Unhidden

Rating: CSI-1
Disclaimer: Despite many years doing this now, I still do not own CSI.
Summary: It seems they have both been hiding something…
Dedication: Dedicated to Marg Helgenberger and the character of Catherine Willows. I have loved the journey. I'm going to miss her.
A/N: This is part of Operation: I've Started So I'll Finish. I started this fic in about 2006, probably. I finished it last night, in honour of this occasion. It is, erm, a Christmas fic. But let's not hold that against it :)
Date: 25th January 2012

… … …

"Catherine?"

The word that immediately springs to mind is 'busted!'.

You freeze where you stand, eyes wide, suddenly very aware of the sound of your heart beating. You have two options: show him your guilt and slink out of here; or give him your most dazzling smile and act like you weren't doing anything wrong.

As if you would choose the first option!

Your smile is already in place as you turn around, and you soon find him, still standing in the doorway.

"Hey!" you offer, picture of innocence.

His brow creases and he purses his lips. God, you love it when he purses his lips.

Perhaps you got a little lost in that thought, because the next thing you are aware of is his hand reaching into your hair. Involuntarily, you jump backwards a little.

"Tinsel," he explains as he withdraws his hand and shows you the twinkling strip of silver he holds between his fingers.

"Ah," you nod, realising that, in your shock at his sudden proximity, you have dropped the smile. Easing back into it gently, your mouth curls up a little as you say, "Gets everywhere."

"So I see," he comments, raising his eyebrows, and giving you a look that says he wants an explanation.

Your smile widens of its own accord, he's just so cute when… well, he's always just so cute. "Do you like it?" you ask, eyes locking onto his so he can't avoid the question.

He is silent. Maybe he's thinking of a way to avoid answering. Perhaps locking eyes with him wasn't enough. Maybe you need to use puppy dog eyes?

"Why?"

Well, it kinda worked. That's not exactly an answer, but at least he spoke. Although, you are a little hurt that he doesn't want to answer your question. You had suspected that he wouldn't like it, but you thought he might at least put more effort into pretending than this!

"Because I went to a lot of trouble, and I'd like to know if you like it." Your smile is gone again, and you hear a degree of hostility in your voice as the words resound in your ears.

"Why did you go to so much trouble?"

"Geez Gil!" Oh, you said that out loud, and you're moving away from him, but his hand is on your arm and he won't let you. You glare at his fingers, more in surprise than in anger, but he seems to take it as a warning as his arm quickly retracts. Instantly you wish he wasn't able to surprise you with his actions so easily. You miss that contact; maybe if you'd seen it coming, you could have avoided the harsh look. But you didn't see it coming.

"Catherine, I didn't mean that I don't like it… I do. It's very festive, and I appreciate the gesture… I just want to know why you did it."

Just like you didn't see this coming. He's speaking softly, but his face is serious, completely serious, as if this were the question that would yield the vital piece of evidence in his latest case. You frown, confused by this behaviour. You expected some withdrawal. Or a polite thank you. Or a small laugh. Or some lame story about spiders not liking tinsel, and that's why he never decorated his office. You did not expect such intensity along this line of enquiry. Granted he'd seemed a little distracted and preoccupied of late, and that's why you did this in the first place, but this is strange behaviour even for Grissom in that state.

"Gil?…"

"I just want to know why you would go to so much trouble."

For a second his soul seems bared to the outside world; like you've been permitted to peep through the curtains that heavily hang over the window in the wall surrounding his heart. You're caught off guard by how alone he looks, then it's gone again. Obviously your silence clued him in on the fact that his guard was down.

You've known there was something wrong for weeks, now's your chance. This is, after all, why you're here.

You smile widely and say: "I wanted to cheer you up. You've seemed a little down recently, and I thought maybe if I did something you wouldn't approve of, then we could get into one of our little 'discussions' and I could let you win… I know you enjoy it when I do that."

One of his eyebrows has raised, and there is a genuine small smile on his lips. "When you 'let me win'?"

"Yeah," you grin, pleased to be engaging him in this banter, but more pleased to have drawn a smile from him. He hasn't been smiling a lot lately. "Don't tell me you thought you won these things fair and square?"

He laughs at this. You give yourself a mental pat on the back. Things are going quite well.

Or maybe you thought too soon. He isn't responding. He's gone quiet again, and he seems to be… considering you. His eyes are staring deeply into yours, and you can almost see the emotions warring behind them. He seems to want to say something, but he also doesn't want to say it, and there's a look of sadness, of longing, of loss, glazing his features.

Now you're really concerned. The closest he's been to looking this vulnerable was when he was going for his operation. Your heart lurches when it occurs to you that maybe it's something like that again.

But opening your mouth to voice this concern seems to settle his internal dispute, and he moves away from you, returning to his usual persona. "I should get back to work, but," he looks at you as he sits down behind his desk, "thank you. Really. It does look good. It just never occurred to me to decorate."

You smile, but it's through sadness. He allows you these short glimpses into his being, almost like he is asking for your help, then he cuts you off, as if he feels he doesn't deserve it.

"… I mean Jim never decorated," he has continued, and he's rambling.

This sends a whole load of flags up, and you raise your hand as you interrupt him. "Gil, are you ill? Are you sick, is that it? Is it your hearing again? Or something more serious? Because you're acting weird, even for you," you smile to make sure he knows that was light-hearted, "And I'm really worried about you –"

"Cath, I'm fine. I'm sorry, I didn't mean for you to worry."

"But it's what I do, Gil. I love you, it comes with the territory."

You're almost as shocked as he appears to be that you just said that. But you meant it in a 'love you as a friend' way, didn't you?

He must read this explanation in your face, because he lets it go. "Honestly, Cath, I'm fine. You don't need to worry."

"Then why do you look so low?" You perch on the edge of a chair, leaning towards him. "I've hardly seen you smile at all in the last few weeks, in fact I've hardly seen you at all in the last few weeks… It's Christmas, Gil… Tis the season to be jolly."

"Fa la la la la, la la la la." It's spoken and completely tuneless.

"That's the spirit!… Please tell me… I know you want to."

He hesitates before he replies: "There's nothing to tell."

"See, now if you hadn't hesitated that would have had a degree more believability," you say, accompanying your words with a small, encouraging smile.

For a moment he looks like he might tell you. A silence has enveloped the room, and he is looking at you in that thoughtful way again. Then he looks down at his desk, and the moment is over.

Now that he can't see you, you allow your smile to falter. You're even more determined now that you are not going to leave here without knowing what is bothering him, and doing something about it. But the nice, gentle, 'wait for him to come to you' approach isn't working.

"I'm not leaving til you tell me," you announce just to make sure he realises that.

He glances back up at you, as if he's checking whether or not you're telling the truth.

"Lindsey's with Eddie's Mom," you add, ensuring that he rules out that possible reason for you to leave.

He holds your gaze for what seems like an eternity. He's crazy if he thinks he's going to stare you out of there. You match him minute for minute, and you'll sit forever just looking into his eyes if you have to.

This stubbornness probably sparkles in your eyes as you think it, for he seems to realise that he has no escape. He breaks the eye contact, and turns, opening his desk drawer. He removes from it a small, silver gift bag and places it on the desk between you.

You look at it, and then at him, frowning because you don't understand how this is supposed to explain his current mood.

"Have you ever done something on the spur of the moment?" he asks, obviously going to tell you everything in the cryptic manner he's so fond of.

"I guess so… Actually, I do have a tattoo to show for that, so yeah," you reply with a slight laugh, keeping it light, so he won't be scared away.

His lips twitch a little into the smallest of smiles, then his solemn look returns, and he stares at the package.

"I have a present for you."

Never has anyone looked as unenthusiastic about that gesture as he looks now.

Over the years you have learned to decipher these riddles, to translate what he says into what he means, and on occasion it has been amusing to watch the confusion of the younger and newer members of the team. But right now, you're sure you'd be frowning with the rest of them. In fact you are frowning.

"I'm sorry, Gil," you say, shaking your head slowly, "I'm not following."

"I've had it for a few years, wrapped up, like that, with your name on it."

Your eyes widen. You thought you were as confused as you could possibly be, but you were wrong.

"I've considered giving it to you each Christmas," he continues before you have chance to respond. "But I - ... Well, obviously, I never did."

When that seems to be all he intends to say, you agree, "Obviously."

Unfortunately it is the only thing that is obvious and he doesn't seem inclined to offer further explanation.

"Gil, this isn't really alleviating my worry," you tell him, small smile still in place to be reassuring.

He looks at you now and you watch some sort of battle going on in his eyes - and your intrigue about the contents of that little parcel doubles.

"When I bought it... I saw it and I instantly pictured you wearing it…"

Your smile twitches wider, touched by that gesture, but you still wonder why he never gave it to you. And why it's the source of such distress for him.

"But then I started thinking that it might be too much; too - ... That it might imply... things. And I talked myself out of giving it to you."

Your heart rate sped up at the implication of 'things'; you couldn't stop it. Nor can you stop the churning of disappointment, knowing that he didn't want those 'things' implied.

"I've thought about it since though. I couldn't bring myself to take it back. I always hoped that, one day, I might - ..."

Hope surges through your system anew, but he doesn't finish the sentence. His eyes break away from yours, focusing instead on the gift. You watch him, hoping that he'll continue - because you want to know the end of that sentence and because you don't know what to say.

He moves his hand and, with two fingers, pushes the present towards you. "You should have it. I think it will suit you."

"Gil, I'm not going to take a gift that you're so reluctant to give." You allow your fingers to brush his as you push the bag back towards him. "Keep hold of it until you're ready."

His eyes meet yours again and you've no idea what he's thinking, but you recognise his look from crime scenes: He's definitely deep in thought. And, seconds later, you identify nerves in his expression, just before he softly admits, "That's never been the problem."

And you're lost. Again. Or still. That sounds like he's saying that he is ready for 'things' to be implied, so what the hell is all this about?

"I'm sorry, I'm really not following here. If you have no problem giving me this present, why do you seem so unhappy about potentially giving it to me?"

"I'm sorry..." he quietly says.

He considers his next words for a moment and you let him. You wouldn't know what to say anyway.

He slides the present back to you. "I do want you to have this. I was worried that you might think it meant..."

He trails off so you finish for him, "'Things'?"

He nods once. "But I realise I'm just over thinking... It's yours. Take it."

You realise you're going to have to be direct. "What things, Gil?"

He shrugs. "Open it, please?"

You don't want to force him to talk. Personal stuff never has been his thing. You reach out and take the bag. "Are you sure?"

He nods. "It's about time."

You smile, but it's tinged with uncertainty. You can't help but feel that you're about to open up so much more than just this present; that things are about to change. And from the way Gil is acting, you're not sure it will necessarily be positive.

Nevertheless, you force your smile to remain in place as you shift your attention to opening the package. Peeking inside the bag reveals a soft blue box: Clearly housing jewellery of some kind. You hesitate for a moment, finding your hands trembling a little as you adjust your hold so you can open the box. It must be incredibly significant if he was worried what you might read into it. You're excited until you remind yourself that he didn't want those "things" to be implied.

Your eyes flit to him, just for the briefest glance. You're not even sure why, maybe you just want to see if he is waiting. And he is; lips pursed again.

Sneaking a deep breath, you prise open the lid and your breath catches at what is inside. Nestled on a cushion of deep blue velvet is a small silver dragonfly, its wings decorated with pink and purple stones.

"Gil, you -" When he said he could picture you wearing it, it was because he has seen you wearing it, in photographs from back home. You lost a necklace very similar to this over twenty-five years ago. "This is -"

"It's not identical," he explains, "But it was so similar and I know you lost the other one in Seattle..."

"Gil," you breathe, again, unable at the moment to say anything else, overwhelmed as you are by the gesture. He was right to think you might read into this. You've been bought jewellery before, but no one has ever bought you something this thoughtful.

You look up from the twinkling pendant, finding him watching you closely again, and waiting, anxiously.

"Gil, thank you… My present for you is highly inadequate compared to this."

He laughs, as you had hoped he would, wanting to ease his worry.

"I've got you something inadequate as well… In case I didn't - …" He shakes his head. "I should have given this to you sooner. I'm sorry, I - "

He can hide it all he wants. The evidence is there though: the gift; the fear. He was in love with you when he bought this. You were probably in love with him as well. He didn't specify how many years ago he bought it; and you can't specify how long ago, exactly, you fell in love with him. You know he likes to keep himself to himself; you know he's sitting opposite you probably terrified that you're going to make him open up. But you need to know…

"Were you really that afraid of me assuming you're in love with me?"

His eyes widen in panic, but he quickly pulls his expression back under his control. "… Is that what you would have assumed?"

Never doubt; never look back… If you don't take this chance now, you know you'll regret it. So you take a deep breath and you admit, "If you'd have given it to me years ago, I would have secretly hoped that was what it meant…"

You watch his eyes widen again and you wait while he formulates a response. You know he could take your words to mean that you used to be in love with him. You know he could accept that and move on, always aware that he missed his chance. But you hope that he caught the subtlety of your wording, the intentional pause, indicating there might be more you intend to say: If he gives you the right opportunity. He has given you the gift… You really hope you're on the right lines.

His voice is quiet when he eventually speaks. "You - … And now?"

You resist the desire to squeal with delight that he hasn't backed away. "Well, now, I'm absolutely certain that you were in love with me when you bought this."

"Because if I hadn't been, it probably wouldn't have occurred to me that you might think I was." He states it as fact; he knows that his preamble was more revealing than the gift itself.

A smile creeps across your lips. "You wouldn't have been terrified of me 'finding out'."

"I should have given it to you without the backstory."

"But then I'd still be wondering as to the root of your strange mood… Why were you so terrified that I might think you were in love with me?"

"Why would you have only 'secretly' hoped that I was?"

He makes a good point. Neither of you was forthcoming with those feelings.

"Touché," you respond with a smirk. "I guess we've both been keeping things hidden."

He nods, and there's that longing and loss in his eyes again. "Did you ever think about… 'unhiding' it?" He hesitates on what certainly seems like a made up word with the cutest little frown.

And you show absolutely no hesitation before your answer. "I constantly think about that." Present tense.

His eyes hold yours, and you're not sure what he's thinking. Maybe he's giving you chance to admit that you're just teasing; to take it back if you want to.

You stand your ground: It's his move.

"We… er, we should talk," he suggests, and your heart is doing all kinds of giddy whirl.

"I agree." You wonder if your excitement is showing on your face. You wonder how the hell you're keeping it hidden if it isn't.

"Do you have plans for breakfast?" he asks and you know now that everything you're feeling is plastered across your face.

When you came in here to decorate you certainly never expected that you would be leaving with the knowledge that the unrequited love you've been feeling for years is not so 'un' after all. You'd never imagined that Gil's sombre mood of late had been brought about by regret over never telling you how he felt. But now you know. And - though you might not admit it out loud because it might hurt his feelings - that's an even better present than the necklace.

THE END