The characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.

This is in response to an improv challenge at the Unbound forums; the first and last lines were given, and the word limit is 1,000.

Spoilers: takes place between "Inside the Box" and "Assume Nothing".

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"Just close your eyes," he said.

Grissom snorted, but complied with the doctor's order, feeling the mask settle into place. He hadn't had surgery in many long years, but it felt pretty much the same as the last time--the ritual and indignity of it all made more tolerable by the mild sedative. And there was still the faint urge to find most things funny.

"Now think of someplace sunny...Jamaica...Morocco..."

The names brought brief associations, but instead he concentrated. One of the most intriguing things for him, before, had been the chance to watch unconsciousness coming. As he'd pointed out to his mother then, the very nature of sleep made it impossible to observe. Concentrate, and lose the ability to fall asleep.

With anesthesia, there was no fighting it, and he could lie there and observe as oblivion clouded up around him, dark and impenetrable. A kaleidoscope of memories spun in the back of his mind, his mother's hand's, Sara's voice, Catherine's unexpected hug. And then the darkness reached him, and he was gone.

Grissom had been told that anesthesia precluded dreams, but he never believed it. True, his first surgery had been short, and he hadn't been under far or for long, but he remembered those dreams with surprising clarity, and theorized on occasion that the drug might actually have something to do with that.

"It would be an interesting experiment, Al, you have to admit."

A snort, and a mild glare, all outraged physician. "Sure, if it didn't violate every oath I've sworn. Anesthesia's dangerous, Gil, that's why people specialize in it. It requires equipment, monitoring--you know that." He took another swallow of beer. "Experiment on your own time, next time you have to go under the knife."

Grissom smirked a little, knowing that half the fun of this was teasing the other man. "But that contaminates the experiment--illness or injury, or just the trauma of surgery..."

Bits of that old conversation reassembled themselves, spark-edged, and then fizzed away again. He wondered absurdly if his subconscious was taking notes.

Another dream focused on the impossible anxiety that the surgeons were going to replace what they had taken from him all those years ago, and his old tonsils wouldn't fit any more, and why would he want them back, anyway? And how were they going to get them back into his throat when the mask was still firmly in place?

When consciousness returned, Grissom was aware of supreme comfort, from the shoulders down. He was warm, he was limp in total relaxation, the mattress beneath him had just the right degree of firmness. But any higher than that--it hurt.

He was aware of people moving around somewhere nearby--how, exactly, he wasn't sure, since his eyes were still too heavy to open and he could hear nothing over the ferocious ringing in his ears. His concentration wavered, and when he next focused, he realized he'd been asleep again.

He wondered if the surgery had worked. Yes, he'd put it off far too long. It was all or nothing--put all the chips on the table, his job and his life, and either he won it all or he lost it. Some part of him was itching furiously to know how it had turned out, and the other part kept telling him to lie there quietly for just a little while longer. To delay the inevitable.

Another dream came back to him, vivid and wrenching. Sara, crying. Not the controlled tears he'd seen her shed in his office, but weeping desperately, and where did that come from? He'd never seen her cry like that. He'd tried so hard in the dream to make himself move, to go over and ask her what was wrong, to at the very least lay a hand on her shoulder in comfort, but as in life he could do nothing.

She'd asked him out. She'd made him confront what he'd refused to voice for so long. It had been too much.

Coward.

Yeah. So what else is new?

Air sighed past his face, and Grissom realized that someone had just walked past his gurney. He assumed he was in a recovery room somewhere, and when he concentrated, he could sense the slight sway of his bed to nearby movement. He wondered how long he would be here before they would check on him, and how long he would have to stay, and whether he would be able to hear Al when the medical examiner came to pick him up.

And he wondered if anyone at work would notice. If I ever go back to work, that is.

If it worked--if he could be rid of this specter, this pressure--could he have what he wanted? Could he even begin to change?

It all hinged on the aching spaces behind his jaw.

Grissom opened his eyes, blinking to clear the blur, and saw ceiling tiles come into focus. The fog of anesthesia dissipated a little more, and he became aware that his throat was dry, but the very thought of swallowing was painful.

Pink flicked past on his left as someone passed. His eyes stung a little, and he lifted a hand to rub them. His arm was heavy, still drained from his artificial sleep.

As he relaxed again, his hand hit the rail on the side of his gurney, and he flinched. A fresh spike of pain shot through his skull, and he grunted.

And heard it.

The agony blunted under a wave of incredible relief. For an instant, possibility bloomed inside him, sweet and open. On the strength of it, he grasped courage.

I've got to do something. I've got to make more of my life than this.

As soon as he could sit up, anyway.

He grinned at the ceiling, and ignored the pain for a moment, his voice hoarse but audible. "Okay, I guess that's settled then."

End.