Summary: Under harsh and lonely conditions, a darker side of Greg is revealed… An experiment.
WARNING: This fic is rated for language and severe violence. If easily fazed or affected by physical torture, then do not complain to me in the reviews, because I warned you. And please don't accuse me of psychosis. I just have a strange fascination with the macabre.
Author's Note: (Because what's a WitchGirl fic without one?) Hey... So this is the product of a night when I decided I just didn't want to go to sleep. A discussion with Kegel at 7:00AM after I made pancakes for my roommate reminded me of dark torture methods used against people, particularly in POW camps, like sleep deprivation and, after three Dr. Peppers and 24 hours of wakefullness, I drummed out the first few lines of this. Listen, I scare myself sometimes, so some of this may seem like I am a total sadist, but trust me when I tell you I only torture people on paper. Pain, when it's not actually hurting anyone, is a fascinating subject. You may quote me on that. ;o) Also, I know I'm really mean to Greg. In Nevada Devil, the fic coming after this, he gets a break and I'm meaner to Sara. Anyways, enjoy chapter one of Night Bleeds. Oh, by the way, a shoutout to Kegel for beta reading this for me. ;o). You're swell.
"If we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane."
-The immortal genius of Jimmy Buffett
He tried to think back to the last time they had given him any water. It felt like weeks, but as a scientist he knew that he couldn't last more than a couple days without the life-giving liquid. So he must have gone without seeing them for… two days now? Two days made sense. It was two more than he'd have liked, and one less from him dying of dehydration.
And he hadn't eaten anything in longer than that.
He scratched his nose and leaned his throbbing head back against the wall. Two days. But this migraine had lasted for months. Years. Days. Hours. They were all the same to him now, really. The night bled blackness into even his memories of daylight. Time has no meaning when you're locked in a windowless room, when you haven't seen another living soul for two whole days.
If it had been two whole days.
In truth, there was no way he could ever really be sure how long it had been. It had been a while since they had come. He used to dread their visits, and now he longed for them, for the sight of some other person, human or not, kind or not, it no longer mattered to him. He relished their painful touch when they would grab him by the hair and dunk him head first into the refreshingly cold bucket of water.
Oh what he wouldn't give for a drop of water on his tongue! The heat was getting to him. He knew if he had any moisture left in his shriveled body, he would be drenched in sweat at that moment. But his body couldn't spare him even that. It had to hold onto the small volume of water that it had. At least until they returned, until they held him under again, half drowning, half reviving the half dead shell of a man that used to be Greg Sanders.
It wasn't a game to them, though Greg sometimes saw the spark of something jubilant in their eyes when they were feeling particularly malicious. In a way, he had brought this upon himself. Always going a step too far, always acting a little cockier than he should, always trying to be a fucking hero…
They were a political organization, though admittedly if you asked him to tell you what they were fighting for, he couldn't tell you. All he knew was the body count. Emaciated victims, mostly male, some female, abandoned in the middle of Lake Mead until they were discovered and picked up by the Las Vegas Crime Lab years, sometimes decades after they had been disposed of. He knew the body count… and the evidence. Oh Greg knew the evidence inside and out. He had processed it all personally from the crime scene to the lab. After all, it was generally personal when one of the old corpses is the corpse of your old man.
Somewhere between ten years and ten days earlier…
Greg drove over there rocking out to The Cure blasting out of the stereo. He pulled up the lake to see Grissom's back to him. His supervisor had his arms folded as he stared out at the massive body of water. About a dozen boats were coming to shore, each with flashing blue and red lights that illuminated the velvet night. Greg popped a mint into his mouth before jumping out of the car and walking over to stand next to his supervisor. He looked around.
"So what's this all about anyway?" he asked, his eyes hungry for all the gory details.
Grissom cast him a sidelong glance before his eyes once again rested on the incoming police boats. "Bodies," he said. "One washed up on the shore a ways down a few hours ago." He nodded to his left, where Greg saw along the stretch of beach crime scene tape and Sara processing a distorted corpse. He cringed as a cold wind danced across his neck.
"And the police boats?" he inquired, his focus returning to Grissom.
Grissom took a deep breath. "Earlier today, swing shift had a report of a fisherman hooking a dismembered hand," he explained. "They thought it was just another body dump or something, but when they went out to extract the corpse, they found a tuna fishing net holding twenty-seven bodies."
"A mass grave…" Greg muttered, his brow furrowing.
"Mm," Grissom grunted. "Seems as though it's been there a while, too. Decomp on the body that washed to shore is pretty bad. There's no way we can ID him short of dental records. The prints are way too degraded. He was completely stripped. I doubt he had clothes to begin with, but if he did the water has long since worn them away. All the bodies in the fishing net were naked too. I'm guessing he slipped through a hole or something."
"How long did David guess he'd been down there?" Greg asked.
Grissom shrugged. "I don't know, years for sure. I think the ball park was fifteen to twenty."
Greg let out a low whistle. "Wow, that's a long time."
Grissom gave him a lopsided smile. "Half your lifetime," he said.
Greg squinted down the beach. "He looks like he still has skin of some sort, even a tuft of hair, how's that?"
Grissom shrugged. "Compared to the others who aren't anything more than just skeletons, he's the most well-preserved of the bunch," he replied. "Maybe he had special treatment or something…" He nodded at Sara. "Go help her out, she's been waiting for you. And maybe she can answer your questions better than I can."
Greg nodded and took a deep breath before springing into action. He would never forget the slow realization that dawned on him step by step as he approached the body. He remembered that he somehow couldn't shake that grave sense of foreboding that seemed to creep up on him the closer he got to the blue tinted carcass. His eyes focused on Sara, who was crouching near the man's head, looking down at what was left of his rubbery skin that stretched across his skull.
"Hey there," he said, and she looked up, favoring him with a soft smile as she rose to her feet.
"So we think this is a body dump," she said. "Like the others. Maybe a mob job, or something else, we're not really sure." She held up the camera. "I snapped all the shots and processed the surrounding area. Nick and Catherine are on the boats pulling in the other bodies and Warrick's out with Brass on the perimeter. All that's left to do here is process the body itself."
Greg's eyes returned to the skeletal corpse with just enough skin to reveal that it once had flesh. "Why does he look so good?"
Sara chewed her lip momentarily. "Found white fibers basically glued to his arm," she replied. "He could have been wrapped…"
"Like a mummy?" Greg cocked an eyebrow, but she shook her head.
"I don't know, Greg…" She looked over her shoulder and pointed a few yards away. "I had some fancy looking driftwood up and down this beach too. Could have been a shattered casket. He might not even be related to our friends in the fishing net." She nodded at his hands and handed him a pair of tweezers and an evidence bag. "There are some more fibers stuck in the joints between his fingers, if you'd care to do the honors."
He nodded slowly and took the tools from her as he knelt down next to the dead man with great care and reverence. He took the man's left hand and began plucking the white fibers from his joints when he stopped suddenly.
His breathing became ragged, but he controlled it as his heart fluttered angrily in his chest. All the blood was rushing to his feet as he stared at the tarnished gold band the man wore on his ring finger. "Hey, uh, Sara?" he said, trying to sound casual.
"Hm?" she replied, putting away a few things in her kit.
"When you were taking pictures of this guy, did he have any, you know, unusual markings, maybe a, uh, birthmark or a tattoo…?"
She looked over at him and frowned before nodding. "Uh, yeah. You're lucky he still has enough skin left to tell us that. He seems to have a sort of Celtic Cross on the back of his right shoulder blade. I don't know if it's a tattoo or a bruise or what because it's faded and with a body this bad it's hard to say, but it's there. Why do you ask?"
Greg hesitated as he stared at the man's right shoulder, wondering if he dared turn him around to see. He dropped his hand immediately. "Uh… No reason. I figured if he had something like that then maybe we could identify him better… or… something."
Her brow furrowed as she scrutinized him pensively. "Are you OK, Greg? You seem a little jittery."
He made a face and waved at the air under his nose, then laughed lightly. "Uh, yeah, I'm cool. It's just the smell of this dude is getting to me, you know?
She chuckled and nodded in understanding. "I hear ya," she said. "Listen, I'm gonna take this back to the truck, let me know when you're done here so we can start heading back."
"Right…" Greg muttered absently. He was looking at the corpse's face, searchingly. His eyes had long since disappeared, possibly scavenged or maybe decomposed in the ten odd years he'd been in the water, but that ring was unmistakable. Greg's mother had one exactly like it.
His eyes didn't even leave the dead man's face until he felt warm fingers squeezing his shoulder and he looked up to see Sara looking down at him, curious concern etched in her dark brown eyes. "It's just the smell, right?" she asked, as though wanting reassurance that her duties as a friend would end there. Greg knew that they both understood it was something far deeper than that, but neither wanted to address it at that moment and he flashed her one of his trademark grins before rolling his eyes.
"Yeah, he's just… you know, old corpsie lounging about, having people pull him around everywhere, not a care in the world… Living the good life, or… well, so to speak."
Sara's lips twitched and she squeezed his shoulder one more time for good measure, letting him know that when the time was right, she would ask again, but for now she was appeased. "Wish you were dead so you'd have an excuse for us to haul your lazy ass everywhere?"
He smirked. "Only if you're the one doing the hauling, beautiful."
She rolled her eyes and let go of his shoulder before turning back in the direction of the car. "Don't take too long," she called over her shoulder.
Greg didn't reply. In a way, he was glad for this moment alone, for this eerie reunion. He sighed as he brushed seaweed off the carcass's chest. "Hello, Dad," he whispered. "So this is where you've been these past seventeen years."
Greg thought about Sara's words and wondered at the truth they held. At the time, they had been uttered as a sort of morbid joke to lighten the very dark mood that had settled over the two of them. But now, he seriously considered it. Did he believe that he was better off dead, at this point in time? Did he think he was the same person that he had been, before he had arrived at that fateful crime scene that bleak October evening?
No. No matter what happened to him, he would always choose life. He was addicted to the drug and wasn't ready to quit cold turkey, despite the hell it put him through. Life was always better than the alternative. And so long as he still had his sanity, he still had something to hold onto. If he could hold onto one shred of the mind that was slowly oozing out of his ears and down the drain, just a little piece of it, then that was all he needed.
The main question wasn't what he needed to do but how. He tried to think of the one thing in his life that despite everything that he had ever been through had always been constant. His family was out of the picture. His mother had fallen to pieces the second she heard that her husband had disappeared. There was no place he really considered to be home for him. Not in San Gabriel, or San Jose, or New York, not even Las Vegas. He had always been a rolling stone. He supposed that this was just where he had landed. This perpetual night was his home now, and he sought solace in its black folds and found little there but fear and madness. He had to stay as far away from the madness as possible. It was a plague that threatened to consume him daily and he had to fight it off, at least until something changed at least until the hours stopped bleeding into years and time had meaning again. At least until they killed him.
He shuddered at this unwelcome thought, but once conceived he was infected and the terror spread through him like a poison. He didn't want to die, though he was beginning to accept it as an inevitability. With no concept of time, he had no idea how long he had been gone, or what clues they had left behind for his friends to find him. After all, his father had been through this same ordeal, and look what happened to him.
But he couldn't think of that now. Thoughts of death and the torture to come would only further his decent into madness, and that was the one demon he refused to let get the best of him. He had to find that thing to hold onto. His friends… Their faces… That was something. But eventually, he knew, they would make him forget them too. They would try to break his spirit until it shattered like a crystal ball tossed against the floor.
Crystal ball… his grandmother. Spirituality, moreover, religion. But Greg had never been a devout anything all his life. The only religion he believed in was narcissism.
He chuckled at the thought, and was surprised at the movement of his bruised ribcage up and down that he stopped immediately. His hands flew to his emaciated chest, his calloused fingers running gently over the peaks and valleys his ribs left in his skin like an old umbrella. He hadn't laughed like that in weeks, or maybe months. The feeling was alien to him, but beautifully divine. It was as though that, after finding himself stranded in a foreign land, he had found some strangely flavored spiced tea that somehow reminded him of home.
And it was in that moment that he knew there was one thing that had always been constant in his life and that was his wacky and often inappropriate sense of humor. He smiled fondly as he thought of all the jokes he'd made in the past and all the confused, amused, and often unenthused looks his friends would repay him with. And he bet he was a sight to see! What would they say, if they saw him like that? He raised a weak hand to his head and mussed his oily hair, imagining what he would see if he looked in the mirror. But a mirror would require light, which he had been denied. He imagined he looked like an anorexic Kate Moss, but then reasoned that his hair wasn't nearly long enough, or blonde enough.
The image of himself dressed in drag managed to bring another smile to his lips and he turned to the side and took a deep, rattling breath. He had found a sliver of light after years of darkness. The sun may rise after all.
His proverbial light turned literal as the door to his humid cell opened on the far side of the room and Greg held his hand in front of his rapidly shrinking pupils to shield his eyes. But his sun was quickly eclipsed by the silhouette of his transgressor. He had a narrow build and pointed features. Greg called him the Rat for these very reasons.
He walked into Greg's cell with his hands clasped behind his back. Greg squinted at him and noted that he was wearing a pinstriped suit. He had grown some stubble since Greg had last seen him. He didn't say a word, but simply motioned to the door where two of his minions entered carrying a water basin between them. Greg almost smiled. They dropped the basin in front of him and he almost wanted to dive in there face first himself.
"Drink," the Rat ordered simply. Greg looked at him, not sure he heard him correctly. Dink? Think? What had he said? Greg wondered if his brain understood English anymore. It had been so long since he'd had to use the language… But the Rat never asked twice. The next thing he knew, one of his thugs had grabbed him by the back of his head, twisting Greg's hair around his fingers as he forced Greg's face into the lukewarm liquid. Even as he sputtered for air, he gulped down as much as he could, never knowing when he would get the chance to do so again.
Eventually they pulled him out again and he blinked to clear his vision as the water trickled down his face. His lungs ached, but his parched throat finally had some sort of relief. He looked up at his captor questioningly, but didn't know the words to ask his most burning questions. How long had it been since he'd seen daylight? What did they want from him? When would they give up and kill him?
The Rat crouched down on the opposite side of the basin so he was eyelevel with Greg and gave him a pointed stare with his beady eyes. Greg had forgotten how to speak, but even if he'd remembered he wouldn't have said a word. For the longest time they sat there, staring at each other, but time had no meaning to Greg. When hours turned to minutes and seconds to days, he found that he could stay in the same position indefinitely, sometimes without blinking. He had found the secret to immortality, and it was a living hell.
"What is your name?" the Rat asked.
That was a stupid question. Greg tried to move his lips to find the letters to make the words. His mouth took on plenty of forms before he dared tried to use his voice, and when he finally did he was surprised at the sound of it. After years of disuse, it had mutated inside of him and became the sound of his suffering, contorted and twisted into a sickly green thing covered in cobwebs and dripping in bile. It was sick, and he had let it die. "Gr… Gre… Greg Sa… Sa…" How does one make that N sound? For Christ's sake, how did he use to do it? "Greg Sa… Sa…"
The Rat mocked him. "Sa… Sa… Spit it out, boy, we don't have all day."
Greg closed his eyes tight and swallowed painfully. He felt the tears sting the back of his eyes but he refused to shed them. Not because it would show defeat, no, Greg had long since been defeated. He didn't want to cry for the sheer reason of survival. He couldn't spare a drop of water because he didn't know when he would get that drop back. He coughed, dusting some of the cobwebs off of his voice. "Sa… San…" There it was, that N sound. "Sanders."
The Rat's lips twitched. "What was your name again?"
Greg licked his lips and took a deep breath, then regretted it instantly as his abused lungs coughed it right back out again. They could no longer handle that much air at a time. He imagined someone had poked holes in them, like a balloon, and the air escaped into his body somewhere. He doubled over with coughs and felt something sharp strike him across his bare back. He winced, but as if they knew they were causing him trouble, his lungs stopped seizing and he recovered, the rapidly developing welts on his back stinging wildly. He straightened up to see one of the thugs holding a leather belt with a large brass buckle. He looked back at the Rat. "Greg Sanders."
The Rat's smile broadened as he rose to his feet. "So," he said. "You still know your name, do you?"
Greg was suddenly frightened. Had he done something wrong? Maybe he shouldn't have answered at all.
The Rat looked at his two thugs. "Prepare the mirrors," he said. "I think it's about time this boy saw daylight again." And with that, he turned on his heal and walked to the door.
"Wait!" Greg rasped, and his captor dutifully hesitated in the doorway. After breathing heavily for a few more moments, Greg dug up the courage to ask. "Wha… Why don't… When are you going to… to kill me?"
Greg couldn't see his face, but he knew the man was smiling. He could detect the wickedness in his voice as he replied. "When you can no longer remember your own name," he replied simply, and then quickly shut the door, leaving Greg in the dark again, and very much alone.