Thirty minutes later, Sara was curled up on Grissom's couch, still cradling her coffee cup. Grissom, who couldn't figure out how she was managing to stay so calm in such a tense situation, was pacing the room, glancing at her every few laps to see if she'd finished yet. "It doesn't take half an hour to drink eight ounces of coffee, Sara!" he finally burst out.

"It does when I'm drinking it."

Pausing in his trek, he gave her a dubiouslook. "And that's why I've seen you down a cup of coffee in 3.2 seconds at work?"

She shrugged. "Different situations, different guidelines."

"Oh?" He broke out of the circle he'd been pacing and approached her. "And exactly what are the guidelines for this situation?"

With a sigh, Sara finished the last sip of her drink and said, "Procrastination."

"That's it?"

"You got a better idea?" Holding out the mug, she said, "Besides, you win. I finished the coffee."

He perked up. Grabbing the mug before she could try to pull it away, he set it on the breakfast bar without turning around and said, "Good. Then we can talk."

Sara rolled her eyes. "We can talk, but honestly, I don't know what you're so interested in. You already apologized and I forgave you."

"Well for one thing, I'd like to know why we're both feeling so awkward right now." He resumed his pacing again, although now he was looking at her almost constantly instead of just stealing occasional glances.

"Uh . . . do you think it could have something to do with the fact that we've never even managed a civil non-work-related conversation that lasted more than thirty seconds, and yet I'm now sitting in your house?"

Grissom stared at her. "We have too had non-work discussions!"

"Oh yeah? Name one."

"When you told me about your parents," he said challengingly.

"You were only concerned with how what I was feeling about my past would affect my ability to work."

He stopped pacing again and stared at her disbelievingly. "I beg your pardon?"

"Oh, come on. Don't start trying to pretend you're Mr. Sensitive now, after all this time. You know you wouldn't have touched that topic with a ten-foot pole if you thought you could avoid it."

"I didn't . . ." he stammered. Sitting down on the opposite end of the couch from her, he tried again: "That's not true." He forced himself not to look at her.

"Of course it is." She shrugged carelessly. "I'm fully aware of your aversion to anything related to emotion. Don't try to fake it now."

"I don't have an aversion to emotion."

"Oh, so it's just an aversion to me, then?" She crossed her arms in front of her and reminded herself to be careful with what she said.

"I don't have an aversion to you, either." He studied her stiff form. "Why would you think I don't like you?"

Sara's only answer was a snort of derision.

"I like you," he insisted. "Very much. So can we just . . . move on from the 'Grissom hates me' excuse?"

Sara turned that over in her mind. He "liked" her "very much." What did that mean? Unable to think of something that wouldn't embarrass either of them, she settled for saying, "I forgot what the original question was. What are you asking me?"

Grissom sighed. He'd known she was stubborn, but he'd never realized she had such a good talent for denial, too. "I asked why we feel so awkward sitting here like this."

"Oh, right." She shrugged. "I don't know about why you're feeling it, but for me it's because, like I said, I know you don't want to be doing this."

"Then would it help if I told you that there's nowhere else I'd prefer to be right now?"

"Not really," she said matter-of-factly.

"Then I'm out of ideas," he said, annoyed in spite of himself. "Maybe you should just go, like you said before."

She tried her hardest to prevent it, but she flinched at his words. "Ok. Yeah," she said, standing up, "maybe you're right."

She had expected him to say something, to try to stop her, but Grissom stayed in his seat and just watched her. Feeling slapped down, Sara muttered, "Thanks for the coffee," and nearly ran out the door.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Grissom's cell rang later that afternoon. He was wide awake; in fact, he had been awake, unable to quiet his agitated thoughts, since Sara left. When his phone chirped, he snatched it off the table eagerly, hoping to see Sara's number in the caller ID window. Unfortunately, the window was displaying something completely different.

"I'm not in the mood, Jim," he warned his caller. "What do you want?"

Brass, who wasn't feeling terribly human, either, replied, "Neither am I. I just wanted to know if you've talked to Sara."

"She was over here a few hours ago," Grissom admitted, slumping in his chair. Why did Brass have to rub salt in the wound, even if he was doing it without knowing it?

"Did it go any better for you than it went for me when I went to her place?"

"Worse."

"Ouch. I can only imagine."

Grissom sighed. He had planned to avoid remembering today's disaster for as long as possible. "Did you want something else? Or did you just call to ask about Sara?"

"Well, I was thinking," Brass said. "Do you think we should . . . do something for her? As an apology?"

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know!" Brass exclaimed. "I don't know how to handle her. Didn't you send her flowers once or something?"

"A plant, yes. Are you suggesting we send her another one now?"

"Well, it worked last time."

"I guess it did." Instinct told him that it wouldn't work as well this time, but he needed to do something, and he certainly didn't have a better idea. "Do you want to place the order, or should I?"

"You do it," Brass ordered. "You have . . . experience." Grissom, even without being able to see his friend, knew Brass was smirking.

"Very funny. Does a card come with the flowers?"

"You mean you don't know?"

Feeling silly, Grissom admitted, "I know there was a card with the last plant, but I don't remember if that's the default or if I had to ask for it."

"Well, have them put a card on this one. Write something funny on it."

"Uh, Jim," Grissom said warily, "I don't do funny."

"Well, you better do it today, unless you actually enjoy having Sara not speaking to you."

Grissom sighed heavily. "I'll try. See you tonight."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Sara's depression had been festering all afternoon, and by the time she arrived at work she was less than pleased about having to do something other than just lie on her couch under a soft blanket. She had come home furious, but as the day had passed, her anger had drained away, leaving behind only the feeling of rejection that comes with being the butt of a joke. Now she had to face Grissom and Brass at work and pretend it didn't pain her to work with them.

She slunk into the building only forty-five minutes early, which would have been a sure sign that something was eating her if anyone had been there to notice it. As it was, though, she passed only a few techs and one member of the day shift on her walk to the locker room, none of whom knew her schedule well enough to make the connection.

She spent fifteen minutes cleaning her locker, squaring every corner, shaping the folds of the jumpsuit that hung off the hook inside, and carefully rearranging the shoes and jumbled notes that covered the floor of the locker. By the time she was done, she felt marginally happier. At least she could make something in her life better, even if it was only a locker filled with junk. Just as she was about to slam the locker door, she caught sight of her face reflected in the mirror that clung to its door. She looked pale, which wasn't really unusual, but today she also looked . . . worn. The word haggard came to mind when she fished for a way to describe what she saw.

With a groan, she forced herself to close the locker. She really didn't need to be looking at something that just made her feel worse than she already did.

Sitting down on the bench that separated the two banks of lockers, she let her head drop into her hands. Even her skin felt wrong; it was rough where it should have been smooth. You need to deal with this, Sara, she told herself. Because in half an hour, five more people are going to come into this building and you're going to have to talk to them and work with them without whining about how they hurt your feelings.

She hated that the voice in her head was right, but it was. She simply couldn't afford more than a few minutes of this crippling self-pity today. She already looked bad enough to many of the lab bigwigs; she didn't need to add "catatonic"to their list of "Things Wrong with Sara Sidle."

With a sigh, she pushed herself off the bench and stood up. She should at least go to the break room if she was going to just sit and mope.

When she walked into the break room, she immediately noted the huge basket of flowers sitting on the counter. Wondering which day-shifter had acquired such an ardent admirer, she took advantage of the empty room and indulged her curiosity by taking a closer look. The bouquet was comprised mainly of white flowers that she tentatively identified as chrysanthemums, but spaced throughout the sea of white were blossoms of a shockingly bright pink-yellow. The overall effect seemed, to her, to suggest flashes of something good, lost in a bland life.

She noticed that a card was almost buried in the flowers. Glancing surreptitiously around her to make sure no one was watching, she slipped the card out of its miniature envelope and flipped it open. To her surprise, what she found was not a message of romance, but an apology:

To the one we hurt,

Bittersweet blossoms and white chrysanthemums symbolize truth. In this arrangement, they symbolize the truth we owed to you but didn't provide. Please accept these flowers as part of our apology and our promise to never again hide from you the truth you deserve.

Sincerely,

Two contrite lawmen

No names in the entire note, Sara realized. Only "the one we hurt" and "two contrite lawmen." Was it directed at her? Her first impression was that it was - after all, how many women in the lab could have had "truth" issues with two of the lab's men in the past day or so - but on the heels of that thought was the realization that such an eloquently worded message was unlikely to have come from either of the two men who'd hurt her. She didn't think Brass could turn such a smooth phrase if he wanted to, and while Grissom probably was capable of it, she knew from his experience that cards that came with his flowers were minimalistic. But still, that voice in her head insisted that she should accept reality and realize that the bouquet was for her and that they were making a determined effort to apologize.

Unsure of what to believe, she lowered herself onto the couch and, gazing sightlessly at the flowers, fell into deep thought.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Catherine arrived fifteen minutes early, as was her habit, and detoured to the locker room only long enough to unload the sweatshirt she was wearing before heading for the break room and its coffee supply.

She didn't necessarily expect to be the first into the room - often Sara or Grissom was already hard at work at the long table - but she was startled today by the scene she walked in on. An enormous flower arrangement dominated the room from its place between the sink and the coffee machine, and she stared in amazement at it for a few seconds before even realizing that someone else was in the room.

When she pulled her attention away from the flowers for a moment, she spotted Sara curled up against the arm of the couch. It was an unusual position for her, since Sara was usually a sit-up-straight kind of girl, but what made it even weirder was that she wasn't asleep. Her eyes were completely open, but she didn't seem to have registered Catherine's entrance. Slightly worried, Catherine crossed the room to where she was sitting and shook her shoulder. "Sara?"

Sara, startled out of her reverie, jumped and muffled a scream. "Catherine!" she finally managed. "When did you get here?"

"I've been here a few minutes," the blonde told her, heading for the coffee pot now that she knew her co-worker was alive and well. "Did you see these flowers?" she asked excitedly as she filled her mug.

"Yeah," Sara muttered uncomfortably. "They were here when I got in."

"Is there a card? Do you know who they're for?" Stirring a teaspoon of sugar into her drink, she turned to face Sara, eager to work out this puzzle.

Sara just shrugged. "There's a card, but no names."

"You're kidding! What's the card say?" Without waiting for Sara to answer, she snatched the card out of the envelope and read it.

"Ooh, mysterious," she said when she'd read the whole thing. "A mystery woman and two mystery men." Looking back at Sara, she added, "Do you know who it is?"

"Which one of them?"

"Any of them."

"No," Sara said firmly. "I think maybe it's a day shift thing."

Catherine tapped her chin with one finger and sighed. "You're probably right. God knows night shift doesn't have any drama bad enough to cause this."

"Mmm," Sara grunted, returning to her thoughts.

Unfortunately, Sara's time for introspection was over for the night. Only a few seconds later, the other woman interrupted her thoughts yet again - this time with a shout of "Grissom!"

Sara's head shot up and she prayed that she'd misheard what Catherine said, but Grissom was, indeed, approaching the room from the hallway. Oh god. How the hell am I supposed to act now? she thought frantically. She decided to settle for not speaking unless she had to.

"Evening," Grissom said casually to the two women, trying not to be obvious about how closely he was watching Sara.

"Hi," Sara mumbled, looking at him for a fraction of a second before dropping her eyes again.

"Gris!" Catherine exclaimed, for once pleasing Sara with her gregariousness. "Check out the flowers - no names on the card. We're trying to figure out who the mystery threesome are."

Grissom's eyes darted to Sara, but she was staring intently at the cracked leather arm of the couch. "Uh," he said, swallowing and reminding himself to play it cool, "that's an interesting mystery, indeed."