Author's Note: This is one of my favorite GSR stories that I have ever written. I love getting into Grissom's head even more than I enjoy being in Sara's. Sara's voice always comes to me a little casual, a little sharp, but Grissom is smooth and coherent and poetic, even if sentences like that rarely come out of his mouth in conversation. For me, it is the beauty of contrasts; he is brilliant in his brain, and befuddled when he tries to explain things to Sara. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. It is set, per most of my stories, in late season five/early season six, because canon says this is the best time-frame in which to place "ohgodtakemenow" stories.
Disclaimer: Other people own them. I just give them a funner playground. (I know funner isn't a word. Don't judge the disclaimer.)
Grissom sat alone, as he always did, staring absently at the beautifully caged butterflies on his stark white walls. So vibrant, despite the pins holding their fragile bodies in place, but their rich colors were not holding his attention. He was lost in thought, in mental internal debate, and the jury was still out on whether or not he would find his way back to reality, or even want to.
Middle age had come and lingered, inspiring the casual consideration of a crisis, along with its immediate and repeated dismissal. He had no wife or lover to abandon or be unfaithful to, no desire to trade in his practical SUV for a sports car in any color. Leaving Vegas was not even an option; his life, his work, his home, and even the people he considered his friends were all here. So as forty came and vanished in a heartbeat, as fifty hovered on the horizon and then descended, he continued on.
His hearing was back, but the weight of responsibility that had come the day he replaced James Brass as a supervisor did not lift. He could smile more easily now at the jokes he could hear, the friendly comments that were no longer simply white noise, but political games, endless pressure and paperwork, staff decisions—it all robbed him of sleep and sanity and peace of mind. Even though it had been two years since the surgery, he still woke every afternoon and felt grateful for the sound of his alarm clock, the vibration of his phone, even the sirens screaming their way down the street. Jim had commented once that it seemed like he was back to his old self, whatever that meant. But he doubted it. His self, who he was, had changed—when Holly had died, when he had nearly lost Warrick, then Nick…
So he held himself more firmly in check, allowed the aura of mystery he had cultivated as a younger man to thicken into a cloak of secrecy. He cut himself no slack, allowed himself no careless pleasures. If anything, the one tragically beautiful night he had succumbed to with Heather had shown him the need for restraint. He had gained physical release, and lost a friend. Hardly an even exchange.
It was easy with Jim, with Catherine, even, to open up enough to be friendly without ever fearing danger. But with his younger coworkers—subordinates, he reminded himself—he remained aloof. Particularly…particularly with Sara. With Sara, every reservation he had seemed justified. She was the biggest complication of his life.
His young, energetic friend had transformed as he had: weight of the world descending, joy and easy smiles replaced with sleepless nights and tragic sighs. She threw herself into her work, identified with too many dead and broken bodies. He knew a little more of her heartbreaking past now, and wondered how much there was that he still did not know. She vacillated between sealing herself off from him and baring herself, figuratively, before his confused and hooded eyes.
Attraction was easy to feel, easy to succumb to. He succumbed to it alone—not often enough to be concerned; often enough to feel guilty. But what terrified him was that it was not simply attraction, with Sara. She was bewitching, infuriating, mesmerizing. She was not the only woman he had ever wanted; she might be the only woman he could want now. She had found her way into his blood like a drug, and now all he saw behind his closed eyes was her face, her body, her eyes. It was unsettling.
One step forward, two steps back, and on they tread in this delicate dance. He had thought it was over when she asked him to dinner and he refused, naturally, almost indignantly. He had convinced himself that her interest was one-sided, until the moment she broached the subject. Watching her walk down the hall, away from him, he had flipped the light switch and plunged the room into darkness…and a shadow had fallen over him as well. Suddenly she was absent where she had always been; she was cool when her eyes had previously burned. Silence lingered where the sweet tumble of her words had once spilled out in delirious confusion. He could not forgive her for not forcing him to see the truth sooner and act on it. He was the control in this experiment, she the catalyst. Why had she abandoned him?
She would have struggled. Then, she'd give up. Afterward…
And on and on they went, time measured in blood and bodies. She drank. He held her hand while she cried and he learned unexpected truths. He could not fire her, not when he knew what Ecklie would never know. If only she was 'all his' now. Since when was that what he wanted?
Maybe she had expected him to pound on the window, to scream, to kick the door of the nurses' station in. But he had frozen, watching Adam Trent clutch her and threaten her life. He wanted in, he wanted out, he wanted something he could not put his finger on, but he knew she had it and was keeping it from him. If she died, he would never know what it was.
And just like that, the shadow lifted a little, and the friendship they had once cherished was back, although altered. He tried to remember she was a vegetarian; she tried to remember that he liked his coffee black and his whiskeys straight. Once he stepped into her apartment for the first time, it was easier to come back. They had breakfast once, dinner twice. They sat on opposite ends of the couch. He never changed his work clothes before seeing her. That made it easier, hypothetically.
Friendship was good, and ridiculous. She would not be his crisis.
She already was.
She answered the door, obviously just awakened. Her hair had wrenched free of its ponytail in places, strands wisping around her face. Her eyes were bleary, and her pajamas had sheep on them. It was four in the afternoon on a Tuesday.
"Grissom. Hi. What's going on?"
He moved past her into the room, mentally acknowledging her startled expression, and heard her close the door behind him. "Okay, you're freaking me out. Did something happen?" Her brain leapt to a very dark place. "Oh, god, Nicky. Is everything all right with Nick?"
He turned to face her. She was pale, and one trembling hand was pushing strands of hair from her face. He shrugged lightly. "I haven't heard anything to suggest otherwise."
She sagged. "Oh, thank god. I keep having these nightmares that they take him again, or that he can't deal with it and he—" She broke off, shaking her head to dispel the horrifying images he imagined were forming behind her eyes. "Sorry. Can I get you anything? Water, or coffee maybe?"
He loved the lilt to her voice when she asked questions. Instead of finishing up, like most speakers, the last syllable of her questions tended to dip down sometimes, making her voice more musical, somehow more enticing. She did it more around him, and he wondered briefly if the lilt and the sweet alto she dropped into when she spoke softly were signs of intimacy. It was not until she placed a hand on one sheep-clad hip and cocked her head that he realized he had been staring, lost in his own thoughts. He arched his eyebrows in potent self-chastisement.
"Coffee would be fine."
She padded softly into the kitchen to start a pot. For a long moment, the sounds of percolation and the soft drip of liquid into glass were the only sounds in the apartment. He watched her hands open a filter, scoop crushed beans into its waiting cavity, slide it into the shiny black machine, and press a button. Should he be this captivated by her hands?
She turned, placing the small of her back squarely against the counter, and studied him with frank and unhurried eyes. He tried to see what she saw, in the theater of his mind, but failed. He had no way of knowing how compassionate or cruel her assessments of him were. But he could watch her take in the thick scruff of his beard, the weary lines around his eyes, the slight wrinkle to his dark green button down and tan slacks, the ever-present black suede jacket with its nap rubbed in every direction. She arched one delicate eyebrow.
"It's your day off."
"So this isn't work-related."
He shook his head. Apparently, he was now mute, instead of deaf.
"You should have called first, Grissom. I was asleep."
The faintest sound of chiding in her voice, and he felt as though she had slapped him. Of course he should have called first. But the sound of her voice might have changed everything. It already was.
"You're right, of course. I apologize."
The other eyebrow joined its twin. "It's not that big a deal." She turned to the coffeemaker, slid one of the blue mugs she had taken from a nearby cupboard under its dripping spout in place of the coffeepot. She was impatient for her caffeine, just like he was. Could it be an indication of soul-mates?
Or, quite possibly, he was losing it.
She handed him one full mug, absent-mindedly blowing the steam from it before she did so, and he quickly took a sip, burning his tongue. She pressed her lips together and half-smiled at his impatience. "It's hot."
"I've had coffee before."
"Apparently, not recently." She picked up her own mug, studiously blowing on the hot surface. "Is the burn bad?"
"No." His tongue would be fine. Maybe he should show her.
Something crossed her face just then that made him wonder, in a panic, if she had abruptly developed the ability to read minds. It would be stunningly appropriate to his life if she had. But she merely lowered her eyes and took her own careful sip.
"So, are you going to tell me why you're here, or should I proceed to twenty questions?" Her smile was gentle, teasing.
"I can't just drop in on a friend?"
"Can? Sure. Do? No. So, what's up?"
"I just wanted to see you." Too much honesty.
She looked confused, and wary. "Just wanted to see me."
"To see how you're doing. With—with the whole Nick thing." I have a PhD. I am an intelligent man. Why the hell didn't they have classes on how to communicate for the emotionally impaired?
"Shouldn't you be seeing how Nick is doing with the whole Nick thing?"
"I have. I do. I will." He needed to leave. This was a very bad idea, and it had not even completely formulated in his brain yet. "But I wanted to check on you, too."
"Well, I'm all right. Like I said, nightmares sometimes, but I've had nightmares my whole life. I'm used to it. They don't even really frighten me anymore, usually. Just wake me up."
"I'm sorry you're having nightmares."
She set her mug down. "Grissom, what's wrong?"
He imitated her gesture. "I don't know what you mean."
She pursed her lips. "You're acting really oddly. You showed up unannounced, for no particular reason, and you've apologized twice in ten minutes. What's going on?"
"I apologize all the time."
"Not to me."
She was not wrong. "Well, maybe I'm trying to work on that."
"I'd prefer you work on being honest."
"I am being honest. You're just interpreting it as odd."
She walked out of the kitchen, taking her coffee with her, and dropped onto her leather couch, curling her feet under her. Startled by the swiftness of her venue change, he followed more slowly, sitting down on the opposite end of the couch. She shifted so that her body was facing his, instead of away.
"Talk to me." There it was—that shift into soft, low alto tones. It sounded rich and sensuous, and made him want to press his lips to her throat to catch the vibrations under her skin. She had a way of making him want to do unbelievably intimate things that he had never contemplated doing before, just by existing and speaking and opening her eyes.
"About what?" He could never make things easy.
"Anything. Whatever's on your mind. Isn't that what friends do when they spend time together?"
He could hardly remember what friends did. He knew what he wanted to do.
"There is…a possibility…that I've made a mistake."
He noticed a tension rise in her body.
"Are you talking about a case?"
He shot her a look that silenced her. "No."
She buried her face behind her coffee mug. She would wait for him to find the words he needed, and it frustrated him. She was the catalyst. When had she stopped burning for him?
"Fear is a powerful emotion," he murmured, and her eyes darted to his over the rim of her cup. He spoke directly into the clear darkness of those eyes. "What you have offered me in the past, what you have implied you feel for me, has terrified me. And what I feel now…is equally terrifying."
She set down her mug. "And what's that?" She could never make things easy.
"I'm afraid of making a mistake." He could not say more. His mouth felt dry and full of sand, and he swallowed hard.
She studied him again, just as frankly and openly as she had in her kitchen. "I'm not helping you find the words this time, Grissom," she said gently. "God knows you never showed me any encouragement to open up to you about our relationship. If you have something you want to say to me, you're going to have to say it on your own."
"I need to know how much time I have left."
You know, by the time you figure it out, it really could be too late.
She folded her arms over her body, and he realized she knew exactly what he meant. "How much time you have left?" Her voice was rising out of that sweet alto, louder and stronger and laced with anger. She unfolded her legs from beneath her, moved very close to him on the couch. He almost jerked away from her closeness, from the heat of her body and her fury. Her thigh brushed his.
"You have about thirty seconds before I tell you to leave."
"How dare you? You think you can make me wait indefinitely, while you try to work through all your issues before you put a damn thing on the line? I'll tell you something. There will never be a perfect or convenient or easy time to give in to what you want or to try something that might not work. And for you to come here and ask me how much time you have left…you have no time left. You decide now. Kiss me or get the hell out."
He could not believe he was hesitating in the face of these choices. He watched her anger leave her as he froze, grief and resignation taking their place. "Please leave."
"I can't, Sara."
They were speaking of different things. He tried again. "I can't leave."
"That's no longer your choice."
"Can you at least try to be a little empathetic? I thought that was your strong suit."
She flinched. "I don't think I should waste any more of my emotions on you."
"Is this it, then?" He hated how sad he sounded, suddenly.
"This is it."
He walked slowly to the door, feeling the heat of her eyes burning into his back, feeling every one of his years bearing down on his body. This was not how he had thought the conversation would go. He paused, his hand on her doorknob.
"For what it's worth, Sara—" He could say this, if only to a slab of wood. "I could have been very much in love with you."
He closed the door behind him softly, to the sound of her crying.
Afternoon melted into evening, the clear, bright blue of the desert sky painted thickly with gold and rose and violet. He stood at the window of his townhouse, watching the sky change. His body ached, his shoulders knotted with tension, his knees protesting at the hours he had been standing, staring out this window. He longed for a cigarette, an addiction he had not indulged since he was sixteen. He wanted a Scotch, or a beer, or maybe a straight razor to the wrists. There were a lot of options.
The right words were never there. He had asked her about the time because he was still a little confused, still completely terrified. He wanted to know if it was too late before he threw himself headfirst into her arms. He had not meant to imply that he intended to toy with her longer before making a decision.
But her demand that he kiss her had left him reeling, almost unable to breathe. The thought of kissing Sara had crossed his mind so many times—when he smelled the sweet subtlety of her perfume, when the warm curve of her breast pressed against his arm or his back, when she cried in front of him. He had wanted to make that kiss perfect, and an angry demand seemed to destroy even the possibility of perfection. So he had hesitated, and it was his undoing.
He bowed his head, leaning his forehead against the glass. It was over, at last. Maybe it was not how he wished it would be, but there would be no more doubt, or tension, or waiting. Everything would return to normal, how it had been before Sara, how it would be after. She would be the bookends to the most confusing period of his life.
He walked to his bedroom, tugging off his jacket, unbuttoning and stripping off his shirt, unzipping and stepping out of his pants. Toe off the socks, slide down the boxers, walk to the shower. He turned the water on hot and stepped in, standing under the steaming spray for a long time before reaching for a bar of soap, the bottle of shampoo. Even bathing seemed a little too difficult right now.
Ten minutes, twenty minutes, maybe an hour. The hot water sputtered and died at last, and he shivered under the cold onslaught, quickly turning off the shower and stepping out. Too weary in brain and body to even bother drying off, he reached for a dark blue terrycloth robe and wrapped it snugly around his wet body, tying it tightly. He opened the bathroom door, turned off the light.
She was sitting on his bed, his shirt in her hands, the fabric lifted to her face. She was smelling the scent of him on his shirt, and she was crying. He stood, stunned, in the doorway, staring at her.
"Your door was unlocked," she murmured, muffled. She did not even look up.
"It's never over," she whispered, lifting her face, streaked with tears. She dropped his shirt from delicate fingers to the cold floor. "Why can't it just be over?"
He crossed the room to her, sat beside her on the bed, pulled her into his arms. She cried so hard he thought she might not be able to breathe, her body rigid in his embrace for several long minutes before she gave in, sinking into him, her hands coming up around his shoulders. His mind raced with confusing thoughts. He could not believe he had forgotten to lock the door. She had never been in his bedroom before. She smelled like lavender and peppermint and coffee. She was in jeans and a white tee shirt now, which was good, because the sheep pajamas were a little much. He wanted to kiss her, now, as he did every time she cried.
"Grissom," she sobbed into his chest, and he wished it did not sound so pained, so desperate, so incredibly sad. He steeled himself, and slid his fingers under her chin, lifting her wet and ravaged face to look at him. And he began to kiss her—first the tears that had settled on her jaw, and then up and down each streaky path they had taken. He kissed her eyelids when her eyes fluttered closed, and his lips absorbed each tear that had beaded on her lashes. He kissed her forehead, even though it was dry, and then the tip of her chin. And then, so lightly that it was hardly a kiss, he pressed his lips to hers.
She went very still in his arms, even holding the breaths that had previously surged, harsh and ragged, from her chest. Her lips were soft and still against his for a very long moment, and then, just when he was about to pull away, they moved, leaning into his gently, parting ever so slightly.
He had always known that, in his work, it was the smallest things that could matter the most. He had never thought to apply it to a kiss. The smallest movement from her, and he was lost, pressing her to him like a drowning man with his life preserver, kissing her more passionately than he could ever remember kissing anyone. It was her mouth that tasted of coffee and mint, her hair that smelled of lavender. She would leave again after this, and so he poured every bit of desire and desperation he felt into the kiss, this one kiss. Friendship and boundaries be damned. This was a crisis.
"Grissom." She was moaning his name again, into his mouth, and it sounded different now. Her hands pressed against his shoulders, pushing him back, breaking the kiss. He stared at her, eyes heavy-lidded and intense. She touched her lips with trembling fingers.
"You can't fix everything like this."
"I know," he whispered. "I'm sorry."
"I wish I didn't love you," she sobbed, and started to rise.
He caught her wrist, pulled her back down to him and kissed her again. She cried as she returned his kisses, her thumbs stroking over his cheeks, the softness of his beard, trailing down his neck. He lifted her and moved her until she was straddling his lap, and she continued to kiss him, and continued to cry.
"Don't cry, my love," he whispered against her mouth, and she stopped, lifting her eyes to him in the artificial twilight created by his drawn blinds. Her expression was tense and very strange.
"What did you call me?"
He stared up at her, racking his brain to rediscover the words that had just slipped out. He touched her cheek gently. "I think I called you 'my love.'"
"Why?" she demanded, her voice small and high. "Why would you say that?"
"Because you are," he admitted quietly. She continued to stare at him with wide, terrified eyes.
"Oh, god," she choked out, her voice an odd hybrid of a laugh and a sob. "You're really never going to let me go, are you?"
He felt the foreign prickle of heat in his sinuses, the sting in his eyes, as his own tears announced their unwanted presence. He fought them back. "I'd rather not."
"I can't do this," she whispered, sounding so pained that the vibrations of her voice ached in his chest. "You make me so crazy…"
"Sara, I know we can get past this."
"Why are you so damn confusing? An hour ago you didn't want anything to do with me."
He shifted, and unconsciously she pressed her knees around his thighs, bracing herself in place. They were arguing, and she was draped over his lap, curled around him. It was the most intimate fight he'd ever had. He could not help smiling.
"Just this," he said softly, running his fingers down her arm. "We've never argued in such…close proximity before."
She gaped at him like he had lost his mind. "What, you find this…erotic?"
"Not erotic," he corrected. "Maybe a little appealing. You know, if we have to argue."
They exchanged glances for a moment—hers a heated glare; his, a blend of torment and amusement—until she suddenly buried her face against his neck. He steeled himself for a fresh bout of tears, and was startled to feel her begin to laugh.
"God, Grissom," she laughed, although there was still the sheen of tears in her eyes. "You are the most unpredictable man I've ever met."
He smiled at her before sliding his thumb down her jaw. "Sara, I didn't leave because I didn't want anything to do with you. I just didn't want to kiss you when you were angry."
She arched an eyebrow. "So you settled for destroying all hope of anything happening between us, just so you didn't have to kiss me when I was pissed off?"
His face settled into sadder lines. "I've destroyed all hope, hmm?"
"Grissom…" Sara cast her eyes down. "You really do make me crazy."
"I'm sorry," he murmured, stroking her hair. "I never meant to. At least, not the way I so often seem to."
She looked up through the curtain of her dark hair. "What does that mean?"
He stroked his thumb along her jaw again. "I'd love to make you crazy in other ways."
Her jaw dropped, and he smiled at the look of shock on her face. "I—really?"
"Of course," he said in a low voice, eyeing the pulse throbbing in the side of her throat. "Is this the sort of thing I can tell you now?"
"Now?" she choked out. "What makes now different?"
He pressed his lips to the fluttering pulse point, unable to resist. "I've admitted that you are my love…and despite wishes to the contrary, you apparently love me as well. I think that makes everything different."
"It does," she whispered breathlessly. "Except for—you know—the part where I wish I didn't…oh." Her nails dug into his back gently as he lightly pressed his lips over the pulsing blood vessel in her throat.
"Do you really wish that?" he said roughly, inhaling the scent of her skin. "I don't. For all the pain and questions it's caused me, Sara…I've never once wished I felt any differently about you. It's not a possibility for me." He pressed his lips again over the spot he had just kissed, his tongue darting out to barely taste her skin.
"You said you could have been in love with me," she reminded him, placing her hands on either side of his face to still his assault on her neck. "That's different."
"A man has to save a little face when he's being kicked out," Grissom said wryly, and despite herself, Sara smiled. He continued gently, "But there is a difference between feeling something and giving in to it. To give up the emotions would have been to change a part of who I am, and I wasn't willing to do that. To deny them…in this case, the denial was a part of being true to who I am as well. It made things complicated."
Sara dropped her hands to his shoulders, running them gently up and down his arms. "I wish I didn't understand that. It would make it easier to get up and walk away."
"Please don't walk away," he said urgently, grasping her arms. "Sara, if you really—if you really love me, please don't leave."
She looked deeply into his eyes for a long moment, and then heaved a sigh. "Who am I kidding? I'm not going anywhere."
He kissed her again then, tenderly and lovingly, until she sighed and opened her mouth to him and ran her nails lightly over the back of his neck. Sparks ignited behind his eyes and the kiss turned ravenous, needy, and he fell back onto the bed, tugging her down with him and then rolling her beneath him, his hands slipping under her white shirt. Her skin was hot and silky under his fingers.
He felt her trying to untie the belt of his robe, and reached down to catch her wrists, to tug them away from their goal. She whimpered in frustration.
"My love," he whispered, and watched with undisguised pleasure as her breath hitched at the words. "You're going to have to be patient."
"I've waited long enough, don't you think?" Sara growled, and with a laugh of acknowledgement, he released her wrists.
"You'll be the death of me, Sidle," he teased, groaning when her slender hands ignored the belt and slipped under his robe instead, unerringly finding his erection and wrapping around it.
"Le petit mort, anyway," she breathed, and he closed his eyes. What man could resist beauty, skilled hands, and French? A better man than he, perhaps.
They succumbed to instinct, to desire, and to more than a half dozen years of deprivation. The sound of her cursing softly under her breath, pleading with him for more, faster, harder, please nearly drove him insane, because somehow he had always imagined her a little conservative and quiet in bed, although heartbreakingly lovely. He had underestimated the latter, and he had been wildly off on the former. She was responsive and vocal, and his name in all its variations—Grissom, Gris, Gil—pouring from her mouth was intimacy profound and long awaited.
When he buried his face in her shoulder and groaned out his climax, he expected something along the lines of a scream or incoherent moaning to escape from her mouth as her own orgasm overtook her. Instead, her body tightened around him, and the most beautiful, delicate sigh slipped from her lips, ending in a delighted, softly feral groan. Fifteen years ago, just that perfect sound would have had him hard again and driving into her once more. Tonight, he pressed his lips to her neck and shuddered happily.
"God," Sara murmured, as he slipped down to lay beside her, resting her head on his chest. His hand came up to run through her hair, and she traced nonsensical symbols on his thigh. "We are…very good at that."
He grunted a happy assent, and she tilted up her face to look at him. "Grissom?"
"Sara?" He could hardly get out her name. He was exhausted and so deliriously content that he worried he might fall asleep at any moment.
"Still worried about making a mistake?"
He opened his eyes wider and looked down at her, her chin pillowed on his chest. "Not even a little bit," he said honestly, carefully. He watched the tension drain from her face, and posed his own question. "Still wishing you didn't love me?"
"I never really did wish that," she admitted, kissing the hollow of his throat. "I was just tired of being confused, tired of hurting."
"I'm sorry," he murmured, hating the haunted look in her eyes.
"Hmm," she said quietly, turning to rest her cheek against his chest again. Then,
"Forget the apologies. Just promise to make it up to me?"
"Over and over," he whispered fervently. He could feel her smile against his skin.
Time would no longer be measured in blood and bodies and moments of regret. He would begin measuring time by her breaths, her kisses, the languorous movements of her body beneath his. Middle age was now a concept with which he was unconcerned, because the crisis of his life was averted, was diverted into beauty and acceptance. He would make everything up to her, until all was forgiven, and then he would do it again, simply because he could.
How much time did he have left?