Disclaimer/Author's Note – See Chapter One.
Chapter Eleven – Endings & Beginnings
The blush of first light was seeping through the bedroom curtains when Sara awoke. Lying on her side, she sadly watched him as he slept; his breathing slow and measured, caressing her cheek and breaking her heart.
Eventually, she cautiously extracted herself from the bed, careful not to wake him. Like a shadow, she moved into the living room and stationed herself at her desk.
A new sheet of paper on the blotter in front of her and the black pen she favored between finger and thumb, she paused to find the words. Her earlier, pathetic attempt at a letter was now inadequate, as it in truth always had been. But now, she had complicated matters further. Now, she knew she couldn't leave him with a simple apology and a measured goodbye.
Taking a deep breath, she began to write.
The hot desert sun was higher in the sky when he awoke in an empty bed. He knew he was alone, even before he sat up and looked around the room. She was already gone…
Her pillow smell faintly of her shampoo, and he buried his face in it, absorbing her scent.
She was gone…
Sitting up properly, he noticed a creamy envelope – nice but inexpensive stationary – propped up against the bedside lamp. With shaking hands, he reached for it.
He had never received a Dear John letter before. And despite his insecurities going into his relationship with Sara, he had never expected to receive one from her.
Struggling to regard the letter as a piece of evidence from which he could remain emotionally unaffected, rather than as a weapon capable of his fatal wounding, he tore open the envelope and unfolded the fearsome missive within.
His heart ached at the sight of her familiar scrawling penmanship. It was obvious that she had tried to force her handwriting into a neater than usual configuration of letters, just as she had often tried to force her unruly hair into smooth locks in the past.
It's strange that after working by your side for more than five years and being in a relationship with you these past months, Grissom is still the only name for you that comes naturally to me. It is the name that comforts me when I awake from a nightmare or when I'm feeling raw and vulnerable at work. It's the name that comforts me now, as I drive away from Vegas and out of your life. You are the constant in my life, Grissom. Even in the past, when things between us unraveled, you were still my safe port in the storm. The one person in this world I knew I could turn to if I really needed to.
Which is why leaving you now, just when I possibly need you the most, breaks my heart.
I need for you to know and to understand my reasons for going. As I've already told you, the current situation in Vegas has become untenable – Jill's victory over me would be complete if I remained there to see the remnants of my career fall down around me. It doesn't matter that I've been cleared of wrong-doing. Even without Jill's accusations and the damage being done to my reputation, I'm becoming reckless, self-destructive. In the end, if I stayed, I would probably be the one to destroy my own career. And even that, at this stage, would not be the worst thing that could happen.
No matter your arguments to the contrary, I would never forgive myself if I contributed to the destruction of your career. Deny it all you like, Griss, but we both know how important your job is to you. You've worked for it your entire life and I will not let my past, or my current destructive behavior, risk all that for you. Ecklie may not be right about much, but he was right about one thing - I don't think you'd ever forgive me.
However, that is not the only reason for me leaving. I have a past that I have never fully dealt with. And as much as I would like to remain in Vegas and bury my head in the ample amounts of sand the desert provides, I know that I will never be free of my past unless I finally lay it to rest.
Someone once said "Only the one that inflicts the pain can take it away." My curse in life has always been that the man who inflicted so much pain on me and my family is no longer alive, and so can never be brought to justice. For years I hated my Mother for taking that away from me. I felt that my Father escaped justice in death, thus making the terror he inflicted upon us live on forever. Part of me still feels that way.
You told me that I don't run away, but in truth I've been doing just that for the past 21 years of my life. I ran away from my past and tried never to look back. I sought salvation in education, in science, in a career that allowed me to exorcise my own demons in finding justice for others. And it has helped. But it has never been enough.
I need to go back, Griss. I need to face my past so that it no longer has any hold over me. It's the only way I can move forward with my life. It's the only way I can have a future with you.
I'm not leaving forever, I promise you that. My leaving Las Vegas is not me leaving you. I thought I would have to. Before you showed up at my door last night, I thought the best thing I could do for you would be to leave and never come back. But I can't. I realized last night that, no matter what problems or difficulties we might have to face, I can't bear the thought of a life without you.
But in order to have that, I have to do this. I need to leave, to distance myself from what has happened in Vegas and face the ghosts of my past. And then, when I'm ready, I will come home to you. I just hope that you will still be waiting for me when I get there. Will you?
Please tell the others that I'm sorry I didn't say goodbye. Let them know that I will miss them.
Please forgive me for leaving you this way. If I waited until you woke up, I don't honestly think I would have been able to go. And I had to. Please understand. I promise that I'll contact you when I'm ready to talk.
I will love you forever,
Emotionally spent, Grissom leaned back against the headboard and felt the tears sting his eyes.
A black cloud came into the lab with Grissom that night. The others knew Sara had truly gone without needing to ask. Even Catherine was unsure of how to broach the subject with her old friend. Surprisingly, at the beginning of assignments, she found she didn't have to.
"I'm sure you're all aware by now that Sara has taken a leave of absence from the lab and has left town for a time."
It took a moment for anyone to pluck up the courage to speak. In the end, it was Nick. "When will she be back?"
"I don't know," Grissom replied, not meeting anyone's eyes. "She, uh… she apologizes for not saying goodbye in person and asked me to tell you that she will miss you all."
He aimlessly stood there for a moment, assignment slips in his hands, utterly at a loss for what to do next. Finally, he handed the slips to Catherine.
"You're in charge tonight," he told her, before he turned on his heal and headed for his office.
He shut the door behind him and slunk into the sterile silence of his private domain. Reaching into his pocket, he drew out the creamy paper of her letter. Holding it before him on the desk, he ran his fingers across her words, as though he could absorb them into his skin.
A profound sense of loneliness settled over him. He had always been a solitary man, living only for his work, his bugs, his privacy. But now she had spoilt the inner peace he found when he was alone. He missed her more dearly than a limb, mourning the lack of her joyful presence in his once dreary world. And now that she was gone from it, his life seemed that much darker and unwelcoming.
Part of his soul clung to her promise - that she would return. If that was true, then this pain would only be temporary. But the black cloud that hovered around him made it difficult to see any light on the horizon. He saw only endless days and nights, bereft of color, of joy, of love.
The shrill ring of the phone cut through the thickening silence. An internal line. Re-focusing his attention on the letter, he ignored it, and then again when it rang five minutes later.
He was a coiled spring, a cobra ready to strike when someone rapped on his closed door a few moments later.
"Go away," he called out hoarsely.
Instead, the door cracked open. "Dr Grissom?" a timid voice asked.
"What is it, Judy?" he asked, trying to contain his anger. Even in his current mood, he knew it would be wrong to lash out at her.
"Mr. Ecklie has been looking for you, sir," she replied, remaining on the outside of the door, afraid to venture in. "He says he's been calling you."
He grunted in reply, not caring.
"He asked me to tell you that he wants to see you in his office. That he's waiting for you."
"Let him wait."
An hour later, Ecklie apparently could wait no longer. Steaming into Grissom's office, he found the supervisor of the grave shift reclining back in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"What the hell's going on, Gil?"
Grissom addressed the interloper without opening his eyes.
"In what sense, Conrad? What the hell's going on in the world in general? In this city? In the lab perhaps? Or were you referring to something more specific?"
Ecklie was nonplussed. "Good to see you haven't lost your sense of humor."
Bizarrely, this seemed to tickle the bearded scientist. "Humor," he chuckled quietly to himself.
"Didn't Judy tell you I was waiting to see you in my office?"
Realizing he was getting no where fast, Ecklie moved to the empty chair in front of Grissom's desk and sat down.
"I saw Catherine. She says you handed off the shift to her tonight."
Still reclining in his chair, Grissom nodded almost imperceptibly. "That's right."
The other man's nonchalance was beginning to grate on the Lab Director's nerves. "And don't think I don't know about your disappearing act last night. This isn't a hotel, Gil."
Still he did not move. "I'm well aware of that, Conrad."
"Are you going to give me an explanation?"
Finally, Grissom took his hand away from his face and looked at the other man. "I went to see Sara."
"Ah," Grissom repeated. "She's gone. Left town. You must be so relieved."
Grissom sat forward, lacing his fingers together, regarding Ecklie like a bug under his microscope.
"What? What's your excuse? It was for the good of the lab? The good of my career?"
"It was her choice."
The disgust was obvious on Grissom's face. "You didn't give her much of a choice, though, did you? Sara left because she's a decent human being. Because the thought of hurting me or my career was too much for her to bear. She left because she didn't think she had any choices left open to her. She's a better person than you could ever dream of being, Conrad, and you made her believe I'd hate her if she stayed."
Ecklie sneered. "Like it would have worked out anyway, Gil. You're married to your work. You're even more of a workaholic than I am. And Sidle is a ticking clock, just waiting to go off. She's unstable and reckless. It was only a matter of time before she completely lost it. I have sympathy for her background and the conditions she faced growing up, but I will not sacrifice the integrity of this lab out of pity."
Grissom rose to his feet. "Her past is what makes her such a damn good CSI. She's driven and talented and completely focused on getting justice for the victims that pass through these walls. And if you don't think that is something this lab needs, then you're even more of an idiot than I gave you credit for."
The other man gritted his teeth to prevent a biting comeback to the last remark escaping his mouth. Instead he stood up, holding up his hands to placate Grissom.
"Look, she decided to go. It's over and done with. Now we can move on." The man's unctuous tone made Grissom's teeth ache as he continued. "The upshot is your name's been cleared. And with Sidle gone, there should be no further repercussions on your career. I know you Gil. I a couple of weeks, with a couple new experiments running; all of this will seem like a bad dream."
"You don't know me, Conrad," Grissom snapped. "God, I've been so pathetic for so many years, haven't I? Hiding away here in the lab instead of actually having a life. Do you really think I could go back to that, just because she's gone?"
Ecklie sighed. "Look, Grissom… maybe take some time and…"
"I don't need time, Ecklie," he replied, taking his lab ID out of his pocket. He looked at the picture, running his fingers over the words Gil Grissom, Night-Shift Supervisor. Feeling now that it simply wasn't who he was anymore.
Finally, he threw it down onto the desk in front of Ecklie.
And with that, he picked up his jacket and walked out the door, before the director could utter another word.
As he made his way down the corridor towards the exit, Grissom felt oddly free, like a heavy weight had been removed from his shoulders. He no longer knew what the future held for him, but he did know one thing. He was starting to feel better.
Sara drove through the unfamiliar neighborhood, knots of apprehension twisting in her stomach. She almost turned back on more than one occasion, bile rising in her throat and terror clutching at her skin.
Twenty-one years and still she was not ready for this. Eight years as a CSI, facing the very worst crimes, the most vile and despicable criminals. And yet, she had never been more scared in her life.
She found the modest townhouse without much difficulty and shifted her rental car into park without shutting off the engine. There was still time. Time to call the whole thing off and return, tail tucked neatly between her legs, to Vegas.
But it would still be there, she told herself. It would always be there, sitting in the back of her mind, ready to tear her down when she was least prepared to fight back…
She had come this far. She couldn't run away now.
Turning off the engine, she got out of the car and observed the house as though it were a crime scene. The garden was small and neat, not much plant life as yet, as though it had been neglected for a long time, but recently found and tended to again.
Taking a deep breath, she moved away from the safety of her car. As she walked tentatively towards the house, she felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. Taking it out, she flicked it open to see who had sent her a message.
I will wait for you forever. Call me when you're ready. I love you – G.
She was smiling now, his words filling her, surrounding her and giving her strength. She moved towards the house with renewed confidence, at last ready to face her past.
A/N - As ever, thanks to all those who've supported, read and reviewed this story. Your support means the world to me and I hope I haven't disappointed you. This series has turned into a real labor of love for me - it was only meant to be one story initially and has sprung into a quadrilogy which will soon be a quintology (is that even a real word:) )
Coming Soon - Retribution
While Sara returns to her past so that she can move on with her future, Grissom tries to allow her the space she needs. But that becomes impossible when both their lives are put in peril. Love and hate collide as vengeance returns to their lives, seeking retribution.