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Casa Caliente : Christmas Revelations

Chapter One

Grissom straightened his tie, feeling slightly self-conscious as he did so. Next to him, Greg fidgeted, equally ill at ease in a surprisingly conservative suit of steel grey with a black shirt. He shot Grissom a look of concern, his normally cheerful expression strained.

“I appreciate this,” he tried to speak, but the other man shook his head, a small reassuring smile on his face. He folded his arms over his chest as the two of them sat on the hard bench outside the courtroom, alone in the hall.

“It’s all right Greg, I’m glad to do it. If the judge’s caseload isn’t backed up too much we’ll both be able to make our shift on time as well.”

“Yeah. My mom should be her soon with his Royal Highness in tow,” Greg muttered, looking down at his long hands, which where twisting around each other. Neither he nor Grissom said anything for a moment, and both of them looked up when voices and footsteps from down the hall grew louder.

“I’m going to KEEP him, mom! If that judge thinks he can tell ME what to do he’s as fucked up as Greg is.”

“Sondra honey, for God’s sake keep your voice down,” urged a more patrician tone and coming around the corner and into view came the two speakers. Grissom noted Greg going pale under the collar of his suit as he beheld the two blondes heading their way.

One was a tall elegant woman in a smart suit of soft green, her hair and make-up artfully done to make her appear younger than she probably was. Her face however, bore evidence of strain and anger though she did her best to hide both as she saw them. The other woman was a willowy creature in a blue designer dress. Her big brown eyes narrowed into sneering expression focused exclusively on Greg.

“So where’s Wyatt, Greggie? Think you can get away with hiding him from me again? Well think twice buster, because after tonight you’re never getting him back!” she taunted, ignoring her mother’s tightening grip on her forearm.

“Hello, Sondra,” Greg managed in a coolly neutral voice that made Grissom proud. He turned his gaze on the other woman, “Patricia.”

“Greg,” the older woman acknowledged through thinning lips. Fascinated, Grissom watched the tensions shift and seethe among them as the four parties awkwardly stood in the courthouse hallway for a long moment.

“I asked a question, Greg. Where the hell is Wyatt?” Sondra hissed. Greg checked his watch in a smooth, unconcerned manner while Sondra finally turned her look on Grissom.

“And who the fuck is this, your lawyer?”

Before Grissom could answer, a breathless voice called to them from the other direction, and a stroller rounded the far corner of the hall.

“Oh Greg honey I’m sorry I’m late, but it was just terrible trying to find a parking space out there. Some Lexus was straddling the last two spots and I had to go up the street to one of the pay lots instead.”

A short slightly breathless woman in a sweater set and sensible shoes pushed the stroller up to them, a diaper bag on her shoulder. Riding in style, Wyatt looked up with his round-eyed baby gaze to take them all in; when he saw Greg he smiled and bounced excitedly.

“Missy,” Sondra’s mother muttered curtly.

Greg’s mother managed a tight smile back. “Patricia.”

Grissom noticed she didn’t greet, or even acknowledge Sondra, and her grip on the stroller was so tight her knuckles were white. Greg deftly unstrapped his son and hefted him up, smiling softly at the child, who immediately started yanking on his tie and burbling.

“Give him to me,” Sondra insisted rudely.

Greg shot her a cool look and shook his head. “He’s still officially mine for the next forty minutes, and with any luck, after this, the rest of his life.”

Sondra’s cheeks grew red and her hands balled into fists; Grissom noted the cords on her neck standing out in her fury. “I gave birth to him, he’s MINE.”

The sound of the heavy courtroom door opening ended the argument; a stern-looking clerk leaned out. “Matthews/ Sanders custody? Come on in, please.”

 

*** *** ***

 

It was still half an hour until the shift started, but the break room was crowded.

“I’m telling you, he’s completely adorable!” Catherine cooed, rubbing noses with the Wyatt, who was fascinated by her strawberry blonde hair.

Greg beamed. “That he is, as long as he’s not wet, stinky, or into something. We’ve learned a LOT about babyproofing at Chez Sanders and now that the Wyattman is going to be living there full time, I suspect we need to hit Babies R Us again.”

“Oh can I go too?” Catherine asked wistfully as Nick took Wyatt from her and held him up high overhead. Wyatt burbled happily, kicking his new sporty baby striders.

“Man, he’s one solid kid, Greg—what’s your mom feeding him, bricks?” Nick grinned.

“We do serious Gerbers and Tender Harvest at our house, not to mention the occasional teething biscuit and slow bug off the floor." Greg replied.

Grissom managed a smile at that. “Most insects are a wonderful source of protein. And teaching him to hunt his own is a useful skill.”

As he said this, he looked over the group to catch Sara’s eye and she grinned, knowing his comment held a personal joke in it.

“Just as long as he doesn’t bring you back the kill,” she added to Greg, who smiled.

“No fear of that. With Wyatt, what goes in the hand goes in the mouth almost immediately. Hey, Nick, I wouldn’t hold him over your head like—Ohhh man, let me get you some wipes---"

Sara shifted to stand next to Grissom, and in a glance between them they both remembered Figaro’s latest adventure.

The kitten had taken to Casa Caliente with ease, racing and pouncing through the rooms as his natural territory. Sara managed to secure a litterbox and a few bowls for him, and Grissom brought home a small red collar that Figaro detested completely. The first time out in the back yard, he successfully stalked and captured in rapid succession a cricket, a snail and a horned tomato worm, dragging them back to Grissom’s loafers with understandable pride.

“We have a vicious killer living with us,” Sara muttered, disengaging a bedraggled moth from tiny claws.

Grissom sighed. “Nature of the beast. The ecosystem in the back yard will just have to cope.”

The stalkings were minor compared to the climbing, however, and for the past three mornings in a row Sara and Grissom had returned from work to find Figaro meowing piteously, stranded up on the fireplace mantle, too scared to climb down from his lofty perch.

Shaking away thoughts of home, Grissom cleared his throat; Greg motioned for his mom to take Wyatt. Everyone else said their goodbyes to the baby, and then turned their attention to the slips in Grissom’s hand. He waited until Greg’s mother was out of earshot and spoke up.

“Warrick, we’ve got a DB in Santa suit over at a carwash on Westhaven. Take Greg with you. The rest of us are going to the Convention Center for what seems to be a pair of robberies at the Las Vegas Toy Emposium.”

“Tis the season,” Catherine sighed.

*** *** ***

The Convention Hall was crowded and noisy; Christmas music blared from every direction as Grissom, Catherine, Sara and Nick looked in on the main floor. Row upon row of display booths lined the room, all exhibiting various brightly colored enticing knickknacks. Sara oooohed, Nick whistled.

“Man oh man, it’s like Santa’s workshop come to life!” he chortled, shifting his kit from one hand to the other, his gaze moving over the room with delight.

“Lindsey would go nuts in here,” Catherine agreed with a smile, although her glance at Nick clearly included him in that assessment.

Grissom shot both of them mild looks and then pointed with his chin to the manager’s booth on the far side of the hall. “Well before we get too carried away, let’s go see Mr. Edwin Cutler and figure out what our crime scene is.”

In the office, Brass was waiting; he looked up at them, his gaze lingering on Sara and Grissom a moment. “Hey guys, I see you made it through Toyland out there. This is Mr. Cutler, the CEO of Belec toys. He called in the initial report about some prototype being stolen from his company’s display.”

“A prototype of--?” Grissom prompted.

Cutler, a thin grey-haired man with a gaunt face frowned sadly. “A Lion’s Pride. Lovely zoo set, very well put together, we were sure girls everywhere would adore it. We had it on site to test market it today, but last night someone broke into our safe and stole it. Come--"

So saying, he led the group into the next room through a door that was already ajar, and switched on a light; one concrete wall held various locker-sized vaults, ten across, three rows. Two of them stood open: one on the top row, second one in, and one in the second row near the middle. Cutler sighed.

“The one on top was ours. The other vault was rented to G/S Industries, but their president, May Ketso isn’t here right now.”

Brass broke in gently. “She’s at the hospital, in shock. Apparently one of her company’s prototypes, a board game called Perfect Match, is missing as well.”

Grissom scanned the scene intently; Nick was already donning gloves and Catherine had her kit open. Sara looked up to see Brass watching her.

“What?”

“Your badge is on upside down,” he replied mildly.

Sara looked down and realized he was right; in annoyance she took it off and refastened it.
Cutler spoke up. “I hope you understand the seriousness of these thefts—millions of dollars are at stake here, and even if we do well with this Christmas’s profits, the loss for next year could be disastrous.”

Grissom frowned, his concentration on the two vaults. He shot a look over his shoulder at Brass and Cutler. “We’re going to have to seal off this room.”

Cutler winced. “Mr. Grissom, that’s going to be a problem. Most of the major manufacturers are storing their sensitive materials here: Hasbro, Mattel, Fisher-Price, not to mention several others. They’re not going to be happy either with the break in, or the inability to access their property.”

“A crime scene isn’t child’s play,” Grissom replied faintly, earning winces from both Catherine and Brass. Sara had a jar of Red Creeper open while Nick was carefully scanning the floor with his flashlight.

Brass sighed. “Come on, Mr. Cutler, let’s go explain the situation to your fellow attendees and let these folks get on with their job here.”

After they left, Sara looked over at Grissom. “So—industrial spying?” she asked softly.

He gave a slow shrug, not quite an agreement. “We have yet to determine if these two vaults were the only ones targeted, or if anything else was missing. We also don’t know if this was all the perpetrators wanted to take, or if they were interrupted in the act.”

“So what is it we DO know?” she asked, following the logical pattern of observation. Catherine, who had been carefully looking into each open safe with a strong penlight, smiled at the familiar phrasing.

“Well, there are folders left in each vault, and what looks like a moneybag here in the lower one,” she observed.

“The floor’s high traffic cement—not great for shoeprints,” Nick grumbled.

“But, the surface of the vaults is a nice ceramic glazed metal, which is good for fingerprints,” Grissom added. Sara moved to look at the vault room door, squatting down and eyeing it up close.

“Electronic card swipe lock. It should be wired to a security system within the Convention Center.”

“Inside job?” Nick asked curiously. Shrugging, Sara photographed it. Grissom crossed his arms and stared at the wall of vaults, thinking.

*** *** ***

Brass smoothly moved, matching Grissom’s stride as the team slowly began to straggle out of the vault room an hour later. He listened patiently, waiting until Grissom had finished with his final instructions to the other three, then managed to catch his eye.

“Jim?”

“I need to talk to you,” came the soft request.

Grissom nodded, motioning for the others to go on ahead as Brass steered him out of the main floor of the Toy Exposition and into an alcove with a few vending machines in it.

“What’s up?”

“Nothing I want to discuss here, but it’s kind of important,” Brass told him gently. He shot a quick glance at his watch, adding, “It’s nearly time for dinner break.”

“Sure,” Grissom agreed, shooting Brass faintly curious looks. The other man managed a soft smile in return, a look both reassuring and intriguing.

“Triple decker pastrami sandwiches at Bingolori’s okay with you?”

Grissom grinned.

Within half an hour they were at a far corner booth of a small deli just around the corner from the convention center. Only a few other patrons were around, leaving Grissom and Brass in a fair degree of privacy, considering it was nearly ten o’clock downtown Las Vegas. Grissom carefully fished the thick toothpick out of his sandwich and laid it on his plate, sighing happily.

“This place has great pickles. I electrocuted one once."

Brass’s eyebrows went up at this remark, but only slightly. He pulled his own toothpick out with slow care, like Arthur slipping the sword from the stone, then dropped it on the plate.

“Gil, I have a question to ask you, and it’s personal,” he began softly. Grissom looked up warily, a mouthful of sandwich in his face.

Brass continued. “When did you . . . move?”

Grissom swallowed. “Move?”

“Yeah,” Brass sighed heavily. He gently toyed with the stuffed olive on his plate, his attention on that rather than Grissom’s face. “See the thing is, I stopped a DUI as I was coming off shift a few days ago. Not a big deal, one of those ‘see him, nab him’ things. I was over on the west side of town, on a little street beyond the Fifteen coming back from a stabbing in Red Hills. Anyway, I call it in, and while I’m waiting for the black and white to take the guy off my hands, I look around the neighborhood. Quiet place, pretty rural.”

Grissom said nothing, merely waited for Brass to continue. The other man gave a little smile, finally looking up. “Not a bad place. And as I look a little further down the street, I see a Denali in a gravel driveway. Lots of people have them nowadays, but not with the license plate 3J4988D.”

Brass picked up half of his sandwich and studied it carefully, then looked over the top of it, continuing. “It’s a cop thing, you know? You memorize phone numbers and badge numbers and license plates. Get to know them until like someone’s voice, or handwriting you can spot them anywhere.”

“Anywhere,” Grissom echoed, speaking up for the first time, his tone absent.

Brass nodded gently. “So I see the Denali and wonder if something got called in that I missed. I run a check—no late calls. I run a request on the address, and damned if it doesn’t come back at the property of one Gilbert G. Grissom.”

“Of which there is only one in Clark County Nevada,” Grissom smiled and took another bite of his sandwich.

Brass nodded, some of the tension leaving his expression. “And for that we’re all grateful, trust me. Anyway, I’m about to get out of the car and go knock on your door, give you grief about moving out of the townhouse without some sort of a housewarming party when I spot another car pulling up into the driveway. Driver gets out, checks the mail, carries in dry cleaning and groceries then unlocks the door and goes inside. So now I’m looking at two cars with two familiar plate numbers, and I sure as hell recognize the figure of the driver, even from across the street.”

Grissom sighed, but his eyes were bright. He cocked his head and looked at Jim Brass for a long moment. “I moved in October. Not completely, but bit by bit. One stick, one piece of string, one feather at a time.”

Brass gave a slight shake of his head, but his smile was twisted at this confirmation. “Jesus, Gil . . . out of the entire Las Vegas police department, you’re the last guy I’d ever picture tossing caution to the wind and succumbing to admittedly sweet charms of a colleague. You and I are supposed to be older and wiser than that, pal. I mean it’s one thing to date somebody in the business, but not right out of your office. Have the two of you thought this through? If this relationship goes south, do you have any idea what the ramifications are going to be?”

A tense pause filled the moment as the two men looked at each other over their plates. Grissom squared his shoulders and kept his expression neutral. “Work is work; our private lives aren’t a factor in the equation,” Grissom stated flatly. “We’ve talked about it, argued about it, but in the end Sara and I are more than capable of handling the situation.”

Brass didn’t look convinced; he picked up a half of his sandwich. “You say that now, but what about the next time a promotion opening comes up? You know how ugly that competition can get,” Brass muttered.

Grissom pursed his mouth for a moment, then reached for his iced tea, drinking a large gulp of it. “Jim, Sara and I have both changed. If she wants a promotion, she’ll earn it on her own well-deserved merit, and not because of any letter I write or recommendation I make. She’s . . .” he took a deep breath, “. . . my partner. I’m through with evaluating or ranking or judging her on ANY level. And she knows that.”

Brass leaned back and stared at the man seated across from him, a soft smile crossing his weary face. Whatever he saw there in the stern blue eyes and stubborn expression seemed to finally click, and he sighed. “Love her that much, huh?” he asked softly. Wistfully.

Grissom managed a shy, almost boyish smile in return as he picked up the dill pickle. His voice held a hint of urgent wonder, making his Midwest accent thicker for a moment. “More. And I’m still kicking myself over all the time I wasted coming to grips with that.”

Brass chuckled a bit; enough to make Grissom look over at him with a perplexed expression. “Sorry Gil—it’s just that those of us in the loop thought you two would never make a move. We’ve been watching and waiting, laying a few bets here and there . . .” Brass waved a hand back and forth.

Grissom’s confusion turned to annoyed alarm, but Brass turned the palm up and caught his friend’s eye once more. “Come on, lighten up. You can’t think that people as sharp as Rick and Catherine and Nick wouldn’t have picked up on the attraction between you two. Hell, I only see the two of you at crime scenes or interrogations and even I know that frisson is there. So don’t think your new living arrangements are going to shock anyone around these parts, okay?”

Grissom frowned. “I need you to keep it all under your hat, Jim. Neither Sara nor I are quite ready to send out change of address cards.”

“Why not?” Brass asked softly.

Grissom took a bite of pickle, puckering at the tart taste before replying. “Because I’m a cautious man. Because Sara deserves to be in on any decision about sharing the news. And, because I’m asking you as a friend, Jim. When Carvello hears about this, it’s going to be directly from me, and not through some interoffice grapevine. The time will come, but not now.”

Brass gave a little nod. He finished his tea and swirled the glass, making the melting cubes jingle a little bit. “You and Sara . . . all I can say is it’s about time, Gil. Congratulations.”

Grissom’s eyes went bleak for a moment, then a cautious smile crossed his face. “I know. Thanks.”

*** *** ***

Down on the main floor of the Emposium, Sara wandered to the next booth and was startled as a soft, fluffy rope of feathers dropped around her neck.

“Welcome to Dressy Dress Up! Would you like to see our catalog of princess, fairy and good witch costumes?” the perky girl behind the counter demanded. Sara grinned, stroking the soft boa, admiring the soft pink feathers and silvery spangles.

Next to her, Catherine received a boa of her own and laughed. “God, I haven’t worn one of these since my Palace days.”

Sara briefly eyed the spangled wands and tiaras on the display table, smiling at the thought of Sophie parading around on one of them.

“Do you ship?” she asked impulsively, earning a surprised glance from Catherine, who was toying with a faux diamond choker.

“Certainly ma’am. We can gift-wrap for the holidays too. Do you have something in mind?”

Glancing at her partner, Sara muttered, “Five year old niece,” before pointing to a tiara and wand set. Catherine smiled approvingly and picked up one of the star topped wands, waving it. It made a musical chime, startling both women for a moment.

“Oh this is darling! Another stocking stuffer for Lindsey, before she gets too old to play with one,” Catherine muttered, pulling out her wallet. Sara finished giving the salesclerk the credit card and mailing information. For a moment both women sighed. Catherine picked up a rhinestone tiara and carefully set it in Sara’s dark hair, cocking her head at the effect it made. Sara’s waiting expression demanded a verbal opinion.

“Very Snow White with the dark hair and eyes,” Catherine told her with a smile.

Sara sighed. “Yeah, well dress-up was never my thing, unless it was pirates. When you grow up around a beach you play a lot of pirates.” Reluctantly Sara pulled the tiara out and set it down amid the others again.

“Oh yeah, I was into cowboys in Montana, but there was one girl at school who ran a tea party ring during recess. Taught me that pinkie thing for drinking,” Catherine demonstrated, extending her pinkie with exaggeration.

Sara laughed. “A tea party ring? What did you do, smuggle doilies? Fold napkins into gang signs?”

Catherine broke up, and they wandered to the next booth. Here, huge knotted coils of colored lights in complex patterns dangled from a display board. Sara leaned closer, fascinated.

A geeky young salesman with a goatee shot her a quick glance. “Siddahartha’s Snake. It’s a brainteaser for the older gifted child. You pick the pattern you want to follow and unravel it, but it has a time limit.”

Sara picked one of the coiled balls up and studied it as Catherine shot it one look and rolled her eyes. “No thanks— too Rubik’s for me. I’d probably end up booting it down the hall in a fit of pique.”

Sara picked a strand and carefully began to unweave it, her fingers flying as she worked. Just before she managed to free the string of lights she’d picked, the coil went black.

The salesman whistled softly. “Wow, you were only about four seconds off—the best so far for a first time, Miss.”

Sara grinned and reluctantly handed the toy back to the man. Catherine shot a sideways look. “Should I tell Grissom to get you one for Christmas?”

Sara tried to look innocent. “Think he’d go for it? He got me a book last year.”

She didn’t mention that the entomology text had been a first edition from a private printing, nor that it had been autographed by the authors and inscribed by Grissom himself. Nothing overtly sentimental, but Sara remembered being awed by the thoughtfulness of the gift. She’d made it a point to read the book cover to cover.

Catherine sighed noisily, making the feathers of her boa flutter around her throat. “Honestly Sara, we’ve got to work on your seduction skills. You want Gil, he wants you, but the two of you shuffle around in this lab partner geek dance that’s driving me nuts. I’m going to make it my mission this Christmas to shove you two under the mistletoe if it kills me.”

“Catherine!” Sara smirked, going a little pink. They wandered on past a few doll booths and over to a magnificent track display, where Nick was standing, his eyes glazed over with the gleam of toy greed common in little boys.

He was staring at a small figure on the top. “Evel Knievel. Man, I always wanted to BE that guy,” he muttered softly.

Catherine bumped her shoulder against his. “Forget it, Stokes—you’d have to get up pretty early in the morning to do that. And anyway, we need you on your hands and knees here, processing scenes with us.”

He gave a good-natured grin back and checked his watch. “Lunch is over I guess. Think Grissom’s back at the lab yet?”

At that moment, all three of their pages went off; Catherine fished hers out first and nodded. “Oh yeah, looks like Christmas shopping is over. Back to work, guys."

 

As they left, Nick shot one last loving look at the figure on the motorcycle.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

“Our dead Santa was a part timer hired by that big mall out on the west side. Name was Pete Milligan. He drowned.”

“He drowned?” Grissom asked curiously.

Warrick nodded, grimly amused. “Yeah. Seems like Pete had allergies and had just switched prescriptions right before his gig. He doubled up on them about halfway through his shift, and left the mall around midnight. So Santa Pete’s antihistamines kick in overtime, making him seriously bad news behind the wheel. He drove his Dodge Dart into the car wash, not cluing in that his window was open. He tried to roll it up, but the jets of water got him right in the face. He struggled, but two bad things happened in quick succession—he accidentally locked the brakes on the car, and the buttons of his suit got caught in the window crank. The whole time his reflexes are about two thirds depressed by this medication. Long story short, Santa drowned via high pressure water spray forced in his face for the full fifteen minute cycle,” Warrick finished.

He handed the report over to Grissom, who scanned it quickly and shook his head. “Good job. I guess the moral of the story is if you sneeze more you live longer.”

“That or let the elves wash the car," Warrick snorted but mildly. He paused at the doorway and looked back at Grissom, his expression shifting a little. “Greg did good. He spotted the torn buttons from the suit before I did.”

Grissom recognized the compliment and gave a slow thoughtful nod in reply. Warrick lightly pounded the doorway and sauntered off, humming something Grissom recognized a second later as “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.” Shrugging, Grissom turned back to the crime scene photos on his desk, scrutinizing them with a magnifying glass. He scanned the pictures of the open vaults, the floor and the door of the Convention Center, but his attention wandered. After a moment, he gave in to his internal restlessness and reached into the drawer of his desk, pulling out another file.

This was grey, very worn along the edges, and held several sheets of paper; Grissom slowly opened it and stared down at the small black and white photo on it, turning the magnifying glass on to the face looking up at him and remembering a conversation from very long ago.

 

“Aunt Doreen, why did they get divorced?”

“Gil, it’s hard to explain child, but your father . . . well, he broke your mother’s heart. He wasn’t good to her.”

“Did he hit her?”

“No, he let her down, son. He drank a lot, and made too many trips to Mexico and ran afoul of the law more than once. And when Olivia started to lose her hearing, he just couldn’t handle it.”

“So he hated us—mom and me.”

“Honey, no, I don’t think so. But Howard just wasn’t ready to deal with being an adult and living up to his responsibilities. He was a handsome rascal and a sweet-hearted rogue, but not cut out to deal with you and my sister the way he should have. Livy gave him an ultimatum, and he took the easier way out.”

“What’s a ulti-matum?”

“In Howard’s case, a final choice, Gil. And when he chose the divorce, he chose badly, honey, because you’re the best thing that ever came from that man.”

Grissom sighed, and flipped the ancient DUI sheet over, looking at the page underneath it. Another face looked up at him, the expression on this one had a hint of defiance in it, the cleft chin lifted a bit, Army beret tilted at a jaunty angle.

“He drank a lot, and made too many trips to Mexico and ran afoul of the law more than once.”

The birthdate on the Army Intake form loomed up at him, particularly the year. Grissom scanned the page, looking until he found an address.

465 Rio de la Playa, Brazos, Mx

Right off of Highway 64.

Grissom hesitated, his hand skimming across the intake information on the sheet, reading carefully. On line fifteen he found it:

15) Are you a citizen of the United States of America?

The box for ‘yes’ was checked off. Grissom looked under the sheet at the worn Xeroxed San Diego birth certificate with its ornate scrolls and seals, searching the little lines on the bottom.

Nombre de la madre: Maria Alteza Dulcia Ibarra

Nombre de la padre: americano, desconocido

 

Grissom sighed heavily.

*** *** ***

Sara looked over Jacqui’s shoulder impatiently; she smiled at her in return, her good mood unshakeable.

“I love good clear prints, they make my job soooo easy. And you and Nick brought me some beauties here. I’ve got three hits, and one unknown set, but I’m going to send those through the other databases in a moment.”

“Who are the three?” Sara asked softly, taking the sheets that Jacqui held out to her.

The chubby woman touched each printout in turn as she replied. “One set belongs to your CEO guy, Cutler, and the other is Ms. Ketso. The third belongs to a Daivon Treymane, who’s a security guard out at the convention center. He’s on file for his guard card. The last set though—a little different than the usual fingerprint I get.”

“How so?” Sara looked up to catch Jacqui’s sudden frown.

“The images are really smeary—as if the perp was using gloves at the time. And not latex either . . . most likely cotton. His sweat leaked through so the prints came out, but they’re not nearly as clear as I’d like.”

“Cloth?”

“Of some sort—there’s a very faint pattern of thread on the actual fingerprints themselves. It’s unique enough to stick in my Odd file.”

After thanking the tech, Sara carried the printouts down to the Trace lab, where Nick was bent over a microscope intently studying something.

He flashed a grin at her. “I hope Grissom lets us go back to the scene tonight—I still have some Christmas shopping to do.”

Sara smiled, nodding, thinking of her own unfinished agenda. Nick motioned to the scope and she obligingly peeked into it, spotting a long strand of synthetic fiber, mostly green except at the base, where it was nearly white.

Looking up again at Nick she shrugged. “Carpet?”

“Nah, it’s too fine. I’m thinking some sort of clothing, maybe a sweater or coat. “

Sara gave a little shrug of frustration as his assessment and straightened up, glaring at him.

“Nick, it’s wintertime—there must be at least a thousand people down on that convention floor at any given time, and MOST of them are bundled up in a sweater or coat.”

Nick held up a finger, grinning. “Ah, but only a small percentage are going to be wearing anything green with a white underbase, so we have a start. Once I narrow down what kind of fiber it is exactly we’ll know what to look for.”

Catherine came in, and waved to Sara, motioning her out of the Trace Lab and into the break room, smiling as she held a small white paper bag in one hand.

“Oooh donuts!” Sara guessed.

Catherine shook her head, hair swinging around her face. “Not even close. Mistletoe. They were selling it in sprigs outside the supermarket near my house, so I bought some for the lab. Step one of Operation Liplock, so to speak.”

“Catherine, you can’t be serious!” Sara shot back, going a bit pink. It was one thing to even admit to her attraction to Grissom in public, but slightly alarming to see the gleam in Catherine’s eye at the moment.

“Oh come on, it’s going to be fun—and you’re not the only one liable to get caught under it, so don’t think this is all for you two. Jacquie and Leah and I and Monica and Claire from Dayshift deserve a shot too you know.”

“Well okay, if you put it like that, yeah—I guess the better half of the criminology department has kind of earned it," Sara muttered. Catherine grinned. Grabbing a chair, she hauled it to the break room door, and climbed up, feeling along the edge of the doorsill for the nail already there.

“It’s got a ribbon, but we might need to tie it up so Warrick doesn’t get it caught in his hair . . .”

“Get what caught in my hair?” came the sardonic drawl. Guiltily, Catherine looked to see him standing in the hall, hands on his hips watching her. Sara smirked.

“The sprig of Christmas love might not look too good caught in your ‘do, dude,” She told him.

Grinning, Warrick stretched his long arms up and helped loop the red satin ribbon onto the nail as Catherine pulled the dangling cluster of green leaves and white berries higher.

“There! Out of reach but NOT out of sight. Should be effective,” Catherine announced, pleased with herself as she climbed off the chair.

Warrick shot a playful look at Sara, then to Catherine.“Better give it a test run just to be sure."

Easily he scooped Catherine into his arms and dropped his mouth on hers, muffling the sudden gasp she made as he did so. Sara watched, laughing as the kiss went on.

And on.

Techs across the hall looked up with interest.

And on.

People in the hall slowed to stare.

“It’s Vegas, you can get a room anytime now," Sara commented lightly.

They broke apart then, Catherine in full blush, Warrick looking immensely pleased with himself. “I think we just made the naughty list," he huskily informed a slightly dazed Catherine.

“Oooooh it was worth it!" she replied, blinking. Sara laughed at that and scooted around them.

*** *** ***

“You can’t come.”

“I know.”

“Aren’t you the least bit curious?”

“Nope.”

“Grissom! It’s Christmas, and you know perfectly well that I’m going shopping for you and the killer furball, so at the very least I would expect a little inquisitiveness about my mission,” Sara grumbled. She was halfway into her coat, struggling to get her arm into a sleeve; over on the sofa Grissom was stretched out, reading a book. Figaro was curled in his lap, the motorboat purr kicking in every time a big hand stroked his back.

“Sara, in five days I’ll know exactly what you bought. I’m patient,” he replied, looking over the top of the book at her.

She stuck her tongue out at him.

“Santa’s watching," he responded, turning a page. Sara finally made it into her coat and leaned over the back of the sofa to kiss him in a quick peck on the lips.

“Fine then. While I’m out you could go get us a tree, you know. Something middle sized with a good plumpy shape we can hang ornaments from.”

“A good plumpy shape?” Grissom inquired, grinning.

Sara nodded, picking up her purse. “Absolutely. Think of Jacquie. I want a tree that would be just like her if she were a pine.”

Leaving Grissom with this startling image, Sara swung out of the house and into her car, enormously pleased with herself. Shopping for herself was always a chore, but for Grissom—she grinned at herself in the rearview mirror before pulling out of the driveway.

Sara arrived at the mall just after six in the evening, during the dinner lull, and managed to pick up the first three items on her mental list with no difficulty at all. Something about her long stride and serious expression made clerks jump and other shoppers move aside as she cruised through on autopilot.

Outside the little shop on the very end of the upper floor, Sara paused. It was a little place, full of Christmas accessories, some of it whimsical, most of it expensive, all of it charming. Sara walked in, her eyes on the array of velvet stockings hanging along one wall. Two of them stood out, and she reached out to touch the nearest one gently.

It was an elegant green stocking, with a needlepoint design on the front of a baseball diamond surrounded little bats and balls and candy canes all round the edges. Sara ran a finger along the top edge of the stocking, which was more than wide enough to embroider a name there.

The next one was a scarlet stocking; the needlepoint on the front of this showed a detailed sprig of mistletoe dangling from a green ribbon. Sara nodded to herself. Scooping both stockings up, she carried them to a sleek blonde clerk and paid for them without blinking at the price.

“We can embroider any names for you on them too, Miss. Up to fifteen letters a stocking along with a small selection of designs on either end. All part of our service here.” The clerk told her as he pushed a laminated card into her hands. Sara noted them and her grin flashed out. She pointed at two of them.

“Those right there. That one, and that one. One at the beginning and one at the end of each name on the stockings.”

The clerk chuckled a bit herself, looking at the stockings and then the chosen designs.

“I take it you have a little boy in the house?”

“Definitely.”

*** *** ***

The trees were all tall and overpriced, Grissom noted. He wandered around the lot, hands in his jacket, looking carefully at the various pines. Other people were wandering around the mini forest, some of them chattering, others speaking in grave voices.

“I don’t like the flat side, Peggie, It looks lopsided.”

“We’ll put it in the corner, no one will notice."

“With your brood, one of them’s sure to say something.”

“Help you sir?” A cheerful clerk with a name tag reading ’Cheryl’ stood before Grissom, smiling.

He gave her a small smile back. “I’m looking for a . . . plumpy . . . tree.”

“We’ve got those," she assured him, leading the way towards a back corner of the lot. Once there, she proudly pointed at a small group of trees clustered against the chain link fence.

Grissom studied them carefully. One Douglas fir in particular appealed to him, its branches full and fluffy, needles green and fresh. Leaning closer he sniffed, reliving many Christmases in a sudden rush of olfactory memories. Pine, gingerbread, candlewax, roast turkey, hot chocolate and mint all mingling in his mind.

Tied to scent came images, bright and dear: his mother hanging ornaments, tug of war with Ernie using the old faded stocking, his first microscope . . .

Cheryl was eyeing him cautiously, her smile a little lopsided. “You okay sir?”

“Fine. This one’s perfect,” he told her mildly. Together they carried the tree back to the Denali, where Grissom expertly lashed it to the top, running the twine over the tree and through the windows of the car with the ease of long practice.

“Wow, you’re good—you ought to work for us,” Cheryl commented, taking the pair of twenties he offered her and handing back eight dollars in change.

“I’m handy with knots.”

The sun had set by the time he got back on the road, and Grissom suspected that Sara was probably back. If so she’d find his note on the fridge and probably use the time to wrap, which was only fair since he still had one more errand to run. He turned the SUV west, towards the rising hills along the highway, trying to concentrate. Twenty miles down the road he spotted the battered highway marker with the scrap of yellow plastic tape tied around it. He signaled, even though there were no other cars anywhere on the highway, and turned off on the dirt road that led into the barren darkness. The wind had picked up, and howled in a low throbbing moan, sounding almost alive.

Grissom drove less than a mile and stopped, turning the engine off and looking out of the windshield.

Desert. Dust, dirt, desolation and darkness. Amused at his alliterative turn of mind, he climbed out slowly and stretched, looking around as he reached in his pocket for his flashlight. The beam swung out across the landscape, throwing the rocks and occasional cactus into sharp relief.

“Hey!” Grissom called out loudly. He wasn’t afraid, but a tingle of adrenaline surged through him as he looked around. Carefully he stepped away from the car, senses on high alert, wondering if he was the right place.

The sudden loud and unmistakable cocking of a rifle told Grissom that he wasn’t.

Very carefully he stood still.

“What are you doing here, policeman?” came a low voice from somewhere over his left shoulder.

Grissom relaxed a little, recognizing it. “I’m not a policeman, I’m from the crime lab. We’ve met before, Mr. Ibarra.”

“I remember you. The quiet one that ‘Vive thinks looks like me. Poor guy . . .” came the dry chuckle, broken off by a cough. Grissom waited a moment, and finally the voice picked up again.

Mira, turn around and go home, Mr. Crime Lab. It’s not a good night for me.”

Grissom slowly shifted to face Truman Ibarra, looking across the four feet that separated them. In the light of the full moon he looked . . . in pain. Harsh shadows edged his lean face, and the light made his grey hair almost pure silver. The shotgun rested in the crook of one arm, and he held a bloodied handkerchief in the palm of one callused hand.

“You don’t look good, Mr. Ibarra.”

“That’s a fact, yeah. But I could put a few rounds in you just the same, pequeño hermano, so keep that in mind. What the hell are you doing out here?”

Grissom paused, not sure how to proceed. He shifted his weight a little, and slowly turned the flashlight off. “You’re barely a year older than I am, Mr. Ibarra. Born in nineteen fifty-five, according to the records.”

“Is that a fact?” Politely, but patiently, Truman Ibarra waited, letting the barrels of the shotgun point to the ground between their feet.

Grissom nodded. “It is. Another one is that your birth certificate doesn’t list a father by name, only the notation ‘unknown American.’ “

Truman spat, half out of need, half out of contempt. He raised the handkerchief to his nose before speaking again. “Mr. Crime Lab, if you’ve gotta point can you hurry the hell up and make it already?”

“My name isn’t Crime lab, it’s Grissom, Gil Grissom. But I bet you suspected that already, didn’t you?” he challenged, looking carefully into the other man’s eyes. Truman didn’t flinch, but a quick narrowing of his glance was all the reaction Grissom needed.

The silence dragged on, punctuated by the whistle of the wind, blowing around and between the two men. Finally Truman Ibarra shifted, and a fresh trickle of blood sparkled as it dripped from his nose to his upper lip. “Is that supposed to mean something to me?”

“I think it means something to both of us,” Grissom admitted honestly.

Ibarra laughed harshly, cocking his head in a familiar way. “Yeah, it means we both know a bastard when we see one. Listen, Gilberto, I’ll say this once and then I think you better go. I have no God damn interest in the man. When you were checking dates did you happen to see my mother’s age? You think I want any ties to a man who’d leave a fifteen year old girl to make her way back home to Mexico with a baby and a lousy two hundred dollars?”

Grissom blanched a bit, his hands tightening into fists. He shook his head. “I didn’t know.”

“Course not. I’m sure when he came home to his loving family norte he brought nice presents and told funny stories. I don’t fucking care,” came Truman’s dry voice. He shook his head, suddenly looking much older. “Go home.”

Grissom swayed a little, then slowly turned. He took a few steps to the Denali when Truman’s voice rang out again. “Nothin’ against you personally, comprende? But we got nada in common.”

“You’re wrong, Truman.” Grissom replied with measured slowness. He fished out his keys and unlocked the door. “We both were left behind by a selfish, arrogant son of a bitch we hardly know anything about.”

A bitter laugh rang out behind him, and Grissom looked over his shoulder to see Truman Ibarra’s teeth flashing in the semi-darkness. “God bless our mothers then eh? Go home, Gilberto, and come see me another time, when I’m not fighting mio Diablo. Bring a six pack.”

*** *** ***

Sara worked as efficiently as she could, given the handicap of Figaro pouncing on wrapping paper and snagging ribbon around her. She finally scooped him up and tossed him out of the bedroom, shutting the door on his quizzical meows before turning back to the wrapping job at hand. On the quilt lay the gifts she’d bought, only four, but all things she hadn’t been able to order online. With a grin she thought of the others stashed at her apartment, safely out of sight.

Her apartment. Sara shook her head. The lease was up for renewal at the end of January and her stomach tensed at the thought of giving it up. Much as she loved Grissom and life here in the house, the secret security of having a bolt hole weighed on her mind. She hadn’t done more than stop by to pick up her mail and check her answering machine, but still, having a little haven of privacy was still something she treasured; the rent was reasonable, the location nothing special, and yet . . .

The creak of the front door brought her out of her musings; in a panic, she quickly stuffed the wrapped gifts under the bed and swept the wrapping material back into the garbage bag she was storing it in. Carefully she peeked out to see Grissom maneuvering a magnificent pine through the front door.

“Hey! That’s a nice one!” she kissed his cheek in greeting; he flashed her a brief grin and tugged again on the tree.

“I had help. Where do you think it ought to go?”

“The corner near the fireplace, but not too close to it. Oh man it smells great . . .” Sara breathed in the heady scent. Grissom lifted it around the end of the sofa and propped it in the corner, then came back over to her and kissed her more properly before rubbing his nose with hers.

“When my mom lost her hearing, all her other senses became a bit more acute. She refused to ever consider a fake tree because the scent of a Christmas pine was one of her personal treats for the season,” he murmured. Sara nodded, sensing his distraction even through his words. She shot him a curious look; he shook his head at her unasked questions.

“Later. I’ll tell you later. Let me get the stand out of the back of the car and then we can start hanging lights and ornaments.”

He strode back out, and Sara’s eyes went wide. She spun on her heel to follow him, calling out, “Do you HAVE any ornaments?”

Grissom glanced at her while fishing out a paper bag from the car. “No. I thought YOU had ornaments.”

“Gris, I haven’t had a Christmas tree since I left Boston! I lived alone, why would I put up a tree?” she asked, reasonably.

He paused, consternation all over his face as hers began to twitch with amusement.

“Well I don’t have any. I either spent Christmas with my mother, or here on call, and I didn’t bother putting up a tree either.”

“So you’re telling me we have a Christmas tree but no ornaments OR lights OR tinsel OR star OR candy canes to hang on this baby,” Sara spluttered, her grin wide and infectious.

Grissom’s shoulders shook, and he tugged her into his arms, holding her tightly as they stood in the driveway. “I think we have more shopping to do.”

At that moment they both heard the soft whooshing thump through the open door followed by a piteous ‘meow.’

Sara and Grissom glanced at each other.

“Figaro,” came the simultaneous sigh.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

“It’s synthetic fur,” Nick announced with relish, “A nice easy to trace polymer used to make stuffed animals. Primary buyer of the stuff is the Yasnana Toy Company, who uses it for their Rica, Kes, Kirstin and Suzy dolls.”

“Cuddle Honeys? “ Grissom asked softly. Both Sara and Catherine shot him surprised looks and he shrugged. “It’s the Christmas season, and you’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to have been broadsided by the advertising. Even I know about Cuddle Honeys.”

“Will wonders never cease? I thought you and I had enough of plush animals with the whole raccoon/lamb/wolf love triangle,” Catherine snorted as she reached for the pot of coffee. Sara suspected Grissom’s information had actually come from Sophie; she glanced at Nick’s report to hide her smirk.

“Well, given the layout of the convention floor, there are about ten tables selling Cuddle Honeys or their accessories, so we can divide and conquer, talk to the sellers.”

“What else have we got so far?” Grissom asked smoothly, letting his glance move from Nick to Sara.

She flipped through the files in front of her. “I have the guard’s rounds as verified by his electronic key. His circuit is monitored and recorded by the security computer. The cameras show him at his five different checkpoints right on time throughout the day, including the one for the vault, all the way up to four o’clock when they mysteriously went dark.”

“Broken? Unhooked?”

“Lens covered with Silly Putty. No fingerprints, damn it,” Catherine muttered. “Usually that stuff is great for good clear prints, but not this time. The patty was about the size of a flattened tennis ball and hardened on the lens.”

“Premeditated. So all we have at the moment are fibers. Let’s follow those then.”

The group broke up, moving out of the break room and into the hall. Sara hung back and Catherine shot her an exasperated glance that she pretended not to see.

Nick looked over his shoulder and grinned, cocky and confident. “Hey Sara,” he crooned, crooking a beckoning finger at her as he paused in the doorway.

She lifted her chin, her expression knowing but soft.
“Nice try Nick but . . ."

Hodges appeared behind Nick’s shoulder, clipboard in his hands; he pushed past and as he did so, lightly leaned over, kissing the other man’s cheek.

“Shit! What was THAT for?” Nick spluttered, wiping a palm over his face in distaste.

Hodges blinked patiently. “For fifty bucks and the cheap thrill of it all, of course. Are there any other questions I can answer for you?”

Sara and Catherine each fished out a twenty and a five from their pockets, laying them into Hodges’ outstretched palm while Nick looked daggers at them both. Catherine was pink and breathless; Sara’s deep chuckles bubbled out so brightly that after a few seconds more of indignation, Nick softened a little, beginning to laugh himself. Hodges loftily ignored them all and poured himself some coffee.

“So how long have you two been planning THAT little trap?” he demanded wryly.

Sara and Catherine exchanged knowing smirks.
“Ever since we heard you brag to Archie you were going to nail both of US before the weekend, Stokes. Don’t think word doesn’t get around this lab, buddy boy,” Catherine warned.

He shook his head and sighed, then wandered off down the hall. Hodges sipped his caffeine and sighed dramatically. “And now—he’ll never call, never write . . ."

“Yeah, well you’ve been well compensated for the heartache, believe me. Whoa . . . Sara . . . ” Catherine trailed off.

Sara glanced at her, puzzled. “What?”

“Here," Catherine handed her a napkin from the stack near the coffeemaker, “You laughed so hard your nose is bleeding. Come on, let’s get back to Toyland and see if we can find some green fur.”

*** *** ***

He caught her.

Sara stiffened, trying to look innocent, as if poking around in the upper cupboards in the garage was a perfectly normal activity, but the twitch of her shoulders gave away her guilt, and Grissom leaned against the garage doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest, waiting.

“I was looking for bleach,” she lied outrageously, turning around to face him.

Grissom shook his head, eyes twinkling. “The bleach is on the shelf over the washing machine. Don’t give me that Figaro face, Sara. Be honest and admit you were snooping.”

“I don’t snoop, I investigate, and anyway you told me there’s nothing here, so technically that would nullify these circumstances since there wouldn’t be anything to find,” Sara shot back with a tentative look of triumph.

Grissom pushed himself off the frame and walked over to her, looming. “You of all people should know that a search is still a search, whether or not you come up with anything viable at the end of it. It is a process, regardless of the results, Acushla. Face it, you’ve been naughty and you’ve been caught.”

Sara looked up at him through her lashes, knowing how susceptible Grissom was to that maneuver.

He drew in a deep breath and his mouth twitched. “Nice try, but I still think you deserve a spanking.”

Sara quivered. They stood close enough to feel the exchange of heat from their bodies, close enough to drink in the mingling scent of their skin, inches away from touching each other. She lifted her chin, and her voice was husky. “You. Wouldn’t. DARE.”

Grissom paused, as if considering the challenge hanging in the air between them, heavy with erotic possibility. Reluctantly he shook his head, his glasses catching the light from the overhead bulb, his bluff called. “You’re right. I’d never strike you Sara, not even in play.”

Sara exhaled slowly as she tried to figure out why she felt slightly . . . disappointed. She blinked a little, caught in the odd excitement a the thought of being over Grissom’s lap, of him peeling her thong down, of feeling the sting of a soft smack from his big hand.

“It’s not the same,” she protested softly, trying to explain, her words sounding slightly strangled. “You’ve swatted my butt more than once before, Grissom, and I never took it as anything more than playing around. We both know that.”

He leaned down close to her ear, a hot breath tickling it as he spoke. “It’s a game you’ll have to show me then, because I don’t know what to do.”

Sara wetted her lips. Very carefully she reached out and took one of his hands, caressing it in hers, stroking the long fingers and broad palm. He watched her, saying nothing, just letting her play with his hand.

“You’re a big guy. All over, Grissom. When I’m near you, I always feel . . . daintier, which is really weird because I’m not a dainty kind of woman. But something about the set of your shoulders, and span of your arms . . ." Lightly she lifted the hand and laid the palm of it on her cheek, “. . . Totally cranks my femininity. Around you I blush, and stammer and generally make a fool of myself all because the chemistry is so intense.”

“Pheromones. Attraction, hormonal surges,” he nodded with a slow smile. His fingers stroked the velvety softness of her cheek, his thumb caressing her cheekbone.

Sara nodded.“But there’s more to it. Our bodies are only one part of the whole connection, at least for me. The more I’m with you, the more I realize there are so many things about you that are amazing. You’re like an iceberg with only enough of the real you showing to fool people. But underneath, that’s where the real Gil is. The one I keep falling in love with.”

“Sara . . .” moved by her words, Grissom blinked a little, rubbing his thumb over her full lips.

She kissed it. “All my life I’ve been pretty average. I did things the way a lot of people do. Maybe a little faster at times, maybe a little more intensely at times, but all in all pretty average.”

“You’re anything but average, Sara,” Grissom assured her, pulling her into his arms. She hugged him for a moment, then pulled away to look up into his face, her dark eyes bright.

“What I’m trying to SAY is that you’ve given me opportunities I haven’t had before, Grissom. Alternatives. Options. Variations. Chances to try what I’ve only heard or read about. You know what I’m talking about.”

Grissom nodded; Sara let her hands slide from around his rib cage down the slope of his spine to his buttocks. He eyed her quizzically.

“So in the interests of fairness, if I have to show you, I’ll need your . . . co-operation. Unless you think I’d be too rough on you.”

Grissom’s eyes widened and he tried hard to hide his surprise and amusement as he locked gazes with Sara. “Let me get this straight. You’re the one who was caught snooping--red-handed I might add--and YOU think you’re going to spank ME.”

“That’s pretty much the general idea, yeah,” Sara replied, as if this outrageous statement was perfectly reasonable. “After all, you did just suggest I show you.”

His expression shifted into a wary mirth; a clear if unconscious reflection of his own self-assurance as both a man and a bigger person. The look was as good as a thrown glove, and Sara gave a squeeze, making him grin a bit more broadly.

“Sara, the last person to spank me was Sister Martha back in fourth grade at Sacred Heart Elementary and despite the contact, it had little impact. However, if you truly want to spank me, you may.”

“Brave words,” Sara scoffed playfully, then demanded, “Why did you get spanked at school?”

“I got into a disagreement with Sister Martha over scorpions. She insisted they were insects but I told her, correctly, that they were arthropods as are spiders and lobsters.” His voice held a dry note Sara knew was spurred by the long remembered injustice.

“So she spanked you for arguing?”

“No, she spanked me for commenting that she wasn’t a good science teacher. Tact was never my strong point.”

Sara laughed, then asked, “Your mom never spanked you?”

Grissom’s expression shifted abruptly, and he shook his head as he hugged Sara a bit tighter. “No. Whenever I did something wrong she would look at me and simply sign ‘I’m disappointed in you.’ And it was always enough. I would rather be hit with a two by four than see that look in her eyes.”

Unexpectedly Grissom realized the same could easily be said of Sara now, and that his easy consent of a moment ago was clear proof of that. Before he could ponder this epiphany further, Sara began to massage his ass, which proved amazingly distracting.

“Welllll, given the density of muscle here, I suppose I could give it a shot or two, strictly for the educational experience.”

“And I suppose I can endure your best efforts . . .” Grissom replied loftily. Sara added a pinch, which made him grunt a little and glare at her. “THAT was not a spank.”

“THAT was to get you paying attention. Go into the bedroom Mr. Grissom and give me a moment to join you.”

Intrigued but un-intimidated, Grissom did as she asked, slipping out of the garage and through the kitchen to get there. Sara had repainted the bedroom a soft sage, and found a lovely border strip of silver dragonflies that matched the spread. A framed watercolor of a moon bridge and garden hung on one wall.

He sat in on the edge of the bed and glanced at himself in the mirror of the Chinese armoire, trying not to grin as he noted his appearance: jeans, black polo shirt, bare feet. A sound made him look up; Sara stood in the doorway, hands on her hips, glint in her eye.

“Take your clothes off for me, Mr. Grissom. All of them. Slowly.”

“This is supposed to be a spanking, not a strip show . . .” he complained, but in a daze. The sight of her in a tiny pink tee shirt and matching panties sent a strong surge of arousal right down his spine and through his cock. She said nothing, standing there, eyes locked on him, and Grissom felt the slow shift of power begin. He drew in a shaky breath.

“Sara . . .”

“Now.” Her tone stayed firm yet light; he let his jaw work back and forth for a few seconds, eyeing her. Slowly, Grissom stood, and pulled his shirt off, draping it on the arm of the chair. Sara stayed in the doorway, letting it frame her haughty stance as she eyed him. He reached for his belt buckle and undid it, then pushed the jeans down in easy unhurried movements, stepping out of them. Grissom laid them over the shirt and stood in his boxers, looking slightly discomfited as his covered erection thickened under Sara’s serious gaze.

“Amazing. I haven’t even begun and already the swelling’s started . . .” She chuckled in a deep sweet tone. Grissom blushed, his ears going red, blinking behind his glasses. Sara stepped into the room, gliding over to stand in front of him, watching his chest move as he breathed, seeing the pulse at his throat speed up a bit. The sweet animal beauty of Grissom’s face always awed her: his curly beard, the strong straight line of his nose, his big blue eyes, bright and intelligent. Sara smiled up at him.

“I believe I told you to take off all your clothes, Mr. Grissom.”

“So you did,” he breathed down at her, nostrils flaring slightly. His hands skimmed under the waistband of his boxers and he pushed them down his hips and thighs, letting them drop on the tops of his bare feet in a pile of blue cloth.

For a moment neither he nor Sara said a word, letting the lovely charge of adrenaline and desire build between them. Sara drew in a warm deep breath full of his scent and smiled.“On the bed. Lie down on your stomach, Mr. Grissom, arms out to either side.”

He reluctantly turned from her and did as she asked; Sara kicked the boxers under the bed with a grin. Once Grissom was on the middle of the mattress he stretched his arms out, and they were long enough to reached the edge of the mattress on each side. Sara came over and knelt so that she was eye level with him for a moment. His face was turned to her, his cheek resting on her pillow. Sara reached out to brush an errant curl from his forehead.

“I’m thinking of a number between one and ten . . .”

“--Two,” came his smug reply. Sara continued.

“ . . . That will be multiplied by three.”

Grissom glared at her; without missing a beat, Sara gently took his glasses off and set them on the nightstand. She walked around the bed until she was on the left side, between it and the French doors. Grissom turned his face to watch her, wary but waiting. “So, six smacks, correct?” he asked.

Sara arched an eyebrow at him and didn’t speak for a long moment, just savoring the sight of him stretched out on the bed, his broad frame and muscular buttocks tensing slightly.

She finally gave in to her own grin.“God you look sexy, babe. My own Playgirl centerfold, right here at home.”

The flush started at his face and Sara was delighted to see it move down his neck as well. Grissom snorted, his strong fingers gripping the edges of the mattress as he laughed. Sara bent down and slid her right hand over his ass; he tensed at the feel over her warm touch over his skin.

“No pinching," he grumbled.

Sara made a purring noise deep in her throat.“Bet Catherine would love to, if she ever got an eyeful of this.”

Grissom’s only response to that was to lift his head and glare at her, so Sara smacked his rump. A good swat, firm and loud. He stiffened in surprise, and Sara glanced down to see the red imprint of her hand on one cheek, the flush of it dark against his pale skin.
She shot him a quick glance. “That’s one.”

“I can count, thanks,” Grissom managed shortly. Sara noted the hard flex of his arms, the tension along his spine.

Carefully she bent down and nuzzled his shoulder, kissing it lightly. “I don’t want to hurt you, you know."

“It doesn’t . . . hurt.”

Something in his tone caught her ear, and on instinct, Sara slid her left hand under his hip, ignoring his sudden shudder. Her fingers touched the steely velvet of his cock pressing hard into the mattress, stiff and searingly hot. Sara caressed it, and drew in a breath, slightly giddy with a wave of desire. She dropped three more quick smacks on his ass, feeling his prick throb violently in her other hand each time she did so.

When she looked up at his face, Grissom was lightly gritting his teeth, his eyes closed.

Sara whispered,“Two more. Think you can take it?”

“Yesss," came his soft hiss, low and seductive. Sara flexed her fingers, aware of her hand stinging, of heat radiating from it. She blew on her palm, then swatted Grissom’s backside once more with sizzle. He gave an involuntary grunt, although she couldn’t tell if it was in reaction to the slap or the stroking grip on his prick. Sara quivered. She could feel the building heat both on his skin and his cock, the coiling erotic tension tightening relentlessly with every stroke. Grissom was close to making a move and she sensed it with an almost swooning dread. Carefully, deliberately she brought her hand down one last time across his ass, putting more force into it than before.

Grissom arched his back, pushing himself up off the bed and reaching for her with brute speed, yanking Sara up and to him on the bedspread. The bed creaked under the sudden change of weight, and Sara gasped as Grissom’s hands slid ruthlessly over her body, yanking on the thong with furious haste.

“Off, NOW,” he growled. Sara struggled, trying to comply, but in a fit of lustful impatience Grissom simply grabbed the back strap in his fingers and wrenched it between his hands. The cloth made a shredding sound and Sara glanced down, stunned at the hanging tatters of her panties looking like a pink ragged loincloth in the afternoon light.

“Hey!” it was all she managed to say before his mouth came down firmly on hers, cutting off any more words. His tongue thrust between her parted lips, moving in as if it belonged there, and dizzy with lust, Sara sucked on it joyfully. She snaked her arms around him and let him roll her across the mattress, lost in the frenzy of heat and scent radiating off of him unabashedly male and aroused. Her slim thighs parted and the solid weight of him felt wonderfully heavy on her frame.

Grissom wetly broke off the kiss and drew in a shaky breath looking down at her. “I don’t . . . I’m sorry but I want you so MUCH, Sara . . . I’m going to fuck you so long and so hard you’ll be clawing the ceiling . . . “

She wriggled under him happily as he shoved her tank top up and dropped his mouth on a stiff pink nipple, sucking hard. Her glance turned to the left, and the sudden, shocking sight of them wrapped around each other in the mirror of the armoire sent another hot jolt of desire through her body.

“Bad man . . .” she crooned, licking his ear. Grissom shifted to the other breast even as he settled between her thighs, one hand guiding his cock along the juicy sanctuary there. He nudged his way in an inch or two, throbbing.

“Bad girl . . .” he groaned back, then rocked his hips forward in a powerful stroke, sinking deep. Sara shuddered with the mind melting pleasure of his thrust, of feeling the sweet burn of his lust housed in her. She slid her hands down his strong back and lightly raked her nails over the pink handprints on his ass.

“Come inside me, Mr. Grissom, nice and hard . . .”

He needed no second invitation. Thrusting slowly, he settled into a deep strong rhythm, making the bed creak under them as he rode Sara hard. She angled her hips high, taking him deeper as she nipped his sweat-dampened throat and licked the hollows around his collarbones, feeling wild and powerful. The taste of his sweat, his soft groans and grunts all fired her blood and she felt the jolts of tingling desire sharpen, focusing tightly between her thighs with every thrust. Sensing it, Grissom dropped his head, bristly wet cheek against hers as his pace increased.

“Come for me, Sara, make me come, yessss--” he urged in a low desperate growl. She clung to him, nails raking his back through the sweat and along the muscles as her body shuddered. Nipples hard and aching, Sara gasped, cried out his name as she let herself climax long and hard; Grissom joined her, his orgasm melding into hers sweetly, naturally.

When he collapsed onto her she clung to him, and they both drifted off into the grey muzzy twilight for long moments, catching their breaths and marveling at the joy of the right place and time for this wordless soulful connection of body and spirit.

Finally Sara drew in a deep sigh of utter satisfaction, and rolled her head only to catch sight of Grissom watching her, his expression inexplicably tender. He smiled.

“You’ll be happy to know this did NOT happen when Sister Martha spanked me.”

Sara laughed.

*** *** ***

Some wit had hung a clipboard outside the break room door, and listed on it were the various couples who had managed to make it or get caught under Catherine’s saucy sprig of Mistletoe. The most frequently recurring masculine name was Greg’s, linked with several interns and dayshift technicians. The second most popular male was Nick, although his moment with Hodges had been crossed off forcefully in black felt pen.

Jacqui appeared twice, once with Bobby and once with David, and even Doc Robbins had made the list, linked with Catherine and followed by a red heart exclamation point. In fact, the only two names that did not show up on the clipboard were those of Sara and Grissom, although only Catherine bothered to notice. She carried her cup of coffee to the table and sat down, pondering the matter as Warrick came in and grinned at her. He paused in the doorway.

“Care for an encore?” came his light tease.

Catherine smiled, going a little pink. “Don’t want to set off the fire alarms now do we?”

At that, Warrick chuckled and strode in, taking a seat opposite her at the table. She slowly shook her head. “You know, the only people who haven’t benefited from that mistletoe were the ones I’d hung it up for in the first place, and that’s a lit-tle disheartening.”

Warrick shot her a cynical look, tinged with amusement. “Maybe it’s because it’s in too public a place. If you’re looking to get Grissom and Sara together you ought to hang it in his doorway instead. Or get another sprig.”

“Another sprig?” Catherine asked.

Warrick’s mouth twitched.“Yeah. I think Greg and Nick have about worn this one out.”

She laughed at that, sipping her coffee as he sighed. Warrick looked as if he was debating with himself, and Catherine shot him a quick, keen glance. “Come on, spill. What’s on your mind?”

“I don’t know about forcing an issue we all know is there. Grissom’s not the kind of guy who rushes into things.”

“Yeah well he’s been not rushing this particular thing for damn near four years now, Warrick, and I for one am getting tired of it. I’ve watched Sara go from being a sharp, enthusiastic dedicated CSI to a distracted, withdrawn and prickly one.” Catherine paused a moment and added, “She’s gotten a lot better lately, but she still looks at him sometimes like she’s got a bag of nickels, and he’s the candy store.”

“True,” Warrick briefly grinned, then lowered his voice. “All I’m saying is that if he even suspects he’s being set up or manipulated he’s going to resent it, and I don’t want to see Sara caught in the backlash or in the line of fire for something that by rights should come back to you, good intentions or not.”

Catherine cocked her head, her eyes full of mischief, but her voice soft and subtle. “Out of all the things Sara’s tried to get Grissom to notice her, manipulation ain’t one of them, Warrick. When was the last time you saw her flirt with him?”

He thought back, chagrined at being unable to draw up a clear image of anything within recent memory. Conceeding defeat, he shrugged.

Catherine nodded. “So mistletoe is pretty mild. But you have a point about sticking over HIS doorway—bringing the mountain to Mohammed might be all we’ve got right now.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

 

Nick pointed to the far table, where a sign reading Tres Mechante Enterprises was decorated with garlands and candy canes. Under it, a five foot fuzzy Cuddle Honey was propped up, the green fur unmistakable. Sara strode over, Nick at her side. They approached the booth and stared at the enormous toy for a long moment.

“Think it’s a match for our fibers?” Nick demanded. Sara turned to him.

“What do you think I am, your X-ray girl? We’ll need a sample before we’ll know. Got a bindle?”

A clerk glided over, his demeanor slightly nervous as he spoke to them. “Help you?”

“Uh, yeah, we’d like to get a sample of fur from that Cuddle Honey,“ Sara asked with a tight smile.

The clerk shook his head. “No. I’m afraid not. It’s not for sale, it’s just a display item.”

“I’m afraid yes, Amigo. This particular warrant covers any and all booths on this convention floor, specifically those with Cuddle Honeys on display, so . . .” Nick told him with a hard smile.

The clerk turned and grabbed the huge animal, then began to run, shoving the table out of the way. Startled, Nick made a swipe at him, but the table slammed him against his thighs. Sara took off, chasing the fleet but panicky clerk through the crowded aisle of the Toy Emposium, weaving in and out among the startled shoppers and finally tackling him just beyond the snack food stand at the far end. Security guards descended on them in a ring, and Sara scrambled to her hands and knees.

“Whoah!" Nick pushed his way forward and helped her up absently, then knelt to look at the doll lying on the floor.

The seam on one side of the green fur had split, and poking out of the hole was a tiny giraffe head. Sara reached in her pocket for a glove, swiftly rolling it on. She tugged on the tiny animal, and as she did so, three more fell out: A pair of lion cubs and lifelike chimpy.

Nick grinned at her, but it faded as he reached out a hand and wiped a thumb above her top lip, then showed it to her.

Sara reached for a tissue.

*** *** ***

“Corporate theft, “ Catherine sighed. She fished through the file in front of her and tapped the photograph there.

“Gary Hamilton, part time clerk for Tres Mechant, full-time employee of Sevnoomsel Incorporated. They’ve been making bad decisions for a while now, and were on the verge of bankruptcy going into this Emposium. Gary decided to change that by stealing from his competitors.”

Sara picked up the case, nodding. “He got himself hired at Tres Mechant before the show, and ran the booth. When he carried the day’s receipts to the vaults, he took the Cuddle Honey with him and the security clerk thought nothing of it because so many of the merchants had all sorts of odds and ends with them. A pair of cotton gloves kept his prints off the Silly Putty he stuck on the cameras. Gary knew which safes were assigned to Belec and G/S, and he also knew the ONE major fault of the Convention Security area—“

Grissom shook his head, “—Which was that every vault uses the same combination.”

Sara and Catherine chuckled; Nick joined in. He leaned back and locked his hands behind his head, grinning as he spoke up.

“I suppose it normally doesn’t matter, since most folks using the conventions center aren’t long term tenants or anything, but man, that particular security issue has GOT to be changed.”

“No kidding,” Grissom muttered, rubbing his eyes.

Catherine tapped the file in front of her with a long nail. “Well, we managed to recover the stolen properties, Hamilton confessed to the theft and the Emposium is due to end tonight, so—case closed.”

“For now,” Grissom conceded, “But the convention center owners aren’t going to like hearing that their little security cost-cutting measure has probably lost them the Emposium’s business for next year.”

Everyone stood, stretching and gathering files, taking a break for the moment. Warrick came in and handed Grissom a note while Catherine slipped out, dodging both the mistletoe and Nick to head down to the locker room.

Grissom glanced over the slip in his hand. “How many bodies at the site?” he asked, squinting.

Warrick pointed with his chin. “Three for sure. Maybe more. A couple of hikers found them a few hours ago.”

Grissom drew himself up and frowned. “So that’s at least three different timelines . . . Okay, I’ll get out to the scene. You and Sara get a few Styrofoam boards delivered to my office then, would you? And see if you can round up those T pins I like, the—“

“—Stainless steel ones,” Both Warrick and Sara chimed in together, grinning at the sound of their duet.

Grissom shot them patient looks. “Just indulge me, all right?”

“Don’t we always?” came Sara’s cheeky reply. At that, Grissom merely cocked his head, watching her back up through the doorway and straight into an amused Jim Brass. He quickly slipped his arms around her waist and planted a light kiss along her temple, then raised his brows at her inquiringly.

Sara blushed. “Hey!” she squeaked, looking up and realizing her location.

Brass sighed. “I knew if I hung around here long enough I’d eventually land something nice.”

He let Sara go; she smiled up at him and spun away down the hall. Brass reached for the clipboard, jauntily listing the encounter as Grissom folded his arms over his chest and shot him a mild glare. “A little Christmas stalking?”

Brass waved his hand to dismiss it, but his smirk remained. “Better than sampling the fruitcake. And speaking of fruitcakes, we need to get out to that site as soon as possible. They’re calling for rain tonight.”

*** *** ***

Grissom held out his hand without looking away from the board; obligingly Sara lightly set another pin gently in his grasp.

“—And HERE we have the post-larval stage with the blowflies just emerging, which puts the timeline RIGHT where I estimated it would be.”

Sara smiled at him, crossing her arms, her chocolate eyes gleaming. “Amazing.”

He smiled back, and moving too quickly, jabbed the top of his forefinger instead of the blowfly. Sara hid her smirk as he winced.

“Ow! Maybe not THAT part," came his weak retort as she fished out the office first aid kit from under the stainless steel sink. He tugged the pin out of his fingertip with a wince.

“You suffer for your art," she rallied, spraying his wounded finger heavily with Bactine and deftly dabbing the trickle of blood away. Grissom let her cup his hand, his shoulders relaxing slightly; Sara peeled open a Band Aid as Catherine peeked in the office. A glance at the bloodied pin on the desk confirmed her guess and she grinned.

“Boss man got an owie? Awwwww--”

“Somebody’s gotta kiss it to make it better,” Grissom held up his bandaged finger.

Catherine made a face. “I’M not kissing fingers that touch bugs,” she backed away and moved down the hall.

Sara shrugged. “Her loss." She bent to drop a light press of her warm lips on the tan bandage circling his index finger, lingering a moment.

“My gain,” he finished, smiling gently. Sara moved away reluctantly, well aware of the need to maintain a professional distance again.

Grissom turned back to the board, but spoke over his shoulder. “You’re sure you don’t mind not seeing your folks at Christmas?” his tone was low and slightly worried; Sara glanced up from the specimen jar at him.

“It’s not a matter of minding . . . I don’t worry about it since I’ll be up there either in January or February. But I am nervous about Christmas. Sort of . . .” she admitted, carefully picking up the small fly with a pair of tweezers and bringing it to him. Grissom turned a slightly surprised look at her and she coughed a little adding, “I’ve never spent Christmas WITH anyone before.”

Grissom thought for a moment. “Me either. Aside from Mom and Alex.”

Both of them looked at each other for a warm minute, and Sara carefully held the bug on the board with the tweezers as Grissom pinned it. He scrawled a notation under the insect then stood back, looking over the timeline, concentrating on it. Sara came up around his shoulder and glanced at the board with him. “So—the first body was dumped about fifteen months ago . . . And the second?”

“About five months later. The last one’s fairly fresh, so as far as we can determine on this, his pattern is to kill about twice a year, with these deaths happening in March, then August and now December, roughly. Shall we go see what Robbins has for us?”

They moved down the hall together, speaking in undertones, easily picking up the thread of their personal conversation once more as they headed for the morgue.

“All this means is we get to establish our own traditions then. Start from scratch,” Grissom mused thoughtfully.

“So eggnog and hanging stockings, and reading The Night Before Christmas are on the table,” Sara offered impishly, “Along with setting out luminarias and a plate for Santa, and throwing away fruitcake—“

“I LIKE fruitcake!” Grissom objected, holding the big stainless steel door open for Sara. She shot him a disbelieving stare as she pulled a folded paper smock from the shelf near the door.

“You. Like. Fruitcake.” She echoed, somewhat weakly.

Grissom nodded, pulling on his own smock. “Love it. I’ve never understood the amount of derision and abuse heaped on a perfectly innocent holiday offering. In fact, my aunt used to make this one brandy, walnut, apricot and pineapple fruitcake . . .” Grissom sighed gustily, lost in memory for a moment. Sara rolled her eyes and led the way through the double doors to the main room of the morgue.

Doc Robbins looked up at them, and for a moment his baby blues twinkled brightly before he managed a nod of greeting. “Here about your three gentlemen from the foothills I take it. Well, cause of death is pretty self-evident, but I’ll walk you through it. Strangulation, plain and simple. The ligature marks are still evident in the latest body, but even with only skeletal remains here with the first one the crushed larynx is clearly visible . . .”

The debriefing went on, with both Sara and Grissom asking pertinent questions. Finally Robbins sighed and limped over to the end of the table, shaking his head. “That’s as much as I can tell you right now, guys. From the look of the wounds, I can’t say for sure that it’s the same killer, but--I've got a feeling about this one.”

Grissom nodded in agreement. Sara glanced back at the three bodies side by side on the stainless steel gurneys and crossed her arms.

“So we’ve got to find the common link. And that will happen once we know who they were,” she summarized softly.

*** *** ***

Catherine breathed a sigh of relief, hopping off the chair and hurriedly shoving it back against the wall of Grissom’s office. The room was dark, with only a reading lamp illuminating his desk at the moment. In the hallway, Greg grinned as Catherine looked right and left when she stepped out towards him.

“My lucky night! Shall you and I christen this sprig together oh loveliest of CSIs?”

“You’re too young, I’m too . . . experienced, and anyway, you’ve used up your allotment, Smoochmaster Sanders."

Greg slapped a hand over his heart, dramatically staggering back. “Catherine you wound me! I figured as a fellow parent you might understand the difficulty of working a little affection into our busy schedules.”

“Greg, don’t play the loveless card with me—last count on the break room clipboard you’ve kissyfaced your way through the entire LVPD tech directory, buddy!” Catherine accused playfully.

Greg sighed, not in the least embarrassed. “I have Hojem lips—generally irresistible. It’s a Norwegian curse.”

“Obviously,” Catherine grinned despite herself.

Greg let his gaze drift back up to the doorway of Grissom’s office. “Ensnaring the bossman . . . devious.”

“Not me.”

“Ah, I see. The Sidle clause,” Greg sighed. Startled, Catherine looked at him and he shrugged. “Come on, a person would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to see the mutual attraction goin’ on there. Ever stand between them? It’s like being in a pheromone crossfire.”

Catherine nodded a little, her smile widening at Greg’s slightly forlorn tone. She reached out and patted his arm gently, her touch as comforting as she dared risk. He cocked his head and met her gaze. “So, my soulful puppy look getting to you yet?”

“Down, boy. And no doubling up on THIS mistletoe, understand? You’ll end up with Mono before Christmas at the rate you’re going.”

“Totally worth it," Greg replied dreamily, rubbing the palms of his artistic hands together.

*** *** ***

Sara glanced over at the stack of mail in Grissom’s hand as he unlocked the front door. He’d made it home only a few minutes before her, and was checking through the envelopes as she brushed by his shoulder and moved to hang up her coat. Discreetly, she tucked a blood speckled Kleenex into her pocket and rubbed under her nose, then turned to face him.

“Thinking about getting your mail redirected here?”

“Yes. But after the holiday season," he picked out a bright red envelope and smiled, holding it up and staring at the gold ink on it. “Oh my. A Christmas card from Betsy Ryderson-Hayes.”

Sara turned on the tree lights, admired them a moment, then looked over at him and the envelope, shrugging. “Who’s that?”

Grissom’s expression went soft; he shot a sideways look at Sara, as if gauging his moment, then softly murmured,“My former wife.”

Sara swayed a bit then recovered, crossing her arms and tipping her head up at him, eyes big, lower lip thrust out. Her skeptical expression did him in; Grissom set the mail down and pulled her into his arms. Carefully he cuddled her tense body close to him. He sighed.

“I was young, so was she. I married Betsy Ryderson a grand total of eleven times, Sara. Sometimes we had a son, and each time the relationship ended amicably. It was financially rewarding for me.”

Sara blinked a moment, then a tiny smile touched the corner of her mouth as she kept her gaze locked on his. She drew in a breath. “Okay, I think you better tell me ALL the details of this bombshell before I brain you with a Yule log, Grissom!”

He steered her to the sofa, and pulled her onto his lap, settling Sara in before he cleared his throat. In the semidarkness, their faces illuminated by the twinkling tree lights, Grissom began.

“Once upon a time . . ."

 

The kitchen clock light flashed at the half hour. Three thirty on a Tuesday afternoon in late September. Hunched over the kitchen table, a lanky teenager in jeans and a faded Rolling Stones tour tee shirt squinted at the two-page spread of the Periodic Table of Elements and scribbled something in the notebook before him. He needed a haircut; his curls were long and hanging into his eyes.

“Griss! You hafta marry me!” came the insistent demand. Grissom looked up from his chemistry textbook at Betsy Ryderson, who held out her grubby little hand with the imperiousness of a queen.

He blinked, trying to switch gears. Betsy gave a loud sigh.

“Come on!”

“Betsy, I have to study. I don’t have time to marry you today. Can’t you just play with Ernie instead?”

Hearing his name, the retriever under the kitchen table snuffled, poking his black nose out hopefully. Betsy patted it but shook her head, blonde braids whipping around her skinny neck.

“I’ll play that Ernie’s our baby but we hafta get married and then I can go shopping while you go to the war.”

Grissom sighed a little, well aware of Betsy’s persistence. A little in awe of it, actually. For a seven year old she had remarkable lungpower, and a will of iron, making her hard to ignore when she wanted something. Fortunately they’d worked out a pretty good compromise for the past week, so he reached for the yellow wire twist tie on the package of bread, sighing.

Whatever it took to keep the peace in this babysitting job.

“All right. Come here," He looped the wire around the stubby ring finger of her left hand, twisting the ends together and forming a butterfly from the left over lengths as he rapidly spoke.

“I Gil solemnly plight my troth to you Betsy with this ring, we’re now man and wife, bibbidy bobbidy boo.”

Betsy giggled, staring at the wire butterfly and waggling her hand. Satisfied, she dropped to her hands and knees to crawl under the table, where Ernie proceeded to wash her face. Grissom turned a page of his book, making a quick note in the margin. The house was quiet for a moment, then Betsy’s voice called up.

“Can I get an Otter Pop?”

“Yep,” he replied absently.

Betsy dragged one of the kitchen chairs over to the refrigerator and clambered up on it to reach the freezer. Ernie followed her, wagging his tail, alert for any possible spillage of edibles. The girl pulled a purple one and a green one down, hopping to the linoleum and carefully bringing the green over to Grissom. He shot her a brief smile.

“Thanks, my good wife.”

“Shhhhh. You’re in Vietnam while baby Ernie and I are waiting. You might get something shot off.”

“NO.” Grissom announced shortly, using his teeth to tear open the pop. “Nothing of mine gets shot off.”

Betsy pouted a little, then tried to gnaw her frozen treat open with her incisors, since both her front teeth were missing. “But all the soljurs get stuff shot off, like their legs or their arms, or their heads. The news says so.”

“Yeah, well I’m one of the lucky ones, Bets. I make it through just fine so I can come home to you and my loving son, the golden retriever," Grissom declared, taking pity on the girl and deftly ripping open her Otter pop for her. She smiled at him in thanks and took it, slipping under the table again.

Silence again, broken only by the soft whine of Ernie. Grissom took another note and twirled his pencil, thinking hard. The phone rang.

Moving quickly, he reached it, flipped off the TTY and picked up the receiver as Betsy and Ernie came out from under the table. Half of the girl’s face was sticky and purple; Ernie was busily working on her chin.

“Grissom residence.”

“Gil? It’s Officer Munoz. Listen, I have something I need you to check out for me if you can.”

“Yes sir?” Grissom grabbed a section of the TTY paper and waited for the details. Betsy came over and watched him.

“Hit and run a few blocks from your house, over on Linden Street. Driver claims the old lady and her dog were clear of the crosswalk when the dog darted back and he hit them. I need you to tell me about the dog. Can you do it?”

Grissom looked at Betsy, then at his textbook on the table, then the clock. He drew in a breath.“Yes sir. Give me about twenty minutes to get out there. Has anybody touched the dog?”

“No son. Only the old lady. It’s a poodle, sort of grey, and it’s on the grass. I’ll be there waiting. And thank you.”

Betsy grinned up at him as he hung up the phone. “Are we getting ‘nother squished cat?”

“Nope. A dog this time. Remember, not a word to your mom or we’re both dead meat, okay Bets? You have to promise.”

Grissom checked the clock again, trying to calm himself. The exhilaration of working for Munoz was counterbalanced by the thought of Mrs. Ryderson’s potential hysterics if she ever knew her trusted babysitter was taking her daughter along periodically to collect roadkill. Betsy nodded solemnly, and then let Ernie finish washing her face. Grissom winced.

“That’s totally unsanitary, Bets—come on, soap and water while I get the gloves and trashbag. And I’m going to check, so do it right.”

*** *** ***

Ten minutes later the three of them were flying down the street. On the back of the bike seat, Betsy clung to Grissom’s lean back like a limpet while Ernie raced alongside the ancient Schwinn as it rolled down the street. Traffic was light, and Grissom knew his neighborhood well, cutting down a sloping section of road to reach his destination swiftly. The police car was still there, but the ambulance was gone, so only a few gawkers remained at the scene. Grissom eyed the skid marks on the pavement as he rolled up on the left side of the street and parked the bike. Betsy hopped down and followed him as he walked up to a beefy officer in a blue serge uniform.

“Ah, Gil. You made good time, kid. See you brought Little Bit with you again.”

Betsy giggled while Ernie snuffled through the short grass towards a bloody grey mound. Grissom whistled. The dog stopped and looked at him guiltily.

“Yeah, but she knows the rules. So what happened?”

Officer Munoz smiled briefly at the serious look the lanky boy flashed at him and cleared his throat before speaking. “No witnesses on this one, strictly the driver’s account. He claims the old lady and her dog were on the curb here when the dog turned back into the street and yanked her with him. Says there wasn’t time to stop and that’s how he ended up hitting them both.”

Grissom looked up and down the street for a moment, thinking. Further down the sidewalk a small cluster of teenagers loitered, shooting glances his way.

One of them, a big beefy redhead hooted derisively. “Well if it isn’t gruesome Grissom out getting his supper!”

Officer Munoz shot the boy a warning look; Grissom didn’t react at all, his attention turning from the road to the dead poodle on the grass. He knelt, studying it for a moment.

Betsy glared at the redheaded teenager. “You be quiet!”

The boy looked down at the small toothless girl and sneered.“Shut up, brat.”

“Knock it off Dave," Grissom warned over his shoulder without looking. Carefully he began to pull on a pair of bright yellow dishwashing gloves.

“Yeah. Griss is my husband!” Betsy announced loudly; the teenagers all bent over laughing at this unexpected information. Betsy stamped her foot indignantly. “He IS, and Ernie’s our baby!”

Even Officer Munoz was having trouble keeping a straight face at this comment as he finished writing up a report against the hood of the police car.

David wheezed. “Oh yeah, that’s probably why he eats puppy patê off the highway!"

Grissom carefully picked up the poodle and set it into the plastic bag, then stood up and slowly walked over. He stepped up to David, looking at him a long moment. “Hey David, heard back from the SAT board yet?” he asked softly.

The other boy flushed, his expression shifting into something between sullen and desperate. Grissom leaned closer. “Before you start insulting my wife and kid again, I’d think about who your mom’s going to ask to coach you through the math portion on your retest, okay?”

“You’re an asshole, Grissom,” David growled, backing up a step.

Grissom peeled his gloves off slowly. “Yeah, but I’m an asshole getting into UCLA. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got dinner waiting."

Betsy helped Grissom load the bag into the wire basket over the front wheel, and waved at David as she clambered on the back of the bike.

The teenager stiffened in anger, then looked at the officer. “Hey did you SEE that? She flipped me off!”

Officer Munoz shot the boy a lazy look. “Is that a fact? Well some wives are pretty protective of their husbands you know.”

 

Grissom reached the bottom of the hill and called to Betsy over his shoulder.“Hang on, I have to get us to the top—"

Betsy clutched handfuls of the black tee shirt around his waist. Grissom stood up on the pedals, pumping his hightops hard, gripping the handlebars as the cords stood out on his neck. Betsy laughed with delight while the old bike ground up the hill, Ernie galloping alongside. At the top, Grissom turned towards home, settling down on the seat once more, his curls damp with exertion, but his grin broad as he checked his Timex.

*** *** ***

Betsy looked over the edge of the enamel table, her eyes just over the top. Grissom flicked a compassionate glance at her for a moment. “Come on, I know you hate this part. Go play with your Barbies for a while, okay?”

“Okay,” the little girl let out a relieved sigh and skipped to the other side of the bomb shelter, puttering with her pink vinyl suitcase of dolls while Grissom set the grooming comb down and reached for the surgical scissors. He muttered a silent plea to Assisi, then began to cut. He gently peeled back the skin, moving carefully to expose the muscles of the little dog’s mangled shoulder joint. Across the cool cinderblock room, Betsy was singing a Jackson Five song and bouncing her Barbies along to it. After a while Grissom set his magnifying glass down and gave a little sigh. At that signal, his charge trotted over and looked up at him. A section of green towel mercifully covered the remains of Fifi.

“I’m hungry,” Betsy told him.

Grissom nodded. “Me too. Spaghettios?”

“Yeah.”

When Mrs. Ryderson showed up ten minutes later, Grissom and Betsy were at the kitchen table, companionably wolfing down bowls of warm noodles and meatballs together, with Ernie weaving around Betsy’s chair hopefully.

“Hi mom!”

“Hi Betsy honey. Have you been a good girl for Gil today?” Mrs. Ryderson demanded, sweeping into the kitchen in her shiny green polyester pantsuit.

Betsy nodded, trying to talk through a mouthful of noodles. “Un huh. We got married again and then we went out on the bike to get—"

“Some fresh air,” Grissom finished, shooting Bets a quick look. The little girl flushed at her near slip, nodding vigorously.

Fortunately Mrs. Ryderson was too preoccupied with her wallet to notice the conspiracy. “That was very sweet of you, Gil. Now here’s what I owe you for today, and an advance for Thursday as well. Betsy honey, go get your things."

Betsy hopped off her chair and carelessly yanked the twist tie ring off her finger, handing it to Grissom. She flashed him a broad, toothless grin. “Next time I wanna flower shape one!”

After Betsy and her mom had climbed into their old yellow Matador and driven off, Grissom picked up the phone and dialed a number.

“Munoz here."

“Grissom. The driver lied, sir. The poodle had impact contusions on her left side. So she and her owner were still crossing the street from right to left.”

“Yeah I thought so. We found beer cans in the vehicle too. Thanks, Gil. If you drop off the write up with the front desk I’ll make sure the check gets cut before the end of the month.”

“Thank you.”

He made his way back down to the bomb shelter and the enamel table. Gently, Grissom scooped up the towel-covered remains of the little poodle and set them in an empty carton, carrying them up the stairs and out into the back yard. After loading the carton into the basket of the bike and whistling for Ernie, Grissom set out through the blue twilight, riding through the darkening streets until he reached a vacant lot a few blocks over. There, he skidded to a halt, carried the little mangled body to a spot under a pine, and dug a quick hole; Ernie helped.

Laying the little poodle in, Grissom murmured a quick prayer, then covered it up again, patting the dirt down smoothly over the mound. By now the last cries of the pelicans on the pier were echoing on the breeze, and Grissom hunkered down by the grave, one hand softly patting Ernie’s broad back while they sat together and watched night move in.

 

“ . . . So that’s how I ended up married and discarded almost a dozen times. I didn’t mind, and the money helped me get my first real microscope.”

Sara snorted sleepily. She burrowed against Grissom’s chest, muttering something softly, and he stroked her shoulders.

“What was that?”

“I said what does Betsy do now?”

“Ah. She’s a marriage counselor . . .”

Sara laughed. For long drowsy moments they sat entwined on the sofa while the colored lights of the tree flickered over them. Grissom smiled into Sara’s hair and he gently whispered, “Think you could handle being my trophy wife?”

His only response was a soft snore.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

Grissom looked pained. Sara crossed her arms, keeping her expression serious, fighting the lift of the corners of her mouth.

“It’s got to be done. You know that. I know that.”

“Yes, but HE doesn’t know that,” Grissom interjected, holding Figaro up in his hands. The kitten stretched sleepily, his yawn wide and pink as Grissom gently set him on the kitchen counter.

Sara shook her head. “Come on, Grissom, it’s not a big deal here. It happened to Ernie, didn’t it?”

“That was different,” Grissom protested. “My mother had it done while I was at school, and then told me he was at the vets overnight because he’d swallowed a tennis ball. Ernie never seemed to know what had happened to him, and I only did years later because I’d begun a few animal dissections and realized that OTHER dogs . . . had
. . . Sara, stop laughing!”

She tried to stop her splutters, rubbing a palm over her face as Grissom absently let Figaro wrestle with one of his fingers. Finally she managed to look at the both of them. “I’m sorry babe, but it’s kind of funny and I think your mom was smart. I should have just taken Fig in myself and not told you.”

“Yes, well I know it’s practical and for all intents and purposes we’re talking about a pair of glands no bigger than pencil erasers for him, but they ARE his, and it’s just not that easy to contemplate permanently removing them,” Grissom muttered defensively.

“YOU offered once," Sara began but Grissom shook his head.

“Capping the pipes is one thing, but I never volunteered for an orchiectomy, thank you.”

“I can’t believe you’re taking this so—personally! We need to do this for the benefit of our cat, Grissom. If it’s not done he’ll roam, he’ll spray, he’ll get into fights, maybe even killed. I bet you wouldn’t think twice about it if Figaro was a girl.”

Grissom grinned and picked up the kitten. “Frankly if Figaro was a girl with balls, then I'd probably insist.”

That set Sara off again and she laughed while Grissom carefully deposited the kitten into the plastic pet carrier. He turned around to see her reach for a paper towel. “Nosebleed?”

“Yeah. I think I’ve irritated a capillary up in there or something.” Sara replied, dabbing at her upper lip. Grissom tilted her head back for her and pinched her nostrils lightly.

“Id nod a mhig deal,” Sara insisted through his fingers, but he shrugged a little, then dropped a kiss on her mouth.

“Probably not, but you may want to have to cauterized if it keeps up. Listen, I’m running Figaro in and I have a few errands, but I’ll head straight to the shift. See you there, okay?”

“Otay.”

As soon as he was gone, Sara reached up into the highest corner of the kitchen cupboard and pulled down the shopping bag. She looked over the contents of the bag, dumped the ingredients on the counter and took a deep breath as she did so, bracing her hands on the counter.

“I can DO this, I CAN do this,” she murmured with more confidence than she actually felt.

Sara sauntered to the living room and fished in her coat pocket for the folded papers, bringing it back into the kitchen and looking it over.

Dear Sara,

It was lovely to get a note from you yesterday! Alex and I had a lovely honeymoon in Seville but it’s much nicer to be home for the holidays and I can’t believe the sorts of security checkpoints they make a body go through nowadays, especially coming from Europe. I hope you and Gil are doing well and had a nice Thanksgiving. I missed having turkey this year and had to make do with Paella instead. Even Alex thought it was odd not to be fighting with Gil about the wishbone.

Anyway, I dug around in my files and found the recipe you were asking about. It was one of Doreen’s specialties, and yes, Gil actually loves the stuff, especially with a little Cool Whip on it. I’ve always been more of a gingerbread gal myself.

I do hope you and Gil will have a chance in your schedules to stop in and see us sometime after the holidays. Alex has been toying with the idea of running a few art seminars for the local college and I’ve got the itch to get back into painting, myself. We’d love to see you two anytime!

Happy Holidays!

Love,

Olivia

Sara looked down at the recipe, handwritten on the second sheet of paper, and smoothed it down.

“Okay. A recipe is simply a chemical formula with food. And just because this one
has . . .” She counted quickly, “ . . . fourteen ingredients doesn’t mean it’s going to be complicated,” Sara coached herself lightly as she turned on the stove and pulled a bowl out from the cupboard. She carefully sorted the items out into the order they appeared on the recipe, then took a deep, deep breath. “Here we go, step one, boil the apricots . . .”

Sara hummed, working steadily. The directions were many, but clear and she found herself enjoying the textures and smells of the candied fruit and spices By the time she slipped the two tube pans into the oven and scrubbed the last of the dishes in the sink, her hum had turned into full out and out singing.

“Walking in a winter wonderlaaaannnd . . .” she finished with a laugh. Buoyant with her good mood, Sara dried her hands on a towel, then wandered out to the living room to wait for the baking to finish. The Yin and Yang had a garland circling it now, and on the fireplace mantel, fat green and red candles waited to be lit. Sara cast an eye over the small stuffed reindeer whimsically tucked here and there throughout the room: on a picture frame, peeking over the edge of a bookcase, balanced on the curtain cords. Grissom didn’t seem to mind them, Figaro loved them, and they brightened the place. The bay window had a string of lights encircling it; it had taken all of Sara’s persuasion to convince Grissom not to string any outside.

Idly, Sara glanced towards the garage, tempted to snoop, and fighting the urge; she knew this was a test, but never realized how difficult it was not to nose around. To counter her craving, Sara slipped into the bedroom and checked the bottom drawer of the armoire, finding the jeweler’s box there she’d picked up the day before. Carefully she opened it and looked down inside, smiling broadly.

The silver chain was thin but heavy, the links sleek; twinkling on it was an oval-shaped saint’s medal, bright in the afternoon light. Sara sighed, touching it lightly. After a moment of contemplation, she closed the box again and pressed it to her chest, waiting for her heartbeat to slow down to normal.

“Wrap it before you forget—" she chided herself.

 

*** *** ***

A sudden rush of cases peppered the last night before the Christmas vacation, but most of them were fairly routine; a few trick rolls, two shootings, a defenestration and a stabbing outside a gift-wrapping booth at a mall. The mood around the Crime Lab held a hint of festive cheer, amplified by the plates of homemade cookies and cold punch available in the break room. The clipboard outside the door had gone to a third page as the impromptu and very friendly competition between the dayshift and the night shift continued under the mistletoe.

Grissom eyed the other sprig that dangled over his office door with a jaundiced eye, well aware of the culprit. Catherine studiously avoided even glancing at it, which was a dead giveaway in his book. By the time the last half hour of the shift rolled around, she’d begun to look a little desperate though.

“Don’t you think you ought to ask Sara about this report?” Catherine urged, pointing to the typed sheet on the second shooting.

Grissom glanced over the top of his glasses at her. “You’re right. I’ll go find her."

“No, I’m positive I saw her in the locker room—I’ll send her here," Catherine broke in smoothly, moving out of his office with a swiftness that made the papers flutter on his desk. Grissom said nothing. He could see people passing by, lab techs milling at their stations, and it both tickled and annoyed him at how many people seemed aware of his . . . mistletoe. He turned his attention back to the case file, hiding his expression and concentrating on the sketches on his desk until a sudden flurry at the door made him look up again.

“Catherine INSISTED you needed to see me," Sara muttered in a low tone, looking utterly annoyed and somehow all the cuter for it. She stood awkwardly in the doorway, as if bracing herself, and Grissom fought the urge to grin.

He rose from his seat, heading towards her. “So . . . shall we drive everyone nuts?”

Sara looked at him nervously, pulling back a bit with coltish grace. Grissom shifted himself into the doorway with her, cocking his head and speaking in a low voice.

“Grissom—!"

“Just stand here. Don’t move, don’t look up, just . . . stand.”

Sara drew in a breath and tried to relax, looking over at him. Grissom caught her glance and held it. He whispered to her, his voice soft and velvety.

“Like this. The noise level is dropping around us. Out of your peripheral vision you can see we’re being watched. People in the hall are slowing down . . .”

“Great, yeah I love being in the spotlight like this," Sara hissed, high color rising on her cheeks.

Grissom chuckled, keeping his face turned towards her. “You’re beautiful, Sara. So many people here know it. They admire your long lines, your confident grace, your All American straightforward sex appeal. From the saucy point of your nose to the tight curve of your derriere, there isn’t a guy in this lab who hasn’t given you the once over.”

Sara swallowed, but lifted her chin a bit higher, refusing to break from his stare.

“Cite your source," she choked.

Grissom lifted an eyebrow. No one was anywhere near them, but he kept his voice down. “LVPD Crime lab Men’s room, second stall from the left, and I quote ‘Sara S. gets me seriously hot and bothered.’ Unquote. There are eleven yeses and two hell yeahs under that pithy statement and the depressing fact is I recognize all thirteen handwriting samples.”

Sara’s jaw dropped, but she recovered enough to keep her expression mild. “That’s so . . . crass! Who wrote the first statement?”

Grissom said nothing.

Sara’s expression grew slightly flinty. “Oh THAT’S charming. You really know how to woo a girl, don’t you?”

“Well, considering I wrote it five and a half years ago when no one else even KNEW you," he breathed impishly. Sara’s jaw twitched as she tried to stay annoyed.

Grissom sighed.“I just want you to know that up until then I’d never in my entire life defaced public property to announce my attraction to a woman. It was childish and stupid and vulgar, yes, I don’t deny that. I’ve never done it since. But that single tiny sentence was also—cathartic. The first time I actually acknowledged that you meant more to me than just a star student; a brilliant mind. I suppose it was only fitting to proclaim it in the one place every man contends with his gender. I’m not proud of my vandalism, but it’s a statement of fact.”

“Gee thanks,” Sara dryly retorted, but her eyes twinkled. Grissom sighed again. He gently took her unresisting left hand and brought turned it palm up. Gently, he pressed a kiss into the center of it, warm and sweet, his beard brushing her fingers and heel of her hand.

Sara fought to hold still at this unexpectedly tender gesture, somehow more intimate for all its courtly charm. “Grissom . . ."

“This hand is naked, Sara, and I’m going to dress it up as it deserves,” he told her gently. She stood there, slightly dazed while he rolled her fingers up to form a fist, letting her clutch the memory of his mouth against her skin. He released her hand slowly, and she blinked, fighting the shiver that raced down her spine.

Delicately, Sara brought her fist to her lips and let it unfold again, collecting the kiss contained within it in a soft gesture of tenderness, her eyes on his the entire time. She sighed pleasurably, her strong shoulders shifting in a shy shrug under her maroon sweater as Grissom broke into a smile.

 

Across the hall, Greg let out a loud and noisy sigh.

“That’s IT? He smooches her hand like a terrier looking for a piece of kibble? I mean what the hell was THAT?”

Nick gave a slow shrug, pretending to examine a readout sheet. “Got me, Greggo. Maybe it’s some weird sign language thing from his mom. Not as much fun putting the mistletoe to REAL use.”

In the adjoining lab, Warrick frowned, rubbing his jaw; he glanced at Catherine and saw the same light of awareness in her baby blues.

She gave a shuddering sigh. “Oh damn. I didn’t know. They have it BAD, Warrick.”

He nodded, grimly amused. “You got that right. Serious symbolism there—left hand, sort of half a palmer’s kiss; even I’ve had enough Shakespeare to catch that.”

“So what are we going to do?” Catherine insisted.

Warrick shot her a surprised glance. “Nothing. This isn’t our business, Catherine. Grissom is not the sort of guy who’s going to appreciate anyone giving him advice on his love life, let alone from US.”

But by the set of her mouth, Catherine didn’t look completely convinced.

*** *** ***

The first thing Grissom noticed when he walked in the door was a familiar scent, spicy and fragrantly warm as it drifted through the house. Manheim Steamroller was on the stereo and the Carol of the Bells filled the rooms as well, so the dual delights for nose and ear made him grin. He carefully set the maroon and silver package down on the nearest bookcase then glanced around; Sara popped out of the kitchen archway, grinning at him.

“Well isn’t this just domestic as hell—how was your day, honey?” she demanded perkily, making herself laugh at her Fifties housewife tone.

“The usual. Dead bodies, office politics, paperwork. The only saving grace is this hot little criminalist in my department. I’ve been dying to catch her under the mistletoe for a week now,” Grissom replied, flicking on the tree lights and studying the effect. Sara sauntered over, bypassing him and zeroing in on the package.

He shot her a warning look tinted with amusement. “Christmas Eve starts in a few minutes, Sara—be patient!”

“I’m totally patient. But you know, my family has this long standing tradition that the youngest child gets to open one present EARLY, to keep them from whining all night. And since Figaro isn’t here at the moment, that would actually make ME the youngest, and . . ."

Grissom shot her a look so loaded with weighty skepticism it practically fell to the floor. “Oh really? So if I shoot off a quick E mail to say, your brother, he can verify this venerable Sidle tradition?”

Sara thrust her jaw out, bluffing outrageously. “Absolutely, but he’s not home right now, and I seriously doubt my folks are online at five in the morning."

Grissom shook his head and motioned to the package; Sara brought it to him with a triumphant smirk. He held it up out of her reach and shook a finger at her. “First we eat, then we hang our stockings and THEN you can open this one. What’s for dinner?”

“Crab Cioppino, ordered fresh from the kitchens of the Atlantis Casino. Hey that rhymed! Normally I’d just do the sourdough bread and sauce, but since it’s Christmas and I LOVE seafood I’m making an exception this morning,” she grinned.

“Oooh,” Grissom muttered approvingly, setting the gift on the mantelpiece.

 

Sara watched as Grissom cleared the table of the tiny breakfast nook they’d managed to set up at one end of the kitchen. He worked around her with deliberate efficiency, and she felt the slow swell of joyous anticipation throb low in her belly as she sipped her glass of chardonnay. Grissom caught her eye. “YOU look like a woman with a few secrets,” he ventured.

She arched an eyebrow at him and held his glance. “Possibly. Any word on when the mighty killer can come home?”

“Figaro the Fierce is set to be freed the twenty sixth. Doc Santos told me he’s healthy and up to date on his shots, but estimates he’s never going to be a normal sized cat, Sara. At best his top weight may be five, six pounds, max.”

“Genetic?” she wondered aloud.

“Runt of the litter. And according the Santos, he’s a Jellico cat.”

They moved into the living room; Grissom lit a fire and Sara the candles. In perfect unspoken agreement they drew the curtains closed to darken the room from the growing light of dawn. Sara fished a shopping bag out from beside the end of the sofa. She handed Grissom a smaller bag from within it. “I took the liberty of getting the two of us official stockings."

Grissom pulled his out and blinked in delight, fingering the needlepoint baseball diamond embroidered down the length. Lightly his finger traced the gold thread that spelled out his name along the top cuff, then he looked more closely at the designs on each end.

When Grissom looked up, Sara grinned. “A yin-yang and a spider?”

“Well, sure," Sara pointed out cheerfully. “When we first moved in, you brought a spider into the house and I brought the wall hanging. It seemed like the perfect way to immortalize that moment, you know?”

“Your mind astounds me, Ms. Sidle,” Grissom sighed, slightly awed. Sara tossed her head and laughed. She held up her own stocking, showing him the mistletoe embroidery, and her own name in gold thread, also capped by a yin-yang and a spider.

She hesitated. “Would you think it really stupid of me to have gotten a stocking
for . . .?”

“Nah,” Grissom grinned, “Ernie always had one, usually stuffed with rawhide and milk bones.”

Sara gave a relieved smile and gently fished out the pet store stocking, which held catnip, kitty treats and various squeaky mice in it. She set it off to one side of the fireplace and let her gaze drift up to the present on the mantel. Grissom was still examining his stocking, but he spoke softly.

“Have you been a good girl this year?”

Sara spun and glanced at him, eyes bright and teasingly defiant. He laughed at her expression. “All right, but don’t throw a fit if it’s socks or underwear.”

Sara flounced over to the sofa, present in hand; Grissom watched her shake it lightly. “Going to take it into the lab and run a few tests on it?” he asked. She ignored that and carefully undid the paper, slowly smoothing it out, slipping the ribbon off.

Grissom snorted. “Sara, acushla, I’ve seen the bomb squad work faster—it’s just a present.”

“Beg to differ, Gil—this is the first Christmas present I’ve opened in this house from you. That’s sort of momentous in its own way.” She paused, and added, “So it better NOT be socks or underwear.”

The box held lovely tissue threaded through with silver and maroon stripes; Sara peeled it back to reveal a delicate green garter belt of satin and embroidered with three-dimensional clusters of mistletoe; small pearls gleamed as the berries. Sara shot Grissom a slightly disbelieving look; he tried very hard to look innocent, but the heat in his eyes gave him away. Under the belt lay a pair of silky red and white striped stockings.

“Oh. My. God. I’m going to look like a total Christmas hootchie!” Sara squeaked in protest.

Grissom bit back a laugh. “That’s what you get for wanting to open something early. New tradition--you get to wear that to bed.”

Sara rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help smiling. Although slightly outré, the outfit wasn’t cheap; she realized the pearls were genuine and the very texture of the stockings spoke of real silk. She shot Grissom a slightly threatening look, which he ignored. He propped one elbow up on the back of the sofa and simply studied her, his expression bright and amazingly tender.

She melted. Sara found that when he looked at her that way, intimate and soft, it was all she could do to remember to breathe sometimes. An idea came to her and she carefully rose from the sofa.

“Fine. You hang the stockings and tend the fire, and in a moment I’ll give YOU something to get jolly about," came her purred remark. Grissom sighed, and she was pleased to note him shift as his erection strained through his slacks. She scooped up her gifts and sauntered off to the bedroom, laughing.

Grissom closed his eyes and mentally counted to twenty, first in Latin, then German, well aware he was amazingly aroused. He couldn’t quite understand how his initial concept of co-habitation and the reality of it could end up so magnificently diverse. Years ago he’d assumed, erroneously, that if he married someone, or became seriously involved, the first few weeks of their lust would inevitably dwindle down into something more sedate and average; something approaching a typical marriage. Sex on the weekends, most likely, falling into that largest Masters and Johnson demographic.

But he hadn’t factored in Sara. Amazing, brilliant, profoundly sensual Sara.

Sara who took him, kinks and all, and held her own brand of erotic challenge. Grissom had seen her eyes grow smoky with desire, felt her wicked fingers dance over him, her teeth sink into him. Sara could bring him to aching stiffness with a single slow lick of her lips, a heated suggestion in his ear. She gave as good as she got, and shared that sweet smuttiness with a grace that left him in awe of her.

Eight months, and the lust still simmered on high, still left him wanting to lick her skin and sleep entwined with her every day. Astounding, he concluded, as he hooked the two stockings to face each other, dangling high up from the mantelpiece.

Clearly, love was the cornerstone on which lust was sharpened.

Before he could think anything more, he heard footsteps. Sara sallied towards him, swaying her hips in exaggeration as she carried a plate. Grissom stared.

The garter belt was a wonderful fit, riding her slim hips perfectly, the green complimenting her pale skin and framing the dark fluff between her thighs. The stockings—Grissom choked back a moan. On Sara’s sleek, gorgeous legs, the long peppermint look of the red and white stripes accentuated the saucy sexiness of her limbs.

Sara waved the plate to catch his attention.

On the dish was a fragrant brown loaf, dotted with gold and red, topped with rings of pale yellow. Sara waited until his gaze gradually shifted to her face, then smiled crookedly at him.

“Much as I love you, Grissom—let’s just keep this little fruitcake mania of yours between US, okay?”

Grissom slowly got up and strode towards her hungrily.

“I’m going to eat that off of your bare bottom, Sara. I’m going to lick crumbs and candied cherries off your tummy and thighs. “

She laughed, smiling at him with her ‘bring it on!’ expression.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

Sleepily, slowly, Sara rose back to wakefulness, feeling languid relaxation saturating every muscle of her body. Grissom’s curly head rested on the middle of her chest, and his hot slow breath tickled her skin as he slept on, sated for the moment. With one hand, Sara stroked his hair gently, smiling to herself.

She would have to vacuum sometime soon, she knew. Fruitcake crumbs were already everywhere between here and the living room, proof of Grissom making good on his threat. Not that she minded, oh no. If every fruitcake led to screaming thrashing orgasms, Sara suspected it would be a MUCH more popular holiday treat. Grissom alone certainly took nibbling to a new art form.

Carefully she began to slide out from under him, moving slowly, but he still woke up a bit. She kissed his temple. “Bathroom—back in a minute."

He rolled over with a sigh.

She worked swiftly. Two bags of gifts hidden in the back yard were hauled in and set around the tree. She picked up another, smaller shopping bag and reached for Grissom’s stocking, filling it with the smaller presents until it overflowed and she had to set it on the fireplace with a few gifts around it. Satisfied, Sara glanced at her watch, noting it was nearly one in the afternoon, then quickly slipped back to bed. Grissom immediately rolled back over, wrapping around her spine and settling down with a soft contented sigh; Sara smiled into her pillow, snuffling a little and drifting off again herself.

Barely an hour later, Gil cautiously woke up and glanced over at Sara. He froze at the sight of the red brown spots along her cheek, and dabbed carefully, feeling the congealed blood stick to his fingers. He looked more closely, seeing the dried remains of the tiny nosebleed along her pillow as well and frowned.

Slipping out, he made his way into the garage and pulled out two stacks of neatly wrapped presents from under a tarp and carried them into the house. Reaching the living room, he grinned at the sight of other presents already under the tree. He added his own cache and looked for Sara’s stocking, which hung limp and forlornly by itself. Fighting the temptation to poke around his own stocking, Grissom quickly filled hers from the niche he’d hidden behind the tree, adding the bouquet of red roses and mistletoe on the top. He set the timer on the coffeepot for six o’clock and went back to bed, trying not to wake Sara when he climbed in again.

*** *** ***

“Are you awake yet? Grissom? Are you awake yet?”

“I’m awake NOW. Stop bouncing on me . . . unless you’d like to . . . .”

“Nooooo—I’m still picking raisins out of my navel!” Sara accused with a husky laugh. She was straddling Grissom’s back, lightly drumming her palms on his broad bare back as he tried to look at the bedside clock. Just after six, and the sunset glowed through the French doors.

He cranked his head to glare up at Sara, who looked enchantingly tousled. “Shower, coffee, breakfast, stockings, presents?”

“Are you nuts? Coffee, stockings, shower, breakfast and THEN presents. Stockings always take priority over food and cleanliness, Grissom—clearly being an only child you missed this important truism.”

“Being an only child I had no competition in the stockings department unless you counted the dog. Off my back, Sara. And go wash your face—you had another nosebleed in the night.”

“Oh.” Deflated, she clambered off and headed to the bathroom as Grissom sleepily grabbed his robe and shuffled out to the kitchen. By the first swallow of French Roast he felt a bit more alive, and looked up as Sara made her way in wearing a green sweatshirt. Her legs were bare now, the peppermint stockings now carefully hanging from the edge of the tub, but her old fluffy bedroom slippers graced her feet. She took the mug Grissom held out gratefully.

“Stockings?” he pulled her in and kissed her forehead; she nodded. They padded out to the living room and surveyed to loot. Grissom grinned; Sara practically quivered.

“This is a disgustingly HUGE haul."

“Made the naughty AND nice lists, huh?” he teased.

Sara spotted her roses. She picked up the bouquet and buried her nose in it; breathing deeply, and then carried it out to the kitchen. When she returned, she leaned over the back of the sofa, cupping Grissom’s upside down face in her hands and kissing him enthusiastically.

“You liked?” he asked softly.

“I loved, babe.”

They sat on the sofa and got to the job of slowly unpacking their stockings. Sara dumped all her packages out into her lap, then chose one at random. “From Santa to Sara—wow, personalized. And he’s got really familiar handwriting too."

“He was running late and asked me to address stuff for him,” Grissom countered loftily. Sara grinned and tore the paper off of a violet bath bombe from the Bubble Factory. Three similar boxes revealed bombes of lavender, rose and carnation, all the size of her fist.

She sniffed each. “So, Santa’s been checking up on my bathing preferences."

“Hey, he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake—he’s basically a benevolent world wide stalker," Grissom pointed out, making her giggle. His own packages included a leather case of beard and mustache trimmers, all in sterling silver. He whistled, impressed.

Sara held up a Siddahartha’s Snake and squealed. “I got one! I was SO close to going back and buying one for Tom!"

Grissom found a package of dried chili crickets, and another of chocolate dipped mealworms, along with a small green envelope that held a gift certificate to Eatabug Incorporated. Sara looked up from her snake laughed at his expression. “Thought you’d like those."

“My favorites.”

They continued to unwrap the various goodies from the stockings, piling up all sorts of interesting things. Grissom found saltwater taffy, new socks, gift cards for Starbuck’s, a Deadly Mantis coffee mug, and at the very bottom of his stocking, a new leather wallet. He opened it to see a twenty inside, along with a new pass to the X-Scream.

Sara met his gaze and grinned widely.“Up to you to fill it with everything else.”

She turned back to her own stocking, unwrapping a bottle of Emerald Fire perfume and gasping. Grissom watched her struggle not to chide him for the extravagance and finally just give in and dab it on. Further gifts included leather driving gloves, a gift certificate to Jezebel’s, Callard and Bowser toffee chocolate, and a black silk g-string. She flicked it at Grissom’s nose, making him grin. He gestured to the bottom of her stocking.

“Something else in there."

Digging down, she pulled out a small white envelope and opened the flap, pulling out a gold and black card. She blinked.

“An overnight stay at Luna? You CANNOT be serious! That’s outrageous, Grissom—they have a waiting list to get INTO that spa. Volcanic sand scrubs, Moroccan mud baths, hour-long herbal massages—it’s too much, babe. Totally.” She tried to look stern, but Grissom gave a slow shrug of his shoulders.

“If you say so. I can always give the certificate to Catherine."

“Don’t you DARE!” came Sara’s yelp as she clutched it possessively to her chest.

He pretended to mull it over for a moment, then sighed, sipping his coffee. “No I guess not. I think you need the practice in relaxing and being pampered more than she does.”

“Absolutely. Santa knows best," Sara agreed with a mischievous grin.

*** *** ***

Grissom had never had fried bananas before, but Sara slipped them onto his plate and sprinkled them with a pinch of cinnamon before turning to her own breakfast. He shot her a dubious look and she rolled her eyes.

“I had a Portuguese roommate in Boston for a while, and she used to fry up sliced bananas every Sunday morning along with sausage patties. Try them, they’re really very good.”

Grissom tasted, found them just that, and ate with a will as Sara buttered her toast and crunched on it. They finished breakfast in good time, and Grissom drank the last of his coffee, watching Sara take her turn at the dishes.

“Wash up then attack the presents?” she inquired.

“You read my mind.”

 

Within twenty minutes they were back in the living room, poking through the piles and choosing gifts. Grissom picked up one addressed to him and looked over his glasses at Sara, who was shaking another package.

“It’s from you,” he observed. “Should I shake mine too?”

Sara ignored him and carefully pulled the paper apart, smoothing it down again as she did so. He smirked. “You know, for a woman absolutely dying to get into that box, you’re awfully meticulous about the wrapping.”

“Some of us save paper,” Sara chided, shooting him a quick look. Grissom snorted. He worked his fingers along the taped edges, then yanked; a satisfying tear echoed in the room. Sara’s mouth twitched.

“A ripper. Great. I fell in love with a ripper. First the whole carnivore/vegetarian thing, now this.”

“Paper is cheap, and Christmas, short. Do we go one at a time, or simultaneously here?” Grissom managed to give the words a slightly suggestive tone, and Sara laughed out loud.

“Oh babe, you first, Master of Caliente Way," she spluttered. He turned his attention to the box, tugging it open and looking down at the black suede jacket with a growing expression of stunned pleasure.

“Wow. Nice!” he held it up smiling.

Sara cocked her head, her expression pleased.
“Basic black. You look yummy in it. Of course you look good in basic blue, and basic green, and even basic grey is nice on you, but black . . .”

“Yummy?” Grissom questioned with a smirk as he examined the collar for a moment.

Sara nodded. “Oh yeah. Totally,” she replied in a dreamy tone. Grissom shook his head in resignation and carefully set the jacket aside, then turned his attention to the box in Sara’s lap. She lifted the lid and brushed the tissue back to stare down into a silky assortment of tiny G-string panties.

Grissom sipped his coffee. “Oddly enough, I was thinking about your wardrobe too, and somehow the adjective ‘yummy’ fits your outfits more than mine, Sara.”

She looked down at the pile of lingerie, lost in the rainbow of colors: buttercup yellow, fuchsia, coffee, royal blue, scarlet, peach, and peridot. She held up a flame orange pair on her index finger and turned a slow glare at Grissom.

“You bought me watered silk underwear. This is . . .”

“Thoughtful?”

“Disturbing. I just can’t picture you walking into Jezebel’s and browsing through the tabletops for these.”

“Internet,” he admitted cheerfully, “Although I don’t mind shopping in person, but it would help to have you along. That way I won’t get looks from the clerks trying to decide if I’m a deviant or a straying husband.”

Sara rolled her eyes and set the box of delicates off to her side, blowing her bangs out of her eyes and blushing.

When she glanced up at him, Grissom was busy studying a thin, flat UPS package. “From mom and Alex. It came to this address, by the way.”

Sara gave a shrug and went to pull another package out from under the tree, this one smaller, but beautifully wrapped in gold paper. Grissom happily tore into the cardboard to reveal a rectangular picture frame wrapped thickly in bubble wrap. He unpeeled it and lifted the artwork free. Curious, Sara came over and looked around the edge of it.

“Oh . . ."

“Damn. I forget how good he is. Alex doesn’t draw as much now as he did years ago, but when he does . . .” Grissom sighed respectfully, letting his voice trail off.

The long graceful lines of the charcoal sketch portrait had captured Sara Sidle perfectly. She stood in her grey party dress from the Gallery opening, resting in her familiar stance, her weight on one hip, looking up at something beyond the frame with the clear-eyed intensity so intrinsic to her personality. The sweep of a strand of her hair across her cheek, the elegant arch of her eyebrows, the kissable pucker of her lips were captured in the soft grey strokes along the paper. Alex had managed to convey the lean beauty and restlessness of her persona in the sketch, and the effect was dazzlingly sweet, Sara captured in a way a photograph never could. He’d matted it with a heavier grey stock, flecked with hints of pearl and framed it in black, and his signature danced in one corner: A. DeMontavallo.

Sara blinked, stunned by the picture, by the thoughtfulness and talent behind it. She looked at Grissom, who was smiling crookedly back up at her.
“I’d say you made a good impression on him.”

“It’s amazing. I don’t look like that. Well, that’s me, yeah, but only a hundred times better than I’d ever really look in life. Damn it, I want this on my driver’s license . . .”

Grissom laughed at that, and carefully set the picture to lean against the wall, protected from the jumble of paper and boxes around the living room rug. He fished into the carton and pulled out a scarlet envelope.

Gil,

Happy holidays! I hope your darling Sara won’t mind, but I simply could not rest until I’d managed to get her stunning countenance onto paper where she belongs. Surely on one of your visits out here we can talk her into a proper modeling session—lines like hers are rare indeed, and you may supervise of course.

Your mother and I debated long and hard over the proper gift for the two of you, and in the end she talked me into the crass reality of money, so please take and enjoy the enclosed cheque. Vacations are lovely, real estate is prudent but in the end, children, spend it on memories—they alone are worth it!

With abiding affection—

Alex

Grissom looked at the check and drew in a sharp breath; Sara’s mouth dropped open. Very carefully, Grissom fished out his new wallet and tucked the check into it as Sara tried to catch her breath.

“Well, I think we’re looking at some home improvements now," he commented lightly.

Sara blinked. “There were too many zeros on that, Gil, way too many,” she told him.

He gave a shrug that told her he’d faced this dilemma before. “It’s Alex. He’s generous, he loves my mother and it’s useless to try and give it back. So let’s honor him by doing the best we can with it.”

Sara sighed. To distract her, Grissom motioned back to the small box she held, and she looked down at it curiously. “From . . .?”

“Me. And no, it’s not underwear this time,” Grissom assured her with a twinkle of his eyes. Grissom motioned for her to sit on his lap on the sofa; she did, her back pressing against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her.

“Before you open that, I have to explain something. When we went to see your folks at Thanksgiving, I had a talk with your dad.”

Sara sat still, cocking her head up to look at him questioningly. Grissom gave her a small smirk.

“Yes, a pretty traditional one about my intentions, which haven’t been a secret by any means.”

“So you and dad talked. That is SO chauvinistically patriarchal, but still . . . kind of a turn-on,” Sara observed, slipping off one of her slippers and letting her toes caress his.

Grissom waggled his own under hers before speaking again. “Your dad made me promise to court you for a full year, Sara. And since I consider our relationship truly beginning from that lovely night in late May, then we have four and a half months to go before I can keep my word to him.”

Sara began to unwrap the box, meticulously folding the paper back to reveal a flat grey velvet jeweler’s box. It was as big as the palm of her hand, and she squirmed a little at the sight of it. Grissom leaned forward, nuzzling her ear. “So while this isn’t what I’d like to give you, it’s a start.”

He helped her open the lid, and Sara’s fingers trembled as she touched the necklace that lay on the black satin lining. The gold chain was incredibly fine, and hanging on it was a jeweled dragonfly. Tiny emerald and diamond chips decorated the wings, and the body was of hammered gold; the whole thing no bigger that Sara’s thumb, a true piece of extraordinary craftsmanship.

“It’s exquisite,” Sara breathed, marveling at details, the clever design of the piece.

Grissom sighed heavily into her hair as his arms tightened around her. “I’ve spent years studying insects, Sara. I know moths and beetles and roaches, ants and flies, but butterflies have lost their fascination for me since the Matlin case. When it happened, I looked over her collection and realized that while they were fragile and beautiful, they represented her inability to commit to anything seriously. And every time I’ve seen one since, I think of how tragic it was that she couldn’t love beyond a superficial level.”

“Grissom—" Sara began, moved by his serious tone, but he continued on in a low, urgent voice.

“You’re no butterfly, Sara. No matter how much you might have resembled her physically. You’re made of deeper truer stuff, more focused and far more beautiful. When you go after something you don’t stop until you’ve gotten it, mastered it, understand it. You didn’t give up on me, although God knows you had every right to. When I first made love to you, it was on wings of dragonflies, and like dragonflies you glitter in your flight, sweetheart. Your heart is fearless, and your pursuit of the truth a thing of beauty.”

Sara’s shoulders shook as she choked back a little sob, caught unawares by the simple sincerity in Grissom’s voice. He tightened his grip, holding her for a while as she silently cried a few quick tears.

Shakily she lifted the necklace out and held it to Grissom, who fastened the clasp around her neck, brushing her nape with his lips as he did so. Against her sweatshirt, the tiny dragonfly sparkled in the light.

Sara caught Grissom’s face in her hands and kissed him. “I’ll treasure it,” she assured him, making it clear she meant his sentiment as well as the gift, and he nodded.

Bit by bit they moved through the rest of the presents, delighting and laughing through them. Sara received a new police scanner, mountable for her car, which she appreciated. Other gifts included two vegetarian cookbooks and a stone statue for the garden; it was a Japanese lantern, Edo dynasty design and fitted for a candle within it. Next came new hot pink bedroom slippers, a bound set of Forensic Standards journals and a hand knit afghan in chocolate, cream and cocoa from her mother.

Grissom opened a box of crossword wallpaper (“perfect for the garage,” he insisted) a chrome wine rack, complete with three bottles of top quality Chablis, a gift certificate to Trout Unlimited and a hand knit off white cable fisherman’s sweater from Avra, complete with small crickets embroidered around the neck and sleeve cuffs.

Sara handed him an envelope from the tree; Grissom opened it to read the note: I owe you one (1) rocking chair! Love, Sara.

He grinned. Carefully, he pulled another box out from behind the tree and handed it to her as he sat back to watch. Sara undid the bow and tugged the lid off, glancing down into it and gasping.

In it lay a pair of neoprene handcuffs, blue and black, still in their plastic bag. She glanced up at Grissom, who held her gaze, his expression very, very still.

Finally she found her voice. “I thought you said . . . never again.”

“Never is . . . too long,” he sighed nervously, but with a hint of a smile. Knowing how much courage this gesture cost him, Sara nodded, and carefully closed the box, deeply moved by his show of trust in her. She sighed.

One last gift remained. Sara brought it to Grissom and sat at his feet while he slowly opened the jeweler’s box and lifted out the silver chain to examine the saint’s medal with a wondering eye. Sara cleared her throat.

“It was because of the car accident. I love you, and it was incredibly hard to see you hurt like that, so I figured I’d have to get you some extra mojo. Saint Albert is the patron saint of scientists, so if anyone up there could relate to you I figured it would be him. I had them put it on one solid chain, no clasp, because it’s how I feel about us—no beginning or end, Gil, just links that hold us together.”

He nodded, and quietly slipped it over his head, tucking the small medal inside his shirt. His warm hand slipped over hers and he pulled her into his lap, holding her close, resting happily in the warm comfort of her.

*** *** ***

The rest of the night was a slow and mellow affair; Sara called her parents while Grissom set up the Edo lantern in the back yard. They napped together for a while, dozing and waking to talk and laugh, and by the time they were hungry, daylight streamed through the windows.

“I have a suggestion, if you’re not too exhausted,” Sara ventured, smiling. Grissom arched an eyebrow, listening. “We ought to go into town, look for a rocking chair and on the way back collect our cat.”

“Sounds like a very good plan to me.”

 

The Oak Depot was on the edge of a shopping mall west of the airport; huge signs announced sales throughout the store. Sara wandered up and down the sales floor, looking about, trying not to be obvious. Grissom had no such compunctions. He strode up to the nearest rocking chair and sat in it, gripping the arms, his expression one of serious concentration.

A blonde chubby sales lady bounced over to him, beaming. “Can I help you, sir?”

“Yes. Do you think this chair could withstand three hundred and twenty pounds of shifting weight?”

The saleswoman laughed, her blonde curls bouncing as she looked at Grissom’s intent expression.

“Oh heavens, you can’t possibly weight that much!” she burbled. Grissom gave her a quick smile before turning his attention back to the chair.

“I don’t by myself, but then again, I wouldn’t be alone on the chair,” he replied, studying the back spindles with interest. The saleslady paused a moment, and Sara bit back a laugh, watching her attempt to decipher Grissom’s comment. Finally she got it, her round face going a bit pink at the realization. Grissom looked up at her and smiled at that instant, making her blush even harder.

“Oh!” she flustered. Taking pity on her, Sara sailed over and shot Grissom a warning stare over the saleslady’s shoulder. He did his best to look mild.

“Hi honey, this nice lady is helping me find a chair for us,” he practically chirped. Sara put on a brave face.

“So this chair’s of solid oak?” she asked. The saleslady turned to her, glad to deal with someone less—unsettling. Right back over the saleslady’s shoulder, Grissom was shooting Sara a veiled, slightly suggestive look she chose to ignore.

“Oh yes, solid oak, with a lifetime varnish and your choice of seat cushions in all sorts of fabrics and patterns.”

“Got any in faux fur?” Grissom inquired, “Something fuzzy?”

Sara covered her eyes with one hand as the saleslady spun back to Grissom, startled again.

“Er . . .”

“And the spindles—are they strong enough to withstand handcuffs?” he continued, his expression bland although his eyes twinkled.

“I’m sorry, he’s a little wired on fruitcake . . . “ Sara insisted, “But we ARE in the market for a chair, no fur, maybe something in a velour? Scotch guarded?”

*** *** ***

All the way into Henderson, Sara fumed. Grissom kept his smirks on the mild side, driving steadily. In the back of the Denali, the rocking chair was securely wrapped in thin foam padding to protect it. Sara snuffled.

“I can’t believe you embarrassed me like that! The entire staff of Oak Depot thinks we’re a pair of oversexed perverts now, you KNOW that, don’t you?”

“Yes but we won’t be going back anytime soon, and think how much fun they’ll have telling their families about that nice couple with the kinky tendencies.”

Despite her annoyance, Sara laughed, and immediately felt a familiar trickle.

Grissom glanced over at her sharply. “Another one. Just how many nosebleeds have you been having, Sara? This is the third by my count.”

“Eid in the pass week,” she mumbled through a Kleenex.

Grissom sucked in a quick breath and frowned. “Jesus! Eight--that’s it. We’re dropping off the present and then heading for the emergency room.”

Sara turned an irritated glare at him over her wadded tissue. “Grissom, id a nosebleed, not a heart attack. Id not a big deea.”

“Sara, yes it IS a big deal. Blood loss of any kind is symptomatic of a problem, honey, and while one or two aren’t bad, you can’t tell me that eight are normal.”

Sara mulishly refused to answer, her expression unreadable.

They pulled up to a shabby little house with a single string of Christmas lights around the eaves of the roof. It looked a little forlorn in the daylight. Grissom shot Sara a serious glance, grabbing the bag that sat at her feet.

“Give me two minutes to get this delivered and then we’re going in, Sara. No argument about this.”

She watched him through the window as he trotted up the steps, then rapped on the door. After a moment, it opened, and Sara recognized the thin black woman who answered. Looming over her shoulder was another familiar figure; Grissom pushed the bag into the man’s hands. There was a bit of a fuss, and finally the lady opened the bag, pulling out a six pack and the other fruitcake.

Seeing it, the other man clapped a heavy hand on Grissom’s shoulder; Sara could almost hear the weight of it dropping. He gave a squeeze; the woman babbled something to the two of them, and within minutes, Grissom was back in the car, an enigmatic smile on his face.

Sara shot him a sidelong glance. “What was that all about?”

“Just confirming at theory about genetic predisposition for candied pineapple and pecans. You have no idea how hard it was to give that cake away . . .”

Sara reached for his free hand, giving it a squeeze. They traveled on until the tall facade of Desert Palm hospital stood ahead; Grissom pulled into the parking lot as Sara gave a sulky sigh and climbed out. “Nosebleed. I nicked a vein or something, Grissom.”

“Yeah, or you have chronic SOD, or need a humidifier, I know, but it won’t hurt to get it checked out,” he soothed, coming up behind her and steering her by her shoulders.

She frowned. “SOD?”

“Soap Opera Disease—where the beautiful young female ingénue is diagnosed with some horrible disease that never actually shows until her demise. It always starts with some little innocent thing, like a nosebleed.”

Sara laughed, dimly aware that it had been Grissom’s intention to make her do so. They walked through the sliding glass doors into a fairly quiet waiting room. Only three people were there in the hard plastic chairs under the harsh fluorescent lights. Behind a glass wall, a middle aged nurse looked up at them.

“Hi, what seems to be the problem?” she asked pleasantly.

Grissom cocked his head. “She’s been bleeding from her nose off and on for about eight days.”

Sara gave a resigned nod at the nurse, who pursed her mouth and studied her carefully. A clipboard slipped across the desk to them and Grissom picked it up, glancing over it as the nurse spoke again.

“Insurance card?”

Sara fished it out and passed it over while Grissom slipped a comforting arm around her. She didn’t want to acknowledge the sudden chill running through her now that they were actually at the hospital, but it was there, heavy and frightening all the same. The nurse handed back the card.

“All right Mrs. Sidle. If you and your husband will have a seat, I’ll go ahead the get your records pulled.”

“He’s not my—“

“—Thank you,” Grissom told the nurse with a smile. They went to a pair of seats against a side wall and Sara rolled her eyes.

“Mr. Sidle, huh?” she commented without looking at him. Grissom’s mouth twitched, but he said nothing, just handed her the clipboard and waited patiently. Sara filled out the forms, hesitating only at the address line. Reluctantly she penned in the number of her apartment, and glanced up to see Grissom’s face. A flicker of sadness passed over it, gone in an instant, and Sara sighed.

He carried the clipboard back to the nurse, and returned to Sara, dropping into the seat next to her. She leaned against him, taking a little comfort in his warm presence.

“I always thought it was sort of patronizing that in most societies, women are expected to take the last name of their husbands, myself. Gil Sidle isn’t a bad name, on the face of it," Grissom ventured softly.

Sara chuckled. “What about hyphenation? If my mom had gone that route she would have been Avra Raleigh-Sidle. And yours would have been Olivia Sullivan-Grissom.”

“True—and Sidle-Grissom has a nice ring to it," came his warm and gentle tone. Sara felt her face go hot; to counter it, she rubbed her cheek against his shoulder.

A voice called out. “Sidle?”

They looked up to the beckoning nurse.

*** *** ***

Doctor Sean Granger was a tall lanky man with thick dark red hair and a Texas twang. He had patiently questioned Sara, and looked up both her nostrils with the scope, then sent her down the hall for an x-ray.

Now he was with her in the examining room, holding up a black sheaf and trying not to grin. Grissom leaned against the wall next to Sara, his arms crossed.

“Whal, I see considerabl’ irritation up thar, probably exerbated by the dryness this season. But the truth is, Miz Sidle, y’all got a bead up yer nose.”

Sara blinked. “Excuse me?”

Granger smiled. He stuck the x-ray onto the wall mounted light board and flicked on the switch. The ghostly image of Sara’s skull showed through, elegant and slightly spooky. Granger used a pen, and pointed to a tiny, slender round shape lodged in the upper sinus on the right side, above the eye sockets on the x-ray.

“Rhat there. If y’all look here, you can see this lil’ thang’s been up your sniffer fer years—you probably inhaled it as a young’un and forgot all about it.”

“A bead. Up my nose.” Sara muttered, still trying to figure this out. She didn’t dare look at Grissom.

Granger nodded cheerfully. “Yep. Probl’y one of those kind they call a seed bead, or an Indian bead. Because it’s glass, it didn’t irritate your sinuses, and yer nose just sort of absorbed it into the lining. But from what I can see, it’s been dislodged recently, and now th’ edge if it is what’s rubbing against your nasal membranes in thar.”

“Dislodged it," Sara turned quickly and looked at Grissom as they both suddenly remembered Thanksgiving morning, and the milk she’d choked out of her nostrils. Guilt flooded his face.

The doctor made a shrugging gesture. “In any case, we’re gonna have to go get it out, Miz Sidle. Now that it’s moved, it’s liable to scratch up yer nose and leave it open t’ all kinds of infections up there. It’s too high up t’ jest blow it out, so I’m recommending laparoscopic surgery with a probe. Quick job, overnight stay.”

“Right now?” slightly panicked, Sara’s brown eyes widened, but Granger shook his head.

“Naw, but within th’ next two weeks or so. I’ll give ya a low level antibiotic as a preventative, but I cain’t do anything about your bleeding because it’s coming from too high up in yer sinuses.”

For a moment, none of them spoke. Then Sara sighed, and self-consciously rubbed her forehead between her eyes.

Granger gave a soft chuckle. “Trust me, Miz Sidle, although it might seem a tad embarrassin’ it could be a hell of a lot worse.”

They left the Emergency room half an hour later, after stopping at the pharmacy for the antibiotic. It was nearly noon, and Sara hadn’t spoken three words to Grissom since finding out about the bead. He worried about her stoic demeanor. Carefully, he reached over as he was driving and took her hand. It was warm, and her fingers gripped his tightly. He could feel her shaking slightly, and alarmed, he glanced over at her.

Sara was silently laughing. Her elegant face was bright with mirth, and tears were running down her cheeks.

Grissom slowed the car. “Sara?”

“Grissom! How am I going to explain my situation at work? Hey guys, guess what? It’s not a brain tumor; it’s just something I jammed up my nose back when I was a kid!”

He pulled the car over to a curb, and carefully reached for Sara, taking her into his arms. Slowly her laughter died down into spluttering giggles and began to shift into tears, real ones as she cried, clinging to him. Grissom held her patiently, well aware that all Sara needed was a chance to let it out. When her sobs slowly abated, shifting in to a few wet hiccups against the front of his damp shirt, Grissom kissed the top of her head.

She snuffled. “It hit me, walking out of there, you know. It COULD have been something serious, Gil.”

“I know.”

“And if it HAD been, it would have pissed me OFF so badly!”

“I know,” he murmured again, cupping her face and tipping it up towards his so he could look at her. In the daylight, her complexion, still wet with tears, shone. He kissed her, hard enough to take her breath away, then broke away to catch her gaze and hold it, his blue eyes very bright.

“Listen to me, Sara—I’m not sorry I pushed us to go to the Emergency room, but yes, I was scared too. If it had been something serious I don’t know how I would take it. All I DO know is that through anything and everything, I’m going to be there for you. You can count on that, Acushla, all right?”

A little bleary-eyed, but grateful, Sara nodded. Her nose had begun to bleed again, and she wiped it impatiently with the heel of her hand, while Grissom fished in his jacket pocket for a Kleenex. He dabbed at it thoughtfully, and managed a quirky grin.

“We’ll tell everyone it’s sinus surgery for some ruptured tissue. That’s pretty much the truth, and nobody’s going to hear about a bead up your nose, at least not from me.”

A quiet minute passed, and finally, Sara looked at herself in the rearview mirror and made a face, composed, resigned, calmer. “I’ll try to get it scheduled near a weekend then. Fun, fun."

Grissom cocked an eyebrow at her. “You know,” He began slowly, “the thought of you in one of those hospital gowns with your hot little tushie peeking out the back . . .”

And Sara laughed all the way to the vet’s office.

END