Title: Two Steps Back Author: Summer Reign Rating: T Spoilers: Mid-season 6 Disclaimer: I don't own a yacht. I don't own a car. I don't own a bicycle. And I don't own CSI (but I'd like to).
Summary: Sara is ready to move forward with—or without—Grissom.
They say the truth sets you free. Well, this type of freedom was the very last thing Sara Sidle wanted.
There was nothing particularly freeing about telling Grissom about her past. Not that she had ever lied to him; she just kept a lot of information to herself. She had never told anyone about it. She never had to. Through no choice of her own, it was part of countless introductions to countless strangers.
Sara? She's great. Smart as a whip, quiet, a little on the shy side—but what do you expect when she witnessed her own mother stabbing her father to death? But, give her a library card and feed her once in a while and she'll never cause you trouble.
Almost as easy to keep as a Chia pet. And about as desirable.
She didn't tell Grissom everything. There were things about the night of the murder that no one knew. She didn't tell him about her father still being (barely) alive when her mother, covered in his blood, ran screaming into the street. How he had reached out his hand to Sara, and she had grabbed it, more frightened than she had ever been in her entire life. How he had begged her to help him, even as his voice faded and his eyes became lifeless. How she sobbed as she continued to grip his hand, knowing that, somehow, she failed him.
Frankly, Grissom didn't need to know she had been there for that. He seemed freaked out enough as it was.
And, yet, he stayed. He was there for her at that moment.
That moment--when he reached over and grabbed her hand as she cried. He didn't try and stop her, just supported her with his presence. And he didn't let go even when she used her other hand to swipe at her tears and started babbling apologies. He dismissed them all and remained as she turned her hand in his and started gently running her fingertips over the palm of his hand. It wasn't sexual. She just wanted to touch him--to feel his hand, really, for the first time. It was strong, slightly rough, and so…there. Until, of course, it wasn't. After a few minutes of indulging her, he finally got up and assured her he'd see her the following Monday. At work. And then he left. She knew he would have a fight on his hands with Ecklie, which was confirmed during their brief phone conversation a few hours later. It wasn't what he said, but how he said it. Even though he sounded shell-shocked and tired, he restated that he'd see her Monday.
When she hung up, she finally felt a little lighter. She wasn't hiding part of herself from him. And he wasn't running away. He was standing up for her, while standing by her side. It was a giant step forward in their relationship.
Until he made the decision to take two steps back.
Sara rounded a corner and came upon a scene that made her stop dead in her tracks. Grissom slid his hand under Sofia's elbow and was leading her from his office and down the hall. She was teasing him, in her oh-so-confident way, about his having as many layers as an onion (onion? Who compares a man to an onion?), about surprise dinner invitations and what other things he may have to reveal and he…just looked down at her and smirked.
Sara knew he had taken Catherine out to dinner a few nights before. Just to touch base. She hadn't felt any jealousy on a romantic level but it bothered her that he could go to dinner, easily, with anyone he worked with. Anyone but her.
And now he was taking out a subordinate. A younger subordinate. And not really caring whether the whole lab knew.
She stood and stared. And he broke the gaze he had locked on Sofia and turned to her, looking her straight in the eye. He had that deer caught in the headlights look. And Sara did what she ultimately always did. She let him off the hook by turning around and going into the breakroom. She closed the door behind her, pulled out her sandwich and spent the next half hour staring at the wrapped lunch—because it pained her to call it dinner--never eating a bite.
Sara was bone weary. Not only was she tired from throwing herself into her work, but she was getting less sleep than what was normal for her, which didn't seem to jibe with what was normal for anyone else.
She felt as if she were in limbo. She absolutely needed to make a decision about her future, and soon. She smiled to herself but it had nothing to do with happiness. It was more a bizarrely affectionate nod at the memories of her own stupidity. Stupidity borne from believing in some sort of fairy-tale happy ending. She couldn't hate herself for that. It was human nature. She winced a bit over the memory of walking into Grissom's office a few weeks before, and apologizing--yet again--for their complicated 'relationship.' Actually, she had been right. It was all her fault. For thinking there was a relationship to begin with.
He casually flirted with her because that was the way they started out in California. Light, breezy and fun. But when her intentions became more serious, he backed off. The confession to Lurie? Well, perhaps it had been a moment of extreme vulnerability or perhaps she chose to read it the wrong way. Yes, someone young and 'beautiful' had offered him a new life—but he wasn't willing to take it, as long as she was the one doing the offering. Maybe he was just feeling sorry that a person more to his liking didn't make such an offer.
And who could blame him, really? He knew the truth about her. Oh, he may have suspected it but he never knew for sure until their little conversation at her apartment. Sara Sidle brought baggage with her. Lots of it. Filled with very dirty laundry. Why would he voluntarily welcome that into his rather uncomplicated home life?
She shook herself and pushed open the door of the locker room. She'd go home and get some rest. No more thinking about this crap. She'd think about it tomorrow. The only problem was, the star of her own personal tragedy was currently the only other occupant of the locker room and he was changing out of a stained shirt.
Sara stood there, her gaze focused on his chest. In all the years she had known him, she had never seen him completely shirtless. Because of his thick head of hair and his beard, she'd always assumed he had a hairy chest but it was smooth and silky…looking.
"Reality check, Sara?" He asked, with a quirk of his eyebrow, before pulling on a navy blue tee-shirt. The inflection of his voice was not that different than anything else he ever said but she knew what he meant.
She walked over to her locker, opened it, grabbed her bag and immediately slammed it shut so loud the sound reverberated throughout the room.
She walked over to him, anger flashing in her eyes. "How could you say that to me?"
This was beyond the deer in the headlights look. There was real remorse in his eyes. "Sara, I didn't…"
But she was nearing the breaking point and, very soon, it would all change. And he needed to understand why. "If you think, for one moment, that I would be repulsed by seeing you without a shirt or with another gray hair or laugh line—dream on. You'd like that, wouldn't you? It would let you off the hook for not having the courage to tell me that you were never interested in me in the first place. The truth is, I had to make that discovery on my own and it hurts—and it will always hurt. Because I love the gray, and the lines and the slight fullness of your belly. It's all part of you. And, God help me…" she stopped. She didn't have to finish that sentence. She didn't want to.
The time to begin again was right now.
"There is some kind of game being played here, Gris. Whether you're fully aware of it or not. And…I'm not playing anymore."
She walked out of the door, and out of the building.
Not playing. Not playing. I'm not playing anymore.
"Is that what you think I'm doing?" Sara's thoughts were interrupted by Grissom—standing by the open window of her car.
"What?" she asked, still somewhat dazed. She had run to her car but, in a sudden adrenaline crash, she found herself just sitting there, staring into space, thinking about a future she had absolutely no plans for.
"Playing with you? Is that what you think I'm doing?" He looked a little hurt, a little angry. And he had no right. But when did that ever stop him?
She sighed and looked down a bit. "I don't know what you're doing," she admitted. "All I know is, it hurts. But I already said that, I guess."
"The thing you don't seem to understand at all is…I'm not waiting for a relationship to begin. For me, it began ten years ago. So, it's a loss, a real loss in my life to walk away from you. But I think I have to. Because if you've felt nothing—or feel nothing now, then I'm just…"
"Wasting your time?"
"No. What I felt was real and honest. I have no regrets about it at all. But if I stay here now, knowing the truth, then…yes. I will be wasting my time."
"I told Ecklie I needed you," he blurted out suddenly.
"They day he wanted me to fire you. After you and I…had our discussion. I went back to the lab and told him I took care of things and would not fire you. I told him you were a brilliant criminalist and I needed you."
"Okay. I think I know how much you value my work and I appreciate the public support. And I appreciate your saving my job," her brow creased in confusion. "Thank you, in case I never said it before."
"You don't understand."
"No, I guess I don't."
Grissom walked over to the passenger side, tapped on the door and she unlocked it. He got in and told her to drive.
"Anywhere. Just away from here."
Sara drove to a local park but, when she turned off the ignition, they stayed inside the car. She looked out of the window and saw a couple of children playing on swings, one parent always nearby. She wished she could join them. Pump that swing higher and higher, laughing at the wind in her hair, not a care in the world. Who was she kidding? She had never really experienced a moment like that in her life.
"So," Grissom began. Sara turned to him and she saw him floundering again. She let out a soft sigh.
"Let me have my five minutes, Sara."
"I didn't say anything."
"I know. But you would in about another ten seconds. I…sometimes I just need a moment to try and say exactly what I want to say in the way I want to say it."
"Okay," She sat and focused her eyes on the hands in her lap. She forced herself to keep them loose and relaxed as she waited for Grissom to find the right words.
"When I told Ecklie I needed you, I realized exactly how true that was—and, on a level that had nothing to do with work. What I felt that night in your apartment—I haven't felt—well, I guess I've never felt that intense a feeling for anyone. But since work was our most immediate connection, there was no way I was walking out without making sure you had a job. No matter what. By the time I left Ecklie's office, I felt like my life had turned upside down."
She tried to keep her face expressionless. If he was saying what she thought he was, it wasn't the most flattering of responses to such a monumental realization.
"So," he took a deep breath and rolled his eyes at himself. "Because I'm…set in my ways…on a personal level, and don't exactly welcome change…on a personal level…I tried to change things. Sofia wanted to leave the lab and I asked her to dinner to discuss it. But…" he swallowed a bit and blew out another breath of air. "my initial intention was not purely professional. She's a flirt. And she likes men. She's made that clear. I thought—no strings. Just … a distraction."
Sara pressed her lips together.
"I'm sorry, Sara. You can speak, if you want to. For the record, I…am not 'dating' Sofia. When I saw you in that hallway, I knew I couldn't do anything of the kind. Not that I haven't indulged in these mutual diversionary tactics before but…well, now I felt I'd be cheating on you. You're not the only one who feels in the middle of a relationship. Oh, and the thing I said to you in the locker room was just misdirected anger at myself."
Confession time was over.
Sara turned her gaze away from him, but knew he was still looking at her. She leaned her head against the headrest and looked up at the visor in front of her.
"I don't know where I'd go."
"I kept thinking…I have to leave, but I don't know where I'd go. Try out the FBI, like I wanted to a few years ago? I don't particularly want to go back to San Francisco. I'm not even sure I'd want to be a CSI, if I wasn't here. Maybe get my PhD and teach."
She heard him swallow again. Hard. "Are you still planning to leave?"
"Because, the game is you take one step forward and two steps back. So, you should be stepping back any second now."
"I'm not playing with you, Sara. You know that, don't you?"
"I guess so."
"The truth is, everything I've done has been because of the depth of my feelings. Not because of their absence."
She nodded and looked back at him. His blue gaze was unrelenting and some small spark in his eyes reached her heart. He was unnecessarily troubled, and tortured, yet dead serious in his feelings for her. She looked down and smiled.
"What?" he asked.
"The truth shall set you free."
"Nothing. Just something I've thought was a crock before. But I was focusing on the wrong version of the truth."
"Ah," he said, not really understanding. "So…let me try this again. Back to what I was going to ask you a few weeks ago in my office. Let's…" he paused, and with a soft smile, took a small breath and finally finished his sentence, "have dinner."
"No," she said, suddenly quite sure of her decision.
"No?" He asked, startled.
"I mean, yes, we'll have dinner. But I don't want a fancy restaurant or whatever it is you usually do when you're seeking a 'diversion." Let's just come back here after dark. Set up a blanket, look at the stars, feed the ants…"
"I'll push you on the swings," he said with a sudden twinkle in his eye.
She shook her head. She didn't need to do that. Childhood was long gone. It was time to move forward and leave all the baggage where it belonged.
Now was the time to continue a relationship with a man who finally seemed to want the experience to be an interactive one.
It was a start.
He leaned forward and gathered her in his arms. They were stiff and awkward, but he squeezed her against him tightly, until they both began to relax and enjoy the contact.