I know this isn't the Greg/Nick continuation ya'll wanted, but the muse spoke this into my ear and I had to follow. Hope you enjoy anyway...

Title: Wrinkled Skin 2: Loss of Innocence

Author: Buffyangel68

Rating: FRT

Summary: Now the one who needs consolation and answers, Greg finds he is surrounded with love and support. (Place this after the upcoming coroner's inquest. I, of course, have no idea how it will play out in canon, but this covers my thoughts on the potential aftermath for Greg.)

Disclaimer: I don't own them. Bruckheimer, the eternal master of the television crime drama, is their master as well. I am merely his lowly student...

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Pausing just before she got to the break room, Catherine ran one hand over her face and sighed. She hadn't believed it was possible to feel so worn down and still stay on your feet. Now she knew her endurance had deeper limits than she thought. Despite that, however, she was eager to get home, drop into bed and fall instantly into sleep. Lately, those unconscious hours were the only time she wasn't thinking about Sam or re-living the horror of watching him die in her arms.

Huffing out a weary breath, Catherine moved on, but halted again after only a step or two, staring into the break room at Greg curled up on the floor in a corner. In a flash her own needs were swept aside and she rushed to check on him, kneeling close to her friend.

"Greg? What is it? Are you okay?"

Lifting his head away from the arms he had wrapped around his bent knees, Greg showed her a tear-streaked face and a strained smile.

"Hey, Cath. I'm fine."

"Yeah, and the real Elvis is performing quickie marriages down on the strip." She countered gently. "The inquest?"

Greg nodded, the smile vanishing.

"The ADA... says she's sure they'll clear me."

"And you don't think they will?"

"No... I'm afraid they will."

Catherine touched his cheek softly with one hand, wiping away fresh tears, and responded with quiet assurance.

"You did nothing wrong, Greg. We've all been trying to tell you that..."

"I know, and I listened. I went in there feeling pretty good... then his father got up to speak. His son was a good boy... his son would never do what he'd been accused of... his son was run down by a... a vicious racist who went out that night looking to kill anybody with dark skin... I'm not like that, Cath, you know I'm not..." Greg said, finally meeting Catherine's eyes with his own red-rimmed ones. Catherine pulled him into her arms.

"He's grieving, Greg, and searching for some reason the child he knew would go out and beat people to death. He's a father in pain trying to preserve his good memories of his son. The people who know and love you know the truth... and someday that young man's parents will see it too."

"I wasn't trying to kill him... I'd never do that. He was running at the truck with that chunk of asphalt... ready to throw it right through the windshield. I was trying to protect myself and that guy they were whaling on..."

Catherine pushed Greg away a little and grasped his face in both hands to focus his attention.

"Listen to me, Greg. You risked your life... almost lost it saving a stranger. In the middle of an explosive situation you stayed cool, you were brave and you did what you had to do. Concentrate on that and not on anyone else's pain. Okay? Hey... Okay?" she repeated, shaking his head lightly and offering him a soft grin. Gradually, he returned the smile.

"Okay. Umm... can I ask you a favor?"

"Of course. Anything."

"Would you call Nick, Sara, Warrick and Grissom?"

"Sure. And tell them what?"

"I need to do something tomorrow before shift. It'd be great to have some company..."

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FOLLOWING EVENING: SAINT JUDE'S CHURCH

Catherine and the others paced back and forth in front of the church doors and talked softly, waiting for Greg to appear. When he finally did, they all smiled and, one after the other, touched him briefly on the shoulder or back.

"Thanks so much for doing this guys. I'm just grateful you're here, so don't think participation is mandatory or anything..."

"We all have our own reasons to be here, Greg." Grissom responded softly. "Supporting a friend is just the common denominator."

Greg smiled shyly, ducked his head and led the way inside. He made the first stop at the bank of votive candles. The others lined up behind him, their expressions ranging from faintly uncomfortable to somber and thoughtful. After lighting a candle, he closed his eyes for a moment, murmured a few words and the name of the young man he'd come there to honor then moved off to the pews, sliding in and bowing his head.

One by one, the others followed suit and joined Greg, sitting around and behind him.

"This is for the spirit of Demitrius James. Show him mercy... and give his parents peace."

"For my daughter Lindsay. Don't let her end up like that. God, please help me protect her..."

"For Holly. I've changed so much... I just hope I've done enough since then to make you proud and earn forgiveness from you and God..."

"For Josh and Zack... and all the other children who surrendered their souls unwillingly. Help me save a few more before I surrender mine..."

"I have no idea if you're there, or here... or anywhere, really. But just in case, this candle is for my father. Tell him I forgive him..."

"For Kelley Gordon. I don't know if she found the light at the end... I hope so. Don't judge her too harsh, Lord, alright? She was just sad an' confused. Tell her I know it wasn't her fault... an' make sure she knows I'm not mad..."

In the pews, the group was silent for a long time until Greg softly began reciting the Lord's prayer. Slowly, the others joined in, all except for Sara. Sitting beside her, Greg wrapped one arm around her shoulders as he and the group finished.

"It's okay. I understand. Thanks for being here."

"No problem." Sara replied as they stood. "You... I have good reason to believe in."

As the team slowly drifted back out of the church, Greg lightly held onto Grissom's forearm to hold him back.

"Grissom... did you ever, even for a second, wonder if there was another option? If there was anything you could've done that would've kept Walter Gordon alive... and still saved Nick?"

"For a long time... at least once a day. But I eventually came to understand that I wasn't in control of Gordon's mind or his actions. He made his choice. I made mine by moving forward and focusing on the life I was able to save."

"I'm not sure I'll ever get to that point."

"You will. We'll all be there to make sure of it. C'mon. Work and your friends are waiting."

Greg smiled, the first one he'd produced since the beating that felt genuine to him, and strolled out side by side with Grissom, praying the older man was right.

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END