Some 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. Others strongly resemble characters that sort of belong to ABC, though I seriously doubt anyone cares at this point. The rest belong to me, 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.
Spoilers: through "Unbearable". This is a post-ep, sort of.
If you think you recognize some of the characters, you're probably right. (snicker)
He'd gotten used to seeing her around, almost.
A glimpse here and there, a brunette head in a window, a long-legged dare-the-world stride down the other side of the street, but of course it wasn't her really, just someone similar enough to make his heart wince. It was never really her.
He didn't know how many times he'd cursed himself for the mistakes he'd made. It didn't matter; keeping track of the number of one's self-recriminations was an exercise in futility anyway. Though sometimes that was how he felt; futile.
It wasn't true, he knew that. He had only to look at the solve rate of his team to know it. It wasn't the greatest team he'd had by any means, but his CSIs weren't bad at all. Greg led the pack; one small corner of Grissom's mind still mourned the loss of the best and fastest DNA tech he'd ever had, but Greg's talents served his second career well, and he had an intuition for finding evidence that was the envy of his colleagues.
Still. It wasn't the same.
Grissom wandered through the crowd, a lone man in the midst of families and groups, watching as children darted around him as though he were one of the trash cans or light poles. He hadn't been to this particular park in ages, and a new coaster had been built since his last visit. So a conference on the Eastern Seaboard was excuse enough. And it gave CSI Rahman a chance at running the shift for a few days.
His "new" team...hardly new anymore, Grissom reminded himself as he took a place at the end of a long line...they were good people. Abdul Rahman had eight years of experience on the day shift and had moved to nights, he said, to learn from Grissom. Betty Petersen had moved from Wisconsin to Las Vegas and wasn't interested in management in any form. Gen Hong was two years out of school.
But it wasn't the same.
Maybe it's time to see about that leave of absence. If Abdul does okay this week…
Grissom edged forward as the line slowly moved. The rattle of wheels on rails, the shrieks-he glanced up as the train flew by overhead, feeling a spark of excitement at the thought of being strapped into one of those cars. Coasters still gave him a thrill.
Not much else did.
It would be easy to blame it all on Ecklie, Grissom mused, sniffing at the scent of popcorn and chocolate. Everyone else did, one way or another. But the truth was, the catalyst was his decision, five years before that. His choice.
Not a mistake, he told himself. The mistakes came later. No, asking Sara to stay in Vegas was a good move for both of them. At the time.
There was no point in asking how it had all gone wrong. He knew it, all too well. He'd accepted the position of supervisor, but hadn't fulfilled the duties. He'd let his baser emotions get the better of him. He'd let fear and habit control him. He'd ignored the danger of Ecklie's vindictiveness too long. He'd asked the wrong person the wrong question at the wrong time and place.
He'd paid the price. He was still paying, and would, he acknowledged to himself, for very probably the rest of his life.
The head of the line was closer; Grissom estimated that it would take two more train loads for him to reach the ride's entrance. He debated letting other people pass so he could get the front car.
One of the good things that came out of the mess was Ecklie's...well, resignation was the official term, but everyone knew he'd been fired as fast as he'd been appointed. Bad enough that solve rates had dropped with the disruption he'd caused, but the rapid departure of two CSIs had sealed his fate. Sara's insubordination had been offset by her value to the lab, and by Catherine's rather belated statement that she too had been at fault in the original argument. It still amused Grissom on some small bitter level that no one had officially blamed him for Sara's departure, even though he was the main reason she'd left.
Catherine... Another good thing had been seeing his old friend get the position she'd wanted. She'd found her balance running the day shift, and with Warrick and Nick as her right and left hands, its solve rate had climbed to nearly rival that of the night shift. The lab's all-important ranking, that of second in the nation only to the FBI, had steadied from its wavering under Ecklie's rule.
All in all, it wasn't that bad an arrangement, except for the vacuum Sara had left when she'd gone. It wasn't a big hole, but it was very dark, and he was the only one who could see it, since it was inside him.
He didn't even know where she'd gone.
All that time you spent fearing what happened anyway. And maybe you could have prevented it. But the thought was worn dull by much handling now, and came and lingered and faded as Grissom reached the front of the line and stepped into the car.
It was a good coaster. He let the twists and drops and wrenches fill his system with adrenaline, and for a little while it burned out the melancholy; he rode it twice, and then went looking for the park's other coasters, savoring each one with the pleasure of the connoisseur.
The sun was westering when he got off the last one. Grissom eyed the line and tried to decide between another ride, or dinner; he would be coming back later to ride them in the dark as well, but it was worth a third run. When the weeping reached his ears, he almost didn't notice it.
But it was small and hopeless, and it eventually penetrated his abstraction. Glancing around, Grissom frowned, puzzled. Usually crying children were either soothed within moments or were seen being dragged along by annoyed parents.
But this was persistent, and sounded frightened rather than angry. He followed the sound; there were fewer people on this side of the coaster, and no one seemed to be paying attention.
It only took him a minute. Someone was hiding in the severely landscaped bushes that hid the fence bordering the park; someone small. Grissom pushed his way in and found the huddled figure. The head came up as he crouched next to the child, and Grissom saw black hair and greeny-blue eyes, and the woe of the lost in a six-year-old face.
"Hello," Grissom said gravely. "What's the matter?"
The little boy regarded him warily for a moment. "I can't find my daddy," he said at last, in a voice thick with crying.
Grissom pursed his lips. "I don't think he's in the bushes," he pointed out gently. "Do you want to come with me, and see if we can find him?"
Wariness turned to outright suspicion. "I'm not supposed to go with strangers."
Grissom nodded in approval, even though this presented a problem. "That's a good rule," he acknowledged. "But I work with the police, so I'm kind of like a police officer. Do you want to see my badge?"
The little boy gave him another long look, and then sniffled. "Okay."
Grissom dug his ID out of his back pocket and laid it in the sticky little hand, well aware of the irony of the situation. He was trying to get the boy to trust him with a badge that could be easily faked to fool young eyes. But it'll help if somebody thinks I'm trying to kidnap him.
After a moment's fascination with the shiny metal, the little boy handed back the badge and allowed Grissom to help him out of the bushes. He was a mess-pants dusty and one cheek smeared with dirt-but Grissom figured that whoever was looking for him would be happy just to have him unharmed.
Assuming he is unharmed, Grissom thought with a chill. There was really no telling how long the boy had been separated from his family, or what could have happened to him in the interim.
But as they got out into the last of the sunlight, Grissom looked the child over and figured with some relief that he had experienced nothing worse than a scare. His clothes were grubby but untwisted, and he didn't have the shocky look of a victim.
"My name's Gil," he said, and held out a hand. "What's yours?"
"Joseph," said the little voice, sounding steadier, and the small warm hand slid into his.
It took about three minutes of walking at Joseph's short-legged pace to encounter a security guard; Grissom waved to get the woman's attention, and her eyes widened as she took in the two of them.
"Somebody's looking for Joseph here, I hope," Grissom said as she hurried up to them. The guard gave him one quick glance and then dropped to her knees in front of the boy.
"Hey, Joseph, I'm Marlee. You okay?"
Confronted with this new face, Joseph started to snuffle. "I want Daddy!"
"Marlee will take you to your daddy," Grissom said soothingly, trying to let the little hand go. But Joseph clung harder.
"I was going to ask you to accompany us anyway, sir," Marlee said politely, standing up again.
Grissom sighed inwardly. "Of course you were." He could guess what this meant-near-hysterical parents, or official suspicion. Or both.
But trying to leave now would just make it look as if he had something to hide, and he didn't want Joseph to have to endure the probing questions that would take place if they suspected he'd been molested. Grissom set himself to endure the discomfort, and kept walking.
"How long has he been missing?" Grissom asked Marlee as they came within sight of the security building, which looked like the snack bars without the lines or tables.
"Almost two hours," she replied, and Grissom winced. This wasn't just a simple case of losing track of the kid for ten minutes. They were probably screening people at the exits by now.
Marlee held the security building's door for them, and as Grissom and Joseph entered, a tall man with a mop of brown hair scrambled up from a chair in the waiting area. "Joey!"
Joseph let go of Grissom and bulleted across the room with a renewed wail, and was scooped up and held tightly. The murmur of "Will you come with me, please, sir?" by an enormous security guard was almost lost in the resultant babble, but the massive hand at Grissom's elbow was clear enough. He allowed himself to be led into the next room, and took the proffered seat at the table there.
Joseph and his dad calmed down eventually, but Grissom found himself struggling to hold onto his temper. The guards took his ID and ran his name through their computer, but the administrative type who showed up shortly thereafter kept asking intrusive questions and not truly listening to the answers Grissom gave.
"I've told you several times already that I found Joseph behind the coaster and brought him straight to Security," he said coolly. "You have no evidence to indicate that I harmed him in any way."
"These questions are standard procedure," the man droned, looking down at his sheaf of papers, and Grissom gritted his teeth and summoned the patience he had once needed while dealing with Ecklie.
The door to the outer room was only halfway shut. Grissom, trying to figure out how to convince his interrogator of the truth, wasn't really paying attention to the squeals and footsteps on the other side, but then Joseph's father spoke up clearly.
"It's ridiculous, they're treating the poor guy like he's a criminal, and all he did was bring Joey back. Can't you-"
And the answering voice froze the blood in Grissom's veins.
"They're just being careful, Ed. Trust me, you have no idea."
Footsteps coming closer, and for the life of him he could not move. The door swung wider, and he realized he was looking at it, at the form that filled its space.
There was a silence that seemed to hold years within it. That did hold years.
"On the other hand," the voice drawled finally, "there's always an exception to the rule."
He couldn't even swallow.
One of the benefits of working for the FBI was that it taught one to deal with the unexpected. Sara swept into the room the way she'd learned, taking charge with the very carriage of her body. "I can vouch for him," she told the park employee, not even glancing at the man sitting so still at the table. But her mind-oh, so well trained-had already taken in the details.
He looked older, older than he should for so few years' passage. Hair and beard both gone iron-silver now. Shoulders more slumped than she remembered.
Face so grave. As though the last time he'd laughed had been when she was still within earshot.
"Ma'am-we really have no idea-"
Sara bit her tongue on the question of whether they had any evidence at all to support their position. It belonged to her old life, and anyway, the man was just covering the park's collective ass.
But she had no patience for this either. Joey and Kimmy were hungry and tired, and she and Ed were hungry and stressed, and she wanted Grissom sprung so they could leave and feed the kids and go back to the motel.
She refused to think about the sheer absurdity of the coincidence just yet.
"I understand that," she told the annoying little man calmly. "But I'm vouching for Dr. Grissom anyway. We're not about to hold you liable."
The administrator regarded her doubtfully, and Sara sighed, reaching for her ID and flipping it open in front of him. "Will this do?"
As it often did, the appearance of authority did the trick where reason did not. The man blinked, and sputtered, and then deflated. Within minutes, Grissom's wallet had been returned to him, and he was being ushered out the door with the profuse thanks of the park, which took the tangible form of two season passes.
Grissom shrugged and tucked them away, Sara noticed as she rounded up the kids. "What was that all about?" Ed asked in an undertone, hoisting the whimpering Joey into his arms. "You know that guy?"
"Knew him," Sara corrected, picking up the voluminous totebag that seemed to be a necessity when going anywhere with Ed's offspring. "Trust me, Ed, the world would come to an end before he'd hurt a kid."
"You know I do." Ed bumped her affectionately with an elbow, then raised his voice. "Hey, man, wait!"
Grissom paused in the doorway, though Sara could tell by the set of his shoulders that he wanted nothing more than to vanish into the twilight. She cursed Ed's enthusiasm as the younger man strode up to Grissom, shifting Joey enough that he could stick out one hand. "You didn't give me a chance to say thanks."
Grissom shifted uncomfortably, and at that instant Sara realized with dismay that all her work had been for nothing. Never mind that what she felt at the moment was a small malicious glee at his discomfort; the fact that she felt anything at all told her that she had not shed Grissom from her heart after all.
She bit back a bad word, instead letting her hand rest on Kimmy's shoulder as Joey's big sister leaned against her hip. Grissom was returning Ed's hearty clasp, and trying to turn down his dinner invitation. For the first time since she'd walked into the inner room, Grissom's gaze shifted to her, and she knew he was-asking was too strong a word-hoping that she would talk Ed out of his idea.
But the little imp within that was so gleeful over seeing Grissom squirm, even metaphorically, spoke up. "Oh, sure, Grissom, come on. You can tell me how everyone's doing."
As though she didn't already know. In fact, Grissom himself was the only one she didn't know about, seeing as she kept up regular correspondence with her old friends but none of them quite dared mention Grissom's name.
Something flickered in Grissom's face, too fast to be named, but it looked like it hurt, whatever it was. And then he nodded.
They ended up at a family-style restaurant just outside the park, with Kimmy-about ten years old, Grissom estimated-and Joey industriously drawing on the paper tablecloth with the crayons provided, and the three adults regarding each other.
"So you two used to work together?" Ed asked cheerfully, sipping at his soda. Grissom wondered sourly if the man was really that dense, or if he was simply oblivious.
"Dr. Grissom used to be my boss," Sara said. She was sitting back in her chair with a little cool smile, all lean and collected-looking in slacks and a sleeveless blouse, and Grissom wished he knew what she was thinking. He really hadn't wanted to be taken out to dinner, but it was clear that Joey's father needed to reward Grissom somehow, and further refusal would have been rude.
He wished he'd had the presence of mind to lie, though. Some unavoidable appointment, perhaps…
Ed blinked twice. "Oh, oh right. I forgot." He grinned. "Head in the microscope."
Grissom flinched inwardly, but neither of the other adults seemed to notice. "Ed works over at NIAID," Sara explained. "Sometimes he doesn't surface for days."
"The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases." Grissom raised his brows, impressed. That rules out dense. "So you're in Washington."
"Close to it," Ed corrected. "Ten minutes to half an hour out, depending on the traffic." This seemed to be a running joke, judging from the grin he shared with Sara, though hers was small and tight.
Their relationship seemed to be an affectionate one, Grissom judged, and that was a difference from when he last knew Sara; she had scarcely mentioned her brother then, and only in the past tense. He wondered what had changed.
"It works pretty well," Ed went on. "With Sara downtown, between the two of us and the housekeeper we manage to keep the kids covered." His look towards the two children was unabashedly loving.
Grissom dared to look directly at Sara, and she shrugged a little. "Ed's wife died three years ago," she explained quietly. "I came east to give him a hand for a while."
"Yeah, I owe you a thank-you for that too," Ed said, turning back to them.
Grissom frowned, confused. "For what?"
"Letting Sara go so easily." Ed punched her gently on the arm in sibling affection.
"I was planning on leaving anyway," Sara said, and she shot a warning glance at Grissom. Not that he was about to reveal to Ed that she had left without warning or notice, merely leaving a resignation on his desk and a copy on Ecklie's.
But while it was a plausible explanation for her sudden departure, Grissom knew that there was more to the story than that. He knew it very well.
After all, she hadn't even said goodbye.
At the time, I thought she owed me that. And then I heard the rumors. And after that, he'd realized that she owed him nothing at all, that the balance was all on his side and that his pockets were empty.
And would remain so.
"So, what are you up to these days?" he asked Sara lightly, keeping up the pretense that he knew where she lived now and what she did.
She shrugged. "Nothing much. Busy as usual."
Ed snorted. "You just got a commendation, that's so nothing."
Sara rolled her eyes, and Grissom felt a sudden small urge to smile at the banter between them. "Bite me, Eddie."
"Oooh, Aunt Sara!" Kimmy was looking up at them, eyes wide with delight, and Sara-blushed. The sight made the bottom of Grissom's stomach drop out with hopeless longing.
"Got me," she said, and extracted a dollar from her wallet, handing it to the girl. "Keep this for me until we get home, okay?"
Kimmy put the dollar into her little purse with great ceremony, both of the children giggling, and then they went back to their drawing. Ed was snorting into his glass, and after checking to make sure that the kids weren't looking, Sara whapped him on the shoulder, grinning. "Shut up!"
At that he broke out into full-fledged laughter, and Sara chuckled a little, looking back to Grissom. "Any time somebody swears, they have to pay. A quarter for the kids, a dollar for the adults."
"And then we go out for ice cream," Kimmy added absently, still absorbed in her artwork.
"When the bank is full," Sara explained. Grissom nodded, amused despite himself.
Ed got his snickering under control. "Some weeks things get a little more expletive so that the bank can fill up a little faster," he said in a mock whisper.
Sara shrugged. "Hey, you're the one who has to have his Rocky Road double cone."
Ed laughed again, brown eyes unguarded and inviting Grissom to share the joke, and Grissom felt a terrible deep pang. For a moment he wanted very badly to be a part of the easy little family circle, casually intimate, the love taken for granted.
If you hadn't been such an idiot…
But the thought was old now.
It was strange. Sara had put aside many things on leaving Vegas, and one of them was this particular mixture of pleasure and pain, of being in the presence of someone about whom she cared, but who was as far from her as someone on the other side of a pane of unbreakable glass. It wasn't that she'd never expected to see him again; in fact, she figured she would eventually. Just under more controlled, and later, circumstances, such as a trip back to see old friends in the next decade or something. They'd be polite, they'd nod at each other in passing-two old colleagues-but they wouldn't have anything to do with each other.
The stiff silent man taking the punishment that good deeds so often bring-he wasn't in her plans at all. I was supposed to be over him by now, she thought sourly.
It wasn't like she'd started dating or anything. For one thing, there had scarcely been time, between learning how to be a Special Agent and dealing with the kids' grief and Ed's tearing bereavement. Bless Gracie. The redheaded housekeeper was efficient, loved kids, and was possessed of a deep serenity that reminded Sara of Doc Robbins. Between the two of them, they'd kept Ed from going off the deep end or losing himself entirely in his work.
But she was still living in Ed's enormous townhouse, more because she hadn't found either the time or energy to move than because she wasn't needed. And even if she'd been inclined towards any of the males she now knew, it wasn't somewhere she'd feel comfortable bringing a casual date. Ed's house was home, safety, comfort. Not a place for the random male.
Though for some reason she could picture Grissom there quite easily-sitting on the deep battered couch, tossing a Nerf ball with Joey and helping Kimmy with her math homework, and the next minute joining Ed in conversation so deeply biological that Sara, poor physicist, was left laughing on the sidelines…
Sara shook her head minutely, chasing away the image.
The food, when it came, was good if not wonderful, and there was plenty of it. Sara and Ed took turns making sure that the kids ate their vegetables, and the adult conversation drifted easily among cell cultures and politics and the absurdities of sitcoms. They were waiting for dessert when Joey spoke up. "Daddy, I got to go to the bafroom."
"Bathroom," Ed corrected absently, and rose to escort his son. At that, Kimmy decided she had to go too, and the three of them headed for the back of the restaurant, leaving Sara and Grissom alone and uncomfortable.
"Thanks for finding Joey," Sara said at last, meaning it. Being able to imagine in detail all the horrors that could be taking place while a child was lost had not been conducive to peace of mind, and she had been almost the point of calling in favors from her agency when Grissom had turned up with her nephew.
He just nodded, looking faintly embarrassed, then spoke after a moment. "I hardly expected to see you on this trip."
Sara wondered if this was his way of apologizing for turning up in her life. "It's not as big a coincidence as you might think, since I live in D.C. now." She shrugged. "Ed brings the kids here twice a year, it's sort of a tradition."
He raised a brow. "All the way to Pennsylvania? There are closer amusement parks."
Sara grinned. "It's the chocolate. Kimmy loves it. Last stop is always the gift shop."
"Ah." Grissom stared into the water glass he held, as though some meaning lay in the crushed ice within. "Uh. What exactly do you do now, Sara?"
It was the first time she'd heard him speak her name in three years, and she realized with utter dismay that it had sent a pleasurable shiver down her sides. "I'm an FBI Special Agent. Surprised?"
Grissom snorted. "Not at all. I just wonder how you deal with the unmentionables like Culpepper."
Sara picked up her own water glass, suddenly amused. "Believe it or not, Grissom, his type is the exception rather than the rule."
He glanced up. "Have you had to work with him?"
"Once." Sara grimaced at the memory. "I was ready to strangle him. Then he got killed in the line of duty."
Grissom blinked, looking a little startled, but to his credit he didn't make a snarky comment. But then, Sara reflected, he knew as well as she the unspoken rules of law enforcement. You may hate your fellow officer to the depths of your being, but a death in the line of duty is a loss no matter what.
"So, how is everyone?" Sara asked, reaching determinedly for normalcy. "I hear Catherine's team is giving yours a run for their money."
"The honors fluctuate," Grissom answered dryly, eyes crinkling a little. "Fortunately, the new Sheriff has figured out that the best way to run the lab is to stay out of it."
Sara whistled. "Nice!"
Another little silence fell as both of them fidgeted with their drinks, and Sara realized, surprised, that she wasn't angry at him any more. The burn that had propelled her from Vegas so quickly had faded sometime between now and then, and she hadn't even noticed.
She was still a little hurt, though. She'd opened her most painful secret to him-never mind that he'd pushed her to do it, if she'd wanted to keep it not even Gil Grissom could have pried it from her-and he'd actually come through. She still remembered the tight grip of his hand on hers, probably all he could give her, certainly all she could handle just then.
It had been enough.
Until she'd heard Sofia saying that Grissom had asked her out to dinner.
Sara knew her reaction had been all out of proportion. There was nothing between herself and Grissom but a fragile beginning on a rebuilt friendship, all her own feelings aside. But it had just been one more blow than she could take, and rather than lose it entirely, she had withdrawn. For her own emotional health and peace of mind, and for the sake of the friends that she and Grissom had once been. Better to drop it than smash it.
But it made her tired, now, to realize that she wasn't over him. He was supposed to be part of the past, blast it all.
He sat quietly across from her, probably not as inscrutable as he thought he was, the lines in his face deeper than when she'd last seen him but the silver of his hair making him even more attractive to her reluctant eyes. He'd abandoned his glass and was now idly drawing tiny ladybugs along the edge of the tablecloth, using a brown crayon.
"Ladybugs aren't brown," Sara heard herself say.
Grissom glanced up, and despite his small smile she saw again what she hadn't let herself pay attention to-the defeat in his posture and in the set of his mouth.
"True, but they're the only bug I can draw." He gestured at the table. "I think Kimmy took the red crayon with her."
"She must have known you had designs on it." Sara bit off the last word, appalled. How could she possibly be flirting with him?
His lips twitched. "Wise of her to guard it, then."
Was that some kind of obscure acknowledgment? She never quite knew what to do with him when he got cryptic.
Another bug joined the orderly parade. "I think I owe you an apology," Grissom said eventually, voice low.
Sara watched him add spots to the tiny wingcase. "I think maybe I owe you one."
He tilted his head, not looking up from his drawing. "Possibly…but as Catherine said, if I'd gotten my head out of my ass in time, it wouldn't have been a problem."
Sara coughed, taken by surprise at his bluntness, and he shrugged, eyes still on the table. "I'm glad to see-um, that you're doing so well," he added, and Sara wondered what he'd meant to say at first.
"I wish I could say the same," she answered, but gently. "You look tired, Grissom."
He shrugged again, and when he raised his head his eyes were opaque. "You know how hard it is to switch schedules for vacation."
Whatever moment of connection they'd had was over.
The stars were beautiful. Grissom tilted his head back as he and Sara paced slowly across the parking lot to his car, appreciating a view he rarely saw through the glare of Vegas' nights.
They weren't as beautiful as the woman walking next to him, of course, but he was carefully not looking at her. If he looked too long, he might say something. And it wouldn't be something she wanted to hear.
"Sorry about that," Sara muttered, and he knew she was referring to Ed's breezy insistence that the two of them catch up while he took the kids back to the motel and bed.
"It's okay," he returned automatically, though it most emphatically wasn't. He was beginning to wish he'd gone to Six Flags after all, even though its coasters weren't as good. The wounds he had thought closed were now gaping again, peeled open by the sound of Sara's voice and the scent of her nearby.
Ed's minivan drove past with a cheerful beep, and Grissom and Sara both waved at the small figures waving back. They watched the taillights disappear into the darkness.
"How are you getting back?" Grissom asked abruptly.
Sara jerked her head at the other side of the lot. "I drove separately; I had a videoconference online this morning so I caught up with them at the park."
"Ah." Silence fell again, neither of them moving very quickly-and neither of them knowing what to say, he suspected.
Remembering, he fished in his pocket. "Here." He held out the two season passes that the administrator had given him. "Give them to the kids."
Sara's face softened, but she shook her head. "They only come twice a year, Grissom."
"Then you take them," he insisted, not lowering his hand. "I'm sure you could use the break from time to time, and you can bring-"
His voice failed him as he tried to say "your boyfriend." She'd made no mention of one, but he was sure she had suitors if no actual companion. His Sara had never lacked for admirers.
Not yours any more.
She shook her head again, and pushed his hand gently away, and he shivered a little at the brush of her fingers-the first time her skin had touched his since that desperate, profound moment in her apartment. "Thank you. But no."
His hand fell to his side. It had been an impulse, but now he felt as though her light refusal was a last rejection.
I really should have gone to Six Flags.
Apparently oblivious, Sara sighed and folded her arms. "I never expected this, you know? I mean, I figured we'd see each other again, but probably at the lab or something. Where we could see it coming."
Grissom cleared his throat, hoping that the blackness he could feel creeping up on him didn't show in the dim light. "I used to imagine seeing you again." He didn't know why he let that secret slip, but perhaps it was the slightly acid, slightly reckless feeling of having nothing to lose.
She breathed out, a sound with an edge of amusement. "Oh? What was that like?"
He shrugged. "In my more rational moments, I would picture you walking past. You…always looked happy. I wouldn't say anything." He focused past her right shoulder, unwilling to see her face clearly.
"Hm." She shifted a little, and her voice was soft. "And in your less rational moments?"
"You don't want to know." She was trying to catch his gaze, and he couldn't permit it. He had no defenses from her and he did not want to see her pity.
"Actually I do."
He closed his eyes. In his saner imaginings, yes, he did the noble thing and let her walk by, oblivious. Half the time, he saw her with her arm hooked through another man's.
In his more anguished times, however-
He sighed. Here is your opportunity, some small hard voice said inside him. Do this, and no matter what she says afterwards, you will have one memory to hold as you grow old.
In those imaginary times, it was fast and he was ruthless. But here and now was different. Grissom opened his eyes, and reached out to grasp Sara's forearms. Her arms loosened automatically, and Grissom let his hands slide down to her wrists, pulling her one awkward step forward. Then he let her go, took her shoulders in his hands, and kissed her speechless.
Imagination paled in the face of this. He cut off her gasp with his mouth, kissing her the way he'd wanted to since the hour he'd first woken up to the fact that she was far more to him than just another bright young protégée; learning her mouth in one sweet, slow, endless kiss that filled him from soles to crown with light, if only for a moment.
She didn't fight him. And somewhere in the midst of it, as he was taking, she started to give; parting her lips to let him in, pressing closer and tilting her head for a better angle. He heard a desperate, low sound, and realized a second later that it had come from his throat, but he was too busy to care.
He finally had to let her go. Her lips were red when he lifted his head, and her eyes opened after a second, blinking; her breathing was as fast as his own, he could hear it. Sara's hands dropped from his forearms-he hadn't even noticed her grip-and he forced his own fingers to open, feeling as though the shape of her shoulders would be forever imprinted on his palms.
He could identify nothing in her face but amazement, and he stored that away, wanting to keep it as his last perfect picture of her. And then he turned on his heel and strode towards his car. If he could just get away before she said anything, he could pretend-
Almost there. He fumbled for his keys.
"Oh no you don't." His elbow was grabbed from behind, and the keys slipped from his hand to clash onto the pavement as she yanked him around. "You do not get to walk away from me."
She was still panting a little, but he figured that it was anger that made her cheeks pink and her eyes bright, not arousal. "Why not?" The words were surprisingly bitter. "You did."
Sara flinched, visibly, but didn't let him go. "I deserved that," she admitted calmly.
Which made him feel guilty. "Sorry," he muttered.
She made an impatient noise. "Was that just a random impulse, or one of your less rational moments?"
Grissom stared down at the keys near his foot rather than Sara's hand on his arm or Sara herself. "You asked," he said, trying to hold on to the memory of that one anguished, blissful moment.
"Yeah, I did." Sara released a breath. "Grissom..."
He pulled his arm from her grip and bent for the keys, but she was swifter, and had them before he was halfway down. "Sara, let me go," he said, voice raw. "Please. This hurts."
She let out a strangled little laugh. "I know all about pain, Grissom, believe me. But I can't. You want to know why?"
He was beyond puzzlement at this point, but gave in. "Why, then?"
One strong hand, the one not clutching his keys, came up and stroked his cheek, a gesture so unexpected that he froze. Sara pressed gently, turning his head until he was forced to meet her eyes.
"Because I imagine the same thing," she told him quietly. "In my less rational moments."
He would never get used to the way she had of inverting things, of changing his universe around him with a word or a look. "You...you do?"
Her mouth quirked, rueful acknowledgment, but her eyes were wary, her shoulders stiff. This was costing her, he could see that.
And she has more to lose.
"Oh." It was the only word he could form. He blinked, twice, then reached up and pulled her hand from his cheek to his mouth. He could feel the tremor in her wrist as he pressed his lips to her skin.
Well, it didn't matter, because he was shaking too. And somehow they ended up clinging to each other, to keep from falling.
And the hole in his heart began to close.
"I don't get it," Greg said, eyeing Grissom with some confusion. "You just got back from vacation two weeks ago, and now you're taking a leave of absence?"
Unperturbed, Grissom continued sliding papers into his briefcase. "Abdul did fine running the show, didn't he?"
Greg shrugged. "Yeah, sure. But-"
Grissom glanced up at his best CSI, whose hair was still spiked even though he dressed like a professional these days. "But?"
"He's, um...not you."
Grissom gave him a kind look, acknowledging the compliment. "I'm sure one of me is plenty."
Greg sighed, and Grissom took pity on him. "I need to...take some time off, Greg. Reevaluate my life." He snapped the briefcase shut. "But if you need something, I'll only be a phone call away."
"Yeah, but it's not like you can just drop back in from Virginia." Greg stuck his hands in his pockets. "I don't get it. Why are you going all that way? The rollercoasters you were talking about?"
Grissom waved Greg out of the office ahead of himself, and took one last look around before shutting off the lights. He felt a smile coming on. "Actually, Greg...I'm going for the beauty."