Disclaimer: CSI: isn't mine.
For all other disclaimers and warnings please see the Author's Note at the beginning of Chapter 1.
A few weeks after the trial that never actually happened, Nick, Warrick and Greg were gathered as usual to receive their assignments from Catherine. She was a little late arriving, but when she did appear it was easy to see why. She was accompanied by Grissom, and Jim Brass was following close behind.
"Hey, Boss, we wondered when you were coming back!"
"You've finally decided you feel up to joining us?"
"What took you so long?"
Grissom blinked a few times and dropped into the chair nearest the door at the onslaught of welcome from his friends.
"Well, it's nice to know that this lot are so anxious to get me out of the supervisor's chair." Catherine quipped, trying to give Grissom some breathing space as she seated herself beside him. Realising that Grissom wasn't in the market for hugs and back slapping the team resumed their own seats too. Only Jim stayed standing, a supportive presence behind Gil's left shoulder.
With peace restored to the room Grissom finally began to talk. Not looking up he gazed intently at his own hands while he spoke.
"I'd like to take this chance to thank you all. I know some of you had your doubts about me at first, but you all came through for me in the end. I want you to know that I have no hard feelings for the former and will always be grateful for what you all did to prove my innocence and finally put Vincent Lurie where he belongs."
Nick decided he should be the first to respond.
"We really should have done more for you, or at least started sooner. I know I was the worst of your doubters, I hope you'll give me the chance to make up for it, now you're coming back."
"You've already done that, Nick, and... And I'm not sure I will be coming back."
Jim stepped forward and laid a hand on Gil's shoulder, he knew how difficult this announcement was for his friend, but Grissom had forced himself to do it. After Sara he knew for himself just how it felt when someone you cared about just disappeared without taking the time to tell you to your face and there was no way he was going to do that to the people in this room.
Even Catherine was shocked by this statement.
"But Ecklie said you'd accepted the offer to give you your job back."
The others nodded, they had all seen the press coverage of the Sheriff's admission that he'd asked his equivalent in Henderson to encourage the detectives investigating Laura McCain's murder to arrest Grissom as quickly as possible, hoping to reduce any scandal to a minimum. He now acknowledged that his actions may have prejudiced the initial investigation and explained why so much of the evidence implicating Vincent Lurie had been missed at first. The Sheriff had declared that, because of this, he was going to make an exception to the rule that any CSI who was arrested would automatically lose their job. An 'undisclosed amount' of compensation was also mentioned, but the general consensus appeared to be that the Sheriff would be wise not to stand for re-election, he certainly wasn't expected to win after admitting to meddling like that.
"I did that on my lawyer's advice," Grissom admitted, "by accepting the offer the department has to cover my medical expenses for the time being and I keep my options open for a while longer. I don't imagine that that will make a lot of difference though. I'm sorry, guys, but after all I've gone through, I don't see how I can go back to my old job ever again."
Suppressed sounds of negation and disbelief echoed around the table.
With Brass' strong hand now squeezing his shoulder, Grissom finally found the courage to look up and meet his friends' eyes. For the first time the people gathered in the room realised that, despite the intervening weeks, their friend was still nowhere near his old self. Of course they didn't expect his hair to suddenly grow darker again, not without artificial help, anyway. Putting the weight he'd lost back on over such a short time would have been pretty unhealthy, so they hadn't expected that either, although Catherine would have liked to have seen more progress. Grissom just looked so damned tired and his whole demeanour lacked the intensity and certainty of purpose that had been there before.
"I've always known that mistakes are possible in this job. No-one can be perfect all the time, but I've always persuaded myself that those errors are few and far between. Now that I know what it's like to be one of those mistakes, how can I possibly go on without constantly second guessing myself, wondering if I'm about to put another innocent man through Hell. Maybe there's sense to the automatic dismissal rule, even for those who are eventually exonerated, maybe, once you pass a certain point, you can never get your objectivity back."
Grissom paused to take another breath and run his hands through his whitening hair, which was now long enough to be back in its customary style.
"By choice I've been continuing with the psychiatric sessions that I was originally required to go to as a bail condition, but I'm not making the progress I should, I need something more and I need it to be away from here. I've arranged some residential treatment out of state and Jim has volunteered to drive me up and make sure I get there. I'm going to be pretty much incommunicado, at least at first, so I have to ask you guys not to try and reach me for a while. I don't want you to worry though, so Jim will keep you up to date about how things are going and pass on any messages when I'm ready for that."
The team felt shivers going down their spines. Grissom had always made a point that mental illness should not be subject to any more stigma than physical illness, but it still felt very strange to hear him discussing his own difficulties in that respect.
"But, you will be coming back, won't you? I can see your problem with the job, but that doesn't mean you have to leave town altogether does it?"
"It's OK, Greg. I have every intention of coming back. I'm in no state to make serious long term decisions right now. I'll still be coming back to Las Vegas, my house, my dog, and even you guys. Even if I decide not to go back to work the compensation is enough that I can take a while to think and look at my alternatives and see what else this town might have to offer me before I think about abandoning it and you guys permanently."
He sighed, until the enforced separation from both his work and his life that he had just gone through he had thought of them as one and the same and would probably have decided that leaving the lab did mean leaving Vegas too, just as Sara also seemed to have come to that conclusion.
"So make sure you make good notes at that entomology seminar I hear you're attending next week." He continued, looking at Greg and producing his best semblance of a cheerful smile. "I'll want to take a look when I get back and see what you've done. Whatever my decision about this place I'll be happy to mentor you, or anyone else, in my free time." His smile became more genuine as he took in the three men sitting around the table once more. "I believe I have some reputation for training good CSIs, and we can't let that slip can we?"
With that and a nod accompanied with a smile of apology to Cath for leaving her uncertain about whether her current promotion was permanent or not, Grissom left the room, leaving Jim to field any questions as they had previously arranged. Jim made sure he was positioned between the CSIs and the door to make it clear that Grissom was not to be followed.
Gil headed along a path he'd already planned in his head, wanting to avoid as many people as possible on his way out through a side door to where Jim's car was parked. There was one call he did want to make on the way though.
Slipping quickly into the trace lab he found a spot to stand where he would not be easily recognised looking through the glass walls from the corridor before greeting Hodges quietly.
Hodges face split into a rare true smile. He'd heard rumours that Grissom was in the building, but when he heard that the CSIs were taking longer than usual to leave the conference room and head out for their assignments he'd assumed that Gil wasn't going to bother with the rest of them.
"How are you doing? He asked, genuinely concerned.
"I've been considerably better." Grissom answered with a half smile. "I'm glad I managed to catch you alone. The CSIs were as big a group as I could manage to face in one go and I'm hoping Catherine will pass what I've told them on to the rest of Graveyard in a way that will prevent any hard feelings." He paused for a moment shuffling a little uncomfortably. Reaching into his jacket's inside pocket he withdrew a small pamphlet, staring down at it for a moment almost as though he hadn't already read it he continued.
"I'm going away to this place for a while. I hope it will help me deal with a few things and finally help me throw off the depression that made all this so much harder to cope with."
He offered the folded paper to Hodges, who received it with a look of puzzlement on his face.
"The Asylum?" the trace tech. read aloud.
"Yeah, it's kind of a pun. The reason mental hospitals became known as asylums in the first place was that, for those who could afford private treatment at least, they were meant to be places of shelter from the stresses of the outside world, places of safety away from the things that the sick person couldn't cope with. This place tries to get back to that. When you first arrive all they do is enough to make sure that you aren't going to cause any harm to yourself or others. If not they just step back, check you're OK from time to time and eating properly and let you rest without having to worry about day to day stuff or anything to do with the outside world. There's always someone around though if you feel you need help. Then, when you feel ready, there are plenty of treatment options available and they help you choose the ones that will be of most help to you as an individual and you go at your own pace. After the prison regime it sounds like just what I need.
"Anyway, the thing is..." he hesitated, about to make a personal request, not something he would normally do. David tried to look encouraging.
"As part of the initial 'rest' phase the 'Asylum' suggests I choose just two people to know where I am, friends I can rely on to write and call but not force the outside world in on me until I say I'm ready. Jim is one of them. I'd like you to be the other."
Now it was David's turn to stare at the pamphlet while trying to get his thoughts in order.
"If you don't feel you can..."
"No, no, I'd be honoured, I'm just surprised."
"Why? Your visits to me at the prison made so much difference, David. I'd really like that support to continue, if you're willing."
Hodges pressed his lips together dealing with the emotions he was feeling. He nodded spasmodically.
"Of course I'll do it; and I won't even brag about it to the other guys either." David glanced quickly at Grissom, hoping that his friend had taken the rare joke at his own expense the way it was intended.
He had, a brief glitter of amusement brightened Gil's blue eyes.
"I know you won't. To make it easier, as far as the team is concerned, only Brass knows where I'll be, so they won't think to put any pressure on you." He reached to pat Hodges awkwardly on the shoulder to show his thanks. "Speaking of Brass, I'd better get a move on before he runs out of delaying tactics and people start escaping from the conference room to come and find me."
Sitting in Jim's car a few moments later Grissom closed his eyes and thought about what he hadn't told anyone. The reason he'd known about 'The Asylum' and its unusual approach to mental health was that Sara had stayed there for a while after she'd left Vegas. She hadn't chosen him as one of the people allowed to contact her while she was there and he understood why, but she had called him after she'd left, and told him what a good start to her journey she felt it had helped her make. It's complete lack of similarity to the hospitals she'd seen her Mother in or the one where Adam Trent had held her hostage seemed to have made it easier for her. If asked that was also Grissom's reason for choosing the place, but there was another.
Sara was no longer there and there was no way that 'The Asylum' would give away information regarding former patients, but they did encourage people to revisit the facility for a short top up period of rest whenever they felt the need. Maybe Sara would decide to take one while he was there.
Grissom smiled to himself. It was a very small hope, he knew, but after so long without any hope at all it was a very good feeling to have.
A/N Believe it or not, this is the ending I always intended this story to have. It was in my head long before Gary Dourdan and William Petersen's departures from the show were announced or any of the shows produced after the writer's strike were shown. I decided to stick with my original intention as the only alternative ending I had came from a nightmare and would have included a character death. I really didn't want to write that one.
So, that's it. Thanks for all the reviews and good wishes that have got me through this long piece, they have all been appreciated even if I haven't always responded.