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. All others belong to us, and if you want to play with them, you have to ask us first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Spoilers: general seventh season A (belated) birthday present for CSINut214. Happy Birthday!
Sara didn't hate Christmas. Not exactly. She usually regarded it with the same weary irony that she used for election ads and Valentine's Day--a season to be endured. Moving to Nevada had made ignoring the December goings-on easier; Vegas was full of colored lights year-round anyway, and the casinos slowed for nothing.
It wasn't like she had any great Christmas memories, either. Growing up, the day mostly meant a few careless presents and a drunken afternoon culminating in a quarrel. Once she was in foster care, it meant either awkward parties for underprivileged kids, or awkward rushed dinners with overburdened families. And a few more ill-considered gifts. Sara had found a thick book to be her best defense in such times.
It was easier to get out of celebrations as an adult, and given her work life, no one ever seemed surprised that she never sent out Christmas cards. Work made a great excuse, and she routinely let herself be scheduled to work the twenty-fifth each year. It cost her nothing, and got her a few brownie points, not that she cared all that much.
This year, however, Sara had the sinking sensation that she really would learn to loathe the holiday. All signs were pointing in that direction, anyway.
I knew things would get complicated. I just didn't know they'd get complicated like this.
She drove to work on autopilot, coming out of her thoughts only long enough to snarl at a particularly asinine driver. Finally--finally--being with Grissom was all she had dreamed about and more; the amazing sex, yes, but also the moments of comfort, of togetherness, even the silly times. She'd had no idea that Grissom was so good at impressions, for instance, and it had been a week before she could look at the Sheriff with a straight face….
Except that the good times had been kind of hard to find lately. Not that things were going bad, it was just that work had dumped on them both, leaving very little time to see each other and absolutely no energy when they did.
Sara pulled into the first available slot and then simply sat, trying to gather her thoughts and enough motivation to get out of the car. She and Grissom had chosen to take things slow over the past several months; now a few days a week were spent together, curled up in one or the other bed or eating a meal. But the last couple of weeks had been so hectic that they'd been lucky to catch a glimpse of each other outside of work. Sara figured she was halfway into next year's overtime, and Grissom couldn't be far behind.
It might be just as well, she thought wearily, staring blankly through the windshield. Just before things had picked up they'd had some kind of falling-out--she still wasn't sure what had happened. Grissom had been quoting Thoreau with the slightly endearing smugness that meant he agreed with the quote, and Sara had teased him, saying something that seemed quite innocent to her. But his eyes had widened with hurt, and then that morning he'd been quiet and withdrawn.
She'd apologized, of course. And he had accepted. But before they'd gotten back on an even keel, the deluge came, and they were still struggling to tread water.
Finally she gathered her things and climbed out of her car, slamming the door behind her and stalking through the parking garage, her mood sour. She was stressed, she missed her lover, and she was tired. I'm getting too old to pull these triple shifts.
That wasn't a particularly pleasant thought either.
Grissom didn't look much better when he showed up to hand out assignments, she noticed; the grooves around his mouth and the fine wrinkles at the corners of his eyes were much more pronounced, and she felt an absurd desire to stand up and soothe them away with her fingertips.
She squashed it.
Grissom passed around the cases, giving brief summaries as he did so, then dismissed them. He himself, poor man, was hip-deep in end-of-year paperwork as well as evidence, and Sara wondered if he was eating properly. Probably not.
"Sara, I wanted to talk to you about Christmas," Grissom said as she walked past him, assignment slip scrunched in her hand.
She glanced back, but the others were away down the corridor. "Schedule me like always," she said, and kept going, ignoring his "But--" in favor of her cellphone, which was buzzing like a mad fly.
It was just a rookie cop, wondering nervously when she was going to get to her scene. Sara rolled her eyes and managed to not take her temper out on him, assuring him that she would be there as soon as possible, and no, he was not allowed to touch anything.
Halfway through her collection, a text message arrived, instructing her to come to Grissom's office before she left for the day. But when she complied, so tired she could barely keep her eyes open, the office was empty. A slightly crumpled memo was taped to the door, informing all who read it that there was a supervisors' meeting ongoing right then.
Sara checked the date on the memo, snickered, and wondered who had called Grissom to "remind" him of the meeting. He had probably dropped the memo on his desk without even reading it, and it had promptly gotten buried under layers of paperwork.
So she went home. He would be at work late, and there was no point in going to his place when she would, hopefully, be asleep before he even got home.
After that it was unsuccessful phone tag, and a consult that called Grissom out of town for three days, and other evidence that the imp of the perverse was alive and well and living in Vegas. Sara watched the people around her discuss holiday plans and put up Christmas decorations, and felt her mood grow even more sour. It wasn't that she wanted to experience a happy Christmas--well, mostly--but the fact that everyone expected her to have one. Sometimes she felt that if she had to explain that she was working Christmas Eve night one more time, she was going to take off the questioner's head.
At least it forestalled the invitations she wasn't going to accept, or most of them. The rest could be put off with the assertion that she planned to sleep most of the actual day away. No, no cookies; no, no Christmas dinner. Sleep.
And not with Grissom.
Everyone in the lab knew that Grissom never worked Christmas Eve night. It was the one night of the year on which he was adamant; he would take any other night, but even when running a hot case he would walk out at the end of the previous shift, and drive to Los Angeles to go to midnight Mass with his mother. He would be back the night after, but those thirty-six hours were sacrosanct.
Sara understood, really. Just because she'd never had a family worth caring about didn't mean that she couldn't grasp family feeling. And she had very carefully avoided the subject as December grew closer.
The truth was, she didn't want Grissom feeling guilty about leaving her alone on the holiday. He had a bad case of it already concerning her childhood, and Sara didn't want it to poison his day with his mother. He didn't seem to understand that she didn't care about not having a Christmas. She'd never had a real one; how could she miss it?
Finally, on the twentieth, Grissom cornered her, coming up behind her in the lab hallway and guiding her into his office with a firm hand on her elbow.
"I have to--" she started, trying to dig in her heels, but he shook his head, closing the door behind them.
"You can spare a few minutes." His eyes flicked to the windows and back to her, pausing for an instant on her lips, and Sara knew with a wave of longing that if the blinds were shut--
Grissom shook his head the slightest bit, as though admonishing himself. "Christmas," he stated. "You--"
"I always work Christmas," Sara interrupted, trying to spare him the difficulties. "I know you have plans, so--"
He blinked, looking slightly puzzled. "Sara, I--"
"Really, it doesn't matter," she insisted.
Grissom took a deep breath, pinching the bridge of his nose, and exhaled. "I'm not going to Mom's this year."
That stopped her cold. "Oh."
He lowered his hand. "She and a few of her friends decided to take a cruise over the holiday."
"Oh," Sara repeated, at a loss.
"The cruise ship's never going to be the same. Look--"
His phone rang. Grissom muttered something and leaned over to look at the caller ID, then sighed heavily. "I have to take this. Can we--"
Sara nodded quickly. "See you later."
As she turned and left he picked up the phone, and she closed the door on his very badly accented Spanish.
"So what are your plans for Christmas?" he whispered later, when they were lying in the cool quiet of his townhouse, drifting on the edge of sleep.
Sara shrugged one shoulder, letting her eyes slide closed. "Sleep," she repeated for the nth time. "Contrary to popular belief, Christmas Eve is not a particularly peaceful time."
Grissom chuckled, and she felt his hand glide over her hair. "I know. But don't you want to, I don't know, celebrate somehow?"
She was so tired. "No," she said, exhaustion making her honest. "I don't know how to do Christmas, Gil."
He was silent a moment, and then his low voice pulled her back from the edge of sleep. "It's not that hard."
"Don't wanna," she mumbled. "I'd miss it later."
She thought she felt a sigh gust across her cheek, but sleep swallowed her up.
As if that imp had heard her statement, Sara's Christmas Eve shift started out quiet. It wasn't that there weren't call-outs, but few of them seemed to require CSIs. Warrick, who was splitting the shift with Nick, took the first one, and the second turned out to be so simple that Sara was back at the lab in two hours.
She retired to the breakroom for some coffee, only to find a magnificent fruit basket sitting in the middle of the table, adorned with iridescent green wrapping and red ribbons and making the room's half-hearted attempt at holiday decorations look feeble. The envelope crowning the heap of mouth-watering goodies bore her name in bold capitals.
Feeling a mixture of trepidation and pleasure, Sara broke its seal. The note was in Grissom's handwriting.
It occurred to me that I'm supposed to be the insecure one in this relationship. You don't have to be afraid of Christmas, sweetheart. I promise you that even if you don't make memories tonight, I will be around to offer you new ones every year. For as long as you let me.
It was a good thing that the breakroom was empty and the lab nearly so; Sara found that her face was wet and the note blurry. For a moment she let the tears drip off her chin, tickling as they ran, and wondered with a mix of despair and aching sweetness how the man knew her so well.
Then she hastily scrubbed her cheeks, blew her nose, and glared around to make sure no one had seen her. The lump in her throat was still too thick for her to swallow anything, but she chose a fragrant pear from the basket and put it in her coat pocket for later. Then she pulled out her cellphone to call him.
The call went directly to voicemail, and Sara sighed and shut the phone, not wanting to leave him a stuttered message. I'll try again in a little while.
As she hooked the device back onto her belt, a familiar turbaned head leaned in the doorway. "Hello, Sara."
Sara smiled at the dayshift CSI. "Hey, Madhu. What are you doing here in the middle of the night?"
The tall man grinned at her. "Relieving you. Go home."
"...What?" Sara stared at him. "What are you talking about?"
"You're only scheduled for the first half of the shift," Madhu explained patiently. "I'm taking over. Get out of here."
He made shooing motions at her. Sara gaped, completely thrown. It had to be Grissom. What the hell--
"Ma-dude!" Nick's voice echoed down the hallway, and the dayshift CSI turned to exchange a high five with the other man. Slightly dizzy, Sara tried to figure out what was going on.
He must have rescheduled me on the sly. That--he--
But she couldn't quite seem to muster the proper fury, thanks to the gift sitting on the table in front of her. Grissom had been worried about her not getting enough sleep--he'd said so, repeatedly. The schedule change must be another gift.
Sara sighed, and smiled, touched and rueful and just slightly pissed at his high-handedness. Well, I can definitely use the sleep.
Moving swiftly, she unloaded about half the fruit onto the breakroom counter, scrawled a quick Please take! on a paper towel next to the pile, and picked up the basket, throwing a quick salute at the boys as she left. They waved back cheerfully, wishing her a "Goodnight" and a "Merry Christmas" respectively, and Sara kept her eye-roll to herself.
Driving out of the parking garage, Sara made the deliberate decision to swing by Grissom's house and say thank you in person. Her gift to him--yes, she had one, she hadn't been able to help it--was still at home, but she suddenly wanted to see him. To touch him.
To remind herself that he, that they, were real.
It was therefore quite anticlimactic to find his townhouse dark and his parking space empty. Sara resisted the urge to get out and knock on his door despite the evidence, and sat for a moment, feeling suddenly depressed. He must still be at Mass or something. How long does one of those last, anyway?
Finally she backed the car out and headed home, her surge of energy ebbing. She scolded herself for feeling so low; she'd just been given not only an unexpected gift but a promise she hadn't dared expect, let alone hope for.
Sara unlocked her door, planning a cup of tea and her pear and then bed, and she'd try Grissom's phone when she woke, and--
Her apartment wasn't dark. Sara stopped in the doorway, blinking in confusion at the soft multicolored glow that lit her living room. The scent of pine and chocolate hit her nose, and the low sound of piano carols came from her stereo.
It wasn't just the Christmas tree in the corner shedding the light; someone elf-minded had strung white lights along her walls, turning the entire room into something dim and twinkling and somehow exotic.
Grissom's hand on her arm made her start; she'd been so absorbed in staring at the changes that she hadn't seen him in the kitchen. "Come on in," he said gently, drawing her over the threshold and shutting the door behind her.
Sara managed to close her mouth, but she was still dazzled. "What did you do?"
Grissom just smiled. "I brought you some Christmas. I thought you needed it."
She looked around, trying to take in the details. Lights, tree--a decorated tree, with glass balls and colored twinkles and...actual popcorn strings. And--she looked closer--presents underneath. And a little crèche. Surrounding a pot.
"It's planted?" she asked weakly, overwhelmed.
"That's why it's so small," Grissom said with a deprecating shrug. "To me, the aroma of real pine is part of Christmas, but I didn't think you'd appreciate having a dead one in your apartment."
It wasn't just lights; there were candles, too, sitting in small wreaths made of holly leaves. A plate of cookies sat on her breakfast bar, next to a mug full of what smelled like hot cocoa.
"You did all this." She couldn't stop looking, as though it would all vanish if she blinked, and surely that was why her eyes were starting to tear, surely. "For me."
"Mm-hm." Grissom slid his hands into his pockets, still smiling at her, but behind that curve there was a subtle tension, and when she glanced down she saw that his fists were clenched behind the denim.
All her doubts about their relationship, all her fears and strain, seemed to be melting away in the warmth of Grissom's gift. Sara blinked, letting the droplets fall from her lashes, and smiled, slow and wide. The lights were reflecting off his lenses, little flashy twinkles, so Sara reached up and removed the glasses, setting them carefully aside.
What was in his eyes was the best gift of all, outstripping all the trappings he'd brought, telling her why he'd brought them. Sara pushed her hands past his wrists to his waist, bringing their faces together.
"Thank you," she murmured against his lips, feeling his arms come up around her in a snug embrace. "No one ever gave me Christmas before, Gil. Only you."
Grissom's mouth traveled delicately over her skin, kissing away the moisture. "I never had anyone to give it to, before. Thank you for letting me."
Sara sighed, and smiled again. "Did you think of mistletoe too?"
He chuckled, the sound vibrating lightly against her cheekbone. "Look up."
He'd fastened it to one of the strings of lights, and they weren't standing quite under it, but Sara decided that accuracy wasn't all that important, and kissed him with dedication.
"Merry Christmas, Sara," he murmured some time later, when they were cuddled together on the couch and the cocoa was just a fading flavor in their mouths.
"Merry Christmas," she said, and for the first time ever, she meant it.