Some 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. Others strongly resemble characters that sort of belong to ABC, though I seriously doubt anyone cares at this point. The rest belong to me, and if you want to play with them, you have to ask me first. 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 through "Unbearable"
Note: this is a sequel to "Rollercoaster", which really should be read first.
This is an AU futurefic that includes a number of original characters. Folks, I owe this story to Cincoflex's constant encouragement, suggestions, patience, and general cheering on. She's a gem of a beta and a wonderful friend, and the great fic is just a bonus! Also, I'd like to thank WP1fan for suggesting a sequel, because that set off a whole chain of ideas...and here we are...
Grissom sat back in the airplane seat, book open on his lap but unread, and stared blindly at the view outside the window to his left. Brilliant white clouds bigger than mountains stretched as far as the eye could see below, and above was the hard blue curve of the upper atmosphere, but he saw none of it.
All his attention was fixed on his destination, somewhere many miles and several hours ahead of him. A small town as cities go, but large in ego, and of a certain importance; the only thing that mattered to Grissom, however, was one person who lived there.
Well, not in D.C., precisely--in Virginia. But at that distance there's hardly any difference.
It had been quite a few years since he'd been to the nation's capital. He remembered it as busy, humid, and full of gridlocked traffic, and according to Sara nothing had changed but the traffic, which had gotten worse.
Her voice had carried the authority of knowledge over the phone, the confidence of knowing her subject. Grissom had heard that tone often during the years he'd known her, but not on that particular subject.
And the past few years--at least until very recently--he hadn't heard it at all.
He rubbed absently at his breastbone. His heart hadn't yet broken the habit of aching when he thought of Sara. But it's only been a couple of weeks.
The anticipation at the thought of seeing her--within mere hours, probably--was nearly unbearable, but it was accompanied by worry. The Sara who'd left Las Vegas three years before was not the Sara he'd met so unexpectedly in Pennsylvania. The woman he'd known--brittle and wounded and yet indomitable--had become someone opaque and tough, someone who watched him with wary eyes even after they'd come to a hesitant understanding. He didn't have the least idea how to deal with this new Sara, not that he'd really known how to deal with her before.
But he loved her, oh yes, there was no denying that. Just the sight of her had brought back all the yearning in an agonizing rush, leaving him hurt and helpless. Spending a few hours in her company, cool and cordial, had made him long to mend things between them--even though he had no idea how, even though he didn't think it was possible.
And then she'd asked the right question, and his heart had broken its bonds and done what his mind hadn't dared. And lo and behold, that had been the key.
They'd spent a cautious day in each other's company, and that of Sara's brother and his children; Ed had offered to take the kids back to the amusement park by himself, but Sara had insisted that she wasn't going to give up their time together. But Ed had persisted in sneaking off with Joseph and Kimmy, leaving Sara and Grissom to their tentative conversation.
Sara looked around and rolled her eyes. "They're gone. I'm gonna get Ed for this."
Grissom said nothing. He'd seen Ed gathering up his son and daughter when they finished their hot dogs and the three of them tiptoeing exaggeratedly away behind Sara's back, but he hadn't drawn her attention to it. He had no qualms at all about stealing every moment he could of her company. For all he knew, this could be the last day he ever saw her.
Sara shrugged, picking up her soda. "So, you said David moved to California?"
Grissom nodded, taking in her every move with covert eyes. "Mission Viejo. He took a coroner's position out there and married a criminal psychologist."
Sara smiled, an unexpected, sweet expression. "Good for him. He's one of the finest people I know. He deserves to be happy."
He couldn't help stepping into the opening. "How about you, Sara? Are you happy?"
The night before, it might have just been an innocent question. Today, it wasn't.
The look she shot him mingled hurt, anger, suspicion…and a certain wry amusement. "Tell you what, Grissom. You answer that question, and then I will."
If she thought that would make him back down, she was wrong. In the past, it would have, but in the past he had only been this daring once. "No. I'm not."
She blinked at him, but where she might once have shifted in her chair or crossed her arms, she now remained still and outwardly relaxed, only the cup in her hand turning slowly as her fingers moved. When she said nothing, he rested an elbow on the little metal table and put his chin in his hand. "And you?"
Sara took another sip of her drink. "I'm content," she said after a moment. "I love my job, and Ed's family is a blast. And it's nice being a daywalker again." The cup spun, ice rustling against the paper sides. "But no, I'm not happy."
He nodded, and that was all they said on the subject. There could be any number of reasons why she wasn't happy, Grissom knew that; it might have nothing to do with him. But he also knew Sara still, on some level, and the way she'd phrased her answer made it quite clear.
Besides, she'd already told him her dream.
Grissom had left the next day on his scheduled flight, tasting her on his lips--not from the impossible, desperate kiss they'd shared that first night, but from a brief one he'd taken when they'd said goodbye in the airport terminal. He'd reached out and cupped her face in his palm, and leaned in, and while she hadn't moved he'd felt her trembling as he pulled away. Her eyes had been dark with doubt.
He'd spent his life pursuing certainties. He vowed to do his best to erase that doubt and replace it with the firmest certainty possible.
So here he sat, having set aside his career and his home and his friends to chase a dream he'd given up on years before. Brass might have called it a mid-life crisis, but Grissom knew it had nothing to do with age at all--it had to do with necessity.
It was frightening, though. Not the leave of absence or the new city--he wasn't so hidebound that he couldn't deal with change--but the terrifying sense of a last chance.
But it's better than the no chance I had before.
Grissom sighed, and fiddled with the book in his lap. He looked down to find that it had fallen open at the spot where he'd tucked in the card Sara had sent him--her only physical communication with him in three years. Their chance meeting had spurred phone calls and e-mails, but mostly those were exchanges of information--they had both agreed, without discussion, to put off anything deeper until he reached the East Coast.
The card was simple and plain, probably from a stock she kept for formal thank-yous. No picture or monogram graced its front; inside were only a few sentences, and Grissom could see that Sara had restrained her usual scrawl to make her writing more legible.
Grissom--Thank you for the flowers. I'll see you in a week.
And under that, a quote from Yeats:
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Both a warning and a promise, and Grissom appreciated the dual meaning. Sara was taking as terrible a chance as he, letting him back into her life, but she was doing it for herself.
Because she wanted to.
Sara stared at the mirror over her dresser as she buttoned her blouse, and scolded the image before her. "What the hell were you thinking?"
Her reflection gave her nothing back but a worried frown. She did up the last button and shrugged into her suit jacket. You were supposed to be over him…done…finished. But no, you're inviting him back for an indefinite stay. Are you nuts!
She checked her makeup and hair one more time with a practiced, absent eye and whirled away to collect her badge. Her gun already rode her hip and her overcoat was in her car, three stories down in the garage. Sara hastened through the big room without really seeing it, or the weak light that was seeping in through the skylights. Mornings were a bit of a balancing act in the Sidle household.
She ran down two flights of stairs to the main level, where the scent of coffee originated, and where Ed was burying his face in a mug of it in the kitchen. His mop of brown hair stood out wildly around his head, and he was apparently oblivious to the cartoons on the small kitchen TV or his children devouring toast and cereal around him. Sara had to smirk a little, as she did each day. Her brother was not a morning person.
"Hey, Aunt Sara," Joey managed around a mouthful of cornflakes and milk, and Sara brushed a kiss over his head and threw a wave at Kimmy, who had become less touchy-feely over the past year. The girl, immersed in a book and apple juice, waved back. Sara didn't have to ask if she was ready to go; her backpack and jacket already sat leaning against the kitchen island. Kimmy took after her aunt in organization.
"How late were you up last night?" Sara asked Ed cheerfully, tousling his hair further and ignoring his glare.
"Were you talking to yourself again this morning?" he hissed quietly back, and she shoved his head a little and went for another mug. Only Ed was allowed to twit her about her dialogues with her mirror, silent or spoken, but then only Ed would dare.
Sara filled the travel mug with coffee--she'd already had her toast, before anyone else had gotten up--and added the last of the half-and-half before tossing the carton in the garbage can. And there in the can, wilted and browning, was one of the reasons she'd passed over into insanity and told Grissom he could visit if he liked. Two dozen long-stemmed roses, pink for hope and red for love, now past their prime.
Well, twenty-two, anyway. One of each color lay carefully drying in Sara's room, next to the card that had come with them, the one that read only Please believe me.
The other reasons, which Sara always put aside in her morning spasms of doubt, crowded to mind at the sight of the blooms, and she shoved them down for the moment. "All set, Kimmy?"
Her niece slid down from the stool and tucked the book into her backpack before taking her glass to the sink. "Gotta brush my teeth."
"Cool." Sara glanced at the clock, more out of habit than anything else; they had this down to a science now, and were well within schedule. She fitted the lid on her mug and glanced over at her brother. "It's Thursday, right?"
Ed grunted, the caffeine apparently having little effect as yet. Sara leaned back against the counter and took a sip. "And Thursday is Gracie's early day."
"Yep!" Joey agreed, chasing a last cornflake with his spoon. Sara smiled sweetly at Ed.
"So…don't you think you should at least get out of your pajamas before she gets here?"
Ed's eyes opened slowly to stare at Sara, then widened. With a yelp, he sprang off the stool and ran out of the room, leaving his sister and son to giggle helplessly.
Oh yeah, he's definitely got a crush on Gracie. Ed's flannel bottoms and ancient "Microbiology Lab--Staph Only" T-shirt were respectable enough, and his reaction was just one more piece of evidence to Sara that he harbored tender feelings for the serene housekeeper. She was glad to see it. Ed had adored his wife, and had walked a thin line for months after her death, but Sara didn't want him spending the rest of his life alone.
She took another gulp of coffee. "I'm going to go start the car," she told Joey, whose attention was now fixed on the TV. "I'll see you tonight."
Her nephew turned Ed's wide smile on her. "Bye, Aunt Sara!"
She winked at him, and headed for the stairs.
The car sitting next to Ed's minivan in the double garage was her one indulgence, impractical and expensive and exactly what she wanted. The Mercedes convertible was no longer state-of-the-art, since it was now four years old, but that bothered her not one bit. Sara slid behind the wheel to wait for her niece, and tilted the rear-view mirror to make sure her hair was still in place. Some mornings it was stubborn about the chignon.
Her own eyes looked back at her solemnly. "Sometimes…it's good to be crazy," she told herself softly, not sure whether she was referring to her car or her invitation to Grissom.
The other reasons clamored softly for attention. The fact that Grissom was willing to leave everything behind to come see her; the fact that her leaving Las Vegas had been something of an overreaction; and the kiss that she sometimes thought she could still feel burning on her lips, born out of his despair.
Not to mention the glaring fact that despite three years of silence and concentrated effort, she hadn't managed to pry him from her heart.
The passenger door opened and Kimmy plopped into the seat, twisting to dump her pack in the back. "It's supposed to storm," she said.
"Figures," Sara said wryly as they put on their seatbelts. Kimmy reminded her a little of Lindsey Willows, all long hair and big eyes, but her hair was her mother's raven-black and she had her father's sharp mind. "'Push the button, Max'."
And Kimmy, still young enough to get a kick out of it, hit the garage door control with a giggle. The door rolled up, and Sara started the engine and backed the car out into the cloudy world.
Work kept her busy most of the day--mainly research, as she was between active investigations at the moment. But eventually three o'clock rolled around, and Sara pulled herself from the bowels of the Internet--thanks so much, Google--and headed out of the office. The Bureau allowed for some flexibility in hours, and she had a plane to meet.
The butterflies she'd kept at bay all day woke up with a vengeance and began rocketing around her stomach as she pointed the convertible's nose towards the highway. It didn't help that she ran into traffic almost immediately.
By the time she reached the airport, frustration and nerves tangling inside her, Sara knew Grissom's plane had already landed, but they'd made arrangements to meet at the baggage carousel anyway. It was moving when she reached it, and half-hidden behind passengers; Sara slowed her steps to look for the familiar solid silhouette.
There he was, near where the carousel's conveyor belt went back through the wall. He hadn't spotted her yet, and she took a moment to observe him--the first time in three years she had seen him unawares.
He still looked tired, defeated. His shoulders were bowed as he stared down at the passing bags, and a desire swelled in her to go over there and take him into her arms, and soothe the hurt that weighed on him so heavily.
Oh no you don't,she told herself severely. No way. For all you know this is just one of his weird impulses, and he'll turn around next week and tell you it's a mistake and he's going back to Vegas. Control, Sidle, you have to stay in control.
She didn't really think he was going to back out of this attempt at…whatever…that they were trying, but she wasn't about to make herself vulnerable to him just yet, any more than she already had.
But, Sara had to admit, she was glad to see him.
She was about twenty feet away when Grissom looked up and saw her, and while the tentative delight that spread over his face didn't quite dispel the sadness there, it warmed her all unwilling. She felt a smile curving her own lips, and let it bloom.
She took his breath away. A clichéd phrase, he knew it, but still the most precise for his situation. Grissom watched Sara stride towards him, looking crisp and professional in her suit and pumps, and wished that he was free to step forward to meet her--to pull her into his arms and kiss her as breathless as he felt. But judging from the way she came to an abrupt halt two feet away, he wasn't even allowed to lean over and kiss her cheek.
Like most worthwhile things in life, that must be earned. Very well. He could smile, though, and did; and he could admire, and did. "Hello, Sara."
There was a hint of a flush to her cheeks, and a few wisps of hair had escaped her chignon. "Hey, Grissom. Have a good flight?"
"Fine." He wondered if she was wearing her gun, if she was truly happy to see him, if she was annoyed at him for kissing her when he'd left. "You look…stunning."
The flush deepened, and Sara glanced down. "Um, thanks. It's just my work clothes…"
It's not the clothes, it's you,he wanted to say, but didn't. He didn't want to push too much, too soon.
Don't panic her. Take your time. Patience was required here, and he had a lot of it. Somehow just the sight of her, the pleasure in her face, dispelled the worst of his anxiety.
"Washington must suit you," he offered, and she looked up again, pleased.
"It does," and her dimples appeared. "Are you hungry?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Grissom saw his bag approaching, and leaned down to snag it. "Very."
He hoisted the duffel onto his shoulder and arched a brow at Sara, who looked a little confused. "You only have one bag?"
Grissom shrugged. "I'm having the rest of it shipped."
"Ah." Her expression smoothed out. "Good idea. C'mon, I'll take you to dinner."
She spun and started walking, but Grissom saw the slight hitch in her first step, and noted it. However hard they were pretending that this was just the meeting of old friends, at least to start with, there was much more going on under the surface. But he didn't go there; he was nowhere near ready to confront their difficulties yet himself. He hurried to catch up.
Sara's car impressed him, and he whistled softly as she popped the trunk for his bag. She grinned over her shoulder at him. "Sweet, isn't it?"
Grissom smiled back. "You always had an eye for quality. But--" He dropped the bag in and shut the trunk lid. "I thought you wanted a Mustang?"
She pressed her keychain button, and the doors unlocked. "Out of my price range," she sighed. "And not really practical right now."
Grissom swung into the passenger seat, noting that the interior was spotless but that the space behind the seats held two coloring books and a small pink sweater. "How are Joseph and Kimmy?"
Sara fastened her seatbelt. "Fine, and Joey's pretty excited about seeing you again. You seem to have made an impression."
Grissom didn't know what to say to that; he'd only done what seemed right at the time. But as Sara backed the car smoothly out of its space, he had to admire the vehicle. "Please tell me you didn't buy this new."
Sara snorted. "Are you kidding? You should never buy a new car, the value drops the second you drive it off the lot."
He grinned as she headed for the garage's exit. "You're quite right."
She drove them through a grumbling thunderstorm, to a French bistro that she said was one of her favorite stops on the way back from the airport. Grissom felt a spasm of dismay when a tall man with no hair and a bushy mustache descended on her as they stepped inside the doors, but then figured that the embrace and the lavish kisses on her cheeks were Gallic when he spoke with a French accent. Sara returned the kisses and introduced Erik as the owner and Grissom as "my friend," and Grissom returned the hearty handshake and concealed his pleasure at the label. He wasn't at all sure that they had even achieved friendship at this point, but he would take all he could get.
The food was superb. Grissom ate lamb and ratatouille and watched Sara devour salmon and spinach, and was pleased to see that she actually ate a decent amount of food. In fact--he turned a more analytical eye on her--she appeared healthier than she had three years previously, not as dangerously thin. He'd never suspected her of having an eating disorder, but he had worried that she simply didn't bother to eat enough.
But she was nervous, he could tell. She didn't fidget, but her smile was the bright one she wore when her nerves were getting the better of her, and her movements were abrupt and fast. He couldn't figure it out.
Why should she be so nervous? Cool I could understand, or just polite, but it's almost as if…
He felt like an idiot as it dawned on him. A hopeful idiot.
She's trying to impress me. Trying to tell him without words that she was successful, in control, doing quite well. Which meant that, on some level, she cared what he thought.
By the same mutual unspoken agreement, they kept the conversation light, talking about their colleagues and Sara's family. "I'll admit I'm a little surprised," Grissom said over their coffee. "You scarcely ever mentioned Ed before. I had no idea you were so close."
Sara added sugar to her cup, looking slightly embarrassed. "We weren't. Social Services split us up for a few years, you know, and we never seemed to reconnect after that. Ed grabbed a scholarship and went to UC Davis, and we mostly swapped Christmas cards. I did go to his wedding." She stirred her coffee reflectively, pursing her lips in a gentle smile.
"Did you know his wife?" Grissom was curious.
"Barely." She took a sip. "I thought she was great, though. Very smart, very sweet."
"How did she die?" he asked cautiously.
"Car accident. Ed was devastated." Sorrow softened her eyes, and Grissom wanted very much to reach out and cover her hand with his again, but he didn't dare. Not yet. Not yet.
"So he called you?"
One corner of her mouth turned up. "He was at the end of his rope. He had a bewildered three-year-old, a heartbroken seven-year-old, and a shattered life. I think I was the only person he could think of, for some reason. Anyway, turns out we make pretty good friends now. It's--we kind of had to agree to let the past go, but once we did, things worked okay." She blinked, looking a little taken aback, as though she'd said more than she had meant to, but Grissom just nodded.
"I wonder how one does that," he mused, only half-aware of what he was saying.
Sara cocked her head. "Does what?"
"Goes on, after a loss. I never figured it out." Grissom bit his tongue on further words, suddenly aware of having said too much. Sara was staring at him, eyes wide.
"So, you live with them now?" he asked hastily, hoping she would let it slide for now. After a moment, her shoulders relaxed and she picked up her cup again.
"Yeah. I suppose I should get my own place eventually, but I never have time to hunt for an apartment."
They discussed the pros and cons of apartments versus houses for the rest of the meal, skirting weightier topics. It was dark when they left the restaurant, but Sara seemed confident of her route as they drove towards the address Grissom provided.
"I've driven it a lot," she explained when he asked. "For a while I was doing a lot of traveling for work, so I got to know all the major airports pretty well."
"Do you still?" Grissom asked, apprehensive, but she shook her head and braked for a red light.
"On occasion, but I've been posted back at the home base for a while now." She reached up and pulled out a few hairpins, and her chignon dissolved into a fall of soft hair. Grissom pulled in a silent breath as the scent of it crept to him; apples and Sara. It was longer than it used to be, he noticed, and reached up almost without thought to snag an overlooked hairpin.
But as soon as his fingers touched the strands, he was very, very present. It was as though she had some invisible boundary around her, Grissom thought dazedly, some field that his hand had entered. He was totally aware of her sitting so close by, and...
...And she was aware of it too, judging by the startled, intense look she was giving him. He cleared his throat, and lowered his arm until she could see the pin. "Here," he said, his voice a little hoarse. "You missed one."
"Thanks," she said blankly, and took it carefully, not touching his fingers with hers. Then the light turned green, and with an effort she broke their gaze and pressed the gas. Grissom sat back, trying to settle his body. It appears the attraction still holds.
Though he'd never thought otherwise, really.
Instead of a hotel room or a standard apartment, Grissom had chosen to rent a furnished suite in a complex that catered to business travelers who might stay a month or more. It seemed the simplest solution, given that he had no idea how long he would be staying on the East Coast, and it wasn't as though he couldn't afford it. Sara pulled into the parking lot and looked around with approval, her composure back in place. "Good choice. Alexandria's a nice town, and you're not too far from the Metrorail."
"I haven't been here in years, but I remember it as an attractive area," Grissom agreed as she shut off the engine.
"I'll wait while you get checked in, in case there's a problem," Sara said, hitting the trunk release as he opened his door.
Somewhat to his surprise, she accompanied him to the lobby and then upstairs to his suite. The bedroom, bathroom, and office/sitting room were much like rooms in a better-grade hotel, but the suite also came with a tiny kitchen, and was set up for longer stays than a few nights. Grissom dumped his duffel on the low dresser without concern, but noticed Sara wrinkling her nose at the queen-sized bed's tidy patterned spread.
"Going to whip out the nonoxynol-9?" he teased, and she sniffed.
"I'm not the one sleeping on the sheets. I hope you brought an ALS."
"I'm not sure I want to know," Grissom quipped. But the humor died away into awkwardness as they looked at each other.
Grissom had no idea of the protocol. He didn't quite dare offer a hug, but anything else seemed ridiculous.
"Well." Sara shoved her hands into the pockets of her jacket. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
Grissom shifted his jaw, and nodded. "You're taking tomorrow off?"
"Yeah." Sara looked down at her feet. "I mean, that's three days with the weekend, and by Sunday night I...we..."
"Yeah," Grissom echoed, not wanting her to articulate what they were both thinking. By Sunday night I should know whether I should stay, or if I should just go back to Vegas.
I don't want to go back to Vegas. Not yet.
Sara blew out a breath. "Right," she said with energy. "See you tomorrow." She pulled one hand from her pocket to give him a little wave, and then she was out the door.
Grissom watched her stride down the carpeted hall past the elevators, her head high. She didn't look back before opening the door to the stairwell, and he sighed as he closed and locked the door. On impulse, he went over to the window.
The rain had stopped while they were at dinner, leaving the air cool and redolent with the scent of wet grass. Sara appeared below within a minute, hurrying over to her car and climbing inside, and then Grissom was surprised to see the car's roof fold back and out of sight. She's going to get cold, driving that way.
But as he watched her fasten her seatbelt and start the car, he could see from the set of her shoulders that temperature wasn't on her mind. And as she pulled out of the parking lot, he fantasized briefly about sitting beside her, the two of them rushing down some dark narrow road, sweet chilly air pouring in around them and her laughter getting whipped away on the wind.
Then Grissom turned away and closed the curtains. Maybe someday. If you're lucky.
He dreamed it that night too, sprawled in the unfamiliar bed; dreamed that they drove into the morning light, all the way back to a Vegas that was at the wrong end of the country, and he got to kiss her when they got there. Her cheeks were cold, but her lips were warm, warm...
He refused to wake up.
See Chapter 2