A/N: And so ends this chapter of Grissom and Sara's lives. I hope you've enjoyed my take on their story, and I hope you'll be willing to continue with me into the next part of their journey. I hope to have the beginning of that story posted by the end of August.
Thank you so much for reading my story, and for your kind reviews, words of wisdom and suggestions. You have shaped my writing more than you'll ever know, and I truly am grateful. A particularly huge THANK YOU goes to aussieforgood, who has kept me in check and on the right track with this story so many times.
And, now, I hope you enjoy this last chapter of "And They Lived Happily."
I don't own CSI. Some inspiration and dialogue are borrowed from episode 802, "A la Cart."
"Okay," Sara said, putting her phone on the coffee table. "That was Greg. He said that Grissom spent the last couple hours with a nasty decomp. He's showering now, and then he'll be home to take us to the airport."
Mary made a face. "Do I even want to know?"
"No," Sara said. "But, if he's showering at the lab, that means he had lemons in his locker, and that means … we can pretend we didn't hear anything about a decomp."
Mary shook her head. "I've said it before, but it bears repeating: I don't know how you can do your job."
"Someone has to speak for the victims," Sara said quietly.
"Yeah," Mary agreed, her own voice quiet. "They're lucky they have you."
Sara smiled as her cell phone rang again. "I hope that's not …" Her voice died away as she read the name on the screen. Her smile was replaced by a frown.
"Now what?" Mary asked, a bit surprised by the peeved look on Sara's face.
She scowled and answered her phone. "This is Sara," she said.
"Sara," Ecklie said in the jovial voice that he tended to use with her when he wanted something. "It's Conrad. How are you feeling?"
"Better, thanks," she said.
"Great," he said, still using his upbeat tone. "I'm looking over your paperwork, and it says you're scheduled to come back next week."
"On Tuesday," she confirmed.
"Great," he said again. "Listen, I need to talk to you before you jump back in – a formality, you know."
"Right," Sara agreed. "Do you need me to make an appointment, or –"
"No, no, it's not that formal," Ecklie interrupted. "Just stop by my office between now and Tuesday."
"I'll do that," Sara said.
"Great," he said yet again. "I'll look forward to seeing you."
"Thanks," Sara said.
Mary watched as Sara closed her phone. "Who was that? I haven't seen you scowl that much since … I can't even remember when."
"Ecklie," Sara replied. "God, that man is such a tool!"
"Toooooolllll," Josie parroted from her spot on the floor playing with her doll.
"Thanks, Sara," Mary said dryly. "Josie, don't use that word. It's not nice."
"Tool," Josie said again, giggling this time.
Sara laughed. "Good job, Mar. You've made it fun."
"I blame you for this," Mary said. She sighed. "So, what did he want?"
"He said we need to have a meeting before I'm allowed back to work."
"Seems reasonable," Mary said. "You'll have to give him your medical information and doctor's release and all that, right?"
"I don't think so," Sara said slowly. "From what I remember, Nick and Greg just gave all that stuff to Grissom when they came back from medical leave." She sighed. "He wants to talk about me and Grissom. Gil's been avoiding him, which he can get away with, because he doesn't need his permission to do anything." She shook her head. "At best, he's going to make one of us switch shifts. At worst, he's going to fire me."
"He can't fire you for this!"
"I think he can," Sara said. "We're violating lab policy, and we've known it from the beginning. It all depends on how evil he's feeling."
"Hope for the best, right?"
"Yeah," Sara said. She bit her lip. "I'm going to do it, Mary."
"Assuming Ecklie doesn't fire me, I'm going to switch shifts."
Mary nodded. She had expected that Sara would make that decision. "Have you decided how you're going to convince Grissom that's the best idea?"
"I'm just going to tell him," she said. "I thought about just telling Ecklie and then telling Grissom after it's a done deal, but that doesn't seem fair." She sighed. "He doesn't want to leave the guys, Mary. I know that. I think that if I just tell him with conviction and don't let him argue about it, he'll let me. He'll probably be relieved that he gets to keep his job, to be honest."
"And, you don't mind switching shifts?" Mary asked slowly.
Sara smiled slightly. "Of course I mind. It's not what I want. It's not what any of us wants. But, a couple years ago, Catherine, Nick and Warrick were all sent to swing. As much as we all hated that our team was split, we still saw each other. We still worked cases together. We still went out after work. The shifts overlap, you know. I'll still get to see everyone. I'll still get time at home with Grissom."
"You're sure about this?"
"I'm sure it's the best way."
Mary nodded. "Then, it's the right thing to do."
"Hi, ladies," Grissom said as he walked into the house.
Mary and Sara were sitting on the living room floor with Josie, rolling a ball between the three of them. They all looked up with smiles when he came in. Josie stood up and toddled to him with the ball in her hands.
"Hey, sweetie," Grissom said as she held out her ball. He took it with a smile. "Thank you. Were you playing with Mommy and Auntie Sara?"
Josie giggled and threw her arms around his legs. Grissom's smile widened; he put the ball down to lift her into his arms.
Mary turned to Sara with a knowing smile as Grissom tossed Josie into the air and caught her again. Sara smiled back.
"It's only a matter of time before he wants his own," Mary said quietly.
"Yeah," Sara said. "I think you might be right on that."
Mary's eyebrows shot up. She had expected a denial. "And, how would you feel about that?"
Sara flushed slightly. "He'll be a wonderful father," she nearly whispered.
"No," she said, understanding her friend's unasked question. "Thank goodness. After everything I've been through recently …"
"Yeah," Mary agreed. "You're right. But … soon?"
Sara smiled helplessly and shrugged. "Can I get back to you on that one?"
"You'd better," Mary said, her eyes shining.
"Okay," Grissom said, settling the giggling Josie in his arms. "Are you set to go? I don't want you to miss your flight."
"Yeah, we're ready when you are," Mary replied.
"Where's your luggage?"
"Still in the guest room," Sara said. She grinned. "We thought we'd have you get it, since you're my big, burly man."
Grissom rolled his eyes. "Flattery to cover for laziness, Sara?"
"Oh, be nice," Mary said with a grin. "She has a broken arm."
"Oh, yes, the old 'broken arm' excuse," Grissom said as he went to the guest room to get Mary's suitcase.
"Hey!" Sara laughed. "I'm not going to let a broken arm stop me! Mary was just afraid I'd hurt myself."
"Knowing you, you would," Grissom replied as he returned carrying her suitcase. "I've never seen someone who is so graceful without even trying to be hurt herself so many ways when she's making an effort to be careful."
"Okay, honestly, I'm not sure if I'm insulted by that or not."
Grissom grinned and kissed her cheek. "I love you," he whispered.
Sara rolled her eyes. "I think that means it was an insult."
Grissom laughed. "Come on, ladies. Let's go to the airport."
"Thank you so much for coming," Sara said, hugging Mary with one arm.
"I'm so glad we could," Mary replied, hugging her tightly. "I needed to see that you're okay."
"I am," Sara said, pulling back.
"I know that now," Mary agreed. She leaned in to kiss Sara's cheek. "I'll call you when we get home."
"Good. Tell Tom hello."
Mary abandoned Sara to hug Grissom, and Sara knelt down to kiss Josie goodbye. After Grissom had said goodbye to the baby, Mary hugged Sara one last time, then disappeared through the security gates. Sara sighed.
"I'm going to miss her."
"You won't have much time to do that," Grissom said. "You'll be back at work in a couple days."
"Oh, yeah," Sara said. "I forgot to tell you –"
Her statement ended as Grissom's phone rang.
"Sorry," he said, picking it up.
"It's fine," Sara said.
Smiling apologetically, Grissom opened his phone. "Grissom. … Okay. … Yeah, I'll be there. … No, it's fine. … I'll call them. … Thanks. … Bye."
"Who was it?" Sara asked as he closed his phone.
"Brass," Grissom replied. "He needs me for a case. I'm going to call Nick and Greg on my way to the lab."
Sara bit her lip. "Can I ride to the lab with you?"
Grissom frowned. "Why?"
"That's what I was just about to tell you. Ecklie called before you got home. He said he needs to meet with me before I come back to work."
"I know what it's about," Sara said. "I just … I want to get it over with."
"Probably not a bad plan," Grissom admitted.
"Not that you're about to do the same," Sara teased.
Grissom smiled. "It would confuse him too much if I was willing to meet with him."
Sara laughed. "Well, I'm not you, dear."
"That's a good thing," Grissom said as they turned to walk back to the parking lot. "We only need one of me."
He tried to frown at her, but smiled instead. "So, if I take you to the lab, how will you get home?"
"I'll either catch a ride with someone or call a cab. I'll be fine."
"You're sure about this?"
"I want to do this now and be done with it."
"Okay, then," Grissom said, opening the passenger door for her. "To the lab."
"Oh, my God!"
Sara grinned and braced herself for the hug from Catherine. "Hi, Cath."
"What are you doing here?" Greg asked as he took his turn to hug her.
"I have a meeting with Ecklie," she said.
"But, you're not coming back until later, right?" Nick asked, his eyes shining with concern as he folded her into his arms.
"Tuesday," Sara confirmed.
"We'll have a cake for you," Warrick said, hugging her. "We've missed you around here, little girl."
"I've missed you guys, too," Sara said. She blinked quickly, suddenly overcome by a wave of sadness. She wanted to come back to their shift, to work with them again. Grissom had already offered … it would be so easy …
"Nick, Greg, I need you to come with me," Grissom said, trying to bring everyone back into a "work" mindset. "Brass has a head rolling around somewhere in the desert."
"It's always something around here," Nick said with a grin. "If we're off by lunchtime, Sara …"
"Definitely," she agreed.
Catherine's phone beeped; she lifted it to look at the text message. "Warrick, want to come to a restaurant with me right now?" she asked. "We've got a dead guy."
"Well, when you ask like that …" he teased.
Sara grinned. "Get to work, guys. I'll see you all later."
After another round of hugs, the team split into two groups and left Sara alone outside the lab. Smiling at the enthusiastic greeting she had received, she opened the doors. It was time to face the music.
The lab seemed quiet without the sounds of Greg, Nick and Warrick teasing each other as they nearly ran down the halls to conduct an experiment or pick up lab results. The layout room was empty; it looked strange without Grissom and Catherine bending over a piece of evidence that could break a case.
The lab wasn't empty, though. The techs all looked up in surprise as Sara walked down the halls to Ecklie's office. Part of her wanted to stop at say hello, but she knew that she couldn't. If she started talking to them, she'd never get to Ecklie's office. She had to meet with him before she lost her nerve.
He was holding his phone to his ear and drumming his fingers against his desk when Sara arrived. She knocked lightly on the door frame to alert him to her presence. He looked up and waved her in, standing with a slight smile.
"Have a seat," he said, motioning to the couch across from his desk.
Sara sat down silently, not wanting to interrupt him.
"How's the arm?" he asked as his call was sent to voicemail.
"Fractured in two places," Sara said with a smile.
"Gil, Conrad again," he said into the phone. "Um … message number three. Call me back please." He hung up the phone and looked at Sara. "It's feeling better?" he asked, continuing their previous conversation.
"Yeah," she said, still maintaining her smile.
"Good." He paused, then gestured toward the phone. "So, you must know where he is."
"Actually, I don't," Sara said, shaking her head. It was a question of semantics, really. She knew that he was at a scene in the desert, but that didn't exactly answer Ecklie's question.
"Really?" He smiled nervously. "Okay. Um … Look, I don't want to play any games here." He picked up a folder and carried it around to the other side of his desk. "This is as difficult for me as it is for you." He sat down across from her. "So, let's just, uh, get this over with, shall we?"
Sara nodded, pleased to see that he viewed the entire experience the same way she did.
Ecklie crossed his legs and balanced the open folder on them. "Okay, then, uh, this is an administrative inquiry. You and your supervisor were in direct violation of lab policy."
"Are," Sara corrected.
Ecklie looked up, holding her eyes for a heartbeat. "Are in direct violation of lab policy," he amended, "which states that members of the same forensic team may not engage in a romantic relationship." He clicked his pen to life. "So, when did you and Supervisor Grissom begin your relationship?"
Sara drew a breath and considered his question. "We've always had a relationship," she said, thinking of the friendship that had brought her to Las Vegas eight years before.
Ecklie looked slightly irritated, unsure if she was playing games with him or merely trying to put all her cards on the table. "I mean, when did you become intimate?" he clarified.
Sara thought for a moment, then decided that, since she was talking to Ecklie, she should probably interpret intimate in the basest, crudest way possible. Her mind flew back to the first time she and Grissom had made love. She remembered the hotel room in Boston the night before Josie's baptism … "Two years ago. I think it was a Sunday."
Ecklie looked up and held up a hand. "Details won't be necessary, Sara."
She gave him a half-smile. "Good. I don't like to kiss and tell."
"Clearly." He cleared his throat. "And, at that time, two years ago, were you aware of the lab policy against romantic involvement among team members?"
He closed his eyes briefly. "Was it your intention to defy that policy?"
"Intention?" Sara repeated. "No. My intention was to enter into a relationship with a man with whom I was – am – in love."
"So, what you're telling me is that love is blind to the policies of the workplace?"
"I suppose so." She paused. "Would it help if I said that it wasn't truly active defiance? Passive, certainly, but we didn't set out to defy you or lab policy. We just … fell in love. It just happened."
Ecklie smiled slightly. "I suppose that counts for something."
"Sara, I can't allow you to continue to violate our policy," he said. "I wish things could be different, but …"
She held his gaze unflinchingly.
"I'm assuming you intend to continue with the relationship?"
"Yes," Sara replied without hesitation.
Ecklie nodded. "In that case, one of you will have to switch teams," he said. "Under normal circumstances, you'd both face disciplinary action, but, considering …" He gestured toward her broken arm. "In this case, I think you've been punished enough."
Sara let out the breath she had been holding. "Will you decide which of us will switch?"
"I'll leave it up to you," he said. "Can you let me know by tomorrow?"
"Yeah," Sara agreed.
"Good. Call or email me."
"I'll do that."
Ecklie closed his folder, clearly eager to end the interview. "I hope you feel better, Sara."
She nodded. "I already do."
Sara paused in her trek from Ecklie's office to the reception area and gave Wendy a smile. "Hi," she said.
"It's so good to see you," Wendy said in a rush. "How are you feeling?"
"Much better," Sara said. She smiled and looked around. "It's good to be here again." It feels so normal to be here again.
"We've missed you," Wendy said. "Even Hodges, although he'll never admit it."
Sara grinned. "I've missed you guys, too."
"Hey, listen, our shift is ending right now. Do you want to go out for breakfast? I'm sure that Mandy will come with us."
"You know, that sounds like fun," Sara agreed. "On one condition."
Sara grinned. "Can you take me home afterwards? I can't drive yet and I don't have a ride."
Wendy laughed. "You've got it."
There was something to be said for following a blood trail from a head to find its body. Grissom certainly had had an interesting shift. Nick and Greg's had been even more interesting; they had chased their lead suspect when he ran from the police. Truly, the only thing Grissom felt was missing from his shift was a phone call from Sara. He wanted to know how her meeting with Ecklie had gone, but she had not yet called. He could have called her, of course, but he was still a bit hesitant to call her during work for non-work reasons.
"You've been dodging me. It's time to talk."
Grissom looked up from the interrogation notes Nick had given him to see a very angry Ecklie standing in front of his desk. He stared at his colleague.
"Gil, nobody wants to hear about your love life less than I do, but since you didn't handle this right, I have to take a formal statement." Ecklie sat down across from Grissom.
Grissom frowned, wondering if there was any possible way to avoid this conversation. Maybe someone would call … Greg or Nick would come in with the news their suspect had confessed … Catherine would need help on her case … the lab would blow up … anything …
"This should have been a conversation between friends," Ecklie said as he opened his folder and took out his pen. "I mean, we could have found some way around this. Catherine could have done Sara's evaluations. Why didn't you just tell me?"
Grissom, wondering if Ecklie was being at all honest about letting them stay on the same team if Catherine would agree to do Sara's evaluations, finally recovered his powers of speech.
"We didn't want you to know," he answered honestly.
"Don't most women like the world to know they're dating someone?"
Grissom gave him a look somewhere between a smile and a frown. "Where do you get your information about women, Conrad?"
Ecklie shook his head in disbelief. "Okay, so, when did you two … you know …?"
Grissom thought back to the first time he had seen Sara, a tall, gorgeous, impossibly young woman searching for a seat in his lecture, flashing him a brilliant smile as she asked question after question. He had been in love with her since that first day. "Nine years ago," he said.
Ecklie looked up from his papers with pure annoyance written all over his face. "You know what? You two need to get your story straight."
Grissom frowned. "What –?"
"Were you aware of departmental policy against romantic involvement among members of the same forensic team?" Ecklie asked without letting Grissom finish his question.
"Did you set out to defy that policy?"
"No," Grissom said.
"Why?" Grissom repeated. "Do you really need to ask that?"
Ecklie shook his head. "I suppose I could take a guess. But, I do need an answer."
Grissom sighed. "Because I love her, Conrad. Is that what you need to hear?"
"Did your romantic relationship in any way influence your evaluation of CSI Sidle's work?" he asked, ignoring Grissom's answer and finding his way back to the comfort of the administrative inquiry.
"No," Grissom said. "Her record speaks for itself. You would have given her the same evaluations I did."
"Was she given preferential treatment?"
"No," Grissom replied. "As far as I'm concerned, she was treated like any other CSI. Though, I suppose you'd get a more honest answer to that question if you put it to my team."
"I may do that."
Grissom just stopped himself from rolling his eyes.
"I'll tell you the same thing I told Sara," Ecklie said. "Assuming you don't want to end your relationship, one of you has to switch shifts. Because of everything you've both been through recently, I'll refrain from any sort of disciplinary action beyond that. Talk to Sara, and call or email me tomorrow with your final decision about who will move."
With that, he got up and left Grissom's office. Grissom exhaled slowly, thinking that they had gotten off very easy, indeed.
"In here," Sara called from the bedroom.
Grissom walked into their bedroom to see Sara searching through her closet. "What are you looking for?"
"Things I don't want anymore," she said. "I'm going to do a closet purge."
"Well, can you postpone it a few hours?"
"I suppose. What do you have in mind?"
He grinned. "The case the guys and I were working involved go-kart racing. Nick and Greg thought it sounded like fun to try it, so, the entire team is getting together to race tonight. Even Doc Robbins is coming."
Sara's eyes lit up. "Yeah, let's go! When do we need to leave?"
"Now would probably be best."
"I'm ready when you are."
He smiled. "Hey, how did you get home after your meeting?"
"Wendy brought me. She and Mandy took me out for breakfast when their shift ended."
His smile widened. "Did you have fun with the girls?"
"I did," she replied. "I didn't realize how much I've missed everyone until today."
"So, you're telling me we need to leave so you can see the rest of the team?"
They were both so cheerful during the drive that Sara didn't want to bring up her meeting with Ecklie. She'd tell him later, when they were back at home. By then, she'd have her rationale for switching shifts totally worked out in her mind and ready to present to him.
Grissom pulled into a parking space and turned to look at Sara.
"What?" she asked.
"When did you tell Ecklie we got involved?" he asked.
"Two years ago," she said.
A look of disbelief and confusion came over Grissom's face.
"Why?" Sara asked, disbelief coloring her own face. "What did you tell him?"
"Nine years ago," Grissom replied as though it shouldn't even be a question.
Nine years ago? But, that was when we … Sara laughed. "The Forensics Academy Conference?" she asked, still laughing.
Sara laughed even harder. To her, "involved" certainly meant more than a few shared dinners between lectures.
"You … uh … had too many questions about anthropology for some reason," Grissom said, trying to make her understand why he had said what he said.
Sara stopped laughing and gave him the same smile he had fallen in love with nine years before. "Well, I was stalling," she explained. "I was trying to get the nerve to ask you to dinner."
Grissom nodded, remembering that long-ago day. "You had a ponytail," he said, taking her hand.
Sara smiled, amazed he would remember that little detail. Maybe he was right about the nine years thing …
Silence fell as they both thought of all the changes they had undergone during those nine years … of all the ways they had fallen apart and still managed to stay together.
"I'm going to move to swing," Sara said, breaking the silence.
Grissom's head snapped around to look at her. "We talked about this."
"I know that you said that you would do it, but I don't want to do that to the team," Sara said.
She could already see that Grissom would let her have her way. His eyes softened; she knew he was thinking of the good of the team ahead of all else.
"Besides," she continued, winning her battle, "I am sure that I can use more daylight in my life."
Grissom nodded slightly, and squeezed her hand. His grip was almost painful, but she welcomed it. The idea of working separate shifts hurt him as much as it did her.
"We should go," she said after a moment.
"Yeah," Grissom agreed.
He released her hand, and they both opened their doors to climb from the car.
The team was already on the race track when they entered the building. Greg and Catherine both waved as they sped past, but Warrick barely looked up, intent upon regaining the lead from Greg. Sara grinned and Grissom waved back. Nick pulled to a stop next to where they leaned on the fence separating the spectators from the racers.
"You wanna ride?" he asked.
"Wish I could," Sara said with a smile.
"What about you, Ricky Bobby?"
"No, thanks. I like to watch," Grissom replied, holding up his hands.
"Okay," Nick said in a voice that clearly said he was missing out. He flipped his visor back down over his eyes. "Ha, ha!" he exclaimed as he accelerated to join the others.
"You should go," Sara said at once, turning to look at Grissom with an encouraging smile.
"Yeah?" Grissom asked.
"Yeah," she said with a grin, nodding to emphasize her point. "You should go!"
He looked at her for a minute, smiling. She nodded again, her grin widening.
"Okay," he said at last.
Sara watched as he went through the gate and was directed to a go-kart. He put on a helmet and strapped himself in, looking at her as though he couldn't believe what he was about to do. Sara grinned and gave him a thumbs up sign. He needed to do things like this more often. Aside from the occasional rollercoaster ride, he hardly ever let himself go and just have fun.
Sara didn't mind standing on the sidelines this time, feeling like a parent whose children were on a carousel as she waved to her friends. Nick, Warrick and Greg were tough competitors, nudging each others' go-karts as they attempted to win the race. They were kind enough not to bump Catherine or Doc Robbins, and smart enough to leave their boss alone.
What a team … When I walked into the lab eight years ago, I never dreamed this is how it would turn out.
Things had changed so much from the day she had joined the graveyard team all those years ago. Sara sighed, pushing her wayward hair back from her face as she watched her teammates – no, her friends – race each other around in an endless loop. She smiled at Grissom as he passed her, waving and grinning in utter childlike excitement. She shook her head slightly.
So many changes.
As a little girl whose life had been formed by tumultuous change, Sara had always craved stability. Normalcy. Routine. And, she had found it, here, in Vegas, with Grissom and this strange, wonderful family.
And, now, she was going to destroy all of that.
But, what other option was there? Ecklie knew about their relationship, knew that they had been, for lack of a better phrase, deceiving him for years. She smiled again at that thought. Even though they could not agree on how many years they had been together, they most certainly were, as Ecklie had said, intimate. And, as Ecklie had said, that intimacy violated lab policy. They had two options: End their work relationship or end their romantic relationship. Break up the team or break up themselves. Destroy their professional intimacy or destroy their personal intimacy.
They both knew that there was really only one option.
And, so, Sara would leave the team. She would still go to the lab every day. She would still be a crime scene investigator. She would still see her friends. She would still see the man who meant more to her than anything.
She just wished things didn't have to change. She wished that they could stay together both at work and away from work. She wished that the team would always be together as the family they had created.
But, somehow, despite all the changes that lay ahead, she knew that all the things that mattered would remain the same. Greg, Nick, Catherine, Warrick … they would always be her best friends. They would always be the ones she turned to in a crisis. The ones who would laugh with her, cry with her, celebrate with her and mourn with her. They were her family in all ways that mattered, and that would never change.
And, perhaps even more importantly, Grissom would always be there. A solid constant in her life, he was her lover and her best friend. He was the love of her life, and that would never change.
Despite all the changes, Sara knew that she had to focus on the stability, on the constancy in her life. Grissom and her friends would always be there. And, somehow, that was enough. She knew that they'd be all right.