Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. All other characters belong to me, and if you want to play with them, you have to ask me first. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Spoilers: "Leaving Las Vegas"
A gift fic for dreamsofhim. Happy birthday!
He'd almost forgotten what snow was like.
Grissom paced down the plowed sidewalk, burying his gloved hands in the pockets of his heavy coat and idly watching his breath puff in the air. Minnesota was a long time ago, now, and classic Northern winters had slipped in his memory--both their beauty, and their chill.
In fact, he'd had to go buy the coat and a hat the day after he'd reached Massachusetts. Those he'd brought with him had simply not been adequate. The flat driving cap he'd picked up at the same time was warm enough, but Grissom was beginning to consider a scarf as well.
The short winter day was fading, and lights were coming on in the dormitories nearby. Grissom kept walking, stretching his legs, giving every impression of a professor secure in his tenure at this prestigious institution--a man privy to all the age-old gossip, the architectural secrets, the quirks and kinks of any place of higher learning.
But the truth was, he felt out of place and lonely. It had been a grand idea, coming East for a stint as a guest lecturer, especially at someplace so different from Vegas. The opportunity had come at the perfect time, offering him a breather from forensics, a little time to consider the recent changes in his life and to make a few decisions. And Sara had been behind it a hundred percent, encouraging him to take the vacation time and go.
He'd expected to feel relieved by her smiling approval, but instead he'd felt obscurely troubled--
A snowball shot past his nose and Grissom halted, rocking back on his heels slightly. A whoop sounded from his right, and two snowy figures burst from behind a bush and trampled across the path, apparently in pursuit of a third some distance away. One of the pursuers tossed him a casual "Sorry!" as they passed, and within seconds they had all disappeared around the side of one dorm, leaving only tracks in the snow and prints on the path to mark their passage. A gleeful shriek sounded, and then was silenced.
Grissom shook his head, unable to completely repress a smile. Once upon a time, he'd participated in a few snowball fights himself, back before he'd grown too old and staid to romp with students.
That was a long time ago, he reminded himself, and resumed his trek. This crisp cold was as dry as a Nevada desert night, but was different just the same, and it all fascinated him--the landscape, the snow, the people. He'd never spent much time in New England, and he was hungry for the experience.
Well, that and other things, but he was trying not to think of them. Years of celibacy, he scolded himself, and you were just fine. Now a few months of getting laid, and that's all you can think of?
Grissom shook his head, then looked up to the hills that surrounded the campus; the locals called them mountains, but as a Westerner he knew better. They folded Williams College in wooded closeness, a more intimate landscape than Las Vegas' wide spaces; almost cozy, certainly beautiful.
He knew he was being harsh with himself. Sex with Sara was lovemaking as he'd never really experienced it before, and while his body missed the release, his heart and mind missed her. The scent of her shampoo hanging in the steam of his bathroom, the sight of her sprawled on his couch, the sound of her low laugh in his ear.
In fact, he couldn't remember how he'd managed for so long without them.
Grissom sighed, letting out a cloud of plumy air. "You're supposed to be thinking about your future," he reminded himself out loud.
But his toes were getting numb and his nose was cold, and the truth was, he was having a lot of trouble making any kind of decision. His mind kept skating off into different directions, and that was annoying. Sighing, Grissom gave up for the moment and turned back towards his temporary home.
The little basement faculty apartment was almost claustrophobic compared to his townhouse, but Grissom thought it as cozy as the hills, once he'd found someplace to store all the extra chairs. Apparently the previous occupant had liked to hold informal lectures in her home, but Grissom preferred to keep such things to his office and classroom. The apartment was sanctuary, private.
As always, Grissom glanced hopefully towards the answering machine to see if anyone--Sara--had called, but the signal light was steady, not blinking. He sighed again and pulled off his coat and hat, hanging them up in the tiny closet near the door and stuffing his gloves in the coat's pockets. Hopefully she's still asleep.
He wondered whether she was curled up in her own bed, or buried under the quilt in his townhouse. She'd been the logical person to ask to look after the place while he was gone; Catherine had offered, but he'd told her that he was having a neighbor handle it. A slight stretching of the truth.
He couldn't help hoping that she was at his place.
Oh well. She'll call later. Before work for her, before bed for him; they'd agreed that she would do the phoning, since her schedule was less predictable. She never failed to lift his heart when she called, her husky voice tingling along his spine and making him smile, but he always felt a little lonelier afterwards, a stranger in a strange land.
Grissom fixed himself a light supper--the quiet routine of teaching allowed for better nutrition, certainly--and settled down to work on next week's lectures. He'd been assigned a TA, a young man three inches taller than Grissom and more interested in economic entomology than forensic. But he was efficient, collecting and grading assignments with the ease that suggested past stints as an assistant, and Grissom was grateful for the help. His reputation had preceded him as usual, and the course was full up.
He was enjoying it, though. The class was graduate-level, which meant that very few of the students were taking it just to make up a requirement, and Grissom had always loved teaching interested minds. Their questions and discussions were stimulating and engaging, and if on occasion Grissom caught himself searching the crowd for a lanky brunette, it just made him smile ruefully.
Grissom was deep in maturation cycles and the effect of heat when his phone rang, and he scooped the receiver up without sitting back, just in case it was one of the seemingly endless trickle of people looking for the now-departed Dr. Griffin. But his neutral "Hello?" was answered with a chuckle.
"Could I please speak to the eminent visiting professor?" Sara teased. Grissom relaxed and dropped his pen, smiling at her image in his mind.
"He's busy, will I do?"
Their conversations weren't usually long, but they warmed Grissom as no amount of central heating or scarves could. Sara kept him up to date on cases and crises, and he told her funny stories about his students, and sometimes they would slip into shy verbal caresses, a few awkward, heartfelt phrases about how much they missed each other.
It was easier face to face, Grissom mused when he'd hung up the phone. Easier when he could see her blush a little when he murmured a compliment, watch the corner of her mouth curl up when he told her how much he wanted, needed her. His imagination had sufficed for a long time, but it was no longer adequate when compared to the reality of Sara.
Not anywhere close.
The next day was as ordinary as his new routine allowed--up in time for breakfast and the sun brilliant on the snow, out into the crisp air for his morning lecture; lunch with some of the other professors and the swapping of dreadful student stories, and then an afternoon lab. A couple of the students had interesting questions, but the back of his mind couldn't help thinking how Sara would have leapt ahead and truly challenged him.
Be fair, Grissom told himself. By the time you met, she was already working in law enforcement. She had an advantage these kids don't possess.
But he knew that Sara's sharp mind had had far more to do with her questions than had her experience. On occasion he wondered if she were wasting herself in forensics; certainly her solve rate brought justice to many, but if she had stayed in physics there was no telling what she could have achieved.
And then he would scoff at himself. Sara made her own choices; she always would. And besides, if she had remained a physicist, you might never have met.
The idea didn't bear thinking about, these days.
As Grissom was closing down the lab, two students lingered to ask him to clarify a few points, and by the time he had satisfied them and sent them on their way, the windows looking out onto one of Williams' snowy hillsides were dark. Grissom shut off the lights and closed the door firmly, making sure it was locked, and only then saw the figure standing in the corridor waiting.
"Hi, Doctor Grissom." The girl stepped closer, looking up at him with big eyes almost the shade of his own. "I was waiting for you."
Grissom sighed internally. "Miss Miller," he said, grateful for the distance provided by the use of surnames. "What can I do for you?"
She bit her lip in a way that would probably have most undergraduates riveted, but only made him impatient. "I, um, have some questions about the lab."
Grissom considered her for a second. Most of the students seemed to dress oddly to his eyes, and belly shirts appeared to be in vogue even in the depths of winter, but she was really standing too close to be comfortable, and all his instincts were on alert.
Just in case-- He glanced at his watch, then spoke briskly. "I'm afraid I have an appointment. Office hours are on the course schedule; come see me then and I'll answer them."
Miss Miller looked disappointed; in fact, she was pouting. Grissom gave her a polite smile and turned away, ignoring her abortive movement to catch his arm. He buttoned up his jacket as he made his way quickly out of the building, grateful that she hadn't pursued him.
There always seems to be one. And these days, an importuning student could be either gender. Grissom had no prejudice against homosexuality, but getting hit on by a male was just…weirder, somehow.
He made a show of walking back to his apartment, just in case Miss Miller was watching, and stepped inside with a sigh of relief. There was no appointment, of course, but Grissom considered his fib to be white in the service of propriety.
The answering machine's light was blinking. Slightly surprised, Grissom hung up his coat and went to listen.
"Hey, Gil," came Sara's voice. "Um, look, I'm sorry but I won't be able to call tonight. Major case at work, you know how it is, and I'm going in now."
She paused, and Grissom's shoulders slumped a little. "I'll talk to you soon. Love you," she said hastily, and hung up.
Grissom scarcely heard the final beep of the machine. His mind was too busy replaying her last sentence.
The pub was dim and quiet--too staid for students--and it served surprisingly good food. Grissom asked for a corner booth, and nursed his beer, ignoring the stack of journals he'd brought along to read over dinner.
He thought he'd heard her say it once, whisper it really, when he was three-quarters asleep. But his brain had already begun firing disconnected images, and he simply couldn't be sure that it hadn't been a fragment of dream.
This time, though, it was not only real, he had it on file.
He held the memory delicately in the front of his thoughts, still too floored to smile. He hadn't realized it would mean so much.
It was strange how things had turned out. Grissom knew that Sara had expected him to be reticent, even reluctant, when they finally got together--or at the least, scared. And, given how long it had taken for him to actually decide to make a move on her, it made logical sense.
But he'd always known that once they were in a relationship, he would give it all he had; it was one of the reasons he'd held off for so long. These days, Grissom had to keep a certain check on himself so that he didn't scare Sara off. And while she was usually forthright, enthusiastic, and sometimes downright aggressive, every so often he would see a look of painful apprehension flit across her face, a waiting for the miracle to end.
It made him ache. Not just because he was part of the reason it was there, but because he was not the only reason; and while he could do his best to make up for his own shortcomings, he had to struggle to keep from trying to heal the scars of her past. The best way to prove I'm not like her parents is to just go on, he reminded himself. Eventually she'll have to believe me.
Grissom started slightly as the server put a bowl in front of him, and glanced up to murmur thanks to the woman. The enticing scent of lamb stew floated up to his nose, and he fumbled for the napkin and spoon.
The taste of the excellent Scotch broth went all but unnoticed as Grissom thought. He'd told her that he loved her--not often, but a few times. Of course, he knew that panting it in her ear in the midst of some rather wild sex was probably not the best time to be taken seriously, but that hadn't been the only time.
But was saying it so as not to put her on the spot for a response consideration, or cowardice? He couldn't be sure. Whispering it into her hair when she wept in his arms after a devastating case, or embedding it in a compliment as they necked on the couch…well, Grissom told himself, if she'd wanted to say something--at least in the latter case--she could have.
He hadn't let it worry him too much. Yet.
Despite a sudden unreasonable yearning for calamari, Grissom finished his stew and shook his head at the offer of dessert, opting instead for one more beer. Two with dinner weren't enough to affect him, and anyway he was planning on walking home.
Whether it was the beer, her words, or something else he didn't know, but things were becoming clearer.
As he headed home, Grissom wondered what case Sara was working on just then, and whether the temporary supervisor would pay enough attention to make her go home when she was worn out. He thought about his CSIs, their skills and quirks, and how they fit together to somehow make such a superlative team. He turned over all the events of the past year, their difficulties and revelations, and he considered his own choices, both past and future.
And by the time he slid between the sheets of the apartment's queen bed, he'd made up his mind.
About a lot of things.
Morning brought the bittersweet realization that there were only two more days of classes before Christmas break began. Grissom lay flat beneath the quilt, idly staring out the window at the top of his bedroom wall, though there was little to be seen besides ice crystals and a small drift of snow.
He felt different, odd, submerged in a strange peace that had been absent for a long time. Even letting Sara into his life had not brought this sense of calm. But it wasn't until Grissom thought back over his ponderings of the night before did he realize why he felt it.
He knew what he was doing, and the decisions had passed a night's review by his subconscious with, apparently, flying colors. The knots that had troubled him for so many months were undone.
Grissom knew that there were still plenty of hurdles to overcome, things to be worked out, but he was on the right track, and that made all the difference.
Sliding from the bed, he grabbed his robe--the basement got chilly overnight--and padded out to the tiny kitchen for the first coffee of the day. He really wanted to call Sara, to tell her, to hear her voice, but there was no point in interrupting her at a crime scene. Grissom sighed over his mug; by the time she was off work, he would be in the middle of a lecture, and by the time he would be free, she would--he devoutly hoped--be asleep.
You'll talk to her tonight, he scolded himself. That's soon enough.
Sighing again, he made himself eat breakfast and get dressed, and took himself out into the December world.
His first class went smoothly, and Grissom found the time afterwards to make a quick local phone call. He'd seen something earlier that was perfect for Sara, and with Christmas coming up he didn't want someone else to buy it before he had the chance.
After two more classes, a late lunch, and a lab, it was once again growing dark. Grissom walked out into falling snow; the big feathery flakes had apparently started while he was deep in explaining consumption rates. Pleased, Grissom pulled on his leather gloves and his new cap, and headed for the edge of campus.
He'd been wandering along Williamstown's small main drag that past weekend, watching passersby more than the touristy little shops themselves, but one window display had caught his eye, and he'd gone in for a closer look and emerged with an idea. Now the idea had firmed into certainty, and he was going back to fetch it.
The transaction was brief, and within minutes Grissom was back on the sidewalk, walking without haste and enjoying the snow spiraling down through the still air. He had never bothered to rent a car, since just about everything was within walking distance, and the endless differences between Williamstown and Vegas made most of his jaunts enjoyable. He drifted to the other edge of the sidewalk as a snowplow lumbered down the street, pushing up a thin wave of snow, and marveled at the efficiency. Not half an inch had yet fallen, and still the roads were being kept clear.
As he neared the house where he was staying, he saw a cab pulling away from the curb. Curious, he walked a little faster; the professor who owned the house had left on vacation with his family earlier in the week, so it made no sense for anyone to be visiting. And sure enough, as Grissom neared, he saw that the prints in the new snow went from the curb around the side of the house, towards his own door.
The tall, bag-laden figure just inserting a key into the lock made his heart leap, and Grissom took several quick steps forward, trying to confirm what his eyes saw. "Sara?"
The curse that reached his ears didn't blister paint, but it did bubble it slightly. Sara's shoulders slumped, and she turned to face him, her long light coat swirling around her ankles. "So much for sur--"
The rest of her words were smothered by his mouth on hers, but given the way Grissom found himself wrapped in five feet nine inches of enthusiastic brunette, he didn't think she minded.
He wanted to ask her what she was doing there, how long she could stay, any number of other important questions, but it seemed far more urgent to figure out how to get inside without breaking the kiss, and after that there were other considerations, and it was in fact some time before their speech got anywhere near coherency.
Though they did communicate quite nicely, to be sure.
When their hearts had slowed enough, Grissom raised his head to look at Sara. She was snuggled down under the quilt until only her head was visible, though beneath it they were as close as they could comfortably manage, hungry for the touch of each others' skin after so long.
"Don't take this the wrong way," he said softly, letting his lips brush the curve of her ear, "but what are you doing here?"
Sara chuckled, stroking a hand down his chest in a languorous, possessive gesture that made him want to kiss her again, starting with those strong fingers and going straight up to her shoulder and beyond. "Merry Christmas. I took some leave."
"Over Christmas? You can stay?"
"If you want me," Sara said, shooting him an amused look that held the barest hint of uncertainty, and Grissom grinned, pushed her flat, and proved that he did.
She was breathless and laughing when he let her up for air, and grinned up at him. "I have a flight back early on January second, so I can be in for work that night."
Grissom shook his head, not letting the clean line of her collarbone distract him. "I'm impressed."
Sara shrugged. "Catherine squawked, but I pointed out that I'd covered Christmas ever since I got to Vegas, and she caved." She reached up to run her fingers through his new beard, now all white. "I'm glad you regrew this."
Grissom reddened slightly, rubbing at it himself. "I know it looks weird, but dyeing it was--"
It was her turn to reassure him, and she did it so well that it was quite some time before they got back to conversation. But Grissom still felt compelled to explain.
"It went white in patches," he said quietly, shrugging a little. "I looked like I was going moldy."
Sara laughed out loud, and kissed his chin. "Well, I'm willing to bet that the only person who will bother to comment is Catherine."
"Don't forget Hodges," Grissom grumbled, but without force.
Her face grew serious, and Sara propped herself up on one elbow. "Does this mean you're coming back?"
Grissom sobered himself, reaching up to touch her lips with one finger, reverent. "Yes. I needed this break, but...I'm not ready to quit yet."
Slowly, the smile that he loved took over Sara's face. "I'm glad," was all she said, but it was enough.
They ended up eating pizza at midnight, then slept late the next day, as Grissom only had one class, in the afternoon. Sara elected to go along, taking a seat in the back of the room and drawing more than a few curious glances from his students, but she chose to keep silent during his lecture. Grissom found himself having to concentrate harder than usual, as his eyes kept drifting up to the smiling woman at the top of the hall.
Afterwards she came down and waited behind the usual questioners. Grissom answered them as quickly as he could and sent them on their way, barely waiting until the door swung shut behind them to pull Sara to him for a quick kiss. "I was sure you were going to interrogate me from up there," he teased.
"You were doing fine," Sara said cheerfully. "I didn't have any questions."
Grissom rolled his eyes and stepped away to gather his papers. "That's a first."
Sara snickered, then followed him out of the room. As they exited, Grissom glanced down the corridor to his right and winced. "Can we walk a little faster?" he asked in an undertone.
"What's up?" Sara asked, obliging.
"One of my students," Grissom grumbled. "She always flirts with me, I think it's her method for improving her grade."
Sara glanced back over her shoulder as they walked, and snickered again. "Gil, judging from the way she's glaring at me, better grades are not what she has in mind."
Grissom felt his ears heating. Sara made a purring noise deep in her throat, and wrapped her arm smoothly around his waist. He felt her fingers sliding into the back pocket of his slacks.
"Sara..." he began, and she nudged him gently.
"Relax. I'm just getting her off your back."
Amused despite himself, Grissom reciprocated, enjoying the fact that their near-equal heights made it easy to walk with his arm around her. And as they turned a corner, he noted that the tap of heels behind them had stopped.
"I'm hungry," Sara said as they emerged into the snowy world, separating to button coats and draw on gloves. "Let me take you to dinner?"
"All right." Grissom caught her hand again, savoring the quick curl of her fingers around his even through their gloves. "As long as I get to pick what to do afterwards."
The look Sara gave him was distinctly salacious. "Noooo problem."
At his suggestion, they walked to the restaurant, which was a tiny family-run Italian place; there were more elegant establishments in town, but that one had the best compromise of fine dining and vegetarian selections. Williamstown did boast a vegan restaurant, but it was only one step up from carryout.
They ate with quiet pleasure, discussing Grissom's students and classes, and reminiscing a bit about the seminar at which they'd met. "Do you have any students as annoying as me?" Sara asked with a grin.
"Not the word I would use, and no," Grissom said, chasing a green pepper across his plate. "Every so often one comes out with a good, in-depth question, but either my lecture is more comprehensive or they're just not as interested."
Sara nodded and swallowed her mouthful. "More comprehensive," she said, pointing with her fork. "But then, it's a semester course, not a seminar."
"True." Grissom observed her unobtrusively, filling his eyes with Sara after their long drought of separation. She was restless even in repose, always moving, the low light of the restaurant making her skin creamy and deepening her eyes to a velvety sable. He never tired of watching her, of judging her moods and thoughts by the expressions flickering across her face and the gestures of her hands.
"Would you have come with me, if I had decided to leave Las Vegas?" Grissom asked suddenly. He might not have dared the question if he had made that choice, but--
Sara gave him a wry look. "Gil, I came to Vegas because of you. Do you really think I would have let you go? Now?"
Properly abashed, Grissom lowered his head, unable to entirely smother his grin.
As they walked home, it began to snow again, and Sara lifted her face to the falling flakes. "I miss snow sometimes," she said. "I mean, it's a pain in the ass, but it's a lot of fun too."
Grissom watched with fascination as she caught a few snowfeathers on her tongue. "I'm enjoying it all out of proportion, myself, since I know I won't be in it much longer," he admitted.
"There's that," Sara agreed, chuckling, and hooked her arm through his as they walked. When they reached the house where he was staying, Grissom let her go to find his keys, and looked up from his pocket to see...a snowball in her hand.
His glare didn't feel like it had much power. Grissom waited, not really believing that she would hurl the thing despite the mischief dancing in her eyes.
It hit him on the hip, a glancing but explosive blow, and Grissom shoved his keys back into his pocket, bent, and scooped up a handful in one smooth motion. Sara shrieked happily, and bolted.
It was a breathless chase, around the house and various trees and bushes, laughter and curses and snowballs flying. Sara was faster, but Grissom knew the ground and had better aim besides, so the honors were about even, and they were both snow-spattered by the time he lunged and caught her around the waist.
They almost toppled, but he managed to swing them around so that Sara was pinned up against a tree trunk, both of them panting and laughing when they had the breath to do it. Grissom put his hands on the trunk, caging her in his arms. "Give up?"
"Nope." And her lips landed on his, in a kiss that stole the rest of his breath.
A long moment later, Sara pressed her mouth to his ear. "Truce?" she purred.
Grissom shook his head. "Truce," he managed.
They got inside, finally, and Grissom started a pot of coffee as Sara changed out of her damp clothes. When she emerged from the little bedroom he took his turn, and sat on the bed afterwards, trying for calm. There was one more decision he wanted made.
"Sara?" he called. "Could you bring me the package in my coat pocket?"
"Sure," she said, and he waited, hearing the crinkle of paper as she retrieved it. He'd never gotten around to taking it out the night before.
Sara appeared in the doorway, the small bag balanced on her palm. "Got it."
"Open it," Grissom told her.
With a slightly suspicious look, Sara did so, reaching in and finding a small round box. She opened that too, and her eyes got very wide.
Grissom stood up, and put his arms around her from behind as she stared down at it. "Marry me?" he asked quietly, placing a kiss in her hair.
Sara only made a sort of choking noise, but since she was leaning back against him Grissom didn't worry too much. The ring he'd found seemed to suit her, one diamond flanked by two smaller ones, but he'd always figured that if she didn't like it they could find another.
All at once Sara turned in his arms and hugged him tightly, burying her face against his shoulder. "Okay," she said, her voice squeaking off the end of the word, and Grissom held her close, relief flooding through him.
Eventually they made it back to words, and the ring made it onto her finger. Sara's eyes kept leaking an occasional tear for the rest of the evening, but Grissom knew why, and was not alarmed. For her, it's the ultimate acceptance. She had spent so much of her life as an outsider, unwanted and unloved despite her gifts. Now she knew beyond doubting that someone wanted her forever.
And that night, when the ring was the only thing she wore, and Sara was the only thing he wore, Grissom knew that somehow, after so much time and so many difficulties, he'd finally gotten it right.