Disclaimer: 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. 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: general fifth season
This story resulted from a slightly loopy conversation about possible plots, including, believe it or not, magical peaches that made the people who ate them tell the truth. Not being the parody type, I wondered in my usual insanity whether it was possible to pull such a story off without getting too silly. Voilà.
The title is Cincoflex's fault. (grin)
They were arguing as they climbed the stairs, in a desultory sort of way, more to avoid touchier subjects than over any real disagreement about the issue of mandatory DNA sampling. Sara led Grissom up the last flight, ironically aware of the fact that this was only the second time he'd been to her apartment, and that he was only going to be there as long as it took for her to find a particular back issue of the now-defunct Journal of Physics in Forensics.
It was going to be awkward. In fact, it was awkward already, and she wondered sourly why it was that an event that would have delighted her three years ago--even two--was now something she hoped would be over soon.
Fumbling for her keys, she was startled when Grissom's hand touched her arm. "Careful." He pointed down.
There was a basket in front of her door. Sara had been too absorbed in their argument to notice it, and she frowned down at it. Its presence was wrong--deliveries were left at the front desk if she wasn't home. Building security was very strict about letting people in, which was one of the reasons she'd chosen the place.
Yet there the basket sat. It was almost picnic-sized, sturdy, made of twisted and bleached twigs in a coal-scuttle shape. "What's that doing here?" she muttered. "It must have been delivered to the wrong apartment."
Standing next to her, Grissom raised his brows. "How do you know it's not for you?"
Sara swung her bag behind her and crouched down next to the basket, observing that its contents were covered by a striped cloth. "Nobody sends me presents, Grissom, unless it's my birthday."
"Could be an early one," he pointed out.
She took the cloth's edge gingerly in two fingers--habit, after so many crime scenes--and pulled it back slowly, hoping for a label or a note of some kind so she could deliver the basket to its proper owner.
But there was no note. There were only three large jars, and a manila envelope tucked between the jars and the side of the basket.
"Not likely. Just what I need this morning, a mystery." She straightened and put her key in the lock.
"You don't sound pleased."
Sara picked up the basket--it was heavy--and stepped inside her apartment, holding the door open for him. "I don't know my neighbors very well. This means I have to deliver it to the proper recipient, assuming I can figure out who it belongs to."
She put the basket and her bag on the breakfast bar. It was distinctly odd to have Grissom standing in her entryway, hands in his pockets, looking around with mild interest. She hadn't expected the interest; she'd assumed he'd just want to get the journal and get out. The reflex of courtesy made her open her mouth. "Do you want something to drink? I'm going to start some coffee."
She wasn't sure if he would refuse or not, whether his half-smothered concern of recent weeks would manifest itself in a willingness to stay just that much longer or whether he would be impatient to get out of her space and back to his own.
"That would be nice," he said easily, still perusing the room. Sara shrugged, took off her jacket, and filled the coffeemaker.
Grissom had seated himself at her breakfast bar by the time she pushed the start button and turned around, and was studying the basket, head cocked. "The journals are in my closet," she said. "It'll take me a minute to find them."
"I'm not in a hurry," Grissom said. "Do you mind if I..." He gestured at the basket, and Sara shrugged again.
"Sure, go ahead."
It took her about five minutes of unstacking and opening boxes to find the journal, in part because she just couldn't resist glancing at a few other back issues. But a glance over her shoulder told her that Grissom was absorbed in whatever he'd pulled from the manila envelope, so she took her time putting everything away.
The coffee was just finishing its brew when she brought the journal over and set it on the counter at his elbow; she poured for them both, fetching out milk and sugar, and took the stool opposite. "Well?"
Grissom took a last look at what he held, then extended it towards Sara. "Does this mean anything to you?"
It was a photo, an eight-by-ten portrait; it showed a young woman dressed in a black graduate's gown, a yearbook pose. She was beautiful, with deep dark eyes and cinnamon skin, and the blackness of her hair made her gown look faded. "Yeah," Sara said softly, assailed by memory.
Grissom watched her for a moment. "Then the basket is meant for you."
"Hmm?" Sara said, still staring at the photo, then looked up. "Oh--yeah, I guess so."
Her eyes dropped back to the photo, and Grissom picked up his mug, cradling it in both hands and watching her. Sara's eyes didn't lift, but a slow, ironic smile eventually curled her mouth. "You're not going to ask?"
"Nope." He took a sip of the coffee. "I figure you'll tell me if you want me to know."
Sara snorted gently, still looking at the photo. Grissom waited.
"Her name was Doli Hobah," Sara said at last. "She was found raped and beaten to death on the north side two years ago."
Grissom frowned. "I don't remember the case."
"You were out of town." Sara put the photo down. "Roach racing, I think. Anyway, she was a college student up from Arizona, studying hotel management."
"What were the particulars?" Grissom prompted after a moment.
Sara picked up her coffee. "Random assault. But we managed to catch the guy before he got out of town." Her face was fierce. "He had a record for aggravated assault and rape. But we got him."
She sighed, and nudged the photo with one finger. "Doli's family came to take her home, and that was that; I didn't see them, I was in Pahrump, and they didn't show up at the trial."
She glanced up. Grissom had his head cocked to one side, his listening pose. Remembering the broken body, Sara had to swallow against a surge of grief.
She was hurting. He could feel it, like the faintest wash of heat against his skin, but for the life of him he couldn't move.
Grissom wanted, very much, to be able to reach across the table and take her hand in sympathy, as he'd managed once before; but habit and helplessness were too strong. He could only watch, and curse himself, as Sara mastered her sorrow and locked it away again. Don't, he wanted to say. Let me help.
He didn't. Instead, he hoped desperately that at least some of his sympathy was getting across to her. Groping for words, he lit on the jars. "So this is some kind of thank-you gift?"
She shrugged, apparently equally grateful for the slight change of subject. "I guess so," she repeated. "What's in the jars?"
Grissom lifted one out. It was a home-canning jar, with a sealable lid and a neck ring, and inside was packed a constellation of plump yellow half-spheres in a thick golden syrup. "Peaches, I think."
"Huh." Sara took the jar from him, turning it in her hands, and then shot him a slightly wicked look. "Think this comes in under the limit for gifts, Grissom?" Law enforcement personnel were forbidden to accept gifts worth more than ten dollars from entities with whom they interacted on a professional level.
Grissom pursed his lips. "No," he said dryly. The basket alone had probably cost ten dollars, but the fruit was obviously a non-commercial product, and there was nothing to indicate that whoever had left it had even met Sara. "But I won't tell if you don't."
That made her smile, which eased him somewhat. The case was long closed, the perpetrator was behind bars, and he knew Sara's ethics were beyond question. It was a non-issue.
Sara snickered. "Well, they do look good." She lifted one of the jars into a shaft of morning sunlight, and the contents glowed like the fruit of the gods.
"My mom used to can peaches," Grissom remembered. "Did you know that if you boil a peach for about a minute, the skin will slide right off?"
Sara glanced at him, her expression a mix of surprise and amusement. "Um. Do you want to try them?"
Grissom blinked, surprised in turn. He knew Sara wasn't comfortable with his presence, and had rather expected to be hustled out the door. "Are you sure?"
"I don't think they're poisoned, Grissom." Sara set down the jar with a click, going on before he could explain that that wasn't what he'd meant. "If they're bad, we'll be able to smell it when we open them."
She hesitated, obviously wavering over something, then went to the fridge and started pulling things out. Grissom's brows went up as she set out jam, butter, and cheese, and added a plastic bag of croissants from the counter. "Peach sandwiches?" he asked, a little bemused.
Sara actually flushed, he could see the color misting over her skin before she turned away to her cupboards. "If we're going to eat peaches we might as well have breakfast. Or whatever."
Surprised didn't even begin to cover it. "Oh." Looking at her narrow back, he could see that her shoulders were stiff, and realized suddenly how vulnerable she had made herself.
I don't deserve this. "That sounds good," he said casually, marveling painfully at the strength of her. The shoulders relaxed somewhat, and Sara lifted down plates and bowls. He reached for the wooden box that held paper napkins.
Within minutes, they had the bar set with the simple breakfast. Grissom had to admit that it looked rather enticing--a pile of buttery rolls and the wedges of cheese--but it was the woman across from him who made it more than just another meal. He tried not to stare, wishing he had the words to heal things between them, to make things right, maybe just to start over. But he couldn't find them.
Sara picked up one of the jars and twisted off the lid with an expert pop. A sweet summery scent floated out, making Grissom's mouth water unexpectedly. It was a smell like his childhood, hot golden afternoons, a round weight in his palm, the tender bite between his teeth and the warm fuzz against his lips.
"Ohhh..." Sara said, half-closing her eyes in ecstasy. "Don't they smell good?"
"Mmm," Grissom agreed, and handed her the slotted spoon she'd dug up.
Sara carefully fished out several dripping hemispheres, ladling them into the bowls. They slithered into the curves of the porcelain and lay there pooling juice around them, looking somehow mythical--as though they were a fruit from an old story, better than ever mortal man had tasted.
The first bite was wonderful. Grissom had half-expected the peach to be sour, or crunchy, or disappointing in some other way, but it wasn't--it was slick and sweet and firm, giving way on his tongue with a gush of juice that was all the essence of happy summers.
"Wow," he managed inelegantly, and swallowed. Sara was chewing too, looking blissful, but she nodded.
"I haven't had peaches like these in years," she said after her own swallow. "They taste like innocence, don't they?"
The comment wasn't really like her, but Grissom was too focused on the next bite to worry about it. He spooned the slice carefully into his mouth and crushed it slowly, lost in the flavor.
When he looked up at Sara again, she was licking her lips, looking like a little kid with a bowl of ice cream. "You're gorgeous," Grissom said, then blinked in shock. Where had the words come from, and what on earth had moved him to say them? Not that they weren't the truth...
Sara's jaw dropped a little, but then her eyes gleamed. "So are you," she shot back, sounding casual, but Grissom saw the flush return, creeping up her throat She took another hasty bite of peach, and Grissom did the same, trying to figure out what had just happened.
I didn't mean to say that. I only meant to think it. Great, what's she thinking now?
He opened his mouth to start a safer topic, then closed it. She thinks I'm gorgeous?
No, it couldn't be true; she was only teasing him for his statement. But, he had to admit, it made him feel good.
"You know, Grissom, it's...sometimes I hate you," Sara remarked, then clapped a hand over her mouth, eyes wide. Grissom held very still, feeling as though his blood had gone crystalline.
"Oh--I'm sorry--I don't know where that came from," Sara said, her frantic words somewhat muffled by her hand. The other one was clutching her spoon so tightly that it seemed as though the metal should bend.
"It's all right," Grissom started to say, but what came out was "Sometimes I hate me too." The words felt distant; he was still shocked by hers.
Sara's eyes went dark, with something that might be sympathy, and she lowered her hand. "We all have days like that."
Grissom nodded, and filled his mouth with another slice, and the deliciousness of it gave him some weird courage. "Why do you hate me?" he asked quietly, after swallowing.
Though I could hazard a guess.
Her lips moved, and she gulped. "I...don't want to talk about this."
Neither did he, but-- "It's time we did, though."
Her expression hardened. His mouth kept going, without his permission. "I hate seeing you so isolated, Sara. It hurts me."
He couldn't believe he'd admitted to that last. Friendly concern was one thing, but getting that personal was quite another.
"It hurts you?" She was angry, that was obvious. Where her sorrow had been heat, this was chill, spilling from her skin to his.
Odd, that so hot a rage should make him feel cold.
Sara set down her spoon with deliberate precision. "Do you know how many times you've hurt me, Grissom?"
Equivocation was impossible. "No." He didn't want to hear this, but he wasn't going to get a choice, it appeared.
"Over and over again. You...I thought we had something, and then you just push me away, and every time I think..." She gulped again, and picked up her spoon, jabbing nervously at her peaches. "Almost every time I think we're getting close again, you shove."
"Not lately," he said quietly.
"Yeah, well, I quit trying to get close to you." Sara looked angry, but her voice sounded sad. "Now I watch you flirting with Sofia, and that makes it worse."
"I don't flirt with Sofia. She flirts with me," Grissom retorted, a little stung.
"Yeah, but you enjoy it, don't you?" Sara's look was sharp, and Grissom kept silent, knowing that the only word that would come out of his mouth was yes.
Though silence was an admission in this case.
Her eyes dropped, and she took another bite of peach, though she didn't look as though she were enjoying it any more.
"Sara..." He didn't know what to say.
The peach was still delicious, but she was distracted. Sara had long since given up on having this conversation, and it was no less painful for its suddenness. The only comfort was that Grissom looked as upset as she felt, even through his normally impassive expression. He fiddled with his spoon and then took another bite himself, dripping a splash of syrup on the counter and blotting it away with his napkin.
"I don't understand," he said at last. "Sara…why do you stay?"
The awful tangle of emotions rose in Sara's gut, fear and anger and longing knotted together, and she fought it, fought the words that rose with it.
And lost. "I don't know," she answered, appalled that she was telling him, giving him yet more power over her. "I can't walk away from you, and I hate it, because I'm losing my self-respect."
She set her spoon down very carefully, trying to maintain control. Grissom's mouth was drawn tight, and his eyes...she didn't want to look at his eyes. All the longing in the world did her no good if he wouldn't act on it.
"I dread the day you will leave," he said, almost inaudibly. "I know I've hurt you, and I want to stop, to make it better, but I...I..."
His expression went almost quizzical, as though his own words were telling him something. "Sara, do you still care about me?"
She stared at him in shock. "Didn't I just tell you?" she finally spat, incensed. "Geez, Grissom!"
Unable to stay still a moment longer, for fear that she would say something unforgivable, Sara pushed off her stool and rounded the bar, striding across her small living room to look out the balcony door on the far side.
"All right," his voice said behind her at the bar, sounding abnormally calm. "Let's try this. Assuming best-case scenario, blow-out-the-candles-and-get-your-wish, anything's possible--what do you want?"
She clenched her fists to avoid smacking the glass, and laughed without amusement. "Oh, let me see. I'd like the promotion I didn't get, a classic Mustang convertible, a bigger chest, and for you to stop being a weenie and actually act on the feelings that you've admitted to but can't seem to deal with. How's that?"
The hand on her arm made her start. "Okay." She started to turn, and bumped into Grissom, who was standing closer to her than he had in years. His mouth found hers in a quick move, stunning her; she stood there and let him kiss her, bewildered, all her emotions getting lost in a wash of incredulity and warmth.
When their lips parted, she was dizzy with conflict, torn between punching him, storming off, or grabbing his face and kissing him back. He looked at her, eyes lit and the corners of his mouth curving up. "The promotion's out of my hands, but I can buy you a car if you like; your chest's perfect; and how's that?"
She couldn't muster any words. His expression sobered, and he slid his hands carefully from her elbows to her waist, half a tentative embrace. "I'm terrified," he admitted quietly. "If I give you my heart, I can't take it back, Sara, and if you leave, it will go with you."
Somehow the front of his shirt was clenched in her fists, and she glared at him, fury and hilarity and crazy exhilaration all whirling inside her. "What makes you think I'll leave?"
He shrugged the slightest bit. "Everyone else does," he said simply, and while his tone was light, the desolation behind his words sobered her.
She pressed her lips together and steeled herself to look into his eyes. "Grissom...you already have mine. I can't leave without it."
His lips formed a silent oh, and then very slowly bent upwards again. "Guess I should have trusted the evidence, huh?"
Something was choking her, and she shook her head, unable to reply. His brow creased, and then he drew her carefully to him, urging her to lean against his chest. She let herself be persuaded, and swallowed hard at the feel of his fingers in her hair and his beard against her cheek. "I'm sorry," he muttered, holding her tighter. "I'm sorry."
Sara nodded against his shoulder. "Me too," she managed, and let him hug her.
The last time he'd woken on somebody else's couch, he'd been thirty-two and he'd had such a migraine that he hadn't been safe to drive home the night before. Grissom blinked awake, taking in Sara's living room in the slanting light of late afternoon, and the fact that his arms were empty.
They hadn't discussed anything, that morning; they'd simply sat together, together, letting their hurts start to mend. Sleep had come like the seal on their unvoiced promise to each other, and he remembered waking at one point, one foot on the floor and Sara sprawled on top of him like the best blanket in the world.
He'd hardly been able to make himself go back to sleep; he was reluctant to miss one moment.
Now he could hear the shower running, and as he pushed to his feet, he felt doubt envelop him again. Was it possible? Or was she going to walk out and tell him it was a mistake?
He rubbed his face with his palms, and took heart. His hands still had her scent. Think positive. For once.
Grissom found his glasses on Sara's cluttered coffee table, and went to figure out her coffee machine.
It was just beginning to run when he turned and saw her in the door to the hallway, looking uncertain, and a pang went through him. She never used to doubt. "Good afternoon," he said as warmly as he could, and she relaxed a little, giving him a smile and coming forward. Almost before he knew it, his arms were full again, and she tasted like toothpaste and everything he ever wanted.
"Hey," she said when the kiss ended. "None of my clothes are gonna fit you, but I put out fresh towels and there's a new toothbrush in the medicine cabinet."
"Okay." He didn't let her pull away. "Sara...you don't regret this?"
She gave him an incredulous look that morphed into a wide grin. "Oh, please. Give it up, Grissom, you're not getting rid of me that easy."
That made him laugh, and he released her and went to find out what her bathroom looked like.
A delicious smell met him when he came back out, and he left off his shoes and socks for the moment and followed his nose. Sara was scrambling eggs in the kitchen, but that wasn't what he smelled.
"Peach muffins," she explained when he raised his brows and looked inquiring. "I thought I might as well treat the night shift."
"Ah." He lifted a mug down from the hooks under one cabinet and poured himself
some coffee, and then refilled the mug near her elbow as though he'd done it many times before. Sara smiled at him again, and he couldn't help smiling back.
"Eggs'll be done in a minute," she said. "If there's anything else you want, help yourself."
One of the jars was empty, while another still held a few peach halves. Grissom slid them out into a bowl and retrieved a spoon, and found that the fruit tasted just as good as it had earlier. Feeling bizarrely at home, he cut another slice and lifted the spoon to Sara's lips, since her hands were occupied with the eggs. She grinned and slurped the peach into her mouth.
They finished the bowl that way, and Sara portioned out the eggs, and Grissom set the plates in place, wondering at the way the universe never stopped surprising him. He halted in the middle of the kitchen, feeling the words on his tongue, and was suddenly unafraid to speak them.
"Something the matter, Griss?" Sara was standing in front of him, looking both exasperated and slightly worried at his inattention.
He smiled again. The words were inevitable, and right. "I love you."