Illusion of Life
By Camilla Sandman

Spoilers: Season one and two references sprinkled around here and there

Disclaimer: *looks sad* If they were mine, I'd wuv them forever and ever and ever and… What? Oh right, reality. CSI is Alliance and CSB's. Them rich. Me not rich. But one day…

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Chapter One

It was a cold night.

The winds howled slightly, rushing through the leaves and stroking the houses, all-seeing like the sky. The moon had been eaten by a dark cloud, most stars seemed pale and sickly. The lights of Las Vegas never died, though. Day or night, wind or silence, winter or summer, they sparkled.

Cars hissed and spewed, reflecting the lights as they drove past, adding to the glitz with their own lights. Las Vegas. City of lights.

But darkness still loomed; overhead and at the edges; in the heart and in the minds. Darkness in the light. Light in the darkness.

Gunshots in the silence.

The wind screamed. It was almost as if it took on the voices of the dead, carrying them to all who would listen. Voices of the dead, demanding justice. Demanding remembrance.

The voices of the dead never died.

Nick heard them, and sometimes he thought he could hear Kristy's among them and he wondered why she had not forgiven him.

Catherine heard them, but merely closed her eyes and thought of Lindsey. The dead were dead, the living still lived and she could still guard them.

Warrick heard them as he drove, and wondered if Holly Gibbs would ever stop screaming in his ears and if her face would ever leave his nightmares.

Sara heard them as she tossed in her bed, unable to sleep. Always she listened, always she promised justice, even when she knew she could not always grant it.

And Grissom heard them and knew why the wind carried such voices. They came because the living listened, craving forgiveness for living on. But it was not from the dead the living craved forgiveness.

Always it was from themselves.

He knew, and yet he heard the voices still. Sometimes he wondered if they would ever be silenced.

The phone rang. He rolled over to reach for it, knowing at this hour it could only mean one thing.

"Grissom."

"Griss…"

And he knew something was wrong even before she said it.

The winds howled on. The cars kept driving, the lights kept sparkling. Life didn't stop, time didn't pause.

And somewhere in the dark Warrick Brown was fighting for his life.

*****

Night gave into morning, but the clouds lingered, grey against blue. The stars became invisible once more, while the sun took over reign of the sky. Another day in Vegas, another dead.

There was always another dead.

Yet this time, Grissom could barely keep his eyes on the road and his heart from leaping painfully with each breath. Warrick….

It was Sara who waited for him, her face a mirror of pain. The yellow tape seemed to droop as he crossed under it, as if that too hung its head.

"Griss…" she said helplessly. He reached for her without even thinking, wrapping her in a tight embrace. If it was for his sake or hers, he did not know, but they clung to each other for a small eternity.

"Catherine went with the ambulance," she finally said, stepping away. "He had blood on his clothes, she's gonna… They don't know if he'll… He'll…"

Her voice died away, and she bit her lip. He tried to comfort her with his glance, knowing it wasn't much.

"Hey, boss."

Nick sounded grim as he walked over, camera dangling against his thigh. "I found some tyre tracks by the victim. Looks like a car pulled over and gunned him down. Warrick…"

He gulped, eyes glassy. "Was across the street. Innocent bystander…"

"All right." Grissom managed to keep his voice even. "We work this case like we would work any other case."

"We, Gil?" a voice said behind him, causing both Sara and Nick to narrow their eyes. Ecklie. Grissom didn't even have to turn around to know.

"We, Conrad," he answered firmly.

"We'll go… Work the case," Sara said hurriedly, striding off with Nick in close pursuit. Grissom watched them go, then turned to face Conrad Ecklie.

"This is our shift."

"And one of your team was involved. Wouldn't you feel better if my team took this one?" Ecklie smiled in what was probably meant to be a overbearing way. Grissom would feel his fists ball against his will.

"Actually, I would feel a lot worse if your team took this one on, Conrad. Our shift. Our case. My team. Stay out of it."

"The Sheriff won't be happy."

"The Sheriff is never happy. Now excuse me…"

He managed to get a few feet away before he let out something much like a hiss or perhaps it was a sigh. The flashing police lights seemed to beat in his blood all through his body. Like heartbeats. Echoes of Warrick's heartbeats.

He stared ahead, trying to calm his breathing and his heart. Evidence. They were here to gather evidence so whoever did this could be caught. Justice. Evidence.

The phone ripped into his consciousness with a shrill ring, and he fumbled for a few moments until he managed to get a grip on it.

"Grissom."

"It's Catherine…" Her voice sounded terrible, torn between anger and despair. "He's in surgery."

Surgery. Surgery was hope. Surgery was not dead yet. He allowed himself to exhale for a moment, staring ahead at the nearby rooftops and their optimistic tilt upwards, reaching for the sky and the sun.

"They think he'll make it if he survives the surgery. The doctors are optimistic."

"Thanks, Cath. Let me know the minute you hear something."

"Yeah."

And then her voice was gone into oblivion with a soft click. He stared at the phone for a moment before slipping it back into his pocket, wondering if what he felt was hope or relief or fear. They all seemed so tangled together it was impossible to tell.

Sara was hunched down by the gutter drain, staring intently at the edges.

"Warrick's in surgery. They think he'll make it," he told her, loud enough so that nearby Nick looked up and flashed something that could have been a smile had there not been so much anger and fear in it. They thought he'd make it. Thinking was not knowing. Not knowing was no peace of mind.

Sara let out a barely audible breath, but didn't look up. After a moment, Grissom bent down next to her, trying not to trip over her feet.

"I think the gun was tossed down here," she muttered. "See these scratches? Something metal made those, and recently."

"Hmmm," he acknowledged. "Only one way to find out."

She just nodded, eyes still on the drain. But he could see the tension in her body and something dark in her face. One of them. She had been on the sidelines when Holly died, now she felt the full force.

One of them, trapped somewhere between life and death.

He got up, finally daring to look across the street to where tape marked where Warrick had been shot. The red blood seemed to glimmer as the sun smiled at it. Basking in blood.

He tried to push the thought away. It was just evidence. Just evidence.

Except the blood was Warrick's.

Breathe. The key was to breathe and keep on doing the job. Gathering evidence. Taking blood samples, examining tyre impression, looking for fibres. Analysing the scene, gathering the evidence, finding the killer. Or killers. That was the job. He'd done it on hundreds of crime scenes.

But this one had Warrick's blood.

"Hey," Brass said, coming up behind. The detective looked grim as well, noticing his glance. "It never gets easier when it's one of your own."

"No, it doesn't," Grissom agreed. His stomach knotted, tensing with the rest of his body. "Any witnesses?"

"No. Nothing. Looks like it will be up to the evidence to crack this one."

"Jim, it's always up to the evidence."

Brass sent him a look with just a slight hint of exasperation buried along the lines of worry.

"How is he?"

"Still in surgery."

"I'm sorry, Gil."

"ID'd the body yet?"

Brass shook his head. "Looks like a local kid. What was Warrick doing in this neighbourhood?"

"Taking a drive," Grissom said slowly, leaning down. "Nick, get a shot of this!"

"You think it's from Warrick's car?"

"We'll know soon enough," Grissom replied as Nick came, wincing at the sight of all the blood. He held up the camera like a shield, the blitz flashing over the asphalt. Over the blood. Over the evidence.

It was just evidence.

So why did the blood beat so loudly in his ears?

One of them.