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Alchemy by Wintertime [ - ]
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Category: CSI - Ship Ahoy! > Gil/Sara
Characters: Gil Grissom, Sara Sidle
Rating: PG
Genres: Character Study, Romance
Warnings: None

Summary: Post-Bloodlines. Over the summer, Sara paints her house, takes up photography, and turns into gold.





When he gets there, she's ready to leave.

She doesn't want to be the one standing in the circle while he, safely removed, throws stones. It takes all of her restraint to stay still and professional while he sits down beside her, and she doesn't look at him, because she doesn't want to imagine what his eyes are saying. She's equally sure that he's not looking at her, because Grissom spends a lot of time not looking at her these days, and if he's looking at her now, it probably means that there's nothing to be seen in those clear, glacier eyes but pity and the smallest bit of contempt.

She stares at her lap. There's a frayed patch on one knee.

He touches her hand; cradles it in his. His skin is cool and dry, making her own feel scorching in comparison. She wonders if she burns him.

"Come on," he says. "I'll take you home."

It's the stone she doesn't expect; the one that knocks her off-balance. Her head drops down. She could kiss his fingertips, worship at his touch.

She doesn't.

Sara's not a girl anymore, and she doesn't pray to idols, no matter whether they're made of gold or flesh. She doesn't even pray to gods. She's moved past belief.

She believed once. She believed in love and a man who loved her in return, and that burned and collapsed right along with the lab. It's easier not to trust. The chances that once gave her hope still exist, but it's easier to ignore them.

She says, "I'll call a taxi."

He doesn't insist, and she tells herself that his silence means nothing, because she never believed he had anything to say.

- -

She spends the night on the sofa, with the rough wool afghan tickling her bare shins. She tries to sleep but can't, so she stares out the window over the sofa arm, and watches the stars fade in favor of daylight and neon lights. It's only when she calls in sick to work that she realizes Grissom's already done that for her. She thanks the receptionist in as polite a voice as she can manage, and stands by the phone in the kitchen. She twirls the cord between her fingertips, and taps her socked foot against the linoleum.

"Is there anything else, Miss Sidle?"

"No," she says. "Thank you."

"I hope you feel better soon." She has a smooth, nearly mechanical pleasantness to her voice, but it's so flawless that Sara is almost surprised when she's disconnected.

Sara hangs up and washes her face in the sink. Sweat and tap-water falls against the dirty plates as she towels off with a lime striped dishrag.

"Me too," she says, looking at her reflection in a spoon. It contorts her face into a polished mask; shiny and inexpressive. She doesn't smile. She breathes fog onto the silver and wipes it away with her hand.

If only Grissom didn't understand her.

She wants to spend the day thinking about how to reinvent herself, but it's probably exactly what he'd expect her to do. Instead, she sits on the sofa in her pajamas, watching cartoons, and eating handfuls of old cereal. She doesn't wish he was sitting next to her.

She just wishes the tear on her sofa that's leaking stuffing would fix itself.

- -

"Sara, do you need anything?"

She dodges his questions and keeps making coffee. She's bright and busy. She's everything her boss should need from her. She's an office helper. If only she could find the rest of Greg's Blue Hawaiian.

He touches her shoulder. His hands are warmer this time.

He says it again.

She gives the answer she knows he wants, and, luckily, it's true. "I'm not an alcoholic, Grissom."

His hand is still on her back.

"That's not what I asked."

His palm is touching her shoulder blade through the soft fabric of her sweater.

She swallows. She puts the coffee pot down, and listens to it clink against the countertop. There is no one else to see them, no one to interrupt so they can both pretend that the conversation is an accident. Grissom picks his battles well. She's vulnerable when she's alone with him, even if she still isn't looking at him.

"I don't have an addictive personality. You were the exception."

She uses the past tense. If he notices, he still doesn't move his hand.

- -

In June, she paints her apartment.

The walls are too dark, and so she turns them lemony-light to catch the sun. She doesn't forget to spread newspaper or plastic over the floors, but some paint splatters there anyway, like tiny remnants of graffiti. She paints the kitchen pale green, the living room yellow, and her bedroom sky blue. She can't figure out how to paint the ceilings easily, and she's to embarrassed to ask anyone, so she leaves them icy-white.

It's a good look. She likes the contrast.

She imagines what Grissom would say about the philosophy behind that.

But most of the time, she just imagines what Grissom would say.

- -

She's developing the talent for photography she wished she had before. Even crime scenes are becoming a kind of art. She concentrates on focus and lighting instead of just framing, and once, Grissom actually says something warm about enhanced details. She looks at him, but only for a second.

She takes the next picture.

"It's an art," Grissom says, his mouth too near her neck.

She can feel his breath against her skin. Her fingers tremble over the camera.

So is seduction, she wants to say, but doesn't. She circles one shoulder back until her skin actually touches against his lips. She waits in silence for him to do something, or to not do something, or to say something, or to say nothing.

He kisses her shoulder.

"Then again," Grissom says, "so is seduction."

"So is losing," Sara tells him, and turns the camera towards him. She wants just one picture, a snapshot of him just after he's kissed her, before he decides that it was all a mistake. She doesn't ask him to say cheese, but he smiles anyway, and licks her sweat from his lips as she takes the picture.

"Winning is an understated art."

"I'm not winning," she says as she puts the camera down. "I'm barely breaking even."

- -

"I like the new paint."

"Really? I had you figured for more of a charcoal man."

"You look like you should be surrounded by colors," Grissom says, sipping at his ice water.

She sits at the opposite edge of the sofa, drinking hers just as delicately, and touching it to the sensitive skin on the insides of her legs. Her shorts, too casual for this meeting, are rising up on her thighs, and she wants to change, but she can't think of an excuse. He's been here for an hour, but he still hasn't said what he wants to say, and despite her rule of not having any expectations, she's getting nervous.

He wants to end what we still haven't started. If he asks, I'll just tell him that I never wanted anything more from him.

It would almost be the truth.

But he doesn't end this - - this thing, this tenuous and oh-so-fragile thing between them. He just grazes his hand over her knee, and says, "Want to help me paint next week?"

She points him to the splotches on the floor, but he smiles.

"You're an artist, Sara," he says. "I have to expect some creative disorder."

"This isn't art. This is alchemy." She risks leaning her head against her shoulder, and he doesn't move away or panic. She's tired, and she closes her eyes as his hand rises to her neck and begins to softly massage the tense muscles. "You're turning me into gold."

He kisses her ear. They still haven't touched lips. It is somehow less intimate if she doesn't look at him. She's still waiting for this to crash.

"You're already gold," Grissom says. "I'm the one who needed to transform."

It's sweet, but she doesn't believe him.

She doesn't remember how.

- -

So they paint Grissom's house, and throw open all the windows to let the scent fly outside. He even lets her pick out the colors, and so she tempts him to leave her by selecting outrageous pinks and yellows, but he just nods until she throws them all back in the hardware department and gets some navies and grays like he wants. There's enough relief on his face to make her laugh against her will.

They slather the walls in paint, very unprofessional, and keep up a running chatter.

"No, another layer."

"I should never have let you talk me into this."

"What color do you want the kitchen?"

"Sara, you can't use that brush there."

He kisses her cheek. "You have paint on your nose."

"I do not," she says, but scrubs at it anyway. Nothing comes off in her hand, so she scowls and shakes her head at him. "You're a bad liar."

"So are all men in love."

She looks over his shoulder, as if she's hearing that from someone else, and bites her lower lip. "That's not true, either. You've always been a bad liar."

"Always?"

"For as long as I've known you," she amends.

"Yeah," he says, brushes his hand over the fading heat from his kiss. "And that is precisely my point."

- -

"Sara?"

It's night, and quiet. They're sitting in the park across the street, and he's holding her hand. It occurs to her that they're moving so slowly for people their age - - and of their intensity - - but she doesn't mind. She even thinks that she doesn't mind it. There's less to fall from if it still turns out that he's making a mistake.

"What?"

"Do you believe that I love you?"

She runs her thumb over his knuckles. "Do you?"

"Yes," Grissom says. "I always have. But do you believe me?"

No.

"I love you too," she says, because it's not an answer, and it hurts less. She knows that he catches her evasion, but he says nothing, and she likes it better that way.

"The stars are beautiful," she says.

He gives them a perfunctory glance, no more. "I've seen things more beautiful." He kisses her, and she turns her head to meet his affection, and his lips are warmer than she expected, and together, she's surprised that they both don't burn away into ashes.

"I love you," he says. His voice is a whisper. "Believe me, Sara. Trust me."

She wants to.

She sighs into his mouth when he kisser again, and doesn't realize that she's crying until he reaches upwards to wipe her tears away. And he looks at the remaining teardrops on his fingers with an expression of profound sadness, as if, in the years of watching murders and rapes and robberies, her weeping is the most tragic thing he's ever seen.

And she leans against him, finally trusting that he won't let her fall.

"I believe you," she says, and one hand steadies her back as she sobs into his shoulder, and the other strokes her hair. "I do."

"Thank God for it," he says. "Thank God for you."

She doesn't taste like tears when she kisses him again, and she keeps her eyes open, to look into his, and see that he isn't going to back away. She looks for reassurance, and finds it, and keeps looking, and keeps finding it. She laughs against his lips when they pause, and his smile is crooked; endearing.

"You're beautiful," he says. "More than stars."

"This is beautiful," she says, and touches his lips. "This is what I wanted."

"What I wanted, too. And what I was afraid of."

"This is frightening?"

"You're Midas, Sara," he says, running one finger over her nose and down the curve of her mouth. "An alchemist. You make people turn to gold. That's frightening enough."

"And now?"

"And now - - there's nothing to be scared of," he says. "For either of us."

She believes him.

She loves him.

She's gold.