Disclaimer: Characters contained within do not belong to me.
Author's Notes: I feel a little rusty at this, but I have so missed the post-ep writing frenzy. I just hope I wrote something worth your time. Thank you for stopping by to read it.
The Other Side
by Kristen Elizabeth
One day where I didn't die a thousand times,
Where I could satisfy this life of mine.
One day where every hour could by a joy to me,
And live a life the way it's meant to be.
"Fight for me, Warrick! No, come on…"
If I'd had a choice, those wouldn't have been the last words my ears ever heard. I'd always wanted to hear something more along the lines of, "That was great, baby. Can your heart take another round?" spoken by a gorgeous woman who was young enough to be my granddaughter.
But if those had to be the last words, at least they came from a friend, a mentor…the only father figure I'd ever really known.
There was so much I wanted to tell him, but all that came up was blood. I was choking on it, losing it so fast that I could literally feel myself draining away. He was holding on so tight, but it was too late. Although I tried to fight it up until the very last second, I couldn't keep my eyes from closing.
A body lay on the autopsy table, covered in a bloody sheet. Warrick frowned. What case was this? Where was Doc Robbins? Why did the section of hair sticking out look so familiar? He reached out, slowly grasping the sheet, preparing to pull it down.
"I wouldn't do that."
With his fingers still curled around the stained fabric, Warrick looked up. A young woman stood on the other side of the table, looking down at the covered body. When she glanced up, he dropped the sheet.
"Holly?" He blinked. "Holly Gribbs?"
Her smile was too bright for the morgue. "You remember me."
"Of course I…" Warrick stopped. His gaze lowered, returning to the body that lay between them. "You're dead," he said after a long, silent minute. "Which means…"
"You didn't make it," Holly said sadly. "I'm sorry."
Warrick swallowed. "This is me?"
"This was you," she corrected him. "It's just a body now."
"It's my body!" He reached for the sheet, but she grabbed his wrist to stop him. Her fingers were like ice against his skin. "I have to see."
Holly tilted her head to one side, her short curls spilling onto her shoulder. "Do you remember the last time you looked in a mirror?"
He thought back, his eyes moving from side to side rapidly. Getting dressed for work the day of Gedda's murder. Glancing in the dresser mirror. A quick look down at the picture of his family. A mental note to send Sara an email.
"Yeah," he finally said. "I do."
"Let that be your memory of yourself," Holly advised. "Not what's under that sheet."
Warrick ran his hand down his face and around the back of his neck. He paused with his hand on the exact spot where a bullet had ripped through his flesh. "I can still feel it."
Holly nodded. "Sometimes I can, too. It gets better though. You start to forget how the bullet burned and the blood pumped out." She paused. "How you fought off the darkness with everything you had left."
"Holly." She blinked out of her reverie and looked at him. "I'm sorry," was all he could say.
"You didn't kill me, Warrick."
"I wasn't there to stop it." He shook his head. "I should have been there. Protected you."
She shrugged. "Maybe you could have bought me some more time. But I wasn't meant to be a CSI. And if it hadn't been that bullet, it would have been another." She smiled, this time without mirth. "Besides…the man who killed me is already paying for it."
"Life sentence." Warrick swore softly. "Should've been the needle."
"He'll be dead in six months," Holly said confidently. When Warrick looked at her, she added, "Full-blown AIDS."
"How do you know that?"
Just then, the morgue doors opened and the day coroner, a man Warrick recognized, but had never really worked with, entered.
Holly nodded towards the exit. "Take a walk with me. Believe me, you do not want to stick around for this."
The coroner turned on the recording device in his earpiece. "Case number 9420573. Subject is an African-American male, 37 years old. Height…"
Warrick looked away just as the coroner pulled down the sheet. "All right," he conceded, concentrating on the far wall of the room. "Where are we going?"
He could only remember two times when the winding halls of the crime lab had been so quiet. But there had been something different in the air when Nick and Sara had been kidnapped. Hope. Faith. The belief that they would be found alive.
Warrick didn't feel that as he and Holly made their way through the lab. All he felt was despair.
"They're mourning for you." Holly stopped in front of the entrance to the AV room. Archie was sitting in front of his bank of computers, staring blankly ahead. "This one right here…he remembers his first day on the job. A convenience store hold-up. One fatality. He managed to clean up a single frame from the surveillance tape, enough to get you a face." She smiled. "You told him he'd do well here."
"He did," Warrick murmured. "He always did." Frowning, he glanced at her. "How are you seeing all of that?"
Holly lifted her shoulder. "It's not hard. All you have to do is look. If you look hard enough, you can see all sorts of things."
"Like…" She stared at Archie for a minute. "He's going to get married in a couple of years. His wife won't be able to have children, so they'll adopt. Eventually he'll leave this job to start his own software company. He'll make a lot of money. And he'll die…"
Warrick held up his hand. "I don't want to know that."
Holly nodded. "Fair enough." She indicated the hallway. "Do you want to keep going?"
"Why? What's the point to all of this? Am I supposed to be saying goodbye or something?" Warrick shook his head. "Are you my guide? Is there going to be a white light soon? Or am I stuck here forever?"
"It's whatever you make of it, Warrick."
"What does that mean?" he demanded.
"Exactly that." Holly put her hand on his arm. "Come on." But Warrick stood still. She sighed. "Look, the answers aren't as simple as you want them to be. You have this time; don't waste it by trying to figure it all out. Even if you could figure it out." She tried to smile. "I'm still working on it myself."
Warrick folded his arms. "Did you know when I was going to die?"
"Yes," she admitted. "You were one of the people I visited."
"You saw my death? In that alley? By that…that bastard?"
Holly nodded. "But more important than your death…I saw your life."
Greg came down the hall just then. His hands were thrust in his pockets and his feet dragged. His face was a stony mask. Warrick watched him walk right past them.
"Just look," Holly encouraged him.
As he stared at his youngest co-worker, images flashed in his mind. Greg in a tux, waiting at the altar for a woman in a white dress. A newborn baby boy cradled in the crook of his arm. That same little boy in a hospital bed only a handful of years later, bald, but bravely clutching his teddy bear. A tiny casket being lowered into the ground.
Warrick shut his eyes, blocking out the images. "Damnit! Greg…"
"Life is going to be very hard on him," Holly said quietly. "But he'll never really lose his smile. He'll always find it again."
"Is this my punishment?" Warrick's eyes flew open. "For what I did to you? For…I don't know…all the gambling. Cheating on girlfriends. Fucking before I was married." He grabbed her shoulders. "What the hell am I doing here?!"
Holly very patiently removed his hands. "This isn't a punishment unless you choose to see it that way." His anguished look made her sigh. "All right. Let me show you something."
There were two people inside Grissom's office and they were holding each other for dear life.
"Sara." Warrick couldn't help but smile. "Girl came back just for me."
"You touched her more than she ever let you know." Holly leaned against the doorframe. "I watched her after my murder. She wanted to throw the book at you."
"She was just doing her job." Warrick watched as Grissom and Sara kissed. "Took her awhile to play nice, though."
Holly nodded. "You had to earn her respect. Just like she had to earn yours." The couple broke apart and moved to sit down in front of Grissom's desk. "The thing you both had in common was him."
"Yeah," Warrick agreed. "Grissom."
"I would have learned so much from him," Holly mused, wistfully.
"At heart, he's a teacher. He taught me so much more than forensics." Just as it had happened with Greg, Warrick began to see flashes of images. One in particular stayed with him. Grissom snoring softly in a reclining chair. A little girl with light brown curls lying on his chest, wetly gumming her fist. Baby drool darkening his shirt. Sara standing beside the chair, biting back laughter.
A wide smile lit up Warrick's face. "He's going to be a great dad."
Holly stepped into the room. "And you get to see it. Look harder. You can see his whole life…their whole life together. It's a bumpy path, sure, but look where it ends up." She paused. "Would you have wanted to move on without getting to see that?"
"He loved you." Sara's statement, spoken with such certainty, caught Warrick's attention.
"Yeah," Grissom said. "I loved him."
Holly looked at Warrick. "Would you have wanted to move on without knowing that?" she quietly added.
Warrick didn't get to reply, as Catherine entered just then. He shook his head while she and Sara hugged. "I don't want to look. Just tell me…will she be happy?"
"She's going to get to hold her grandchildren someday," Holly said with a small smile. "But she'll never forget you. She won't ever stop wondering 'what if?'."
"I need to get out of here." But as he turned to go, Greg entered the room, followed by Nick. All it took was one look at his best friend and Nick's whole life flashed before him. Marriage to Mandy. A son named Warrick. A move back to Texas. Promotion to head of the Dallas crime lab. Grandbabies. Losing Mandy. Losing his memories. Passing away in his sleep painlessly.
Out in the hallway, Warrick slammed his fist against the glass wall, doing no more damage to it than if he'd brushed it with a feather. With both hands braced against the glass, he hung his head, squeezing his eyes shut to block everything out.
Holly came up behind him, standing quietly at his side until he was ready to talk.
After a long time, Warrick spoke, his eyes still closed. "Can you take me to…"
"Open your eyes," she gently ordered. When he did, the lab was gone. They were in a small room with light blue walls. A crib sat in the far corner with a Winnie the Pooh mobile circling lazily over it.
Warrick stood up straight. "Is he…?"
She inclined her head. "Go on."
Eli lay on his back, wide awake, sucking on his pacifier as he stared up at the mobile with his father's eyes. Standing next to the crib, Warrick looked down at his son, the little boy he'd barely known.
He let out a pent-up breath. "He's the most beautiful thing…" Warrick put a hand to his mouth for a long moment. "How did I help make something so…perfect?"
"Because," she said with a simple lift of her shoulders. "You were a good man, Warrick Brown. You saved lives, you put away criminals, you brought peace of mind to so many people. You loved and were loved in return. And…" Holly indicated the baby. "You get to live on through him." She folded her arms tightly. "Not everyone is so lucky."
Warrick reached down into the crib and hesitantly touched his son's tuft of dark hair. At that same moment, Eli waved his arms and kicked his legs, smiling gummily around his pacifier.
"Can he…" Warrick blinked rapidly. "Can he feel me?"
"Maybe." Holly joined him at the crib. "Babies sometimes sense what adults, even children, can't."
As he stroked his son's head, images washed over him. Eli's first, toddling steps. His first day of school. His first kiss. His college graduation. His wedding. His children.
Warrick withdrew his hand. "He won't remember me. Will he?"
"Tina will tell him about you, some of it good, some of it bad. One day, he'll look up Nick Stokes in Texas. And Nick will make sure he knows what kind of man he came from." Holly glanced at him. "Are you ready to go?"
In the crib, Eli's eyelids were drooping. "No. But I probably can't stay, can I?"
She answered him by taking his hand. "Did you believe in heaven while you were alive?"
Warrick took one last look at his sleeping son. "I wanted to."
Holly nodded happily. "That's all it takes."