Chapter 12: Party Favors
"Just like old times, huh?" Nick said while fishing in his locker for a fresh shirt. Clothed in just pants, his bare back was still dotted with water from the shower. He found a shirt and pulled it fashionably over his tanned and chiseled torso.
"Yea, it's been a while since I swam in the sewers of Las Vegas. We should do this more often." Greg joked while sitting on the bench trying to slide a pair of jeans onto his narrow frame. He stood up and buttoned his fly.
"That's true." Nick laughed.
Nick and Greg were assigned a case involving a decayed body clogging the gutters behind the Casino Royale. After carefully removing the body from the gutter, Nick and Greg continued their investigation of the crime scene. Along with the help of the department of sanitation, Nick and Greg gained access to the sewers through a city manhole.
Even with the protection of jumpsuits and rubber accessories, they still couldn't get the stench off their skin. When they finally made it back to the crime lab, no one came within two feet of them because of the smell. People made faces and held their noses when Nick and Greg passed by to the locker rooms.
Nick would say back to the people in a very convincing tone, "What?! I don't smell anything." And this cracked Greg up.
Upon entering the locker room, they gladly shed their filthy jumpsuits and placed them in the biohazard bins in the corner. Someone will eventually take the contents away to be cleaned and sterilized. Even after the jumpsuits were removed, they couldn't get rid of the odor. Apparently, the stubborn smell had absorbed into their hair and clothes. So, they showered and thoroughly lathered themselves with as much soap and shampoo as they possibly could.
Greg dried his upper body and hair off with a towel. While searching for a shirt in his locker, he felt the weight of Nick's eyes on him. Although Greg refused to look in Nick's direction, he knew Nick was staring at the scar. There was nothing Greg could do about the scar. It served as a permanent reminder of how lucky he was to have survived a gunshot wound that nearly killed him.
It was bad enough that Nick completely outshined him when it came to physical fitness. Nick had the body of a Greek God and a six pack so tight that one could bounce a quarter off of it. Greg was rather envious of his friend's perfectly chiseled body. In comparison, Greg considered himself more of a stick figure. But that was most due to the fact that he'd lost a tremendous amount of weight in the aftermath of being shot. He'd been struggling to get his health back ever since. Embarrassed by his gaunt frame, Greg quickly put on a t-shirt.
Nick caught sight of a small bottle placed on the top shelf of Greg's locker. It appeared to be some sort of prescription drug. There was a white sticker label with words on it but they were too small for Nick to read from where he stood. He thought it odd that Greg should be taking any form of medication at this stage. Many months have passed since the release from the hospital and Greg should not be reliant on drugs anymore. The wound should've healed and the pain should be gone.
Drug addiction was a serious subject for Nick. He'd been addicted to codeine while dealing with his injuries. It was not something that was easy to shake. He remembered how rough it was to get over the addiction. Seeing Greg pop pills like he was popping candy really made Nick uncomfortable and gave him all the more reason to worry. He didn't want Greg to have to go through the same thing he went through.
"What's this?" Nick said as he swiped the bottle off the shelf without giving Greg a chance to stop him.
"Hey! Give it back!" Greg demanded. He made several attempts to grab the container from Nick.
"Benzodiazepine?" Nick sounded surprised. It wasn't what he'd expect to read off the label.
"Come on. Quit joking around. It's not funny. Give it back." Greg insisted.
"Greg, why are you taking benzodiazepine?" Nick asked with a serious look on his face.
"None of your business. Now give it." Greg said impishly. He held out his hand.
"Benzodiazepine is an anti-anxiety drug. Greg, what's going on?" Nick said.
"I have problems." Greg retorted. He meant it as a joke but realized that Nick was dead serious and not in the mood for antics or smart-ass replies.
"I'm not giving it back until you explain." Nick pried.
Greg should have known he couldn't keep this secret from his friends forever. "I didn't tell anyone because I didn't want anyone to worry."
"What's this about?" Nick pressed.
"I've been going through a very difficult time lately – depression, anxiety, just about everything." Greg said gloomily. He sighed heavily and confessed. "Grissom gave me the name of a good private psychiatrist and I've been going there three times a week for the past two weeks – Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays."
"That's great!" Nick said excitedly. "A step in the right direction."
"In addition to the therapy, he prescribed me a small dose of Benzodiazepine to help with the anxiety. So that I don't freak out like I did last time, remember?" Greg said.
"As I recall, you nearly gave me a black eye." Nick reminisced humorously. He said and tossed the bottle back to Greg, who caught it with his right hand.
"Geez, you're always getting into my stuff." Greg muttered irritably as he tucked the small bottle of pills back into his pocket. "What can I say? I was a danger to everyone, including myself." He didn't mean to let that last part slip.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Nick grew serious.
"Er – nothing." Greg dismissed uncomfortably. "So, do you think Catherine and Warrick are back yet?" He sat on the bench and pulled up his tube sock.
"Don't change the subject." Nick shot back. "Did something happen?"
Greg remained silent.
"Did you try to – hurt yourself?" Nick took a step closer to Greg.
Greg shrugged. He continued to tie his shoelaces.
"Greg!" Nick gasped. His eyes were big and glossy. He didn't need a verbal answer from because Greg's body language made things pretty obvious. "What'd you do?" Nick almost didn't want to know.
Greg looked up at Nick.
"It's me you're talking to. You can tell me anything." Nick said and took a seat next to Greg.
"Fine. I was gonna take a swan dive off the roof." Greg blurted and pointed towards the ceiling. "But Grissom found me and – and talked me out of it. There, happy now? Now you know. Just don't go blabbing your mouth to everyone about this."
At that moment, Nick felt his heart hit the bottom of his stomach. "Oh my God! How long ago was this?"
"Several weeks - practically ancient history by now." Greg said. "I learned not to be embarrassed by what I did – well, not that muchanyway. My psychiatrist said I need to face the truth and accept it. And I'm trying." He rambled.
As if once wasn't enough, Nick realized he had almost lost his friend - again. Hearing the news made Nick reel with an array of emotion. He felt so many things that he wasn't sure which one to settle on. The selfish rage in him wanted to blast out, "What the fuck were you thinking Greg?! How could you even think about committing suicide!? Don't you give a shit about how broken our lives would be if you'd done that?" Yet his soft, compassionate side wanted to say, "Why Greg? Why? Why was life so horrible that you wanted to end it so badly?"
Nick looked like he was about to cry.
"I'm ok now. Or at least, I'm heading towards ok." Greg offered.
"You tried to kill yourself." Nick gushed in semi-anguish. He was still in shock.
"Maybe if it wasn't for Grissom, I wouldn't still be here today." Greg said in all honesty.
"It's a big secret to be holding onto." Nick couldn't get the picture of Greg throwing himself off the roof of the crime lab.
"If it's any consolation, I haven't thought about suicide since that day." Greg said. "Between the therapy and the drugs, I think I'm doing well."
"Greg, I treat you like family. You know that, right? You're like a surrogate little brother to me." Nick said. "I don't think you understand how much I care about you. I should've known something like this could happen. You haven't been yourself since getting shot."
"Nick…" Greg began.
"You mean a lot to us and I'm not just talking about on the job. You're a part of us just as much as we're a part of you. It would completely crush us if anything happened to you." Nick declared. "I know I should have told you this before but you know me, I've never been real good at pouring out my feelings."
"I'm sorry you guys had to worry so much. I didn't mean for it to go this far. Something in me is not right. I've known it for a while. But I just never wanted to admit it, I guess." Greg said.
"Wish you coulda came to me about it." Nick said. "We're best buds and we look out for each other. It's what we do. You're never alone. Some days can feel like nothing's going right. But I want you to know that you can always count on me. You can come to me – with anything. Ok?"
"Good, now we better hurry up and finish getting dressed." Nick looked at his watch.
With hair still damp, they left the locker room and sauntered up the stairs. They passed the corridor that lead into the hall. The first thing Greg noticed was that the halls were empty. There seemed to be no one around. The night shift had fewer employees than the day shift, but there should be a few people walking around at least. Was this some sort of joke?
The labs were empty but the machines and equipment were still running. An unusual deafening silence resonated throughout the crime lab. Greg wondered what was going on.
"Hey, where is everybody?" Greg asked Nick. "Was there a fire drill we didn't know about?"
"Ha ha, good one Greg. That's funny. Fire drill." Nick mused as they continued walking.
"Er…weren't we supposed to go to the fiber lab to see what those fabric strands we found at the crime scene are?" Greg jogged a little to catch up with Nick's pace.
"Yep." Nick said.
"But we just passed the fiber lab." Greg thumbed behind him.
"We're not goin' there yet." Nick said.
"Oh, then we're going to audio-video." Greg assumed. "Archie's working on the 911 call. He's real quick with these things. Good idea to start with him."
"No, we're not going there either." Nick replied.
"No? Then where are we going?" Greg sounded confused.
"You'll see." Nick said.
"Nick, what's going on?" Greg finally said.
Nick stopped in his tracks and faced Greg. "Ok, I'll tell you what's going on. Keep in mind that I'm only telling you in advance because I know you're on edge and a little sensitive to loud and sudden noises. It may ruin the fun but the last thing I want is for you to spaz out on me."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Greg said in a perplexed tone.
"There's a surprise party waiting for you in the lounge. Well, not much of a surprise now, since you know about it, but still, it's a party."
"What? A party for me? Why?" Greg gasped in astonishment. "What's this mean? I don't need a party."
"I always knew you were more of a wall-flower than the life of a party." Nick laughed.
"If you think this is some sort of secret way to discourage me from harming myself – I hate to tell you this, but it doesn't work that way." Greg stammered.
"Relax. It's not about that at all. Besides, we had this party planned for a while now – just didn't have time to put it together." Nick said. "We know you don't like to be put on the spot, but we want to show you how important you are to us."
"Ok but a party is a bit overboard, don't you think?"
"When you were hanging on by a thread, we spent a lot of time by your bedside just thinking. Me, Grissom, Warrick and Catherine, we sat there watching you sleep. All of us realized something during that time. Our friendships are so strong that we've surpassed the concept of just co-workers. We're family. We love and care about each other way too much." Nick confessed. "We couldn't bear the thought of losing you."
Greg was a little stunned by the sudden display of honesty and affection. He didn't know what to say or how to react.
"Come on, it's nothing extravagant - just a little get together among good friends and some food." Nick said while patting Greg on the back. "There's cake." He enticed, as if that would be the very incentive to change Greg's mind about a party.
"You guys really didn't have to go through so much trouble on account of me." Greg finally found his voice.
"We haven't." Nick said. "Look, its ok. You may be the star of the show but you can stay behind the curtains if you like."
"It just feels weird." Greg said.
"Don't worry, I promise you won't have to wear a party hat." Nick laughed.
"Gee thanks." Greg sighed.
They continued to walk down the hall and turned the corner. Greg could see through the window that the lights in the lounge were on and there were about thirty or so people scattered around the room. A soft hum of conversation and a few jovial laughs erupted among the attendees. Greg noticed the tables were removed from the center of the room and placed against the wall. The room looked twice as big. Atop the red and white checkered table cloth, an array of hot and cold food was laid out elegantly on big platters. Paper plates, cups, napkins, utensils and other condiments were neatly organized at the end of one table.
Nick and Greg were greeted by smiles upon entering the room. Greg was then flooded with handshakes, hugs, and kind words from other employees and lab technicians. Even the small talk seemed a bit overwhelming for Greg. He was not used to getting so much attention.
With a cup of ginger ale in her hands, Catherine sashayed across the room and came to a stop in front of Nick and Greg.
"Mmm, very good Nicky. You smell like sunshine." Catherine jested as she sniffed at Nick.
"Oh, ha." Nick said with a smirk.
"We were wondering what was taking you guys so long." Warrick said as he made his way over.
"Hey, why don't you take a dip in sewer water and see how long it takes you to get the smell out." Nick threw back. Warrick raised his cup in a mock toast and laughed.
"How ya doin'?" Warrick shot at Greg.
"Ok." Greg replied uncomfortably. "Er…nice party." He managed to say.
"Yea. We've had office parties before but I think this is the first time everyone attended." Warrick said.
Greg looked around and it was true. Everyone in the night shift showed up, right down to the assistants and interns. He couldn't think of one person that was missing.
"See, there are that many people who respect and appreciate you, Greg." Catherine said and took a sip of her drink.
Greg scanned the room for Grissom and spotted him near the window engulfed in conversation with another supervisor. Knowing Grissom, it was probably work-related.
"We had to revise the whole idea of a surprise party for you." Warrick said. "We had to take the surprise out of the surprise."
"Yea, imagine all of us hiding in the dark and yelling "surprise" at you when you came in." Catherine said.
"It wouldn't have been a pretty sight." Greg patted his chest. "Not good for the heart at all."
"Definitely not for someone who has been through what you have been through." Nick said.
"I'm glad you gave me a warning." Greg said.
Grissom finally came over and greeted Greg with a smile. He could tell Greg was rather uncomfortable about having a party done in his honor but this was long overdue. Greg had always been an important member of the "family." He needed to see that.
"Surprise!" Grissom said cheerfully.
"Ah, so now I know why Catherine and Warrick got the crispy critter at the country club and we got stuck with the swamp thing in the sewers behind the Casino Royale." Greg said.
"Well, we needed time to set up." Grissom said innocently.
"Hey Greg, you hungry?" Nick said as his attention diverted to the food on the table. "I don't know about you but pulling that body out of the gutter has worked me up an appetite." He tugged Greg over to the food.
"Wow, this must've been one hefty price tag." Greg mumbled as he took a plate.
He stared at the endless platters of all sorts of gourmet food. He saw a variety of sandwiches, salads, and fruit. On the next table had everything from fried chicken to barbequed ribs to grilled vegetables to fancy little stuffed hors d'oeuvres and more. The next table held trays of all sorts of baked goods - tarts, sweet breads, cookies, and other pastries. There was a square cardboard box tied up with a thin pink ribbon on the far end of the table. Greg guessed that to be a cake. And the last table was a beverage station. Everything was organized and garnished with sophistication. The catering really paid off. There seemed to be enough food to feed a small army. Greg thought this must be the reason why everyone showed up – for the food!!
"Tell ya a secret." Nick said as he spooned a helping of potato salad onto his plate. "All this…" He eyed the table. "Ecklie." He licked some mayonnaise that had smeared on his thumb.
"Ecklie?!" Greg gasped a little too loudly. He drew back and nearly dropped his plate. "You mean Conrad Ecklie?" He asked.
"That's the only Ecklie I know. Thank God." Nick said and used the tongs to gather some leafy green salad onto his plate.
"Really?? Ecklie did all this?" Greg still couldn't believe it.
"Hold on." Nick turned to Greg. "Don't give Ecklie all the credit now. They say the department's springing for the tab. All he did was gave clearance for the party to happen." He nodded to Grissom, who was busy talking to some other people. "I suspect this whole thing was Grissom's idea. He won't fess up to it but we kinda know."
It was typical of Grissom to do this for Greg. But Ecklie? Ecklie was so tight on the department budget that he wouldn't even consent to allowing expenses for an extra box of latex gloves unless they truly needed it. Ecklie was never seen as the compassionate type. He was a puzzle. No one could figure him out. Everyone was convinced that Ecklie had a heart of stone especially since he became the Assistant Director of the Crime Lab. He used his power to demote and spite people simply because he could. Basically, he was being a real son of a bitch.
But oddly enough, when times were critical, Ecklie managed to set all the differences aside and gathered all the resources needed to get the job done. Although he proved himself worthy of this when Nick was kidnapped and buried alive, he had his pompous bureaucratic ways of denying his involvement. Ecklie was believed to be the type of person who didn't care about others – particularly Grissom's close knit team. He was in it only for himself and whatever benefits he could gain from it.
Greg was a little shocked at Ecklie's sense of humanity. Perhaps he was not completely evil. If the Grinch was able to become whole-hearted and loving, maybe there was hope for Ecklie yet! Grissom must've twisted his arm behind his back for this little piece of luxury.
"Where did the department get the money? I thought we were in a recession. We can't afford this." Greg said in a near whisper. His eyes wandered around the slivers of sandwiches and settled on roast beef.
"If you ask me, I don't think this came out of the department. The department doesn't have deep enough pockets." Nick said. "Ecklie wouldn't touch the budget. We're lucky to be granted the time to have this party. He's usually the one cracking the whip behind us. You know how he is about slackers." He reached for the herb roasted lamb chops and grilled vegetables.
"Then who?" Greg said. He studied Nick's face for a minute. "No way!!! Grissom?" His voice gasped.
Nick didn't have to give an answer. The look in his eyes was all the confirmation Greg needed. "Let's not jump to conclusions here. I'm not a hundred percent sure." Nick replied. A few other people came to the table to get some food. Nick lowered his voice and leaned towards Greg. "I heard things from people – office gossip. I don't think he wants anyone to know."
Grissom hated being in the spotlight as much as Greg. He would rather anonymously foot the bill and let people guess then claim recognition for his generosity. Greg admired and respected Grissom for his noble ways.
"Come on Greggo, don't be shy. Dig in. You've been eating like a mouse lately. How else are you going to beef up?" Nick slightly flexed his biceps. "You're going to have to do better than that little sandwich." He nodded towards Greg's bare plate.
Greg followed Nick's lead and took some potato salad followed by some lamb chop. Aside from spicy Mexican food, he had an extreme weakness for buffalo wings. He could smell it a mile away. And at that moment, his nose did not fail him. Like as if by magic, a big aluminum tray brimming with buffalo wings stood on the table. Thin steam wisped from the perfect gold colored buffalo wings and filled the air with a mixture of spices. He had never seen so many buffalo wings stacked in one tray. He never told anyone it was one of his favorites. But someone obviously knew. He stared at the tray for a few seconds before placing half a dozen buffalo wings and a big dab of blue cheese dressing on his plate.
When they were done collecting food from the buffet tables, they headed back to the rear of the lounge and found a place to sit. Nick's plate had been filled to the top leaving no empty spaces. Greg had forgotten how hungry he was. The food was good and quickly devoured.
Everyone in the room were either talking or eating. There was a lot of conversation and laughing. It was probably the first time in years that the whole night shift got together for a meal. Greg, who was standing near Catherine, caught a glimpse of Grissom. Grissom was by himself leaning his back against the counter in the far end of the room. He had his arms crossed and watched everyone. Greg noticed a hint of a smile creeping across Grissom's face. The salt and pepper beard hid it well. It was a contented smile of approval like as if he was quite pleased with himself.
Greg's attention was suddenly stolen by Archie and Henry, who came over to shoot the breeze. Caught in a tumult of goofing and jokes, Greg didn't realize that Grissom had moved to the front of the room.
"Everyone, may I please have your attention?" Grissom called. He had a cup of soda in his hands. The chatter eventually died down and heads turned around.
"Greg? Can you come here for a minute?" Grissom asked. Greg immerged from behind his group of friends looking more frightened than a chicken entering a slaughter house.
"Grissom, is this really necessary?" Greg whispered.
"It'll be fine, Greg." Grissom spoke softly. The other people gathered around circling Grissom and Greg. Grissom took an extra cup of soda and placed it in Greg's hands.
"As supervisor of the night shift, I want to take this moment to thank all of you for coming. In our busy schedules, the opportunity to have a meal together like this is very rare." Grissom paused. "But tonight, we finally get to match names to the faces of those we work with instead of hiding behind computer screens and talking through email." He said wistfully. A few giggles erupted somewhere in the clump of personnel.
"Often times, we forget how much we rely on each other to get things done. We are a team - working towards one goal. We strive to bring justice and make a difference in people's lives." Grissom said. "Here at the lab, it is the power and ability of the people with different areas of expertise that make a case solvable. No matter how great or small, everyone contributes. If you really think about it, we are each other's support. I don't want any of you to forget that. We're in this together."
Grissom glanced briefly at Greg then continued. "Sometimes it takes a great life changing event to make someone realize how they take certain things for granted. It's true what they say – you never know what you treasure most until it's gone. I'm sure all of you are aware of what happened to Greg here. Besides Nick, I'd say he's been through more than any of us can ever imagine. And I must admit that in the past, we've all been extremely tough on him. I hope he won't take it too personal."
Greg could feel the tips of his ears burn in a bright shade of red. Dozens of eyes were suddenly on him.
"Most of you know Greg from his old lab days. And if you've ever had the opportunity to work with him, you know what I mean when I say he's a thoroughbred among mutts. We're used to giving him evidence bag after evidence bag to process. We've worked him like a machine. But he's always come through for us. I have to admit that some of us are slow at showing how much we appreciate his efficiency."
Greg blushed at the compliment and stared at the floor to avoid eye contact.
"Coming so close to losing this valuable member of the team, really opened my eyes. In reflection, I have come to appreciate Greg for who he is and what he means to our team. This party was done in Greg's honor. But I want you all to know that your functions here are important. I am glad we got finally got a chance to gather during this occasion. Have a good meal and enjoy each other's company."
Grissom cleared his throat. The seriousness in his tone left his voice and he offered a smile. "With that being said, I would like to make a toast." He raised his cup. "Here's to Greg. We're glad he's a part of our dynamic team. And may all of us continue to put our best foot forward." Everyone chimed in agreement and raised their cups and soda cans in the air.
After the cake, the party started to dissipate and people trickled back into their posts. Warrick and Nick took refuge on the sofa chairs in the rear of the room as they digested their meal by laughing off at jokes. Catherine was standing outside of the room with a cell phone huddled in her ear. No doubt she was checking up on Lindsay. Grissom and Greg stood side by side next to the refrigerator watching the people leave the room in such a cheery manner. The noise had died down with the exception of a few lingering persons fishing at the leftovers.
"It wasn't Ecklie." Greg broke the silence between him and Grissom.
"What do you mean?" Grissom said.
"I mean, this whole party was your idea. It was all you. You paid for everything." Greg said. "Ecklie may have given the green light to conduct a party, but this had nothing to do with him."
"Whatever gave you that idea?" Grissom said curiously.
"Well, the abundance of buffalo wings kind of gave it away." Greg grinned. "There's really only one person who knows I like buffalo wings and that's my mom. I don't remember ever telling anyone else. And I do know you keep in touch with my mom. I'm guessing she must've mentioned it somewhere along the way. Moms are always doing that – talking about their kids."
"Very clever." Grissom hid the smile that was already forming on his lips.
"No, I just pay attention." Greg said while tracing Grissom's words.
"That sounds like something I would say." Grissom retorted with a raised eyebrow.
"Learned it from the best." Greg said. They chuckled lightly.
"Hey Grissom?" Greg said after a pause.
"Thanks." Greg said. "For everything."
"Don't mention it."
"No one's ever done anything like this for me."
"You deserve it."
Tears were building behind Greg's dark brown eyes as he looked at Grissom. He was touched by the affection that his supervisor had shown. He looked away when Grissom caught his stare. Greg didn't want Grissom to see the tears in his eyes.
"It's a new beginning, Greg. Things are gonna be ok. You'll see." Grissom said with conviction in his voice.
"Thank you." Greg choked. "I won't let you down."
The End? Or is this The Beginning?
Author's Note: Thank you for following my story!! This is the last chapter to Bad Timing. Hope you have enjoyed it! I'm working on a new one and will post soon!