I had this story planned out and on the list of "things that would be nice to write" for a while, and I finally took the time to do it in-between chapters of "Blood in the Water," which, don't worry, is close to completion and still going to be frequently updated. Anyway, this story is loosely set after the end of the third season, but before the start of the fourth, and it's a friendship/angst piece between Greg and Grissom. The italicized parts during most of the story are speech, not thoughts, because most of this goes by like a dream. It isn't a dream, but it's supposed to feel like one. When you get to the awakening, we switch to regular, standard quotation marks.
Just in case things weren't confusing enough, I had to get stylistic on you. I know. It's terrible.
And, for the disclaimer, I don't own CSI, Grissom, Catherine, Greg, or anyone you recognize from the show. I don't even own Bisquick, but you'll find that in here, too. This is completely non-profit.
GRISSOM: If you need me, I'll be around.
- "Inside the Box"
You are there when I open the door, just a slim, pale shadow with too-messy hair and eyes bigger than your face. You ask to come inside. Your jacket is ripped open and down fluff is leaking from the split. I don't know how to tell you no, so I stand aside and let you fall in, almost toppling into my entryway. I grab you by the shoulders and take you to the sofa, bend you down so you can sit. You recoil from my touch and anchor yourself, hands on the armrests.
What's wrong, Greg?
It's a point-blank defense. You pull back, as if you can drive yourself further into the cushions. There's a long scratch across your cheekbone. You need a bandage and an antiseptic. I don't have either of these things. I bring you a bottle of water, instead, and you drink it like you've been stuck in the desert for too long. You found your oasis. I watch your Adam's apple bob frantically as you try to keep it down.
Can I spend the night?
Whatever you want.
I usher you into the bedroom, but you won't take it, so I make up the sofa with clean, cool sheets. You stand there, watching, a ghost in your old white tee-shirt. Someone gouged the hell out of your arms, but I'm afraid to ask who, or why, or when.
You say, uneasily, Thanks, Grissom.
Then, because I have to reply, I say, We'll talk in the morning. For now, get some sleep.
You lie down and curl under the worn blanket. I always thought that you would sleep sprawled out, limbs everywhere, but you curl tight against yourself like a child. I wonder what you're trying to protect yourself from, and I further wonder if either one of us is going to be at work tomorrow. Somehow, I don't think so. I better make a call.
Catherine's number is on speed-dial, so she's the unlucky one.
She answers, sounding pissed-off and tired. I'm not surprised. She must have just gotten home.
What is it, Gil?
Greg's at my house.
I hear her quick intake of breath. She's worried about you. The sharpness fades out of her voice.
Is he okay? she asks.
I don't think so.
Are you coming in tomorrow?
No. I don't think I should. I think he needs somebody here right now. He's . . . he's pretty messed-up, Catherine.
Do you know what's wrong?
My muscles tighten. It would be easy to tell her that I think someone beat the living hell out of you, but I don't think that's all that happened. You could take a beating, but you look like this has turned you inside-out. And you flinch when I touch you. So I have a couple of ideas, just a few unproven, invalid theories, and even if they're enough to make a cold knot of fury tie itself inside my stomach, it's nothing I can tell Catherine about. Not yet, anyway, and not over the phone.
No, I don't know.
I feel so damn ignorant. Why didn't you run to her? You ought to have known that I'd be no good at this. Gruesome Grissom. I'm not good at taking care of my own.
Okay, she says finally. I can hear her playing with the phone cord. It's a faint buzz in the background, like power lines. Amazing what you can hear when you're listening. I'll call you in sick. BOTH of you.
She stops me before I can hang up the phone.
Help him out, Gil,
Yeah. I'll try.
I will. I promise.
I sleep in the armchair because I don't want to leave you alone. I count four nightmares and don't wake you from any of them. I don't know why. Maybe I'm afraid to talk to you. It's a possibility.
You talk a lot in your sleep. Scream a lot, too. I hope these walls are thick enough to hold your cries inside. The neighbors will worry if they aren't.
I don't have any food, so I leave at nine and come back with bagels, eggs, milk, and Bisquick. I don't know what you like. You're still there, still sleeping, maybe on nightmare five or six. There are tearstains on your face. That cut looks worse in the new morning light. I make enough breakfast for five people and keep it warm until you wake up.
You don't wake with a scream but with a kind of hoarse, guttural cry, as if you could have screamed, but you'd kept it caged in your throat. You look almost fiercely proud as you pad barefoot into my kitchen, but it fades away as you suddenly remember where you are and to whom you've entrusted yourself.
There are rusty bloodstains on your shirt. I don't want to look at them.
I made breakfast, I say weakly, and offer you a medley plate. Bright yellow scrambled eggs are squashed against thick, maple-laced pancakes, and bagel halves covered with cream cheese. Eat. You already look thinner than you did yesterday, and you've got me wondering just how fast your metabolism really is, and just how much mine has slowed down over the years.
You dig in with relish. You compliment the taste sometime in-between bites, but the sheer volume of food packed in your mouth makes your words hard to decipher. Once you're done bulldozing through four pancakes, two eggs, and a bagel, I start up a conversation that I know you won't like.
Why are you here, Greg?
You gulp down your milk. That's an easy one, boss. I've got nowhere else to go.
What happened last night?
You've got blood on your clothes and one hell of a shiner. Why are you lying to me?
You smile. It's too bitter for you.
Force of habit, I guess. Maybe I'm just a liar.
You smile again, like you were waiting for that. Then you've got no fucking evidence, Grissom.
I'm liking this less and less. You're usually deferential; a bit wild, maybe, but you don't use that kind of language, at least, not around me. But I'm not exactly in a position to object. This isn't the lab, after all, and I feel like swearing myself, because that smile does not, by any stretch of the imagination, look right on your face.
I have you.
Yeah, you say. Everyone's good at that.
If someone hurt you, I'm going to break them in half. You're just a kid. You don't need shit like this. I don't need this, either.
Why are you here, Greg?
Hurtful: Maybe I just want to mess with your head.
Good, you say listlessly. I'm glad.
It takes three more hours before you'll talk to me again. I think it should upset me, but I've learned to be patient. I'm reading about the mating habits of hissing cockroaches when you come into the living room and sit down. You must have taken a shower, because your hair is still damp and you've changed clothes. You're drowning in my shirt and pajama bottoms, like a child trying on his father's outfit.
I hand you a book at random from my shelf.
I know. I own it. You flip through the pages like the words, in their old black print on yellowing paper, are going to attack you.
I didn't have you pegged as a Shakespeare man.
Drama club at Stanford. I liked it, but I wasn't very good.
Why are you here, Greg?
Because Nick was out of town, you say sharply. It's no closer to the truth than before, but it hurts. You land on a page you like and read aloud, your voice soft and hushed. I let you make your way through several speeches. You've underestimated yourself - - while not genius, you can slip well into the characters. Your tone changes, switching between speakers, but it is consistently clear. You would have made a great kindergarten teacher if you weren't quite so much like a kindergartner yourself.
You close the book with a snap.
I like his comedies better, you say, and inventory my bookshelf. Disappointment radiates from the taut muscles in your back. No comedies in my collection, not even the Bard's.
I've always been a man of tragedy.
It shows, you quip.
Why are you here,
'Cause I'm tired, Grissom. Your voice is small. I feel sorry for you, but you're still lying, still making excuses, and I can't help you until I know the truth.
I say, You look like a clown in those clothes.
I thought it would cheer you up, but it was clearly the wrong thing to say. You spin around and I see you're as white as any corpse. You look like you're going to pick a fight, maybe hit me, and I won't stop you. I almost wish you would.
I need to see the palms of your hands.
A clown, you say. That's right. That's everything.
I didn't mean it like that.
Nobody ever does. You never do, right?
Come on. Take a swing at me.
Don't lie to me, Grissom.
I'm not lying, I say. My palms are sweaty. I'm trying to upset you. I know how dangerous this is, and how cruel I'm being, but if you won't break down, if you won't stop this, you'll be too far gone too soon.
I say, We all need you, Greg.
Shut up. Stop it.
Why on earth would you think that someone wants to hurt you?
Fucking HIT me, Greg!
You do. And all that adrenaline must be doing something, or else you were always stronger than I suspected, because you almost crack my jaw. And I am definitely too old for this. I catch your fist as it pulls back, and uncurl your fingers from your palm. Suddenly drained, you seem too weak to fight me.
There's a long, healing scratch down the fleshy part of your palm. The new scab is shiny and looks painful.
Nothing, you say before I can ask, but I've processed hundreds of dead bodies, and I know a defensive wound when I see one. You're lying again, but you've done little else since I let you inside. It doesn't surprise me. Victims lie just as often and just as well as suspects.
You tricked me, you say, withdrawing your hand.
I'm too proud to deny it.
Yes. I did.
I counter you. Why are you here, Greg?
Why do you keep asking me that? You're breathing hard, and I find myself reciting the symptoms of the anxiety attack I think you're likely to have. Why won't you leave it alone?
I want the truth. You came to me. Why?
How many reasons do you need? You're crying, sobbing, really, and I don't know how to deal with your weeping any more than I know how to deal with your screams. Catherine would hold you. Nick would shush you, soothe you, and calm you down. I'm unsure what Warrick would do, but it comforts me to think that Sara would be equally clueless on how to comfort you.
Just one - - if it's the right one.
There's no right here, boss.
Why are you here, Greg?
Aw, and just when I was starting to think that you were a broken record. You're still sniffling, but you're on your way to recovery. I only wish that I was. I'm here because there's nothing left.
Close, but not close enough. Tell me the truth.
There's no truth here, either.
I make clam chowder for lunch. You stay another day, then another. You continue to sleep on my sofa. I buy you a set of Shakespearean comedies, and you make your way through The Tempest and Much Ado About Nothing, snorting into the glasses of Coca-Cola when you reach a particularly amusing pun. When you get to A Midsummer Night's Dream, you pull me out of my own books and give me characters. You cast me as Titania and Oberon, much to my disguised amusement, and you play Bottom with a grin on your face that I wish I saw more often.
I go into work again and sign you up for a month's paid leave. You're still there when I get back, sprawled on the sofa, plowing through another play.
Why are you here, Greg?
You don't even look up.
Ask me no more questions and I'll tell you no more lies.
I point at your book. Shakespeare?
You smile. Jump-rope rhyme. I made you an omelet. It's in the kitchen.
Consider it my rent.
You don't have to do anything, Greg. But I'd like it if you'd tell me the truth.
Two weeks pass. I tell you that Nick is back from Texas and curious about your absence. I wait to see if you leave for his house, but instead, you ask if he can come visit after shift sometime. I say yes. After all, this is just as much your home now, too. I don't say that part, but you seem pleased nonetheless, as if you plucked it from my mind. You haven't said a word about coming back to work. If you didn't still occasionally call me "boss," I'd think that you'd completely forgotten what you do for a living.
We order sushi and Nick comes over. I'm so glad to see that you holding a conversation with someone who isn't me that you both comment that I'm inexplicably cheery. I don't tell you (or Nick) that I'd been worrying that your presence in my house was a figment of my imagination, or perhaps an oddly benign ghost.
Why are you here, Greg?
You sip at your wine. 'Cause you've got great food, Grissom, you say mildly.
It goes over well. Nick chuckles. I don't. I'm too damned sick and tired of trying to get the truth from you. My good mood dissipates. I drink more wine to make up for it. Nick starts looking abashed at the amount I'm putting away. I talked to him at work before he came over, and told him, finally, what I suspected. He was concerned about you then, and now, he's equally concerned about me. I could see it reflected somehow in his face.
Nick takes off at eleven. He gives you a hard hug goodbye, like he isn't sure when he's going to see you again. Maybe he isn't. I don't know.
You round on me the second he's gone, like an angry housecat. I can practically see your ears flattening back, and maybe it's the image of you as a tabby, or maybe it's just the wine, but I have to hold back laughter.
You didn't have to ask that in front of him!
Why not? You lie just as well with an audience.
Your face is strained and white.
Fuck you, Grissom.
I retort: Why are you here, Greg?
You scream and I finally get the truth, and at first, it stings so much that I wish I was still in the dark, clueless, and fumbling for some kind of an answer.
Because I thought you'd make me leave! I thought you wouldn't let me in and it would be over. I could stop caring. I could maybe go crazy. But you didn't. You let me in. Let me stay.
You're sobbing, your whole body shaking. This time, I hold your shoulders and let you cry.
Why didn't you make me leave, Grissom?
I try and calm you the best I can, but there's a reason why I was never a parent and a reason why I couldn't comfort you before. These things confuse me. I think again that you would have been better off, by far, if you'd gone to Catherine.
Snuffling, you repeat your question.
Didn't I say that, if you needed me, I'd be around?
But that was just about my hands shaking.
It didn't have an expiration date, Greg.
You wipe tears away from your face. Do you really want to know what happened? More frantic wiping away. You're ashamed to have cried in front of me, and I'm ashamed that you're ashamed.
Yes. If you're ready.
Then sleep. I feel like I should press you on this, because even if I have a pretty good idea of what happened to you, I'm not entirely ignorant of human psychology. I know it would be better for you to talk, but I can't make you. Not when you've been crying. Not when you finally told me some of the truth.
It's been three weeks.
Yes. It has. I might need to sign you up for an additional month off. I'm starting to wonder if this leave is going to become permanent. You haven't even left my townhouse, as far as I know. You shower while I'm at work. Clean. Cook dinner, or breakfast, or lunch, or whatever you're in the mood for. You don't make any requests, outside of ingredients for some recipe, but I'll sometimes bring you books or CDs. Nick got me the keys from your apartment so I could cart over your Discman and you could listen without me having to hear the punk rock. You have new clothes now, because after two days, it was far too ridiculous seeing you in mine. We've settled into a routine that I'm reluctant to break, but Nick was a catalyst. He reminded me that you didn't always live here.
I say: However long it takes.
If you want me to leave . . .
It's the truth, too. I've grown accustomed to your company. As subdued as you've been lately, it's still an improvement over loneliness.
As long as you need, Greg.
I ask new questions now. We've moved from one game to another with flawless accuracy.
Did it happen that night?
You're eating Cap'n Crunch. It looks disgusting. I try to keep your bowl as far from mine as possible, which is surprisingly easy, because you seem to have the same fear of my bran mix. You shove your spoon back in the cereal and look up.
Yeah. I came here.
I get one question a day.
We spend the rest of the afternoon watching movies, and you camp out on the sofa munching cheddar popcorn and complimenting the special effects. We keep odd hours because you still sleep like you're going to go on the night shift, but most places in Vegas are open twenty-four hours, so we don't have any problems.
Another day, I ask, Is it what I think it is?
It's the most vague question ever, and you give me a skeptical look. Clearly, you agree.
I don't know, Grissom. What do you think it is?
It's a wasted question. I don't pursue that angle again for another two days. Your second month of leave time still has two or three weeks left, but it's still running out, like sand shifting through a glass, and I keep putting off extending it, because I'm afraid that the moment I pick up the pen and mark you down for more time, I'm dooming you. That another month away means that you won't come back at all. I work harder, and chase the questions more diligently.
It gets harder.
Why didn't you go to the hospital, have the tests run?
I didn't want to, you say, but I shake my head, and you know that it's not good enough. I don't like hospitals. And I was pretty freaked. You ought to know that. I would've run.
You did run.
Yeah, but to you. I meant out of Vegas. Just pulled up stakes here and left.
I'm glad you didn't. We all are. I pluck at your memories gently. Everyone misses you at work. We've hired a temporary, but he isn't half as efficient. And he doesn't make coffee.
Good to know that I'm valued.
You are. I try for a second question, knowing that
I'm pushing you and also knowing that after the beers we've had, you're
somewhat mellow, and more willing to be pushed.
Are you going to come back to
It's what I was hoping for.
But that's my third question, third wish, and you're not a genie, to grant it so easily.
Then, one day, with a week left in your leave, I don't even have to ask, because you grab my book from my hands, toss it onto the sofa cushions, sit on the table, and start to talk.
I was coming home from the lab, okay? I stopped at Starbucks. They make these great mocha frapuccinos, but that's hardly the point of the story. I was at the drive thru when some guys pulled up next to me. They said they'd seen me before. Wanted to know if I'd come to a party. And you know the unbelievable part? I knew them. I did, I swear. I'd met at least one of them before. Party. Bar. Something social. Someplace where you'd be uncomfortable. So I got my coffee, but I said, hey, can't, work nights, need my rest, you know?
I know, Greg.
But they didn't take no for an answer. They kept it up until I was either going to pull out of there and leave them eating exhaust - - and I should have - - or until I would go. And I went. I told myself that I'd mingle, get away from them, and be out in an hour.
Except there wasn't any party.
No. There wasn't any party.
I thought I wanted to know this, but I don't. I can feel my stomach turning inside of me. I suppose Catherine was right - - you draw a circle around the ones you're close to. The people you care about. Your family. You tell yourself that it can't happen to you and it can't happen to them, even though you know all the statistics, all the symptoms, and all that causes. You're blind. I was blind. So stop making me see things I don't want to see anymore.
But it's too late to tell you to shut up.
They did it in the car. They did - - me - - in the car. My face all smashed up against the vinyl. It hurt.
I touch your shoulder. I'm sorry.
I am. I really, really am. I'm sorry, and I'm angry, and I'm pretty close to being homicidal, actually, and if I had these guys in a line-up right now and you were pointing them out, they'd have a fifty-fifty chance of living or dying, depending on whether or not I had my gun on at the moment.
So is it what you thought, Grissom?
I thought so. You're good at seeing things. You say this with no bitterness, just with this long-suffering sadness. I know I should have gone in. Gotten the tests run. I didn't want it to happen to someone else, but I was just too messed up, and now it's too late. The evidence is gone.
I don't blame you.
You survived, Greg. That's enough.
Yeah, but I had you.
Pressure applied properly to shoulder. I'm getting better at this.
You still have me.
You walk around the DNA lab like you haven't seen it for months, and then I do the math and realize that you haven't. You take a few moments to familiarize yourself again with the equipment. Hands test keyboards. You feel a pack of latex gloves. Switch on the machines, one by one. Go to the stereo that's been collecting dust while you were gone. You feel your laminated badge, newly re-issued, and you smile. It's bright, it's sunny, and it takes up your whole face.
"I missed this," you say.
"We missed you. Or they did. Having you in my house prevented me from missing you."
"But you're going to miss me, right?"
"Good. Just making sure. I'll visit."
"I'll make you cook."
"Thought you said I didn't owe you anything."
"Good. I'm sick of the truth, anyway. I'll get you a cat or something for your birthday, keep you company." You push me out of your lab. Master of your domain again, and you don't need me right now. Debt fulfilled. "Get me some bad guys to catch, Grissom!" you yell into the hallway.
I hear Black Flag a minute later.
You're okay again.
If I didn't hate this song so much, I'd sing along.