"How awful this all must feel for you."
Nick Stokes could feel himself choke on the bite of burger, like he was out of his body and just observing. It happened in slow-mo, a down-angle shot, the colors smudged around the edges. Then, he spat the half-masticated piece of meat out and blinked a few times, shaking his head to clear it. When he looked at the seat across from him, she was gone, and he closed his eyes.
This was what he got for entangling himself with a coworker. She was unstable most of the time, and he could only imagine what kinds of trouble she might get into-- might get Greg into. But he couldn't for the life of him visualize following her, seeking her out, calling her cell to beg her to come back.
He was the one who had messed up, though.
Earlier that morning, right after shift, she had suggested they go get a bite to eat, to talk. To clear the smoggy air that had settled between them. He thought now that he probably should have declined. Whatever had possessed her to extend the invitation, it wasn't benevolence. They went to Sonic, driving separately, and sat at a picnic table in the shade. He got a burger, extra onions, and she had a chocolate milkshake that she left behind, half-empty.
She looked him straight in the eye and asked him what good he thought could possibly come from getting involved with Greg. He didn't choke. He wasn't even all that disturbed by the question or surprised that she had picked up on that. He looked at her calmly and asked her to elaborate. She frowned and stared down at her fingers, splayed out on the tabletop. The gold band on her left hand caught his eye and he nodded shortly, feeling completely sick and not just from eating the burger too quickly.
"He's just like that," she said. "You know that. I know that. I'm not upset, at least not in the conventional sense of being upset." She took a sip of her milkshake. She didn't look him in the eye. "He's not a toy, though, Nicky. He's not disposable."
"He's not a Kleenex, you mean," he drawled, looking at her with his bottom lip between his teeth.
"No, he's not. He might like to think he is, but he isn't. You can't screw with his head because that's screwing with mine and you wouldn't do that. Right?" She took a deep breath, glanced at the sun. "I've filed for divorce, though, and I got a reply from the lab in DC. They're interested, Nick. I told Gris about an hour ago."
He cocked his head and searched her eyes for something, and when he found them blank he couldn't quite decide what he'd been looking for in the first place. She didn't look sad, or angry, or anything. "So you're just gonna leave?" he asked.
She laughed, and it seemed strange to him that it was a genuine laugh. "There isn't anything left for me in Vegas. I mucked up my job by getting involved with a colleague. Then I married him, and then I caught him with you. The whole reason I came here in the first place was, well, Grissom, and in the last two years, I realized that that was a silly reason. Well, not silly, really. But now it seems pointless, like I was just chasing a fairytale." She took a punctuating sip of her milkshake and took his hands in hers. "That's all I've done since I can remember, chase fairytales. I dreamed I was a princess who'd been kidnapped from her real parents by a pair of hippies who thought it was morally wrong to subjugate a child to the cruel world of nobility. Then, when I was in that group home in my teens, I chased Harvard until I caught it. Grissom, my fairytale knight, although he turned out to be more of a haggard old dragon with fire that didn't burn me. I chased the American Dream for about five minutes and then came you."
"Don't blame me for this--" he began.
She squeezed his much larger fingers more tightly and smiled with a bit of sparkle in her eyes. "I'm thanking you," she said earnestly. "You ripped down all of those stupid fairytales I had, though. You reminded me that I'll always be unsettled and what I was trying to synthesize with Greg wasn't right for me. I love you for it, but now I have to move on." She stood up, tugging her shirt properly into place, and he cautiously took a bite of his burger. "How awful this all must feel for you."
He choked, more on the pity in her tone than on his sandwich, and she left: slipping into her SUV, pulling out of the parking lot with a stoic look on the face he could only see in profile.
Within the month she had moved to Washington and by the first of July he had quietly taken up her place in that old mafia ghost house Greg had been so proud of when they bought it. Nick was surprised one morning later that month to discover that she had left behind most of her things, and that they were neatly boxed up and labeled in her handwriting, stored in the attic.
That first year, they all got postcards from her. Each of them came from a different landmark from the nation's capital, and most of them had some underlying meaning nobody discussed. His was a grainy archive picture of the hanging of Lincoln's murderers. It came, right to Greg's house like she expected it, on the same day in August as her ex-husband's. Greg's was in an envelope and when he opened it, he retreated to the attic and refused to come down until it was time for them to leave for work that evening. He would not discuss the envelope's contents, and apparently hid it very well because Nick hunted all over for it and never found it. Grissom's came in October and was from the Smithsonian and featured a bee pollinating a flower and begged him not to go Freudian on the message. That same month, Greg flew out to Washington for a week and came back surlier and quieter than ever. Warrick's postcard arrived in November, from the Air and Space Museum, and it advised him to stop flailing around and figure out where it was that he belonged. Catherine got the Ruby Slippers, sent to her house and featuring a cheerful plea to tell Lindsay "Merry Christmas!" for her. Even Hodges got a postcard, sent to his home in January, and the tech brought it in with a glowing look about him. It had an archive photo from Nazi Germany she might have bought at the Holocaust Museum, but the message was relatively warm in tone and inspired Hodges to make a disparaging comment about Greg's taste in romance until Catherine pointed out that perhaps the Nazi connotation wasn't so far off.
Another year passed and more strangely personal things came in the mail. Greg received more envelopes and spent more time holed up in the attic. Sometimes he thought he could hear him crying, sometimes laughing. She sent flowers to them sometimes, always seasonally inappropriate and never addressed to Greg. Usually Mia or Warrick, Archie or Grissom, once to Nick, even, but never Greg. She had been promoted to nightshift supervisor in only a few months, apparently, and she and Grissom had a healthy correspondence on a professional level. Nick suspected that their relationship had finally matured like a proper fine wine should. Catherine returned from a conference in June about car crime scenes in Birmingham, Alabama, and reported that she'd been there, too, looking healthier and happier, if exhausted. She had taken Greg into that shoebox of an office she had and they both came out smiling not long after. Nick had wondered if everybody knew something he didn't.
The next October, Greg took a leave of absence and flew out to Washington for a few days, vague in his details. Nick hadn't been able to secure the time off, and he had not missed that he hadn't been invited along. Not long after Greg returned, Nick noticed a new picture on Grissom's desk, and when questioned the supervisor stated evasively that it was his godson, which explained a lot while explaining nothing.
Nick wasn't stupid. The baby looked just like Greg.
Near Christmas, a New Jersey Senator was found dead at Caesar's, and she came back to Vegas at the behest of the Senate itself, calling in the best investigator from back in Washington. "You worked in Las Vegas for almost ten years, Sanders," they told her when she protested. "We know they're good, but we want you there, too. Protecting our interests." She stayed at the Mirage and worked with Warrick and Grissom and her replacement, a handsome black woman with dead eyes, on the case. She had a few strained meals with old friends, even Nick once or twice, but never with both of them together. Nick knew she broke bread with her ex at least twice a week.
"She misses the snow," Greg told him when he asked how she was over dinner one night.
"How's your son?" he asked without missing a beat.
"Getting over a fever," Greg replied, then he froze and he blinked and he got up from the table and left the room. He didn't come back for a few days, and when he did, he said that he'd been over at the Mirage, too. The baby was sick, Nick reasoned, and his mother was busy on a national-profile case. All of it made perfect sense, and she had been so calm about the whole divorce anyway. What worries could Nick possibly have?
He was still going crazy holed up in Greg's big, empty house by himself.
Grissom had dinner with her one evening before work and when Nick asked about her casually, Grissom looked at him for a few moments and said, "She still hasn't grieved," before frowning and walking away.
On January eighth, Nick was asleep in the living room, still decorated in the colors she picked out, stretched out on the couch she paid for. When he woke up, he could hear them talking in the kitchen, right down the hall.
"What do you want?" Greg asked, his voice timid.
There was a pause and Nick wondered if they knew he was there, or if they cared. His car was outside, they must have noticed. "I want you," she said simply. Nick couldn't tell if there was any emotion in her voice or not. "I made a terrible mistake, just leaving like that-- not saying anything or breaking anything. It was out of character."
"Would you feel better if you had fought?" Greg asked. Nick wondered that, too.
"Oh course I would have," she said. "I fight about everything, Greg. That's who I am." She paused again. When she spoke again, there was a definite hitch to her voice. "I loved you and I had just found out I was pregnant. I was so excited but when I came home-- you know. There was Nick. Maybe I should have broken a vase or a window or your jaw or something. Maybe I should have screamed and thrashed around. But when I was standing in the doorway, frozen up, just none of that seemed... viable. I didn't even cry, Greg. I nodded and said something to relieve the startled looks on your faces, like I hadn't just caught you in my bed with another man... like you were the ones who needed comforting and not me... and I left and I went downstairs and I waited." She sniffed and Nick wondered if she was finally doing that grieving thing.
"I was there," Greg said, in a tone that told them he didn't quite know what to say. It was entirely possible he'd never seen her cry, since she generally avoided emotion like she avoided meat, and for generally the same reason. She'd watched flies attracted to festering emotion more than once and she really did hate bugs, deep down.
"Were you?" she asked. "Were you really paying attention, though? You didn't notice that I was pregnant, did you? And didn't you think it was weird how I just signed the papers, calm as can be?" She said something else, too low for Nick to hear no matter how hard he strained. He heard the hiss of Greg's sharp intake of breath. He wondered who was taking care of the baby while they were both there. "Of course you didn't. You had him."
"Don't bring him into this."
She laughed-- a harsh, sharp laugh that made Nick wince even from two rooms away. "He's the one who brought me into this, Greg," she snapped. "He brought it on himself when he elected to have sex with you." She laughed again. "What, too visceral for you? What wording would you prefer, then? I could have said 'fuck.'" Greg must have grimaced at how blunt she was, because she laughed again. She'd always been like that; that was who she was. Nick wondered again what it was that had attracted the former tech to her in the first place. Greg was so sunny and delicate. Nick had always thought, in a small corner of his mind, that neither of them really deserved Greg, and perhaps what they really deserved was each other. Alarming, really. "I could have gone into graphic detail. I could explain it all even if I didn't see where your mouth was or where his ass was or the two in relation to each other."
"I still--" He began, strangled, like her fingers were wrapped around his windpipe. That was silly; she was only verbally violent. But Greg was cut off by the ringing of her cell phone. Nick didn't recognize the ringer and he would have known Greg's anywhere. "Sanders," she said in a voice thick and harsh. There was a pause. "Really, Rick? Yeah. Well, I'm-- no, I guess that doesn't matter. I can be there in twenty, probably."
"Warrick?" Greg asked unnecessarily.
"Break in the case," she said crisply. "I'll call later."
"Or I'll see you at the lab," he offered.
"We aren't done here," she warned.
Three days later, Nick found himself standing in her room at the Mirage, holding the toddler and watching her pack out of the corner of his eye. Greg was back home, possibly, or at the lab, or at some seedy bar getting thoroughly trashed. Nick really didn't care at that point.
"You can't stay longer?" he asked.
She held his gaze for a moment as she folded up a blue baby blanket. "We don't have anything to stay for," she said simply. "The case is finished. It was suicide. Anyway, I have a lab to run."
"That's convenient, isn't it, Jeremy?" he said, turning to the baby, who looked at him with Greg's eyes and blinked lazily.
She sighed. "Don't try to make this difficult, Nicky," she said. She sat on the edge of the bed next to him and Jeremy reached for his mother. She just ruffled his hair and offered him a few fingers to squeeze. He lost interest in her and started playing patty-cake with Nick's shoulder.
"He's goin' with you, isn't he?"
"Has he packed?" she asked coolly, standing and resuming her folding. Her movements were jerky and imprecise.
"That isn't what I meant," Nick said.
She smiled sadly. "Last night we had dinner at Rice and he looked at me over his sea urchin thing and told me that I had a decision to make. He didn't think that he could handle being so far away from Jeremy again. He's already missed so much just because of geography. But I'm a supervisor and he's just a Level Three." Her smile grew strained. "It's not my choice to make. I'm settled back east. I told him that he would have to come back with me if that was the case." She zipped up the suitcase and carried it over to the growing pile by the door.
"What did he say?" Nick prodded.
"He didn't say anything," she said, not looking at him. She sat down beside him and took back her son. "I don't know what he was thinking, either. He just chased the creature around his plate for a minute and I ate my edamame and then we talked about Senator Harper for a little while."
Nick smiled, thinking about the case. "All that attention, especially with his support for that new abortion bill, everyone thinkin' it was a radical move by a special interest group, and turns out he was just sick of his wife."
Jeremy squirmed and she put him down on the floor. He wandered on wobbling sausage legs over to the diaper bag by the door, out of which was sticking a stuffed dinosaur made of electric blue fur. With a hearty tug, the toy was dislodged and he happily dropped right down on his bottom and invented some sort of game right then and there.
They watched him for a minute before she stood up and fiddled with the pillows on the bed. "It hit a little too close to home, kind of," she said, earning herself an odd look. "But I've had new tragedies since then."
"He never signed the papers, you know," he said suddenly.
She shot him an odd look of her own, and if she knew immediately what papers he was talking about, she didn't let him in on it. He had a fair suspicion that she just wanted to hear him say it, since they both knew he'd been in the house when she had her talk with Greg in the kitchen.
"They're in one of the boxes in the attic, where they've been since he was served two days after you moved out. So, uh, technically, you're still married."
She and Jeremy left that evening after a big dinner with old team members at a fancy hotel restaurant. Nick had been retrieving his coat from the check when he heard Grissom's voice around the corner, from the vestibule. "Take care," he said congenially.
"Thank you," she said and Nick could hear the warmth in her voice. There was the click-click of high heels retreating on tiles, then the silence of hesitation, and the scuff of her turning around. "I have a confession to make, before I leave. I have to tell someone, and it was going to be Nick, but that seemed wrong, so it's you. You don't mind, do you, Gris?" There was a pause, and Nick could fill in the surprise on his supervisor's face. She continued. "When I left, when I didn't fight or yell, I was just using all the things the job had taught me but hadn't taught him yet against him. I looked left when I told him it was okay and that I didn't mind as much. 'Thank you very much, now I'm free of all of this.' He didn't know I was fabricating. He wasn't examining my body language."
"Where is this going?" Grissom asked tentatively.
"It's a confession, Grissom. Take it at face value. You're the Catholic here. Just tell me I'm absolved of my sins or something."
"I don't see that you've sinned," he replied.
"I lied." Her voice was soft, but her point rang out across the lobby.
"And now you've confessed. Give me four Hail Marys and sleep on it. I don't know what else you want to take from this exchange."
"I feel the worst for that. I took advantage of his innocence, like I was the animal. I'm not an animal, Grissom, at least I don't think I am. What do you think?"
There was a pause and then the sound of shoes click-clicking on the tiles, approaching the corner. Nick yanked on his coat and tipped the check girl, who gazed at him with googley eyes and smiled. He hastily walked away before they turned the corner.
"He never signed the divorce papers, either, Gil." When Nick glanced back at them, where they stood in front of the coat-check with arms linked, he saw that her face was frozen mid-smile and that the furrows in Grissom's forehead seemed even more convoluted. She broke away and looked at her old mentor's face, maybe searching for an answer he couldn't give her. "All of this, the stupid things we did, and he didn't even sign the papers."
Nick offered to drive them to the airport, beating everybody else to the punch in a symbolic gesture no one disputed, least of all Greg. Greg, who kissed his beautiful little boy on the forehead and who couldn't look at her and who left first. Grissom, who gazed levelly at Nick and wordlessly told him that he knew Nick had heard the whole vestibule exchange, left arm-in-arm with a tipsy Catherine, followed by Warrick and his wife. Warrick caught his eye with a look passed the first judgment on him that Nick could remember Warrick ever doling out since Sara left eighteen months earlier and Nick felt sick.
Jeremy fell asleep in his car seat in the back five minutes into the trip to McCarran. She settled down into the passenger side and turned on the heat, blasting it on cold fingers. Nick turned off the radio and drove. "It's okay," she said after a long, not uncomfortable silence. "I've thought over it all, and I don't want you to feel guilty at all."
He couldn't help but smile a little impishly, letting the old Nick come back into the conversation just a little. "What would you say if I told you I didn't feel guilty?"
She smiled back, turning her face toward him. "I would tell you that you're a liar. Of course you feel guilty."
"No, I don't think I do."
"You should, but don't. I was to blame, too, I think. I'm not sure how, exactly, but somehow it was my fault that I didn't have what he needed. In this case, it was a drawl and a dick." She clicked off the heat and smoothed her hair back behind her ears. "I never did ask what had sparked that little interlude between you two," she said after a moment, her face a little surprised. "I never thought about it before."
"It's a boring story," he dismissed.
"It can't be. I won't let it be boring. Just make something up. I don't care what you say. Tell me that you were watching porn like guys do and somebody got curious, or that that girl breaking up with you broke your heart or--"
"We were talkin' about you," he interjected and she stopped, jaws clamping shut. She turned to stare directly ahead, out the windshield. They were turning into the airport right then.
"I don't know how to respond to that," she said tightly. Her body language, which Nick could read loud and clear, screamed "Closed-- Go Away!" Nick was done with listening to signs like that. He was too old for that kind of thing any more.
"He thought somethin' was up with you and he called me for advice. He was worried about you, and I just came over to talk to him, like a friend." He stopped his hulking mass of a vehicle and scratched the back of his neck and cocked his head to the side to look at her. "Honest to God, Sara, I don't know how it all got so far away from us."
She relaxed at the honesty, and she unbuckled her seatbelt so that she could turn to face him completely. "I'm sorry for what this did to you."
"Hey, now, darlin'-- slow down." His hands went up in defense. "Three people don't get to share a fairytale."
She hugged him then, fiercely, and they got her bags and her son and went inside. Jeremy was irritable and sleepy but content to be carried, and Nick attended to the bags. She sat with her carry-on and diaper bags in one of the rows of chairs over by the window, pointing at all the lights outside for her disinterested baby's benefit. Nick checked her luggage and watched her over his shoulder. He thanked the clerk and was turning to join her when he saw Greg standing awkwardly, watching Sara from across the terminal. He changed paths, because suddenly the right one was illuminated properly. No words passed between the two men, just a hug and an exchange of insignificant paper details. Nick paused farther across the huge lobby, looking back to see her look up to find her ex approaching with her papers instead of Nick. She opened her mouth to say something but Jeremy beat her to it, lighting up at the sight of his father and immediately demanding their full attention. Happy to oblige, Greg swept him up into his arms.
Not a lot of things in his memory had felt quite so awful as that reunion, or so wonderful. It was just too full of the kinds of things for which there were no holes deep enough to bury them effectively, so Nick turned and melted into the crowd moving for the door and left them to it.
The End. Honestly.
This was supposed to end at "She still hasn't grieved." I don't know why I kept beating the dead horse, except that it just wouldn't die. I began writing this in mid-June, which accounts for the timeline, starting in mid-June of what would fit into the show about the end of season eight.
The title is a French saying that means, essentially, a thing done and therefore no longer worth opposing. An accomplished fact. They all seem to have (possibly) false perceptions of their own faits accomplis, non?
More to the point, this is not what I intended to write when I started back in June '05. What I do know is that I set out to write an offbeat Nick-Sara-Greg triangle. What I did not expect was to have Greg in the middle of it. That kind of wrote itself in there. I was going to cut it in half, too, to make it a two-parter, but there wasn't really a spot that seemed right to split it, so here is is in its 4000-plus word entirety. Oh, and I did not set out for angst, but sometimes you leave home headed for Cleveland and you end up in Memphis, and this is only a problem if you live in Cincinnati.
I guess it's a good thing I don't live in Cincinnati, although I do live south of Cleveland.
(This is a slightly edited version from the one previously posted on ff.n)
Summary: The best part of "believe" is always the "lie." A Sara/Greg/Nick kind of train wreck.