When Heather Kessler comes to call, you can always expect the unexpected.

A prequel to the Time Series, takes place post season eight,

circa November 2008.

It was autumn. But then autumn within the Las Vegas city limits wasn't really all that markedly different from any other time of the year. There wasn't the accompanying brilliant riot of color like there was to be found in other places -- well not amongst the leaves in the trees at least. Although there were few leaves to shiver and dance in the trees that afternoon in the mostly empty park.

The mothers and fathers and children had gone home to sit down at their dinner tables. A few dog walkers crisscrossed the paths, most of them being the ones being walked than the other way around.

It was quiet mostly, just the rumble of tires from the road, a rustle of the breeze in the still green grass, the faint murmur of voices sounding more like whispers off in the distance.

But Gil Grissom sat there rather oblivious to it all.

He peered down at his empty hands and sighed.

While he knew it was getting late and there was still the long walk home, he wasn't quite sure he was ready for it just yet, or for the accompanying return to absence rather than presence that returning home currently entailed.

In some ways, it was harder having Sara gone now, even if it had only been for weeks really and not months this time.

If only for a few more minutes, he wanted just to linger a little longer within the fantasy that when he walked through his front door, she would be there, so he simply sat on the park bench with Hank settled obediently beside him.

That was all he really wanted to do, just sit there and close his eyes and welcome the darkness and not have to think or feel or be anything. Even if but for that one moment. For that one moment, to find stillness and comfort in the longing and the dreams of memory.

It seemed strangely apt, he supposed, how similar what had brought her to Vegas in the first place was to what had brought her back again, and despite the pain of those circumstances, it had been infinitely comforting to have her as near again as she had been that one quiet late afternoon where they lay together fully dressed a top the sheets, Sara snuggled up against his side; her hand on his chest soft and warm beneath his. Just to be able to listen to the deep, even measure of her breathing when the hours stretched out before him when he couldn't sleep had been a solace.

Why was it, he wondered, still peering down at his fingers, that you only truly felt someone's presence in their absence?

How it ached now, that want at her leaving.

Even though he knew and understood. He really did. Why she had to go. And why he had to stay.

So Sara had gone and he had stayed.

Only to find that work held no respite because there was always still that hope even all these months later that Warrick would --

He was startled from his reverie by Hank's low rumbling and yet not unfriendly bark and a little girl's excited giggle of "Doggie!"

When he looked up he couldn't have been more surprised. He blinked and stared for a few bewildered moments up at a casually dressed Heather Kessler who stood before him with a much bigger than he remembered Alison tugging on her hand.

It took him a few minutes, before Grissom could finally ask, "Aren't you on the wrong side of town?"

"We were hoping to run into you, actually," Heather replied with one of her trademark enigmatic smiles. "Outside of a professional capacity."

"So no mysteriously dead employees or clients?"

"You do recall that your department came to me for help the last time," she countered. "Besides, I did get out of that business. Although I still entertain private clients from time to time. All above board, of course."

"Of course," Grissom concurred. "So you aren't in any trouble?"

"No, it isn't me."

"Oh?" When further explanation did not seem to be forthcoming, he questioned, slightly nonplussed at her appearance, "How did you know I'd be here?"

"While your car was in the lot in front of your apartment, neither you nor Hank you were answering the door. So I imagined that you might have taken him for walk on your night off."

"Does that mean you've been stalking me then?"

"Would you rather we met in our usual way?" She inquired in turn.

"As part of an investigation? Not particularly."

Grissom was almost thankful that Alison's sudden high-pitched giggling supplied a distraction. The little girl had managed to slip from her grandmother's grasp and was currently lavishing affection on a still unruffled Hank who seemed to be taking her eager petting in stride.

"He's good with children," Heather said appreciatively.

"I think he's just enjoying the attention," Grissom replied, trying not to recall just how little of that his dog had likely been getting of late.

Heather Kessler gave him a long searching look before saying, "From the looks of you, you don't look like you've been home much."

"You know work is work," he replied, trying but failing at being nonchalant.

She gave him a disbelieving raise of the eyebrow, but made no further comment. They both watched Hank and Alison for a few moments before Grissom peered up into Heather's face and asked still bemused, "So why are you here?"

"I thought you could use a cup of tea. And a friend."

"A friend?" He echoed in disbelief.

"Isn't that what you told me we were, friends?" She asked in return.

He nodded, remembering telling her so that afternoon when she had greeted his presence at her front door with a scowl. It had been an attempt at extending an olive branch of sorts, for them to perhaps finally be able to put the past behind them and move forward beyond all the hurt and sadness. It appeared that Heather had accepted it as such.

"Then come on," she insisted.

"But Hank --"

"Grissom, dog hair is nothing after Cheerios."

OOOOOOO

Hank happily bounded into the back of Heather's Audi and proceeded to lay his head on the arm of Alison's car seat.

"Seems someone's made a friend," Heather grinned as she peered at the dog and little girl both fast asleep in her rearview mirror.

Grissom nodded thoughtfully, but said nothing and the rest of the ride to Heather's was a fairly quiet one, apart from Hank's soft snores and Alison's deep even breathing.

"Allow me," he insisted, after they had pulled into the long driveway and Heather had unfastening the harness to the car seat as carefully as she could so as to not wake her granddaughter. Grissom gingerly gathered the still slumbering girl into his arms; she snuffled slightly before burying her head into the crook of his neck. He carried her inside, a slightly sleepy Hank trotting dutifully along with them up the stairs. After Alison had been tucked in, the boxer curled up at the foot of the bed and was quickly snoring yet again.

As she half-closed the bedroom door, Heather sighed and gave Grissom another of those penetrating glances the he always thought saw right through him, before giving him a disarming smile and saying, "Come on. Why don't you let me get you that tea."

As she disappeared into the kitchen to put on the kettle, Grissom peered about her sitting room and called after her, "I see you've changed the decor."

She sounded pleased more than anything when she answered, "Well, children tend to get into things."

"I would imagine. You must get to see her fairly often then."

"Thanks to you, yes," she replied, carrying in a tray of tea things and placing them on a small side table. "Her grandfather works during the week, so I sometimes get her during the day and occasionally overnight. It's never quite as much as I'd like, but then I don't think it ever could be, but still..."

"It suits you," he said and meant it. The haunted Heather who had stood on her front porch and told him to go away was gone. Her face had softened and the slight lines at her eyes and mouth he could tell were more from smiling than sorrow. She seemed more at ease than he had ever seen her. That he had played even a small part in granting that to her, pleased him immensely. "Looks like life has been treating you well."

"I wish I could say the same," she replied, beginning to pour out the tea.

"It's been a tough year."

"I heard." When he looked surprised, she added, "You aren't my only contact in the police department."

She handed him a plain mug. Seeming to sense that he had noticed the lack of the usual tea accoutrements, she said, "We both know that there are some times when the superficial trapping of civilization provide no comfort."

"True." He nodded and took a small sip of the steaming beverage. "Chamomile," he murmured approvingly.

"It's good for sleep," Heather said simply. "It doesn't look like you've been getting very much."

"You know work," he replied almost automatically.

"But that isn't why you haven't been sleeping," she retorted, peering at him from over her cup as she blew on it. "I heard about Warrick Brown. I'm sorry."

Grissom pursed his lips, and nodded numbly.

"And Ms. Sidle-"

"Sara's been visiting her mother," he abruptly cut her off.

Although she seemed to know there was a lot more to it than that, Heather didn't press. They sat there in the quiet consumption of their tea for a while before she put down her cup and said, "You miss her." It wasn't a question.

He let out a long deep breath and sighed, "It just feels like..."

"Half of you is missing?" She supplied.

"Yeah."

At the questioning look he was giving her, she explained, "It's your eyes that give you away. They're different from that afternoon I saw you with her at your apartment. You looked so happy -- no, not happy -- content, like I have never seen you with anyone else. But now..."

"They say whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

"Does it?" She asked.

"No," he conceded, putting down his own empty cup. "The irony of it is that while she left to spare me the pain of watching her fall apart, I guess I stay away for the exact same reason."

"Some things never change," Heather replied, shaking her head. "After all this time, you still fear being known, even by those who know you best."

Grissom could think of no counter to this. Instead, he said, "Sara never did tell me why you came by that day to see her."

Heather paused in the act of pouring him more tea. "I hope my visit didn't cause any trouble," she responded.

"No, not at all," he answered, taking the proffered cup up again. Which was the truth as Heather's visit to Sara a couple of weeks after she had returned from the hospital hadn't caused any problems; that particular fight had been fought long before then and was one he wouldn't soon forget.

OOOOOOO

By the time Grissom had left Heather with Alison that day, it was late afternoon. He was tired and relieved to be finally home, but a lot less troubled, especially when he saw Sara's Prius parked in the spot next to his.

He shrugged off his jacket as he came in the door, listening intently for any sounds of her in the apartment, but judging from the quiet, he figured that she must already be asleep. So he tiptoed into the bedroom, only to find Hank occupying her usual space and Sara stretched out on his side of the bed with her back to the door, laying on top of the duvet and still fully dressed. From the tautness in her spine and shoulders, Grissom could tell that she wasn't asleep. He gently nudged Hank out of the way and slid to sit beside her.

She seemed to bristle at his movements, but her voice was even, almost too even, when she asked quietly, "Is she going to be okay?"

"Heather?" He asked. "I think so. She's with her granddaughter now."

"Good." There was a long, still silence before she said, "You weren't answering your phone so when you didn't pick up Hank at the usual time, Robin called me. I didn't want to leave him home alone."

Grissom wasn't quite sure why exactly she was telling him this and was even more puzzled when without even looking at him, she sat up briskly and perched herself on the far edge of the mattress.

"Honey?" He asked, reaching out to place a concerned hand on her shoulder, but Sara merely brushed away his touch and quickly got to her feet.

"I... I have to go take care of some things," she stammered. "I'll see you back at the lab tonight."

He rose to follow her. "Sara, wait. Please don't leave like this."

"Like what?"

"Angry."

"Angry?" She asked, her voice suddenly higher than usual and then strangely insistent when she said, "I'm not angry, Grissom." It was his turn to bristle, as he couldn't remember the last time she had called him by his last name, at least not in private. But before he could say anything, Sara was choking out, "Or mad or furious or pissed or any other word you can come up with out of that voluminous vocabulary of yours."

This said, she turned to face him and Grissom could indeed see in her eyes that she wasn't angry or mad, but something else entirely.

Something far worse.

He knew that look all too well, though he hadn't seen it for a long time. And he had hoped to never see it again.

She looked hurt.

Then he realized that was what that slight catch in her voice had meant when she had told him earlier in layout room that it was fine and to do what he needed to do.

"Maybe Catherine was right," she continued, setting her jaw like she always did when upset. "Maybe you really are just asking for trouble when you fish off the company pier."

"You can't really mean that," he said, stumbling slightly as he tried to stand, as taken aback as if her words had been actual physical blows.

Sara let out a long, deep breath before replying, "No," with a sad shake of her head.

His relief lasted only a moment, as there was still that hurt there in her voice when she asked, "But all night?" And then her words all seemed to flow together as if she had been holding them back as long as she could and just couldn't do it anymore, "And I had to hear all about it from Catherine and not from you. About all of it. From Catherine, who was talking all about how you and Heather had chemistry, that she was sure the two of you had spent the night together, that Lady Heather was the only woman she had ever seen rattle you."

"Catherine doesn't always know what she's talking about," came his terse reply.

"Which part? The chemistry, the sex or the rattling?"

Grissom stood there silent for a long time.

"That's what I thought," Sara said, backing away from him towards the door. "She's striking, uninhibited, confident. I can't compete with that."

"And you thought I could compete against a guy like Hank? He was younger, Sara, less serious, more suitable and..."

"And barely knew how to stand a book the right way up," Sara finished tartly.

"Then why did you go out with him?" Grissom asked.

"Because he was interested in being with me and wasn't afraid to show it," Sara explained. "And that was something at least."

Something more than he had given her then, Grissom rued.

"You told me to get a life," she continued hollowly. "But you never realized that it was a life with you that I really wanted.

"Then when you found out about Hank, you pretty much told me that you didn't care if I went out with him or not. Which meant you obviously had no interest whatsoever in having that sort of relationship with me.

"You shut that door, Grissom. No, you slammed that door in my face repeatedly. Look, I know I don't have any right to be upset about whatever happened between you and Heather Kessler..."

"She never left me speechless," he whispered.

That stopped her in her tracks. "What?" Sara asked.

"She never left me speechless," Grissom repeated. "Not like you do."

A little of the pain seemed to leave her face at this. Her next question was softer, gentler, yet no less exacting, "But the rest of it is true, isn't it?"

He didn't see the point in lying, never really had. "Yes," he replied.

She didn't meet his eyes when she said, "Just tell me, was it before or after we had gotten together?"

Grissom gaped at her wordlessly for a few moments before he covered his mouth with his hand and almost gasped, "Oh, god, Sara, before. Long before. When you were still with Hank. And just that once."

"Once?" She questioned in surprise.

Rather than replying, he asked her, "Do you remember the Happy Morales case?"

Sara still looked bewildered. "The boxer who just wouldn't die?"

"Yeah, that one. You asked me if I had ever been a customer in a place like that --"

She nodded. "And you said no. So you were obviously never a client of Lady Heather's. Why does it somehow feel like it would have been better if you had?"

Not having an answer for that question, he sat down heavily on the bed and asked instead, "Do you remember what else I told you that day?"

"That sex without love was pointless."

He motioned for her to sit down beside him. "And?"

She did and replied, "That it makes you sad."

"How do you think I learned that lesson, Sara?" He said. "It wasn't from out of a book."

Sara seemed to understand this and nodded knowingly.

"I was never in love with Heather," he continued quietly. "You have to understand that at the time, I was losing my hearing, so I felt like I was losing control of my life. And I didn't know what to do, but hide it from everyone.

"But with Heather, I didn't have to pretend." When Sara's lips began to move as if to interrupt, he raised a hand and said, "No, wait, let me finish. Please.

"With her, I didn't have to pretend that everything was okay. That I had everything under control. With her, I didn't have to be perfect. I didn't have to be the Dr. Gil Grissom whom everyone seemed to put on a pedestal and thought had all the right answers all the time.

"That night, she didn't treat me as if I didn't feel anything at all. Like all of you kept saying I did. Especially you.

"You talk about slamming doors, Sara. How do you think it felt when you told me that you wished you could be more like me because I didn't feel anything?" He asked, but neither waited for, nor seemed to require a reply. "See, if you really felt that way, then it meant that you didn't think I felt anything for you. So what was I supposed to think? Do?

"That is when I realized I had a choice. I could have you in my life at a distance or not at all. And I settled for at a distance. I settled for being guarded with you rather than lose you completely.

"With Heather, I didn't have anything to lose. Not really. It didn't have to mean everything like it would have with you.

"Yes, she was and is, a charming woman, intelligent, fascinating, but that was all it was, fascination and the simple desire for some kind of human connection.

"But it was all so tentative. Once the flush of pleasure and that moment of closeness were gone, it was gone. It wasn't meaningless; it just didn't mean everything, so that in the end, it really did just leave me feeling empty and sad.

"It wasn't until I was with you, that I discovered how true the opposite could be. That sex with love was happiness like I had never known.

"I never saw Heather again after that night they brought her in. I was with you, Sara. And I only wanted to be with you. I only want that now. So don't go, please," Grissom whispered. "Please stay."

Slowly, Sara nodded. This time, when he reached up to touch her cheek, she didn't retreat, but simply closed her eyes and leaned into the caress.

"You did the right thing," she said softly after a while. "You did. And for the best of reasons."

"But perhaps not in the best of ways."

"Perhaps, Gilbert."

With those last two syllables, and the slight smile she gave him when she said them, he knew he had been forgiven.

OOOOOOO

"How did you know Sara would even be there that afternoon?" Grissom asked Heather as he took his cup up again.

"Because I knew it was her," she answered.

"Her?"

She smiled knowingly as she sipped at her tea. "I didn't grasp it at the time, but something had changed even then after Zoe died. I just couldn't quite put my finger on it. But there in the hospital, you were different. Not so distant. Softer. More open. Less lost. As if you had found what you were looking for."

"Sara," he breathed.

Heather nodded, "Only a deep and profound love can do that to a man. When I saw that look on your face when she turned to you, I knew."

"What look was that?"

"I believe she called it the one of sheer unadulterated terror."

Grissom couldn't help but chuckle slightly, "That sounds like something Sara would say."

"She was certainly a refreshing change from the usual behavior of certain other members of the Las Vegas Police Department," Heather added.

"Well, Jim has issues," he supplied.

"With inadequacy?"

"With being overprotective at times."

"I never thought of you as a man who needed protection, Grissom," she laughed.

"I suppose he wanted to make sure to save me from myself."

Heather put down her cup and said, "You didn't need any help with that."

"No."

"I wanted to thank her for her kindness and her compassion," Heather explained, "and for all that she did."

"That sounds like Sara, too," he replied with a sad sort of smile as he thought of all the times he had chastised her for her empathy, for her gentleness, for what he had mistakenly thought of as a lack of objectivity.

"Not for me," Heather corrected. "For you."

Grissom was taken a back for a moment.

"The two of you have known each other a long time. It shows and yet you still manage to compliment each other well without losing your own individuality. That can be very difficult to manage in any relationship."

"It was that obvious?" He asked, remembering back to that day he had returned home from the market only to find Sara and Heather seemingly comfortably ensconced upon a pair of stools at his kitchen island quietly conversing over cups of tea.

"Only if you know what to look for," she replied. "Your eyes light up when you look at her when you think no one else is watching, just like they do as you are talking about her now."

"You know you would have been welcome to stay for dinner," He said, recalling that Heather had politely excused herself after they had exchanged a few vague pleasantries while he put away the groceries.

"I know," she said. "And while I appreciated the invitation from both of you, I didn't want to intrude any further. Besides, she looked like she could use some rest."

Grissom nodded. Sara had fallen asleep while he had been cooking.

"She really does bring out the best in you," Heather continued. "You always were a man with a very old soul, but with a very young heart. And it seemed that it was your heart that you never were quite comfortable cultivating. But she was the one who helped you live here," she said putting her hand over her heart. "And not just in your head.

"I suppose sometimes it is just easier that way. Because once you start living in your heart you manage to open yourself up not just to love and hope and joy and all the wonders of life, but you also open yourself up to pain and heartache and fear and despair."

As he knew this was too true to deny, he made no reply.

Heather leaned forward in her seat, as if she had finally come to what she had really wanted to say. "Grissom, you need to stop being a human doing and allow yourself to be a human being again. Like you were with her before she --

"Heather, please..." He stammered uncomfortably.

Heather sat back with a sigh and shook her head sadly as she said after a while, "You always were the theater."

"Is that why you sent me that mask?"

"I thought it apropos."

He nodded at this before draining the last of the dregs from his mug. "Well, 'all the world's stage and all the people merely players,'" he quoted.

"'And one man in his time plays many parts,'" she nodded. "You more so than most and you always with your true self so carefully concealed.

"Grissom, when will you really learn that it is okay to need other people -- to not always be the strong one or have all the answers? That it's okay to hurt and ache and want to rage and roar and cry?"

"Don't you ever just get tired of words?" He almost demanded. Then his voice grew quiet and more confessional. "I just don't understand anymore. Anything at all really.

"Honestly, I feel like this time, I really am losing my sense of self, who I really am."

"You are still you," Heather countered. "Perhaps the what you are is changing, but who, no."

Grissom looked like he wasn't entirely sure whether to believe her assertions or not, but he hadn't had long to consider it, before she cut into his thoughts with, "Have you spoken to Sara about this?"

"No."

"Still the same old Grissom then," she replied ruefully, and then her tone turned pensive. "Why is it that our fears are so often the mirror opposites of our deepest desires?" She asked. "For while you so fear being known, that is still the one thing you want most of all."

"What about you?" He questioned. "Are you and I all that different?"

"Perhaps not," she conceded.

"So what about your masks?" He continued to press. "What you fear and want?"

"Isn't it obvious?" She asked.

Grissom thought about it for a moment. "Control," he finally answered. "You fear not having control. Not being in control. And yet, you still want not to have to be."

Heather smiled, seemingly pleased as his perceptiveness. "Like I said, obvious."

It was his turn to probe. "Is that why you wanted to end your own life?"

"You can keep enduring the pain or you can put an end to it," she replied without hesitation or reservation. "You may think that suicide is the cowardly act of the desperate, but really, it is in its own way, the ultimate form of self-determination.

"For we have no say in our beginnings, in the how or when or where or whys. In many ways, we have just as little in the rest of our lives. So who really doesn't long to control the end? To at least be able to choose that how and when and where and why? Maybe that doesn't make it right, or acceptable, but perhaps it makes it a bit more understandable."

"And you would have done it," he acknowledged sadly.

"Yes. But I am glad I didn't," she replied. "It was so hard after Zoe died. She really was the only person I had ever freely allowed myself to love, however imperfectly.

"I know I can never have her back, I can never undo what was done or have her forgiveness, but I can still love her and still show it with Alison. That's all I ever really wanted to do. And while there will always be that hole, that ache with Zoe, there is now joy and hope and life, too."

OOOOOOO

In the morning, Grissom woke to the gleeful sound of Alison's giddy laughter and Hank's playful barking. He rubbed the back of his neck wearily, feeling a little sore, which didn't surprise him once he had realized he had spent the night sprawled out on Heather's sofa.

He carefully refolded the blanket he knew she must have draped over him at some point in the night, although he wasn't quite sure how or when he had actually fallen asleep, only that he had. He followed the noise out onto the patio to find Hank happily retrieving the bright red ball that Alison had just thrown.

"We didn't mean to wake you," Heather said softly, surprising him. He spun to find her in the midst of putting her plants out. She gestured for him to watch as Hank was slathering Alison in long, wet dog kisses, which caused the little girl to squeal in delight. "Dogs and children," she smiled. "Their love is always so refreshingly unconditional.

"When we are young, it's so easy," she continued. "To love that way -- whole heartedly and without the questions or reservations or rules that love later in life seems to entail. By the time we're adults, love is very seldom unconditional.

"Even more so the love we have for ourselves than the love we have for others," she added, struggling a little with a plant as the hooks of the hanging basket had somehow managed to get tangled up. Grissom stepped forward to help her, coming closer to her than he had been since the night he had stopped her from killing Leon Sneller.

As he drew away, she said, "It's a lot easier for you to get close when it doesn't matter, but when it does you shy away. Why is that?"

When he didn't answer, she ventured, "Because it is a whole lot easier to risk when you have nothing to lose?"

Grissom was saved from answering by the insistent jiggle of his phone. He turned away from her and listened intently to the voice on the other line.

"I have to go," he said after a few minutes.

She nodded. "I'll get you a cab," she said and when she returned, called for Alison while Grissom whistled for Hank.

While Alison was preoccupied in saying good-bye to Hank, Heather turned to Grissom and said, "They say that it is never too late to apologize. Is the same true for the accepting of apologies?"

"I don't see why not," he answered. They both shared a smile for a moment before a sudden seriousness filled Heather's face.

"Change is hard, Grissom," she began. "It's scary. But I have never known you to be afraid of anything, except to let go of your mask.

"But at some point, your life has to be more than just your work. It can't be your life -- all there is to your life. It isn't the sum total of who or even what you are. You can't hide behind it forever so you don't have to live your own life."

"We're still so short," he replied wearily. "Now is just not..."

"You know there will always be something," she maintained. She took his face into her hands and he thought for a moment that she was going to kiss him and he tried to retreat, but her hands held him fast as she said softly, but no less firmly, "Stop. Grissom, it's time to stop."

"I can't."

"If you don't, you will lose everything," she insisted. "Then you will have nothing, feel nothing, be nothing.

"You have to stop."

He nodded in assent, but when the cab finally came, he got in and after dropping Hank off at the dog sitter's, went back to the only thing he still knew, though didn't quite fully understand anymore -- work.