DISCLAIMER: Don't own anything associated with the show… I just like playing with the characters in it from time to time. Dance Monkeys! Dance!
RATING: T – Teen
SPOILERS: Episodes 8X07: Goodbye & Good Luck
PAIRINGS: GSR
STATUS: COMPLETE
SUMMARY: Grissom works through Sara's departure with a little help.

A/N: Well, here it is; the end. I have been thrilled and delighted by the response I've received during the writing and posting of this story, and I will treasure this experience for the rest of the my life. Writing this piece has been strangely cathartic, and while I have quite honestly felt possessed from time to time, I found that it was all worth it in the end. Thank you all for the wonderful comments and your amazing support as I explored these ideas.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Oh, you know who you are... I just have to say that I am deeply indebted to you all for the hand holding, the sanity checks, the edits, the read throughs, the slaps and smacks that were needed along the way, and for not letting me throw the whole thing away when I came upon a stumbling block. You are all astoundingly talented, patient and damn fantastic ladies. This story is as much for you as it ever was for me. Thank you.

And for the woman who inspired this little adventure... Even if my brain is devoured by a thousand demonic plot bunnies, I will never be able to thank you enough for throwing this one in my direction. But for now, I say thank you. It's been a crazy ride, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I loved every frenzied minute of it.

REVIEWS: Reviews are the way I know if people are enjoying the work or not. So, if you leave one, THANKS! And if not, I hope you found at least a little something to brighten your day, and thanks for taking the time to read.


Epilogue

There was barely any light left in the room, just the faint blue glow from the alarm clock in front of my face. The muscles that were normally stiff when I woke seemed oddly relaxed. It was almost as though I had been carrying around an immense weight that never let up, and now it was gone. It felt good.

As I went to stretch out my legs, I felt another set tangled up in them, and I suddenly remembered why I felt that good. I was home.

Carefully disentangling myself from the warm and wonderful grasp of the man sleeping beside me, I worked to get up out of the bed. As I stirred, Hank flopped his head over to look at me, and when his tail started to softly whop into the mattress, I knew he was ready to get up, too.

The two of us swiftly and quietly made our way out of the bedroom. I let the dog out the back door to take care of his business before I slipped into the hall bathroom to deal with mine. Staring into the mirror as I washed my hands I was struck by my appearance. My hair was still the mass of confusion it always was when I woke up. The fact that I hadn't gotten it cut in more than four months probably wasn't helping with the curl factor either. No, the reason I was taken aback by what I saw in the mirror was my eyes.

For so long, I felt like there was a dullness there. It was almost as though a cloud had fallen over my eyes, and I was seeing life through a fog. Now, as I gazed at myself, the haze was gone. Everything was so much clearer than it was before.

When I heard Hank chuffing at the back door, I knew I had better hurry up if I was going to get there before he started to bark. He was usually pretty good at not barking when we slept, but I thought he might be a little more anxious today. Besides, I was a little anxious myself. It had been a long time since we got to have some quality time.

The first thing I did after letting him back into the house was to reset the coffee maker. It would be another couple of hours before Gil woke up, but I knew how much he needed that first cup to start the day. After that I grabbed my suitcase from the living room and dug around for my running shoes and some shorts. The moment he saw the shoes, Hank started to prance around me. It would appear that he hadn't forgotten me after all.

Once we got outside, Hank barely let me get stretched out before he was tugging on the leash, ready to go. It felt good to open up my stride and let loose, Hank urging me faster and faster as we made our way over the greenway. When we got to the end, I walked over to the bench in the dog run area and tried to stretch out again as I cooled down from the sprint.

Feeling my own lack of sleep creeping up on me, I sat down on the bench and watched as Hank found another dog to play with for a little while. He always made friends easily and since he spent so much time alone I always indulged him by coming to the dog run.

There was calmness to a late January afternoon around here that I had missed. It wasn't hot, but it also wasn't cold. It was perfect for running, and it was pretty good for sitting on a bench to think about the events of the day to come, or reflect on the one passed. For me, it was a chance to enjoy the ease of breathing, the comfort in the familiar and the newness of it all.

Everything did seem fresh as I glanced around at my surroundings. It was new, but it wasn't. It was all the same, but I was seeing it all with clearer eyes. Suddenly filled with a need to share this newfound discovery, I whistled for Hank and got ready to race back home.

We made fantastic time, even beating the first of the street lights by mere seconds as we ran straight for the door. I wasn't sure who enjoyed the run more; me or Hank. But since my tongue wasn't hanging out while I continued to smile, I was leaning more towards the little guy currently panting against my leg as I fumbled with the keys.

Inside the cool house, we immediately hit the kitchen for some much needed water. As I downed the whole bottle in one fell swoop, I checked the timer on the coffee maker and then my watch. I had just enough time to hop in the hall shower before Gil started to rouse. And if I was lucky, I might even be able to start on the laundry that was about to escape from my suitcase of its own accord at any minute.

Normally, I would have spent the night at my mother's and gotten everything ready before driving home the next day. But after everything I had learned on my journey, the last thing I wanted was to take another step backward. My mother was the embodiment of my past. She was everything that was wrong with that world; all the apathy, the lack of caring, the substance and physical abuse, the fear, the neglect, the ignorance. I was tired of living my life in fear of and in reaction to the past. I needed to live for me, and for the future I hoped to share with Gil.

As I stepped into the shower, I remembered how scared I was when I arrived at home in the middle of the night. I was worried that he would be angry, or worse, that he didn't care at all anymore. Thinking about the pain that I must have put him through with this whole thing, I wasn't sure that I could have born it all and still welcomed me back, so I was deeply concerned about his reaction. That worry kept me from getting too comfortable as I waited for him to return, and after I quickly showered and changed into the last of my clean clothes from the suitcase, I waited on the couch. I felt strange about walking into what once was our bedroom until I knew that I was welcome in the house.

I sat down on the sofa to wait for him, but I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew there was a dog tongue doing a number on my face, and someone was running the water in the kitchen. When I heard his voice calling after the dog I thought my stomach had just found a blackhole to fall into. I was still scared, but my fear was overridden by a deeply intense need to see him, to touch him, to kiss him.

The ability to speak came only from nervous habit, because the moment I rounded the corner and saw him, I was petrified. It seemed as though he was oblivious to my presence, and I felt like maybe I had taken too long, because he appeared to be quite content with his life as it was. I was given only a glimmer of hope when he spoke to the dog. "Good boy… We have to keep our strength up, Hank. No more moping, remember?"

I took that as my queue and stumbled forward. Thankfully, he was still willing to catch me.

The feeling of his arms wrapped so tightly around me was the most amazing thing I could have imagined, and so much more than I ever could have hoped for upon my return. I wanted it to last forever. I didn't care if I couldn't breathe, and I didn't care if I never felt another thing, just so long as I could have that one moment of complete acceptance and love.

Breaking myself from the memories, I shut off the water and quickly toweled off from my shower to get dressed. I made quick work of the clothes in my suitcase, setting up the first load of laundry to start as soon as Gil woke up, and then I went to check on the coffee.

It was just about to finish up when I suddenly remembered the bagels from the morning. I must have fallen asleep before Gil finished with his shower, and I was sure he hadn't noticed them on the dresser waiting for him. But when I looked in the fridge, there was the whole plate, now covered in plastic wrap, just as I'd left it, only not on the dresser anymore. I smiled at his thoughtfulness; putting the food away, pulling the comforter over me, and crawling into the bed to lie beside me.

Removing the plastic, I pulled out one of the bagels to toast a new one for Gil. He always preferred his warm, so I took the one I had lightly toasted before falling asleep and covered it with cream cheese for me. When the beeper went off on the coffee maker, I poured two cups and brought breakfast on a tray into the bedroom; into our bedroom.

I couldn't get over how much better saying that in my head made me feel. I had been plodding along on this global adventure of mine, and doing it all alone. For some reason, I believed that it would only matter if I figured these things out on my own, but I couldn't believe how wrong I was. Because even though he wasn't there with me in the physical form, I took Gil with me everywhere I went. When I was in San Francisco, I thought about the times we shared there. When I was in Boston, I thought about how lonely my life had been there, in comparison to the life I shared with Gil. When I was in L.A., I couldn't help but think about the pipe bomb experiments we performed, and how much he would have loved to have been a part of what I was doing. When I was in Norfolk, I wondered if what Melissa was feeling about Jack's troubles was the same way Gil felt about mine. When I was in Italy, I wanted to have him there with me on every new discovery, and I wanted him to see what a wonderful, yet flawed man my brother turned out to be; I wanted him to see the hope I saw when I looked at my nieces. And when the darkness finally caught up to me, and I was struggling to keep my head above water as I stared at the house from my nightmares, I wanted him there to rescue me. What I found was that he was there, not to rescue me, but to support me through the pain and to help guide me back into the light. No matter where I went, or what I did, he was there, in my thoughts, and in my heart.

That was when I realized what an idiot I had been. I wasn't protecting him from anything while I struggled through this journey. I was trying to hide the darkness inside of me from him, and punishing myself for having it in the first place. Once I understood what was really happening, I started working my way back to him.

My first order of business was to confront the awful woman running the bed and breakfast started by my parents. I hadn't met her when I checked in, because it was in the evening and her brother, who was manning the desk while she went to play cards or something (I wasn't really paying attention to the man at the time), got me settled. When I came down from my room the next morning, she was too busy telling tales to the guests in the breakfast room to notice me. I listened as she told them about the beginnings of the place, and of the hideous history associated with the family that once owned the house.

The woman talked about my father with such authority that I might have believed her, if I hadn't been his daughter. She talked about the deranged son of a wealthy family back east, who sent him here to keep anyone they knew from being subjected to his eccentricities. In hushed tones, she spoke about his twisted children who were the source of his madness, and about his homely wife who whiled away her days emptying out the liquor cabinets. I was angry and horrified for the poor family being subjected to her mudslinging, until I suddenly realized she was talking about me, about us. Already upset by my discovery in the closet, I ran out of there and got into my car, completely forgetting about my things up in the room.

Once I was back in my right mind, following my conversation with Gil, I knew that this woman needed to be stopped. When I walked into the house, I finally noticed the names on the plaque at the desk and I recognized them. They were the children who lived at the bottom of the hill, the ones who would tease my brother and me every day on our way home from school. Their father ran the hardware store where my father went to purchase supplies to make repairs on the house when we lived there. I always hated going to the hardware store with him, almost as much as he hated it himself. My father claimed that Mr. Jenkins never had prices on anything so that he could charge according to his whim. He was sure the man was a cheat. My father hated Mr. Jenkins, and I hated his children with all the rancor my little heart could hold at such a young age.

Unnoticed, I went straight upstairs and got my things together When I came back downstairs she was behind the desk talking to another of the guests. She plastered on one of those intensely fake smiles that always made my skin crawl and greeted me, but I didn't waste any time on her forced pleasantries. I told her I was checking out, and that I was likely to never return now that I knew who ran the place.

The other people standing there shifted uncomfortably, but I really didn't care about them. I informed her that perhaps she should save the gossip mongering and slander for the dead, because the living have things like attorneys. I also told her that if she had ever done more than throw rocks at lonely children, she might not still be stuck in the same town she grew up in, living off her father's greed. When I signed the guestbook as I left, I made sure she knew exactly who she was dealing with.

Sara Sidle, Daughter of Daniel and Laura Sidle, the twisted one with a lawyer on retainer.

It was probably the first time in my life that I was truly proud of where I had come from. And it was also the first time I had felt connected to my parents since I was a little girl.

As I drove away from that place for the very last time, I tried to remember my father for the man that he was; a frustrated dreamer with little patience for following all the rules or doing most of the work. I wanted to remember my father as a good man, but the truth kept me from going that far. He was a shiftless drunk, who never should have had a family. He was very short-tempered when he drank, and in the end all he did was drink and lash out at the world. But no matter what, regardless of what he did or didn't do, he was still my father…and I loved him. That's why it all still hurt so much.

My relationship with my mother was far more complex and strained. At least my father was always predictable; when you saw the bottle, you knew to stay clear and stay quiet. And if you forgot that simple rule, he was quick to remind you. I still have the small scar on my cheek from one of those reminders. But with my mother, you never really knew what you were going to get. She would alternate between moods so fast it would make your head spin, and you never knew if you were coming home to Betty Crocker, the flower child, or Joan Crawford on a bender (depending on her drug of choice at the time). And yet, at the same time, I couldn't really blame her either, because she left the only life she knew to follow my father across the country and then forced to deal with his failures and abuses.

We were never close, and after my father was gone, there was no way we could ever trust each other enough to change that. I tried when I moved back to San Francisco after Harvard, but it just didn't work out. Jack hasn't spoken to her since he left for the Navy when he was eighteen, and says he's never apt to again. He blames her for what happened, and while I can see his point, the truth is that they were just two people never meant to be together, let alone have kids. We were simply the by-product of a seriously screwed up relationship between two lazy, self-absorbed people.

Thinking about my parents reminded me of the man sleeping soundly on the bed before me. I sat in the chair by the window, sipping at my coffee as I watched him sleep. I remembered to set the alarm, just in case I didn't get back in time from my run. He usually woke up before the last minute alarm, but I didn't want him to be late to work either.

I always liked watching Gil like that, there was something very peaceful about the way he slept. When he was asleep, the whole world vanished for him, and waking was almost like a rebirth. He started each day anew, and I envied him that. To know that he could put it all away and dream, to wake up refreshed and ready to do it again.

It hasn't always been that way though. Before his sabbatical, he had a terrible time sleeping, and I would often find him back at work long before the alarm was set to go off. That was how I knew just what that trip had meant to him. His first night back he slept straight through and even smiled a little in his dreams. That was when I knew he was truly home.

He also struggled with his sleep when I came home from the hospital. I would wake to find him sitting in the chair by the bed, just watching me, and a few times, when he did sleep, he would wake the both of us up screaming from a nightmare. We shared that problem for a little while.

I watched as he slowly brought his arm up the length of the bed. I knew he would wake the moment his brain told him he was alone. I also knew what that would feel like to him, because I had been experiencing the same thing every morning for the last three months.

We'd both endured enough pain for now, so I set down my cup and crawled back up onto the bed beside him. When I ran my hand up along the inside of his arm, his eyes slowly opened as the corner of his mouth turned up into a smirk. "That tickles."

"It's still the best way to wake you up." I tried to affect a serious look, but it was completely ruined when he took my other arm and pulled me down into the mattress as a tiny yelp erupted from my throat.

Quickly covering my body with his own his lips found mine and I was lost for a few moments in their warm comfortable caress. As he pulled back, a slightly impish smile formed on his face when he informed me, "The second best."

I reached up and pushed the rumpled curls off of his forehead. "Agreed." We stayed that way, just staring into each other's eyes, for a while.

With my head pushed down between the pillows, I began to smell something that was definitely not coffee. I reached back to find a soft fabric hidden beneath the pillow. When I pulled it out from behind me I nearly cried. I had finally been reunited with my favorite t-shirt, only it didn't quite look, or smell, the same as when we were separated.

Gil quickly took it out of my hands and threw it off the bed. When he looked back at me he shrugged sheepishly and said, "I tried to warn you."

I just couldn't help it. The smile that spread over my face was completely automatic. "I didn't think you were serious!" My laughter filled the room at the bashful look on Gil's face.

My laughter died out when I saw the serious expression fall over his face soon after. He pulled the hair away from my neck and laid it out on the pillow beside me. As his hand began to caress the side of my face, I felt drawn to the sensation and leaned in to the touch. "Next time…"

I felt the words tremble out of his body, and when they caught in his throat, it reminded me that we still had a lot of hurt left to heal. With my fingers, I silenced the rest of that thought before he could muster the strength to finish it. "There won't be a next time…ever."

"Promise?"

Reaching my head up, I pressed my lips to his, savoring in the warm spice of his mouth, before I pulled him down to rest his ear over my chest. "With every beat of my heart."