"Home sweet home," Greg said, standing in the doorway. The rest of the team had been over Greg's old apartment with cleanser, vacuums, and dust-busters, and the entire place gleamed. A pervading scent of lemon drifted through. Grissom opened a few of the windows.
"If you don't want to stay here alone - -"
"It's fine. Really." Greg looked around. The apartment was all done in bright colors. The curtains were scarlet and the walls were painted bright sky blue. It clashed atrociously, but Grissom had to admit, to himself, at least, that it was an accurate portrayal of how Greg had been . . . before. Now, things were different. Greg looked around like he was thinking about earth tones, and Grissom had to take the boy's suitcase - - packed with all the gifts from the hospital - - and set it down on the table for him. Two versions of Greg, now. Pre-coma, and post.
"You can stay with me, if you want. I've got a guest room."
"It's fine," Greg said again. "I need to - - get back in the swing of - -" He exhaled, shuddering, and pressed a hand to his face. His skin was filmy with sweat. Grissom watched, uncomfortable, feeling like a voyeur to Greg's breakdown, unable to help. "Grissom. I can't - - I can't do this. Not right now. It's - - I'm - -" He laughed, the noise shrill and tight, as if barely able to pull out of him; a runaway train's dying whistle. "And I can't even get a sentence out. I'm sorry."
"Stay with me," Grissom said. "Or with someone." He averted his eyes from the young man's tear-streaked face, not wanting to watch him cry. "They've all made their offers, you know."
"I know. I could just rotate and not sleep in the same place two days a week, if I wanted." Greg laughed again. Somehow, it was worse than a scream. "Okay." He looked suddenly defeated. Grissom thought he could understand why. Greg had been trying to take what he saw as the first step - - going home. Picking up the pieces. And now he felt like he was falling backwards.
There's going to be someone there to catch you. You don't have to worry about that. I'm not your father. I'm not going to leave you alone, and neither is anyone else. If I was willing to come home to you coloring on my floor with that child-bright and empty smile, than I'm more than willing to drive you to work. It's a good thing, Greg, not a fallback.
"Do you need anything from here?" he asked instead. He'd talked to Greg enough when the boy was unconscious, but, with his audience awake, conversation was harder.
"Socks. Boxers. I'll find them. And there's probably some really bad milk in the fridge."
"I can only imagine," Grissom said dryly. "Go get your clothes. I'll take care of the other things."
Greg disappeared into his bedroom and Grissom headed for the kitchen, but slowly. There were remnants of Greg everywhere, and he wondered why it felt so much like he was grieving for the Greg that used to be. Photographs were all over the place - - not neatly, in frames, but stuck to the walls with glittery pushpins. Nick. Sara. Warrick. Catherine. Even a few of Grissom himself, looking somewhat surprised by the camera shoved under his nose. He remembered a few of the incidents. There was Greg's last birthday - - with the ice-cream cake that had melted in the car and turned into cake with ice cream soup, and their presents torn apart. A group shot. His ID. Buddies from Stanford. None of Nathan. A black-and-white image that could only have been his mother, and Grissom didn't have to guess how bad things must have been between Greg and his father if the mother who had abandoned him deserved a photo and Nathan did not.
He moved into the kitchen and cleaned out the fridge. Greg was right - - the milk was sour. He poured it down the drain slowly, ignoring the stink. He could take some of the things over to his house - - and the cupboards held non-perishables; they could stay. He peeked through them, feeling like he was analyzing Greg's life. Fruit roll-ups. Oreos. Cheddar goldfish. Cap'n Crunch cereal. A gallon of maple syrup and a drawer of battered playing cards. Batteries.
Greg came out with another suitcase. It was crayon-yellow.
"Ready," the young man said, shifting his feet. "I just - - I wanted to tell you."
"Thanks," Greg said finally. "For being there."
There was something in his eyes that voided the statement and the real gratitude behind it. Yes, Greg was glad that there were people who cared about him. But it wasn't enough - - wasn't nearly enough - - to bring him full-circle to recovery. He looked battered. The fading yellow bruises on his face were the smallest part of that, too. The stitches on his hairline, and at his temple - - but it hadn't just been physical. His eyes seemed darker now.
He gave up. Whatever innocence he had left, whatever he was saving to keep him the way he was - - it's . . . gone. What if there's no way to get that back?
"We'll always be here."
softly. "Family, right?"
Grissom nodded. His eyes felt blurry as he led Greg through the door, gently carrying the suitcase himself. They headed into the sunlight and the cool, air-conditioned car. Greg's eyes were teary, but he looked someone peaceful. Maybe he had convinced himself that it wasn't a fallback to take them up on their offer. Maybe things were going to be all right, after all.
They deserved that much, at least.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading this story. I loved writing it and loved reading your reviews after every chapter, and I'm very glad that you enjoyed it. And I do plan on posting the sequel soon - - but I'm taking a break of about a week to get a few chapters prepared beforehand. The working title is Picking Up the Pieces, and it's more of a drama about Greg's recovery than a case-file (admittedly, I tried to make this one more of a case-file, but it isn't one of my talents. Still, there was investigation in this story; there won't be any in the sequel). I hope to keep up the regular posting schedule of at least one chapter every other day, and one a day, if I can.
Fun Facts to Know, If You Want:
1. The original idea for this story involved Grissom taking Greg on a case, only to have both of them be kidnapped. So . . . not much stayed similar, at all. Actually, I think I just kept the title. Then there was another plan that involved Greg dying in the first chapter, and having the rest of the team pick up the pieces around him. Personally, I'm glad he's alive. That doesn't mean I won't kill him in some other story, though. I make no promises.
2. Nathan Sanders was actually going to be part of some other story, but I decided that a subplot would be useful, so he ended up going into this one. He won't actually appear during the sequel - - since we've already established that Grissom never sees him again - - but there will be flashbacks, memories, and a lot of off-stage action for him.
3. Driftwood (I know some of you have read it) was going to be the sequel, with the trauma driving Greg to Grissom not being what it was in the finished draft of the story, but, rather, his inability to trust anyone anymore. It turned out to be something quite different, however.
4. Yes, the chapter title "Inevitable" was both to show that I did know what was going to happen beforehand - - and also to freak you out and make you think I was going to kill our poor Greg. Did it work?
5. I've got two other big WIP stories on the boards, and both of them feature Greg prominently - - one if a Grissom/Sara (I know, not the cup of tea for some of you), but it also takes place in the near-future, with Greg as a CSI Three and trusted protégé of Grissom, and the other is an ensemble story with angst for everyone. In-between longer stories, I'll post some shorter ones - - there's some Greg humor in the works, along with a mushy, humorous Greg/Cath story (support the sickness of the "Stacy's Mom" CSI pairing!).
6. If you have any questions about the story, or just something you want to know, put it in your review, and I'll post an Author's Notes chapter to answer them. Just no big spoilers about the sequel, okay?
7. Once again, I really, genuinely thank you for reading.