Disclaimer: Most 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; no infringement is intended in any way.
However, the Safe Nest organization does exist. It is a non-profit domestic crisis organization, the oldest in Clark County, and you can find more information at safenest dot org. If you feel moved to do so, they take donations online. If you need help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
This one can be thought of as something
of a mirror to "Many Waters". If not for Cincoflex, I
would have hurled this into the virtual trash bin in disgust a long
time ago; she kept me going. But then I owe her a great deal!
Spoilers: general fifth season
This one can be thought of as something of a mirror to "Many Waters". If not for Cincoflex, I would have hurled this into the virtual trash bin in disgust a long time ago; she kept me going. But then I owe her a great deal!
"You have got to be kidding me."
Sara stared in disbelief at the man behind the desk. He wasn't physically small, but she tended to think of him as little, because that was the size of his soul; right now, he was smiling back at her nastily, showing too many teeth.
"Sorry, Sidle. It's the last slot available."
She shook her head. "That's not what I signed up for--it's harassment!"
"Not if we pair you off with a guy. Nicky Stokes 'volunteered' for the opposite slot." Ecklie shook his head, faking regret with the smoothness of a born bureaucrat. "Look on the bright side, Sara. The proceeds do go to charity, and that's why you picked it."
Sara folded her arms, but her glare didn't seem to have any impact on the assistant supervisor. "I'll protest."
Ecklie sighed exaggeratedly, and leaned back a little in his chair. "You can, but to be blunt, you haven't got a leg to stand on. You're a great CSI, Sara, but between your suspension and the fact that you didn't bother to sign up for anything else, you don't have any pull. Suck it up."
He looked down at the papers on his desk, effectively dismissing her, and Sara considered reaching across that tidy surface and making him eat his words, but then decided it wasn't worth the hassle--she wasn't ready to leave the lab in a blaze of outrage just yet. Clenching her fists, she whirled and stormed out of Ecklie's office, and for once he had the good sense to not try to get in one last word.
This...is...impossible. She strode down the corridors until she could get outside and swear openly. There is no way I'm going to do this.
But as she planted her shoulders against the brick of the lab building and took deep breaths of the sunset air, Sara realized sourly that she probably didn't have much choice.
The one-day carnival that the LVPD put on every year had never been something she paid notice to in the past, and she'd only given it a little attention this year when learning that participation was mandatory; she'd vaguely agreeed to volunteer for the small group of games whose proceeds were going to support her favorite charity. Unfortunately, she'd neglected to specify which game she wanted to handle, and by the time Ecklie had brought it to her attention, there was only one position left.
The kissing booth.
Sara let out a harsh sigh. Much as it galled her, the assistant supervisor did seem to have her dead to rights. She had neglected to pay attention. And while she could probably take the issue to the lab director, or the committee running the carnival, she wasn't at all sure she would win the fight.
I hate to admit it, but I'm not quite ready to toss my career over this. There were definitely nights when she was ready to leave Las Vegas and all within it behind, but they were...fewer, these days. It seemed wise to pick her battles, and this just wasn't quite one. Not if they have a guy doing it too.
Sara glanced at her watch; she had another half-hour before shift began, and she decided to watch the sunset finish before going inside, one of her sporadic attempts at anger management. "Find the good stuff, Sidle," she muttered. The money for the booth goes to Safe Nest, and you might get to kiss a few babes while you're at it.
The trouble was, though, anyone could buy a ticket. I can probably scare Hodges off, but what about a stranger?
She sighed again, and wished wistfully for a cigarette. "Nick will be there," she reminded herself. He would no doubt step in if anyone went over the three-second rule or otherwise got too familiar. Maybe I'll meet an incredible guy and he'll fall head over heels for me with one kiss.
Maybe pigs will fly.
"But what about herpes?" Greg asked worriedly. "Or halitosis?"
Sara rolled her eyes. "Gee, thanks, Greg. Try and think up some more advantages, will you?" She leaned back in her chair, tossing down a journal and abandoning her attempt to read before Grissom came in with assignments. "I'm surprised you didn't volunteer."
"I'm discriminating," Greg protested, punching the start button on the coffee machine.
"So you'd rather do the dunk tank? You remember what Warrick did to you last year." Sara grinned at the memory of her colleague, somewhat peeved about his samples ending up at the bottom of Greg's processing list, purchasing a wad of tickets and firing off ball after ball square on target. They'd had to refill the tank twice before he was done drenching Greg.
"Warrick and me are tight, this year," Greg said with dignity. "But seriously, Sara, what if you get somebody who's drunk? I know you're tough, but--"
"Nick'll be there," Sara replied.
"Nick will be where?" Grissom asked as he came through the doorway, assignment slips in hand.
Sara realized suddenly that she really didn't want Grissom to find out about her carnival assignment, at least not at the moment, and shot Greg a glare, but it was too late. "Sara and Nick are running the kissing booth at the carnival," Greg said, somehow managing disapproval. Sara winced.
Grissom went still for an instant, all expression vanishing into blankness, and Sara steeled herself for the cold that would inevitably follow. "You volunteered for that?" he asked, sounding puzzled.
"I didn't volunteer," Sara snapped. "I forgot to sign up for something specific, okay? Ecklie said it was the only thing left open." She folded her arms with a huff. "About the only reason I'm putting up with it is because it's supporting the Safe Nest shelters."
Grissom's brows drew together, though Sara couldn't tell if it was because of her tone or the mention of Ecklie's name, but then he looked around. "Where's Sofia?"
Normally Sara would be pissed at being ignored, but right now it was something of a relief. What did you think, Sidle, he was going to congratulate you and promise to buy a ticket?
She had very carefully avoided that particular fantasy. Grissom, whatever else he might be, was far too private for PDAs, even in fun.
"Interrogation," Greg answered. "She said her robbery suspect got pulled in."
"Mm, all right." Grissom shuffled the assignment slips in his hand. "She can take the post office theft, then, when she gets back. Sara--" He held out a slip and she took it, not meeting his eyes. "Somebody vandalized the kitchen at Terrazza, see what you can turn up. Greg, you get the vehicular accident on Freemason Road; be sure to measure the tire marks, and if you run into any difficulties, call me." His stern look was all for the rookie. "I'll be in my office until something else comes up."
Sara watched him turn and head back out the door, a little puzzled; she could swear he was holding two slips still, not just Sofia's. Suddenly tired, she tilted her head back to grimace at the ceiling. Vandalism. Yayy. Let the freeze-out begin.
Greg, chuckling, poured them both cups of coffee, setting Sara's down in front of her. "I get to go solo," he said gleefully.
"Congratulations." Sara managed to smile at him. "Just remember what he told you--if you do have any problems, call him. Or me."
"I know," Greg said, a little more seriously. "Better to suffer the Bossman than to screw up a scene."
Sara stared into the darkness of her coffee. Suffer. You got it, Greggo.
Grissom closed his office door behind himself and shut the blinds, aware that his hands were trembling slightly. He let the two crumpled assignment slips drop to the surface of his desk; the small plane impounded due to a suspicious substance could wait another hour or so. He'd planned to work the car accident first anyway, in tandem with Greg, and then take the new CSI along to the airport, but there was really no reason beyond Grissom's own natural caution to keep Greg from going solo on a relatively unimportant case.
It gave Grissom time--time to try to wrap his thoughts around the bizarre, illogical, enraging thought of Sara spending several hours kissing men for money.
And there would be plenty of customers, Grissom knew. Hell, Greg would probably be first, second, and last in line, with who knew how many others in between. Grissom was well aware that he was by no means the only male whose attention was caught by the Sidle face and personality. In fact, he was willing to bet that her attraction extended to some members of her own gender as well, though whether Sara would actually be willing to kiss them was another thing.
He sat down heavily, struggling to understand why this news bit so deep. Sara was obviously unhappy about it; one didn't need to be a CSI to see the reluctance in her face and posture. But it's not only that.
It wasn't just the idea of Sara kissing someone else that turned his stomach, Grissom realized. After all, he'd long since resigned himself to the fact that Sara would sooner or later find someone on whom to bestow her affection. He could live with that, Grissom had told himself, with the idea that she was...intimate...with another man. As long as the man was worthy of her.
But the only person she should be kissing is the person she loves. It wasn't just atavistic possessiveness, he thought, staring blankly at the top of his desk. It was dismay at the thought of her being at the whim of any punk who bought a ticket.
He wondered if Ecklie had somehow maneuvered the situation to force Sara into an untenable position--possibly with an eye to making her quit--but decided that it was unlikely. The assistant supervisor was a weasel, but he was too savvy to put himself in that situation, particularly after the last time he'd been caught out.
Maybe Sara could switch with someone. But that didn't seem very likely either. If the kissing booth was the only thing left, that meant that nobody wanted it.
Grissom let out a long breath. Stop fussing. There's nothing you can do about it, and Sara certainly wouldn't appreciate your help even if there were.
He pushed up out of his chair and reached for his slip, trying to forget the upset look in Sara's eyes when she'd spoken so defiantly; the hint that told him she felt trapped.
As Grissom emerged from his office, he was a little surprised to see Nick passing by. "What are you doing here so late?"
The younger man gave him half a grin. "Hello to you too, Griss. I'm on my way out; I was just finishing up some research for this case we're working on." He matched his pace to Grissom's as they headed for the front door.
"I'm sure Catherine is pleased at your dedication," Grissom replied equably, his eyes taking in details without letting Nick know he was looking.
Nick still bore a fading scatter of small blotches on his face and hands, legacy of the ant bites he'd endured in his Plexiglas coffin, but he seemed to be recovering well from the ordeal, and Grissom was deeply grateful. Nick's kidnapping had emphasized to Grissom, even more than before, how much he missed his former team members, and moreover, how much he missed the rapport they'd all shared once. The same rapport, in fact, that had found Nick for them.
"I hear you're running the kissing booth at the carnival," he added abruptly, over the top of Nick's amiable shrug. The comment was out of character for him, but Nick didn't seem to notice.
"Yeah, I got suckered into it--Don Twomey from Dayshift asked if I'd trade with him, and I said yes like an idiot, without finding out what he wanted to trade. I was going to run the baseball toss." His shrug this time was a little irritated. "I mean, it's one thing to get to kiss a lot of honeys, but I like to pick my own targets, you know what I mean?"
"Mm," Grissom agreed, a little surprised that Nick wasn't more pleased. "Why did Don Twomey want to switch?"
Nick gave him an amused look. "His girlfriend pitched a fit." When Grissom said nothing, merely holding open the front door of the building, Nick cracked his knuckles and sighed. "Well, I'll have a good time, I guess. Mostly." He passed through the door and into the night. "See you around, Griss."
"Goodnight, Nick," Grissom called absently, and headed for his SUV, mulling the whole situation over in his mind. There was something there, he could sense the shape of it, just like he could sometimes sense the shape of an answer when he first viewed a crime scene, before anything had been processed. He didn't know what it was, yet, but he knew it was there.
And he would find it.
Ugh. I am so not looking forward to this. Sara rolled over and sat up on the edge of her bed, blinking and feeling distinctly bad-tempered. She'd managed to catch a few hours of sleep, about her usual, but she didn't feel at all prepared for the carnival kissing booth.
Her first glimpse of herself in her bathroom mirror tempted Sara to go as she was, hair wild and teeth unbrushed, but she pushed the thought aside with some reluctance. The law of averages meant that she'd probably get some cute guys in the mix, and besides, she didn't want to burn what little credit she had with the lab administration.
Somewhat to her surprise, Grissom hadn't been cold to her after all, aside from his first reaction to her carnival assignment. Instead, he'd treated her just as he had been recently, which was to say, like a human being for the first time in quite a while.
I'm starting to almost like it here again, Sara admitted as she pulled on clothes and started coffee. True, she still lusted after her boss, despite repeated attempts to get over him. But their working relationship was evening out, and Vegas was still the country's second-best lab. I don't want to burn any bridges yet. Besides, no guy can be worse than working a decomp in an enclosed space.
Slightly amused by the comparison, she thought about taking a lemon along as a private joke with Nicky, but decided it wasn't worth stopping at the grocery store.
The carnival wasn't yet open when Sara arrived at the field the department had rented, but it was still bustling with people setting up booths and the like. She put on her sunglasses, applied a little more sunscreen, and plunged into the swirl.
She found Nick already sprawled in a patio chair under the kissing booth sign, legs stretched out and dark glasses on, looking half-asleep. "Hey, man, you're going to burn your head like that," Sara called, and without sitting up he dropped one arm to grab an LVPD ball cap off the ground and wave it at her.
She sat down in the other chair; like the other booths, theirs was an open square enclosure made of plywood, but unlike most, it had no counter in front, just a low table for their till in between the chairs. "How much time have we got?" Nick asked drowsily.
Sara glanced at her watch. "About twenty minutes." She dropped her bag next to her chair and sighed. She'd brought a book in the vague hope that business would be slow, but she felt too restless to read right then. "We do get veto powers, right?" She knew the answer, but wanted to hear it one more time.
"Uh-huh." Nick yawned. Feeling prickly, Sara glared at him.
"Gonna use it if you get a guy?"
Nick just lowered his sunglasses for a dry glance. "Gonna use it if you get a girl?"
Sara didn't deign to answer, and Nick smirked and pushed his sunglasses back into place.
She sat back and tried not to fidget. After three minutes, it was obviously no use, so she stood back up and nudged Nick's chair with one foot. "First soda's on me, what do you want?"
"Something big. With caffeine," he drawled, and Sara had to grin. No surprise there.
It was when she was coming back from the food tent, cups in hand, that she overheard a couple of cops laughing a yard or so ahead of her. "…gonna buy a whole bunch," one said.
"I heard it was one of the nightshift chicks--is it the blonde or the brunette?" the other asked, and Sara's spine stiffened as she realized what they were talking about.
"The brunette. She dissed me last year when I asked her out for a drink, so I'm going to show her what she's missing." His crude chuckle made her skin crawl.
Sara briefly considered catching up to them and feeding the offender his own words, but decided that discretion was the better choice. I'll just use my veto on you, Officer Disgusting. She deliberately loosened her grip on the cups before she bent the paper out of usable shape. Damn! I should have protested after all.
But short of developing a sudden gastrointestinal illness, there was little she could do. Sara set her teeth and strode back to the booth, trying to remain calm.
She had barely set down the cups next to the cash box when a woman at least a foot shorter than Sara came striding into the enclosure, carrying a box. Nick sat up. "I'm sorry, ma'am, we're not open yet," he began.
She snorted. "I know; I'm in charge of it." She looked familiar, and it didn't take Sara long to place her as Sandra Garcia, one of the Sheriff's aides and the person organizing the carnival. "There's been a change of plans."
She set down the box with a thump, and Sara frowned, confused. "A change of plans?" she repeated.
"You're now running the Safe Nest Shelters information booth," Sandra said briskly, and smiled a little. "You can still kiss people if you like, but you can't charge them for it."
Sara was first aware of great relief--she wouldn't have to deal with scum after all--but anger was close behind. "But what about the shelters? They were expecting the money--"
Nick shot her a glance that implored her to shut up, but the aide waved both hands reassuringly. "Not to worry. Someone--an anonymous donor--made a large contribution on the condition that the kissing booth be dropped. Given the size of the check, we were happy to comply."
"How much?" Sara demanded.
"Five thousand dollars," Sandra said, and Nick's lips pursed in a soundless whistle. Sara blinked. At two dollars a kiss, she and Nick between them could not hope to make anywhere near that amount over the course of five hours. Wow. That's over ten times our projected take. Hell, if that person showed up now, I'd kiss 'em for free.
"Wow," Nick repeated, shaking his head. "Well, if we're going to be running an info booth, we'll need info."
"In the box." Sandra sighed as the cellphone on her hip chimed. "Excuse me."
She was gone almost immediately, hurrying to her next destination. Sara and Nick looked down at the box, then at each other, and grinned, taken by the same thought at the same time.
Nick pulled a folding knife from his pocket and crouched to open the box. "Something tells me that we just got the sweetest gig in this place."
Sara retrieved her own cap from her bag and tugged it onto her head. "Y'know, Stokes, I think you're right."
It didn't take them long to set up a sort of primitive counter, once Nick had a flash of genius and borrowed a claw hammer from the dunk tank people to pry off the overhead sign on their booth. It balanced quite nicely on the table and the box, and Sara arranged the fliers and brochures in fans and stacks, with one corner weighted by the jar of "Kiss" buttons that had been intended for those who purchased smackers. She even managed to scrounge a small plastic bucket, and Nick amused himself with a couple of markers, creating a curlicued "Donations" sign to go on it.
They were having so much fun setting up the booth that Sara was a little startled to look up and see a trio of confused-looking young women standing next to it. "Can I help you?" she asked.
"Um, we're looking for the kissing booth?" one of them asked. The other two had their gazes fixed on Nick, and Sara felt a twinge of sympathy.
"Sorry, it's been cancelled. We're just an info booth now. Want a brochure?"
The disappointment that showed on all three faces was almost comical, and Sara bit back a smile. But the blonde, who'd asked the question, stepped forward.
"Sure, what's it for?"
Sara handed up three brochures, and the girls paged through them. "The Safe Nest domestic violence shelters. Safe Nest provides emergency shelter, crisis services and counseling, and education throughout Clark County."
"Huh." The young women looked a little uncomfortable at the topic, and one handed back the brochure, but the blonde put hers into her shoulderbag, and the other girl spoke up. "Are they just for women?"
Sara shook her head, straightening. "Women and kids, and men, though women are the most common victims of domestic violence."
The questioner nodded, her face thoughtful, and Sara wondered what she was thinking. But no more questions were forthcoming, so she offered them a smile. "Would you ladies like a button?"
The "Kiss" buttons brought giggles, and they moved away with a wistful glance or two at Nick. He watched them go, eyes invisible behind his sunglasses, and Sara arched a brow at him. "Disappointed?"
He shook his head. "Nah. Too young for me." His smirk was eloquent, and Sara turned away before he could see her grin.
They didn't exactly have to turn away a rush, but quite a few people of both genders did stop by to express confusion, disappointment, or amusement at the change. Sara was certain she saw Hodges lurking for a while on the fringes of her vision, but for whatever reason he didn't come closer.
She and Nick had a surprisingly pleasant day, lying back in the sun and the heat and trading off on soda or snack runs. In between people looking for kisses or information--or just directions to the restrooms--they talked, or didn't, as the spirit moved them. Nick had become both more thoughtful and more open in the wake of the kidnapping, and he and Sara recovered a little of the friendship they'd lost in competing for the promotion, as well as making up some teasing they'd missed.
Various people from the lab stopped by--Jacquie already sunburned; Greg soaking wet and flicking water at them both until Nick threatened to put him back in the dunk tank upside down; David ostensibly to chat, but judging from his blush having a kiss on his mind. Warrick turned up with a camera and professed great disappointment until they chased him off.
Things got slow around two o'clock, when the heat was at its highest; Sara went back to her car for an umbrella to provide a little shade, and Nick pulled his chair into the meager shadow provided by the next booth, and they guzzled water and took turns dozing. If they didn't move much, it was fairly pleasant, the warmth soaking into their muscles and allowing them to relax from a long work week.
Until a rough voice broke the calm. "Hey, what happened to the damn booth?"
Fury, and a little apprehension, brought Sara out of her drift. The two cops she'd overheard earlier were standing in front of their low counter, stinking of beer and looking befuddled.
"It's cancelled," she said coldly.
The taller of the two shrugged and started to turn away, but the other one protested. "Hey! I been waiting for this!" His face was red with anger as well as sunburn.
"Too bad," Sara replied, standing up; she didn't want to seem vulnerable.
"C'mon, man," the taller one said. The shorter one clenched his fists and said a word that made Sara's eyes narrow, but before she could do anything about it, Nick was standing next to her, arms folded across his chest and looking stern.
"The lady told you the booth was cancelled. Now get, before I call your captain."
"We're going, we're going," the taller one said, yanking his companion's arm. The shorter officer kicked pettishly at the table, but all he did was knock over the button jar before his friend dragged him off.
Nick blew out a breath, and waved to the people at the next booth over, who were looking over in concern. "You okay, Sar?"
With an effort, Sara unclenched her jaw, and sent a last glare towards the disappearing cops. "Yeah." She knelt down to collect the scattered buttons. "Thanks," she added, half-grudgingly.
Nick gave a relieved laugh. "I know you could have kicked their asses yourself, I just wanted to save you from having to clean up the mess afterwards."
Sara stared down at a handful of buttons, then dumped them in the jar. "I'm going to report them anyway," she said, half-expecting that he would tell her to calm down, but she underestimated him.
"The taller guy was Simmons from Vice. I don't know the other guy, but I'll bet he's Simmons' partner. If we don't see Brass today we can file a complaint later." Nick crouched and straightened out a stack of brochures. "Dumbasses like that give us a bad name."
When they took their chairs again Nick appeared to drop instantly into his effortless doze, but Sara tilted her head back and stared at the bright edge of sky past her umbrella, thinking. She hadn't really imagined what working at the kissing booth would actually be like, mostly out of distaste, but it wasn't hard to imagine now what could have happened if Nick hadn't been there. The drunker man at least would not have taken kindly to being vetoed.
This whole thing is pretty irresponsible, she realized with a shudder. Whoever paid to close it down--I owe them.
I wonder who it is?
The more she considered it, the odder the action seemed. Objections to the kissing booth should have been dealt with during the planning stage; it had been on the list of games for weeks, in the public eye. Somebody wanted it shut down quickly, hence the donation to smooth the way.
This...this was personal.
Sara frowned, absently scooping up her bottle of sunscreen and applying more to her arms. Someone had a specific reason to close the booth.
The booth had been on the list, yes, but she and Nick had only ended up at it at the last minute. So it has to do with Nick, or me, or the guy Nick traded with.
She couldn't imagine any objection to Nick taking the booth, but she certainly didn't know everything about him, and she didn't know the Dayshift guy at all. And the only reason she could think attached to herself was Grissom, but he hadn't seemed to care. Too many variables.
Speaking of which, there was the man himself, ambling down the aisle between booths with a container of popcorn in his hand. Sara indulged herself for a moment, just looking at him; he hadn't gone as far as wearing shorts, but he was--astounding!--wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt and jeans, and the standard LVPD cap. And stuffing popcorn into his mouth.
As ever, the heat seemed to have little effect on him; the hair showing out the back of his cap was curly, but he was neither flushed nor perspiring heavily. I wonder how he does that. It can't just be growing up in Southern California…
As if her thought had been audible, he turned and saw them, and strolled over to the booth, his expression going from amiable to a bit confused. "Hey, guys. What happened to your booth?"
Nick didn't stir, but Sara gave him a grin, feeling bold since they were both outside of the lab, though not exactly on non-work grounds. "It got turned into an information booth. What are you doing here? I didn't think this was your thing."
"'Everyone' includes me," Grissom countered mildly. "I contributed several specimens to the petting zoo."
"Roaches?" Sara asked skeptically.
"I was giving racing demonstrations all morning," he said with a touch of pride that made her smile. "And there were quite a few people who wanted to hold my tarantula."
"Let me guess--they were all nine-year-old males."
She could have sworn he winked at her. "Well, at least one of them was nineteen and trying to gross out his girlfriend."
That made her laugh. "I'm sorry I missed the racing. I've been hearing about it for years but I've never seen a roach race." And she really was curious--she'd seen Madagascar hissing roaches before, but never in such an absurd context.
"I'll have to show you sometime," Grissom said absently, and Sara blinked in surprise, but before she could corner him on the statement, Nick made a snorting noise and fell out of his chair, rolling onto the ground with a hard thump.
"Ow!" He half-sat up, blinking, sunglasses knocked askew, and Sara was hard-pressed to control a giggle as she stood up to check him over.
"You okay, Nick?" Grissom asked, crouching on the other side of his former CSI.
Nick wrinkled up his nose. "Hit my head on the wall." He touched the side of his skull with care, eyes still a little foggy with sleep.
"Serves you right for sleeping on the job," Grissom said, but craned his neck to get a better look at the spot. Sara's amusement ebbed. Nick had fallen pretty hard.
"Tell you what, I'll go get you some ice." Sara fetched her wallet out of her bag, and Nick nodded gratefully. She didn't think he was seriously injured, but she knew head bumps hurt.
It took her a couple of minutes to gather a cup of ice and some paper towels, and by the time she got back to the booth, Grissom was gone. She gave Nick the makeshift ice pack and he pressed it to his head, in his chair again but sitting up this time and looking a little subdued.
"Pity the booth got cancelled, or we could get someone to kiss it better," she teased, and Nick snorted, his answering grin reassuring her that he wasn't dangerously hurt.
Sara talked about the shelters with a few more people, then took her seat again, keeping a surreptitious eye on Nick, who was now sipping at a soda. Her mind immediately went back to Grissom and his extraordinary offer; she hadn't expected to see him at the carnival at all.
No chance he was serious about the race demo, she thought, a little sad. I'd try to corner him on it, but I don't need the disappointment. She'd pretty much given up trying with him, anyway.
The heat was making her a little drowsy too, and she let thoughts of Grissom mingle with the puzzle of the booth cancellation as Nick put down the ice pack and took a turn answering questions. Domestic abuse wasn't one of Nick's buttons, but he brought his usual enthusiasm to the task, and Sara knew he was sincere.
I didn't think Grissom would stay after his stuff was done. It's just not his thing, without a roller coaster. Sara yawned. Maybe it was the popcorn.
And in that instant, the answer came clear, making her eyes widen. There was no tangible proof, but a good part of a CSI's expertise relies on knowledge of human behavior, and she knew.
Sara took a deep breath, and then another, before she rang the townhouse's doorbell. She'd gone home, eaten a sandwich, taken a shower and noticed the faint flush of sun across her cheekbones--great, more freckles--and then she'd walked back out the door. She'd let things slide too often. Grissom wasn't getting away with it this time.
She almost expected him to not answer his door, but about fifteen seconds after the muffled chime had reached her ears, the door swung wide. Grissom regarded her without much surprise, and then his mouth twisted ruefully. "Hello, Sara."
He stepped aside, and Sara moved carefully past him, automatically taking in the airy space, picking out a few changes. She rather liked his living room, despite its contrast with her own cozy place; it had room to breathe.
"Would you like something to drink?" he continued politely, shutting the door and moving towards the small open kitchen. Sara shook her head.
"I want an explanation, Grissom."
His stride faltered, and then he turned and leaned back against his breakfast bar, almost as though he were bracing himself. "I suppose you do."
Sara crossed her arms, trying to feel aggressive. "Did you think I wouldn't figure it out?"
Grissom tilted his head a little, then pulled off his glasses and set them on the bar with a sigh. "Actually, yes. Not to slight your abilities as an investigator, but I didn't think you'd have anything more than suspicions." One corner of his mouth curled up. "And you wouldn't come here with just suspicions."
Sara dipped her own head in acknowledgment, and he sighed again. "What gave me away?"
"You pretended you didn't know that the booth had been canceled," Sara said, watching him. "If you hadn't had anything to do with it, you would have just asked why it had been changed. And if you hadn't known it had been changed, you wouldn't have come anywhere near it, not if I was working at it."
His laugh had little humor, but what there was of it seemed to be directed at himself. "Of course." Grissom ran a hand over the back of his head. "I should have known better than to try to fool you."
Sara took another step into the room. "Why did you do it?" she asked. "Was this some kind of misplaced possessiveness, because if it was--"
Grissom shook his head sharply. "No. I mean, it was, but not like that."
"Explain," Sara demanded through clenched teeth.
He grimaced. "I didn't want you to have to go through that," he said softly. "For many reasons, some of which are very selfish. If you had been happy with the assignment, Sara, I wouldn't have interfered." His eyes, which had been fixed on the floor, rose to meet hers. "But you weren't happy, I could see that. And I didn't want you to...be at the mercy of anyone with a ticket in his hand."
Sara didn't quite know what she was feeling; it was all a complex tangle, partly anger, partly...delight. "So you just thought you'd spend five thousand dollars to rescue me? And Nick, while you were at it?"
"Donate," he corrected, straightening a little. "It's a worthy cause, after all."
And was he referring to the shelters, or to rescuing her, Sara wondered dizzily. Knowing him, it could be both...
She bit her lip, and looked away, trying to think. On one level, she wanted to be outraged at Grissom's high-handedness with her life, but she kept thinking of the drunken detective, and Nick's reluctance, and how relieved she'd been when she'd found out the kissing booth was off. And it wasn't like he made a big fuss about it. Sandra said it was an anonymous donation.
"Are you angry?" Grissom asked quietly at last.
"I should be," she said slowly. "But I don't think I am. If I'd wanted to do it, I would be furious, but as it was you got me out of a bad situation." Sara felt a smile coming on, slow and shy, and looked back to him.
Grissom was watching her, and she unfolded her arms, feeling suddenly reckless. This could ruin everything, and yet it seemed-- She took five quick steps over to him, and let her lips press briefly against his cheek, just above the line of his beard.
She barely heard his quick intake of breath over the noise of her heartbeat, and stepped back hastily. Grissom looked poleaxed. "I thought, when I heard about the donation, that I owed the donor a kiss for it," she explained, feeling her face heat, embarrassment flushing over her. "I--never mind."
She whirled and headed for the door, trying to reach it before he said something, berating herself for the impulse. Idiot, you've just backed him into a corner, and now--
She shouldn't have stopped, but she'd never heard him say her voice like that before, intense and faintly hoarse. It was shocking, like seeing a tree fall or a wall collapse.
But she couldn't quite bring herself to turn around. Sara heard the light sound of his shoes on the cool floor, approaching her hesitantly, and after a long moment a warm hand touched her shoulder. "I--" And she heard him swallow.
Somehow, that gave her the courage to turn, and his hand fell away. His eyes were as wild as hers had probably been just a minute before, as though panic was warring with courage just behind them. For some reason, it made her feel a little less humiliated.
"What?" she asked, forcing her voice just past a whisper.
"I want another kiss." Grissom blinked, as though not quite believing his own words. "I...I paid for it."
For an instant, anger flared through her at the implication of his words, but then she got it. It was the only thing he could think of at that moment, the only bridge he could find to close the chasm between them.
Her own courage was back, rising hot and fierce, and she stared at the perfect line of his lips. "You bought a lot more than one," she murmured, and let her hands slide up to the back of his neck. He twitched, but she felt his own hands land on her hips.
"Just one, Sara," he said, still with that edge of hoarseness. "At least to--"
She cut him off, relishing the little inarticulate sound he made as her mouth closed over his. Indulging in dizzy fantasy, she made it a good one, a long slow kiss that took in every detail of his lips, and he wasn't slow to respond. His palms slid up her back, and oh it was good, it was wonderful, she didn't want to stop tasting him or feeling his beard scrape her chin or pushing her fingers into his hair. Not ever.
He groaned when their mouths finally parted, and pressed his face into her hair, and Sara let him pull her even closer. "I knew this would happen," he muttered, his voice shaking a little.
She blinked dazedly over his shoulder at the far wall. "What?"
"I can't let you go, Sara."
She pulled back just enough to see his face again, the mix of delight and apprehension and determination, and gave him a cockeyed look. "Who says I'm going anywhere?"
He didn't look as though he believed her, so she gave him another kiss. After all, he'd paid for it.
And then he gave her one back, and she let him, because she'd paid for it too.
After a while, she lost count.
Three months later
Grissom had never loved working the night shift so much as he did now, because he could wake up in the middle of his sleep time and see Sara's skin dappled with the muted sunlight that made its way past his curtains, like light underwater. It was one of his most favorite sights, and every time he woke to it, he savored it for a long while before letting sleep take him again.
Occasionally, she woke, usually just enough to smile at him before falling asleep again, but this time she spoke. Sort of. "Mmm?"
Grissom let his palm glide reverently down the curve of her shoulder to her waist and hip. "I'm just thinking."
She turned under his hand, all but purring. "About?"
"I was thinking..." He leaned forward to press his lips to her collarbone in a gentle salute. "...That I have to have used up my kisses by now."
Sara frowned a little, but then her face cleared as she remembered their sporadic joke. "Oh. Nah."
He raised a brow. "At two dollars a kiss, that's only two thousand five hundred kisses, Sara."
She gave him that full-on grin, and slipped into his willing arms. "No, didn't I tell you? I changed the price." She lowered her mouth to his for a long, sweet moment.
"Oh?" Grissom looked up into her face, rejoicing quietly that he could. The feeling hadn't grown old yet, and he prayed it never would.
"Yeah. At a penny a kiss--" She laid another on his lips. "--that's five hundred thousand kisses." A third. "So if you figure another fifty years or so, that's ten thousand kisses a year, and that's--"
Grissom didn't let her finish the sentence. If there were that many to get through, he'd better get started.