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. All others 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 sixth season through "I Like To Watch"
Note: I started this right before Christmas, but got sidetracked, and finally got back to it. Basically fluff. The labyrinth mentioned within is not the hedge maze that may come to mind; it's a pattern laid out on the ground using stone or some other substance to edge a sort of spiraling path that offers only two choices of direction, forward or back. One cannot get lost in a labyrinth. The distinction between a labyrinth and a maze escaped me when I first read about them, and was responsible for nearly getting me kicked out of Chartres Cathedral, but that's another story...
"But I always work holidays!" Sara stared at Grissom, frowning.
"Not this year," he returned firmly. "Sara, you worked Thanksgiving, you worked Labor Day, you…" He flipped through the printout. "You've worked every federal holiday on the books since you got here. You deserve the time off, take it."
"I don't want it," she countered, folding her arms and looking indignant. "Grissom, I--"
He gave her a disapproving look over his glasses and interrupted. "This isn't up for discussion. You have Christmas off. Take it. I'm sure you can find something to do."
She huffed, and he shrugged, his lips quirking. "It's not just me," he pointed out. "HR is going to get on both our backs if you don't start taking at least a couple of holidays."
As he'd suspected it would, that calmed her outrage slightly, and her shoulders slumped a little. "Well--all right. But you can keep me on call."
She spun on her heel and stalked off, and Grissom sighed and very carefully did not vocalize his thought. I always do.
He watched her go, wondering tiredly why he always seemed to be pissing her off somehow, before heading back to his office. Even in Las Vegas, Christmas was traditionally a slow night; lab policy was to send as many people home as possible, even if they had to stay on call. Grissom sat down at his desk and reached for his scheduling notebook to see who else wanted to be off that night.
Rather to his surprise, however, no one did.
The notes scratched next to each name, jotted down carelessly over the past couple of months and then forgotten, reminded him. Warrick wanted to work because he wanted the night after off; something about dinner with his new wife's family. Greg was trading to make sure that he didn't have to work New Year's Eve. Nick had begged for Christmas to get out of going home to Texas, telling Grissom in an undertone that he wasn't quite ready to deal with their reactions to his kidnapping all together And Catherine had no explanation at all, simply an exclamation point that warned him to take her demand seriously.
Grissom's brows drew together as he realized that the only person who had no reason to be working Christmas Eve night was himself.
Sara slumped on her couch, ignoring the TV, which was showing the Travel Channel. Normally the glimpses of other lands enchanted her, but not tonight.
Y'know, Grissom, there's a reason I usually work holidays--
She cut off the thought. Having imaginary conversations with her supervisor was a habit she was trying to break. They were never productive, and often lured her into daydream, which these days was painful territory.
But the fact remained that she tried to work holidays because holidays, at least those acknowledged by the federal calendar, were inevitably family gatherings. At least the ones big enough to take notice of. No disrespect to the man in question, but Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday was not a day she had to carefully ignore.
No, the problem lay in the Holidays. New Year's Eve. Fourth of July. Labor Day she could pretty much pass over, but Thanksgiving and Christmas were killers.
Sara pulled her sweater a little closer and curled her feet under her. She did get invitations, she had to admit that. Fourth of July picnics, and sometimes she even accepted those. New Year's parties, which she turned down. Dinner with Doc Robbins' family, or Jacquie's, or even Warrick's last year.
She never accepted those. I spent half my childhood feeling like a stray. I don't need to do it over a turkey I can't eat.
In truth, holidays had never gone very well for her. When she was small, they were usually marred by alcohol and violence. When she was older, they meant an obligatory cheap gift from an overworked foster parent, someone going through the motions; and never the same face from year to year. When she was in college, holidays were an unpopulated dorm and the peace to study.
Work was a refuge from empty holidays--usually her supervisors were delighted to find out that she wanted to work those days. She was one less schedule to juggle, a guaranteed shift. Figures that it would be Vegas that decided holidays should be mandatory.
Sara hugged her legs and rested her chin on them, sighing. I shouldn't care. Damn, I've never had any good memories to miss. Why the hell do I even care?
But the truth was, she did. The traditions were too pervasive. Being alone on Christmas…it made one feel unnatural.
Like I'm normal anyway. No wonder Christmas is one of the biggies for suicides. Not that she was considering that option, but…
Okay, that's enough! Sara straightened her legs and pushed up off the couch impatiently, grabbing the remote to shut off the TV. She didn't need to spend the night moping. This was Vegas; there were places to go and things to do, even late on Christmas Eve.
She found her jacket and the silly red-and-white peppermint-stripe hat that Nick had given her the year before, the one with the pompon on top, and pushed her feet into sneakers. Maybe I'll get lucky, and there'll be some kind of massive call-out.
At that thought, she made sure that her cellphone was on her belt, grabbed her keys, and slammed out of her apartment. As she locked the door, she thought she heard her landline phone ring, and debated going back in.
Nah. By the time I get there the machine'll have picked up. Anybody I want to talk to has my cell number.
Sara settled her hat more comfortably and headed out into the dry desert night.
Grissom made himself breakfast and a pot of coffee, ate and washed the dishes, and sat down on his couch to enjoy his night off, but he just couldn't get his mind off Sara. She was an old familiar problem, though never a comfortable one; he had occasionally mulled over her obstinacy about time off before, but…
But now I know something I didn't.
She hadn't told him much about her childhood, but he'd seen the results of such often enough to fill in some of what she didn't say. "I thought that was the way that everybody lived."
The words had torn him inside, but they'd also told him that the horror in her life had been long-term. And that quiet morning in her apartment, watching as she struggled with tears, had told him something else.
Sara had no one.
No wonder she works all the holidays. There's nobody waiting for her to come visit.
He didn't go visiting, but that was by choice; neither his mother nor Grissom were fond of big celebrations, and she usually took a cruise over Christmas anyway. But I'm a good deal quirkier and a lot less gregarious than Sara. My choice shouldn't be her necessity.
He frowned blankly at a display case on the far wall of his living room. He'd heard her turn down at least two invitations just over the past week; one was from one of the dayshift CSIs, and he could understand why--the man was a creep. But why say no to Bobby? They're friends, I know they are.
Grissom was given to leaps of intuition from time to time, but usually only concerned with work, with suspects and criminal behavior. This time, however, one came clear and crisp and painful, much closer to home. She doesn't want to feel like an outsider.
The sound of his own voice startled Grissom a little. He glanced at his watch; it was eleven-twenty.
Like the insight, the idea came into his mind whole and focused, and while one part of his brain immediately began chattering doubts, he forced himself to ignore it. Sara was likely to turn him down flat, except for one thing. He had a key, one way to make her that much more likely to accept his invitation.
Grissom picked up the phone and dialed her number.
Only the answering machine picked up.
Sara wandered along the Strip, noting with a certain amusement which casinos had put up Christmas decorations and which hadn't. The lights alone were enough to dazzle any night of the year; adding Christmas glitter seemed a little superfluous.
But she did feel better. Whether it was exercise, fresh air, or just the distraction of the sights around her, Sara's mood had improved. Christmas, whatever. She decided to walk until her feet hurt, buy a dumb mystery novel at one of the casino shops, treat herself to a ridiculously lavish breakfast at another casino, and go home for a long bubble bath and a nap. Why not?
There were plenty of people to dodge despite the hour and the holiday, so she didn't realize that the chiming was coming from her pocket and not a passerby until the third ring. Surprised, and almost disappointed at the prospect of losing her walk, Sara pulled the phone out and answered it. "Sidle."
Grissom stared out through the windshield of his car, his eyes automatically tracking to a flashing display of lights on the townhouse three down from his, but his concentration was focused on the voice in his ear. "Hello, Sara."
She sounded puzzled. "Grissom? I thought you were off tonight. Is it something big?"
"I'm not calling about work. I, um, have a request."
There was a pause, and when she spoke again her voice was wary. "Oh? What is it?"
He hardly had to exaggerate his hesitancy. "I was planning on going to Mass tonight, but…I don't really want to go alone." He could tell by the background noise that she wasn't at home; the hiss of moving air over the phone's pickup was a dead giveaway. "Would you, uh, like to come along?"
He flinched a little as the wait for her answer stretched long, but leaned heavily on his hole card. Just inviting Sara wouldn't be enough; he had to appeal to the softness in her. If she thought she were doing something for him, instead of the other way around….
"Mass?" she said at last, blankly. "You want me to go to Mass with you."
Grissom shrugged even though she couldn't see him. "I haven't been to a Christmas Eve Mass in years," he said honestly, adding "It's not much fun by myself."
That last wasn't quite the truth, but he didn't really care. If that was what it took to pull her in, he would lie cheerfully.
"Um. Mass. I've never been to one." She sounded uncertain.
"Doesn't matter," he said. "You stand when everybody else does, sit when they do, and sing if you feel like it. It's not complicated."
"Do you sing?" Sara asked, and there was a thread of humor under the words.
He pursed his lips. "Sometimes. C'mon, Sara." Grissom let his voice go wistful. "Don't make me do this alone."
"Nobody's making you do anything," she pointed out, but the humor was greater. "Okay, why not. Um, can I meet you somewhere?"
Grissom glanced at his watch. Eleven-forty-five. "Where are you?"
"In front of the Flamingo. I went for a walk."
"Stay put. I'll pick you up."
This is weird. Sara ducked her head a little and passed by Grissom as he politely held the heavy church door for her, catching a whiff of his scent as she did so--leather from his jacket, and faint clean male. As always, it made her tingle a little.
It was just past midnight, which made them late for the service, but a few people were still in the lobby of the place, making their way inside. Sara could hear the organ working through some complicated piece that sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn't quite place it. She halted, waiting for Grissom to catch up.
His hand settled lightly on the small of her back, a move he hadn't pulled in months on end, and Sara set her jaw to ignore it. The touch guided her forward through the open doors into the sanctuary, and Sara pulled in a breath.
It was beautiful.
She'd seen churches before, but not usually for worship; in fact, the last two times she'd been inside a place of worship had been to process a crime scene. And on one level she'd expected something heavy, almost Gothic.
But this was a more contemporary design, an open space of light-colored wood and jeweled glass. During the day, she thought, it must be a blaze of light; at midnight, it was a honey-toned expanse of candlelight and color. People filled the sanctuary, fitting into the pews; the murmur of their voices seemed to blur into one hum of sound.
Grissom touched her elbow, and when she turned, handed her a bulletin and a small candle with grave courtesy. Sara looked at the latter; it was fitted with a flat collar of cardboard to keep drips from the fingers.
Then he was leading her into a pew near the back; Sara let herself be placed on the inside, halfway down the pew from the nearest people. Grissom sat down next to her, on the aisle, and it felt distinctly odd; there was nothing separating them, his thigh was just inches from hers with no barrier but air.
Since nothing was happening yet, Sara looked at the bulletin, seeing a few familiar songs listed among the liturgical terms and page numbers. She glanced at Grissom out of the corner of her eye, but he was apparently looking at the altar.
Then the organ fell silent for a few seconds before beginning a lead-in to "Angels We Have Heard on High", and everybody stood up. Sara hastily followed suit.
She watched as various people in robes processed up the aisle, all of them singing, and then realized with a certain astonishment that Grissom was singing as well. Not loudly, and not quite true, but his voice was a pleasant sound...soothing.
All of a sudden, the prospect of spending the service with Grissom didn't seem so weird. Sara faced the front of the church, listened to the music, and picked up the carol on the second verse. I might as well enjoy myself.
To her inexperienced senses, the service was interesting, at least in parts. The music was good, though she didn't know all the songs; she listened to the readings of the Christmas story with a sense of familiarity, for those she'd heard before, but the homily bored her. Every so often she would let her eyes drift left to peek at Grissom; he seemed absorbed by the service, and Sara had to wonder how familiar it all was to him, whether he'd spent his childhood Christmas Eves in a church like this one, singing those songs.
The lights gradually dimmed as the service progressed, and when the organ began "Silent Night" Sara realized why; the celebrants at the front of the church had lit tapers from the candles, and were beginning to pass the flame to the congregation. She watched, mildly fascinated, as the celebrants lit the candles of those sitting on the aisle, who in turn passed the light to those next to them, and so on down the pews. The dimness lifted slightly, becoming golden and quivery as the flames multiplied. The music, soft yet rich with many voices, made her throat tighten a little at the old story of peace and hope.
Grissom had no idea what Sara really thought of the service. The few times he'd dared to peek at her, she had been watching the service with the intent, absorbed expression that he knew meant she was taking in all the data she could, but that didn't tell him much besides the fact that she wasn't overtly bored.
He kept having to make himself relax. He'd spent countless hours working right next to Sara in one context or another, and she had always been something of a distraction, but self-discipline usually kept it from being a problem. But Grissom realized that he'd never spent so much time just sitting with her.
His senses seemed to be tuned completely to her; he was abnormally aware every small shift she made, the movement of her hand as she brushed back her hair. The quiet sound of her voice weaving its way through a familiar carol almost had him basking in the sound.
And several times he had to stop himself from moving closer. Propriety aside, he didn't think she would react too well to the feel of his arm along the pew behind her.
Grissom stored the impressions carefully, as he might store a crime scene for retelling months later at a trial--every detail in place, stamped into memory for safekeeping. And he struggled to remember that his original purpose in inviting Sara to Mass had been to keep her from being alone on Christmas. This is about her, he scolded himself. Not indulging yourself.
But, he had to admit, there was no reason he couldn't enjoy her presence.
When the candle-lighting began, he pulled his out of the hymnbook pocket on the pew back in front of him, sliding the paper collar up a little to comfortably accommodate his grip. Sara was already holding hers, rotating it absently as she sang the familiar words, and Grissom had to pull his eyes away as the celebrant approached.
When his candle was lit, Sara gravely held up her own, dipping it to touch the wick to his flame, and Grissom thought wryly of all the symbolism that one could find in the gesture--and all of it empty. She looked away down the length of the pew, but the people seated at the other end had gotten their flames already, and she turned back.
The sight of her made Grissom ache. Her head was bent a little as she stared at the candle, and its light lit her from below, bringing out the height of her cheekbones and the arch of her brows. She looked impossibly real, glowing from within like an icon come to life, and Grissom stored that image away deep as well.
When he looked back to his own candle, it was out.
That didn't bother him; having passed the flame to Sara, Grissom was satisfied with the ritual. But Sara touched his arm and held out hers, and rather than refuse her Grissom tilted his to accept the flame.
The wick lit immediately, but at the same time the melted wax that had pooled around it dripped out. The collar caught most of it, but several drops splattered onto Grissom's wrist, and he twitched slightly at the heat.
The pain was gone almost at once, and he transferred the candle to his other hand, but before he could rub his wrist on his pants leg, Sara's fingers were there, gently scraping off the hardening wax. She brushed the small flakes onto the floor, and Grissom watched, astounded, as his now-clean hand wrapped around hers.
Sara didn't pull free, but Grissom saw her lashes flutter as she blinked in astonishment. Her head lifted to look at him, and Grissom nearly turned away, but some previously untapped vein of courage let him meet her eyes.
Her gaze was hesitant, wary, searching; Grissom had no idea what she saw when she examined his face, but while her mouth set in an uncertain look, her fingers slowly curled around his.
Relieved, floored, he looked down at their hands, and then Sara started singing again, and it seemed the thing to do to join in.
The end of the service seemed a little anticlimactic to Sara; the aura of worship that had been generated by the candles and the music was held for a long beat as the organ faded to silence, but then the mood dissolved as the lights came back up and people blew out their candles and began chatting quietly. Though, she supposed, walking back out en masse with lit candles and that many people was really asking for a fire.
She blew out hers with a quick puff of breath, keeping it upright to avoid spilling the wax, and watched as Grissom did the same; within seconds the wax was hard enough not to drip, and Grissom reached out and took her candle. "Shall we go?" he asked softly.
She nodded, not wanting to get caught in the masses of people beginning to move towards the exit, and they rose and edged back down the aisle, Grissom depositing the candles in a basket of them as they made their way towards the doors.
It was all perfectly cordial, as ordinary as they ever got, Sara thought dryly, except for the fact that Grissom hadn't let go of her hand.
Not that she particularly wanted him to, she admitted as they slipped out into the lobby. She had always admired Grissom's hands, and having his warm, slightly rough palm pressed against hers, his strong fingers laced with hers, while not in the midst of emotional turmoil, was a sensation she was definitely savoring. But she was afraid to think about what it meant, or whether it meant anything at all, or even as far ahead as when he would finally let go.
Grissom led her around a few clumps of people, nodding cordially at the "Merry Christmas" that floated their way, and then they were out into the dry cold air, their breaths smoking a little. The chill immediately bit at Sara's ears, but her hat was in her pocket and she couldn't quite talk herself into freeing her hand so that she could pull it on.
They started down the sidewalk without words, heading back towards Grissom's car, which was parked a block away; the church lot had been overflowing when they'd arrived. Sara matched her stride to Grissom's, which had never been hard, and just walked, caught in confusion and delight and apprehension and a little bit of pain. He'll let go--he'll take me back to my place, and that'll be it--we'll spend the next year avoiding each other--
Grissom halted so suddenly that she went half a pace past him before stopping herself. His brows were drawn together, making him look perplexed and pained, and Sara braced herself.
He pulled their joined hands up a little, looking down at them as though he wasn't quite sure what they were. "I have no idea what I'm doing," he said, almost conversationally.
Sara bit back a flippant retort. If I open my mouth right now, I'll start babbling. Or yelling. She shifted in place, and waited.
Grissom hesitated, bit his lip, and then went on. "I do know that I…don't want to let go."
Her heart lifted a little. "Neither do I," she admitted after a moment.
He blew out a breath. "Well...do you...uh, want to just walk for a bit?"
His ears were turning pink, and Sara didn't think it was from the cold. The sight made her heart melt a little, despite her best efforts. "Sure."
So they walked. Sara couldn't think of a thing to say as they went from the residential neighborhood surrounding the church back towards the Strip, and Grissom was apparently in similar straits. But while the silence was a little awkward, Sara found it was also unexpectedly sweet. They didn't have to talk, didn't have to fill the space between them with words. For the moment, at least, they were no longer ignoring the issue between them.
And besides, it was just...wonderful, in a very quiet way, to walk together, physically connected instead of trying to avoid the slightest touch. To be together.
When they came abreast of the Great Mohave Casino, Grissom took control of their path and tugged Sara gently off the sidewalk. She went willingly, curious, and found that his destination was the casino's showpiece gardens.
Like most else on the Strip, the gardens were open twenty-four hours even for the holiday, but Grissom eschewed the lush, glassed-in displays, instead leading her out into the open-air gardens. These were xeriscaped, in keeping with the casino's theme, and were cleverly laid out; the paths twisted and turned among rocks and cacti.
They strolled along the paths, which were softly lit at night, encountering no one but a security guard, who nodded wordlessly as they passed. Sara hadn't been to the gardens before, but judging from his confidence Grissom had. There was much to admire, from a Zen garden to a cluster of Joshua trees, and Sara was amused to see that many of the prickly plants had either red ribbons or twinkle lights, in honor of the season.
"Oh, a labyrinth," Sara said, delighted, when they reached the garden's center. It was laid out in sandstone, looking like a petroglyph rather than the more expected Celtic style, and Sara could see footprints in the sand between the edges, where other feet had trod.
"An aid to meditation in several cultures," Grissom noted. "Want to try it?"
Sara had to admit, she did. The idea of walking through the pattern to the center and then back out again appealed to her sense of ritual. But the path was wide enough for only one.
"Go ahead," Grissom urged, loosening his grip on her hand at last.
Sara felt oddly reluctant to let him go. The truth was, she didn't know if this experience would ever be repeated. But I'm not going to just stand here and hang on to him either.
So she forced her fingers to relax, and pulled away. Her palm felt strangely cold as she stepped into the labyrinth, but Sara ignored it, concentrating on watching her feet as she paced through the pattern.
Every so often she glanced up to check on Grissom. Sometimes he was watching her, hands in his pockets; sometimes he was turned away, examining one of the nearby plants. Sara realized halfway to the center that she didn't feel so tense about their situation; somewhere during their walk the stiffness had faded, for the most part. She still didn't know what was going to happen, but she felt a lot less worried about it.
And as she reached the center, and grinned at Grissom as he watched from outside, she realized something else.
We're actually having...fun.
Grissom couldn't, at that moment in time, think of anything lovelier than the sight before him. Sara stood in the center of the labyrinth, her breath clouding as she laughed, and he smiled back, utterly enchanted. His choice of the gardens had been motivated by both a desire to interest Sara, and to prolong their time together; he found himself dreading the end of their night. I still have no idea what I'm doing. What if this never happens again?
But the sight of her happy face, cheeks pink with cold and hair spilling over the collar of her jacket, gave him more of the slightly insane confidence that had led him to keep her hand in his in the first place. She's having a good time, at least.
He wanted very much to step over the strips of sandstone and join her, touch her again, but Grissom restrained himself as Sara began retracing her path. Grissom turned away, not wanting to make her feel self-conscious because of his stare, and occupied his eyes for a few minutes with trying to make out the graffiti someone had carved into one of the Joshua trees. But by the time Sara was rounding the final curve, Grissom found himself waiting at the entrance. Again, his conscious will seemed to be in abeyance as his hand reached toward her, but Sara slipped her fingers through his without hesitation, and Grissom's heart thumped a little harder at her touch.
"Do you feel more at peace?" he asked as they walked slowly back towards the casino.
Sara cocked her head. "Yeah," she said after a moment. "Though...I don't think the labyrinth had anything to do with it."
Her eyes met his squarely, her fingers tightening a little, and pleasure flushed through Grissom. "Me too," he managed, and her smile was slow and sweet.
As they neared the garden's perimeter, Grissom steered Sara towards the one-way gate that led back out to the street. "We can go that way and avoid the slot machines."
"Okay," Sara said, pulling him to a halt under a huge Joshua tree, and letting him go to fish in her coat pocket. "But let me put my hat back on; my ears are freezing."
"Can't have that," Grissom said, his confidence soaring, and lifted his hands to gently cover her ears.
They were cold; he could feel their coolness against his palms. But Sara's startled glance caught his attention, and suddenly he was drowning in her eyes.
And she didn't pull away.
He didn't think he could move, but somehow his elbows were bending involuntarily, bringing him closer--he could feel her breath on his face--
Such a light, light touch, as though her lips were a sacred thing, and maybe they were, Grissom thought dizzily. His fingers were sliding into her hair, and then her grip on his coat had pulled them together again, and there was absolutely nothing hesitant about the way she kissed him back.
All he could think of was how amazing her mouth felt, how wonderful, and how he could never do without it again. Never do without her. In fact, he couldn't understand how he'd gotten along for so long alone.
Eventually the long, slow caress ended, and Grissom wrapped himself around Sara as best he could, even though she was built better for it, and stroked the head that was buried in his shoulder. He could feel her trembling. How can I have been an idiot for all these years?
"If you say this was a mistake, I will hurt you," Sara said, muffled but determined, and Grissom huffed a laugh.
"The only mistake is mine, for waiting so long," he admitted, and her arms tightened before she lifted her head.
"Seriously, Grissom, this is not something you can back away from." Her face was flushed and serious, and the fear in the back of her eyes made Grissom's chest ache.
"I'm not going to back away. I promise." He sighed, frightened and thrilled both. "I don't think I can."
Sara gave him a stern look. "Better not," she admonished, and kissed him again, which definitely took the sting out of it.
When she finally got her hat out of her pocket, Grissom took it from her and pulled it carefully on over her hair, delighting in the small action. Sara pulled it down in back, glancing up, then grinned and pointed over their heads. "Is that what brought this on?"
Grissom looked up. The sprig of mistletoe, hanging from a scrap of ribbon, looked absolutely silly on the prickly branch of the Joshua tree, an affront to its austere dignity. Grissom gazed at it thoughtfully for a moment before looking back to Sara. "Nope."
Her smile this time was softer, almost shy, and it touched some tender spot within him. Grissom returned the smile, feeling mischievous. "But as long as it's there..."
She beat him to it.
Grissom didn't mind in the least.