Title: Rituals of Being Gone
Rating: T
Pairing: Grissom/Sara
Summary: Grissom's point of view after Sara leaves
Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount own CSI. I'm only borrowing the characters.

A/N: Many many thanks to seattlecsifan being a FANTASTIC beta on this! I couldn't have done it without you.

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Stage 0 – Numbed Up

The letter lay on his nightstand, as Grissom sat on the edge of their bed, reading through the words once more. He almost had it memorized. Picking it up again, he skimmed.

Gil, you know I love you
I'll miss you with every beat of my heart
Be safe
Goodbye

He didn't go into work the next night, too frozen in his emotions, wishing he knew what to do. So far, Brass and Catherine had each called, voicing their concern. Neither was surprised when he showed up the next night, and managed to avoid them by working solo.

Sitting in his office, several hours early, Grissom grabbed another stack of paperwork in an attempt to ward off the dread he felt in the pit of his stomach – the same dread he felt every time he'd ever thought of Sara leaving him. Her leaving him hadn't suddenly spurred on this sensation. It had always been there, whenever he thought about building his life with a woman so young and vibrant. The fear of her disappearing from his life had always been his secret, deepest fear.

It seemed every time he came close to losing her, he would freeze up, afraid to make a wrong move that could hurt her more. If anyone were ever to read his mind, they would be shocked at the panic he often felt, even though his face portrayed a mask of detachment. Not Sara, though. She'd figured out long ago that the calmer he looked, the more worried he felt.

The ringing phone pulled him from his reverie, and Grissom picked it up absently, trying to mentally calculate how far over the monthly budget his crew had run that month.

"Hey, Gil," she said, and he found his hand slowly lowering. Glancing at his office door, he stood and closed it before sitting back down in his chair and leaning back.

"Are you all right, honey?" he asked, the worry straining through his voice.

A mocking laugh preceded, "I don't know."

"Where are you?" he asked. She told him about the plane ride and San Francisco.

For the first time since before Hannah, they talked for more than just a couple of sentences. Hell, we stopped really talking the night Natalie took her.

The call didn't last as long he would have liked. She apologized in her quirky and often over explaining manner for leaving a letter. He said he wanted her to be happy. After hanging up, he wasn't sure if he felt better or worse, but at least he felt something.

A couple of days later, he asked if she was coming back, and she hung up on him. His heart stopped, and a feeling of ice shards slicing through his veins made him regret opening his mouth. When it rang again, he answered, "You don't have to answer. I shouldn't have asked. I apologize."

"No. Stop. Please. I dropped the phone. I didn't mean… the letter… I'll come home to you."

The pregnant pause became tense, and he frowned, wondering what she was thinking before she spoke again.

"I wasn't sure you'd want me back," she said. "I'm tired, and I'm a mess. To tell you the truth, I don't know what I'm doing."

"Honey, as long as I know we're going to be okay, I'll be fine. I just couldn't help but feel like the 'Be safe' and 'Goodbye' were final words."

"I never meant for it to come across that way, baby," she stated on a wavering voice, and he could so easily close his eyes and see tears sliding down across her cheeks. It took everything in him to hold back the urge to reach out and wipe them away, as if she were right there with him.

If someone were to ask Grissom about the rest of that day, he would not have been able to answer. He robotically got ready, walked the dog before dropping him off, and made his way into work, all the while thinking about the call. For the first time in a week, he smiled at the thought she's coming home to me.

The numbness was wearing off.

It made it all the harder that day when Brass approached him, wanting to know about Sara. Walking down the hall, Brass asked, "So where's she at?" and Grissom found he answered literally – San Francisco, with her mother. When Brass pushed, Grissom realized that perhaps numbness hadn't been so bad. The questions made him ache, and he made an excuse.

"I can't talk, I'm really busy."

It didn't help when awhile later, Nick stopped by, wanting Grissom to go get a bite to eat. Uncomfortable talking about the constant reminder that he was alone, Grissom just watched as Nick made his invitation and left. Frustrated, he got back to the one thing that seemed to relieve some of the pressure – he worked.

And then there was Catherine's, "Go after her."

When he replied, "I want her to be happy," he decided he hated feeling at all. Making his way into his office, he closed the door, sank into his chair, and stared at the cluttered shelves, filled with experiments. For just a moment, his prize possessions seemed utterly worthless. The numbness he'd felt just days before had thawed, leaving him raw and wounded.

He'd thought the game would be interesting – a diversion – and for awhile it worked. Grissom focused in on logic, reason, and crime. His mind wandered into analysis and procedure, solving the crime the Trace tech had provided.

The final straw was when Hodges opened his mouth. It irritated Grissom that everyone could see Sara's needs, but he hadn't when she had needed him most. He played another round of Hodges' game, but his mind kept wandering, and he felt the need to simply escape.

When he finally left, it was more to get away from the constant reminders provided by his co-workers that something vital had been cut from him.

Picking up Hank from the neighbor's house, Grissom took his canine companion for a walk. After a couple of miles, they made it home, where man and dog slumped onto the couch, wondering. For Grissom, it seemed a thousand memories, thoughts, words, and pain shouted in his mind, and he felt the need to simply hear her voice. On his back, he closed his eyes, and drifted, without sleeping.

The ringing phone dragged through his groggy mind, and it wasn't until the second ring he became alert. Lurching for it, he flipped open the cell, and answered.

"Hey," she said.

"Hey," he replied.

No other words were spoken, but something in him released at the sound of her voice. For the first time that day, he could breathe.

Stage 1 – Broken Routines and Phones

He hadn't slept much since her last call two days ago. The house seemed to echo without the sounds of her about. When she called, the hollowness dissipated for a short time, and everything he heard from her end of the line filled his senses. However, they hadn't connected, although she'd left him a message saying she was talking to her mother. A message wasn't the same as a live voice. Her sounds soothed him, allowing him to sleep soundly, instead of the in-and-out drifting.

In those last two days he'd discovered a drip that he'd never noticed with Sara there. He remembered her saying something about wanting to fix it, but the drip-drip-drip had begun to irritate him.

She hadn't called in two days.

On the couch, laying on his side, Grissom stared at the television unblinking. His fingers moved over the remote, flipping from channel to channel, until he finally sat up, frustrated by lack of sleep and boredom. Energy zinged through him like a vibration, but he just couldn't make himself do anything.

Wandering back into the bedroom, he looked at the bed and frowned before removing his shirt and pants. Tossing them in the hamper, he lay prone, staring at the ceiling, his eyes unwilling to close. The missing scent and hum of the woman that used to be there made the ritual incomplete. Glancing at the clock, noting thirty minutes had passed in a vast and empty nothingness, he sighed. He simply couldn't sleep. Frustrated, he picked up a stack of books. Yet, none of them looked good.

Aggravation motivated him to get out of bed and get dressed. After dropping Hank off with the next door neighbor, who was now used to the new morning routine, and felt bad at the situation in general, Grissom drove back to the lab. At least work would keep him busy.

Dressed in an apiculture protective suit, he examined the hives, and found himself disinterested and vaguely listless. What he really needed was something mindless… paperwork.

Walking down the halls of the LVPD crime lab, Grissom didn't even hear Ecklie's, "Grissom. I'm glad I caught you." Instead of stopping, he unthinkingly continued, reaching his office, and sat behind his desk.

Feeling stunned and shunned, Ecklie stalked in after him, irritated at being ignored. "Grissom, I need the budget reports and overtime slips for this month," he announced.

He was surprised with Grissom's, "I've got them right here, Conrad," and the thrusting of a folder toward the lab director. "Is there anything else?"

"No," Ecklie replied, a slight frown on his face. Puzzled, he backed out of Grissom's office.

Pulling open the first of many files in his box, Grissom read through the reports, signed off on the analysis, and added it to the Done stack. File after file kept him busy, as he repeatedly glanced at the clock. As his energy began to wane, he sat back, rubbed his eyes, and decided that perhaps now he would be able to sleep.

Taking Hank for a walk would be out of the question. Somewhere between entering the lab in the warmish morning light and walking out into the glaring sun; the day had become too damn bright.

He could feel his eyes burn with fatigue as he drove, the light of the mid-day sun glaring down, even through his sunglasses. Arriving home, he made his way through the front door, tossing the keys into a bowl, and slinging his jacket across a chair in the living room. Making his way steadily to their bedroom, clothes were clumsily pulled off, dropped on the floor, and he fell face down, simply too tired to really care.

It was just one more day of his new routine, and he still felt drained when the alarm went off just a few hours later.

Waking to the quiet buzzing, Grissom usually rolled out of bed easily, grabbed a quick shower, and prepared for going into work early. The old routine lay shattered and in remnants around the house, yet invisible, as if neatly dusted under the carpet, but still there.

He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling for a moment, before resolve finally hit, and he mentally kicked himself with get out of bed. Placing the cell phone within easy reach of the shower, he went through the new three minute shower routine, constantly listening.

Having the phone in his hand made it difficult to dress and he uttered an oath, feeling like an idiot, but staring at it nonetheless.

Making his way to the kitchen, he opened the refrigerator, grabbed one of the yogurt cups he'd gotten into the habit of buying, and sat down to eat in silence. When frustration finally had him stabbing at the creamy substance, he tossed the remains and sighed. Opening the fridge again, nothing looked all that good.

Sitting on the couch, avoiding their bedroom, he laid his head back, his hand on the cell phone, and let himself doze in the twilight seeping through the curtains. Mozart played low, lulling him deeper, when he heard the ring, and frantically fumbled the phone into his hand.

Expectantly flipping it open, he said, "Hey," only to hear an unexpectedly masculine voice say, "Grissom."

Feeling the air leave his lungs, he said, "Yes, Brass. What's going on?" and for a moment, a punch of energy burst through him at the thought of a case. Sitting forward, he listened.

"I've got a body that is covered in bugs that could use your attention," Brass said. Wincing a little, the detective had a feeling, based on the tone of Grissom's greeting; perhaps the CSI supervisor was waiting for a specific call from a particular someone.

Grissom made his way to the crime scene, bagged the bugs, and headed back to the lab.

Making his way to the garage, he immersed himself in work through a good portion of swing shift, past graveyard, and into days. Finally yawning, Grissom grabbed his bag, sloughed on his jacket, and walked out into the morning sun.

As fate would have it, Brass and Catherine were walking out as well, and sidled up to him.

"We're grabbing a bite to eat, care to join us?" Brass asked, with a habitual smirk on his face.

"No. Thank you," Grissom said, staring straight ahead.

"Come on, Grissom." Catherine laid a hand on his shoulder. "You haven't gone out with any of us since… in awhile." Her voice dropped in tone and volume when she said, "We're concerned."

Stopping in the parking lot, his car to the left, hers a distance down to the right, Grissom turned toward her. Rubbing his eyes, he said, "Look. I appreciate it, but… no." With that, he made his way to his car.

He didn't quite remember the drive home, as automated action kicked in. Making his way into the house, he pulled open the fridge, vaguely aware of the need to eat, but with no appetite. Nothing looked good. Spotting an open box of corn flake cereal on the counter, he reached in, popped some into his mouth, and decided it was like eating sawdust. Eventually slouching his way to the living room couch, he lay down and finally slept.

The phone, tucked between his hand and the couch, woke him. Bleary eyed, he glanced at the caller ID, flipped it open, and the day washed away. "Hi, Sara."

She had called, and for half a moment, as he walked through the house to the bedroom, the staleness and stillness of home didn't seem so lifeless. As he lay on their bed, he closed his eyes.

"How are you doing?" she asked.

"It's not the same without you here," he said. "It just doesn't feel right."

"I know what you mean. I can't sleep."

"Me either. I can't hear you breathing next to me, and the bed seems cold without you," he said. "We haven't really slept together since you moved to swing, but I could still feel you here."

A comfortable silence filled the air waves before she said, "I really miss you."

"I miss you, too."

"Anything interesting at work?" she asked.

Unsure of what to say, he filtered through the cases and finally said, "Everyone misses you. There have been a couple of cases you'd have found intriguing."

"Really?"

"Yeah. We had another body drop out of a hotel window. I thought of that first day you came to my scene here in Vegas." Just listening to the natural sounds of her breath – in and out, and in and out – he finally asked, "How are things going there?"

He could hear her mind turning on the other end. Finally, she said, "I'm not entirely sure. Everything is so strange and different. I walk around my room, wondering what I should do. I'm used to coming home, knowing I'll hear your footsteps. I don't have a pattern here."

After turning off the overhead light, leaving only the dimly lit lamp to illuminate the dark walls and tan blanket, he lay back into the mound of pillows propped against the dark wall.

"Where are you?" she asks.

"On our bed. Where are you?"

"I'm in bed, too. It's not very comfortable, though. And it's not ours."

Another few moments pass, as Grissom relaxes into the mound of pillows, letting his eyelids drift down. Holding the phone to his ear, he said, "Maybe we ought to try fooling around over the phone sometime," and heard a husky chuckle.

Feeling suddenly shy and a bit foolish, he wondered at the slight embarrassment he felt. After all, he thought, it's not like we haven't explored each other thoroughly.

"Yeah. Maybe we should." Her reply made him smile.

For over an hour, they sat in silence, making odd comments about their lives in general. She spoke of how things had changed. He didn't press her, having accepted that she needed to do what she needed to do. Eventually, both relaxed, Grissom glanced at the clock and realized he had several hours before shift, and felt comfortable enough to sleep.

"You have no idea how good it is to hear your voice, honey," he said.

"I feel the same way; and I think I might be able to sleep."

"Me, too."

A small pause was followed by, "I'm not sure if I'll be able to call tomorrow night."

"Okay," he replied, but felt a slight pang flow through him. In silence, time ticked by, with Grissom getting more anxious, before he finally asked, "Is it okay for me to call you some times? I don't mean tomorrow, but in general."

His stomach had clenched in insecurity on asking, and he accepted the thick silence as his answer. However, he was surprised when she whispered, "Yeah. I might not be able to answer, but I think that would be okay."

Whispering "Good night" to one another, they hung up. For a time, Grissom lay on top of the covers. He let her words slowly drift away from him with the ticking of the clock. As the remnants of her voice faded, he felt the first contented quiet he had since her last call.

Awhile later, he was sound asleep, the cell phone still in his hand.

Phase 2 – Chaos and Insecurities

While phone calls became the center of his life, everything else seemed to seep away from him. Standing in the kitchen, he stared blankly at the huge mound of dishes piling up in the sink and across the counter. Shaking his head, he found no desire to do anything about it.

Unseeingly, he stood poised on the edge of the living room, thinking back on the telephone call they'd shared the night before. He hadn't known until then that she hated 'Lord of the Flies'. They'd debated the point for twenty minutes.

"It's about the building of a social structure," he's stated, only to hear her snort.
"It's a book about a bunch of psychotic little boys playing men," she'd countered.

The conversation had continued on a similar theme.

Finally coming back to himself, Grissom walked into the living room. A couple of coats lay haphazardly around, but he didn't see the point in moving them. He'd be wearing them again eventually. Plunking down on the couch, he grabbed a book, and belatedly realized it was Sara's. Flipping through a few pages, he found himself tossing the book back on the pile of papers and journals cast off onto the coffee table.

Making his way to the bedroom, he pulled out the phone, checked the time, and wondered if she would be back from dinner. She wasn't, so he spoke to her voice mail.

"Hey, Sara. It's just me. When you have time, give me a call."

Feeling vaguely listless, he grabbed the phone and headed to shower and shave. When the phone rang while he stood under the spray, he jumped out with soap still in his hair, and checked the caller ID. Standing naked in front of the tall mirror, a glance at himself had a multitude of self doubts came to light. For a second he just stared in the reflective glass.

On the third ring, he flipped open the phone and said, "Hi."

The breathy, "I'm sorry I missed your call. I was just walking in the door with a handful of books and couldn't get to my cell," had him staring harder into the mirror, noting so much about his middle-age body.

"Do you still love me?" he asked, surprising himself.

He felt so inadequate in that moment, alone in the bathroom, an empty bedroom visible through the open door. In front of him mockingly stood the reflection of a wrinkled old man, no longer just gray around the edges, but with extra weight bulging around his midsection.

A slight sniffle accompanies her wavering, "Always. I've always loved you and always will."

Smiling slightly, he was brought back to reality with a soapy drop inching closer in its inevitable slide towards his eye. Swiping at it, he inadvertently rubbed it in, and felt a stinging force his eyes scrunched closed.

"Hey honey, can you hold on a moment?" he asked. When he visualized her nod and accompanying "Yes", he jumped back in the shower, rinsed down, and once again emerged dripping on the bath mat. "You caught me in the shower. I had soap in my hair."

For some reason, they both found this funny, and the slight, sad smile became a genuine grin, followed by laughter on both ends. When the humor died down, something less tangible fell with it.

"Tell me something good about me, Gil. Tell me something that you love."

While he couldn't hear tears in her voice, he registered a crack in the walls she'd built. The vulnerability made him ache, as he made his way through the door and crawled back into bed. It barely registered that he was soaking the sheets; at that moment he didn't care.

"Oh, sweetheart. There are so many good things. 'How do I love thee; let me count the ways'. Your smile, your mind, your heart, and your soul are beautiful," he replied to be met by silence.

The sniffle he'd heard earlier became a watery sigh and soft "Thanks."

The sudden switch in topic didn't faze him, when she said, "I miss your touch."

He scooted further down under the rumpled sheets. Pulling her pillow close, he could still faintly smell her even after weeks had passed, and it brought her image to mind.

"I want more than anything to feel you," he murmured. The aching need within him pulled deep.

"I miss the feel of your hands on my skin," she sighed.

Closing his eyes, he could imagine her skin, soft and glowing, as he ran his hands across legs, stomach, and breasts. Murmuring words of admiration to her, Grissom imagined running his hands across her thighs. He talked about how he felt being on her and in her, and heard a whimper on the other end of the line.

As she talked in a low husky tone, describing the sensations, telling him how much she needed to feel him, he let his own hands roam. All feelings of inadequacy fled, as words tugged and stroked, pushing them each to edge of an orgasm that left them somehow connected, even if not wholly fulfilled.

Once his breathing returned from short and raspy, overlaid with a hazy lust, he smiled into the phone, "It would've been better with you here."

"I know," she replied. He could hear her soft breath and for a moment visualized her with him in that moment. "I love you."

The next day when she called, they talked of everything irrelevant in the world. She told him about her hatred of ants, long before Nick was ever taken. They laughed when she told him about the soda she'd left outside, not realizing until too late that the ants had discovered it while the drink had been left alone.

He talked about scaring his mother when his collection of spiders got loose in the house. When they finally hung up, Grissom laughed harder than he had in a long time – he recognized that he felt like a teenager, waiting with baited breath for the girl of his dreams to call.

Several days later, he took a night off. Outside in the real world, the neon began to glow against the fading day, while he sat on their bed, waiting for seven o'clock to roll around. He'd slept, shaved, and lay between the sheets, knowing he had the entire evening free.

The phone barely rang before he picked it up with a smiling, "Sara."

"How was work?" she asked, and as had become their ritual over the last few weeks, he told her about the case he'd worked. Occasionally he grunted over the paperwork.

Then it was his turn to ask, "How are things going?"

"I've learned more about myself and what I'm capable of than I thought possible. Do you remember last week how you said my parents didn't make me – I made myself? I think I get it now."

He smiled into the dimly lit, masculine room, and reached over to throw one of her green silk scarves over the lamp, casting the gray walls with a sage hue.

"You're a strong and capable woman," he said. "That's how I've always seen you."

When she rapidly switched topics, he wasn't surprised. While he tended to be a man of absolute focus, she could often fly off on tangents that gave him whiplash.

"I played Winnie the Pooh in kindergarten," she said. Her husky laugh made him smile and he said, "Send me a picture."

"I played Max the dog in The Grinch. I believe it was fifth grade," he grudgingly replied, to hear a fit of laughter on the other end. He knew based on years of experience, that the kind of laughter she displayed would leave trails of happy tears running down her face.

"It's not that funny," he sardonically replied a couple of minutes later, when she began to tease him. She finally admitted, "You were probably cute – all curly haired with eager blue eyes."

Phase 3 – Normality in Disorder

When she called several nights later, Grissom had pulled nearly a triple, agonizing over the death of a family, their lives cut short by a heroin addict who had tried to rob them in their home. The only survivor was an unborn child, delivered by emergency C-Section. The nurses dubbed her Amazing Grace, since she seemed to be surviving against the odds. He'd barely walked in the door when his cell phone rang.

"Hey Sara," he sighed. "Some days I hate my job."

"I'm sorry, baby," she replied. "Is there anything I can do?"

"No," he said. "This is something I need to work out in my head. I'll be okay."

For the time it took him to walk into the living room, toss his jacket on a chair, and drop his keys on the side table, he remained silent.

"Did you go to the library today?" he asked.

"Yeah. I'm reading an old favorite of mine; Where the Red Fern Grows."

"I cried," he said. "I was nine years old, and my mom couldn't figure out why I was crying."

Chuckling, she admitted in a hushed whisper, "I cried too," as if it were the biggest secret on the planet she was sharing with her best friend.

"Hey, can I talk to you about something serious?" she suddenly asked.

"Of course," he replied, his brow furrowing a bit, more curious than concerned. "What's up?"

"Now, I don't want you to get offended or anything. I love it when you quote poetry to me, but why don't you just talk sometimes?"

That took the wind out of his sails. He felt a little like a fish when he opened and closed his mouth several times. Finally he huffed out, "Because I don't know what to say."

"Do you love me?" she asked to hear his, "Of course."

"Then repeat after me. 'I love you, Sara'."

"I love you, Sara," he said, as if he were a marionette doll, with strings being pulled. Then more relaxed, a soft smile danced across his face, and he put passion into the words, "I love you, Sara. Very much."

A short pause later, she asked, "Now was that so hard?"

He chuckled, "No. It wasn't."

Before they hung up, he surprised them both by being the one to say, "I love you."

Conversations about any and every topic became the norm. He learned she used to get grossed out by fried chicken as a child, because one of her foster brothers pointed out the veins. He talked about being afraid of ladders, due to a childhood incident involving a possum and a tree, until he became a CSI and discovered ladders were part of his job.

The next night, when she was late calling and he called her, he asked, "Can you tell me now why you were so afraid of self-destructing in front of me?" That part of her letter had always bothered him.

"I didn't know what I was capable of at the time," she said. "I've always had this fear that I could pull out a knife and hurt someone."

"You're afraid you have a murder gene?" he asked, remembering their conversation.

"I know it sounds stupid saying it out loud, but… yeah."

Propping his feet on the coffee table, he said, "It doesn't sound stupid. It sounds like you were afraid. I can understand that, honey."

For awhile they sat in silence. He began rifling through stacks of journals piled up around the couch, searching for something to read. On the other end, he could hear papers and such moving around. Setting the cell on speaker, he grabbed a journal and flipped to an article of interest. For over an hour, they read quietly, every now and again interrupting the flow of quiet with a comment or a question, until he had to get ready for work.

"I love you" and "Good night" flowed around them, as they hung up and prepared for their individual endeavors. Grissom headed off to work, prepared for another case, and resigned to his paperwork.

One particularly boring evening at home, he stared at the kitchen sink, satisfied with the results. The dishwasher ran with a quiet hum in the background, and he was down to only two more loads. Making his way to the laundry room, he checked the dryer, found everything already dry and began the tedious chore of hanging up the contents.

As he pulled the wet clothes from the washer, his mind wandered to the case he'd just finished, and felt a pang of sympathy for the father of the victim. He had no words of sympathy that could fill the void of a child gone by her own hand in a desperate cry for help. Heaving a sigh, he stared at the stacks of clothes still to be cleaned, grabbed the pile of whites, and tossed them in to wash.

Back in the living room, he sat on the couch, noting the clutter. He figured he could live with it.

"Hey, Sara," he said to the room. "Guess what? I had a really crappy day at work today. Did you know that? Then I got home and realized that I'd reverted to my childhood pig sty ways. My mother would probably grab my ear and haul me to my room if she saw our house. Then she'd never let me out, because our bedroom is just as bad."

He could almost hear her smart aleck reply, "Then hire a maid," whisper through the air.

Making his way to the bedroom, Hank padding softly behind, Grissom crawled into bed as the dog woefully did the same at the foot of it. Examining the room, he noted the overflowing hamper and clothes that lay scattered, and shook his head. Her nightstand had become his extra storage, and he had papers, articles, and books spread throughout.

Picking up the latest entomological journal, he flipped a few pages, read the article, and gently drifted off to sleep. The quiet alarm clock woke him, and making his way to the shower, he prepared for another call and another day.

When she hadn't called by seven that evening, he flipped open his cell and hit the familiar speed dial.

Her enthusiastic, "Gil!" made him smile, and he could imagine her face. The smile would be wide, giving a view of the slight gap between her front teeth. When she asked, "How was your day?" he broke from the reverie.

"Difficult," he replied, thinking back to the wracking sobs of a man, clutching beyond hope that he hadn't failed his child. "I had a young girl commit suicide," he said.

The breath blew out against the receiver on the other end of the line, and she said, "That's terrible."

Deciding he wanted a snack of those chips she always warned him about buying, he carried the phone to the kitchen, and popped open the bag.

When she asked, "What are you doing?" he replied, "Just getting a snack."

The frown, evident from hundreds of miles away came through clear in the tone that said, "Are those potato chips, Gil?" Wincing, he nodded his head, finished chewing, and said, "Yes."

Making his way to the living room with chips in hand, Grissom kicked back on the couch and put his feet on the coffee table, inadvertently knocking a book to the floor. Looking around the room, he suddenly laughed, "The house is a crime scene. I haven't cleaned in… awhile."

"Hmmm…," she replied, "since I only brought the clothes on my back, I haven't had to worry so much about it. Oh, and thank you for paying my credit card bill for me. I was racking it up."

"Honey, you left without any clothes. I don't want you naked in San Francisco, even if that is the norm in some areas," he said, trying to keep a straight face.

He had to laugh at her punctuated, "Ha. Ha. Ha. Very cute, Gil."

"Hey, did I tell you that I had mites infest one of the hives?" Grissom suddenly asked, lurching forward. He'd been excited a couple days ago to tell her this, but they'd gotten to talking about something, and it had gotten lost in other conversation.

"I've done some research, and while this particular type of mite has been known to cause problems, it doesn't seem to be responsible for colony collapse disorder. However, it's interesting to see. I've had to setup a small lab in the habitat area, so I can closely examine and dissect the mites."

"Are you worried about the mites spreading?" she asked.

"No, I quarantined the infected bees, and used a mild pesticide specifically for mites on the rest," he explained. "So, there are still no signs of the source of the issue."

"Interesting," she said. For several moments, they quietly relaxed in each others virtual presence. To Grissom, it felt as if Sara were right next to him. The only difference was the lack of humming or other noises she might make if she were on the couch instead of the phone. She broke the silence.

"Did I tell you about the conversation I had with myself standing on the wharf last night?" she lightly asked. Had he not been feeling a bit like a child stealing a cookie as he munched on chips, he would have caught it – the false lightness of her tone would have clued him in.

"No," he laughed. "I'd give you a bad time about talking to yourself, but I have been conversing with you in the living room recently."

"Actually, I was ranting," she said. This time, the smile faded from his lips, he dropped the open bag on the table for Hank to run off with. Grissom sat up straight.

"Would you like to know why I was ranting?" she asked.

"Of course, my dear," he said. Every muscle on alert, he waited, but not for long.

"I finally figured out why I came to San Francisco."

His hand suddenly painfully tight on the phone, he quietly asked, "Oh?"

When she said, "I don't suppose you'd like to visit, so maybe I can explain it to you," he came within a half second of slamming down the phone, running to his computer, and booking a ticket in an instant. Her nervous, "I'll understand if you can't," made him realize he hadn't responded.

He hoped the smile conveyed well in his voice, when he said, "I'll be there."

Stage 4 – Ritual Rebound

When he walked into the lab the next day, it was to a cacophony of sounds, as swing shift slowly began its descent into evening. Smiling to himself, he filled out a vacation slip, and walked it down to Ecklie's office.

"What's this?"

"I'm taking a few days off, Conrad," Grissom sardonically replied. "That's why it says Vacation across the top."

"I'm aware of that, Grissom," Ecklie replied, irritated, looking at the form more closely. "Today? You want to start today?" Glancing back up, he said, "Look… Gil… we're short-handed on graveyard as it is. I'm not sure I can approve this."

"All right," Grissom replied, a slight smile on his face. Pulling out his wallet, he unclipped his credentials, and tossed them on the desk in front of him. He made it all the way to his office.

"Gil, let's be reasonable," Ecklie said, following him inside, and closing the door. "I realize things have been difficult for you lately."

At Grissom's raised brows, Ecklie amended his statement, "Okay, maybe they've been a little more than difficult."

"Conrad, I'm taking a vacation. If that means I leave my job to do so, that's fine," Grissom stated. Pulling open his bag, he looked around the room and began packing up personal items, starting with his letter from Roy Rogers and a couple of pictures in his desk drawer. Standing in front of his irradiated fetal pig, he tried to estimate the odds of being able to cram his pet into the bag, as well, and decided he'd have to carry it.

While Ecklie gaped, apparently unsure of what to do, Grissom realized he felt truly good for the first time in a long time. Taking one last look around, he picked up the jar containing his pig in one arm and his bag in the other. Stopping for a moment, he removed his jacket reading CSI across the back, and tossed it on the couch.

Getting home, he packed a bag, spoke with Hank's babysitter regarding an extended stay for his canine friend, and took said canine companion on an extended walk. The next morning, he found himself standing at the gate for his flight.

Noise flowed around him like a thundering wind of voices. Walking to stand at the edge of the crowd of people waiting to board the flight, Grissom hit speed dial.

"Gil," she said, and he smiled wide.

"I'm standing in the airport, about to board a plane," he said, without preamble, as the first round of boarding was called across the intercom. As people nudged him, he moved farther away, and added, "Will you come get me?"

When she laughed, "Yes," he gave her the flight information. As the plane pulled away from the gate, Grissom turned off his cell phone; and when the plane landed, the first thing he did was turn the phone back on. Standing in the aisle, he called her.

"Where are you?" she asked on the other end of the line, and he could almost see her craning her neck in an attempt to find him.

"Still on the plane," he replied. "I just wanted to tell you I'm here."

Smiling, he hung up while she continued laughing, and retrieved a small bag from the overhead.

He found her looking in every direction but his. For just a moment, a sliver of panic ran through him, leaving him rooted. Does she really want me? ran through his mind. Closing his eyes, taking a breath, he made his way forward just as she turned and found him.

Approaching her, he dropped his bag at her feet, wrapped his arms around her, and held. It seemed like a moment became a lifetime, as he hugged her, breathing in her scent and feeling the rhythm of her heartbeat against him. As people flowed around them, he pulled back enough to kiss her cheek, and grasp her hand.

"Lay on, McDuff," he said, raising his brow, as she laughed and led him to the car. When they drove from the airport, yet away from San Francisco, he finally asked, "Sara? Far be it for me to tell you where to go, but we're heading east out of the city."

"I know," she replied, softly whistling, relaxed in the driver's seat. When he reached over and laid his hand in hers on the console, he watched the smile turn wide as she looked at him. "Tonight, we're staying at a place I know in Berkley."

"Okay," he replied. The sudden change in his expectations made him nervous. He took a calming breath and squeezed her hand. "May I ask why?"

"Call it familiar territory," she said, glancing over. "Pop in a CD, will you?"

Opening a case of discs, he found Mozart, and adjusted the volume to a soothing level. In silence they drove, sneaking glances and holding hands. Grissom kept wondering what was going on, but attempted a stance of neutrality, afraid to push too much.

When Sara flipped off the music and looked at him, she smiled wanly, and his nerves became alert. The farther from San Francisco they drove, the more tense she became. He watched her grip the steering wheel – hard – and his mind raced with the thought, She's decided she can do better than me.

Eventually arriving at their destination, Sara popped the trunk, revealing not only Grissom's bag, but hers, as well. Both appearing stiff, they walked into the small Inn, retrieved the key to their room, and headed up the old wooden staircase. All the rooms entered from the outside of the aged structure. Grissom estimated there were maybe five large rooms, and also noted the need for a new paint job, as the gray exterior was flaking on the walls he walked past.

Opening the door, Sara laid her bag on the bed. Setting his next to hers, he gripped her hands, and said, "We've talked more in the past weeks than ever before. Please talk to me now."

Leaning her head against his shoulder, she said, "I know what I need to do, and it's the hardest thing ever."

Closing his eyes, a dull note of dread ran through his body. "It's okay, honey. I want you to do what you need to do, okay?"

"Does that include telling you how much I love you?" she asked, tears spilling over. Her voice watery, she added, "Does it include telling you that every moment of every day I thought of you?"

Stepping back, he gripped her hand, leading her to the bed. Fluffing up the pillows, he settled himself against the plain oak headboard, while she snuggled against him. "I thought maybe you'd decided you needed someone different in your life – someone less difficult," he admitted. "I feel like in I know you so much better after all the conversations we've had, especially the last few weeks."

"Me, too, baby," she said, sitting up to kiss him. When the kiss deepened and tongues danced and stroked, Sara sighed and sat back. "Not yet. I want you – all of you, but not yet."

Moving, she sat cross-legged, facing him yet well within reach. "I need to tell you this all at once, or I'll get jumbled and start babbling, okay?"

"As the proverb goes, 'Do not speak unless you can improve the silence'. The floor is yours, my dear," Grissom said. For a couple of minutes, the ticking of the room's clock measured the time, and he watched her face move through varying emotions. This was one thing he loved – the way her mind worked through the data, trying to find the best way to present the evidence.

Finally, she said, "For the first half of my life, I was a victim. Other people made me that way. I had no control over what happened to me, and it seemed like the system back in those days was designed to shelter and feed the body, but not the soul. So, I played the part."

Shifting a bit, she stared at the comforter when she added, "I knew the part too well. I let myself be a victim after I aged out of foster care."

"Gil, I am the only one with the power to destroy the haze around me. I'm the only one that has the right to deal with my ghosts. They're mine, and they've always been comforting."

When he opened his mouth, she raised her hand and laid it gently over his lips, saying, "Shhh. Baby, you need to let me say this."

At his nod, she continued, "I was thinking about the Christmas party picture from a couple of years ago, and I felt like I'd been sucker punched. My greatest fear is not the ghosts, because they don't exist."

Her voice wavering, tears slowly sliding down her cheeks, she said, "They're just secrets. Big, hairy secrets I hide from, because I'm ashamed."

Irritated, she rolled off the bed, grabbed a tissue, and sat back down the edge, turned toward Grissom. Wiping her face, he watched her expression turn from anguish to determined and perhaps a bit angry. "I won't be a victim. I am not going to let myself be led down that road again."

Reaching out, he rubbed his thumb under her shadowed eyes. Smiling, he quietly asked, "You said you knew why you came here?"

"Yes," she replied, crawling up onto the bed and back into his arms. "I needed to see my mother. I needed to say goodbye."

"Are you sure?" he asked; hope springing in him, and his chest easing for the first time since the day she was kidnapped.

"Gil, everything I have is at home… or in that bag," she said. "I headed east, because it's a start. Tomorrow, we head south and home."