Chapter 3: Valentine's Victory
Disclaimer: I have no rights to the characters borrowed from CBS, Zucker, et al.
Emotionally exhausted, physically sated, and warm from Grissom's arms around her, Sara hovered happily between sleep and consciousness until those four small words, so rarely heard in her life, jolted her wide awake. Every muscle in her body tensed and her brain momentarily ceased to function. She'd dreamed about such a moment for years, never really expecting that it would come, and now that it had, words abandoned her and her heart broke just a little at the fact that she couldn't reply in kind. Sara turned her head from him to hide the tears forming treacherously in her eyes.
That small movement seemed to amplify her silence and Grissom drew back, raising his head from her shoulder and his chest off hers. A hand gently brushed some wayward hairs back from her face and Sara's tears began to fall in earnest. Leaning all his weight on his other hand Grissom turned her to look at him, but she kept her eyes firmly shut. It was a child's reaction; if she didn't look she wouldn't see the pain of rejection in his eyes and he wouldn't be able to misunderstand the shock, fear and hurt in hers.
"Sara? Honey?" The hand that skimmed over her cheeks, trailing through her tears trembled like his voice. "Sara, what's wrong?"
She couldn't resist the caress of his concerned voice and her eyes slid open. As she focused on the pale blue above her, Sara wished she had kept them shut. The anguish in his eyes only amplified her own. She tried to keep her emotions out of her eyes, but the mask she had used too many times in the past five years failed her and he pulled back sharply trying to distance himself from the source of his pain.
They had both forgotten that her bound hands still circled his neck, and his attempted escape failed as his movements jolted her from where she lay on her bed. The harsh tug on her shoulders caused a small whimper of pain to fall from her lips. Closing his eyes on a sigh Grissom moved closer to her and helped her to sit up against the headboard. Together they eased her arms over his head and settled them in her lap. Silence continued to reign as he worked to untie her hands, business like movements gradually morphing into caresses.
He was sitting facing her, her scarf draped loosely over her forearms and his thumbs rubbing circles over the pulse in her wrists, when her voice returned.
"Griss, I'm sorry." She watched his thumbs still and his grip tighten as she spoke. She rushed on, not wanting him to pull away again. "I'm sorry I couldn't give you the answer you were hoping for. I just…so much has happened since I came to Vegas."
Pulling one hand from his grasp, Sara shifted away from the headboard and closer to him. She reached out tentatively with her free hand and laid it lightly on his cheek. When he did not pull away she applied a subtle pressure to lift his head so that she could see his eyes.
"I was already half in love with the Gil Grissom I knew when I showed up to see you watching dummies fall from a roof, and that first night was everything I'd been dreaming of since you'd left San Francisco. Those first few months were so perfect that I found myself starting to imagine how things could be, making plans for the future, our future together, even if we decided to keep things just between us forever. But then you went to dinner with Terri and suddenly I was alone again."
The quiet voice pulled him from the evidence he had been examining. He turned from the corkboard timeline in front of him to see Sara hovering in the doorway of the layout room he had taken over for this case. Her expression was neutral, professional, but her body language screamed her uncertainty. As he watched, she seemed to come to a decision and her body tensed as she walked into the room and around the table to stand beside him. He had no idea why she had sought him out so he waited for her to speak.
"Are these for the case you got called in on last night?" She gestured to the specimen jars containing bugs in various stages of development that were spread around him.
"Yes. It's actually a rather simple case, and this particular species is exceptionally hardy. Any amateur could have done the collection, but I guess Vartan didn't want to take that chance. I suppose it's unfair to expect other people to recognize the difference between a scene requiring my presence and one in which it's unnecessary."
"You must have been annoyed."
"No, not really, I…"
She continued to talk over him. "After all, they called you away from a date."
And there it was, the reason she had overcome her nerves and interrupted him at work. He looked nervously around the lab, half of him hoping that no one was present to witness the confrontation he now suspected was coming and the other half desperately hoping that someone would interrupt them. Both parts of him wished that he had had the people skills to have anticipated and forestalled this reaction.
"What the Hell Griss?" Her professional mask had fallen and her eyes flashed fire at him as her voice grew louder.
"Sara, please." He kept his voice low and calm, trying to remind her of their location. "We talked about this."
She gave one harsh bark of laughter. "Not about this we didn't." She looked at the clock behind him on the wall. "Shift's over in ten minutes. I'll meet you at your townhouse in thirty minutes."
"Sara…" He wasn't sure how to word his protest. He didn't want to fight with her at all and most certainly not in his home.
Her eyebrows rose, her expression taunting. "You would rather have this conversation here? Or perhaps somewhere else public?"
He sighed in resignation; she was right. Those were, of course, extremely undesirable scenarios. He was trying to keep this under wraps. "No, fine. Thirty minutes."
She watched him for a few moments longer, but he simply went back to his bugs. He needed to concentrate and work quickly if he was going to meet her demands.
She arrived at his home before him and let herself in using the spare key he'd given her shortly after she'd moved to Vegas. She needed the feeling of intimacy it gave her to wander through his things alone, needed to assert her position in his life, claim some control of the situation. Not that she expected him to take charge, not her sweet, rather shy, and socially challenged scientist.
But she'd forgotten that he was also a dominant male. He may have chosen to lead by loyalty and example instead of fear, but ultimately he was still in control, which is how she ended up sitting silently on his sofa waiting for him to speak.
He'd arrived about ten minutes after she had, walked quietly into the townhouse and proceeded with his normal routine as if she weren't present. Keys and wallet had been dropped on the entryway table; his briefcase placed on the coffee table. When she'd tried to speak he had merely held up his hand in a gesture that demanded silence and disappeared into the kitchen. He'd reappeared shortly there after with a bottle of water and settled himself into his favorite arm chair, feet propped beside the briefcase. When the water bottle was almost empty, he began to speak without looking at her.
"Sara, I may not be the best at this stuff, but I know we talked about this back when I took the supervisor position permanently. You told me that it would be best for everyone if I took the job. You convinced me that we could keep this separate from work, that we could hide it from the others." He turned his eyes quickly to her and then away. "So, why…"
She waited for him to finish the thought, but he just sat there studying the grain patterns of the wooden table top.
"You thought everything was going well, so why am I so upset?" She looked to him for confirmation and he nodded faintly. "Griss, you went on a date with another woman. Letting everyone think you're single, fine. Flirting with other women, annoying, but fine. Taking another woman to diner, NOT okay!" Sara took a deep breath and tried to calm herself, but Grissom's next words only added fuel to the fire.
"You go out with the guys all the time."
"Yes. Guys, as in plural and you and Catherine are always invited. Everyone goes straight from work and we all go home alone. God, Griss," she sighed and slumped back on his couch. His jaw worked as though he intended to speak, but she pressed on. "I thought we were beyond this. I know you can't acknowledge our relationship at work and we can't go out because someone might see us. But I thought this was going somewhere, that I was more than just a convenient fuck. Apparently I was wrong."
He watched as she pushed herself from the sofa and paced across the room. She stopped with her back to him, standing in front of the sliding glass doors which led out the back of his townhouse, staring into space.
"Sara, I…I'm sorry. I like Teri, but I didn't call her in on this case. Catherine did."
"If Catherine had taken her to diner we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"And if I hadn't taken her to diner I would never have heard the end of it from Catherine."
"At least now I know what your priorities are."
"She would've kept asking awkward questions about why I hadn't taken Teri out until I gave her an answer she believed."
Sara whirled to face him. "And you couldn't just tell her you weren't interested? Or that Teri didn't have time before her flight?"
Grissom's jaw dropped. He couldn't believe she'd heard about that.
"What? You didn't think that people would talk about this? You asked her to change her flight in the middle of the lab."
It was probably the single most impulsive thing he'd done in his adult life, beating out his phone call asking Sara to come to Vegas. It had been a momentary lapse in judgment. He'd enjoyed Teri's wit, admired her insights into their case, and for just a moment the sense of loneliness that increasingly pervaded his life had ebbed. Somehow being with Sara, without truly being able to be with her was making him feel more alone than being a bachelor ever had. He had no good answer for her; but she seemed to find his silence to be answer enough and turned away from him again.
"Oh. I see. You were interested. I guess it's not surprising. She's a beautiful intelligent woman, your peer, your equal. Being seen with her could only be a good thing. Me, I'm young, idealistic, your impulsive subordinate. It doesn't matter that I'm one of the best CSIs in this lab; being linked with me can only destroy your reputation. Who wouldn't be tempted in that situation?"
Her body seemed to be collapsing in on itself; her lithe frame crumbling under the weight of her anger and pain. He itched to go to her, to lay his hands on her and rebuild her, but he didn't.
"I said I was sorry."
"What if it had been me Griss? What if I had gone out with Warrick or Nick or Greg or David for real?"
This time he couldn't hold himself back; as her voice broke Grissom surged out of his chair and crossed the room to stand behind her. He gently placed his hands on her shoulders.
"I would've hated it."
She seemed to sink into his touch, and he started to relax, thinking that maybe they would be able to get past his stupidity. But then she tensed, her moment of weakness over, and stepped out from under his hands. She rested one hand on the smooth glass for support as she turned to face him. The look in her eyes, broken but determined, sent shivers of dread down his spine.
"I was wrong. I can't do this. I will not be the person you use to scratch an itch until something better comes along. If you'd had more respect for me, for yourself, or for our history this might have worked. But I refuse to be your dirty little secret. That would destroy me more completely than any blow to my career."
He started to step forward, to touch her again, to explain that he wasn't ashamed of her, but of himself. But she held up her hands to warn him off.
"Don't touch me! I have to go. I'm taking a sick day tonight."
She pushed around him and headed for the door. He called out to her as her hand landed on the knob.
"Will I…Are you…"
She paused and looked back over her shoulder at him. When he didn't speak again she sighed and turned to the door.
"I'll call later to let you know if I feel well enough to come in tomorrow."
She opened the door as she spoke, leaving without another backwards glance. He remained. Alone in his quiet, neatly ordered home, wondering why it felt as if his life had just come crashing down around him.
Except for the lone rebellious tear that had made its way down her cheek as she'd climbed into her car at Grissom's, Sara had managed not to cry until she was safely in the privacy of her apartment. Once she'd closed her door firmly behind her, the damn broke and body wracking sobs had her collapsed against the hallway wall before she made it to her bedroom. When she had cried herself out of tears, she forced herself from the floor and tumbled into bed, tucking the ratty old teddy bear that usually sat on the bedside table under her chin. She was exhausted, but sleep was a long time in coming as her mind began to obsess over what to do next. Eventually she got tired of thinking herself in circles and drifted off into a restless sleep.
Sara awoke exhausted, but with a renewed sense of purpose. She had decided on a course of action. Going back to San Francisco was out, not that Gary wouldn't have been happy to have her back, but it didn't feel like home anymore. The scent of cool damp air rolling in off the mountains as the sun set now called to her more strongly than the remembered hint of salt on the morning breeze and the shifting sands of the desert had begun to replace the endless expanse of the sea. She didn't know how long she would be able to stay, some of that would depend on Grissom, but she wasn't ready to leave. There was still plenty for her to learn here, and she wasn't ready to give up on him yet.
Checking the time Sara reached for her phone and dialed the number for Grissom's office. Her hopes to get his voicemail were shattered as an all too familiar voice greeted her.
"Hi, um, I said I'd call."
It was just her name, but the way he said it was anything but simple.
"I just wanted to let you know that I will be in next shift, without my two weeks notice."
"Thank you. We should…can I…"
"Not yet. We both need time to figure out how we ended up here. I meant what I said; I want to be with you, but I can't do it like this. I'll see you tomorrow Grissom."
She hung up the phone before he could even say goodbye.
"Grissom, after everything, all the time, all the bullshit, why now? I've been more upset than I was about Mel being in the hospital. I've come closer to being seriously injured that I was when that car backed into the Tahoe. What was different this time?"
One of his large hands rose to press over hers on his cheek.
"Sara, I…" He stopped. There was nothing. He couldn't think of a single thing to say. He could pin point no specific impetus for this change. It had been building for years. Ever since he'd lost her he'd longed for the brief moment of happiness they'd had together, dreamed about getting her back. But his insecurities had repeatedly sabotaged him and he'd only managed to make things worse. What had been different that day? "I don't have a good answer for you."
"Come on Griss, you must have thought about it."
"Uh, no." He hadn't thought about it before, but he was thinking about it now. Sara's expression convinced him to think aloud. Maybe if he considered his actions as he would a suspect's he could find them both some answers. "We weren't at the lab or a scene or around people from work."
"True, but that's not the first time that's happened." He could tell she wasn't sure where he was going with this, or if she really wanted to know, but she continued. "You've even been to my apartment more than once in the past few years."
Grissom considered that. "But never without work being involved somehow."
She seemed to be waiting for more so he attempted to explain.
"When you got pulled over, I came down to the station because it was you, but they'd called me because I was your supervisor. You were upset and embarrassed and I, I didn't want to make things worse."
"And during my suspension?"
"There were things that, as your boss, I needed to know. The rest of it…I wanted to hold you so badly." His eyes seemed to focus beyond her as he remembered. "But I didn't have that right."
"Griss…" She started to speak, to correct him, but surprisingly he had more to say.
"You'd just told me this huge secret, and I wasn't sure how to handle it. God, Sara…you know the things we see every day, and how much some people take before they snap the way your mother did. Part of me started cataloging all of the things that could've happened to you and it made me sick. I thought maybe you wouldn't want to be touched given the memories I'd just forced you to revisit. I couldn't make myself move to find out. I wasn't sure you even considered me a friend anymore and I didn't want you to think I was just acting out of pity."
She gave a wry chuckle. "Griss, I'm not sure I've ever considered you a friend."
And that hurt; more than the fact that his unintentional declaration of love had caused her to cry. His hands fell from hers and he scooted back from her, preparing to rise from the bed, heedless of his nudity. Sara didn't fight his instinctive flight response, hugging her knees to her chest as Grissom stood, but he froze with his back to her as she continued to speak.
"No matter how aggravated, or frustrated, or pissed off I was with you, or how distant you tried to make yourself, you were always so much more than a friend. You've always been the man I can't stop loving."
Given everything that had happened to him, to them over the years Grissom couldn't quite bring himself to believe his ears. Could he really be that lucky?
"I love you Griss." He turned back to Sara and their eyes met. This time, instead of multiplying, the pain receded, despite the tears.
He knew what to do, the very thing he'd held himself back from doing for so long. Grissom stepped forward and climbed back onto the bed beside her. One sturdy arm looped around her shoulders as he pulled her tight against him. "I love you Sara. This time we'll make it work, together."
Somewhere in a neighboring apartment, a clock chimed but neither of them noticed as they began their first Valentine's Day together wrapped tightly in each other's arms.
The end (of this story)