by Alison Nixon
Category: Angst, Drama, UST/AST
Spoilers: References to nearly all episodes from Burden of Proof through Hunger Artist (i.e. through the end of season 2)
Archive: With permission. Please email me at email@example.com
Disclaimer: The usual. None of the characters are mine. They belong to Anthony Zuiker, Alliance-Atlantis, CBS, et al. No infringement intended.
Feedback: Definitely! I'd love to know what you think.
Author's Note: Well, it seems this story wasn't quite ready to go to bed. <g> I didn't plan to write an epilogue initially, but still, here it is. Thanks again to Devanie for her support and for threatening me with angry emoticons if I didn't take Chapter Seven's events a step further. And thanks to everyone who had read and reviewed thus far. ;-)
Summary: "He had said and done enough to keep her for now. What more was there to want?".
So he took the stairs.
The first flight seemed painless enough, but by the second, the strain had begun to show. He stopped to rest, leaning heavily into the hand that braced him against the banister. The past few weeks had worn down more than his spirit, it seemed; his body felt just as leaden and unfamiliar, just as prone to strange sensations and-the dizziness roiled him so suddenly that he nearly fell down. Not now. Not now. The knuckles of the hand that held him upright began to ache as the minutes passed; his grip slackened. After a deep breath, he anchored the sole of his foot to the next step and pushed himself forward.
By the time he reached the third floor landing, the touch of vertigo had faded. His knees still hurt, but that was a small price to pay for solitude. He could not have borne the elevator's surveillance. Security cameras were not the issue; he found the sharp, suspicious eyes of the older woman who would have shared the ride with him far more intrusive. Even as he stood in front of its open doors, trying to decide whether to step inside, she had looked him up and down critically, taking in his careless clothing and unshaven face. Although she had just allowed him to slip in behind her as she keyed open the front door, she was clearly reconsidering the wisdom of that impulse. He watched her clutch her handbag to her side and dart a stiff arm forward to jab at the buttons that would end the stalemate. As she hit the one she wanted, she frowned up at him uncertainly. A word of reassurance rose to his lips, but died unsaid; he would need every such word for himself. Finally, the shiny, brushed steel doors slid shut between them. Grissom looked at the vague outline he made in their reflective surface, a blurry mass of black relieved only by the splotch of beige that should have been his face. Unrecognizable, even to himself. Perhaps it was a warning, or a portent of things to come, but he was already here and she was only three flights away.
He blinked, focusing again on the red lettering of the sign affixed to the access door in front of him. Third floor. He swung the door open and stepped into the hallway, looking right and left. Which way? He moved to the left on a hunch, his feet dragging clumsily against the carpeting. 210... 220... 230... If the progression had not told him, the tingling of his nerves would have--this was indeed the right direction. 250... 260... 270. Sara's unit was at the very end, and her front door sat at an angle from a rather large window set into the wall. She probably gazed out of that window every day as she came and went, fishing for her keys and tumbling her lock. He moved in front of the door to mimic her routine, turning his head to the left as he put his hand on her doorknob. Not a terrible view, but the lights of the city would be blocked at night by the surrounding buildings. She would like his view much better, if he could persuade her to look. If he could persuade her of anything now, after all that he had done, and failed to do.
The hand that was still wrapped around her door handle, the humble, functional thing she touched every day, imprinting it with minute traces of herself, twitched slightly. Had she just held it? Its metal casing felt so warm. His eyes skittered at random angles in search of a sign of good fortune, but none appeared. When he could wait no longer, he pulled his hand away. The hesitant sound his loose fist made against the wood of the door made him cringe. He had begun to knock again when he heard her.
"Who is it?"
The voice, her voice, so long absent from what he claimed was his life outside the lab, rang out clearly. She must have been standing right next to the door. He looked steadily into the peephole in anticipation of Sara lifting her eyes to it from the other side. He tried to smile, or otherwise project some bold confidence through the glass, but failed miserably. The best he could do was to simply stare into the tiny lens, his face a mask.
"It's me, Sara."
She knew. She knew before he spoke. How was a mystery, but so was everything that continued to bind her to him. She put her eye to the peephole. Blankness. She stepped back abruptly, stumbling. She didn't want to see him if he looked like that.
"What do you want?"
"I... I need to talk to you."
She stuffed the hopeful lift of her heart back down where it belonged.
"Whatever it is, I'm sure you could have taken care of it at work."
His head fell forward.
"No, I couldn't."
His hand found its way to the knob again, desperate to pick up her traces. "Please open the door, Sara."
Don't, she commanded herself. Don't.
Her hands, small but disobedient things, moved forward to turn the locks. She stepped back to give him room to enter, closed the door, and immediately folded her thin arms around herself, as if in self-defense.
She wasn't looking at him. She always looked at him, even when he wished she wouldn't. Cautious, worried, he read her body's book--the barrier of her crossed arms, the way she leaned away from him as he passed. His spirits sank still lower. In spite of everything, in spite of what he knew he deserved, he had still hoped, greedily, for her sweetness.
When he moved just past where she stood, he turned. Her head was down and some of her dark hair had fallen forward; she seemed to be frowning at her shoes. Grissom brought his hands together in front of his body, one broad, flat palm laid against the other in a kind of supplication. He spoke softly.
"I need to talk to you."
The frown deepened. "So talk."
She lifted her head so that their eyes met. The coolness he saw almost made him step back. "Why not?"
"I can't explain it, but... this isn't the place," he said hesitantly, feeling his skin grow warm under her scrutiny. "I'd like you to come with me somewhere." Where you can't walk into another room and lock me out, or walk out of here and into your car. Some place where you can't walk away because you might get lost without me. Some place to keep you close.
She caught some of this intention in his face. What is wrong with him? His terms. His rules. Again.
He looked stricken. She set her shoulders, willing herself not to give in.
"Sara. Please." His voice drifted lower. "Please."
They stared at each other, asking and refusing, asking and refusing, asking and... Her mother's words assailed her. "You've got to do something, honey. Move forward, or move away-I won't think any less of you either way, because neither choice is right or wrong. But you've got to do something." Sara's mouth twisted with some peculiar emotion. That was just how desperate she had become--she had called her mother, the only woman she knew who would listen without judgment. She could appreciate the irony during her better moments. While she lived with her parents and their lives were a mess, it was that refusal to judge one thing against the next, to take a hard line about anything--anything at all--which bothered her most. Now that she lived alone and her life was a mess, she could see some of the benefits.
"Okay," she said quietly. This is something. Isn't it?
He exhaled a pent up breath and started to reach for her arm before he caught himself. "You'll need your jacket."
She sat stiffly, every muscle taut, staring out of the window. Under other circumstances, she would have talked admiringly of the view, which only improved as they put more distance between them and the city. But for once in her life, she had no words. What was there to say? Idle conversation to fill up the silence, or real conversation that would only create more silence in the end? She forced her head back against the seat and attacked the soft gray leather of the armrest with her nails, cursing herself for not being strong enough to say no. Why had he asked her to go in the first place? Was she supposed to be impressed that he wanted to take her somewhere? After all this time, it couldn't possibly make any difference.
"What is the point of this, Grissom?"
"For us to talk."
When he didn't answer, her voice turned sharp. "About nothing, apparently." She sat in silence for a moment, working her jacket into a tight ball with her hands. "Where are we going?"
"We're almost there," he said in neutral tones. "It's just a place that's very familiar to me."
"Well, my apartment is very familiar to me and I don't understand why we couldn't stay there. I don't want to be out in the middle of nowhere with you." Seeing him flinch gave her some small satisfaction, but it was short-lived. "Besides, did it ever occur to you that I might have plans tonight?"
He turned and held her eyes. "Yes, it did." She looked away.
"So did you?"
She had turned back to the window. He glanced at the nearly empty road, then back at her rigid profile.
"Did you have plans?"
"What do you care? As long as it doesn't affect my job performance, I don't see what it has to do with you."
He shrank back at the sound of his words on her lips. Foolish words that he regretted as soon as they left his mouth, but still not soon enough. She had followed him out to his car one morning, hurt, angry. After backing off for a while when he first pulled away from her, she had begun calling him again. But the caller ID display gave her away every time, making it easy to avoid the voice that had so often enticed him to say much more than he should.
"So, is this how it's going to be from now on?"
"The least you could do is pick up the phone, Grissom. I deserve that, at least."
He stared, steeling himself against her.
"Is it the movie thing? I told you I'm not going out with him, okay? I told you that."
Autopilot. Instinct. "As long as it doesn't affect your job performance, it has nothing to do with me."
Her face seemed to crash. "Oh, I see. Of course. My mistake."
Something else he had said to her, a lifetime ago.
"That's right, it couldn't be that. You let go of me before you even heard about that, didn't you?"
He had to get away. "If you'll excuse me, I have to go." He turned his back to her and reached into his pocket for his keys.
Brittle, like the thinnest glass. "Yeah, I've heard that before too."
By the time he gathered himself to turn back and face her, a series of purposeful strides had taken her almost completely out of sight.
The muffled sound of her fist hitting the armrest brought him back. He focused on the blacktop ahead, adjusting his grip on the steering wheel. This still was not the place.
"We're almost there."
As soon as he pulled to a stop, her door flew open. Before he could react, she had slammed it shut. He watched her run a hand through her hair and walk rapidly to the front of the Tahoe, positioning herself against it. She stared straight into the horizon, not even bothering to shield her eyes. The sun was setting in its usual halo of brilliant color, but the light was still stark and challenging. Her defiant stance had to hurt, but she stood her ground and refused to look away.
Grissom stepped out and closed the door behind him as quietly as he could. The words will come. Just talk. He used the time it took to approach her to steady his heart and slow his breathing. When he finally settled his body beside hers, just close enough to feel something of her warmth, he followed her eyes to the horizon.
"This is one of my favorite places."
She narrowed her eyes.
"I've been here for years now, and it still surprises me. Presence defined by absence. Being here, and being nowhere." He paused. "Blankness too, but not the pre-programmed, mechanical kind." She moved slightly. He took a breath. "Just... a kind of vagueness, where everything doesn't have to be defined, or at least, where everything gets redefined as something less... limited." He turned to touch her with his eyes. "Freedom from limits, constraints. That takes privacy, I think."
She kept her gaze fixed on the gorgeous descent ahead of them. "Probably." She crossed her arms.
"But if it's privacy you want, why am I here?"
"It's not..." He stumbled over the words and their weight, and fell silent. You know what I mean, you always know. "Why do you think you're here?"
She almost laughed. "I don't know, Grissom. So you can impart some life lesson that you think I need. So you can stir me up, and then drop me again. Because you're lonely." Her voice shook. "I have no idea."
"You do know," he insisted. You do.
"No. I don't. And I am so tired of pretending that I do."
Something rose in his chest, high and tight. When he could breathe again, he grasped for the one true thing.
"You know about beauty, don't you?"
He watched her cover her mouth with her hand and turn away. The bones of her shoulders were as delicate as a bird's, and when she curled in on herself he could see the movement ripple across her back like feathers ruffled by a breeze. He placed his hand on her hair, stroking it gently.
"There's too much beauty on this earth for lonely men to bear."
When she shuddered, he took hold of her and slowly turned her towards him. His answer to the question in her eyes came in a whisper.
"You are beautiful, Sara, and I am lonely. What a pair we will make."
She watched with those eyes and he let her, giving her time to absorb the expression in his eyes and the emotion in his face, and finally, the feel of his hand against her cheek. Her breath warmed his fingers as they played against her skin in some mysterious rhythm neither of them could have named. When she had seen enough, when she had what she needed, she tried to speak.
"There's something..." he began.
I could say nothing. He was so very close to having her, free of sorrow and pity. Wouldn't it be better that way? Things might yet improve before she had to know. Miracles happen. They do, I know they do. If he could just look away, maybe he could let the words pass unsaid. But she was watching him with her heart in her eyes, and how could he? His hand fell away from her face with a sigh. It was better said without the comfort of her skin against his.
"Do you remember asking me... how I learned to sign?"
"I couldn't tell you then. I don't know why. I mean, I do, but..." He stopped to take a breath. "My mother went deaf when she was about my age. Not from an accident... it's hereditary. And... over the past few months, I..."
"How bad has it gotten?" She didn't need details; she just needed to know what she was up against.
"I have a year, maybe."
He managed to nod, barely.
"But not to live."
Lost in the words, it took him a moment to realize that she was holding him, his hands in hers.
"But... the future's unknown, I don't know what will happen to me, or when... I have to make decisions about surgery, and work, and... It's going to be hard, if not impossible to..."
"To love me?"
He could only stare. "Never."
"Then... that's all I need. Deaf, blind... that's all I need."
She released one of his hands to brush the light hairs on his arm with the tips of her fingers, and curved her palm around its solidity, marking him as hers.
"The only question is," she said slowly, her eyes bright, "what do you need?"
"I just need you."
"If you really mean that, if you do, then--"
Whatever she meant to say next was lost in his kiss, a sweet, brief grazing of his lips against hers. The second time was much like the first, except for the way he lingered just a few seconds more. The third time their mouths touched, he did not lift his head from hers for a long, long while. She finally pulled herself away, shakily, to smile and breathe. He gave her time for three inhalations, tightened his arms around her, and lowered his head again.
This lovers' cycle repeated itself more times than either could count. They were soon in terrible shape.
"Sara." Tentative. Embarrassed. "Sara..." He tried not to sound like a beggar, but it was hard to avoid when his head was pressed into her neck like a child.
He felt the rumble of her low laugh in her throat before he heard it. It set off a gentle vibration against his cheek that felt strangely like being tickled.
"So now you want to sleep with me, huh?"
When he pressed himself into her a little harder as punishment for this recall, the echoed laughter tickled him again.
"I feel your pain, really I do," she said reassuringly, stroking his broad back.
"It's not pain, it's frustration," he sighed.
"Mmm, I'm sure." She frowned, concentrating. "Well, if we go 70 until we hit the city limits, take the Ventura exit instead of Palm, and then take Kingman the rest of the way, we can be at my place in... 38 minutes."
Grissom lifted his head at last. "Make that 80, and we're down to 33."
He practically shoved her into the Tahoe.
Sara fidgeted, again, trying vainly to settle herself. She glanced at the dashboard clock: twenty-three minutes to go. Damn. She crossed her legs and bit down on her lip. He'll think I'm a freak. Then again... he knows I had sex in an airplane, so how surprised could he be? She looked over at Grissom, wondering for the umpteenth time how he seemed to bear the hormonal strain since their last kiss so calmly. When he felt her watching him so steadily, he turned his head. It was like catching him in a lie--the eyes totally gave him away. She put a hand on his arm.
Wild blue. She would have to remember that precise look; it was a first. She tried her best not to laugh.
"You're not that far gone yet," she said smoothly. "You heard me."
"Do you... have to use the bathroom, or something?" Am I dreaming again? Jesus.
She looked at him. "No."
His mouth opened just enough for her to see the tip of his tongue. "But, ah... it's... a car... I mean, SUV..."
Eyebrows raised, mouth curved, she simply stared him down. "Eagle eyed observation. Your back seats are detachable, right? We'll need the room."
He pulled over.
There wasn't exactly a path to follow, but the terrain was smooth enough that the rugged vehicle was able to take them far off the main road. Grissom could have stopped anywhere, really, but his nervousness made him keep driving, slowly, until his headlights revealed a small cluster of cacti and brush ahead. Glad for any semblance of cover even though the evening darkness already obscured their presence perfectly well, he eased the Tahoe alongside the vegetation and shut off the engine. He started to speak, hoping to dissuade her, but once again she hopped outside before he could stop her. He craned his neck to watch as she moved to the back of the vehicle and tapped on the rear window. When he continued to stare, instead of popping the door open, the tapping came again, more impatient this time. Grissom sighed and forced himself out of the car.
"Sara, I don't think this is such a good idea," he hedged, approaching her warily.
Her hands went to her hips. "Why not?"
"Because..." he lowered his voice as if he feared being overheard. "What if we get caught?"
Her laughter floated into the night sky. "By whom? Do you see anybody out here?"
He looked around with paranoid eyes.
Sara closed the distance between them, and offered him a cagey smile. "Oh, and anticipating your next objection, I'm quite sure that a responsible driver like you has a little survival kit in your vehicle. Now, what does every good emergency kit have? First aid supplies, flashlights, jumper cables... blankets..." She was practically standing on top of him now. "Am I wrong?"
He took a step back. "No..."
"Then I'd say we have everything we need," she concluded.
"But what?" Her hands were suddenly at his waist.
He exhaled, looking everywhere but in her eyes until she squeezed his middle softly.
"It just doesn't seem... special enough for you," he said anxiously. "Especially for the first..." He stopped and put his hands on her slim shoulders. "I realize that I'm hardly the expert in this arena, but wouldn't you rather have a more... romantic... setting?"
"That depends on what your definition of 'romance' is." She wrapped him up in her arms and put her lips to his ear. "This is romantic to me. Me, you, alone, under the moon, doing something we've never done before." When she pulled her head back to look into his eyes, her smile was as clear as he had ever seen it. "Freedom from limits, remember?" She pressed her lips to his. "Privacy, for two."
She held him close until she felt his body relax.
"You're rather amazing, you know."
Her face seemed to glow.
He told her to let him do it, so she did.
She stood back and watched the curious smile playing on his lips as he snapped the first blanket open and crawled inside the back of the Tahoe. Kneeling, crouched, he flung the fuzzy thing aloft, a maneuver that made it billow in the air like a sail before it settled delicately to the floor. He leaned forward, double folding the material over each metal fastener left exposed by the removal of the seats with a meticulousness that made her smile. He took the same approach to smoothing the bunches and twists in the blanket as he swept the disorder away from the center and drove it back towards the edges. Edges of red crisscrossed with blue, green and black that formed a wavy border around where they would soon lay.
Grissom took a moment to evaluate his handiwork, and then reached for the second blanket, which was identical to the first. This one sailed as well, but when it fell in a tangle, he didn't bother to rearrange it; they would be lifting it over themselves before long, anyway. He shook his head at this last absurdity: only his excessive caution, one of the hidebound habits of a lifetime, explained why he had two blankets in the emergency kit instead of one. Certainly he had never expected to use them in the way they were about to be used now. Only Sara would come up with something like this, he laughed quietly. Only Sara.
"So are you finished making the bed or what, Grissom? Bowerbirds take less time building their nests than you do."
He twisted around at the sound of her voice. "Are you sure you want to go down that road again?"
She grinned. "What road?"
He nodded, more than willing to take her to school once more. "Okay, first of all, it's not a nest. It's a bower. Hence the name, bowerbird. What they build is just like the traditional wedding bower, except that it's made of twigs and grasses, and dressed up with scraps of flowers, feathers, shiny stones, and whatever other visually pleasing items the male bird can find." He tilted his head in her direction.
"And second, if the female of the species weren't so hard to please, the poor male wouldn't have to fly his little heart out looking for all that pretty stuff."
She moved towards him with long, deliberate strides that made her hips hitch and fall in a rhythm that drove his bird defense from his head.
"Hard to please?" She repeated with a sly smile. "You don't know how good you have it."
He eased himself out and back onto the ground, moving in close enough to look into her eyes. "Well, I will." He put both hands around her waist and drew her to him.
She laughed. "Are you ready?"
As he moved backward, he kept his hands firmly around her waist, and pulled her along. When he felt the bumper against the back of his legs, he stopped moving and sat down. With a simple roll onto his back, he began to ease himself inside. As it became obvious that he was not going to let her go as he did so, Sara leaned into his hands, using them to balance herself as she crawled in over him on her hands and knees. They slithered inside together with their eyes locked and her hair brushing against his face, in near perfect coordination. When they finally stopped, he tugged her downward until she lay against him. He smiled. She bit her lip and gazed back at him in silence and sudden doubt.
"You do know I love you?"
She relaxed into him slightly, but her eyes were still unsure.
"This is it, you know," she said in her quietest voice. "You can't turn away from me again. Not ever."
The accuracy of her anticipations never failed to please him. He brought his hands up from her waist to frame her face.
"I think you just read my mind."
Deserts awaken mostly by light. With little to block the morning sky besides brown scrub and sand, with no towering tree canopies or lush ground cover, the rising sun dominates the land. The inky darkness is lightened not by streaks or bold intrusions, but by a general suffusion of the day into the night. Most desert animals, nocturnal creatures, miss this natural wonder, compelled to sleep and gather strength for the next evening's struggles. He pitied them. They did not have the morning, and they did not have her.
She lay next to him, her eyes still closed. They had managed to fall asleep on their sides, facing each other. It only seemed odd until the memories flooded back. Loving, talking, laughing. Loving again, only to talk again in quiet whispers with arms and hands curved over each other in possession. The last thing he remembered was Sara laying her smooth palm against his face. "I love you." And in every dream thereafter, he held her tight and made her say it again and again.
Her smile began before she even opened her eyes. "Hello."
After all the hurt and distance, she had almost forgotten how lovely his eyes were when they held that strange light.
He let the hand that cupped her rear slip down to her waist.
"How did you sleep?" She put her hands on his belly. One of the evening's best discoveries, she sighed silently, kneading him with a light touch.
"Very well," he replied, laughing ruefully as he tried to swat her hand away. He couldn't quite understand the fascination his midsection held for her, but the thought buoyed him more than he cared to admit. Maybe he could put off that diet for a while. "And you?"
"Desert air seems to agree with me."
"You weren't too cold?"
"Nope," she shook her head. "I told you we had everything we needed here."
So she had.
"It's a good object lesson for you, actually." Her tone was thoughtful as she looked over his shoulder, deep in thought. Her eyes drifted back down after a moment, glimmering with mischief. "The girlfriend's always right."
"Interesting premise." He rocked her gently back and forth by the waist. "But who says you're my girlfriend?"
Small fists are sometimes the most potent.
"Let me finish!" He protested, rubbing his stomach to remove her sting. "What I was going to say is that 'girlfriend' seems... inadequate for you." He watched her face soften, and accepted her caress as an apology.
"But 'wench' sounds about right."
This provoked not only the small fist, but a surprisingly agile judo move as well, which quickly pinned him underneath her.
Now this I could get used to, he noted appreciatively.
"What was that? Huh? Huh?"
He couldn't stop laughing. "Noth... nothing..."
"You know, I was going make your morning before we left, but now you'll have to suffer 'til we get back to the city." She brushed herself against him. "And that's... hmmm... a good forty minutes away?"
"Ah... yes, sadly..."
She released him as quickly as she had taken him prisoner and crawled away, rifling through the tangle of blankets for her clothing. Unfortunately, the punishment she had just devised was somewhat undermined by the wonderfully clear view of her privates that her vigorous searching provided. Grissom's face spread into a grin as he slipped his hands behind his head and took in the sights. Sara by moonlight was ethereal; Sara by daylight was... remarkable. Naked as the day she was born. He offered up a happy sigh.
"Stop ogling me and get dressed," she growled, sensing his rapt gaze. She strove to look stern as she turned to glare at him, but the wolfish toothsomeness undid her.
He made no effort to catch his shirt before it landed unceremoniously on his face.
"Good ass. I mean, arm."
Her laughter came in a sparkling burst. "Just... get a move on, you freak."
They said little during the drive back. Sara had grown sleepy, and she faded in and out as her head lolled against the seat. She would have turned on her side and leaned against the door to make herself more comfortable, but every time she began to curl her body away, the grip that Grissom had on her hand tightened. When she questioned him drowsily about the wisdom of one handed driving, he muttered something about backseat drivers getting left by the side of the road. She vaguely remembered making a semi-snappy comeback, as well as some other bits of random conversation, but in the end, the sleepiness overcame her and she drifted off.
She felt someone shaking her.
"Huh? What is it?"
"Time to go."
"Oh... we're there already?" She yawned delicately. "Good. You better have some of your squirrel food ready quick, I'm starving."
She rolled her head towards the driver's seat to smile at him. Why did this street look so familiar? She blinked. They were parked outside of her building.
"I'm dropping you off, okay?"
She felt her stomach lurch forward. He wouldn't. After...
"You're dropping... aren't we...?"
She felt sick.
"You can't... you can't... do that."
"Of course I can."
"It's only a couple blocks away."
She stared at him for so long that he touched her face in concern. "I told you, I don't have much at home right now, so I'm going to the Barkley's near here to pick up some things." He looked puzzled. "Is that a problem?"
"That'll give you at least ten minutes, Sara. How much more time do you need?"
"Time?" She shook her head to clear it.
"To pack a bag."
That was more like it. She hoped. She ran her tongue across her lips.
"So... I'm going to pack a bag and... you're going to pick up some groceries... and then we're going to..."
He watched her try to sort it out and slowed his voice to a drone. "Go to my place. Are you okay?"
The teasing only heightened her color. "Yeah, I'm okay. I'm just..."
"Deprived," he finished for her. He shrugged. "You should have just made my morning."
That damn wolf grin was going to be her downfall.
Somehow, it seemed different than she remembered. What was it? The couch was new-comfortable, bookish brown leather instead of stiff olive green, but that she knew about already. She had teased him so brutally about the green one during one of their talks that he finally admitted to having had it replaced months before. Not in response to vicious cracks from the team after they were forced to sit on the monstrosity during the strangler case, of course. It had simply been "time for a change." She laughed, remembering his high-minded tone as he told the tale, and continued to scan the room. The butterfly arrangement was unchanged, and there were still blinds instead of curtains hanging in front of his windows. So what was it that she wasn't seeing? Grissom brushed past her as she pondered the question, one hand snaking out to capture her hip for a moment, while the other lightly swung the small canvas bag that held her things.
"I'm putting this in the bedroom, all right?"
She gave an absent-minded nod in his direction. "Yeah, sure."
He stopped in mid-stride. "Driving you crazy, isn't it?"
"You can't figure out what's different in here since last year," he shrugged, smiling.
"I'll figure it out."
His reply, one skeptically inclined eyebrow, only goaded her on.
As he walked towards the bedroom with a satisfied smile, she began to inspect the space for clues. Bookshelf... same location, same organization by subject... same earth toned area rug, same flat screen TV. She turned to the kitchen. No redecorating here, same gray cabinets and kitchen island with the gas range set into its work surface and the oven built in underneath, instead a standard stove unit set against a wall. Same little nook off at an angle to the island, with more butterflies and a corkboard covered with clippings-old news articles, a few vintage postcard photos, and pages from magazines--some scientific, some literary, some humorous. A black wire wine rack, each opening filled with a bottle of colorful liquid, and next to that, some strange metal contraption made of concentric circles that revolved around a small solid object in the center. It could have been anything from an antique representation of the solar system to a cleverly nostalgic piece of modern art, she supposed. She lingered over it, admiring its beautifully clean lines with her fingertips. Something to follow up on later.
It occurred to her that he was taking an awfully long time to deposit a single bag in his bedroom, but she took advantage of his slowness and made her way back to the living room. No need for him to know that it was taking her this long to figure out his little secret. Was the lamp on the side table different? Maybe it had been shorter before, with a fatter base. Sara gnawed at her lower lip. Maybe. She refocused her eyes a bit before she saw it--the funky hand sculpture. The one that looked like an early robotic appendage made of a series of hollow metal pieces connected by ball bearing joints, which could be actually be manipulated like a real hand. The whole thing was attached to a thin metal "wrist" and affixed to a stainless steel base. Although it had been so many months ago, she would have sworn that the last time she was here the fingers were arranged differently. Back then the index finger had been crooked forward like a witch's claw, ready to dispense some toil and trouble. She had forced herself not to laugh when she noticed it at the time; the occasion that had brought them to Grissom's house was not one that lent itself to humor. But she had thought about that finger often enough afterwards, wondering if he had intended it as a play on Shakespeare's wicked witches; it was her best guess after she noticed the copy of Macbeth lying on his coffee table. She had never quite found a way to bring it up with him, though. It would have seemed presumptuous. Her lips moved in happy lines; now, nothing was out of her reach.
She caught a glimpse of movement from the corner of her eye. In a few steps, he was standing behind her.
"So, was it elementary, Watson?"
Her expression went from sweet to smug. "Very, Holmes." She looked back at him over her shoulder. "I give you Exhibit A, the hand. You used to have the index finger hooked over like a witch's claw, but now... it's the third finger, which may or may not be the ring finger--since I can't tell if this is a right or left hand-that is extended. The other digits are positioned straight up towards the ceiling, but that third finger is not."
He laid a hand on her shoulder. "I'm amazed that you remembered the Macbeth finger at all. I do play with the hand a bit, and rearrange the finger positions from time to time."
She grinned. "I knew it."
"Good work. Glad to see that mental fog lift, finally. " He squeezed her shoulder lightly. "Just think how much faster you would have grasped the concept of packing a bag while I went for groceries had you been this sharp a little while ago."
"You're a real riot, you know that?"
She turned and slid her arms around him, hugging him tightly.
"So when are you feeding me, anyway?"
He appeared to ponder the question.
"As soon as you... take a shower?"
She was a light girl, but rather less so when her entire weight came down on his toes.
"You know, if I'd known this is what doing it in your car would get me, I wouldn't have bothered."
The pain was noteworthy, but he managed to wince and speak at the same time. "Hey, I like the smell of musk as much as the next guy, but..."
"Oh, it'll be the next guy pretty damn quick, if you keep this up," she said grimly. "What do you think you smell like?
"I smell like a man."
And? She asked with her eyes. He shrugged.
"You... just smell."
Was it possible that she had willed herself to put on another five pounds as he spoke, just to spite him? Ouch. He finally lifted her off of him, while laughing at her cross look.
"Never has one woman resisted soap and water so much," he sighed, shaking his head. "Just go. By the time you come out, breakfast will be ready."
Still feeling vaguely mortified by Grissom's insistence on the shower, Sara walked into the bedroom with a preoccupied air. Do I really smell? She sent her nose into her armpit to take a surreptitious whiff of herself. I don't smell--what is he talking about? I can't believe him... Her griping was interrupted by the glimpse of something on his bed. Something was piled on top of the comforter, several things, actually. Soft towels and washcloths, an extra thick white bathrobe that had to be his, since she had neglected to pack her own, and-her face broke out in a silly smile--her underwear neatly folded on top. In fact, everything that she had brought with her in the little bag had been removed and carefully laid out, either on his dresser, or on his bed. He had touched it all. Everything was in its place, in his place, which was the whole idea, she was sure. He was, after all, a deliberate man. As she picked up what she needed and made her way to the bathroom, she was already singing softly.
As she stepped out of the shower a few minutes later still in a happy daze, Sara stopped to ponder the simpler signs of good things to come, one of which lay at her feet. Bath mats were serious business to her; nothing could ruin a good shower faster than stepping onto some nasty synthetic fiber that couldn't absorb real moisture. Grissom had chosen wisely; the oval of tightly looped cotton underneath her feet was perfect. She took her time rubbing the soles of her feet into the material and digging her long toes into its thick pile, just for the pleasurable friction of it. When her feet were satisfied, she moved on to dry the rest of her lean frame. The underwear was considered, but put aside for the time being. She chose instead to toss her head and sweep her hair into a towel that she twisted in place. Finally, after the careful application of her usual lotion-her skin's delicacy made it vulnerable to dryness-she slid her arms into his robe and tied it comfortably around her waist. It was a little big--well, very big, she noted with a laugh--but the length was just right. As right as the smell of the man who usually wore it, a scent that would now mingle with hers in some unknown alchemy. Her fingers plucked at the robe's notched collar; she rubbed it against her cheek. When she looked up and saw her reflection in the large mirror above the sink, the only thing she noticed was her smile.
She strolled back into the bedroom in leisurely fashion, her hands above her head, patting her hair dry. Breakfast had to be ready; the odors wafting from the kitchen were making her mouth water. She had almost made it past the doorway when she nearly ran into him.
"Careful, careful," he said in warning.
He was holding a serving tray covered in plates of various sizes and tall, flute-like glasses filled with some ruby colored liquid. He had come up with a little bit of everything... a massive heap of eggs scrambled with all sorts of savory things--mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers... thick slices of buttered toast, wedges of cheese, grapes and cantaloupe and honeydew and... it was nothing less than a feast.
"All this for me?" She clapped her hands together and rose up onto her toes. "And what's that red stuff? You wouldn't be trying to get me drunk at this hour in the morning, would you?"
"Maybe, maybe not. Either way, the only way you'll find out is if you go back in there and get in bed."
"Get in bed?" She took a quick look behind her. "Don't you want to eat in the kitch-"
"No, I don't. Now step back..." He forced her to retrace her steps, nudging her lightly with the tray whenever she protested. She turned out to be pretty adept at walking backwards without stumbling; he would have gone down after the first few steps. Still, he teased her about her form as she felt her way back to the bed, deducting points every time glanced back to orient herself. She would have sought revenge, but he had a firm grip on her food and the smell was very distracting.
After many steps, she felt the edge of the mattress behind her calves and hopped onto the bed. After crawling back to the headboard, she quickly settled one of his pillows behind her back and shot him a triumphant look.
"Feed me, Seymour."
He made himself comfortable beside her, and placed the tray over her lap. Once he was sure that it was securely in place, the first thing he did was reach up to release her hair. It fell down in a cascade of damp strands that he rubbed between his thumb and forefinger for a moment before he spoke.
"Breakfast is served."
She registered her appreciation against his cheek.
After raving to him about his culinary talents as she began to tuck into the meal, she reached for one of the glasses. Its rim was nearly at her lips before the possibility sent her senses on alert. It was a little too red.
"Um... this wouldn't include some outdated blood product from the back of your fridge, would it?" She asked, suddenly worried.
"Sara, really," he exclaimed. "Why would I do that?"
"I don't know, Grissom. Maybe it's some test you give to all the women who end up in your bed." Her eyes were wary. "Identify the mystery substance and get invited back for more of Grissom's delights!"
She could feel his chest shaking against her arm as he laughed.
"You may have something there."
She looked up at him and then away.
"And to answer your question... there haven't been all that many," he noted, keeping his eyes trained on her face until she looked back at him in protest.
"I didn't ask you that."
His grin came slowly and took years off his face.
"Yeah, you did."
"Whatever." She hurried to change the subject.
"So then what is this?" She motioned with the hand holding the glass.
"Cranberry juice and champagne."
She took a sip.
"That is... excellent. I don't think I've had it before."
He picked up the second fork and began to eat with her, talking between mouthfuls, leaning against her shoulder. He watched her gesture with her hands as she ate, punctuating her thoughts with whirls of her wrists and waves of her hands. She would be a natural at sign language, if it came to that. He pressed his mouth into her shoulder, trying to feel her warmth through the robe. The movement, unexpected, managed to distract her enough from the smooth passage of a forkful of egg into her mouth that some of the yellow fluff tumbled onto her lips. He heard her laugh, and then he saw her hand extend itself towards her napkin as if in slow motion. He stared at that hand, slim and beautiful, for a long moment. Without questioning what it meant, he reached down to take hold of his own napkin and roll it around his finger. The skin on the back of his neck pricked lightly as he raised his hand to her face and touched the cloth to her lips. He followed the sequence almost exactly, moving at the same pace from corner to corner, lingering again in the center where she was softest. And this time when she raised her hand to lay it against his, he let her. He watched her slim fingers slide themselves amidst his own, and take hold.
After several seconds had passed, she urged his hand down from her lips and turned to face him.
"What was that?" She smiled, curious.
He shook his head and kissed the corner of her mouth.
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