A/N Thanks for the reviews guys! I really appreciate them. I got my exam results back – big smiles (got 6 A's out of 7 subjects). Thanks for sticking with me through this story (even if you didn't always review, which, I know most of you didn't wink wink)

For the last time, I hope you enjoy!

C: 11

Sara's run into - and away from- with her mother had drained her to the point of collapse. It served to worsen the physical stress she'd been under but her relief at the reconciliation with her mother had lifted a huge weight from her soul and the result was a contented –albeit exhausted - CSI.

By the time Nick stopped the Tahoe outside Sara's apartment building, she was overtired and barely awake. The stress had intensified into a migraine that made it hard for her to see straight. Her arms felt foreign, somehow detached from her body, and she stumbled and grabbed the car door for support. Nick closed his own door and went around the car to her. He pulled her to him and put her arm across his shoulders so he could support her. Halfway up the stairs to her front door, he decided to carry her instead. He took her house keys and pulled her onto his back. Sara wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. She closed her eyes, laying her head down across his shoulders, and giggled softly.

"Nobody's piggybacked me in ages," she said.

"I bet you wouldn't have let them, even if they'd offered," Nick replied knowingly. He felt Sara smile against his shoulder.

"And how did you get to know me so well, cowboy?" she asked.

Nick shrugged, "Five years of wanting you, I guess." He paused then twisted his head around to look at her. "And babe? I think you're more the cowboy in this situation," he said with a wink.

Sara giggled and he felt her soft lips at his neck. "I'll ride you anytime," she whispered into his ear. Her voice was low and suggestive and Nick felt a wave of heat rush through him. Her warm breath in his ear had suddenly made his pants feel tighter.

"Sara," Nick gritted his teeth. "You know I'd jump at that offer anytime, but you need rest and I've gotta get back to the lab."

Sara sighed in response, too tired to argue, and snuggled into his shoulder. Nick stopped in front of the her door and fumbled to find the key. From down the hallway, a door creaked open.

"Merry Christmas, Mrs Maitland," Sara called, not lifting her head or opening her eyes. Surprised that she'd been caught so easily, the old woman gasped and hastily pulled her door shut. Sara let out a low, satisfied chuckle and Nick reached back and pinched her leg playfully. "Hey!" Sara frowned. "What was that for?"

Nick smiled smartly but said nothing. He pushed the door open and made a beeline for the bedroom. He stopped with his back to the bed and leaned back so Sara slid off his back and onto the mattress. As soon as she touched its cool softness, she sighed happily. Nick turned and looked over her. Her jeans were still wet and clinging to her legs and her hair was drying in loose curls around her face. Her skin was still pale, like porcelain, but the cold wind had turned her cheeks rosy and her dark lashes splayed over them like deep chocolate. A small, satisfied smile lingered on her lips and Nick leaned down onto the bed above her and pressed his lips to hers. At first, Sara didn't respond but soon Nick found her tongue gently nudging his lips. He was all to happy to deepen the kiss. Her hands found their way into his hair, drawing him deeper. She kissed him hungrily – as if her very life was coming from him – and when they broke apart, both were breathless. Nick let out a deep breath and put his forehead against hers. Their eyes met and seconds later, so did their lips. The kiss was hot, demanding, and sent shots of heat racing from their lips through their bodies to the tips of their fingers and toes. Their hands began to wonder over each other, searching for skin. Nick shivered when Sara's hands settled on his butt, pressing him against her. His hand found the hem of her polo neck and slid underneath, caressing her stomach with a featherlike touch. Beneath him, Sara shivered and moaned, painfully aware of the heat building between them. In a heartbeat, her hands were at his shirt, tugging it up.


Nick swore and jerked himself back from Sara. He pulled his cellphone from his belt and flipped it open.

"Yes?" he demanded, breathless. He stopped, forcing himself to control his voice. "Sorry, Greg. What can I do for you?" The was a pause and Nick sighed. "You're joking? Okay, I'll just make sure Sara's okay and meet you there." He closed the phone and looked sadly at the woman beneath him. "I've gotta go babe."

Sara sighed, "Okay. I guess I can't argue with the powers that be."

Nick leaned down and kissed her softly on her forehead, "Rain check?"

"Sure," Sara smiled, pushing herself up from the bed. "You'll be back after shift, right?"

He nodded, "You bet. Now lets, get you into those cute little pyjamas of yours and into bed."


Seven hours later, Sara woke to the sound of laughter coming from the living room. She frowned at the sound, assuming it to be the TV and cautiously stretched her body. Her leg muscles ached as if she'd overdone it at the gym but the rest of her felt well rested so she lifted her head briefly then let it flop back onto the pillow. She felt cosy in the bed; content to just remain in the warm cocoon it formed around her. Sara opened her eyes and let them float lazily over her bedroom. It was morning outside and daylight was poking through at the edges of her curtain. The clock on the bedside table indicated that it was close to 9am. Sara groaned and rolled over. She would usually ignore Christmas day and try to sleep for as long as possible so it would go away fast. But today she stopped as she remembered the events of the previous day. This Christmas was hopefully going to be different; she had Nick now.

The sounds from the living room got louder and Sara sat up and frowned. That could not be the TV. The door opened and Nick slid carefully into the room. A goofy red Christmas hat was perched on his head and he was holding another.

"Hey, you're awake," he said with a smile, coming over to sit on the bed. He pulled her to him and put his arms around her. "How you feeling?"

"Uh…good. What's going on out there?" Sara flicked her brow at the door.

Nick smiled. "Merry Christmas Miss Sidle," he said cryptically and slid the red hat onto her head. He leaned down and kissed her tenderly.

"You still haven't answered my question," Sara said when he pulled away.

"Why don't you come have a look?" Nick asked with a mischievous smile. He went over to her dresser and pulled out a blue Harvard sweater and tossed it to her. "It'll be cold out there 'til we get the heater fired up," he said with a shrug. Sara frowned suspiciously but pulled it on anyway. She slid off the bed and went to open the bedroom door, peering cautiously out.

"Hey Tweety! You're finally up!" Greg called to her from the couch. Sara opened the door further and found the others there too. Lindsay was seated on the cough next to Greg and both seemed absorbed in a game of Need for Speed on the Xbox – it – that Nick had brought by for her the previous evening. Catherine and Warrick were busy in the kitchen, situated suspiciously close to one another at the stove. Grissom was standing at the bookshelf beside her desk, scanning a book with keen interest. All of them were wearing Christmas hats and turned to look at her as she emerged from the room. Her shock must have shown on her face because Warrick came over and waved an oven mitt in her face.

"Hello? Merry Christmas Sara. You in there?," He said with a hint of amusement in his voice. She snapped back to reality and smiled at him. He pulled her into a hug.

"Merry… Christmas," she said slowly. When he released her she cast her eyes to the others. "What are you all doing here?"

Grissom shrugged, "Celebrating Christmas."

"It was Nick's idea," Catherine explained, coming to stand beside Warrick. "He thought it would be nice if the team spent Christmas together."

A pair of hands on her shoulders announced Nick's presence behind her and Sara turned to smile at him. "Thanks Tricky Nick. This is really sweet of you," she said. He shrugged it off and smiled lopsidedly. "No," Sara insisted, "I mean it. This is gonna be my first Christmas with friends in a really long time."

"Then we'll just have to make it extra special, won't we?" Nick said with a wink. Sara raised her eyebrows at him and let her eyes wonder. The curtains were open and snow was falling softly outside. Inside, the room alight with tiny fairy lights hanging from the ceiling, and a small Christmas tree had been set up in the corner of the room.

"Food should be ready in about 10 minutes," Warrick announced proudly brandishing a spatula.

"So finish up this little war of yours," Catherine added, leaning over to Lindsay and Greg whose eyes were glued to the TV.

"This, is no little war!" Greg countered, sneaking a glance at his young blonde opponent. "This is huge. This is a matter of pride, of respect, of skill, of-"

"Not losing to a twelve-year old?" Lindsay added with a cheeky grin. On the screen, her car pulled past Greg's on the track, leaving a trail of virtual dust rising into his half of the screen.

"Hey!" Greg yelped, "Now that just wasn't right. I thought I'd be nice to you but now this is WAR missy!"

"Try me, newbie," Lindsay shot back, jamming her fingers down on the control and glaring determinedly at the TV.

Catherine rolled her eyes and Sara chuckled: Greg was one of the most intelligent people she knew, but he could be so juvenile at times. It often annoyed her when she was working a grim case and he joked around, but she realised that it helped lighten the mood and made her job less macabre. Besides, life couldn't always be serious, could it?

Sara followed the older woman into the kitchen and peered over her shoulder.

"Chicken, veggies and…Wow, tofu? I had no idea you guys knew how to cook vegetarian!" she cried in delight.

"It's all Warrick," Catherine said, playfully punching him in the arm, "He's quite the chef."

"Nah," Warrick said modestly, "It was Cath's idea to have a Christmas dinner for 'breakfast' – the menu was entirely her idea."

"Well, it smells delicious. Thanks," Sara said, smiling sincerely. She turned from them and looked over to Nick, who was standing behind the couch, yelling something about Nitro at Greg. Lindsay was cackling with satisfaction beside him, clearly winning again. Grissom had taken up a seat at the desk now, totally absorbed in the book. It was one that he'd given Sara for Christmas when she'd first arrived in Vegas. As if he sensed her watching him, he looked up and met her eyes. She smiled and mouthed a silent 'thank you' and flashed her eyes to Nick. Grissom nodded in understanding, happy that she was content for him to know about her relationship with the Texan.

"Food's up!" Catherine called a few moments later. Grissom, Greg and Lindsay all got up and headed for the kitchen but Sara lingered behind. she sighed and leaned back against the wall behind her. Her eyes flowed over a scene she'd never have expected to see in her apartment. They looked like a huge, rather odd, family that was celebrating Christmas in the relaxed, cheerful way it always did. She smiled at the thought that she did really have a family, even though she barely knew her real mother. Grissom, serious and knowledgeable, was like a father; Catherine, his voice of reason and wingman, a mother to Lindsay, and the younger CSIs. She, Nick and Warrick- Grissom's children in a way, always looking to him for advice- and Greg, the endearing baby of the family completed it. And that completed her. For the first time in a long time, Sara felt content and whole. For once, she lacked nothing and felt totally right in her place in the world. It was liberating and Sara smiled happily.

"What are you smiling at?" Nick's voice came from behind her. Sara turned to find him holding a big shoebox wrapped in silver paper with a huge blue bow.

"Just Christmas," Sara said with a shrug. "What's that?"

"This," Nick said, "is for you." He held out the box and Sara accepted it with a curious smile. "Open it."

She cast him a grin and ripped the paper off to reveal a, brown cardboard box, which solicited a suspicious frown at Nick. She pulled open the box and found a black cowboy hat and a red scarf. Nick took the Stetson out of the box and popped it on her head. Sara smiled.

"And the scarf?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, that you can use for just about anything, but I personally like to put it here," Nick said. He pulled it from the box and tied it around her neck, just as a cowboy might wear an ascot.

She smiled, cast a glance at the others who were absorbed in dishing up food, then leaned forward to kiss him.

"Thank you Nick. This is really sweet," she said softly then took a step back and pouted, posing like a model. "So how do I look?"

"Beautiful," Nick said, flashing her his token charm-filled smile and pulled her against his chest "Now," he added, his voice low, "How's about that ride we discussed last night, cowgirl?"

The End

A/N Well, that concludes it. Thank you to everyone who has read – and much more importantly, reviewed – this story. You guys make it all worthwhile. And… for the last time, I implore you: review…please?