Defining Moments - Epilogue

Disclaimer: Not mine. But sometimes I really wish they were.

A/N: After swearing that I wouldn't read any angst I decided to write it instead. I have suffered from the worst case of writer's block in history (okay I'm exaggerating a little). Finally some very dear friends gave me the spark I needed to get off my butt and get this done. There is much angst here - be warned! A special thanks to atrueparrothead, Cropper and dreamsofhim! These women rock!!!

"This girl holds me responsible for the death of Ernie Dell. I took away the only person she ever loved, so she's going to do the same thing to me. It's not about a psychotic reaction to bleach, or some dead sister or the doll." – Gil Grissom/Living Doll

Ignoring the drawn blinds and the closed door, obvious signs of Grissom's desire to be alone, Catherine walked into his office and closed the door behind her. Only the slight lift of his head indicated that he realized she was in the room. He was sitting behind his desk with his back to the door, holding a rosary. She looked closer and realized that his thumb was rubbing over the beads, which were wrapped around his index finger, in a gesture that Catherine had seen him make a million times before but never understood until now. For a moment she hesitated, unwilling to interrupt what was obviously a very personal moment. Finally, her desire for knowledge overcame her reticence.

"Hey," Catherine said, her voice cracking with the weight of the emotion swirling in the darkened room. Clearing her throat she tried again. "Hey. I…uh…I heard the interview didn't go so well."

"You could say that." Grissom's voice was quiet and devoid of emotion.

Settling into a chair in front of his desk, Catherine crossed her legs and studied the back of Grissom's head. She and the rest of the team were still reeling from the little bomb he had dropped earlier in the day. The man was so cryptic that none of them knew whether to believe he was really in love with Sara or that he thought that was what Natalie believed. But his current display was tugging Catherine down the path of the former.

When Nick was taken Grissom was worried but calm and in control. When Brass was shot his behavior was the same. He was right in the thick of things, running the evidence, leading the team. But with Sara missing he had closed himself off, leaving the rest of them to look for her and worry about them both. The silence stretched out around them like the sands of the desert. Catherine knew she would have to be the one to break it.

She drew in a breath, releasing it on a sigh. "What you said earlier," she paused when his hand stilled and his shoulders straightened. Pushing past the warning vibe he was giving off, she continued. "What did that mean exactly?"

"What are you talking about, Catherine?" Grissom didn't turn around and she realized he was staring at the terrarium that held the tarantula. His voice was so low that Catherine had to strain to hear.

"When you announced to the entire team that Sara is the only person you've ever loved did you mean it?" His silence was all the confirmation she needed. "Oh, Gil," she moaned, "I can't believe you, of all people…" She never finished her sentence.

Whirling around and practically leaping to his feet, Grissom planted his palms flat on his desk and snarled, "What? You Can't Believe What?" his voice rising until he was screaming. Without warning he raked his hands over his desk, sending papers and folders flying. The sound of his coffee cup shattering seemed to pull him back from the edge of some dark precipice.

The door opened and Jim Brass stuck his head in taking note of the debris on the floor. "Is everything okay in here?"

Grissom sank down into his chair and covered his mouth with his right hand. Catherine turned and nodded at Brass. "Yeah, we're good." At Jim's disbelieving look, she gave a tight smile and said, "Really."

With a nod, Brass left closing the door behind him. Catherine turned back to Grissom. "Do you want to talk about it?"

With a mirthless laugh, Grissom turned his chair until he was once again staring at the terrarium. Catherine wasn't sure what her next move should be. She hated to leave him alone but she needed to be doing what she could to find Sara. She had decided to make an exit when he began to speak.

"I sent her that, you know." Grissom gestured toward the terrarium before running a hand through his hair. Catherine pretended not to see the way he trembled. "I left her here and went three thousand miles away and all I could send her was a chrysalis." With a bark of laughter, he continued, "And the damn thing hasn't even hatched." Almost as an after-thought he mumbled, "Shipping it was probably a bad idea."

For the first time Catherine saw the cocoon and she breathed a sigh of relief that Gil hadn't sent Sara a spider. Unsure of what to say, she remained quiet, hoping he would continue. Grissom's voice was once again calm and void of emotion. She was beginning to think she liked the raging, angry Gil better than the one she was faced with now.

Grissom turned his chair around so that he was facing Catherine. "Oh, I wrote her a letter too. Never mailed it." Looking up, pure disgust etched on his face, he said, "Nope, I was too much of a chicken shit to even put a stamp on the envelope."

Catherine met his gaze, her heart breaking a little when she saw the depth of his pain. "Gil, I…I don't know what to say."

Grissom pinched the bridge of his nose and when he opened his eyes they were suspiciously moist. "I just keep thinking of all the time I wasted because I was too blind to see what was right in front of my face, too afraid of being hurt."

"Grissom," Catherine's voice was filled with sympathy, "we're doing everything we can. We'll find her."

As if she hadn't spoken, Grissom continued in the same distant voice. "I've been sitting here with the past ten years running through my mind. I hurt her over and over. But she always forgave me. Did you know that?"

Catherine merely nodded. She knew that her job now was to listen and try to help him keep it together. To say that she was shocked, not only by Gil and Sara's relationship but by his obviously fragile state, would be an understatement.

"What if we're too late? What will I do without her?" His voice, thick with unshed tears, was barely more than a whisper. "All I'll have left is the dog."

Unable to hide her surprise, Catherine asked, "You have a dog? You and Sara?"

Anger narrowed Grissom's eyes and sarcasm dripped from every word. "Yes, Catherine, we have a dog. Despite what you may think, we are fairly normal. A pet, a house, a couple of cars, electronics, the works."

Holding up her hands in surrender, Catherine quickly apologized. "Sorry. It's just that I don't know what to think about all this." Deciding to try another tack, Catherine asked, "How long have you two been together?"

Slipping the rosary over his head and tucking it under his shirt, Grissom stood and began picking up the evidence of his earlier tirade. His voice was absent when he replied. "Since Berkeley."

Catherine gave a strangled gasp. "What?"

"Huh?" Grissom turned and, seeing the confusion on her face, began to shake his head. "No, no. Not like that."

"Well how long then?"

Without pause, he said, "Two years next week."

Catherine's eyes widened and her jaw dropped. Quickly, her mind ran back to the time when Nick was trapped in that box. Understanding dawned leaving her speechless.

After a pause Grissom resumed gathering up reports and files. "I bought her a ring." He shrugged as if to say it was no big deal.

Catherine was officially beyond being surprised. Gil could tell her that he and Sara were getting married and running off to join the circus as clowns and she would just accept it. She thought for a moment about pinching herself just to make sure she wasn't dreaming.

"I've never proposed before. Never found anybody who could put up with me for that long." Grissom placed the pile of papers on his desk and bent to begin picking up pieces of his shattered mug. "But Sara understands me. How many people can say that about the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with?"

"Gil," Catherine's voice was tinged with sadness, "you have to stop thinking that she's…that we won't find her."

Before he could say anything, Catherine's phone bleated. Pulling it off her belt, she read the message. "That's Hodges. I need to go check on some results." When he didn't respond she asked, "Do you want me to send Nick or Warrick? I could stay here with you."

Waving a hand dismissively, he said, "That's ok. I'm fine." Just before the door closed she heard him say, "Sorry about before."

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Catherine shook her head as she pulled the door closed, her thoughts running in circles. She turned toward the Trace Lab and almost ran into Brass who was leaning on the wall outside Grissom's office.

"Jim," she yelped, throwing a hand over her heart. "Jesus, you scared me."

Worry was etched onto his face. "Sorry. I just wanted to make sure you two were okay in there."

With a nod, Catherine indicated that everything was fine. Not sure what else to say she mumbled about going to trace and moved to go around him.

Brass reached out and caught her arm. "How's he doing?" Her hesitation confirmed his suspicions. "You go on. I'll stay with him." Doubt clouded Catherine's face and she opened her mouth to warn him but Brass just gave a rueful grin. "I've known for a while now. You aren't protecting his secret from me."

More than a little upset, Catherine said, "He told you?"

"No, he didn't tell me. I heard them in the break room one day talking about dinner." When she just stared at him, eyebrow lifted in a silent demand for more information, he continued, "Gil was heating up her dinner and talking about the dog…and…they…um…implied…uh mentioned…thattheyhadsexbeforework." The rush of words and the blush staining his cheeks did nothing to lessen the impact of those words.

Catherine bit her lip to hold in a laugh. Finally, she said, "I can't believe they were together and nobody knew." New frustration at the circumstances they were all facing surged through her body. "Dammit Jim, we have to find Sara. It will kill him if…" Her voice trailing off, Catherine swiped at the tears gathering in her eyes. Turning she walked away.

Brass hesitated for a moment his shoulders slumped under the weight of their situation. Drawing himself up, he turned the knob and pushed open the door to Grissom's office.

"Hey, Gil. Everything okay?" When he got no response, he walked in and closed the door behind him.

Grissom, once again seated and staring at the terrarium, said, "If you came in here to cheer me up don't bother."

Brass strode forward and settled into one of the chairs in front of Grissom's desk. "Nope. I came in here to tell you Ecklie is looking for you. He wants to talk to you about man-handling our psycho suspect."

"Really?" Grissom said without turning around. His voice held no hint of concern over his actions, nor any hint of the excitement he usually exhibited during tough cases.

"Yeah. He's on the warpath. You'll probably get suspended, if not worse." Grissom's only response was a nod. After a moment, Brass said, "Do you have someone who can feed the dog for you?"

Grissom glanced over his shoulder in surprise, and shook his head. "I hadn't even thought about that."

Standing, Brass said, "Come on. Get your jacket."

Turning around to face his friend with fire in his eyes, Grissom said, "No! I'm not leaving until we find her."

"Gil, don't be stubborn. The dog needs to be fed and taken out. You need to be as far away from Ecklie as you can get so that you don't do something you'll regret when this is all over. Now get your stuff." When the man seemed prepared to continue arguing, Brass said, "Look, I'll drive you home and if anything breaks I'll make sure you get there as fast as possible."

Seeing that Brass wasn't going to back down, Grissom nodded. He pulled on his jacket and picked up his keys. "Let's go."

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When Brass would have made the right to head toward Gil's townhouse, Grissom told him to keep going. Not asking questions, Jim followed directions to a quiet cul-de-sac about two miles off Summerlin Parkway. It was a nice middle class neighborhood with more than its share of stucco ranch style homes. The neat sidewalks and well kept lawns fit with Brass' image of a place Gil and Sara would feel comfortable.

Brass turned into the driveway indicated by Grissom and stopped the car. Putting the vehicle in park and cutting the engine, he took a moment to look around. The outside of the house was cream stucco with a clay tile roof. The small front yard was xeriscaped, the sparse vegetation requiring very little care to survive in the desert heat. A paved walk ran from the drive to the covered front porch and a beautiful dark oak door with a stained glass panel on the top completed the inviting picture.

Grissom made no move to exit the vehicle. Brass studied his friend, taking in the rigid set of his jaw and the tremble that seemed to affect his entire body. Finally he broke the silence, "Do you want to wait out here?"

With a shake of his head, Grissom reached for the handle and opened the door. Levering himself out of the car, he stood for a moment drawing a calming breath deep into his lungs before making his way slowly toward the house. With hands that shook, he managed to work the key into the lock and then he was inside. The breath left his lungs in a rush. Sara was everywhere. The very air smelled of her. Her laughter echoed through the rooms. A crushing weight settled in the center of Grissom's chest. He couldn't breathe. He was vaguely aware of Bruno nuzzling his hand in greeting, of Brass stepping in behind him and pushing the door closed. Still, no air would enter his tortured body. Bending forward, hands pressing against his bent knees and eyes squeezed shut in concentration, he forced himself to inhale.

"Oh God," he moaned, fighting back nausea. "Oh dear God."

Brass laid a hesitant hand on Grissom's shoulder. "Gil, you need to sit down." When he didn't respond, Jim gave him a little shake. "Come on. I'll get you some water."

Slowly, Grissom straightened up and shuffled to the family room. He sat on the sofa that Sara picked out, surrounded by the walls that he had helped Sara paint, leaned back against the pillows that Sara had purchased and thought about how different his life had been before – how empty. His townhouse had been cold, almost sterile, with white walls and functional furniture. But Sara had brought warmth and color and comfort into his life. Unfortunately, along with the good there was bad. She had brought the ability to feel, to love and by association to hurt.

"Gil," Brass' voice drew him from his reverie. "Here, drink this."

Grissom took the glass from Jim's hand and dutifully took a sip. The water was cool against his parched lips and he raised it again and drank several long gulps. "Thanks," he murmured when he had lowered the glass.

"If you tell me where the food is, I'll take care of the dog."

"Bruno," he replied absently. "His name is Bruno. He belonged to my mother." A soft chuff of laughter escaped as another memory assailed him. "I was going to let him go to a shelter when mom died but Sara wouldn't hear of it. She insisted I bring him home. So, here he is." He raised his hands in a gesture that indicated he was helpless when it came to Sara.

Brass was quiet, absorbing the tidbit of information. After a moment he asked, "Is Bruno's food in the kitchen?"

Shaking his head to clear it, Grissom said, "Yeah, it's in a container under the sink. He gets one of those scoops." Another fleeting smile and he continued, "Sara gives him two. She thinks I don't know it though, like it's their little secret. He'd be lost without her, you know."

Knowing that Grissom wasn't talking about only Bruno, Jim swallowed past the lump in his throat. "You have to stop thinking like that. We're going to bring her back alive." Receiving no response, Brass turned and headed for the kitchen, calling back over his shoulder, "I'll let him out before I feed him. Does he have a leash?"

"You won't need it. The backyard is fenced. Just don't let him in the hot tub. He thinks it's a swimming pool."

"Are you going to be okay in here?" Brass' voice was full of concern.

"Yeah," he said with a nod. "Go ahead." Jim studied his friend for a moment before heading for the kitchen to let Bruno out.

When he heard the kitchen door close behind Brass, Grissom stood and began to roam through the house, memories assailing him from every corner. Sara in the kitchen, wearing nothing more than a tank top and panties, waiting on the coffee to brew. Sara in the living room, curled up on the sofa, a book in her hand. Sara on the deck, rubbing Bruno's head and crying because he had hurt her again with his thoughtless behavior. Sara coming through the front door with a smile on her face. Sara wandering into his office and distracting him with her sweet kisses and silky skin. Sara in the bathtub, her hair piled up on her head and bubbles surrounding her – nothing but her smooth shoulders showing above the surface. Sara in their bed, sheets tangled around her hips, arms flung over her head while her chest rose and fell in her sleep. Sara the clown, Sara the nurturer, Sara the wounded, Sara the seductress – they all lived and laughed and loved within the walls. They all held a piece of his heart.

Never had Grissom expected the anguish he was experiencing. He had lost people before to death or time and distance; his father, his mother, his first girlfriend, his best friend. But he had never lost his soul mate. He had never lost the one person who was more important to him than anyone or anything. Not being a man prone to dramatic flights of fancy, he'd had a hard time understanding the feeling that washed over him when he realized he had lost any chance of connecting with Natalie Davis. Then, as her eyes clouded with madness, Grissom understood. She had taken away more than his girlfriend. She had taken away his life. He knew that if Sara were to die, Natalie would have killed him as surely as if she had taken a blade to his throat. He had, for a moment, seen it unfold. Her hand flashed forward, a shard of glass clasped between her thumb and forefinger. She slashed at his throat, slicing through the thin skin there and into his carotid. He actually felt his life's blood spurting out in huge, hot, red arcs. Fantasy or not, he had been helpless to stop it, just as he was helpless to find Sara.

Brass found Grissom sitting on the edge of a bed in what he assumed was the master bedroom. He didn't notice the shaking shoulders at first. Instead his eyes were drawn to the sparkle of the diamond in the ring Grissom was holding. It wasn't until the ragged sound of sobs reached his ears that Jim realized Gil was crying. Unsure of what to do, Brass turned and left. After allowing Grissom time to compose himself Brass returned, calling Gil's name as he made his way down the hall.

"Gil," Brass called out, "I made some coffee. You want a cup?"

A choked 'yeah' was all he got in response. A few minutes later, Grissom made his way into the living room. His footsteps were heavy, plodding, as if the weight of the world were on his shoulders. Brass noticed that he had washed his face but his red rimmed eyes were evidence of the tears he had shed. Bruno, sensing his master's distress, pressed his body against Grissom's leg and looked up at him with wide, sad eyes. Absently, Grissom reached down and stroked a hand along the dog's side.

"Thanks," Grissom mumbled when Brass pressed a cup into his hand. He took a sip, wincing as the hot liquid scalded the inside of his mouth. "Any word?"

Brass gave a shake of his head. "Are you holding up?" he asked. His voice was quiet and devoid of his usual snarkiness.

Grissom took another drink and said, "No. Not really."

"You know the team'll figure it out. They're the best, no thanks to me."

"How can you be so sure? There're more than twenty thousand square miles of sand out there. She could be anywhere. If we don't get there in time…" Eyes clenched to hold back a fresh flood of tears he rasped out, "She's my world." Drawing in a steadying breath he continued, "All those years I held back were for a reason. I knew it would be like this. The sabbatical was my last chance to get my life under control. But all I could think about was getting back here, back to her."

Brass merely studied the man in front of him, waiting on him to complete his thoughts.

"She's never been afraid to feel, Jim. It's like she embraces the pain. Takes it in and uses it to make her a better person. She's not supposed to die before me. I'm fifteen years older and not nearly as strong. She could survive without me. But," Grissom's voice broke and his shoulders shook as sobs racked his frame. "I can't do this without her."

Brass' eyes were suspiciously moist when he reached out and placed a hand on Grissom's shoulder giving it a supportive squeeze. "Let's get out of here. We'll go back to the lab and check on the guys."

The sun was high in the sky when the two men left the house. The cold, rainy night had given way to the blistering heat of midday Vegas. Grissom didn't know which conditions were worse but he feared dehydration more than hypothermia. Fingering the rosary under his collar, he said another silent prayer for her safety. He was staring blindly out the window when Brass shifted into reverse and began backing up.

The car had barely cleared the driveway when Jim's cell phone chirped. Snatching it off his belt he barked, "Brass."

Catherine's excited voice filled his ears. "Jim, 911 just got a call from some guys who were riding dirt bikes in the desert. They found the car."

"Did they find Sara?"

"Yes! She's groggy but coherent enough to tell them her name. I've got the EMT's on the way. The guys that found her are staying there until we arrive." She paused to catch her breath then continued, "Is Gil with you? I can't find him anywhere."

"Yeah, he's right here. Now give me a location." Brass held up a finger to indicate that Grissom should wait before jotting down the information from Catherine. "Okay, we'll meet you there."

As soon as he closed the phone Brass hit the lights and siren on the car. Throwing the vehicle into drive and flooring the gas, he glanced over at Grissom's anxious face. With a tight smile he said, "Some folks riding dirt bikes found her, Gil. She's alive."

Grissom's shoulders sagged in relief as Jim's words washed over him. He sent a murmured prayer of thanks heavenward. Then he was leaning forward, urging the speeding car to go faster. The pulse of the lights matching the rhythm of the phrase running through his mind – She's Alive! She's Alive! She's Alive!

Miles passed in a blur. Time crawled like a snail. Finally, the car skidded to a halt behind two Denali's, half a dozen police cruisers and an ambulance. They were parked on the edge of a barely discernible road that was surrounded by hard packed sand and scrub brush for as far as the eye could see. And there, just over a rise, was an overturned car. Grissom flung open his door and began to run toward the Mustang in the distance. Stumbling, his feet slipping on loose rocks, sweat clouding his vision, Grissom moved as fast as he could. When he reached the vehicle he pushed through the knot of deputies that had gathered and ran past the Warrick and Catherine. Ignoring Nick and Greg, he knelt down and peered underneath the car. Reaching in, he found Sara's hand and clasped it.

"Sara, honey, I'm here. Can you hear me?"

A faint, raspy voice reached his ears. "Grissom? It's about time you showed up." He could hear the teasing tone in her voice and it brought tears of joy to his eyes.

A laugh bubbled in his throat and his heart soared. Sara was alive!