(Disclaimer: I do not own CSI.

Notes: Well...Here we are – at the end. I'm amazed no one has killed me yet. But that might be because no one seemed to see this coming...at least no one wrote about it in the reviews.

Please don't kill me. Everything in this chapter happens for a reason and has been planed since chapter three.

Warning: Nick/Greg pairing)

-o—o—o-

The Atom that Walked into the Bar

Chapter 5

-o—o—o-

My name is Greg Sanders.

Five weeks ago I tried to kill myself.

Three weeks ago, I decided to live without the one I love.

Today I'm going to die in a car crash.

And all I can do is look towards the heavens and ask, "You're fucking kidding me, right God?"

The first thing I really know – the first thing I can really respond to – is Brass, leaning against my window and looking for all the world like the kid who discovers Santa ain't real.

"Sanders..."

That one omission, that one utterance from the detective tells me more than all the mutterings and bullshit of the E.M.T.s.

I'm not going to make it.

But I already knew that. The blood in my mouth tells me so. The lack of any feeling below my neck tells me so. Physics and anatomy and science and Murphy's Fucking Law all told me I wasn't going to make it long before the first ambulance made it to the scene.

They can't even pull me out of the car. Not that I really mind, I rather like this car, though I wish Marilyn Manson hadn't stopped.

"Hey Brass."

My voice sounds sort of...wet. I guess it might explain the blood in my mouth. Maybe I punctured a lung with a rib or something. The thought is actually scary and I think I would be panicking if all my adrenaline hadn't been used up during the accident.

"Hey...how you feeling, kid?" I can see tears in his eyes. Wow, that's...that's really touching. Brass has always been a bit intimidating to me and because of that, we've never been very close. We've talked due to our jobs but, in all honesty, I've always ducked behind Warrick or Grissom and let them do the talking.

I'm honored that he would care enough about me to show such emotion.

I put effort into smirking for him; a true Greg smirk. Maybe not a 100-watter, but I'm pretty damn proud of it either way. "Can't feel much of anything to tell you how I feel."

He opens his mouth to reply and then just closes it, like a fish. A Brass Fish.

Instead he just nods. "Oh," he gets out. "That's...that's good."

I nod, or I try to. My head doesn't move much and I can't tell if it's because my neck is injured or because paramedics put a brace around it. I look back to him, just standing outside my mutilated car door, one hand gripping the mangled metal.

"Don't pretend," I say, smiling again. "I know I'm not walking a-away from this." My voice is getting wetter and it's harder to keep my words stable. The liquid I thought was filling my lungs feels like it's getting thicker, starting to slowly crawl up my throat. "I mean, look at my legs. They're certainly not g-going anywhere."

Indeed not. The truck that had sent me into the concrete barrier also sent me over it. My hood and windshield were smashed. My dashboard met up close and personal with my center console and passenger seat, and my steering wheel became well acquainted with my legs.

Bone-crushingly well acquainted.

But that was all before the on-coming traffic and my car became close, personal friends. It was a successful first meeting (to put it lightly) but it's not looking good for a long-term relationship.

Brass meets my eyes and the strength fades away. I see it then – he's just like me in that moment, hiding his pain for another's benefit. For my benefit. Slowly, he reaches forward and wraps his fingers around my left hand.

Christ, I'm still clutching the steering wheel like a last lifeline.

"Grissom's on his way. The whole team's behind him." I close my eyes. That's good. Slowly my fingers loosen on the leather of the wheel but I can't force them to let go, despite the comfort of the detective's hand.

I don't even know where my other arm is. I can't feel it and I'm not brave enough to look.

"Did you hear me, kid?" Brass asks, the faintest traces of panic in his voice. "You have to hold on 'til then, Sanders. Grissom's on his way."

"I heard you," I whisper – still hoarse, still wet. It's beginning to hurt. My throat feels chaffed as the blood trickles up and down it, threatening to choke me. Yet the skin feels dry and rubbed raw, parched of any liquid.

It's not a pleasant paradox.

Grissom must have broken more speed limits than Nick did on his World Record Rush to the hospital, because it was only a few minutes before I heard Brass shouting for him. At least, I think it was only a few minutes. Time seemed so slow, so measured.

So ready to stop altogether.

"Greg..." It's the first thing he says that I acknowledge and I slowly open my eyes. The lids are heavy now and I know this feeling – this sleepy, peaceful sensation.

I'm dying...again. But this time, no one's going to save me. No one can (My name is still Greg Sanders, if it makes you feel any better.)

I guess that writer of mine decided to end it a little sooner than I'd hoped...Guess you won't have to stick around all that long, after all.

"What happened?" Grissom's voice is quicker, sharper. It's hurt and confused in that Grissom way that means he doesn't understand something he desperately needs to.

But the question isn't for me.

"Two cars merged into the same lane," Brass began but his voice was quiet, as if he didn't want me to know of my own demise. It's not like it really matters if I know or not.

"...semi swerved to avoid the crash..."

First of all, I was there. I know what happened.

"...says he didn't see Greg..."

I was all too aware, unfortunately. I should have stayed further away from that asshole truck. I knew he was going to cause trouble.

"...sent him over the barrier..."

I knew he was going to get someone killed.

"...into on-coming traffic..."

I just didn't think it'd be me.

"Brass," I interrupt with my whisper of a voice (though, at this point, 'gargle' might be a better description), "was anyone else hurt?"

My eyes are open again, though half-lidded with exhaustion and I know they'll never open all the way again. It is a morbid thing to realize, but it's not like I haven't faced all this before.

Don't get me wrong, though. It's not like having gone through it once means I'm a hero (people, I attempted suicide – that's normally considered a cowardly sin) or something courageous. I'm scared shitless. I'd probably be shaking if my body had anything left in it.

I'm sitting here, praying to a god I don't believe in that someone will save me again.

I can see Brass glance at Grissom, but my boss's eyes are on me. It's nice to be the sole beneficiary of that gaze. I've tried so hard for so long to get his approval, to impress him (as a son does a father) that it is a good last moment for me to be bathed in that gaze.

"Some injuries, Sanders," Brass answered, giving Grissom the window to stand by, releasing my hand. "A few serious and being taken to the hospital, but we won't know more until...later."

I can tell he's lying. Other's died but he's reserving the information. He doesn't want me to know, and that's okay.

Again, I'm touched by how much he cares.

I try to nod once more, forgetting that I can't, but I figure he gets it. So I turn my attention to Grissom. It's the last time I'll get to say anything to him.

And with how tired I am, it might be the last time I say anything to anyone.

"Grissom." This time I put effort into chugging down the disgustingly thick substance that has gathered into my throat and mouth. If I'm going to have last words (and by god, I've never shut up in life so I'm not doing it for death!), they're not going to be garbled by this crap.

That, it turns out, was a very dumb idea.

If I thought I couldn't feel anything, than Death was trying to prove me wrong because coughing fucking hurts like hell. I've been beaten to a bloody pulp, hit with fists and feet, and even been thrown threw a glass wall by exploding green liquid.

But I've never had a broken rib through the lining of my lungs be jostled, tearing the muscle further as my diaphragm tenses and expands, forcing my lungs to do the same.

Fucking Hurts.

And the lovely mixture of blood and whatever-else-is-in-my-lungs that I just coughed up all over my steering wheel isn't exactly a plus either.

I may be used to handling blood but ew.

"Greg, don't talk," Grissom immediately says, one hand on the base of my neck and the other on my forehead, trying to keep my head steady.

I think my neck is in a brace.

"You kidding me?" I manage to gargle out and I can feel the blood spattered on my lips. I give him a grin, which could probably compete for world's scariest smile (blood staining my teeth and lips, bruises already forming on my face. Yeah, picture-perfect. Worthy of next years Christmas Cards, even.) "These are my l-last words, Griss, and you want me s-spend them in s-silence?"

The pitying look on Grissom's face wouldn't be tolerable if I didn't know it was the only way he showed his grief. It was the same look he wore the day after Sara left...and the consecutive week thereafter. My boss was never the kind to laugh at my jokes, but I think he would be far sadder if I didn't go out true Greg style – laughing all the way.

"I mean, c-come on," I continue, eyeing him with as much amusement as I can muster. "What would you p-put on my grave? 'His last moments were s-spent in s-silence...for once in his life'? Not very f-fitting."

Despite my shuddering voice, Grissom's shoulders sag a little and I smirk. Victory! In Grissom language, I just got the equivalent of a chuckle.

"Greg..."

And leave it to Gil Grissom to kill my victory in less than a minute. In less than half a minute!

The despair in his voice is something I've only ever seen twice: when Nick was taken and when we couldn't find Sara.

There's only one difference between them and me. Back then there was hope; the prospect we'd find them – that we could do something to save them. And we did.

There is nothing that can be done to change this outcome.

That despair is complete and a pang of guilt goes through me. I now know the answer to my earlier question. I've done far more damage than Sara has, because Grissom – Nick – the whole team...none of them will ever get me back.

Now I have to make it right.

"Grissom," I mutter, closing my eyes as I lean back against the headrest. I know I have his attention so I try really hard to keep my voice clear, despite the fact that the creepy crawly thickness is back and so is the urge to cough. My chest is burning and my toes are tingling and somewhere to my right, my missing hand is beginning to ache.

"I'm s-sorry I s-switched to days," I whisper dryly, which surprises me considering lately everything I have been saying is pretty much soaked with blood and mucus. Considering the situation, the reversal is really not a good sign.

My boss is staring at me, surprise in his eyes, which really doesn't surprise me. Did he not expect me to say that on my deathbed? Of course not, it's Typical Grissom – he can tell you everything there is to know about a dead guy he's seen for all of three seconds but he's absolutely clueless in front of a live, breathing guy he's known for eight years.

One who's just seeking a fatherly figure's approval.

And then it seems to click. I see it in his eyes as they widen slightly. Maybe it was the pleading look in my eye, the defeated pout that accompanied it and begged him to understand.

Or maybe Grissom finally had an epiphany.

"Greg, I'm not mad about that," he says quickly, his hand on the metal door tightening its grip. I stare at his older, aged hands against the scraped and torn material that used to be my car. It's covered in glass shards (most swept hastily away by the E.M.T.s and firefighters) but neither Brass nor Griss seem to care about what's left.

Have you ever wondered what people would do or think if you were gone? Would they notice? Would they care?

I look up at Grissom, noticing the pain in his face.

Trust me, you don't want to find out what people think when you're gone, because by then, it's too late to change anything.

"Grissom." My voice is so tight that I choke on the very word itself and spew more of my precious, dwindling life force over what's left of my car and my shirt (luckily not one of my favorites). I can feel the nerves in my eyes sting with the pain of my tears, my chest ache from the dull numbness of my former paralyses.

I can feel everything draining.

And then I feel Grissom gripping my hand tight enough to bring a pain in its own right, but a grounding pain - a comforting, rooting anchor to keep me in this world.

"Grissom," I croak again, determined to speak. I have faced pain and death and fear all before, both willingly and un- and I refuse to back down now. Not when it is the most important.

I lick my lips, desperately trying to feed my mouth with anything other than blood. "You...you gotta tell...the o-others, Griss," I whisper, closing my eyes as I hold onto my boss's hand, using his lifeline.

I know that I don't have much left in me.

"They're on their way," Brass cuts in from beside Grissom, his own voice breaking. I'd forgotten he was there. My vision isn't allowing much past Gris to get in, and the detective isn't more than a blurry blob.

"I'm...not sure I'm g-gonna make it that long," I mutter, trying to put it in a humorous tone, knowing neither man is going to even crack a smile. I close my eyes once more, trying to conserve the energy I have left. I have to get this out. I have to tell them.

"Tell S-Sara that sh-she's beautiful," I whisper, knowing it's not the best thing to be telling her (ex)boyfriend this, but what's he going to do, kill me? (not that Grissom's the type to ever do anything physical about it). "Sh-She knows it...t-tell her to believe it."

I can feel Grissom tighten his grip on my hand. I'm not sure what it means, but I'll take it as a sign of encouragement (as good as I've ever gotten out of Grissom).

"Tell Warrick...sorry we didn't s-spend more time..." My thoughts, so clear in my head, are getting jumbled on their way to my mouth and I find myself only speaking half my mind- funny, my whole life I've never had that much to say but I've never shut up. Now, when I finally have something I need to say, I can barely even speak.

"But...he was s-still...a b-brother to...me." My breaths are heavier now, shallower but more labored and the wet gurgling sound accompanying each one isn't boding well for me.

Grissom and Brass have both remained silent as I talk, my connection to Griss's hand the only way I know that they're even still there. I slowly open my eyes, starring out the cracked and almost completely shattered windshield.

"And C-Cath...Tell Cath sh-she's a great mom...thanks for b-being there for me..." My vision is off, like it's dim somehow. I feel like someone went in and turned the brightness down.

I feel violated. I'm not a computer, you know.

I wonder if a computer feels that way when you turn the brightness level down. Does it feel violated too?

"Tell Lindsey...bye...for me...and Hodges...he's an a-ass..." Well, the last one was easy to get out. I catch Brass's snort. The truth is Hodges will appreciate the (completely true) insult.

"Mia...she's amazing...Wendy t-too... And tell M-Mandy sh-she's beautifu-" I cough again, spattering blood over myself for the un-numbered time. My body finally tries to move on instinct, sending my right arm to try and cover my mouth.

I barely keep back a scream.

Now I know where my right hand is and I'm glad I didn't look previously. Pinned and crushed between where the center console and central dashboard became one, the reason for my lack of Manson has now become apparent.

My right hand is basically residing in the radio, right now.

Damn it, I don't have time for pain to be blacking out my vision. Isn't death supposed to numb your pain? Well numb already so I can get this out!

"Greg," Grissom's voice is panicked, which terrifies me more than the crushed metacarpals and phalanges or the eye-blinding pain or even the knowledge of certain death ever could. Even though I know that he's panicked because of all these things, it doesn't matter: there is nothing more terrifying than an always-calm Grissom suddenly not calm.

"I-I'm alright," I barely get out, wincing at the grinding feeling that speaking has on my lungs. I didn't even know internal organs could do that. "Well," I say with as much of a jokingly air as I can manage, "r-resp-spectively s-speaking.'

Grissom has that death grip on my hand again (more irony - God, an English teacher would go crazy with all the analyzying you could with my life the last few weeks!) as I swallow thickly.

"Where...was I?" I whisper once more as my eyes close again. I try to open them and my heart nearly stops when I realize I simply can't. They are just too heavy now and I no longer have the energy.

"Mandy." Grissom's reply is soft, as if he prays that I won't hear him so he doesn't have to listen to anymore. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't want to. I wouldn't want to listen to a man's last words either.

Esepcially not someone I knew.

"Oh...yeah," I say, a smile gracing my lips. My girls. My lab techs. I love the lab rats; they're always so happy to do what they can. All but Hodges, of course. Kiss Ass. They're not like the CSI - they don't get so caught up and hurt by cases. They just work and laugh.

I used to be like them.

"Archie," I whisper almost without thinking. Oh yeah, I'm supposed to be giving messages to Grissom. Last words. I have to stay focused on Grissom. "Star...Trek...f-freak."

Well, not exactly what I meant to say, but I think he'll appreciate the consideration.

"Grissom," I whisper, thinking about my boss. What does one say to the man who knows everything? Well, you instruct him in the one thing he doesn't know. "Tell Grissom-"

"I'm right here Greg," he replies harshly, his voice raw with the pain I can't identify anymore. Why's his voice like that? Sheesh, I'm just trying to tell him something and he's interrupting me now. But that's Grissom for you.

"Yeah...tell yours-self...Go after h-her." My voice sounds all funny, like I'm talking through a bunch of bubbles. I wonder if he can even understand me any more. It's kinda funny actually, but I try to ignore the humor.

Gotta focus on Grissom.

"You make her...s-so happy..." I can't remember why I'm here, talking to him. I remember a lot of loud noises and some pain...a lot of pain. And I vaguely feel like I should be afraid, but something feels like it's missing.

Why is it so dark?

"Nick..."

That's right. I have to tell Nick because he has to know. But what does he have to know? He has to know before...

I hear Grissom shout something followed by a tugging on my arm, ever so slightly. He's trying to let go! No, I have to tell him - but he's not listening. He's shouting to someone and my voice isn't reaching his ears. Hell, it's not even reaching my ears.

But he has to hear me because he's the only one who can tell Nick. And Nick has to know because I'm going to die.

Panic rips through my numb, slowing systems and forces my eyes open in the surge, locking Grissom's eyes with mine. So I squeeze his hand with every last ounce of energy I can muster, weeping with the very pain of it all and begging him to hear me, to listen to me.

I have to say this to the only one there to hear it.

"Nick," I whisper - rushed, panicky, harsh and gargled and oh so very tired. "Tell...N-Nick...the a-atom..."

My voice dies and I know I won't get a second shot. I've said all I can in this world, but I've said it - I've told him and he'll tell Nick. So I close my eyes and let go, because I finally can.

In college I had a boyfriend named Jeremey.

He was a philosophy major. He loved to tell me cheesy science jokes - distract me from my homework. He was a good talker and a great story teller and never worried about bad transitions.

In sophmore year, we broke up.

He was the closest friend I ever had. I loved him like no one has ever loved a friend before - and in a purely platonic way after our run. Joined at the hip, we were, and no crowbar held by human hands could pull us apart.

In my senior year, he told me what it was for an atom to walk into a bar.

"An atom walks into a bar looking rejected."

Atoms are the basic building blocks of all life. We're taught that from Biology and Chemistry 101. From Life Science and Earth Science in elementary and middle schools. Even children know that.

"The bartender asks 'What's wrong, pal?'"

But what few of those children go on to realize (even though they learn it) is that of every second of every day, atoms are gaining and losing things.

The atom sighs. 'I've lost an electron,' it replies.

Yet life goes on.

"'Are you sure?' asks the bartender."

Now, it's true, atoms don't have feelings - emotions - attachments. I questioned Jer's logic too, but he answered me easily and with a small smile.

"'I'm Positive!'"

Sometimes, he said, when things get too complicated, following the most simplistic example of life can help us get through it and live.

The Atom joke is just a joke, but Jeremy believed it could also be a lesson.

He liked to think it was about living with what we gain and what we lose.

Three weeks later I lost Jeremy to a bullet from a grocery store robbery. He wasn't trying to be a hero, he wasn't trying to do the right thing. He just got shot.

And I didn't understand it.

A week after his funeral, with a razor to my wrists in the bathroom of my apartment, I still didn't understand it. But I knew I was supposed to be an atom. I was supposed to be his atom because he had become my electron.

My lost electron.

Alone, bleeding and sobbing in the bathtub, I finally understood.

It meant LIVE.

Now I visit Jeremy's grave every year with a rose and a model of an atomic structure from the Periodic Table of Elements. Next January would have been number nine: Fluorine. I already bought the supplies and everything. I do it from scratch instead of one of those kits.

It means more, I feel.

The point, though, is that I was able to live with the loss of my electron. Even though my music got quieter in the lab around January, even though I still cry until my eyes run dry every time I buy that boquet of roses, even though I never got over my hatred for guns.

I lived.

I wonder if Nick will hate freeways and semis.

And I don't know what I am to Nick Stokes anymore but if, perchance, I am one of his electrons, he'll have to be like the atom - my atom - and live.

There are others to gain and others to lose. That is the beauty in our building blocks.

I still don't know you, and let's face it, you still probably don't care much what happens to me. That's alright - it wasn't ever a requirement that you did.

I wanted to thank you for listening to me again. I know you didn't have to (and even if you were that one unfortuante person chained to a desk, I thank you anyways). Sometimes an ear is all it takes to calm someone who isn't ready to die.

I'm still not ready, but I haven't got a choice anymore.

I don't need to think of last words this time. No deliberation or stumbling about. I've already got them.

And I know I won't regret them

If you ever meet the man I love, tell him about the atom that walked into the bar.

-o—o—o-

The Atom that Walked into the Bar

End

-o—o—o-

Wow...

Well, that seriously took a lot out of me.

Phew...I know...I'm sorry. I'm sure half of you hate me but...these types of stories are my specialties. I love to get emotional reactions out of readers (assuming I actually managed it, which I hope I did).

Anyways, for those of you totally NOT SATISFIED by that depressing ending, a somewhat more conclusive, happier (though still sad and slightly) TWO-SHOT SEQUEL companion piece is now available. You can find it via my profile under the title The Electron that Walked Out.

Thank you all and please review!