DISCLAIMER: CSI and Cold Case are the property of Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sequel to "Collateral Damage" and kind of closure to the 'Love me or Leave me' series, but don't worry, I don't plan to stop here.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
A tree and a book
"I can't believe you." Sara stared down at her supervisor, her hands placed on his desk. "I handed in the request two months ago. Two months. And now you're telling me I can't have off. You have to be kidding me."
Grissom seemed slightly surprised at her outburst, examining her over the rim of his reading glasses. "The others handed in their requests too."
His obliviousness only added to her already rising anger. "I worked every holiday since I came here, Easter, Thanks Giving and Christmas, every single one. It's the first time in six years that I asked for a few days off."
"Catherine has Lindsey and after last year Nick should be with his family over Christmas." Of course he had rational reasons to deny her request. He always had rational reasons for everything he did.
"What about Warrick?" She stepped back, crossing her arms over her chest.
"It's his first Christmas with his wife." He took his glasses off, placing them onto the desk. "They all have family." He lectured her like a little, stubborn child.
"Just because my mother killed my father doesn't mean I don't have family." With grim satisfaction Sara noticed how Grissom blinked, obvious uncomfortable that she had brought up the subject. She knew that look. It was the same he had been wearing after she had told him the first time about her dark history.
He recovered fast. "You have never told me about another family," he said softly.
"We never talk about our personal lives, Grissom." She saw a flicker of pain in his usually unreadable eyes and wondered who of them was more hurt about the revelation how far apart they both had grown or always had been.
She sighed, her arms falling to her sides. "I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important for me."
"I'm sorry, but I already approved the other requests and three CSIs are the minimum we need." Sara nodded, she had expected and dreaded the answer.
For Grissom their conversation was obviously finished as he placed his glasses back onto his nose and continued to do his paperwork, but for Sara it wasn't. There still was one question she needed the answer to. "I was the first to hand in my request, wasn't I?"
He looked up and met her eyes, but didn't answer her.
He didn't need to.
"Thought so," Sara mumbled before she left his office. She didn't bother to close his door; most of the time it was open anyway, fooling one into believing that Grissom cared about the people around him.
She took the long way through the lab even stopping at the restroom to splash some water into her face and calm down. Even without trying, Grissom was still able to hurt her and over and over again she let it happen. He still had this power over her even though she didn't love him anymore.
"This has to stop," Sara told the woman who stared back at her in the mirror.
It was the first time in years that Sara took off as soon as her shift was over, her only stop on her way home had been the grocery store to get a six pack of her favorite beer and two chocolate bars.
Sara opened her first bottle of beer and plopped down on her couch. With one gulp she emptied half of the bottle and leaned back to close her eyes.
She still didn't understand why he did this to her. What had she ever done to make him want to hurt her so much. She had worked her ass off, always being the first to be called in when needed and now after six years when she asked for something in exchange for the first time he ignored her.
Her gaze went to the plant on her window sill. It had been her 'reward' when she had asked for some attention, for the acknowledgment that she even existed and wasn't just some lab inventory.
'The lab needs you'
Not exactly what she had hoped for and still she had even grasped the small acknowledgment like a drowning person. She had stayed, had even nourished the plant till now.
She watched the plant intensely. It was time to let things go. With her beer still securely in one hand she walked over to the plant and took one last glance at it before she grabbed it and carried it over to her garbage can. "I'm sorry." It was a nice plant and sometimes she had even talked to it, but sometimes changes required drastic actions.
With a thud the plant landed in the garbage can and Sara took a new gulp from her beer, staring down at it.
It was time to finally make her long dreaded phone call. On her way back to the living room she took the now open six pack from her kitchen counter. She placed it in front of her on the coffee table and opened the second bottle, letting the beer flow down her throat as she sat down on the couch again. Her cell phone lay on the coffee table, a visible reminder of how she had failed once again. Even the second bottle was empty and the third one open before she found the courage to pick it up and call Lilly.
"Hey you," the blonde greeted her and Sara closed her eyes, letting the voice of her lover wash over her.
"What's wrong?" Over the time they both had learned to notice the slightest distress in the others voice, a skill Sara normally cherished, but tonight she cursed her girlfriend's ability to read her that well. "Tough case?"
Sara thought about prolonging the inevitable, letting Lilly console her for a while. She sighed, deciding against the childish thought. "Grissom."
"Oh." It wasn't the first time she complained about her boss, his unemotional detached way of handling interpersonal relationships. "He said no."
The disappointment in Lilly's voice once again fueled Sara's anger and the guilt. "I'm sorry. I tried everything, I really did."
"I know you did, it's not your fault. I'm sure your boss had good reasons."
"That's bullshit. He didn't even have one good reason to deny my request," Sara interrupted her and took another sip from her bottle. With a loud clank she placed the bottle on her coffee table and leaned forward resting her arms on her knees.
"Are you drinking?" She could hear the concern in Lilly's voice.
"I won't turn into a drunk just because of one beer." She snapped back, regretting her words immediately. She took a deep breath and rubbed her forehead. She was definitely developing a headache. "Shit, I'm sorry."
She listened to the silence on the other end of the line. "Lilly, please," she begged.
"I'm not mad at you. I'm just," Lilly stopped and Sara could hear a deep sigh.
"Disappointed and sad?" The brunette completed.
"Me too. Grissom said I couldn't have Christmas off because I don't have family. But he's wrong. I have family." Sara swallowed, realizing that it was true. With Grissom it had been an argument, in hope that he would relent, but now, here with Lilly on the line it was true, maybe for the first time in her life.
Lilly hadn't answered and when Sara feared that she might have violated some boundary she heard a muffled sound.
"Are you crying?" the brunette asked, her own voice hoarse.
"You're lying," Sara said softly, she smiled when she heard Lilly wipe her nose.
"Why has everything to be so complicated?"
"Because we don't do simple?" the CSI joked humorless.
"It definitely would be easier if we lived in the same city." They never had talked about it, both afraid about the consequences of this big step; if the other was even willing to take it.
"What would you say if we did?" Sara heard herself asking.
Sara knocked on the open door to Grissom's office before she entered. It has been a long time since she had felt that nervous about confronting him, but either he didn't notice or didn't want to comment on it.
Instead he seemed glad to see her, probably because he thought she might save him from handling his paper work. "I have good news for you. I can give you the second Christmas-day off, if you're still interested."
She was more than interested. "Of course I want it." It wouldn't be enough to get to Philadelphia, but Lilly had offered to come to her instead, her free days already cleared weeks ago. A free day meant a whole day to share with Lilly and celebrate. When she remembered why she had come to his office, she sobered up quickly, the sudden change this time not going unnoticed by her supervisor.
A frown showed on his face, when she closed his door and placed a paper on his already paper laden desk.
"What's that?" he asked unfolding the paper and looking skeptically at it.
Sara took a deep breath. "My request for a leave of absence."
He looked at her and laid the paper back onto the desk before he leaned back in his chair and took his glasses off. "Is it the FBI again?" He sounded accusatory, like she would betray the lab if she even thought about going somewhere else.
"No." Sara felt herself growing defensive, her arms involuntarily crossing in front of her chest.
"It's not because of Christmas, is it? I already told you, you can have off a day, but this? It's a little bit drastic." He folded the paper again and placed it on his desk close to where she stood.
Sara felt her anger surfacing, but then she sighed, remembering the first time they had had this conversation. "This isn't about Christmas."
"You remember why I came to Las Vegas?" she asked him as she sat down. "I came because of you." She saw that he wanted to interrupt her, but she continued. "You don't have to say anything. I realized a long time ago that nothing will ever happen, but this time I have a real chance and for this I have to go to Philadelphia." For the first time she had allowed these thoughts to flow freely from her lips and she had expected to feel relieved. Instead she only felt sad, realizing for the first time, how big the consequences of her decision would be.
They would change her whole life.
She waited for him to say something, but he just stared at her, digesting what he just had heard. "Gil please, I need this. I already worked it out with the lab in Philadelphia. One of their CSIs is pregnant; I could have her position in March."
"Their lab is only mediocre," he finally answered and she smiled softly. Even if the whole world was changing, at least Gilbert Grissom would always stay the same.
"For once in my life work isn't the most important thing, and who knows with me there they might improve," she joked, without feeling the easiness of her words.
"They definitely would," he answered seriously, his intense gaze boring into her and causing her to blush and avert her eyes.
She took a deep breath, hesitating to ask her next question. "So you're going to sign the paper?"
His expression was unreadable as he continued to stare at her without even blinking. She knew that expression, it was the same one he wore when he tried to solve a challenging puzzle.
Maybe that was what she had always been to him, a complex riddle for him to solve. "Give me a few days to think about it," he finally answered.
Sara nodded, knowing that it wouldn't help to force Grissom to decide here and now. She had to play by his rules and if he wanted more time he would take it, no matter if it meant more days in uncertainty for her.
She was already at the door when he called her back. "What if this doesn't work out?"
She shrugged, overplaying the fact that that was the question that was scaring her most. "Then you'll have me back in six months."
Carrying two mugs filled with hot dark coffee, Sara silently padded over to the bedroom where her lover was still sleeping. She smiled when she laid eyes on the blonde, her hair in sleep even more disheveled than normally when she was awake.
She crossed the room and knelt down in front of her girlfriend and brushed a strand of hair out of her face. "Wake up sweetie, coffee is ready." She waved the mug in front of her nose, grinning when Lilly scrunched her nose and inhaled deeply, finally waking up to the smell of fresh coffee.
"Hmmm coffee. I could get used to it." The blonde opened her eyes and smiled at the brunette.
"Maybe you will," Sara answered and leaned down to kiss her.
Lilly smacked her lips, her tongue darting out to wipe over her upper lip. "Coffee."
Sara laughed throatily. "Busted." She already had had her first cup in the kitchen.
Lilly propped herself up against the bed-head and took the offered coffee. She took a sip and sighed contently. "Where is the rest?" she asked with a grin.
"What rest?" The mug halfway to her lips, Sara stopped and looked confused at the blonde. Lilly took her coffee black and with sweetener, nothing else.
"The rest of my breakfast," Lilly pouted. "You have to feed me too."
"Oh, do I have to?" Sara placed her mug on the bed-side table and crawled onto the bed to straddle Lilly. "Well in this case, you better get up, because it's still in the small diner around the corner."
Taking another sip from her coffee, Lilly grinned at her lover. "I'm quite comfortable where I am right now, but if you're willing to get me something " she trailed off, batting her long eyelashes at the brunette.
"I'm quite comfortable too," Sara answered and leaned forward, taking Lilly's coffee to place it next to hers, before she returned her full attention to the blonde. She leaned even closer, their lips almost touching. "What do I get in exchange?"
"I'll think of something," Lilly gave back and before Sara could react she had flipped the squealing brunette over, pinning her to the bed.
She looked down at the giggling brunette and was about to kiss her when her stomach grumbled, causing Sara to giggle even louder.
With a sigh she fell down next to Sara, both of them looking up at the ceiling as they snuggled closer. "One of us needs to learn how to cook," Lilly decided and rubbed her stomach.
"Why do you think did I get you a cookbook?"
"So I can choose what you'll be cooking for me when we live together?"
"I don't like the cooking, but I like the sound of the 'living together'," Sara rolled the words from her lips.
Lilly's eyes were fixed on Sara's lips her irises dilated as she watched Sara lick her lips slowly just for the effect. Her gaze traveled lower. "You're wearing way too much clothes," she commented as her fingers brushed over Sara's jeans clad tights.
Sara's teeth bit down onto her lower lip and she exhaled deeply. "I was out." She pressed out and closed her eyes.
Lilly lowered herself onto the brunette, her face nestling into the crook of Sara's neck. "Where have you been?" Her words vibrated against the delicate place behind Sara's ear, her breath making Sara shudder.
"I bought you breakfast."
Lilly smiled. "You little .." she nibbled Sara's earlobe and smirked when the brunette moaned. "Not hungry anymore." Her tongue darted out, licking her neck. "At least not for breakfast."
A noise made Lilly stop. She tried to lift her head, but Sara's hands kept her in place. "I'm not expecting anyone."
They heard the knock again, this time followed by a second and third one, louder and more urgent, causing Lilly to let go of Sara, taking up her earlier position. "Whoever it is, they won't go away."
"You're probably right." Sara got up, frustrated about the interruption.
She was already at the door when Lilly called her back. "Sara" She waited till Sara's head reemerged at the door. "Could I have my breakfast?"
She chuckled when the brunette rolled her eyes, but was rewarded shortly after when a brown paper bag was thrown at her.
A new round of knocks was heard. "I'm on my way." Sara called through her apartment, cursing the intruder under her breath. This had to be good or they would regret disrupting her.
When a very pissed Sara opened the door, she found her supervisor on the other side of the door. "Grissom?" she asked surprised.
"Your cell phone is off."
The brunette frowned, unable to think of a logical reason why he should show up on her day off at her apartment. "You're not here to call me in, are you?"
Sara waited for more, for an explanation, but Grissom just looked at her, like he expected her to understand without words.
"You want to come in?" she finally asked, noticing the relief that shortly flickered over his face as she stepped aside to let him in.
The relief was replaced by something else when he entered her apartment and noticed the Christmas decoration. "You're celebrating Christmas?"
"It's the first time in years." She looked over at the Christmas tree they had somehow crammed into one corner of her small living room. It was only small and yet somehow Lilly had managed to cover it in decoration for a tree threefold his size.
Sara loved it and she couldn't hide the smile that was forming on her face as she remembered the act of decorating.
He didn't share her smile and it sobered her up quickly, her own smile faltering.
"Why are you here Grissom?" she asked her voice barely about a whisper, not sure if she really wanted to know the answer.
"I thought you might want this." Grissom held up a letter and Sara had to pull herself together to not rip it out of his hand. "I added a recommendation."
She nodded, only listening half to his words as she scanned over the lines, needing to assure herself that he really approved her leave. "Thank you." A feeling of freedom overwhelmed her and she suddenly felt tears starting to dwell in her eyes.
She looked away and swallowed.
"I have a present for you." He said and she looked back at him as he nestled with a brown paper bag he had brought with him. "I didn't have .. the material to wrap it up properly."
"Is this a Christmas or a Goodbye present?"
Grissom still held onto the present when she reached out for it. "You always had my attention," he didn't answer her question, his confession only confusing her more.
The smile vanished from Sara's face. "Grissom, your timing really sucks." She couldn't believe that he had to try now, now that she was finally moving on.
His gaze wandered through her living room, the signs of two people celebrating still visible. "I'm too late." He sounded hurt and disappointed and he succeeded in making her feeling guilty, even after everything.
"Yes, you are." She snapped back, regretting her harsh words immediately. She brushed through her dark curls, taking the time to collect herself again. "I'm sorry."
He shook his head. "Don't be, it is my own fault."
She had never seen him that helpless and lost and for a second there was the irrational thought about giving him what he needed and knowing at the same time that she never could. The thought was born out of friendship not the burning love she once had felt for him and now belonged to someone else. She couldn't give him what he wanted, not any more. "You're too late," she reminded him. She remembered when she had told him that he might be too late some day. Back then she had been convinced that if the day ever would come, she would feel good, for once the one in control of their twisted relationship. She didn't feel any triumph right now, but felt dull, sad that her happiness was built on another one's sadness.
She still loved him, just not the way she did a year ago.
Before he could retreat or react in any other dismissive way, Sara pulled him into a hug. First he returned the endearment, but then he tensed up and finally pulled back. "We're I'm going to miss you."
"Me too." Sara smiled sadly, not hurt by his retreating, knowing that it was just the way he was.
They would see each other for the next two months, her leave of absence only beginning in March and still it felt like a farewell, not only to her job, but to the man who had controlled her life, professionally and personally. She watched him leave her apartment and for a moment she felt a sudden pang that vanished as fast as it had come.
She still held the brown paperback in her hand, its form giving away that Grissom had gotten her a book. An entomology book of course, she realized when she pulled it from the bag.
She sat down on the couch and tucked her legs under her, making herself comfortable. She opened the book, but stopped when she spotted Grissom's writing at the first page.
Sara sighed, closing the book again.
Why was he doing this to her now?
She gazed at the small tree, its lightening illuminating the small room, bathing the room in soft light. For the first time her Las Vegas apartment felt like home.
A home she hadn't been able to build while living here for six years.
She took the book and placed it into a free spot in her bookshelf between her other work related books. She wouldn't allow Grissom to destroy what she had fought for so hard.
When she returned to the bedroom she found Lilly lying on her side, facing the wall to the living-room. The walls in her apartment were thin; thin enough to understand every word that was spoken at the other side of the wall.
She slipped into the bed behind Lilly, spooning her.
"So this was the famous Grissom," Lilly said emotionless, but tension was radiating from her body, causing Sara to pull her even closer.
When Sara reached for her hand the blonde moved slightly, bringing it out of reach. "What did he want?"
Sara hesitated. How could she explain her complicated relationship with Grissom without provoking Lilly even more? "I'm not sure." She finally decided on the truth. "Honestly, I think not even he knows exactly why he came by."
"He loves you." It was an accusation, but Sara didn't want to react to it.
"He only does when it's safe for him." Sara couldn't help, but feel bitter; bitter because if she had learned one thing in life, it was that love never was without risk.
"Is it safe for him?" Lilly sat up, staring down on Sara.
Sara frowned, not sure how to understand Lilly's last comment. She wanted to ask, but Lilly already continued venting. "He sees you every day at work and still he has to come over on your only day off? Did you never wonder why he didn't want you to have Christmas off?"
Sara sat up, too, her anger rising with every pitch Lilly's voice went up. "No I don't, but it looks like you know all the better."
"Because he wants you, he can't bear the thought that you might be with someone else."
Sara pinched the bridge of her nose and took a deep breath, trying to stay calm. At least one of them should stay reasonable. "That's ridicules. He came here to tell me he cleared my leave."
"You went to Harvard, how stupid can you be?"
Deathly silence filled the room after Lilly's outburst. Sara just starred at her darkly, her jaw tightened with tension. "Maybe I should call him and ask him to take me back." With cold satisfaction she noticed Lilly flinch slightly at the intentional double meaning of her words.
"If this is what you want I won't hold you back." Lilly snapped back.
"Since when do my feelings count in this relationship?"
"Well isn't that how your relationships always tend to be?" The second the words had left her mouth Lilly knew she had gone too far. She reached out across the bed, trying to grab Sara's arm, but the brunette was faster, already up from the bed and halfway through the room.
"Sara!" She heard Lilly call out, the pleading tone not lost to her, but she was too angry to discuss with the blonde what had happened a moment before. She snatched her purse from the kitchen counter and grabbed her jacket before she slipped into her shoes, the procedure trained in years only taking her a short moment. She was already closing the door when she heard Lilly entering the living room.
She ran down the staircase not bothering to stop to tie her shoe laces and only stopped when she reached the end of her block where her favorite diner was.
Where should she go?
Sara didn't know how long she was already staring at her coffee. Every now and then she would add another pack of sugar to the dark liquid without ever drinking from it. Stirring the liquid gave her something to do while she pondered about her fight with Lilly. It had been her first big fight since they had entered the relationship and she didn't know how to react to Lilly's accusations.
Sara didn't need to look up to know that Lilly had finally found her, wondering what had taken her so long. It was only a short walk from her apartment to the diner. She acted as if Lilly wasn't there and continued to occupy herself with her coffee.
"Did you call him?" The fear she heard in Lilly's voice caused Sara to finally stop her action and directed her gaze at the other woman.
She shook her head. "I forgot my cell phone." She explained before she took a new pack of sugar, opened it and poured the content into her coffee, starting once again to stir her coffee with high speed.
"You want to call him?"
Sara listened closely, expecting yet another accusation, but couldn't detect one. She drank from her coffee, grimacing as soon as the first sip hit her tongue. It was cold and much too sweet. "I need a reason not to call him."
"So you want to be with him."
Sara sighed, all the misunderstandings tiring her out. "This isn't about him and me. There hasn't been a him and me in a very long time, but I'm not sure if I should leave Las Vegas when there's nothing waiting for me in Philadelphia." Her eyes connected with Lilly's, boring deep into her, searching there for the answer, the blonde wouldn't give her with her words.
"Oliver's waiting for you." The mention of the cat made Sara smile; they had grown close even if every now and then he still liked to claw her. She turned serious again. "He isn't enough."
"Would I be enough?" Lilly asked timidly as she finally sat down across from Sara.
"I'm risking a lot." Sara remembered another discussion they had had in this diner. The first time Lilly hurt her. She had promised her that she wouldn't change her mind about a relationship and that she wanted to evolve. It seemed like they hadn't come far since then.
"I know, that's what I'm scared off," Lilly confessed. "I'm scared that you'll realize that this isn't what you want, that you find out that I'm not worth leaving your job and your friends behind." She seemed so lost that Sara had the urge to reach out for her, but she stopped herself.
"I've never been able to hold onto them," the blonde added.
"You do everything to push them away." It wasn't meant as an accusation, but an impartial observation.
"You didn't come very far." There was a faint smile around the corners of Lilly's mouth.
Sara shrugged, mimicking Lilly's smile. "I've always been a masochist. It runs in the family." It was a dark joke, one she could only share with Lilly.
"In mine too." The blonde gave back dryly, without flinching. She rested her elbow on the table and brushed through her tousled hair. "My family has many bad traits, like hurting and pushing away the people we love."
Sara's head snapped up, her eyes slightly widened as she processed Lilly's words. It was the first time one of them had used the l-word. "I did some research when we started to talk about moving in together."
The brunette raised a surprised eyebrow, Lilly had never told her about any research. "You're leaving the second best lab to go to a lab that doesn't even make the list." Sara opened her mouth, but Lilly raised a hand stopping her from interfering. She wasn't done yet. "I'm wondering what a Harvard educated, science loving person could see in me. I remember the glow on your face at the conference. How much this means for you, the intellectual challenge. And then I look at me. I'm good at my job, but I can't give you that. So I'm waiting, waiting for you to realize that I'm not enough, that you need more than me."
A very drunken Santa with an equally intoxicated Mrs. Santa bumped into their table as they walked by, spilling cold coffee over Sara's hand which still held onto it.
"Merry Christmas." He slurred and she giggled as his hand tightened around her waist only to wander further down.
They watched them till they had safely made it to an empty booth. Only then Sara noticed the coffee on her hand, but before she could wipe it away Lilly's hand had grabbed hers, her other wiping the liquid off with a napkin. She pulled her hands back when the task was finished, but Sara held onto one. "Stop pulling away."
"I try. I really do." Lilly blushed, twirling a strand of hair nervously around her finger.
"You have to try harder." Sara demanded. "This is your last chance." She let go of Lilly's hand, resting both of her arms on the table to lean forward. "I'm only telling you this once. I love my work and I'm definitely a geek, a nerd, whatever you want to call it but that's it. It's work, not my life. I once allowed it to be more and" The brunette stopped, searching for the right words. "It wasn't good for me."
"You think I can be good for you?"
"If you stop acting like a jealous, insecure child, yes." Her words might have been harsh, but the tone Sara used was soft and Lilly had to confess that the brunette was right.
"I tr " She started, but corrected herself. "I will do better."
"Good." Sara leaned back in her seat, looking more relaxed than before. "You're still hungry?"
"Not really," Lilly answered. "I want to go home." She smiled sheepishly and bit her lower lip.
"Then let's go home."
Lilly stood up, offering Sara her hand to pull her up and Sara accepted it. She expected the blonde to let go afterwards, but was surprised to find Lilly tightening her grip and Sara squeezed back, not wanting to let go either.
They went home, for the first time walking the streets down hand in hand, not only out of endearment, but out of fear that if they would let go, the other one would just vanish.
When they reached the apartment they had barely time to close and lock the door before they savaged each other, tearing at clothes in the need to feel the skin of the other one on theirs.
They didn't make it to the bed, but stayed in the living room, making love desperately under the lights of a small, but opulent decorated Christmas tree.
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