DISCLAIMER: CSI and its characters are the property of Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written a couple of weeks ago in honor of Shatterpath's 40th birthday and tweaked ever so slightly. I've not written this fandom in quite some time but, for a moment, it truly did feel like old times. Special thanks to the very lovely Debbie for her beta and wonderful suggestions.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To firstname.lastname@example.org
A Day of Thanksgiving
A thin haze of cigarette smoke hanging low from the ceiling and a chorus of loud, disjointed conversation greeted Sara Sidle as she stepped into a lesbian bar just outside the Las Vegas city limits. It had been years since she'd visited the establishment, but little had changed. Other than a new EXIT sign above her head, the room looked exactly as it had the first time she'd walked through its doors. The walls were still a boring grayish white decorated with neon signs advertising different brands of beer, the recessed lighting overhead was turned down low and music from an old juke box in the corner floated over the heads of a few couples who were dancing close. Allowing her eyes to adjust to the dim lighting, she moved out of the doorway and eased in next to the wall to take in the familiar atmosphere. She found herself smiling when she spotted the bartender and waited for a pair of ice blue eyes to catch hers. MacKensie 'Mac' Stevens zeroed in on the newcomer and broke out in a huge grin.
"Sara!" she called out over the din of the crowd and motioned for her old friend to join her at the bar. Had Sara not been looking directly at the tall brunette, she'd have never heard her name being shouted.
Lifting her hand and wiggling her fingers in greeting, Sara pushed off the wall and started forward, side-stepping different women who crossed her path and dipping her head slightly to a few who dared to give her a wink.
"Hey, Mac," Sara said with a grin as she slid on to an empty barstool. She glanced over her shoulder at the nice-sized crowd. "I see business is still good."
"Yeah, but it's been missing a certain brunette and blonde," Mac replied, reaching for an empty mug. "Still a Guinness girl?" She tugged on a tap, drew a full glass, and placed it on the bar before Sara could form a reply. "Where's Sofia? Working the late shift?"
Sara reached for the mug and worked to keep her expression neutral, only a slight narrowing of her eyes showing her discomfort at the question. "Sofia and I aren't together anymore," she said and took a healthy drink from her mug. Liquid courage certainly couldn't hurt, she told herself. "I got married," she blurted and quickly pressed the glass back to her lips for another splash of confidence.
Mac wasn't as successful at keeping her reaction under wraps. "To a man?" she asked, her voice rising in surprise and her eyebrows scaling halfway up her forehead. She'd never figured Sara for a bisexual, but even so, she'd have bet everything she owned that Sara had found her true love in Sofia and that the two of them would grow old together. With everything she'd witnessed through the years, it had been Sara and Sofia who had restored her faith in relationships.
"Yeah," Sara offered, choosing not to expound on her answer and hoping to move on to another subject. She began to question her decision to experience a bit of nostalgia tonight instead of going directly home to her empty apartment.
Mac, however, was as curious as ever.
"Anyone I know?" she asked, figuring the odds were slim that she'd ever met or even heard of the man who'd managed to steal Sara away from Sofia and from women in general, for that matter.
"Grissom, my old boss." Sara chugged half her glass. The beer tasted bitter on her tongue. Coming to the bar had been a very bad idea.
"That bug guy?" Mac asked, trying very hard not to frown in disgust. She vividly recalled all the stories Sara and Sofia would tell of their more 'interesting' cases and Grissom and his bugs had played a starring role in most of them. "Isn't he like " she paused and struggled to come up with a delicate way of asking her question, but finally just settled on her original thought. " old?"
Sarah just shook her head and chuckled quietly. Mac never pulled any punches and always went straight to the point. It was one of the qualities Sara most admired about the bartender. Sofia, too. Actually, she thought, Grissom would appreciate Mac's straight-forward approach as well, even if she was calling him on his age.
"He's quite a few years older than me, if that's what you mean," Sara replied easily, not at all upset by the question. It wasn't like she and everybody else hadn't known about their 15 year age difference. Grissom was safe when she needed safe. She just wasn't so sure that was what she needed anymore. Coming back to help the crime lab and her old team had opened her eyes to what she'd given up and, if she dared to admit, the promising life she'd left behind.
"Well, if it was just a matter of wanting someone older, I'd have thought you'd have set your sights on that sexy redhead. Damn, that woman is some kind of hot," Mac teased, whistling softly at the memory of the times the sensuous crime scene investigator had come to the bar with Sara and Sofia. The older woman had turned more than a few heads, including Mac's.
"Catherine?" Sara asked, feigning cluelessness. She knew full well to whom Mac had been referring. "We'd kill each other before we could even make it to the bed." And they nearly had, although, technically, an actual bed hadn't been used then, either. The sexual tension between the two CSIs had been so intense those first couple of years that, when they finally did give in to their carnal urges, it was on a dark road in a battery-dead Denali with each woman fighting tooth and nail to dominate the other. There were bite marks, deep scratches, and numerous bruises when all was said and done, but damned if it wasn't the best sex Sara had ever had... until Sofia had come along. That sex had been just as intense, but it had been more about their desperate need to please the other.
"Might be worth staring death in the eye," Mac said with a far away look in her eye as a cocky grin began to spread across her face. "I'd certainly take the risk. I bet that little redhead is a real spitfire."
"You have no idea," Sara muttered around the rim of her mug as she took another huge swig. Yes, she thought, coming to The Rainbow Room had been a very, very bad idea.
"So, I guess you still run into Sofia quite often, seeing as how you're both in the same line of work. I mean, even if it's always serious, meeting over dead bodies and everything, I'd think it would be tough to see each other all the time and be all professional and civil about it. Or has she moved on, too?" Mac asked, not wanting to let go of her Catherine fantasy but recognizing the look of regret in Sara's eyes. She hadn't been at her job for all these years without being able to read her customers. She just had to figure out what it was that had Sara suddenly looking so uneasy. Her money was on Sofia.
Sara's head snapped up so fast she felt dizzy. How had they gone from Grissom to Catherine to Sofia in what seemed like 2.8 seconds? She'd forgotten how adept Mac was at zeroing in on whatever it was that the bartender deemed was 'the problem', even if the person she was zeroing in on had no idea that there was a problem in the first place.
"Sofia's not in Vegas," Sara said, gripping the handle of her mug tightly. She hurried to further explain before Mac could ask more questions. "And I have no idea where she went; no one does." She suspected Brass knew, but he'd been tight-lipped and had purposely avoided mentioning his former colleague. Sara got the feeling that Brass held her personally responsible for breaking up, what he considered, his family. First, she left, then Grissom followed, and finally, Sofia just disappeared off the face of the earth. Everything had changed.
"Have you tried to find her?" Mac asked as she drew a fresh Guinness from the tap and slid it in front of Sara. She silently gestured to the other bartender. One of the perks of owning the bar was that she could take a break whenever she needed and she definitely needed a break now. Leaning against the worn edge of the bar, she watched Sara closely.
"No reason to now," she said with an attempted shrug of indifference. Her expression, however, showed so much more. "I'm sure I'm the last person she would want to talk to anyway." She looked up at Mac and smiled sadly as she lifted her glass high. "Here's to Sofia's happiness," she toasted and then raised the mug to her lips. Tossing her head back, she downed the entire glass. Someone should be happy and it definitely should be Sofia.
Mac continued to watch Sara throughout the night, seeing the sadness and regret as she watched the happiness displayed by the women that surrounded them. At the end of the evening, as she waved goodbye to her friend, she reached for the local telephone book; Catherine Willows would know what to do.
Sara wasn't sure why she'd taken the day off; she'd always hated Thanksgiving and all the idealism that surrounded it. To her, the idea of a day to be thankful and count one's blessings was a load of hogwash; seemed to her that people who had reason to be thankful should be so every day, not just on the fourth Thursday in November. Plus, nowadays, the holiday got lost in the shuffle and was really just more of a day that marked the start of 'run to Christmas'. Christmas trees and decorations would go up and stores readied to do everything possible to draw in shoppers, starting with the shopping day of all shopping days. Sara often wondered why everyone didn't just call Thanksgiving the day before Black Friday. No one seemed to be thankful for anything anymore.
If only people would just stop and take the time to say 'I love you,' to their friends, family, and respective partners more often, she silently mused, then, maybe they'd have something in which to be truly thankful.
'Like you?' she muttered sarcastically to herself as she slowed her car and craned her neck to look around the rearview mirror for the dirt road that would lead her to the cabin she hadn't been to in years. It had sounded like a good idea when Catherine had suggested that Sara take the rest of the week off, invite Grissom to meet her at the quaint little cabin, and avoid Thanksgiving like crazy. It always amazed her how well Catherine knew her.
She'd already made the phone call and hung up when she'd realized that she'd never invited Grissom to her hideaway before and, more importantly, the reason why, but it was too late now. The deed had been done. She'd left the directions with Catherine; pretty sure Grissom would check in with one of them to get the directions once he landed stateside.
'Okay, where's the damn turnoff?' she huffed aloud, wondering what in the hell she'd been thinking. This was going to be a complete disaster. After exchanging pleasantries, she'd be stuck out in the middle of nowhere for four straight days with a man she no longer found interesting. Long distance and infrequent 'get-togethers' had been the only reasons they'd been able to stay married. Absence no longer made her heart grow fonder; it only made it grateful.
Easing onto the shoulder of the road and pulling the car to a complete stop, she searched a thick line of trees and overgrown brush that sheltered an old, rusty barbed-wire fence for any signs of a dirt road. A weathered piece of plywood, battered by years and years of rain and hot scorching suns, finally caught her focus, the black lettering on its white paint barely visible: No Trespassing!!! And that means you!
Sara chuckled aloud at the faded words, remembering the first time she'd seen the sign in its new, pristine condition. She'd actually considered turning around and heading home that day but figured she may as well chance the danger, especially as she'd already paid for a weekend stay upfront. The peace and quiet of the cabin and surrounding woods had made for one of the best weekends she'd ever had in her life. Not to mention 'Ah, there you are,' she said with a smile, her fond memories dissipating as quickly as they'd formed when she spotted a trail just wide enough to accommodate her mid-size SUV.
With a quick glance in her side-view mirror, she pulled back on the road and drove about a hundred yards before carefully turning onto a wide grassy path that soon turned into a narrow trail strewn with tree limbs and brush. Her tires had just lined up perfectly within the cramped space when the heavens opened up and rain began to pound down and seep through the dense foliage. Sara slowly eased forward, cringing every time a branch brushed against the side or top of her car, the high pitch squeal causing the hairs on her arms to stand up at attention. Halfway to her destination, she began to wonder if she'd have any paint left on the vehicle; thankfully, fifteen minutes later, she finally broke through the trees and breathed a sigh of relief as her headlights reflected off more than just rain. The cabin lay dead ahead but so did another car.
Darkness had begun to fall, but the rain slackened just as her SUV came to a stop beside the passenger side of an older model sports car. Sara turned slightly in her seat and studied the vehicle as if it were part of a crime scene. Had Mrs. Patrick double booked the cabin? She was getting on in age, but she'd been so excited when she'd heard Sara's voice and had told the younger woman that the previous renter had cancelled just that morning. Surely the elderly woman hadn't been mistaken.
Sara continued to frown at the unfamiliar car. Had Grissom flown in a day early to surprise her and why would he buy a used car? Or, perhaps, the other renter had decided to keep his reservation after all. Glancing at the cabin, she reached for her cell but changed her mind about calling Grissom at the last second. If he was inside the cabin, she'd unpack her things and stay, but if there'd been some kind of misunderstanding, she'd ask to use the facilities and then head back to Vegas. She felt a bit guilty hoping that the person who answered the door wouldn't be her husband. Even though she'd made her bed when she'd greeted Grissom with open arms in Costa Rica, she had no desire to lie in it with him tonight. It didn't matter that she didn't hold marriage in the same high esteem as others did, there was just something so very wrong about sharing a night of 'thanksgiving' with someone who didn't hold her heart.
Movement on the cabin's porch drew Sara's attention to the front door and she held her breath as she watched, from behind slowly moving wiper blades, as a thin strip of light grew wider and wider until the door was fully opened. She squinted at the silhouette of the person who'd moved to stand directly over the threshold and her trapped air exploded from her lungs, leaving her breathless, when she recognized the slim figure. It couldn't be
Blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, a white button-down shirt, rolled up at the sleeves and tucked into jeans that hugged narrow hips and firm, long legs, finally ending in bare feet; a bit thinner than Sara remembered, but damned if it wasn't her: Sofia Curtis, the only person Sara had ever invited to her hideaway, other than, just the other day, Grissom. She and Sofia had spent so many memorable hours together at the cabin and they all came rushing back to Sara at once. She sat frozen behind the steering wheel, staring at the person she loved more than anyone else, the woman she'd walked away from, the woman she'd believed would be better off without her.
Sofia didn't move, either. She just stared back and waited for Sara to make her decision. When Catherine had called to tell her to make her way to the cabin she'd jumped in her car immediately and yet, she'd still known that whatever happened had to be Sara's choice; it had always been Sara's choice. She just hoped that this time Sara would choose their love over insecurities and fears, would opt for happiness and even the unknown instead of settling for what she perceived as safe and secure, and that today, of all days, Sara wouldn't run away.
Taking slow, deep breaths, Sara kept her eyes on the doorway to the cabin. All she had to do was put her car in reverse and go back to the life she'd settled for: a life consumed mostly by work and, on very rare occasions, a good time or two. Her return to Vegas, however, had been filled with more of those types of fun moments and all of them without Grissom by her side. And now, Sofia was back in all her glory, her gorgeous, confident glory.
Time seemed to stand still with neither woman so much as blinking. They both recognized the moment for what it was: their final chance. Sara swallowed hard and slowly reached forward toward the gear shift, but her hand bypassed the rounded stick and she fingered her keys instead. Turning off the car, she slipped the keys from the ignition and gripped them tightly, her eyes never leaving those of Sofia. Another long minute passed before Sara made her final decision. Grabbing hold of the strap of her backpack, she tugged it over the console and opened the door. She stepped free of the car and out into the light rain, its coolness fully awakening her as she walked toward a smiling Sofia.
Today, she'd be thankful for love, and tomorrow? She'd just have to learn to be thankful for it then, too.
Catherine glanced into her spare room as she spoke into her phone. "No, there's no need for you to come. She's still sleeping soundly and will probably be out all night and most of tomorrow. I'll have her call you in a few days when she's feeling better." She smiled at the reply from the other end. "No, it's not a problem at all. You have a good night, Gil."
Looking at the empty double bed, Catherine flipped her phone closed and grinned widely. Grissom hadn't questioned her when she'd called him a couple of days ago to inform him that Sara had come down with the flu and that perhaps he should postpone his trip to the States until she was feeling better and was back on her feet again.
"I bet if Sofia has anything to say about it, Sara won't be back on her feet for weeks," Catherine said with a chuckle as she turned out the light and headed back downstairs to a glass of wine and a romantic movie with her partner in crime.
Smiling as two ice blue eyes met hers across the hallway, she grabbed Mac's hand to lead her to the couch. "Poor Grissom doesn't have a clue," Catherine whispered, "but it is Thanksgiving and someone has to be the turkey."
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