Disclaimer: See chapter one.
Author's Note: You guys blow me away with your feedback. I hope you enjoyed the ride. I know I did.
"You ready to go?"
Sara glanced back as Grissom's gentle voice interrupted her inner musings. She gave her nondescript motel room one last scan, nodding quickly. "Yeah. I'm good to go".
They checked out, much to the pleasure of their ill-tempered motel manager, and they cruised down the main street of Eildenbrook one last time, tank full of gas. Sara felt mixed emotions about leaving. She was more than happy to leave the slightly eerie, closeted small town behind in her memories, but there was a certain level of nostalgia attached to it when she considered the life changing events it had incurred.
They passed the winding stretch of road that eventually led to Sylvia Barton's ramshackle house, and Sara released a quiet, mournful sigh.
She felt Grissom's attention on her, and glanced at him questioningly. "What?"
He lifted an eyebrow, urging forth the inner diatribe he knew was inevitable. She sighed again, this one filled with weariness beyond her age. "It just doesn't seem fair. That Hayley's grandmother will never be punished for what she did. Even if we had the time to prove it… she's too old for a jury to ever consider a conviction".
Grissom shrugged, looking unusually calm about the circumstances, considering the inner passion that had brought them there. "She lives on the edge of civilisation, without anyone to ever visit her, and only her cats for company. She's destined to die alone. That is her prison".
Sara lifted an eyebrow, strangely comforted by his rationale. "So you think that's punishment, then?" she prompted casually. "Being alone?"
He removed his gaze from the road ahead to shoot her a brief look, and she smiled to herself, contented with the minute response he gave her. "Good to know", she murmured, mostly to herself, returning her attention to the passing scenery.
She knew he was worried that she was over-identifying with Hayley a little, that her empathy was one day going to be the cause of her burnout. She couldn't pacify him on that front, so she maintained her silence. There were many obvious parallels between their lives. They were both forced to live in a household of violence, abused by close family members, those who should have been trusted, not feared. They had both been forced out of their home situations; Sara by a murder, Hayley by necessity. But Sara had escaped the hold of her past, and had managed to recover herself in the wake of the wreckage, damaged but living. Hayley dug herself into a deeper hole, and her ability to trust was what ended her life.
They were forced to leave Sheriff Waters' fate to the Tonopah authorities, but it was likely he would lose his badge, if nothing else. Sara was satisfied with that punishment, at least for the time being. She believed that power should be wielded by those worthy, not those who acted by their own impulses.
She frowned, eyes drifting vaguely over the lush greenery surrounding them, a direct contradiction to the endless desert only several hours ahead.
She remembered the night before, treasuring it in her memory as perhaps the first time she ever felt truly at home, content in her own skin. They had momentarily avoided the fact that, at least until they returned, their professional future was in limbo.
Now however, all of the things she had previously dismissed as minor problems for their relationship threatened to plague her with anxiety. She knew why. She self-sabotaged any of her efforts to make herself happy. And she knew today, she was for perhaps the first time in her life, on the road to potential happiness.
"What's going to happen when we get back?" she asked Grissom, bringing voice to her thoughts, furrowing her brow. "Ecklie's going to want to take some kind of disciplinary action." She felt uneasiness well inside her stomach. "Even if he doesn't fire you, he's definitely going to want to fire me".
"Technically, you were right when you said we weren't doing anything wrong", Grissom argued carefully. "We're on genuine leave time, of which both of us have plenty. And we solved a case that was making the department look bad, which was the reason Ecklie closed it in the first place. And… I took care of our job security. At least for the immediate future."
Sara twisted in her seat, ignoring the sudden awkwardness of the seatbelt around her midsection. "What do you mean by that?"
He looked distinctly uncomfortable by her sudden line of questioning. "I do have some political savvy, even if I chose not to use it".
"You threatened him?"
This caused a small smirk. "Threatened is such a strong word".
She put a hand over her face, and didn't know whether to be relieved, grateful, or livid. She decided for a combination of all three. "Grissom, you already risked your job for me once after I was suspended. I don't want you to have to keep doing it because I make dumb decisions".
He shot her a patient look. "Why did you come here, really?"
She stared at him, startled by her own question turned back on her. "I… I came to help you. You couldn't handle this case by yourself".
"That's debatable, but yes, that is part of the reason. You also came to keep an eye on me, because you thought I'd do something crazy".
She opened her mouth, unable to find the words to deny it. Grissom gave a perfunctory nod. "Sara, you feel an obligation to me, and I'm just returning the favour. As far as I'm concerned, this makes us even. Our personal relationship is not going to make me biased towards you, and it is not going to make me use my position over you as some kind of advantage".
She lifted an eyebrow, impressed by his mini-speech. "Did you think that up just then, or have you been stewing on that for a while?"
He blinked, and then settled for an easy smile when he could see she had relaxed back in her seat. "You have no idea how long I've been thinking about that".
Sara smiled vaguely, leaning back in her seat, allowing the lulling movement of the vehicle to relax her. The next time she opened her eyes, it was to the dusty mid-morning skyline of Las Vegas. She had never been happier to see it.
The last few days had been unforgettable and life altering, but there was something to be said for the comfort of returning to normalcy.
She glanced at Grissom in the corner of her eye, who was ostensibly preoccupied with his own thoughts as they took an exit ramp off the I-15.
"Do you want to go straight home or would you like to go to the lab first?"
She blinked, realising that he was paying attention to her after all.
"Um, I think I'd just like to go home", she admitted, stretching some of the kinks out of her leg muscles. "I'm pretty beat."
He nodded in silent agreement, passing the road that would lead them to the lab and continuing along the Strip, towards her apartment complex.
Despite their mutual reassurances, she felt slightly nervous to be back in what had been, for far too long, neutral territory between them. The familiarity of the passing Stratosphere and looming casinos couldn't quite quell her faint agitation, and she ignored the feeling, intent on reminding herself of all of the unrequited luxuries her home promised on arrival.
Grissom drew to a halt in a parking space out the front of her apartment. Silently, he got out of the car to help her with her bags, even though she only had a suitcase and a duffle bag.
Her apartment was in much the state she had left it, and she placed her keys on the counter before depositing her suitcase near the door. She glanced back at Grissom, who took this as his cue to do the same, taking in the familiar, inviting hues of her apartment and feminine flourishes and touches that gave it the warmth he associated with Sara's personality.
This was only the second time he had been there, and he wanted to soak it in, give himself some proper insight into the Sara he wanted to know, not the one he already did.
She stopped in the centre of her living room, turning to face him, and he turned to her. It was strange. After being together for so long, she wasn't quite ready for him to leave just yet. "Do you want to um, stay for a while?" she asked hesitantly. "For coffee, or… tea or something?"
"I was thinking that I might just get a bit of sleep", he said gently.
"Oh". She blinked, unable to keep the disappointment from her voice. "Yeah. Sure".
Her unhappiness was like a wound to his side, and the need to see her face light up in pleasure, for him, was too much for him to ignore.
"We can do that here, can't we?"
"Oh". She smiled, pleasantly surprised. "Yeah".
He shot her a teasing smile, the kind of free, flirtatious gesture she had missed with a pang in her heart after all of these years of tension.
"And rest is not code for anything else, Sara".
She blinked, taken aback by his openness, unable to stop a wide, girlish grin from spreading over her features. "I wouldn't dream of it".
"Good. We do still have to go to work tonight".
He asked to use her bathroom, and she gestured him in its general direction before glancing around at her apartment in his wake, inadvertently an examination that almost mirrored the manner in which he had done it only moments before.
It was the same small, cosy space, solitude for her in some of her loneliest hours, and yet now, something in it had changed. She felt a small smile touch her lips as she watched the door close behind him, before sagging onto her sofa to check her messages.
It felt like home.