Author's Note: This story is based on the concept of grief, followed by the five stages as outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is a post-"Nesting Dolls" tale, meant to be one of the last "awkward encounters" before Grissom and Sara managed to overcome their issues and embark on a relationship. Not a "first-time" fic...and rather angsty. Please don't shoot.

Disclaimer: Not mine. Never mine. Can't even fix...(chokes off in quiet desperation).


grief

Sara drew the pillow closer to her chest, staring aimlessly out over her living room, eyes roving over familiar knickknacks and pictures, the soft burgundy-mauve of her walls, the warm yellow of the leather chair cattycorner to where she sat, curled in on herself, on her matching leather couch. Just hours ago, he had sat where she was now, and she had been in that chair, telling him the horrible story of her father's death and her mother's breaking point. He was the first one she had told in years, and she had not even meant to, but something about the way he said I want to know why you're so angry had driven her to answer him. It was the answer that was unexpected. And when she had broken down into sobs, her face contorting with the force of her grief, he had reached over and taken her hand. It was not the first time he had touched her, of course. If nothing else, they were coworkers involved in a very hands-on field, and in the course of studying decaying pigs and examining voids in blood spatter on sheets, touching would naturally occur. But this touch—tender, brushed with desperation and helplessness—was new, and frightening, and made her feel as if her world was spinning out of control.

When she had decided to tell him the truth about her past, about why battered women and children struck such a tightly wound chord within her, about why she identified with the victims more than he believed was healthy, she had been prepared for him to be surprised, horrified, sympathetic. She had not been prepared for the depth of her own resurfacing grief.

Now she sat alone in an apartment that suddenly felt cavernous, devoid of life. Her drifting gaze would not settle on any one thing, but took in everything and nothing without cataloguing a single image. He had left not long after she had managed to gather herself together, wiping her eyes and squeezing his hand gently before tugging her own free, ostensibly to reach for a tissue. He had watched her silently for a long moment, and then she had smiled wanly, and prepared to say something else—what, she could no longer recall. His phone had vibrated in his pocket at that precise moment, and with an apologetic look, he had pulled it out and answered gruffly. Moments later, he was gone, a double homicide in Summerlin calling for his immediate attention. She had thanked him softly for stopping by and watched him walk out the door without ever rising from her chair.

Once he was gone, however, she had slipped over to the couch, settling in the spot where the warmth of his body still lingered on the soft leather. She had reached for a pillow, cradled it to her chest, and now here she sat, brain spinning, eyes darting, heart splintering. Her mind dredged up a ridiculous rhyming chant as she stared into space, playing with words and morbid concepts as it so often did when it had nothing better to do—say, when she lay awake in bed at night praying for the peace of unconsciousness to descend. Daddy didn't love me, so why would you? Mommy killed Daddy; maybe I'm a killer, too. Daddy didn't love me, so why would you? Mommy killed Daddy; maybe I'm a killer, too. The words spun like damp clothes in a washing machine, writhing around her brain until she wanted to scream.


denial

A soft knock at her door almost made her cry out, and she dropped the pillow beside her and stood, making her way to it in an almost-trance. Grissom was standing there, again, as he had hours before, his eyes taking in her rumpled clothing, pale face and red-rimmed eyes with a look that was a mix of scientific attention to detail and a tenderness that had nothing to do with science.

"I thought maybe you would be asleep by now," he said softly, slipping past her into the room. Sara pushed the door closed and slid the deadbolt home, turning to face him and leaning back against the solid surface.

"If I don't sleep on a good day, did you really think I would be able to nod off after a day like today?" she asked, trying to summon up a bit of playfulness in her tone, a wry grin to her lips, but her eyes betrayed her, haunting and darker than he had ever seen them.

"Fair enough," he replied. She could tell he was feeling awkward, probably uncertain of why exactly he had come. She knew why, of course, but he was still in denial of what he felt, of what was happening between them. So careful, so hesitant, so fearful, and yet she could not stop loving him, could not stop wanting him in ways he would probably blush to hear her describe.

"I just wanted to check up on you, make sure you're okay," he said finally, and she nodded slowly. Pushing off from the door with one slender hand, she crossed the room to him, pausing only a foot or two from him. She loved that they were almost the same height; she could always see eye to eye with him, even if they did not always see eye to eye. She let her gaze roam over his dark hair, shot through with silver and touched with a little extra at the temples; his piercing blue eyes, so familiar to her in all their shades and expressions; the fullness of his lips; the beard she knew would be rough and soft at the same time against her skin. She could see a faint flush touching his cheekbones under her scrutiny, and without too much more thought, she reached out with careful and swift fingers and slid the zipper of the black jacket he wore down. She was quick enough that she was sliding the fabric from his shoulders before he could quite react, hands coming up to catch at her wrists.

"Sara." His voice was soft, and his tone a study in contrasts—confused but very aware, firm but brushed with hesitation and longing. She lifted her eyes to his, and he was startled again by how deep, how dark, how haunted they looked. She turned up the corners of her lips in a smile that was so forced, it was almost ghastly.

"I'm not okay," she said bluntly, and lifted one hand hampered by his grip on her wrist to his face, brushing it over the textured surface of his bearded cheek. The last time she had touched this cheek, it had been smooth and marred by chalk dust—a convenient excuse. She almost shuddered visibly at the electric tingle connecting with his skin sent through her body. He dropped his hand from that wrist, and she let the pad of her thumb drift over his lower lip, warm and smooth and ever so slightly damp from his habit of licking his lips when he was nervous. She could feel his shaky breath against her fingers.

"I can tell," he responded, and his voice was as shaky as his breath. "Maybe you should go lie down."

In that moment, she made a decision. Tonight was all or nothing; she was tired of the games, the back and forth, the flirting followed by what felt like weeks of silence or curt responses to her every question or comment. She would not hint around; she would not veil her words to give him an out or to shield her heart. If he rejected her tonight, that would be it, and she would leave. Leave the lab, leave Vegas, leave him. He would not have to decide whether or not to fire her. She would make his decision for him.

"I will," she said quietly, her acquiescence clearly surprising him. In response to his lifted eyebrow and faint smile, she drove her next words cleanly home. "But only next to you."


anger

His breath left his chest in one startled exhalation, his eyes widening and his eyebrows knitting together in surprise and consternation. She stepped closer, pushing the jacket he had shrugged back up down over his shoulders and arms again, hardly noticing it pool to the floor as her attention turned to the light blue button-down the jacket had been nearly obscuring. Her fingers slipped one button out, then another, before his hands clamped down over her wrists again. His reaction time was definitely slowing.

"Sara." He released her hands and slid one of his own under her chin, lifting her eyes to his again. "Sara, I know you're hurting, and confused. But this—this isn't the answer."

She laughed, a hollow, bitter sound. "The answer? Of course it's not the answer." She leaned forward, irresistibly drawn to the hollow of his throat, and pressed a kiss there, feeling him swallow against her lips. "It's only everything I've ever wanted."

Grissom's hands moved to her shoulders now, gently pulling her away from him. She felt her eyes tighten, felt her rage begin to swell beneath her skin. "I would be a very poor friend to you to allow you to do this right now," he said softly. Something in her twisted, and ugly words welled up in her throat, almost choking her in their haste to worm out.

"Then I suppose you would be keeping true to form," she snapped, wrenching away from his hands. He stepped back, a little stunned. "When have you ever been a good friend to me, Grissom? Or a good boss, or anything else? The only thing I can count on you for is pain and rejection. I'm giving you a choice tonight, and it's the only time I ever will. You can stop being so fucking afraid and do what I know you want to do to me, or you can walk out that door and never see me again."

"Oh, you know what I want to do?" he fired back, his own temper flaring. "How would you know that, Sara?"

"I see the way you look at me," she retorted. "Do you think I'm blind?"

"I think you're foolish, and desperate, and hurting. I think you're not thinking."

"What good has thinking ever done me?" she screamed, and he seized her shoulders again. "What good have you ever done me? Why are you here?"

"I have no idea," he growled, and kissed her.


bargaining

"You have to go, Grissom."

"I thought you wanted me to stay."

"I do. You have to go."

"If I go, will you stop sabotaging your career? Will you stop hurting yourself?"

"If you stay, will you stop hurting me?"

"I can't promise anything. I'm not good at this."

"Me neither."


depression

Sara lost herself in the kiss, simple and slow though it was, relishing the taste and feel of Grissom's lips on hers, the heat and softness of his mouth. Everything was confusing and new, but she felt as though she could not release him now, simply because of the hope that his presence inspired in her.

His hands on her shoulders stilled her mouth, forcing her to draw back and look into his eyes. "Sara."

"I'll stop," she promised haphazardly, desperate for the taste of his lips again. "And you'll stop, too. I know you will. All I've ever wanted was for you to give this a chance."

"You need…something I can't give you," Grissom stammered, and Sara felt as though she had been punched. "Someone trained, to talk to—someone who can be your friend without screwing it up."

"So be my friend!"

"We both know it's not going to work like that anymore."

Tears sprang to her eyes, and she fought the urge to slap him across the face. "What, you kiss me and now we can't even be friends?" She slumped onto her couch. "You can't care about me and fuck me at the same time?"

"Sara." His voice was a little shocked.

"Just go," she choked out. "You're right. You're not good at this. You're maybe the worst I've ever met. And you just lost every single right you ever had to comment on anything I do, including what I do to myself. You might be my boss, but you are nothing more. In fact, fire me. It will save us both a lot of trouble."

"Sara—"

"Fire me, you bastard." She should have been screaming it, but her voice was dead, cold, and her eyes were locked on the floor. "Go back and tell Ecklie you solved his problem. I never want to see you again."

Silence filled the room, and then Sara heard the soft shuffle of his footsteps, and the click of the door closing behind him. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed.

- - -

Days passed, maybe a week. She was not sure because she kept her blinds drawn to block out any hint of the passage of light, and she had smashed every clock in the apartment. The TV glowed blue, and the nasal sound of a laugh track sounded muted from where she lay on the kitchen floor. She had drunk the entire contents of her liquor cabinet, and now it seemed easier to press her cheek against the cold tile than to get up and drag herself to the couch, or to her bed.

A soft knock on her door did not even warrant an eye flicker. She knew who it was, and he was even less worth moving for than the comfort of her bed. She stayed on the floor, eyes fixed on nothing, until he went away.


acceptance

When she appeared in the doorway of his office, only the slightest lift of his eyebrow indicated to her that he was surprised to see her. She rested her shoulder against the frame of the doorway, gazing at him impassively, as he had her so many times before. He finally took off his glasses and returned her gaze.

"I'm coming back. Do I need to talk to Ecklie?"

"Already done," he said quietly. She lifted an eyebrow of her own. "I wanted you to have options."

"All right," she exhaled. No thank-you, just acknowledgement and acceptance. "Any cases I can lend a hand to?"

"You can help Greg with the murder-suicide he's investigating," Grissom offered, picking up his glasses again and sliding them onto his nose. She hovered a moment longer, until he looked up again. "Something else?"

Her eyes were wide and sad, her face calm. "Nothing," she murmured. "See you around."

"Hmm," he said softly, and she was gone.


FIN