Author's Note: this is a bit of an oldie (my first CSI fic in fact), a one-shot, and probably not to most people's tastes. It just struck me that death is a very difficult event for people to deal with, and one that can mean everything or nothing to an individual depending on the context. This is my not-terribly-polished effort at looking at it.

Well, that was as clear as mud. In case you haven't already noticed, this story features character death, plus some bad language and mild sexual references. Please read and review, anyway…


Was it Grissom who had told her that scent evoked a stronger memory response than any of the other five senses? Probably; it was certainly the sort of thing that Grissom might have come out with. It seemed that he was proven right yet again as she lay there in the dark, holding the pillow to her face, taking in the familiar, sweet smell of shampoo and hair gel. She'd always teased him about the incredible amount of crap he managed to put onto that head of his, warned him that hair dye was a well-known carcinogen. For a long moment she didn't move, just let the scented fabric do its job as an aide-mémoire.

It was less than forty-eight hours since she last lay in this bed, and now everything was so different. The whole situation had changed. She turned away from 'his' pillow and stretched her arms into the space that was 'hers' – her side of the bed. How useless such labels are now, she thought. She wondered if sleep would bring her peace, or just force her to relive the events of the day before as nightmares took over.

She closed her eyes tightly and ran her hands over the bedspread, but opened them just as abruptly when her fingers encountered an unfamiliar texture. She sat up, and snapped on the bedside lamp. There on the sheet lay a gaily-colored envelope, addressed to "Sexy Sidle", a cartoon stamp doodled in the top right-hand corner. Sara had an uneasy feeling in her stomach as she slid a fingernail under the flap, breaking the seal. Inside she found a cheery greetings card bearing the legend

CHARLIE BROWN SAYS…

Sara found herself smiling beside herself. There he was, the hapless Peanuts character. Charlie Brown – that was what she had called him sometimes. As she pointed out, they both had as their style trademarks silly shirts and sillier hair. This Charlie Brown was customised, though; instead of his usual single curl, he had spiky hair scribbled in ballpoint pen all over his head. Sara opened the card. Inside it read:

THANKYOU!

For (finally) letting me take you out properly.

You don't know what it means to me…

(almost) all my love,

Greg xxxx

it wouldn't be any fun if I didn't save some for later, would it?

That was what had caused her finally to break down, to fall back on the bed and let the tears flow. The irony of it all. There it was, in black and white, how much it had meant to him for them to go out as a normal couple. She remembered the boyish grin he had worn when she had let him thread his fingers through hers, to hold her hand in public, in the open. If she had only said no to his request, she thought, he would still be here.

They were doing the tourist thing. Greg had been amazed that Sara had managed to live in Vegas for over five years and yet still knew nothing about the place, above and beyond its homicide hotspots. So he had insisted on giving her the tour. It was Sara's night off, and Greg had arranged to take a day's leave for the occasion. All discreetly done, of course; he knew that nothing would do more to jeopardize their fledgling affair than their colleagues finding out. Professional life and private life – for Sara there was, had to be, a strict divide, at least as far as this relationship was concerned. And Greg had respected that; somewhat to Sara's surprise, she had to admit. In hindsight, she was astonished at his patience; the normally restless Greg had managed for three, no, four months to refrain from letting slip that he was secretly banging the Ice Queen of the crime lab. And he was good – surprisingly good. But then as he had pointed out at the time, just because he was a late starter didn't necessarily mean he was a slow learner. Sara shivered as she remembered how he would kiss a path from her jaw to the turn of her shoulder, biting her gently to leave discreet marks where no one else would see – Greg Sanders Was Here, once – which Sara would reciprocate, letting her lips wander over his slim, beautiful body. She had used to think that hickeys were just for teenagers; hadn't realized how sexy it was to have a reminder on your skin of your extra-curricular activities, of how someone had licked and pressed and kissed and touched you until you couldn't help but gasp with pleasure. She had to confess to occasionally touching them at work, whilst handling paperwork in the layout room, or even pushing the collar of her shirt back in the washroom or the locker room, checking that they were still there in the mirror. Greg had caught her once in the act, and offered to give her another, just to be sure. After a playful slap she had even forgotten the rules for a moment and let him kiss her, briefly, shielded from view by the open door of her locker.

But that was at work. At home – hers, or more usually his – they could pass muster as a normal couple. They would cook, eat, talk, laugh, make love. Okay, Greg would cook, Sara's specialty of speed-dial Chinese takeout having been used one too many times, but she had tried to learn. Greg was so different from anyone else she ever been with, or wanted to be with – he wasn't ashamed to be childlike, and he wasn't a slave to his ego either. He wasn't too proud to admit to her that he'd only lost his virginity at 22, nor did he feel the need to pretend that he no longer read his rather over-expansive comic book collection. And then there were his 101 hobbies. Before Greg, Sara had to admit that she had no real outside interests, all her time being spent either at work, or cribbing up on subjects related to it. Greg, on the other hand, loved his job, but he loved so many other things as well. And as if by osmosis, he had sucked Sara along with him. Before she realized what was happening, she was watching old repeats of Columbo and debating whether or not he had the edge over McCloud; she occasionally caught herself in the evidence vault singing songs by Radiohead or the Manic Street Preachers, or whatever other weird British stuff he insisted on listening to; he had even tried to explain his coin collection to her. With Greg, Sara felt like she was experiencing the abandon that most kids could as teenagers, a whole world she had missed out on.

Of course, he wasn't perfect. Sometimes his boyish exuberance would tip from amusing to irritating, and Sara would have to beg him, just for once, to be serious; sometimes he even snored. In the early days, weeks even, she had often found herself wondering whether she shouldn't call the whole thing off; questioning whether their relationship was a good idea, whether the fact that they were such different people meant that they weren't suited to one another. But then she had realized that perhaps they weren't so different after all. Greg seemed to make her more relaxed, to bring her sense of humor to the surface. It was then that she began to suspect that she had in fact molded her former self in Grissom's image. She thought back to an old case, at the Little People convention, when Kevin Marcus had tried to tempt his daughter's fiancé Lawrence away from her by baiting him with a fictitious woman based upon Lawrence himself. Perhaps, thought Sara, that was what I was doing – hoping that if I was enough like him, Grissom would want me more. But hindsight, she pondered, is a wonderful thing. It was only now that she realized that her efforts had been in vain; it wasn't that who she was wasn't attractive to Grissom, it was simply that he didn't notice. Or couldn't. As Catherine had once said, he never took his nose away from his microscope long enough to notice the people around him. Grissom wasn't a bad person; he just wasn't a people person. And she couldn't wait for him to change any longer; he wasn't to be the person for her.

Greg knew that she had once wanted Grissom. But then who was she kidding? Pretty much everyone in the lab had suspected it at one time or another. But oddly enough, he didn't seem to mind. She had challenged him about it once, asked him if it bothered him. Greg had thought for a moment, then replied "no, not really."

"Why not?"

"Well," he said, stroking the tops of her arms, "I figure that you're with me, for now at least. And hey, just the thought of getting to stand here with you, like this, touching you, would have had me practically creaming my pants a few years ago… hell, it would have had me doing it a couple of months ago. And it's not like I haven't been trying since, like, forever. So," he continued, kissing her forehead gently, "I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Not that I'm not devilishly handsome, and you're damn lucky to have me, obviously…"

Sara jabbed him playfully in the shoulder. "You're full of it, mister."

"I like to think of it as one of my better features. But seriously, maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. Maybe I do like you more than you like me; okay, I don't mind accepting that as a given. But whatever happens, I've been with the sexiest CSI in Las Vegas. My life's ambition is fulfilled; I can die happy."

Sara felt the tears prick anew in her eyes as she recalled the terrible irony of his words. They had both been happy that night. For once, they were just normal people, walking together down the Strip like any other man and woman. At Greg's request, she had put her inhibitions aside. She didn't feel self-conscious when they ate in a garishly lit diner, or degraded when they pulled some cheap slots, or took in a burlesque show with the tourists. He had grinned like an idiot when she had spread her hand over his thigh in the dark of the theater, then leaned over to kiss him. For this was a major breakthrough – like the outside-working-hours-only rule, public displays of affection had been hitherto strictly of limits. And here she was, initiating one herself. Then again, riding a rollercoaster in one of the city's many amusement parks, they had kissed, and Sara had whispered mischievously in his ear, reminding him about a boy on a case whose particular predilection had been for having sex mid-ride. Greg had whispered back that it was a good thing they were off-duty and didn't have the ALS with them, as he would hate to think how many people's little soldiers they were sitting on right now.

Sara couldn't remember enjoying herself more in, God, ages. And it obviously showed. Standing at the edge of a crowd at the light show outside one of the city's grander hotels, the evening drawing into the small hours, Greg had murmured "Sara?"

"Hmm?"

"You're really beautiful when you smile, you know. Really beautiful."

Sara had blushed. "Thanks. You're not bad yourself."

"Of course," he replied, winking at her.

She had snaked an arm around his waist. "I've really enjoyed myself tonight, Greg. Thanks."

He turned to face her. "Me too." Around them, the small crowd of people was gasping in delight as the colors changed. "It's really nice being with you; you know, out with you."

"Yeah," responded Sara dreamily. Her arms were around his neck now, her fingers playing with the curling hair at his nape, his own hands resting on her hips.

"Sara?" Greg looked down at her. There wasn't much height difference between them, only a couple of inches, and pretty much none at all on the very few occasions when she wore heels, but today in their sneakers there was enough.

He looked uneasy all of a sudden, Sara thought, as he pulled her closer into an embrace. "What is it?" she asked.

Greg's chin was resting on her shoulder now, and he was stroking her hair. "Don't freak out, or slap me, or anything, but… I think I love you."

She had held him at arm's length for a moment, looking at him. Under the colored lights, he looked for all the world like a lovelorn teenager, standing there in his T-shirt and jeans, big brown eyes looking only at her. He seemed almost frightened, scared that she might indeed run a mile after his admission.

But she didn't. Instead, she smiled. Instantly Greg's face lit up as Sara pulled him closer and, right there in the street, in public, kissed him. Really kissed him.

But they had no sooner begun than Sara heard screams erupt around them, punctuated by what sounded like gunfire. His lips still on hers, she felt Greg's weight push her to the floor. The rattle of shell casings hitting the ground mingled with the shouts of those around her, everyone pushing and scrabbling to avoid the line of fire. And then, as quickly as it had started, it was over. Sara picked up the unmistakable screech of tires on asphalt as the gunman, gunmen – she had no idea how many there were – made their exit, the getaway vehicle a large black sedan with tinted windows.

It was only then that Sara realized that her mouth was full of blood.

Greg's arms were still around her as they lay on the pavement. Pandemonium all around, Sara spat the fluid from her mouth, but none rushed forward to replace it. Odd, she thought; with the amount of blood she saw pooled in front of her, she had to be bleeding fairly profusely.

But she wasn't bleeding.

"Greg?" Sara shook the young man's shoulder, but there was no response. "Greg, can you hear me?"

Sara scooted away from him, and took in his face. His eyes were closed, and blood was dripping from the corner of his mouth. That, she knew, was a bad sign. She looked down. There, on his left side, was a dark stain spreading rapidly through the fabric of his shirt. No longer supported by her body, he slumped onto his back, motionless.

She didn't know what she said, only that she screamed. She was suddenly there, right in the middle of the action; as a CSI, she was used to getting there after the perimeter had been secured, the panic stemmed. And here she was, lying on the sidewalk, covered in her lover's blood, powerless to help him. She tried to feel for a pulse, but she was shaking too much to find a place for her fingers. Next to her, a man was whimpering as he tried desperately to rouse his wife.

And then she had been pulled away, wrapped in a blanket by an EMT as paramedics rushed toward Greg. Sara watched as they sliced open the front of his shirt, the skin beneath awash with blood. Someone tried to stem the bleeding, whilst others rushed to stabilize him. He must have crashed; she watched as a paramedic pressed down upon his chest, again and again. Biogel was smeared over his body and the defibrilator paddles applied. She didn't know what was happening to the other victims; she didn't even know how many there were.

Then Greg was being lifted onto a gurney and pushed into an ambulance, and she was surging forward, insisting she go with him. The inside of the vehicle was a stark, clinical white. Over the sound of her own heart hammering in her chest she heard the electronic beeps of a monitor, the crackle of a radio, the rapid jargon of a paramedic reporting on the status of her patient. Someone was tending to her cuts and bruises, but she felt very little in the way of physical pain: the adrenaline coursing through her system put paid to that for the time being. All she could do was stare at Greg as he lay in front of her, an oxygen mask covering his face, unmoving. He crashed again before they screeched to a halt at Desert Palms hospital, and was rushed through the ER. Sara followed dumbly, stood back when ordered to do so. All she could do was watch helplessly through the small window as blue-gowned figures crowded around him, wielding all manner of technology in an effort to save him. But simpler technology told her that it was all in vain; above everything she heard the insistent monotone of a heart monitor. She watched as the doctors stepped back; one glanced at the clock, pronounced. The monotone stopped.


"Sara?"

She looked up. Walking down the hospital corridor toward her was Catherine, ashen-faced. Sara tried to force a smile, but found herself instead bursting into tears.

"Hey, hey, honey," Catherine soothed as she folded her into her arms, "Hey, it's okay… it's okay."

But she knew it wasn't. She'd seen the list. The body count was up to five: Kyle Smithson, gangman, smalltime drug dealer and would-be music impresario; David Willets and Manuel Viera, two of his henchmen; Joan Schlegel, Laughlin native, in Vegas for the evening with her husband; and Gregory Sanders, CSI Level One, LVPD.

"We'd better get you cleaned up," urged Catherine. "Has anyone been…?"

Sara shook her head. She took the paper cup of water that Catherine proffered and raised it to her lips, but seeing the liquid turning pink, dropped it to the floor. Catherine handed her a tissue and bent to clear up the mess as Sara wiped her mouth. The paper came away crusted with red.

Catherine looked at Sara, no longer just a colleague, but a friend. "Oh my God, are you hurt? We should get you seen to…"

"No… no." Sara put a hand on Catherine's arm to still her. "It's not mine. It's… Greg's." The tears began to flow afresh, and Sara fell back into Catherine's arms, her body shaking with her sobs.

Catherine sat trying to look calm, but everything was suddenly clearer. Sara and Greg weren't just out that night as friends. They were lovers. And now one of them was dead. Sara's hysteria became all the more understandable.

Sara raised herself a little, sniffed, and wiped her nose. She bunched the damp tissue up between her hands. "Will you… be processing? Here?"

Catherine nodded.

"Can I see him first?"

"Well, you know that you won't be able to touch him until the examination is finished. Would you rather wait, until…?"

Sara turned her face away, and nodded.


Catherine couldn't remember feeling more uneasy at a job than this. If possible, it was worse than when Eddie had been shot. She saw Greg every day, cheery and smiling; remembered his ridiculous pranks, like the time he had danced through the corridors of the crime lab wearing Portia Richmond's showgirl headdress, or jokingly checked out her butt.

And here he was, lying dead on paper sheets in an empty hospital side room, coarsely sutured lines showing where doctors had harvested his organs. She photographed his body, the track marks of the blood at his mouth and waist, did everything according to protocol. And all completely pointless.


Grissom surveyed the scene grimly as he ducked under the yellow tape outside the Tangiers. He'd had professional involvement with victims before – the cases of Holly Gribbs and Cyrus Lockwood remained clear in his memory – but never anything like this. There had been something of a scene in Ecklie's office, when the new Assistant Director of the crime lab had made noises about personal involvement and conflict of interest, suggesting he wanted to pull the graveyard shift off the case. Grissom had put his foot down. What was the point of giving the case to days? They all knew Greg too. The only alternative was to bring in a team from a neighboring jurisdiction, which, as Grissom pointed out, could only lead to delays and the possible compromise of evidence – and did Ecklie really want that blot on his statistics?

That had settled it. And here he was, half-listening to the first officer as he walked Grissom through the scene. A couple of bodies still lay on the pavement – the ones that had died before the paramedics arrived. He saw David Phillips crouched over one, the coroner's assistant explaining something to Warrick and Brass who stood nearby. Nick was gridding up and mapping the crime scene – the boring job, one they had always tried to palm off onto…

Greg. Grissom sighed. Sure, they'd had their differences, not least their respective opinions on what constituted music, and sometimes the younger man's vibrant personality had grated against his supervisor's more somber outlook on life. But there was never any denying that he was a bright kid, an exceptionally bright kid, and his work was always solid, whether in the lab or out in the field. He would go far, thought Grissom; the courage to make a career change like that, turn his back on good money to do what he really wanted? Dedication to his discipline.

As he took out his camera to get locator shots of some shell casings, Grissom suddenly realized that he knew nothing about Sanders. Not really. Did any of them in the lab? He thought back to a conversation he had once had with Warrick about the art of playing poker - once he had observed people, but then he had gotten bored. With Sanders, he seemed to be open about his life, with his surfing magazines and rock music and indiscreet disclosures about his grandfather's genitals, but in reality, thought Grissom, I don't really know anything about him at all. A good player, he thought; hides his tells.


Sara wandered aimlessly through the corridors of the crime lab. Everywhere she turned, she could feel prying eyes boring into her. They all knew. Of course they did; it was part of the investigation now. Sanders and Sidle were sharing the sack, until he got himself shot. She put a hand out to steady herself as a wave of nausea hit her. Running to the bathroom, she turned on the faucet and splashed the cold water onto her face.

Jesus, she thought as she took in her reflection. I look like death. Her skin was pale, paler than usual, dark eyes too large for her face staring back at her. She knew she shouldn't be at work; Grissom had practically begged her to take some time off. But she couldn't do that either, because what would she do? At least work was a displacement activity, something to keep her mind off of things. She had stayed with Catherine yesterday, but she had barely been able to make sense of what was happening. With a grim smile Sara realized the frustration that Catherine had felt back then, when she had been unable to get a conviction for Eddie's murder. The death of one is a tragedy, went the old adage. But only for those who know them. She hadn't cried since that time in the hospital; to be honest, she hadn't felt anything at all since then. She was numb, like someone had injected novocaine into her soul.

She reached into her purse and pulled out a lipstick. She wore this color every day, but tonight the pallor of her skin made the pink seem brash and unnatural. But she had to wear it. Because it was her disguise; if I look like normal, she thought, maybe I'll feel normal, maybe I'll be normal. Maybe everything will be normal again.

He was still everywhere at work. Of course he would be; he had been in the lab only the day before. She had opened his locker, and there was his precious coffee, a stack of CDs, and at the back, almost obscured from view, she saw a picture of herself. She remembered it well; Catherine had taken it the night Greg had passed his proficiency test. There he was, grinning, champagne in hand, his arm around her shoulder. Sara reached in and pulled out the photograph. There he was, her boy. With a pang of regret, she realized that it was one of the only pictures where they were together, her 'not in public' rule having left few photo opportunities for them as a couple. She held the picture closer, studied his face, his eyes, his lips. They were just dots; dots of color made by light hitting photosensitive paper. The focus wasn't great, and the lines of his face bled into one another after a while. It was just a copy, a knock-off of the real thing. The real thing was lying on a slab in the coroner's office right now.


"Hello?"

The cheery voice of David Phillips greeted Sara as she knocked on the door of the coroner's office. Once she stepped inside, the smile fell from his face.

"Sara?" David looked up from a rack of instruments he was in the process of sterilizing. "Hi. What can I do for you?"

She cleared her throat. "I was wondering if you could do me a favour…"

And he had. He had let her into the autopsy room, then discreetly let himself out, leaving her with Greg. Except it wasn't. What lay before her, realized Sara, was just a shell. What had made him Greg was gone, now; all that was left was the dead body of a specimen of homo sapiens that just happened to look like him.

She put out a hand and touched the skin at his right shoulder. There was the telltale ring-shaped bruise, where she had bitten him as he moved on top of her, in her. Sara felt herself shudder as she recalled how it had felt, how good he felt when he made love. Maybe that made a difference, she considered, because he didn't just have sex with her, didn't just fuck her, he loved her. And he had died showing her.

Suddenly she looked up, aware that she was no longer alone. Looking at her, concerned, was Dr Robbins.

"I told Catherine before – you can't say goodbye in a mortuary. Sara, you really shouldn't be here."

"I know," she replied, stroking the cold skin of the body's arm, "but I couldn't not be here, if you see what I mean." She paused, and swallowed. "I needed to see him."

"Well, in a way I can understand." Robbins crossed the room towards her. "In this job, it's easy to get desensitized to it all, to see them as just another body, but when something like this happens…" he trailed off. "I remember when I had Cyrus Lockwood on this table; that was hard. But this… I don't know. He was a good kid."

Without looking up, Sara nodded.


She couldn't work on the case, that much was obvious. She was the case, on reflection; she was a survivor, one of the lucky ones. It wasn't a mystery, this time. Some smalltime gang dispute; a man pisses off the wrong guy, ends up paying with his life, and the lives of four other people. The injustice of it made her feel sick, and the ordinariness of the whole affair. Like most deaths, Greg's wasn't glamorous or noble or dignified; he took a single bullet and his body stopped working. A bullet that wasn't even meant for him. A fucking waste. With a twinge of heart she realized his was just the sort of death she skimmed over every day at work; he could so easily have been lost in the bureaucracy had they not known him personally. The death of one is a tragedy, she thought again. The death of millions is just a statistic.

And so she had finished her shift on autopilot. At the end, everyone had offered her lifts, somewhere to stay, but she had declined them all, and found herself driving toward Greg's apartment. They would have ended their night out there; they had ended most of their nights there. Sara had never really viewed her apartment as home – to her, it was just the place she came to sleep between shifts. But Greg was different. His apartment was unmistakably his, and she wanted to remember. As she let herself in, she could smell his laundry detergent, hear the hum of his fridge, the static of his stereo on standby. His sneakers sat in their place by door, disorganized as usual; she remembered how much that had pissed her off. Now it was all priceless; what was left of Greg was in this apartment, and she wanted to preserve it, memorize everything about him before it was too late.

Was it Grissom who had told her that scent evoked a stronger memory response than any of the other five senses? Probably; it was certainly the sort of thing that Grissom might have come out with. It seemed that he was proven right yet again as she lay there in the dark, holding the pillow to her face, taking in the familiar, sweet smell of shampoo and hair gel. She'd always teased him about the incredible amount of crap he managed to put onto that head of his, warned him that hair dye was a well-known carcinogen. For a long moment she didn't move, just let the scented fabric do its job as an aide-mémoire.

It was less than forty-eight hours since she last lay in this bed, and now everything was so different. The whole situation had changed. She turned away from 'his' pillow and stretched her arms into the space that was 'hers' – her side of the bed. How useless such labels are now, she thought. She wondered if sleep would bring her peace, or just force her to relive the events of the day before as nightmares took over.

She closed her eyes tightly and ran her hands over the bedspread, but opened them just as abruptly when her fingers encountered an unfamiliar texture. She sat up, and snapped on the bedside lamp. There on the sheet lay a gaily-colored envelope, addressed to "Sexy Sidle", a cartoon stamp doodled in the top right-hand corner. Sara had an uneasy feeling in her stomach as she slid a fingernail under the flap, breaking the seal. Inside she found a cheery greetings card bearing the legend

CHARLIE BROWN SAYS…

And there he was. Sara's hope of a 'normal' life, with a partner and a family, had been fading for years; hell, where she worked, a 'normal' life had neither of those things. There had been Hank, and that had hardly ended well, and Grissom… the less said, the better. And then along came Greg, and one day she saw that he was more than just a comical lab rat – that he was one of those mythical 'good guys'. And lately, she'd realized that he was just that, found herself wondering if maybe he could be The One. But then some bastard had taken her life away with his, and left her once again to try and build some sort of existence out of the pieces that were left.

But not yet. For now, she wasn't going to move, or even try to think about the future. Tonight, she was just going to try to hold onto the past.