Disclaimer: Nope, still don't own them.
Summary: Death was not the worst thing that could happen as the team would soon find out. Can they band together to help save one of their own after a case goes horribly wrong?
A/N: Yeah, I started another one. Shouldn't have, but the plot bunny came knocking. More of crashing through the door than knocking actually. Rating may go up in later chapters, haven't decided yet how the story is going to end fully so there is a potential for a character death, additional warnings will go up later in the story if things do change.
Chapter One: We've Been Waiting So Long
He was alive; they had finally found him. But she realized this with a sinking notion. Sinking, because now that they knew he was alive, their worst fears were confirmed. They always had believed that he had been, alive that was. It had been a notion, a belief in the back of their minds. But what they couldn't explain was where, what they couldn't explain was how, and more importantly they couldn't explain why.
That alone was frustrating. The knowledge that they were all scientists, and that the most important case, the most important feature was the very one they could not solve. Time and time again they had come so close to finding him, to figuring it out, only to be led astray, and be left with nothing. Time and time again the wait would go on, the hope would fail, and when all of it was almost lost, a tiniest of hints would reappear.
Through this time, all this time, they had been working, piecing it together. Now they almost had it, but Sara would realize as time went on that things were only beginning. For now…now she didn't care. All she cared about was seeing him, to see with her own eyes what she knew in her heart to be true. Grissom had told her not to come, had told her not to get her hopes up. Things were bad, and they were going to only get worse as they went along. There was still so much to do…but right now, she didn't care…
August 28, 2007
Summer in Vegas; dry heat was a specialty of that. The sun was unforgiving, the air warm, the pavement radiating heat. It was only her second summer here, and already she was looking forwards to winter. New to the job, Amy Darrison had never planned on going on as a detective. Certainly never with the Vegas Department. Their prestigious reputation was daunting, and Amy had expected them to overlook her flimsy application. She had, after all, been kicked from one department to the next. When the job was offered to her, she had said yes without a second thought. Now she was beginning to regret that.
She didn't dislike the job…she just didn't care for the blasted heat. How much longer till winter came? With a breath she forced a smile, nodding towards the man making his way towards her. It was about time. Still, being so new, she didn't recognize everyone yet. She had only been out on field cases for a few months now.
He was dressed in a short-sleeved button-up shirt, a logo of some sort, probably a band she realized. But what got to her more was his hair, sticking up in odd places almost as though he had intended on it being like that. He pulled of his shades as he drew close, extending a hand.
Then she remembered. She had gotten the call earlier that morning when she first responded. Days was behind, so they were sending in someone else. No wonder she hadn't recognized him. "Amy Darrison."
It was the usual, he inquired about the scene, she walked him through. There was light talk between them, both trying to work through the uncomfortableness. He was nervous, but had every right to be. It was his first solo case; Amy could sympathize with him. She knew how it felt to be the new one. A year and a half here…and still she felt as though she was just getting used to everything. If only she knew her time in Vegas would end so soon, maybe she would have been more outgoing, more confident. Maybe then, she would still be alive…
It was unnerving. There was no other way to explain it. He sat there, silent and unmoving, staring straight ahead into nothingness. He didn't even look up, didn't even move, didn't even breathe, it seemed like. Grissom said nothing in response, laying the files down on the table. There were a number of them now, all telling him the same thing. But it was the one thing he didn't believe, the one thing he couldn't believe. Somehow he knew it, in his mind and in his heart that Greg wasn't responsible for all these deaths.
But he couldn't disregard the evidence; he couldn't ignore everything that had happened. They didn't have all the pieces though, and that was something he needed to learn first, before he could understand the gravity of the situation. After all this time, if Greg truly was a victim, Grissom had assumed the man would be happy to see a familiar face. It would prove his innocence.
The other option of course was a look of regret, or one of shame. Something that would indicate his guilt. Grissom had learned to read people over the course of many years, and facial expressions always played a major factor. A killer could be anything from remorseful to smug and arrogant, blatantly sprouting off that the notion had been theirs all along. But Greg…there was nothing. And he really did mean nothing.
No expression, just a blank stare. The color was nearly gone from his face; the light from his eyes had disappeared entirely. It was as though he was a shell, a cloned copy of his former self on auto-pilot and the batteries had died. There was no movement, he was as silent and still as the corpses Grissom had seen many times over. But this was no corpse; this was a living, breathing human.
They weren't the only ones in the room. Brass was there as well; everyone else had been forced out. But they were watching; Grissom knew they were behind the mirror, and he was certain Greg knew it as well. That may have been the reason for his silence. So he waited, assuming then that the man needed a few moments to collect himself. Greg had done this enough times to know how it went. But that had been over a year ago now; maybe he had forgotten. Or maybe he just didn't want to remember.
Being of the science nature Grissom knew that the clues weren't only in the expression. It was about body language as well. That, Greg was giving off vividly. Every part of his body was tense, stiff and unmoving; due to fear, apprehension, worry or a mixture…he couldn't tell for sure. But that wasn't all…Grissom saw them now, as if noticing them for the first time, the deep bruises around his wrists, the same ones that matched his face. Fresh bruises covering the old ones that had faded with time, and then there were the scars…those could not be hidden easily.
"Did those happen during the arrest?"
Greg didn't respond, didn't move, but it was Brass that answered instead. The man's voice was soft and withdrawn, a sharp contrast to the normal tone he used during an interrogation. "No…he didn't resist or struggle, the cuffs weren't even on tight. They were removed shortly after we got him here. He's been like this since."
That had been nearly an hour ago. Greg hadn't said a single word, hadn't given any real reaction. The only real sign of life they had received from him was when they had given him the cup of water. It was protocol with all their suspects, and neither was it anything extravagant. Just plain city water, from the tap in the break room. But Greg had snatched the cup from the officer's hand in one quick motion, refusing to give it up even after all the liquid was gone. Grissom couldn't blame him; the man looked dehydrated. It had been an hour; with no major injuries they hadn't been able to take him to the hospital yet. That would happen soon enough, until then they would have to settle for this. And the sooner they talked, the sooner it would be.
Grissom had cleared his throat, trying to form the words he wanted to say. It was a delicate case, and there were so many questions on his mind. They couldn't charge him with murder; there was no tangible proof, and for that Grissom was thankful. But an accessory to murder…tampering with crime scenes…not only was it possible, but the knowledge felt like someone had socked him in the gut. It was difficult to breathe.
There was no movement, no recognition from the other man at the sound of his voice. Greg stared ahead, lost in thought, lost in time, lost somewhere inside of himself so deeply that it seemed like he couldn't be reached. Grissom wasn't giving up though, not so easily.
"Greg…we can't help you unless you talk."
Still nothing. It was similar to talking to a corpse and waiting for a response. Part of him felt like he should have been. For a while the team had believed the man to be dead; but he wasn't, his existence here disproving that fact sharply. But one could be alive in body, but not in the mind. Where ever Greg had hidden himself, it had been deep, buried under a year of questions, a year of troubles, a year of complications.
It was Brass that had spoken, and it had immediate effect. Greg had actually flinched, had turned away with a heavy breath, as though he had been a small child that was being reprimanded for stealing sweets from the cookie jar before dinner. But there was real fear there, and for Grissom, it almost went unmissed. Somewhere, somehow, Greg had become an expert at masking emotions, his face calming after the short breakthrough, as though nothing had even happened. He was shaking now though, trembling lightly.
Greg had changed completely…Grissom shook his head in sad wonderment. He was just a shell of what he used to be, empty and forgotten. What had happened to him and where had he been all this time?
August 28, 2007
He could still remember the call. After all it wasn't like you received news like this every day. Showing up early for shift had been something he had always done. The rest of the team arrived early by five or ten minutes unless working an active case, so he hadn't assumed anything was wrong. Then the call came in…
It had taken him several long moments to realize what Brass was talking about. Then memory had slammed into him. It had been Greg's case; his solo. Being out in the field for a couple of years now he was overdue for one. Grissom had been meaning to get him started, but time had a funny way of messing things up. Every case was too large, or too high in profile to hand out as a solo, even to an experienced CSI Level Three.
When the case had come in, leaving days short, it had seemed simple enough. Brass had given him the brief rundown, and Grissom had agreed. Greg wasn't particularly happy about receiving the early wake-up call, but he willingly took the case.
Brass hadn't heard much as of then, nothing other than the call that came out for an 'officer down'. Worry and fear had flooded him then, but died down as the man quickly informed him it wasn't Greg. That was the good news…the only good news that night. For Greg…things had been worse. He had completely disappeared.
Normally it was his night off. Nick had gotten the call from Sara first; then from Grissom, then Catherine…by then he had stopped answering his phone. Shortly afterwards he silenced it. There was too much to think about, too much to do, he couldn't waste time talking to everyone in the lab to learn what he already knew. They didn't even have to ask him to come in. He was already there.
So many questions…they came tumbling out of his mouth like a leaky faucet that was threatening to burst. Where? When? Who? More importantly, why? But that's all they were, questions, there were no answers, nothing tangible, and he wasn't talking. Why wouldn't he talk? He was home, they had found him…he was safe.
Then Catherine had asked the question. Greg needed to be processed. Why? Another question. In his mind Greg had been a victim, this entire time. They were friends, had been close; there was no way Greg was responsible. There had to be an explanation. There always had to be an explanation.
Greg had been arrested. That news was shocking; he should have expected it, but it didn't stop him from verbally lashing out at her. Catherine had only been the messenger; she was upset about it as well. An arrest on Greg's record meant he could never work here again…ever. The department had destroyed the man's future without so much as a single thought. They had brought him home…but to what?
Nick agreed, had relented. He wanted to see Greg, had missed the man ever since his departure. Had hoped, had prayed. He could remember his own time, from when he had been taken, from when he had been buried. Nick still had nightmares, but since Greg's disappearance they had only gotten worse. The night terrors had gone from what was, to what could have been, to what could be happening. Yes…he had nightmares about Greg. He felt for him, connected with him on a deeper level.
Seeing him though had produced deeper emotions. A conflict battling inside of him. Part of him wanted to turn and leave, wanted to forget what he was seeing. Another part wanted to race inside, pull the man into a firm embrace and let him know that everything was going to be okay. The long sleepless nights after he emerged from his living coffin had left him longing for such contact, longing to hear the voice that would remind him everything would be alright.
But he could do neither. He couldn't turn away from Greg when the man needed him the most, and any physical contact would destroy possible evidence. Evidence that could help, or even hurt the man in the end. Suddenly Nick didn't feel so confident; what if the evidence was against him? What if the trace Nick found landed the man in jail, or worse, on death row?
Somehow he found the courage to go inside. He had been asked for a reason…it was always same gender when doing thorough searches, and for Grissom it was too strange. Nick wouldn't blame him, wouldn't blame Greg. The Texan particularly would not be comfortable with his own boss strip searching him and checking for trace. And by the way Greg looked it was possible the man might break completely even under the frailest of touches.
Greg's stare was fixated on the wall, and he didn't even glance his way, didn't even acknowledge his entrance. Inside his heart was beating fiercely as he got a closer look at the man he used to know so well. It was here that Nick felt slightly sick. Deep bruises lined the man's face and it was easy to tell which ones were old and which ones were new. The same pattern continued down his arms, and it seemed that even his hands bore the same cruel marks. It was only a guess that his clothing hid similar bruises. And his clothing…
There were times when Nick used to joke with the man, used to tease Greg about wearing the same clothes. Time and time again Greg would show up to the lab wearing the same wardrobe several times a week. Normally clothing wasn't something Nick paid any heed towards, but with Greg, his clothing was hard to miss. But this was no joke…Nick could swear here and now that the worn material was the same that had covered him over a year ago. Tattered and torn, nearly paper thin…and from here the smell…
Nick pushed it out of his head as the door shut behind him, Brass and Grissom having departed to leave him to do his work. The Texan swallowed, forcing himself to take the last few final steps to the table. The case in his hand seemed heavy, weighing him down, making each movement sluggish and slow.
There was still no movement from Greg, no eye contact, no words spoken. It was unlike anything Nick had ever witnessed…and there was a lot the man had seen in his years as a CSI. There was a job he had to do…but Nick couldn't take his eyes off of him, couldn't force himself to believe that this was really him…that it really was Greg.
Closing his eyes he gathered what strength he could find, pushing the battered image from his mind. Instead he replaced it with the vision he knew, the Greg he knew. The man who was always joking, the man who always held a positive outlook, even in the dimmest of situations. But when he opened his eyes that imagery disappeared, replaced instead with the verity of what was before him.
Another breath; the sooner he started the sooner this would be over. For what would help, for what would hurt, he would do a thorough job, and let the evidence speak for itself. It made logical sense; in Nick's mind, Greg was still a victim.
"I think you know how this goes."
His voice hadn't been as strong as he wanted it to be. Nick had wanted to give him the confidence to feel safe, to know and understand that they were here for him. There was so much more he wanted to say, so much he wanted to tell him, but he couldn't. His mind wouldn't form the words, and even if he could there was little chance to say them. This was a case…personal feelings had to be set aside. But that was so damn hard to do, and nowhere near fair.
But Greg didn't move. He was as he had always been, silent and still as a statue, not even a twitch of the finger, or the tapping of the foot. Greg was never this still…the man had to move, always had to move. Nick could remember clearly enough; often of times he would get on the younger CSI for the incessant movement. It was distracting, especially when trying to think. Greg had always argued differently. It helped him think, or so he had said. Therefore it was required. Soon it had morphed into a joke, a jibe they traded from time to time. It meant nothing now…
With a sigh he passed the camera from one hand to the other. "Greg…come on, man, work with me. I know this isn't easy; but it has to be done."
He had been trying to connect with the man, but there was nothing. He may as well be speaking to thin air. That was what it felt like. Uncomfortable now he began to worry, began to fret almost. If Greg didn't comply, then Nick would have to fetch an officer to see that he did. That was not what he wanted; he didn't even want to imagine what would happen if it came to that.
But he didn't have to worry. Without word, without another prompt, Greg slowly moved. His hands were shaking as his fingers worked at the buttons, or what was left of them. Some had fallen off, others were barely hanging on by thin threads. Nick let out a quiet sigh of relief, thankful that the man was at least complying…the other alternative would not have been pleasant. More so, Nick didn't think he'd ever forgive himself for having to make such a decision.
Greg had moved to his feet, Nick hovering near in case he should need the support but he didn't touch him. Only had the bag open and ready for the shirt to be deposited. The clothing would be processed later, for now it was just physical trace, fibers in the hair or on the body, dirt and grime under the fingernails. Anything they could use, plus everything that was irrelevant. How much trace would be there after fourteen months?
His thoughts disappeared entirely altogether in the next moment. Nick felt as though he was going to be physically ill, his stomach churning at the sight before him. Greg had managed to work the last button off, sliding the garment off his shoulders and over his arms. The earlier suspicions of the bruising and scars had been more than accurate. But that wasn't all.
It wasn't what was there that caught his eyes; rather what wasn't. And there was nothing. Literally nothing. Greg was skin and bones, his body featuring what one would normally see on those pledge commercials that adorned your television. Every rib, every vertebrae, every single bone stood out. Nick should have known, should have suspected. He could see it now, how his eyes were sunken in, how his face was so prominent. His body was starving, keeping Greg alive simply by eating itself. It would have consumed any stored fat…and that alone was not much. Greg had been lean…had always been lean….
Nick couldn't move, couldn't breathe, only able to watch as Greg took time to fold the tattered garment carefully. He treated the rag as though it was the only thing left of value, sliding it into the bag without so much as a glance Nick's way. His shoes, socks and pants were in fairly the same state. Jeans held up better, they were made from stronger material, but they too were worn, torn at the knees and even the shoes produced holes, worn through in several places as were the socks.
It was the same motion once more; Greg took his time to fold them with care, treating them as if they would break at the slightest mishap. For Nick it was appalling…he still couldn't move. He had never seen anyone this thin…and still alive. But Greg wasn't just thin…he was emaciated.
He simply stood there now, waiting, his body shivering in the air-conditioned room. It wasn't surprising, there was nothing there to keep him warm, and his body was reacting, doing what it knew how to do the best, trying to survive. Though he was alive for now, the true test of survival would come in the following days and weeks…but Nick knew that it would last longer than that. Physically it would take months…maybe even longer, but emotionally? Emotionally they hadn't even been able to connect to him.
And unless they were able to reach him…they were going to lose him.