Not A Cloud In The Sky
Summary: An argument between Greg and Grissom piques Sara's interest. When she confronts both of them about it, she learns Greg's goofball act isn't always just a display of his childlike enthusiasm, but sometimes his last defense. Sara/Greg Friendship fic.
Disclaimer: As though you didn't know, CSI isn't mine. This story is based on the song by the same name by John Bucchino.
Author's Note: I'm writing way too many one-shots and not enough of the chapter stories I ought to be focussing on... Just a random tangent from me. No Carly fic is complete without a random tidbit in an otherwise unnecessary author's note. R&R me lovelies.
Death surrounded them on a daily basis, but Greg Sanders was always the spark of life for the Las Vegas CSI graveyard shift. His somewhat irksome antics nonetheless always provided an excuse to smile.
So standing in the room with the resident class clown and Gil Grissom, Sara didn't understand why it was she who had to fill the shoes of comic relief to dispel the mysterious tension hanging in the air.
"Greg, you're behind in your work, that evidence should have gone to trace hours ago," Grissom was saying. His voice was unusually chilled and Sara didn't understand why he was being so tough on the young CSI.
"I know, Grissom, I just…" Greg too sounded different. His voice was worn and exasperated, like he had already had this conversation fifteen times before. "You know how it is, a night like this, working two cases at once, things get… backlogged."
"Nick has been managing," Grissom pointed out, his voice still uncharacteristically unforgiving.
Looking from one to the other in mild confusion, Sara decided to intervene. "Grissom, Warrick and I just closed a case. If you want, I can help Greg with his—"
"No, Sara," Grissom interrupted without turning to look at her. "Greg needs to do this on his own."
When Greg spoke again, his voice was small, and almost apologetic. "You know I can't do that, Grissom."
Grissom's gaze betrayed nothing. "Then you shouldn't have tried to in the first place," he said. "Go home, Greg. Get some rest, and don't come in tomorrow."
Sara couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Grissom, are you firing—"
"Let it go, Sara." Greg's quiet whisper stopped her in her tracks.
The frightening pressure that hung darkly in the air weighed heavily on Sara's mind. She didn't like it at all, and Greg was doing nothing to lighten the mood.
"Look," she said quickly at an attempt to make them smile again. "We all need to just relax a bit. Do you guys want to go grab some food maybe, have a few jokes? Greg, I'll let you stick straws in your mouth and pretend you're a walrus."
Neither Grissom nor Greg responded. They just stared at each other for an absurd amount of time.
"So what, are you two having a staring contest now?" Sara asked at a second vain attempt to make them smile. "You know, I'm the queen of staring contests, I could beat you both. Does someone want to tell me what's going on here?"
Grissom glanced at Sara but only momentarily. "Greg, do you have something to say?"
"Yeah," Greg replied, a smile quickly situating itself awkwardly on his features. "I'm going home now. You can expect me back here at start of shift tomorrow night ready for a full day's work, and I promise Grissom I'll do better."
Grissom didn't look happy, but his demeanor changed too as the coldness melted away, leaving him looking tired and almost… sad. "Greg…" He sounded almost as if he was pleading with the younger man.
"No," Greg said, sounding like his old self again. "No, I made you a promise, I told you I can do it, and I will, just not tonight, OK? I just… I'm not feeling so hot tonight."
It was when he said it that Sara first realized how gaunt Greg looked. He had lost weight, she remembered commenting on it, but he had brushed it off. His skin was pale and his eyes were sunken, and he looked very frail as he shivered on the spot.
"Greg, will you be OK?" she asked, her voice laced with quiet concern for her friend.
He beamed at her, and the smile seemed to light up his features and for a shining moment he looked healthier than ever. "Sure, Sara," he said. "See you both tomorrow." And with that, he left Grissom's office.
With Greg gone, Sara turned to Grissom. "What's the matter with you? You can't fire Greg, he hasn't done anything to merit that sort of—"
"Greg is sick, Sara," Grissom interrupted her.
She blinked at him. "Yes, I noticed that, but if anything that's a reason to be a little easier on him, not harder on him."
Grissom avoided her eyes before suddenly turning around and heading to his desk without another word. He sat down and began looking through the files on his desk as if Sara wasn't even there. Curious, she walked over to him and placed both hands on the desk before leaning on it. She tried to catch his eye, but it was like fishing without bait. No bites.
Finally, her soft tones did what her eyes could not and he looked up at her with a vacant expression. Their eyes locked for a moment, each saying volumes, but neither able to decipher the silent code. Grissom pushed a file across the desk.
"Greg's doctor called me today," he explained. "She wanted to know if I'd been pushing Greg too hard."
"Too hard?" Sara didn't understand, but Grissom nodded.
"That's what I said, so I asked the doctor what she was talking about. She told me she was an oncologist, Sara."
He could have told her anything. He could have told her a plane went down in the middle of the Atlantic killing three hundred people. He could have told her that there had been a twelve car pileup on I-5. He could have told her a giant meteor was going to crash into the Earth in twenty-four hours. Any of these things would have been better then the word'oncologist.'
Slowly, Sara shook her head. "That doesn't make sense…" she began. "Greg doesn't have Cancer."
"He was diagnosed with Glioma two months ago," Grissom continued.
Sara's knees went weak and she fell into the chair by Grissom's desk. "Brain tumor…" Sara muttered. She blinked and her head cleared a little. "Two months? He didn't tell you?"
Slowly, Grissom shook his head. "I talked to him about it earlier," he told her. "Apparently, he thought that so long as it didn't affect his work, it didn't matter."
"Oh my God…" Sara cupped her hands over her mouth and took deep breaths. "He's been going on like nothing's changed… the weight loss, the exhaustion, I mean… I just thought he was working a little too hard, and maybe caught a little bug or…"
"I explained to him that when an employee is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness he is required to tell his supervisor and that he put his life in further danger by not doing so. Now, his doctor's mad at me because she thinks I haven't been giving him enough time off because according to her, the job stress is taking a toll on his health."
"I can see why you were a little annoyed…" Sara admitted.
Grissom smiled at her sadly. "When he first came in for shift today, I told him to go home again, but he told me he could do it."
"You shouldn't have let him stay," Sara protested. "You should have made him go home and rest or… or something. Why did you let him stay at all?"
Grissom sighed and took off his glasses to look at her without any barrier between them. He shook his head sadly. "He told me that… working was the only way he could really forget about it. He told me he had to keep busy. He said that he wanted to be useful, he wanted to move on, to live his life as normally as possible. And that's why he didn't tell me, or anyone else for that matter. He promised it wouldn't interfere with his work. I knew that was impossible, but… I mean… what do I say to that, Sara?"
"So you give him an assignment and he falls behind, thus proving you right, so you take it out on him?" Sara gaped at him.
"I was making a point, Sara," Grissom sighed.
She shook her head and got to her feet. "OK, well… I'm going to see how he's doing then. Is that OK?"
Grissom nodded. "Yeah, I think that's a good idea," he said.
It didn't take Sara long to arrive at Greg's apartment. The problem wasn't finding his place, it was finding the courage to go inside. She had no idea what she was going to say to him, or in what condition she would find him.
She felt the perspiration moisten her palms as she gripped the wheel tightly, staring at the door to Greg's apartment. Her heart was beating rapidly, racing ahead of her at a mile a minute. Greg needed her. She didn't know what she'd say, or how she'd broach the subject, but she figured she'd make it up as she went along. Right now, she had to go up there, just to be with him, in case he needed someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on. She needed to do that for him.
So she got out of the car and hit the buzzer on the intercom, which crackled to life with Greg's voice soon enough.
"If you're Dominoes, you're looking for 213," he said. "They always get pizza on Thursday nights, and you always ring my buzzer."
There was a pause. "Sara, is that you? What are you doing here?"
"I, uh…" What should she say? "I just wanted to talk to you. Maybe hang out."
"Come on up," Greg said and he unlocked the door.
Sara walked up the first two flights of stairs and down the ominous dark hall. There was a door open at the end of it though and it spilled light out into the sea of darkness. She heard the faint sound of rock music and as she neared the open door, the music got louder.
She knocked on the open door before entering the apartment and saw that he was in his kitchen, flipping a pancake in the skillet. He turned and grinned at her when he heard her knock.
"Pancake?" he offered, but she shook her head as she closed the door behind her.
"What kind of music is this?" she asked him.
He smirked at her. "Good music," he answered.
She rolled her eyes and entered the kitchen, turning down the boom box. "Greg… Grissom told me what happened. Why you've been… looking so pale lately."
"Oh?" Greg said casually intrigued. "Well, cool." He shrugged. "It was a bitch to think about alone. I'm glad you know."
"Greg, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry…" she said sincerely. "I'm so sorry, I don't want you too…"
He gave her a reassuring smile and punched her lightly in the arm. "Hey," he said. "If you're going to be mopey, take it outside. There are no sad frowns allowed in this apartment."
She tried her best to oblige. He used the spatula to move the pancake from the skillet to a plate. It was then that Sara realized just how many pancakes Greg had made.
"Can you really eat twelve pancakes by yourself?" she asked, stunned.
Greg ladled some more pancake batter into the skillet. "No, not really," he said. "That's why I was hoping you would help me with it. I'll save some for later too. Do you think the lab would eat them if I take them into shift tomorrow?"
"I don't know…" Sara replied honestly. The pancake batter sizzled as it hit the skillet. Sara watched it bubble momentarily. "Greg?" she said carefully. "Are you OK?"
"Happy as a clam, not a cloud in the sky," he said with his trademark grin. "You know, I make great eggs too. You do eat eggs, right? You sure I can't make you anything?"
Sara was frowning at him. "Greg, how bad is it?"
He didn't seem to know what she was talking about. "How bad is what?"
Greg flipped the pancake in the skillet without even using the spatula. "Ha! Did you see that, I've never done that before."
"Can we just… maybe… I mean, I want to know… what you're going through."
"No," he said. "There's no need to go into it right now. Not when we have pancakes! When we run out of pancakes, then we can talk."
She cocked an eyebrow at the growing stack and knew he would never run out of pancakes. "Where'd you get all the batter for this anyway?"
"It's easier than you think," he said with a wink. "Pancakes are probably one of the easiest breakfast foods to make. But I can make other things too, really. You're absolutely sure you're not hungry?"
"Greg, talk to me," she pleaded.
He looked at her as if she was crazy before smiling again. "I thought we were talking, Sara." She reached over and turned off the burner. Greg stepped back from the stove, then looked at Sara. "What was that for?"
"I want your full attention, and I don't want your pancakes to burn," she replied. "Greg, if you want to talk about it…"
Greg pushed past her and grabbed a dish towel as he headed over to his sink and turned on the water. "No, that's OK," he said. "Really. Hey, they're having a Star Wars marathon on tonight if you wanna watch with me. They said they're showing it in order, but I can't figure out if that means in order of production or story…" He seemed to think about it momentarily before shrugging it off and beginning to wash his dishes.
Sara recognized his behavior instantly. "Greg, you can't avoid it forever."
"You don't know that," he said.
"No, actually, I do know that." She walked over to the sink and put a hand on his back as he furiously scrubbed at one of his dishes. "Two months and you're still in denial? That's not good, Greg."
"It's not denial," Greg said through gritted teeth as he tried to scrub off the grease caked on to one of his pans. "It's… getting… over it." He finally gave up his endeavor and threw both the pan and the cloth back in the sink, taking deep breaths. He looked at Sara. "So? How about it? Star Wars?"
Sara blinked at him incredulously. "Greg, I'm trying to be serious here."
"And I am too," he told her. "I think you underestimate how much of a serious Star Wars nerd I am. If we miss just one minute of the opening sequence of Episode IV, it'll throw off my entire game when I quote the rest of the movie from memory. So it starts in ten minutes, is that a yes or a no?"
"It's OK to be scared…" Sara said slowly.
Greg laughed. "No," he said. "Oh no, I'm not scared."
"I'm not," he said resolutely, leaving no room for argument. But his eyes were wide, and she could see the terror hiding in silent shades of brown. "I'm not scared."
"I just want to help you," Sara explained. "It's easier… if you talk through it. With someone you trust."
"No, Sara… you don't understand…" He moved past her yet again, trying to keep his hands busy as he went back to the stove and turned it on again. He flipped the pancake with his spatula. "I have to… I have to do these things, you know, keep my hands busy, because if I stop, then I'll start thinking, and then… I'll stop believing."
"Believing?" Sara didn't expect the religious turn to this conversation.
But Greg was shaking his head as he stared at the pancake that sizzled in his pan. "I have to just… have faith. Believe. Believe that… it doesn't hurt. Believe it helps to pray. Believe I just don't care. Believe it's really a blessing to be this self-aware… Believe that hope isn't a lie, that there is no real goodbye, and if I just keep moving, keep doing things, keep joking, keep laughing, then since… since I have pancakes to last me a week, then…" He swallowed. "Then I'm not really about to die."
He turned around to face her and shrugged. "OK, look, if I don't avoid it, then I'll just stop, OK, I'll just stop working like a robot out of battery and I won't be able to think at all about anything because I'll know that none of it really matters and… I'll cry. And I couldn't tolerate such a disaster, alright? So… I'm happy. I really am, because if I tell myself enough, then it's true. Happy as a clam. Not a single fucking cloud in the sky."
Sara watched him, momentarily speechless, as his small frame trembled there ever so slightly standing in the middle of his kitchen, the quiet notes of the rock music penetrating the all-encompassing silence. Finally, Greg bit his lip and turned back to the stove. "Great," he said. "Now my pancake is burned."
"You have twelve more…" Sara muttered timidly.
He looked up at her and smiled. "You're right," he said. "I do." He took the skillet off the burner and slid the pancake in the trash. He looked back at her over his shoulder. "So. Star Wars?"
Sara smiled as she bit back tears. He was the one who was dying, and she was the one who wanted to cry. She swallowed and, not trusting her voice, slowly nodded.
Greg turned to her with open arms. "Hey," he said. "What did I say about sad faces? I'll have none of that here."
She laughed in spite of herself as she closed her eyes and took a deep breath to keep control of herself. "Sometimes," she said, "I really just can't believe you."
"Hey," he said with a shrug. "Lots of people are that way about me."
"Well, my debonair good looks and witty charm can be a little daunting," Greg replied. "I've been mistaken for a Greek God before…"
"That's pretty tough talk for a guy who looks like he hasn't seen the sun in twenty years," Sara countered with a small twitch at the corner of her mouth.
Greg winked at her. "You know you want me."
Sara folded her arms as she shook her head at him in awe, striding over to him until they were inches apart. She laughed again, partially to counteract the tear she felt rolling down her cheek. He reached out a hand to her chin and tilted her face up, wiping her tear away with his thumb.
"I thought you heard me the first time," he said. "If you start crying, then I'll start crying, and then it'll just be a crazy mess of two blubbering girls."
"I resent that," Sara sniffed. "I am not a girl."
Greg tossed his head back and guffawed. "Right," he said. "My mistake."
She took a deep breath then slid her arms around his torso, resting her palms on his back. She was amazed at how small he felt in her embrace as she leant her cheek against his shoulder. She felt his arms slowly and hesitantly return her tender touch, his hands hovering above her shoulders as though unsure of where to put them. But eventually, he wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on her shoulder.
"Greg?" she said.
She held her breath a moment, wondering how to phrase it. "I'm… not scared either."
She felt his chest slowly rise and fall in ironic laughter. "Well then we can both be not scared together."
He slowly pulled away from her, but his hands rested on her shoulders. "You have one minute to tell me if you want to watch Star Wars or not. Because like I said, if I miss the beginning, I'm not watching it."
Sara grinned, then nodded vigorously. "Sure thing," she said.
So she followed him into his living room where he snatched up the remote, fell down on the couch and kicked his feet up on the coffee table. Sara sat down next to him as he turned on the TV just as the famous Star Wars lettering scrolled across the scene. Greg read them aloud in a very dramatic voice that Sara couldn't help but snicker at.
"It is a period of civil war," Greg was saying, in his best James Earl Jones impression. "Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire…"
Sara hit him with a pillow. "Cut that out," she said laughing.
"I can't," Greg said. "I told you, this is how I watch it."
Sara rolled her eyes and sank further into the couch cushions. Greg looked at her out of the corner of his eye and smirked as he put his arm around her shoulders. She happily leaned his head against his chest.
"This better not be some cheap move of yours."
"At least I didn't do the old stretch-and-yawn technique," Greg said. "And hey— you fell for it."
"Behave yourself, Greggo," Sara said.
"I'll be the perfect gentleman," he replied, but he wore a mischievous smile.
So they sat through the rest of the movie, and Greg muttered every line under his breath. Sara really didn't mind it as much as she pretended to. She enjoyed hearing the vibrations in Greg's chest, feeling his whisper in her hair. Because she knew she wouldn't have these luxuries for much longer. She needed to relish the simple pleasures while she could.
And as the days went on after that, the team slowly found out one way or another, although there was no grand announcement. At first, they had all reacted in much the same way as Sara and Grissom. They wanted to lend a sympathetic shoulder, they wanted to be there for him, but just like Sara they learned that Greg didn't want any of that. He wanted normalcy above all else. And so they tried, but no one was better than Sara at pretending nothing had changed. She joked with him, like he had asked her to, as often as she could. And she treated him like she had always treated him, even when he was nauseous or dizzy, even after the chemo started. She knew he quietly lamented the loss of his precious hair, but she made light of the situation by saying it was a chance to show off all of his many goofy hats. And he appreciated that.
And days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and months turned into a year, until Sara found herself standing in what she pretended was a field, watching a coffin she pretended was a seed being lowered into the ground. And one day, the seed would sprout and bloom and bring new life. But not today.
She felt Grissom's shaking arm slide across her shoulders, and she saw the silent tears rolling down Catherine's cheeks, but Sara did not cry. It was not because she did not grieve, for she grieved gravely. No, Sara did not cry because Greg had taught her that life left little time for tears and fears. He had taught her so much, given her so much, and all she could give him was the white lily she tossed in on top of his coffin.
It was a sunny day, and Greg would have liked it that way. There wasn't a cloud in the clear blue sky. But the way the preacher spoke of him, Sara knew he wouldn't have liked it. He had asked her once, in jest, to ask them to carve into his tombstone, 'Gone away to a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.' At least, Sara had assumed it to be a joke. Later on, he had amended the phrase to be, 'No, not dead. Simply gone fishing.' But his mother had fashioned his tombstone, and her in all her somberness had inscribed no witty saying whatsoever, and this seemed unfitting to Sara.
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…"
The words drifted in and out of Sara's ears. All she could focus on was the casket being lowered into the ground. Afterwards, they were asked to give a silent prayer for Greg. Sara had never been religious, and could never think of anything to say in moments like these. She had only one simple phrase for Greg, wherever he may be. And so she sent her prayers directly to him, hoping beyond hope that somehow he heard her silent farewell.
May the force be with you, Greg.