Greg Sanders normally didn't lie. He may have exaggerated, stretched the truth, embroidered for effect—but flat out lie. Not usually. And he wouldn't have had to, if it weren't for that damn tattoo of Sara's.
Well not that tattoo, the one on her ankle, the little sun. He's seen that one before. Hell even Grissom's seen that one. No it's the other one; the one she has on the slope of her lower belly…down there. The brief glimpse he'd gotten when they'd been hustled into the decontamination shower had stuck in his mind like a burr, popping up at odd moments. Like now, when he's got his nose down a scope supposed to be concentrating on evidence. Instead that graphic little symbol tugs at his concentration; demanding he think about it, puzzle it out. Because the hell of it is he can't for the life of him figure out just what she's got tattooed there...exactly. And it's driving him nuts.
He can't even ask Sara about it because he'd told her he didn't look.
He wasn't really lying to Sara when he said he didn't look. Maybe what he really meant was "I didn't mean to look but last time I checked I'm an average healthy guy and I'm not completely stupid". And it wasn't like he did anything more than kind of slide his eyes that way and could you blame him? Sara Sidle naked and wet in a shower with him. Not quite the "Dear Penthouse" letter of his fantasies though, what with the two extra bodies in there with them. Well okay, maybe if it had been hot chicks instead of two grim men from the Dept of Health hosing them off it might have been erotic. As it was, nothing like having a large guy in a full body Tivek suit hustle you off to a cold shower to decontaminate you because you may have been exposed to the next Ebola or whatever, to squash any lustful imaginings.
Also, there's the whole issue of fear induced shrinkage; let's not even go there. The last thing he wants Sara to be thinking about when she's picturing him naked is that. Under other conditions he's got nothing to be ashamed of, but he'd defy any guy not to be a little…worried if they ever found themselves in that exact situation.
So he'd kept his back mostly turned and concentrated very hard on the blue plastic sheeting of the tent but she'd made some noise. Some soft murmur or maybe it was only the pounding of the water but he'd already looked over and she'd been one lean sleek wet line of naked back and impossibly long legs leading to that cute little ass and holy crap, he's never gonna be able to look at her bending over without picturing it as it is now, when she turned and he'd caught a glimpse of that intricate little design on her belly before he jerked his eyes away in case she caught him looking.
Then he'd opened his big dumb mouth and told her he didn't see anything because…why exactly? Does he really think that Sara thinks he's some kind of gentleman? A nice honorable guy like Nick, a guy who says please and thank-you and no ma'am, I definitely didn't sneak a peek at your goodies in the shower? Or failing that, why couldn't he have made some smooth comment like Warrick? Something sexy and just this side of too flirty that would have pinked up her cheeks and brought a speculative look into her eyes. But no he's too spazzy and earnest, falling all over himself to put her at ease, because he's the one freaking out. And when he's nervous he just kind of …says things. And lately Sara Sidle has been making him nervous. Nervous enough that the easy banter between them has kind of dried up and he's become serious and boring. Like some pod person version of himself—Greg Sanders, the Mormon edition.
If it were any other woman other than Sara, they would surely recognize all of the symptoms of a terminal crush and be able to help him out with this. Either with a gentle rejection or an unspoken invitation to continue the dance a little bit further but no it's Sara and Sara logic is not like our Earth logic. It's one of the things he loves about her—her single-mindedness and intense focus. He knows in Sara's world Greg codes as friend. He's been dissected and evaluated and deemed worthy of friendship and he's forever labeled and destined to remain in that category. Which is cool, because she's cool and he enjoys hanging out with her...but damn if being near her doesn't make his skin hum and being unable to do anything about it makes him half crazy.
Especially now he's seen her naked. Kinda.
Just like that, the image of the tattoo leaps into his head again. He's almost sure he's seen something like it before, something familiar, he gropes for it but the image dances out of reach again.
He sighs and gives up pretending he's making any sense of the evidence he's got in front of him. Only one way to deal with this—suck it up and take it like a man.
"Hey Greg." Sara looks up from her paperwork. "Have a breakthrough you're just dying to share with me?"
"Yes…Well no. Not really."
Sara looks puzzled so he plunges on.
"Look the other day…in the shower…well when I said I didn't look…I maybe…sort…of did."
She doesn't look like she's going to kill him, he thinks. But she's deceptive.
"Yeah. I know. I'm a dog. But honestly it was only a glance. Just one quick turn of the head and Hey! Naked Sara! Then I looked away again. I promise."
Maybe she isn't going to kill him…just hurt him a lot. Greg braces himself for the worst but instead Sara looks appraisingly at him.
"Well…I guess I should be flattered. I mean, what does it say about me if even the resident horn dog doesn't try to look at me when I'm naked…"
"Horn dog?" Greg splutters, "Wait…who says that about me?"
Sara shoots him her best, "Oh please!" look.
"Okay." Greg says, "Maybe I am a bit flirty with the ladies…but that's not the point."
"Oh? What is the point then?"
"I saw the tattoo…"
Sara looks at her ankle.
"No. The other one."
Sara narrows her eyes. The little voice in his head starts yelling "Danger! Will Robinson! Danger!" but Greg is determined to see this out to the end.
"…I just got a quick glance—a peek really—and I couldn't even tell what it was. The hell of it is, I keep thinking I should know, that I've seen it somewhere…it's driving me crazy. Sara what the hell is it?"
"I'm not telling you!" She smirks at him when he groans. "No c'mon Sanders…you just copped to ogling me—"
"Hey! I didn't ogle and besides you said you ogled me first—"
"Ogling me in the nude." She continued. "And now you want me to tell you something personal?"
"A tattoo isn't personal!"
"Of course it is. It's on my person. Inked on there with lots of tiny painful needles…how much more personal can you get?"
"You know what I mean."
"Still. I'm not telling."
"Well show it to me again. I'm positive I could figure it out if I got another look at it."
"I don't think so…"
"Arrrggh! You're killing me here, Sara!" Greg drops his head on the desk in frustration.
"This is really bugging you, isn't it?"
"It's like when you have a song in your head but you don't know who sings it and you can't stop thinking about it…please, Sara. Help a guy out."
She purses her lips and thinks. He lays his best puppy-dog eyes look on her.
"Okay…here's the deal. I'll give you a week. And by end of shift seven days from now you have to have done something…so amazing, so surprising, that you leave me speechless. If you can do that…I'll do you one better, I won't just tell you what the tattoo means…I'll show it to you again. Deal?" She holds out her hand.
"Deal! This'll be easy! You're going down Sidle…" He shakes her hand enthusiastically.
"We'll see." Sara says smugly as she turns back to her paperwork.
So it turns out…winning this thing is going to be harder than he thought. His usual pranks have no effect. Plus he may have maxed out before his time, because really, how can you top dancing around in a dead showgirl's headdress unaware you're standing right in front of Grissom, anyway? That stunt is the stuff of legend now. And as much as he wants to win, he can't do anything that might jeopardize his job or credibility as a newly minted CSI either. His wacky lab rat days are behind him. Oh sure, he still tries, but serenading a surprised and upset Hodges in the break room with an impromptu version of "(When I Think About You) I Touch Myself" doesn't draw more than giggles from Sara and a WTF! look from Catherine and Nick. He may have underestimated his opponent's fortitude. So he's gotta get sneaky. He may have to bend the rules a little; actually he may have to bend them a lot.
He plans his approach carefully; he waits until just before the end of shift on the last possible day of their bet. He catches her in the parking lot. She's getting into her car.
"Hey Sidle? You aren't running out on me are you?" He clucks his tongue disapprovingly "And here I was all ready to win the bet too…"
"Fat chance Greggo. In case you haven't noticed, it's the end of shift and I've won." She leans against her car and smiles arrogantly at him.
"Actually…shift isn't over for…" He checks his watch. "Two minutes, I still have a chance at winning this."
"So…here I am. Ready and waiting for you to surprise me."
"Alright then..." Greg pulls something from behind his back and gives it to Sara. "Here."
It's a book. The cover is a little worn at the edges but otherwise the book is in good condition; the cheery red background sets off the bright turquoise of the title: "Trixie Belden #9: The Happy Valley Mystery".
Stunned, Sara looks up at Greg. He's trying for nonchalant but his grin gives it away.
"I think that qualifies as surprised and even a little bit speechless. Looks like I win." Greg is fairly vibrating with excitement.
"I—I never said anything to anyone about Trixie…" A thought occurs to her. The thought Greg was kind of hoping wouldn't occur to her. "You were in my bedroom!" Her voice is accusing and there's a bright spark of anger in her eyes. Greg backpedals hastily.
"By accident…I swear. Remember about a month ago, your car was in for repairs and I picked you up before shift?"
She nods suspiciously.
"And I asked to use the bathroom and you said it was down the hall and I went but there were two doors—both closed—and I picked the wrong one. As soon as I realized I left, but I saw the book…or one of them anyway, it was on your nightstand. I just thought it was odd. I mean…who'd have ever expected you to read Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew mysteries…"
"I don't read Nancy Drew. I don't like her…Trixie's different, she's a tomboy Nancy's too…" Sara shuts up fast, she's said just a bit too much and Greg is grinning at her again.
"Please, go on…these insights into the great mystery that is your brain are truly educational."
"Look. I read her when I was a kid. I got one for my birthday once and I just kept on sort of collecting them. They're…comfort reading. I know I can pick one up after a tough day and in an hour I'm done and Trixie and the Bob White gang have solved the mystery and the bad guys go to jail."
"I guess the cases against them never get thrown out for lack of evidence either?"
Sara chuckled. "No…that's a constant in Trixie's world. The good guys always win. But Greg…you remembered all this? And how did you know I didn't have "Happy Valley"?"
"Okay…I'll tell you…but did I win?"
"Yeah…I can honestly say I didn't expect something like this from you, Greg."
"YES! I so win at life!"
"Anyway…how did you know? Sara prompts.
"You promise to show me the tattoo? Cross your heart and hope to die?"
"Yes! Now spill."
"Well…I must admit. I was pretty bummed. I had nothing. Everything I'd tried so far hadn't worked. So I decided to "revisit" the evidence." Greg was warming to his story and Sara couldn't help but smile at his zeal. "Fact one: While I may have been the late-shift king of zany antics, you already know that about me and would be prepared for something like that. Fact two: You, my dear, aren't known for your ready sense of humor. Which is a crime," Greg added hurriedly off her look. "Because you do have one…totally have one…just maybe not so much at work."
"That's because it's work Greg."
"Right…but my point is…" Greg frantically tried to recall what his point was, "my point is, I knew that about you…your dedication and uh…so naturally pranks wouldn't work on you. Because of your admirable work ethic." Was he sweating? Maybe just a little.
"So how does this explain the book?"
"Ah! I'm getting to that…so I thought to myself, "What do I know about you—Sara—that would surprise you to know that I knew…are you following?"
"Then I remembered the Trixie Belden book. But because I didn't have any idea which one it was…well maybe I went into your room again…but only on purpose this one time, after the first time which, as you and I both know, was an accident…"
"Get to the point Greg."
"So I come over before shift on Wednesday…ask to use the john again, sneak into your bedroom so I could figure out which books you didn't have…then a quick surf of the Net and one Ebay auction later…Voila! One "Happy Valley Mystery" equals one very surprised coworker and one bet won…"
Sara doesn't say anything. Just looks at the book in her hands.
"Which is good right?"
Sara opens the door and gets into her car.
"Right?" Greg's heart has sunk down somewhere near the vicinity of his stomach…maybe lower…maybe all the way to his small intestine. He's screwed it up. She's annoyed and pissed off at the stalkeryness of him with the book. Great. Nice one Sanders.
"What?" He almost doesn't hear her because he's obsessing about this latest screw-up.
"Get in Greg. I'm not going to show you here in the parking lot. We'll go somewhere private."
He may be a little geeky, he may talk too much, and he may at times even be kind of naïve but the one thing he's sure he isn't, is a fool. Only a fool would pass up an opportunity like this. The grin lights up his face as he hops into Sara's car.
"Sure, it's private enough…no day shift around."
"It boggles my mind that you consider a 7-11 private. I thought we were going back to your place…"
"Dream on Sanders. I'm just showing you the tattoo. You've already seen the rest."
"No I haven't."
"Use your imagination on the missing bits then…" she teased.
"What do you think I've spent the last four and a half years doing, Sara?" he teased back.
There's a moment of uncomfortable silence. Greg isn't quite sure how to proceed with this as he wasn't as interested in getting girls to show him their tattoos when he had them alone in a car…unless those tattoos happened to be in places of interest.
"Look…you don't have to. Just tell me what it is and…"
But she's already reclined the seat and started unbuckling her belt. She stops and he looks at her. She flashes that lopsided grin of hers.
"It's no big Greg…I'm just showing you the tattoo. Unless you don't want…"
"No no. Go on." Did he sound too eager?
He watches fascinated as she shimmies her jeans past her hips. He looks away when he catches a glimpse of her panties. His face is hot and he's aware he's about to blow his rep if he doesn't cool it, but damn…cherry red satin trimmed with black lace. Those are some pretty bold panties…not something he'd ever pictured her wearing. Soft ivory, pale pinks, occasional black sure…but these? These are in your face huskily whispering how much "I love to have sex" panties, and were those ribbon ties at the sides? His mind, of course, wonders if the bra matches and his face grows even hotter.
He has to say something…got to say something…anything.
"Nice..uh…" He gestures, "nice."
"Thanks…normally I don't wear stuff like this to work but it I need to do laundry."
Stuff like this? There's more? She wears it other places? Greg swears he can smell his neurons frying…or maybe it's only a whiff of the brimstone from the special hell he's going to living in for the next little while picturing Sara in her exotic underwear.
"Yeah…I know what you mean."
Sara looks at him oddly. He realizes she thinks he has on fancy underwear too.
"Laundry! I was going to do some today." Tres Cool Greggo.
Sara nods and hooks her thumb into the top of her panties; Greg's mouth is very dry all of a sudden. Which is totally weird because it's not like they're going to have sex or anything, right? She slides the panties down exposing smooth white belly and there just under her left hip, the tattoo. He starts to lean closer.
"You don't mind?"
"No. You won fair and square, knock yourself out."
He leans over the center console to get a better look.
"Oh….man I knew I'd seen something like it before…which one is it?"
He looks up at her, baffled. "There's a molecule for happiness?"
"Well…it's serotonin actually, but my chemistry professor in college always referred to it as the happiness molecule…pretty isn't it?"
He leans back and looks again. The tattoo artist had done a remarkable job; the molecular diagram was exquisitely detailed and shaded to make the chains of hydroxyl groups and phenyl rings look three-dimensional.
"Yeah…when'd you get it?"
"Just before I started working here…on one of my last nights in San Francisco my friends took me out, we had some drinks and I decided to get another tattoo…to celebrate. So I wound up in some tattoo parlor off Diversidero late that night with some burly biker guy studying a picture he'd printed off the Net and inking this onto me. He said he might've passed chem. lab in school if he'd had the chance to tattoo more molecular diagrams onto pretty girls like me…" Her smile is warm with the memory.
She shifts and Greg is aware she's going to button up again so quite without meaning to he does the thing he's been longing to do ever since he saw Sara's tattoo.
He touches it, a tiny bit astonished that he can't feel the bumpy surface of the molecule under his finger as it slides over her warm skin. She shivers under his touch and he snatches his hand back. He turns to her with an apology already crowding up against his lips but when he looks at her he falls silent.
Her eyes are the same dark eyes he always sees when he looks at her but now there's this look of awareness, of difference, and he realizes he's just touched Sara Sidle. And it's not like a friendly pat on the back, pallsy-wallsy, kind of touch either. He's stroked her where only a lover would.
"I—uh…" He looks out through the windshield and tries to think of a way out of this.
He turns to her with some lame excuse and it's obvious she wasn't expecting it. Because she's suddenly right there—in his space, and the kiss she's leaning over to plant on his cheek lands on the corner of his mouth instead. Nor does she pull away when he settles his mouth more firmly on hers. There's an instant. One long lovely instant of soft lips on his, her warm breath as she opens her mouth to him, the quick touch of her tongue to his. Then reality doesn't just come crashing down, it slams down into him with such force that he jerks back because he's crossed that line and actually kissed Sara! And he's really in trouble now because his brain has shut down with the whole sensory overload of everything and his hasty excuses, his need to explain himself before she throws him out of the car, are all jammed up in his throat.
He's just managed to stutter out her name when her hands—which oddly enough have found the front of his shirt—tug him closer and his mouth meet up with hers again and this time he has a second to think What the fuck? before the fact that Sara is now kissing him blows his mind to smithereens.
Then there's nothing but heat and need and wonder that this is Sara, Sara who is so soft and warm and sexy in his arms. Until the sharp rapping on the glass of the driver's side window makes them fly apart like guilty teenagers caught necking on the couch.
"Hey…you two! Not in front of my store! Get a room if you're going to act like that!"
The aggrieved store manager stands outside the car, hands on hips glaring daggers at them.
"Uh sorry…" Sara can't look the angry middle-aged man in the eyes as she starts the car. Greg feels a small worm of doubt twist within him that she can't look him in the eyes either; he sees her shoulders are shaking. Could this be? Is Sara crying from the humiliation of everything? She backs the car out of the slot and Greg finds he can't think of a thing to say. She brings the car to a stop at the light and he sits nervously plucking at the creases of his pants. He clears his throat and is about to say…what exactly? But Sara looks at him. Her eyes are teary and this is wholly at odds with the huge loony grin. Then she stammers.
"You're right Greg. I—I guess a 7-11 isn't really that private after all…" And he sits goggling at her when she starts laughing. Then he joins her, insanely relieved she's finding this funny. Because he has no idea where all this is going.
Apparently where all this is going is back to Sara's place. He is silent as he follows her through the front door into her apartment; he's edgy around her in a way he's never had to be before. She seems jumpy as a cat too. The awareness of this fragile new thing between them lies heavy in the air around them. He's half ready to chuck the whole thing and call it off when her tentative hand finds his and that intense skin hunger flares up again between them and he feels almost confident backing her down the hall to her bedroom. His lips are busy on her throat, her fingers fussing at each button on the front of his shirt and he's wild to see if his prediction about her bra is the correct one but still he pauses at the threshold of her room. Unwilling to commit to this—this huge change to everything they are—if he walks through that door.
She sits on her bed looking at him.
"Maybe…" He doesn't want to say it. So she reads his mind and says it for him.
"Maybe we shouldn't?" Her voice is quiet but not angry.
"Yeah…you know…work and stuff." He's a little surprised at the level of regret he's feeling.
Once again Sara surprises him when she snorts.
"Greg, get with the program…these days where else are you supposed to meet people but at work. That's all we do lately…work. Might as well act on what's obviously between us." She shrugs.
"Yeah, but. Is it really appropriate?" She cocks an eyebrow at that. "Alright…I'm not exactly the poster boy for appropriate behavior in the workplace but Sara…what if we get…" Caught, he wants to say caught. But that would make him sound like even more of a wuss than he already does.
"In trouble?" He nods. "Why would we? Unlike two other swing shift CSI's I could mention…I'm not your supervisor, just your coworker. No harm, no foul."
"Hold on…hold on just a second. Are you saying that Catherine is…doing this…with who…?"
"Warrick." She looks amused. "Aw, c'mon don't give me that…like you didn't know! All day shift is gossiping about it…"
Greg sits beside her on the bed, disbelief all over his face.
"No I really didn't know! Really? Cath' and Warrick?"
Sara nods and he knows the look of perfectly evil delight in juicy gossip she's wearing is also mirrored on his face as well.
"Does Grissom know?" And as soon as Greg says his name he regrets it, so far they've made it this far without it coming up. But trust him to bring on the awkwardness.
"Don't know—don't care…we don't really…talk anymore." Sara suddenly finds her hands fascinating.
"Yeah…I'd noticed." The silence is broken only by the sound of their breathing.
"Remember that time I bawled out Ecklie?"
He nods and tucks a stray strand of her hair behind her ear. "Yeah I remember."
"After, he came over and this huge…thing happened…stuff was said and now we just don't talk. Well, we talk about work but that's it. You're really the only person I talk to anymore, Greg."
She sounds so lonely that he hugs her to him. Part of him is desperate to know exactly what…thing happened between her and Grissom but he's been around Sara long enough to know that what little she's been willing to share is a revelation unto itself. Sara gives new meaning to the phrase personal space. He's content to let things lie for now but she keeps talking,
"Then you go and get me the Trixie Belden book. Just to surprise me. Nobody's done anything like that for me in a long time…"
"I got you the book so I'd win the bet, Sara…" He's never comfortable playing the hero to a girl...once the shine is out of their eyes they'll see he's really only ordinary after all.
"I know that…" She's starting to sound like her old self, impatient that he isn't immediately getting it. "But in order to win the bet you had to take the time to figure out how, Greg. Because for whatever reason…something about me…bugged you enough to do it."
"Well…yeah. That tattoo…" He's still not getting it.
"You noticed. You noticed me the way any guy would and I'd guess I've been so busy chasing the unattainable that I've forgotten how nice it is to be noticed. To have someone other than me for a change sweating over the significance of some small thing...well it's fun."
"Fun? Making me crazy is…fun for you? You're an evil woman…you know that?"
"Yeah…I'm evil. And lucky…" She smiles as she kisses him gently on the mouth, her words soft murmurs against his lips "And, I guess it's time I smartened up and realized that..."
Turns out he was right about the bra after all.
Also, that quick peek in the shower didn't do her justice, and for once Greg's really glad his imagination was lacking.
Six weeks later, he's sitting in a chair trying not to punk out and grip Sara's hand too hard, thus destroying whatever macho street cred he's got left.
But…he thinks Normal Sara won't mind if he squeezes her hand a smidgen harder. That's how he thinks of her now…Normal Sara when they aren't on the clock and Work Sara when they are and she's taught him all kinds of fun things, not the least of which is the importance of compartmentalization. So far as he's been able to tell with some judicious snooping and maybe even a little eavesdropping, the rumor mill at work is still busily chewing over Catherine and Warrick and they haven't even popped up on the radar as a couple, the scuttlebutt on him is that he's gay and Sara's a frigid bitch.
Which is funny because she's anything but frigid. She brings all that passion and intensity home from work with her and he just can't stop smiling. And Normal Sara does such things to him, and for him, and with him that if she wanted him to be gay for a day, he'd consider it. Anything to see that evil little grin again.
She's wearing it now…saucy little gap in her teeth heating him up despite the pain.
"You won't regret it…I promise..."
"I hope not…if he slips…it won't just be me regretting it."
"Don't worry buddy…I'm not gonna slip." The man speaking has a ring through his nose, lip and eyebrow. "And I've tattooed guys in more private places believe me…" The artist bends back to the design he's inking onto Greg's skin.
He's almost finished; he wipes the last few drops of blood away and touches up the image a little. Sara's nodding in approval.
"How's it look?" He can't tell…it's like one big bloody scab to him. He'll defer to the experts.
"No worries, dude. I do good work." The tattooist's deep rumbling voice is proud. "Even if the flash isn't mine to start with." He consults the textbook one last time and compares it to what he's drawn on Greg's flesh. "Odd choice…but it's a nice change from all the panthers and skulls…the tourist trade is so boring." The man nods, finally satisfied and smears a large blob of antibiotic ointment on the tattoo. The cream brings out the bright colors of the design; vivid reds, greens, and blues of base pairs twirl and spiral in a familiar pattern.
"Watson and Crick would be pretty impressed." Sara says.
Flushed with endorphins and the heady joy of not passing out in front of his girlfriend, Greg admires the shiny new DNA strand he's gotten tattooed onto his belly, just below his hip.