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 others belong to me, and if you want to play with them you have to ask me first. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Spoilers: "Goodbye and Good Luck". A sequel to "Foot in the Door".
Written in great appreciation for eagertalker, who very graciously gave me permission to post it. Thank you, my friend, for all your encouragement!
Three days. It took him three days.
Twenty-two hours for Jim to trace her, three to arrange emergency leave; the delay came in making connections on next to no notice, on picking his way among airports and trains, waiting in lines and on hold, looking desperate and unshaven as he wheedled ticket agents and security personnel. In the end he'd had to stop short of his goal for a shower and a change of clothes, and an involuntary nap that added three more hours to the tally.
But he made it.
Grissom walked down the narrow street, glancing up at a sky that was grey without really promising rain, and then back down at buildings almost the same shade. The air was chilly but not truly cold, autumn sighing rather than biting.
He couldn't answer that question, not yet, but in the end he was more interested in finding Sara than finding out why.
Grissom didn't ask how Jim had made contacts within the U.K. police force; it wasn't important. What mattered was the fragile chain the captain had patiently built--plane itineraries, passport usage, and finally the right hotel registry. Some of it was probably unethical if not quite illegal, but again, Grissom didn't really care.
When the hotel turned out to be a bed-and-breakfast, his spirits had lifted; a guest at one such was far less anonymous. And sure enough, the plump, aproned young lady who had answered his tap on the counter bell had informed him cheerfully that the "nice American woman" had said something about walking to Marston Road.
Grissom had thanked her, blessed the fact that he'd attended two symposia at Brasenose College years back, and set off.
With that last bit of information, he knew where he'd find her.
The gate over the bridge was weathered nearly the same grey as the sky, but it stood half-open, and Grissom pushed past it. Beyond lay the tangled greenery of Mesopotamia, still verdant even now, and the narrow path that led deeper into it.
Sara wasn't hard to spot, standing just off the path in the heart of the walk, her scarlet windbreaker as vivid as a cardinal's wing against the trees. Grissom wondered if she'd chosen it for its beauty, or because it was so far from LVPD blue…
She had her hands in the pockets and her back to him, apparently watching a pair of birds squabbling on a branch over her head, and Grissom was grateful for the chance to observe her unnoticed. Just the sight of her made his chest ache with relief and sorrow; she was obviously well enough to be out and about, but to have gone so far--
Sara bent her head, pulling a hand from a pocket to swipe at her eyes, and Grissom couldn't hold still. He took three quick steps forward.
Her head snapped up, eyes wide and reddened and disbelieving, and she froze. "...Gil?"
For an instant Grissom feared she would bolt--there was no way he could catch her if she ran--and then he saw what else was in her gaze.
He closed the remaining space without realizing it, hands held out, and when she didn't back away he grabbed her and pulled her close, holding her tight. She leaned against him as though utterly exhausted, pressing her face into his shoulder, and Grissom let his cheek rest on her hair, squeezing his eyes shut in utter relief. His palms slid over her back as though trying to make sure she was completely there.
Sara's own hands gripped the back of his jacket and she began to cry, sobs choked against his collar, terrible muffled sounds that made her jerk in the circle of his arms. Each one made him feel like he was crying too, and Grissom just held on, held on...
...Didn't let her go.
Her weeping slowed eventually, and stopped, and when Sara straightened and tried to step away Grissom let her only as far as his hand on her arm would reach. He fished out his handkerchief with the other, drying her face with as tender a touch as he could manage, and again to his relief she let him.
Her eyes met his and flicked away, and Sara took the handkerchief and mopped at her cheeks much more roughly than he had. "Um..."
Her voice was rough with weeping. Grissom cocked his head, waiting, and finally Sara waved the handkerchief in a vague gesture. "Uh, how did you...?"
Grissom squeezed her fingers. "Brass."
Sara made a sound somewhere between a sigh and a laugh. "That figures."
He looked around. "C'mon, let's go sit down."
The bench was just where he remembered it, almost black with moss. Sara let him draw her down next to him, and Grissom didn't force the issue, just keeping hold of her hand.
She swallowed, and seemed to be gathering her courage to speak, but Grissom shook his head and spoke firmly. "I got your letter, Sara, and I want you to know I'm not here to bring you back unless you want to go. I just..." His voice faltered. "I had to see you, make sure you were okay."
Sara's lips crimped, and a tear dripped down her cheek. "I'm sorry," she said, just above a whisper. "I..."
He gripped her hand a little harder. "Whatever you have to do to be all right, Sara, it's fine, but...I...I just..."
She pulled free and sprang up, taking a few hasty steps away. Grissom twitched abortively, but she didn't run, instead halting with her back to him.
"I panicked," she said hoarsely. "It was all too much at once--that kid, she--she trappedher brother so she wouldn't be alone, you know that?"
Grissom swallowed. "Yes," he said, trying to keep his voice low and steady. "I know."
"I was afraid," Sara went on, her voice barely audible. "I was afraid I'd just do what everybody always said, and snap, right there in the lab. I should have waited, I should have talked to you first, but I just--I had to go, and--"
She was far too thin, the clinical part of his mind pointed out. Her hands were shaking where she'd clenched them into fists. Rising, he stepped forward and laid his hands lightly on her shoulders. She flinched, but didn't move.
"Whatever you have to do, Sara," he repeated next to her ear. "Whatever it takes, I'll support you."
She hunched, long hands coming up to cover her face, and started to cry again. Grissom just slid his arms around her waist and rocked her, wishing painfully that he could somehow take care of her ghosts for her, chase them away or inter them himself.
But just as Sara couldn't help him settle his mind when he'd gone on sabbatical, he knew that he couldn't mend her now. She had to do it herself.
"I don't deserve you," Sara mumbled eventually, her breaths coming slower, and she made use of the handkerchief again.
"See, I'd say it's the other way around," Grissom said, smiling a little even though she couldn't see his face.
She shook her head, her hair brushing his cheek and nose. "I left you, Gil, just like--"
His hand came up and covered her mouth lightly. "No. Sara, it was nothing like that and you know it." He let his hand fall back to her waist. "I just wish you'd remembered that I would never stand by and just watch you melt down."
Sara shuddered against him. "I know--I mean--"
She turned slowly to face him, eyes swollen and nose red, and he wanted to kiss her until she smiled again. "I knew it intellectually," she said slowly. "But when I imagined it, I was always alone."
That, he knew, was just one more of her ghosts. He reached up to brush her hair back from her face, thumbs stroking her temples. "You won't ever be alone again," he told her, weighting his voice with promise.
Sara shook her head, a minute movement, then leaned forward against him. Grissom hugged her, knowing it would take her longer to forgive herself, but grateful that at least she was starting down the road to healing.
When her overstrained tautness had relaxed somewhat, he kissed the side of her head. "You need to eat," he said easily.
She snorted, a sound that heartened him. "What makes you think I haven't?" she asked, the question slightly muffled by his shoulder.
"Because the first thing you do when you're stressed is forget to eat," he answered, loosening his arms so she could straighten. "Nick calls it the Sara Sidle Diet."
"He needs to get a life," she grumbled with a touch of asperity.
Grissom smirked at her. "Come on. I know just the place to go." Daring, he leaned forward and kissed her chapped lips lightly, too quickly to require a response from her, and took her hand.
She didn't pull away.
Grissom took her to the little tearoom he'd found the first time he'd visited the town, and ordered while she retreated to the ladies' room to try to remove some of traces of her weeping. Given the hour, they were the only patrons, and the proprietor was just placing the pot on the table when Sara came back to her seat.
The scones were warm, the tea just the right strength; Grissom piled on the cream and strawberry jam and all but fed them to Sara himself, until they'd cleaned the plate and color had come back into her cheeks. Some of the strain faded from her face as they sipped the tea, and eventually she picked up her napkin and dabbed at the corner of his mouth. "Jam," she explained.
Remembering chalk dust, Grissom couldn't help smiling at her, and his heart thrilled when she smiled shyly back.
They didn't talk as they walked back to her room at the bed and breakfast; Grissom braced himself when they reached her door, but Sara merely unlocked it and gestured him in.
The room was small, but very clean, and charming with old-fashioned furniture and a white eyelet spread on the double bed. Sara took his jacket and hung it and her own in the little wardrobe, in which he glimpsed a few pieces of clothing and, on the floor, a limp duffle bag.
The only other sign of an occupant in the room was a small frame on the dresser. Grissom stepped to one side to see it more clearly, and his throat swelled at the image of his own face smiling out from behind the glass.
Sara turned to him, wiping her palms on her thighs, and he realized she was nervous. "Can you stay for a little while? I mean--"
Grissom wanted to hug her again, but restrained himself. "As long as you like, sweetheart," he said, and watched the relief cross her face.
"Sit down," she commanded, pointing at the bed, and Grissom obeyed, wondering what she had in mind. Sara sat in the wicker chair in one corner and untied her shoelaces, pulling off her shoes and leaving them next to the chair before she crossed the room and knelt before him.
Grissom tried to protest as she reached for his own shoes, but she shook her head and removed his loafers with brisk efficiency, setting them side by side with their toes just under the coverlet.
She rose and went around the bed, climbing onto it on all fours. Grissom swung his legs onto the mattress so that he was leaning against the headboard, and as though they'd rehearsed it, Sara laid her head into his lap, curling her long legs up into a huddle. Grissom laid a hand on her hair and stroked it, feeling the tension fade out of them both.
It felt like hours later when she spoke, her voice slurred with exhaustion. "You're not mad?"
Grissom felt his lips turn up. "I'll admit, I spent about three hours sulking before I came to my senses," he said, glossing over the fury that had masked a black despair and substituting simple truth. "But you waited so long for me, honey. Even when I walked away for a month. I can't begrudge you the time you need."
Sara sighed, her hand tightening on his thigh for a moment. Grissom let her hair slip between his fingers, fascinated by the way the dryer air of the room made it straighter. After a while he gave in and asked. "Why Oxford?" He knew she had never been to England; it seemed an odd choice of refuge.
She gave a breath of a laugh. "I wanted someplace with no associations, you know? No memories." She paused, then went on. "I knew someone once in college who grew up here. She said that it was absolutely thick with ghosts...peaceful ones."
One thin shoulder moved in a shrug. "I thought...maybe I could learn how to deal with mine here."
Grissom nodded, even though she couldn't see it. "It's a good place," he said easily. And it was; she would be safe here in the embrace of the ancient town. Hopefully some of its peace would seep into her tormented spirit.
"I'm sorry," she said later, when the room was darkening with the early evening of autumn. "I'm sorry I left you like that."
She needed to apologize, he knew, and so didn't protest, just letting his hand run down her arm to her fingers. They clasped his tightly, and Sara brought his hand up to tuck under her chin.
"Let me know how you're doing?" he asked softly. "Call me, write to me, send me a postcard, but let me know where you are?"
Sara nodded, and he felt a hot dampness soak into his pants just under her temple. Grissom put his free hand on her head, content to sit in the darkness until she was ready to move.
He would have to leave in a day or two, he knew that; leave her behind to fight her own demons and make her own victory, however long it took. But Grissom knew one thing, and he held it close, a precious certainty.
She would come back.
It was enough.