.
Sure, the careless driver was to blame too, but he'd had a hand in putting Sara in the hospital.
He sat in the waiting area just off the ER, his hands shaking. No one would tell him anything. They'd just taken his name and put him on a triage list to have the laceration on his forehead stitched as soon as possible. Fortunately, it had stopped bleeding and was now just a dull, throbbing pain. He'd been lucky.
Sara had not.
Greg dragged his fingers through his spiky mess of hair and found it sticky with blood. His blood and Sara's. He must have looked like something out a horror movie. That would explain why that man at the entrance was staring at him.
"Shit," he muttered when he recognized the man as his boss. "Grissom."
"What happened?" the older man demanded as soon as he reached the bank of chairs upon which Greg was seated.
"Driver ran a red light on Tropicana." Saying it out loud only refreshed the agony of those moments. "Sara was driving. Car was T-boned on her side." A moment passed. "It's my fault."
"Were you the other driver?"
"Then it wasn't your fault." Grissom sat next to him. "Why wasn't it you calling me, instead of some nurse?"
Greg shifted and looked away. "No reason," he mumbled.
He sucked in a breath and blew it out all at once. "Sara…before she passed out…she asked me not to call you." Grissom said nothing, prompting him to keep going. "I think she was afraid you might think it was her fault. 'Cause of her less than stellar recent driving record."
Grissom suddenly seemed very interested in the spotless, sterile floor. "You know about that?"
"Yeah, she told me." Greg grinned, despite the situation. "Hey, we've faced death together twice now. In some African tribes, we'd already be married." His boss shot him a sharp look, but he didn't see it. "Damn, she'd better be all right," he whispered.
"Sara is one of the most stubborn women I've ever known. I'm sure she'll be just fine."
His words sounded like they were said more to convince himself than anyone else, so Greg let them go without comment. He was almost relieved when, a few minutes later, a physician's assistant took him away to get stitched up. When he returned, feeling no pain from the blissful shot of lidocane he'd been given, Grissom was still sitting in the exact same spot.
"Any word yet?" he asked.
The older man looked up. "They're keeping her overnight for observation. She has a concussion, two cracked ribs, a broken arm and a lot of cuts and bruises. She won't be able to work for at least a week, but she'll be fine."
Greg nearly whooped. "Can we go see her? Where'd they take her?"
"Upstairs." Grissom paused. "1124. You go ahead."
"You're not coming?"
His boss stood up. "No, I don't think so. Tell her I hope she feels better and that I expect not to see her for a week, no exceptions."
Greg frowned. "I bet she'd like you to at least stop in and tell her this yourself."
"It's all right, Greg. Go take care of her."
When Grissom looked back, Greg was already waiting at the elevators.
Sara Sidle didn't hate hospitals. She spent too much time in labs and morgues to let the acrid smell of cleansers get to her. And hospitals were where you went to get better. They were just fine in her book. Until she woke up in one.
"Ow," was her first thought and her first word as the darkness gave way to consciousness. "My head hurts."
"That's what you get when you slam it into my shoulder." Greg's too-cheerful voice forced her to open her eyes. He was rubbing the allegedly wounded body part. "Careful next time, okay?"
"Wont't be a next time," Sara grimaced. "Never driving again." She tried to lick her lips but her mouth was too dry. "Water?"
He was right there, with a cup and a straw. "That's the morphine you're on. Gives you dry-tongue."
After swallowing a few sips, she took a good look at him. "You were hurt."
"Just a cut," Greg shrugged. "And my shoulder, of course, which is just agony from your rock-hard head slamming into it."
"Of course." Sara closed her eyes for a second. "I'm so sorry, Greg."
"Hey, Grissom wouldn't let me blame myself, and I won't let you blame yourself. It wasn't our…"
Her eyes opened again. "Grissom's here?"
He held up his hands, deflecting her betrayed look. "I didn't call him. You must have him as a contact number or something."
She did. And the fact that she did made her cheeks burn with embarrassment. "Great," she muttered. "Another Sara-mistake that he gets dragged out to witness first-hand." With a sigh that made her wince in pain, Sara gestured to the door. "Find out his heart-rate before he comes in. I need to know how mad he is."
Greg fidgeted with the cords on his hooded sweatshirt.
"Greg?" The pain already present in her chest doubled when he refused to meet her eyes. "Grissom already left. Didn't he?"
"I'm sure he wanted to stay, but he had lab stuff to do. You know."
"Yeah. I know."
"So…" He rocked back and forth from the balls of his feet to his heels. "This was kind of a dramatic way of turning down a dinner invitation."
The corners of Sara's lips turned up. "I'm sorry, Greg."
"Oh." He stopped. "You are turning me down."
"I'm…" Sara hesitated, searching for the right words. "I'm not."
His tone was too hopeful. "I'm postponing the subject. At least until the room stops spinning."
Greg nodded. "Ah. I see."
She glanced down at the fresh cast on her arm. Her arm must have been broken in the crash, although all she could remember was a searing pain shooting down from her elbow. She could also feel bruises forming all over her body and she suspected that tomorrow she'd be lucky if she was able to blink. But she was alive after a crash that could have easily been fatal.
And where was Grissom? At arm's length. As usual.
"You know what? Forget postponing. Let's have dinner."
He took a literal step back. "Wow. Really?" Greg cocked an eyebrow at her. "Is this the drugs speaking?"
Sara laughed and it hurt like hell. "Ow. Stop doing that thing with your eyebrows. I'm not drugged. It's just…it's a nice offer, Greg. Maybe the nicest I've had in a long time." His glee was infectious and she had to smile around the cut on her upper lip. "But can we wait until…"
"You've healed, of course!" Greg stepped up to the side of her bed, took her unwrapped hand and kissed the back of it in a move that would have made her snort with laughter had he not been so determined to be gallant. "I should probably check in at work, let everyone know what happened. Expect some serious visitors in the next couple of hours."
"Greg," she called out after he reached the door and pulled it open. "Thanks. For being here." Giving her a hearty wink, he left.
Alone in the beige box of a room, Sara released a pent-up breath. What had her PEAP counselor told her? To focus on what was real and not what could be. She wasn't entirely sure she could ever seen Greg as more than a friend, but his invitation had been real, and certainly not just in her imagination.
It was more than she could say for anything that had ever happened between her and Grissom.
To Be Continued