Rating: PG-13 for adult language
Archive: Please ask first I might say yes.
Disclaimer: The usual. I don't own any rights to CSI or its characters.
Feedback: Love it, but no flames please I'm fragile!!
Author's Note: Thanks to Mossley, as always, for betaing for me.
Summary: Catherine has had enough of Grissom's and Sara's mind games. She decides its time show her claws.
Gil Grissom and Sara Sidle had arrived at the scene of the multiple homicide about fifteen minutes before Catherine, Nick and Warrick got there. "Bet that was a fun drive out," Catherine mumbled,
visualizing Grissom and Sara in the SUV, as far apart as physically possible, sitting stiffly and not saying a word to each other, wishing they had anyone else in the world in the truck with them,
perhaps even Eckley.
Maybe even Hodges. Okay, maybe not Hodges.
Catherine silently snorted at her own humor as she sauntered in, unmistakeably the senior CSI of the three.
She began taking swabs of blood stains, but that hardly required every ounce of her attention: uncap the swab, rub it on a blood drop, recap it, mark it, log it, repeat ad nauseam. She occasionally glanced up to watch Gil and Sara working over and around the two bodies lying prone on the living room floor. Sara would from time to time report an interesting finding in a tense, overly professional tone of voice, not theorizing, not sharing her impressions - very much not Sara.
Grissom would either show no indication that he heard her, or he would occasionally look up at whatever she was pointing out, but he didn't look at her and didn't speak.
"All right, damn it, I've had about enough of this crap," Catherine grumbled lowly, but aloud. She had been close to Grissom for many years, and he had seen her through some rough times. She loved him for it, and was willing to overlook a lot, but this was starting to seem ridiculous to her.
Lately, she had begun to mend her fences with Sara. Seeing the two of them like this had moved well beyond painful. And it wasn't just personal anymore - it was affecting not only their own professional lives, but the rest of the team as well. Any time the two of them were within striking range of each other everyone suffered.
Catherine remembered sadly that there was a time where the tension between them was of a totally different nature, and so thick you could cut it with a knife. When you entered a room they shared, you felt like you were intruding. Now you feel like you're entering a battle zone. Not that they frequently argued; on the contrary, they rarely spoke. But these two could say more without speaking than most people could with a violent argument.
Catherine had wished on many a night that they would just explode and get everything out that was festering between them. One knock-down, drag-out screaming match just might clear the air enough for everyone to breathe.
Once they got it out of their systems, who knows what would happen then?
How many times had she and Eddie pitched a battle royal, only to find themselves cooing their apologies between the sheets?
But you have to trust each other to fight like that. You've got to be willing to say anything, everything, and believe that other person will stay and fight. Problem is, they don't trust each other anymore.
Looking up at her friends, she heard Sara make a quick summary statement of her findings as she gathered the evidence into a larger envelope. Grissom finally relented enough to say, "Go check out the dining room next," never looking up, not acknowledging her statement. Sara stood, shook her head at him in stony silence, then rolled her eyes as she turned. Her head was still wagging back and forth as she stomped the few feet to the dining area. Grissom sighed harshly, his annoyance evident.
"You know what?" Catherine announced loudly, causing them both to turn and stare at her. "I'm sick of this shit. I really am. I'm going to go work somewhere else until one or both of you leaves this room. I will not work around the two of you together any more." She was gathering her equipment noisily and angrily as she barked her words at them, watched by two who were shocked and mute, mouths agape.
"I don't really give a damn whether you love each other or hate each other, but the least you could do for the rest of us is keep it away from work," she snapped as she swung up her kit and fired them each a defiant glare before turning on her heel and leaving the room.
Grissom and Sara let out a sudden breath in unison, the first thing they had really done together in many months.
"Wow. That was intense," Sara said aloud, but not really directed to Grissom.
"Catherine can be a little emotional," Grissom stated, turning back to his work as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened, apparently dismissing any significance to her outburst.
"And we all know what a bad thing that is," Sara retorted sarcastically. "Haven't you given her the 'don't get emotional - get a life' talk yet?"
Grissom huffed and ran a hand roughly across his mouth and down his neck. His eyes narrowed into icy beams, but Sara knew better than to look at him. "Let's just get back to work," he commanded.
"No, I think Cath had the best idea. I think I'll go work somewhere else, too. I don't want to work around you anymore, Grissom," Sara stated simply, gathering her field kit, leaving the samples for him to deal with.
In less than five minutes he had totally lost control over half his team. Considering the friendships between Nick and Sara, and Catherine and Warrick, he doubted he would have any support at all by the beginning of shift the next night. And as far as he could tell, he hadn't said or done a thing to set it all in motion.
* * * * *
"You working this whole room alone?" Brass asked Grissom as he entered the living area, cautiously weaving around evidence markers placed on the floor in what looked to him to be random intervals.
"Evidently," Grissom answered.
"Don't you have any worker bees who can help?" he asked.
"Well, Jim, if you see any CSIs with a Y chromosome, tell them I could use a hand."
"Double X's getting to you?"
"I just got told off in no uncertain terms by the two queen bees, and I didn't say a thing to start it. I was just working quietly, minding my own business."
"Who knows? And I have no idea what to do about it. Any time I try to talk rationally with either one of them anymore, they pitch a fit and turn it around to where everything's my fault."
"And you're surprised because ...?" Brass drew out.
"How can I exercise any authority over either of them? They are both loose cannons."
"Get rid of them," Brass responded casually.
"They are my two best CSIs," Grissom argued.
"Get used to them, then," Brass mimicked himself.
"Thanks, Jim, you've been a big help, as usual," Grissom said sardonically.
"Hey, what are friends for?" he asked, smiling. He turned and walked out, happy once again that he was no longer in charge of this asylum.
Let Grissom deal with the personality conflicts. They're almost always with him, anyway.
He was glad that he wasn't still the boss, and didn't have the two volatile ladies in his office right now, demanding that Brass do something about him.
Walking past Nicky, Brass told him that Grissom needed an estrogen antidote ASAP. Nick looked up in utter confusion, but shrugged and went into the living room to see what Grissom wanted him to do.
* * * * *
"I'm sorry, Cat," Sara apologized, entering the master bedroom. "I'm just trying to give him what he wants, and I didn't stop to think of how it would affect you guys. I'm really sorry."
"You think he wants the silent treatment?" Catherine asked.
"He must want it that way. He's been giving it to me for a long time now," she answered sadly.
"But it's gotten a lot worse lately. What happened between you two?" Catherine asked.
"Two-fer. First, I pissed him off, then I think I embarrassed him. All in one day."
"I made him mad when I apprehended a suspect at gunpoint. Brass hadn't finished clearing the scene yet. As for the other, it's really kind of private, Cat. But it's not something I can take back, no matter how much I wish I could. I really didn't expect the reaction I got, though I guess I should have."
"What are you going to do about it?" Catherine asked.
"I don't know. I'm hoping it will all just fade away in time. If not, he'll either fire me or I'll quit, I guess. We can't work together like this indefinitely."
"I guess talking to each other about it is totally out of the question?" Catherine asked facetiously.
"Talking's how I got in this mess. Everything was tolerable until I opened my big mouth. Now there's hell to pay. You can bet I'll never do that again," she promised bitterly.
"You must have a high pain threshold if you consider how you two have been 'tolerable', Sara."
"It's all relative. It seemed bad at the time, but it's seems tolerable compared to now," she explained.
"How can I help?" Catherine asked.
"I don't see how you can. And I don't want you to try, because that could mess up your friendship with Grissom. I don't want that. Just because he and I aren't exactly cordial doesn't mean I don't want other people to get along with him. I hope I'm not petty that way."
* * * * *
If Catherine's theory about trust and arguing was correct, then Grissom must really trust her. He had her in his office, blinds drawn, door shut and locked, and he was red-faced and irate. "How dare you undercut my authority at a crime scene, Catherine! Do not ever do that again, under any circumstances! Do you understand me? I won't tolerate it!"
"Calm down, Grissom. You're going to have a stroke or a heart attack," she said flatly, seemingly unaffected and bored with his tirade.
"Don't tell me to calm down! We were processing the scene of a multiple homicide, a high-profile case, and you pick that moment to stir up trouble. It was unprofessional and inappropriate."
"I think that the way you and Sara are behaving towards one another is unprofessional and inappropriate," she countered gruffly.
"Regardless of your interpretation of our interaction, we were doing our jobs until you made a scene and instigated a mutiny."
"My God, Gil! What did she do to piss you off this much? I've seen you mad at her before. And I've seen you pout before. But this is too much, for too long. It was already affecting everyone for the past few months, but these past several weeks have been unbearable for all of us. You need to get this settled between you before you tear this unit apart."
"Our issues are not your concern," he shot back at her.
"They are when they create a hostile work environment. And if you don't do something about it soon, the rest of us will have no choice but to take it higher up the food chain," she threatened.
"You wouldn't!" he bellowed.
"Hide and watch, Gil. Hide and watch," she said, unlocking the door and leaving him to stew in his own juices.
* * * * *
"Guys, I'm not saying that we would really go over Grissom's head. I'm just saying that they need a reality check," Catherine explained over coffee. She had paged Warrick and Nick to meet her here at Starbucks so that Grissom wouldn't know she was talking to them.
"They've let this get way out of hand," she continued, "and they've backed themselves into a corner. Neither will give in, so it's a standoff."
"It's dangerous to get involved in other people's business, Catherine," Warrick warned.
"I know. But this is affecting everyone professionally, and that's what we have to key on. If they bring up the personal side, just say you don't care about that aspect of it. If we keep it focused on how it's affecting the department, they may eventually listen to us and start talking to each other."
"This could backfire on us, Catherine. He could get mad at us, and he is the boss," Nick protested.
"What's he gonna do? Fire all of us?" she asked him. "I think not. That's the only way this will work, is if we all stand together."
"I'm a team player, Catherine. But I don't like the idea of lining up against Grissom," Nick demurred.
"Nicky, we're not teaming up against Grissom. This is for his own good. We're doing this for him. Don't you see that?"
"Yeah, but he's not going to see it that way," Warrick threw in.
"He probably won't at first, but once this all plays out, I think he'll see that we did this out of our concern for both of them. But, yeah, it could get rough for a while. I'm not gonna lie to you," she agreed.
"I don't know if I can just front him out like that," Nick confessed.
"You don't have to start anything. But if he asks you about it - like whether the situation is a problem to you, whether you've noticed it, whether you agree with me, something like that - just tell him the truth. Even if you don't answer him, as long as you don't cave in and agree with him, he'll get the message."
"That's pretty much what I'd do anyway," Warrick admitted.
"I don't mind being the instigator and taking the brunt of the heat, guys. All I want is for you to not undermine what I'm trying to do. And it goes for both of them, not just Grissom. It may be harder for you to not be emotionally supportive of Sara in this, but you've got to be strong. They are both pig-headed and will have to be forced to confront their problems with each other."
Both men looked alternately at their own hands wrapped around their coffee cups and at each other. They were unsure and uncomfortable about getting caught up in what they feared was a female manipulation tactic.
Warrick voiced their common feelings, "Cath, this feels like one of those chick things, where you get all in the middle of other people's personal lives, thinking you're a fairy godmother or something. But it is still meddling and it might not turn out like you plan."
"Here's the deal, guys. If we don't do something about it, it will just get worse. What are we going to do if Carvallo or Atwater become involved? Every time they go to a scene the cops see how they behave. How long 'til it gets high enough up the ranks to do some damage we can't control?"
"She's got a point there, man," Nicky nodded to Warrick. "They're getting pretty snarky with each other out in public now."
"We've got to nip it in the bud before they both get in trouble and someone ends up the sacrificial lamb. I don't want either of them to have to leave, do you?"
Both agreed that it could easily come to that at the rate it's going.
"Okay, I'm in," Nick said, putting his hand out in the middle of the table. Catherine covered his hand with her own.
"Me, too," Warrick agreed, topping the stack of hands, sealing their agreement.
* * * * *
They gathered for assignments, five strong around the table, no one making eye contact with Sara or Grissom. Most of the time, all but Grissom seemed inordinately interested in the pattern of the formica that laminated the surface of the table. Grissom instead concentrated on the assignment slips, as though they were stone tablets writ by the finger of God.
He read each and without looking up paired the assignment with a CSI. He mechanically asked how their ongoing cases were coming. Each reported as though giving testimony - no emotion, no elaboration. There was none of the teasing and friendly banter they had shared in the past. While it died altogether tonight, it had been terminally ill for quite some time.
Grissom escaped first, retreating to his office before leaving for his assignment with Warrick. Sara looked around at her co-workers and complained, "I guess this is my punishment. Now I get nothing but stuff like trick-rolls and hit-and-runs."
"One of us has to take them. You've just been spoiled so far, almost always getting the cherries while one of us gets the pits," Catherine shot back a bit condescendingly.
"What the hell's your problem?" Sara roared.
"Me? I don't have a problem, Sara. It just seems like you think you're better than us sometimes. You never complained when we were getting the crappy assignments. Now that it's finally your turn, the world's coming to an end."
Sara stared wordlessly at Catherine, hurt vying with anger for supremacy. She looked to Nick and Warrick for some support, but both were studying their hands, acting as though they had heard nothing. Feeling abandoned, betrayed and humiliated, she stormed out of the break room.
"Damn, girl. You don't mess around," Warrick exclaimed. "That was cold-blooded."
"Got to cut her off from her support system, Warrick. Get her to a point where she's got nothing to lose."
"What if she gets pissed off and quits?" Nick asked.
"If I know Sara Sidle, and I think I do at least a little, she's going to stick around for a while, just to show us a thing or two."
"If you're wrong ..." Nick began.
"I'll worry about that if it happens," she assured them.
Show us what you've got, Sara Sidle. Show us what you're made of. I just hope you're not so beaten down that you roll over and take this.
* * * * *
"That bitch!" Sara shrieked to the steering wheel, punctuating it with a fist to the dashboard. "I freaking can't believe she said that crap to me! Two-faced bitch! Yesterday she was all 'how can I help?' and today she's slamming me in front of everybody."
She started the Denali she had been assigned and slammed it into gear, peeling out of the parking lot onto the street, the tall, heavy SUV rocking ominously as she shifted its center of gravity too quickly.
"I don't know that I ever really did trust Warrick, but Nicky? I can't believe he didn't stand up for me. Didn't even give me so much as a smile of encouragement."
"Assholes. All of them. Well, piss on them. They think they can treat me like shit and get away with it? Think they can drive me off? They don't know me, by God! If that prick Grissom can't run me off, what makes them think they've got the stones to do it?"
She weaved in and out of traffic, skillfully, but still frighteningly, well over the speed limit. She angrier she got, the faster she drove.
"He can give me every liquor store robbery, purse-snatching, jaywalking assignment we get. I'll still keep my solve rate higher than theirs. I'll work solo on every freaking case, even if the head asshole makes the mistake of trying to pair me with someone. They don't want to be my friends, fine. Friends come and go. My job is what's important, and I'm damned good at my job."
* * * * *
"Warrick," Grissom began as soon as they were in their own Denali, "is something wrong?"
"You tell me," Warrick answered coolly.
"What do you mean?" Grissom asked uneasily.
"Just what I said," he responded evenly, without clarification.
"Let me guess. Catherine told you about the blow up at the crime scene yesterday," Grissom ventured.
Warrick kept his eyes on the road, easing the large vehicle through traffic.
"Warrick, I don't know what she told you, but I didn't say a thing. We were working and Catherine just lost it," Grissom tried to explain.
"Whatever," Warrick responded, unconvinced.
"It's the truth!"
"Doesn't sound likely that she would just go off for no reason. Had to be something wrong going on in there," Warrick suggested.
"I swear, Warrick, all three of us were just doing our jobs."
"I can see you are going to take her side on this, no matter what I say," Grissom spat out.
"I didn't bring this up, you did. I was just minding my business, driving to a crime scene. But all of these attitudes are just messing things up for everybody."
Sighing heavily, Grissom admitted, "I don't know what to do about it."
"Better think up something quick, Boss, before it's front-page news," Warrick warned. "Everybody is at everyone else's throats. Whether you like it or not, you set the example. If you can't even get along with someone you... with Sara, then what do you expect?"
Warrick felt a line of perspiration bead up on his brow, realizing he had almost screwed up and spoken about their personal lives. He reminded himself to keep it all focused on the professional aspect. Don't even allude to feelings.
Grissom knew that Warrick wasn't one to meddle, and he was right that Grissom had broached the subject. The wise thing to do would be to consider Warrick's words, so he pondered them quietly for the rest of the ride.
* * * * *
"Nick, what are you doing at my crime scene?" Sara asked pointedly.
"I finished up my case and was assigned to help you," he answered.
"I don't need your help," she fired back at him.
"I don't make the assignments, darlin'. I just do what I'm told," he said, holding up both hands in defense.
"You didn't seem all that anxious to help when Catherine was dissing me after assignments."
"Oh, I see. You wanted my help then. You don't want it now. Is there a rulebook that comes with this game, Sara? 'Cause I honestly don't know when I'm supposed to be all the man and jump in to save the damsel in distress. If I do it at the wrong time, I'm a chauvinist pig. If I don't do it when you want me to, I'm a jerk."
Sara hated to be painted into a logical corner that she couldn't escape without resorting to pure emotionalism. It made her look foolish, and she despised that feeling. "I just want you to support me, Nicky. To be my friend. I thought we were friends."
"We are. And I do support you, unless I think you are doing something stupid that will hurt you or someone else. What kind of friend would I be if I blindly supported you then?"
"What am I doing that you think is so stupid?" she asked bluntly.
"Being a bitch to your boss is one thing, even if you don't like him. You're part of a problem that's grown to include all of us now. You two are screwing with our jobs and our lives while you play this stupid game with each other."
"I tried to talk to him, Nicky. I tried to be nice. But it made things worse."
"I guess you didn't say the right things then, sugar."
"Guess not," she agreed. "Nick, I'd rather finish working this case alone, if you don't mind."
"I'll call Grissom and tell him you don't need me," Nick said, backtracking to his vehicle, pulling out his cell phone. After a moment, he snapped it shut and jumped into the cab of the truck, leaving Sara to her scene and her thoughts.
* * * * *
Sara had arrived at the lab around seven in the evening, hoping to find some inspiration about last night's case by looking at all the evidence again. She knew she should just call it, label it 'unsolved' and chalk it up as one for the other team. But she had vowed that she would prove her value to the others, and it didn't bode well for her to bail on the first solo case since the blow up in the break room, even if the evidence was sparse and meaningless without a suspect.
Shortly after eight, Grissom entered the lab. He wanted to get some work done before the others came in and the emotional torture began. He didn't dread his work per se; he just dreaded the human interactions that had become psychological beatings lately.
Walking purposefully down the hall, trying to take the shortest possible path to his office, he saw Sara sitting at the lighted evidence table, staring down at a few small evidence bags, still as a statue.
"Sara, what are you doing here so early?" he asked. "You have already maxed out on overtime for this month, and there's still a week to go. I should've already put you on lab duty."
"Oh, well, yeah. I'm not... I'm just... This isn't overtime. This is my time. I'm just thinking, not working," she offered weakly, realizing immediately how inane it sounded.
"As long as you're not thinking about work, then I guess this is as good a place as any to do it," he said, offering her an out.
"No, I'm not thinking about work, really. Not about a case, anyway."
Grissom turned to leave her to her thoughts.
"Grissom?" she called, stopping him at the door. "Would you please not assign me to work with anyone for a while? It would be better for me to work by myself, at least for the time being."
"I'd have to think about that, Sara. First of all, it is a privilege to work solo, not a right. Second, working solo reduces the amount of insight and analysis, sometimes making it take longer to solve the case, if it's solved at all. In other words, it might seem like it would be more efficient for everyone to work solo, but it's the interplay of different perspectives that is often the catalyst for solving the puzzle. We need each other for it all to work."
"No one needs me," she stated as a fact, managing not to sound as if she were pouting.
"Perhaps you are not available for them to need, Sara," he responded gently.
"And you are?" she countered.
Grissom didn't respond, other than that slight pucker of the lips that she considered his most endearing facial tic.
"Uh, Grissom? I'm sorry about the day before yesterday ... about being disrespectful and saying I didn't want to work around you anymore. What I should have said is that I want to work with you, not around you. I really miss that. I thought we used to work well together, and I know I always learned a lot."
"I don't know if that's possible right now, Sara," he answered honestly.
"I know. We're uncomfortable around each other, and I could probably make a list as long as my arm of all the reasons why. But can't we try to separate out the personal issues we have from the professional issues?"
"I can't think of that many issues that I have with you professionally. The few I had you seem to have more control over now. The other day was unprofessional, but you apologized and I accept your apology."
"Can we call a truce then? It's starting to get real ugly around here, and it's our fault. We need to at least pretend to get along in front of the others, for their sakes, if not ours."
"I agree that we're at fault and that it's obviously affecting other people. But I don't know how well I can pretend to feel something different from what I really feel."
"You're kidding me, right?" she interjected with astonishment, a laugh building until she had to gasp to catch her breath.
Grissom shifted uncomfortably, realizing that she knew that he knew that there was a 'this' between them long before he admitted it to her a few months ago. She apparently guessed that he had spent years pretending to feel differently from what he really felt. Sometimes he was successful; sometimes he was not. The latter times were the usually most memorable.
"Don't worry, Grissom. I have every confidence that you can pretend that we are friends regardless of what you really feel. You may even fool me ... it's been done before," she said, smiling brightly to take away the sting of accusation.
* * * * *
"They seem to be doing better," Nick observed, bending over to inspect some road debris, deciding whether it related to the case or not. Determining it was too weathered to be recent, he set it down in a small pile of rejects on the side of the road.
"At least they are decent to each other whenever someone's around," Warrick agreed, scanning his section of the grid.
"Maybe they save it up until they are alone, then unload," Nick proffered, laying down a case identifier and snapping a shot before bagging a piece of red plastic, presumably from a tail light.
"I don't care if they beat each other senseless, as long as they do it in private," Warrick chortled.
"Figure they can keep it up?" Nick stopped and looked expectantly at Warrick.
Warrick squinted his eyes in thought for a moment, then shook his head back and forth, "No way."
"Bobby's started a betting pool on when the shit hits the fan. You in?" Nick smiled.
"How many squares are left?" Warrick asked, evaluating the odds.
"Better get to him quick. Everyone's expecting the blow up any time now, so the betting's hot," Nick suggested.
* * * * *
The sun was just peeking up over the horizon, changing the black and gray hues of the desert at night to warm browns, tinged with the pink of the nascent light.
A pair of hikers had disappeared a week ago from a trail not known for its difficulty. The search had proven fruitless, but the previous night some hunters pitching camp made a grisly find - two decomposing bodies, loosely covered with rocks. As it was apparent that their deaths were unnatural, Grissom, Catherine and Sara had been called out.
Catherine stood over Grissom and Sara, taking pictures as they removed the stones one at a time, inspecting each rock for trace evidence before stacking them neatly on a plastic tarp. David Phillips was sitting on a large boulder off to the side, watching every move Sara made, waiting patiently for the bodies to be uncovered so that he could confirm the obvious.
David swooped in at Grissom's signal and pronounced the rotting carcasses dead, then returned to his boulder to wait until it was time to relocate the bodies to the morgue.
Sara didn't mind bugs when they were in a cage, skittering around in an evidence jar or mounted on a board, but she didn't like them all that much in their natural habitats. Between these two, there had to be hundreds of bugs, most notably maggots and various small beetles.
"I don't see how you stand this, Grissom," she choked out, placing the back of her gloved hand across her mouth to stifle a gag.
"I told you before, it's all part of God's plan," he stated calmly, gathering several samples of each insect into separate containers.
"I understand that, but it doesn't mean I want to watch it. Yuk!" she shivered.
"You knew that there would be entomological evidence when you first started in forensics. Why did you go into it, if you are afraid of bugs?" he asked.
Sara couldn't tell if he was teasing her or if he really thought she had not thought it through adequately. "I didn't say I was afraid of them. I said that watching them eat dead people is gross. Big difference," she defended.
"Do you have any food we can put in the jars?" he asked.
"They eat meat, Grissom. No, I don't happen to have any meat on me," she snapped.
"Oh, yeah. Sorry," he said, dismissively.
"Do they make bug food? Maybe you should carry something to feed them, so you aren't always trying to scrounge up something at the scene," she suggested, a hint of cattiness shining through her voice.
"I'll take that under advisement," he shot back heatedly.
"Children! Mind your manners in public," Catherine hissed in a low voice, leaning between them.
"Yes, Mother," Sara mouthed just above a whisper.
Grissom began to examine the bodies much closer, looking for trace evidence that might fall off before the bodies reached the morgue. On the male, he found a long hair, but it was not the color of the female's hair. He was holding it up with tweezers, looking through a magnifying glass.
Sara leaned forward to look through the glass, barely brushing his arm, as she had done dozens of times in the past. She thought nothing of it as she leaned closer.
"Would you not do that anymore, please?" Grissom asked, the vocabulary polite, but the tone brusque.
"Do what?" she asked, oblivious.
"Bumping against me when we're looking at evidence."
"Well, maybe if you would just let me see the evidence every once in a while, I wouldn't have to crowd you to look at it," she retorted.
"Everyone else I work with seems to be able to wait a minute. None of them feels the need to hang all over me. It's really distracting," he barked at her.
"No one else that I work with feels the need to hover over the evidence like a mother hen. They know how to communicate and share with their investigative partners," she shot back.
Catherine could see it brewing and decided on another tactic. "David? Brass? Would you come with me, please?" she shouted out. Both men looked at her a bit questioningly, but obliged. The three walked to her SUV. "Hop in," she said. The men looked at each other, shrugged and got in.
"What's up, Catherine?" David asked.
"Let's see if we can heat this up a little," she said, starting the truck. The only other vehicles there were the coroner's wagon and Brass's car, and both drivers and sets of keys were in her Denali with her.
She threw it in gear and turned around, driving away from the scene. As expected, within a few seconds, her cell phone rang.
"Catherine! Where the hell is everyone?" Grissom shouted.
"I told you we weren't working with you two as long as you were being hateful to each other. Meant it."
"You can't just leave us out here. It's miles to town and it will be over a hundred in an hour or so!"
"I guess you better get it worked out then."
"Okay, okay, we'll quit arguing. Now come back," he agreed.
"No. Not this time, Gil. I want you to argue. I want you to say every shitty thing to each other that you've ever thought. I want to see fireworks from a mile away. Get it all out of your systems today. When you're done, I'll know it," she said, closing the phone before he could answer.
Catherine wheeled the SUV down the dirt road and took the cutoff that lead to a bluff overlooking the area. She sat only about quarter mile away from them, and about 100 feet higher.
Brass and David couldn't decide whether to be amused or thunderstruck at Catherine's ploy. They both knew that it wasn't the time to voice any opinion they might have, unless they wanted to find themselves walking in the hot desert sun.
The three could see Grissom standing, hands in his pockets, looking out into the desert, obviously fuming. Sara had taken up station on David's boulder, with one foot up on the rock, so that she could rest her chin on her knee, hugging her bent leg. They were about fifteen feet apart and not speaking to each other, by all appearances.
After about five minutes, Grissom decided to go back to work. He bent down over the bodies for quite some time, taking pictures and making notes. Sara reclined back on the rock and examined the wispy clouds streaking across the sky. Suddenly, she rolled up and gathered her kit, stowing it in the coroner's wagon. With it safely tucked away, she began walking east.
"Where are you going?" Grissom demanded of her.
"Home," she answered, not stopping.
"It's got to be ten or fifteen miles back to the edge of town. It's in the nineties now and will be over a hundred soon," he said condescendingly.
"Geez, Grissom. We're not in freaking Death Valley. It's not that far to walk, and it's over flat terrain, mostly. It won't take but three or four hours, tops. I may get a helluva sunburn, but it's not like I'm going to drop dead of dehydration," she shouted back.
"Do what you want. You always do," he snapped at her dismissively.
She turned and walked slowly backwards, "What I want? Yeah, I wanted to be stuck out in the desert with you. I wanted to have to walk back to town. Like I wanted you to always treat me like shit. Oh, yeah, it's always about what I want."
"You seem to always want to throw in my face how I've been treating you. Well, it takes two to tango, missy. I haven't noticed you being all that friendly to me either. I guess you think I ought to be Mr. Nice Guy while you can treat me any way you want!"
Watching from their vantage, Brass looked over at Catherine. "Let's see, it's 10:32. Let me write that down. Do you remember who had the closest square? Someone's a winna!"
"Oh, yeah, it's starting to pick up now," Catherine said. "Call Bobby and see who won the pool."
"Do you think it's fair, though?" David asked. "I mean, you kind of made it happen."
"No, they were there already. I'm just giving them the privacy to get it all out," she defended herself.
Brass shut the phone and announced, "Jacqui won. She had bought the pool square for 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. today. Funny, because it was one of the last squares, since it wasn't during a shift. She thought she was throwing her five bucks away. Now she's a hundred dollars richer!" he laughed.
"You can't always go with the odds," Catherine noted.
They watched as Sara stopped her backward momentum and began gesturing wildly. Grissom stomped closer and began his own tirade, hands still in his pockets. The three of them wondered how he could argue so vehemently without ever using his hands.
"If I had to guess, I'd say this is the 'Why do you keep jerking me around?' part of the, ahem, discussion," Catherine ventured.
"What the hell do you want from me, anyway?" Sara screamed at the top of her lungs. "One day you're so close I think you are another appendage, then the next it's like I have leprosy. I'm not a fucking yo-yo. I'm not a toy that you can just play with when you feel like it, then shove it in the toy box for a month or two. I have feelings, Grissom. You may not, but I do!"
"I'm getting sick and damned tired of you accusing me of not having feelings! I wish I didn't, then maybe I wouldn't feel anything when you piss me off. Maybe it wouldn't bother and confuse me when I see you flirting with every man in the lab. How the hell was I supposed to know which one of us you were interested in? You say I treat you like a toy? Well you had a whole roomful of playthings and you couldn't seem to decide which one to play with on any given day - that is, until Hank showed up," he yelled.
Within a few minutes, they were practically nose-to-nose, faces contorted in anger, bodies leaning in aggressively. Sara's hand would just barely miss him as she swung them around to accentuate her words.
"Oh, this is definitely the Lady Heather part," Brass said knowingly.
"Hank? You've got the balls to even bring up Hank? I don't fucking believe this! He is a lying, cheating bastard of the first order, but at least he's not a whip whore! Damn, Grissom! What the hell were you thinking? Never mind, it's clear you weren't thinking with anything north of your dick!"
From their vantage point on the bluff, it almost looked like the two had been turned to stone, momentarily motionless, Grissom with his hands still shoved angrily in his pockets and Sara with hers aggressively on her hips. Were it not for the colors in their clothes, they would have blended with the large reddish-brown boulders that stood around them as silent witnesses - perhaps lovers or near-lovers from long ago, who'd already had this battle.
Catherine was the first to notice a subtle shift in their demeanor. They stood more upright and Sara's hands made much smaller arcs as she spoke. After a few moments, each was staring at the ground between them. The gesticulations seemed to have moved south, from hands to feet, as they occasionally would appear to be drawing in the sand with the toes of a shoe, while they talked.
"I knew what she was, Sara, but she was nice to me. I just wanted someone to be nice to me, someone who didn't expect me to change, to be a better man. I knew it wouldn't last very long, but I just had to get that validation that someone thought that I was okay just the way I am."
"I just started seeing Hank because I was lonely, Grissom," Sara said defensively, her voice shaking. "I didn't want to end up like Donna Marks, all alone, cut off from the world. You have no idea how much I wished it had been you who asked me out, but it wasn't. I had to take what I could get.
"I didn't mean to hurt you, Grissom. I didn't think that you cared enough to be hurt," Sara offered. "If I had known that those things had any impact on you at all, I would never have done them," she swore.
"I didn't mean to hurt you either, Sara. I should have told you a long time ago that I was stuck between my feelings and what I think is right. I didn't want to burden you with it, and I didn't want you to try to talk me into anything I wasn't comfortable with. But still, I should have just been honest."
Grissom quietly looked out at the horizon just over Sara's shoulder, and she tilted her head back to look up at the sky, turning from morning blue to the pale blue of a hot day. After a few minutes of silent contemplation, they started talking again, this time looking at each other. The gestures weren't aggressive, and both Grissom and Sara could be seen taking turns, holding out their hands, palms up, in some sort of supplication.
"So, what are you saying, Grissom? Are you saying that you care, but for me to forget about it? I don't think I can do that. It was bad enough seeing you every day, thinking you didn't feel anything for me. It would be impossible to see you, knowing you do care, but not enough to do anything about it, or afraid to do something about it, or whatever the problem is," she said, all bitterness gone from her voice now, replaced by a tired sadness.
"I don't know what to say. I do care about you, more than you think, evidently. It's almost impossible to be near you and not be able to touch you. That's why I don't work with you much anymore - it's just too painful. And it's not that I don't care enough; if anything, I care too much.
"This could destroy us both, Sara. Don't you see that? I don't have whatever it is you need, and I'm too old to change. We'll just end up hurting each other, hating each other and ruining both of our careers. I care for you too much to see that happen to you," he admitted. Grissom reached out with his right hand and held the top of Sara's left arm as he spoke, then pulled her into him for a hug.
"We're almost done," Catherine sang out. "I bet they're trying to figure out where to go from here."
They stood as still as the boulders surrounding them for a few moments, but gradually began swaying and rocking, comforting each other.
"We've already hurt each other, Grissom. And we've already hated each other. At the rate we're going, we're going to ruin our careers anyway. There are only two choices. Either I leave and we never communicate again, and hope we can move on, or we agree that the worst is behind us and give it a try," she said, her head resting on his chest.
"Do you care about me, Sara?" Grissom asked into her hair. "Is it really me you're interested in? Or is it the teacher, or the mentor, or the authority figure? Is it just the mystique of the unknown? Or is it the challenge of the unattainable? I need to know if you are interested in me, or in forbidden fruit."
"What do you think?" she answered.
"I think I need to hear it from you," he said solemnly.
"Yes, I care about you. It's you I want to get to know better. You aren't my first and only teacher, mentor, or authority figure. You aren't the only man I've ever met who's guarded. You aren't the only man who's seemed unattainable. The world is full of forbidden fruit, but you're the only one that's ever interested me," she answered softly.
"Okay, then. All the games are over. It was a draw. Let's start over from scratch. Just promise me that this will stay between us alone. Whether it works out or not, I don't want it all over the lab," he warned. "We could really stir up a lot of trouble for ourselves."
"My lips are sealed," she promised.
"I'd kiss you now, but I know for a fact that Catherine is watching from somewhere," he groaned, lifting his head to scan the area for the first time, finally spotting her Denali perched above them.
"I'll take a rain-check," she said, laughing, as they separated and shook hands for show.
"That's it, fellas. We can get wrap this up now," Catherine announced with a triumphant smirk, putting the SUV in reverse to turn around and descend to the now peaceful calm of the desert floor.
* * * * *
"Is this the reason you start these fights?" Grissom asked, holding her unfettered body next to his on the futon in her tiny apartment.
"Me? I'm not the one who started it!" she squealed, playfully gouging at his side, eliciting an instinctive laugh.
"We've only been seeing each other a couple of months, but we must have had a dozen shouting matches," he said, grabbing her hand to stop her from tickling him.
"So? Maybe we just have some leftover anger to deal with. I don't know about you, but I had a lot of pent-up emotion from the past few years," she said, rolling over to her side, easing her leg across his.
"Well, you certainly seem to have a lot of pent-up something!" he said salaciously.
"As long as all the fights end up this way instead of you going your way and me going mine, then it's fine. Just two people working through their differences."
"I don't really mind working through differences - as long as this is how we make up. I just hope I'm the only one you have this kind of difference with."
"Don't start it again!" she warned. "I thought we just went through that. You have no reason to be jealous of anybody."
"And I told you, I'm not jealous; I'm realistic. Wanting is often more appealing than having, especially with me. This isn't my first merry-go-round, and you wouldn't be the first to decide that I'm not worth the trouble."
"Oh, so now who's bringing up other love interests?" she teased him.
"Not love interests, just past relationships. I've never been in love before," he let slip.
"Before?" she asked, raising a challenging eyebrow.
Grissom shrugged, unwilling or unable to tell her whether that was a random slip of the tongue or an expression of his feelings.
Sara leaned further over him, trailing kisses from his chest, up his neck and around his face before she settled on his lips.
"You're going to be the death of me," he breathed out raggedly, running his hand up her back to tangle in her hair, pulling her deeper into his kiss.
"What a way to go," she murmured salaciously.
"What are you going to tell David when he comes to pick me up?" Grissom teased.
"Hmm, you're right. Maybe from now on we should go to your place. That way, I can just say that I found you like that when you didn't show up for work. Or maybe have someone else at the lab check on you. Yeah, that's what I'd do."
"Some criminalist you are!" he teased.
"I'd clean up my evidence!"
"It's going to be hard to do, considering. Your fingerprints are everywhere, as is your DNA."
"I think they'd be more amused by your DNA," she said, chuckling. "All over your sheets."
"Mixed with yours," he reminded her.
"It would take Greg forever to separate them," she hazarded.
"But it can be done. And both of our DNA profiles are in the compliance database. You'd be busted."
"I have to think of some way to bribe him to keep it to himself," she said seductively.
"And you wonder why I'm jealous," he huffed in jest.
"No, I know why you're jealous," she answered seriously. "I just wish you could experience what it's like to feel secure in knowing that someone wants only you. I know it's been a fantasy of mine for a lifetime."
"I wouldn't want to ever take you for granted," he said, stroking her cheek softly.
"Knowing someone cares, and appreciating it, isn't the same as taking them for granted. It's all about acknowledging it - not only to yourself, but to the other."
"Do you know?" he asked.
"That you care? Yes. I can see it in your eyes whenever you look at me like this," she answered, her fingers moving lightly from his bearded cheek to his lips. "And do you believe that I care?" she countered.
"Yes, right now I do. But I'll admit that sometimes I'm less sure. And I'm mystified as to why you care."
"Yeah, me too," she teased, drawn back to him by the magnetic pull of his lips. "But don't you just love a mystery? I know I do. And you're certainly a mystery."
"If you love a mystery, and I'm a mystery, then by extension you love me," he said, surprising them both.
"Wow, Sherlock! Your powers of deduction amaze me. No wonder you're such a famous criminalist!" she joked after a moment to relieve the tension of the silence that had fallen between them.
"Are you teasing? Or are you serious?" he asked.
"About which thing?" she asked evasively.
"Maybe I should be more specific. Are you saying that my deduction is accurate?"
"Who am I to tell you that you're wrong?" she offered playfully.
"You do it all the time," he shot back.
"Not all the time. Only when you're wrong," she said, putting on an innocent face.
"Am I wrong?"
"No," she answered simply, feeling like she was falling into his eyes, like they were drawing her into him as they opened up to her.
"We're lucky Catherine has given us a cover to use for getting along now at work. She probably thinks that we're afraid she'll leave us stranded in the desert again, if we don't."
"We ought to thank her," Sara chuckled. "If she hadn't bared her claws, we might not be together now."
"I don't know. I was getting really tired of how things were, weren't you?" he asked, pulling her closer to him.
"You have no idea," Sara said mock-ominously, a raised eyebrow underscoring the possibilities.
"That's always been my problem, but I think I'm starting to get a clue," he admitted, deciding that the many pleasures of love were well worth his fear of failure.
- The End -