Sara doesn't smile. She never does, and if it happens, then everybody knows she's faking. She holds so many secrets inside, but the one thing she just can't brush away with a smile, even the most convincing, is her blueness.
She looks at herself in the mirror in her locker and her heart sinks at what is in front of her. She's never been the kind of person to care about looks, but sometimes she isn't just tough enough to ignore certain wounds.
"I'll talk... Only for the one in the next room. The pretty one."
She looks at her own pale face, her lank dark hair, her ordinary brown eyes, those lips she can't seem to curl up in a lie. Sara looks at herself, and what she sees is not pretty.
Sara doesn't wear feminine or provocative clothes, nor make up and fashionable jewels, nor she likes showy cleavages. She doesn't have that feline walk, nor her hips swing subtly but sinuously when she walks. She lacks of the grace and the exuberance of a dancer.
Sara is not Catherine, and sometimes it is a comparison she finds hard to bear.
Beauty has never been among her priorities, but since she came to Las Vegas her perspective has changed. The evidence has taught her that beauty counts, and she learned this lesson the hardest way. She's the smart, sensitive CSI; Catherine is the smart, charming CSI.
It doesn't take a genius to understand where a man's attention falls.
Sara wouldn't want to think about it now, but she just can't help it. She's let herself love one only man in her whole life, and that only one has always had his eyes set on some other woman. Sara remembers them all. Sharp, cultured, self confident, sensual, beautiful.
Sara is aware she barely owns a half of all of that, and this is not enough. And it hurts.
"Hey, you okay?"
Sara startles. She flips her head up and spots Warrick standing on the doorway, leaning forward with a hand on his hip and the other on the knob.
"Yeah… Sure." Every syllable oozes falsity. Grissom would notice. He would detect deeper, but he wouldn't sense her need to be left alone. He would just sigh and tell her she's too empathic, too human, and he would probably underestimate her turmoil. Warrick is not like that.
Warrick notices, too, but he won't press the issue. He knows where politeness ends and invasiveness begins, and even better he knows Sara. It sounds incredible, and yet, in all their silences, she has shared with Warrick confidences Grissom would define as 'far beyond the professional relationship'.
Because Sara knows that when she lets Warrick in her emotions, he doesn't ask about them, but just listens and learns, tacitly.
He steps in, uninvited but not unwanted, and idly heads to his own locker, just across from Sara's.
"Still mad at that Delhomme guy, aren't you?"
Sara blinks. What else can she do? She's not going to admit a stupid creep hit so close to home.
"I'm not mad at him." She says. She makes a pause and her fingers trail over an old picture. She and Grissom on a rollercoaster, about ten years ago. Long forgotten memories. "I'm mad at who accorded him the privilege to choose his favourite CSI, and have a romantic walk with her just to get some details about the case." She is calm, on the outside.
Warrick takes off his shirt and absently casts it inside the locker, pulling out a clean one.
"We traded some useful information for a simple switch of roles, and it was worth it." he says. "Did it piss you so much that Cath took your case?"
Sara doesn't respond. It would sound girlish to nod, and untrue to deny. Everybody saw her fuming, they were all witnesses to her little humiliation.
She had always lived with the belief brains counted more than attractiveness in her job, and somehow it was enough. But now, oh, it's so different, now. If even in science beauty overcomes intelligence, then why is she still here?
"Is this the new policy of the lab?" she asks flawlessly, a bitter edge in her tone. "When will we start offering them tea and cookies? Or a drink, maybe… Oh, no, wait, he's probably already having one with Catherine."
"Let me guess, you're offended because he chose Catherine and not you."
Sara knows it was supposed to be a quip, she knows it was, but it still hurts. She regards him speechlessly, taken aback by his observation. It's not exactly right, but it's not even completely wrong. She gapes at him, and seeks for words she can't seem to find.
Warrick gapes back, taking her hesitation in. Sara doesn't want to seem shallow, nor she wants anyone's pity, but by his eyes she can tell he's starting to get her point.
"You took it personally, didn't you?" he inquires.
Sara closes the locker. She presses her lips together and shakes her head.
"Don't be silly." She replies. "I am a scientist, and that was my case. I was deprived of a chance to prove myself, this is all."
Warrick smiles. A true, genuine smile, unlike the one Sara is wearing.
"You just sound so Grissom, sometimes…" He pats her shoulder friendly as he passes by, then stops and barely turns his head back toward her. "For what it's worth, by the way… The fact that you're not a former stripper, doesn't mean you're not beautiful."
She holds her breath and stiffens. Warrick smirks.
"Take a look around, Sar. Catherine might be the one that guy wanted, but it's not her the girl who has every single man in the lab wrapped around her finger."
He leaves these words floating in the air as he walks out of the door, which closes behind his back with a muffled sound. And Sara is alone again, but the small smile spreading on her lips isn't fake anymore.
Sara is in the locker room with Greg. They just got changed from the formal suits they were wearing minutes ago in court, and now he's asking her to go and grab some lunch. He never wastes any time, when it comes to her.
"I don't know, Greg… I have some paperwork to do." Which is the truth, but she also can't completely fight the temptation to go out and have some fun. Truth to be told, all she wants is to get out of the lab and forget of what she has seen and heard, forget of Debbie Marlin and Doctor Lurie. Just forget, and drift into oblivion. Some alcohol, perhaps.
The whole case, however little Grissom let her do, has drained all her vitality away, leaving her empty and dry. Most of the feeling, however, comes from Grissom's speech, the one she shouldn't have heard, the one he would never dream to tell her face to face. Because Grissom is a coward, under that rough facade. Besides, she isn't sure she would be able to endure it directly.
"Come on, Sidle, Greggo knows you want this." He insists playfully. Sara can't stifle a flattered smile. He has some kind of magic power on her, a charm she pretty enjoys.
They've always shared a particular chemistry of their own, as everyone knows well. Greg has always carried a torch for her, this is no big deal, and despite her playful efforts to make things clear, it is something she doesn't want to stop. She likes to be flattered, every now and then
She is flirtatious around him, not as much as he is with her, but enough to know there are people who think he's got chances with her. Which he really hasn't, but they have fun, so she can see no reason why it should end.
"I know this nice place," he's saying in his best pick-up attitude. "It's a lot like your style. Veggie burgers, soy drinks, plenty of vegetables everywhere… A lot of rabbits, too."
Sara scowls questioningly.
Greg raises a brow in what Sara supposes is meant to be a sexy way, and nods.
"Yeah," he confirms with a serious expression. "Customers, you know."
She bursts out laughing gracefully, her eyes glittering as her gap-toothed smile widens. She likes Greg's dorkish humour. He's so different from Grissom.
Yeah, Grissom. Despite the smug feeling she got by seeing his mildly jealous look – because, yes, she saw it, even if she wasn't supposed to – when she left his office with Greg, she still feels guilty. Sara knows how bad it feels to just watch while someone else is taking away the one you love. Not that she thinks Grissom loves, her, anyway.
She casts Greg a sheepish glance and he grins in anticipation. Sara feels suddenly not so inclined to go out with him. It wouldn't be fair in his regards, nor in Grissom's, nor in her own. It would be just another trick to forget, at least for a couple of hours, that her life is not how she used to dream it, another ephemeral illusion that everything is okay.
The sad thing about adulthood is that it takes away all the hope, and leaves only that sour awareness that nothing could ever be as you planned. Life sucks, nobody better than Sara knows this.
"Maybe some other time," She answers, sweetly but definitely. "I need a shower and some time on my own."
Greg stares down, folding his arms, and licks his lips. His face has abruptly turned dark.
"Why do you let him do this to you?" he mutters, not looking at her.
Sara is at a loss. She ducks her head back in her locker and avoids the question, wondering if the answer would be more painful for him or for herself.
"You should really find a good girl, Greg." She says softly. "One who deserves you."
Greg moves closer to her. He leans his side just next to her open locker and eyes her intensely. Sara feels her pulse increase. Something is wrong in the way he's relating to her, something feels awkward, and surely not good.
"You are my good girl, Sara." He replies. "You are the one who deserves the whole world…"
Sara won't move a single muscle. She stands stoned and slightly beleaguered. Nothing he's saying is mean, but it hurts, and very deeply.
"You could have anyone at your feet, if you wanted." He continues, his calm voice contaminated by a hue of resentment. "This is what I don't get… Why? Why him, Sara? I'm curious…" He takes one step forward, and now she can feel him scrutinizing her closely. "Why, of all the millions of men you could have, you want the one you can't get?"
Pure pangs of pain cross Sara's body entirely, tearing and slashing, down to her core.
"Because I love him." she breaths. Greg looks like the whole world has just fallen to pieces.
"How can you? How is it even possible, after all he's done to you?"
"Greg, please…" she begs weakly, clenching at the locker door so tightly that her knuckles became white.
"You and I are so similar, aren't we?" He remarks, pitilessly. "We're like stupid sunflowers, running all the time after a sun which is just too far to be reached…" He leans on her. She keeps looking straight in front of her, at the dark bottom of the locker, her heart hammering in her throat. "Aren't we ridiculously pathetic?"
Her eyes become watery. The emotional overload is overwhelming her, and she feels she's about to give in. First Grissom's shocking confession, now this. It's too much for one sole day.
She didn't know this dark side of Greg, and it scares her. She closes her eyes in pain, biting her lips together.
"It's not something you can decide, is it?." She tells him, numbly. "So, please, don't talk to me like this is something I enjoy."
"Do you think I like to love you?" he shouts in return, banging the locker door closed. She jolts backwards, eyes wide in disorientation. "I hate to love you, I fucking hate it, Sara!" He seizes her by her shoulders and nearly slams her back against the lockers. "And you know what I hate most? No matter how hard I try to wash it away, it just won't go! It's in my eyes, in my thoughts, in my skin, it's everywhere… Because you are everywhere, Sara!"
She stares back abashed, cringing at his raging tone. They've never had arguments before, not even stupid ones, and this unexpected aggressiveness is new to her, and it scares her, caged as she is between the barrier behind her back, his body, and her own incapacity to move, both terrorised and mesmerised by the crazy flashes in his look.
His breath is frantic and irregular, she can feel it as his hands lay at the sides of her head onto the metal of the lockers, trapping her. She could easily slip away, if she wanted, but there's something in his eyes that nails her on her spot, breathless, and she just can't move.
"You can die after him as long as you want, Sara – forever, if you think – but you know what?" he leans on closer, anger painted on his face. His voice is a hissing whisper. "Even if one day he'll open his eyes, he still won't deserve you."
Sara feels guilty for her own feelings, for not being able to return this burning passion coming from Greg, but everything her heart feels is deep, sincere friendly love. She would love to love him. She would give everything to love him back as he does her – it would be, oh, so easier – but it doesn't work like this, and she regrets it, sometimes.
"I'm sorry, Greg." She mumbles behind her unshed tears. "I'm so sorry…"
Greg seems to notice the fear in her, because he suddenly relents. His hands shift to her face, and his thumbs stoke her burning cheeks tenderly. His eyes are watery, too.
"I'm sorry, too, Sara." He says, a faint, apologetic smile lingering on his lips. "It's just that… You always look so beautiful and needy that it kills me to not be able to help you."
Sara tries to smile in return, but in this moment even breathing seems difficult.
"You do help me, Greg." She says shyly. "You save me from myself every single day."
Sara has just become aware of a big truth. She's glad she has a friend like him and she hopes he knows.
Greg nods, his smile is sad but sincere.
"Forgive me," he sighs in frustration. "And forget of this tirade, if you can."
"Okay." She agrees in relief. She doesn't want anything to change between the two of them, not even the smallest thing, because she would be lost without his support.
He slowly bends his head toward her and drops a gentle kiss on the corner of her mouth.
"I love you." He whispers. "This is the one thing I don't want you to forget."
And Sara won't forget, because that very love is her vital lymph.
She would like to cry, in this moment, to break down on him and tell him how scared she was to see him like that, but she doesn't want to wake him up, and he looks so peaceful, even in spite of the tiny wounds all over his body, that she really doesn't want to disturb him. So she just sits there, on that uncomfortable chair, and wakes over him like a guardian angel. Her heart is still sore for all those images she'll always bear carved in her mind, that sheer act of cruelty and insanity that caused him such grief. In that plexiglas coffin, just hours ago, she was suffering with him.
She would have appreciated Grissom's comfort in such a hard moment, but, of course, that would have been inappropriate, and she prefers to concentrate on poor Nick rather than mourn over herself once more.
He's sleeping now, seemingly soundly, and Sara hopes at least his dreams are serene.
A sob escapes from her lips as she curls up, pulling her knees to her chest and embracing her legs tightly. The room is bare, stark, and lacks of any kind of comforting detail someone would like to find when opening their eyes. There's only her, and she hopes he won't awake now, because she's been crying for a while, and she can picture her red puffy eyes and the tears leaking down her pallid face. Not one of the best welcoming views.
Despite this, though, Nick's eyes are fluttering open, and no matter how distraught and horrible she looks. He sees her, and smiles.
Sara is too happy to do anything but fling herself to him and take his hand in hers.
"Hey." She sniffles, unable to keep her voice from shaking. Nick is breathing hard, with a light pained grimace on his face, but apart from this he looks fine.
"Hey you, Sunshine." It is evident that speaking is an effort, because his voice is very low and hoarse, and the tube in his nose is not helping. But his cheeks have gained some colour, though very lightly, and Sara's heart is swelling with relief.
"Oh, Nicky…" She bends down to hug him, as delicately as she can. And she can't fight the copious tears now literally streaming along her face, soaking his neck and his hospital gown.
"Easy, Sara." He mutters jokingly, placing his hand on top of her head. "I kind of want to stay alive."
She pulls away embarrassedly, furiously wiping the tears away.
"Sorry." She stutters, with a short hysteric laugh. She has felt so useless in the last few hours that now all she wants is to show him she is here for him, that she cares.
Nick squeezes her hand in his fingers, or at least he tries. His grip is so weak she can barely feel it, but it's a heartwarming feeling.
"Don't apologise." He replies sweetly. "I should thank you, instead."
Sara doesn't know what she did deserve his gratefulness. She's too overjoyed to wonder about it.
"I would have gone crazy in there," he confesses. "Hadn't it been for you."
Sara isn't sure she has understood. She has had – to her own frustration – nearly nothing to do with his rescue, nor she was able to ease his anguish when he was trapped six feet under. She has never made the difference for anyone, but this time it's different. This time she really wanted to make it.
She turns away, and looks down, helpless. It stings to admit that, while her probably best friend was risking his life, she could do nothing but watch.
"I did nothing, Nick." She says defeatedly, but he shakes his head.
"You kept me alive."
Her head darts up, her mouth agape. She has no clue of what he means, but it still feels good to hear.
Nick takes his time to answer. He looks out of the window for a while, his hand never leaving hers as she gently cradles it. It's only long seconds later that he turns back to her, and she sees his eyes are glossy.
"It was horrible, Sara." He remembers, staring at the ceiling. "It was like I was struck in there while all the good thoughts were locked outside…" A teardrop rolls down to the pillow, and there it dies, leaving no trace. "Every good thought, except you. I grasped at your memory."
He gazes at her again, and a shudder runs through her spine. The emotion in his look is so row and pristine to elicit some sort of reflex sentiment in her.
"I was desperate, and… I don't know how, just when I started fearing I would lose it, I thought of your smile, and I know it might sound crazy, but… I knew I didn't want to die without seeing it one last time."
Sara smiles, moved, and he does too. They're both crying, but it's like they don't care. They just laugh and weep like kids, and they're just content to be here together. The darkness has gone, the sun is rising, and hope is following along. Sara feels like she can start living again.
Nick watches her attentively while her gracious laugh fades, quickly replaced by a loving look.
"You're so beautiful when you smile… It was worth the waiting." He says blissfully, even if an exhaust shade darkens his face. "Definitely worth it."
Sara has no more control over her emotional state. She lets everything come out altogether, not even caring if she's still smiling or crying or both. She just leaves her seat and goes to lie down next to him, her head nestled under his chin and an arm enveloped around his waist.
They simply stay here like this, because it just feels good, and it's everything they wished a few hours ago.
Nick's body is warm and his breath soothing. He whispers a 'Thank you' on her hair. Sara tangles her fingers in his and smiles one more time, feeling special.
She has never made the difference before, but Nick is right. It was worth the waiting.
She stares at herself in the full-height mirror in the bathroom, wearing nothing but a short silk robe. Her hair is wet and dripping water on her shoulders. She wonders if this is what a man dreams to see when he thinks of his loved one. She has to concede she has something different now, some new light in her eyes she can't explain. She sees her reflection grin smugly when a thought hits her mind. The thing she has now and didn't have before is happiness. Real happiness.
She can hardly believe she finally got it, after such a long time. To be honest, she had already lost her last little hope when everything happened. Sometimes she wakes up in the middle of the night and needs to check if he's actually sleeping beside her, and she nearly fears to open her eyes in the morning, afraid that he might no longer be there. But the amazing thing is that she always finds him, whenever she turns searching for him.
Sometimes, this is what it scares her. She's spent half of her life trying to get the attention of an unattainable man, and now she has it, she has realised she hasn't got much to offer to him. In fact, this is one of those cases when the benefit of the doubt is not a privilege. She hates not to know if she's smart enough for him, fine enough, anything enough. He's interested in whatever is beautiful, and Sara often asks herself is she's interesting enough.
She has had to struggle so much to get somewhere with him, it has been such a long, agonizing waiting, that now it's like her perfect sandcastle might be swept away any moment, and she can hardly live with this.
She doesn't know what he expects from her, she doesn't know how far this is going to go. The mere fact that she doesn't know drives her crazy.
Her heart skips a beat as the gentle sound of his voice awakens her from her musings. Gil is standing behind her on the doorstep, studying her with the most fond expression she has ever seen. Her doubts, even the worst ones, drain away at once. Nobody, not even the best liar, could wear a face like that and not be honest.
"I was…" she can't tell him she still feels so insecure, she doesn't want him to think she doesn't trust him. "Just going to dry my hair."
He approaches and runs his fingers through her soaked locks, brushing them behind her hear, the his hand trails down and cups the side of her face. His touch feels wonderful on her velvet skin.
"Maybe you could just leave it alone, and come to bed…" he suggests tentatively. Sara faces down, smiling retiringly.
"If I don't fix it now, tomorrow I'll look so hideous I won't be able to set a foot out of here without being laughed at by everyone."
"That would be impossible." His thumb tickles her cheekbone. Sara basks in this endearing feeling, and she knows she'll never get enough of it. He smiles, because maybe he knows. "I'll make some tea while you finish here, okay?"
She watches him leave, proud that she can say he's her man. She dreamingly goes to the drawer and takes the hair-dryer and a comb out. She places herself in front of the mirror again and makes to turn the dryer on, when she suddenly doesn't feel like wasting time in such a trivial thing anymore.
She checks her reflection and tries to see herself through Grissom's eyes, but it proves harder than she thought. She's always had some difficulty in perceiving the world from his perspective.
"Since when you've been interested in beauty?"
"Since I met you."
She beams unconsciously at the memory, and she suddenly doesn't care anymore about how her hair will look like tomorrow. She drops everything on the shelf and goes to the kitchen.
Gil is at the counter, pouring some coffee in two cups in the milky light of the aquarium.
He doesn't sense her presence until she leans on his back and encircles his waist with her thin arms.
"Changed your mind?" he asks with a hint of teasing, not even turning around. He adds two teaspoons of sugar in his cup and a sprinkle of milk in hers, then he stirs them both.
Sara just presses her cheek on him and inhales his scent. His aftershave is mixed with the aroma of the coffee, and it's a smell she has started associating with home.
"I decided I can let my hair become a messy bush." She says. "You'll still love me, right?"
He laughs, grabbing a box of chocolate chip cookies out of the cupboard.
"Beauty and love are in the eyes of the beholder." He quotes, and puts some of the cookies on a plate. "I think I'd love you even if you looked like Ecklie."
"Do you seriously find me beautiful?" Sara dares, surprising herself with this delicate question. She doesn't expect him to say he does. She actually regrets she even asked. Grissom hesitates, then shrugs nonchalantly.
"No." he replies, and for an instant Sara's heart cringes. "I don't find you beautiful, Sara. You are beautiful."
Sara holds him a little tighter, butterflies flying in her stomach. He still can make her feel like a school girl on her first crush. The funny thing is that this is exactly what she was, when she first met him.
He stands motionless for a short while, then slowly turns in her arms to face her. She meets his grinning gaze and feels his hands set on her hips, pulling her closer.
"I know," he whispers tenderly, taking her chin between his fingers. "This is why I'm happy, too."
He closes his lips upon hers in a soft kiss, his arms surrounding her completely.
Sara thinks of the past and everything she's been through before getting to this. There are pleasing memories and terrible moments, friendly expressions and faces she just wants to forget, but despite all the wrong things, she knows she has a lot to be glad for.
As the only man she has ever longed for rocks her in his arms, she thinks of all the people that made her life so beautiful, and, washed by the growing happiness she feels inside, Sara just smiles.