Part 6: From Sunsets to Sunrises
When Ellie arrives back in Vegas she is met with sunshine and thick heat.
Vegas is the same; the people, the clubs, the lights have remained unchanged. Ellie isn't the same. She avoids the shady places that hold shady people with bad intentions.
Ellie knows who she is and where she's going. She rents a small apartment and immediately goes to work photographing her new surroundings. Ellie takes her time adjusting to the new atmosphere, learning the city all over again.
She does not go to see her father.
Most nights Ellie goes to clubs and dances into oblivion. Other nights, she stands in the shadows, taking photographs of Vegas life. She sells some photos to one magazine and some photos to another. Ellie slowly begins to build a life in Las Vegas.
One night, while she is well on her way into nothingness, dancing away from reality as she likes to do, she is pulled back suddenly, abruptly, rudely by a familiar face. Dancing a few feet away from her, his arms brushing against another girl, is the CSI boy with the apathetic eyes. She turns away, but he has already seen her and is soon standing before her, not dancing, just looking.
"It's rude to stare, you know." Ellie snaps.
"Sorry. Just…didn't know you were back in town." He is pretty sure she had left. She doesn't respond, but doesn't leave either. "You look good." Ellie knows that has always been code for, 'you don't look like such a slut anymore' or 'you don't look like you're desperate for your next hit anymore'.
"You too, sweetheart." He does look better. "Want to dance?" He nods.
The pulsing of the beat drags them both under. The girl with the sparkles in her hair and the boy with the sparkles in his eyes dance in the flashing, colorful lights. What a pretty pair, people would say, what a pretty pair.
Eventually, the spell ends and they're just two people who don't really know each other standing on a dance floor. Before it can become awkward, Greg takes Ellie's hand in his slightly bigger one and drags her out of the club and onto the brightly lit street. Ellie doesn't protest.
"Let's go for a walk." Greg suggests, finally dropping the warm hand. Ellie shrugs and follows. They walk down a paved road, bars and clubs on either side. Occasionally, muted beats can be heard or breaths of air-conditioning felt as they pass doorways.
"So, where have you been?" Greg's voice is easy and calm; Ellie quite likes it.
"In the little town right between Nowhere and Everywhere."
"Oh, is that anywhere near Here and There?" Ellie almost cracks a smile.
They fall into a comfortable silence, observing their surroundings mildly. A group of teenagers stands giggling and chattering outside a club, no doubt all carrying a fake ID. A girl with a plastic tiara, who is drunkenly crying about "cheating assholes", is dragged down the street by a young man and woman decked out in clubbing attire. A middle-aged man sits on a bench, his head in his hands.
"Man, these streets are lined with the before and afters- dreamers and junkies, winners and deadbeats." Greg muses. His voice is almost bitter and almost fond because that, in essence, is Vegas, and he loves this city as much as he hates it.
"Reminds me of Hollywood." Ellie mumbles, words full of regret, anger, and resentment, only it comes out sounding like every other muttering of a person who has ever been burned by life. Greg nods, but doesn't say anything in reply.
They come to the end of the street and part with quiet goodbyes.
It isn't long before the pair meets once more. A few weeks after the encounter at the club, Greg runs into a familiar dirty blonde while leaving a watch repair shop.
"Well, well, well. Ellie Brass." She turns to find Greg grinning widely. "Before you ask, I'm not stalking you."
"I didn't know you were allowed out while the sun's still up."
"Not usually," Greg admits, "I just got off work. Hey, I didn't know you were into photography." The criminalist waves vaguely at the camera in her hands.
"New thing. Want your picture taken?" Ellie holds the camera up to her eye. Greg strikes a flamboyant pose and pouts. Ellie laughs, "Very nice. Forget all that law stuff, you could totally be a model."
"Oh, I know. Actually, that was my second career choice if this science thing didn't work out."
Ellie snaps another shot without warning.
Sobering slightly, Ellie lowers her camera. "Hey, Sanders, did you tell my dad that I'm in Vegas?"
"No." Greg looks surprised, as if he had forgotten he even knew her father. He almost had.
"Good. Don't tell him, okay? I'm not ready to talk to him yet." Greg nods quickly. Before the situation grows more uncomfortable Ellie invites Greg out to an early lunch (though it's more of a late dinner for him) at the restaurant across the street.
"Ellie Brass, are you asking me out?"
"You're such a prick." Ellie sighs.
"I'll take that as a yes." Greg beams. "I would love to go on a date with you." Greg begins to saunter down the sidewalk, stopping to hold out his hand for his companion.
Ellie smiles and follows with a mumbled, "Such a prick."
They spend the afternoon talking over sandwiches. Greg makes Ellie laugh four times (he counts).
This first date is closely followed by a second.
After the third, Ellie's replies affirmatively to Greg's, "Want to come over and watch a bunch of crappy 80's movies with me tomorrow?" and that is that; Ellie Brass and Greg Sanders are a couple.
Ellie is dangerously close to being late for her interview with a local magazine when Greg calls and insists on coming over before she leaves. Ellie accedes. Twenty minutes later Greg shows up at his girlfriend's front door and presents her with a bottle of cherry cola. She looks at him questioningly.
"It's a gift," he explains. "Since it's our one month anniversary and all."
Ellie raises her eyebrows in surprise. "You keep track of that kind of stuff?"
"Well, not usually, but…aren't girls into that kind of thing? Dates and anniversaries and all that?" She can't tell if Greg is speaking honestly or trying to patronize her, so she just takes the bottle and twists off the cap.
"Why the coke?" she asks before taking a sip.
"Cherry coke," he corrects. Looking rather sheepish, he continues, "It's because our first kiss tasted like cherry coke. I kind of associate the drink with you now."
Oh, she thinks. She doesn't know whether to be flattered or creeped out or…damn, he has a really good memory. "That's…really sweet." she admits. Ellie pulls him in for a kiss. It tastes just like their first one.
Ellie has been in Vegas for four months and has steadily built on her collection of photographs. She has begun to develop a reputation and has contacts now.
The photographer is having her first show and wants Greg to come. As they lie together in her bed, both about to drift off, she abruptly mentions the showcase taking place that weekend. She never asks him to come, but Greg knows she wants him there, so he goes.
Greg doesn't like photographs. When he thinks of photographs, he thinks of pictures of body parts and wounds and crime scenes, which will be marked accordingly and used as evidence.
But Ellie's photos are different; they're full of life. Greg doesn't like photographs, but he likes Ellie and Ellie's photos are part of her.
The show is mildly successful and Ellie doesn't remember being this excited in a long, long time. Looking at all her pictures, different people and places and memories lining white walls, Ellie decides she probably likes the ones from Vegas best.
It is eleven o'clock in the morning when Ellie and Greg are able to finally meet after not seeing each other for two weeks.
Greg is exhausted, having spent the last two days engrossed in a case. Ellie is exhausted, having spent all night photographing a concert for a rock magazine.
Ellie is at Greg's apartment, a common occurrence as of late. Ellie watches the muted television halfheartedly as she rests her head on Greg's shoulder. Greg lies beside her, his eyes closed and breathing soft. Ellie is pretty sure her companion is asleep until she hears his drowsy voice.
"So, I was thinking, and I realized that I've kinda fallen in love with you." Greg's words are said is a light, matter-of-fact tone. Ellie looks at him incredulously, because, really, what kind of love confession was that? She sighs; it's the Greg kind of love confession.
"Yeah, I love you too." Her words are said more resignedly, though not unhappily. Greg beams and Ellie rolls her eyes, but he can see the smile on her lips.
Greg buys a cat. She's a brat plain and simple. She hisses when he doesn't bring her food fast enough, digs her claws into his sofa, insists on sleeping in his bed with him, and doesn't really like to be touched. She's Satan's cat, evil incarnated Greg is sure, but he refuses to part with her. She's nasty and bossy and he loves her like he never thought he could love a possessed ball of fur. He names her Bert; she doesn't seem to mind.
The first time Ellie sees Bert she thinks the cat is adorable. Bert purrs and nestles herself into the photographer's lap as Greg watches in astonishment. The quiet scene lasts all of four minutes before Bert decides she is no longer content and leaves Ellie with a set of scratch marks along her arm before scampering away.
"Your cat is bipolar." Ellie huffs.
"Can cats be bipolar?" Greg wonders.
Somewhere along the way Bert stops being Greg's and becomes Greg-and-Ellie's.
Oddly enough, or perhaps suitably, Greg and Ellie's first real fight is over Bert.
For weeks tension builds and builds. Neither says anything, but it is always there, festering. Greg has cancelled one too many dates, and Ellie has flirted with one too many strangers. Unsaid words have nestled themselves into the minds of both and held tongues don't stop the negative feelings from growing like weeds.
It all culminates one afternoon in an explosive fight over Bert the Cat where all the issues lay behind the words.
The storm finally subsides, both voices hoarse from screaming, when the couple realizes what they've been saying. An awkward silence is followed by a snort and soon they're both chuckling at the absurdity of their argument.
No issues are resolved, but perhaps they seem less dire now that the anger has been released.
If either is a little more charitable towards the other for the rest of the week neither mention it.
Ellie stands in front of the mirror, checking her makeup. Her eyeliner is coming off and her lipstick smudged. Greg steps up behind her, wrapping an arm loosely around her waist. His shirt is untucked; his hair a mess. They both stare into the mirror. Ellie thinks of the pictures in the boxes under her bed. She sometimes muses over the photos of the couples- they look like high school sweethearts, they look like they're about to break up, they look like they're on their first date. Ellie wonders what she and Greg might look like inside a photograph.
Greg doesn't like to have his photo taken, Ellie knows. Ellie doesn't understand this because Greg is absolutely beautiful. Why wouldn't he want to be preserved inside a photograph forever?
Greg always replies with a steady "no" when Ellie asks if she can take his picture. She has always gracefully accepted his reply, but not today. Today, she presses and he can't think of a sufficient excuse.
As he stands in the middle of her living room, shuffling his feet in agitation, it is obvious that Greg is uncomfortable. Even so, Ellie does not back down. Greg deserves to be in her collection of memories. She needs him in that box of photos. Ellie begins snapping pictures, observing the other as he smiles goofily, making faces, and striking poses. It's too fake. Ellie lowers her camera, gazing at the other critically. He's hiding, she thinks.
"Take off your shirt."
The command leaves no room for argument, but Greg tries to anyway. However, Ellie remains steadfast and he eventually gives in.
Greg immediately seems to fold into himself as the cool air hits his upper body. He eyes his discarded shirt longingly, flinching when he hears the telltale click of the camera.
"I don't like this." The almost childlike muttering confirms just how close to the edge Greg is.
Greg has scars. Along his back. Along his arms. He is ashamed of both sets, Ellie knows.
Ellie doesn't say anything. She doesn't know if that hurts Greg or not, but she doesn't want to risk losing the chance to capture everything Greg is emanating right then: vulnerability, strength, genuineness.
When the young man's self-consciousness begins to overwhelm him, he finally interrupts the silence.
"Look, what do you want me to do? Just stand here? What?"
"Yeah, basically." Seeing his distress begin to grow, Ellie relents, "Try to ignore the camera. Just pretend it's me and you."
Greg's hands are clasped tightly on his elbows, his stance rigid and closed. As he absorbs his girlfriend's words he begins to visibly loosen.
Click. Greg's form is still hunched slightly; his eyes focused somewhere past the camera; his scars peaking around sides and forearms.
Click. Both arms hang limply by his sides. His face is turned towards the open window.
Click. Greg has turned partly away from the camera and is bracing himself on the windowsill, arms outstretched. His hair glistens in the sunlight. His eyelids are slightly lowered. His scars- his private marks of accomplishment, survival, past- are openly displayed.
Ellie lowers the camera. That's enough.
Greg turns back to his girlfriend and sends her an unsteady, sincere smile. Ellie doesn't even think about it before she is across the room, her lips planted firmly on Greg's. She warps both of her arms tightly around his bare shoulders and whispers a barely audible, "Thank you".
Nowhere. That's where Greg finally pulls over, Nowhere. Ellie and Greg sit in the quickly warming car at a seemingly random location in the middle of the desert. Ellie is less than enthused, having certain expectations for this mystery date.
"What? Are you going to kill me?" Greg ignores the sarcasm, grabbing her camera from the backseat and plopping it into her lap.
"Go be artistic." Greg makes a shooing motion with his hands. When she makes no attempt to move, he lets out an over exaggerated noise of exasperation and gets out of the car. He tugs open the passenger door, waiting for her to step out.
"Are you sure you're not going to kill me?" At this point, she really can't think of another reason for the excursion. She knows Greg can be random sometimes, but come on.
"Have I ever done anything to make you believe I was in any way homicidal?" Greg continues on before she can whip out a sarcastic reply, "You have a lot of pictures of Nevada, but they're all of city life. Don't you want to capture the full Nevada experience?"
"You sound like some crappy travel agent." Ellie grumbles, but she gets out of the car and starts snapping pictures.
Ellie's preferred subject matter is people, but she has to admit that it is nice to have something different, something that isn't painful, something purely visually pleasing to add to her collection.
The pair spends the afternoon under a pretty blue sky, alternating between comfortable silences and teasing remarks. It's easy and serene and just plain nice. It's in that desert that Ellie first looks at Greg and thinks home. She knows she won't be running anymore.
Greg shuffles out of the locker room and down the hallway, his shift having finally ended. He's focused on making his way to his car when a familiar figure sitting across from reception causes him to freeze. Greg tilts his head to the side as if that would somehow change the image before him.
"Huh." The word escapes his lips and Ellie raises an eyebrow in question.
Greg stands and stares.
She is wearing jeans and an orange tank top, newly darkened locks framing her face. She looks healthy; no more heroine chic. Her cheeks and shoulders are brushed with red, slightly burned- testament to their time spent in the desert the day before.
Greg stands and stares and all he can think is, 'God, she's beautiful'.
The spell is broken by Sophia and Warrick's nearing voices. They know Ellie. They'll recognize her. As far as Greg knows, she hasn't been to see her father yet, hasn't spoken to him for months. She has to know this will get back to him. What is she doing? But then Ellie rises and it doesn't really matter.
"Hey." Before he can reply she's placing a quick kiss on his lips. Greg doesn't know why she came, why she chose today. He stopped trying to understand Ellie a long time ago. He goes with the flow and doesn't pull away from the pressure of her hands on his shoulders, of her lips on his. That's the kind of person Greg is.
"So, want to pick up some Chinese?" Greg asks, taking hold of Ellie's hand as they walk out of the crime lab. Greg is pretty sure Warrick and Sophia are watching them, but he never even considers letting go of the hand in his.
This is how Ellie lets Brass know she is back.
Ellie goes to the precinct the next day. Brass doesn't look surprised when she steps into his office, she wasn't expecting him to.
"I'm surprised to see you back here." Brass's voice is gruff. 'I'm surprised you haven't died in a gutter,' flashes through Ellie's head, but she promised herself she wouldn't do this, wouldn't try to look for meanings in her father's words that weren't there.
"Thought it was about time I said hello."
"You've been here a while?"
"Ten months." Brass doesn't say anything for a moment.
"Long time. What have you been up to?" Ellie digs her nails into her palm and wills the Bad Thoughts away. She doesn't want to walk away angry this time.
"Waitress on and off. Mostly, I take photos. During events, for magazines, that kinda thing." Brass seems surprised. Whether it is because she's trying to make something of her life or because she answered his question seriously, the photographer doesn't know. A biting voice echoes in the back of her head, and Ellie has to stop herself from adding, "Look dad, no track marks."
"You've changed." It comes out as an almost-question.
Ellie replies with a sarcastic, "What can I say, I found God." She waves vaguely at the crucifixion sitting comfortably on her chest. Then more soberly, "I took some responsibility."
There's an uncomfortable silence following the statement. Brass doesn't want to say the wrong thing (he always does with his daughter). He finally settles on, "So, you're dating Greg Sanders."
That was apparently the right thing to say because Ellie's face lights up with a smile. Brass's heart clenches for a moment because he hasn't seen that smile since she was a little girl.
"Yeah. For almost nine months now." Brass's eyebrows shoot up. And okay, wow, she hadn't even realizes she had been keeping track.
"He's a good guy." The officer's voice is neutral.
"Yeah," Ellie smiles, "He really is."
"Okay." Brass nods like Ellie just answered some question. She probably has, Ellie realizes belatedly.
"Okay." Ellie nods a goodbye and it's over. There isn't a scene. No one is upset. Ellie leaves the precinct and Brass may smile a bit more than is usual for the rest of the day.
Greg isn't really expecting a confrontation. Some office gossip maybe. Perhaps some stares for a day or two. Possibly a rabid Brass that wishes to dismember him for daring to touch his only daughter. So, when Warrick stops him on his way to the trace lab and pulls him into an empty locker room, he's slightly bewildered.
"So, I saw you with Ellie yesterday." He says it like it's some great confession.
"Yeah. I figured."
Warrick squirms uncomfortably. "Look, man, I know it's none of my business, but do you know what you're doing?"
Greg considers playing dumb, but decides it's not very productive and he wants this conversation over quickly. "Of course not. What male ever knows what they're doing with a girl? Girls are moody. And sometimes scary. And have super memory powers."
"How well do you know Ellie?"
"About as well as she knows me." That doesn't mean anything to Warrick, but to Greg it means everything.
"Look, Ellie has been into some serious stuff. She's dangerous." Greg feels licks of anger begin to scorch his insides.
Warrick has no right to say these things, to pass judgment on his girlfriend, to interfere. Greg doesn't think of such things, of Ellie's past, because Ellie isn't the same person anymore. He doesn't care about who she used to be, it doesn't matter. That's what makes their relationship work. They don't talk about or think about who they used to be because they both know it doesn't matter.
"We both have scars." Greg murmurs in defence, anger, and explanation.
The fading scars on both their arms tell different stories. They could be seen as some sort of emotional link, as a means to forge some sort of bond, but they're not. The marks mean nothing to the relationship. They are not talked about, never thrown at each other in times of anger or sympathetically whispered about in times of love. It is not denial or acceptance, it is irrelevance. The scars have significance for the individual, but not the couple, and that is why their relationship is so great, so suitable.
Warrick can't possibly understand this and Greg isn't going to explain it to him.
"Frankly, Warrick, this is really none of your business." Greg walks away and never once looks back.
Ellie moves in with Greg gradually and accidentally. There is never the Big Commitment Conversation where they decide as a couple whether moving in would benefit The Relationship.
One day, Ellie opens Greg's closet to grab her sweater when she notices she has kind of invaded his home. Huh. The next time Ellie is at her apartment she realizes she doesn't have much stuff remaining there. Only her furniture, a few appliances, and some expired food sitting in the refrigerator are left. Ellie dumps the food, calls her landlady, and upon returning to Greg's informs him that she will not be going back to her apartment. He really doesn't mind.
Bert is sick. It first becomes noticeable when she stops hissing at anyone who dares to approach her. By the end of that week, Bert is lying under the bed and refusing to move. Ellie tries to coax her into eating, but Bert just makes pathetic mewling noises, very uncharacteristic of the feisty cat. Greg braves weak claw swipes to pull her out from under the bed and brings her to the vet. The vet sends them home with some antibiotics. Bert is drowsy during the following days, but she begins to eat again and lets out the occasional hiss. Still, Ellie remains fretful. Ellie and Bert have a special bond; Greg thinks it is because they are so alike. (He never dares to tell Ellie that.) Greg thinks Ellie's worrying is sweet. Even so, he doesn't like to see her sad. He decides he must, quite simply, cheer her up.
That night, Greg waits for Ellie to arrive home from her shoot ("Actual models, Greg. I hate it. They're so fake. I'm compromising my artistic integrity for money. Say something, dammit.").
"Greg, I think they might have actually out-bitched me." Ellie grumbles as she walks in.
"Hey, c'mere." Greg pulls her into the living room and turns on a CD.
"Hey, little girl." Greg grins, singing along with the voice blasting from the stereos. "I wanna be your boyfriend." (1)
"Oh my God, what are you doing?" Ellie tries to look disgusted, but a laugh escapes.
"Sweet little girl, I wanna be your boyfriend."
"You're such a freak." Ellie is smiling now, all pretense dropped.
"Do you love me babe?" Greg twirls his girlfriend around. He is about to sing the next line when he's cut off with a kiss.
When Ellie pulls away she looks thoroughly cheered up. "Yes, I love you, you freak. But you can't sing."
Greg doesn't like to bring his work home with him. Sure, science texts might line the walls of the spare room, but that is different. Greg doesn't like to bring home the ghosts and the tears and the echoes of hurtpaindeath. He tries to leave it all behind, but sometimes he can't. Those times he will come home with old demons threatening to pull him under, expression pinched, muscles tense. Greg thinks he must close the door differently or bang around or something because Ellie always emerges from another room and looks at him and knows. He asked her once how she always knew. "It's like you're screaming," she explained and wouldn't say anything further.
Sometimes they'll settle on the couch, Ellie practically draped over him like a quilt, and watch old, black-and-white films. Sometimes Ellie will keep her distance, know not to touch. She'll make him a coffee and silently sit across from him at the kitchen table until he decides to go to sleep. Sometimes she'll kiss him and they will end up tangled in their bed. Sometimes she gets it wrong. On those nights, yelling will be followed by sore throats and aching chests and eventually they will end up locked in each other's arms.
Greg doesn't like to bring his work home with him, but when it follows him anyway, he's glad he has Ellie to make it better.
Greg and Ellie have been dating for a year. One full year. When Greg realizes this he sits down and spends a good chunk of the morning thinking about it. One year of sarcastic conversations and bizarre arguments. One year of trying to understand Ellie and failing miserably. Repeatedly. One year of Ellie's photographs lining the floors and walls of her apartment and later his and now theirs. One year of seeing Ellie's pretty face as often as he could and thinking about it the rest of the time. After one year Greg has even taken to sharing his precious coffee with Ellie.
By the time Ellie wakes up he has come to a conclusion. "This," Greg searches for the term, "this is penguin love."
Ellie considers being insulted, but settles on amused. "Penguin love?"
"Fairytale princess love." Greg amends.
"Oh, that's so much better."
"My point," Greg glares, "is that we share an epic love. Epic."
"Only you could make it sound like a threat. You charmer, you."
"You're making this really difficult for me." Greg sighs. "I just wanted to let you know that I have decided what we have is true love and I, therefore, cannot let you escape."
"Again with the threats." Ellie laughs, which makes Greg smile like it always does. "And what do you mean you won't let me escape?"
"Ah, patience, my dear. Patience."
A week later, Greg takes the night off and brings Ellie to a swanky restaurant for dinner. After exhausting his supply of stories concerning the infamous and the famous of Old Vegas who had attended the restaurant, Greg grows serious.
"So, as you've probably already realized, I can be overly enthusiastic sometimes, I have some questionable hobbies, I sometimes see the lab more than you, I have fits of pseudo-depression, and I have been called, and I quote, 'weird'. But I love you. A lot."
And Ellie is kind of holding her breath. She might have an idea where this is going and she is kind of inexplicably frozen. Fuck. Then Greg pulls out a tiny, ring-sized box. Logically, she knows what tiny boxes usually mean (she is completely capable of making connections, thank you very much). But for some it's just not processing. This is Greg. And Ellie. Ellie and Greg in all their shining fucked-upedness. He loves her; she knows he does, but she didn't think of this. This is for normal people. This is for people who get fairytale endings.
"I figured I'd go the traditional route- y'know, snazzy restaurant, expensive wine, et cetera. I considered the one knee thing, but I have crappy luck and am likely to trip a waiter, sending him flying into that nice elderly couple a few tables away. So, what I'm trying to say is, will you say yes to being stuck with me for a prolonged period of time? And by prolonged I mean forever and a day."
There is a stretch of silence that prompts Greg to begin absently drumming his fingers on the tabletop. At some point during his little speech (Greg will later insist that it was not rehearsed in the slightest despite Ellie's doubt) Greg had opened the tiny box to reveal a classy ring of white gold sprinkled with small diamonds. It caught the light and sparkled just like Ellie's eyes had in the lights of the club where they first met up after her return.
Ellie thinks of the man in Illinois, of Cinderella, of childhood dreams wrought from princesses and Happily Ever After's. Ellie looks at Greg in his nice suit (because her boy has fashion sense) with his nice smile and thinks of Prince Charming.
"Of course, you freak." Ellie says weakly. Then she grins and it's Greg's turn to freeze because she is so, so beautiful. Ellie's hand slides across the table and clasps Greg's. Greg smiles wide, wide, wide.
"Told you I wouldn't let you escape."
"Yeah, yeah. Just gimme my ring."
The next day, Greg arranges to have the following week off. At some point during the week a dress mysteriously appears in the closet. Greg flails around for a while, a moment or two of panic hitting him suddenly, before calling Pete. He was Pete's best man and Pete's best friend and Pete is married, so he has to know.
"Hey, Greg. How are you?"
"I don't know what to wear."
Pete wrangles the story out of Greg of what exactly is going on. He then proceeds to direct Greg to rent a tux "or at the very least a nice suit. Man, come on." Once Greg reminds himself that yes, he actually can pick out his own clothes and possesses some level of fashion awareness ("I can totally accessorize, dude. Totally.") he calms enough to realize that someone else knows. Someone else knows that Greg Sanders has found The Girl and somehow tricked her into marrying him. He is engaged. Officially. It's awesome. Pete is a good friend and only laughs warmly when Greg begins to gush shamelessly.
The week flies by and soon Greg and Ellie fly out to San Gabriel because that's where Greg is from, it remains home even after Vegas has become home.
Ellie wants to get married in a Church.
"I know you're not Catholic, but--" Ellie says with stilted words and stops. She doesn't say, "it would mean a lot to me."
"Okay." He agrees easily.
Greg googles churches in the area and is lucky enough to find one that he can book on such short notice.
Ellie doesn't call her script-writer friend from Illinois or her coworker friend from Colorado or her mother. Greg doesn't call Peter or Archie or his parents. They don't invite anyone to the wedding because this is something just for them. This is only theirs.
Greg and Ellie get married in a small church surrounded by sunbeams colored by stained glass. Ellie wears a dress that is tinged blue and carries a small bouquet of blue and violet forget-me-nots. Greg smiles the whole time- while Ellie walks down the isle, during the priest's words, even through the kiss.
The couple rents a hotel room and spends the week lounging and wandering around the city. Ellie laughs constantly and Greg doesn't mind having his picture taken over and over.
On their last day in San Gabriel, they go to visit Greg's parents. They're welcoming and polite and then Greg's father notices the rings.
"When was this?" his father asks, staring at the rings. His mother frowns when she realizes she wasn't invited to her baby's wedding.
"Just this week." Greg shifts uncomfortably. "It wasn't—we didn't invite anyone."
Greg's mother frowns some more before sighing deeply and standing. "I'm going to bake a cake."
Ellie squeezes Greg's hand. She doesn't know why, but she wants his parents to like her. She doesn't want their marriage to cause a rift.
"No. No, hey. It's fine. She bakes cakes. It's just what she does. If it were lemon bars, we would be screwed." Greg soothes. His father nods sagely.
Greg's mother spends the visit questioning (interrogating, the CSI insists) the couple and trying to push more cake at Ellie.
As they're leaving, Greg's mother grabs Ellie into a hug and whispers so only she can hear, "Take care of my baby."
"I will," Ellie promises with her eyes.
The Monday they get back, Greg pulls a Warrick and comes into work wearing a wedding ring. Ellie had called her mother and Brass the night before. Greg is kind of waiting for a confrontation of some sort and tries not to dwell on the fact that Brass could very easily take him in a fight.
In the end, Brass doesn't confront him and the most Greg has to deal with are some raised eyebrows and shocked congratulations.
Greg is still jagged around the edges. He has fits of self-destruction that are continually lessening. Sometimes he will dream of dead eyes and the slick feel of blood on his hands.
Ellie still has moments where she hates her father. She still protects herself with a biting tongue and, in times of weakness, wishes for the freedom brought by the numbness spreading vein by vein. When Greg looks into her eyes, at times he will see the emotions she has learnt to reign in. Ellie had a lot of anger boiling under the surface for a long time. Greg remembers from before she left that last time. She was still angry and confused and hurt, hurt, hurt. Then she left and she mellowed out and found answers. Now, what remains is mostly bitterness, which isn't nearly as volatile.
Greg knows everyone at the lab wonders how he ended up with Ellie. He knows most of his fellow CSIs still think he is being played. He also knows that as time passes they're going to stop worrying, they're going to remember the world isn't always as cynical as their job makes it seem.
Greg watches Ellie as she tinkers with her camera and changes angles, trying to achieve the perfect shot of the sunrise.
"I thought you didn't like taking pictures of scenery."
"I'm not. I'm taking a picture of the moment."
"Aw, you're such a softie underneath that hardcore exterior. Capturing the emotion, the passion, the love."
"Yes," Ellie intones sarcastically, "I'm capturing our love on camera."
"Epic love," Greg reminds. "Epic."
"You're such a freak." Smile. Click.
Author's Note: (1) Song is "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" by The Ramones.