Author's Note: This is a personal challenge to myself to write something a little morefrom Grissom's perspective, since I normally focus very much on Sara in my stories.
Summary: It is in our darkest hour that weachieve that moment of clarity, when we realize what we truly need... Prequel to 'Hard To Breathe'
Spoilers: For Grave Danger
Disclaimer: I own nothing but a computer, a bottle of Jack Daniels and a roll of duct tape...
Gil Grissom pulled his car into the vacant slot, leaned back in the driver's seat and groaned out a sigh.
In every person's life, there come days that test you, that push you as far as you think you can go. In his career, Grissom had experienced his fair share of them. But nothing like this past day. This day had nearly killed him – figuratively and literally.
His outwardly calm demeanor belied a barely composed psyche that was inches from unraveling. He was sure that, if one more stressful event added itself to this horrendously difficult day, his calm veneer would shatter into a thousand pieces, leaving only the wreck of a man which he, until now, had successfully hidden from the rest of the world.
This veneer of his was a necessity, brought about by a private nature and a need for control. It often gave the impression that he was unfeeling, unemotional, and this was simply not the case. But after many years in a career that dealt with cases that would break the hardest heart, he felt that the best defense was a certain level of emotional detachment. It was at home, in solitude, when his emotions would break free. It was better that way, even if it made those closest to him suspect he was a robot.
This day had put his veneer well and truly to the test. He had to be the strong one. That was his job. While Catherine and Sara and, in particular, Warrick, each had their moments when it all became too much and they felt they would break; he had to push it all down inside of himself and keep going. And now the strain was beginning to tell.
He was only too aware of the dangers they faced on the job. He had been made to face them again and again over the years – Holly Gribb's death, Nick's stalker, his own face-off with Sid Goggle, who had been dubbed the 'Strip Strangler'.
But this time, it had been different. It had felt different. The usual, sudden dangers posed by cornered criminals or vengeful psychopaths were horrible to go through, but they were usually short, terror-filled moments that happened, and then were over.
But this… this had been planned, calculated with chilling accuracy, sadistic and, worst of all – prolonged. Over 12 hours of not knowing where he was. 12 hours of being forced to watch him suffer. 12 hours of feeling utterly helpless.
It was that helplessness that Grissom resented above all other things. Helplessness was not something a man with a burning desire to control his environment enjoyed feeling. Knowledge was power - his mother had taught him that. It was in the pursuit of that knowledge that he sought to control his life. And he felt that it had failed him this day.
As he stood in that warehouse, facing the man, the monster, who had instigated this prolonged torture, Grissom had suddenly felt very small and very stupid. Closing his eyes, he could still hear Walter Gordon's voice taunting him.
"What does Nick Stokes mean to you? How do you feel when you see him in that coffin? Does your soul die every time you push that button? How do you feel, knowing that there's nothing you can do to get him out of that hell? Helpless ... useless ... impotent?"
Yes. That was how he felt.
But as Gordon drew back his coat and revealed the Semtex strapped around his body, the only thought that crossed Grissom's mind was that he should have seen it coming. And as the blast carried him across the room, even that thought was carried away, replaced by one image.
Closing his eyes, he focused on the contours of that face, her eyes, her smile, the way she pursed her lips when she was particularly amused by something. The face gave him comfort as much as it frightened him. The one aspect of his life where he truly wasn't in control. The one aspect that threatened everything he had built around himself. All came crumbling down with a single realization, gleaned from the moment he thought he was going to die – a perfect moment of clarity.
He always over-thought things. He was well-aware of this. It mattered not that he had finally acknowledge the problem internally. Putting the changes that needed to be made into practice would be the hard part. He didn't know if he was capable. But he was here –
so he figured that was a start.
He finally opened the door and got out of his car. His whole body ached from the aftermath of the explosion. He felt battered and bruised and, suddenly, very, very old. But like the EMT who examined him had said, it was a miracle he wasn't more badly hurt at his age.
That all he needed. A young EMT telling him he was old.
As he wearily climbed the apartment building's steps, he was met with an unexpected sight.
Sara. Sitting on the steps in front of her apartment. Sobbing her heart out.
She was clenching her knees towards her chest protectively, and he was reminded forcefully of the last time he has seen her sitting in that pose. But if at all possible, she looked more upset now than she did then.
As he moved towards her, she looked up; her eyes filled with such pain that he thought his own heart would break.
'Sara? Honey, what's wrong?'
She shook her head, refusing to answer, or perhaps making a futile attempt to insist that "nothing" was wrong, he couldn't tell which. Crouching down in front of her, wincing slightly at the twinge of pain in his knees, he brought himself to her eye level.
Clearly fighting to control herself, Sara took a moment before answering. 'What are you doing here?' she asked, confused.
'I, uh… I wanted to talk to you.' He was startled to see Sara so vulnerable. 'Why are you out here?'
'I haven't made it inside yet,' she admitted, her pain and confusion temporarily overridden by a sense of embarrassment for being in this state in front of him.
He made an attempt as a reassuring smile. 'Let's get you inside,' he suggested, standing upright and holding out his hand to her. She took it only briefly, until she was on her feet, before promptly dropping it, as if suddenly afraid to touch him. He stood back as she riffled in her bag for keys and opened the door.
She dumped her bag on the floor and sunk down on the couch taking long, steadying breaths to regain a semblance of control. By the time Grissom had poured her a glass of water and returned to the living room, Sara had more or less composed herself. Wiping her eyes, she laughed, obviously embarrassed. 'I'm sorry. I, uh… I guess I'd been holding that in all day. I just… started going over everything in my head, and…'
Sitting down on the end of the coffee table, opposite her, he shook his head. 'You don't have to apologize, Sara. The past 24 hours have been rough on all of us. You wouldn't be human if you didn't get upset by it.'
For some reason that seemed to amuse her. She smirked slightly even as she nodded in agreement.
'So, did you stop by the hospital?' He asked, not sure how to broach the subject that had them both so upset.
She nodded again. 'You?'
'I've just come from there,' he replied.
'I must have just missed you. Any change?'
Grissom sighed. 'He's stable. They still won't let anyone but his parents in to see him. They said maybe tomorrow night…' He looked out the window. The sun was already high in the sky. It was already tomorrow. 'Tonight I mean.'
'Good,' she muttered. 'Good.'
The silence between them stretched out endlessly. Sara looked as though struggling to say something, while Grissom watched her, wondering if Nick was all that was bothering her. In his own mind, he tried to find the words that he needed to say to her.
'You doing okay?'
The question startled him. He felt as though he ought to be asking her that.
'I'm fine, Sara.'
She looked up at him, her eyes fixed on his with what felt like a penetrating stare. 'Really?'
He nodded, confused.
'Because, last time I checked, you were involved in an explosion last night.'
Her tone was sharp, as if she was angry with him for almost being blown to smithereens.
An eyebrow was briefly raised at her tone, but he lowered again it to chuckle. Nothing was funny right now, so he couldn't for the life of him work out why he was laughing. 'I'd forgotten,' he admitted.
'I hadn't.' Her voice was low and pained.
'I'm fine,' he assured her.
Edgily, she rose to her feet, moving away from him and starting to pace. 'I sat in the lab watching you tonight, and I wanted so badly to ask you if you were okay.'
Getting to his feet, he watched her traverse the room. 'We were worried about Nick,' he told her simply. 'You didn't need the added worry of me on top of all that.'
'I was worried about you,' she said, stopping and looking at him again. 'I just didn't know how to tell you.'
'There's really no need.'
'There is a need!' she whispered fiercely. 'You could have died. Nick could have died. Doesn't that tell you something?'
'That we were both extraordinarily fortunate.' He was downplaying and he couldn't figure out why. Wasn't this the reason he was here? He'd finally figured out how short life really was and he didn't want to waste it anymore?
She shook her head in disbelief. 'It tells me that life could be snuffed out in a split second. That every moment that passes is another moment that we'll never have again. So why waste it?'
He stood there, opened mouthed and amazed as she railed in front of him, more impassioned than he'd seen her in a long while. It was if she were expressing every thought he had experienced in the past 24 hours. And still, he could say nothing. When he didn't respond, she continued.
'That was my great epiphany. Probably no different from anyone else's tonight but I never claimed to be original…' She paused and looked at him, trying to gauge what he was thinking. When she couldn't, she went ahead and asked. 'What was yours?'
The million dollar question, he thought. He wanted to agree with her. Tell her that his epiphany was achieved as his body was flung across the warehouse with the force of the explosion. In that moment, when he thought he was going to die, he saw her face and was at peace. But he couldn't. The words simply would not form. But she had been honest with him. She deserved the same in return.
Sighing, he gave her his other epiphany of the night. After all, it was only fair that she realize how flawed he truly was 'I realized that the 'Great Gil Grissom' is a myth. That what I know or think I know doesn't count for a hill of beans when it matters.'
Her initial confusion gave way to incredulity in mere seconds. 'How can you say that?'
'Nick spent 12 hours in a box. I should have found him quicker.'
'So now you're supposed to be god, are you?' she replied sarcastically. 'How were you…?'
He cut her off. 'It didn't even dawn on me that the ransom drop-off might be a trick. Never even occurred to me. So the one man that could've led us to Nick…'
'How could you have known that the psycho was going to blow himself up, Grissom? Even you don't have the power to see into men's souls!'
'I should have known. I should have found him quicker.' Tears swam deep in his eyes. He was losing control, something he had fought to retain for so long. He had never expected it to have happened in front of Sara and he realized now how foolish that expectation was. She was the one person he was most likely to lose control in front of.He could feel his breathing quicken, the sound of his pulse pounding in his ears.
'Hey!' she crossed the room quickly and grabbed his arm. 'You found him. He's okay. He's going to be okay.'
'You found him,' he replied, struggling with his emotions even more now that she was so close. 'You figured out where he was.'
'I never would have done that if you hadn't figured out about the ants and where we'd find them,' she insisted. She gripped his other arm and turned him round to face her. 'Grissom. Look at me.'
Slowly he brought his eyes up to meet hers. 'This was not your fault,' she told him firmly. 'There was nothing else you could have done that would have resolved this any sooner.'
Taking a deep breath, he finally nodded. 'I'm sorry. I didn't come over here to burden you with my self-pity.'
'You're not burdening me. And, it's okay,' she gave him a small smile. 'I mean, you were there for me when I needed you. I'd like to think you'd let me return the favor.'
'Thank you,' he told her, his words measured and sincere. He suddenly became very aware of the continued presence of her hands on his shoulders. They felt soft and warm and comforting, but at the same time her close proximity making his pulse race.
As if she could read his mind, she suddenly removed her hands, but didn't move, and he thought he saw a flash of fear in her eyes. He felt like they were standing that way for eternity, neither moving, neither speaking, until Sara finally dragged her eyes from his and moved away from him.
He had just about come to the conclusion that she had said all she was going to when her quiet voice carried across the room to him.
'You could have died.'
The anguish he heard made him want to cross the room and put his arms around her and give her comfort. Another man might have done just that. But he was Gil Grissom. So he stayed where he was.
'You could have died and…' She turned to look at him again. 'And I never would have gotten the chance to…'
'Sara…' his voice a strangled whisper.
'Please, Grissom. Let me say this,' she said immediately. 'I'm well aware of my penchant for over-talking around you. But on this occasion, I really need to say this.'
She waited for him to consent. Part of him wanted to run from her as he always did, the thought of hearing her words terrifying him to his very core. The other part… his skin buzzed in thrilled anticipation and desire.
Slowly, he nodded.
'The moment I heard about the explosion? The moment your name was mentioned in connection with it?' she started, stammering over her words as though terrified. 'I couldn't breathe. And I had to act like a goddamned professional, go to that scene, process the evidence and pretend like it didn't affect me… when every inch of me was screaming to go to you and see that you were okay.'
'It's what we do, Sara,' he said inanely. 'It's the job.'
'Fuck the job!' she choked out, her hand flying over her mouth to suppress the sobs that were bubbling up in her throat. Taking a careful, deep breath, she continued: 'The job is not my life, Grissom! Or at least, it shouldn't be. I am so sick of being expected to ignore how I feel. To push my emotions deep inside where I can't touch them. To pretend I don't feel how I do about you so that we can carry on a normal, working relationship… I'm not you Grissom. I can't do it anymore.'
He flinched as if she had physically struck him. Was that what she thought? That his simply ignored his feelings? That he was a robot, capable of not caring? Suddenly, it all became so very clear. She had continually put her heart on the line for him, and she was doing it again. Could he really stand there now and not say what he had come here to say? She was always the brave one and, if he had any chance of ever deserving her, it was his turn to be brave now.
'Me neither,' he said, so quietly she wasn't sure if she'd hear him right. 'It's why I'm here.'
Confusion flashed through her brown eyes once more. 'I don't understand.'
Taking a deep breath, he took a step forward. 'You asked me for the great epiphany I had last night? I had more than one. I have started questioning my ability to do the job, how much I really know or understand, but… that wasn't the prevailing thought that's been going through my head in the aftermath of all of this.'
He paused, still finding difficulty in finding the right words. Sara said not a word, staring at him, afraid that anything she might say would break the spell that had risen up between them.
'I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, Sara,' he finally went on. 'A lot of wrong choices. I lived with them because… well, I figured I was better off. If I risked nothing, nothing could ever hurt me. No one could hurt me…' He sighed deeply. 'I was wrong.'
'Sara, please. Let me get this all out. You have a habit of interrupting me when I have something important to say,' he smiled. 'There was a moment last night when I did think I was dead. It was brief. Fleeting. But real enough to make me re-evaluate everything. I realized that there's only really one thing that I truly regret…'
He moved towards her and took her hand, holding it in both of his. 'You. You're my one regret. That I've wasted all these years running away from something I've needed all this time. I don't want to pretend that my work is enough for me anymore. I don't want to pretend that I can live without you. Because… I really don't think that I can.'
Fresh tears rolled down her face. But she was smiling. The most radiant, heart-warming smile he'd ever seen.
'Is this the concussion talking?' she asked, half-laughing, half-crying.
'I don't have concussion. And I've never been more serious in my life.' To punctuate the point, he leaned down and brushed her lips with his in a gentle kiss. 'Please tell me I'm not too late,' he whispered against her skin.
She didn't answer verbally, for once deciding not to rely on words. She simply wrapped her arms around him neck and kissed him back.
It was the most beautiful 'yes' he never heard.