by Alison Nixon
Spoilers: Mainly Recipe for Murder, but minor references to Season 3 up through Lady Heather's Box
Archive: www.grissomandsara.com, otherwise please ask first.
Disclaimer: The usual. None of the characters are mine. They belong to Anthony Zuiker, CBS, et al.
Feedback: Of course! Please do let me know what you think.
Summary: It's been a painful year, and Sara is falling. Post-ep fic, up through LHB
She left Warrick still gathering his things from the Tahoe and moved towards the lab's front door. As she put her hand on the thick layer of glass to force it backward, she saw him. He came towards her slowly, his eyes trained on the floor, seemingly oblivious to anything outside of the strictly limited zone between his head and the invisible point on the floor that so fascinated him. Sad as it was, she knew that if he would have her, she would fit herself anywhere inside that little space, anywhere at all. She knew what he said to Warrick a few months back. "I guess I just got... bored." He hadn't been talking about her, she knew, but lately she had begun to fear exactly that. Now she was ordinary, just like every other messed up human being he knew, just like every lying suspect who thought they could fool him. It might not have stung so much if she didn't know that she had fooled most of all. But it was too late now. The damage had been done.
She hadn't moved since he came into her line of sight, and she still stood on the outside of the door with her hand laid flat against the glass. He didn't look up as he approached, but he must have sensed someone was there, blocking his way. As she watched his head rise from its lowered position and waited for the little jolt she always felt when he looked directly at her, she wondered what he would say if she told him she wanted to talk to him. About her case... about anything, if he would just say yes. The jolt came as his eyes settled on hers, and something seemed to pass between them, heedless of the barrier. She took a step back as he pulled open the door and passed through to where she was. The blueness she had lost herself in had never left her face. He said nothing, and waited. She found the words she would need and opened her mouth.
Grissom's eyes slid away. Warrick looked from him to Sara, and back again.
"Hey," Sara said faintly.
"What's up? I'm not interrupting, am I?"
She stared at Grissom, willing him to look up. When he did, it hit her. She had no idea how to say what needed saying, not after all this time. Not when she couldn't even claim that she knew he loved her and that her boldness was simply a lover's prerogative. How could she begin to talk about what was in her heart when she was so ignorant of what was in his? Simple linguistics. Each party to a conversation has a role, an identity that frames the encounter and supplies its rules. If one party does not have standing to converse, if she does not yet know what she is to the man to whom she wishes to speak, what is there to say? On what identity could she rely when the words failed and it was time to simply ask him if he wanted her? He owed her nothing, and she had no right to ask. He had never talked of love, and neither had she. Without that, who in the world was she to say anything at all? What could be her claim?
"No, you're not." His eyes darkened as she spoke, she was almost sure of it. But she was already in retreat, and it was too late to turn back now.
"No, Warrick... of course not. I was on my way out, so... good night."
"Yeah... good night."
She might have stood there, watching him walk away until the moment his car had left the lot, but Warrick brushed past her and held open the door. Afraid of looking even more foolish than she already did, she went in wondering why she shivered even after the door had closed the night air behind her.
Laying in the dark, night after night, she replays the moment in her mind, again and again. The moment she told Warrick that she would meet him inside. The moment she and Grissom were again alone. The moment she asked to speak with him, followed by the moment she decided to let the roles go for a while. He says yes every time in her dream, and waits for her to put her things away before joining him again outside. He follows her to her place, or she follows him to his. Words are exchanged; she tries on a role to see if it fits. When he touches her and kisses her everywhere, she knows that it does. The last thing she recalls is his soft voice, whispering that she'd had standing all along. He had only been waiting for her to claim it.
Hours later, she woke up in a haze, her mind still full of that present tense that fuels all dreams. She almost expected to see him there, his head next to hers. It took her several minutes to recall that she had made a date with Hank, and if she didn't get moving soon, she would be late. As she stumbled on her way to the bathroom like someone drunk, some part of her kept on dreaming. If only she could remember the precise words she had used. If only she could remember just where he said she had been standing, all along.
Taking advantage of Hank's distraction by a Phillips plasma screen she swore was bigger than some people's backyards, Sara murmured an excuse as she gently detached her arm from his. As she had hoped, here was her opportunity to wander off on her own, away from his excited chatter. God only knew why the TV-related displays captivated him so-just about every techno-gadget created in the last year was packed into this show. If it computed, telephoned, organized, recorded or played, the latest whiz-bang incarnation of it was here in the Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. So much to see, she marveled, and yet, he was most intrigued by what were essentially the most expensive television sets in the world.
As she threaded her way through the crowd, Sara craned her neck to see if the floor map she had been using was indeed leading her to the "Audio" section. It was hard to see any of the directional signs clearly amid the forest of company logos and banners, but she figured the Moby video currently being broadcast from one of four large flat screens suspended from the rafters down at the end of the aisle was a good clue. She watched, bemused by the sight of the slender musician lounging across the screen in his best faux glam-rock attire, complete with feathered jacket, white leather boots and hipper-than-thou shades. Gwen Stefani, his guest voice, lightly grasped his arm as she swayed to one of his more infectious beats. They were an incongruous pair, but seeing them made Sara smile. She could definitely hide in here-Hank hated Moby. Hank hated most of the music she liked, actually, preferring twangy "new" country, of all things, to pop or alternative. Hardly a match made in music heaven, she knew, but somehow they survived. Of course, spending as little time as possible in each other's cars and homes helped, since leaving the music selection to anonymous third parties in public places seemed to work best. Sara shook her head. Something must be off when two people find it easier to agree on the merits of easy listening Muzak than on each other's CDs.
Pushing the thought aside, she continued to advance, her eyes sweeping the aisle. The sheer number of consumer goods on display, each representing a distinct innovation on existing technology, was impressive. Walkman-sized personal video players with four-inch screens and a convenient belt clip. Floating computer screens, wireless and fully portable. No power cord, no mouse, just a lightweight flat panel and fingertip navigation via the latest touch screen technology. Videophones that beam a caller's image straight into your TV set or PDA, and then bounce your image back to them. There were even four-foot high mini-satellites that mount onto your car and beam down live TV. No more DVDs that you've practically memorized because you've seen them so often. Cool, Sara mused. In theory. Of course, the reality was that any parent suckered into buying it might as well give up, buy that lifetime membership in Barney's Playhouse and just get it over with.
Still... it would be a rather nice problem to have. How to pass the time on road trips, those slow meandering drives to the redwoods, the Sierras, or down the California coast, wherever the family wanted to go. You mean wherever our family wanted to go, don't you? That would be the one you'll have with the man you're not seeing. She managed a smile, but it was a joyless one. It wasn't her biological clock, or some marriage timetable, nothing like that. But she had been feeling something. Some kind of nostalgia, or what would have been nostalgia if it linked her to the past, instead of the future. Her mind had been full of such anticipations of late, imagining herself amid rings and vows, children and dogs, old age and stubborn, old love-her own white picket fence dream. The dream she would happily confess to having, if... She bit her tongue, giving herself a purposeful hurt. Sharp shocks sometimes helped to force him from her mind. But these days, she knew there wasn't a shock in the world that could chase the news away.
It had little to do with either logic or sense, and even less with fairness, but still, she had assumed. Assumed that he was still in stasis, just waiting for the perfect, fateful moment that would bring them back together. She had counted on that, even after she herself stopped waiting for him. He was Grissom. The steadiest man she knew, the most pure and... true. That such a man might weaken, taking what comfort he could, where he could... well, that had never seemed possible. She had done those things, yes. But she was Sara. He was Grissom. He often lost his bearings on the path they shared, stepping backward when he should move forward, but she never imagined he might lose sight of the path altogether. A woman in love and in awe rarely imagines such things, and she was both.
I should have known. I should have seen...
It was simple, really, when she took a step back from the hurt of it. She loved him, but still sought the comfort of another. Now, so had he. She loved him, but still chose to let another hold her. Now, so had he. The hurt of it was like an ugly wound, but... but he was still her friend, and always would be. Surely she should want for him whatever gave him a little happiness, a little ease. Just as he had wanted that for her, even before she wanted it for herself. Maybe they should be proud of such largesse, such willingness to give each other the lives they deserved. The lives we deserve, just not with each other.
She'd heard the same things the others had. Gossip, rumors, whispered asides. Everyone claimed they couldn't imagine what he had been thinking. But she could. Whether he loved this woman or not, whether he planned to ever be with her again or not, he wouldn't much care about their shock or dismay. He wasn't built that way, as they should have guessed by the way he ignored their reactions to Sara herself when he brought her back into his world without any real explanation, and invited her to stay with even less. For as long as Sara had known him, he had valued her based on what he saw, not what others told him to see. Perhaps she was foolish, or too much in love, but she found it hard to hate that part of who he was. The very part of him that kept him from walking away the first time she cried and raged, the first time she'd let the Sara he did not understand push aside the one he did. The others should have understood, or at least tried to. He was surrounded by them, people it would be easy to dismiss as irrevocably tainted, by addictions, by bad choices, by the way they had sold their own skin not out of desperation, but simply for the good living they made. Yet, somehow, he found a way to not judge them for whatever it was that made that behavior possible. If he wouldn't reject them, even as friends, why would he reject that woman? He wouldn't. Not as long as he thought he could separate her work from the person she was inside.
"If you want people to not judge you, the best place to start is by not judging them. The rest of the world calls that being a Good Samaritan. In forensics, we call it following the evidence. That means withholding judgment until you have no choice... until you have evidence and you have used your best science to decide what it means." Some of slackers around her had snickered or gaped with faces as empty as their minds, but she had simply stared at him until he had no choice but to stare back. That was the first time this question of judgments had passed between them. The second time was... the second time was years ago, on one of those brisk, cold Bay Area nights when they had left the lab and gone back to her place to eat and talk. A night when her temperamental wiring died, again, and his tiredness and chill made him agree to lie down with her under the only warmth in the room, the warmth of her bed. A night, years ago, when his defenses were low enough for her to touch him, one small hand on the back of his neck, trying desperately to make love, if only through the tips of her fingers...
"I love what I do, and... yes, what I do is done among the dead, but... that doesn't mean... it doesn't mean I love death and loss and--"
"He was just trying to get to you. That's not who you are..."
"You can't know that."
"I do know."
"You can't, Sara."
"But I do."
His voice was soft, and so quiet. "How can you know, Sara?"
"I can't... explain it, Grissom--"
As he shifted his head on her pillow, he managed to move himself an inch further away. Her cheek smoothed the cotton fabric as she closed the distance.
"I can't explain, but... I can show you... if you let me..."
Her fingers brushed his neck as she spread them just far enough to place her mouth against his skin.
"Let me show you... let me show you..."
There was a time, not too long ago, when she dreamt of that moment every night. The moment she felt the sudden arch in his back as she kissed his skin, the moment he turned his body to hers and stared at her in the dark. Now, when it seemed that she should dream of it no longer, she had to wonder if those were the words she had tried so desperately to bring back as she stumbled into her days. The words that made him tell her she'd always had standing--he had only been waiting for her to claim it.
She was just trying to get to you. That's not who you are.
I do know.
As her heart measured its memories, she wandered forward as if blind, unaware of what was before her. It was only when a sticky, excited child rammed her on his way to see if the little satellite really could beam down Barney, and his father, trotting to keep up, apologized breathlessly somewhere close to her ear that she came back. As she bent to rub the shin the boy had bruised, she could see just how far away her mind had been. The Sony booth was directly across the aisle. Above it, slightly higher than eye level, the Sony banner, large and black with silver lettering, sparkled as if flecked with glitter. Every available surface was piled high with audio displays and Sara could see the company's representatives working the crowd. Each one wore a black Sony T-shirt as they handed out CDs and DVDs like candy, and gestured frequently to the screens that hovered above the banner. The screens captured everything from streaming video to song lyrics to websites-whatever the various Sony products people were playing with happened to beam to them via wireless connection.
Sara pulled herself upright and took a long, deep breath. Reliving the past was going to get her precisely nowhere. He was different now, and so was she. Nothing had really happened then, or now, and it was probably for the best. If she were still the same person, she wouldn't be standing here right now. The old Sara missed things like this, just like she'd missed this particular show in each of the past three years. Old Sara, old pattern--every year, she meant to go and thought about going, but every year brought a new excuse. Her work, her need to catch up on articles... her crazy bargains to let herself go only if she dared to call Grissom and get him to come with her, and other assorted pipe dreams. Despite that useless track record, though, here she was at last. Doing what she wanted to do instead of just thinking about it.
I should give him more credit, shouldn't I? Hank was the reason she was here, truthfully. Being with him, being in this relationship forced her to find things to do. The movies had gotten old, and he expected more from a girlfriend than that. Without that motivation, she knew she would still be sitting at home, waiting for a man who would never call, a man who was probably sitting at home watching his bugs enact some fascinating Darwinian struggle at this very moment. She laughed, or tried to. As she drew another deep breath, she slowly forced her shoulders back and her head up. All she had to do was look at things from the right angle. She was actually here this year-that was proof that she was doing the right thing, wasn't it? Being with someone forced her out of her routine, forced her to get a life. She needed that. Besides, it wasn't as if Grissom really cared, anyway. He was content with his life as it was, and that included her absence from it. That stung like hell, but it was time she started telling herself the truth.
Nodding again and again, as if the repetitive motion would make the lie true, she folded both arms around her waist and refocused on her surroundings. One thing was certain: this was indeed the place for her. As the news coverage had promised, it was a "techie geek's dream." The convention center was huge, and every square foot of it seemed to be crawling with people, including many who probably flew in just for this weekend. Sara could understand the enthusiasm. All the big players were here: Microsoft, Sony, Phillips, Motorola, Ericsson, and all the smaller ones, too. No matter their public profile, all had the same goal: tickling the tech fantasies of both store buyers and the public, or at least that small segment of it which thrives on the thought of being among the first to own and experiment with things that are truly cutting edge.
It was fun being an "early adopter," as Sara knew. Call it one of the benefits of being a psych study veteran. She did so many of those $10 an hour research experiments in college, her friends started calling her the most researched woman in America-Sara Sidle, Subject Zero. They were probably right, of course, but to her it had been easy money, earned scientifically. So what if she eventually heard that her name had made it onto some "Banned Subjects" list due to the odds of her participation becoming ever less "random" over time? Given that she had found out that she was a tech innovator (among other things) before that dark day, she figured she'd still come out ahead. Now she had a ready-made excuse for her love of gadgets. It was part of her basic personality, right? How could she be blamed for that? Besides, it wasn't as if she limited herself to the TVs, like... she caught herself, again. Am I really that much of a snob? There was nothing wrong with Hank's... interest. She just didn't ascribe to it all the socially transformative qualities that he did. Maybe that's my problem-I can't see what he sees. Maybe it's me, not him.
Unwilling to restart an argument that she wasn't ready to win, she set the thought aside and continued to inch forward. She was looking for a specific piece of Sony audio hardware, the one that had most intrigued her when she scanned the previews of the show in the local paper. Unless her eyes deceived her, it looked like the MP3 players were all gathered on the table farthest to the right. Just about every section of the booth was clogged with browsers, but there was a small opening that promised to get Sara quite close to the object in question. Ducking her head slightly, she angled her lean frame in between the bodies in her path. Having made it to the small clearing, she planted her feet comfortably and slid her bag onto the table. She had already given serious thought to buying the player when it hit the market, but it would have to pass a few tests first. In other words, she teased herself, you can take the girl out of the lab, but you can't take the lab out of the girl.
The first thing she noticed was the player itself, which couldn't have been much larger or heavier than a tube of lipstick. She'd wondered about that--the weight of the thing around your neck as it hung from its cord, or lanyard. Of course, it was this seemingly low-tech part of the device--the half-inch wide, flat strap--that represented the innovation. If it actually worked as a piece of wearable technology, the possibilities were limitless. This could well become the technology that would pave the way for wearable PDAs and computers, where your shirt is the screen and your buttons are the drives for your floppies and DVDs. She had seen digital storage disks that small just a few aisles over, so perhaps the prospect wasn't very far off. Geek that she was, how could she not be excited about playing with what might well mark the beginning of a real tech revolution?
Smiling at the very idea, Sara extended an eager hand into the pile and took hold of the first lanyard her fingers touched. She gave it a pull, but the strap seemed to be caught. She tugged again, jerking it with rather more force. This time, she could see the material stretch slightly as something tugged back. Exasperated, Sara leaned forward to catch the eye of whatever obnoxious little gadget geek was trying to steal her fun.
Just like that, there he was. She could feel the jolt travel all along her body.
"What... where did you come from?"
He seemed to hesitate, as if deciding what tone to take. "My mother?"
The smile lit up her face, and he could feel the muscles in his shoulders began to relax. Sara's smiles were good that way, even after all these years.
"So, you didn't leap out Zeus' head fully formed. Good to know." She wondered how foolishly large her smile must be; he seemed to be staring at her mouth. "I mean, why didn't I see you?"
"Because I worked my way into the crowd after you did." He seemed to smile, briefly. "I was behind you."
She looked away, plucking at the white linen covering the table with nervous fingers. Coincidence. No big deal. Still, she fell silent, suddenly unsure of what to say next. He must have felt the same constraint; he followed her lead. Finally, as one painfully long minute threatened to expand into two, he remembered what their little tug of war had been about.
"So... what do you think?" He pointed the music player.
"Well... I haven't had a chance to really look at it yet."
Her mouth was dry; she brought her lips together and ran her tongue over her teeth before continuing. "It's definitely the smallest MP3 player I've ever seen, though."
"Yeah, I know."
Her eyes went back to his.
"I... I may not own one, but I keep up with the technology," he replied, tilting his head in a gesture Sara knew well. "I like reading the tech magazines," he added, with a small shrug.
"Yeah," she said quietly, "me too."
They looked at each other. Grissom nodded.
"Well, of course, it's the audio tuning system that makes this player special. The lanyard," he noted, picking up the one they had tugged between them and balancing it across his palm so that she could see it clearly, "is the real innovation. The markings on it aren't just decorative. They're what makes this--"
"The first fully functional, wearable technology," Sara interrupted calmly, as if she were merely continuing her own train of thought. "The user can control the volume and program the tracks just by touching the markings on the cloth..."
Her voice trailed off as she admired the way the dashes formed an elongated triangle from the midpoint on both sides of the lanyard, the longest lines representing the higher volumes and the shortest lines, the lower ones. She guessed that the smaller, solid triangles that were right below the volume controls were for shuffling through the tracks programmed into the player, while the dots probably allowed you to repeat songs and turn the device on or off.
"There's something about it..." She frowned as she searched for the words.
"The clean edges... No extraneous text telling you what to push, like you'd see on a normal stereo or CD player. With this, you just... feel your way around the device." He ran the thumb of the hand that held the lanyard along its light gray material, tracing the controls. "It's almost..."
"Intuitive. Intuitive cognition. Like reading a symbol that requires no translation into words at all. That's why the marks have to look like what they represent. The volume control fades downward, just the way sound diminishes gradually. The track control goes either forward or back, so naturally there are two sets of triangles for that, 'pointing' you in either direction..."
She smiled again. "It's like a graphical language."
"Neat, efficient, nothing wasted. People could use it anywhere in the world without the need to translate anything."
"So, it's beyond a graphical language... it's a universal one."
"Pretty close, I think. And a lot better than Esperanto."
She laughed as they stood facing each other, heads bent forward, voices lowered to a quiet undertone despite the chattering of the crowd around them. Sara reached out to take the player from him, her fingers grazing his hand. Even after she had pulled it away and held it in the air, Grissom kept his palm extended between them. She stared at his hand for a moment, and then raised her eyes to a spot somewhere around his throat. Her hands pulled the loop of the lanyard apart just before she gently lowered it over his head. The player settled itself in the upper part of his chest. Silvered and gleaming, the slim case stood out against the densely black material of his shirt.
"You try it first."
He seemed to hesitate again, a hint of strain pulling at the skin just below his eyes. When she drew her brows together and began to ask if something were wrong, he quickly fitted the earphones into his ears. Although he couldn't expect to hear the music at all well, he wasn't willing to disappoint her. He probably had done enough of that lately, even if she didn't know it. Did she know? What had she heard? If she had heard, did she care? Either way, it wasn't the kind of question you ask. "So, what have you heard about me and...?" He wondered, not for the first time, if she'd asked herself the same questions, trying to gauge what he knew of that EMT. Of course, that assumed she still cared what he thought at all, now that she had a real life with the man.
That's just it, isn't it?
That was the reality. He had walked away from Lady Heather almost as quickly as he had approached her in the first place, but Sara was still with that guy. No matter how much he wanted to believe otherwise, there was no real reason to think that would change, either. Why should it, when all the same conditions applied? The guy was still younger, better looking, healthy and whole, normal. Grissom was still the same bundle of deficiencies he had been before. More so, really, since his problem was worse. More so, since he was certainly less able now to cast the first stone in this little punishment they had been meting out to each other for the past few months. Maybe they were close to "even" now, but if so, it was in the most depressing way imaginable. Depressing to him, at least, since he had seen no sign that Sara was unhappy with her choice, or had any regrets.
How did we get here? He didn't know, but the truth was that they had.
He watched her. She was saying something, softly, smiling in between the words, trying to be normal and not just hold everything against him. That was Sara. Generous and warm and... Some things didn't change; he'd known that about her almost from the first day they met. Just then the static rose still higher, forcing his eyes back to her lips as he tried to remember if he had ever told her that. Knowing the kind of man he was, one afraid of giving away that which does not lie, he was sure he had not. Good thing, because if she ever did put together enough of what he saw when he looked at her, she would come find him once and for all. And once found, he was nowhere near strong enough to lose himself again. Better that she should never realize the power she had. Better that he should never figure out how to tell her otherwise. Too much had happened, too much time had passed, and all that was left for him now was...
"So, shall we?"
He watched that smile, tentative but still strong, and felt a little more of the tightness slip away. He nodded.
Determined not to question what she was doing or why, Sara put out her hand and brushed his shirt as she slid one side of the lanyard between her fingers. Her thumb was poised over the controls and as she began to consider how to use them, she looked up. His eyes, steady and very, very blue, were fixed on hers. She pressed the first dot.
"Can you hear it?"
He read the words, and then looked back up into her eyes.
She eased her thumb further up the cloth to touch the volume. He looked at her. She touched it again. Once more. Once more. His expression shifted, but just barely. Surely it was too loud.
Isn't it too loud, she frowned, pressing the volume yet again. Her mouth had opened to ask the question when he finally smiled and nodded to signal that she had reached the right setting. Maybe this new technology affected the sound quality of the player. Maybe it only seemed loud to her because her ears were a little sensitive. Whatever the answer, she noticed that some of the tightness around his eyes had eased now; he seemed a little more relaxed. Pleased, she instinctively tightened her grasp on the strap and tugged it against his neck.
"Well, what's it like? Does it really work?"
"Oh, it works. Here..."
The light touch of his fingers against her ear made her shiver, but only for an instant. She leaned forward, just an inch or so, just enough to make it easier for him to position what he had just taken from his right ear into hers. The switch only took a moment, but the skin he had touched seemed to burn. She was trying not to dwell on what it was that made him smell so good, but... it was like bittersweet chocolate, the dark kind, mixed with...
Afraid that he would notice her fascination, she leaned back, trying to return to her original position, which was still too close.
Grissom, grateful for the chance to relieve the ear that seemed to be worse today, took the other side of the lanyard in his hand, and gently touched the shortest volume bars. What worked for him would be far too loud for her. He saw her face clear as the music was lowered to a tolerable level and her eyes traveled between his fingers and the source of the music.
"Wow, Grissom, can you believe--"
"So, how're you folks doing today?"
Full of good cheer and even better humor, the voice startled them both.
"Ah, I see you're looking at one of our biggest advances this year. What do you think?"
Sara could see Grissom blink at the man, an eager, friendly sort who, despite their non-acquaintance, somehow let his hands find their shoulders. She wanted to shoo him away, but flashed him a smile instead.
"It's great, thanks."
"Rob." He pointed to his nametag, as if Sara had asked. She had not.
"Pretty neat stuff, huh? Have you played with all the controls already?"
Before Sara could answer, he thrust his finger near her hand and wagged it up and down. "The triangle. That controls the-"
"Volume," she said politely. "Yeah, we know."
"And the two sets of smaller triangles, these here, are for-"
"Track selection. Yes, we know." Grissom was also polite, although he continued to stare at the man, willing him to take the hint.
"Oh, okay, so you've figured out the basics," Rob conceded. He seemed a little glum, but then his eyes brightened. "But, I bet that I can wow you with something you haven't figured out yet. This dot here is a function button. All you have to do is touch it twice, and then touch the up arrow once, and..."
The shorter man released Grissom's shoulder and swept the air with his hand. "And, voila! You activate a voice recognition program in the player that will decipher lyrics and beam them to any computer, and even most PDAs. By the end of the year, you'll even be able to beam it to your cell phone, too."
Sara followed the path of the infrared beam from the end of the MP3 unit to the screen Rob was pointing to. She could see lines of text appearing on the screen, one at a time, as the program "heard" each lyric.
He grinned. "Isn't that, like, the coolest thing? You know how it is when you're listening to some new song you've discovered, but you can't figure out the words no matter how many times you replay it and there's no liner notes to tell you? Well, yeah, you can search the web for the lyrics, but if the group's obscure, and the best groups almost always are, good luck with that."
Rob laughed, showing just about all the teeth in his mouth, enjoying the look of frank amazement on both of his listeners' faces. He paused for a moment, before looking directly at Sara. "Come on, tell me that this doesn't totally bump our player up to the top of your anniversary wish list."
He wagged his head at Grissom like a co-conspirator. "She'll love it, I promise. My wife is thrilled. This was one of the first product test units I brought home that she actually wanted to keep. I've put that poor woman through hell with stuff that never even made it to market, but she's forgiven me now." Grissom jumped slightly as the man slapped his shoulder like an old friend.
"And don't worry, it'll be priced reasonably. We're talking $300 to $350, retail. It should be in stores by summer. But don't wait to buy thinking the price will drop after the first few months. My sources tell me that our competitors are nowhere near to putting out their version of it, so the price should stay steady for at least a year."
The man kept on going, talking at a pace and volume that brooked no interruption. He was well into his spiel now, so much so that neither Sara nor Grissom was able to break in and correct his misapprehension. Not that either one was in any rush to do so. It wasn't as though they were ever going to see him again, after all, so what did it matter if he walked away thinking they were... Sara had been trying valiantly to take in Rob's patter, out of politeness, but Grissom's eyes had drifted from the salesman to her, and stayed there. She turned to him, and they stared at each other. Why a total stranger could see them together more easily than they ever had... The answer was there, hiding in their eyes, but before either one could see it, they both turned back to the relative safety of the stranger, who was now offering them another little gift.
"Of course, we've been handing out all kinds of stuff today. My personal favorite, or well, my wife's favorite, is the group you're listening right now. I like to say that listening to these guys is sort of like catching lightning in a bottle, since this is their only album together. Just two college kids who wrote songs and sang together, made one great album, and then went their separate ways. It's great stuff, very poetic, and you know, intellectual."
He laughed again, coloring slightly. Grissom shot Sara an amused look, figuring that the man had probably just described something a little more important to him than the album. "Anyway, here you go, two copies for you both."
He handed one shrink-wrapped CD to Sara, and the other to Grissom. They both stared down at the cover image. Two women, young, laughing, caught in mid-leap as they ran down a muddy road between bare fruit trees strung along two staked fences. The photo was black and white, stark but not harsh, and wonderfully composed. The free form script told them this was The Story and that the lightning in a bottle was "The Angel in the House."
"Well, I should leave you two alone to enjoy yourselves," Rob said finally, sounding like a man who knows he has closed well. "Oh, hey, just so you know, I can tell from the lyrics that are up there now what the next track is. Just keep holding the player upward like this and you'll see it appear on screen. I think you'll really like it. My wife and I sure do."
He was already backing away from them. "Hey, and thanks for stopping by, okay?" He waved, and a moment later, melted into the crowd.
They watched him leave, having still been unable to get a word in, even one of thanks. Grissom shook his head, but held the player in the position Rob had shown them. He had little choice, since he couldn't expect Sara to tolerate the high volume he needed to hear the music. And who knows, he thought bleakly, maybe this is the kind of technology I'll need once I can't... Sara's hand brushed him again as she touched the volume, trying to find a middle ground between the loudness he seemed to prefer and the lower volume that was easier for her. It still wasn't loud enough, but he looked at her steadily as she adjusted the controls just for him. She smiled when she felt his eyes on her, and her face begin to burn as if he had touched her there, too. Unsure that she could look at him right at that moment, she took a step closer to him instead. As she did, he leaned in towards her, letting his body pretend that it could reunite his earphone with hers by closing the distance between them. Neither spoke, choosing to simply watch the screen in silence. The track had just started. They followed with their eyes as the slow sweetness of the song revealed itself on screen, one word and one line at a time.
If you were blind, would it all come down to this-
Would you still love me?
And if I were wrong, would it still be the same fade to black?
Falling, falling away, I am falling,
falling away from love again
If there were time to say everything, and no more,
Although it's indistinct,
If there were days and nights alone, again,
would you still reach for me?
Falling, falling away, I am falling,
falling away from love again
Because if you were blind, it would all come down to this-
I would still love you
And if you were wrong,
it would still be the same fade to black
'Cause I am falling, falling in love, falling,
falling in love with you again
The women's voices faded softly, mingling soothing sounds in Sara's ear before she heard the last, single guitar chord that ended their harmony. Grissom's breath warmed the right side of her face; he was very close. She didn't shiver, there were no fine bumps assaulting her skin. She only felt the warmth, and the sense of quiet between them, even in the midst of all the noise swirling around. She put her finger on the cord and turned the player off. Then she raised her dark eyes to his face. He was waiting for her to look into his eyes, but she delayed the moment, indulging in a painstaking inventory of his jaw, the cleft in the chin, his cheeks, smooth and slightly full, his nose, the skin below his eyes, which was now no longer tight at all. By the time she reached his eyes, his hand was moving towards her face and she heard his voice.
"Hey, baby. I've been looking all over for you."
She felt the chill like a rush of air between them as Grissom stepped back so quickly that the earphone was pulled from her ear. As she tried to catch it, her CD tumbled to the ground.
"I'm sorry, it's my fault. I didn't mean to pull it out of your ear like that." His words came to her slowly, and it took her a moment to react.
"No, no. It's me, I wasn't paying attention." As Grissom bent down to pick up her CD, Sara could feel Hank's hand wrap itself around her elbow.
"You okay, Sara?" He rubbed her elbow.
"Yeah, um... yeah, I'm fine."
Grissom had straightened back up. He looked at her, and then at Hank.
"You're Sara's boss, right? Hi, I'm-"
"Yes. And you're... Hank, isn't it?"
"I guess everyone knows by now, yeah." Sara bit her lip as Hank chuckled. She had no idea if Grissom had heard what she'd said a couple of weeks ago, but if he hadn't, she definitely didn't want him to start wondering why "everyone" ought to know by now.
Too late. When he looked at her, without anger, but only a sad kind of understanding, she knew that he knew. As they watched each other, sending silent missives back and forth, he also knew that she knew what he had hoped to hide as well. She tried to smile, just a little. He sighed somewhere inside, and tried to smile back. With all the history between them, there wasn't much point to torturing each other over the things they had let spiral out of control. They would still be falling in love again, over and over until the end.
Grissom held out his hand. "Don't forget your CD."
Sara took it, finally breaking the look between them as she lowered her eyes to the disk.
"That was a... beautiful song. But I don't see the title here."
His hand appeared near hers, and she let him turn the disk over so that they could see the song list. He slid it back into her grasp, and pointed to the second to last title. Number thirteen. Love Song.
Hank was tugging her away, steering her forward. She allowed him to lead her for a few steps, but soon stopped and motioned for him to go ahead and let her catch up. He shrugged and surged forward, his mind already anticipating the next display.
"Well, I guess that figures. Thirteen is both good luck, and bad, right?"
Grissom had turned slightly as she walked past him and now they were face to face again, although the distance between them could now be measured in feet, rather than inches. He looked down at his CD when she looked at him, and tapped it lightly against fingers.
"There is no such thing as luck."
He looked at her. She waited.
"Only odds and probabilities. Even what seems like chaos has its own kind of order."
"You should probably go. I think he's waiting for you."
He had seen that look before, in the instant before she disappeared from his door months and months ago. She hadn't waited for his answer then. Her face was open as she waited now.
"Yes, he is."
He watched her smile, tentative but still strong. She turned to leave. As she moved further and further away, throngs of people began to flow in between them, blocking his view. He did not move, choosing instead to keep his eyes focused on the path his instincts told him she would take. When she did look over her shoulder, searching the distance for his face, he was still there in her sight line. She met his eyes one last time, and raised a hand. He lifted his own in reply, mirroring her in the moment before she finally disappeared.
- The End -
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