Author: WitchGirl PM
As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil." Unfortunately, their victims were absolutely terrified. Including Greg. Nick/Greg slash warning.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Suspense - Greg S. & Nick S. - Words: 10,070 - Reviews: 13 - Favs: 29 - Follows: 1 - Published: 04-08-09 - Status: Complete - id: 4979324
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Summary: "As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil." Unfortunately, their victims were absolutely terrified. Including Greg.
Disclaimer: I own everything in the world. Except for the characters of CSI.
Author's Note: I've had this for a long time on my hard drive. I didn't post it before because of that nagging feeling that something wasn't right with the world of the story. And then, I realized, that was what the story was about: How things don't always wrap themselves up in a neat little package. It was already everything that it was supposed to be. So I'm posting it now because I feel you guys deserve to see it, and I'm not updating "Into That Good Night" today, so this ought to help you along until Friday. Enjoy.
Just so you know: I have nothing against religion, in fact, I have a deep, anthropological interest in the subject, which may have led to this story. In general, I think religion has the potential to be used for great things, and for terrible things, just like science. This just happens to describe one of the terrible things it can be used for.
The car stopped. He didn't know where they had taken him, but he heard the door open and flinched instinctively. The blindfold prevented him from seeing anything at all, and the ropes were chafing his wrists. His shoulders were already sore from being forced into such an awkward position behind his back for so long.
Someone seized his wrist, firmly, but not roughly. Despite everything else, they had been careful not to hurt him any more than necessary.
One of Greg's abductors spoke in a soft voice. "Come here, child."
But he hadn't needed to speak at all, because Greg was already following, against his will. He was being helped out of the car by several hands, who proceeded to guided him across unsteady, rocky terrain. Greg stained his ears to listen for sound, but all he heard was the occasional insect. They were no longer in the city, at least that was very apparent.
He stumbled once or twice, but he was always caught and aided to his feet again. He was afraid to ask where he was going. Sometimes, ignorance really was better.
Grissom would disagree, of course. Greg had once quoted the idiom about ignorance being bliss and Grissom didn't hesitate to beg to differ.
"Knowledge is dangerous, Greg, that's true. But I would rather know and risk it than not know and miss out on all the fun."
And then, he had smiled. Not his usual smile, but that rare smile he sported whenever he was feeling particularly amused. Greg tried to draw courage from that smile.
"What's going on?" he dared to ask. "What do you want with me?"
"We want to set you free," said a paternal voice.
"Then untie me!" Greg cried.
The gentle man chuckled. "You are ill. You must be purged. Then, God will look upon you with mercy in His eyes. We are doing His work tonight. You will be saved."
Greg was afraid to guess at their meaning, but he desperately wished that he would be saved, by Brass, by Grissom, by Nick, by anyone. His mouth was dry, his whole body was shaking, and he kept tripping over his own feet as they walked. He hadn't been this terrified since he had been in that alley, but this was a completely different kind of fear. Back then, he hadn't had the time to dwell on it, but now, in the eerie calm of the evening, every thought that flickered across the surface of his mind was full of scenarios of what would happen next, of reasons why, of what if they never come and save me?
And then, abruptly, they stopped. They let go of Greg's arms. He felt a pair of hands on his shoulders, pushing him downwards into a kneeling position.
"Stay down, child," said the kindly man, who was now standing behind him.
"As if I have a choice," Greg muttered, an ounce of defiance still left in him. Despite all of his fearful thoughts, he still clung to that spark of hope that he would be saved tonight.
One way or another.
He felt a drip of water on his forehead. Fingers made a mark on him. A hand squeezed his shoulder, firmly.
"Child," said voice. "You must repeat after me."
"What's going on?" Greg asked.
With endless patience, the man replied, "We are saving you, my child. Repeat after me. Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem. Creatorem coeli et terrae."
"I don't even know what that means…" Greg whispered, unable to keep his voice from cracking.
"Just say the words, my child."
"No, I don't—"
"He does not have to say it, Father," said another voice.
The father sighed. "It would be better if you say the words, my child."
Greg swallowed. What harm could saying a few words cause? So he repeated them.
The man with the gentle voice continued. "Et in Jesum Christum, Filium ejus unicum…"
There were several more lines to repeat after that, and when it was through, another voice began to recite something that was familiar to Greg.
"Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name…"
"Wait, why is he saying that?" Greg asked. "What's he doing?"
There was no reply. The hand on his shoulder merely tightened.
"Give us this day our daily bread…"
Greg's fragmented mind drifted, unable to focus on the words. He tried to focus, to remember what he and Nick had learned before… before…
"… deliver us from evil. Amen."
Greg sensed someone kneeling down in front of him. Something cool was pressed against his lips, requesting entrance.
"Eat, my child," said the man behind him.
Tired of resisting, Greg's lips parted and something flat and vaguely familiar landed on his tongue. He chewed and swallowed.
Then, the gentle-voiced man spoke again. "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper."
Communion… Greg understood at last. His mother had been Catholic, he remembered now… who had he mentioned that to? Hadn't he had a conversation about this with Nick earlier? But the only time he had ever taken his Communion had been at his Confirmation, before he had stopped going to church, regardless of his mother's wishes. If they were giving him Communion now…
Whatever color that had been left in Greg's cheeks vanished.
Last rites, he thought to himself, his mind frozen in silent panic. They're performing the last rights.
"Lord, he is not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and he shall be healed," said another voice.
The fatherly man spoke again. "The Body of Christ."
This was followed by a chorus of "Amen," from the surrounding witnesses.
Greg was suddenly very cold, and he felt water spilling over the edges of his eyes, staining his blindfold as he trembled there in the dark air. Chafing on his wrists was the least of his worries now.
"Oh God…" Greg sobbed as an icy cold cylinder pressed into the back of his neck.
"That is right, my child," said the fatherly man, the man who stood behind him, the man that held the gun. "Soon, He will have mercy on you. May the Lord Jesus protect you and lead you to eternal life."
Greg's breathing became ragged and loud as the reality of the situation dawned on him. Another voice that wasn't the father began to speak.
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want."
It had all started with a girl. She was a girl that no one knew, and no one would have known, if she hadn't stumbled into the hospital in a daze. Her hands were deep inside her jacket, her eyes wide and darting. She approached the admit desk, blinking rapidly. She was a pale, skinny waif, her hair tousled and tangled, her eyes dark and haunted.
"Can I help you?" the secretary had asked.
"I shouldn't have left…" the girl mumbled, her eyes glazed over. "God will never forgive me now…"
"Psych ward," the secretary surmised, dully, and lifted the receiver to her phone, intending to dial. "Wait just a moment, ma'am, and we'll have someone right with you."
But the girl wasn't listening. She was mumbling to herself. "Forgive me father for I have sinned… hallowed be thy name… kingdom come thy will be done… I walk through the valley… I will fear no evil… will fear… will fear…"
Her hand, trembling, rose slowly as the secretary informed the psychiatric ward of the patient that had just walked in her doors. It wasn't until other patients in the waiting room gasped that the secretary looked up again.
"I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."
There was a gurgling sound, as if someone was drowning. A woman screamed. Someone shouted for a doctor. The jaded secretary dropped her phone, her eyes doubled in size.
The girl was on the floor, twitching slightly, and then she was still. She still clung the bloody knife in her bony right hand as a pool of blood collected around her head, still spilling out of her neck.
The secretary had worked at Desert Palm for eight years. She had seen her fair share of the dead and dying, and this girl was most certainly the former. Gathering her wits, she reached down and wrapped her sweaty fingers around the receiver and held it to her ear, dialing three little numbers.
"Seminary school, huh?" Nick mused, looking up at the impressive edifice that stood before them.
Greg shrugged. "She thought it was the only way to keep me safe. And probably a life-long virgin."
Nick snorted. "Aw, man, G. I never knew you were Catholic."
"I'm not," Greg emphasized as they entered the church. "I haven't been since I was eight, when I was confirmed."
"If you were confirmed, doesn't that mean you're technically still Catholic?" Nick said.
"No," said Greg forcefully, almost as if it were an insult. They walked between the pews of the church and caught the attention of two priests, speaking quietly near the altar. "I don't go to church, I don't even think I believe any of that anymore. I was confirmed years ago when I was a kid because of my mother. She was always disappointed that I stopped going to church and stayed home with my Dad to watch the game."
"Hi," said Nick to one of the priests as they approached. "I'm Nick Stokes with the crime lab, this is Greg Sanders. Would one of you be Father Connor?"
"I'm Father Connor," said the elder of the two priests. He turned to his companion. "That will be all, Brother Dawson."
The younger of the two men bowed his head respectfully and made a swift exit. Father Connor turned to the two CSIs with a curious expression. "How may I be of service to you?"
"You are in charge of the school here?" Nick asked.
"Yes, indeed," Father Connor replied. "You're a little old to enroll, I'm afraid."
Nick forced a chuckle. "No, Father, we're here because a student of your school committed suicide recently under curious circumstances."
"Oh my…" Father Connor said, paling significantly. "Oh, that is a tragedy. Who on earth from my school would do that?"
"Her name was Chelsea Anderson. Her mother reported her missing three days ago," Greg put in.
"Oh dear…" Father Connor muttered. "Oh, that poor, poor girl. Sweet Chelsea. It's a shame, truly. Suicide is a mortal sin."
Greg gritted his teeth and Nick continued. "Yes, well… We were wondering if you or her teachers noticed anything unusual about her behavior before she went missing?"
Father Connor frowned. "We were aware that she was a… troubled young lady. Sister James brought her behavior to my attention several weeks ago. It was simply unacceptable."
"What sort of behavior?" Greg asked, intrigued.
Father Connor held his breath. "The girl was engaging in some… inappropriate activities for someone who is unwed."
"She was promiscuous?" Nick guessed.
The Father nodded. "Yes, I believe that is the euphemism."
"Talk about stereotypes," Greg muttered to Nick under his breath.
Nick ignored him. "But did she have any… other behavior? Anything to suggest that she might run away or… you know, kill herself?"
Father Connor shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not. She was a rebellious child, but we were working to help her with that. And then she disappeared. I'm afraid I will have to tell the students now. She was quite popular among her classmates. The girls will be very upset."
Father Connor, visibly disturbed, walked right between Nick and Greg and down the aisle.
Greg sighed and shook his head. "Did you hear that? 'Suicide is a mortal sin.' One of the very first things he said. See, that's why I stopped going to church. Because unless you are a saint, you're going to Hell."
"Don't the Catholics believe in forgiveness?" Nick asked.
Greg grumbled. "Only if you ask for it…" He looked up at the altar.
"We should probably talk to this Sister James," said Nick to Greg, who was now approaching the altar. There was a large crucifix behind it, as well as a triptych of the Madonna and Child, flanked on either side by St. John and St. Peter.
"Wow, this takes me back," Greg muttered.
"You have to have been in churches since you were eight," said Nick, following him up to the altar. "In fact, didn't we have a scene in a church a year or two ago?"
"I didn't work that case much…" Greg muttered, examining the triptych.
Nick flinched involuntarily. "Oh yeah, I forgot, that was after you…"
"I didn't know Grissom was Catholic until that case," said Greg, cocking his head to his side. He turned to look at Nick. "Is it… silly that I felt kind of… closer to him after that? 'Cause we both had Catholic backgrounds."
Nick laughed, his face brightening as he neared Greg. "That's not silly, it's cute."
"Don't call me cute," Greg mumbled with a pout as Nick took both of his hands. Greg looked back down the aisle of the church and a smile wistfully flittered across his face. "Hey, how does it feel up here?" He turned to look at Nick, whose eyes were inches away. "With me?"
Nick's smile grew to a smirk. "If we weren't up here right now, I'd show you how it feels."
"What, Nick?" Greg teased, wrapping his arms around Nick's torso. "You nervous about being seen by God?"
"I'm more nervous about the chance that one of those priests will walk in here any second," said Nick, but he didn't pull away.
Greg took a step backwards, swinging Nick behind the crucifix. "No one can see us back here."
"This feel so sacrilegious…" Nick muttered, flushing slightly. "If my Mom ever found out I made out in a church…"
"If my mother ever found out…" Greg returned, but trailed off, his lips brushing softly against Nick's, the same familiar but always welcome chills drizzling down his body like syrup.
"He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake."
Greg continued to shiver in the frozen night of the desert. His mouth was dry, his lips were chapped, and his breaths now came in sharp bursts, gasping for air as he drowned in his own terror. As they continued in their ritual, he was forced to contemplate for the first time in years what happens after death. Would he be saved, like they said? Would he go to Heaven? Or would one lousy Eucharist after a lifetime of sin fail to save him? Would he end up at the gates of Hell? Was there any Heaven or Hell at all, or had they got it all wrong? What if they key to salvation wasn't Christianity, but Buddhism? Islam? Judaism? Maybe he needed to be Shinto in order to enter paradise. Or maybe it was the Atheists who were right when they said that death was the end, and there was nothing else.
What would it be like, the end of existence? What would it feel like to stop breathing, stop thinking, stop… being?
He was suddenly hyperaware of every sound in his body, including his heart rattling against his ribs as if his whole body was nothing but a prison for his organs. Often times, Greg was deaf to the sounds of his body, but not now, when every little hum and murmur echoed in his ears, the blood rushing through him speaking in a language he didn't understand, gurgling like a babbling brook.
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…"
Laughter filled the bedroom as Greg curled his neck, resting his forehead against Nick's shoulder as he tried to calm down.
"Your apartment is always freezing!" Greg mumbled into Nick's shoulder.
Nick's arms wrapped around Greg as the younger man pulled the down comforter tighter around the two of them. "I have to keep the heating bill down. If you want, we can stay under the covers all day."
Greg pulled away and gave Nick a playful look. He seized the edge of the comforter and tossed it over their heads, casting them both into darkness. He could feel Nick's hot breath much better when it was trapped between the sheets.
"This is much better," said Greg, smugly.
He felt lips grace his forehead. "Merry Christmas, Greggo."
Greg's hand trailed down Nick's arm until he found the Texan's hand and entwined their fingers together. "I can't think of a better way to spend it," he returned.
"Do you remember when I dropped you off after our first real date?" Nick asked, suddenly. "When you were so nervous you tripped as you climbed up the stairs?"
"I would have broken my neck if you hadn't caught me," Greg confessed. "My mind was all fuzzy because I think I was a little drunk, and you… didn't kiss me goodnight, so I thought…"
But Nick kissed him then, the action full of devotion and intention. "I wasn't sure what you wanted."
Greg squeezed Nick's hand. "How can you be so sure you know what I want now?"
Nick's lips twisted into a lopsided smile. "I guess I'm not."
"It's 'cause you know me," Greg answered for him.
Nick cocked an eyebrow. "Is it? I knew you before. We had been ourselves around each other for years, but when you throw romance into the equation…"
"Sexual tension," Greg added, with a mischievous growl in his voice.
Nick chuckled. "Well, when you add all that, we both put up our walls again. It was like you were a brand new person, someone I'd never met before."
"Mm…" Greg intoned, thoughtfully. "What made you think of our first date?"
Nick's eyes drifted. "Don't know, really. You make me…" He bit his lip. "Never mind."
Greg cocked an eyebrow. "I make you what?"
Nick claimed his lips, probably to distract Greg, but the younger man let him, permitting himself to melt under the now nearly stifling heat beneath the comforter.
An alarm beeped on the dresser. Greg shifted under the sheets and pulled away from Nick. "You know, that means it's midnight. Can I open my presents now?"
"Do you want to get out bed?" Nick returned.
Greg made a tired sound, like a stretching cat as he snuggled closer to his lover. "Mm, no, not really."
He felt Nick stroke his hair. "We'll open presents in the morning," he said.
"Only if you bring them to me under the covers," Greg mumbled with a yawn.
Nick laughed again. "Who do you think I am, your slave?"
"Mm hm," Greg intoned with a smirk. "In more ways than one."
Nick hit his arm. "You're terrible."
"Tell me about it," said Greg, his mind already drifting away.
He felt Nick's breath in his hair as he closed his eyes. He was warm and safe beneath those covers, and sleep claimed him quickly. It would be a place that he would come to call as home, but only when Nick was there with him.
"You prepare a table before me…"
"Stop…" Greg breathed, his voice dry and empty. "Please. Murder, it's a sin."
To his surprise, the hand on his shoulder was lifted and the prayer was paused. "You consider this murder," said the fatherly man.
"Listen, I don't remember… much of my church days, but I do know one thing," said Greg, shaking. "'Thou shalt not kill.'"
A hush fell over the assembled and all Greg could hear was his own labored breathing. Had he made his point? Would it work? Would they let him go? He shut his eyes tightly, even though it didn't matter since he was still blindfolded. He bit down hard on his lower lip until he tasted copper. Please, he prayed to whatever God who would listen, please let them come to their senses. Logically, they can't do this and consider it right. They just can't!
The hand was back on his shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. A strand of hair was sticking out from beneath Greg's blindfold, and the hand tucked it lovingly behind his ear. "You poor, lost boy," he whispered. "You must be terrified."
Greg exhaled, relief flooding him. "Yes, yes, oh my—yes, I am, I am so glad you understand—"
"All you have to do," the kind voice began, "is accept Christ into your heart."
"Yes, yes, whatever it takes, I do, OK, God, Jesus, Mother Mary and the Holy Spirit, all of it, I accept it. Will you let me go now?"
The quiet that followed confused him, and then, the man behind him spoke again. "Once you accept the Lord and Savior into your heart, you will not be afraid. You will have given your soul up to a Higher Power."
There was a pause. "What?" Greg said simply, his whole body frozen.
Greg felt as though he had fallen through the ice.
"You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows."
Greg licked his lips and tapped his pen against the counter, leaning on his other hand. He felt strong arms glide around his waist and clasp together just below his navel. He suppressed a smile as he felt Nick kiss his neck. "Hey, what's a five letter word for 'lovers' rendezvous'?"
Greg tried not to flinch as Nick's lips tickled his ear. "Tryst."
A tinge of red crept into Greg's cheeks. "What are you up to today?"
"Mm… work," Nick said dejectedly, as if he would rather not go in. He nuzzled Greg's neck. "You're up early."
"Couldn't sleep," Greg confessed, then regretted it instantly.
"Why?" The concern in his voice was palpable.
Greg sighed and spun around in Nick's embrace, placing his hands on the Texan's shoulders. "It's nothing, don't worry about it." He gave Nick a quick peck and then moved past him to get the coffee.
Nick turned. "Was it a dream?"
Greg cocked an eyebrow as he poured his coffee. "How can I dream if I can't sleep?" He turned around, holding a travel mug in time to see Nick's face fall.
"Was it me?"
Greg couldn't help emitting a curt snort. "No, it wasn't you. Why would it—No, how could it be you? No, just, never mind, I shouldn't have brought it up." He handed the travel mug to Nick. "Take this and get dressed, you'll be late for work."
Nick frowned as Greg went to poor himself a cup of coffee. "Why do you do this?" he asked.
"Do what?" Greg replied absently.
"Shut me out."
Greg stiffened. He turned around, clinging to his mug like a security blanket. "I don't shut you out."
"You're doing it right now," said Nick.
Greg gaped. "Wait, no, you do this to me all the time. I ask what's wrong and you just tell me to forget it. And I drop it, because it's clear you don't want to talk about it. Why do you have to push things?"
"Now I'm pushing things?" Nick asked, scathingly sarcastic. "Because I want to know why you can't sleep? That sounds like a pretty big problem to me, Greg. Have you been an insomniac long, or is this a new thing?"
"Wait," said Greg. "When did this turn into a fight?" He didn't want to do this right now, not at this hour.
Nick sighed and shook his head. "I don't know. I just get… worried about you sometimes, is all."
A warm smile conquered Greg's features. He put his coffee down and took a step forward. "You don't have to worry about me, you know. I'm just fine."
Nick pursed his lips. "You had a point, earlier. I should talk to you more."
"You don't want to, you don't have to," said Greg with a shrug. "That's OK. Some things we just don't talk about."
"And this is one of those things," said Nick with a sigh. "I get it."
Greg leaned forward, their lips meeting tenderly, gratefully. "I know you do. And that's what makes you awesome."
Nick's phone rang on the counter. He reluctantly moved away from Greg and picked it up. "Nick Stokes… Uh huh. Sure… No, I'll, uh… I'll call him. I'll be right in. See you later." He looked up at Greg. "That was Grissom. He's calling you in."
"On my day off?" Greg groaned.
"Apparently we have a suicide at the hospital," said Nick.
"Sounds straightforward enough," Greg said.
"Except she went missing three days ago under suspicious circs," Nick told him.
Greg sighed. "Let me guess. Wealthy parents?"
Nick smiled. "Well? Are you coming?"
"Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life."
Greg had run out of lies to tell himself. He couldn't tell himself to calm down, or that everything would turn out OK. He couldn't tell himself that he would go to Heaven. He couldn't tell himself that anyone would come to save him.
They were coming to the end of Psalm 23. The gun digging into the back of his neck told him that after the psalm, everything would be over. It would all just stop.
The tears had already fallen. His skin was covered in a film of chilled sweat. His head, for once, was clear. Everything was gone but for his memories. Nick would not take his death well. But he hoped that Nick would draw comfort from the memories, as he drew comfort from them now. He wrapped them around his shoulders like a blanket, a shield, to keep out the cold and the terror, and it worked as well as a bed sheet in zero degree weather, but it was better than nothing.
"And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen."
Greg heard a click from the gun behind him. The muzzle was warm against his neck by now, and Greg almost felt as if it were a part of him, as if it had melded itself to his cold skin. He bowed his head as if in prayer, even though his hands were bound behind him. He held his breath.
"Amen," echoed the surrounding men. Greg estimated there were maybe five of them altogether, including the man behind him.
"May God have mercy on you, my child," whispered the fatherly man.
Greg inhaled through his nose and held his final breath in his lungs.
The gunshot tore through the air. Greg felt hot blood splatter against his back and trickle downwards. His head was spinning again, his heart jumping up and down inside of him.
Greg exhaled the breath he had been holding. There was no pain, and he was not bleeding, but he had heard a gunshot, and the back of his shirt did feel wet.
"Drop your weapon! Drop it!"
He knew that voice. Was he hallucinating?
"Greg!" Someone new, someone needed. Greg's head shot up, but he still couldn't see. His heart was beating too loudly to hear much else outside of himself.
Hands were on his shoulders again, but this time in front of him, desperate, shaking. "Greg, tell me you can hear me."
Greg couldn't speak. He was too confused.
"Greg!" The voice was broken, shaking.
Greg closed his open, dry mouth and tried to think. Hands were fumbling with the blindfold, but seemed so anxious that they couldn't seem to get the knot undone quite right.
"Aw, dammit," he cursed under his breath. He tried to pull it up, but it was tight against Greg's head, and tangled in his hair. "Greg, come on, are you drugged? Are you conscious? Do you know what's happening to you?"
"No…" Greg confessed, his voice flat, baffled.
Hands were on his cheeks. "What did you say?"
"Nick?" Greg asked, daring to hope.
The next thing he knew, lips were crushed desperately against his own, hands entangled in his hair, but he pulled away just as quickly.
"OK, come on, let's get this damn thing off."
Nick fumbled with the blindfold again, his hands steadier now that he had received his response from Greg.
But Greg was lost inside his head. Damned… he thought to himself.
And then, suddenly, he could see again. Spots, mostly, and colors, but his vision quickly adjusted to see a face, Nick's face, staring at him with bloodshot, tired eyes. Greg blinked, then looked around. Next to him, a man he recognized vaguely as Father Connor lay wounded, having been shot in the shoulder, but Brass and another officer were helping him up. Several other policemen were cuffing the four other men. His gaze fell back on Nick, and then he felt his eyes sting.
"Nick, I was so…"
Nick waited for him to finish, but when he didn't, to Greg's surprise, he smiled. "It's OK, Greg."
"It is?" Greg mouthed.
Nick nodded, tears spilling down his cheeks. "It's one of those things again, isn't it? Where I'm pushing you, and you don't want to talk. You don't have to say a word."
Greg blinked as Nick moved to his side and cut off the ropes that bound his wrists. Greg flexed his hands and massaged his shoulders, staring at Nick. "I love you so much, it kills me," Greg choked.
Nick's smile grew to a beam and his arms wrapped around Greg, his hand entangling itself in Greg's hair, holding his face against his shoulder. "Oh God, I hope not," he said, his voice shaking as badly as Greg's whole body. "I'm not ready to lose you yet."
"Your name is Edward Dawson, is that right?"
"Brother Edward Dawson. Yes, that is correct."
He was a soft-spoken young man, barely a man at all. His features were boyish and his attitude was politely eager. He calmly answered any question Brass asked him with ease. Greg didn't understand how he could be so unfazed by the whole situation as he watched the detective grill Dawson behind the glass.
Greg felt a strong hand squeeze his shoulder and tensed. And then, he heard a warm voice, and forced himself to relax. "You shouldn't be watching this."
"I want to," said Greg. "I want to, Nick, I…" Greg swallowed. "I just don't understand why these people would… They dedicated their lives to serving God, and peace, and love and…" He turned, tearing his eyes away from Brother Dawson to look at his lover. "They were men of God. And they wanted to kill me. And they were so… nice about it."
Nick's face was stern. He took a step closer, sliding his arms around Greg's torso. "They lost their way, Greg. Somehow, they lost their way. They've been doing this for a long time. That girl, Chelsea Anderson? They had been conditioning her for weeks. Before she even disappeared. They were… cultish in their thinking. They brainwashed her into believing she was wrong. That she was dirty. That death was the only way to save her soul."
"But that's not what Catholicism is about!" Greg cried, as if the crime was an affront to all things Catholic… including a part of himself. "It's about... it's about…" He remembered what Nick had said earlier that day and sighed. "It's about forgiveness," he finished.
"I know that, and you know that," Nick assured him. "They aren't Catholic, Greg. They may say that they are, but they've only perverted it into something it should never be. One of the other priests claims that there are more bodies out in the desert. He said that they are marked by a set of five stones in the shape of a cross. Brass has a search party out there now, digging them up. He thinks it could give a lead to some missing people."
Greg turned back to watch the interview with Brother Dawson. "It's about forgiveness…" he repeated, trying to understand. "Love." He looked up, but could not say it as openly as he had confessed in the desert. He opened his mouth and held his breath, trying to will the words to fall from his lips, but he couldn't.
There were so many things about this world and beyond it that he didn't understand.
"What if they're right?"
Nick blinked, but his expression remained unchanged. "About what, Greg? About killing people?"
"About… sin," Greg elaborated, spitting out the word as if it were a lump of food lodged in his throat. "What if they're right about sin?"
Nick became suddenly agitated. "What is it exactly that you're saying here, Greg?" he asked quietly, deliberately.
Greg was suddenly chilled. He felt the familiar constricting of his throat and sting beginning at the back of his eyes. "I don't want to go to Hell, Nick."
Nick seemed rooted to the spot. "I don't like the things you're saying," he stated simply. "Don't beat around the bush here, Greg, just spit it out. What do you want?"
Greg was confused. "I thought I made that clear. I don't want to go to Hell. I don't want to… to die, alright? I don't want to be shot in the back of the neck in the middle of a desert with nothing but a set of five stones six feet above me to mark that I was even here at all. I don't want his hand on me, I don't want them talking to me, I don't want their words echoing in my head, I don't… I don't know what I want, Nick. I just know what I don't want."
Nick took a step forward, his expression softening. "What did they say to you, Greg?" he asked tenderly, protectively. "If they fucked with your head like they fucked with Chelsea Anderson—"
"No, I guess they didn't have time for all that," Greg surmised, shrugging his shoulders. "I guess they figured no one would notice if they messed with a girl at their school, or the numerous other people they killed, but me… I'd be missed. They didn't have enough time…" Still, his eyes were glazed. They may not have bombarded him with dogma, but they had forced him to confess, forced him on his knees, forced him to pray, to take Communion, to face death, to smell the breath of the Devil and hear the crackling of burning angel wings… He could not live like he had before. Things needed to be different now.
Nick asked him no more questions, but reached out and took Greg's hand, his thumb running over Greg's knuckles. The younger man looked down as Brass continued with the interview.
"Well, that makes sense," the detective was saying, his voice cold and sharp, like an icicle. "Students. Patrons of your church. Wayward homeless folks who just wanted some shelter. All of these victims make sense." And then, he leaned forward on the table, his eyes narrowing. "Greg Sanders… A member of the LVPD, now, that makes absolutely no sense. Why did you do it, Brother Dawson?"
"It was simple," said Dawson, as if it were the easiest thing in the world. "He was a child of God."
"Aren't we all?" Brass asked, sardonically.
Dawson smiled an eerily amused smile. "Yes, of course, you're right. But I mean that by his own admission he was a Catholic at heart, one who had lost his way. He had been baptized and confirmed. It would have been…" He seemed to rethink his words and reiterated. "It is a tragedy to allow him to continue on the path to Hell. Father Connor would not stand for it, and neither would the rest of us. God guided him to our ministry, those few days ago. God meant for us to overhear his conversation with his…" His pale brow wrinkled in a curious expression of thought as he grasped for the word. "His friend about his break from religion. And God meant for us to see the transgressions committed on His altar."
Greg's hand squeezed Nick's more tightly. "Oh my God… they saw us…"
Nick said nothing, but tugged on Greg's hand, making the younger man turn to him. The Texan's arms rose to encircle him and Greg buried his face in the side of Nick's neck, breathing deeply, his scent engulfing him, bringing him some comfort, but he was still reeling.
"It doesn't matter," Nick said at last, his voice smooth. Greg felt the vibrations in his own chest, as if he had spoken the words himself. "You're safe."
"Not always." Greg's breath tickled Nick's skin. "No, you can't… you shouldn't think that you can protect me—"
"Always," Nick insisted, holding him tighter.
In the silence, Greg heard the conversation continue.
"So all your other victims…" Brass was saying. "They were all Catholic?"
"They all began on the righteous path," Dawson explained. "They were just… lost."
"Chelsea Anderson," said Brass. "Her sin was…"
"She was disrespecting her body," said Dawson. "We could not afford to allow her to carry on that way."
"So why not just talk to her?" Brass asked. "Why did you have to push her to suicide?"
"That was not our intention," Dawson insisted. "No, never suicide. It's a mortal sin."
"Can't the viaticum be delivered after a person is deceased?"
Dawson looked almost offended. "No. That would defeat the purpose."
"There is a completely different ritual. We may anoint them and pray for their soul, but they have already begun their journey. There is no way we can guarantee that Christ will forgive them and accept them."
"So you're saying that the viaticum is the sure way to be forgiven by Christ?" Brass asked skeptically.
"Of course not," said Dawson. "Christ gives forgiveness to anyone who asks. But you have to ask. What the sacrament guarantees is the opportunity to ask for that forgiveness. That's all."
"So all suicides are doomed," Brass deadpanned.
"May God have mercy on their souls," said Dawson with fundamental sincerity. "Our intention with Chelsea Anderson was to convince her to repent, to allow us to save her. She was particularly stubborn, and her mind was unusually weak. The combination of these two traits, it… broke her, I suppose is the best way to describe it."
"And what about the others you have killed?" Brass asked. "Did you similarly try to convince them?"
"Most of them accepted it," said Dawson. "And we did not kill them. We granted them new life, in the kingdom of Heaven."
"And what about you, Brother Dawson. Suicide is a mortal sin, isn't murder?"
"Like I said, we do not commit murder. We cleanse their souls. There are plenty of instances where God did the same thing. Was it murder when Abraham followed God's orders to sacrifice his only begotten son?"
"But Abraham didn't kill Isaac," Brass reminded Dawson, almost defensively. "God intervened and told him to stop."
Dawson's smile grew wider. "That is because Isaac and Abraham were both men of God, living good lives. Perhaps it says more about modern society's sinful nature that God does not intervene in such matters any more. Look around you, Detective. I'm sure you deal with terrible crimes every day. Unsightly things which were committed out of greed, envy, lust, or any other number of evil reasons. And you do good work, bringing them to justice. But we live in a city worse than Sodom. And God has sent us to help you on your noble crusade. We are bringing justice to a world in Satan's grip, and guidance to a misguided population. We save the ones who have lost their way. We are agents of God."
Brass was silent for a long time as he stared at Edward Dawson. He seemed to be out of questions. "All right, Brother Dawson, thank you for being so cooperative."
"It is my pleasure to assist our law enforcement officials in any way I can," said Dawson with a calm and contented expression, as if he were merely a witness and not a convict.
"Mm, I have to say, not many men in your position have waived their right to representation," Brass commented as he gathered his papers.
"Ah, lawyers. I find they simply complicate things, don't you?" said Dawson.
"So you understand why you're here?" Brass said, pausing a moment. "You are of sound mind. You realize what's going to happen, right?"
Nick scoffed. Greg heard him mumble something barely audible. "Sound mind my ass…"
"Oh yes," said Dawson as a pair of officers came in to escort him back to holding. "I recognize that to those who are unenlightened, our acts may appear to be wrong. You are just doing your job to maintain order."
One of the officers took out handcuffs, but Brass held up his hand, glaring at Dawson. "There will be no need for those, boys. I'm sure Brother Dawson will cause you no trouble."
That frightening smile still haunted Dawson's face as he looked at Brass. "One day, Captain Brass, you'll understand. You'll stand at the gates at Judgment and you'll understand it all. We were only doing what we have been ordained to do. Shepherding our herd and showing them salvation."
He smiled until he exited.
Greg wasn't sure if he was going to punch the glass or die right there.
It was an odd question, and Greg found the answer to be moot. He felt dizzy. He needed air, but he couldn't move. He had questions for Nick that he hadn't dared ask before, but now that he had been so close to death, he wanted to ask the Texan what he had seen and heard when he held a gun under his own chin all those years back. But he didn't. He kept his mouth sealed firmly shut, staring at the chair Brother Dawson had vacated, across from which sat Brass, his head in his hands as if he were grieving, or praying, or maybe just thinking, Greg could not be sure.
He did have one question that he had enough gall to ask, though. He pulled away from the burly Texan. "Do you believe in anything, Nick?"
Nick's face was furrowed in confusion. "Yes," he answered simply, but did not elaborate.
Greg bit his lip. "The thing that was bothering me earlier today…" he began, and he noticed Nick's eyebrows raise a millimeter. "It's about my mother."
"Is she sick?" Nick asked.
"No, no," Greg said quickly. "She's just… We're not on the best of terms right now is all. I just wanted you to know that it's been bugging me. You know, because you ask all the time, I just thought that you should have all the answers."
"Why are you two on the outs?" Nick asked, but Greg had expected the question.
"Family issues," he replied quickly with a shrug and a half smile. "It'll pass."
"Are you going to tell her what happened to you?" Nick didn't sound like he was asking so much as telling.
Greg sighed. "It won't do any good."
"It could help you two make up," Nick said.
"No, it won't," Greg insisted. "It will just get her all worked up and then she'll insist on coming out here and that's the last thing I need right now…" The exhaustion overwhelming him, Greg rubbed his eyes. He could still feel the steel at the back of his neck and his other hand moved to massage its base.
"You want me to take you home?" Nick offered.
Greg nodded, devoid of strength. "Yeah… OK."
The day before everything, Greg had crept out of bed beside a slumbering Nick and seized his phone off of the bedside table. He snuck into the living room, and from there went to the kitchen where he found yesterday's paper sitting on the counter, the crossword completely undone. He leaned against the counter and chewed on his lip, holding the phone to his ear.
He had thought about doing this every night since Nick had asked him about it, and he had lied. The lie fermented in his stomach and quickly turned sour, making him nauseous, and he had to rectify it. So every day for about a week since Nick had asked, Greg had slid silently out of bed with the intention of making this life-altering phone call that Nick thought he'd already made.
Nick just didn't understand Greg's mother. How could he? Nick had never met Greg's mother, and he knew that there would come a time that Nick would want to have dinner with her or something.
What normally happened on these nights was that Greg would fiddle with his phone for a few minutes, and sometimes even go into his phonebook and find his mother's number. He had only called once, but had swiftly hung up. His mother, God bless her, knew nothing about caller ID, or cell phones, so Greg knew he'd been safe. After this, he would sigh and crawl back under the covers, where Nick, half-awake, would smile and then wrap his arms around his lover.
Greg wanted to go back to bed on that night, but it wasn't an option this time. He had been avoiding this conversation for a week, for a lifetime in fact, and it was about time he finally faced it. He gritted his teeth, found his mother's number in his phone, and hit the call button.
It rang three times, and then there was an answer.
"Sanders residence, this is Olivia speaking."
Greg closed his eyes. He remembered all those Christmases with his grandparents and his parents. Papa Olaf would have understood. Papa Olaf understood everything. He wished he could speak with his grandfather, and even pretended that he was. It made things easier.
"Hi, Mom," Greg said, wincing as he spoke her name as if it were painful.
"Gregory, dear," said his mother fondly. "How are you?"
"I'm pretty good," Greg answered as honestly as he could. He swallowed. Maybe if he spoke to his father, first, although that probably wouldn't turn out so well either. "Is, um, Dad around?"
"He's at work, hon," said his mother.
"He hasn't retired yet?" Greg asked, holding his breath.
"Oh, you know your father, ever in love with his work," she said, with a smile in her voice. "He refuses to give it up. He asks me what he'll do with all the time, and I tell him he could write a book, but then he tells me that he doesn't know the first thing about writing... Ah, anyway, sweetheart, why are you calling at this hour? It's rather early for you, I suspect, isn't it? Is everything alright at the lab?"
"Yes, Mom, everything's... OK. Hey, um, look, there's uh... something I want to ask you."
"What is that, hon?"
"Um..." His heart was pounding out of his chest, but he had to focus. "Do you remember a, uh, couple of months ago, you, uh, asked if I was seeing anyone?"
"Oh honey..." his mother sighed, anticipation in her tone. "You're engaged!"
"Um, no, Mom, please—"
"I know who it is," his mother insisted, elation flooding her voice. "It's that girl, right? The one you told us about all those years ago? What was her name, um... Sara, right, that was it? Oh, she did sound sweet when you told me about—"
"No, Mom, no, I'm not engaged, not even close, all right, I just—"
"But you and Sara are serious?" his mother pressed. "Or—oh! Is she pregnant?"
"What?!" Greg cried. "Mom—"
"Oh, hon, you know me, I understand these days that people don't wait for marriage, and frankly, sweetheart, I'm glad, you know, I was worried that I might never have grandchildren and now—"
"Nobody's pregnant, Mom!" Greg cried. "And... there probably won't be any grandchildren, either. At least, not from me."
There was a pause. Greg knew that had been a blow to her. All Greg's life, she had only ever talked about the beautiful little granddaughters she would have so she could spoil them with dolls and pink frilled dresses, the daughter she always wanted and never... "Then what is it, hon?"
The words were contained and calm, though it was clear that she was hurt, and confused. Still, she had finally yielded the floor to her son, who held his breath. His hand found the back of his neck, which was drenched in sweat, and he closed his eyes, trying to control his breathing.
"Do you remember Papa Olaf's friend, Ingrid, Mom?" Greg asked, relying on memories to help him out. "She was a very dear friend of Papa Olaf's, wasn't she?"
"Oh yes, indeed," said his mother happily. "Why, he even had her play his first man at his wedding to Mama! I remember the stories he'd tell..."
"Right," said Greg. "And do you remember Ingrid's friend, Kajsa?"
His mother paused. "They were also very close..." she said.
"Yeah," Greg agreed. "Insanely close."
"They were close, yes. What is your point, Greg?" She was becoming curt, now. Maybe she knew what was coming.
"Mom, there's something I've been meaning to tell you a long time now..." Greg began.
"Sweetheart, it's late. You haven't had enough sleep. You should go to sleep—"
"You loved Ingrid," Greg insisted. "You even called her Auntie, I remember."
"Honey, now isn't the time to—"
"For a long time I have been pretending to be somebody to you because I knew that you wanted a daughter-in-law, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren... a big family, like your Dad had, like you always wanted. The one you never could have."
"Greg, honey, don't tell me what I want, I know what I want, and I want you to hang up this phone right now—"
"I don't care if you don't want to hear it," said Greg, "because I have to say it. I have to, if I want to stop lying, Mom, if I want to stop lying to Nick."
"Nick is short for Nicole, that's right, isn't it?" his mother said quietly. "Such a pretty name, Nicole. When I was in college, I had a roommate named Nicole—"
"No, Mom, please, no more stories, no more tangents, I need to say this—"
"Say what, sweetie?" his mother asked innocently, as if she had no idea what Greg was getting so upset about. "I know. You want to say you're sorry for putting silly ideas in my head. Sara, Nicole, the truth is, honey, I don't care who you marry so long as she's a good woman."
Greg paused. His mother held her silence. This was the fork in the road, and Greg had the opportunity to take the familiar path, where he smiled, agreed, and said good night, and all would be well. He had walked that path before, on the nights prior to this one, where he hid away from his mother's reaction. His throat was dry, and he looked at the road less traveled.
"Mom... Momma..." And that was it, he was a child all over again, confessing the worst sin of all. "I can't pretend anymore, Momma. Momma, I love... someone so sweet, and good, and honest and he's a Christian, Momma, he is, and his name isn't Nicole. It's Nick. Just Nick, and I love him, Mom." He felt his eyes sting as he waited for her answer. His throat closed up. His stomach churned, even though the lie was finally expelled from him. The truth floated in the wires, in the space between the telephone lines, and lingered there, waiting to enter the ears of the listener, and the speaker waited for it to be heard. "Momma?"
"I think..." his mother said slowly, "that you have been working very hard."
"And that you should go to sleep. It's far too late for you to be up talking to me, hon."
"If you just... go to bed and sleep for a very long time, then you can wake up and we can talk about Sara."
"No, Momma, I told you—" Greg began, but he was cut off by his mother, exasperation saturating her tone.
"No, honey, listen to me," she began. "I think... if you were pretending... then I wish you would have just kept pretending."
There was a click. She was gone. Greg leaned against the counter, ashen, his phone slipping from his sweaty grip as he crumpled on the floor. His eyes would not close even to blink as he stared at the fridge. He stared at it for a long time, wondering if he should call her back and tell her that it was all a lie. But he was tired of lies. Tired of everything. So tired, and yet he could not find sleep. He rose to his feet. Soundlessly, he went to the coffee maker and began to brew a pot. He saw the crossword on the counter. He picked up a nearby pen and tapped it against the counter. He filled in a word. The coffee pot stopped bubbling. He poured himself a glass.
When he finished the crossword, he went to the door, where he found the paper for that day. He checked his answers and then began the new one. He stayed there, staring at the crossword and leaning on the counter for the rest of the day.
Once again that week, Greg found himself lying in bed, exhausted, but with too many thoughts on his mind to fall asleep. Nick was lying beside him, his head very near Greg's shoulder, his arm tossed across Greg's chest. Even with the comfort of Nick's touch, Greg couldn't tear his eyes away from the ceiling, the events of that evening repeating over and over again in his skull. One can't come back from the brink of death and be able to find sleep so easily, though Greg did try. He tried hard. After a long time, he considered getting up and reading a book in the living room, with daytime soap operas playing in the background for company.
And then, he heard an unexpected question.
"Still can't sleep?"
For a moment, Greg stopped breathing. "I didn't know you were awake."
Nick shifted, making the mattress move beneath them both as he propped himself up on his elbow. "I've been weaving in and out... Dreams are... uncomfortable." And so, it seemed, was discussing them. Nick shook his head to clear it. "So tell me. Is it about your mom, or is it about what happened today?"
Greg's eyes drifted over to meet Nick's and he sighed. "Maybe both."
"You wanna talk about it?" Nick asked.
"Not really," Greg admitted.
The Texan gave him a sad smile. "OK," he said simply, and then leaned over Greg, gently kissing his neck. Greg closed his eyes at the welcome distraction.
"Thank you," he sighed, as Nick's hand moved up his chest to grip his shoulder, gently massaging.
Nick kissed his way up to Greg's ear, "It might make you feel better if you talked about it."
Greg had to laugh at his persistence. "I don't think anything will make me feel better," he replied.
"You know that I know what it's like," Nick whispered again, this time with a certain timidity in his breathy voice, "to be at the end of a barrel of a gun. To feel the metal against my skin. I know what it's like."
Greg closed his eyes as a chill went down his spine, the image of Nick in that coffin with the gun beneath his chin flashing behind his closed lids. "Let it be..." he whispered.
Nick's hand glided back over Greg's chest and then stopped, drawing up an inch and hovering there, as goose bumps sprouted over Greg's skin. "You're so cold..."
Like the barrel of that gun, Greg thought to himself.
But Nick didn't stop. He lowered his hand to touch Greg's skin again pulled away from his ear, making Greg turn his head to look at him. His eyes were wide and searching, mouth half open as if they were in the middle of a silent conversation. But Greg's lips remained sealed in a thin, straight line as he stared back at his lover.
"Close your eyes," Nick instructed, and Greg obeyed before he felt Nick's lips grace his own in distracting passion. Greg shifted so he was on his side and Nick's fingers found the groove of Greg's spine and their minds melted into the moment. Closeness was solace, and required no words, and so it was an activity that they could both draw comfort from. They exorcized their ghosts beneath the covers, and when it was over, the room was quiet. Greg's arms were drawn in close to his chest as Nick's own arms encircled him completely. The Texan rolled onto his back and Greg rested his head on his lover's chest as it moved up and down, tracing the line that lead to his naval before planting his palm over Nick's stomach.
His lids grew heavy, and he thought only of Nick.
They both timidly closed their eyes, and sleep claimed them at last.