Title: Night By Night
Rating: PG for now, but that could change later.
Summary: Yep, it's a "How They Got Together" Story. Because we all have to write one someday.
Spoilers: Last half of Season 5.
Disclaimer: Still not mine. Sad but true.
Authors Note: I really wanted to write a "How They Got Together" story, and at first I had something shorter in mind. But somehow I didn't think these two could dance around for so long and then suddenly fall right in - I started to see it as a process, one night at a time.
The framework for this story is the last half of season five, so some of the dialogue may seem familiar... (and I certainly don't take credit for it) The prologue is from an earlier story I wrote, "Sara Smile." It just seemed like such a good place to start.
Greg had finally passed his proficiency – he'd needed an extra chance, but he'd done a good job, and he had every reason to be proud. It was Catherine's idea to bring him champagne to celebrate, and Nick and Warrick had contributed their "jello man." They all crowded into his office, and Sara handed Greg a glass of champagne as they all started toasting him.
Everyone was smiling. It was a great moment, and he indulged himself in just watching for a beat – they had all had a rough time recently, with the team separating, and Ecklie's promotion, but right now none of that seemed to matter.
More importantly, Sara was smiling.
He hadn't seen that in a long time – she hadn't had many reasons to smile.
He knew that most of that was his fault, but he wasn't sure what to do about it.
Right now she was happy, and he didn't care about the reasons why. He joined in by taking the glass Catherine handed him, and when his eyes met Sara's, she didn't look away.
Maybe he could make her happy. Maybe it wasn't too late.
Well I ain't got the heart
To lose another fight
So until my ship comes in
I live night by night…
- Steely Dan, "Night By Night"
It was well into the morning, well past the time his shift should have ended, but Gil Grissom was holed up in his office, hard at work on a pile of deferred paperwork.
Well – that's what anyone walking past would have thought. His hands were filling out paperwork, but his mind was somewhere else entirely.
He could still see Sara's smile – that beautiful smile, her real smile, the one that had become so rare he had despaired of ever seeing it again. This morning he'd been reminded of just how much he missed it.
How much he missed her.
Greg passing his final proficiency had put everyone in a good mood, including Grissom. It was a triumph for Greg, and it gave everyone a reason to celebrate in a time where there wasn't much else to be happy about.
And what, really, did he have to be happy about? Ecklie had split his team into pieces, after an investigation that proved to be nothing more than an excuse to humiliate him. He had sacrificed so much to his work – given it everything he had – and it meant nothing in the long run, not if the Ecklies of the world could still exercise their power over him for no good reason, humiliate him for the smallest thing, and break apart what he had spent so long trying to build.
He was happy to celebrate Greg's success, because at least someone was succeeding. He didn't feel he could take much credit for it, though – Sara had done much more to help Greg than he had. It seemed to be good for her, too – the teaching role fit her well. He could imagine her someday, shepherding a group of eager young students the way he once had, encouraging them and reveling in their achievements.
She had seemed pretty happy for Greg, that was certain.
Grissom sighed and closed the file he was working on, adding it to the "done" stack before pulling out yet another file full of reports to review. Damn paperwork.
Damn Sara and her smile. He couldn't get it out of his head.
He loved that smile.
He had almost lost that smile – and for what?
What the hell was the point of sacrificing everything for a career when forces outside of your control (Here the smirking face of Conrad Ecklie came to mind yet again) could do anything they wanted, regardless?
What would have happened if he had said yes to Sara?
Not just to her dinner invitation, but to everything she embodied – love, life, hope, a future?
He could have lost his team.
But that had happened anyway.
He could have been humiliated by the unctuous higher-ups who had nothing but politics on the brain.
That had happened, too.
He could have hurt Sara.
And he had done that, as well.
All the things he was afraid of losing – they were already gone, or close to being gone, and he had gained nothing for it.
Suddenly so many things seemed pointless to Grissom. Especially this damn paperwork.
He closed the file and returned it to the "to be completed" stack. His office, so often his sanctuary, suddenly felt like a prison he needed to escape.
He grabbed his jacket, closed his door behind him, and stepped out of the lab into the bright Nevada sunshine.
And for once it felt good.
He needed to think.
His townhouse just did not seem to be the right place to do it, however. It was like his office, once a sanctuary, now a place he needed to get away from. It was sterile, cold – empty. He had always believed he liked it that way.
Today, however, it was too empty, almost eerily so, but he had no place else to go. He took a beer from the refrigerator – he'd have liked something stronger, but he did have to go back to work in seven hours – and sat on the couch.
This couch, he thought, I really hate this couch. It's not even comfortable.
Why do I keep an uncomfortable couch?
Because it was comfortable, once, he thought – but it isn't anymore.
My life was comfortable, once, but it isn't anymore.
So why hang on to it?
He took another long swig of his beer. What was it he had always told his students?
If the evidence changes, the theory must also change.
The evidence had changed. It was time to formulate a new theory.
What do I want?
I need a new answer to that question, he thought. The old theory isn't working anymore.
His work, yes, it was still important. The science of it, the thrill of that was not lost. But his enthusiasm for everything that went with it – the politics, the competition – that was gone. He still loved teaching – watching Greg's success had proved that. He still wanted to be the night shift supervisor of the Las Vegas Crime Lab, yes, he wanted that.
But it was no longer enough.
That, he realized, was the heart of the matter, the crux of it, if you will.
His work was important.
It just couldn't be everything anymore. There had to be something else.
And this was the moment when Sara's smile came, unbidden, back to the forefront of his thoughts, along with the strange but familiar pang he felt whenever he thought of her.
Sara. I want Sara.
He took another swig of his beer and chuckled to himself.
Who am I kidding, he thought, I've always wanted Sara. But it's too late now. That ship has certainly sailed.
But… was it too late to be a friend?
And could that be enough for him?
It would have to be. He had no chance at anything more, now – all he could have was friendship. Sara deserved someone better, someone who could give her everything… but they had once shared a connection. A friendship.
I can rebuild that, he thought, I can. It's important. If we can just… if we can rebuild the connection we once had… I can at least have that. I can be satisfied with that.
He took yet another swig and imagined their friendship. He imagined the day Sara would come to him and announce she'd finally found someone.
If we're friends, at least she'd tell me, he thought. I wouldn't have to hear about it from someone else. And I could be happy for her.
He pictured the children Sara would have with this man – who, in his mind, was young, handsome and taller than he was, a regular Adonis in a polo shirt (the lucky SOB) – he pictured them running up and calling him "Uncle Gil."
That might be all right, he thought, it would be nice to have nieces and nephews, of a sort. One of the bad things about being an only child – he would never really have nieces or nephews of his own.
It had to be better than being alone, living wrapped in a sterile townhouse, isolated from the world. Anything was better than this.
So. Time to approach this scientifically, he thought, downing the rest of his beer.
Hypothesis: I can be friends with Sara.
To prove the hypothesis, an experiment, a plan was needed.
He would have to open up – just a little. He would have to work to rebuild what he had destroyed. It would take time, certainly, and she might be hesitant, but nothing worth having was ever easy, or quick. It would be better to go slowly, to see what happened.
He breathed a deep sigh of relief.
He liked having a plan. He could sleep now. He had a plan.
But when he finally fell asleep, he dreamed again of Sara, telling him she had found someone. He dreamed of her pulling him close, her soft lips brushing against his, the feel of her skin under his fingertips.
"And it's you," She whispered between kisses, "It's you."
Meanwhile, in her apartment a few miles away, the subject of Grissom's newest experiment was trying to fall asleep – and failing miserably.
I should be in a good mood, Sara thought as she turned to stare at the ceiling, I should be happy today.
She'd gone out for breakfast with Nick, Warrick and Greg to celebrate the fact that he'd passed his final proficiency and was now a full fledged CSI. Even though they were happy for him, it was a quiet celebration – Nick and Warrick had to be back at work for the swing shift by four o'clock, so they'd called it a day early, much to Greg's dismay.
Sara was relieved, truth be told – she was exhausted. Not the kind of exhaustion that could be cured by sleep, though. This was something deeper, a kind of exhaustion that resided in her bones, in her heart.
She couldn't blame Grissom completely, not for this – she had certainly blamed him for enough of her heartaches over the past several years, but this had little to do with him. Since he'd arrived at the police station to pick her up after her near-DUI months before, he'd been treating her… well, like a human being, at least, which was a big improvement.
But of course, now there was Sofia.
She had seen her, perched on Grissom's desk as if she was suddenly his new best friend. Grissom didn't seem to mind, either.
Wonder what he would say if she asked him to dinner, Sara thought bitterly, rolling back over on her side.
What made it all the more painful was the fact that Sofia's presence on the night shift was partially her fault. Ecklie had caught her off guard, startled her by revealing he knew everything about her near-arrest and counseling sessions. He'd brought back the humiliation of that night – her face burned just thinking about it. She hadn't been able to cover fast enough, and the resulting break-up of the team was proof that what she had said had been no help to Grissom or the lab.
No, she'd only managed to pluck Sofia from the dayshift and set her right on the edge of Grissom's desk.
It wasn't just Sofia and Grissom that kept her from sleeping, however, not this time. The small, pained faces of the Malton boys kept returning to her, haunting her, whenever she closed her eyes.
Just when you think you've beaten something, Sara thought.
I thought I had this under control. I really did.
Her counselor – Dr. Martin, a woman who was all grey hair and motherly smiles, who had pictures of her grandchildren decorating her office - had suggested she talk to her supervisor about her family, to give him some insight into why particular cases affected her as deeply as they did.
Sara had agreed, but silently she wondered how much a woman who put her happy family on display could understand about her situation. The sessions had been interesting, even somewhat helpful, but Sara was glad when Dr. Martin told her she no longer had to come back.
"Although," She'd said, "You certainly can come back, I think you'd benefit from further therapy. And it is covered by your insurance."
Sara smiled and told her she'd think about it.
And she had thought about it, for about three seconds.
Now, though, as she lay awake, she started reconsidering that decision.
Who knows, she thought, maybe I really do need therapy.
Maybe I'm losing my mind.
Sara groaned and rolled over again, flipping on to her opposite side, where she could see the glowing red display of her alarm clock.
Six hours left to try to sleep.
Somehow she knew it wasn't going to happen.
Sara arrived at work that night to find Greg in the break room, standing by the coffee maker.
"Hey, Sara," He gave her a cheery smile, "You're just in time for a fresh pot."
"Blue Hawaiian again?" Sara asked, and Greg shrugged.
"Not quite, this is different. Almost as good, but much cheaper."
"Learning to get by on your new salary?" Sara teased, and Greg smiled.
"Gotta economize somewhere," He said, taking a seat at the table and leaning back, "You look tired."
"Thanks, Greg." Sara said, "So do you."
"Oh, good, you started the coffee already."
They both looked up to see Sofia, who sat down with a heavy sigh.
"God," She continued, "How do you people do this?"
"Do what?" Sara asked.
"I'm just not adjusted to graveyard yet," Sofia complained, "It's too bright to sleep during the day."
"You get used to it," Greg said, taking the mug Sofia handed him. He poured a cup of coffee for her and then, without being asked, poured another for Sara, smiling while he did so.
"Oh, good, you're all early," Grissom said, bustling into the room with assignment slips in his hand, "Catherine's calling me already." He looked at Sofia and handed her one of the slips.
"I'm not actually on yet." She complained, and Grissom gave her a sympathetic look.
"I know. Swing's tapped out, they could really use your help. DB in a van, parking garage over on Tropicana. Warrick's already there."
Sofia groaned, took a long swig from her coffee cup, grabbed the assignment slip, and stood up.
"You owe me one," She said as she sidled past Grissom, passing unnecessarily close to him. He seemed to ignore it as his eyes focused intently (a little too intently) on the assignment slip he was holding. Sara couldn't help but scowl at Sofia's retreating back. She hoped Greg and Grissom wouldn't notice.
"Greg," Grissom continued, handing him the other slip he held, "B&E out in Seven Hills. I think you can handle it solo."
"Solo?" Greg's face lit up, "Really?"
"Well," Grissom hesitated, "Circumstances being what they are, you're going to have to handle it solo."
"Because someone else in this room managed to max out on overtime for the month." He gave Sara a significant look, "And she is now confined to the lab."
It was Sara's turn to groan.
"You're kidding," She said, "Really? I lost track."
Grissom nodded, "Sorry. But you're not the only one. Ecklie has advised me that if I don't finish the stacks of paperwork piled on my desk, I won't see the outside of this lab again."
"So we're stuck here all night," Sara sighed, "Great."
"But it means I get to work solo." Greg sounded a little too excited.
"It's just a B&E, Greg," Sara snapped, "It's not a career case."
Greg looked a little wounded at her tone, and Sara felt a surge of guilt. She gave him an apologetic glance, which he seemed to accept.
"Career case or no," He said cheerfully, "I better get going. It's important to make a good impression on my first solo case."
"Don't let it go to your head, Greg," Grissom admonished, "Just process the scene."
Greg nodded and walked cheerfully out of the room, whistling softly to himself. Grissom watched him for a moment before turning back to Sara with a smile.
"Well, at least someone's enjoying their work," He said, but there was a wistful tone behind the joke, and Sara heard it.
"Don't you?" She asked, and Grissom frowned slightly, surprised not only by the question, but by the fact that Sara had asked it. He stopped and considered his answer.
A friend would be honest, he thought.
"Not always," He admitted quietly, meeting Sara's gaze. For a moment their eyes locked, and he was disappointed when she looked away.
"I certainly don't enjoy all this paperwork," He said, his voice lightening, "I'd better get started."
He headed off towards his office, leaving Sara alone in the break room.
Where did that come from? She thought. She could tell the breakup of the team was weighing heavily on his shoulders, but there was something else in his eyes, something she couldn't place. It was unsettling, somehow.
Sara pulled herself out of her chair and headed for the evidence locker. If she was going to be trapped in the lab for a few days, she might as well make herself useful.
Within a few hours, Sara had run out of things to do. She'd re-evaluated evidence from all of her open cases, and finished all of her paperwork – the only thing left to do was pull a cold case from Grissom's board, but somehow she couldn't muster the enthusiasm.
He had to know about her conversation with Ecklie. He deserved to know.
She decided there was no time like the present – when would she have another opportunity like this? Both of them stuck in the lab, without a pressing case to distract them…
Her counselor had said she should talk to her supervisor. She was only following Dr. Martin's advice.
Sara forced herself to put on the best smile she had and headed towards Grissom's office.
Sara – and his new resolution - had been dancing around the edges of Grissom's thoughts for most of the evening, even while he worked through his pile of paperwork, so the appearance of the real Sara in his doorway startled him a little.
"Hi," Sara said, knocking on his door frame, "You got a minute?"
Uh-oh. The last conversation she'd begun that way hadn't ended well.
"Sure," He replied, still trying to refocus his mind on the real, flesh and blood Sara before him. She stepped the rest of the way into his office, still smiling.
God, what a smile. What a distracting smile.
"We haven't really had a chance to talk since the staff changes," Sara continued, sitting down opposite him, "I uh… I wanted to let you know that I said some things to Ecklie that might have done the team a disservice."
There, she'd said it. But Grissom didn't look angry, just... accepting, as if he'd known it all along.
"Ecklie wanted to break up the team, and he did." He said. Was Sara blaming herself? For what?
"He asked me if you and I had had our post PEAP counseling session…" She began, and he realized what she meant. All right, a friend would be honest. A friend would apologize – especially since she was blaming herself when it was his fault they'd never followed through.
"And we didn't. Regardless, you should never have to cover for your boss, I'm sorry." He said.
"You've always been a little more than a boss to me." Sara said, startling him. "Why do you think I moved to Vegas?" She asked.
Wait, what? Where was this conversation going? He was still trying to process this statement when Sara continued.
"Look, I – I – I know our relationship has been complicated, it's probably my fault, it's probably definitely my fault."
Your fault? Oh, God, Sara, none of this is your fault, Grissom thought, but for some reason, his mouth and brain were no longer connecting.
"You uh – completed your counseling, right?" He finally said.
"Yeah. Yes." Sara nodded.
"And?" He asked, suddenly afraid to hear what she had to say.
"Let's just say that… sometimes I look for validation in inappropriate places." Sara said, considering her words carefully.
He had to say something. She was looking at him, waiting for a response. He nodded in acknowledgement, but he still had to say something.
"Look…" He began, but still the words wouldn't come. "Let's… um…"
Let's turn back the clock.
Let's start all over.
Let's go somewhere where I'm not an inappropriate place and none of this has happened.
He wanted to say all of this, but...
"It's okay," Sara jumped in, nodding, "Okay. You know what, we did our session. Don't forget to document this for Ecklie." She smiled, but it was a smile with a hint of sadness, maybe… resignation?
"Right." He said.
"Thanks." Sara said. She gave him another smile before she rose and left him staring at the chair she had just vacated.
Sometimes I look for validation in inappropriate places.
So that's all it ever was. An inappropriate, schoolgirl crush.
He realized in that moment that he had always hoped it was more. What he felt for her… it was so powerful, frightening, it took his breath away.
But whatever she felt, she had left it behind. Dismissed it as "inappropriate." She was over it, past it, past him. It was for the best, but… he felt as if she'd blown out the tiny flame of hope that until that moment he hadn't realized he was still clinging to.
All that was left was the possibility of a friendship.
It wasn't enough, but it would have to be enough.
We just have to start over.
He sighed and returned to his paperwork.
Sara retreated to the locker room and sat down on the bench. It was suddenly hard to catch her breath.
I had a plan when I went in there, she thought, I don't know what happened. I was going to tell him about my conversation with Ecklie, and that was it.
You've always been a little more than a boss to me.
Way to stick your foot in your mouth, Sidle.
She should have known she was going to say something stupid when she began the conversation with "You got a minute?"
Sara sighed and rested her head in her hands for a moment as she reviewed the conversation.
Then she thought of something, and raised her head, staring at one of the locker doors as if the answer was written on the front.
I wonder…what would he have said if I hadn't jumped in?
"Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be this hard
Oh, take me back to the start…"
- Coldplay, "The Scientist"