Disclaimer: CSI is the property of CBS, and even though I wish I could own it, I don't. No profit came from this story!

Chapter One: Identification

The worst thing about the world was that sometimes unspoken prayers were answered.

Grissom had waited in the silence of the break room as Ecklie's shift hummed into life around him. It was nearing nine AM and the rest of grave had taken their respective leaves an hour back. "Give it up," Nick had said. "We haven't a call all night." It was true - - within an hour of their shift, Catherine and Warrick had tied up their sole remaining case and everyone else's hands were empty. They had slouched around the lab, muttering bitterly, and drinking bad cups of coffee.

Ecklie, by some foul luck, was understaffed and overstocked on cases. He had murders and break-ins pouring out of the sides of his shifts. With some encouragement, and maybe a little wheel-greasing by the sheriff, if Mobley was in a good mood, Grissom's team could take a dayshift case. He sat around, doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper to keep his mind blank but occupied. He filled in spaces with tiny, capitalized letters. He was thinking over a twelve-letter animal in the jungle when he saw Brass outside, in the hall, headed for him.

His pencil dropped down and Grissom couldn't control the slight smile that nudged at the corners of his mouth. A case - - it had to be - - and Brass obviously thought that he was the supervisor that needed to work it. He pushed the slip of newspaper to his side and stood, leaning against the chair, as Brass pushed the glass doors open.

"You have something for me?"

Grissom's voice had been enthusiastic, but some of that somehow drained away, popped like a champagne bottle when he saw Brass's answering look. Brass usually loved a good case as much as Grissom did, eager for another chance to go into battle and shed blood . . . or collect samples of it, whatever was required. But Brass looked weary, as if something had sketched extra lines at the corners of his eyes for that morning's work. Weary, and worried.

"You'll want it, but you can't have it."

If Brass's expression had been enough to caution Grissom, his words were enough to cause a similar look of concern to fill his face. It had been over two years since Brass had had the jurisdiction to bar him from a case, which meant that it was really some kind of warning.

"There's a case?"

Brass looked as if he would rather be anywhere else, but he pressed on, duty-bound. His right hand held a slim black file, and his arm jerked forward, as if to offer it, but, contained, it slid back to his side. "Yeah. There's a case, all right."

"Are you going to tell me about it, or just make me guess?" To fill his time, he handed Brass a cup of the thick, dark coffee. It was Greg's day off, and his entire frustrated team had spent over an hour looking for a secret stash of Blue Hawaiian, with no results. They were stuck with the dismal community coffee that tasted like boiled leather mixed with mud.

Brass thanked him with a curt nod and drank, his mouth suckering closed with disgust. "It's lousy."

"You can give me a better brand for Christmas. What's the case?"

As if he would need it, Brass's spare hand clenched tighter around the coffee cup and he took a long drink, wiping his mouth off with his hand before speaking. "Attempted murder outside a bar on Boardwalk Avenue. Gunshot."

"An attempt? You try hard to kill someone with a gun, you usually make it."

"They did - - our guy got lucky. It flexed."

"A flex bullet? Rare."

"And life-saving, in this case. Bullet entered just above the temple and traveled around the inside of the skull instead of through it."

"So your victim's alive, then?"

"If you want to call it that."

Grissom knew Brass well enough to understand what he meant. He frowned, and asked, to confirm his suspicions, "Comatose?"

"No sign of brain damage, but also no sign of waking up."

"Unfortunate." He poured himself a cup of coffee and drank it quickly, hoping to hide the taste with the speed of his swallows. In truth, it was unfortunate. Flexible bullets that didn't travel straight through the brain were a fortunate novelty, almost a miracle. But if the victim had gone into a coma, then it seemed like a wasted miracle after all. "Why don't you want me on this? Ecklie's got enough on his plate already, he can't handle an attempted as easily as I can."

"Personal connection to the victim." The phase was familiar, but from Brass it sounded like pulling teeth, the words jerking out of him unwillingly.

Years of criminologist training had taught him to evaluate a response and not give anything away about his reaction beforehand. It made him formidable in court and downright eerie as a supervisor, and he knew it. He reviewed acquaintances and friends in a short litany through his mind. "Who is he?"

"We have a positive ID saying it's Greg Sanders, your DNA tech."


The mental evaluation had ended and been replaced by a clueless feeling of disbelief. No, it wasn't Greg, because Greg was home. Greg was blasting music as loud as he could. Greg was, at the very least, home getting some well-deserved rest. He had been working as hard as any of them lately, coming in early and staying late until the dark shadows under his eyes turned from looking like bruises to tattoos. Grissom had even thought early to tell Greg how his day off had been the most quiet all month. Yes, no doubt about it, Greg was definitely sleeping, but just sleeping, showing all positive signs of waking up because it was just a rest, and not a coma, and - -

And Greg wasn't a victim. He wasn't going to allow that.

His response snapped out of him. "Who did you have ID him? He doesn't even have any family in the area, I should know, I've done those damn subordinate checks and evaluations often enough. Some kid? Maybe a junkie? We both know - - "

"I did the ID, Gil," Brass said quietly. "I'm heading up the police work on the matter."

It was the one possible thing that could have stabilized him, and it did. Grissom forced himself to breath, to calm down. Do his job like he had done it all his life, and like this case wasn't more important than any other. Establish the criminalist's Holy Trinity, the one that didn't grant bitter answers to unspoken prayers. Victim. Suspect. Crime scene.

He had the first. With some slight nudging, he could have the last. And he wanted the middle. Very, very badly.

"I want to process the scene," he said.

"The sheriff will raise holy hell if you do."

"There's no reason for that."

"Tainted evidence, Gil. Listen, I like Greg, too. He's a good kid and one hell of a DNA wizard. But everyone in the system knows that he's the night shift's pet, and it wouldn't take some lawyer long to find out who gave Greg fieldwork and treated him like a friend of the team."

"He's not a friend of the team. He's one of the team."

"And that's why you can't touch this case. Give it to Ecklie. He wouldn't know favoritism or personal motive if it bit him on the ass, and there wasn't any love lost between him and Greg."


"Gil, I can't tell you what to do on this. But, my advice - - visit the hospital. Greg's at West Palms, I just left there myself. He's stable, and no one's going to stop you from seeing him. Take the whole team, if you want, and cover his room with flowers. Sit around and tell stories about him. But you ought to stay as far away as possible from his case."

"I can't do that, Jim. Ecklie's solve-rate is nowhere near ours, and he's loaded already. I'm not going to let this guy get away because of politics." Grissom could hear himself, almost like his voice was reflected in some auditory mirror. The anger. The raw grief. He sounded like a family vigilante thirsting for blood, and it wasn't hard to see why Brass wanted to keep him from the case. He steadied himself, pulled his emotions back before they could win control completely. "I'll make it airtight. I'll get all the evidence the DA could possibly want. We both knew that they can't accuse me of personal tampering if the evidence speaks for itself."

"I had a feeling you'd take this reaction."

"Well, your feeling was remarkably accurate." His voice was steely, and he squeezed the back of the chair. "Tell Ecklie that the night shift will cover Greg's case, and if he has any problems with that, he can talk to me personally. Same goes for the sheriff."

"You want the whole team on this?"

"Yes," Grissom said simply. "The more eyes, the more minds, the better."

"I had a feeling you'd say that, too." Brass drank the rest of his coffee and crushed the styrofoam cup. "Since I knew you'd dig your own grave, I thought I'd grab a shovel and pitch in. I hustled Catherine out of bed not fifteen minutes ago, gave her the story. She's calling the others. They should be here soon."

Grissom was struck numb with gratitude. He said, humbly, "Thank you."

"I've had to explain this whole thing twice now," Brass said. "It doesn't get easier." He straightened his jacket and dropped the smashed cup on the table. "I've got the scene waiting, isolated. Direct orders to arrest anyone who even looks like they're breathing over the yellow line."

"Good. And you didn't call Ecklie?"

"No. I didn't call Ecklie."

"I owe you one, Jim," he said, already organizing the papers.

"Just find out who the son-of-a-bitch was, and I'll call it even and press all the right charges at the arrest. Attempted murder. Attacking an officer. It's a bit of a stretch, but Greg was trying to be certified as a Level One, wasn't he?"

"He is. Yes."

"Then I think we could make it stick. Do what you do best, Gil." Brass handed him the thin file and had turned to leave and was almost out of the door when Grissom stopped him. "What?"

"One more favor. Call my team and tell them to go ahead to the crime scene. I'll take this with me, process Greg at the hospital. He's probably the best evidence we have right now, and - - if I have to run the tests - - I'd like to do them myself."

"I'll make the calls."

Grissom stood there alone for a moment, running through a list of things he would need to get any samples off Greg. The swabs and picks were in his trunk. His camera. If there was a scratch or a bruise on Greg that hadn't been there yesterday, he wanted a picture of it. His - - sexual assault kit, unwanted but required.

A gunshot to the temple. The luck of it still amazed him. Greg had gotten a flexible bullet. Greg had gotten a miracle, and Grissom wasn't going to waste it.

He reviewed the file on his way to the Tahoe.