Disclaimer: 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 are my invention, and if you want to mess with them, you have to ask me first. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Spoilers: general seventh season
As always, many thanks to Cincoflex for her patience, support, and sterling betaing!
It wasn't my fault. How the hell was I supposed to know?
Okay, I'll admit I've made some poor choices in the past. Live and learn, and never look back. I moved on from Eddie, I got over that ass Chris, I even managed to survive that heavy-handed jerk who thought that buying a woman a drink entitled him to anything he wanted. You think it's easy, being over thirty-five and trying to find a guy? I mean, it's not like I'm looking for the love of my life--been there, done that, and good riddance. I just want someone to pay me a few compliments, treat me nice.
It just never seems to work out that way. Warrick--
Well, Warrick's a special case. We work together, for one thing. Hell, for a while I was his boss. It made things harder. And in the end, we never could quite get our asses in gear at the same time, kinda like another pair of criminalists I know.
Anyway. This guy. I didn't even meet him at a bar--I met him at Lindsey's school. He was there to do some kind of maintenance, and he had to wait until classes let out, so we got to talking on the sidewalk. Tall, lean, kind of handsome in an intense way. Definitely yummy.
Maybe I should have known when I saw his smile. Maybe. But really, what were the odds?
So we hit it off. He looked really good in the jumpsuit, dark blue did a lot for his skin. We talked for a while, and the upshot was that he asked me out for a drink the next evening. It just happened to be my night off, so I figured, why not? Linds had some kind of study party going that night anyway, at a friend's house. It sounded perfect.
We had a good time. He--Steve--cleaned up nice. Polo shirt, Dockers, just enough scruff to be dangerous. It was one of those dates where the time flies because you're too busy talking and laughing to notice. He had a string of ex-girlfriends too, which I guess wasn't a great sign, but hey--who am I to talk?
And when he walked me out to my car, he was a perfect gentleman. Kissed me on the cheek.
So drinks turned into a date, and one date turned into three, and everyone around the lab knew I was seeing someone, because why should I keep it a secret? Nick teased me a little, and Gil gave me that tiny smirk of his, and Greg pretended I broke his heart, and it all made me feel good.
A woman wants to be wanted, you know?
Warrick didn't say anything, but then we don't talk that much any more.
I guess we'd been seeing each other about a month, maybe five weeks when it happened. It was my night off again, but I wanted to swing by the lab and drop off a report for Gil. I planned to ask for more vacation time, and it's better to have the bossman in a good mood. Steve came in with me; he was curious about the lab after hearing my stories, and it's not like we can't have significant others wandering around, as long as they sign in first.
I got him a badge, and told him he could go where he wanted as long as he stayed out of the labs themselves, and ducked into Gil's office. I knew I could trust Steve--he's a smart guy, and he also knew he'd have to face my wrath if he screwed up somebody's evidence by going where he wasn't supposed to.
Gil had a couple of questions, so I sat down to answer them. But I hadn't closed the door behind me, so the clatter as a clipboard hit the floor and Sara's screech of "What the hell are you doing here?!" came in loud and clear.
It didn't even take Steve saying her name like she was naked and on fire to make me figure it out. Gil and I were both frozen for a second, staring at each other, and I knew what he was thinking--that Sara had just run into an ex-boyfriend right outside his office. Geez, part of me wanted to laugh. I love Gil like a brother, but honestly, the man can be such a stick-in-the-mud.
The rest of me--well, my brain was kind of tripping over itself, because in between the shouting coming in from the hallway and the evidence I'd already seen, I was figuring it out. His smile, his build, his stories about growing up on the California coast--hell, even the names were alliterative.
But really, how was I supposed to know? I mean, the coincidence was incredible.
My mouth started moving finally, while it looked like Gil hadn't even gotten out of neutral. "We'd better go out there and break them up," I said, and got up to do just that.
They'd already attracted a fair audience. Well, it was quite a show. It's not like Sara hadn't lost it before, but not to the point of screaming like she was trying to break glass. And nobody knew the guy who was screaming back, though now that they were face to face…some things were obvious.
Greg, bless him, was already steaming down the hallway behind Sara, so I shoved in between the two yellers. "Hey!"
It took a little more than that to get their attention, but between Greg holding Sara back and me grabbing Steve, we managed to clear a space between them and turn the volume down a little. Grissom finally snapped out of his funk and went all supervisor, ordering us all into his office with a voice that should have started snow falling from the ceiling. Greg bulled in with us, and for a second I thought Grissom was going to kick him out, but he folded his arms and looked stubborn, and Bossman let him stay.
I kind of expected them to start yelling again, but I guess the perversity is a family trait; they just glared at each other, and it's a good thing stares can't actually burn, or we'd have had two cases of spontaneous human combustion on the spot. Grissom leaned against his desk, and looked from Sara to Steve to me and back to Sara, and finally gave one of those sighs that makes a girl want to smack him. "Anyone care to explain what's going on?"
Neither of them so much as twitched, so after a minute I figured it was up to me. "Gil Grissom, meet Steve Watson, my…significant other." I gestured to Steve in hopes that he'd say something, but it was Grissom who spoke.
"Mother's maiden name?"
Steve finally broke the staredown and looked at Grissom. "Nah. I changed it legally."
I could all but hear Sara's teeth grinding; she had that haughty look that she only gets when she's either really hurt or really mad. One guess which.
Steve turned back to his sister. "I'm surprised you didn't change yours."
"Unlike some people," Sara said in a voice that could freeze lava, "I actually have some respect for my grandparents."
Steve rolled his eyes. "Like they ever did anything for you."
Sara folded her arms, but I could see that her fists were clenched under her elbows. "How would you know? It's not like you stuck around long enough to--"
Grissom slammed his palm down on the desk behind him loud enough for both of them to jump. "Enough!"
When they were both looking at him again, he continued. "This is a place of business and a law enforcement facility. I'm asking you both to remember that while you are on the premises, and to behave like reasonable adults. Mr….Watson, given the circumstances, I'm afraid that I'm not only going to have to ask you to leave, I'm going to forbid you access to the lab and its environs for the immediate future."
"Fine," Steve snapped, and yanked off his badge, shying it at Grissom, who caught it without changing expression. Then he glared at Sara. "I've got no problem never seeing you again." With that, he stormed out of the room. Probably a good thing, given the way Greg puffed up behind Sara.
I gave Grissom one quick glance, and he just gave me a long-suffering look, so I headed out after Steve at a fast walk.
He was halfway across the parking lot by the time I caught up, and the only reason he'd stopped was to light a cigarette. He was pulling down the smoke when I reached him, and for no good reason I remembered one time just after Sara got to the lab, when she offered me some of her Nicorette gum. It kind of surprised me, because she didn't strike me as a smoker….
Steve gave me a glance as I pulled up, but just kept sucking on the cig, and I gave the nicotine a minute to work its way through him, but finally I had to say something. "What the hell was that?"
Ten years ago I'd probably have yelled it, but ten years ago I didn't know some of what I know now. Steve gave me a look that was less mad than I expected, and blew out a cloud of smoke. "You're the top-notch lady Cee-Ess-Eye, and you have to ask?"
Okay, so maybe I wasn't modest when I described what I do for a living. But then, I've never been in a line of work where modesty was a virtue. "Most people, when they run into their siblings, don't stage World War III in a very public hallway."
Steve sighed, and dropped the cigarette. "I didn't know she was in Vegas--hell, if I had, I would have stayed far away." He ground it out with the heel of his boot. "We're like sodium and water."
It still surprised me when he said things like that, even though I knew it shouldn't. He might not have gone to college, but Steve was scary smart, and he liked to learn.
Just another similarity, now that I knew what I knew.
"When's the last time you saw each other?" I asked. I was curious like you wouldn't believe, but I knew I had to go carefully.
He shrugged, and leaned back against the nearest car. "'Bout ten years ago, I guess. Mom's funeral. We didn't talk much."
And when they did talk, it was probably at the top of their lungs, I figured. I filed that bit of information away--to my knowledge, Sara has never said a thing about her parents--and gave him my best patient look. "Want to talk about it?"
Steve laughed like it wasn't really funny, but he didn't say no. "How old is Sara now?" he asked, getting out another cigarette. "Thirty-two, thirty-three? Hell, most days I can't remember how old I am, let alone my baby sister."
He lit the cigarette and puffed for a couple of seconds. "I don't know why we hate each other. We just do. Total opposites, I guess."
I folded my arms and waited, and sure enough, he kept going. "She was daddy's little girl. He used to beat the tar out of me and Mom, but he didn't do more than smack her around a little until just before--before he died."
I kept my face still. That was stuff I didn't know, and I was willing to bet that nobody at the lab but Grissom, or maybe Brass, knows it either.
Steve shrugged again. "I tried to protect Mom. Didn't work." He took another hit on the cig. "We got split up. Foster care, and then they dumped us on our grandparents for a while. I was too old for that shit, so I took off. Didn't see Sara for years."
His face was still kind of far away, but not so angry anymore, so I leaned back against the car right next to him. After a minute he put his arm around my shoulders, and I took that as a signal to slide my arms around him.
"She never forgave you for leaving, did she?" I asked. I had to tilt my head up to see his face, but that's what happens when you have a taste for tall guys.
He flicked the cigarette away and gave one of those empty little laughs. "I guess. What the hell was I supposed to do, anyway? I had no money, no job, I couldn't take her with me."
"Damn straight," I told him. A young man bumming around looking for work or trouble has no business hauling along a younger sister. Though I doubt Sara saw it that way.
Steve shrugged. "I should have stayed in touch more, I guess." He didn't tell me why he didn't, which I'll bet means that at some point he was doing something shady.
"You can't change the past," I said, but I said it gently. I knew it as well as anyone.
He sighed. "Yeah."
That was all he said. After a while, I looked up at him again. "How about we go get a drink or something?"
I'd never seen that kind of smile on his face before, sad and a little sweet, but I suddenly realized it looked kind of familiar, and that made me a little twitchy. Not that I showed it. "Sure. Cat…"
He was about the only person I let call me that, but then he never said it like it was a cute little nickname, either. I just raised my brows.
"You're a good person." His arm squeezed my shoulders, and I smirked at him.
"Damn straight," I said again, and his smile got a little bigger. "Come on, let's blow this taco stand."
To say I was floored was to put it mildly. Sara had told me a little about her family and her past, but that's just what it had been--her past. She had never given any indication that she stayed in contact with any of her relatives.
But I had to admit too that I could hardly know. Sara was--is--an endless source of fascination to me, but I know very little about her history before she began working for the San Francisco force.
Rather to my shame, when I consider it.
Regardless, I had a situation to deal with. Steve…Watson was out of the building, or would be shortly; Catherine would see to that, to protect her own reputation if nothing else. Sara was still standing in my office, vibrating with fury or some other emotion; she looked like she was on the verge of exploding.
I opened my mouth to ask her if she needed a minute to calm down, but before I could say anything Greg stepped up behind her and laid his hands on her shoulders. "Sara…"
I waited for her to shrug them off, to blast him with a look, but to my utter surprise her face crumpled and she turned around. She didn't hug him, but Greg put his arms around her and she laid her head on his shoulder. It brought home to me how tall he was--taller than her by a good several inches--taller than me. For once he looked like an adult, not a boy.
And the sight of Sara in his arms made my stomach twist and knot. I knew they were friends, but--
Greg looked at me over her head, and I could see protectiveness in his gaze, along with a sort of angry sorrow. Almost…accusation.
I frowned at him. What was I supposed to have done? I didn't even know that Sara's brother was still among the living, let alone that he was Catherine's latest conquest.
But after a few minutes Sara lifted her head and stepped back, patting Greg's arm. "I'm good," she said softly, and he looked at her for a moment, then nodded.
"You need anything, you know where to find me," he said, sincerely if ungrammatically, and left, shooting me one more warning glance. Fortunately for my temper, he shut the door behind him.
Sara just stood there. After a moment's hesitation, I spoke. "Are you really all right?"
She lifted one shoulder in a shrug, then turned around to face me. The sad resignation in her face made my heart ache, and the touch of shame made it worse. "I'm sorry about that," she said, waving vaguely back at the hallway. "I never…"
"It's all right," I said, though it wasn't really. Sara had displayed some extremely unprofessional behavior, but that was mitigated by the surprise of the situation, and I wasn't about to take her to task when she was already aware of her fault. With Sara, her conscience is a better goad than any official disapproval.
"When was the last time you saw your brother?" I continued, wanting to know, wanting more to go over and at least take her hand if not imitate Greg. But I couldn't, not here, not now.
She sighed, closing her eyes and looking very tired. "Our mother's funeral. Ten years ago."
I got the feeling that that time was no more congenial than this. "Sara…"
She moved one hand in a cutting gesture. "Can we just drop it, Grissom? For now?"
Once, I would have taken that for refusal, but now I know better. The expression in her eyes was one of deep strain, and I understood what she was telling me--that the subject of her brother was best reserved for a more private environment.
"Of course," I told her, acting the supervisor, but hoping she heard the lover beneath the tone. "Do you need a minute? You can stay here…"
Sara opened her mouth, and for a second I thought she was going to refuse, but then her shoulders drooped a little. "Yeah, I think I'd better."
I nodded, and pushed away from my desk. "Take as long as you need," I said as I passed her, daring only a gentle quick squeeze of her arm. "I have some reports to chase down. You can close the blinds if you like."
Her smile was weary, but sincere, and I smiled back and left, closing the door gently behind me. My office couch was out of direct sight from the windows, and not too uncomfortable, and while I doubted Sara would actually rest, I could always hope.
The first item on my mental list was to make sure that Steven Watson had actually left the lab. Not that I thought him a danger, but even I knew that issuing a ban like that meant that one had to follow it up. There was no sign of either him or Catherine in the hallways, and Judy at the front desk confirmed that one had followed the other out some minutes before.
Given that it was Catherine's night off, I didn't call her. Time enough to ask questions later, though I was reasonably certain that she had had no idea of the relationship between Sara and Steve. Knowing Catherine, she'd get most of the story out of him eventually anyway.
Gathering the reports took the better part of an hour, thanks to complications, and when I made it back to my office Sara was gone. I saw her in passing a little later, her makeup repaired, and was somewhat reassured, but more by the fact that I knew I could talk to her later, in private, than by the calmness of her public face.
I made sure to beat her home, and by the time she opened the door I had a casserole defrosted and in the oven, knowing that having food ready was the best way to get her to eat. The way she moved told me that she was exhausted, emotionally if not physically, and I gave her a minute to set down her bag and keys and kick off her shoes.
As she nudged them aside, though, I picked my moment, and came over to embrace her. Sara didn't return the hug right away, but she leaned into me tiredly, and I couldn't repress a small thrill of pleasure and pride. My awed delight in Sara's trust never faded.
"You okay?" I asked, surreptitiously inhaling the scent of her hair.
She sighed, and her arms came up around my waist. "Not…really."
I held her for a few minutes, feeling the tension in her muscles slowly fading, then led her over to the bigger sofa she'd made me buy. She pulled her legs up off the floor and curled against me as though seeking shelter, and I held her close; she didn't often want protection of any kind, so it made it all the more special for me.
It was a little while before she started speaking. "I don't know why he screws me up so badly," she said at last, her voice calm and sad. "I mean, we barely see each other, ever. You'd think we'd get over it."
Her head was resting against my chest, so I couldn't see her expression, but I didn't really need to. "Not if all that emotion is still there."
Sara sighed again. "I guess." She was silent for a little while before going on. "We didn't hate each other when we were kids, you know. We weren't best buddies, but we were...kind of allies."
She didn't say against what, but I could fill in the blank easily enough. Allies against their father's abuse, their mother's neglect, against a world that didn't offer a refuge.
"He's older than you," I said, and felt her nod.
"Two years. Dad was worse to him than to me, most of the time."
She was shivering, just slightly, and I pulled the throw off the back of the couch and wrapped it around us both. "Sorry," Sara muttered, but I made a negating noise and hugged her tighter.
"I...it's just, he brings back all these memories," she went on. "Good and bad."
"Was he there when..." I couldn't quite bring myself to say when your mother killed your father, but she understood.
"Nope. He was hanging out somewhere with friends. I think he must have seen the police at the house, because it took them two days to find him."
Which I interpreted to mean that Steven was already involved in something illegal at age sixteen; probably drugs, or petty theft. Not terribly surprising, given their home situation.
"Anyway, they packed us both into foster care, split us up. We hardly ever saw each other, and he was in trouble a lot of the time. Our grandparents took us just before he turned eighteen, and he took off not long after that."
Her voice had the slightest tremor. It was moments like this that made me aware of how thin Sara really was, how fragile under the toughness and brilliance. I rubbed her shoulder in slow circles, trying to soothe.
"Did he tell you he was going?"
Her head jerked in a small "no", and I pushed down a surge of anger at the young man who, it appeared, hadn't even said goodbye.
"I missed him," she whispered, and choked. I held her tightly as she cried, and knew she missed him still.
Linds was in bed by the time we got back to my place, and Mom was snoozing on the couch. I woke her up and sent her home in a cab; normally I'd just have her crash in the guest room, but I knew Steve needed all my attention right then. Fortunately she was too sleepy to give him the evil eye, and I set him up with a beer as I herded her out the front door.
She stopped on the steps, though. "Catherine, dear, are you sure..."
I waved a hand. "He's had a rough night, Mom. We're going to talk for a bit."
Sometimes I wonder how she raised me as a cynic when she's such an innocent herself. Mom patted me on the arm, looking all sympathetic. "Oh, all right. I'll see you next week, then."
I saw her off, wondering how much junk food Lindsey had conned her into tonight, and went back inside. Steve was sitting on the couch, beer in one hand and remote in the other; I think there must be some kind of remote-sensitive codon in male DNA. But he wasn't focusing on the screen, and he'd barely touched the beer.
I considered sitting down next to him, but talking wasn't really what he needed right then. Instead I took the remote, shut off the TV, and pulled him to his feet. "Come on."
I know what you're thinking. Linds was in the house, yeah, but she was at the other end; the building is pretty well soundproofed and my door locks. Normally my rule is no sex when the kid's home, but every rule has its exception and my expert eye told me Steve needed a little feminine comfort right then.
We'd only been sleeping together a couple of weeks, a few times really given our schedules. Steve was as good a lover as I thought he might be, considerate, good hands; even when he was upset he wasn't rough. Afterwards he was silent for a long time, one arm behind his head but the other around me.
I waited. When it counts--don't laugh--I actually can be patient.
Finally he sighed, and I squirmed around so I could watch his face. "She's so pretty," he said quietly, and I almost laughed, because if the circumstances had been any different that would have been the exact wrong thing to say to a woman you've just made love with.
But I agreed with him. Sara isn't a classic beauty, not by a long shot, but I have to admit she has a real something, especially when she takes the time to glamour up.
"Tell me about her," Steve said in a sad little voice, and it made my throat tighten up. Hate, love, they're awfully close together, and guilt in the mix only makes things worse. So I left out the way she and I don't get along, it wasn't what he needed to hear.
"She's brilliant, one of the best investigators in the lab, and with our people that's saying something," I started, noting that his eyes were looking down at his chest rather than at my face. "She works too hard, and until recently I'd have said she had no social life, but now she tends to go home on time."
I frowned a bit at that, because I hadn't realized I'd noticed that until I said it. Had she finally found somebody a little more responsive than our resident entomologist? "She was dating an EMT for a while a few years ago, but that, um, fell through."
I thought for a moment, and Steve waited. "She's a pain in my ass a lot of the time," I admitted He snorted, a sort of painfully amused sound.
"That's Sara," he said. I couldn't help but grin a little.
"Yep. But she's terrific at what she does, she's got probably the best solve rate of any of us, and she's got a heart as big as the world. Gets a little too involved in cases sometimes, but who doesn't." The twinge of guilt was easy to ignore. "I don't know what else I can tell you, really. We're not exactly best buddies."
He nodded as though he hadn't really expected anything else. I almost thumped him, but I didn't know if he was thinking it was because of me or her.
"What was she like as a kid?" I asked, partly to keep him talking, but partly out of curiosity. Sara does not talk about her past, and now that I knew he was related, well, there's a reason my nickname fits.
Steve shrugged. "Probably the same as she is now," he said, relaxing slightly. "You know how little kids have a 'why' phase? Well, Sara never got out of hers."
I had to snicker. That described Sidle to a T.
Steve rubbed my shoulder with his thumb and kept going. "She wanted to know everything about everything, and when we ran out of answers she learned to read so she could figure things out on her own. Got good grades in school, that kind of thing."
Now that, I had expected. Her middle initials might as well be O.A., for overachiever.
"I dunno," he said softly, and the sadness in his voice made me ache. "She tried so hard, and most of the time nobody cared. Dad was proud of her when he was sober, but those times got pretty scarce, and Mom was usually too busy working around Dad to pay attention to us. Growing up like that--" He shook his head. "It wasn't good for her."
Never one to let sleeping dogs lie, I lifted my head to look him in the face. "What about you growing up?"
Steve looked away. "I did okay. I was older."
There were so many things wrong with that statement that I didn't bother trying to point any of them out. Calling him on them would just get us into a fight, anyway, and neither of us needed one at the moment.
Though I had a feeling that make-up sex with Steve would be hot.
"Well, you both survived," I said, postponing the fight until later, if and when our relationship was long-term enough to make it an option. "You've both done well for yourselves."
He sighed. "That's true."
I suppose some people would think that being an electrician with a GED wasn't on par with having a Harvard degree and working in the second-best crime lab in the country. But hey, I've worked as a stripper. I know that hard work is hard work, no matter where and how you do it.
We cuddled for a while longer, and I thought Steve had fallen asleep, but finally he spoke up again. "Want me to move out to the couch?"
Most men of my acquaintance wouldn't have been happy with the idea, let alone bothered asking. Under that yummy scruffy exterior, Steve had class.
I reached out an arm for the alarm clock. "Tell you what. I'll wake you before Linds gets up."
Sara doesn't let me pamper her as often as I'd like, but when she's feeling emotionally vulnerable she's usually more tolerant of my desire to take care of her. I fed her, put her to bed, and crawled in next to her, listening to the tiny noises she makes in her sleep and telling the primitive part of my brain that punching out Steve would not help the situation in any way. Not to mention, hitting a man twelve years younger and in much better shape…never mind.
And at the same time, I could sympathize with her brother. He was as much a victim of their parents as Sara herself, and while he had gone in a different direction he was as determined as she. I remembered Catherine mentioning that her new boyfriend was an electrician, not that I pay much attention when she goes on about her social life, and if both of them were telling the truth then he probably had a firm grip on his life.
And if he was dating Cath, then he wasn't presently doing drugs. I knew that for a fact.
Finally I let myself drift off, wondering if Steve had already left town, and how Catherine was going to deal with this. I didn't look forward to finding out.
Sara looked a lot better after a good meal and six hours' sleep. It wasn't long enough, in my opinion, but then Sara's sleeping habits have never paid much attention to my opinions anyway.
And I'll be bold and admit that the backrub I gave her probably didn't hurt either.
But there was still strain around her eyes as we got dressed. I don't bother to make breakfast every evening, it isn't that much of a habit with me, but every once in a while I insist, and she usually gives in. As I said before, it's a lot easier to make her eat if the food's already in front of her, and pancakes and fruit are easy enough.
I knew that suggesting she take the night off was of no use, but as we cleared the breakfast bar I touched her arm. "You sure you don't want to use up a bit of vacation time?"
She gave me a look that might have become a glare, but she must have figured out that it was my shorthand for letting her know I cared, because it softened to a smile--small, but there.
"No, I'm good," she said firmly. "But…thanks."
And that last word was as much a change as all those I'd made to let her into my life. In harmony if not in agreement, we left for the lab.
I sent her out with Warrick on a burglary way out on the edge of town. He wouldn't ask intrusive questions, and by now the siblings' screaming match would be all over the lab and working its way through the police force; both of them would be thorough, which would take time, and hopefully that would minimize the knowing glances. I briefly considered warning Hodges against asking any questions, but realized dismally that such a move would just make things worse.
Fortunately for all concerned, the night was quiet. Warrick, smart man, took the relevant evidence to Hodges himself, and while very little intimidates our Trace technician, the frown on Warrick's face and the way he held his shoulders as he came out of the lab let me know that he'd had to chastise some inappropriate curiosity. I made a mental note to thank him later.
I went out on a DB myself, but it was a pretty straightforward suicide, so I got back early and tried to deal with some of the paper piling up on my desk. I should have locked the door, because before too long Catherine came in, purpose in every line of her body. Before I could say a word, she'd closed the door behind her and dragged over a spare chair.
Dropping dramatically into it, she fixed me with a determined stare. "Gil, we have to do something about those two."
While I agreed with her on the basic idea--that Sara and Steven needed to resolve their antagonism in order to achieve emotional healing--the we part made me instantly wary. "I don't think it's any of our business, Catherine."
Her stare grew sharper. "Oh, I think it is. You know, I got to thinking this morning about Sara and how she's changed recently."
A feeling of dread began to creep up my spine as Catherine lifted a hand and examined her nails with studied nonchalance. "It struck me that she's not the only one acting like she's getting laid on a regular basis. So I played a hunch."
Catherine dropped her hand, looking back to me. "You know, if you two really want to keep it a secret, she shouldn't park right outside your place."
Aargh. "Catherine, I really don't think this is the time or place--"
She cut me off. "Oh yes it is, because you disappear as soon as your shift's up, and now I know why." Her eyes grew warmer. "Gil, believe me, I'm happy for you two. Honestly. It's way past time."
I chose my words carefully, torn between concern, embarrassment, and a shy warmth at her congratulations. "I appreciate that, but--"
"Relax. I'm not going to spill the beans. But you can't keep it under wraps forever."
"We're not trying to hide it…exactly," I said, struggling for dignity. "We're just both private people, and--"
Catherine waved a hand dismissingly. "Whatever you want to call it is fine. My point is Steve and Sara. Gil, this has been going on for at least ten years!"
I sighed and put down my pen. "I know."
Catherine cocked her head, then smiled knowingly. "I'll just bet you do, huh?"
I refused to blush. "I understand your concern, and believe it or not, I share it. But based on what little I saw, I'm willing to bet that Steve is a lot like Sara--and you know how she'd react if we so much as hinted that we were engineering a reconciliation."
Whatever faint hope I had that Catherine might be diverted was swept away as she leaned forward in her chair. "Which is why it has to look accidental."
I blew out an irritated breath. "Catherine, consider the circumstances. Do you really think we could fool both of them, simultaneously?"
Even as I protested, though, the idea was taking root in my unwilling mind. Catherine rolled her eyes. "Of course we could," she said, but to my discerning eye her confidence had faded somewhat.
The mere idea of lying to Sara left a bad taste in my mouth. But I hated to see her in so much pain, and left to their own devices the siblings would probably go on in their anger for another couple of decades at least.
"No," I said decisively, one small part of my mind horrified at the plan taking shape, but unable to stop it. "What we need is…misdirection."
It was, frankly, easier than I had anticipated. I don't know why; maybe it was the fact that she had someone to listen after all this time, but two mornings later over supper when I casually mentioned that Catherine had said that Steven had expressed a wish to speak to Sara, there was no immediate rejection of the idea. Sara's face wrinkled up in disbelief--an expression I privately found adorable--but she didn't protest.
"Um." She poked at her stir-fry with her fork, and I was glad I had waited until halfway through the meal, because it looked like her appetite had disappeared with my words. "Are you sure?"
"That's what Catherine said," I answered, inwardly cursing her for the idea. This mendaciousness didn't sit well, and now that we'd set the plan in motion I realized that a backfire could seriously damage Sara's precious trust in me. But just blurting out that I thought it would be best for her to reconcile with Steve would definitely not go over well.
Sara sighed and put down her fork. "I can't believe she's going out with him," she muttered, and I bit my lip as the rather farcical humor in the situation became apparent. Sara and Catherine have never even approached being true friends, though the tension between them has slacked off somewhat in recent months, and for the both of them to suddenly discover that Catherine's boyfriend is Sara's estranged brother...
It sounded like a soap opera. All that remained to make it perfect was to find out that the siblings were in fact identical twins and one had had a sex change. And knowing what I know--ahem--it certainly wasn't Sara.
What can I say? My mother never missed Days of Our Lives.
"She obviously didn't know about your relationship," I noted, keeping my voice gentle. Though, on reflection, I'm not sure if the knowledge would have kept Catherine from acting on her interest, given the estrangement.
"I know." Sara sat back in her chair, her brow creasing, and I shut up and let her think. Pushing would be the fastest way to make her refuse to see Steven at all.
I finished my supper, and hers grew cold, as she sat silently, but in the end she sighed again and met my eyes. "Okay."
"Okay...you'll meet with him?"
She nodded, suddenly looking very vulnerable. Touched, I reached across the table and took her hand in mine. "I'm glad, sweetheart. I think this is something you need to do."
Her mouth curled up on one side, and her fingers laced with mine. "You know...I love it when you call me that."
My heart warmed. "Sweetheart?"
She shrugged a little, eyes falling. "No one ever called me that but you."
I love Sara in all her moods, but when she shares that secret, shy side of herself my protective instincts rise, and all I want to do is shelter and soothe her. That isn't often practical, but in the privacy of our homes--
It was two steps around the table to bend and kiss her. And while I only meant it as a loving gesture, Sara's response shaded quickly into enthusiasm. Before too long she was leading me away from the table and towards the bedroom--
Let's just say that these days I don't mind leaving the dishes undone for a while.
Okay, I'll admit that I wasn't half as confident as I made Grissom think I was. I figured I had a pretty good handle on Steve's personality, but the truth was, we hadn't been together all that long. If I made the wrong move, he'd be out the door fast. I had to be careful.
But on the other hand, Steve didn't know yet just how devious I can be. So when I was clearing up after a pizza and Lindsey was getting ready for school, I glanced over at Steve. "I was talking to Grissom the other night."
He was staring into his bottled water and just grunted, but it wasn't hostile so I kept going. "He said he thinks Sara wants to talk with you." Steve frowned and took his elbows off the kitchen table. "He thinks? What business of his is it?"
I swore silently. I'd forgotten that Steve had no clue about Sara's and Grissom's long and complicated history. "Um, well, he's kind of dating her."
Steve swiveled around in the chair and glared at me. "I thought you said she wasn't going out with anyone!"
Whoa. Guess that big-brother protection habit was still there somewhere. "I only just found out myself. Look, they've been panting after each other for years, I guess they finally did something about it--"
Well, that didn't exactly satisfy him, but I explained a little more as I wiped off the table, and Steve settled down. "So your boss thinks that Sara, ah, doesn't hate my guts?"
He tried to keep it light, but I could hear a little wistfulness underneath, and it made me want to climb into his lap and comfort him, but it wasn't the right time. So I just nudged his shoulder with my hip. "Apparently not. He says she wants to talk to you, but she's a little scared to."
That was an outright lie; Gil hadn't said anything of the kind. But he and I both knew that she wasn't completely averse to the idea of reconciliation. And while fear didn't match the Sara Sidle I knew--the girl definitely has a pair--this was family, and as I could tell you, when it comes to family all bets are off.
Steve grimaced sadly. "I can't blame her."
I was trying to be patient, but when he didn't say anything else I tossed the dishcloth in the sink and sat down beside him, putting my hand on his where he'd left it on the table. "None of us can make you do anything," I told him plainly. "But it's pretty obvious that you're not happy with the way things are, and from what Grissom tells me, neither is Sara. Here's your chance to at least try to make it right."
He stared at the tabletop like it held the right answer, but eventually he blew out his breath and nodded.
I managed to keep my grin under control, and got up to make a phone call.
Once Catherine gets an idea in her head, she carries through. With our somewhat fraudulently obtained agreements from both parties, a meeting time and place was arranged--Catherine's house, as it was private, and was somewhat more neutral ground than either my place or Sara's. My apprehension grew on the short drive over, in part because Sara fell silent as soon as she got in the car, but I kept my nervousness in check. Sara needed my support.
I'd been to Catherine's before, of course, but as we pulled up it occurred to me that Sara probably hadn't. Still, she swung out of the car without hesitation, and the set expression on her face kept me from offering any more last-minute affection than taking her hand as we headed up the driveway.
Catherine opened the door as we came up the walk. "Hi guys," she said with a smile; her eyes were wary. I let Sara precede me into the house, and as I passed Catherine she spoke again.
"Linds is out with friends, just so you know. Want anything to drink?"
"No thank you," I answered, and Sara shook her head, her gaze fixed on the tall slender man standing in the living room. Steve's posture was stiff and his hands were stuffed into his pockets, the picture of discomfort, but I could tell from the angle of Sara's spine that she was no better.
Steve nodded, one short jerk of the head, and Catherine's hand snagged my elbow. "We'll just leave you two alone," she chirped, and swept me down the hall.
I dragged my heels, or tried to. "You're leaving them in there alone?" I hissed at her as we reached the kitchen. I knew Sara and Steve had both theoretically agreed to try this, but I didn't want Sara embroiled in another scarring screaming match.
Catherine rolled her eyes and headed for the French doors to the back deck without stopping. "I left the windows open," she muttered back. "We'll be able to hear just fine."
The immorality of eavesdropping warred with my sneaking admiration of her cunning, and the end result was that she got me out to the carefully arranged deck chairs without further protest. They were placed near the living room windows, but not so that they would be immediately obvious to anyone looking out. Catherine collapsed into one with feline grace, and I let curiosity win out over conscience and took the other.
"--talked you into this?" came Sara's voice, cool but not yet angry, and I turned my head to hear better.
"She can be pretty persuasive," Steve replied, with no overt emotion.
Sara said something I couldn't quite make out, and I deduced that she hadn't moved far from her original position; she was still on the far side of the living room.
"Yeah," Steve said, "I do, actually."
There was a little silence, and then Sara's voice came clearer. "Me too."
It was concessionary, and I felt a little of my tension ease.
"Okay," Steve replied, sounding relieved. "Okay."
Another silence. "Um...I don't know where to start," Sara said.
"At the beginning, I guess?" Steve asked, then went on. "Hold on a sec, though."
The living room was carpeted, so there were no footsteps, but suddenly Steve's voice came loud and clear. "Nice try, Cat."
The windows slid shut.
Looking over at Catherine's chagrin, I couldn't suppress a smirk.
I guess I should have given Steve more credit. HIs sister is an investigator, after all. But I'd only closed the screen on the French door, so I figured that staying where we were and hearing what we could was better than pushing our luck by going back into the kitchen.
So we sat in the shade for a while, straining our ears for the least sound. There wasn't much for a while, but eventually the yelling started, and I had to restrain Grissom from charging in there to protect Sara. It took some fast talking and a threat or two, but he settled down eventually, after I promised him that Steve wouldn't lift a hand to Sara. It didn't make him stop worrying, and to tell the truth I was worried too, but we'd set things in motion and there was no point in interfering now. Steve and Sara were both smart adults; hopefully they would be able to work things out.
I still crossed my fingers, though.
At about thirty-seven minutes I tiptoed in during a lull and grabbed a couple of bottled waters for me and the Bugman; it was getting pretty hot outside. I was soooo tempted to take a peek, but I knew better; and besides, I'd put out a box of Kleenex and Steve knew where everything was.
There was more yelling near the hour mark. It didn't worry me as much because it wasn't the furious screaming they'd done at the lab--it was sadder than that, and I would swear that one or both of them was crying. It didn't last long, fortunately for Grissom's nerves; the man had drunk all the water, peeled every scrap of the label off, and was crinkling the bottle until I was about ready to yank it away and beat him over the head with it. But I kept reminding myself that it was just proof that he cared about Sara.
It was funny how dating Steve had made me care more about Sara. Maybe it was his stories that let me understand her more, or maybe it was just the endorphin high from really outstanding (and overdue) sex, but I found myself sympathizing more. Neither of them had had an easy life, that was for sure, and if there's one thing I can appreciate it's a woman who doesn't let bad luck keep her down.
The yelling slacked off after a bit, and there was another long time when we couldn't hear anything but the occasional muffled voice. To me that was progress, but I had to calm Grissom down again. I told him I'd locked up all the knives before they'd come over, but he didn't think it was funny.
Then a voice came from the kitchen, making us both jump. "It's safe to come in now."
Grissom got up a whole lot faster than I'd seen him do since he gained that weight, and zipped past Steve, heading for the living room. I let him go and stepped inside, looking up at the guy whose life I'd just manipulated. "How're you doing?"
HIs eyes were red and a little puffy, and he looked as though he'd been through the wringer, but something in his face had relaxed. "I'm...okay," he said, giving me half a smile. "We're okay."
"Good," I said firmly, and hugged him tightly. He sighed a little and put his head on my shoulder, and I rubbed his back and thanked my lucky stars that my plan had worked out.
I really didn't want to lose this guy.
When we finally wandered as far as the living room, we found Grissom next to Sara on the couch, all but making her sit on his lap. She wasn't arguing though, and her eyes were worse than Steve's. Still, that same hint of relief was in her face, and all of a sudden I had to swallow and look away.
Grissom shot me a glance over her head, and that just made it worse, because it wasn't often that I saw him that vulnerable. But they pulled themselves together, and Sara and Steve made plans for lunch the next day before sharing a hug--not the first of the day, I was pretty sure.
"Dinner at my place the day after that," Grissom said firmly, glancing over at me. "Lindsey too, of course."
"Sure," I agreed; Grissom was a great cook. We saw them out the door, and then I turned to Steve.
"You look like a man who needs a long hot shower," I said, only half teasing.
He pursed his lips the same way Sara does, and looked down at me. "I'll need someone to scrub my back," he deadpanned.
"I'm sure we can find someone," I said, and grinned.
I didn't ask Sara for details on the return drive. She'd clearly done a lot of purging, and she seemed very fragile, if content. So I just took her back to my place--it was getting silly to have two homes, we'd have to do something about that--and fixed her an omelet and some toast, since she'd eaten no breakfast at all. It gave me pleasure to take care of her, which was something it had taken her a while to understand, but this time she made no protest.
We spent the day quietly, doing small chores and reading, and Sara still said nothing about what had gone on. I made myself not ask; it was her business, and only mine if she chose to make it so.
But it was hard.
It was when we'd gone to bed, though, and she was curled up against me, that she finally spoke. "You and Catherine...you set us up, didn't you?"
I swallowed. Here it came...but I could not lie to her. Wouldn't, and couldn't. "Yes."
She sighed. "I should be angry, I suppose," she said frankly.
I couldn't move. "...Are you?"
She rolled over to meet my eyes in the dim light. "No. If you ever do anything like that again, I'll be furious, but..." She laid one hand on my chest. "It worked."
Her lips brushed against mine, warm and soft and tender. "I have my brother back. That's a tremendous gift. Thank you, Gil."
I closed my eyes briefly in huge relief, then opened them again and pulled her closer. "I'm so glad, sweetheart," I said. "I'm so glad."
Sara sighed again, a contented sound, and relaxed against me, her breathing deepening quickly into sleep.
I stayed awake for a while longer, thankful for her trust and her forgiveness, and for the fact that Catherine's mad scheme had in fact worked. Even if Steve chose to move on from Vegas, the rift was on its way to healing.
I was almost asleep when a sudden thought made me sigh in turn. Catherine's scheme had worked, yes. And Catherine was not in the least modest about her accomplishments.
I was never going to hear the end of this.