Disclaimer: Characters contained within do not belong to me.

Author's Notes: To follow.

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The Last Embrace

by Kristen Elizabeth

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October 2006

"Hey…where are you?"

Grissom looked down at the lithe body beneath him. He had never felt uncomfortable between her thighs, but tonight he felt like dead weight, pushing her further into the mattress. Although he could see an occasional shiver of pleasure shake through her, she was nowhere near the kind of grand finale he was used to giving her.

And it frightened him.

"I'm right here," she told him.

Grissom shook his head. She released a silent breath when he pulled out and lay down beside her. He scrubbed his hands up and down his face. "I know you're upset," he eventually said.

"Why would I be upset?" Sara folded her arms over her breasts. Her voice was flat. "It's just another trip to the Big Easy."

"You know I would take you if I…"

But she was apparently even less in the mood for platitudes than she was for sex. "I know," she cut him off. "Someday, right?"

There was a crack in the ceiling over the bed that Grissom had never noticed before. Now, he found he couldn't tear his eyes away from it. How long had it been there? What had caused it? How long could he put off fixing it? Would his whole ceiling collapse if he just ignored it?

He would be the first to admit that when it came to emotions, he was often blind, deaf and dumb. But her unhappiness was too palpable for even him to miss. She was lying only inches from him, but she might as well have been miles away.

Grissom had no idea what to do. So he did the one thing he knew he still could.

She was motionless until his lips reached the warm center of her body beneath the sheets. As he loved her, she slowly began to respond. He left her hanging on the edge and moved up, entering her swiftly before she could change her mind.

Her nails dug into his skin when she came, ten little pinches of pain that he accepted as punishment. He closed his eyes, blocking out the sight of her tears, and let himself go within her. He lay on top of her as he caught his breath, his face buried in the curve of her neck.

"Come back to me," he murmured into her flushed skin.

But she must not have heard him. Because when he moved off of her, she refused to look at him.

A second later, she got up and disappeared into the bathroom. Grissom turned his gaze up to the ceiling, blinking rapidly.

It was one little crack. He'd do something about it when he came back from Louisiana.


June 2011

The house wasn't quite ready for the president to declare it a federal disaster area, but Sara figured that with the majority of Cassie's pre-school class running around, it was only a matter of time.

As she entered the kitchen, a little boy with flaming red hair streaked past her on his way to the den, screaming at the top of his lungs for absolutely no reason. Grissom was standing at the counter, mopping up juice with a paper towel when the child ran by.

He was still staring into the den when he she came up behind him. "Is that the one who eats paste?" he asked her, pointing at the spot where the child had disappeared.

"No," she said with a laugh. "The paste-eater is currently in the living room trying to get your daughter to kiss him."

It amused her to no end that his face paled at this. "Please tell me you're joking."

Sara shifted Ryan to her other hip. He wriggled to get down, but she held on. He was usually a good boy, but under the influence of so many other older children, he'd been more than a little naughty.

"I'm not," she told him. "But don't worry about it. Catherine's keeping an eye on the little Casanova." She sighed as Ryan began tugging on her necklace. "Would you take him? I have to get the cake ready."

Grissom tossed the soaked paper towel into the trash and lifted Ryan out of her arms. "Down?" the little boy asked him. It was hard to resist his big brown eyes, but Grissom must have realized he was being held captive for a reason. He shook his head, and Ryan's lower lip protruded as far as it would go.

"I swear, I had no idea facial expressions were genetic," Sara said as she pulled the cake out of the fridge. "But Nick used to make that exact same face when he didn't get his way."

He didn't get a chance to reply. Cassie ran into the kitchen just then, her pink princess crown tilting dangerously to one side of her head.

"Mommy!" she shouted. "Can I open presents now?"

"Inside voice, Cassie," Sara reminded her.

She dropped her voice down to the loudest whisper possible. "Can I open presents now??"

"No, we're going to have cake first." Having removed the plastic cover, Sara stuck four candles amidst the pink roses. "Come on." She lowered her voice for Grissom's ears only. "There are fifteen incarnations of the devil tearing up this house and I'm about to feed them sugar. Shoot me now."

Cassie led the way, spinning with each step to make her dress swirl around her legs. By the time they reached the dining room, their daughter had succeeded in making herself thoroughly dizzy. Grissom put a hand on her shoulder to keep her from falling down. She looked up at him with a smile that was all teeth, and he couldn't keep from lightly bopping her nose.

Sara called for her to come and blow out her candles, and Cassie abandoned her father without a look back. Draped over his arm like a dish towel, Ryan reached for the floor, repeating "down," interspersed with an occasional, "Dada."

"I can take him." Grissom turned and saw Warrick holding his hands out. Sara watched out of the corner of her eye as a moment passed between the two men. "If you want."

She bit back a smile as he passed the little boy to Warrick without hesitation. As soon as he had Ryan, Warrick shook his head. "Never ceases to amaze me," he said with wonder. "If he looks this much like him now, it's going to be like seeing a ghost in a few years."

"Yeah." Grissom slipped his hands into his pockets. "I'm glad you came."

Warrick started walking away, bouncing Ryan to make him laugh. "So am I."

Sara blinked and returned her attention to her daughter. It took Cassie several tries, but she finally extinguished all four candles. With help from Catherine and Laura, Sara managed to cut and serve cake to all of their daughter's friends.

As they chowed down, she slipped out of the dining room with an empty pitcher of juice, leaving the children to the other adults. And Greg, who she supposed counted as one.

In the kitchen as she refilled the pitcher, it was Grissom's turn to come up behind her. He caught her a little off-guard, but as soon as she realized whose arms were snaking around her waist, she relaxed against him.

"I can't believe she's four," Sara said after a moment. "I don't know where all that time went."

"I think you spent a lot of it trying to get her to keep socks on," he said, moving her hair to one side so that he could kiss the nape of her neck.

Sara let out a noise that was halfway between a laugh and a choked sob.

"Hey…" Grissom moved around in front of her. "What's wrong?"

She shook her head. "Nothing." Before he could sense her lie, she wrapped her arms around his neck and drew his mouth down to hers.

Sara always lost track of time when Grissom kissed her, so she wasn't sure if it was minutes or hours before her mother entered the kitchen.

"I'm sorry," Laura apologized as they broke apart. "But if that child doesn't get to open her presents soon, I think she might take prisoners."

It wasn't until that evening, long after the presents were opened and the sugar-exhausted party guests were taken home, that they found themselves alone again, save for the two children asleep on the couch between them.

Worn out from a day of non-stop excitement, Cassie was curled up against Grissom. Sara had Ryan in her lap; she was gently rocking him although he'd gone out like a light twenty minutes earlier.

The house was a wreck of cake plates, wrapping paper and plastic spoons, but the mess could wait until the morning. Through unspoken agreement, they were both going to hold onto this moment for as long as possible.

Finally, Sara broke the peaceful silence by asking the question that had been on her mind throughout the party. "Are you going to go to the ceremony?"

He didn't have to ask what she was talking about. She'd spotted the invitation to the commencement exercises where Reese Callahan would be hooded as a Doctor of Anthropology the day before in a pile of mail he'd set aside to be discarded. She liked to go through his junk mail; all of her useless catalogs were for children's clothes and toys, not fun stuff like laboratory equipment and camping gear.

She'd been surprised at how the woman's name still had power over her. Jealousy and worry had started to creep into her stomach from the moment she had handed him the envelope. Only the distraction of Cassie's party had kept her from going insane as she waited for him to bring it up.

But he hadn't. So now, if she ever hoped to sleep again, it was up to her.

Cassie stirred against him; he hugged her closer to his side, losing his fingers in her tangled curls. "I'll send her a card." He lowered his lips to his daughter's forehead. "I like to think of that whole part of my life as a bad dream."

She tightened her arms around her little boy. She knew the man so well, and yet in so many ways, he was a complete mystery. "It's late. We should get them to bed."

He carried Cassie and she carried Ryan and together they got the children upstairs and into their respective bedrooms, to get them ready for the night. While Grissom was in Cassie's room getting her into her pajamas, Sara took Ryan into the nursery. Her son had his chubby fingers wrapped around her necklace again.

She swallowed back a lump in her throat. To him it was just something shiny to grab. He had no idea that his father had given her the two rings that now hung on the delicate, gold chain.

Grissom entered the nursery just as she was laying Ryan into his crib. Unlike his sister who tended to look angelic her sleep, his little brow was furrowed, as if he was fighting great battles in his dreams.

"Sara," he gently called to her. She turned her head ever so slightly to acknowledge him. "What's wrong?"

"You know I was thinking the other day…" Her hand drifted down to her chest; as she continued, she rolled the rings between her fingers. "About what I could have done differently back then. Do you ever do that?"

"No. It's a slippery slope. You change one thing and everything could unravel. Certain people wouldn't come into our lives, and…"

She cut him off. "Others might not leave."

"I think if you asked Nick, he would have rather died as a husband and a father than a single guy, alone in his apartment." She could almost see him frowning at her back. "Is this about the graduation ceremony?" Sara leaned down into the crib to adjust Ryan's blanket, but said nothing. "It almost seems like you want me to go." When she still had no reply, he came further into the room. "Do you want me to go?"

"I didn't want you to go back then. I didn't tell you and…you know." She paused. "But if I tell you now that I don't want you to go, I'm afraid we'll end up right back where we were." Sara glanced at him over her shoulder. "Does that make sense?"

Grissom nodded. "There's a very simple answer to this. I don't want to go."

Sara brushed her hand over Ryan's crown of dark hair before she turned around and walked towards him. Ushering him out of the nursery, she closed the door gently behind them.

"If she was only ever just your student, why wouldn't you go?" she quietly asked.

"Sara…" He thought for a second. "Every choice I made concerning her hurt you. Even if I wanted to go, why would I ever hurt you again?"

His answer, although completely enigmatic, was so honestly spoken that it quelled her stomach. She reached out and tugged at his collar. "That's not really an answer, you know."

"I know."

Sara pursed her lips. "You're very frustrating."

Grissom nodded. "I know."

"And I love you way too much," she whispered.

He threaded their fingers together and guided her towards the bedroom. "I know."

Later, in the dark, amidst passion-rumpled sheets, she let him pull her close. His heart beat a steady rhythm against her cheek. It was warmth, it was comfort…it was everything. And just when she thought she needed nothing more to guide her into perfect dreams, he spoke.

"I love you too much, too."

She sat up a second later. He was naked in more than one way, hiding nothing as he lay there, holding her stare with his own. She saw it all in his eyes: the past, the present, the future. And just like that, the right moment arrived.

"Ask me again," she said, huskily.

Grissom reached up to her. "Ask you what?"

Her eyes closed briefly at the touch of his hand against her cheek. "Ask me. Please."

Realization smoothed the lines on his forehead. He sat up as well, holding her face between his palms. Looking down at her now, Grissom asked, "Will you marry me?"

Sara smiled.

The next morning before he woke, she slipped out of bed and went to her dresser. Reaching behind her neck, she undid the clasp of her necklace. She curled the chain into a velvet corner of her jewelry box and carefully laid the diamond and gold bands on top of it.

She closed the lid on one precious memory, and climbed back into bed with the rest of her life.

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Fin

Author's Notes: I always feel both elated and saddened to end a story, and for some reason those feelings are heightened with this particular one. I wish I could go back and name every single person who's reviewed it, and personally thank each and every one of you, but I just have to say, I know who you all are, and I hope by now you know how much I appreciate you.

I never would have finished this story without the incredible help of PhDelicious, who never let me down, even though I almost annoyed her to death:) I also want to acknowledge Sue and Lisa and Donna for being wonderful friends/sounding boards/cheerleaders.

I had so much fun telling you this story. Thanks for lending me your ears. (I know I should say "eyes" here, but that seems a little weird, right?) Take care!

Kristen Elizabeth