Title: The Evolution of Gil Grissom
Rating: Anyone
Spoilers: Thru Season 9
Disclaimer: CBS, Alliance, etc. own CSI. I'm just borrowing the character for my personal enjoyment.
Beta: I want to thank SeattleCSIFan for the beta – and catching all the errors.
Summary: A conversation around the break room table.


Pouring himself a cup of coffee, Dr. Ray Langston smiled as Catherine Willows walked in the door of the break room. "Good evening, Catherine," he greeted, his dark face splitting into a wide smile. "Would you care for a cup?"

Lifting his own mug, he tilted his head toward the coffee maker and waited until she shook her head.

"No thanks, Ray," Catherine replied, both of them sliding into chairs at the small round table. Settled in, she continued, "So, I've been wanting to speak with you about your evaluation."

"I passed, I hope," he quipped in response, earning a chuckle from the blond.

"Definitely," she enthusiastically confirmed, grinning at him. Over the last six months, she had come to enjoy his company. Not that this surprised her. In some ways, Ray reminded her a lot of Grissom – attentive, thorough, studious, thoughtful. Reserved.

"I need to set up some time this week to go over your review," she stated, then mentally added, yours, Nick's, Greg's, Riley's…

"I take it paperwork is not your favorite part of this job," Ray said, grinning.

Chuckling, Catherine replied, "No, it's not. And I'm starting to see why Grissom avoided it."

When Ray just looked at her with his head cocked to the side and a quizzical look on his face, Catherine asked, "What?"

Instead of immediately answering her, he took a moment to compose his thoughts and find the right question. It fascinated Catherine to watch him think, because she could so easily read puzzlement on his face. Finally, he asked, "Why did Grissom leave?"

Blowing out a breath, she replied, "It wasn't a single thing. Or a single person. I think Grissom left because he changed, and what he needed could no longer be found here."

The fact was, she missed him. His counsel often guided her and his oft varying opinions challenged her. Sure, the lab still existed. The people did their jobs. Yet something remained missing, something she had yet to find.

"You know, I've heard the guys talking about Sara a lot," he said. "Particularly Greg."

Rolling her eyes, Catherine laughed and said, "She mentored Greg, as did we all. And he had an enormous crush on her when she first arrived."

"Aaah," Ray responded, his ever-present grin growing. "That explains a lot."

When Catherine didn't reply, he leaned in a little from his relaxed position and said, "So tell me about her."

The request, although it surprised her, also didn't surprise her. In fact, Catherine had come to expect questions from Ray. The man had an insatiable curiosity about absolutely everything. Since both Grissom and Sara had left an indelible mark on the lab, she could only imagine the curiosity the newest CSI must be feeling.

"Sara is…" she paused, searching for just the right word. "Complicated."

When Ray looked at her to continue, Catherine glanced at her watch and noted the time. Shift didn't start for another hour. The rest of the crew wouldn't be there for another half hour. "Get me a cup of coffee," she bargained, "and I'll tell you about Sara. And Gil."

Ray briskly rose, poured steaming coffee into a black mug emblazoned with CSI on the side, and placed it with a thump in front of her, while Catherine filtered through her memories.

"You've heard why Gil brought Sara here from San Francisco. I'm sure Nick or Greg has talked about Warrick and such, right?" At his nod of affirmation, she continued, "None of us really knew what to expect of her."

"I imagine being the only woman on the team, you must have been thrilled to have another female to work with," he commented, earning a crooked grin from Catherine.

"Actually, I resented her for awhile. I was the only woman on the team and I think I gave her a harder time because I'd had such a hard time getting to where I was," she stated. "It took awhile, mostly of my doing, because I didn't trust her when she first got here. Although, that changed over time, once I realized she worked her ass off on every case."

"I heard a rumor you busted her for insubordination," Ray stated, his face once again a study of curiosity.

"Not her – or my – proudest moment," Catherine ruefully replied. "In fact, if it had just been us, I probably would've given her a verbal beat-down and left it at that. Unfortunately, Sara made it public and then Ecklie got involved."

Leaning back in his chair, Ray tilted his head a little, contemplating. Frowning, he said, "Was she normally… difficult?"

"Oh, at times," Catherine responded, laughing – and confusing Ray once again. Smiling, the CSI supervisor thought back to several times she wanted to smack the young woman. "Sara was passionate about her work and about the victims. Plus, she had one of the highest solve rates in the county."

Catherine let her newest CSI chew on those facts as she sipped her coffee. It went without saying that Sara kept to herself and expected people to leave her alone. That's why most stayed out of her way, except maybe for Greg. Sara's pet.

"How long were Sara and Grissom involved?"

Grinning, Catherine replied, "No one really knows, except maybe Ecklie." They really didn't know, although it rolled through the grapevine that Greg had been suspicious for some time. So had Brass. "I know they met in San Francisco about a decade ago. Beyond that, Gil doesn't talk about his private life. Period."

"Well, it must have been quite a shock," Ray stated, just as Nick Stoked sauntered into the room.

The Texas transplant waved his hand in greeting and asked, "What must have been a shock?"

"Catherine was just telling me about Grissom and Sara Sidle," Ray explained. "It must have been a shock for you when he left CSI."

Smiling, Nick shook his head and poured himself a cup of coffee. After the first sip, he winced and wished Greg was there to make some of the good stuff. Taking a seat next to Catherine and across from Ray, he thoughtfully said, "Not a shock. Not really. In fact, I think I'd been waiting for it to happen."

"You too?" Catherine asked before chuckling. "I'm surprised it hadn't happened sooner."

"Yeah, well, when Sara left, I wasn't surprised," Nick stated. "She'd run herself into the ground and after Natalie buried her…"

Ray watched Nick's face cloud and his eyes fade, as if the younger man were being pulled away from the current reality and into his own. When those same eyes turned almost black, Ray said, "I heard about what happened to you, as well. When you were…"

"Yeah, well, Sara's the one that figured out where that maniac had buried me," Nick bluntly stated.

"You returned the favor by finding her," Catherine stated, patting Nick's shoulder a couple of times, until that tell-tale shit-eating grin returned full force.

"I sure did," he stated. "I gotta say, even after Grissom said what he did – about loving her, I mean – it still surprised me when he jumped in the chopper with her."

Standing in the doorway, Greg Sanders had been listening to the conversation. Slowly entering, he plopped his thermos down on the table, shook his head, and grinned. "I still can't believe you guys hadn't figured it out."

"I can't believe you had," Catherine stated. Her taste buds began to water when Greg pulled the lid off the thermos and the smell of his Blue Hawaiian coffee wafted in her direction.

"It wasn't that hard," Greg replied. "I saw it coming from the day she arrived."

"Yeah, but how could you possibly know…" Nick started to say, only to be interrupted by Greg.

"Grissom took more time with her. He took more care," Greg said.

"You had a thing for Sara…" Nick began, only to be interrupted once again.

"And it died the first time I really saw them together," Greg stated. Then he looked around the table and asked, "Didn't you guys ever watch their faces when they worked a case together? Because if you had, you would have seen a united force."

"We all have that when we work a case together," Nick argued.

Greg shook his head in bafflement. Nick still didn't get it. Searching for the right words, Greg finally responded, "They gravitated together. Sure, they worked well together, but didn't you ever notice the subtleties over time? He would watch her. In fact, after she got suspended by Catherine, he watched even more."

"His body language changed after that," Nick stated, as if it had just occurred to him. And it had. "He was… gentler."

"She was a project," Catherine interjected, noting the nods of agreement from Nick and Greg.

"What do you mean?" Ray asked.

"When Greg came on board, Gil had a chance to teach again. How many hours did Grissom log with you?" Catherine asked.

"A ton," Greg replied. "Sara helped me a lot, as did you all, but Grissom's the one that really taught me how to be a CSI."

"After a couple of years, you didn't need someone to teach you," Catherine said. "Gil was at odds with himself, because he loves to teach and you guys were starting to really learn to think. That's what he wanted for you."

"And during that time, he invested himself in Sara," Greg stated, concurring with Catherine's statement. "And yeah, I think she was a project at first, but something shifted."

"Sara was happy," Nick said bluntly, his face impassive. "I never really noticed that she was actually happy."

"She wasn't normally?" Ray asked.

"Not really," Nick replied, facing the newest CSI. Trying to explain Sara would take a week, so he instead simply said, "I'm not sure she knew how to be happy."

"Did any of you notice that Grissom and Sara were logging less overtime the last couple of years?" Greg asked with a smirk on his face. "They smiled a heck of a lot more. Both of them. They were actually having fun."

"Yeah," Nick replied. "Sara smiled a lot more. Until Natalie."

"Grissom fell apart. I don't think I'd ever seen him like that before. It was kinda like realizing your parents are human for the first time and really seeing what makes them human," Greg said. "I'd always seen him as sort of a hero."

"Me, too," Nick said. "It was the end of an era."

"That's about right," Catherine said, watching 'her boys'. With pensive faces, they fell silent as did she. They were right. Something ended when Sara left, but not slowly. It drifted painfully away.

Very quietly, Ray Langston watched the trio around him. They all looked dissatisfied with their explanations, but he got it. He really did. "As a man who started off a doctor, became a teacher, and now a CSI, I can understand."

Three faces turned in his direction. Ray's perpetual smile widened as he scanned the faces in front of him. "It sounds like Grissom followed the most admirable path in life. He and Sara did something most rarely ever accomplish, because most cannot see past their current existence to something better." As they continued to stare at him, Ray explained, "He must be an optimist."

Laughing, Nick asked, "How can you say that?"

"Very easy, my friend," Ray said, "Grissom evolved."