Carving in Snow
by Camilla Sandman
Disclaimer: CSI and its characters belong to CBS and associates. I merely borrow, with no disrespect intended.
Author's Note: Carve your good words in stone, the bad in snow is a Norwegian proverb in the public domain. The slightly rewritten Christmas carol is also in the public domain. Vague references to past seasons as well as season seven, but nothing terribly spoilery. Written on request for my friendslist, with one included request per person. Huge thanks to tallian and tvaddict23 for beta work.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
A drink on a worn-down barstool
It never snows in Las Vegas. Sometimes, Brass will still look at windows and half-expect snowflakes against the glass. So much else is the same. Worn-down bar. Tired clientele. The smell of alcohol and desperation clinging to everything, like an invisible web cocooning you. And the spider queen herself, eating you one drink at the time.
Oh yeah, he's known this scene. Different bars, same demons.
He takes a seat, orders the drink and turns to chair next to him, careful to sound nothing like a dad berating.
"A bar, Brown?"
Brown shifts in his seat, looking down at his hand and gold glinting. The drink is untouched. Alcohol isn't Warrick Brown's demon. They both know that.
"A bar," he confirms.
They drink in silence for a while, Brass quietly scanning the bar and running the faces against a list of wanted in his head. Cops never rest. They just sometimes have to sleep.
"I lost," Brown says.
"A gamble." He looks up at Brass, eyes dark. "Marriage."
Brass doesn't offer any comfort. There is none. It is enough Brown knows they share a certain understanding.
"Ellie sent me a Christmas card," he shares after a moment. "Her holiday greeting was 'Fuck you'."
Brown laughs a little, though with an edge. "Family. Here's to it."
They drink again, and as the taste starts to linger on his tongue and demand more, Brass knows it's time to go.
"You're getting a ride home," he tells Brown, who sighs. "Warrick - never spend Christmas in a bar. Go see your grandmother."
Snowflakes on windows and more and more bottles and abysses - oh yeah, he's spent Christmas that way. Not this time. No snowflakes. No bar.
Just a woman waiting and the bad, bad eggnog they've plans to enjoy together.
The good thing with demons is that they do rest. Just as long as you know the right lullabies to sing them.
They do end up outside in the end, the lights of Vegas falling everywhere and bouncing off every shiny surface up into the dark night. Just Warrick's ring remains inside, left behind. At least until it is found and pawned by someone desperate, who ends up using the money to score.
It never snows in Las Vegas and it doesn't start this Christmas either.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Two Nevada Cloudy-Wings
For Christmas, Sara finds in her bed a wrapped silk top with a pattern of green leaves - all the wrong colour for her, and a little too tight across the chest as well. She knows who has left it, who is waiting in the living room because he sleeps badly these days and always, always wakes early.
Sara isn't sure if she feels hurt or just reaffirmation that he's Grissom. Once he got her a plant, now he seems to think she wants to wear plants as well. There is a sort of logic at work and it will match his flower shirt, of course. What's a little bad taste when it's Grissom she shares it with?
So she does wear it - it and nothing else - as she goes to find him, leaving the lights off as she goes. It is still dark out, but Las Vegas glitters neon bright as it always does. In the living room, a little Christmas tree shines a little as well, and by it, Grissom sits.
She says nothing as she sits down next to him, the warmth of him making her own skin tickle a little.
"'A Christmas candle is a lovely thing; It makes no noise at all'..." he quotes softly after a moment
"Eva Logue," she adds, and he tilts his head to look at her. "I found your book of 'Grissom Quotes for All Occasions, Volume Sixteen'."
"I can have no secrets from you, can I?" he says softly, kissing her surprisingly tenderly and without passion, as if he's withholding that for later.
"Only the ones I let you keep," she answers and knows that will always be a lifetime full. She lets him keep everything he doesn't give. It's the only way this will work.
He nods, as if they're in agreement, looking a little distant as his mind wanders. "Christmas is what your childhood makes it."
"What did yours make it?"
"A house full of Christmas lights and silence. Yours?"
He nods again, looking at her so intently as she moves to straddle him, the fabric of his pants a little rough against her naked buttocks.
"Merry Christmas, Griss," she says seriously.
"Merry Christmas, Sara," he replies, taking her hand.
Later - after he's had her slowly by the Christmas tree, after breakfast and more gifts, after she's had him roughly against the fridge, after lunch and candy - they watch nostalgic Christmas specials and he falls asleep against her shoulder, snoring lightly. She doesn't move, doesn't wake him, just sits and feels his warmth, the relative silence in the house and the lights around the house glittering unbrokenly.
For Christmas, Sara finds a little peace.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Three Viking hearts
For as long as he can remember, Greg has celebrated Christmas the Scandinavian way. Papa Olaf would stand for nothing else. Gifts opened on Christmas Eve. Pork, known as 'ribbe', for dinner the same day. Badly sung Norwegian carols about snow, ignoring the desert all around. Little flags on the tree, and Santa without elves, but with 'nisser' instead.
One year, he rebelled. He doesn't regret the Christmas on Hawaii with sun, waves and chasing girls geekily, but he's never done it again. Certain things goes into your blood and stays, he reckons. Certain people do too, whether feelings are returned or not.
Sometimes, when Papa Olaf gets good and drunk enough on aquavit during Christmas, he'll sit by Greg on the porch and talk about life in Norway and sometimes, just in passing, mention his neighbour Helga. Never anything but the name, never anything to indicate there was something special about her, never anything but a slight hush to his voice.
That's how Greg knows it's The One Who Got Away. Everyone has one. He used to think his was the girl in Hawaii, whose kiss tasted of salt and sun, but he's forgotten her name and that disqualifies her. Lately, he's beginning to think it's someone else, but as long as there is hope, she doesn't qualify yet.
This year, Mama Olaf gets good and drunk on aquavit and sits with him instead, as Papa has fallen asleep on the couch, a sign of old age Greg tries not to see. Tradition requires a certain ignoring of time passing, after all.
"It's his heart," Mama Olaf says calmly, but her eyes are dark. "He's going to die soon. He won't tell you, but I know your heart is strong enough to know."
Greg says nothing, just drinks until the liquid burns in his throat and his eyes water.
"You've made him proud," his grandmother goes on. "You're very like him, more than your father is."
Greg can't really think of anything to say to that, so he just blurts out the first thing that comes to mind. "You know about The One Who Got Away, don't you?"
"Helga?" she replies calmly, smiling faintly. "Yes."
"Does it bother you?"
She takes a sip, the porch light catching all the lines across her face. "He stayed with me. I stayed with him. I could have married Magne, the baker's son. I could have stayed in Norway. All that got away. But all this I got instead. Regrets just mean you're getting old."
"I wish I'd asked someone out and now I think it's too late."
Mama Olaf just smiles. "So tell your grandchild about her. Carve your good words in stone, the bad in snow, Greg. Live with what you get and carry the rest with a strong heart."
"Strong heart," Greg agrees, and clinks his bottle against hers. Certain things common blood shares.
For as long as he can remember, Greg has celebrated Christmas the Scandinavian way and he intends to stand for nothing else when he has grandchildren to boss around and get drunk on aquavit.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Four teenage woes
Catherine has forgotten what it felt like to be young. She remembers a vague sense of it, of anger and insecurities and time never seeming to go fast enough. But it feels almost as if it happened to someone else now, as if she was reborn somewhere after twenty, with all her childhood memories just installed. Looking at Lindsey is like looking at a foreign country.
It's a country with definite border issues.
"This is lame," Lindsey says, shoulders high and arms crossed. She's pissed she doesn't get to go at what is almost certainly some teenage drink-out, or maybe just that she has to bend to someone else's will. Catherine's pretty sure she never liked that when she was young. She still doesn't, but she can hide it now.
"This is Christmas," she counters a little sharply.
"I'd have more fun being mauled by a killer koala," Lindsey mutters, giving the nature program on Australia currently flashing on their TV screen a sour look. "Don't you have work? You always have work."
For all the poison in the last words, Catherine imagines she hears something longing too. At least she pretends to so not to snap totally.
"I don't have work," she says calmly. "I have time."
"Whatever," Lindsey counters, but does take an offered gingerbread heart before returning attention to the TV again. They watch in silence, Catherine watching her daughter more than the screen. So much of Eddie in the sour expression, but so much of her when smiling. Perhaps even something of Sam in the stubbornness. Little Lindsey Willows storming into maturity, but ways to go still. Much to learn.
But then, so had little Catherine and it didn't turn out too bad, did it? Eventually. Sometimes, she wonders if firm boobs gets exchanged for wisdom somewhere along the way. Wrinkles for heartaches gone. Aching bones for good taste in men, finally.
Catherine has forgotten what it felt like to be young, but she's not sure that is such a great loss after all.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Five killing blows
John Akers is freezing. Which is strange, because he's sure he's sweating too. He shouldn't be, not with sharp ice along his bones and his skin cold to even his own touch. He can't be both cold and hot at the same time, that doesn't add up.
"Can you tell us what happened?" the CSI called Stokes asks, voice very sympathetic.
"They killed her."
"They killed her. I loved her. I really, really..."
"No one's doubting you loved your wife," Stokes says reassuringly. "But we really need to know what happened."
"They got angry."
"Angry why?" the police officer breaks in. Brass, wasn't it?
"She smiled. She's got a beautiful smile. She smiled at the wrong person."
"Who was the wrong person?" Stokes again, the nice one.
"Him. Him. Not me. Him."
"And that made you angry?"
"Okay, 'them'," Brass says, and there's sarcasm in his voice. That angers them too. "Can you tell us about them?"
Silence. Silence and cold.
"You should know we've gathered enough evidence to charge you," Stokes says and now he just sounds tired.
Silence. John half wonders if they'll find out about James too, but it doesn't seem to matter.
"Get him back to his cell," Brass says. "We're done for now."
Stokes shakes his head as he walks towards the door. "We're not done. He is, I'm not."
"Nice guy, Pancho," Brass says conversationally. "Hot on justice. That's why he'll dump you behind bars to rot and if you smile at the wrong person there, they get real angry with their fists too. Like you. You sleep on that, hot stuff."
When Brass leaves, John finally lowers his head and dares to look at them. His fists. He can almost still smell the blood on his knuckles. Funny thing, blood. Funny thing indeed. So hot when first splashed across skin, leaving you so cold after.
John Akers is freezing, and the rage in his blood and bones never seem to quite warm him enough.
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Six bodies singing
Albert Robbins listens to the dead sometimes. Oh, he doesn't think they actually speak to him, not even in beats between sleep and awake when everything seems possible. The dead are dead. He's never believed in ghosts. But he does believe in medicine, in all the things a body can tell him even after the soul has departed it. Cause of death. Scars of life. Health. Recent sex life, at least. Bones broken and healed. Abuse. Eating habits. Almost enough to reconstruct a life.
The body tells a lot. When inhabited, too, and he's learned to listen very well.
Grissom is tired. Sara is getting laid, probably by Grissom. Warrick is unhappy. Catherine is waiting. Nick is struggling and doesn't sleep well. Greg still sleeps well, but looks like he's sleepwalking sometimes. Brass is happy. Dave's marriage is hitting the first rough spots. Ecklie is lonely.
It's all in the little gestures, the loss and gain of weight, the colour of the cheeks, the colour under the eyes, the tension in the shoulders, the relaxation at the small of the back, the little breaths before speaking. He sees, but says nothing. His job is to speak for the dead. The living can speak for themselves, if they can find the words.
So at the Christmas office party, he just watches Grissom and Sara carefully not touching each other even once, Nick arguing with Warrick, Warrick dancing with Catherine and Catherine closing her eyes to his touch, Greg dancing with Sara, Sara dancing with Dave, Ecklie arguing with Grissom and Grissom not bothering to argue back, Mandy and Nick slaughtering a Christmas Carol, Wendy dancing with Catherine to make Nick and Warrick do the same, and alcohol flowing until the crowd floats home.
Al goes home too. He's got his special six-layered Christmas cake project to start the next day, and it's bound to be as much a mess this year as the last. But Joan always eats it with genuine pleasure and complains he's making her fat and it's a little bond among the thousands others they've remade. It's hard to remember now that years ago, the marriage was almost over. Before the accident. Before the move. Before he learned everyone has something to say if you only listen, wives included.
Albert Robbins listens to the dead sometimes, and enjoys living all the more for it.
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Seven hormones raging
Sleeping with someone while under the influence of alcohol is a very bad idea. Catherine knows it. She's done it enough in her younger days to not want to repeat it. And yet, Warrick's tongue is in her mouth and his fingers are most definitely up her skirt and her own are practically clawing at his belt and they're half stumbling through her house without care for what is falling down behind, clothes or pictures off the walls.
Bad. Detrimental. Grave. Severe. Deplorable, really. He's not really divorced yet, even if Tina's moved out and the grapevine assures her it's final. She shouldn't. She so shouldn't.
But this is Warrick, Warrick, friend and colleague and fantasy for as long she's had any sort of appreciation for the finer things in life and possibly even something more in the understanding between them. Warrick, who isn't wearing a ring anymore, the thin barrier of gold between them suddenly gone. Warrick, who's giving her looks and promises with everything unspoken. Warrick, who is Warrick and Catherine who is Catherine and somehow, it seems to be more sleeping under the influence of each other than anything else.
"Catherine," he whispers, the first thing he's said since she assured him Lindsey wasn't home.
She shouldn't. But she's going to.
"Warrick," she whispers back, clutching slightly at his shoulders.
She closes her eyes when he gives up stumbling to the bedroom and just lowers himself to the floor instead, her on top. She can feel his almost-smooth chest against her nipples and the hardness of his thighs against her buttocks and, oh yes, and the heat flooding to her face at his touch, but most of all she feels his pulse as he kisses her, hard and ragged.
It's strange how loud heartbeats can be when there's nothing else to listen to, she thinks distantly, and it is.
In the end, they make it to the bed for the second round and when she wakes up to much too bright light in the morning and he's still there, drooling slightly against his own shoulder, it doesn't feel like a mistake. It could still be one, but it's Christmas and season for getting what you want. Just this once, she can want something selfish. Something that will hurt someone else - Tina definitely and who knows what Lindsey will say - but benefit her. Maybe it makes her a bad person, but it will also make her a happy one.
He opens an eye and looks at her and when he smiles, she knows it's not really a choice at all.
Sleeping with someone while under the influence of alcohol is a very bad idea, but doing someone under the influence of a hangover and Christmas might possible be even worse and still more right.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Sofia's not sure where she fits anymore. She was a CSI, now she's a cop. She was a speculative glint in Grissom's eye, now she's a sigh in Ecklie's voice. She was a centre, now she feels a fringe. It's a strange sensation of the world having shifted, and her mind not having quite shifted with it. Perhaps that's the definition of 'adjustment period'.
Eight doubts a-nagging
Sofia's not sure where she fits anymore. She was a CSI, now she's a cop. She was a speculative glint in Grissom's eye, now she's a sigh in Ecklie's voice. She was a centre, now she feels a fringe. It's a strange sensation of the world having shifted, and her mind not having quite shifted with it. Perhaps that's the definition of 'adjustment period'.
She just didn't expect it to last this long.
Sometimes, she thinks about moving somewhere else and starting a-new, but it never quite seems to happen. Maybe she's got Vegas in her blood like so many others. Desert sun, casino lights and winning streaks when least expected. It is addictive. Even to just watch.
So the new year comes, and she still spends it in Vegas. Spends it at a party of people she only vaguely knows, but who are all better than people she doesn't know at all. Alcohol, fireworks and kisses from moderately attractive men hoping to score. She has no attention of letting them, but she can enjoy knowing they want to. She knows what she wants, after all. She's just been hesitant to take too much of it.
An hour after midnight, she still ends up on familiar doorsteps and she can tell he's been waiting from the lights still on over the door.
"Curtis," he says, opening the door with just the tiniest hint of a smile.
"Cavaliere," she replies and edges past him, leaving him to close the door as always.
Sofia's not sure where she fits anymore, but she might as well make the best of where she is.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Lindsey thinks herself angry. There is a lot to be angry about, after all. Her mum. Mum's new boyfriend, usually cool Warrick, who she was beginning to think about herself. Growing up without a father. Growing up in general. School. Shit at school. Life. Stupid shit from life.
Nine dooms a-looming
Lindsey thinks herself angry. There is a lot to be angry about, after all. Her mum. Mum's new boyfriend, usually cool Warrick, who she was beginning to think about herself. Growing up without a father. Growing up in general. School. Shit at school. Life. Stupid shit from life.
So why shouldn't she be allowed to drink when she's feeling down? Or have a little fun where she wants to? Why does she get stuck with a mother dragging her along to a New Year's party at the boyfriend's?
"I know exactly how you feel," a voice says, and Lindsey looks up to see a scantly-clad chick loom over her. It's hard to tell age with all the make-up.
"You look like someone's trying to steer your life," the older girl explains, looking amused. "Know the feeling."
"Mum," Lindsey says distastefully, pointing to the house behind her. "She's in there making out with her new boytoy. What are you about?"
"Oh, just someone I know in this neighbourhood I thought might be keen," the girl - Lindsey's decided to think of her as a girl - says casually. "Maybe not. Who are you?"
"Who are you?"
"Hi," the girl says calmly, taking the hostility in stride. "I'm Ellie Brass."
Lindsey thinks herself angry. She has no idea.
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Nick can't sleep. Strange, that after he's pieced himself together, that everything feels fine again, that it's now he can't sleep. After the box, as he prefers to think of it, he could sleep. Slept almost too much, in fact, as if the darkness of eyes closed would erase the other darkness he had seen. At times, it felt like he was hibernating while wounds healed and the brain tried to stop screaming. Then he was strong again, compassionate again, Nick again. He was.
Ten griefs awaking
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Nick can't sleep. Strange, that after he's pieced himself together, that everything feels fine again, that it's now he can't sleep. After the box, as he prefers to think of it, he could sleep. Slept almost too much, in fact, as if the darkness of eyes closed would erase the other darkness he had seen. At times, it felt like he was hibernating while wounds healed and the brain tried to stop screaming. Then he was strong again, compassionate again, Nick again. He was.
Now he's CSI Stokes and can't sleep. Or sleep badly, which seems worse than no sleep at all somehow.
Maybe this is burning out, and he tells Greg so.
"No," Greg says, beer in hand and looking so sure one would almost think he'd been a CSI all his life. "You're not burning out."
"Care to elaborate your diagnosis, Dr. Sanders?" Nick asks sarcastically, taking a swing of his own beer and feeling it strangely flat in his mouth. Greg doesn't look too deterred, but then, he never does. Not even when showing up uninvited with Christmas beers and nachos.
"Have you wanted to punch Ecklie in the face this week?"
"Then you're not burning out."
Nick has to laugh. "That's your burn-out test?"
"Hey!" Greg protests. "It works. Remember Lina, on day shift? She told me she had stopped wanting to punch Ecklie out. That's what she said, honestly. Five weeks later, she quit. She burned out. You're just grieving."
"What?" It doesn't sound like his voice, but it has to, since there's only the two of them there.
Greg shrugs, but his attempt at nonchalance fails rather badly. "After the explosion... Papa Olaf told me there were two stages to dealing with trauma and loss. First stage is just understanding. You have to get over shock and denial and getting drunk on bad tequila with your well-meaning grandfather. And the worse it is, the longer it takes. But one day, you feel like you're over it. That's when you can grieve."
He looks almost thoughtful as he continues. "I was mad at Catherine a long time. But I didn't stop sleeping well until after I'd forgiven her."
They sit in silence for a while, not entirely uncomfortably, while Nick can feel his mind racing.
"How did Papa Olaf say you would get over it?"
"He didn't," Greg says, putting his beer away and looking at Nick with eyes shining. "But I will. Carve your good words in stone, the bad in snow. Live with what you get and carry the rest with a strong heart."
"What does that mean?"
"I'll show you."
Nick can't sleep, but he's beginning to think he can learn to again and be a better Nick for it.
II Once upon a time, Grissom had thought he could predict the future. He'd been offered something, considered it and rejected it because he was sure of how it would end. He'd been faced with one man's obsession for a younger woman and seen in it something of himself, enough to dare a comparison. Not because the people involved were alike, but because obsessions so often are. It had only strengthened his vision of a possible future that shouldn't be attempted. He'd been so sure.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Eleven seers seeing
Once upon a time, Grissom had thought he could predict the future. He'd been offered something, considered it and rejected it because he was sure of how it would end. He'd been faced with one man's obsession for a younger woman and seen in it something of himself, enough to dare a comparison. Not because the people involved were alike, but because obsessions so often are. It had only strengthened his vision of a possible future that shouldn't be attempted. He'd been so sure.
Then there was Sara anyway. Still is, sleeping while he stays awake. Being moderately happy. He thinks he might be too, if there wasn't everything else. He's never thought he would burn out, not when he knew all the danger-signs enough to warn others. And yet, he can't even summon up the strength to want to punch out Ecklie anymore.
He needs a break. And he knows taking it will hurt Sara, so he's not telling her. Not yet. Work has been all they shared for such a long time it feels like a loss to take it away. Maybe he's even a little afraid it's the most important thing they share after all.
"Grissom?" Sara asks in the dark, voice thick with sleep.
"Did I wake you?"
"You were twisting and turning a bit," she remarks with humour.
"Sorry, honey," he says automatically and he can almost feel her smile even in the dark. Little words, big meanings read into them. Maybe even intended meanings. "I was just thinking."
"Want to share?" she asks, because she knows him enough not to demand.
"Was just thinking about seeing the future."
"As in the oracle at Delphi?"
"Something like that."
"I don't believe in the future," she tells him, surprising him yet again. "The present is all you have, all the time."
One of these days, he will ask what exactly in the past made her think like that. He has an idea from everything else she's told, but he wants to hear it in her words. Only then will he know if she's over it.
He kisses her instead of answering, tasting sleep and morning breath on her lips and enjoying it all the more for it. Tomorrow. He'll tell her tomorrow. Tomorrow's always good for unwelcome news. Today's for this, him and Sara and a little cheating of a fate he was so sure of.
Once upon a time, Grissom had thought he could predict the future. For now, he'll settle for not making a total mess of the present. Because somehow, he'd really like not to.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Twelve lives a-living
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me