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Unsettled

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Title: Unsettled
Author: vegawriters
Fandom: CSI: Las Vegas (2021)
Pairing: Sara Sidle/Gil Grissom (because I’m an idiot)
Rating: Gen
Timeframe: Post Under The Skin (episode 3)
A/N: Curse my love of them, even after all these toxic years.
Disclaimer: Still don’t know how I feel about all of it, but here I am writing the damn stories. And doing it for free. Thanks, powers that be.

Summary:
After Grissom’s revelation about his health, Sara seeks a moment alone.

Now that the truth was laid bare, Sara really wasn’t all that worried. Land sickness should fade with time, and if it didn’t, he’d adjust. They’d adjust.

 

There was something soothingly consistent about leaning against the railing on the roof of the lab, her earbuds in place, and music flowing through them. Tonight, Bruce Springsteen sang about Atlantic City and how the night belonged to lovers, and the tones lent a subduing atmosphere to the chaos of the streets below. Vegas would truly never change, even if the settings seemed to. After all, the old lab, her lab, it had a rusted door that jammed half the time, and a coffee can for trashed cigarette butts. Here, it was a getaway. The door was locked with a keypad, there were chairs and a couple of benches. The coffee can remained. After all, it was a public building. No smoking on the premises. At least, no sanctioned smoking. As always, Sara found her spot - away from the door, with a view of the strip, and enough space to feel if someone came too close. And tonight was a perfect night for over-contemplation. Not too hot, but the promise of desert chill hadn’t settled in. Her overblouse offered more than enough protection against the wind that danced around her.

She’d needed a moment.

At least this time Gil had been honest with her. He was learning. Maybe therapy was helping after all.

Sara had suspected something was up when he was awake so early the other day. Not that Gil wasn’t an early riser by nature - life out on the water gave him a circadian rhythm that very much relied on the patterns of the sun. She’d never quite let go of her nocturnal training, and so, much of their life together was done in shifts. But, he hadn’t just been awake early. He’d been tapping his ear and shaking his head. She’d seen his confusion the other day over the issue with the boat and knew it was more than a bad connection.

Of course, she’d jumped straight to the worst case scenario. Her therapist would gently remind her that her heightened anxiety was born of trauma and needing to prepare herself for the worst so she could plan to get out alive. But that was hardly news. No, this was a wife’s worry over her husband, over a man she’d loved since she was as wide-eyed and hopeful as Penny, over a partner in all ways - not just in the bedroom. But, she also knew her husband, knew pushing him to tell her something was wrong would only drive him into his own head. All these years later, he still walked a balance beam of tension over someone caring about him. Over her caring about him. Once, it had been because she was so much younger and he was sure she deserved better (there were days she wouldn’t argue about that). Now, it was because he carried so much guilt for pushing her away when she’d come back to Vegas. After all, he’d filed for divorce right when she’d needed him most, and all the therapy in the world wouldn’t purge that. Not completely. Gil Grissom talked a good game, that the evidence was all that mattered and would always clear up doubt. But when that evidence was applied to his own emotional state, when proof of love and support was verified over and over again, doubt still somehow reigned supreme. So, she waited. Giving him the space he needed, because once he was ready to open up, he never left anything to question.

Now that the truth was laid bare, Sara really wasn’t all that worried. Land sickness should fade with time, and if it didn’t, he’d adjust. They’d adjust. If it turned out that the only way to settle his stomach and his head was truly to get back out on the water, they’d figure it out. She wasn’t going to stay in Vegas forever -

- although to be fair, she’d thought that the first time around. And the second.

It was nice to be on solid ground, in a city she knew, in a setting that made sense. She’d consulted all over the country over the last six years. A call would come in on some expert materials and analysis question and she’d pop over to Seattle or Queens or Palm Beach and earn the mortgage for a few hours worth of work. But truly, it felt good to be back in Vegas. Yes, the lab was ostentatious to a fault and she kept wondering if the equipment was made of gold, but it was lab work that followed field work. It was analysis and deconstruction. It was … what really, she did in partnership with Gil already. Since they’d started this worldwide researching adventure, he’d always been the one to crawl into the holes and get dirty and she’d taken his notes and made them into something that made sense. The Doubting Thomas gave his findings and the Bleeding Heart interpreted them.

She still couldn’t tell if Allie and Foulsom were more like her and Nick - the best friend and the gay cop - or if they were her and Greg. Either way, the tension was there, and obvious to anyone who looked at them.

Movement caught her attention and Sara turned to see Max approaching, a cup of coffee in each hand. Quickly, she pulled her airpods out of her ears, shutting up Bruce for the time being, and shoved them into her jeans pocket. The sounds of Vegas rushed at her like wind out beyond a reef.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Max said as she handed over the coffee. “You vanished up here with a look in your eye that told me you need more than a Red Bull.”

With a smile, Sara took the coffee and lifted it to her nose. Just a touch sweet, rich, bold. Definitely not breakroom coffee. “Oh, married life meeting lab life collided in my head for a bit. All is well, don’t worry.”

Max’s eyes were empathetic. “Adjustments to being back on dry land?”

Sara quirked a smile at just how close Max was to the truth. “You could say that.” She looked back out over the view. “Gil and I used to sneak up here … well … up to the roof of the other lab back when we were on the same shift and no one could know what we were up to. He’d wedge the door shut and I’d climb on top of him.”

Max busted out laughing. “You know, there are a whole host of rules we have to follow now because of you two,” Max said, “and I’ll be the camera that’s up there is part of that.” She shook her head. “Hope you two breaking every standard is worth it.”

Sara shared the laugh. It had taken so long to get to this place with Catherine, and she appreciated just how easy it was to work with Max. Then again, Max didn’t have any reason to question her motives here.

No. Really, she did, when Sara thought about it. But she focused on the subject at hand. “Oh, I know all about those rules. We had them then too. And a camera. You don’t think we’d disable it?” She grinned over her coffee cup. “Doesn’t mean anyone follows them.”

“True.” Max took a sip of her coffee. “You didn’t answer the question.”

“What? Oh.” Sara started a bit and then nodded. “Yes,” she said quietly, “oh, it’s worth it. He’s worth it.” She paused and took a long sip of the coffee. “You know, if he hadn’t come back six years ago, when I was offered the lab job, I think I’d have been perfectly happy. Hell, remind me sometime to tell you about my NTSB agent …” Sara waggled her eyebrows. “But, Gil came back and showed me that the path we had been trying to take wasn’t erased completely. Just overgrown a bit. And it was a little bit more fun to reforge that one rather than stick to what I knew. I was here for fifteen years and in San Francisco for five years before that … it wears on you after a while.”

Max nodded. “You’re quite the legend around here, you know. Donald Basderic, Natalie Davis, Hannah West …”

A chill ran up Sara’s spine. “Believe me, I’ve thought more than once that Hannah West might be behind all of this.” She sighed and traced her finger along the slightly warped lip of the plastic lid on the coffee cup. “And I hate it because I hate that it puts me in my own head about that whole case. Both of those cases.” She took another sip of the coffee. “Even now, with what we’ve uncovered about who might have broken into Hodges’ home …I still feel like she could be behind it.”

“Well. Hannah West is a diabolical genius who does things like this because she’s bored.” Max’s tone was incredibly dry.

“Exactly.” Sara threw her a side glance. “You’ve done your reading.”

“The minute Jim Brass mentioned your name. Also, like I said, legend. You don’t take over the Las Vegas lab without getting an earful about the storied graveyard shift.”

Sara groaned. “I never set out to be a legend.”

“The difference between good and great is what you set out to be.”

Sara raised an eyebrow. “You, a former division one athlete with a PhD who is now in charge of the busiest lab in the country. Saying that? I call complete bullshit.”

Max grinned. “Fair point.”

Turning back to the lights below, Sara let out a long sigh. “What the legends won’t tell you is how when I got here, everyone hated me. Gil put me in this impossible position when he offered me the job. I was here to investigate one of the team - he didn’t want IAB getting their paws involved. A rookie had been shot at her very first scene and Warrick Brown, the CSI I was here to investigate, he had left her alone.” Max inhaled sharply. Sara nodded. “She died, and Warrick … despite my report, he didn’t get fired. Which, as I learned, was a very good thing. He was a brilliant CSI and we became incredibly good friends.”

“He’s the one who was shot and killed by Undersheriff McKeen, right?” Max’s tone wasn’t a question but a solid confirmation.

“Yes.” Sara let out a long breath. “But there was suddenly this opening on the team and Gil, in his usual far-too-logical and not at all sensitive way, offered it to me.”

“You. The one he brought in to investigate the team.”

“Yes.”

“Yeah, I can see how they’d hate you and how that was absolutely insensitive of him.” Max looked at her sideways. “And were you sleeping with him then?”

Sara laughed. “At first, yes. But at first, he wasn’t my supervisor. He called up his quasi-girlfriend in San Francisco because he knew he could trust me to run the investigation, you know. But then suddenly he was my supervisor and it was weird and he got weird and so we stopped, but we’d be dumb and flirt in front of everyone and we couldn’t hide our feelings so it just got … even weirder. And no one liked me so I hid behind all of these defensive walls where I wanted everyone to know I was as good as I knew I was, and that I got the job because of that, and not because of Gil. But, at first to them, I was Grissom’s hand pick. And, I was clearly Grissom’s girl. And let me tell you, he did not take kindly to people flirting with me. Which was a whole other issue.”

“So, you left your life behind for him … twice?”

“A couple of times,” Sara said. “And to be fair, he did the same when he left the lab.” She left out the rest of the tale, and how he wouldn’t give up France or Peru for her when she settled in the second time. There were reasons she’d insisted on therapy if they got back together.

Max nodded. “Eventually the team accepted you though.”

“Eventually. And, for a while, the team became everything to me. So much that I ended up sacrificing a good part of my marriage for them.” She paused. “Gil and I have a history of just … not putting what we have together first. And, just so you know … as much as I love Jim, and I care about Hodges, I won’t do that again. I’m not just here because of them. I’m here because my life’s work is on the line. Because Hodges helped to keep me out of jail when Donald Basderic framed me and he helped save my life when I was under a car in the middle of the desert.”

“Understood.” Max finished her coffee and tossed the cup in the nearby trash can. “And, for the record, I’m glad you’re here. I know what it looks like to IAB to have you two here as consultants, and I know what it looks like to the public to have you two trying to clear your own names. But, if there’s anyone who can figure out what the hell is going on, it’s you.”

“Thank you.” Sara finished her coffee and worried the bottom edge of the cup with her thumbnail.

“Do you miss it?”

The question had been hanging in the air between them for days. Sara looked at the lab director and slowly nodded. “I don’t miss the feeling of helplessness. I don’t miss feeling like there is this ocean of criminality coming at us and we only have broken liferafts to keep us above water. I don’t miss how militarized the police are, and how we have to dance around that. I don’t miss the agendas of the DA - especially when it comes to anything that doesn’t fit a popular political agenda. And I don’t miss trying to find a balance of my own political beliefs while also doing this job, you know. Knowing how many of these callouts could be fixed by funding mental health or domestic violence services … so no, I don’t miss that.”

“But.”

Sara had the feeling she was being interrogated, but she didn’t mind. Max was good people, and she was grateful to spend time with her. “But I miss the work. I miss the rush of the search, you know. I miss my scientific background having a practical application rather than a theoretical one. I can record as much damage is being done to the oceans as I want, all it becomes is political fodder in research grant conversations. And, I do miss having a stable home. We pay a mortgage on a condo in La Jolla that we never see.”

Max grinned a bit. “Better than paying one on a house in Vegas you never see, and where he isn’t around?”

Sara laughed. “True. We had this beautiful house and all I ever really saw of it was the living room when I’d fall asleep on the couch, waiting for him to call. Now I know if he doesn’t call it’s because he’s in the middle of the ocean.”

“So, is that why you became a CSI then? Practical application of science? Because I tell you, I get it.”

Sara appreciated Max bringing the conversation back. “Partly. Partly because I had a mentor when I was at Berkeley who introduced me to forensic science. She had a feeling the academic world would frustrate me.” She looked at Max and turned the question back to her. “If you hadn’t blown your knee out, would you have gone pro?”

“Made my millions overseas but come home every season to the measly 250K the WNBA pays its max players?”

Sara laughed. “Yeah.”

“In a damn heartbeat. But the knee never healed correctly. I mean, you can recover from an ACL tear and play again. But, my injury was bad and I had to learn to walk again and you’ve seen my limp on a bad day. I thought about coaching, but I lost the stamina to keep up with my players. Anyway, science proved to be as much of a workout.” She paused. “But I’ve got season tickets to the Aces. Never miss a game if I can help it.”

“Gil’s a baseball fan. As a result, I’ve become one.”

Max laughed. “So what I’m hearing is that I’ll get you into basketball while you’re here.”

Sara smirked and then tossed her coffee cup into the trash. “Careful, I’ll hold you to that.” She brushed her hands on her jeans. “I’m out for the night. I’ll catch you tomorrow.”

“Got any plans?”

She shrugged. “Whiskey sours, some research, and hopefully a long bath.” She left out the hope that Gil would be up to getting her naked.

“That actually sounds fantastic.” Max nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Sara.”

She nodded and moved back toward the rooftop access. At the door, before inputting her code, she turned back. “Max, thank you.”

“For what?”

“Supporting this investigation. You don’t know us. You didn’t have to trust us.”

“You know what I know, Sara?”

“What’s that?”

“Jim Brass called you and you were here in five hours and at my door in ten. You put yourself in harm's way to stop a rapist. You didn’t blink when Hodges was accused, but you also have never wavered in his innocence. You didn’t insert yourself into the case. You took on responsibility. There’s a difference. And even though this lab was supposed to be yours, you have never once tried to shove your way into any kind of position of power. So, of course I trust you. We’ll get to the bottom of this. IAB or not. This may be your life’s work, but it’s my lab. And my job is as much on the line as your reputation.”

Sara nodded and let out a breath she’d been holding for days. “Thank you.”

Max waved at the door. “Go take that bath and tell that husband of yours to get you naked before I offer to do so.”

Sara grinned and winked at Max. “Noted!” She tapped her access code into the lock and slipped out and back down the stairs, heading toward her car, the hotel, and her husband. The lights of Vegas flashed around her, and at each light, people danced and played and kissed and taunted, and it felt as strange as it did familiar.

As it always had.