Pit & the Pendulum

By Kat Reitz and Perryvic

There were times when he didn't know what he was doing.

It happened more often than anyone would want to believe, and Gil wasn't the first person to admit it. He was usually thinking about it, thinking about what came next in the case in real life in whatever the situation was. He tried, and trying was most of the battle. Day to day and things just worked their way through somehow, no matter how bad things had become.

At least that was the theory until the court case you were supposed to testify at was cancelled because the defendant had entered a guilty plea for a lesser charge. He'd probably have to speak at the sentencing, but who knew? It wasn't going to be for at least another month.

He'd driven all the way back from his mothers to testify because they had moved the trial up, and now it was back again and he could've stayed there after all.

Instead it was a wasted time, time he resented taken from him more acutely than he had before and Jim had spotted that frustration having also been ear-marked for testimony that never came to be and asked him to go for a drink.

He'd accepted because... because if he went to work right now he might say something he would regret. He might snap at someone, might do something unprofessional, and he wasn't the only one who was on edge, he wasn't the only one who was unhappy and having to adjust to what had happened. It would have been intolerably selfish of him to take it out on them, the other people who were holding the shift together. Sara and Warrick and Catherine had enough to deal with.

And he needed to drink scotch.

Jim returned from the bar. "One of the hard stuff Gil," he said putting it down in front of him. "You look beat. You drive there and back without stopping or something?"

"All for nothing." Nine hours on the road, and the trial hadn't happened. It was a good thing for the lawyers, but the evidence had been solid and that made Gil angry, too. Even if it wasn't his place to concern himself about what happened after he turned in his findings. There were times when the deals got in the way of justice.

Gil slid his fingers around the glass, hesitating before he started to drink. Jim nodded. "So how was it? The trip with Sanders I mean. How's he doing?"

Trust Jim to ask the difficult questions.

"He's..." Gil took a sip that was strong enough to make him want to cough, and set the glass down once he'd steadied himself. "He's depressed."

It was very much stating the obvious. Depressed, convalescing, traumatized. Nothing seemed a strong enough word to describe Greg at this point in time.

"I'm not giving you awards for that conclusion," Jim replied. "He's not long out of the hospital, he hasn't even started to work through any of this shit. Nicky's got a head start on him physically and... yeah, being depressed is pretty natural considering. I know you guys have tried to keep a lid on the details but I did used to be CSI. I can make a guess at some of it."

Gil started to nod. Of course Jim had made his guesses and they'd probably been right. He'd been there through most of it and the whole thing could have turned into a homicide investigation at any moment. One wrong move from Nick or if Greg had been a second too slow getting out and… "I know. That's why I thought he shouldn't be alone."

"Damn right." Jim took a shot of his own drink and grimaced a little. "You're trying to fix this all yourself aren't you? Didn't I hear Catherine lecturing you on how it wasn't your fault?"

"Which somehow absolves me of any attempts to try to help?"

"No Gil, but it means that you shouldn't be think you have to fix it," Jim said. "I saw you. I saw all of you on that day when it happened. You haven't relaxed since."

"I haven't relaxed because I just drove for nine hours to make a court appearance that was pushed up and then cancelled," Gil pointed out reasonably. He wasn't going to take another sip yet. He was going to enjoy the afterburn he already had. He didn't need to get drunk, he just needed... Something.

"Yeah, well. There is that." Jim drank some more and looked at him. "So Nick has gone home and Greg has gone...to your home?"

It looked like Jim was trying to get to some sort of point but he wasn't sure what exactly.

"Right. I think we're going to be permanently short-handed." Or close to it. Even when Greg and Nick came back, there were two short-staffed shifts instead of one well staffed one. It was insane of Ecklie, but it was also part of that personal vendetta the man had brought against him. He'd gone all out to try to get Nick's ransom, though, even if it hadn't gone through.

"He might just merge it all back. Kinda forces the issue a little. One night shift unsplit could cover," Jim said as he watched him. "You don't think they're coming back?"

"I don't know. I hope that they do. But I've seen people quit their jobs over less." And more. It all had to do with a person's tolerance and what they decided was best for them. Whatever they did, though, Gil would respect it. He'd just... encourage them gently to come back. It was in them, in them both. Nick had turned into an amazing, confident CSI, and Greg had so much potential.

"Yeah." Jim looked at his drink for a moment and Gil knew he was thinking of the times he'd nearly quit. Holly Gribbs, Jersey, every single bad thing that had blown up in his face. Anyone in the job for more than a few years had some of those. "He's tougher than he looks. Greg... and Nicky, but you're worried about Greg because he doesn't have close family. He's got to be tougher. He survived."

"Barely. It was luck that we found him." And Nick had been panicked after they'd found him, saying that Greg had died if his box had exploded, and Gil hadn't been there for Nick's panicked remembrance. Catherine had been there to relay it to Gil, and Gil had been on that helicopter. It wasn't Nick's fault that he'd been almost oxygen starved and delirious. No one expected him to remember.

Even so he remembered that moment. That certainty then that all they were going to find in the burning building in the middle of nowhere was Greg's charred body. And he'd sat there imagining Greg burning to death, in the flames that consumed the place wondering if there had been an explosion, or a slow burning and he'd blamed himself.

One with limited air, one with unlimited pain. Chose one to follow, and one to damn to hell. Do nothing and lose them both.

He thought then that the instructions with the ransom demand had been fulfilled. He'd chosen air because no air meant death, whereas you could live through pain. Live maybe long enough to be found.

And Greg had, but he'd gotten himself out, and he'd been waiting outside of the burning building, and Gil hadn't been able to shake the weight of the choice. Had to try to think of same way to make it up to Greg, some way to help Greg find his way back to himself.

Jim was watching him.

"You worked the case. You worked out where Nick was and you were working on where Greg was without clues Gil. You had them in the area," Jim said. "Remember that. Greg doesn't blame you. He wouldn't blame you for anything, if you know what I mean."

He wasn't sure if that meant he was doing worse than he'd thought he was doing, or if everyone was misinterpreting his showing concern for someone as some form of a mental breakdown. It wasn't a good day to ponder what that possible interpretation suggested about him and what everyone thought of him. "Jim. I made the choice that I had to. I was aware of the choice I was making. If I had to make it again, knowing what I know now, I'd make the choice again."

"Yeah I know." Jim took another mouthful of drink and swallowed. "Because it was the right decision. That doesn't mean it was an easy one or that it's not going to bother you. I'm just saying that you need to clear it all in your own head before you start talking with Greg because sure as hell he's going to be messed up over this. This more than anything I guess."

"I expect that. Why do you think I didn't want to leave him sitting alone in his apartment?" There in the city that hadn't done quite-enough for him.

Jim nodded. "Yeah. Yeah I know. See if Nicky hadn't gone home and it hadn't happened to him too he would've offered I bet. Or the other way round. So what you going to do when you visit?"

"I hadn't thought about it. Try to keep him entertained. Facilitate his relaxing." He wasn't going to try to 'fix' Greg because he had no idea how he'd do it in the first place.

"He's going to go to pieces some time, Griss," Jim said with the air of someone who had seen it happen too many times before. "You sure you and your mother are up to that?"

"You might want to ask 'am I sure that I'm up to that'," Gil mused, taking a sip of his hard drink. "I... I'll do what I can. I'm going to make sure he gets to therapists, and..."

"...tuck him in at night?" Jim said with a quirk of a smile. "I think your mom might have that under control."

"That was my hope." That she'd overwhelm him with the little kindnesses that Gil sometimes forgot about. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

"I guess if we had the answers we wouldn't have a problem," Jim said poking at his near empty glass. "Warrick said he wouldn't have made it if he was Nick. But we could see what was going on with him."

"And Nick couldn't see himself," Gil agreed quietly. "We still need to solve this. We need to make sure there wasn't anyone else involved. We need to... be able to close these cases." For Nick and Greg and for them.

"I know Griss," Jim nodded a little. "Was there film of Greg? Or was it destroyed in the fire? There had to be someone else aside from suicidal guy. There's no way he could've done both of them in that time."

Which meant there was still someone out there. Someone who had tortured two of his team and forced decisions on him he never wanted to have to make.

"Catherine was still looking when I left work yesterday." Still on shift, still working the case despite that she was swing and it was a night issue. She'd gone above and beyond, getting the ransom for Nick.

He was trying to not think about the explosion that had happened when he'd tried to hand it over.

They got a lot of it back, that which hadn't fried. It would end up back with Sam Braun once it was used, but there had been no ransom asked for the other CSI captive. Not for Greg, not once he had responded to the code and the webcam had started transmitting.

He remembered a buffeting blast and the splatter of flesh on concrete, money dancing in the air as he tried to stand thinking over and over that was it, their main chance was gone.

It was all in vain and it was all fucked up. And he'd thought he'd witnessed the limits of human cruelty, but that... that was it. A man so intent on revenge that he didn't even care about seeing the end outcome.

He'd based a lot of necessary leaps on the fact he was working alone. He had to. He hoped if Nick was somewhere, Greg would be logically nearby because the man would not have had time to do much else. It made sense.

And then at the end it didn't. When the 'coffin' was rigged to blow and it was Hodges calling him hurried and desperate to give him the news before all of them blew themselves to hell.

And they'd managed that, Nick holding in there with earth piling on top of him until they could yank him free and... there was no sign of Greg. No other disturbed soil, nothing but a recorded pulse of radio frequencies. He didn't need Archie to tell him what it was.

Another transmitter. And that wasn't good enough for him , for any of them, and it was a fluke that they had found Greg at all. A fire.

Gil tossed back another sip, and set the empty glass down on the table.

Jim was looking at him again. "I'm not sure if it will be a good thing or not if we find anything," he said softly and exhaled. "I'm too old for this sort of shit."

And Greg was too young, so was Nicky. And it had happened to them and they wouldn't be the same. That was the tragedy.

"So am I," was all Gil said, shrugging his shoulders tightly as he watched Jim's expression soften. "When we found Greg... He was already falling apart. He's too young for this."

"He was. He won't be young any more," Jim replied and shifted back. "Look, you should get home, get some rest or something. Ecklie won't begrudge you that. End of the week you can see how he's getting on, and maybe Nicky will have called Warrick or Cath and we'll know if he's doing okay too."

"His parents will watch out for him. Nicky's going to be lucky if they don't smother him." Five sisters, an older brother, nieces and nephews and two parents who loved him dearly. There had been a twinge of jealousy, sadness when Greg had been assured that Nick would be all right, that his family would be there. They knew sides of Nick that they, his friends, didn't and Nick needed the older things to steady him just then.

And so did Greg, but that was what he didn't have. "I probably need to swing past the lab and talk to Conrad."

Greg didn't have any of that family support, not any more and it showed. Not seeing Nick hadn't been good, not working things out was him left him dangling and then Gil found himself stepping in offering his mothers place.

"Yeah, he's lucky. And Greg is, too, that you offered that. " Jim got up slowly. "I'm hitting the road Gil. You want some more half-baked suck ass support, you tell me right?"

That pulled a smile to Gil's mouth. "Yeah, I will. Thanks, Jim. You always know when I need a kick in the ass." And while he couldn't take time off, he could make the time that he had there worth something for Greg.

Putting in for vacation time right now was a big problem. They were going to be snowed under.

"Yeah. It's a gift," Jim replied as he casually patted him on the shoulder. "You can count on me to do that anytime. See ya around Gil."

"See you." Probably that evening, but that was under different circumstances. Jim would go home and get some sleep, and Gil... Gil stood up, glad that he'd only had the one drink. He was going to drive to the lab and see if Conrad was there.

He had some questions to ask him, some requests. He wanted his team to be back together, he wanted that feeling that when something happened to one of them everyone was there for them. And there was the fact it made sense. Conrad would have to see that.

And if they merged shifts again he would be able to have his normal time off if no holiday. That would be something.

Just three days out of every four. He could drive down once he got off shift, and he could sleep, and then spend a couple of days there at a time. It would help, just seeing for himself that Greg was coping or close to it.

Gil didn't envy Conrad the task of spinning what had happened. He personally wouldn't've bothered, or seen it as a waste of time but he had to admit as he chased Ecklie's trail around the Police Department, he was keeping active.

His motives were a little opaque to Gil who ignored politics as if it were an unsightly growth on a visiting relatives face. He wasn't as oblivious to think it didn't exist, but it seemed pointless and shallow to actually worry about it.

It wasn't something that Gil bothered with and that was why Ecklie was the assistant director and Gil was still head of the nightshift. But climbing the ladder wasn't Gil's interest in life. Life, and solving the puzzles in it were.

There Conrad was.

He looked tired as if he'd pulled a few too many doubles. Ecklie never pulled doubles when he was CSI. Well, rarely. Maybe that wasn't completely fair but he worked harder now that he was managerial then he had when he was CSI. Everyone had their niche.

"Grissom. Thought you'd be at home. I heard the case got postponed."

"I just drove back in to town to make it back for the case." He was still wearing his court suit, probably the most professional he ever looked. Gil took a step closer to Conrad in the hallway. "Can I talk with you for a moment?"

Conrad looked at him and nodded. "Sure. In my office."

He wasn't keen on corridor meetings. He wanted people to be in the right place when they talked. Maybe it was a security thing.

He led the way to his office. Gil followed after, letting Conrad be in control because Gil... wasn't. He was off shift and off his game and off five or six hundred other important things. And Conrad's office wasn't his territory, but it was a place where he was going to have to make his requests.

He waited for the door to close behind him, watched Conrad sit down behind his desk. "I want my team back together."

Conrad looked up at him. "You said that over a week ago. We're down two CSI's Gil, and there are other considerations to make here."

"There are," Gil agreed. "Let's consider that you created two understaffed shifts because you had a personal vendetta against me. Catherine is the supervisor of... one man, for the next foreseeable few months. I have..." Gil paused, and looked down at his fingers for a moment. No, Sophia had left for Colorado. Greg and Sara... "Sara. For the next few months. You expect all of the crimes that occur overnight in Vegas to be analyzed by two CSIs. You're going to have more of a problem on your hands when we all burn out and quit for greener pastures."

"And what about Catherine. You think it would be easier to demote her down?" Conrad replied but his heart didn't seem to be in opposing him. It was as if he had been toying with this problem before Gil said anything.

"Make her a co-supervisor, and cut my pay accordingly. On swingshift she never even sees her daughter anymore, which was why she wanted the promotion in the first place." Dayshift, and Gil had happily recommended her because she had the leadership skills for it. She deserved better than having her first real go at leadership in the department to be a crippled one.

Ecklie blinked. "You'd do that?"

Even after all these years he seemed to find Gil's motivation hard to grasp. "Having them back means that much?"

"Yes." The money didn't mean anything to him. It paid for things and a lot of it sat in his bank account and it didn't matter. People mattered, his people, his team, mattered. Greg and Nick mattered and they'd need to take as much time off as they could.

Conrad looked at him for a long moment. "Okay. You've got it. Night shift back on track, we'll get some temps in to cover swing mainly to do prep work and if a high profile comes up we'll see who wants bonuses for temporary work on Nights from Days."

"That's fine." That was great, and it felt like a weight had fallen off of his shoulders and slipped to the ground. There were four of them, and that would help. It would help until there were six of them again, and there would be. There would be. "Thank you."

"It's your team Gil, but it's my lab," Conrad said and sighed. "Swing shift wasn't my best decision. There were reasons aside from personal even if that made it easier. Catherine might still decide she doesn't want to co-supervise. Greg and Nick might not come back, I've been warned that by the departmental experts. Last thing I want is the best forensics team to disintegrate."

That was a little hard to believe. Gil tried to not let it show on his face. "It might be too late for that." And that was Conrad's doing. Conrad and a madman, a suitable team for that. And Gil hadn't been the best of supervisors, but the way Conrad had done it...

"Then it's your job, yours and your co-supervisor to make sure that doesn't happen," Conrad deftly passed the buck. "You talk to her, pick the transition time and make it happen. You want your team, you make your team again."

"I will." He tried to dredge up a smile, but couldn't. "Do you need Nick and Greg's contact information, or...?" Or did they provide it themselves, except Gil didn't think they had.

"I've got Nick's because his family details are on file. Greg... well, your family details are on file as well. I can get someone to dig it out for me." Ecklie replied. "Go home Grissom or talk to Catherine. Drop me a note saying what you've agreed on and I'll get it processed."

"Thank you." The sooner the better, then. Gil turned away, contemplating if he could make the drive to Catherine's to talk it out. It was worth a try, but he wasn't sure if she'd be there or what sleep schedule she'd be on.

It might be better to catch her at a start or end of a shift to tell her the good news. He could only hope that it would be and he wanted to know if she had found anything new on the crime scene. Anything might just help.

Vivian, Greg realized almost immediately, was a real artist, the type that didn't rely on pretentious words to explain what her art was about. She told him that if the art had to be explained then the odds were whoever was explaining it was probably talking garbage. And that applied particularly if it were the artist. She told him that if the art didn't engage the emotion, mind and spirit on its own merits then it was just a heap of pigment or clay.

She had given him a sketch book the first day and some soft pencils to play with and then sent him into her work studio while she went down to fetch some groceries.

He didn't do very well that day. He ended up just sitting on the balcony from the study, looking out at the sea, smoothing the pencil in his hand and feeling the sun on his face, locked in an endless whirling cycle of thoughts.

Well, until she came back and started talking in her unselfconscious way about how she would think about what she was going to draw, think and feel until she could just let the images come as they wanted. That there was no right or wrong way. Draw, she'd told him and her enthusiasm was enough that he felt he would let her down if he didn't try something.

He drew a molecule because he knew how to draw them and she nodded and showed him how to improve his shading, and how to think about what would give it meaning. To make color its nature.

He found it strangely absorbing and for the first time the pressure in his head seemed a little less.

Today, as part of his course in art, she had told him to pick some of her canvases in the studio and just look at them. She never titled them openly so he was left wondering and just feeling as he looked, right up to he came across one of them that completely mesmerized him.

It was full of twists and shading, and it was comforting like an Escher drawing, dark playing on light and light playing on dark until it looped back again. There weren't words that Greg could find in his head, except that they looked like wings. Like a thousand wings of some living twisted creature, but it was beautiful at the same time.

It was hard to stop looking, and most importantly, no one was going to make him stop looking. The sun was creeping in from the window behind him, warming his back, and it changed the way the ink laid on the canvas.

It spiraled up, it spiraled down and he eventually had to sit on the floor just looking at it because his leg wasn't that good yet, maybe never would be again, who knew and he didn't want to stop looking if it hurt.

When he was looking at the painting it was as if the pain was manageable somehow. Not gone, never gone. But there was a puzzle there in colors, in darkness and for the first time in his life he understood why someone would pay millions for art.

If you looked at it and you thought hard enough it could be all feelings. Abstract, sketches, realistic whatever, it could capture that... something. If he had millions, he'd pay it for that picture, but he didn't and he knew that Vivian would let him contemplate it for as long as he wanted.

His coffee went cold, and looking at the picture stirred some sort of urge to do something himself. To do something good that had even a fraction of all the power and emotion of that picture. Draw with emotion, Vivian told him after he proved to have a good eye and sense of light and perspective and not completely inept at shading and color. Draw what is in you to draw.

It would be ugly, he was sure of that but he promised he would try and so far he doodled aimlessly, soft graphite smudged by a careless hand. He looked at the painting and doodled and then looked down at his page.

Over and over octagonal shapes, three-dimensional, two dimensional sprouted out of the textured paper. He couldn't stop drawing them, over and over growing from one another like bizarre crystals.

The box. The fucking box was all he could see, all that he had in him. He put strange shapes inside the box crystals. He thought of the painting he so liked and put butterflies, simple and stylized in there trapped within a myriad crystal-form boxes.

Grays and dark, everything that way and he was crying just a little almost without realizing, but it didn't stop him and no one was there to see it and it was a bit late to worry about pride and dignity.

He didn't have any. Hadn't had any in a very long time, hadn't had any since the box. He wasn't going to be reclaiming it any time soon, either. He sketched and he smudged until he'd drawn out from the inside of the picture and to the edges, until there wasn't any more room on the page and there was still too much in him.

He needed a bigger canvas. He needed a canvas bigger than the fucking world at this rate. He wanted to draw the crystals filled with blood, fire, steel and all the fragile wonderful things he had lost. He was no artist but he wanted that. He wanted to be able to show and not show what had happened if only to himself.

He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and totally missed Vivian entering the room. Or maybe she had been there sometime.

She was quiet, and she only talked to him when she had him face to face. She was smiling at him and she had a new cup of coffee, warm and giving off steam, offering it to him. "In case you wanted it."

"Oh. Oh yeah thanks," he said taking it with a shaking hands. "Have you been there long? I didn't hear you."

He winced a little, part at his tactlessness and part in the fact he was stiff and hurt a lot.

"I didn't hear me, either." She smiled and slid back, pulled a chair towards him because she probably couldn't sit on the floor. "I just came in."

"I've been a bit... distracted." He couldn't pass the shakes off as a shiver, not with the sun streaming in. "I was going to start something cooking for you, for dinner maybe. I've just been... doodling I guess."

"May I see it?" She asked, and didn't reach for it, just waited patiently.

He blushed a little, "It's not very good. Or nice," he said passing it over hesitantly. "I just kinda drew."

She didn't comment on it right away. Just looked at the sketch, and let her eyes travel over it slowly. "I have some colored pencils that lay enough pigment that they would look quite vivid, if you wished to try them."

"I... felt I ran out of space, I was going to ask if you had a bigger piece of paper? I kinda felt a bit better when I was doing it." Which had to be one of the most surreal things ever. Him wanting to draw. He should be going out, getting drunk, drowning his experience in sensuality and sex maybe. But he felt too exhausted to even try. Going off the rails would have meant effort to keep moving.

And he didn't have that. He wanted to keep moving, he wanted to rest all at the same time. In this pathetic attempt at art he could let his hands move for him and rest his body at the same time.

"Oh, I have larger papers. Loose sheets, or a larger sketchbook?"

"Anything. Something not too special. I'm only going to mess it up," he replied. He looked back at the painting that had captivated him. "You are the real deal Vivian. This... this one I've just been staring at. People should be offering you millions for it. Looks like one of those things that should be priceless." He smiled a little as he said it.

"It is priceless," she agreed with a quiet smile, watching the picture for a moment before she looked back to his face. "I could never sell it."

"I don't anyone could afford to buy it," Greg said meaning it. "Not really. It just makes me feel..." He hesitated for words. "Well, that's enough right now. It makes me feel. "

"That's what's important," she stressed. Her voice was always quiet, even-toned, and when she emphasized things it was interesting to listen to. "What would you like for dinner?"

"I don't really know," Greg replied trying to push himself up and failing miserably. He tried a quick smile. "Sorry, I must be a really awkward house guest huh? Interrupting all the time, unable to make a decision or do anything useful."

"Gregory, I'm retired. I sold most of my share of my art gallery to my partners. I paint and I oversee and choose a few shows now and then, but I do what I like." And that implied that she liked him there.

"My Poppa Olaf would not be happy with me if I wasn't a good guest no matter what the circumstances are. They take hospitality very seriously in Norway. You'd like him, I know he'd like you, he can be a bit of a charmer, but I don't want to worry him with anything. He hasn't been well since my Mom and Dad... since they were killed. But I still think he would like you and I might go see him, but I don't know what to say because I don't really know what to say about anything any more. He'll worry and that will make him even sicker and he doesn't deserve that. I don't want to lose him as well, but I don't think he wants to be here, which I get... I'm pretty much the only direct family he has left and I'm not reason enough to stay."

His words had started tumbling as if a chink had been opened up in the dam of his emotions and he couldn't stop. He made one of the gestures he had looked up before he had come.~Sorry~ he gestured as he fell silent again. ~Sorry.~

"Don't apologize." She shifted, watching him. "Gregory... I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you've been hurt so, but sometimes, people can't hold on any longer."

He looked up at her trying to work out what she was saying. He couldn't, his head hurt .

"Your grandfather," she explained. "I'm sure he doesn't want to leave you. But sometimes..."

"I know." Greg understood now. "I know I just... right now I'm jealous of Nick. Really jealous and I shouldn't be. I mean it's not like he asked for any of this either, but he's gone home to his family. And they love him, they'll make sure he's okay and... I don't have that. Not any more."

He paused a moment. "I have the kindness of strangers." He looked up at her and smiled a little. "And I don't think I'll ever be able to thank you or Grissom enough for that."

"Gil thinks that you're something special. And I believe that you are and I have the benefit of experience to make that judgment."

He was sitting on the floor, and Vivian shifted forwards off of her chair to hug him very gently. "Your family not being there does not mean that you are any less of a person than Nick is."

It was rare for her to keep talking when she couldn't see his face.

His eyes were burning as he hugged her back, unable to speak for a moment due to a choked throat. "Nick... is special. Hell, they all are. Gil is..." How could he say anything about Gil when he needed to say everything just to scratch the surface. "I think I'd give up if it weren't for Gil. I don't want to let him down. I never want to let him down."

And he nearly had over and over. In the box, he nearly had time after time and that was the shame he couldn't get to grips with.

There were no words to answer him, because she couldn't hear what he was half-crying the words, struggling, head tipped down. Her fingers stroked over his back, gentle, soothing without knowing what he was saying.

He could feel the changes, the pain and roughness of stitches under her hands and he couldn't stop himself clinging on to her. The last person to hold him like this had been Grissom when they found him. After that there were injuries and dressings not to be disturbed and people keeping their distance because knowing what to say was impossible. He guessed the words 'sorry you were locked and tortured in a box' lacked a certain something.

But this was ridiculous, he couldn't seem to stop. It was embarrassing and every time he tried to speak he gulped air like he was drowning.

It didn't seem to matter, though. When he'd expressed worry to Gil about Gil's idea to taking him home to stay in California, he'd made the mistake of asking how he'd communicate with his mother. And Gil had looked at him and told him that words said less than actions and body language.

And then he'd smirked faintly and added that his mother could read lips. But just then, he was sure that body language did say more than words, because Gil's mother was stroking his back, uncaring of the vast awkwardness that clung to him.

He felt almost selfish using her. She wasn't his Mom, and even if his Mom had been still alive he was over thirty and he was meant to be able to be an adult. Being an adult was overrated.

He calmed down a little after a while, he could pull back still shaking with the sort of exhaustion that came from an excess of emotion. He wiped at his eyes with a hurried movement.

"God, well that was embarrassing." He voice was still cracking a little.

She'd leaned back, too, eyeing him, watching his words again. "I'll get you a tissue. You might feel a little better if you have something to eat, too. Do you want to come...?"

He nodded, willing then to follow her anywhere. He needed a point of stability and she had stepped in to fill that role.

"Y..Yeah. Please..." He needed that tissue and the stupid thing was he couldn't even really remember what was so upsetting to have him break down like that. Not one overwhelming thing just a general state in his head. Less than a week out of hospital, only a couple of weeks, not even that, really, since he walked into a shift with a bounce in his step and had grinned and teased Nick about losing a coin toss for a milkrun, and he'd told him the coin toss had been for who got him that shift. And then…and then. Lives shattered in the space of twenty four hours. Thank God, Vivian was enough of a stranger to him that he didn't have to try and be something he couldn't be.

She didn't expect much of him, not really, and Greg had a sneaking suspicion that everything Gil had ever mentioned to her about him had been about Greg's Wild and Crazy Screwups. Some of which really were funny, but it wasn't something he wanted to think about just then.

She waited for him to stand up, and once he was standing she moved out of the drawing room and into the hallway, pretty fast for someone her age, getting ahead of him to get tissues.

He followed, aching and hurt but something feeling a little less congested in his head. He'd help her with dinner and try and remember what it was like to be at ease with people and then maybe, maybe he think about visiting Poppa Olaf sometime, and doing something to pay Vivian back.

She stopped him in the hallway and reached out with the tissues, wiping under his eyes and then pressing them up against his nose. That was such a mom-trick, and he had the duel image of her doing that for Gil and what his own mom had done when he was little.

"Thanks." It made him smile a little. "I really… really appreciate it Vivian. If you...if you need any sort of favor from me or I can do something to help. Heavy lifting is a bit out right now but...I dunno, I want to say thanks."

"Just concentrate on getting better, Greg. On resting." She folded the tissue over and closed once she'd wiped his nose, and turned a little. "How do you feel about macaroni with something?"

"Food of champions," he said and smiled at her even as he moved unsteadily with her. "I'm a single guy, macaroni is in my blood supply."

"Then you must be getting low." She turned to head into the kitchen, leading the way. The sun was starting to set, creeping down through the side and back windows, so she turned on the overhead light.

He waited until she turned towards him again. "I... I didn't realize I spent all day up there. I guess I missed lunch." Just sat and watched the painting all the way through the lonely hours, lost in the colors and contemplation of its changing depths. "Vivian? The painting I was looking at... will you tell me what it is about?"

"It was the abstract equivalent of a portrait. That's all." That's all. As if all of that emotion and shapes, darkness and light were 'just' a portrait.

Vivian set a box of kraft mac 'n cheese on the counter, and turned around for a moment to get a pot.

A portrait? Whose? Vivian? No. Not her, it didn't have the right feel. But it had to be someone she knew and loved to have that deep understanding of them.

His eyes widened. "Grissom," he said aloud feeling rightness about the conclusion. "It's Gil isn't it? It has to be."

She was looking at him, and the edges of her mouth tipped up a little in a way that was all to familiar from Grissom. That subtle smile of approval and delight of someone reaching a correct conclusion. "The picture makes him uncomfortable. Not the content, but that I display it in my work-room."

"Why?" Greg had to ask. "It's... beautiful." He couldn't think of the right word. Beautiful wasn't the word he associated with Grissom, but it was the first thing that came to mind and the fascination with the picture became transparent. No different to his fascination with the man himself. The peculiar mystery and openness entangled in a complex endlessly fascinating structure.

"It is. But one could say it's like turning your skin inside out. He doesn't enjoy being seen."

Greg smiled a little, a real smile. "Yeah, he gets weird with me when I watch him."

He stopped a moment and realized what he had just said. "Not in a ...uh, I mean I don't... not all the time. Well, nearly."

"Only nearly all the time?" She sounded a little amused by what he'd said, and took a moment to turn away to fill up the pot. "He cares for you."

Greg blinked, more surprised by that statement than anything else. "No, no he doesn't. I just annoy him," he said when she turned back. Of course he did, he'd spent all these years watching from the wrong side of an invisible line. "I annoy him a lot. I try not to but there is something about me that just... makes him uncomfortable."

"That is something that the two of you will have to work out. But Greg, he did not do this, try to help you out of pity or some misplaced sense of duty. Now, would you prefer hot-dogs or ground beef in your macaroni?"

"Hot dogs," he answered absently. That couldn't be true. Everyone joked about Grissom tolerating him, putting up with him. But there had never been any indication he actually cared specifically about him. Well, maybe after the explosion, but that was difficult to call specific to him, and there had been Sara, and that thing with Sophia and the rumors about Lady Heather which he had been too shaken to really appreciate. No, it was impossible, because Grissom had a lot of choices and never in any of them had he ever chosen him.

Not even this time.

Sometimes, even sleeping didn't do anything to shake the tiredness. It was bone deep, a seeping tiredness that made his back ache and his mind feel clogged and numb. He'd driven too much and thought too much and worried too much, all to attain... nothing. It had been a few days, and part of him was back in California, wondering.

His mother had sent emails, and they'd helped, helped assure him that he'd done the right thing. She was getting Greg out a tiny bit, at least outside into the sun and on the porch, and he was active. It was something to grasp onto, signs that he could recover.

That they could all recover given time and opportunity, starting with his team. And that was why, tired or not, worn thin or not, he was in the lab early in the hopes of telling Catherine the relatively good news.

That's what he needed to know, that Greg wasn't just collapsing in on himself like ...well, everyone expected him to. Not that he'd ever catch anyone taking bets but in Vegas it was pretty much a cert that there were odds on if they were going to fall apart, come back, leave the job and he knew enough to know that Greg would be the one with the poor odds. It was a surface thing and Grissom was pretty sure they would be wrong.

He'd had time to think about what Conrad had agreed to and realized in retrospect that from his quick agreement Ecklie had probably made the decision already, and was just politicking him by 'allowing' him to suggest it. There was no way he could have had everything ready with all the departments he had called in preparation in such a short space of time. No, he had been planning the re-unification for at least a few days.

He just liked the idea of Gil thinking it was a personal favor, a response to his second request. But Conrad had to be a fool to think that Gil didn't see through it.

Conrad wasn't going to gain himself a fawning lackey for one good deed. He was just going to gain himself a once-more efficient nightshift and probably a lot less problems.

Maybe he would interpret that as him being a fawning lackey.

Locating Catherine was a matter of hunting down what lab she had managed to settle into that particular night. He wasn't sure how she would react. Maybe she wanted to stay on swing shift, maybe the whole thing had made being a CSI a bitter taste in her mouth. She'd put a lot on the line, sold her soul to Sam Braun for Greg and Nick and she'd done something about the situation, where everyone else had failed.

Hopefully she wouldn't quit. Gil hadn't had time to sit down and talk with her and he was bad at catching signs of that, bad at reading people in that way. Maybe she was at her wit's end. She'd been close for years.

It was easy to find her, off on a side room, with a magnifying light held over a piece of bloodspattered cloth.

She looked tired, but then they all were at the moment. Physically tired from overwork , from being a team member down and being that team members supervisor. He knew what that felt like.

"It's not like it's a tar-baby case, Gil," Catherine said without looking up. "So what's brought you in early?"

"Ecklie is going to allow the team back on nightshift." There was a pause, and he watched the magnifying light, anything at all that wasn't her. "If you're interested."

She looked up, using the movement of her head to flick her hair away from her eyes. "You're kidding?" she said eventually. "All of the team?"

"You, Warrick, Nick, back on nightshift. The offer is for you to be on as a co-supervisor." She needed that little extra money more than he did. After all, he wasn't raising a child, he was raising roaches at home. And they were pretty inexpensive.

"Wow." Catherine seemed a little stunned. "I thought Ecklie was going to demote me, like he did with Sophia and put me on days." She smiled then a real smile. "Co-supervisor huh? Do I get an office?"

"I forgot to ask," he admitted, pulling up a smile. "You can take part of mine?"

"Gil, something's are more important that ambition," she replied. "You don't think I didn't know that pretty much everyone thought I got supervisor not because I deserved it but because Conrad was getting back at you? I have this thing... where I like to know I've got somewhere because I'm good at what I do, and I deserve it not because it is politic to score points. You and me heading up one shift together? We'll have that number one spot and that's worth more in the long run."

"I'm glad it's not about the office." His smile shifted a little more towards real, because Catherine meant it. That was the fire he'd missing seeing as she'd clashed with him as a supervisor. Cases that he was brought in on hadn't been done to undermine her, but they'd been competing. He'd rather work with her than against her.

Anyone sane would've.

"When it happening?" Catherine asked, her attention off of her blood spatter for a moment.

"Whenever you want it to. When you think you can shift your sleep schedule." At her convenience. Warrick would need to be consulted, of course, but it would probably be better for them all after years of nightshifting.

"Warrick and Nick will be all over it..." She paused a moment, obviously remembering there was still the possibility that Nick might not come back. "Well, Warrick will. They were always making comments about how their pay dropped without the anti-social hours premium. Nick... Nick, I hope he's coming back."

There was more than professional regret in her voice. But then someone didn't just go and find a million in ransom for someone they just 'got on with' at work. It was something none of them had really talked about.

"Nick is going to come back, Catherine." Gil was sure of it, felt it in his gut, but he glanced to her to see if she was sure, too, or just feeling shaken and doubtful. He was less sure about Greg.

"I was with him back to the hospital," Catherine replied and shook her head. "I don't know..."

She stopped as her pager beeped and she picked it up. "Archie," she said looking at him. "I found a damaged recording device...Greg's scene."

"When?" They were still scanning Nick's for any extra clues, too, but so far that had been fruitless for them. They'd keep looking, but...

" I uncovered it in a fused mass I was pulling apart yesterday before this homicide landed on my desk." Catherine gestured to the blood spatter. "This one is as open and shut as they come. Blood all over suspects clothes, GSR, the works. I can afford to take a look at what Archie's come up with. You want to come with?"

It was almost as if she wanted him to be there. Just in case.

Just in case, just in case they saw the other person involved, or just in case watching whatever had been taped was un-nerving. If it had been anything like the feed from Nick's box, it would be. There was seeing the aftereffects of pain, and then there was witnessing it as it was inflicted.

She stood, and headed on out of the lab letting him follow if he wanted to. How could he not? They had had statements but they couldn't push to hard at Greg in case it broke him completely, and the ideal was there would be something on the tape that would lead them to an accomplice. They'd brainstormed it between them - there was no way he could have set it all in motion so far apart without help. And they all wanted that accomplice.

He followed her to Archie, who was looking a bit shell-shocked.

"Archie, tell me you've got something?"

"I've got something," Archie replied. "I haven't watched much, and there are some damaged areas, but the majority was encoded, but not broadcast."

"In case we'd selected that stream," Gil guessed as he pulled a stool out. It was easy to gently guide Catherine to sit down for what they were about to watch. "Do you mind if we watch it before you split it apart looking for other layers?" Voices, streams, maybe other data left on the tape.

"No problem. I made a digital dump of it, so I can work on the original while you guys get to look at it." He handed over a couple of DVDs. "It was running the whole time I guess. Pretty lossy compression."

"Thanks." Gil half-reached for them, but he let Catherine close her fingers over the case instead. It gave her some sense of control, and he could keep going on with what he had and didn't have just them then.

"Thanks Archie, we'll find somewhere to have a look at this. Keep it under your hat until we've had a chance to give it a once over?" Catherine requested as she took the DVD and looked at them warily.

"Will do," Archie replied even as they left again, heading to the nearest lab with a bit of privacy.

Somewhere that they could turn computers away from the doors, and... "Catherine, my office or yours?" Logistically, they wouldn't be harassed there, and a closed door and drawn shades would imply business.

"Yours," Catherine replied heading that way. "People tend not to interrupt you as much. Besides, might be my office as well soon, might as well get used to it."

Her brief smile didn't fool him. She didn't want to look at the DVD, but then she had to -- otherwise she wouldn't be doing her job properly.

She walked in and immediately headed to his computer, busying herself to get it set up.

And Gil took the steps that ensured that they'd be left alone. He shuttered the blinds and closed the door, and that was all it would take to get everyone in the lab to leave him alone. People knew that there were times when disturbing Grissom wasn't worth it. That it was a swing shift and he was already there working during it was enough of a sign that they'd want to leave him alone.

By the time he sat down, Catherine had her hand over the play button and waited for him to sit before she pressed play.

Immediately there it was, the first time they had seen the octagonal Perspex shaped box before it was shattered and melted. The webcam showed more there was more space in there than Nicky had, visible behind the mess of hair near the webcam. Not deep enough to sit up in, but enough room to maneuver and twist.

There were those first agonizing moments that they hadn't watched with Nicky. The silent screaming, thudding, fruitless pounding against the box, and then some sort of... tape recorder in the box with Greg. And a gun. Greg hadn't mentioned a tape, and neither had Nicky. Maybe it was something else to keep an eye out for. Another clue. Whatever it was telling Greg, they couldn't work out.

Greg obviously played the tape, rewound it and played it several time before looking around at the box itself. They could see him looking at some handles and buttons and they could see him swearing under his breath, talking to himself. Reassuring himself.

It was silence but there were advantages to being brought up by a deaf mother.

~Okay, Greggo, It's going to be okay. You'll be found, you just have to keep Nicky alive. Could be worse, could be Nick...hold in there, Nick, no matter who they pick, they'll find us. Grissom won't let us skip work in the middle of a case. What fucking psycho makes Simon says into some sort of life and death game?~

Simon says? Gil wasn't sure he saw that one correctly, but as the tape played, there was a flashing of lights, like a signal.

And that was when Greg jumped up a little and made some noise. Catherine jumped, too.

They could see him hesitate a moment as if unsure and then look up and out at something out side the box and his expression become one of complete panic as if something had turned on and he was seeing something. ~Nicky!~

Even Catherine could interpret that.

He lunged towards the light, towards a lever and pulled it. Then another light started flashing and Greg was looking up a little with a horrified look even as the lens showed bright drops of flaring light dripping. He hesitated a moment and then lunged forwards to the other lever. And there were flames on his clothes, but another light was flashing...

It went on. Gil watched the time-stamp on his player, and noted that it lasted for only two minutes, but it was two very long minutes, and then Greg manically started to slap himself to put out his clothes. Gil leaned forwards a little, watching the video. "Catherine. Play it a little faster."

Catherine nodded slowly and pressed it onto fast forward as there was a long period where Greg rested a little and then started examining dim shapes the webcam could barely pick up through the perspex. They could see him tracing lines as he shifted around, obviously looking for a way out, a way not to be there. He looked at the gun, checked the bullets, kept glancing up at something outside of the box and picking a little gingerly at burnt areas on his clothes.

It made Gil's chest ache a little, remembering the day when the lab had betrayed them all, and Greg worst of all. Greg had healed up so well, so fast, but it had to be a psychological hell to be on fire again, even if it burnt itself out quickly.

Catherine only paused when she saw him doing something different. There was a moment where he looked up as if listening to something and there was a look a devastation on his face for a few moments and then a curious expression of resignation.

"Time stamp puts that around the time we decided on Nicky," Catherine replied her voice sounding rough.

When he had decided on Nicky. He hadn't known that Greg had been watching, that Greg had known that they'd chosen to choose one case over the other. It changed things, changed his expectations of what Greg might be thinking. They not only hadn't found him until it was too late, but they'd chosen to not find him. Logically... Logically, it had been a catch 22.

"Keep playing."

They fast forwarded a little further and then the lights started off again and Greg was looking around wildly even as there was water spraying at him, in the box. At first he flinched but then there seemed to be nothing wrong with it, and he moved to press the button. The water stopped when he was reaching for the second lever handle and as he reached, they saw him yelp and swear in shock and the arc of electricity over his wet hand trying to earth itself. He had to steel himself and try wrapping a torn piece of shirt around his hand but that was wet too and every time he tried to pull a lever they could see him twitching with electric shock.

That one went on longer and by the end of it, Greg had half collapsed breathing deeply.

Part of Gil wanted to watch, shocked into fascination, and the other part of him was trying to process what it meant in terms of parts and labor put into it, and the help that the man had had to do what he'd done. It was sophisticated, sick, the kind of thing they made movies out of.

It needed technical expertise, but they knew that from Nick's 'coffin'. The man had that, and a methodical mind and an obsession. They knew he tested everything so it worked.

What was surprising him was the fact that Greg was methodically working his way around the mechanisms and seeming to understand it. He had a pen in his pocket, a marker which he used to make notes on one of the Perspex boards. Diagrams and thoughts, keeping himself busy.

Up to the next flashing light scenario and this time, Greg was contorting his body around spikes that jabbed up and extended at varying intervals. Again it was longer and that time, he managed to wriggle around the spikes without anything more than scratches. Later, Gil knew he hadn't been so lucky.

Later, when he'd been tired and things had escalated. Later, when things had been going on too long and ingenuity wasn't enough any longer. Gil watched it go on for a moment longer, and then directed his eyes to Catherine, peering at her, trying to read her face. "Catherine..."

Catherine looked at him, having to blink a lot. "I can see where it is going," she said eventually. "I just... I didn't know he could see Nicky. Or knew what was happening."

"He keeps looking off to the side. I think if you scour the place again we might find traces of a TV or computer screen of some sort. He was probably watching what we saw." And he knew what they knew. He suffered himself and he'd watched Nick suffer and choke and struggle for air and against ants.

"What the diagram he was drawing?"

Catherine paused it on a frame of where they could see the shape of it as Greg shifted back. "Looks a bit like a circuit?"

"I'll ask Archie to get a screen capture of it for us." They could do it themselves but it wouldn't be high enough quality. Blown up and printed out, they might be able to work out what it was.

What was obvious was when Greg eventually made a big cross on part of the Perspex visible to the web cam and wrote 'Shoot here' next to it, and then wrote underneath it in brackets 'When Nick is safe'.

"...Is that an escape plan?" Catherine said after a moment. "We're only a few hours in and he thought he had a way out?"

"Maybe he did," Gil countered, gesturing for her to speed up the tape again. "If he had to respond to the warning light, and he had a way out, I wonder why he didn't just shoot out."

The next ordeal seemed to flood the box with some sort of gas, yellowish and like tear gas. It was enough to have Greg coughing violently and his eyes streaming at least as he fumbled around for the right levers to pull and ripped off a damp bit of shirt and put it over his mouth. After he had made it through, they could see it had irritated the skin as well and then Greg was left coughing and gasping as some sort of extractor sucked it out leaving it clear.

"No way in hell I'd stay in there a moment longer than I had too," Catherine replied even as Greg slumped up watching outside the box intently. Watching for someone to come and knowing they wouldn't, watching the screen, watching whatever.

"He was waiting for Nick to be safe." But why? Maybe the two boxes were more than just broadcasting. Maybe they were linked and Greg's fate tied itself to Nick's fate, and visa versa.

Had Greg mentioned that in his statement. If not why not? Did he know that or had he figured that?

"Why would staying in the box help Nick?" Catherine fast forwarded through another long section and slowed as the lights flashed again. And they were back to fire, but worse fire, longer fire and Greg not able to stop and put any out because the lights were faster this time and he was try not to freak out completely and they could see that in the terror in his expression and the area's they could see where his clothes were alight and burning through.

"Escalation. This guy was one sadistic son of a bitch."

"And Greg stayed in the box... for Nick. He believed it was for Nick. Maybe there was some instruction given to him." On the tape that they couldn't hear, that Greg had rewound repeatedly. Catherine was fast-forwarding again.

"We need that tape," Catherine said slowing down at various points. They watched as Greg tried to prepare for the electricity using strips of material, exposing more and more skin, and how the electricity was strong enough to give him contact burns and leave him shaking.

Then how he started writing messages on the sides of the perspex box, filling the space with words. It was difficult to read but they would manage it with Archie's help.

The next ordeal of the spikes was much worse and they could see him silently screaming as one pierced through his leg and knee and he had to turn and twist on the metal to reach desperately to the flashing light and levers. The next gas attack left him barely able to move, and then they were back to fire again and sheets of flame.

He had to be reaching through fire everywhere to get to the levers and it was then they saw how close he was to cracking when he picked up the gun and leveled it at the circled X and sighted on it with shaking hands.

~I'm sorry Nicky... I'm sorry, I can't do it... I've got to get out... I... I... I'm sorry I'm letting you down...~

He hadn't. He hadn't let anyone down, and they could tell how hard it was for him to stay in there. So he was staying in there for Nick, pulling the levers for Nick, trying to stay in the box and in pain for Nick's sake. He had to believe that what he did affected Nick to stay in there like that.

~You're not just letting him down you selfish fucker,~ he seemed to berate himself. ~You're killing him. If you get out, you'll kill him. Murderer. Try it on for size. Grissom'll call you murderer~ His hand was shaking then and he lowered the gun and put it down in the smear of blood from his leg.

He shook his head then and scrubbed at his irritated eyes.

He didn't translate for Catherine. Didn't revoice the words that none of them should have understood. He watched, though, and he could tell that Catherine wondered why he put the gun down.

"What did he say?" she asked finally as they fast forwarded through the section where he sat looking defeated and exhausted and they hit a glitch in the tape.

"Missing section," she commented until it fuzzed in again in the middle of a scene from a nightmare. Spikes literally encasing him as he was reaching desperately for button which he had depress and hold down. And he was holding and holding and then yelling out when he couldn't move his arm from that position and a spike jabbed in. There was blood everywhere.

"He said he couldn't do it. It would let Nick down." Not that he thought they'd think he was a murderer. The circumstances were beyond inhuman. No one could judge in those circumstances. It was survival.

"Because Nick didn't have that choice or that they are linked." Catherine winced a little as it became evident exactly how Greg had received most of his injuries.

"I'm starting to think the guy told him that Nick would die or something if he failed to do the sequences," Catherine added. "Look at him, Greg's fighting hard just to stay conscious for it all. Last lot of electricity you could see arcs over everything. That's a high powered jolt."

It was a miracle that he hadn't lost consciousness. It was lucky in some ways, and yet... "Fast forward more, Catherine." They could go back later and properly document the tapes.

The next few 'ordeals' were horrific with Greg looking barely on the edge of consciousness after them. He couldn't see other clues there, aside from deciphering Greg's messages and some watching Greg get frustrated as he wrote more shaky diagrams and then apparently worked out that whatever they were wouldn't work and scribbled them out with shaky disappointment. After that it seemed he was in too much pain and exhaustion to do anything except conserve his strength for increasingly demanding experiences. Catherine fast forwarded through a lot of them as the time stamp put them closer and closer to the end of the time where they found Nicky. He would occasionally say something, sending silent encouragement to the other man, even though he couldn't be heard. Catherine would slow for those bits and as they got nearer the end, Greg was almost deliriously talking to himself.

~They'll find you Nicky, it's okay...you know he will. I know its bad, but he will, Grissom will. You think Cath is gonna give up on you? Or Warrick? Don't you owe him a twenty? Gil'll find you, they all will. Won't find me, but that's okay. Not going to've gone through this to have you die. They'll work it out. They won't get killed pulling you out... no... shit I wish I could tell them. I'm going to die out here. I... I don't think even if I'm right I can move quick enough if they get you out. Don't want you to be upset about that Nicky.... or Gil. Not anyone's fault. Just mine for being too slow.~

"He knew about the pressure triggers," Gil murmured quietly. "I think his box had them as well, possibly linked to Nicks."

"That explains why he stayed in the box," Catherine added as she looked at the images thoughtfully. "Even when he thought he had an out."

On the tape Greg was still talking a little incoherently, a complete mess.~They'll save one of us... they picked you, Nicky, I get why. You're special, there are lots of people who'd miss you. Family. You're a special guy, you didn't even punch my lights out when I came onto you...~ He smiled a little at that. ~Had to try right? I remember you telling me that you weren't the one I really wanted. Heh, yeah, like he'd even be interested. Guess it's been a bit of an open secret, but just as well I'm the king of being unrequited. Wouldn't want to hurt him any more. I was never in with a chance. God I love him and I never said anything, too fucking scared~

"He's delirious." Gil stopped Catherine from fast forwarding again just then, and he was trying to not mouth the words along with Greg, "How far is this from the time we got Nick out?"

"Not long." Catherine said. "Coming up on fifteen minutes."

They watched as the final sequence of flashing lights triggered Greg into action again taking up nearly that entire time with a frantic struggle for survival against the spikes again.

By the time it had finished and Greg had pantingly pulled himself up, they saw the moment when he looked across and realized that something had changed for Nick.

~No! No... don't do it ...their coming, I know they are...come on Nick....wha.. Fuck, they're there...."

Almost immediately he started feeling around for the gun. ~Don't blow up...don't blow up... ten seconds... ten seconds to get far enough away. Shit I better be right about that. Thank fuck this guy is sadistic enough to want me to see the end.~ He had the gun lined up on the spot on the perspex wall barely able to hold it out even as blood stained his arms and shirt littered with tears and burns.

They could see a flare of light off camera and immediately Greg fired the gun, flinching from perspex splinters and then punched hard at the roof... once, twice, three times before it popped off and slid even as he could see Greg counting five, six and literally hurling himself out and away only about a little more than five or more seconds before there was light and the recording fizzled out.

"Usually the evidence can tell the story of what happened better than a witness can." Better than a witness was able to, because how did someone synthesize that into words? The video said what needed to be said.

And then Greg waited for hours alone and bleeding after they barely saved Nick.

More to the point he had no reason to expect them to find him at all. Or to hurry if they tried. Greg had to have known that which was probably why he was outside before things caught up with him and he just collapsed.

"Greg is...tough as nails," Catherine said in a rough voice. "I thought Nicky's was bad... and it was, but I'm not sure what was worse. I don't know if I could've stayed through that. Why didn't he say something in his statement? He just said about the tasks to stop the Box blowing up."

"Maybe he thought we knew." Gil swallowed, licked his bottom lip to make talking a little easier. He didn't know why Greg hadn't said more. Maybe he thought they didn't care or that he wanted sympathy or... or Gil didn't know. He was starting to wonder how much they knew hadn't been mentioned to Greg. He had a sudden chilling thought.

Did Greg even know how their choice had been presented to them, that it wasn't Nick or Greg, but air or pain?

It didn't sound like he had and a few things started to prickle at him. They'd assumed because Greg talked about a choice he knew what the choice was. Telling him things afterwards like, well it wasn't really a choice, and we'd have to do the same again even knowing what had happened now suddenly took on an incredibly hurtful angle.

Greg had just nodded and said he knew, he understood and they'd never questioned exactly what it was he understood. They hadn't pushed it because he'd needed a lot of blood, had infection setting in and needed some grafts and surgery and there never seemed a good moment.

"How would we know? We only know there was a chance when Nicky remembered and that took time," Catherine said.

"Does Greg know that?" No, no, and Gil was going to have to clear some things up. Sit down with Greg and tell him things even if Greg didn't want to listen, because now Gil understood how very badly Greg needed to hear these things. Going shaky and depressed was the very least he could expect from him now he'd seen what he'd been through.

Catherine looked at him a moment, a little at a loss for words. "This is not good Gil. If he doesn't... I know what I would be like if I was left to die and then had to listen to everyone say it was the only way. " She exhaled as if she would've wanted to swear. "Especially if the link hypothesis is correct."

"I'll talk to him when I drive back out to California." It was the best he could do. They had to clear things up. He had to clean things up, had to make sure that Greg understood what the choice that Gil had made had been.

Catherine nodded and glanced at her watch. "I've got to finish up that last report on that other homicide and get home. When's the Night shift getting back together? You want me to tell Warrick?"

"It's back together when you want it to be, Catherine. Tell Warrick, and come back on when you can adjust your sleep schedules." He rubbed his eyes for a moment. His shift was only just starting, and he and Sara were going to be busy.

"Tomorrow then," Catherine said with a faint smile. "If I know Warrick's reaction. Thanks Gil. I'm glad you were watching that with me the first time round."

She stood. "He'll be okay. So will Nicky. This isn't just a job to either of them."

No, it was a way of life. But while Gil was more sure that Nick would be back, Greg... Greg was on shakier ground. Greg could have a head full of wrong assumptions, and they were sharp ones, ones that Gil knew could be damaging. "Mm. Get some rest, Catherine."

"Yeah, like you will," Catherine replied even as she left him alone with the recording.

He was going to spending a lot of time with this tape, he knew that much.

And then he'd deal with the cases he and Sara had piled onto them, and he'd... He'd think about what he was going to say to Greg when he went back to California.

Gil had time, and a lot of thinking to do before that.

It became very obvious that Grissom had come by his talent to persuade people to do strange and bizarre things honestly. Vivian had the ability to do that as well with that same almost impish delight. From getting him up to walk with her at dawn along the ocean shore, and then get him to jump into the waves with her like he used to when he was a kid visiting the beach, she had a magnetic personality.

In the last week he had done a lot of strange things on her prompting and found little moments of joy appearing unbidden into his life. They'd built a beautiful spiral sculpture on the beach from smooth stones and watched and took pictures as the water gilded it, and flowed around the spiral and out again as if it was alive and breathing the ocean.

Vivian had the ability to look at the world sideways to the norm and find a rare beauty there. He loved that about her, and for the closeness she gave him, for the emotional storms she weathered he'd do pretty much anything for her and consider it never enough for what she was doing for him.

Even so, the first time she asked him to pose for her own art, he'd balked a little when it became clear that she was talking about life drawing.

She was talking about real sketches, and she did that, brought pencil and pastel to life on paper in the shape of real people. Flawed people, and Greg supposed if she ever wanted to do a show based on horribly scarred life-models, he could be a centerpiece.

It didn't seem to stop him from being there and doing it, though.

She'd talked at him a little until he lost some of his nervousness and put on some music which she thought he might appreciate. She'd asked him to find a comfortable position on the couch and one he had settled in to was lying sprawled, mainly on his front and side, with the heat of the sun and breeze from the balcony touching over the patchwork stitches and fresh not quite healed injuries. After a while he closed his eyes, relaxing into a semi-conscious doze. This was okay, this made Vivian happy and she'd been enthusiastic about doing some works on a theme she had been working on which she had decided he was perfect for. She didn't tell him what that was and maybe it was the horribly scarred life-model thing.

What it was, was oddly relaxing. He was thinking drifting thoughts, slowed to molasses speed by the warmth of the sun and the knowledge that someone was watching over him helped somehow.

He wasn't alone and he was outside and he was safe. It wasn't quite like being at home with family and smothered in that kind of care, but it was something. Vivian wasn't letting him sink back into himself like he wanted to do, and she wasn't letting him shirk off activity and going outside. She didn't force him to talk about what happened, either, only emphasized that he had no reason to be ashamed.

That was nice and probably a bit of a relief considering. His Mom... his Mom would've been frantic, would've told him to find a safer job, would've showed she loved him with her concern. His dad would've taken him to one side, maybe got him drunk, told him he was proud of him or something and it would be okay because he knew no matter what they loved him.

But they were dead, and he held himself distant from Poppa Olaf to spare him though he knew he would do the same.

He knew his Poppa Olaf loved him. He just... didn't want to worry him. Didn't want to make things worse for him that way, but unloading that on him could hurt him. He probably needed to visit him, but that involved gathering up energy and strangely, courage.

He felt that any courage he had had evaporated in the box and now he was just existing. He didn't have to feel guilty about being alive, even if he did. Here and now he could just float. He could just let the sun and breeze caress him and not worry that no one was going to ever want him again. Who would? He looked like a freak.

Scars and holes and stitches and Vivian had said that there was no reason for him to be ashamed, but... he was. He couldn't shake it, that fear that he was something ten steps past freakish inside and out. It was bad enough that he knew that they'd picked Nick over him before.

He always felt guilty when he thought that because he knew he'd pick Nick over himself. Hell, he had. But there was a something painful in him every time he thought about it. To be weighed and valued and rejected. Yeah, it hurt. He did understand, he really did understand when they said they would choose that way again, that they had to do that.

He just found he wasn't quite as saint like and forgiving as he probably should be. It hurt, he was jealous and it was like salt rubbed into a deep wound.

And he had enough wounds that a little salt went a long way when it came to pain.

But he was okay. He was drifting in the early afternoon sun, warm and cat-like, and everything was good. He could be appreciated for just being Greg, warts and all, and--

And someone cleared their throat a little.

No wait, that wasn't... that wasn't Vivian. That was a male voice. Startled he turned his head and opened his eyes, focusing on a very familiar figure.

Immediately he yelped and scrabbled frantically for a cushion or something to cover himself somehow, looking for a way out of the room that didn't mean running naked past his boss.

"Gilbert, there's no need to ruin my painting," Vivian said, putting her paintbrush down.

Gil put his hands up in a gesture of surrender, glancing to his mother. His eyes drifted back to Greg, though, a tiny bit amused. "I didn't know you were painting."

Greg was still looking for a way out that didn't involved the door, but unfortunately that pretty much involved throwing himself over the balcony. Instead he had somehow managed to fold himself up in a corner of the couch holding a cushion like a shield and trying to remember where he had thrown the clothes or robe or whatever.

"I'm an artist dear, it s a fairly safe bet." Vivian picked up a soft toweling robe. "Here, give this to Greg before he melts away with embarrassment."

His boss was going to hand him a robe. His boss had seen him stretched out naked on the couch, and folded up like that, Gil could probably see his asscheeks, too, and everything else. The pillow wasn't cutting it. "Next time I promise to flick the lights as a warning before I open the door," Gil quipped, taking the robe to offer it to Greg. "I'm sorry, I didn't know I was interrupting."

It was official. He'd lost the ability to speak. He took the robe with a shaking hand and managed to put it no doubt exposing pretty much everything.

"I uh...thanks...uh... yeah..."

Once he had it in hand, Gil let go of the robe, but he didn't step back. "I'm glad this isn't awkward." It was hard to guess if Gil was being sarcastic, or not.

Greg took it like it was a lifesaver and slipped it on, feeling a lot better. "I uh, Vivian asked me too and I thought, well, you know..."

How did he explain how he had been coerced, persuaded into posing naked? He flushed with embarrassment and he couldn't read Grissom at all and suddenly he didn't have him in it to just brazen it out. In a surge of panic he mumbled "Excuse me," and tried to stride purposefully out of the room, which failed the moment his bad knee came into play and it turned into a half run, half ignoble retreat just somewhere and away from everyone.

He could stumble to safety, even if there wasn't anywhere to go, moving past Gil even as he heard Gil say, "Greg, wait." Because he wasn't waiting, no, and he couldn't really explain, and the Grissoms could argue it out in sign language or whatever.

Mortified was a word he thought belonged in period dramas but the definition of humiliated and embarrassed fitted how he was feeling to the point it made him feel sick. He just put his head down and headed for the room where he was staying and clothes. He just... no, he didn't want to look at Grissom then and see pity or anything like that in his eyes. Or disgust. Or just anything at all.

He almost wished Gil hadn't shown up at all, because it meant he was going to have to deal with things, and Vivian was entirely about quiet escapism. Greg liked escapism, needed it just then, more than Gil looking a little amused and... and Greg hadn't been sure what else.

"Greg..?" Footsteps following after him.

Oh God. He sat on the bed and the calm of the last few days was completely shaken and shattered. "Hey... Grissom. Sorry you had to see that."

The light edge to Gil's face was gone now, and he was watching Greg with hawk-intense gaze. "Greg, I -- it was posing. Don't apologize. My mother likes to talk people into posing for her. Art is art."

And some people would have taken it as Greg posing sexually for their mother.

"Well yeah. She wouldn't exactly be doing it to eye up gorgeous hunk of man-flesh," Greg said and tried to smile. "Considering. Besides, Nicky isn't here."

His attempt at making things sound light, just sounded painful and twisted as it did in his own head.

And there was a flicker of something in Gil's eyes, discomfort of unhappiness, or Greg wasn't sure what. "No, Greg. Nicky isn't here. There's something we need to talk about..."

"He's okay isn't he?" Greg said immediately worried that the hesitancy in Gil's voice held some bad news. After all, it wasn't going to be about him.

"He's fine. I need to talk about you, Greg." Gil sat down beside him on the bed, uninvited. Well, it was a guest bed in his mother's house, so he probably didn't need to be invited. "I'd been working under the assumption that when I told you things, we had the same knowledge."

Greg had no idea where this was going, only that Grissom being there made that place inside of him that couldn't let go of being rejected and unchosen ache and throb with emotional pain. "I told you what happened. You know what I know."

"You were being filmed, Greg. We retrieved the film from the scene." There was another pause. Gil's posture was stiff, like he wasn't sure how what he was saying was going to be received. "And I can read lips."

He stared at Grissom and the urge to curl up in a ball was nearly overwhelming. Fuck. "Oh god no..." he groaned and put his head in his hands. "You... you still know what I know. What I told you."

"You don't know everything that we know. When..." Gil twisted a little, facing Greg. "When we chose. It wasn't pick one of you or the other. We were told to choose between following the person who had limited air or unlimited pain. If you had been in the box with the limited air, we would have been picking you. It wasn't a person we were choosing, Greg, but a situation."

Greg just looked up at him as the words impacted on his mind like a very specific silent explosive, demolishing the elaborate construction of defensiveness and rejection he had built out of his assumption that it had been a choice between him and Nick. "Oh," he said a little weakly. He just went blank as everything fell apart in those moments, every rationale, every justification. "I... I thought..."

"I didn't know until I watched the tape." Which made it worse somehow, knowing that Gil had seen everything, had watched him in pain and on fire and drawing and singing to himself to keep busy and sane, and all of that was supposed to be a secret. Safe with him that he hadn't been just stoic and manly and brave, uncaring that he'd been neglected in favor of Nick. But that wasn't how it'd gone at all.


Apparently things weren't so damn apparent, and now he just felt stupid. "It's all right. It..."

So damn fucking stupid for thinking all those things, for feeling all this hurt and they hadn't chosen him specifically. "It said on the tape...."

Yeah, like he should've trusted that over his friends, over Grissom. He felt like he'd been body punched and was half folding over on himself to stop that disintegrating feeling. Shame was there, shame for not being brave like Nick had been, for doubting them for being just being him in that moment .

He'd thought he was getting a handle on everything. He'd thought that he was getting okay with things, coping, and he wasn't. It was a mess and he wasn't coping at all, because if he was, it wouldn't bother him like that.

"We haven't recovered the cassette from the scene yet." Gil leaned closer. He smelled like Greg always assumed was Grissom's smell. A hint of detergent and warmth. He was putting a hand on Greg's back.

He nearly choked in an effort to not totally ruin everything and cry and he just leaned in against him shaking uncontrollably. Sense impressions of the texture of Grissom's jacket, the feel of him under his clinging grip and the way he just felt he would fly apart if he didn't hold on made his words unsteady. It was his fault, he'd been wrong, he'd been thinking shitty things about them and he had been wrong. "...sorry... sorry Griss, I..I'm sorry...I...I'm sorry..."

What else could he say? Nothing. He didn't want to do this in front of Grissom but he had already when they found him and somehow that made it harder to hold back and pretend.

There wasn't anything to say except that he'd been stupid and he was sorry, so sorry, he shouldn't have thought like that, but it was so easy and they kept saying that they would have made the same choice even knowing what they knew now, and...

"It's okay, Greg. It's not your fault."

Of course it was his fault. It wasn't like he could even secretly blame them any more. Who else's fault could it be that he felt this way? He couldn't think unworthy thoughts like 'if they had chosen me I wouldn't be this way, they did this,' which he couldn't stop thinking even if it made him feel dirty somehow for knocking them off of some sort of pedestal.

Now to find he couldn't do that and he was all alone down here, wherever it was that the broken bits of a person ended up and there was no one he could take down with him. They wouldn't know. He gulped in a breath and shook his head, denying what Gil was saying and just lost it completely when memories hit him of what they would've seen. They would've seen him ready to kill Nick to save himself, screaming in complete panic and saying... things.. .knowing things. Oh god, the notes...

If they'd watched a tape of what he'd done, and then they knew everything worth knowing, everything he thought he was going to take to the grave with him. He knew now how some people could chose to end it rather than live with shame because it felt like it was consuming him totally.

"Greg..." Gil's voice was firm, stronger than Greg wanted to deal with, and there were arms around his body, jostling him gently. "Greg?"

He felt dizzy and realized his vision had tunneled and grayed out at the edges because he'd probably hyperventilated or something. Maybe it would just be easier to pass out because that would be easier than dealing with this here and now. But why should he care anymore? Grissom would still know and he'd seen him naked for fuck's sake. He tried to take a deep breath and stop his limbs from turning to lead on him and ended up just resting in Grissom's arms a moment. Best to make the most of it. Wasn't ever going to happen again.

"I'm okay..." It wasn't very convincing but he managed to say it.

"Just take slow breaths, Greg." Gil was still sitting upright, and letting Greg lay in his arms like it was the easiest thing in the world to do. His fingers moved a little, too, fantasy-good material. Vivian was probably putting up her art supplies and pondering what to make for dinner that evening.

He was going to have to leave. He couldn't stay now, knowing that Grissom knew everything. Knowing that they all knew everything. He'd...go. Leave Vegas. Run away, hell might as well call it what is was. Go somewhere where they didn't know about everything. He needed to just leave now.

The decision was one thing , actually moving was something completely different especially with those fingers moving against him.

"I... I... should leave. Can't stay now," he said even as his body rebelled and decided it didn't give a shit what he wanted, it was happy just where it was.

"There's no reason for you to leave." The fingers kept stroking his arm, his shoulder, slow and steady and soothing. "My mother talks people into posing nude for her all the time."

"No." He opened his eyes. "You know. I can't stay now. I can't stay anywhere..." Couldn't Grissom see that? "And I was wrong, really wrong... stupid. It's all a mess Griss, and ...fuck, I don't know what to do."

He didn't know what to do or what would fix it or what he'd even done. He just couldn't be sure, except that he'd done them a disservice by thinking like that when he should have known better.

But Grissom was looking at him, eyes worried and a little unsure. "Take a deep breath and explain what you're talking about."

He took a deep breath and then another but didn't move. "If you watched, you read lips then... you know. You know that... that... you know I was nearly ready to kill Nicky to get out of there. You know I've been thinking the worst, you know about the notes... about you..."

He did right? He had to, because he said he'd seen a tape.

"I know that in a situation like that, you very bravely held on, Greg. I watched you talk yourself down." Gil's fingers went tight. "You did the best you could in the situation you were. You didn't kill Nick."

"I shouldn't've even thought about it, Griss. How the hell can I look Nick in the eye knowing I seriously considered killing him?" Why couldn't he see that? "I was a heartbeat from pulling the trigger. I swear it. You want someone like that around? I don't even want myself around. "

"You had a spike in your leg, Greg. Just because I saw it doesn't mean that my attitude toward you has changed." Except it seemed to have, and Greg didn't want to think that it had changed for the better after seeing that.

"It should've. I thought you'd chosen Nick over me. That's like... kindergarten stuff. Pretty much shows how immature I am." Greg answered. "You want anything else? You've seen me naked, you know my worst secrets. You want anything else? Go ahead ask. It's not like things could get worse."

"I want you to come back to the lab when you feel ready, Greg. But I don't want you to be hurting like this. I don't even know if I'm doing the right thing, but what happened to you was traumatic, Greg. No one expects you to act as if nothing happened."

Greg opened his mouth to speak and shut it again. He swallowed a moment, confused and disorientated by the jump of hope he was experiencing. "You're not embarrassed by the note? I thought... that would make things awkward."

Writing how much he regretted not acting on his feelings, and wishing he could've just once crossed that line because he was everything he'd ever wanted or needed was something he'd done when he'd been sure he wouldn't make it. Hoping that they would piece the box back together and the messages would be a jigsaw message from the other side of his last hopes and goodbyes.

"I don't think we've enhanced the video well enough to see more than you initial diagrams. But I could read your lips." Oh, hell, and what had he been saying in his delirium?

Apparently nothing that was making Gil move away from him.

"What did I... no, look.." Greg grimaced slightly. "Griss, I might've said, or written a few things that might make you freak at me. I mean, seriously. I... uh..."

Yeah like Grissom would let that lie now. "Look uh okay, here's the thing. It's not like I got much to lose now because you're going to find out. I uh... look, I've had a thing for you for years. Forever. But you've been the boss and most likely not into guys and I liked my job and I've always been a coward when it comes to meaningful relationships and taking risks because I don't have much in the way of success because people get sick of me, which is understandable and I didn't want to lose what there was and working with you was the best. Really, the best ever because it was like being close, and okay I might've wanted to be closer but it was enough and then I thought I was dying and all that and I didn't want to die a coward so I wrote stuff on the box, about how I didn't want to let you down and wish I'd said something before and things and that I was pretty sure that well, that things could've worked maybe if you didn't kill me for suggesting it because ...yeah... uh. Look, that doesn't matter."

He was getting spots in front of his eyes from not taking a breath.

Gil's fingers traced down along his back, and Greg could hear Gil's quiet breaths in the otherwise silent room. That sounded like shocked silence, but that was okay, because Greg had shocked himself silent in a lot of ways, and he was tired and he'd just freaked out at Grissom in a way that was probably worse than the actual note itself.

It didn't help that he could hear Hodges in the back of his head suggesting that Gil was going to hang him by his toes.

"It does matter. But not in a... negative way."

It was suddenly really important that he focus on what was being said. "...what?"

It made him try and sit up a little more, pay attention a little more. He was obviously hallucinating or something. Maybe the something because Vivian had said something about Gil caring but he thought that was a generic sort of caring that applied to the lab.

That weird generic caring that led Gil to go talk to serial killers, too. There pretty much wasn't any exclusivity to who Gil Grissom would associate with, so that he was still talking to Greg after everything that had happened hadn't meant much.

Until he said that. "I care about what happens to you, Greg."

"Care... in a sort of general will disposed to humankind type way or in a specific me way?" Greg probed at the issue with a sort of horrified fascination.

"Specifically you, Greg. You might not have noticed, but I don't have a tendency of almost kidnapping people and then leaving them with my mother and no means of transportation for a few days. Speaking of which, I drove your car up." Drove his -- oh, yeah, that had been part of the plan. The 'Plan', even if it was vague and fuzzy, so Greg could go and do things and things.

"Oh… right." Wait, they were talking about cars when Grissom might have just indicated he was interested. "Wait, wait a moment, back up a little. Have you just said that you might be interested and not likely to be glad to see the back of me?"

This was so surreal. Kafkaesque. Gil would find it amusing to turn into a bug and the way things were going that might be next.

Then Gil'd really want him, because big huge sentient cockroaches would probably turn him on. At least Gil wouldn't dissect him if that happened, even if it was bizarre of Greg to think that, and it left him a little tired and staring. Gil was still touching him, though. Gil was still half-holding onto him. Gil had a hand pressed against the tied knot of Greg's robe, and another against his back.

"That... is what I meant, yes."

"Good. Good. I'm glad we cleared that up." Yeah into a whole heap of a mess. Greg looked up at Gil properly then, looking at his eyes and made another reckless decision. "Maybe we should just..."


He ambushed Grissom with a kiss on the basis that if Grissom hit him he was still on pain meds, and if it was awkward he could claim temporary insanity (as long as temporary included the definition stretching over five years).

On the bright side, given how he'd acted before that, Gil would probably forgive him.

It wasn't quite what he'd expected. Five years was long enough to have a lot of expectations, from passionate Gone with the Wind style kissing to Gil freezing up like a popsicle and revealing that he was an asexual alien from Mars. What he got was Gil's lips under his and a faint scrape of beard scruff, and then Gil's mouth turning soft and pliable, and fingers sliding to rest on his back when Gil started to kiss him back.

No outright revulsion then. He could afford to actually let go a little, try a little, risk a little even if it terrified him. He settled in using the long slow needy kisses that seemed to hook someone when he was out desperate to lose himself. He could taste him, feel him touch him over the sensitive areas on his back and what started out tentative became deep and serious very swiftly.

And Gil let him. That was the miracle of it. Gil let him and Gil kissed back a little, and he could feel Gil's tongue sliding against his lips. That was better than not-outright revulsion, it was reaction, it was enjoyment.

It was a fucking miracle.

He had to breathe in the end, and open the eyes he had closed to lose himself in reaction. "I... uh... can we do that again?"

Gil's face was hard to read, but his hands gave him away. They spread, pressed against Greg's back like he owned Greg, and then he nodded. "Yes."

Greg felt himself smile and it must've been different from the attempts he made at smiling until then because it felt strange. "Good." His own hands stilled their shaking as he leaning in towards Gil, hands on his back and settled in to try kissing him again. He teased at his lip before really inviting a full passionate kiss. He wanted closeness. He needed it. Something meaningful, something more than just the physical, but that was a place to start.

Gil was kissing him back, responding with heat and warmth and--

And broke the kiss, pressing his cheek against Greg's face. "Greg. I think you need to... calm down, take a step back..."

He didn't want that, he wanted Gil, and he wanted someone to hold him and kiss...

And maybe Grissom had really hated it or something. He had been pretty pushy...was being pretty pushy with his lips kissing and mouthing automatically at Gil's neck while his thoughts raced to catch up with his actions. He pulled away slowly. He'd blown it. Come on too strong, too weird... too Greg.

He pulled back reluctantly. "S..Sorry. I didn't mean to uh..."

"No, no, just... Get a little perspective." Gil didn't let go, sliding a hand up along Greg's

"This is nothing to do with that," Greg said wondering if he suspected it all to be reaction. "This is old. Five years, not 24 hours in a box. You know that right?

There was a somewhat incoherent, unsure shrug from Gil. "I... we can talk about it. But you've gone from thinking I hated you and you needed to leave, to this. Just... a little perspective. I'm still going to be here in the morning." And now that Greg looked at Gil, he looked tired. It was afternoon. It was creeping past doubles-time and heading towards a triple.

If he'd been up all that time then he would be shattered, and then he felt like a shit for not noticing that either. "Okay." He sat up a little straighter, despite the lingering fuzziness in his head. He wasn't actually sure what the end result of all this was. He'd made his feelings pretty clear but maybe it wasn't going anywhere right now.

"You look tired. You should crash out or something. I'll help your Mom with dinner."

"I'm trying to readjust my sleep schedule." The edge of Gil's mouth came up a little and he moved his fingers along Greg's back, sliding over the edges of bandaged spots. "I'll probably be up for a few more hours."

"It'll take you forever to get back to nights," Greg replied amazed at how ordinary talk appeared out of nowhere. "Long enough to eat then."

"Long enough to eat." Gil eyed Greg for a moment, and then leaned in to kiss him again. Softer, a little more careful than Greg's kisses.

Oh. Oh now that was good. He kissed gently back, not getting pushy, not being as desperate as he really was and it just kept getting better. Sometimes after the first, heightened by anticipation other kisses weren't that special, but with Gil each one was better each time they tried it. Different and right and so good.

Slow and lazy, and maybe that was how Gil liked things best. Greg couldn't guess, but it seemed to fit Gil's personality. Unless he counted the part where Gil was infatuated with dominatrixes and midgets and anything else that was completely out of the norm. "So, do you want to try to find your pants?"

Quipping that he wasn't sure probably wasn't the best way to go right now. And out of the norm was fine with him as long as it didn't involve boxes. In fact he'd never suspected Grissom would be boring, not really and maybe it was a bit weird to be thinking about all that right now but it made him feel good, and alive and at the moment that felt so much clearer against the backdrop of his experience.

"Finding my pants is not a problem," Greg replied. "Putting them on gives me a bit of a workout."

Because his leg and knee hated him, didn't like taking his weight to hop into a leg, stitches pulled and the process of pulling on pants took on a element of performance art in its endurance difficulty

"Do you want help?" Yeah, he wanted Gil's help putting his pants on. He wanted Gil kneeling with his head right at Greg's crotch level, playing with his zipper, and...

"Well, you could stand and laugh," Greg suggest as he located a pair of boxers and pants and looked at them warily. "Actually, you could make sure I don't fall over."

"Okay." Gil moved off of the bed, and waited for Greg to try to stand up. "Have you tried it sitting down?"

"Well, that involved kinda rolling onto my back a bit, and that's worse," Greg pointed out. All he needed to do was to tug on stitches and he was gasping for air. He stood, bracing himself on Gil's shoulder as h tried hopping ton the boxers. It took a couple of goes and some swearing but he felt better for being a little covered. The pants were much harder for all they were loose on him. He was making a fool of himself trying to do that.

"Here, try holding still for a minute." Gil rested a hand on his hip, the touch gentle. "Steady yourself on my back, and lift your foot a little. Have you been doing your physical therapy exercises?"

He nodded. He sucked at them, but he did them. And walking and swimming that more akin to directional floating than real swimming. "Yeah. " He did as Gil described hissing at the resistance his leg gave. "No likely to ever be getting prizes for running anywhere any time soon."

"Next time there's a big race, you get to drive the spotter car." Gil slid the leg of his pants under his foot, and made sure he'd 'stepped' through the hole at the bottom before coaxing him to switch legs.

It might've been funny if it weren't for the fact he really needed the help. "Hey, I'm a big boy now. I can very nearly dress myself," he said wryly. Sad thing was he liked the attention. He hadn't had this sort of attention for years.

But Vivian had been there and Gil... God, Gil was there. Gil was there with a lot more intention than Greg had ever rightfully expected he'd get from him, and it was just bizarre. "It's going to take time. Even when you get back to the lab, I'm going to have both you and Nick on lab duty for a few weeks to get your constitutions back up to nightshift speed."

"Think I might be a bit twitchy about scenes at the moment," Greg admitted. There, pants about on. He took off the robe as he looked for a top. He went still a moment as he picked one up. "I don't know how to speak to Nick," he said in a low voice.

Gil tilted his head a little, and he pulled Greg's pants up, fidgeting a little when it went over the curve of his ass. "Start with 'hi'?"

That felt nice. For the first time he was agreeing that he needed therapy as long as he could pick the type. Right now he was leaning to sex therapy. "And move on to, hey Nick sorry about that. Sorry about thinking about letting you die or blowing you up? Bet the claustrophobia's a bitch?"

"That's survivor's guilt speaking. And since you both survived, Greg..." Gil zipped his zipper up, and then buckled his belt, which left Greg free to walk away to get himself a shirt, if he wanted to. "What did you talk about before?"

Greg hesitated. "How good the drugs were? That we were glad to see each other again. That we were sorry." He swallowed a little. Both of them apologizing to each other and Nick looking at him with that look in his eyes that made him want to say nothing because it wouldn't be right or fair.

Being buried alive had to be worse right? He shivered a little. "Not much I guess."

"Before that," Gil prodded gently. His elbows were leaning on his knees and he was watching Greg.

"What?" Greg looked back at him. "What before?" The before when they had been debriding his burns, or stitching the cuts or had him on oxygen for his lungs, or testing muscle damage from electric shock or a damn big spike. He could go to Nicky and no one came to him.

Gil's voice was soft when he went on, and said, "Before the box."

And there it was. He wanted to say, 'there was no before the box. Don't you get it? The Greg and Nick you knew died and they ended where the box began' but that just sounded melodramatic and ridiculous even if it was the truth and could see in Nick's eyes that it was a truth they shared.

"Things. Stuff. I don't know."

"Sports, and games, the news, work, jokes. You just... talked," Gil suggested, and he was still watching Greg, gauging him for something Greg didn't know. That or he was eyeing Greg's bare chest, and he really needed to find a shirt.

He reached for one that was on the back of a chair. "It doesn't seem like anything anymore Griss. I mean, there's this big gap in normal things and I don't know how to pretend. And sure as hell Nick doesn't want to be reminded of anything."

But he wanted...something. And he didn't want it at the same time. Half of him was desperate for Nick to acknowledge what he had done, the other half just didn't want him to know.

"Maybe. I don't know. I emailed him, but..." Gil shrugged his shoulders gently. "No answer yet. Do you need help with that?"

"Maybe a little. Some of the stitches snag a little," he replied. He was afraid that Nick would've changed so much he wouldn't know him. He was afraid he had changed so much he didn't know himself. "If you weren't here, I'd probably be avoiding everything as well."

"You deserve better than being ignored, Greg." Gil moved behind him, and touched the edge of one exposed stitch before he started to help Greg with the shirt.

There was something unbelievably erotic about Gil doing that. Totally out of proportion to anything and oh, god it was such a small, delicate thing and there was an immediate flush over his skin because it just was everything about him. He noticed, he explored, he didn't withdraw no matter what. "I don't blame Nick. I know what it's like..."

And he wanted Gil to touch him again, smooth out the tightness in his chest and his nipples, to explore every last wriggly line, stitch and wound. He wouldn't say stop, or no to him. He couldn't.

"I meant, by anyone. Most of the team feels too guilty to do anything right now. It's, not easy for Nick or for anyone. But I didn't want to leave you waiting in your apartment for life to start happening again." Gil's fingers lingered near his belt once he'd pulled Greg's shirt down, and then they traveled up to his shoulders, pressing gently.

He wasn't going to stop him touching him. "Well they shouldn't feel guilty. I can get over myself now I know there was no me to get over." He smiled a little ruefully. "And your mom is great. She's been teaching me to paint and things. I suck."

"She spent years trying to teach me." Gils' voice sounded like it was smiling, and his fingers lingered on the old scars at the nape of Greg's neck. "And I kept drawing insects. C'mon. Let's see what she has planned for dinner and see if she'll let us help."

He wasn't going to tell Gill what he kept drawing, even if he was getting better and better at the technical aspects and the sketch book was evolving an actual picture that he might try on a real canvas. Vivian said he should, so he would. "Sure. Let's go."

And maybe after a little time, this wouldn't have been the most surreal day ever. He was hoping he would look back at the now with an assessing eye and say, yeah that's when it all started, not yeah, that was when my dreams ended. Either way it meant he was feeling something.

Something other than hollowness. It was anticipation and fear and guilt and worry and arousal, all bundled together and it probably meant he was a mess still, but he had something to lean on. Gil meant it, really meant that he wanted to help Greg, and there was no question that Vivian was trying.

It felt like too little too late.

It felt a lot like throwing sandbags into the middle of a flooding river, right where there had once been a riverbank, and where there were now fishes and a plethora of wildlife. A little too late to bother trying, or a failure to start soon enough or... But Gil was not to be deterred. He couldn't, and it wasn't a lost cause.

Greg wasn't a lost cause. But trying to add sugar to burnt coffee was.

"She sat up all night looking through old art show photographs. I'm not surprised that she's still sleeping. I've been told that people do that when they retire."

"Not your mom," Greg replied yawning a little. "She's been running me into the ground." He was half slumped over the kitchen table, the remains of breakfast next to him. "And you should be sleepier. I uh... look sorry about the whole waking you up thing. I forgot there was someone who could hear me when I weird out to nightmares."

It had been a little like having a gun fired in his ear -- someone screaming in the middle of the night, and noises of thrashing, pain. Gil had almost fallen out of bed trying to investigate quickly, and his heart rate had shot up when he'd realized it was Greg's room, Greg's voice, and Greg fighting with his bedding.

Gil clinked the spoon against the inside of his cup a little. "That's okay. It wasn't as if you chose to dream."

"Well if I did, there would have been better ones to choose from," Greg said yawning again. "Sorry, I haven't really worked out how to stop that from happening. Usually happens a couple of times a night. I have a nightmare, I scream, I wake up, I convince myself I not there I go back to sleep and then it all goes on again. You might want to invest in earplugs."

He just gave a shrug. Mostly because he'd thought about it and didn't want to admit it to Greg, and because he already had a pair. But as interesting as it was to wonder what deafness felt like, he'd felt it. It wasn't so fascinating anymore, it simply... was. It was and it was real and he was afraid of it, just a little. "That's all right. What did you do before when you had bad dreams? It might help to get back to some kind of routine."

Greg looked at him, his hair still tousled. "In Vegas? Go out some. Think about you some more." He smiled a little. "Truth was Griss, I was doing lab stuff for Ecklie, and doing the CSI studying, and then doing work, sorting out my Mom and Dad's estate, dealing with Poppa Olaf's things... I guess until recently I haven't had a lot of spare time to do things. I'd go up to Lake Mead pretty often and hope for a freak wave."

"Caused by a wild jet skier?" Gil lifted the mug to his mouth, and took a sip. He'd definitely burnt it, but Greg hadn't seemed to mind. Greg was a coffee connoisseur, so if he'd missed that fact then he was more tired than Gil was. "Have you taken advantage of the ocean?"

"Not really. Vivian dragged me out there to sculpt with her. That was fun," he said and smiled again. "I don't think I can surf any more. My leg is too shaky and I just can't twist much."

"I tried surfing a few times." The lift of Greg's mouth made Gil's stomach twist and settle high in his chest. "And no, I wasn't good at it. But there's a lot you can do on the beach other than surf."

"Oh yeah?" Greg asked. "I can sunbathe with the best of them. What else is there?"

"Looking for hermit crabs and other wildlife. Watching the surf. Digging holes in the wand. Sea shells." Seashells that sometimes had hermit crabs. "Looking for beetles. Getting sand up your shorts. You don't need to go outside with a goal."

Greg was smiling at him a little. "That's what you do?" he asked. "I find it hard to imagine you without some sort of goal."

He paused a moment. "Actually I'm finding it hard to imagine you in shorts."

It was worth it to have Greg smiling. There were all sorts of logistical reasons for Greg to not do more than stick his feet in the water, health reasons, but it didn't mean that Greg couldn't enjoy the ocean. "I own shorts. Is that a challenge?"

"Yeah, I guess," Greg replied. "You take me to your beach in shorts and I'll wear them too and you show me how to be a beach bum."

"Tomorrow I'll drag you off to museums and things. They'll balance each other out." Gil finished his coffee, and stood up with a lazy stretch. "If you listen long enough, even the quiet out here can be loud and amusing." And the neighbors around his mother's place were all older, mostly. Original owners, with grown up kids, and a view that most people would give an eye tooth for in retirement. Already there.

Greg nodded. "Sure. Just as well it's not far to the beach huh? Shall I go get changed?"

Like he needed permission to do that, but there was something uncertain under Greg's words, something that ran deeper than the need for approval. Gil was used to watching him, and he had noted even if none of the others had worked it out how much Greg had toned himself down so he was one of them. Asking them questions Gil knew he knew the answers too, not making any big deals about the sorts of reports he was giving back. It irritated him to the point that he had been critical where with someone else they might've received praised. He hated people not making the most of their talents, their abilities and he had always seen more in Greg then he appeared to be giving the department.

He just hadn't ever known how to bring it up. Hadn't ever known how to broach the topic, to ask Greg what was with the act. It didn't seem like the right time, now, either. "If you want to."

"I'm going to get changed," Greg said decisively. "And I'm bringing the camera so I can prove you have legs under there."

He actually seemed relatively together this morning, in contrast to the emotional flailing that he had done the day before. Not that surprising as being discovered by your boss while posing naked for his mother had to be traumatizing enough let alone everything else.

"I'll be back in a minute, then." Proving that he had legs. That was... Gil shook his head a little as he wandered down the hallway. They didn't have to be quiet, and he could hear movement in his mother's bedroom as he passed it heading down the hallway. She was awake.

For someone who was deaf, she never seemed to miss much and always had an unerring sense of when he was trying to do something inadvisable or particularly stupid. More to the point he now had to find himself a pair of shorts that fitted. It wasn't something that he wore in Vegas.

Looking for shorts was probably particularly stupid, and that was probably what had actually woken her up, Gil decided as he closed the 'guest bedroom' door behind him. He had some old books and things there, things that his mother had kept, but it was otherwise just another guest bedroom for someone who liked to host visitors and have friends over.

Shorts, shorts...

His mother had a cupboard where she stored some of the old clothes and things that he could use when he visited. The problem was that he seemed to remember the last time he looked, the shorts situation ranged from pink rather tight shorts, through to a very faded denim, to one that fitted well but had a rip that showed things a little.

Denim it was going to be. So Greg could get a laugh, at least. He didn't have much need for shorts in Vegas, working nightshift -- it was cold enough to warrant pants most every day.

Hopefully Greg wouldn't catch him rummaging through the cupboard.

If he spotted the pink shorts, he'd never hear the end of it. They had been in fashion in the late 80's when he got them. Just went to show, he didn't get all his clothes covered with decomposing corpse as his Mom used to complain.

"I put your shorts and t-shirts out to air yesterday," his mother said behind him having somehow managed to materialize there. "Here..." She thrust a bundle of clothes at him. "You are going to the beach?"

"At least until he goes tired." Gil took the bundle a little gratefully, and half turned to head back towards his room. "Thank you. You've done a lot to help him."

"He is a remarkable young man," Vivian replied. "I understand now your fascination with him even if you deny that it has been fascination. Be careful, he has... emotional storms, not surprisingly." She looked at him and then moved to go to the kitchen. "Tell him I want him to take some pictures for the exhibition. He likes to have some sort of focus."

"I will." Not that he knew what exhibition it was or what she meant by pictures. Gil had learned he could always ask later, particularly since she was wandering off to get breakfast now.

It meant Gil could slip back into the guestroom with his lighter clothes in hand. He'd brought a few t-shirts with him, and some better lighter clothes, but nothing for keeping Greg amused on the beach.

As he got changed he wasn't exactly sure what to think about what had happened the night before. About the kissing and everything. Greg wasn't at his most stable and it was difficult not to have a prickling feeling of guilt that maybe he was doing this move too soon or even too late. That Greg might only be saying it because he was emotionally twisted out of shape, or... something. He'd had five years and not really given much of an indication that he was specifically interested in him aside from his need for approval. But he seemed to want that approval from everyone.

Hopefully he also wasn't sexually interested in everyone. Gil should have paid more attention, better attention, to Greg's needs and wants and the subtleties, and maybe they wouldn't be there. Maybe...

Maybe wasn't a game that Gil liked to play. It didn't solve anything and it didn't get anyone anywhere, but it was there in the back of his head going 'If only' in a very quiet voice. If only.

He prided himself on not having many regrets, but the ones he did have made up in quality what he lacked in quantity. Not responding to a member of his team had seemed like the only option, the sensible option. You didn't advertise that you were gay or bisexual, not in any of the law enforcement departments. You didn't act unprofessionally, you didn't give an easy ride, you did nothing that wasn't correct.

For all his attempts to do the right thing, his track record with relationships were complete unmitigated disasters. Something was always in the way and he sometimes felt that people thought he was complicated where he was in fact very simple.

He tried hard to do what was right, and it usually backfired, and if he thought about it, that was all he was trying to do then, too. He didn't want Greg to flounder, and he didn't want Greg to be alone while he recovered. He'd seen the glint of envy in Greg's eyes when he'd said that Nick was going home to his family, and it was probably a well justified glint. Greg didn't have anyone to go home to, so...

So A plus B equaled C for Gil.

Hopefully it equaled C for Greg, too.

He wanted to believe that maybe there might just be something to Greg's declaration of interest in him, but it was difficult to do when he had sat through one too many lectures and seminars on atypical emotional responses from victims of crime, or survivors of traumatic incidents.

His shorts were on, his t-shirt too and he was a long way from the Gil Grissom that graced the Las Vegas crime lab.

He grabbed a baseball cap out of his bag on his way out of the room, and half-closed the door behind him. Greg was either in his room, or in the bathroom, or hell, maybe he was already waiting for Gil, Camera in hand.

It was nearly the last as Greg came out of his room, camera in hand and the expression on his face was unguarded for just a moment. He'd trained himself to watch for unguarded moment and there in that split second he could see how very far from okay Greg really was, even before the part smile made a reappearance.

"Hey...I never thought you'd do it," Greg replied. His own legs were a peculiar mish mash of bandages and some just healing injuries. His knee had a support bandage on in, rather sensibly if they were walking across sand, but he had also kept his word even if from the look of him, he found being exposed very unsettling.

"Wear shorts?" Gil looked down at his bowed legs, and then shrugged at Greg. "I should probably get new ones. It's been a while. You look comfortable."

"I have to wear them loose to get them over my...knee," Greg said looking down at his leg for a moment. He smiled again at him. "Denim huh?"

"I had a wide variety to choose from. Denim, pink, or torn." Gil walked at a pace Greg could keep up with, heaving towards the front door and past the kitchen. His mother was making coffee for herself, and Gil signed ~"We'll be back later."~

"Have fun boys," she said as they were leaving. "Don't bring back any dead birds Gil."

Greg grinned a little at that. "Wish I'd seen the pink," he said as they headed outside.

"They probably don't fit." He wasn't as fit as he'd been when he'd bought then, and as it was, shorts were probably enough of an amusement for them both. "Remember that, Greg. Don't let me try to hide any dead birds in the house." He took the stairs casually, maybe a little slowly, keeping note of Greg's pace.

"I'll do that," Greg replied and limped along with a peculiar rolling gait. "Bit stiff this morning, sorry. So, we head anywhere in particular on the beach?"

"No. Just..." Gil gestured towards the water. "That way. Do you want me to duck back inside and grab a blanket ?"

"Nah, that might get in the way of the sand in the shorts experience," Greg said looking at the water. "Some rollers out there."

For all his protestation he had a look in his eye that he wanted to be out there trying to surf. He looked away from the sea and back to the beach.

"It's beautiful." Awe inspiring, with the sun just gilding the edges of the water, making it shine and sparkle, making the sand gleam. Gil started onto the beach the part of it just behind the house that Greg had probably overlooked the whole time.

"With this here, why did you ever move to Vegas?" Greg asked as they strolled slowly along. He seemed to be looking at his surroundings with a high degree of intensity, whether scanning for threats or just flushed with the novelty of survival he wasn't missing anything.

"Because that was where life took me." Gil's mouth twisted a little as he looked over at Greg, catching the way his eyes lingered on the water. He was going to get Greg to at least put his feet in the water. A little wet sand between his toes, at least. "If it's any consolation, when I worked LA county, the view from my apartment was of a parking lot that the homeless camped in."

"Sounds a bit like my place in New York. Even if I wasn't there that long. Death-trap apartment of doom," Greg replied. "Civilizations of bugs warring among themselves for possession of the fridge."

"The day I moved in, I started to catalogue what I was convinced was a civilization of insects that had evolved separate of the rest of their species." Gil started to veer, walking closer and unerringly towards where tiny waves slid over smooth wet sand.

"Wouldn't surprise me if they had." Greg looked at the water. "I sometimes wonder how I survived in New York. It's as way out there as Vegas - well, with a different tone to it you know? I learned how to conveyer belt semen testing in that lab. There never seemed to be a crime there that didn't involved someone jacking off somewhere."

"It helped you in the long run, though. I learned in the county what every kind of gunshot wound looked like. And started to become accustomed to showing up at fresh crime scenes." Gil's eyes slid towards the sea, too, and he watched it for a moment, still walking with Greg. "You handled your first crime scene better than I did, you know."

"My first one? The one where I froze up?" Greg looked at him. "Bus crash thing?"

"You were observant and curious." Gil took a few more steps, and just stood there in wet sand. "I tripped over the body at my first scene."

Greg smiled a little. "You tell me these things and I just can't think of you doing that. I can remember Jim winding you up about the body falling out of the car onto you - not even your fault but the nearest to a mistake he'd seen in years. I went out there thinking I would be some help and I was...useless."

"You were there and on hand to take DNA back to the lab and process it," Gil pointed out. There was a wave coming up, and it was going to wash over their feet.

Greg was watching it. "I guess." He wasn't too convinced though but as the waved made his sneakers wet, he bent awkwardly to take them off. "I never could walk on sand unless I was barefoot."

"If something hops out of the sand and bits you, we're only feet away from the house and one of the most extensive first aid kits in the city." He could press the other issue later, once he got Greg to relax a little. Gil already moved to steady him while he got his sneakers off. "Here."

"Thanks," Greg replied and that arm was reaching all the way around him and not letting go even as he straightened up. "I've been stung by a few things in my time. Done more damage to myself on rocks to be honest."

The closeness was nice. Greg's fingers shook a little, nerves or a muscle tremor like he'd had after the lab had exploded. "It's fairly smooth out here," Gil commented, "But if I assure you there's nothing, we'll find a knife buried blade up in the sand." With a body attached.

Greg smiled again and stood there looking at him for a long moment. "Yeah. With my luck, yeah. Sure you feel safe being out with me?" he asked semi-joking.

"Very safe. So, is it going to be playing in the sand or looking for beach wildlife?" Or standing there looking at each other's eyes and feeling so close, feeling like he wanted to lean in and kiss Greg when that wasn't why he was there at all.

Especially when Greg was just looking at him, so close to him that he felt there was some sort of gravity well developing between them that meant he had to concentrate to not be drawn towards him. His eyes had that same look that they'd had after the lab explosion that made his own feelings twist inside.

"Is there an innuendo in either of those statements I can run after?"

And all he could do was stand there, watching Greg. He probably looked like a fish -- he felt like one, trying to weigh the pros and cons of any answer he'd be giving. "I meant it innocently, but I'm also open to suggestions." While it wasn't a private beach, it was certainly secluded, and early enough in the day that Gil wasn't worried.

"I'm not freaking out now," Greg replied. "I'm just saying. We don't have to do anything now but it might be nice to try it when I'm not kinda falling apart on you. Not that you weren't good to fall apart on - one of the best, I just thought that you would be thinking that I didn't know what I doing or something and I did. I do. Well, as much as I've ever known considering nothing in my life goes to plan one way or another. So I was..uh..."

Greg dried up half way through his blurted out speech that he had obviously been over-thinking one way or another.

It was a shame, because Gil could follow over-thinking. It told him a lot about Greg's train of thought, and it made Gil smile as he slid an arm gently over Greg's shoulder. "Here, why don't we sit down?"

"Yeah okay..." Greg agreed readily to that. "Only, a bit further back yeah? I don't need to get wet spots on my shorts."

He sounded anxious, a little reminiscent of his lab days.

"No wet spots on your shorts. Right." Just a few feet back. Greg's legs were unsteady on the sand, but they managed pretty well, and Greg was holding onto his sneakers in one hand.

Greg lowered himself down to the warm sand carefully and laughed a little. "You still make me nervous Grissom. I just think and think and keep on thinking and come up with complete crap."

Gil took his time sitting down, legs stretched out loosely in front of him. "Why do you say that?" And why did he think he needed to think and come up with anything other than 'complete crap'?

"Because it's true?" Greg replied and immediately leaned into him. "Because yeah, I'm taking advantage of the fact you are being...being nice to me and all the time I think, hey I'm going to wake up and I'll still be in the box because that still seems more real than any of this. I can't explain it properly. Maybe Nick gets it, I don't know but everything after doesn't feel real so I'm not sure if it is. Which is good in one way because otherwise I wouldn't be saying anything, like I haven't for years."

"You're not in the box," Gil murmured. Greg seemed to be thriving off of the closeness, and Gil could trust himself to not be taking advantage of Greg enough that he looped an arm loosely around Greg's waist, low against his shorts, knuckles almost touching the sand. "Not physically. You're sitting on a beach in Marina del Ray."

"I kinda know that, but..." Greg shrugged a little. "But part of me doesn't. And there's a limit to how much I can tell anyone because I just don't know how to. Everything I say seems too small, so I ended up not saying anything."

Too small. Gil tilted his head a little, looking out over the ocean. "You can try to tell me. I'd like to understand better, Greg."

Greg shook his head. "That's the problem I don't know what to say," he explained. "I can't explain things. Where do I start? You're more likely to make more sense from the crime scene than from me."

"Whatever you're thinking and having trouble getting your head around isn't the crime-scene, Greg. When we look at a scene... it's facts and pieces of evidence that we interpret as best as we can. Impartially. You were part of that scene, though, so you can't look at it the impartial way you've gotten used to doing." Gil shifted his hand a little, just enough that Greg knew he was still there.

Greg nodded. "It makes things raw. I might just freak if we come across fire at any point. I mean, I wasn't happy about it to start with after the lab but now I'm… I couldn't stop it, and I had to just let it burn otherwise Nick would die, and me and it hurts. It still hurts now. It hurts I guess that I had to decide to stay there."

"It makes it feel as if you don't have a right to complain, since you picked to stay there," Gil guessed quietly. "Except it wasn't a choice, not one that you could make."

"I could've, I knew I could've. I worked out the switches, and I knew I was right, but I stayed there," Greg replied shivering a little. "That's exactly it. I feel guilty, always guilty about making a fuss about...shit, I was so wrapped up in my choosing Nick melodrama that everything else went out the window."

"What else went out the window?" Greg was thinking ahead, and he knew his points of reference, and Gil could only try to listen along. A wave lapped close to their feet, and Gil kept watching that instead of Greg.

"Everything?" Greg down into his lap. "I... the tape. The tape explained it or I thought it did and I hoped maybe someone might choose me and then when the feed clicked on with the message that if I was hearing it, it was because you had chosen him not me, and no one was going to find me, because there would be no ransom, not clues, nothing, just me decomposing in a box... I... wasn't actually surprised."

Which was where Greg's problem actually started. Outside of the box, from another source before Walter Gordon and whoever had put him away in a torture chamber. "Because you thought we thought less of you. Greg, if... if it had been presenting as choosing one of you or the other, as a person, I don't think I could have done it. I couldn't have picked between people."

"I'm not going to make you say who you would've picked if it had been that choice... I just..." Greg looked out across the ocean. "I can't explain what thinking that did to me. Like everything I'd been afraid of had come true. Funny, I wasn't so scared then, it was more like there was nothing left."

Like they'd taken all reason to strive to survive away from him. Hearing Greg say that again, hearing it calmer, helped Gil a little. The more he understood, the better he could try to help Greg put himself back together. He couldn't do it for Greg, but... but. He wanted to, and that said to Gil that he was already in deeper than he'd thought. "I couldn't have picked. I would have had to get Ecklie to pick." And ironically, Ecklie liked Greg a lot. Ecklie probably would have picked him over Nick.

"I would've wanted you to pick Nicky," Greg replied quietly. "I was pretty sure about that. Because I knew you would save him. And then the tape told me about keeping him alive, about the explosives and I had a sort of purpose. Keeping Nick alive. "

"Do you think you would've survived if you hadn't been trying to do that?"

"After that first tape? No. I didn't want to live." Greg said that with all seriousness. "It... well, I thought everything was over."

"I'm glad you didn't give up. You saved your own life, and Nick's life, Greg." And even if Greg was caught up in fear and worry and concern over what had happened or hadn't happened, it didn't change the truth.

Greg nodded. "Yeah. I... guess. I just want things to be like this never happened. I feel physically sick at the thought that you are all going to know what I did in the box, all the stuff I was saying. I... I'm like a big ball of weird emotions and I can be talking and then I can be crying and I hate crying in front of anyone. "

"It doesn't make you any less of a person if you cry. Or 'freak out', or anything else you might do." Gil had already watched it, and most of it... "If it helps, there was no sound on the tape."

"But it will still be transcribed," Greg said softly. He was silent for a long moment listening to the waves on the shore. "I said I loved you. I wrote it."

"Then it's going to become public knowledge in the lab. Or at least within the team." And Gil didn't care that they'd know. Greg loved him or thought he loved him, and... and there was no reason for Gil to be bothered by it. He'd kissed Greg and he'd felt for him before he always tried very hard to not tangle himself up with his subordinates.

"I think most of them know," Greg admitted quietly. "You know, I thought Nick would be the one who took it worse? But he wasn't. Warrick ...blanked me for a bit. But I think Nick helped talk him round some. Catherine just looked at me, raised an eyebrow and Sara..." he trailed off a little.

And Gil wondered just when that happened. Just when had everyone in the lab but Gil worked out that Greg was interested in Gil, or even went that way at all? "When was this?"

"A little while back. They took me out after the hazmat thing and I got drunk and made a pretty public pass at Nick. Said a few things that pretty much anyone could read between the lines about you know?"

"Ah." And no one had told Gil. That had been a strange night, though. The hit and run where the man had tried to mow down a taco stand because the old man who ran it stood up for himself. And not so long ago, was it? Just a few months before Nick and Greg had cone missing. "And once it sunk in, they didn't care?"

"Well maybe they thought I just didn't have a chance?" Greg replied with a shrug. "Nick had been a bit drunk too... That kid in the dryer. Hit him hard. Sara just thinks I'm crazy, you know like oh yeah, it's a weird Greg thing. Catherine told me to stop looking and start touching." He snorted a bit at that. "Warrick kinda backed off from me. Not like, overtly weird but... yeah, and Nick. Nicky was great about it. He didn't ignore it, he just came and sat down with me the next day and said it was okay, and if he had been that way inclined he would've been flattered and no it wasn't weird of me to want you, because pretty much everyone in the department wanted something from you, even if it was just to make you proud, or get approval or, not to let you down…"

That last one was Nick. And Nick had never let him down. Nick had improved so much, and maybe... Maybe Gil was a bad supervisor after all. Maybe he demanded too much of them all and got too close to all of them. Close but still at arm's length wasn't enough.

Close and sitting beside him, with the sun coming down at them was. Greg was still firm and solid beside him, the faint shifts of motion, of breathe, moving Greg's side in and out beneath Gil's fingers and the fabric of his t-shirt. "The things I miss by not going out drinking with all of you."

"Yeah. But if you had, I would've been too nervous to drink," Greg replied. "Still, I kept a secret for a pretty long time. Five years and yeah, they might've had their doubts about me being purely straight, but they didn't know about you."

"I don't... I try to not date within the field anymore. Tried. When it goes badly, it makes things strained at work..." Except he was there with Greg, and he already knew what Greg wanted. Knew what he wanted.

"Oh." Greg looked down again. "Well, that's okay, you don't have to even acknowledge that we talked about it or anything if you don't want to. "

"Greg..." Gil cleared his throat. "I'd be a poor liar if I tried to convince you that I thought that was a good idea. Just pretending nothing has happened. I am interested in you. Life isn't... without good risks."

"I don't want to pretend nothing has happened," Greg said. "And I know it's not a good idea. I'm a wreck, I'm probably impossible right now, and I'm a big risk. But when it all hurts so much all I want is you there, and that kiss again and just... you."

It was a conflict of interests for him. He was Greg's supervisor. In the case of what had happened with the box, any choice made in Greg's favor could be construed as...

Gil tilted his head, leaning his temple against Greg's hair. "I want to be there for you."

"Wanting is a start," Greg replied turning in towards him. "Wanting is more than I thought could have."

"It's the least that you deserve." Greg turned in towards him, and it was comfortable. It was almost... almost familiar, Gil wanted to say, but maybe fitting was the better word.

"I don't want it because you feel I deserve it. I want..." Greg settled in there. "I want you to want me. I want someone to want me. God that sounds pathetic."

"It just means you're human." Gil wasn't sure where what he'd been saying was lost in translation, but he was used to that happening. Things being taken wrong, going wrong. Greg had a reason to be all over the place, and it made Gil feel at least a little better. A little more willing to put in a lot of effort. "I do want you. And when I say you deserve to be wanted.. That's what I mean. You do. By whoever. But I want you... separate of that sentiment."

Greg smiled a moment, a small almost shy smile to himself. "Griss, you know you've always been better with demonstrating things than using words."

His tone made it an invitation, especially when he glanced up at him hopefully.

All Gil could do was smile a little ruefully, because at least in that case, Greg was right. Cases were one thing, and people were another. Personal relationships were different than being quick and glib with a suspect to trip them up.

For one thing, he couldn't and wouldn't lean over to kiss a suspect, but he could with Greg, and it was easy. Greg was calm and right there and it was right. No emotional or worry twinges when he pressed his lips against Greg's.

And Greg was kissing him back and it was... good. It was better than good. There was no desperation there, no panic just a wanting and a need for him. The younger man wrapped himself around him holding tight. "Yeah, that's more like it."

"I hope that clarified my point?" Gil half-asked, watching Greg and holding him just as close because he wasn't going to wait for an answer, no. He was just going to busy himself with kissing Greg again.

"Yeah but we could go over a few bits of it again," Greg murmured as he let Gil kiss him again and the tension seemed to go out of him and his eyes closed as he abandoned himself to that contact.

Greg was supple, and his fingers slid over the upper part of Gil's back, over the worn old t-shirt. His tongue slid against Gil's lips a little, and Gil let him in, a little suction and a little application of teeth, a nip and Greg's tongue, his mouth was so warm.

Greg seemed to be responding to that drawing him closer all the time. There could be no doubt that Greg wanted the kiss, wanted that and a whole lot more. He moaned a little at the nip and leaned in even harder then even as his hands traveled. One to cup around his hair and neck, the other to slide down. His fingers teased though his hair, softly and gently almost disbelieving in their touch.

It was kisses and contact that could easily become more, because Gil pulled back, started to kiss the edge of Greg's mouth and over to his jaw, where sensitive skin that didn't have bandages on it or scars could be found. Not much farther, though. There were just some things he didn't want to do out there on the beach.

Greg was breathing heavily after the kiss, turning to expose his neck and giving a small sound that was quite a moan or a whimper. "I want you... I want you to..." He stopped short of saying it in all detail. "Everything."

"Later. But yes." Yes because Greg felt good and yes because he wanted it too, but the later was because he wanted to do more with Greg first. Enjoy his company more, first.

The little internal rebellion didn't stop Gil from kissing along Greg's neck, sucking for a moment at a line of muscle.

"Near death experiences obviously make me desperate for sex," Greg murmured and was now practically lying in Gil's arms, with his eyes closed and towards the sun and sky. "It's probably something deeply psychologically disturbing about me."

"Or something perfectly normal," Gil murmured as he leaned back a little. Greg's face was a different kind of reddened than it had been the night before, sun-warmed.

"Yeah? Is it? It wasn't the sort of side effect I was expecting," Greg replied. "You feel great. Really, just right."

"I'm glad." Gil leaned in to gently kiss Greg's lips. "I should take you out to dinner. Or something."

"Yeah? That sounds good. Just us or your Mom as well?" Greg licked over his lips after he withdrew as if reaching for his taste,

"Just us." Probably. If he was going to give Greg something like a proper first date, it would probably be better if it was just then. Vivian probably was still going to be going through things for what she needed for the show she was planning. And she wanted pictures of Greg, but that could wait one more day. Greg's spirits were up and he didn't need to try to push through anything else that day. "Would you like that?"

"Yeah." Greg had opened his eyes and smiled. "Yeah, I think I would. I love your Mom, but I think I want you to myself just for a bit. "

"What kind of restaurant?" Gil shifted a little, cheating himself away from Greg slightly so

It was too tempting, way too tempting but even that moment of kissing was enough to have Greg smiling, and that was something strange and wonderful right there.

"Anything. Not bugs though, I can live without bugs. I pretty much eat everything. Anything." He seemed content to sit there with his arm around Gil.

"Pasta? Sea-food?" He knew Greg liked Chinese take-out, but if he wanted to take Greg somewhere it would be somewhere quiet-ish and nice.

"Either's fine," Greg replied sounding genuinely relaxed and happy about the prospect. He stretched his leg out. "I've gotta move… wanna show me how you catch Hermit Crabs?"

"Sure." Sure, because it gave a little distance and it was fun to do. "It does take a lot of bending or kneeling, though. If we're going to find any, they'll be around rocks."

"Well I guess it counts as my physio huh?" Greg replied finally moving to get up. "Either that or I get to pioneer hermit crab catching techniques lying down."

"I could shoo them towards you," Gil offered. When Greg stood up, he stood up, too, and tried to help him to his feet. At least keep him steady, something.

"I could also fall on them. That would get them caught," Greg said accepting the help.

"And crack their shells. And if I took you back inside with a hermit crab shell embedded in your chest, I'd be sleeping on the porch tonight." No, but there was a rockier area closer in towards the house, but close enough to the shore that the Hermit crabs could consider it ideal. They could sit near it and see what was there.

"Yeah, your mom wouldn't be pleased," Greg said as he made it to his feet. "She could make it some sort of modern art though. She has a...way with her art."

"She's working on some new show," Gil noted. "I think she'd like to use pictures of you for it. If you wouldn't mind."

Greg looked at him a moment. "Of me? Why?"

The worst thing about that was that he could hear Greg's genuine surprise that someone might be that interested.

"You're interesting. I'm not sure what the show is, but..." But she wanted pictures of Greg and she'd been painting him. Something with pain or recovery or survival, maybe.

"If your mom wants it, then yeah. Yeah, it's the least I can do. It's not like it's hard work," he said grinning a little. "Besides, I really like her stuff. Did I tell you she found me glued to one of her pictures?"

"What one?" It wouldn't surprise him. Most of them were interesting to look at, full of shades and shapes and colors that worked. They went well together. His Mom had said that just as hearing became more acute when sight was lost, she suspected her vision had developed similarly. She saw the world in a symphony of color and light that passed the rest of the world by. Her talent was to allow glimpses of her unique vision through her own unique Art.

"The abstract one of you," Greg admitted with a grin. "I didn't know until I guess afterwards. I just... I tell you, I would've sold my flat for that picture. I guess maybe that says something."

"You're not very fond of your apartment?" Gil quipped lightly. He slowed as they neared the rocks. Yes, there was a shell right there and it looked a little raised at the front. "Here, why don't we sit down? I think I see one."

"Able to spot a hermit crab at forty paces," Greg teased a little. He lowered himself back down to the sand. "Where'm I looking?"

Gil crouched down beside him, and pointed at the spiraled shell that was dusty and pressed up against an old brick. "There. Do you see that?"

"And it looks like an old shell. Is that what I'm meant to be seeing?" Greg asked peering at it carefully.

"Mmhm." Gil smiled a little as he inched in closer to it. He reached to carefully lift it by its tip, up out of the sand. The crab would hold onto its shell for dear life, so Gil tipped it gently so it wouldn't even risk falling. And there were tiny reddish purple claws and a body sinking back into the shell. "It's probably a new shell for it. Nice and roomy."

Greg grinned a little. "How the hell did you pick out that shell among all the other stuff here?" he asked. "Hey little hermit crab... earthquake time huh? Duck and cover."

Gil cupped his hand underneath just in case, and offered the shell over towards Greg. "It looked like if it was clean enough, someone would have walked off with it and taken it home. But since it wasn't, I suspected it was still there because it had a tenant."

"Aha." Greg said as he examined the hermit crab. "You know, having a shell and being able to pull it over yourself would be pretty cool," he said absently as the shell sat on his hand, the crab doggedly clinging to the inside as Greg examined it. "It was a good disguise crabby, but not good enough to fool CSI."

"He'll carry it around until he's too big for it -- then he'll start the process of looking for one that's not too big that he can't drag it, but not so small that he'd outgrow it soon. The life of a happy hermit crab is dependent on finding the right shell."

And possibly the life of a happy Greg Sanders ran likewise.

"Yeah. This one has go faster stripes. Bet he's one of the in-crowd," Greg replied peering at the crab as he very carefully put him down again. "Now I want to see if I can find one..."

Gil sat back on his heels, watching Greg lean over. "I think they congregated up here. It rained a few nights ago, didn't it? So the bricks here still have some moisture." And rot and other interesting things growing on top of it.

Greg flashed him a smile even as he half crawled a long a bit picking up a nearby shell and finding it empty. "Needs a To Let sign on that one." It didn't stop him, and soon Gil was watching Greg crawl around intently examining every shell he could find, deciding to keep a few because they were pretty and Vivian might like them with their blush of pearlesence and then crowing with delight when he found a large one in a very attractive shell and demanded the camera to take pictures.

It took Gil a moment to relocate the camera, and the first Hermit crab that he'd found. The camera was back behind them a little ways on the beach, along with Greg's sneakers, and Gil took them both back to where they were sitting. "Here. Let me get a picture of you with your catch, and then mine."

Greg smiled at him, looking happy even as he lifted his hermit crab up into shot. "Say cheese Crabby," he instructed.

"Barnacles." Better than cheese, Gil figured, even if they were land-dwelling Hermit crabs and not water dwelling ones. Gil clicked the shutter, click. It was probably past time that Greg's camera got pictures of something other than dead bodies.

Gil just hoped it was a new roll of film.

"Your turn," Greg replied letting his hermit crab down. "I'll take an arty shot after. Vivian was telling me about light and angle and how they get those sort of effects that make photographs more than just records. She knows pretty much everything. I decided you came by that trait honestly."

Gil handed the camera back to Greg, and lifted up his own smaller hermit crab 'catch', still cupping a hand beneath it just in case. "And yet somehow all pictures I take look as if they could be used in a court case."

"That's because your mom says you look at the world like it is going to trial," Greg replied with a wry smile. "I said I didn't believe that, I thought you just liked to know everything there was to know so you would take pictures that showed that. Then she told me I was stupid. " He grinned a bit as he snapped the picture.

It got a smile out of Gil. "There we go. That's been the long-standing argument between us for years. Art versus Science." Contributed to the fact that he'd taken after his father in that aspect and not his mother.

"There you go, crabby. You can go back to pretending no one sees you, now."

"Well she's one kick-ass debater," Greg said even as he shifted around as the two hermit crabs stumbled across each other and grinned as he took a picture from a peculiar angle. "Two hermits getting it together. Kinda like us."

"You're not a hermit." Or he hadn't been before the box. After, after Greg had become withdrawn. But there was no question that before the box, Greg had been gregarious and busy.

"I have been," Greg replied and looked at him again. "Sometimes."

There was a furtiveness in Greg's eyes, and Gil was trying to not read too much into it. He was supposed to be getting Greg to relax. "No one else at the lab would believe you. When?"

"Various points," Greg said with a slight shrug. "Since my parents were killed I guess. Going out didn't help much but I'd go anyway and not do much."

That had been before the explosion in the lab, before Greg had thrown himself into better contact with everyone in the lab and started to make friends with the other CSIs.

"Not much. It got better some, but I don't think I've had any sort of real relationship since... well probably before then I guess," Greg replied and sounded surprised even to himself. "I had fun, but..." He shrugged. "Things were different after the explosion."

His family was dead and he'd been irrevocably hurt in an environment that was supposed to be safe. And he was starting to try to expand into CSI. It had been after that that he'd started to take his field-training courses and evidence collection classes. At least, from what Gil knew. "How so?" Gil pressed curiously

"I guess I really had it hammered home there was no one able to come running if I screwed up," Greg replied with another shrug. "I shook for weeks, came back to work before I should. All of that because there were people there and no one anywhere else in my life."

"There's nothing wrong with wanting to hold on to what you have, Greg." Friends in the lab after his family, most of his family, had died. Gil leaned a little, and picked up another shell, one of the empty ones, and started to brush sand out of it with his thumb.

Greg seemed to think that was worthy of a picture even if he took it absently. "Or wanting what you can't have?" he said even as the shutter clicked. He looked at him and smiled a half shy apologetic smile. "Or thought I couldn't have."

It made Gil's mouth twitch up towards a smile again, a little late for the photograph. Greg kept going back to that, bringing it up like a raw wound that he wanted Gil to kiss better, and for the life of him, Gil couldn't. Helping Greg pull his self esteem back together would take years, even if Gil knew it would be worth every effort.

"I don't know why."

"Why?" Greg looked at him. "Because. Because... I've been watching you for years and I know exactly how you work with everyone else, but I've never had a clue what you really thought about me. Except when I did something particularly wrong. "

And yet Gil had no idea how he worked with everyone else. "I... sometimes have my expectations too high. I want all of you to do better in the field. I wanted to push both of you -- you and Nicky -- to achieve better. To think for yourselves."

Greg stepped closer in towards him again. "It's not something that's your fault. I think that's just the way it is. Griss, Nicky idolizes you. And yeah, I know enough to tell him you want him to stick up for himself but even knowing that I just couldn't ever do it for myself. I wanted to impress you."

"I'm already impressed by you." Gil tapped the shell on his knee, knocking sand and debris out. Greg's legs were splayed casually, and Gil hoped he was comfortable sitting like that. "So maybe you should move on to standing up for yourself."

Greg's smile then was less than convincing. "Yeah. Maybe. I try it's...just not how I've dealt with things. C'mon Griss, you were a smart kid, you know what sort of shit comes up."

"No?" He wasn't honestly sure what Greg was referring to, but he could guess and hypothesize on what Greg was talking about. Coping skills as the outcast.

"What, did they just ignore you?" Greg asked. "I mean, I know you pushed through early."

"I was a ghost. I went to school, I watched, I went home and did my homework, and spent a lot of time by myself or with adults." And a little of it had something to do with being raised with sign language. He didn't always have words to say immediately, and then he'd been as inclined towards talking with his hands as much as his mouth.

Greg looked at him. "Might've been okay if it went that way. I was put up grades, raced through everything but there were some pretty dedicated anti-geeks where I was. And I was like...the uber-geek. So I worked out how to fit in, to play to expectations and that took a lot of energy. I was good at it. No one looks at me and thinks me much more than normal."

"You're an adult now. You're a CSI. Normal is what you make of it." Poking at dead bodies and looking through things for evidence of a crime was normal, if you were oriented for it.

"Principle's the same Griss, you step too far out of the norms and you lose everything. You think I'd get on so well with Warrick and Nick if they knew the sort of scores I pulled in on my retraining assignments?" Greg asked.

"You scored exceptionally well, Greg. That's not... a detractor for any of them. Nick also scores exceptionally high, and Warrick is pretty far up there. So's Sara." But he wondered where Greg was going with it.

And he balanced the mostly cleaned sea-shell on Greg's lightly bent knee before reaching for another shell. It sat there even as Greg stared at it nestling on the cloth as if it were somehow meaningful.

"Yeah... Yeah. Only, I could've done better." Greg mumbled that a little. "They like to be asked. They like to explain things and I like them doing that."

"So you ask questions that you already know the answer to." Gil shifted, just a little closer to Gil. "I do it all the time. There's nothing wrong with it."

"You do it because you are teaching us," Greg replied. "Not because you're scared of being different." He looked at the shell on his knee, brushing it lightly with his fingertips. "But that's all old stuff. It doesn't bother me now."

"You're not scared of being different anymore?"

"No I am, I just know that's not something that's going to change so there's no point worrying," Greg replied fiddling with the shell and then just leaning into Gil again as if he had held out as long as he possibly could.

As if he needed that touch. Gil shifted to oblige Greg, sat down beside him and moved the camera instead of sitting across from him. Even if he did end up with a rock digging into his leg. "We're all different, Greg. No one's ego is going to be hurt if you don't ask the things you already know."

"But I like it when you teach me stuff," Greg replied relaxing again. It was amazing how tense he could get even in the short period of time apart. "I like hearing you say it, talking through things in the books and then what the books don't say."

"That's information sharing. But when you honestly know the answer to something, Greg..." Gil shook a little more sand out of the second shell he'd picked up.

"That's what makes you different Griss," Greg said watching him. "Most of my teachers and tutors weren't overjoyed to have a student who would challenge them."

"Greg, you've seen me be wrong. I make mistakes. I miss things. When I do that, tell me." Watching him from the corner of his eye, eyeing him. Gil balanced the mostly clean second shell on Greg's other knee and slid his free hand around behind Greg's back.

Greg looked at him. "If there had been anyone else working Nick's case he would be dead," he said as if that made his point for him.

"If Nick hadn't shot out the light and let ants into his box, he'd also be dead. There's a lot of Ifs, Greg. If isn't what actually happened."

Greg didn't say anything to that. "How did you find me?" he asked eventually on a tangent obviously not wanting to think too hard about how close it had been for Nick.

"Hodges came back with a hit that he had other land. I came along in the helicopter on a hunch." A hunch that either they'd find Greg or there'd be another scene to process. Or both.

Greg was staring into space a moment. "Perfume...." he said slowly. "I smelled perfume on my clothes when I woke up. I, I just remembered it. I was thinking how good it was when you found me."

And men didn't wear perfume. Gil shifted his arm slightly, and tried to not say anything along the lines of 'we knew there was an accomplice, we just haven't found her.' "I'll tell Catherine. She's working your case."

Greg shivered a little. "Thanks. I wasn't meant to be alive was I? I remember that. I remember..I think I might've had the tape in my pocket when I dragged myself outside but..I might've lost it in the fire. There was so much fire and I couldn't go any further. I remember lying there thinking it didn't matter, you still wouldn't find me because there was no idea I was alive even."

"We still had hope. I... Didn't want to believe it was possible that either of you were going to die. I nearly stopped when the man blew himself up instead of accepting the random." Gil moved his hand a little, rubbing at Greg's back gently.

It was becoming obvious that Greg wasn't just talking, he was starting to flashback because his breathing was becoming ragged. "It was difficult to see. My eyes were streaming and I couldn't run. But there was only seconds and... god... like a hand crushing me in fire. Bouncing over the floor and another explosion. Fire everywhere. There was something on me... I couldn't get out, and I kept thinking how it would look if you guys found the scene and wondered how I couldn't make a few measly feet to the door or window..."

"You did. You made it." Gil kept up the touch, trying to be there in case it went past recounting and reliving and into something else.

Greg was teetering on the edge of it that much was for sure. "So much fire Griss. There was a shard of the Perspex embedded like a cheap knife throwing act nicking my ear. I remembered the lab and thought I couldn't stop because there was no one coming to get me out. I think I tried the door. It was locked or blocked so there was the window and it was blown out and I hit at it, and knocked glass everywhere and then Kinda fell out as the next explosive went up. Then everything was on fire around me. Even the plants I landed in."

It was evidence, in a way. It was probably a better recounting of events than Greg had given the police, but it was also like an open wound being picked and pulled at. Greg's voice was shaking enough to make Gil ache. "I'm sorry we weren't there."

"It's okay… it's okay, I knew you couldn't be because ten seconds before you had to be there, helping Nicky. I could see that. I could see how desperate he was to move, and then the light and the earth coming in and..I knew you'd realized for him. But you wouldn't know about me, so I had to move fast and I almost couldn't do it... you know? I'd stopped myself so much before that pulling the trigger then was like... Like I'd pulled it on him. I remember taking that with me too in case, just in case someone was outside there, but I could barely move. Everything was dizzy and I couldn't breathe and..."

He was shaking a lot, visibly paler than he had been even moments before.

"It's all right." Gil's voice fell quiet, and mindless soothing was the best that he could manage then. Greg was shaking, and Gil could only hold onto him, stroking his back. If he had to, he could get him back inside.

Greg looked like he was trying to curl up while sitting there. "I rolled around in the sand out there, crawled a bit. It's fucking difficult to crawl when one of your knees doesn't work, you know that? It sort've made strange lights in my head when I pressed on it. And it was sort've like someone had flicked a switch you know? Everything hurt. Really hurt. Lots of different ways. I remember try to rip up enough shirt to stop me bleeding so much and I ran out of shirt. And then I thought that after all that I was still going to die alone. Even after making it out unless I moved. But I couldn't."

"It's okay, Greg. You made it out of there." And he was safe now, except if he was still reliving it in his own head then he wasn't safe from himself just yet. He was tired and it was still haunting Greg. And all Gil could do was hold onto him, steady him. He couldn't fix Greg.

"I watched the stars for a long while," Greg said eventually after a long moment of silence staring blindly forward. "I watched them and thought about you, and whether I'd see my Mom and Dad and have a whole tunnel of light thing. Kinda stupid huh? But... everything hurt. It seemed like forever. Then there was the light and I thought I was hallucinating you..."

"I can imagine that was interesting." Helicopter lights and Gil sliding down a ladder, almost falling on his ass those last few rungs because he'd seen Greg, seen him alive still. "You're here, Greg, and you're safe."

"I was so tired and I couldn't understand how you were there," Greg said quietly and his tone almost broke him with the memory what it had been like to try and get there, seeing him all over blood under the desert stars. "Because I knew I had to be some way from Vegas and you didn't know where. And for a moment when you got there... things were all okay. You were there. I believed I'd made it. No, no, I'm not sure that's true. I didn't care either way, I just knew where I was there and then." He glanced at Gil. "I'm sorry I cried on you. I kinda ruined any male credibility there huh?"

Gil leaned in to kiss Greg, just a brush against his cheek, before he went back to watching Greg. "Men cry. Nick cried. If I were you, I would've cried."

"I shouldn't now. I don't want to now." Greg was obviously trying to convince himself but he seemed a little less distant and lost in flash backs. He was still shivering even with the sun warming them both.

Gil kept rubbing at Greg's back, and shifted closer to him. "It's okay if you do."

"It's not going to change anything is it?" Greg said. "That feels kinda weird when you do that..." he observed almost sleepily as if the effort of retelling the event had exhausted him.

Maybe it had. His voice had been wound tight with emotion, and that could be tiring. "It wouldn't change anything, Greg. Do you want me to stop?"

"No. God no," Greg gave a tight chuckle. "No, Griss, I feel better when you touch me. When you're here."

"Then that's the least I can do," Gil murmured. He wanted to help, and helping, just being there...

It was a good day to sit on the sand, huddled together. Once Greg calmed down a little, maybe he could duck inside, make some lemonade quick, something.

There was silence for a while and then Greg said in an effort at some humor. "You get paid hazard pay for this right?"

"Nope," Gil answered glibly. "Should I ask for some? Because this is something I was hoping to do in my freetime."

"I'm pretty sure it's above and beyond," Greg replied trying to be lighter in tone. "I...just wanted to say...thanks. For this. All of this."

"I want to." He kept himself from saying that it was the least he could do, because Greg had already once discarded an apology that had gone along those lines. He didn't want Greg thinking that he thought it was a necessity. A Moral issue. No, it was, but Gil wanted to be there. "So, you're welcome."

Greg gave him a slightly shaky smile and leaned in. "I'm looking forward to dinner," he murmured. "And everything."

"Until then, you can relax and enjoy it out here. Or inside. Or where-ever. Whatever makes you happier, Greg. This is about you."

"Being with you makes me happier," Greg said simply. His color was coming back and he was less disturbed now than he had been and maybe it had done him some good to go through that memory.

All in all, Greg seemed to be doing better than he thought. Better than anyone had suspected

Certainly better than Gil had suspected or seen just the night before. It was strange, and maybe it was fleeting, but he was going to hope it lasted longer and longer between each bout of Greg falling apart.

That was the way people recovered, in slow gentle almost imperceptible increments of improvements not in wild jumps. And the way that Greg settled against him, and relaxed there was a gentle improvement for them both.

Dinner with Gil - and it was easier to think of him as Gil now after they'd had a mellow evening.- had been great even if he was probably talking a little too much. It wasn't too late even as they were heading home, walking slowly in deference to Greg's knee, general injuries and amount of alcohol he had consumed. He felt like he was slightly detached from reality and right now that was a wonderful thing. It filled him with a barely suppressed sense of euphoria that made every last thing about the evening wonderful. The way Gil looked, the way he ate the prawn that made him laugh and that smile when he did it so Greg knew he was doing that to make him laugh. It was every date he'd ever been on turned on its head and tied up in new knots and old longings and he knew Gil was his answer to everything. He always had been. Right now he was walking comfortably with him in public, his arm around him not caring about how it looked, what it seemed like and Greg knew this would solve everything. How could it fail? Gil was.. .what he had been looking for.

Gil was amazing. Gil was, if Greg thought about it, a miracle. He was a fascinating one of a kind person, yes, but the miracle part came in that he could even enjoy Greg's company, that he could choose, select to be with him and to spend time with him.

That he wanted to help Greg.

It wasn't pity, he was sure about that. Well nearly sure. Actually he was more sure that Gil wasn't that good an actor because he seemed to be having fun. He smiled more as he talked more. So he talked more to see him smile. He lost some of that pinched look of worry and Greg liked that. No, he loved it. It made him want to be himself again, so he could see that smile, that relaxed look more often.

He still wasn't Greg before the Box, but he was closer to something like it, and Gil responded to that. Gil was walking down the street with him, comfortable with the closeness. It was still warm out, even with the sun past setting, and street lights giving off a glow of light.

It still wasn't enough to make the stars dim the way it happened in Vegas.

He was warm and mellow and he just knew that things could go even better. Everything would be okay.

"You eat there often? They seemed to know you which is pretty cool. People tend not to notice you unless you are someone rich, famous or ...something in Vegas."

Something, he was definitely something.

A walking, talking news story was what he was.

"The owner is an old family friend." Ah, like Sam Braun to Catherine, except Greg was pretty sure that Vivian wouldn't have slept with Bruno. Then again, it wasn't something he really wanted to give a lot of thought to.

After all, Gil didn't look suspiciously like any of Vivian's male friends. "He used to be a partner in my Uncle's plumbing business, actually."

"That explains the dessert," Greg said."I thought he might've made it especially."

It was strange. The alcohol was having the side effect of making his leg and knee all loose. It wobbled unsteadily making him lean on Gil a little more. "Gotta say, it makes a difference having it really fresh. Never was that much into seafood before, but I don't know what he did to the prawns but..."

His mind drifted to Grissom eating the prawn. "You were pretty hot eating those prawns," he blurted out.

His inner censor had been the first thing drunk under the table.

It got a quiet chuckle out of Gil. That was a nice sound. It was the kind of sound that Greg could get addicted to if Gil let him, because it was nice. Gil's voice slid a little low, threaded with happiness. "The part where I bit its head off, or the part where I gave it a voice?"

"Well that was just weird. And also hot, but yeah. The sucking part. If I'd had another drink your virtue might not've been safe. " He considered a moment. "Probably still isn't. have you any idea how hard it is to make polite conversation or talk work stuff when you have a raging hard on?" Greg asked feeling the edges of his smile blur a little.

"Sometimes," Gil admitted. And his eyes slid down, peeking at the front of Greg's pants. "It's a nice night out, but we see a lot of nights. Do you want to head back to the car now?" Greg's car. He still had no idea how Gil was going to get home.

"That depends," Greg replied. "Depends if you are going to make me go to bed like a good boy when we get back, or if I get to take advantage."

It would be great. He wanted it desperately.

"So you have designs on my virtue?" Gil's voice was still light, amused as he started to turn so they could head back towards the parking lot.

"Griss, I've had designs... so many designs I could be some sort of architect of unrequited lust... for years. Yeah. Pretty much from when I was shuffling test tubes around to, to shuffling test tubes around in the field. I was young and impressionable and pretty much impossibly horny," Greg grinned a little. "And you, even when you yelled, I was rock hard. Especially when you yelled."

"I always wondered why you never seemed to take it personally." Gil slid a little towards contemplative, but his voice was still light, and maybe just maybe he really was remembering back.

Greg didn't care. He'd been locked in a box and expected to die over and over and in comparison embarrassment was a little late kicking in. "Too busy fantasizing," he said cheerfully enough. "Okay, so I did that about pretty much everyone but you were the one who came out on top. In all manners of speaking."

He remembered taking those memories home with him and replaying them, molding them into something he could enjoy. Was there any wonder he was desperate for the reality?"

The easy, relaxed reality. The reality that Gil was walking him back to the car so they could go home, and maybe they could fool around. Greg wanted that last part to happen the worst, the most.

"So, what other fantasies have you had?"

There were too many thoughts and images suddenly in his head from that question. Images of them tumbling together in endless sex, the sharp ecstasy of a rough and fast fuck, to the downright kinky. He'd tried a little of most things with the partners he had in the past. "Oo... pretty much everything," he said. "Though some of them would most likely get me suspended for giving you a blow job on scene, or being thrown across a table in the lab. And the other stuff we might need props for." He looked at Gil, still mellow and smiling even as there was a stir of arousal. "What I like with someone is only limited to how much I trust them."

He imagined some of the things, the more exotic things and knew he'd do any and all of that. "And I trust you completely."

He needed Gil to understand it, and could trust him to get the weight of the comment. Gil's arm around his shoulders tightened gently. "I won't abuse your trust." Not wouldn't. Won't. Won't meant that Gil was going along with him.

Greg knew he was smiling then, that empty wounded place inside him lost beneath a blaze of happiness, even as his right hand, toyed absently with two of the shells Gil had balanced on his knee when they had been talking. They were like a talisman of sorts. Some little gesture that Gil had done that couldn't have been over thought. He had no idea why Gil balanced seashells on his leg and maybe he didn't either but it was incredibly intimate in a way even more so than the kiss. It was a puzzle and something strange and beautiful and he took the shells and let his finger tips run over the smooth spiral shapes.

"I know Gil," he said looking at him. "I don't think you could."

"Good." Gil leaned over for a moment while they passed under a streetlight, and kissed his temple. "You're something special to me, Greg. You have been for a long time."

"Why did it take until now to find out?" Greg asked, really wondering for a moment. What had been stopping him?

Aside from the fact there had been no indication Grissom was anything but straight when sex even worked into the equation.

"I didn't think you were... inclined that way. I'm your supervisor. If I brought it up to you as a topic, it..." Gil shifted his shoulders, and Greg could feel the motion. "Could be seen as pressure."

It seemed so blindingly obvious now he said it. And maybe in some ways it had been that which had stopped his flirting getting out of hand. "Sexual harassment huh? I could've sued." Greg chuckled a little nearly stumbling. "Oops."

"I've got you." That was the important thing. Gil had him, Gil had a grip on him and wasn't going to let him slip again, or smash himself up on the sidewalk.

"I wish you didn't have to go back to Vegas," Greg said quietly as he righted himself. He felt altogether steadier with Gil there. "I know you have to."

"Four days, and I'll be back. Well, five days since I don't leave until after tomorrow." Gil held onto him until he was steady again.

"Would you... would you stay with me tonight?" Greg asked a little hopefully. "I mean... as I woke you up anyway? We don't have to do anything."

Although that would just be perfect if they did.

There was a quiet little space, and Gil's walking pace didn't shift any. He took a quiet breath, and then nodded. "We'll see what happens. I don't want to... do anything that you're not..."

"It's okay." They'd taken their time getting to the car and he was glad of it. "I think any of that is practically the only thing that doesn't freak me out right now. As long as it doesn't involve fire, spikes or electricity or tear gas."

Lying in bed with Gil beside him, holding him... yeah, that would be enough. Kissing and maybe more might just happen.

"I've, uh. Never run into anyone who'd consider any of those viable. Teargas in bed isn't romantic." Greg could fish his keys out of his pocket now, they were within sight of the car. Gil was driving right now, yeah, but Greg had the keys.

"It is if you've lived in New York," Greg replied with a grin. "Practically foreplay."

Maybe he should've skipped the pain pill. It had to be that making him so woozy. Not the drink.

He reached in for his keys, went into the wrong pocket and touched the shells again with a smile before finding them. "Here we go. I meant to ask, how're getting back to Vegas?"

"Call a cab, catch a flight back, get another cab home. I'll drive the next time I come back." And he'd come back again. Gil took the keys and murmured a thanks, before he guided Greg over to the passenger side of the car.

"You sure that okay?" Greg felt a little guilty at all that trouble. "I could...I could drive you to the airport?"

Assuming he could actually drive. He was just guessing that he could. He wanted to see him as long as possible. Be like one of those couples he'd known who couldn't seem to let go. It was a lot of trouble and he hadn't thought about it until then and that wasn't right. He should've thought of that immediately.

"Do you feel up to it?" Gil popped the lock, and held the door open for Greg, but hadn't quite let him go.

"I reckon I could manage it," Greg replied trying to sound more confident than he was. "Going to have to right? Got to have the rest of my stitches this week so I'll have to drive to the hospital."

Some of them were growing in a bit but maybe then he wouldn't be a patchwork man anymore.

Not physically.

"Or you could ask my mother. It might be good for you to drive, if you're comfortable."

"I'll try it maybe. Worst thing that can happen is I get stuck at the airport," Greg replied and got into the car. "End up being there for a week. That sort of thing."

He wanted to kiss him again. He wanted to touch his skin and make sure this was real.

"They have good coffee." Gil's mouth twitched a little. So close to kiss, because he was helping Greg into his seat. "Coffee and muffins. You could survive."

But if he kissed him now would they get home, and if they didn't get home they wouldn't be in bed and...


He reached up and ambushed Gil with another kiss, unable to have any form of restraint at all around the older man.

It was just as good as all of the ones that came before it. That was a little startling for Greg. Kisses with Gil stayed good and got better with time. They didn't start to backslide, even when he caught Gil off kilter, jarring lips to lips again for a moment before Gil started to deepen it.

He tasted of spices and sweetness of that dessert and that unmistakable deep clear taste he was starting to associate with Gil. It was like subsonics rumbling through all of him when they kissed. Hot, intense and genuine.

He could imagine mornings where a kiss like that lead to frantic groping and desire. He could imagine that kiss being the prelude to a night of slow building pleasure. He could imagine Gil in him, kissing him as he moved and... damn, he wanted that, needed that and his kiss was turning passionate and uninhibited.

And Gil broke it, gently, pressed his lips to the side of Greg's mouth before he whispered, "It would be more comfortable if we picked this up on a couch or a bed."

He licked his lips a moment. "Yeah. Okay. Drive fast?"

More complicated words and phrases were beyond him with the throbbing rush of blood sounding in his ears. Home, and a bed, and kisses like that...

The memories were a long way away just then and that was an incredible feeling.

It was good to have it pushed back, and maybe it would work. Maybe Gil could drive it all back from him. "Sure."

Sure, Gil could drive fast, and Gil could and probably would get them home quickly. He closed the door on Greg, and seemed to hurry over to the driver's side pretty quick.

By the time Greg heard the engine start and the keys jangle a little in the ignition, he was pretty much already mentally there, waiting for his body to catch up. His fingers smoothed the two shells in his pocket absently as he concentrated on not losing the feeling that was blotting out that constant aching wound inside of him. It wasn't far. It wasn't far at all and he could hold on long enough.

He was good at holding on.

It wasn't what he'd expected of Greg Sanders.

Gil wasn't sure what he did expect of Greg, but he tended to expect that his strange fantasies and fancies were things that backfired at him and never went right or happened. But Greg was happening, and Gil couldn't remember the last time he'd made out with anyone in his mother's house.

He'd somehow expected the mood to fade by the time they got back to the house but the moment they were inside and it was obvious his mother had gone to bed early Greg had practically pounced on him like he couldn't wait. All passion, all need and that was difficult to resist and after a few kisses he wasn't entirely sure why he was trying to resist at all.

There wasn't any point. Greg... Greg knew what he wanted, and Greg would say no when he wanted. Gil had stressed it enough, and kept murmuring it, I'll follow your lead, say stop and we will, everything he could think of to soothe his own worries about properness and whether he could do it.

Physically, though, he wanted Greg. Badly, and that was how they'd ended up on the bed kissing again. He needed to stop, needed to help Greg undress.

Right now, Greg felt alive and warm and the need that tangled into him through his mouth, through his touch all over was irresistible. His fingers were under his shirt strangely hot on his skin even as Greg broke for air every now and then, and then kissed him again, on his neck on his lips.

"Want you," Greg whispered as he kissed up the line of his jaw to his neck. "Yeah, It's okay. I won't break... haven't broken yet."

"This... shouldn't break anyone." Greg had a mouth that was amazing, lips and tongue warm and determined, enough to make Gil shiver. "Should undress."

""Mm." Greg seemed to take that as an instruction to do that to him, and teased at the buttons on Gil's shirt, even as he kissed, and tried to tug the fabric clear with one hand. He was only partially successful. Gil kept looking for trouble, for trauma with what they were doing and Greg seemed only needy rather than shell-shocked. "Yeah. Oh god, I want some of that."

And Greg's mouth delved in on his chest, sucking at skin as if he was trying to eat him up, and maybe he was. Greg was amazing that way, and a nip of teeth at his nipple made him wonder if Greg was even bothering trying to get it off. Gil shifted, tried to pull his arms out of the sleeve.

Eventually there were hands there to help and pull away the awkward folds of cloth, Hands which smoothed down over his torso, over sensitive stomach muscles and downwards. They lifted briefly before Greg tried to lift off his own top and exposed the scar patterned skin, complete with scratchy stitches that he felt now they were skin on skin.

Gil helped his drop it to the side, and then he slipped his hands over Greg's sides, marveling at him for a moment. "Every mark on you, Greg, proves you're still alive."

Greg's smile at that was a little twisted. "In pieces but alive."

He kissed him again and Gil knew that Greg still had problems about his appearance but it didn't seem to be stopping him from getting close so that had to be good. At least he hoped so.

"They're beautiful pieces," Gil suggested lightly, kissing Greg back. "If you tell me what might hurt, I can be a little more confident that I won't hurt you." Greg's knee, but what points on his back?

"I... I don't know. Sometimes it all hurts, sometimes I can't feel it right," Greg murmured back. "Just touch me Gil, I don't care. I just want you to touch me."

If Gil warned Greg to let him know if anything made him uncomfortable one more time, Greg was probably going to hit him, and rightly so. Gil twisted a little, moving their position so Greg was lying back on the mattress while Gil tried to mouth at his chest and pull his pants off at the same time, same motion.

He just couldn't shake the feeling that Greg would freeze up, or maybe he was entitled to freeze up but somewhere along the line Greg had become the one making the moves, pushing them to this time and place. His hands were on him and the way he moved under his lips showed he had no reservations at all.

"God...Gil, yeah..."

So it was past time to let his own reservations and worries slip away a little. Greg was still touching him, and he arched up against Gil's mouth when he stopped to suck along the line of Greg's collarbone. They both wanted it. Sex and contact and he wanted to get Greg's shorts off, but the knee brace had to come off, first.

That was a little more difficult and there were a few sounds of pain in with the small sounds that Greg was making as he worked at it but Greg seemed relieved when it came free, even if he clung to him a little.

"Fucking thing..." he heard him murmur, even as he tried to attract Gil's attention again back to his mouth, lips darkened with the intensity of their kisses.

"Don't let it thwart you." Gil wanted to admire those lips, the way that Greg's cheeks were flushed and his jaw was just a little slack when Gil popped open the top button of Greg's shorts.

"I...uh..." Greg's voice faded out as Gil started to gently pull down his pants. "I can't... I can't believe this is finally happening.

His tone sounded wondering somehow, as if something strange and frankly incredible was happening.

It made Gil wonder, just for a moment, how high Greg's expectations were and whether or not Gil was going to fail to meet them. He could only do his best and be himself and hope that Greg enjoyed it. That was all.

Gil leaned up to kiss Greg again, supporting himself on one hand and using the other

He could feel a hand working at his pants, pulling at them with interrupted movements as if Greg kept losing concentrations midway through a movement. And there, warm fingers smoothing over the soft material of his boxers, feeling around the shape of his cock with exploratory delight. "Oh... yeah..."

Greg didn't sound in the least bit worried or intimidated.

So Gil accepted that Greg was neither worried nor intimidated, and pressed his hips forwards a little while he got Greg's boxers and shorts down to his knee, before he dragged his hand up to curl around Greg's erection.

The gasping sound Greg made as a response sounded almost like relief. "Yeah... yeah..." His fingers in turn rubbed over the material and gradually pulled them down., skin finding skin and teasing with a relaxed easy. "I want this," he said in a rough deeper voice than normal. "I want all of this."

And fingers were curling around his cock.

Maybe all of this was all of Gil's dick. He wasn't sure, because as soon as Greg had said it, his attention span slipped sideways and then away. "Let me get these off." So they could be skin to skin, instead of skin to skin except for tangled knees.

He was helped with that, even if Greg made a few uncomfortable noises when the movements hurt bits and pieces but he soon pulled him back on him the moment the clothes were gone. "Better..." Greg whispered. "Much better."

Bare skin and stitches and sterile pads over the larger patches that were still healing, Burns took longer, and Greg knew that. Burns that were complicated with infections even if Greg was healthier now. He was eating and talking and his hand was on Gil's dick again. Gil agreed to Greg's words with a sigh, and bussed at Greg's lips for a moment. "I want to suck you off."

"I think I can live with that," Greg replied. "I want you to fuck me... think we can do that too?" He sounded hopeful.

Gil had been shifting, sliding down a little to kiss at Greg's chest, and the question almost made him falter as he traced his lips over one of the smaller marks on Greg's skin. "I, uh, don't have any condoms."

Greg laughed a little. "Neither do I... I'm clean but ...maybe we can save that huh? Wasn't expecting all this."

"And we have a lot of time," Gil half-soothed, pressing a hand lightly against Greg's chest to get him sitting back, to get him to relax. He wasn't honestly sure if he was clean himself. He was mostly sure that he was, but he also didn't get himself tested, and... and it was easier to just use a condom. Easier to just kiss Greg's chest again, licking a nipple.

That made Greg arch a little against him. "If you do me, I want to return the favor..." His fingers were teasing over his back and downwards, massaging and kneading at his skin. "I... I… have sensitive nipples... ah.."

There were the things that Gil loved to learn about partners. He liked to know what did and didn't work for a partner, liked to know what made someone twist and moan for him. Greg had sensitive nipples, but what else? Gil gave a faint suck, and followed it with light pressure from his teeth.

"G-Gil! You do that you won't get to suck me off!" Greg half gasped. He shuddered underneath him.

He liked that little shudder, and leaned on his elbow so he could slide a hand down between Greg's legs, stroking his dick. If Greg gave another shiver like that, Gil could just squeeze him at the base.

"Mmm..." Greg's eyelids drooped a little and came unfocused at that touch. "How can I... last with you doing that?"

"I'll drag it out," Gil half chuckled. He shifted, and pressed a kiss to the other nipple, letting air dry the one he'd abandoned.

"Gil... Gil, please I..." Greg was pushing against his hand, and huffed out . It was obvious that Greg's reactions were genuine. No one could fake arousal like that.

Not that Gil had ever seen, and he stopped, lifted his head and gave Greg's dick a squeeze at the base. Gentle, but firm enough that it would keep him from hitting the edge just yet. He could buy himself a little time, kiss his way down Greg's stomach.

"Mmm... fuck Gil, mmm.." A leg hooked over and around him, allowing Greg to cling a little closer to him, put on a little pressure. "I want… yeah."

"I want it, too." Wanted to taste Greg and hear him and see him, alive and coming and enjoying himself. That was what he wanted. He wanted Greg like that, all the time, even if it was impossible. He kissed Greg again, let his tongue slide into the dip of his belly button.

Greg was all muscle response and emotion. He was disappearing into sensation, and seeming to enjoy every moment of it. In comparison to the young man falling gradually to pieces against him on the beach, he seemed different. Like the Greg he knew and it was a great feeling giving that to him, even as Greg made small sounds of pleasure at each touch.

The sounds told him that even when he couldn't quite see Greg's face, he knew what kind of pleasure was going to be written on it. He brushed his mouth against the head of Greg's cock, still squeezing the base, and then started to work his way up to doing more than kissing, licking, tasting.

He should've known Greg wouldn't be silent during sex and he wasn't. There was some sort of sounds all the way through. A moan, a half word or phrase robbed of coherence, fingers in his hair, a quiver and a tremble of muscle at each touch. The sound of his name whispered as a plea, as a sound of wonder.

He was definitely enjoying it. He was definitely wanting it, loving it.

"Mm. Gil yeah, I love… love that. Love you."

And maybe he did. But he wasn't going to depend on those words until it had been a while, until Greg had started to put his life back together and made a decision about it, either way.

This, this was less complicated. Sucking on Greg's cock, knees at the edge of the mattress, leaning on one elbow and Greg's better leg.

Greg was moving all the time, pushing a little against his mouth with increasing urgency in his movement. "Gil, please!"

Please. Please, please meant that he wanted Gil to suck harder, wanted Gil to kiss harder, wanted Gil. Please meant that Greg wanted to finish, and Greg wanted to finish with him. Gil lowered his head, and pressed his tongue against the underside, trying to take Greg in as far as he could.

That was obviously Greg's sensitive spot number two because he twitched almost uncontrollably, and made an involuntary noise. He was gripping at the bed sheets as if trying to get leverage. There it was... and involuntary thrust into his mouth along with an involuntary cry.

Gil almost didn't even taste it, and he swallowed more of reflex than anything, swallowing and then pulling his head back so he could suck a little at Greg's dick before he released him. "Mm."

"Oh my god," Greg was shaking. "Oh Jesus... Gil." He stroked at his hair absently even as he went completely boneless for a moment. "That was... wow."

"Wow is good," Gil smiled. He leaned up a little to press a kiss against Greg's belly.

"Wow is fantastic. " Greg was trying to settle his breathing. "You... you give me a moment… and I'll show you what I can do."

"Take all the time you want." Because Gil was kissing his way back up Greg's body, taking his time working up to Greg's nipples again as a stopping point before his mouth.

"Hey, oh..." Greg gave that shuddering movement again the moment he nipped at one again. "That... can't be physically possible," Greg was saying in a semi-dazed voice. "Can't be. I've just come, you can't be making me hard again."

And he wasn't exactly but there was a definite twitch there.

Gil pressed a kiss against Greg's neck, and leaned up to kiss him hard. Just quick, just enough to let Greg know that he'd enjoyed being a giver. "Sorry. It hurts when that happens, doesn't it?"

"In a weird way," Greg answered and licked his lips a little no doubt tasting himself on his lips before smiling. "I think I can live with that. You wait Gil, I'm going to find your weak spots as well. Will you help me get into a good position? I used to be incredibly flexible - right now those sort of tricks are beyond me."

"What would be comfortable for you?" He didn't suggest again that Greg didn't have to, because he was smiling at Gil, and that was nice.

"Something that means I don't have to bear my own weight. You could uh...well, I could lie down between your legs or you could kneel up, straddling me?" Greg offered hopefully. "When I'm better you'd be amazed what positions I can do."

"Greg, if you were only interested in the most boring positions in the world, you'd still be amazing." He kissed him again, and then shifted. "I could sit up here at the head of the bed. Then you don't have to move much."

"That would work," Greg replied . "Yeah, I could just get into your lap then. "

Close and touchable, and Gil wanted that. He wanted to pet Greg and make him keep enjoying it. He wanted Greg to know that he was still desirable and that Gil wanted him, wanted to at least have him enjoy himself. It wasn't fixing Greg, but it was showing that there was still a lot of hope he could have of something like normalcy. Gil murmured an assent, and pressed another kiss against Greg's neck. "Yes. I'd like to have you there."

"You bet you will," Greg replied, his eyes dark with anticipation. He kissed at him as he moved to give Gil chance to settle into a comfortable position and he tried to carefully arrange himself.

It was a little like an inelegant ballet. Sex, Gil had decided years ago, was something that would seriously amuse aliens to watch. It was all funny shaped limbs and bizarre positions and twisted up bodies, but it felt amazing. Leaning up against the headboard of the guest bed, and stroking Greg's shoulders while he shifted to lay on his stomach, it was the prelude to something amazing. "Are you comfortable?"

"Mmm hmm. " Greg replied. "Probably won't be in the morning, but right now, yes." He lowered himself gently down so he was in effect lying and rest at exactly the right level. "How about you Gil?"

"Very comfortable, Greg." And hard as a rock, but he could distract himself by stroking Greg's shoulders, picking out new injuries from old.

"Okay then. Well lets see how you deal with what I can do..." he murmured and lowered his mouth towards Grissom's cock.

First there was surprising delicate flicking lick. Gil hadn't considered that Greg might be someone to take his time. Everything before had been hurry, hurry, want need and arousal. But now it was teasing flicks, soft lips and heat, there and gone, and back again. Beneath, below, around leaving nowhere untouched.

Slow, and idle when Gil had steeled himself for hard fast now now now kind of sucking. It made him stretch one leg out, sighing as he shifted a little to make it easier for Greg. "Jesus." Jesus. Greg had a delicate tongue,

He had a tongue that had no right to be quite so flexible, or inquisitive or seem to know that lick there would make him ache inside, and sucking there would make him want to do something hard and fast there and then. The younger man was in no hurry, and when he did slide his mouth over the head of his cock, and tease the tip of it in his mouth as he worked his way in deeper, he didn't seem like he was speeding up at all.

He was teasing the hell out of Gil was what he was doing, and it felt amazing. It made his balls ache, made him want to sink into Greg's mouth and his idle sucking. Gil didn't, though. He was going to enjoy it, let Greg move at his own pace, and encourage it, running hands slowly through Greg's hair, feeling his muscles shift, watching the way his lips stretched around the width of his dick. So beautiful like that, alive and sucking him. "You're amazing, Greg..."

Greg didn't say anything, but he did look up a moment, his eyes very dark and almost mischievous as he continued. He followed that statement with his first surprising strong suck, all the more surprising for the fact of contrast from his light teasing.

Gil exhaled, and it was an act of control that he didn't clutch too tightly at Greg, barely shifted his hips up against Greg's mouth. They were all natural reactions, the want to clutch, and so was the need to control and go along with what Greg was doing, let him lead it.

And what he seemed to want to do was to lead him a merry chase of sensation. He sucked, he teased, he licked and finally, finally set up a slow rhythm of bobbing movement that gradually picked up pace.

He wasn't even sure how he was managing to stay with him, not let go. Every moment was so close to a climax it was making him dizzy.

Just on the edge, and half of the arousal of it was watching Greg's cheeks hollow out slightly, his dark eyes peering up at Gil while he did it. "Greg..." Fuck, he was going to come and he didn't want to yet, but. But it had been a long time since it had been anything but him and his left hand.

Greg seemed to realize what he was trying to say and stopped the teasing and shifted suddenly into the harder, faster urgent pace that couldn't wait.

It surprised him enough that he felt the need growing rapidly, even as everything narrowed to that sensation of heat, moist movement and flashpoint intensity.

He hadn't quite imagined what sex with Greg would be like. It was one of those things he hadn't been able to guess what it would be like, and he would have been wrong if he'd tried. Greg was fire and control and a sharp edge of desperation, sucking on him hard now, and there wasn't any point left in resisting.

A few deep swallows and he was at the point of climax unable to hold in any longer. There was the burst of orgasm and release, and the smoothness of lips still on him, slowing and eventually releasing him, even as soft hair tickled over his thighs as Greg rest his head there and smiled to himself.

"God," Gil exhaled, smiling hazily back at Greg. He let his fingers curl in Greg's hair, and if he didn't think he could've hurt something with Greg's back or his knee, he would have dragged him up sitting.

"Was good?" Greg asked half sleepy himself and seeming to be very relaxed sprawled between Gil's legs.

"Amazing, Greg." Gil slouched down a little, petting at Greg's shoulders. "Wow works pretty good, too."

Greg chuckled a little and then pushed himself up. "Help me... shit..." His arm nearly gave way and there was a moment of startled annoyance from Greg and then he pushed up harder, and tried to slide himself up into Gil's arms.

"Easy." Gil leaned forwards, got his arms around Greg, and it was fairly easy to pull him close. close and comfortable, bare limbs and boney edges that were proof that Greg was still recovering from falling apart. "Maybe we should both just lie down."

Greg chuckled a little and relaxed into him. "I could lie like this forever, you know that?" he murmured. "You're warm, and you feel good. If I sleep like this you think I won't have nightmares?"

"We could always find out." He'd like to be able to reassure that he could do that for Greg, but there was no point in getting Greg's hopes up with a lie. "No harm done if it doesn't work, right?"

"No. In fact I think all told I don't lose out, because even if I have a nightmare, I will be in bed with you which is a whole lot better than being in bed alone and having a nightmare," Greg replied with a certain drowsy logic.

And Gil would be hearing it no matter what, so if he continued on Greg's logical train, it was better to be there in the room with Greg than sitting in the other room, wondering if he should get up and see how Greg was or not. "Okay. I'll fix the bedding and we can do that."

Greg smiled at him then, a soft blurry expression. "Thanks Gil. Really appreciate it."

He touched him softly on the cheek in gratitude.

Gil turned his head, and kissed Greg's fingers. "You don't have to thank me, Greg. I want this, with you." Even if it was a somewhat non-traditional first date. It was a hell of a lot better than a one night stand, because Greg mattered. Greg mattered a lot, and it was easy for Gil to start to pull at the sheets, trying to ease Greg back into bed. "Do you need to take any uh... medications first?"

"Probably. But better not with the drink," Greg replied still smiling as if he didn't believe it was real. "I'm not feeling anything except good."

"If you wake up later and need it, Greg," Gil cautioned as he pulled at the sheets again, moving them so he could pull them up over them both to make it comfortable for Greg. "Just tell me."

Greg yawned a little. "I will Gil." He glanced over at the side a moment where his discarded pants had ended up and then back to curling in close, tracing the curve of his ear with a soft kiss. "Like a shell," he half murmured to himself following its shape for no reason aside from the fact he apparently wanted to.

It was easy to shift in towards Greg, inviting him closer. Greg moved stiffly, but once he was comfortable on top of Gil, he felt supple, limp-limbed as he kissed at Gil. "It's amazing how you only realize the importance of something when you almost lose it." His hearing, and Greg. If he couldn't hear he would've managed well on his own, but he wouldn't hear Greg's sleepy murmurs. Gil moved a hand, letting it skim and rest on Greg's hip.

"I know..." Greg replied and he heard him exhale slowly. "But sometimes you know how importance things are even when you can never have them. Or think you can't. Don't let this be a dream Gil... please."

Sleepy slow words that made Gil smile a little as he closed his eyes, still idly stroking Greg's side. "Sometimes dreams actually happen. Get some sleep, Greg."

It seemed that Greg didn't need much more encouragement than that, because his only answer was a vague sort of sound as if he had started to talk and forgotten what he was doing half way. Instead, an arm draped over him, and a leg and there was faint tickling scratches from the stiff edged of stitches nearly ready to come out before Greg's breathing evened out as if it was perfectly normal to be in this situation.

And it should have been. Greg should have someone there for him in whatever capacity he was looking for. If he wanted to allow Gil to do that for him... then Gil was satisfied. More than satisfied, happy. It probably wasn't going to be a restful night, but it was going to be an enjoyable one.

Greg was beyond tired and coasting towards exhaustion and only the act of driving was making him concentrate enough to stay awake. His body hurt and inside his head.... God, the last time he had slept was when Gil had been there. He'd slept and then Gil had had to massage him into mobility the other day and it was like some wonder cure because when Gil was there everything was okay.

And then he took him to the airport and watched him get on a plane and the moment the plane was out of sight he realized how wrong he had gotten things. The pain came back, all the worse for the absence of that panacea. He had thought, assumed that something so wonderful, would somehow negate the terrible hurt place inside of him. Have a bad experience, have a good experience and cancel each other out. Great. But it hadn't worked like that. He had the wonderful feelings, yes. It had been fantastic, wonderful, everything he needed, but right alongside it the empty hurt feeling was still there. All the worse now for know he should be feeling great, should be the happiest he had ever been. It drove him crazy.

He was pretty sure it had driven him literally crazy. He'd wanted to sleep nights again, except Gil was in Vegas and four days was a long time. Four days was a hell of a wait for Gil to come back when Greg wanted to spend time with him and just sit and be and exist near him, and everything had gone to hell. Because Gil being there with him like that was supposed to have fixed everything.

Instead it had showed him what things could be like and then taken it away. He'd sat in the car outside the airport, convinced he was having some sort of fucking heart attack because it hurt so much. It hurt like withdrawal, it hurt like losing everything over again because he had a certainty things could never work if he was that broken.

And so he'd gone back and he'd started actually painting the picture he had been half heartedly been sketching out. It was burning in his head, in his mind and he thought if he could just get it onto the canvas maybe it would stay there not in his head.

Except it was down on canvas and it was still in his god-damned head and he was still in the box even if he was curving down the highways with a map spread out on the passenger seat. He was still in the box and it wasn't full of pain anymore, but jumbled thoughts and things, and fuck. Nothing had helped. Vivian had sent him to Uncle Olaf, and that hadn't worked, not really.

It just made everything that much clearer how fucked up he was.

He had never thought of himself as an artist. Hell, he wasn't one but he had been driven to do that painting. A maelstrom of glittering clear boxes filled with things, precious things, lost things, trapped things swirling into darkness like some gigantic whirlpool. He'd painted it large. Huge, on a massive canvas and there was fire and blood and lightning and metal and it felt so damn real when he was doing it he wanted it to stay there. Stay where he put it.

But when he finished it, two days later, no sleep, barely stopping to eat it was just as powerful as ever inside of him and he knew what he was doing wasn't working.

It didn't stop him, painting with a trembling hand, two fragile seashells, small, sunlit and beautiful right at the foreground. So precise and more than real where the swirl was amorphous and nightmarish and then it was finished and he hadn't settled anything.

He hadn't settled himself or his head or anything at all. And going to see his Poppa had probably only worried him. He'd been on the edge of something, the edge of falling apart, and he hated for Poppa Olaf to see him like that. Greg had lied and said he was fine and everything was okay, and he had good friends helping him. At least that part was true. They were trying to help, even if Greg was pretty sure that nothing could help him now.

He hated the fact that Poppa Olaf was looking at him as if he could see every bit of what had happened to him. He'd never been good at keeping secrets from him, or Nana. Well, Nana had been something else again. If she'd still be alive, she would've told him what the problem was.

But no, somewhere he'd thought it would help if he talked to his family, and got... something from them. An answer. Instead he saw how his Poppa looked when he told him even the least of the story and he just couldn't ask him for support. It wasn't fair.

He couldn't demand that from someone who'd given him so much through his whole life. Couldn't force him to take on that kind of burden when the people who dealt with it every day didn't quite know what to do. He'd told him he loved him and that he'd come back and then he'd just started to drive.

Truth was he wasn't sure where he had been headed. It was just a road to start with. Just driving away as if he could leave it behind. Which was stupid. He couldn't make it go away short of stay attached to Gil 24/7. He couldn't paint it out. He couldn't ignore it. If he wanted things to work with Gil he needed to fix himself. Gil deserved more than something broken and lost.

He had to stop somewhere and get gas, and he didn't know where he was but he was thinking, and thinking on the few things Poppa Olaf had said.

"And your friend Greg? You worry so much about him. Have you seen him? Maybe there should be things said between you that only you can both understand yes? The both of you in that situation. Terrible thing. Maybe he is thinking the same. Maybe it would be better knowing there was someone who understood even if you are fine, that's what I am thinking."

It got him to thinking about Nick. Where Nick was and how Nick was and what Nick was doing in Texas. If he knew, and maybe Greg could get him to forgive him for what had happened, for everything that had gone wrong.

That was the something that was missing. That was the thing he couldn't do for himself. It hadn't just been about him, none of it had. The worst thing of all was realizing he could be the type of person who would think about killing a friend, a good friend to spare himself. That was one of the worst things.

They hadn't said much in the hospital. Too emotional, too everything and he had grafts, and some surgery and Nick had already gone and he hadn't been interested because they'd chosen Nick, not him. And everyone thought that was okay.

Of course now, that was just selfish and stupid and one sentence from Grissom had derailed that particular pity train.

Next thing he knew he was heading for Texas. Just...driving and driving.

He roughly remembered where Nick lived, in a sort of way that he knew the address and might be able to hunt it down on a map eventually. if he'd had forethought he would have sat on a computer and worked it out with MapQuest, but he wasn't running real high on thought at all, let alone forethought.

He was running on empty. Two nights without sleep, driving, hazy exhaustion as the monotony of the miles of tarmac sped past as he inched closer to Texas. He stopped for gas several times, bought sandwiches and forgot to eat them. Barely remembered a drink because his mind was going round and round in circles. Rehearsing, wondering what Nick would say. Would Nick hate him?

It was a little difficult to see how he wouldn't have some problem with being told Greg had nearly killed him.

If Nick were Greg and visa versa, Greg would... would probably hate Nick. Or not trust him anymore, or something. But maybe he was a worse person than Nick. It was certain possible to argue that, that he just was a bad guy, a grudge holder someone who didn't let go, but Nick wasn't exactly a saint.

Nick had some moments of temper. Nick had even stood up to Grissom on occasion. Nick hadn't punched him when he made a drunken pass at him. He'd been a good friend to Nick after the thing with the stalker.

Pro's and con's and hours on the road.

Poppa Olaf's gentle advice about knowing where he stood, being the first thing to know before he could move forward. He knew where he stood with Gil now. With a lot of things, but not with Nick.

He was oblivious to everything as he drove on, hour after hour.

If you drove long enough, the dashed white lines started to look solid, and everything started to happen on autopilot, without him really having to think about it. He just drove, and checked the map every once in a while and got gas, and went on because eventually he'd get to Nick's.

It came as a shock the first time he saw a sign saying he was entering the City of Dallas because it would mean he would've had to have driven pretty much the whole day.

And he had to look at the map and head vaguely in the right direction and try and concentrate some. But it was getting dark, and things weren't so easy.

He didn't know where he was going. It was maybe time to pull over somewhere, get some sleep... Or at least some coffee and work out that he was headed to Dallas after all. If he hit the Mexican border, he'd know he was too far. He stared a little too long at his shaking hand when he reached for the map, enough to make him swerve a little erratically.

He was in Dallas. He was there to see Nicky and suddenly he was too scared to see him. The urge to do a sudden U-turn was immense.

The urge to suddenly cut and run was overwhelming, except then where? He wasn't sure what it would solve if he got to Nick, but if he didn't he'd always have all of those questions and Nick at least deserved the right to punch him for what had happened.

Maybe that would be closure enough. At least he would know one way or another how Nick felt rather than wondering over and over. Shit - he had the jerk the wheel a bit straight again. Not much, just enough to stop him drifting. God he was tired. And maybe he should've eaten one of the sandwiches.

He could maybe get there, ask the question and just go. That would be it.

That would be great. Just get it over with, and as long as Nick didn't kill him and bury him out in the back 40, then...

Then why were there flashing lights coming up behind him? And the woop woop of a siren.

Shit he was being pulled over. Why... what... shit...

He pulled over and stopped, trying to steady his hands on the steering wheel. He did not need this. Had one of his lights gone? Had he run the lights and not noticed?

It was all possible. Greg stopped his car, turned on his flashers and turned his engine off. Stay calm. It wasn't like he'd done anything worse than speed a little. No dead bodies or anything, just... Just he could see a police officer coming sauntering up to his car. Female, so he started to roll his window down.

"Uh...hi?" he said a little nervously. "Can I help you officer?" He looked up at the woman just hoping this wasn't just a run of his shitty luck.

"Sir, I've been driving behind you for the last three miles, and you're driving erratically. How many have you had to drink tonight?"

"Uh no?" Drinking. Jesus fucking Christ. "No... I'm sorry, I... haven't I..."

What the hell did he look like with his hands shaking and, nerves and everything. "I uh... I'm a little tired I guess. I was trying to uh... get somewhere."

She flashed the flashlight at his face, probably checking for dilated pupils in a way that made him flinch back from the flashlight for a moment because it was like the strobes in the box, even if he wasn't going to think about the box. "Can I see your ID, sir?"

"Yeah...I uh... I've got it here somewhere." At least he thought he did and for the life of him he couldn't find it to put his hands on it at the movement because his hands were shaking so much when he was reaching for the glove box and he was just praying he'd be left alone. All he wanted was to just get to Nick and say what needed to be said and now he'd stopped he was really really exhausted.

"What's your name, sir?" She followed the motion of his hands with her flashlight. Making sure he wasn't going for a gun, he knew. That was smart.

"G-Greg," he said even as he found his ID somewhere he didn't even remember putting it and then found himself staring at the picture because his own ID felt like looking at a complete stranger. He caught himself. "Sorry. Sanders. I..." He stopped before he could start babbling. "Here."

She took the ID, and flashed the light at his face again briefly. "Oh, my god. Greg Sanders?"

There was no reason that a Texas cop should know his name. Although, they had gone national with the media coverage. It had been too sensational to not be picked up. "Uh...yeah?" He knew he sounded worried and a little wary but he still wasn't in the frame of mind to think that a random cop knowing his name was a good thing.

The flashlight bounced a little, and she stepped back from his car door. "Why don't you step out of the car, sir. I'm Officer Allison Stokes."

Greg blinked a little. He'd been pulled over by... by a relative of Nick? What were the odds on that. No, hang on the Stokes family pretty much were the Dallas law enforcement team. Shit.

"I uh... are you Nick's... are you a relative of Nick?" he asked a little weakly as he got out of the car a little slowly and carefully. He really ached. He hadn't noticed but now that he was standing up, he really noticed. There was no way that he couldn't notice it, because his knees hurt to straighten out after being bent that long.

"Older sister," she offered as an explanation. "What're you doing all the way out here in Texas? Nicky thought you were in California?"

"I was..." Greg squinted at the flash light. "I uh...I need to see Nick."

That was all there was to it. It seemed a little ridiculous now he said it. "He's not expecting me."

"Not at this hour of the evening he's not. How long have you been driving?" She was still eyeing him.

He hoped he didn't look as bad as he felt. "Most of the day," he admitted a little evasively. "It's okay. It was stupid, I can't just turn up. I'll just... find a motel or something."

"Nope, not going to happen. Look... Did you pack anything? I want to drive you over there. You are swerving, so I can't let you get back behind the wheel, Mr. Sanders." And there was that tone of 'it's go with me or go to jail' in her voice.

"I..." He hadn't had he? He'd just started driving and he was only meant to be with Poppa Olaf for the day. There was something very embarrassing about the evidence of his erratic behavior. "No. No I didn't. I guess it was a sort of spontaneous thing."

Because people spontaneously drove across country all the time with no idea of what they were doing.

Perfectly normal, or perfectly something that Greg wasn't sure of. Perfectly something. "Okay. Do you want to grab your wallet and your keys? I'll call for a tow truck to get your vehicle."

He nodded a little, and bent stiffly to grab that and his jacket glad it was getting dark because he was crimson with embarrassment by now. "Thank you. I'm...I'm really sorry about this. Maybe you should drop me off somewhere else?" Because right now he was way to close to being goddamn teary eyed over something as stupid as being stopped, and then offered even a little bit of a favor.

It was bizarre, but she was pretty much a stranger. "Wouldn't think of it," she said simply, putting a hand on her hip for a moment to watch him. "Lock the door up, too."

It was weird to say it but she looked a little like Nick, enough so he could see the resemblance even as he locked the car and moved over to join her. He still had no idea what he thought he was going to do when he got there. There was a nagging suspicion that left to his own devices he might've parked up, then come to his senses a little later.

But he wanted to see Nick, because all that therapist crap about forgiving yourself was difficult to do if you happened to value your friends opinions more than your own.

If Nicky hated him then he would be beyond broken and way past fixing.

Greg nodded a little and looked down at his hands that were still trembling a little despite everything he tried to stop them. "Yeah, I can... understand that."

He had understood it in a different way before, skewed by his interpretation of events. There was one major consideration that he hadn't answered and there was a long pause before he said quietly. "You think he'll mind seeing me?"

"Not at all." Her voice softened a little, and that wasn't what he was expecting. Her eyes were on the road now, though, and maybe that was why she could talk quietly to him.

"Only he might not want to be reminded of bad stuff. I don't want to remind him of that." He swallowed a little. "You know, maybe this isn't one of my better idea's. Of course it'll remind him of bad stuff and I'm pretty sure he doesn't need any of that. "

"If you're trying to talk yourself out of it, you drove a little far to change your mind, didn't you?" And she wasn't going to let him drive off, not when she'd pretty much told him that he wasn't in legal shape to drive.

Also, it wasn't like he could pop open the door of her patrol car and hit the ground running.

It was a little worrying to consider that he had even let that thought cross his mind.

"I didn't really notice," he said before realizing admitting that sort of thing to a cop was probably not the most sensible thing. "It's just that... well, I don't know how he is and I don't exactly know what to say or do."

And what he wanted to say he knew was a disaster waiting to happen. He had a vision of getting kicked out of the Stokes' family home and his car impounded somewhere.

"He's doing pretty good. And since you're here, you might as well see it for yourself..." Greg glanced out the window for a moment. They were coasting through a residential area now.

He guessed he wasn't that far from where Nick's family lived. He tried to remember anything Nick had said about his home and family and details were momentarily beyond him. Aside from having more sisters than any guy should have to put up with, and pretty much the entire family and extended family being in law enforcement or the judicial system somewhere. And that his family didn't tolerate anyone messing with any member and in which case maybe he should've left some sort of last will and testament before coming to see Nick on his home turf. Grissom had said there wasn't a problem, but he knew there was. If he felt this way about himself how could expect Nick to handle the fact? Nick was the guy who'd been buried alive for fuck's sake. He'd been able to see around him at the least, he'd been able to know there was enough air, that if nothing else he would be breathing. And he knew how he felt knowing that there had been film, and them looking it over seeing everything and how weak he must've looked. Not that anyone looked good in those situations but there was always the comparisons. How would Warrick, or Grissom or Nick do if he were in my place? Or Catherine even..anyone...

The answer was always, better than I did, and...

The car had stopped somewhere in that last set of wandering thoughts.

Nick's sister was popping open the car door, and Greg had a bizarre moment where he realized that he couldn't remember her first name. "Here, I'll make sure you get in the house. The tow truck is going to bring your car down here, all right, Greg?"

His car would be there? Well that would be okay, at least there was a way out of the place if he could last that long. He moved to get out very slowly "Thank you uh.. Officer Stokes," he said a little awkwardly. "Will they be up..." He looked at the large house ahead of him with the lights on, and cars everywhere. Who was he kidding, there were lots of people there. "It looks like they have guests around..." He seized on that with relief. A legitimate reason to not intrude.

"Just the family," she smiled as she closed her door and locked it now that he was standing. "C'mon, I'll introduce you."

Just the... Jesus, he was in way over his head and the way she moved over to him, he wasn't going to get a choice as he was ushered up to the house. "How... how many of the family are here?"

"Visiting or in the house? Nolan lives up the road, and so does Janice. But Margret and Sandy are in from out of town right now, and Lauren was up here last week..." She glanced back at him over her shoulder, making sure he was following her. "It's been a revolving door."

Greg nodded following a little unsteadily. "Yeah. You've got a lot of family. Uh, are you sure they won't mind?"

"They won't mind. There's always room for one more." It was a big house. Seven kids sort of big, and who knew how many grandkids the Stokes had. He hadn't met Nick's parents but everyone else at the lab had, and they'd left a pretty firm impression on them all from what Greg could gather. What Greg could remember.

Allison leaned on the doorbell, and waited.

His memory had areas that fuzzed out at the moment, and others that were sharp as scalpels. He kept trying to stop himself from panicking and running which was ridiculous. The worse that might happen was that Nick might punch him out or something. Unless his family helped. This wasn't a comforting train of thought.

The door opened and it obviously wasn't Nick's mother or father but one of his sisters who looked short compared to Allison beside him, but had a much less laid back expression. She reminded Greg of Sara. "Allison? I thought you were working tonight?" Her eyes slid over to Greg and he resisted the urge to hide behind his escort.

"I am -- I'm going to be heading back out on patrol in a second. Sandy, this is Greg Sanders. He drove all the way out here from California to see Nicky, and got lost on the way." Got lost on the way. Drove like all hell, swerving and un-even.

"Greg...? that Greg?" Sandy stepped forward even as Greg considered that that particular tone was guaranteed to make someone paranoid.

"Uh yeah? I think." Greg was the only Greg he knew. "Not sure why I'm that Greg but I guess I am."

Allison cleared her throat, and for a moment it was a lot like watching Catherine and Gil exchange brainwaves over a case. There was a facial twitch, half a mouth motion, another quick throat clearing, and then Sandy stepped back. "Do you want to come in?"

He very nearly said no. If he thought that he could make it away down the road without one or other lassoing him or something, he would've done it. But he did still have to see Nicky. He did still need to know how he was and if he was okay, and it was the type of feeling that had drawn him all the way down to Dallas. "I ...wanted to see if Nick was okay," he said realizing it sound a little strange as a reason but it was the truth. "But I don't want to disturb him."

"He's in the kitchen with his nieces. It's no trouble. Allison -- you'll be coming back once you get off in the morning?" Sandy had a hand on the door, clearly waiting for Greg to step in.

"Mm-hm. Tow truck is going to being Greg's car up later. I'll see you all in the morning. Say hi to momma for me. I'll see you later, Greg." Greg, Greg and not Mr. Sanders, and that was nice and not quite formal of her.

"Uh... thanks... Allison, sorry for the trouble," he said a little belatedly even as he stepped to go in the house. The light in there seemed overly bright. Either that or his eyes were in the burning sensitive range of tired. Nick was in the kitchen and his ability to talk complete random stuff at an occasion had abandoned him.

"Not a problem." And then she was turning away, and Sandy gave a wave before she closed the door.

He was usually so good at small talk. He could do small talk until people's eyes started to glass over, when he needed to or when he got nervous, and right now he couldn't even do that. He just followed after her, and he knew he looked like a mad junkie. "Hey, Nicky! Got a visitor..."

He resisted the urge to pat down his hair because at least Nick was used to the mad junkie look and the kitchen was bright and crowded and there were people all turning to look at them coming in the door...and there he was.

Nick was looking up at him and he saw the amazement and the too dark eyes and he rather nervously raised his hand in a brief wave and swallowed before saying "Hey Nick."

He wasn't even sure what Nick had been doing there. There was something with what looked like dough, but it was green and there was a little kid who looked like a mirror of Nick if someone had shrunk him down and made him a girl, which was sort of a bizarre thought. A tiny little Nick wearing a pink t-shirt playing with green clay something. Nick left his coffee on the table and before Greg could quite process it, he was being bear hugged by Nick.

"Jesus, Greg! What the heck are you doing all the way out here? Good to see you!"

That actually kinda hurt which was good in one way because it cleared some of the fog in his brain and he managed to automatically hug back. "I... I needed to see you. See how you are. Talk to you."

It sounded light and frivolous when he said it like that. But there was a kid there with weird green stuff and it probably wasn't the place to fall apart. Not in the kitchen.

Not with everyone watching. It was hard enough to do with Gil watching, and Gil was trying to hard to be understanding. "It's good to see you," Nick repeated, pulling back a little. "We can talk. Was it a long drive? You look wiped."

He chuckled a little at that. "Probably a bit too long a drive," he admitted. "I haven't... well, sleep is… something I'm working on."

And not very successfully since Grissom had gone home.

The edge of Nick's mouth pulled up a little, and he patted Greg's shoulder lightly. "Sometimes it takes a little work. Do you want something to eat or drink? Hey, Sandy, Margret? I'm, uh... Greg, are you gunna stick around here or hit a hotel?"

"Uh, your sister wouldn't let me drive?" he offered up drinking in the warmth of Nick. Warmth meaning he was alive, and doing okay and.. did people say that about him? "Actually I pretty don't much have anything anywhere, though I'm not a good person to have in the house."

He wasn't sure if Nick would understand that. If he would read between the lines and work out that meant he had driven with no plan, hadn't slept, and possibly disturbed the whole place.

And people were just sitting there watching him.

"Well, you can stick it out here if you want to. C'mon, I'll take you up to the guest room..." Nick turned a little, towards another hallway and that was probably Greg's cue to follow. "I thought you were staying with Grissom?"

"I've been staying with his mom," Greg answered and a thought tickled at the back of his head but he was too busy following Nick to let it get much further. "I'm really sorry about this Nick. I didn't mean to just ...turn up I guess."

"That's okay. You missed dinner by a couple of hours. I'll have to introduce you to everyone in the morning, but we were just winding down for the night. I made some play-dough for Becky -- highlight of my week, probably, until you showed up." He winked at Greg, but there was still something that felt a little off about Nick, like he was trying too hard.

That was almost a comfort.

It was with a shock that he realized it was almost exactly what he had done when he arrived at Vivian's. Just a little more than himself somehow, and Nick was exaggerated on all his edges.

"We're in a bad way if I'm a highlight," Greg answered and cleared his throat as they were out of earshot . "Um. I hope the guest room is somewhere where people can't hear much. "

No point pretending he didn't wake up shouting or yelling, or falling out of bed .

"Becky thinks there's a cat in heat out in the back yard. Don't... worry too much about anything like that. Not much peace here at night. My, uh, therapist has me on ambien right now." Nick started to mount the stairs.

He hated the fact that he was relieved to hear that. "I'm not sure what I'm on anymore." It was sheer luck he had his pills in his pocket even if it wasn't a lot. "Look, Nick... I know you don't want to get into anything heavy tonight or anything, but I just... shit, I dunno, I needed to see you. To talk stuff with you. Things you might not like I guess. But... when it comes to the night thing, sometimes someone else being there is good."

Nick gave him a bizarrely amused look as they reached the top of the steps. "If you're sleeping with Grissom's mother, Greg? I don't want to know."

Greg found himself laughing, and that was a shock in itself as well. "I could do worse. You should meet her. She's one in a million. But no... no, not Grissom's mother."

He realized as he said it the emphasis on the words had fallen in completely the wrong place.

Nick got it, though, and that was when Greg got it, felt it sink in a little more. "Oh. Man, I never expected that. Well, congratulations." His eyebrows went up a little, but he clapped Greg lightly on the shoulder. "C'mon. Guest room is this way. It used to be Nolan's room."

Even that was enough to make him wince again. "The gearhead brother?" he dredged up from his memory. Nick was cool about it, maybe he would stay that way. But that when things had been theoretical and not involving a pretty fundamental betrayal.

That Nick apparently didn't even know about yet. Otherwise, why would he be so okay with Greg? "Yeah. He's up for being made a captain on the force soon, top of the promotion list. I think he still tool around with his patrol car, you know? It just doesn't drive like anyone else's."

They had reached the room and Greg knew he was embarrassingly close to a crash out. The bed seemed to have developed magnetic properties for him. "That's good news." He couldn't help it, he needed just to sit on the bed a moment so he did that and just breathed long and slow before looking up at Nick. "I'm sorry it's taken me this long to get here. I could've phoned. Or seen you more maybe before you came home."

"If I remember right, Greg, you were still in the hospital when they let me leave." Let him leave, like he hadn't been spirited away by his somewhat intimidating protective family. "But I'm glad you came and it's not a bother at all."

"You might change your mind on that," Greg warned, the bed forming the attractive properties of a black hole. "I can't believe I got pulled over by your sister."

"I guess if you had to get pulled over by someone? I'm glad it was my sister," Nick smiled, taking a step backwards. "Do you want to try to get some sleep? Whatever you want to talk about can wait until the morning. I'm not going anywhere."

"I uh... yeah. I don't think I'm particularly coherent right now you know?" Greg replied a little reluctantly. He did want it over with, but on the other hand, this felt good. Being here, seeing Nick, feeling a friend there. He rather selfishly wanted that to go on just a little bit longer, like a suicide standing on the edge of a bridge for a few long moments before giving in to the inevitable. "Maybe we can talk somewhere alone or something."

"We can try breakfast out in the back yard tomorrow, if you want." Nick smiled at him a little, still too... too Nick. "You need anything?"

He needed sleep, he needed to be out of the damn fucking Box and he needed... Grissom. That probably wasn't what Nick meant. "I'm cool Nick, thanks," he said, and gave the other man a smile and a look that said, yeah, I know Nick, I know you might be fooling your family but you can't fool a mirror, and I'm your mirror.

And he knew he owed Nick the sort of help Vivian and Gil had given him, that was easier to take from comparative strangers and friends than from family.

Maybe he could help a little. Or not. They'd see in the morning. Nick nodded to him, and wandered back towards the door. "If you do need anything, just holler."

"I will," he replied watching even as Nick left the room and the reality of being in a strange place alone hit him again. He would try and sleep, see if three days of abusing his recovering body with obsessive behavior could lead to a dreamless sleep for a change.

He liked to hope for the impossible. The difference was now with Grissom, that he had been sucked into believing in it too and that meant he could either fix or break himself by chasing impossible dreams.

Time to go to bed and find out.

Some cases were the kind that dragged on everyone around him, but him. They were tragic, but Gil looked for the upsides to the case. Someone whose family had never known what had happened to them now knew, and someone else was brought to justice.

The partially decayed body of a young man had been in an abandoned 'oil barrel' near a recently purchased farmhouse. It was easy to trace from human soup to point A to point B, to evidence C, to obvious suspect D..

It had been something to focus on in among the waiting for the painfully tedious piecing together of tapes, digital photos, feeds and a hell of a lot of crime scene evidence, in their hunt for the second accomplice to what happened to Nick and Greg. It was just something that couldn't be hurried even if he had hoped to give Greg some news about it at the coming weekend.

He noticed the beep and vibrate of his mobile getting a text when he was driving in. The fact that it happened several times made him actually stop and flick it on as he was walking in to the office.

The text was very simple ~ Gilbert, send me an email or get on IM as soon as possible. I need to talk to you. Mom ~

The fact that she was trying to contact him at a quarter to eight in the morning, with a text that implied there was more she wanted to say than she could get across in text message, was a little baffling. Gil closed and pocketed his phone. He was headed back to the department anyway -- he could stop to log into a messenger to see what was going on.

He saw Catherine and Warrick heading back in talking about a case. Sara looked up from one of the labs as he walked the corridor and ducked into his office.

Catherine had prepared all the departmental reviews and left them on the desk with a yellow post-it saying "Gil owes Catherine one Free Lunch." It made him smile a little even as he moved the pile out of the way to get to the computer.

He'd buy her lunch sometime, and take Jim out, too. They all needed to unwind, anyway -- it was just a matter of getting the timing right, so that they could all be there long enough to relax and not so long that they had other things to do that would interrupt. He pocketed the post-it while he waited for his computer to boot up.

Being down two members of staff meant that the overtime limit was currently waived, at least until Ecklie could find a decent stand in. But there just weren't temporary CSI's to be had on call, not who Gil would trust in his lab. They'd had one quit after two days already looking a little wild around the eyes. Vegas was a little different to some of the more rural area's in Nevada.

There was the computer, his mail program, IM. Finally.

His mother was logged in, waiting, so he brought up the window with a hope that she was actually there or around the computer somewhere. ~"I got your message. What's going on?"~

~Greg's missing~ his mother replied. ~I'm worried about him and I can't phone around like you can to make inquiries~

Greg was missing. Greg was supposed to be safe with her, and Gil's first thought was that the accomplice had found him, had found Greg to keep himself secret. ~When did you last see him?~

~Yesterday. Perhaps I am being premature, but he hasn't been doing so well since the weekend, and I was initially pleased that he was going to see his grandfather, and when he didn't come back when he originally planned, I thought maybe that was a good thing~ His mother could type reasonably fast and he could tell she wasn't thinking about excuses but just explaining events. ~But he did not come back at all, and he wasn't prepared to stay away. And, he had not slept or really eaten for two days. I'm worried Gil. In case there has been an accident.~

In case he'd crashed somewhere. It was a mundane thing, and probably more likely than Greg being snatched a second time, but Gil still hesitated before he typed a response. Greg hadn't been missing for twenty four hours, so any attempts to list him as a missing person would be futile just yet. There wasn't any sense in calling the police yet, because they'd be shrugged off.

~Did he take his cell phone with him?~

~Yes and I texted the number but there was no reply~ The message was not particularly hopeful and neither was the bit that followed. ~Gilbert, I think you might understand my anxiety if you see what he spent those two days not sleeping and not eating actually doing~

A hyperlink followed to a picture file called rather unimaginatively GregsPainting.jpg.

~What has he been doing?~ Gil clicked on the link, waiting for her to reply and for the picture to load.

It loaded faster than she typed a reply. A photograph from her digital camera, tossed up on some free site for easier sharing.

~Painting. Like I have done on occasion with some of my more major works. Totally immersed. I have to say Gil, if he ever gives up being a CSI he would be a good artist. His photographs and his painting have emotion and power. He lacks some technical skill, but you look at that picture and you'll feel it. And that's something an artist in thousands can do.~

And his mother never praised where praise was not due, something he also did.

It was a little strange to look at, and Gil suspected that Greg had used enough black paint to warp the canvas a little. There was shadow and light and that box over and over and over again, iterated inside of itself. He moved the picture, scrolled down to look at all of it. There in the corner was a brighter spot of paint, and two sea-shells.

And the more he looked the more massive the swirl seemed, and there were things inside the boxes and fire, lightning, steel and blood and the darker it was, the brighter the two sea-shells were, fragile as a dream with a hurricane bearing down on it.

He hadn't spent his life as an artist's son without being able to read art.

It left Gil wondering if both his first instinct and his mother's first instinct had been wrong. Maybe it had all been a bad idea, and his approach to things had been wrong. He'd given Greg the somewhat dusty little shells as a whim, a stretching attempt to comfort Greg when holding him didn't seem to do quite enough.

~And he hasn't been sleeping?~

~No. He worked on that pretty solidly after you left. That young man can definitely focus when he puts his mind to it~ his mother replied and he knew that much was true. Greg did do that, sometimes he seemed scattered, but other he was capable of impressive bursts of concentration.

The picture worried him. He'd thought he'd started to help him. Greg had definitely wanted what happened. Pushed at it all the way, seemed happy with it. Even slept that night with only a few not quite waking disturbances. He remembered them walking to the gate where he was boarding his plane. He remembered Greg wishing he could stay, but resigned to the fact he was leaving. Had there been a warning sign?

Gil had said he was coming back. He was going to be back, heading back to California in another day, just one more shift. Had Greg been that... depressed? Still shaken, or, or Gil didn't know. ~I know. I want you to call the police this evening to report that he's been missing for 24 hours if I don't contact you with news. I'll try his cell phone again, and see if he's contacted anyone else. Do you need his license plate number and car make?~

~I can recall them,~ she replied. That was normal for them. She looked, she remembered much has he did with a crime scene, she did with her environment. ~Let me know if you discover anything Gilbert. And I am sorry. You trusted me to look after him.~

~You have. This is something I should have foreseen. Message me if he happens to come back on his own. Maybe he was just too tired to drive back immediately.~

~I will Gilbert. I am sure he is fine~

That was an untruth, if she were sure, she would not've contacted him, he knew that. There had been times when she might've had cause to worry about him, but instead just let it pass with a comment that she knew he was all right.

~I will talk to you later.~ And with that she signed off, presumably to watch the winding road up to the house, or to work out exactly when the twenty-four hours were up.

Gil closed the client, and then closed his mail without looking at it before he started to shut down the computer. There wasn't enough that he could do at the moment. Who would Greg contact?

Well, the obvious would've Poppa Olaf, or family. And yes, Greg had presumably been there. That would be the first thing to check, had he actually been to see Poppa Olaf. When had he made it there, when had he left was he still there? Other wise who else would he contact? Someone at the lab? Greg knew everyone in the department and was on good terms with pretty much everyone. But if he asked, he might have to explain.

No, he would have to explain, and he didn't know how to explain. 'Greg left and never came back. Have you seen him?' was honest, but...

No, he had to call the nursing home first, get an idea of when Greg left. See if something had happened there and close the timeline a little.

No different from this being a case... except it was Greg. And he was finding it hard to think of Greg as a case. As a victim. Now when he thought the name, there were memories of sand and sea, memories of the texture of skin and kisses that needed him now, now, now...

Two fragile sea-shells facing a hurricane.

And Gil wasn't sure what to do.

There had been no screaming disruptions to his sleep, possibly because he was exhausted and when he woke up Greg found himself curled up in a very uncomfortable position as if trying to protect himself from something. He was stiff enough that he made an attempt to sneak to the bathroom and shower. For a long moment though he didn't remember where he was exactly, or what he was doing, and when he did remember it didn't sound any better.

But he hurt, and his muscles were stiff and sore from driving so much, and he felt more tired than he had when he went to sleep and he had just had a shower and realized he now had to get back to his room without the house hold seeing what he looked like. Cautiously he wrapped the meager towel around his hips and opened the door carefully preparing for a run for it.

It ended up not being worth it after all. It hadn't been worth it to open the door or maybe not to make use of the Stoke's guest bathroom at all because once he popped open the door he almost ran right into Nicky.

Nick was already dressed and he looked like he'd been awake for hours.

The stupid thing was he just froze up there, right in front of him, all his usual glib talk faded away. Nicky hadn't seen him. Not really seen him. At the hospital there had been gowns and drugs and it was amazing how much that could cover up. Nick had looked worse on the surface at least to start with, with the fire ant stings because his own burns, tears, cuts and bruises had been under the covers.

And now, fresh out of the shower the patchwork man he had become was revealed in all his glory.

"Uh... hi. Morning."

There was a horrifyingly quiet moment from Nick, and he just looked at Greg, looked him over from his ankles to his neck, before his eyes drifted up to Greg's face. "Man. You need to eat. Morning, Greg. I was wondering when you were going to get up."

"I… pretty much surprised myself by sleeping this long. I guess I was tireder than I thought," Greg said. "Uh I'll just get dressed. Won't be long. Do you want me to meet you somewhere?"

"In the kitchen. Allison's gone home to sleep, Nolan's at work, Sandy's out at the park with Margrette and the kids. And my father just pulled out of the drive. We've got pancakes left over..." Nick was trying to be a good host, but it wasn't as seamless as it was with Vivian.

That was okay. He expected he was like that too. "Great. I'll meet you down there. Put the coffee on huh?" Yeah, his light and ordinary sounded strained too.

That's okay, because it was. Maybe they could both stop pretending to be okay with each other.

"Yeah. You're going to have to cope with decaf. My father's kicking the habit, so there's not a drop of real coffee in the house." Nick gave him an apologetic shrug, and turned to start back down the stairs. "See you in a few."

He nodded and made it to the bedroom and pulled on his jeans, fumbling in his pocket for the pills and swallowing them dry. Then his t-shirt and the loose shirt he'd been wearing over that. That was all it took to cover things up and he toweled off his hair and watched it fluff up naturally in his reflection.

He took a few deep breaths and then headed downstairs to where he vaguely remembered the kitchen to be. He did end up walking into a living room and out again, but he found it eventually.

"Sorry. Got lost on the way," he explained as he found a seat and used it.

"It's a pretty big house," Nick excused. He was standing near the counter, with a stack of something on the stove top with a damp towel over them. Greg got a glance over his shoulder from Nick, and then Nick twisted a little. "You don't have any luggage, do you?"

"Uh, no." Greg had to admit that. "This wasn't planned Nick, it just kinda happened."

Because day long journey's just 'happened'.

"Griss know you came all this way without a change of clothes?" Nick asked it with a quiet laugh, while he brought down two mugs for the decaf.

Greg actually felt his mouth drop open. The impact of what Nick said hit him like a silent brick to the head.

"Oh... Fuck!"

Gil didn't know where he was. Vivian didn't. No one did.

He was an idiot. And he was so dead. A dead idiot for fuck's sake.

One of the coffee cups ended up set down a little loudly. "You didn't tell anyone? Greg..."

"Man, look I hadn't slept since… Sunday, I hadn't eaten much, I just got all screwed up and compulsive and I went to see Poppa Olaf and things...things went a bit hazy on me. I just got in the car and started driving," Greg said even as his words tumbled out. "When I said I needed to see you, I meant like... in a compulsive sort of way you know? He's going to kill me. Vivian's going to kill me!"

It had to be something about his tone of voice, because Nick started towards him, shaking his head. "No, look... It's Grissom. He's not going to kill you. He's probably just really worried, and... Call him. Or his mom."

He reached to his pocket and found it devoid of phone. "I left my phone in the car," he said realizing it even as he said it. "Vivian might think... well, I wasn't in a good frame of mind before I left I guess."

But they wouldn't think that, would they?

"Can I borrow your phone?"

"Yeah, It's right..." Nick didn't even just gesture. The phone was one of those wall phones with a long cord. He grabbed it and then all but thrust it at Greg.

His hands were shaking again even as he dialed Grissom's number. Idiot, idiot - and he swallowed as it rang. And then considered he might be phoning at an inconvenient time and hoped he might be, just so he could leave a voice mail.

Just a 'hey, I ran off from California to Texas' sort of message, and there was no way to explain himself if he did get Grissom on the other end of the line.


And he did sound... not happy, but that could be for a lot of reasons, not necessarily to do with him.

"Uh... Griss, hi...it's Greg," he said a little awkwardly and quickly, trying to get the reason out. "I'm... well I took a sort of strange trip into the Twilight Zone and ended up at Nick's. Only just realized I didn't tell anyone. Man, I'm really sorry Gil, seriously..."

There was enough silence on the other end of the phone that he wondered if Gil had hung up. "You're... Greg? You're safe?"

"Yeah yeah, I'm safe. I managed to make it here in one piece," Greg said feeling the concern and hurt on the other end of the line, like something twisting in his gut. "I'm really sorry. I should've thought, but I wasn't really thinking that great."

"That's... okay, Greg. As long as you're safe. Are you okay? You're in Texas?" That was a funny series of questions to hear, like Texas was not an okay place to be. Then again, he'd had to bypass Vegas to get there.

That had to be hard. He realized abruptly that maybe Grissom would be thinking if he was having a crisis, then after their night together he should want to run to him, stay with him, need him. He did, he really wanted it but he had a specific thing to deal with here. Something so he could go there. And he might need that refuge more than ever if things went wrong here.

"Yeah, at Nick's folks. It's... I...there something I need to do here," he said trying to get things across without prematurely getting into the discussion. "He's sitting next to me."

"Okay." There was a note in Gil's voice that Greg had heard every time Gil had gotten shot down by someone in earshot of other people. A little of the firmness and conviction slipped away. "Uh... Is there anything I can do?"

Abruptly he was convinced that saying 'no' right now would be a really bad idea and he was trying to get his head around the fact that Gil seemed to need him somehow. What the hell, it wasn't like he hadn't already managed to tell Nick somehow in his near delirium.

"Yeah. Yeah, there is. Something really important," Greg said and cleared his throat. "I want you to remember I love you okay? Even if I'm flying a bit out of normal parameters at the moment, that's not going to change. Okay?"

That got a quiet chuckle from Gil, a little strained. "Sure. I'll let my mother know to not call the police, and uh... have fun in Texas, Greg."

"I'll work on it," Greg promised, though it probably wasn't going to be anything like what Gil was imagining, but it had to be done. Really had to be done no matter how painful it might be. "I'll call you again soon Gil."

"Okay." Gil cleared his throat a little. "It's uh. Just good to know that you're all right."

"Yeah. I'm sorry to worry you. Really." His voice automatically softened. "It's my fault, I know that. I'll make it up to you okay?" He glanced across at where Nick was watching him silently. "I… uh... better go, I think I've just freaked Nick out some. I call later."

"All right." That seemed to firm up a little, like Gil wasn't bolstering himself for a let down. "Have a good time, and I'll talk to you later." And then Gil made it easier on both of them by hanging up.

Nick was just watching him, coffee mugs in hand.

He put the phone down and gave Nick a slightly nervous smile. "So I was telling the truth huh? I have freaked you out?"

"No, not quite. But it's not every day that you hear your buddy exchanging I love Yous with the boss." Nick's eyebrows went up a little and he finally gave Greg the coffee. The mug was orange, and green, and looked like it was a bizarre Picasso paint and glaze it yourself job. "I think the fact that you picked up from California and drove all the way out here without letting anyone know bothers me a whole heck of a lot more."

"Thanks. I uh...I'm not sure where to start," he said sipping at the decaf. "I needed to see you. I needed to talk, to you to tell you things. To...apologize. I've not been doing so good and then the thing with Grissom happened, and I was hoping so much that would make everything bad just go away you know? But it hasn't and that's not fair because I don't want to screw up my only chance there and I will unless I really try and sort out everything. And it comes back to you. To me. To then."

"In the box," Nick finished for him. He twisted away a little to grab the warmed pancakes, piling up two platefuls. "I can't shake it, either."

He took the plateful from him as he passed it over and snagged a pancake. Food... Food was new and tasting pretty good. It was heartening to know he wasn't completely alone.

"Yeah. Only, you know something, I don't know what you know. I discovered I didn't exactly know what I thought I knew either," Greg replied. "So Nick, I gotta ask you, what do you know?"

"About... what happened?" It was almost funny to watch the expressions flicker over Nick's face. "That we were both kidnapped at that damn scene. That..." Nick went quiet when he pulled open the fridge to get syrups. "I don't know.

Greg ate a bit more, though it was more mechanical than anything else. "Nick... I might've been a bit weird with you at the hospital because... because I had a tape, I had a recording and it told me they had a choice of who to save and who to let die. And then there was a gap and then it said too bad... they chose you. I thought that, I thought they'd picked you over me. And I love you man, but that kinda fucked me up a bit."

The syrup was set down on the table a little heavily, and Nick sat down across from him. "I thought they'd picked... the one of us who didn't have enough air. That's what Cath said was what Grissom decided it on."

"Yeah. Yeah it was. Pain or air," Greg agreed. "And, put in that terms yeah, what else could you choose?" It was a rhetorical question and Greg looked at him. "I think they assumed I knew because I did know a fair amount. Because, I... I could see you Nick. There was a screen and I could see you from that moment of choice. Did they tell you that?"

He felt obscurely guilty confessing that as if he had been caught spying on something he ought not to see

He could see Nick's face fall a little. "You... watched all of that, too?"

Greg nodded. "With a kinda more pressing reason. Nick... what did Grissom and Catherine tell you about the... set up I was in?"

"That it... was a torture chamber," Nick offered a little hesitatingly. "I think they were still trying to work it out when I left."

Greg exhaled. Okay, this was going to be a little more difficult than he anticipated. "Okay... uh... shit..." He scrabbled around for words. "I uh… Okay, look, here's the thing. My box and yours were connected with transmitters, and you remember that Simon Says game? Where you push the flashing buttons in sequences? There was a set up like that with levers and buttons. If I failed the sequence, not only would my box explode, but yours. Yours first so I could see it, with a short delay before mine went."

"It was..." Nick set his fork down, and swallowed, looking ill for a moment. "Damn. Fuck, I uh. They were linked? Jesus."

"Yeah. Me seeing you was... incentive I guess," Greg replied noticing his hand was shaking again with his forkful trembling. "Yeah. There were… ordeals, I guess, that repeated and got worse as time went on. More frequent and I had to complete the sequence despite the obstacles. I need to tell you this Nick because of the thing that's eating me up you know?"

He was already feeling bad for making Nick feel even worse.

"This went on until they got me out of the box?" Nick was talking over top of him, and didn't probably even have an idea that Greg had thought about sacrificing Nick to save his own hide.

"Yeah." He could just not say anything, he could just hide it and Nick needn't know. But he'd processed one too many suicides and murders from old hurts festering for years unsaid. "Yeah. Fire, electricity, spikes and tear gas."

"You went through that because you could see me?" Nick's voice was shaking a little.

Greg looked at him a little puzzled at the reaction. "I wanted you to live. I wanted you to survive only..."

Truth, he'd promised the truth to himself, to Nick. "Nick, I worked out how to get out somewhere in the first few hours. I had a gun, I found the wiring spot that would release the pressure clamps, but I also knew that if I fired, you would die. And I..."

Damn, he'd been doing so well. His throat was tightening, and his eyes were stinging and he could feel that moment in his bones. "Things got… really hard. The fire... burning and just... everything and I nearly did it. I was so close to killing you. I knew what I was doing, I knew pulling the trigger would do it, kill you as surely as if I pulled the gun facing you. I... hate myself for that. I hate the fact that I've become the person who seriously considered killing one of his best friends to save himself."

His voice was all over the place, and he was blinking to stop it. "I needed you to know that. I understand if… if this changes everything. I..."

His voice gave out completely.

There was a scrape of Nick's chair against the floor, and Nick was standing up, and fuck, that was it. That was it. Nick was probably going to leave the room and throw him out, and never talk to him again, and he'd have to quit Vegas entirely because who would want to work with someone that scummy, with someone who could do that to a friend, and--

And Nick was hugging him tight despite that he was sitting down. "Jesus, Greg. You..."

Greg swallowed a few times, trying to understand. It was always a shock when a preconceived scenario collapsed around him. He was hugging back and he didn't know why. "I'm… I'm sorry Nick. Really sorry."

Warrick wouldn't do this. He'd never do this, never crumble around the edges.

"You didn't kill me, Greg. I'm still here and so are you. You didn't kill me." It felt like Nick was falling apart, too, shaking a little as he patted at Greg's back.

"You're… you're my friend and I shouldn'tve even been thinking that. Because I knew… I knew it was right they should be trying to find you, and I was glad they were. I knew they would... I knew they would and I just kept hoping it would be sooner and sooner," Greg said mumbling half into Nick's shoulder rather incoherently. It was like there was something just falling apart there and it was leaving him weak and hollow.

"And you held out," Nick muttered. "I was going to blow my brains out for a while there. If I'd known that you'd been in your box trying to keep me alive..."

"That was the point. You he made helpless, and me he made responsible," Greg said pulling himself together a bit, feeling strangely empty and light. "Nick, look you don't have to be 'fine' with me. It was different, yeah, but close enough that I can understand. Understand what it feels to be walking around wondering why no one can see the gaping hole in your chest and gut where something has torn something out. How every fucking night, getting some rest means submitting to the box all over again... and seeing you die, over and over. All these things we are meant to just ignore and be strong and all that shit. "

Nick pulled back, leaning against the table as he rubbed at his eyes for the moment. "If you know how to fix this any way other than just going on, Greg, I'm all ears."

"Have you ever really talked to any of your family about it? Anyone? Because... I couldn't really tell Poppa Olaf, because I knew it would hurt him to know I was hurting. That's when it all... fell apart on me. I kept trying to protect people from knowing the truth. But I knew I needed to talk to you because I had to be honest with you."

"I, uh..." He swallowed, and shook his head, grabbing the nearest chair to sit down in. "Try to not talk about it."

"You need to," Greg said knowing it was easy just to announce that. "I tried that. Not talking. Vivian and Grissom stopped that pretty quickly. Nick, you think I'm going to think anything less of you? Jesus, of course not! You are stronger than anyone I know. I know what it feels like to know... everyone knows."

Nick gave a quiet laugh. "Greg? You were just telling me that you thought you'd killed me."

"Yeah and you haven't punched me, or basically chucked me out which is kinda what I was expecting, so maybe things can work out," Greg replied and patted his arm a little. "I wanna make up for that. I want to help you because it helps me as well."

"At long as it's not completely altruistic," Nick murmured. He moved away a little awkwardly now to sit back down in his chair. Yeah, random hugging was awkward no matter what, and it comforted Greg to know that he hadn't turned into a big sobbing girl.

Close run thing though. "Me altruistic? Nah." Greg replied, pleased that his voice was settling a little even though his heart was still pounding with anxiety. "You talk to me, and I won't make you do what Vivian did to me. You know, she managed to get me to pose naked like I am at the moment... just when Grissom turned up?"

"You posed naked for Grissom's mother?" Nick pulled that teasing facial expression again. "You're kidding?"

"No. She has a way of persuading that's pretty much along the lines of the way Grissom gets us to do things. Get moldy feet, make you dive into body filled swimming pools, get blood from the fresh meat..." Greg smiled back a little more. "She kinda made me do... painting. It's weird. It helped, brought things up to a head. Never thought I would do painting - my line has been weird molecules on the glass board."

"And guess that chemical compound." Nick's face pulled towards a smile, and he finally picked up his fork again, playing with it in one hand. "I've missed that."

"I've missed working with you but when we go back, we'll get a chance to do it again huh? If... if you trust me out on scene with you again," Greg added at the end of his hopeful comment. "And... if you are thinking about going back."

"I can't think of anything else I want to do." Nick's voice fell a little quiet, and he leaned on his elbows. "I was an EMT and then a cop before I went to Vegas. And being a CSI grabbed me in a big way."

"Yeah. Big world, hands on justice," Greg answered. "I have to admit, it scares me. The thought of it." It was okay for him to admit it, people expected that sort of thing from him. "Because we were on that scene and it wasn't like we did anything wrong. We weren't taking chances and then all that happened."

"We're supposed to be the hands off guys who just work the case," Nick agreed softly. "Hey, you want any syrup?"

"Yeah," Greg looked at him as he took the syrup. "You'll probably see the tape sometime. Of me. You needed to know first. But..." He paused and looked down at the pancakes. "But I don't think anyone else would understand if I told them that it might've been easier not to make it out of there."

"You might be surprised." Nick took a sip of his coffee, and added in a thoughtful voice, "Not that they can understand it in the same... visceral way?"

"Yeah. Yeah, in the real way, or what I mean by still being in the Box," Greg replied he considered. "Maybe I'm being weird but maybe I want it to be the both of us getting out again."

It brought a smile to the edge of Nick's face, fleeting again, but there. "So... got any ideas? I, I mean, I can't think of how to move on except by just goin' forwards."

"Well, what's bugging you most of all?" Greg asked taking a much more satisfactory mouthful of breakfast. He was rather strangely feeling better.

"That there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. The bugs were... bad, the ants, but it was that I was trapped there and there wasn't anything..." Nick shook his head a little, and cut a triangle of pancake for himself.

Helplessness. Yeah, Greg knew about that. "You think you didn't do anything, didn't control anything right?" He leaned forward a bit gesturing with a fork. "You did Nick, the most important thing of all. You survived. You lived. Everything about what happened to you was designed to make you take your own life. You didn't do it. You beat the guy. You were stronger than him. Everybody's efforts would've meant nothing if you hadn't been able to tough it out. You controlled that, and I know how damn hard that was."

"Because you were doing it, too." Nick had survived and Greg had kept that chance open for him, if he thought about it that way. "I just... have issues about control."

"I have issues about a lot of things. Fire, explosions," Greg added. "Are these old control issues or... from this?"

It was good, Nick was talking and he sounded like Nick, not someone pretending to be Nick.

Not like someone wearing a Nick-mask. "Older ones." Nick's eyebrows had a line struck down between them, and he was holding onto the coffee mug tightly. And somehow that was better than the slightly vacant host of the night before.

Greg tried to think back, but it wasn't something he remembered Nick telling him. "Kid stuff?" he hazarded a guess in a quieter voice, willing Nick to talk about it.

"Yeah. It was..." Nick gave a tight shrug. "Just one of those things. That we run across on cases."

Greg looked at him sharply. "Oh... Oh." Not family, couldn't be family because he wouldn't come back here if that were the case. "Someone… someone you knew? Does anyone else know?"

"I told Catherine a long time ago. It was, uh, messing me up on a case. Other than that..." Nick shook his head.

"I knew those cases," No, he had to say it, acknowledge what it was. "...abuse cases freaked you out Nick. I guess we all have things like that. Well, not exactly like that. I'm not sure exactly what to say man, just that... maybe you should think about telling your folks."

"After all of this time? I..." Nick shook his head. "No. Wouldn't solve my problems, and it wouldn't accomplish anything."

"You'd be surprised. I was when I just blurted out things to Gil and his mother," Greg replied. "Nick, it's like the guy knew exactly what would fuck us up the most and..."

Greg paused a moment. It was meant just to be a comment but it was true. "Wait a moment, it is like that. Like someone managed to get access to personnel records."

Nick seemed to nearly choke on his coffee, and then he set it down. "I hadn't thought to that, but... But you and fire, and..."

"And a reputation for trying to avoid responsibility... you... they might not know about that, but they might be able to find out that you don't like being powerless and.." Greg added. "Nicky, we really weren't meant to survive at all, we were both meant to die, and in doing that, we were meant to destroy the rest of them with guilt. And... the guy is dead but…" He looked at Nick worried, suddenly realizing why Grissom had been so anxious with him. "They think there might've been someone else. Shit, I owe Griss a big apology."

"Grissom told you they were looking for someone else?" Nick was still frowning, and it was hard to tell if it was because of that or the anticipation of more kissy-faced sounds.

"Yeah. Something about the sheer logistics of where I was and you were, and I remembered smelling perfume on me when I woke up. If there was a woman then...well, I am a lot less muscular and built than you are Nick. I'd be the logical choice. It wasn't confirmed, but the guys were looking into it, but they must've got information somehow."

"And then they got us." Nick rubbed at his coffee mug. "Now I'm amazed that Grissom didn't hop in a car to make sure you stayed in one place, if he thinks the other person is out there somewhere."

"Yeah. When he left I wasn't going anywhere. This whole trip was possibly uh... me going of the rails a bit," Greg admitted. "I'm an idiot. I'm pretty sure he'll tell me that when I next see him."

"If he did, I wouldn't feel like I'd stepped into the twilight zone." Nick added a wink, and it still felt a little off, like Nick wasn't there yet. "So, uh."

"My life is one long freaky episode," Greg agreed sipping at his coffee. "Nick, seriously, am I making things worse for you being here?"

"No. It's... You don't make things worse. I've just been going one minute to the next since I got here, and I can't fall apart in front of the kids, because they probably think their uncle is weird enough..."

"You can fall apart with me. I could give you lessons," Greg replied, half meaning it. "Or maybe, if you need some time, you could come to see me at Vivian's house. She'll make you paint, and play on the beach. And possibly model for her. She's used to me falling apart on a pretty regular basis."

She was used to him waking up bleary and exhausted and was used to his fitful way of acting, and she was probably worried senseless about him, too. Gil had said something about telling her to not call the police.


"C'mon, I'm your buddy, you're worried about me, great excuse to come up," Greg replied pressing the positive response. "The fact I looked like some wired out junkie in the middle of rehab, and your sister pulled me over to stop me crashing the car will mean they'll understand that. I can be a reason."

"Maybe. I... I have missed seeing my family, but maybe before I go back, you know? Might help me get a little perspective before I try to tangle with Vegas again."

"Yeah, that'd be cool," Greg encouraged "No pressure though. And if you come, make sure you fly. It's gonna be a helluva drive back."

Especially as he was thinking about a side trip to Vegas. One compulsion down, another building in its wake.

He'd worried Gil and he didn't want that. Not after everything.

Gil had really been trying, and it wasn't like Greg was all okay and better now that he knew Nicky didn't hate him. It just... helped that Nicky didn't hate him. It helped a lot, and he was probably going to keep talking about it to Nick until he was sick of hearing it.

"I bet. You should stick around for a couple of days and rest. Heck, I don't think anyone's gunna let you leave until you've at least had dinner with everyone."

"I guess I could stand that," Greg said nodding a little. "You can show off your weird friend."

And he was glad he still was Nick's friend. He didn't have enough people in his life that he could let one of them go. And it helped to know that he was meant to fail and he hadn't, like Nick was meant to as well. There was something uplifting about beating the odds.

"So after breakfast, why don't you show me around or something. I promise not to embarrass you too much."

"I trust you to behave. I've been meaning to go out to a couple of places sometime through the day, but..." Nick shrugged a little, and took another sip of his coffee. But he hadn't and they were probably guy type things anyway.

And his sisters had little kids, and little kids meant best behavior, setting good examples, all of that. Well, Greg could goof off and it didn't matter if Nick set a bad example for him.

In fact he'd encourage him to do so. "Tagging along is what I do," he replied with a more genuine smile to show he didn't mind. "Haven't been out much myself aside from this road trip so I reckon we could manage it between us.

And because it was them, they would. They'd hold it together or be more honest about when things were weird or hard because Greg knew if he was having a problem Nick wouldn't think he was stupid, and vice versa.

He put his cup down and looked at Nick seriously. "But first, one really important thing." He paused meaningfully before continuing. "We are going out to get a decent coffee otherwise I'm never gonna make it through this visit alive."

That pulled another smile out of Nick, and he shifted to stand up. "Hey, there's a local coffee place up the road. You wanna go?"

"Sounds like a plan." Greg replied also standing. Coffee with Nick was a better outcome than he had even considered possible. He'd stay a little while and then head to Vegas. Gil needed to know he wanted him as well.

"They have donuts, too," Nick added as he picked up Greg's empty plate. "You look like you could use them."

"I can always use donuts Nick," Greg replied and helped him clear up. Even as they grabbed jackets and just paused by the door before stepping out into the outside world again, Greg just very gently and not too obtrusively patted Nick on the shoulder again. It was just a gesture, a way of saying it's gonna be all right Nicky, without making the words hollow. And if he had to believe that for one of them, he had to believe that for them both.

Greg reckoned that now he could finally start doing that, even if the both of them had a long way to go.

Sometimes, cases were just baffling. Baffling wasn't bad or particularly good, and it was at least interesting for him. Distracting. Because there was a body that was freshly dumped that showed old animal activity. The victim was, according to Al, somewhere in her 80s. The bites looked canine, and she'd been dead for at least a week. But her lividity didn't match the dump site, and the site was fresh.

There was some trace, but no finger prints and some fresher looking blood that he wasn't sure was human, and it wasn't looking like a straight murder, accident or anything like that. Al had back logged on some other cases, and he wouldn't get to processing that one until the next shift so there was no point pulling a double.

No, he needed to go home. Well, should go home. There wasn't anything for him to do but nurse his other worry, but he could contemplate the case at home. Play with his insects. read a little, go to sleep, rest for when the case picked up speed again.

In no particular order.

He wasn't sure exactly what he was feeling about Greg at the moment. They'd missed each other on the phone for a couple of days, even if the messages sounded okay and there were at least messages there. When Greg had been 'missing' he had felt...like they were right back at that awful moment when they realized the pair of them had gone missing.

And then to find he was with Nick. Greg'd found it hard to drive him to the airport, and a few days later something pulled him to Texas?

All the way to Texas, from California. It was Nick, of course. He knew it was Nick, he just didn't know why. And the why was probably the most important thing, the thing that made Greg run off like that, that made Greg disappear one day without thinking and without warning.

Leaving Gil to think that he was dead or kidnapped again or just had an accident somewhere, or...

There was a piece of paper on his windscreen, pinned under the wiper blades. Whoever it was had some nerve doing that outside the Las Vegas PD. Only, his was the only one with a piece of paper.

He pulled it out slowly and looked at it. There was a pen and in sketch of a sea-shell that had moved from a doodle to a full picture and then a scribbled note saying. ~ I'm a slave to my compulsions at the moment. Call me Gil if you're not doing a double. I'm around somewhere.~ and it was signed with a florid looking G.

Back in Vegas, then. Where that would have made him hopeful before, now he found himself on the edge of wary, erring there for safety's sake. He'd probably brought Nick with him, and... and Gil didn't know what he was thinking. He didn't know what he was thinking and it didn't help that he didn't actually know what was going on in the first place.

It was probably for the best. Gil was still trying to work the case, their case, Greg and Nick's case, here and there when he could and then there was information, but it didn't help that there was almost nothing to go on. He just wanted to help Greg, and it was wrong of him to expect...

Anything at all from him. To get angry or jealous or anything more than worried because he just wanted Greg to function again.

So maybe it would be better if he didn't call.

He looked again at the note, and the spiral of the sea-shell. It had been a whim at the time. No thought, no premeditation and there it was. Two shells, fit for hermit crabs.

Maybe all Greg had needed was someone to fill the space.

That was why Gil didn't do relationships. They were full of twists and curves that he tripped up on. And people did things that he didn't predict and he couldn't make up to them for. But Greg wanted him to call him, and he was around somewhere.

And if Gil wanted things to go on even in friendship, as colleagues, then he needed to at least try to work through whatever Greg was doing now. People got angry at him when he shut down on them, and it wasn't what anyone needed on top of everything else just then.

So Gil pulled out his cell phone, and started to dial as a he looked around.

It rang a few times before it was picked up and a heavily accented fake sounding Greg said, "Ah, Mr. Grissom... we meet at last!" and it was easy to imagine him smiling as he said that. Which was odd.

He hadn't seen Greg smile for, really do more than pull a smile, since before the box. Gil took another look around the parking lot, and started to unlock his door. "It appears we do. So, you're in town now?"

"Yeah, I am," Greg replied sounding more like himself. "Funniest thing - I just have a complete compulsion to see someone."

There were footsteps behind him, even as he was opening the door.

It made him go still for a moment, made him pause the motion. "Oh, you do? and who would that be?"

The phone clicked off and the voice behind him said, "You, you idiot," very clearly even as Greg closed the gap on him. "Hi Griss."

He closed his phone and turned around and there was Greg. He looked... better. A lot better, even if he had dark circles around his eyes. That hollow something was missing, and it almost made Gil a little sad. Yeah. Nick had fixed that, and good for them both, and he was an idiot. "Hi."

Greg stepped in closer as if he was going to just hug him and then hesitated. "You're still pissed at me aren't you?" he said sounding a little deflated. "If I'm interrupting something I can go back and uh... do something. Not sure what. Stalk you some more I expect."

"You're not interrupting anything. I was just wondering where you were." Because the other person was still out there and now he couldn't even keep Greg sheltered away somewhere safe. One edge of his mouth pulled a little, and he didn't know what to say. He wanted, he... "I, uh..."

It was so easy to close the space and hug Greg, keeping him close.

"I missed you," Greg murmured to him. "I missed you so much. And I'm sorry for going so nuts and worrying you. And I was really kinda hoping on wondering if you'd let me stay? If you still want to go back to your moms this weekend we can go back ."

"Yes. Yes, you can... god, Greg, don't ever do that again, we're still looking for his accomplice..."

Greg nodded. "I was kinda... I dunno..." He grimaced a little. "After you went home, it was like someone had taken away everything that meant things looked better. I had this thing in my head you know, that something so great would cancel out something so bad. Like, positive and negative? Only that was stupid of me. Really stupid. The great stuff was there, and it was fantastic... you, me, everything - but, right along side it was this big gaping pit of shit, pain, loss trauma whatever you want to call it." Greg shifted uncomfortably. "And I was so... angry. Terrified actually, that it was taking me over, and it was going to ruin the one good thing I had, I just went a bit crazy. I tried to ...paint it out of me, and that was intense and weird as well. Like a waking nightmare. All I could see were the images, the painting. It wasn't that I kept at it, it was more like time didn't exist. There was just me trying to look at things head on."

And for all of his intelligence and learning Gil didn't understand that on the same visceral level that... that Nick would, yes, and that made sense suddenly in a way that took away a little of the tense jealousy. Nick had been there and while the lab's nightmare had been the outside looking in, working the case that was their good friends, Greg and Nick's had been on the outside, watching nothing. Or in Greg's case, watching Nick.

Gil put the car into reverse and backed out of the parking space. "I saw the painting."

"You did? How... oh your mom." Greg shrugged a little "It's probably just a mass of paint. It didn't look right until I put the shells in." He smiled a little at that and then continued. One thing was noticeable, Greg had somewhere recovered his ease of talking, nearly babbling in his trip. "I didn't really sleep or eat much for a couple of days, and with some of it out and down on paper I started thinking I really, really wanted to fix things otherwise I'd lose my chance with you. That was a pretty powerful motivator. It got me out and off to see Poppa Olaf." Greg paused a moment, thinking back. "I couldn't say everything. I couldn't admit how bad it was for his sake. But Poppa Olaf probably knew. He generally does. He said things about needed to know where you stand before...before moving on was even an option."

"And you thought you'd almost killed Nick," Gil noted. He only glanced at Greg at the red lights, too wary to share the attention of his eyes when he had only just gotten Greg back.

"Yeah." There was a hint to his voice that showed no matter what'd been said, Greg still hated that. "I... uh... Yeah. It's not something I can explain very well. When you look at yourself and think, hey I'm capable of murdering my best friend. I kept thinking of some of our cases you know? There was that kid who killed his best friend when they doing drugs? I remember him. it destroyed him. Warrick said he killed himself before he ever made it to prison. He didn't mean to, he didn't even know what he was doing but it was enough to completely finish him. It's a bit like that. I know I didn't but...Griss, it was so close. So damn close. I needed to tell Nick that. I needed to know."

"And Nick didn't react the way you were afraid he was going to." Not if Greg was wondering if Nick could crash with Gil's mother in California, too. Which was a little funny, and made Gil glad that his mother was gregarious and enjoyed intelligent company. She'd say yes in a heartbeat and probably get Nick to pose nude for her, too.

"No, no he just sort've hugged me so I wouldn't fly apart and I did the same back," Greg admitted.

"No one wants to see either of you fly apart." Not Greg or Nick, and Gil had to concentrate to not look at Greg again. "What do you think might help?"

"You probably wouldn't allow the marathon sex therapy plan would you?" Greg said with a slight chuckle. "Actually, I'm feeling kinda better. The painting did more than I thought. And once I had that sort of thing with Nick nailed down, the only thing I really wanted was to be with you. So I came to Vegas. " He shrugged as if it was that simple.

And maybe it was. Most things were that simple for Gil, but it was a little baffling for other people to have the same sort of lack of complications. "Okay. I'm not sure marathon sex therapy is going to work, but no I'm on the same page that you are."

Greg gave him a genuine smile then, and looked a little relieved. "Good, 'cos I thought you were really... you know... not happy with me. Seriously not happy."

He was obviously more than a little sensitive to things as well.

"No, I... I don't hold grudges. I know you're having a hard time and I hope that if things were reversed, you wouldn't hold it against me. I was just... worried about you." And a little hurt, but crossed wires and miscommunication was not a wound that you nursed.

Greg was looking at him carefully though. A little disconcertingly as well. "Gil... you know I wouldn't. But you ought to know that I've been watching you for years now. I know how you sound when you're irritated, angry, amused or... when you are trying not to have hurt feelings or be disappointed. Worry is one thing. That is something else. And I heard that unless I am being incredibly over-sensitive at the moment. I heard you thinking something ... I'm just not sure what it was. Something to do with Nick? Was it that I went to him not you?"

"I jumped to the wrong conclusion." Never mind that it had been the right conclusion in the past, he shouldn't have thought that about Greg. Even if he'd been preparing for something like that before anything had happened. "It... wouldn't have bothered me, if you had. I want you to have the opportunity to get better. However is best for you."

"You are best for me," Greg said quietly and without any hint of banter. "But helping Nick, is something that helps me too. They really got Nick and I down... Oh yeah, Nick and I were talking and we decided that it was a little too precise hitting on our weak points. We were mean to fail, we got that and they were a little bit precise on pushing our specific buttons. So we figured someone had some sort of insider knowledge you know what I mean?"

"We're still working the case." And actually, he didn't know, but now that Gil thought about it. Fire, and fire on Greg, and responsibility when Greg was just getting used to it and Gil wasn't sure now. He wasn't sure if there was documentation about Nick's tendency to avoid tight spaces.

"I'm talking like as if someone had profiles us you know? I mean, yeah, they might not've known who would on the call out, so I think you'd be looking at knowledge on all of us." Greg was looking over at him. "Nick and I bouncing things around because it made sense. We thought of people with access to our personnel records, the counselors - its too detailed to be from the media, but Nicky said he heard that attorney's and lawyers made notes on how all members of Vegas PD were as witnesses. What pushed buttons, what didn't and swapped them around some..." He exhaled. "It was just an idea."

"We... actually hadn't thought of that." And if Greg hadn't been there, Gil would have turned around to start to work on that aspect. But Greg was there and Greg looked like he needed rest and to just... be. And Gil probably needed to. It could wait 12 hours.

"Well, I didn't either," Greg replied. "That was Nick. I guess maybe because he's had people try to press his buttons more when he's on the stand than I did."

"He's been on the stand more often than you have," Gil noted thoughtfully. "And he has a file from when he was an officer in Dallas. If someone was creatively researching either of you, they could..."

"It wouldn't be weird for a lawyer to ask what might set off a CSI." Greg settled back. "I mean, they'd just assume research for a case. So, you know, you could get Jim to ask around?"

"And see who asked what." Quietly and under the table and Gil knew that Jim would do it in a heartbeat. "I'll do that. At this point everything helps." Which was better than saying the truth, which was that anything helped, anything at all.

Greg nodded. "Yeah. Thanks Gil, know that maybe it won't lead anywhere but it helps you know? Just doing something." He settled down a little bit as Gil drove, as if he had said what he needed to say. Eventually he added. "We don't have to do anything. I just ...."

"Breakfast, and then we'll just..." See what happens. Gil shrugged his shoulders a little, even as he pulled up towards the place where he was planning to stop. "What ever we're both in the mood for."

"Breakfast is good. Even if Nick's family tried to fill me up with about two weeks of meals in two days," Greg said obviously trying hard to not be morose. He seemed to teeter on the edge of it, really badly only just catching himself before he went over completely.

"Were they good meals?" Gil's voice slanted a little towards teasing as he took another left turn. "Nick's gone on about his mother's cooking before..."

"Yeah. That wasn't exaggeration," Greg replied "I think their life revolves around food. Eating it, cooking it, taking it to someone's house, visiting with it... I could've eaten my weight in the stuff and there would've been plenty there."

And Greg probably needed that food, needed to at least physically recover. Gil understood that physical recovery was usually a step that let mental recovery kick in, when all of the pain couldn't just be put down to injury anymore. "I'll try to keep you that well fed. Do you want to stay here, or go in with me?"

"I'll...I'll wait here if that's okay," Greg replied sounding like that had been a difficult decision to make. "I'm still a bit tired from the driving and things. You won't be long right?"

"Not long at all. It's a bakery. What kind of... food do you want?" They had all sorts of things, but Gil didn't exactly have a menu.

"Anything," Greg said looking at him. "Same as you, or anything that looks good. I'll eat pretty much anything."

He looked like he wanted something, and Gil wasn't exactly sure what it was.

"You might pretty much eat everything, Greg, but if you want something in particular..." It was the best he could do without wheedling Greg to be sure.

Greg shook his head, though Gil was aware of him watching him intently. "Anything, really. Well, anything quick."

"Quick is okay." Quick and sweet, based on what Gil remembered of Greg's tastes in food. He popped the door open and left the keys in the ignition so Greg had radio and air and whatever else he wanted, up to and including driving off with Gil's car.

Greg didn't look like he was going to do that, though Gil was conscious of the fact that as he headed into the bakery Greg was watching him as if his life depended on it. Like a dog left waiting for its owner to return with an almost laughable worried look that he might not come back.

He opted to get a selection of things in the bakery and there wasn't much of a line.

Gil paid in cash, and carried the box outside, walking quickly. Car was still there, and so was Greg, just like Gil had left him. "I hope there's something you'll like in there."

Greg took the box, even as Gil settled back into the front seat. "As you brought back half the bakery, yeah you're right."

He looked just a little bright-eyed, and shaky as if sitting in the car had been a bit of an ordeal. "Smells good."

"Are you okay?" Gil hadn't asked that enough before, he'd rested on assumptions more than observations, hoping that Greg was okay rather than acknowledging that he wasn't. But even as he asked it, he turned the engine over and started to back out of the parking space. They were almost to his apartment anyway.

Greg gave a little half laugh. "Yeah. Kinda. I was just thinking. I wanted to go inside the lab and just ask you about all this and I ...couldn't. That's why the note." He shrugged a little. "I don't know why I couldn't. The thought just scared me."

"Of going into the lab?" Gil gave Greg a bare glance, and tucked that fact away with the growing pile he was keeping in his mind that applied to Greg.

"Yeah." He was looking down at his hands again. "A bit like with the lab explosion. I don't think anyone knew how... how hard it was to go back in there again. I didn't want them to know."

"I guessed. You wanted to be in the field more. When your working place sanctuary betrays you, it..." Gil had to struggle to keep his eyes on the road. Almost there.

"Yeah well. It's a thing. A thing that'll pass right? Like... like my hands will stop shaking, like you said." Greg huffed a half laugh. "God, I remember that. Everyone else was not talking about it, or not noticing and you just look at me and say 'Greg, your hands are shaking'. I can remember thinking, shit, he's going to fire me or something."

"Why would I have? You came back to work sooner than anyone suspected. Your skin grafts were still fresh, Greg." But he was somehow that scary to Greg? And Greg had still found the nerve to hint that he wanted more than to just be Gil's colleague and sometimes friend.

"Because you might've thought I was incapable of doing the job properly," Greg answered. "And, yeah, I had no one around to look after me or anything, just you guys. That was... that was not long after I lost mom and dad."

"I'm sorry we..." Gil went quiet for a moment. "I'm not very good at handling personnel issues in the department. You should have been given personal leave." And then he wouldn't have been there to be blown up.

Greg shook his head. "I don't do well on my own. And that's what I would've been. " He glanced across at Gil. "I don't want you to get the idea anything is your fault. You let me train as a CSI Gil, and that... that was what I needed. It kept me busy enough to keep going and to do what I wanted to do. I feel a bit guilty sometimes, like I'm letting down all the studying and stuff but I guess as I get more experience I can start doing things with that again."

"I was the same age you were when I started to train as a CSI 1. I had two doctorates and a career as a coroner under my belt when I started over again at what we both know is a shitty pay grade."

Greg smiled a little. "Genius," he said affectionately and it was warm sounding nickname, not with the envy or coldness that most people used to use. "I hated not knowing if it mattered. How it all fitted together. And that's why it bugs me so much that I couldn't go into the lab. I don't want to think I've lost all that."

"You haven't lost it. You suffered a trauma, Greg. You can go back on your own terms, in your own time." Gil glanced over at him at the stop light, smiling back at Greg.

"I want to. Nick wants to as well. You've made addicts out of all of us," Greg replied. "And of course, as a CSI I get to see more of you. Uh is that going to be awkward now? I mean, you and me?"

"No?" Gil shifted, rested his foot lightly against the brake, ready to ease off so he could start forwards as soon as the light turned. "Why would it be?"

"The work thing. Conflict of interest all that sort of thing," Greg said. "I mean, I can still work with you right?"

"It might take some... creative personnel paperwork changes," Gil decided after a moment. "If you're amenable to the idea."

"Are you kidding? Of course I am!" Greg replied vehemently even as they turned into Gil's road. "I don't want to lose that."

"Then it should be easy," Gil decided. "Your reviews would go through... Conrad." He'd probably have to bribe Conrad, barter a little to get that done, but it would be worth it.

Greg made a face at that but it didn't seem to be too worried. "Okay. I can face the wrath of Ecklie if I get to work with you."

Gil pulled up outside his place and Greg glanced over at him. "That's if you're okay with it?"

"I suggested it, Greg," Gil pointed out as he parked and turned off the engine. "Of course I'm okay with it."

"I'm trying not to assume things," Greg replied. "Got myself a bit screwed up over that recently. Actually I shouldn't be assuming your mom wants me back. I'm thinking she's not best pleased with me."

"She does. If you want to read my email to prove it to you, Greg..." Gil shrugged his shoulders and opened the door. "Did you bring luggage this time, or?"

"Well..uh, what they forced on me at Nick's yeah. Which is in my car," He grinned a little. "I'll have to sleep naked then huh? It's a hardship but..."

It was hard for Gil to hold back the chuckle that was welling up in the wake of Greg's comment. He fished for his keys, and walked to unlock the front door. "Unfortunately, I actually need to sleep."

"Yeah, me too. Painkillers make me drowsy and I've got some more to take," Greg said as he followed. "so, uh...we could combine breakfast and bed?"

"Breakfast in bed won't harm the sheets," Gil told him agreeably. He could see Greg carrying the box a little too-tightly, but he couldn't think of a way to make him relax.

"Cool," Greg said as he followed him inside. He was staying close, following him carefully. "I'll try not to get crumbs on the covers."

"If you do, I'll forgive you." He moved his hands to hold the door open and put a hand on Greg's back at the same time.

It was interesting that Greg's hands tightened on the box a little and then relaxed at his touch. He wasn't sure what to make of that. Maybe Greg was pushing himself to do something he shouldn't. Or maybe, his touch really did relax him. Greg didn't say anything then, just went where he guided him with that touch, through the door.

"Which way to the bedroom?"

"That short hallway. It's at the end. It's not a very big apartment," Gil admitted. "Or very clean."

"Vivian would be shocked," Greg teased a little. "We're guys. I'd feel uncomfortable if it were too clean."

"I'd feel like I had too much time on my hands." Gil stopped long enough to lock the door behind him, setting his briefcase down just inside of the door. "Was it a long drive back?"

"I drove up overnight. It was a good run," Greg replied even as he waited for Gil. "Nick and I still have issues with the sleeping thing so... you know..." He shrugged a little. "So I got here early and discovered that the Outpatients at Palms is open pretty much 24/7 so I left the note and went and got my stitches unpicked."

"Do you think you can get some sleep right now?" Gil shadowed him into the hallway, walking close but not close enough to crowd, and he took a little detour to grab tissues.

Greg turned to look at him, a short glance of very open feelings in his expression. "This might be stupid Griss, but that's pretty much been the recurring fantasy on the drive up. I know I sort of flirt around and stuff but, all I've been thinking of has been that... crawling into bed with you and just going to sleep."

And that was something he could handle. That was something that didn't take forethought and moral qualms of anything else, and it made Gil finally relax a little, tension sliding out of his back that he didn't know he had. "Sleep we can do. Do you want something to drink with all of that sugar?"

"Yeah, maybe something," Greg replied. "Water or something. Better not have a coffee right now."

"Unfortunately everything in there is sweet or close to it. Water, then. If you want to..." Go in, wander around. Peek a little. On one hand, it was invading Gil's privacy, and on the other, Gil was inviting Greg to invade it as long as he wasn't watching. "I'll get the water."

"Okay," Greg agreed and wandered off down the short corridor.

Maybe he really was that tired. It was just a little unsettling. Things like that didn't happen to Gil. Young men did not drive for hours to see him, to share a croissant or donut and then just... be with him.

He got the water rather slowly as he considered what seemed to be happening.

Greg had, and kept going to an unexpected level of trouble for him. Not trouble, maybe, but effort. Effort. Hanging around the lab when he didn't want to be there, waiting for Gil to come out of work and call him when Gil had actually been thinking about ignoring it. As ready as he was to cut Greg loose the moment he gave the signal, he seemed to be going everything but trying to cut ties with Gil.

That wasn't something he had been expecting or was used to based on his own experience. If he thought about it, everyone he had reached to had never quite reached back. Or more to the point brushed him off, taken the second chance clause out of discussion before they even got started.

Greg was not just reaching back, but grabbing hold and that was disconcerting and he still wondered when it would just... stop.

By the time he headed back to his bedroom, he was a little surprised to find Greg was already in his bed waiting. Looking hopeful at him.

With an open box of breakfast pastries.

And possibly completely undressed. it was hard to tell since he had the sheets pulled up to his stomach, and Gil wasn't going to think of exchanged blowjobs and sleeping naked and curled close because if he did, he wasn't going to sleep. He was going to lay there and think all night. "I have the water."

"I have... what appears to be a box of pure sugar arranged to look like donuts and pastries," Greg answered. "And a spot in your bed. Things are looking up."

The black knots of the stitches had gone from his arms and what he could see of his

"I'm pretty sure there's a croissant or two slipped in, but the sugar might have had time to infect them," Gil observed with a smile as he handed Greg one water glass. Time to

Greg bit into a donut and ended up licking sugar off of his lips and then drinking water. "Hey, this is... pretty good." He was also watching Gil appreciatively as he undressed.

"Fresh pastry, cold water, a big bed, and your older boss stripping for you?" It was light, just banter to see if he could get Greg to smile again, while he folded up his shirt.

"Hey, yeah. I bet I'd have to pay Lady Heather a fortune for this sort of thing," Greg quipped back and there it was, just for a moment, a real Greg smile aimed right at him.

Just for a moment. It slipped away before Gil could even reply but it had been there and Gil had caught Greg, the real Greg. "Particularly for the part where she gives a bedroom the ambience of an office."

"The woman has talent so I hear," Greg replied again. "You getting in? Otherwise I'll have eaten more than I should."

"You need it more than I do." He toed off his shoes and socks, though, and stepped out of his pants quickly, pulling the sheets down to slip into bed. It wasn't quite how he'd expected to get Greg in his bed.

Almost immediately he realized that Greg was wearing boxers too, which was almost a relief as it meant things wouldn't get too complicated straight away, and also he was aware that the moment he settled into position, Greg was tucking himself alongside him. He even thought he heard a faint sigh that could've been relief.

"Croissant or donut?" Greg asked, propping the box on Gil's stomach so it wasn't in the way.

"Croissant. If there's one left." He was trying hard to stay teasing, to not slip and say anything that could break the moment, the easiness of it. He wouldn't always have the energy and he wouldn't always put in the effort but when Greg was so close to falling apart again it was worth the concentration to not let any misunderstandings creep up again.

Greg passed on to him and finished eating his own. "I'll always save you a croissant," he promised through a mouthful. He exhaled again. "Anyone told you, you're really comfortable?"

"Comfortable?" It was a funny term to use. Comfortable, because it made Gil think of old shoes and broken in mattresses.

"Yeah, to lie on. Comfortable." Greg demonstrated by lying on him a little more. "I like that. And you always smell good. Sort of Grissomy."

He made it sound like it was a sort of scent that everyone knew about.

Like it was something in a bottle, and that bottle happened to not smell like antiseptics and death. Gil shifted, sliding an arm underneath of Greg to help the lying on along. "Grissomy," Gil repeated, smiling a little. "I guess that means you smell Gregish?"

"See now Gregish sounds a bit... grungy and something you need to wash off after a show. Grissomy sounds... a little exotic, different. Spicy and something to indulge in." To prove his point he leaned in an inhaled with definite fervor. "Mmm... yeah, that about gets it right."

"Croissants and chemicals," Gil smirked, shifting just a little to hold onto Greg a little better. "This is nice."

"Yeah," Greg finished up his second donut thoughtfully. "You know, if I'm messing up your plans, all you have to do is say. I know I keep causing havoc at the moment."

Havoc, sure, but Greg's disappearing was more havoc than Greg's appearing was. "My plans were to have breakfast and then sleep. These are my plans."

Greg smiled a little. "And the interloper into your bed, that was in your plans as well?" he asked looked up at him with a faint smile.

"Not originally, but the interloper was originally unavailable for comment. My plans were flexible from the beginning." The smiles were nice, enough to distract Gil from breakfast.

"It's nice to know I can turn up in your bed and not be in trouble." Greg drank a mouthful of water and then seemed to decide he had had enough as he settled for curling in half lying on Gil. "So. Did I interrupt any interesting cases?"

"Just one. An elderly woman's body was found dumped outside the city. The animal activity on her body was... not what we were expecting for her level of deterioration."

"So, a body dump and then chewed?" Greg asked. "Or did something start lunching before she got dumped?"

It was nice to know someone was interested. His work didn't make for good over dinner conversations unless his dinner partner was desensitized to the topics of blood and gore.

And no one but someone in the field would lay there after just eating, in bed with a partner and discuss work. Gil finished off his Croissant, and pondered a Donut and the answer to Greg's question. "Lividity and bruising suggests that the 'chewing' occurred post mortem, but not in the same location she was dumped."

"An urban legend come to life? Starving pet feeding self after owner's death?" Greg suggested. "But that wouldn't explain why she was moved. I mean, it's not like a dog would do that. Or a cat. Hamsters though, can't trust 'em." He smiled again, peering up at Gil and then tickling his skin with his hair as he settled again

"If this is a case where Hamsters have fed on a human corpse and then relocated it, I might actually pass on writing a paper up for it for the next big forensics conference." Gil reached for a donut, just one, that wasn't going to drop much sugar on Greg's head.

Greg chuckled. "It wouldn't be the strangest thing we've seen," he claimed. His lips almost absently kissed at Gil's chest a moment. "You finishing that up tomorrow?"

"I'll be working on it. Tonight, not tomorrow." The kiss was distracting, and Greg was making it hard for Gil to not card fingers through his hair, petting him.

Greg nodded and was silent for a moment. "I missed you," he said eventually. "A lot. I'm going to get better, I promise."

"Take your time. And on the bright side, you have a whole night to kill time in Vegas. Like a tourist, if you want. Or you can stay here and just relax." And once he had his time off, he and Greg could drive back out to California together again. If that was what Greg wanted.

"I'll probably just stay here. I'll come in with you and get my car," Greg said with a yawn. "Then I'll come back. Might go and get a few things from my place. And I really ought to give your mom something. After all the trouble I've given her. Same for you, except I'm thinking turning up in your bed is a good way to even things out."

Turning up at all is a good way to even things out. "She'll be glad to just see you again, Greg." Gil wasn't going to mention that she'd half-acted like she was directly responsible for Greg running off like that.

"You think she knows about...us kinda getting together?" Greg asked and Gil noticed his eyes were more than half closed.

Gil shifted the pastry box onto the ledge under his nightstand, where it balanced precariously on top of dog-eared books. "Yes."

"I wouldn't want to upset her. I hope she thinks... it's okay..." Greg yawned again. "Your mom doesn't miss anything."

"Not very much." There were a few instances that Gil could think of, but he didn't want to think of them. Bizarre moments of fact-blindness, that was all they were, and she hadn't had any of those in years. "She's fine with it."

"That's good." He smiled. "I like her. Poppa Olaf likes you so... looks like we're set." He closed his eyes then and exhaled again.

"I haven't met your grandfather. Maybe this weekend." It was a vague suggestion, worded softly so Greg could mull it over and decide before or against it. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight Gil," Greg replied still with his eyes closed and arms loose around him. "I love you."

The words seemed to come so easy to the young man as if it weren't a miracle at all that he was saying them.

As if it weren't a miracle that Greg was alive at all, and never mind that the words almost didn't make sense. He shifted, pulled Greg just a little closer, and closed his eyes.

He was still there when Gil got up in the morning.

It felt a little like a miracle to Gil, but so had sharing the bathroom and making a quick 'dinner' and sharing it with Greg. He could get used to that, and a little bickering over the radio. It was like the damn of awkwardness has broken.

Greg was talking more, more like he used to and sometimes he wavered but it was better than the forced words they'd had before. No, Greg had joked with him on the ride over to work, he seen a few more of those real smiles and Gil had surprised himself at the reaction he had to that. They were even more precious to him the more he saw them. He could get used to the warmth of a body half on him. He could get used to the palpable need for him that Greg demonstrated just from the way he clung to him.

And the way he had sat and watched him disappear out of sight before he left the departmental car park.

Greg didn't just want him, he seemed to need him as well and that was more than he'd expected.

It hadn't scared Gil, though. It had helped shore up his resolve to do whatever he could for Greg, and that started out his day by walking into the locker-room in the hopes of finding Catherine.

The fact that people kept giving him sidelong looks as he came in made him deduce that he had indeed been spotted yesterday kissing Greg at his car.

Catherine, when he found her just putting on her jacket to presumably go out on a call, just looked up at him and smirked a little as well. "Hi Gil. Have a good... night?"

"Wonderful. How's the case coming?" The case, he didn't even need to say exactly which on.

"Temporarily interrupted for a 4-19 out on the desert edge." Catherine's smirk faded a little. "Archie's got some subsidiary sound off of Nick's tape. I told you we found it right? And Warrick went back and swept over the outside of Greg's scene and he found a complete tape there. It's... well yeah, mind games there. We know there is definitely an accomplice and it sounds like a female voice. Who that female is, is another matter."

"Female," Gil repeated, staring at Catherine for a moment before he nodded. "The circumstances of it -- Greg visited Nick. They discussed their separate ordeals, and it seems as if someone had access to either their files or a gossip network. Maybe they didn't know what CSI's they were going to end up grabbing, but they had to know which one, the pain or the underground box, would be most effective. They were 'slated to fail'."

Catherine paused a moment. "Greg and Nick came up with this?" she said looking at him. "That's..." She frowned a little. "That's actually a pretty plausible idea. We know that Nick has issues about control. And Greg and the fire phobia. I remember thinking when I watched the tape that they couldn't have done anything worse if they tried. I still don't know how they lasted out."

"Because they're amazing people," Gil said, like he was telling her in confidence when they both knew it. "And Greg could see Nick the entire time. I can only assume that Nick had faith that he'd be found."

"That's a hell of a lot of faith," Catherine said. "So. Records, gossip profiling... I think I'll need Jim to do some poking around of their own. Who profile's a CSI's vulnerable points? The department? " She paused a moment. "Lawyers. I had a bitch of a lawyer on that triple DB murder robbery. She kept making things personal, trying to make out I had biased evidence because one of the vics was a girl about Lindsay's age. They definitely profile us, but Vegas breeds Lawyers like rats. That's a big haystack to pick through."

"It's a smaller haystack than having the entire city open as a suggestion. We know who... We know Walter Gordon was one person. Look for lawyers attached to him." It made sense. A plus B plus lingering bitterness over his daughter had led Walter Gordon to do that. They just had to work the equation backwards.

"We'll chase the paper trail," Catherine said. "If Warrick finishes printing the robbery...no, hang on, Sara's due to close her car accident, she could do it and I could hit it myself when I get back in."

She looked impatient at the thought of having to go out now there was a trail no matter how thin to follow. "I want them... I want them to go down for this."

"I do, too. Except it's your career case, Catherine, and not mine." He needed to run the lab and be free if other things went wrong and he needed to go home to California on the weekends to be with Greg.

"Gil, you know you cracked it the first time. For Nick, with the fire ants," Catherine said as she closed her locker. "And then finding Greg in the desert. You still saved his life then... he would've bled to death if you hadn't have put together the property link. It's as much your case as any of ours."

"It's a conflict of interest for me at this point. I..." Gil hesitated, watching Catherine's

Catherine turned and looked at him. "Personal information and confirmation of a rumor all in one. You and Greg huh?"

He gave a small shrug of his shoulders that meant yes, and gave Catherine a small smile. "Good luck tonight, all right?"

"Luck and evidence running hand in hand," Catherine replied. "I'll keep you in the loop Gil. And send Greg my love okay? I kinda miss him."

He knew that was an understatement. They missed the both of them.

"I'll let him know. I'm sure between using up my frequent flier miles and putting wear on Greg's car, he'll eventually get bored of traveling and he'll come back to the lab." Gil didn't linger much longer, just turned and headed to walk down the hallway.

Catherine was smirking at him again as he turned away and called after him. "Can't see how he could stay away," even as he heard her heading out herself.

He wasn't sure if she meant because of the lab or because of him.

It didn't matter. Catherine was probably going to tease him for years now, even after everything went wrong in some distant future. But for the moment, in the lab, she would do her work and he could keep on top of his own. Catch up on the case, if any of the trace had been processed yet.

The tape was good news and Archie would find the echo of a whisper if it were there to find. Returning to his office and sitting at his desk he found another pile of papers that was the monthly reports with another post-it note stuck on it saying 'Gil now owes Catherine TWO dinners.'

She did seem to have the knack of processing the paperwork he regarded as an annoyance.

A little spare time to ponder the body dump case and wait for a notification that they'd at least made an ID on the body. He could make it useful, and look over the paperwork -- except he knew Catherine had done it correctly -- or...

He could do something for his team, for Greg and ask Nick to visit his mother's house. He knew Nick, he'd need an invitation, not just a vague hopeful invitation from Greg.

It would make Greg happy, it might even help them both and he hadn't yet called Nick to see how he was doing.

It was past ten. It was past ten, so hopefully he wasn't going to wake anyone up, and... And he'd try Nick's cellphone first, which was probably set to vibrate if it was anywhere around him. The new one, with the new number that he'd logged with the department. Or his parents had logged it with the department.

Either way he could call him. He picked up the phone and dialed the number before he could talk himself out of it.

It rang a few times and then... "Nick Stokes."

"Nick? It's Grissom." Not Gil, because Gil never referred to himself that way. Unless someone started it first. "I hope I'm not calling you too late."

"Grissom?" Nick sounded startled for a moment and there was a noise as if he had gotten up and closed a door. "No, it's fine. Just put my niece and nephew to bed. Is there... is there something wrong?"

"No. Greg managed to arrive back in Vegas in one piece. He's crashed out at my apartment watching movies right now. I wanted to thank you for..." Being a friend, being a team member, being one of them. "Helping him."

"Hey, it was no trouble at all," Nick replied "I mean, Greg was the one that did most of the helping. Man, I couldn't believe it when he turned up. He didn't look that good, so I hope he didn't over doing it getting back to Vegas."

"He wore himself out a little, but he's resting and relaxing right now." Gil shifted a few pieces of paperwork, mostly concentrating on the phone call. "Whatever you did, Nick, it helped a great deal. Greg suggested that you might benefit from getting away from home for a week or two, so I wanted to extend the offer to you."

There was a moment of slightly stunned silence. "To go to your mom's?" Nick asked and his voice was just a little shaky. Like he remembered when Nick had first had a gun pulled on him. He couldn't believe this was an equivalent sort of a shock.

It hopefully wasn't nearly as horrifying a suggestion.

"If you want to, yes. It's very restful, and if you get tired of being rested, it's just outside of LA."

"I might just do that," Nick replied clearing his throat. "My family can get a little over protective y'know? Greg said something about it, but I didn't think he'd remember. He was a little way out there when we talked about that."

"He meant it," Gil smiled as he picked up a pen. "So, if and when you want to, Nick. Just ask for directions and go. You won't be an imposition to anyone."

"Greg'll be there?" Nick asked. "I can... maybe do it if I have that as a reason. They wouldn't understand that here wasn't the best place for me, but they'd understand going there for him." He could imagine Nick looking faintly worried at even the slight subterfuge, a slight frown on his face and a mute questioning of 'is this really okay?'. Greg did that as well, looked for his approval all the time.

"I'm going to drive Greg back up there this weekend. I'm sure he'd like the company." A friend, a location where nothing bad had happened to either of them.

"I might head up there mid week then. " There was a hesitation. "You guys need your alone time."

There...there was the hint of a smile that he could hear in Nick's tone and the assurance that their incurable romantic hadn't lost all of his faith that the world was full of good things. It was one of Nick's more amazing qualities that he never seemed to become as entangled in cynicism as the rest of them. Greg shared that in common with him.

The two of them spending time together would do them both good. "I appreciate that. When you want directions, call. But until then, I hope you're feeling better, Nick."

"Yeah. Yeah a bit. Since Greg visited." He could hear the deep inhalation. "Thanks Grissom, I really appreciate it. I'll take you up on that offer. Hope your mom won't mind a house full."

"I think she prefer it that way, Nick. I'll see you around sometime, and I'll email you with directions and anything else you might need. Have a good night."

"Night Grissom," Nick said and hung up.

All in all, that conversation had gone quite well. They had even managed the awkward business of asking how he was without too much trouble. And Greg would be pleased, because how Nick was meant a lot to him.

Gil set the phone down gently in the cradle, and looked at it. It was a little surprising that he wasn't feeling jealous, but now that he'd had time, it made sense. Friends, Greg needed his friends and his old contacts just as much as anything.

Greg had come to him when coming back to Vegas meant facing a lot of less pleasant things. Greg still didn't sleep that well, but he did cling to him desperately in his sleep. With that sorted, he could now turn to work with a good conscience and know that later when he went home, there would be someone waiting for him. Needing him.

And he could help Greg. Personally and in the case.

Gil hadn't let him drive all the way to California again, and Greg knew that was probably the only reason they got there safe and sound. He had groveled to Vivian, at first awkwardly and genuinely only to have his contrition met with the sort of wry sarcasm that Grissom lavished on them at the lab which prompted him to even more extravagant claims of his mortification in upsetting her.

By the time Gil had parked the car and taken their luggage upstairs and returned, Greg had reached the point of melodramatically offering her his first born children assuming that male pregnancy became a scientific reality and he survived the cesarean, to make up for all the worry he had put her through.

Vivian was apparently considering this offer when Gil came back in, and Greg abruptly realized how weird things must look.

Vivian had assured him that if she ended up with grandchildren at that point, then could raise them themselves, and that was when Gil looked from Greg to his mother and back with an expression of puzzled befuddlement.

"Should I walk back out into the hallway and then come back in?"

Greg grinned a little. "No, I think I need your help negotiating with your mother. She doesn't seem to be taking my offer of first born children to make up for what I did. Got any idea's?"

"The idea of going through anything like your childhood again is enough to make me want to let him off the hook free of charge," Vivian said at the same time as signing her usual 'welcome home son' at the same time.

Or at least, Greg guessed it was her usual sign. The gestures were smooth and Gil smiled and signed back quickly enough that Greg decided he needed lessons. Serious lessons. "It wasn't that bad. I had a lot of fun."

"Yes, I seem to remember a lot of your teachers saying the same thing," Vivian replied and leaned over to him and pecked him on the cheek.

Greg smiled again. It was hard to think of Grissom as an unholy tear away. "I'd like to say I was an angelic kid but I don't want to tempt fate."

"You were angelic?" Gil's mouth curved up into a smile. "I'll believe that when I see it. " He shifted, turned, and gave his attention to his mother a little better. "Since we're here, again, is there anything we can do for you?"

His mother considered a long moment. "You could both pose for me," she said. "And possibly fix up the old beach hut summer house . It would be nice to have somewhere to paint the sea without the canvas blowing away."

Greg was still stuck on the first option. Both of them pose? What together? Or separately? in front of Gil's mother? "I...uh..."

"We can fix up the hut," Gil agreed readily, eyeing his mother a little, but apparently the posing suggestion threw him a little, too. "But, uh, posing?"

"I'm working on the exhibition, and I could use some... inspiration," Vivian replied and her lips were twitching slightly with amusement. "It's not like you haven't done it before, no matter how inadvertently."

Greg knew he was gaping at them both then. This was Gil's mother....that had to be weird. "With other people?" It was a squeak which fortunately Vivian wouldn't hear but Grissom would.

"It's a long story. " Wow, and no wonder Gil was weird if he'd posed naked for his mother some time. That was almost oedipal. "I, uh..."

Vivian was smiling at his discomfiture. "He was having sex with a boyfriend in my studio and forgot that while I can't hear, I can certainly feel vibrations in the floor. They were... so involved and somewhat imaginative, they didn't even notice when I went in the room, so I picked up a sketch pad while I waited for them to realize that I was in fact home." She patted Gil on the arm. "It took some time as I recall."

Greg was still amazed. His mind was a little too drawn to that image and he blinked. "Remind me not to do that right there with you Gil," he said and then looked a bit alarmed as he realized he had vaguely confessed that the pair of them were having sex.

"After that? I don't need to be reminded." Gil's face dropped a little towards a scowl, but Greg could read that face well enough to tell he wasn't really bothered. "If you need us to pose, it's clothed."

"Half naked," Vivian countered as if she were bargaining in some market.

"It's not like she hasn't seen me like that before," Greg had to admit. It was comforting to see that even Grissom got 'persuaded' to do things. "Well and you...uh, yeah." He glanced at Vivian seeing her watching him.

"It's alright Greg, I do know that my son has seen fit to choose now to make his move," Vivian replied. "Just be warned if I find you I will paint you. You'd be amazed at how well that works as a deterrent." He smile was close to mischievous.

"When one can't yell at their college aged children, one can put pictures of their naked behind up in your gallery," Gil agreed a little mutedly. "All right."

Greg was obscurely disappointed in some strange way. He was feeling more...open, more wanting now. There was less pressure on him, less crushing despair and he wanted more. He wanted Gil to make a move and he didn't know exactly how or anything just that he wanted it.

"I never actually did that," Vivian assured Greg. "Besides he was having fun and was happy... I wouldn't dream of ruining that for my son. Sex is a natural, beautiful thing."

"Except when your mother's watching." Gil winked, and turned a little to pat Greg between the shoulder blades, letting his hand settle there. "You received my email about Nick...?"

"I did. That's fine- I'll expect him sometime this week," Vivian replied.

Greg snapped out of contemplating how weird the therapists would find that statement when he heard Nick's name. "Wait a minute, Nick's coming up?"

"I called him after you mentioned it to me, and mailed my mother around the same time." Pretty assumptive of Gil, but it apparently had worked because wow, Nick was going to come down?

"That's great. He said he wanted a little space."

"I shall be interested to meet him too," Vivian replied. "Now, are you boys wanting something to eat now? Or shall I send you out to work on that beach summer house of ours?"

Greg was slightly suspicious of the gleam in her eye when she said that. "I uh...I don't.."

"We can start on the house, I guess." Gil looked a little tired, but he also looked game for it and it wasn't as if they could do it in the middle of the night. "Can I assume you've already bought plywood and other supplies?"

"I even had them deliver it out there," Vivian replied.

Greg was convinced it was a definite plot afoot. With Vivian it was difficult to tell exactly what she had in mind. "Uh, we'll get to it," he said.

Vivian nodded and then picked up an old fashioned hamper. "Here, you might as well take this with you. I don't want you getting distracted out there. Besides, I am needing to go down the stores and I thought I might drop in on Margaret for the afternoon."

Okay and now a picnic hamper. Greg glanced over at Grissom to see if this made any sense to him even as he picked up the basket.

Gil opened his mouth, and then closed it and gave Greg a loose shrug. "Well, we'll get to it, then," Gil said as he reached to take the basket. It all seemed mighty contrived.

"Have fun boys," Vivian said as she very hastily got them a coffee each from the machine and pass over a mug to them both.

Greg took his and followed Gil out of the back door and towards some distant point. "Uh, Gil... do you get the impression your mother was up to something?"

"What was the hint?" Gil asked, gesturing with the basket in one hand and the mug in the other hand. He looked over his shoulder, back towards the house.

"Picnic basket, coffee, sent off to isolated area's not so subtle hints about her going out and a conversation that made it's way around to sex..." Greg walked after him. "Was that your mom saying it's okay with her if we have sex?"

Gil still had a somewhat confused look on his face, and then he managed a nod before he looked back to Greg. "I think so. Or she's going to park her car, idle up the street a block, and then come back when we least expect. I'm not sure."

"She wouldn't do that....would she?" Greg looked at him a little worried. Okay, he'd been worried about what Vivian might say but he hadn't imagined her practically pushing them together.

Unless she could see something that they couldn't.

"She ever do this before?"

"No." Gil seemed a little less suspicious once he'd noted that fact. "Still..."

"I think this is the equivalent of her blessing," Greg said as they headed up the rough path. He grinned a little. "Well that's how I'm going to look at it. And act on it."

"It never crossed my mind that she'd have a problem with it." Gil lifted his eyebrows a little, and shifted to walk shoulder to shoulder with Greg since he didn't have any free hands. "I'm not even sure the stand where she paints from has any problems."

"...you know, I have a feeling that I've experienced this sort of thing before." Greg said relaxing a little. He could move more easily without the stitches in and there was a sudden hope that Gil might go along with this maneuverings. "Must be a Grissom trait."

"It is?" Gil glanced out over at the ocean for a moment, and his face cracked into an easy smile. "Ah, yes. I guess it might be. But people are getting wise to my attempts to get blood from them."

Greg just smiled as he heard Gil's voice say 'So many reasons' in his head and realize that he hadn't really seen Gil smile like that for some time. It worried him. Last thing he wanted to do was to make Gil depressed as well. "I like that. Not the blood thing, if only because you've suckered me into that way to many times, but you smiling. You haven't smiled much recently...I guess that's my fault."

It got him a queer look from Gil. "Why do you... why do you say that?"

Greg glanced back at him. "Because of everything? Me falling apart, and everything. The Texas disappearing act."

And it made him wonder when Gil had last really smiled. It was hard to remember when he'd last seen Gil that light-hearted. It had probably been a while, actually... "No, Greg. No. Your having a hard time has no bearing on my uh, state of mind. No, that doesn't sound, uh... What I mean is that you're not making me unhappy, Greg."

That was nice, but Greg wasn't completely convinced. But maybe he should be trying to dwell on the positive. "So what is? And what can I do to make you happy?"

Because this with Gil, his friends...that was all he had now. And he was still close enough in the shadow of near death that everything seemed incredibly precious.

"You make me happy, Greg," Gil murmured. "It's just... It's only stress. I'm not the best supervisor in the world."

"That's not true," Greg protested immediately. "You're a great supervisor!"

He didn't like Gil having doubts about himself. The Grissom he knew was always definite.

Always firm, always assured, so either Gil was taking it harder than he'd thought, or Gil was lying to cover and doing it badly.

"Maybe. But I am tired and it hasn't been our best year as a department."

"I don't want you to feel even more tired," Greg replied. "Forget the work, pretend I had an emotional breakdown. Lets just rest together huh?"

He half-expected Gil to protest, but Gil was looking past him at the little hit where his mother painted, and then the edges of his mouth tipped into a smile. "All right. That sounds perfect."

And the hut looked...perfect as well. Certainly not in need of two guys and a paintbrush. So it had been a set up. Greg was imagining the pair of them lying in the not quite direct sun, warm and comfortable. That sounded like a good plan for the afternoon. And maybe later when they stopped being drowsy…

There was a couch, there were blankets neatly folded that he imagined Vivian draping around her shoulders as she overlooked the ocean.

"This looks good." Greg said as he looked around. "And your mothers middle name must be Machiavelli."

"Lynn," Gil shrugged as he set his cup of coffee down on the rickety, somewhat paint-stained table. It was nice in there. "It should have been that, I agree. Now the picnic basket makes sense."

"Mm. Much more sense." He sat down on the couch and fairly self-consciously kicked off his shoes. "You, me, a private beach hut. Sounds like...like paradise."

Gil stopped at the doorway to toe his shoes off, and his socks, and sighed. It sounded like a quiet, relieved sigh. "If it helps, Greg, I also wouldn't have put it past her to actually have had paint and plywood waiting."

"I'll do any of that for her when you back to Vegas. I think we need a weekend off," Greg said and wriggled his toes. "Come on Gil, you make the best pillow. Ever."

"Mm. As good as it was to have you back in Vegas, I wish I hadn't been in the lab the entire time." Only nearly the entire time. Gil approached him and he looked tired and relieved at the same time, and settled easily beside Greg on the sofa. "But you and the bugs seemed to have gotten along."

"Like a house on...fire..." Greg mentally winced at the painful association. "They'll miss me. We're buddies now."

No matter what Gil said, Greg knew looking after him was at least part of the reason for Gil being tired. He wanted that to change as well.

But for now, Gil settled beside him, and slid an arm behind his back in that careful way he was getting used to. "They'll remember you whenever you're ready to go back to Vegas."

"I know I'll be able to do it soon," Greg replied filled with a rush of confidence. Things were good in the here and now. The depression lurked but it had no place on this sunny day with Gil there. "But before we can do that, we've got a few years of catching up on missed opportunities."

"We can take our time with that. Starting now?" Gil shifted a little, fingers rubbing gently on Greg's opposite shoulder. He did make a good pillow. "I'd like to show you the town. Really show it to you."

"Okay, that' good," Greg replied. "And now is a particularly fantastic time to start any of that. It's weird, I feel like...things are a bit more in color again you know? That can be a bit painful with overload but it means I can feel things.

"We'll keep it at an even level. And maybe rest for a day. You've spent a lot of the past week driving, Greg. It does add up."

Greg had to admit that it did, in terms of aching muscles and tender new tissue.

Grissom was there with his arm around him and being very comfortable and Greg knew that one way or another he still had to catch up on his rest.

"Yeah, I put a good few miles on my car," he admitted. The sun warmed the couch and he closed his eyes a moment. The light wasn't fire, or electricity, or an explosion, just the warmth of the sun and Gil was there.

Gil would keep him safe, keep a watch over him. Greg could trust him to do that, one arm behind his back, the other hand resting against his elbow, the touch light. "You probably need an oil change."

"Me personally?" Greg grinned. "Kinky. But I'm up for it. Oil sounds like a very good idea." He deliberately misinterpreted the comment.

It was worth it for Gil's quiet chuckle. "We could move the blanket and pillows to the floor, you know. And who knows if there's actually food in the basket."

"I'd be pretty disappointed if it turned out to be paintbrushes," Greg replied considering the idea. "But yeah, I'm thinking that is an excellent plan. Food, you, blankets...not necessarily in order of priority."

He grinned at him. "But if you just want to sleep down there, that's fine too."

Gil sat up a little, in a way Greg could tell even with his eyes closed, because Gil leaned down to kiss his mouth gently. "There are many ways to relax."

He couldn't help it, he smiled against the touch of those lips before he returned the kiss. Gil was being cautious with him, he knew that, and appreciated it. He didn't necessarily want it though. He wanted Gil to need him, he wanted his body wrapped around him, and yeah in the sunshine it could be relaxed and slow.

"I'm liking this one. Can it be departmental policy?"

"That when Greg needs to relax, he needs to be carefully kissed and perhaps seduced?" Gil was smiling at Greg when he did open his eyes, a touch of wryness in his own eyes.

God, Gil was just...Greg found himself swallowing against a suddenly dry mouth. He couldn't believe that he was so lucky to be here, to be with Gil. It was like the hurt of what happened didn't exist.

"Oh yeah… I really do."

"So, what if you're working a scene with Ecklie?" Gil leaned back a little, and he was still smiling as he looked at Greg, half-looming over him.

"Well, I'm not sure I'm kinky enough to do it with you in front of Ecklie," Greg said smiling back. "Because, you know, I'm thinking, we get assigned partners and we stick with them. " He felt a tingle of anticipation at his position. Mentally he was willing him to make a move.

Gil was leaning in again, the edges of his mouth making a new sort of smile. "Usually just for the case. So should we move to the floor, or try to do this on the sofa?"

He liked that smile. He had feeling that not many people had ever seen that particular smile.

"I tend to fall off of things a lot. So the floor is probably safer," Greg murmured unable to stop himself from reaching up to just brush Gil's cheek. It felt right. It felt good.

There was a little stubble outside of the bounding lines that Gil kept his beard in, just enough for Greg to feel under his fingertips. Gil turned his head a little, and kissed the inside of Greg's wrist. "Then the floor it is."

It was probably something incredibly wrong and un-masculine about finding that incredibly erotic. He felt himself shiver at that and exhaled before pushing a pile of blankets to the floor, and sliding down to that level. He more than wanted Gil, he needed him. That was what he felt Gil needed to know about him.

And Gil was picking up on it, without question, because Gil was finally making the motions, responding to Greg even though he was tired and they'd driven there just after a shift.

"This isn't going to solve anything, Greg, if that's what you're hoping..."

Greg nearly laughed. No, he'd gone beyond that. He'd worked that out as that had precipitated the rushing around the country chasing his tail.

"It doesn't have to," he replied. "I don't want you to solve my problems for me Gil, I just want... need you."

Gil leaned over him again to press another kiss against his mouth, just brief, teasing him. "Then we're both here for the same reasons."

"That's a good start," Greg murmured as he tried to settles down. "Should I be taking off any clothes?"

His own, Gil's, that's where he was thinking of going with his suggestion. And hoping Gil was along for the ride.

"Maybe?" Greg lay down, sprawled out, and Gil knelt beside him, over him, and let his hands rove down to Greg's t-shirt. "And here I thought you were just interested in the basket."

"When there something so much more interesting here?" Greg replied looking up at him. He liked that view, he liked Gil over him, he loved the feel of Grissom touching him through cloth.

He hadn't ever thought he'd had that, but it was better now that he was calm and he could think straight. It was better now that he could look up at Gil and appreciate the way his fingers lingered on Greg's stomach for a while, stroking over skin and letting his pinkie finger idle against Greg's belly button.

It was better now he could feel something bright and alive following the touch against his skin. He smiled and arched comfortably.

Gil was touched by sunlight, some of the light smoothing out the anxiety in his expression. "That feels great," he said, putting his arms up and back so there was more of him exposed.

"Tell me if you particularly like anything." Gil sounded teasing, and he pushed Greg's t-shirt up more, fingers sliding over Greg's chest. He didn't pause of the scars, just felt them and moved on.

"I like everything in particular," Greg replied. The sensations felt peculiar over scar and new skin. "That's... good. That, what you are doing there." It made him want to squirm, really squirm under his touch as he brushed fingers over his chest.

Gil leaned down to kiss his chest, and then goaded Greg to sit up so he could pull the t-shirt the rest of the way off. "You'd be surprised how many times I imagined what you'd feel like."

He was more than willing to oblige, and was surprised to hear Gil had done that. "Really? I mean... you did a good job of not showing it."

Too good a job, so good a job he thought that life was going to be just waiting and wanting and seeing other people get closer while he remained in the shadows.

"It isn't professional to get caught fantasizing about your co-workers." Gil leaned in, and kissed against Greg's neck, let the shirt end up on the floor somewhere off to the side.

"Ah, the ...the reason for all those black marks on my record," Greg replied and surprised himself with a gasp as his heart rate jumped when Gil kiss ed down his neck. "I am so doing this to you next."

"Pinning me to the floor and stripping me naked? That sounds like a promise." Gil reached a hand down to pop the top button on Greg's jeans.

"Well aside from the fact that you out mass me," Greg replied. "Which is cool." Gil's hand was very tempting just there. "You know you could uh... well, undress me a little faster?"

He looked up at Gil hopefully. "Please?"

"Maybe." Gil's fingers lingered against Greg's zipper, and pressed down, enough that Greg could feel pressure way too close to little Greg to not respond. More.

"Tease," Greg accused. "Serious tease." There was less of that complete desperation underlying everything now. Less of that feeling he was never going to go get better and he just needed something. No, this was slow and languid and just... right. "You going to touch that?"

"Eventually. We jumped to it the first time, so I thought the rest of you should get some attention first." Like the slow pulling down of a zipper, while Gil mouthed over to a nipple.

His arms reached around Gil. "Jesus, I'd forgotten how I... yeah, just like that and oh...." He shook as Gil sucked and he felt it spark something downwards towards his cock. "Sucking there is something I particularly like."

Gil was leaning on one arm, on his knees, his other hand caught between their bodies. His jeans were definitely coming off, and god, yeah, that felt good. He could just see the top of Gil's head, thick salt and pepper hair and a slight damp tingling that made him hard while Gil sucked and then nipped at his nipple.

He wasn't sure that if his life depended on it he would've been able to keep quiet or stop moving under that attention. His own hands were smoothing over Gil's back, trying to find a way to get his top off, and failing as he was distracted by the sensations. The nips made him jolt and clutch every single time.

"I uh, I could.... could probably... Jesus Griss!" He was never going to speak coherently again.

And that was probably okay. Who needed to talk? He felt Gil laugh a little, even as Gil slid his hand into Greg's jeans, skimming over his underwear.

"You... trying to make me into a teenager?" Greg asked in between deep breaths. "You do that too much and it'll be game over way too soon."

Which would be good in one way, and not so good in another. Yeah, on a normal day, if there was such a thing he would be good for more than one in a row but he still got pretty tired.

He was too tired for more than one, now, maybe too tired for one. Gil pulled back, sat back, and moved his hands to hook into the belt loops of Greg's jeans. "These need to come off."

"I think you're right," Greg replied. "And I'm thinking you need to do the same."

Because he wanted to see and appreciate Gil now. Needed to do it.

Needed to see and just... enjoy, even if Gil gave him a quietly dubious look while he moved to get his shoes and Greg's shoes off. "Well, fair is fair."

"Yeah, and I love the way you look. " He grinned a little, with a lopsided smile. "Kinda sexy..."

He waited until Gil was done and insistently helped him get the top off. "Much better."

It made Gil smile in that way that said he wondered about Greg's sanity. But Gil was tanned and solid and there was no bizarre self consciousness, only a little amusement as he started to pull Greg's pants down for him. "I like my view better."

"Always knew you were weird," Greg said, wiggling his legs to get the clothes off. "Because I'm still sort of all over scabs and, scars."

And Gil was smooth and just right.

""That doesn't bother me. It means you're still alive and healing, after all." Gil undid his belt, starting to take his own pants and boxers off.

"Much, much better," Greg replied after a moment. "Wow. Taking time to appreciate it is better. You've got muscles lurking."

They were there. He wasn't whipcord, or gym-polished but there was muscle definition. He tested it and trailed fingers over his arms.

"Lurking might be a good word for it." Gil flexed his arm a little, and Greg could feel muscles jump and tense. Gil had strong arms, strong legs, and Greg vaguely remembered that. He left his clothes in a pile mixed in with Greg's, and shifted to stretch out beside him.

"I like it like that. " Greg was pretty sure he'd like it anyway he had to offer. He turned to hook a leg over Grissom, just to be able to make the contact between them. Even that had good memories. Memories of just sleeping, and feeling safe and that someone cared.

They'd been sleeping together since he came back to Vegas, but there was sleeping and there was sleeping and they were usually actually sleeping. But closeness was good, a good start, a good base, maybe. Gil shifted closer, slid an arm around Greg, and started to kiss him in a slow, lazy way. That made for good memories, too.

Sunshine on their skin, the texture of blanket drifting away under the kiss. It began slow, a gradual drift into something sweet and warm, honey-light trickling over them both in a lazy afternoon illumination.

Somewhere along the line in that kiss, that turned into the first of many strung along that endless moment of sensation, Greg lost all self consciousness and started just responding on instinct and emotion. He felt good, and his hands wanted to give back the same as he was receiving so they reached and caressed totally unbidden.

It felt good to just lose himself in it, exploring and kissing Gil and just, just relaxing. He was hard as a rock, sure, but the rest of him was pretty relaxed, pretty at ease and he could feel Gil's hands traveling over his back, sometimes tickling and sometimes making him groan.

Gil seemed to like the sounds he was making. He'd never been good at being silent during sex. Well, unless he had help but that was a whole other thing that maybe they'd go into some other time. Right now they had tangled themselves thoroughly, loose limbed and filled with that rare feeling that sometimes came with sex that it was more than a physical function and stimulation. That it was emotion made physical and something wonderful was happening. Greg had never felt it like this before; last time he had even had a glimmer he'd fallen hard and fast and ended up with a broken heart. But that was nothing compared to how he felt now, kissing, moving, sliding gently and insistently.

They ended up body against body, Gil's hands resting at the upper curve of Greg's ass just before their cocks met, pressed against each other. Gil sucked in a sharp breath, and his lips bumped Greg's chin.

"Oh...oh...now that's...."Greg heard his voice break up. "I want... I want you... Gil?"

"Yeah. That, that's good. You want to do it this way?" Dick against dick, rubbing. Back in high school frottage had been the least sexy thing on Greg's sexual to-do list, but once he'd gotten older, gotten around more, he knew it could be great. Would be great.

"That... yeah... or..." He would happily have Gil in him, but maybe there was... was there a mom on this earth cool enough pack lube with a picnic for two. "I love… I want..."

"When we're back home?" Gil shifted his hands on Greg's ass, and squeezed, kissing him again. "God you feel good."

"Promise?" Greg murmured molding into his body. The hands just there were a promise as well. He liked that, he wanted that. The movement pulling him in and created an urge to move.

"Promise." That was good enough. Gil was probably having horrified thoughts about his mother sneaking home and catching them at it, and Greg couldn't blame him. It had been a long drive, and that they were even doing that, rubbing body against body, starting to move urgently...

It was amazing.

It had something natural and inevitable about it. A building need, and arousal, and every moment of friction another step towards climax. What amazed him was the way that they fit together, the way they found a rhythm as if this were the thousandth time they had done this, not the first.

Words were gone now, only the sense of Gil remained. His touch, his taste.

They kept kissing, lips meeting and then Gil's tongue sliding into his mouth. He liked being on top like that even if Gil was still guiding and coordinating their motions. One hand left his ass, and then Greg could feel Gil's fingers closing over their cocks, pressing them together.

His blood seemed to be pulsing with want and that extra grip was enough to have him juddering and gasping. This was it, this was great and blazing with approaching orgasm. He was gasping and moaning and he was pushing hard against Gil's hand, against his cock and everything was fantastic. Fireworks and lights behind his eyes, and Gil holding him like that.

Holding him tight, one hand around his cock and another tight over his back and Gil kept moving even when it was over for Greg, his fingers slow and lazy and a little slick with semen. "Mm."

He absently reached there as well, to stroke Gil even as he exhaled and tried to fight off the drowsy sated feeling. "That's... fantastic. So, so good..."

"Mm. I think I found a use for the napkins," Gil murmured, pressing more kisses against Greg's mouth.

"I think yeah..." He collapsed, leaning comfortably onto Gil. "I love you. Everything about you. Best ever."

Gil smoothed his hand over Greg's belly, and didn't protest the collapsing. "I think I might love you, too. It's good to feel you."

Greg almost laughed even as he pressed his hand to the ground to move himself and felt himself press down on the small lump of something in his pants pocket. He smiled as he fumbled to reach into it and came out with his two seashells. Still there, still his talisman. He placed them gently on Gil's chest, watching them become gold in the warm light. Gold like Gil's skin, like his own. For some reason seeing them there made him very happy indeed.

He used to love flying.

The first time they'd flown had been to Florida to see his grandparents, him and all of his siblings, and he'd been probably all of six. The flight attendant had given him two airline pins to wear, and an extra glass of juice because he was being good. Now, the flight attendant gave him a funny look and an extra pillow, probably hoping he'd be one of those passengers who slept instead of sitting there feeling nervous.

Problem was now he had claustrophobia. Being enclosed in a tin can with wings hurtling through the air at high speed tapped into this new fear and made his forehead prickle with sweat even as he tried to keep a lid on the fear.

He'd used to look sympathetically at anyone who looked nervous on a plane, supremely confident and calm himself. Now? Now he was the one who had lived through a flight that seemed to stretch on forever and had other passengers looking at him sympathetically, and in the case of the little old lady across the aisle, giving him random advice.

He'd never been more grateful to set down on the ground and get the hell out of there.

Nick had almost bolted, but he had to stop to get his carryon out of the overhead, and then he stopped to help the old lady get hers down -- not that he knew how she'd gotten something that heavy up there in the first place. But Greg was supposed to be there to meet him by the baggage pickup. That was his goal, getting off of the plane and to baggage pickup.

He made it just by talking, by smiling and just being polite to the old lady and getting there step by step.

And he smiled genuinely when he looked up and saw Greg hair even before he saw Greg. It was unmistakable. So was the way Greg looked around and smiled at him. He looked some better, but that wasn't hard, not after the last time he saw him in Texas.

"Hey Nick, over here."

Yeah. He looked better, healthier, and maybe a little sunburnt. "Hey, Greg. Good to see you again."

"Great to see you Nick," Greg said reaching to help him with his luggage. "You look tired - rough trip?"

"Yeah. I was wound up tight every time I heard a noise." Bad enough that he was already dreading the trip back to Texas.

"I'm like that sometimes," Greg admitted easily and that was good to hear. Good to hear anyone just admit a weakness and not worry about it. "C'mon, Vivian's waiting for us and there's food and stuff.. .I'm playing to your known vulnerabilities there Nick."

Greg seemed lighter somehow, more like he had been, less brittle. No less hurt, but now things were different.

"Food, huh? You know, a lack of food hasn't been my problem," Nick told him as he picked up his carryon to just carry it with him. All he needed was that one rolling bag with the dorky straps so he could use it like a back pack. "Is Grissom still here?"

"He finally had to go back up to Vegas," Greg replied. "But stick around and he'll be back down again. Besides, thought you might like some..." Greg shrugged a little. "Alone time. Or time with people who it didn't matter if things went a little... you know.."

Greg glanced at him even as he set a brisk pace to get out of there, back toward their car.

"Yeah. No offense, Greg, but I think I've fell apart at Grissom enough for one lifetime." Greg was a friend who didn't have that same kind of life-time limit attached to him by Nick's mind. He wasn't going to think about cold and ants and panic and Gil making him promise to stay still and trust them.

"I've probably got a few more in me," Greg said wryly. "But, you know we've got the beach, we've got the ocean and there painting and things. Vivian's working on a big exhibition and if you stand still long enough, she'll get you for something. Least you'll have a bit of room to… breathe."

Which was what he needed the most.

Not that he didn't love his family. He did. He loved them, but it was hard to stay wound up tight because the kids might be watching or he didn't want to bother any of the in-laws, and his siblings had enough to worry about, and. And.

And sometimes family meant you just couldn't let go the way you wanted to.

There was something about Greg that meant that no one minded making a fool of themselves in front of him, because he seemed to give the impression that no matter whatever screw up or collapse you were undergoing he had probably managed to do it at least ten times more embarrassing so he didn't care. He didn't get awkward with emotion, he just looked like he really wanted to do something and Nick could use that. He knew he could.

Back when, with the stalker, Greg had surprised him. Warrick was great for buddy stuff, but sometimes that didn't go far enough. It was Greg who'd sneaked under the radar for that. Who'd stayed over and made it feel like Nick was doing him the favor, and who'd talked, really talked with and without jokes.

It'd surprised him. People tended to think Greg could be quite flaky.

And maybe it was part of the game of things. Greg liked to be underestimated instead of over estimated, liked to slide in under the radar like that.

"Thanks. I can't believe that Gil's mom is okay with turning her house into a hotel for burnt out CSIs, but I appreciate it."

"I think she enjoys it," Greg replied as they made their way out of the building to the car. "Fresh meat for projects. Gonna try some art stuff?"

He made it seem normal, all of this.

Art therapy and getting away from everything. "Sure. Is this like craft class?"

"Nah," Greg grinned. "Photography stuff is cool. Apparently CSI's do good art shots. Then there is the sketching and painting. Gil's mom does abstract stuff that is incredible. Though if you want to do the sugar cube thing she'd probably be up for that." They were nearly to the car.

"Great. I made a sugar cube and popsicle stick coliseum in school." Nick shifted his hand up under the strap of his pack, and just kept dogging after Greg as they walked through the parking garage. It was still crowded around them.

"Grissom's ants would love that," Greg replied as he opened the locks on the car. "Lets get out of here. It's a bit crowded for me."

Or maybe it wasn't and he just said that for Nick's sake. It didn't matter. Nick opened the back door, and threw his bag on the back seat before he moved to sit down shotgun. "How many times have you made the trip to the airport now?"

"Quite a few," Greg replied. "Well, I think... three or four times. Mainly with Griss." He got in. "It's not a long trip back."

"Even if it was, at least the change of scenery is nice," Nick shrugged. He pulled his seatbelt on, and settled back.

"Yeah, it's not bad." Greg said as he started the engine and pulled out. He was quiet a while and then said. "If you don't want me around Nick, just say. Because, you might want ...no one around."

"What? No, hey. I... wanted to come here because you're, you're here and you know what's going on. What happened." Nick glanced over to him.

Greg nodded seriously. "I can get a bit much sometimes," he replied. "I'm just saying, so you have a choice. I... really want to help you Nick."

"I appreciate that. And I don't think you're going to be too much for me, Greg." He shifted, sat up a little straighter.

"Are you sure?" Greg replied with a half smile. "Okay, I'll take your word for it. How've you been doing?"

His instinct was to say 'Okay' because that was what he told his parents his sisters and his brother every single time they asked. "I'm uh. Here. Which is good."

"Yeah, better than not being here," Greg replied. Nick noticed that his hands still shook just a little as he moved them on the steering wheel. "Did Griss tell you I swung by Vegas on the way back from yours?" Greg asked suddenly. He half laughed. "I ended up sitting outside the lab for ages because I... just couldn't go in."

"Why couldn't you go in?" Nick hadn't even thought of that, hadn't even thought of going back there as anything other than an abstract.

"Truth is, I don't really know," Greg replied. "It was just this big thing of can't and won't go inside. The lab is… kinda like a glass box and that's pretty much all I could see. I have a bit of claustrophobia."

"Don't try flying anytime soon," Nick advised, leaning his head back against the head-rest. "I don't know if I'll be able to go in. Hadn't really given it much thought yet, you know?"

"I didn't until I got there," Greg admitted. "I thought it would be a piece of cake to just wander in talk to Griss, and come out again."

"Have everyone stare at you like you're a dead man walking," Nick agreed. "I just don't know if I can. I want to."

"Yeah, me too." Greg replied. "I'm slightly more visibly marked I guess. Least I don't still have the stitches."

"You look better than you did when you came by to visit me. And that's not just counting the stitches." He looked like he'd slept better, and eaten better and he didn't look like he was strung out anymore.

"Nick, I crashed your place looking like a junkie on crack," Greg replied with a grin. "It would hard to look worse. Except when it happened at the time obviously."

"Yeah, well." Nick smirked a bit, mostly to himself. "You look healthier. Happier. More like your old self."

"Part of that's thanks to you actually. I felt a lot less knotted up inside." Greg admitted that. "I wasn't really talking much before I went and cleared that up with you. Then I just kinda started babbling again."

"'They' always say that talking helps." 'They' said a lot of things, up to an including the conclusion that Nick had to be fine because of all his ant bites has healed.

"Not sure if it is the talking as much as having someone listen," Greg said. They were heading up the coast and Nick could see the ocean sparkling off to his left.

"Yeah. How's that been for you?" Nick could only imagine the sort of intense listening that Gil's mother could do, if she was anything at all like her son.

"Pretty much helps," Greg admitted. "I think it's because someone is helping unravel all those things that you think about yourself. I mean...my self-image has it's moments of being crappy anyway. Things like this knock the stuffing out of you."

"Yeah." Everything that had happened, from the act of kidnapping on a scene itself to the torture that followed. "I kept wondering if it, it's my fault that we got snatched up in the first place."

"Only as much as it is mine," Greg said. "Not your fault Nicky seriously. Could've been any of us. Could've been Cath, or Sara or ... Griss..."

"I know it logically. Except it was us, and once that cloth came over my mouth, I don't even think I fought it hard. I don't know."

"You hit someone, I saw that. You don't remember that?" Greg said. "I went down like a stone. Besides, it was chloroform, you know the stats on that."

"Still. I know it all in my head, but the rest of me says I could have fought harder." More than once in his life, and Nick didn't particularly want to talk about it then. Not when he knew Greg had already surmised some of it from their talk in Texas.

"That's because we want to believe it could've been different," Greg replied. "Nicky you did everything you could. And you fought it with whatever you could. Like I did. And yeah, I know what you mean… I feel it like that too..."

"Like you could have escaped? Or like it didn't have to be that way?" He was asking, really asking, trying to see if Greg saw things the way he did or if they were just reading what they wanted to out of each other.

"Both I guess. Like did I miss something that we should've noticed so that we didn't go so close. Or when I spotted the entrails maybe I shouldn't've called you over. Or if someone jumped me I should've known they were trying to drug me so flailing hopelessly to ward off some sort of weapon was pretty pointless. Or I should've shouted. Or... raised the alarm somehow, or held my breath when I smelt chloroform. Or seen it was a trap because it was too neat. Or worked out intestines didn't neatly pile themselves up..." Greg took a breath. "Does it show that I've been thinking about that?"

"Yeah, it does." It soothed Nick a little, and he let his gaze drift out to watch the ocean as Greg drove. If he thought he could surf, that would be the place to do it. "But that's okay. I've thought about it too."

"Fact is..." Greg said. "As Vivian keeps telling me, sometimes you control the situation, and sometime the situation controls you. Pretending otherwise doesn't help. And that, as I keep telling her is easy to say and not so easy to believe. I would've given anything for it to just be me. In that respect that fact it was both of us was worse you know? I know I try to live up to higher expectations for you guys."

"You're good at it, Greg. You left a pretty lucrative field to work in our field," Nick pointed out quietly. "I mean, we joked the techies, but DNA is out of my league."

Greg flashed him a quick glance that told Nick that Greg very rarely heard that sort of thing from anyone. "Yeah well. Field stuff? Way out of most of the techies league. In a personality way. Hodges is... Hodges is good at what he does - and don't tell him I said that - and he talks about how easy it would be to make the step because he's got the smarts to do it and I don't know what to say to him because I know he wouldn't make it outside the lab. I wasn't sure I would. And I guess if my old lab didn't look like a larger version of my box, I'd be having feelings of nostalgia for what I used to do. Not that I don't still do it. Like you said… DNA is king."

"And now that you're not showing up on scene without gloves or, you know, a coat, we all trust that you wouldn't contaminant the DNA evidence." Nick caught himself saying it like he was still there in the lab, still active, and maybe that was a good sign.

Greg gave a wry grin. "You know, I think you guys assumed too much of me. The classes bore no relation to practical experience you know that? No one actually wrote down anywhere you don't take a leak on a crime scene...possibly because it seems obvious.

Not so obvious to a lab rat who's not in the mind set. The moment someone said something I knew immediately what the problem was but...more than half the practical stuff is getting in the mindset."

"Yeah. Hey, see? One minute you try too hard to live up to us, and the next we expect too much. See, all that means is that you do fine at the lab and you over think everything."

Greg actually laughed at that. "Yeah. Always have Nick. " He paused a moment even as they appeared to be nearing their destination. "You should know Grissom's got us both beat with the over thinking thing though."

"Yeah?" It caught Nick's attention a little, trying to see if his expectations of what The House Grissom Grew Up In looked like would meet the reality. He was expecting a house, yeah, sort of a white picket fence thing, and a lot of dry sand.

"Yeah," Greg replied. "I totally didn't anticipate what sort of effect my uh… flipping out and going awol would have on him. In a weird way he was jealous I think. Well, sad and sort of resigned jealous as well as worried and hurt. I used to think he was sort of impervious to the emotional stuff. I was pretty wrong about that. He has nightmares about you and not getting there."

He didn't need to mention how he knew that much. Nick could work that out.

It was fact A plus fact B, plus Greg assuring Gil that he loved him, okay? When Nick was standing there and couldn't help but hear.

"Yeah, well. He got there. When they cleared the dirt off, and froze the damn ants, I, I freaked out. And he made me calm down and if he didn't? Now I know I would've blown both of us up." Nick swallowed. "You saw that, didn't you?"

"Yeah." Greg nodded and exhaled. "I knew it was wired and I didn't know if they knew. I think I was shouting - not like anyone could hear me - and then I saw the earth coming in and I thought... hey, they know, they must know and I then started to think I had about ten seconds. But I had to wait for yours to blow. Mine was the one on the delay so I could see if I fucked it up."

There was the house and it was looking pretty picket fence, and it was a warm color and looked pretty welcoming.

So, the siding was a little worn, and it looked like it had been bizarrely painted peach at some time. There was a fence, but other than that it looked like a nice quiet beach house. The sort of place people went to on vacation, that cost an arm a leg and part of a spleen.

"I almost fucked it up for both of us, Greg."

"No Nick, you didn't. You beat it because you were meant to take the natural reaction and get the hell out of there and take the whole team with you." Greg replied as he parked. "But you stayed there. You trusted Griss enough to stay. You saved them then, don't forget that."

"I wouldn't have had that chance if you hadn't hung on in your box." Nick unbuckled his seatbelt slowly, eyeing the house and the ground around it.

"Touch and go like I said. I wouldn't've made through another round," Greg said with total certainty in his voice. "Okay, here we are. I'll help you grab your things and show you around. After you meet Vivian. She'll probably hug you or something."

Nick laughed a little, while he popped open the door. "I packed light. So, uh. Do you sign, or...?"

"She's really good at the lip reading thing. Too good. You know I think it's some weird sort of Grissom based telepathy thing," Greg answered as he opened the trunk to get Nick's luggage. "You wouldn't really know she was deaf. You just make sure you are facing her when you talk. That's it."

"And don't talk with my mouth full, right?" He remembered that case, the one at the school and how Gil had just bowled Warrick and Sara over and he'd been glad he hadn't been working it.

And a couple of years later, when they'd worked out that his mother was deaf, well. It suddenly all made sense.

"You got it," Greg said as they got Nick's meager hand luggage and he locked up the car. "C'mon. And we have proper coffee. I made sure I brought back some of the good stuff. Oh, and I think you get the second guest room which used to be Gil's bedroom. I made sure all his pets were definitely gone for you."

He grinned as he headed up towards the house.

"Yeah, but where's his pets gone to? Is this a released back into the wild sort of thing, or a moved to another room sort of thing? Because if they're back in the wild, they might try to get back home, you know?"

Greg smiled. "They went to Vegas. Even if they had a homing instinct for your room I'm thinking they probably got caught up in a good poker game, lost everything and are stuck there."

"Good." He'd probably still wonder if he was going to wake up with one on him, but he could cope with that whenever it happened. If it happened. He was probably going to freak out, and that was okay. "Thanks for this, Greg."

"Thank Griss and his mom, they're the one's who are doing this," Greg replied.

The thing was that he meant it. He really didn't see what he was doing, what he'd offered as being anything in particular. He didn't know that even now, Nick could feel that tightness and control he had clung to so desperately slipping just a little bit by bit. It wasn't a case of if, but when.

It was hard to look at too closely. He didn't think there was something to wild inside of him, but it worried him that there might be and what might happen. Like Greg had cracked up, was it inevitable? He heard the first rumbles of thunder over the sea and blinked a little.

He took off his top, to get some air. It got hot like this in Texas. But it was a strange place here, and things seemed to crawl on his skin.

Meeting Vivian had been everything Greg had hinted at and more. He reminded her of some of the indomitable women of his own family with a gaze that could see right into him. It was a little disconcerting and reminded him of Grissom. In a way it humanized Grissom some in his own head, to realize he came by his habits and quirks honestly. He could see them in Vivian, in the way she laughed or had something to say on everything and also had a tendency to quote randomly appropriate phrases as well as a sort of guessing game for point of origin.

That was okay, he was polite and his manners served him well even if he had started feeling a bit shaky pretty much on arrival.

Greg hadn't been wrong about her wanting him to pose, or about a small joint expedition down the beach to do an impromptu art photography lesson. That was good. It made him look at things in a different way.

They hadn't stayed out that long - the air late afternoon felt hot and humid, almost oppressive and as they talked in the evening, it grew worse, the pressure dropping with what Vivian informed them was a sure sign of a thunderstorm preparing to roll in off of the ocean.

That was great. He'd sort of missed thunderstorms. You didn't get many of them in Vegas, and when they did happen they caused flooding and crime-scenes to turn to shit. Or they ended up processing people who'd electrocuted themselves playing golf out in the kiddy pool or something.

But to just sit and watch one in a mostly quiet house? That seemed like a blessing.

They'd sort of agreed to try and turn in early, but Nick was pretty sure that he could hear Greg moving around somewhere even as he opened up the large windows to look at the storm. The clouds blotted out moon and stars and the air felt heavy and hot. He was hoping for some breeze, but it hung there hot and stagnant like it had been breathed in and out a few too many times.

It made the hair on the back of his neck prickle and a strange feeling crawl over his skin. Lightning soon.

Vivian had shown him Greg's picture. Greg didn't know and the picture had shaken him as well. He was trying to work out why it did, and why Vivian had shown him.

It was hard to guess what the point of sharing that with him had been unless it had been an attempt to get him to understand that Greg had been there? Or, or Nick didn't know. He didn't think he had anything like that laying in wait inside of his head. He just felt adrift, nervous, not...

Not that.

It was hard to look at too closely. He didn't think there was something too wild inside of him, but it worried him that there might be and what might happen. Like Greg had cracked up, was it inevitable?. He heard the first rumbles of thunder over the sea and blinked a little.

He took off his top, to get some air. It got hot like this in Texas. But it was a strange place here, and things seemed to crawl on his skin.

It made breathing hard, made the air taste thick in his mouth. He didn't like humidity. He was used to the dry sharp air of the desert, and there was none of that there in California. Greg had said the weather was beautiful, so it figured that he'd bring crappy weather with him.

Pretty much like he'd managed to get Greg sucked in with his luck. It didn't matter what Greg said, he couldn't shake the feeling that somehow he should've been able to do something. He was older... he had been the senior one on scene and he'd been the one to lose the coin toss to Warrick and... to decide to take Greg with him. He could've gone alone. He could've let Sara or Grissom take Greg or let him do whatever thing it was he was waiting around in the lab for. But he'd seen Hodges trying to trap the guy into the Dukes of Hazzard game and figured that more experience on scene was a good thing. His decision.

And his decision had let them to the box.

There was a bright flash of light, and a rumble almost immediately afterwards. The storm was nearly on them.

The light made him grimace, and he thought about dropping the blinds closed and sealing the room in.

It was a better option than running to see what Greg was doing, of hanging around like some nervous scared dog, which was bizarre because he loved thunderstorms. Nick just had to keep telling himself that.

He told himself a lot of things. Maybe he didn't much talk to other people, but he talked to himself a helluva lot. Persuading, ordering, demanding, pleading... yeah.

Another rumble and flash and he was restless and uncomfortable in his room and he moved quicker than he really needed to, to get out.

There was someone in the kitchen and from the smell of coffee it was probably Greg so it was easy enough to follow his instinct and wander that way.

If Greg was there he could have comfort other than his own strained mutterings to himself. Company other than his own reassurances that he was fine and he wasn't cracking up because while he wasn't he felt damn close to it just then, the way the windows rattled with the roll of thunder.

It was stupid. He liked thunder, he liked lightning. He liked when the sky turn dark like a bruise and then nature got down to some serious smiting of thunderbolts.

He didn't like air hot and stifling, like there wasn't enough. He didn't like smothering darkness. He didn't like sudden flashes of bright bright light, like something clicking on and shining right in his eyes.

Greg was staring outside when he reached the kitchen and glance around at him, giving a rueful grin. "So much for going to bed early huh?"

"Yeah. You're getting more coffee?" Maybe Greg had the same problem he was having. And while caffeine was probably the last thing that either of them needed, he wanted something hot to drink, to hold in his hands. "So, is that fresh?"

"Fresh as it comes," Greg admitted. "Here...I figured if I was going to have another sleepless night I might as well go all out." His last words nearly vanished under a roll of thunder. "Heck of a storm on its way."

It was difficult to tell if he was worried or indifferent about the prospect.

"Yeah. I halfway want to run around unplugging stuff, but." But Vivian didn't have the endless electronic equipment that he had in his apartment. Now that he thought about it, she didn't have very much of that sort of thing. A TV set that was already on a surge protector, and there had been a computer in the room he was staying in.

"She's probably done it already," Greg replied and poured out another mug of the coffee. He knew how Nick took it as well, a skill he connected with his obsession with good coffee. "Here. So, what's got you up? You were dropping at the table earlier."

"The storm." Nick tried to say it with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. Once Greg had added a little sweet and low, he reached for the mug.

"Yeah. I guess... me too," Greg replied. "Mind you I used to stay up and watch any storm going. Mom used to yell at me for letting the rain in because I'd like to stick my arms out to see how bad the rain was or the hail."

"You'd open a window up?" Nick laughed a little. "Man, and I thought I was curious. I knew that rain was wet and hail hurt like hell, and that was enough for me."

Greg smiled a little and then went over to sit down. "Hey, I didn't say it was a particularly smart thing to do, just something I just did. Like I'd be able to touch the storm or something."

The flash of light then was bright enough to startle them both and he couldn't've imagined that Greg flinched at that.

Greg had flinched, too. Nick knew he had, because his coffee was sloshing, lapping up towards the edge of the mug on either side. "Tried to touch it, huh?"

"Yeah." Greg smiled at him a little nervously. "Dumb huh? After the fourth... no fifth time I nearly got pneumonia or something equally dramatic, mom padlocked my window shut. Disappointed a lot of guys and girls trying to steal my virtue I can tell you."

It made Nick give an unexpected startled laugh. "Yeah, you probably had them lined up throwing rocks at your window, huh?" He ended up leading the way to the sofa. It was big and deep and enfolding, and just then Nick wanted to sit down.

"I figure that's responsible for my now... thanks to Sara... world renowned lack of action in my teenage years," Greg replied and flinched as the lightning flickered bright and they could feel the heavy vibrations of that thunder.

"What was your first time like?" It was probably a bizarre question, asked in the dull hush of the living room as they sat there and waited for the storm to fully arrive.

"Kinda anticlimactic," Greg replied after a pause and sitting in pretty close to Nick. "I mean, my college life? It was like one of those summer comedy movies that seemed ludicrous in how considering everything, I just totally failed to get anywhere. I think maybe because I went in early y'know? and all the girls and guys in my classes were older than me. Or looking for someone older than me. I had a lot of friends, and there was a lot of near-sex but... anyway...First time with a girl was after a party and if someone hadn't apparently walked in on us, I wouldn't've realized I'd had a first time you know? 'course I pretended it wasn't my first, but I think everyone kinda knew and ..." Greg looked at his coffee a moment and brightened. "The first time I remember was with a guy... my roommate. Played hockey, muscles a bit like you Nicky. That was a very different matter."

"Yeah, I bet." Nick's mouth twitched a little. It didn't bother him. Greg hadn't ever made him uncomfortable, and he was a good friend. Sometimes he thought Greg threw in

"Yeah. He was..." Greg grimaced ruefully. "In retrospect, probably too rough and older but it was all pretty exciting and I pretty much liked most things. Tried most things. Made up for lost time. It wasn't anything like a relationship - those drama's kinda went on while all of that was happening like they weren't related. Which was pretty weird in itself." He glanced at Nick a little. "I guess I'm lying a bit there. It would've been a relationship if he'd wanted it to be. How about you? How was your first?"

He looked down to his coffee cup, and saw the way that his fingers were holding onto the mug when the next bolt of lightening lit up the room. Nick waited for the thunder to pass, for the rumbling to stop before he tried to answer. "Shitty. I... Was nine. She was a replacement babysitter. It..." He lifted the mug to take a sip. "It never really goes away. I hated women for a long time after that. Now I have girls telling me I'm too, too gentle, too something."

Greg's arm found its way around his shoulders. "It's not your fault Nicky," he said almost too quietly. "Never was. I hope someone else has told you that right? Or told you that she shouldn't've done that to you? I think sometimes people don't say that because it seems too obvious, but when you've been fucked over, obvious is just as complicated as everything else. Gentle isn't a bad thing. It might just be people see you... muscles and all and... assume you are different than you are. "

Another laugh bubbled up, and Nick let Greg slide his arm that way. "Yeah, well. I wish sometimes that I was different. And I know it wasn't my fault and I know how fucked up it is, but."

There was a pause and the lightning then was enough to illuminate the both of them in the weird bleached white of a strike, even as the heavens sounded like they were cracking or ripping apart.

The arm around him tightened unconsciously. Nick managed to notice that.

"But you still think why me? Did the same with the lab explosion. Assumed it was something I did or didn't do. Thought Grissom stayed away because he didn't want to fire me on my hospital bed."

"He was busy trying to get the lab back together. And then..." Nick shrugged. "He's never been good about seeing people in the hospital. Or when they're sick. You could probably ask him why."

"Yeah, I might do that," Greg replied with a faint shiver. "Actually, I was having all sorts of self pity sort of thoughts then. I think I might've started a habit. Parents weren't long dead then. I miss them... so much. " He glanced at Nick. "I know you needed time away but...your family..."

He could hear the want there.

"I love them. I can't imagine what life would be like without them. I usually call once a week, email every couple of days." Nick leaned a little, set the mug down on the old coffee table. Then he settled back beside Greg. "What were your parents like?"

"Great. Best ever. Smart and brilliant, funny and weird. Able to deal with a kid who could nearly blow up the house using the contents of a basic chemistry set and household products," Greg replied. "It's weird, the big things like knowing they loved me all that sort of thing just...it's there, it's real but at the same time its something to abstract to grasp. It's the small things that get me. It's knowing what they might've done. It's knowing that Mom would've sung me a Norwegian lullaby that used to make me squirm with embarrassment, and now...I 'd give anything to hear that now. I keep thinking if I could just hear it once, I might actually sleep."

Greg's voice was sounding a bit rough by then. "Or dad. Dad'd give me some long rambling story that didn't seem to go anyway and we'd both know what he was really saying, even if he was telling the story about Poppa Olaf catching him thieving what turned out to be pickled cabbage instead of moonshine."

Nick leaned into Greg again, and tried to not startle when the next bolt of lightning struck the ground. Or the ocean. "They sound great. They probably would've liked my family. I wish they were still alive, for you."

"So do I. And then I go the other extreme and think I'm so fucking relieved they never saw me like this," Greg said once the noise of thunder died down. The rain started to patter like millions of bugs skittering over roof and windows, trying to get in, get to him.

He wasn't going to think about it. He had company, someone there to ground him, and even if he wasn't always going to have that, he had it for the moment. "Yeah. Sometimes I wish my parents' hadn't seen. hadn't come up to try to pay the ransom."

"At least they came," Greg replied as the lightning flickered like a strobe and thunder began an almost continuous growling rumble punctured crackling sharp snaps. "They showed that they cared. Cath did too...all of them did."

"They care for you, too." Nick felt he had to press the issue a little, and maybe he had to do more than press it a little, but Greg needed to know that they did care.

"Yeah, I know." He might know but he didn't seem to completely believe it. "I still have a ..thing about it."

"If your parents had been alive, Greg, they would've been there. I know it. And if... heck, they didn't even know who they were going to be looking for. It could have been you in my box." Nick shifted, leaned a little more, and turned his head to watch Greg's face.

"Maybe. Maybe... but I think that it was skewed that way. What other choice could they have made? Really? I was meant to be unchosen."

"And maybe you were put in there as part of your profile. We're pretty sure whoever did this knew enough about us to pull it off."

"Yeah." Greg looked at him. "I thought this was meant to be time to support you Nick, not listen to my weird hang ups and quiz me about my sex life?" The flickering light illuminated a half smile.

"Man, you lost your ass cherry to a hockey player." Nick laughed a little, and smiled back at Greg. "That's almost a weird hangup in and of itself. Hockey."

"Even worse when you realize Brass is a hockey player," Greg replied dryly. "But I managed to restrain myself from lusting after him. Kinda."

"Barely, huh?" Nick grimaced at the next rattle of the windows, but at least the bolt hadn't made the room light up like daylight. "So, this is where you reveal that Grissom played hockey."

"Not as far as I know, although that's a thought that's gonna be keeping me company for a while," Greg replied. "C'mon, what about you? I know you got over some of that reluctance. What gets you hot under the collar?"

This was like proper guy talk with much less of the bluster. It was weird, but good at the same time. He couldn't help feeling anxious, but talking about random shit was helping him not think about...certain things.

It was funny how they skittered back and forth, from serious topic back to light, back to serious, like if they spent too long on the elephant in the room, then... Maybe they'd both crack up. "Me? Not hockey players. I just... " He had to throw his mind back. "Not one specific thing. It's holistic. I like gutsy women."

"Cath?" Greg suggested with a faintly teasing tone. "Are you man enough to take on her? Or, I know, Lady Heather. "

"That's a little too gutsy for me." Nick's eyebrows went up a little. "Anyway, after uh, everyone's suspicions about her and Grissom, added to the fetishes... no."

"Maybe you could mellow Sara out," Greg replied. "Or any, and I mean any of the lab techs. They love you. Seriously, the whole lot prioritize you right to the top of their working piles. You could have pretty much anyone you wanted there, you know that."

"That's both the best mental image and the worst I've had in years, Greg." Nick leaned

"Yeah," Greg agreed with that looking at his mug as if realizing he'd managed to drink it all without noticing. "Shame she defected to the Feds. That's probably a good enough reason to not see her again. That and the fact she's nowhere near Vegas any more...."

He looked thoughtful, and then a little startled as the lamps providing their dim light flickered ominously as thunder shook the house again.

"Maybe her replacement will be hot," Nick suggested.

And then the lights went, and Nick was glad that they hadn't pulled the blinds, because it was suddenly darker than he wanted it. Not pitch dark, no, just a faint glow, but his eyes hadn't adjusted. Deep breath, his shoulder was still leaned up against Greg.

Greg cleared his throat, his arm just a little tighter around Nick. "Wow...that probably means there's a big..."

The rest of what he was about to say was blotted out by a magnesium bright flash and a thunderclap that shook the house and didn't seem to want to end.

If Greg hadn't had an arm around him, Nick would've done more than spill his coffee all over them both. But he did that, in a tense jerk of notion, and everything was too too fucking bright, too sharp. Like the light snapping on and off and on and off until he felt like he was cooking in that box.

He heard Greg curse a moment, and that arm went away as Greg tried to find something to sponge at the spill. It was still hot enough to be uncomfortably warm soaking through clothes.

"Shit...hold on...I'll try and find a cloth or something..." The lightning flashed with actinic brightness, searing at them all the more in the darkness and he had a flashbulb image of Greg, his face looking strained as he tried to move off the sofa.

"Hey, no, it's okay, we uh, we can both go." And look. And for a flashlight or something, too. Something that would give them a lot of light.

"A flashlight? Ow, jesus..." There was the telltale yelp and thump of someone walking into something in the dark. "Not seen one anywhere. Maybe... There might be candles somewhere."

And he didn't sound like he liked that option much at all.

Fire, right. Nick didn't like unexposed bright lights and Greg and fire weren't going to get along well. "Hey, does the room you're in have windows?"

"Yeah, pretty big ones," Greg admitted still stumbling around vaguely. "Ow fuck, who left a chair there? Where's..." The lightning lit the room briefly and Greg seized the moment to grab a cloth that was on the work surface in the kitchen.

"It's okay. Not like it's the first time I've worn coffee. Look, uh, the room I'm in doesn't have a window, so..."

Greg paused a moment and he caught the glimpse of his face again. "Okay, this is where I should offer to swap rooms but...you mind sharing? I'm having a bit of a freak out here. You might've noticed."

"Yeah, I'm there, too." He stood shaking, and in the next bolt of lightning put his mug in the sink. "Do you see a flashlight or anything?"

"No." In the brief burst of light Greg was scanning the place. "Hold on..." There was a rattling sound and then a click as Greg located and turned on a flashlight straight in Nick's face.

He was going to have a fucking heart attack if that happened again. He stumbled backwards, and shut his eyes tight. "Okay. My room, then. We can clean up in there and... yeah."

"Shit, sorry man.." Greg apologized immediately tilting it downwards. "Nicky? You okay? Here, you want to take it? "

"Yeah." Yeah, he wanted to be in control of that thin, so Nick reached to take it from Greg's hands. "Man, we're wrecks. You want to grab soda and we can just hole up?"

"Sure. Point me the way to the fridge," Greg replied and even as he did so, the younger man opened the appliance, grabbed some drinks out of the dark interior and some of their leftovers from pizza. "We're all set. Let's go and pretend that we're doing okay."

"Sounds like a plan." And as long as Greg agreed they were pretending they were doing okay, that was fine. Maybe he hadn't gotten to drink his coffee, but he could at least smell like it.

Greg led him a bit haphazardly to his room, and he was right. He did have big windows that must've had a good view in the day time. As it was they had a good view of lightning jumping cloud to cloud and looking for the earth or ocean in ragged forks of light.

Greg literally stripped off his coffee damp clothes when he got there, reaching for an old t-shirt to wear. The bed was the only place to sit, but at least it was a double.

Nick hung back, waited for Greg to change while he used the flashlight to provide a more stable source of light. As it was, he could see the cross-crossing of scars, places where deep gouges were still tinted a healing pink-red.

He didn't have scars like that. He didn't have his body marked forever, though there was some bites that might leave a pock mark here and there. It made him feel...wrong. Wrong that he should be even thinking about how bad things were for him, when Greg had all that.

"So your room right?" Greg said once he was done. The storm was settling in for the night from the feel of it.

Sharp and loud, and Nick knew he couldn't take that forever. "Yeah, I guess so. It's sort of a damned if you do damned if you don't, you know?"

"Yeah, well if we don't like it in there, we can swap here," Greg replied as he headed up the hallway.

Following him with the flashlight, he could see that he wasn't the only one flinching at loud noises or bright lights. He found his way into the other guest room, and sat on the bed. "I think I've got a weather-wise knee. It aches like hell."

"Just in case you hadn't realized it was storming out, it wants you to know." Nick sat down at the end of the bed, and loosely tucked his legs under his body. He balanced the flashlight on the bed, pointed up at the ceiling.

"Like it wasn't already obvious.," Greg grumbled. It was much darker and there was less flashing of light. "That's...that's some better. Gotta say, electricity is one of those near phobia's I've got going on. It's understandable but I've got this whole sequence thing in my head saying.. electricity now, then the spikes, then the gas, then fire again...I keep expecting something to poke at me."

Nick leaned forwards and very gently stuck a finger against Greg's thigh. "I don't have gas, and if you get an urge for fire, we're going to make smores."

"Nick Stokes, that better be a finger," Greg replied. "Otherwise the graffiti has got it really wrong. Seriously."

"What graffiti?" he laughed, and poked him again. "See, there's a nail edge there. And if my dick has nails, I have some real problems."

"Or you're really hardcore and I missed it," Greg replied, poking him back. "You poke me there and I'm gonna....well flail around helplessly most likely, but once I've done that you'll regret it."

"Because Greg Sanders flailing helplessly is a scary thing? Or will I hurt myself laughing?" Nick didn't poke him back, but he was poised to in an exaggerated fashion.

"Any one of the above, or the fact that underneath this easygoing exterior is..." Greg twisted as if he was going to pounce at the offending finger "...a streetwise rough and ready CSI who shouldn't be underestimated. Flailing can be very dangerous, you know that?"

"Might take someone's eye out." Nick was glad he'd chosen his room to retreat to. They could hear the rumble of thunder, but it didn't feel like they were sitting in the storm itself.

"It's not pretty," Greg said solemnly and grabbed at his hand to apparently protect himself, or to distract him from the skittering sounds of rain and shaking rumbles of thunder.

Or both. Nick didn't care either way, and shifted on the mattress to get a little closer to Greg. "I'd have to get pictures."

"Well you are CSI three. Very much senior to me," Greg had hold of his wrist for some reason. "Pretty much everyone is senior to me."

He was still the youngest there, even despite the constant influx of new blood. That new blood didn't stay.

The new blood that never lasted and never stuck it out, and Greg didn't seem to appreciate how great it was that he stuck around the way he did. That he had a lasting power that most people never did. "You'll reach seniority."

"Hah! You have to say that because I've got hold of your fingers," Greg retorted. He seemed to consider. "Which under other circumstances might be potentially construed as something very wrong. And after the sort of thing we've been through, suddenly seniority seems a lot less reachable."

"Nah. You'll keep progressing up the ladder, once we get back to the lab and actually working cases again." Nick picked up the flashlight, and balanced a bottle of soda against his thigh.

"You coming back then Nick?" Greg said suddenly serious letting his hand drop away. "Not going to branch out somewhere else... leave it behind?"

Nick reached for the soda with his freed hand, and rested the flashlight against Greg's knee. "I... No. I want to stay in the field."

"Yeah. Yeah, and you'll make it. I just have this thing that...what happens when one of the things comes up?" Greg replied. "Y'know? I'm scared of everything pretty much. Fire I wasn't that good with to start with. Now it turns out I'm freaky about electricity as well. Probably about sharp metal and gas as well as claustrophobia."

"What about bugs? How many times do we come up on a body that's just alive with them?" And Grissom wouldn't be too sympathetic there because he loved his creepy crawlies.

Greg reached for a soda. "Well I guess we can say we don't have irrational fears. And if Grissom knew what was coming up he'd cut you some slack. Tell you what, if they ever trust us to go out together and not fuck up if there are insects I'll take point."

"Thanks." It was his turn to steady the flashlight up towards the ceiling, their only source of light. "So, uh. That means that you are going back to the field, you know."

Greg hesitated a moment. "I guess it does mean I've made up my mind doesn't it?" Greg said as if that surprised him a little. "Well, I gotta get used to the insects if Grissom's gonna let me hang around."

"I think if he had to choose between you and the insects, Greg..." Nick paused and actually had to turn that thought over in his head before he finished it. "Well he'd pick you but I wouldn't be surprised if he took to hiding ant farms under the sink."

He heard Greg chuckle. "I'd try not to make him make a decision like that. I don't think he's been particularly lucky in love. Mind you, not many of have been really I guess."

"Married to our jobs." Whether that was because of the job or because they weren't good with people was probably up for debate. "You, too, huh?"

"Well partly because I tend to do the unrequited thing mixed in there," Greg replied. "And the whole bisexual thing which I tried to keep out of the workplace. Mind you I think that's going to be changing some."

"Sure, yeah. So when you were pulling in the big dough in DNA, and not working to be a CSI, what did you do?"

"I went out more then. I was going stir crazy," Greg replied stealing a piece of the cold pizza. "Hit the clubs all the time, had way too many one nighters. Vegas is the city of one night stands. I didn't know what I wanted so I kinda went all out for everything. What about you? What you do for fun?"

"Watch TV, hit some pretty tame bars, by the sound of it. The odd one night stand. Back in Texas I was a cop for a while. Then a paramedic." The edge of his mouth came up and he took a swig of his coke. "You didn't know what you were looking for in a person, I didn't know what I was looking for in myself."

"Do you know now?" Greg asked half lying back then and fumbling for more soda. The storm was still rumbling, but it seemed more muted here.

Bearable. Nick preferred a storm he could withstand to one that made him grimace, even if the air in the closed off room was a little muggy. "I've been happy as a CSI."

"Good, because you're pretty much one of the best. Even among our own collection." Greg fell silent a moment. "You want... Grissom's approval as well right?"

"Yeah." Yeah, because Greg knew him and he might as well admit it. He'd admitted a lot so far, and it seemed to lighten the tenseness in his chest. "Did I ever tell you how I came to Vegas?"

"No? Time for you to tell some of the stories for a change," Greg said settling back. "How did you end up here?"

"I saw Grissom speak at a conference." He tossed it out, and waited to see what kind of reaction Greg had before he went on. When he said it like that it sounded a little like stalking, but that hadn't been what it was at all.

"Yeah? I hear he's done a few lectures that are practically legendary," Greg said encouragingly. "Have that much of an impact on you?

"Yeah. I was... I'd left the department because of the way some things went within it. I didn't like the good old boys routines. I'd lost of lot of my faith in the justice system, and..." Nick trailed off and then laughed. "Damn. I sound like some people when they witness in church. Grissom gave me hope, and hey, it was a career I hadn't tried yet. I took to it like a fish to water in Dallas, and when I saw there was an opening for a CSI 2 in Vegas, well."

"Studying at the feet of the master." Greg said. "Feet deliberately infected with mildew that is, but for a noble cause. Must've been pretty bad where you were to get you wound up enough to get out of there?"

"It wasn't bad, just..." Nick took another swig of soda. "I didn't feel like I belonged. I was one of the Stokes' kids, and all of us were in the field somewhere. And I hate to say it, but no one ever saw me. As just me. I was the judge's son."

"I get it. You wanted something of your own," Greg replied. "Too smart to settle or make do Nicky." Greg took another swig. "Pretty much everyone in the lab is there because of Grissom. One way or another. I came because of him as well. He was a visiting speaker at something we got booked in on when I was at New York. There's a different attitude there.

"And it just wasn't your thing," Nick guessed. Grissom was Greg's thing, in a way that Nick couldn't grasp personally, but could certainly respect.

"I thought it was, until I knew what else there could be," Greg replied. "Plus the fact that I was totally hot for Grissom. That was a big plus."

"I was seduced by his clear sense of right and wrong, and you were seduced by...?" Nick trailed off, let that dangle so Greg could fill in the blank.

"Well pretty much... all of him," Greg replied. "Though I admit it started as that sort of blind hero worship thing. Then progressed onwards to a pretty major crush which makes it sounds so high school doesn't it?"

"Hey, remember that I worked in Vegas when you showed up, right?" Nick still had trouble not remembering Greg that way -- the kid with funky bad hair, and the wrist bands and loud shirts. Since those days, Greg had mellowed out, lost a lot of his smiles. And even though Nick wasn't sure if that was part of some facade for Greg, he still wished he could be sure that making the jump to CSI from lab tech hadn't permanently eroded some part of Greg that knew how to have fun. Be fun.

"I remember you on my first day. You said 'please' and 'thank you' for the results," Greg replied obviously recalling that time. "I nearly passed out in shock. They didn't go in for that so much in New York - well, not to the youngest of the lab rats fresh out of college. Thought we needed to see more of the 'real world'. Makes me wonder how many of the weird things they pulled were actually 'real'."

"You can't get much more real than being the case." Nick took another swig of soda. There was still the quiet rumble of thunder, but it felt safer in there, and if he turned and looked around he knew it was still a large room that he was sitting in and not a permanent coffin. "For a while, I tried to think of how they'd find me."

"I think I tried that. Didn't get very far though," Greg replied. "I... was thinking about you a lot though. After I knew they weren't going to find me."

"After all of that, it's... really sort of amazing that you'd still want to see me," Nick pointed out quietly.

In the dim light Greg looked a little startled. "See, now that I don't get. Like I don't really get how you haven't made a thing over the nearly killing thing."

"How many times have we seen a case where some killer puts a gun to someone's head -- hell, remember the serial killer couple? They made the husband kill the wife, and then they killed him. He wasn't a murderer, he was forced into it. That was the situation they were trying to put you into."

"I know but... I feel I'm different. I've gone from being harmless to… a potential killer," Greg replied. "I never thought I could... you know, even think about it. Doesn't that bother you? Knowing that I had the equivalent of a gun on you?"

"No. Because it wasn't... like that, was it? You had to do things to keep me alive, not do something to kill me."

"I worked out the way out Nick. In the first couple of hours. I think… I think people see me as never... I don't know, taking a chance? Letting things slide. C'mon, what did you think of me when you first saw me?" Greg asked.

"I thought you were a showy little punk rock wanna be," Nick grinned. "All style, no substance. I couldn't have been more wrong, but. First impressions. I know when I came up here people thought I was a hick."

"God yeah, I had that weird dye on my hair. Goodbye gift from a girlfriend. Damn stuff wouldn't come out and bleaching it made it go a weird green," Greg replied. "A hick? When I saw you I thought... well, you're right those thoughts are probably x-rated for a hick." He was teasing him lightly through the dim light, still looking a little twitchy about the continuing storm around them.

That was okay. Nick was still wound up tight and he shifted a little, closer to Greg. It helped that they were facing each other. "Hey, hicks have sex, too."

"Well yeah obviously, otherwise there wouldn't be little hicks," Greg answered even as he shifted close enough that Nick could feel him shiver just slightly, despite the oppressive heat of the storm. "It's quality not quantity I'm talking about. Though if I can get both that's okay with me."

"This is where I don't ask you how good Grissom is in bed," Nick decided, shifting, and then turning to sit shoulder to shoulder with Greg. "Is this okay?"

"That's... that's good," Greg admitted. "Haven't got any complaints so far."

He said that frankly enough, like he didn't care if Nick knew anything and everything about him. "I kinda feel better when someone else is around. I've got... well all those things the therapist called abandonment and isolation issues. I kept telling her that it was only a day. Just a day."

"A hell of a bad day," Nick pointed out. "And you thought you were going to die." Shoulder to shoulder was good, and they could share the light.

"Pretty sure of it. Started losing a fair amount of blood even when I was trapped inside. Didn't think I could move fast enough to get out, but I did. And then I was outside and I couldn't... I really couldn't move any more you know? Everything hurt so much and I was tired and I knew they couldn't find me. That I should've been trying to do something to save myself. But that wasn't reason enough to keep going. " Greg's voice had dipped towards the rough again. "The stars were bright that night. I remember looking at them and feeling the heat on me of fire and... wondering what everyone would think if they found me. If the coyotes chewed me up or something."

"They would have missed you like all hell," Nick murmured, turning to watch Greg's face. "You know that. And they did find you. With a helicopter, right?"

"Yeah. Yeah...I cried all over Grissom," Greg admitted. "I don't remember much aside from just holding on and just crying." He cleared his throat looking down at his hands again. "I couldn't see how they found me. I didn't think it was real."

"It's all real. Grissom found me because of the damn ants. All it takes is one thing, Greg, and everything can unravel. That's how they found you."

"Yeah." Greg sighed. "You know the weird thing? I was angry at them. For not finding us sooner. Don't tell them that. Don't tell Griss that, please. I just... I needed them to be there and they weren't and it's not rational I know that. I can't stop it... it's just a little thing I try and ignore."

"Personally? I'm still pissed off at that cop, even if I know the whole thing was a setup. If he hadn't wandered off, he probably would have been shot, you know? But I'm still angry."

"I find it difficult to imagine you getting angry Nick. You don't do it very often. If ever."

"Yeah. No, yeah, I do get angry. I just don't show it, it's not professional." Except if something goaded him to it, a hard case, children, someone lying straight to his face when he damn well had every piece of evidence to the contrary.

"I know. I know... I'm trying not to, but when I had a reason, I could be angry you know? The whole choosing thing. The reason was taken away and I just get these massive surges of emotion every now and then. Strong enough to make me do crazy things." Greg was definitely sounding shaky now. "You control things Nick, you manage to stay... professional. I can't. "

"You say that now, but have either of us been in a situation since then that calls for us to be professional?" Nick snorted.

"Well, when it comes to the cracking up part of recovery I think I've got that nailed," Greg replied. "I've fallen apart on Grissom, his mother, very nearly Poppa Olaf, you... your sister. Pretty much anyone who had come in contact with me. I'm thinking that's a sign right there."

Or maybe it was a sign that Greg was doing better than he was.

"Or, you know. You're actually letting go of things and expressing it. I, I just can't."

"We're doing pretty good with the talking though," Greg replied. "Besides, you were trying to hold that in because of your family. What's stopping you now?"

"I spent too long shoving the cork to keep everything in the bottle that I don't think I can get the cork out?" Nick suggested with a slightly strained laugh.

"Hey, that can be dangerous. Remember the guy killed by the champagne cork?" Greg pointed out. "Well, okay from staggering backwards and falling off a balcony when it hit him in the face. What can I do to de-cork you? In a non-sordid manner."

"No clue." Nick shrugged his shoulders a little. "It feels good to just be here, though. You're great company."

"I'm distracting company," Greg replied. "Storm's not gone yet and I'm kinda glad. Means I get an excuse to crash out here. Warrick'd have a field day with us here."

"How come?" He offered that as an opening, because there were a lot of ways that Warrick could have a field day.

"You know Warrick. He'd work over the gay angle in a big way. Ever since I got drunk and uh..." Nick could practically feel Greg flushing with embarrassment. "And hurled myself at you I haven't heard the end of it. I was stupid enough to do it in front of all of them. Really sorry about that."

"Don't be sorry. It didn't embarrass me, Greg. I just -- you're a great guy, so I'm kind of sorry that I don't feel the same way." He shifted his shoulders, and still leaned against Greg. "It doesn't bother me."

"It bothered me. I've lost friends over less," Greg answered. "Anyway, I know. You're straight. I'm ...omni-sexual or something. I like you, a lot. And I guess I've been looking for something a bit more meaningful so I started hitting on my friends. You might be relieved to know that I tried flirting with Sara - crashed and burned on that one too."

He could tell Greg was just talking now, rambling aimlessly. "Cath just did that eyebrow thing when I even looked in her direction. You were... you were one of the only one's to come round to my place after the explosion at the lab."

That was pretty sad in a lot of ways.

"That's what happens when all your friends are sort of funny about social situations." Nick shifted, and finally slid a hand over Greg's shoulders. "It was rough. Catherine felt guilty."

"I know. It wasn't her fault," Greg replied saying that automatically. "She did what procedure said I just... Wrong place, wrong time. Got a habit of that."

That was an understatement for them both. The wrong place being a box each, and the wrong time being a day of hell for them both.

"Maybe it's time to start with new habits about our timing," Nick decided. "But she was guilty. And that was why she didn't see you."

"Yeah, I know. I was just a little shaky then. The first time I realized that there was no one else coming. Before there would've been family or something but, there wasn't. Sara's... well, she's not good with people who need a bit of support."

"What did she do?" Nick capped his bottle of soda off, because if he drank any more he was going to wake up in the middle of the night and have to piss.

"Talked about work for a bit and then left as quickly as she could. She kept looking at me as if she was looking for the marks," Greg sighed a little. "Sara... Sara has her own problems I guess. I think she thinks no one knows, or she's managed to hide it. She's not going to like what's happening with Gil at all."

"It's not her decision to make. What you and Grissom are doing is between you and Grissom. And I wish you luck, Greg. If you guys make this work, well. I just hope that you do." Nick didn't ever need to imagine it. Greg naked was an okay kind of thought, but Grissom naked crossed a couple of lines, and Grissom naked and having sex not only crossed lines but veered into oncoming traffic.

"Still, I pretty much know she's been hunting after him," Greg replied yawning a little. "Sara angry is not on my top ten things to face when my nerves are shot to hell and back." He seemed to pick up on Nick's reluctance with a faint smile. "I've weirded you out. Score for me."

"Sorry. My mind was filling in blanks I don't want to ever fill in." Nick cleared his throat. "No offense, you know? Just. It's kind of like thinking about my parents."

Greg snorted. "Great. That makes me feel good about the age difference thing. But then, that's really pointless isn't it? I'm the one that nearly died more often than Grissom. You as well. You've had some close calls before."

"If it helps, he's only as old as my older brother?" Nick half-suggested. He shifted his hand, and rubbed his fingers against Greg's shoulder. "Yeah, I've had close calls. That woman who was going to shoot me that he just... talked down. You'd think that in the position we're in, we wouldn't be in that sort of situation."

"Yeah. But you know what freaks me out the most about our job? It's the people who die of something... stupid, or ridiculous. Murder is ...what happened to us..." Greg seemed at a loss for words for a moment. "People die because of something they couldn't've prevented, they couldn't out think or outwit because they didn't get a choice. Like that single mother who broke her neck because a rung snapped on her ladder when she was getting the Christmas presents down for her kids. You don't even get a chance then to do something."

"Freak accident. In a way, I hope when I die that that's what happens to me. Bam, out of the blue, no idea that it was coming." He'd spent enough of his life in fear, enough of his like that close to murder. "It's just a shame. About her and the kids. But if someone had killed her, I keep thinking that would be worse."

"Maybe. Still find it hard to believe that anyone would hate me personally so much to even want to try," Greg replied. "And if it's all the same to you, I'd rather nothing happened to you."

"I'd pretty much prefer to keep being okay, too, but..." Nick shifted his hand again, and it was okay that he was petting Greg's shoulder while he half-listened to the rumbles outside. "It's just not something I want to think much about."

Greg's laugh was a bit strained. "Yeah, I know. But I can't seem to stop thinking about it. And I don't really know how to stop. It's like watching what happened, being sorta responsible has engraved it in my head. I know I didn't have a choice but there is this...fear in there about it."

"I guess it's good that you worry about that kind of thing. Because the people who put us in that position weren't worried about it, Greg. They didn't sit back and think 'wow, am I a monster for thinking this?'" Nick turned his head, and for just a moment put his forehead against Greg's temple. "Hey. This is going to sound weird, but do you want to stay here tonight? Because I'll feel like shit if I kick you out and then the lightning is still going on."

He would swear that Greg sighed with a form of relief when he said that. "You sure? Because you might not sleep so well with someone else around. I know I did but that doesn't mean you will?"

"Well, I could lie, but I've also had my nieces and nephews rolling all over me every morning to wake me up because Uncle Nicky's home, so. Nah, I'm good. As long as you don't think I'm Grissom."

"I won't guarantee I won't end up sprawled all over the place, but yeah I know you're not Grissom. Lack of beard for a start," Greg replied. "You think you could sleep?"

"Yeah. Here, give me your soda and I'll stick 'em on the floor." It was going to be a heavy sleep, anyway, if he slept at all.

He'd been tired from the strain of the trip and it was late and they had skittered over the serious and the trivial with a near desperation that was finally starting to mellow. He took the soda Greg passed over and put it to one side as he thought about whether this was that much different to him sneaking into his brothers room after the thing with the babysitter. Nolan hadn't known everything but he hadn't kicked his ass out of there either. And Greg...Greg fitted pretty neatly into a little brother niche in his head.

Greg shifted so Nick could pull covers back if he wanted or move them over some more.

Nick didn't fidget much, but he did pull down a sheet so they could at least have that coverage, and it was easy to take a sheet on or off. He lay down, closing his eyes while he turned off the flashlight. At least the darkness behind his eyelids was his darkness. His choice. "Thanks. Night, Greg."

"G'night John-boy," Greg replied from the darkness and he could hear the smirk that went with that, even as he felt Greg curl in that little bit closer. A hand patted his chest absently a moment before the younger man settled down, close and familiar.

Jim took a moment to try and regain an appearance of nonchalant cynicism before he entered the interrogation room to tackle their subject. This whole week had been a roller coaster of leads, false leads all tangled up into one, not helped by the usually stable CSI's taking a vacation from their normal brand of sanity and chasing down any hint of a trail with bloodthirsty abandon.

He'd had to take them all off to one side at various points in the week, caution them to stand back a little, give the case a bit of room otherwise they were going to lose everything they were trying to get hold of.

Warrick had just been spontaneously angry when the lead with the lawyer of their very dead and scattered perpetrator managed to have a rock solid alibi by actually being in court for the most of the day it had happened. One dead office plant and nearly falling off its hinges door later and Jim had to take him outside, let him mouth off a bit and then lay down the law.

Catherine...Catherine was understandably stretched. She'd picked up most of Grissom's slack and Nicks, and he knew she felt responsible because Nick was one of hers and she should've seen it coming. She didn't blow up in the field though. No, he managed to intercept her in a bar drinking way too hard to get home right.

Sara...well, Sara went more Sara like. Not much he could do there.

The one that was the most difficult was Grissom. If only because the times he lost perspective on a case were maybe only once or twice, countable on one hand.

But Grissom was scattered when it came to that case. Grissom had taken the ransom to Walter Gordon and he'd almost lost his life with that stupid move. And maybe Jim was the only guy out of them who'd given that more than a second thought, but Grissom had almost died. And he'd just kept working, and even after they'd found Nick, he'd kept working, looking for Greg.

And it worked. They'd found Sanders, and now Sanders was hidden away in California with Grissom's mother., and that was the point right there that gave Jim reason to keep Grissom away from the case.

He'd looked all of three steps away from breaking into Mullin's house.

He'd had to do something he'd hardly ever had to do and physically stop him. Take him out around a quiet corner and talk to him, friend to friend as someone who more than once nudged over that line himself. He expected it of himself, but if Gil did it, he'd break something fundamental about himself and Jim didn't want that. Grissom was an endangered species when it came to not playing the sort of game Ecklie had done and he didn't ever want Gil to do that to himself.

The fact he was willing to over Greg and Nick told him everything he needed to know.

They were more than that to him, like the kids that Grissom hadn't ever had, and probably more than that. Jim wasn't sure, but he could see things, see reactions that made his eyebrows raise a little. Like Greg and Gil in the parking lot when Sanders had shown up out of the blue.

At least he could understand what it took for Grissom to start trying to cross lines. And once he was warned off, Grissom had stopped, stopped following leads, had taken over on other cases.

Which left him playing the chasing game, knowing Grissom was trying not to watch in case he got too close again.

In the end they had enough to get a warrant and her car, detailed in the last couple of weeks was currently being dissected by anyone the lab could throw at it. In the mean time he was going to hit Sylvia Mullins with a few truths stirred in with a whole load of bluff.

He entered the interrogation room, looking supremely confident and in control of what he was doing, taking a seat at the table.

"Hope I haven't kept you too long Ms Mullins. Just had to wait on a few results." He put down an innocuous looking beige file. "You know how it is, you can't hurry a scientist."

Which was a lie. Bribe them with coffee, donuts or consumable of choice and you could get some high speed out of any of them. But she didn't need to know that, or that their lab was still top speed even with Sanders out of the picture. "I wouldn't know. and you don't look like a scientist."

"Appearances can be deceiving but in this case, you are right." Jim replied. "I'm a detective."

And she was guilty as hell, he could see it in the way she flicked her eyes to the door as if plot an escape. He ensured he had a tape running and gave the formal introduction and then reminded himself to lead her through it bit by bit. "Ms Mullins, you own your own accountancy firm correct?"

"Yes I do. And I'm sure you know what an accountant does?" Oh, yeah, playing the 'I think you're stupid' card was a great way to make friends with a detective. but it was a little refreshing compared to the usual 'oh no, sir, not little old me' routine.

"Make money out of other people's money," Jim replied with a hint of sarcasm. "Why don't you tell me the sort of thing you do?"

"For a fee, I manage my clients finances, properties, and prepare their taxes." She added a pleasant smile that was late in coming.

"And one of your clients is Dawson and King correct, a reputable law firm?" It wasn't as if she could deny that.

"Yes. I manage the firm's yearly taxes and doublecheck that they're paying the correct amount in taxes." The woman lifted her chin a little, and she'd waltzed right into it.

"I expect you got to know them through a mutual client hmm?" Jim suggested. "Isn't that the way things are done? A bit of networking here, a bit of information swapping is good for business right?"

"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean." Sylvia was still smiling at him, but it was that sort of nervous smile that he associated with pure guilt.

"Well let me spell it out for you," Jim said patiently. "It seems you had a mutual client in a guy called Walter Gordon. Remember him?"

She was getting a tense look about her eyes. All he had to do was to convince her that he had more than he actually did. And he knew how to do that.

"Yes, I do. It's a shame about what happened to him, but he was very distraught by what happened to his daughter."

"More than a little distraught, to plot an elaborate revenge and suicide." Brass pointed out. "Tell me Ms Mullins, were you particularly close to Walter?"

"No. I don't become particularly close to any of my clients." She shifted, maybe crossed her legs under the table, but that shift was telling.

"Oh really? Because Mr. Dawson remember you being very interested in what they thought of the Vegas CSI's and apparently it was because you felt sympathy for Walter Gordon." Jim put that in sharply. "That's an interesting conversation to be having when you don't like to get close to your clients. Especially one who you went to dinner with on at least 5 separate occasions prior to that particular day."

"I take it that you've never been to a business dinner." There was a haughty edge to her voice, too calm. Forced calm, and Jim recognized that and he was going to get her for it. "I was interested. Mr. Gordon had mentioned it often enough that I was interested."

"Interested enough to go to his house regularly as well. To visit his daughter in prison a couple of times with him and without him." Jim looked at her. "That's a very close working relationship Sylvia... you don't mind if I call you Sylvia do you? I know you were on first name terms with Walter."

She crossed her legs beneath the table again, and her mouth pulled into a flat angry line. "What are you trying to imply, sir?"

"You obviously had a relationship of some description with the man," Jim said dangling the hook out for her and then baited it. "Either business or pleasure. So which was it?"

"Business," she said cuttingly. "I don't fraternize with my customers."

"See now I thought that was the case," Jim said, keeping the smirk he was feeling well and truly inside. "There I was thinking, professional woman like Ms Mullins would only be interested in a business relationships. So I had them looked over. In detail. And you did do a lot of business for Mr. Gordon didn't you? He was a pretty rich guy, with some land assets and a predisposition to being careful and meticulous. So I thought it was a bit odd that when I looked into his Will and probate that his daughter hardly had anything left to her. Even a sadistic pair of custom made torture boxes probably wouldn't cost him all of that. Not even the price of the services of Dawson and King for his daughter either..."

"I'm not sure what he spent his money on. Maybe it was drugs," she shrugged, and that was something nice and untraceable, wasn't it?

"That sort of quantity he could buy I don't think he'd even remember about revenge, let alone be able to get up and do anything about it," Jim replied. "The fact remains Sylvia, that you had close contact with him in the weeks leading up to the abduction of two of the LVPD's CSI's , you have no alibi for periods of time on that day and I am assured by some of our consultants that there are some very unusual transactions with regard to some of your accounts, personal and business on that particular day. An interesting coincidence don't you think?"

"I suppose. I also can see that you've already come to the conclusions that you wanted to. I think we're spoken enough."

"Oh, I think we've just started. Because here's the thing... go to a place to get your car detailed in a hurry when they are booked out and tip them a fifty to squeeze it in, and they remember you. " Jim said his voice becoming harder. "They also do a shitty job because they are in a rush and they get the trainee to do it. It's a terrible thing when professionalism slips isn't it?" He glanced meaningfully at the report on the table in front of him suddenly screwing down hard on the tension in the room.

It seemed to be working, because she was silent at him in response. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Do you think I would have you in here without evidence?" Jim never sounded like he was bluffing. "You might've noticed that Greg Sanders has pretty unique hair. So it's taking a little time to run DNA, but a visual match is pretty easy with hair like his. And you know something? Dawson and King have this filing cabinet where there are their notes that lawyers really shouldn't keep on law enforcement personnel. It's a bit strange we fond a stray finger print or two in the file. Oh, and on the photocopier as well. When you're in a hurry you can miss little things like that."

Her jaw went tight, and she glanced back towards the door. "I want to contact my lawyer."

"That is your right and privilege," Jim replied and then leaned forward. "You took him because he was the lightest didn't you? Even so he was nearly too heavy to move, but you dragged him. Your tires are going to match some of the tracks we lifted from the desert outside that property - a property you recorded in Gordon's accounts personally. You didn't know he was going to blow himself up did you? He was all about revenge and you were all about the money. But he ruined that didn't he? One million dollars there for the taking and he didn't take it. So you took what you were owed instead..."

"You're insane and your theories are insane. I'm not answering any more questions without a lawyer." She stood up, too, but as soon as they had the DNA her ass was going to be in jail.

"You could save us all some time and get them to come straight here," Jim said even as his pager went off in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw the simple message from Catherine saying 'Book Her - DNA match' and resisted the urge to grin like a shark.

"Because I get to arrest you now on a whole lot of charges up to and including Conspiracy to Murder, Abduction, Grievous Bodily harm and anything else I can think of that means you go away for a very long time. If you are really lucky you might get put in the same place as Kelly Gordon and you can explain to her personally how you embezzled everything her father left her. I'm sure that will be nice for you both."

And she didn't say anything. Her mouth was shut and her eyes were shuttered while the officers moved in on her, pulled her to her feet and pulled out the handcuffs. It felt good, even if he was pretty sure the case was going to plea bargain. That was better than a trial and the circus that would follow.

He watched them take her away after reading her rights, all by the books with no technicalities and had a severe itch to just... do something. Shake her, hit her something that would make her feel something about what she had done to two good friends of his. To more than just two, to all of them trying to recover, trying to rebuild something out of what had happened to them all.

He didn't, but she met his eyes once and he saw her swallow and look away as if realizing that maybe she had come very close to danger herself and that being taken away might be the safest place for her. Now it was down to lawyers and the department would get the best they could for this one. No legal trickery, nothing like that was going to get her off even with a plea bargain. It wouldn't be enough, but it was something.

He watched them escort her away and then turned to head to the lab. Gil needed to know and if he stepped out he'd get there about the same time as Catherine.

The familiar winding halls of the lab spread out in front of him as he walked as fast as he could. It was almost a surprise that he didn't see Catherine ducking into Gil's office, unless she was already there when he got to that hallway.

It was possible she was putting a couple of other things together. They'd all been working flat out on this.

Or maybe Gil wasn't in his... no, he was. Jim gave the barest of knocks on the door and walked in. Gil would throw him out soon enough if he wanted him gone. "Gil... Catherine not here yet?"

"No? What's going on?" He slipped his pen onto the table, and closed the case folder he'd been looking at.

"I've been questioning Mullin's and Cath paged me with news that they had a DNA match. I've had her arrested. " He sat on the nearest chair exhaling. " She was the accomplice, and the one that took Greg. I'm pretty sure we've got that nailed down tight. Cath will tell us when she turned up here."

"Greg's DNA was in her car?" Gil's voice sounded puzzled, like he didn't quite believe it, and then the edges of his mouth pulled up. "We've got her. It's over."

"I'm guessing so. Guilty as hell though, I could tell that the moment I looked at her," Jim said. "Hey, trying out a smile? Careful you don't break anything there Grissom."

Jim got a wry eyebrow twitch from Gil, and Gil moved his hands to clear up the desk. "Would you like to do the honors of calling Nick and Greg?"

"I thought I'd give that to you. You're the one who's been looking after the pair of them. How're they doing?" Jim asked interested.

"Better," Gil said after a thoughtful moment. "Greg called yesterday to say that he'd found two cheap body boards and was trying to teach Nick how to do that. That's... an improvement."

"I should say. Didn't you tell me Greg was convinced he was never going to surf again?" Jim replied and looked up as Catherine arrived at the door. "What kept you?"

"Work. That and Sara and car evidence." Catherine said and smiled. She looked tired but less strained somehow. "Jim spill the beans?"

"Bean-spilling needed, I'm your man," Jim replied feeling the tension fade away from him as well. No last minute 'no, hang on we got that wrong' - that was good.

She still looked pleased, still smiling, and that meant that nothing had gone wrong, nothing was going to trip them all up. "I think he just couldn't keep it to himself," Gil drawled. "And then he declined sharing the good news with Greg."

Catherine looked at Jim. "Yeah because not knowing the person who did this to them is in jail is a good thing?"

Jim spread his hands and shrugged. "I just thought they needed a little more torture - of course not Cath - I thought Gil ought to do it. And besides, I wanted to make sure the case was airtight before we announce a big win."

"Oh it's airtight. She had the car detailed but you were right about the sloppy job Jim. We got a couple of hairs that match Greg's from a blanket in the trunk - they didn't detail that, just folded it and packed it away. Some of Greg's saliva as well just to clinch the deal. I'm thinking she wrapped him in it because here's the other thing. Consistent particle traces with the desert area and there was on of those elastic cords that I would be willing to bet was used to secure it. And her epithelials are all over the damn thing."

"The court will see it out now." And of course Gil didn't want to relish in revenge, but Jim wasn't imagining the gleam in his eyes, the quiet satisfaction."Then it's safe to let them know."

"I would say so," Catherine said with satisfaction. "There's a tread mark that's going to match, the finger print matches from the lawyers files and all the paper chase accounting which I've been told will show she embezzled Walter Gordon's money.... And..." she paused as she smiled. "We got her voice on Nick's tape. Voice pattern analysis is in the process of being matched."

"Good. And now that we have her fingerprints, we can compare it against some of the unknowns we've had from pieces of what was left of Greg's scene." Gil leaned forwards, reaching for his phone, and it was a little funny to see him not delaying.

"You'd think he'd actually want to tell them," Jim said to Catherine, relieved and amused at the same time.

"I have to admit I'm amazed," Catherine said leaned against the desk. "I'm telling you, no doubles for me this week, not after this. I'm damn tired. You want privacy for this Gil?"

"One of them might want to say 'hi' -- then again, it might be that no one answers. It's what time?" Gil leaned a little, glancing at his clock.

"About noon. They should be on day times at the moment. Otherwise that's a waste of sun and sand," Catherine said. "Go on, call. Tell them.. It'll help them both. It'll draw a line around the whole thing."

Jim privately thought that pretty much applied to everyone.

"There's a phone in my hand, Catherine. I'm dialing." Gil's eyebrows went up and he tapped out buttons that were probably the number to Greg's cell phone. Never in his life would Jim have guessed that his friend would have that number memorized.

Well, up until the point where he started having suspicions. He was pretty sure he hadn't missed anything before. Sanders had hero-worshipped Gil for years. Literally years and he'd pulled his leg about it while keeping an eye on it as it wasn't a passing infatuation.

He even heard when Greg answered the phone, though it was mainly because the 'Hey Gil' was so predictable.

"Greg, hi. I'm going to put you on speakerphone for a minute, is that all right? Catherine and Jim wanted to say hello."

There was a crackle while Gil pressed a couple of buttons. "Hey Jim, Hey Cath, how's Vegas?" Greg asked.

"Dice are still rolling, people still losing money..." Jim said with a smile. Greg didn't sound so raw now. That was good.

"And hard-working CSI's are pulling doubles to crack cases." Catherine added.

"Yeah?" Greg asked obviously not quite following where Catherine was hinting.

"You know what we had a theory that Walter Gordon had an accomplice. Well, she's behind bars now. Catherine, Warrick, Sara and Jim tracked her down, and she's been arrested."

There was a long pause before Greg said. "You've... You've caught an accomplice?"

They could hear Nick ask Greg if he was okay in the background. Jim guessed that it had to be a bit of a shock to hear that after a few weeks of believing if there was someone else they were long gone.

"Walter Gordon's accountant. You were right, it was a woman who took you Greg," Catherine said gently. "We've got DNA evidence to back that up too."

"Your hair was in a blanket in her SUV. Combined with her embezzlement and no alibi on the day in question, and..." Open and shut. Gil was leaning forwards a little, like he was making sure that Greg could hear him.

"You've really got someone? I..."

There was a fumbling sound and then Nick's voice replaced Greg's. "Hey guys...you're not messing with us are you? Greg's looking a bit...uh..."

"We're not messing around Nicky," Catherine said. "We didn't want to say anything until it was a sure thing. And it is. She cut some corners, took some money wasn't as clever as she thought."

"I'm pretty sure the ransom thing was her own idea and she wasn't expecting Gordon to blew himself up," Jim added. "She was in it for the money. I'm willing to bet that we'll find she encouraged him do it."

"But for the moment we know she transported Greg to the second location, and that's enough to put her in jail without bail until she either enters a plea or goes to trial." Gil sounded like he was trying to reassure Greg and Nick. "It's solved."

"That's... that's great news," Nick replied and Jim could hear an under current in his voice that he translated to 'thank god, thank god its over' or something similar. "Greg's uh... I just had to get him to sit down a moment, head between his knees, that sort of thing."

"Tell him not to poke himself in the eye with anything while he's there," Jim said throwing that out to test Gil and Greg. That would get him his answer.

Gil choked and shot him a look that answered his question for him, because if there hadn't been anything there Gil would have let it drift right over his head. "That's all right. I'll call back later. I just thought you should both know that the people who did this weren't a threat any longer."

"Man, you have no idea what a relief that is," Nick replied and he could tell he meant it. There was that sound of genuine easing of tension. "Greg's pretty happy about it too."

"So are we," Catherine chipped in. "You guys get back to that body surfing you hear?"

"Yes boss," Nick replied and he sounded like he was smiling.

"Great. Good to talk to you again, Nick." Gil looked up at Catherine and Jim, waiting to see if they had anything to add.

"Keep an eye on Sanders for us. Look forward to seeing back in Vegas soon," Jim said twitching a half smile at Gil as he did so. Yeah, Grissom and Greg had hooked up.

"Give my love to the both of you," Catherine added. "Take it easy."

"We will Cath, thanks."

"It was our pleasure, Nick." Gil didn't add anything else, but quietly ended the conversation by handing up. He'd be calling back later to talk with Greg, and that made Jim smile a little more because that was what really gave it away.

His friend was quietly in love. It was like a jigsaw coming together once he was sure. Behaviors and comments, actions and just... everything making a lot more sense now.

"Hope we didn't knock Greg back too much," Catherine said looking a little concerned. "Nick took it well though."

"Greg's going to be all right," Gil assured. "I don't think he expected us to ever find out who'd taken him." And now they had. It had been a while since Jim had seen Gil so close to just beaming.

"Oh ye of little faith," Catherine said as she got up. "And on that note, I'm cutting this double short because sometimes I need sleep you know?"

"I'm sure we didn't used to have all these slackers around," Jim poked fun at her a little and got poked back on the arm for his trouble.

"That Co-supervisor Slacker to you," she said giving him a look. "Gil, end of next shift take the others out for a celebratory drink right?"

"My treat," Gil agreed. "But get some sleep before you think too hard about running up my bar tab, Cath. Go on." He was already packing his things up, like he was actually going to go home in a timely fashion.

"You don't have to tell me twice." And she smiled at him as she headed out.

Jim sat there a moment longer. "So, you and Sanders huh?" he said with a faint smile. Not pairing he'd really thought about, but life was full of surprises.

Gil opened his mouth a little, and then closed it, eyeing Jim over the top of his desk. "What gave it away?"

"What aside from the fact you two were seen in the car park?" Jim replied. "And the fact you've been running around after him and you react where you wouldn't've done before?"

"Ah, the parking lot. I guess that was the bigger hint. I, uh..." Hadn't expected to be caught out by Jim with any of his subordinates, Jim could guess, let alone Sanders.

"It's not just a comfort thing is it?" Jim asked or more precisely stated. "Not that he doesn't need you at the moment. I think I've known you long enough to recognize the signs of you falling for someone."

"It's more of a... realizing how close I came to losing the choice to choose or not to choose. He..." Gil lifted his shoulders in a tight shrug. "I just wanted him to recover."

"He's a good ..." Jim paused at the point where he was going to say 'kid'. Greg wasn't really a kid any more. Definitely after this. "He'll recover and everyone knows he's been after you for years. He just never thought he had a chance. You think it'll work out?"

"I want to make it work." Which was more than Gil had said about any of his relationships in years, that Jim remembered. If he wanted it to work then he'd put in the effort to make it work.

"Then it'll work," Jim said with confidence. When Grissom put his mind to something, it was always best to bet on him succeeding. "It's a good thing. Get a plan to deal with the conflicts and you're set. "

Greg and Gil. There was someone for everyone. The match was crazy enough to work.

Gil was smiling as he started to shuffle things into the briefcase. "We'll work on it when we get to it. But thanks, Jim."

"Don't need to thank me. Although I could go threaten Sanders if he plans on breaking your heart or something," he said even as he got up as well.

There was that smile again, enough to make Jim feel like smiling, too. More than he'd already been from the taste of victory, of getting the bitch who'd hurt their friends, their team. "How very Mafia of you, but I don't think it's going to be necessary."

Not from Grissom's side, Jim knew that. They'd known each other long enough to know Gil didn't give up on someone. "Just say the word if it is," Jim said even as he stepped out towards the door. "Going straight home?"

Grissom might need sleep, he might need a drink. Jim thought he just give him the option if he wanted it.

Gil held the door open for Jim for a moment, and pulled his keys out of his pocket to lock his office behind him. "Are you off shift right now?"

"A case wrapping up? And into my overtime red zone? Yeah. I'm off shift," Jim replied. "Want lunch?"

"I think we could celebrate a little. Have any place in mind?" Oh, that was risky for Gil, but at least it meant for Jim that he wasn't going to be fed bizarre deep-fried grasshoppers.

"How about that place where you had the pasta and nearly ended up slurping it all up through that beard," Jim suggested. "Lunch is on me."

"I guess I'll pick up the bar tab." Most of which would be Gil's if they drank, because Gil liked to drink imports. "Jim? Thanks. We... you saved the case."

"I think that was your team doing it for you," Jim replied. He knew what Gil was talking about - the moment when he stepped in and stopped Gil going over the line and maybe ruining the chance they did have. He didn't have to say anything because it hadn't happened.

Gil had stepped in for enough of them that there hadn't even been a thought given to the acts of stopping and understanding the why of Gil's actions. Jim had just done it, because that was what friends did. "You know what I mean."

"Yeah I do," Jim replied. "But you didn't do it. Though I know plenty who would've."

Possibly himself under other circumstances to do with him. But these weren't his circumstances, they were Gil's and Greg and Nick were special to him. Greg even more special than he'd at first thought.

Then maybe the difference might be that those others didn't have friends who helped them." Gil fell into step with him, walking down the hallway.

"Or teams that have been not just going the extra mile but an extra marathon," Jim deflected that praise to where he personally thought it was due. "Which includes the boss who has been holding that team together and not paying attention to himself."

He had though. His job was pretty easy. Make sure Gil took care of himself while Gil tried to take care of all of the CSI's.

"I've had plenty of time to pay attention to myself when I drive back and forth to Marine del Ray," Gil deadpanned. He put a hand out to push open the back door, and hung back a moment for Jim.

"They coming back soon?" Jim asked as he moved ahead.. "Back to Vegas? Now Nicks had a bit of time?"

"They'll come back when they're ready. It might be another week or two, but... Eventually, they're going to come back." Gil veered towards his own car, but added, "I just don't want to push it."

"And I don't want you to push it. Ecklie might be willing to let you work yourself to death, but I still have these crazy impulses to stop you." Jim said about to step out to his own. They'd meet up, eat good food and he'd know Gil was relaxing at least a little. "So take a break."

"Lunch with you doesn't count as a break?" Gil called that, and waved to him for a moment before he opened his car door, and threw his briefcase into the back seat.

"A down payment on a break maybe. " Jim called back. It was worth it to see Gil relaxing a little, some of that tension let go a little more. "I'll see you there Gil. Don't get a ticket on the way."

Gil gave half a wave again, and then he started up the engine. He'd get there before Jim, but he'd also order the first round of drinks and get them a good table. It had been a while since they'd gone out for the hell of it, since Gil had relaxed that much.

And now they had a lot more of a reason to celebrate than ever.

Only a few weeks on the coast and Vegas seemed intimidating. But he had made up his mind to come back and he was technically home.

He'd spent the time perfecting his painting, posing for Vivian, helping Nick deal and watching the slow smiles and laughter return to his friends face. Nick unraveled slowly, not like him who broke and broke and broke in rapid succession. Different ways, different feelings and thoughts and hang-ups.

Sometimes it seemed that the best thing he'd done for Nick was to share the experience with him and just be there, a survivor.

It had helped him, to have assurance from someone else who'd been there every step of the way in the same way he'd been that he wasn't crazy and he really hadn't hallucinated that and yes, Nick felt all of those same things, too, angry and guilty, and sad and fearful about life A.B. -- After the Box.

It had helped that they'd had a discussion whether it was After the box or the Year of the box.

It was weird. They could talk about it with each other in a way that sympathy from someone else could've broken them both. And he'd taught Nick body boarding and he'd managed to stand on a surf board even with a knee that had a metal spike poked in it. He'd managed to ride the wave, and even when he went down and ended up rolled in the surf so he came out with abrasions and Nick getting worried enough to practically drag him out onto the beach like a catch of the day he'd been laughing. Laughing so hard with amazement that his ribs ached and he couldn't seem to stop.

It was then he really started to believe he could go home.

So here he was...only home wasn't exactly what he wanted it to be. It was empty and cold and there was no Vivian, no Nick, and most importantly, not Gil.

Home was full of things he hadn't seen in months and only now realized that he hadn't missed. There was no good feeling of coming home like he had the last time he'd taken a long vacation. There was no sense of relief to lock the door behind him.

Only quiet.

It drove him crazy. And if he let it go on, that was going to be something literal. He'd cleaned the place, top to bottom, when usually cleaning was something that happened when he couldn't find the floor any more or the laundry had ganged up with the bedroom and invaded the kitchen in some rather unpleasant war that left dirty socks strewn around the place like entrails.

His apartment was spotless. His filing was done and color coded. His bills were paid, his messages from a hundred and one reporters deleted and the silence was stifling.

He was crawling in his own skin. This was not what he wanted. He needed someone. He needed not to be alone and he was trying not to do anything and he knew he'd said to Gil he'd try and get things back to normal so they could start sensibly and work on. He wanted to go right back to where they'd been, step o, which was way past steps a-d, which Greg was pretty sure were the acceptably normal starting steps for relationships. Except if he didn't get a hold of himself soon, he was going to be back in California laying low from reality again, or worse, and worse was something he didn't want to think of after he'd spent all of that time trying to be better.

Grissom deserved better. Grissom who'd been so happy when he phoned to talk just the two of them about them catching Sylvia Mullins and he'd sat there practically hyperventilating at the thought, half with flashbacks, half with relief.

He loved him. He loved the fact Grissom was that happy for him, not himself. That he smiled to see him smile and he'd wake and see him watching him, if he wasn't snoring softly.

He was finally admitting his plan for normality sucked. Vivian had told him to live artistically as opposed to dangerously and by the end of his stay he knew what she was talking about. Living not just for the moment but for the emotion. Stepping forwards, not cramming himself back into boxes in his own head. Normal was a step backwards and he was going to go crazy if he didn't do something.

So here he was. Driving across Vegas, nearly at Gil's house. He couldn't remember if he was on or off shift but he could wait. Like a lost puppy on the doorstep.

Heck, maybe Grissom had a newspaper delivered and he could sit there and read it. He was looking better, so he was pretty sure that no one was going to mistake him for a homeless guy.

Moderately sure.

Just seeing Gil again was going to be worth it. Normal was, well, Greg wasn't sure when he'd ever been exactly normal. Normal was not leaving a high paying job for one where you risked your life.

Normal was not looking at trying to get that job back after your life had been well and truly 'risked'. But then neither was seducing the boss.

The seducing bit was always distracting. He parked his car and got out a little stiffly. It was ...pretty early. Griss might be at work still and if it went to a double it would be a long wait. He wasn't going to call him and guilt him into coming home. He didn't want to do that to Gil.

Because while before he was pretty sure that if someone called Gil with a personal emergency, he wouldn't do anything about it until after the shift, now, Greg wasn't so sure. Greg was pretty sure that if he did call Gil, Gil would show up to at least let him into the house before he drove all the way back to the other side of the city.

It wasn't as if Gil hadn't trusted Greg alone in his apartment before.

But he had been the one wanting normal and he could see that... somehow it had disappointed Gil even though he nodded and said it was a good idea. And Greg knew rather bizarrely that Gil had mentally started thinking 'this is the point, this is when he pulls away. He's used me for what he needed now he's going back to his own life.' and he'd wanted to say no, he was just trying to make himself into the normal stable person who could hold onto a relationship and make it work.

Fact was, he wasn't 'normal' and wasn't ever going to be. But no one said he had to be to make a relationship work. And he really couldn't deal with remembering the look in Grissom's eyes when he encouraged him to do that plan.

Few more steps and he was at the door. Hesitating. He was right to do this wasn't he? He hadn't even tried a night alone.

He'd tried one nervous exhausting stretch of time alone, hadn't even tried to sleep by himself. Except he had a feeling that he wouldn't be able to and then he'd end up where he was already, but in worse shape.

Gil's car was in the driveway, though, the big familiar SUV full of lab supplies, and that was heartening. He was just a doorbell ring away from getting an answer to whether it was a good idea or a really bad idea.

He hesitated for a moment and then took a deep breath and rang the door bell. Good idea, bad idea, crazy idea, best fucking idea in the world...

The choices were infinite and so apparently was the time it took for Gil to answer his door.

He'd probably been asleep. Gil was a heavy sleeper. Not much of a snorer, but he did sleep like the dead, quiet and still and warm in ways that Greg hadn't ever thought he'd find out, ways that he didn't want to forget any time soon because he was trying to be normal and Gil was pretending to be too-happy to give him space that he actually didn't need after all.

The door opened, and Gil had to have checked the peephole, because he didn't make any questioning sounds at Greg.


"Hi uh..." Greg looked at him and was distracted from what he was doing there by the Hawaiian print robe. "Is that mine?" he blurted out derailed from his original planned greeting.

Gil was wearing boxer shorts, and his expression looked sleep-ridden, but he was... definitely wearing Greg's robe. "It, uh, was the first thing I grabbed. You left it here."

"Oh... yeah, right." Greg blinked a moment. "Wow for a moment I thought you had developed my bad taste. But its okay as it's turned out to be my bad taste all along. Uh..."

What had he come here for again? He was meant to be saying something important. "Uh Griss I... I know it's early but can I come in?"

"Since you're here." Gil stepped back, letting Greg have room to come in, and closed the door behind him. "You look tired."

Did he? He guessed he probably would. "I needed to talk to you." He exhaled and then still a little distracted picked exactly the wrong words to say what he had been mulling over. "Look, Griss... this just isn't working... It's... not going to... well, it's not right..."

"I, uh, I understand that, Greg. I wanted you to have time and space to, to think it over, and..." And Gil wasn't quite looking at him when he answered Greg, his eyes down at Greg's knee level or over past his shoulder.

"Yeah well I... uh, what?" Greg's mind suddenly managed to flag down his attention that something in Gil's response had not been what he expected. "Wait a minute what did you just say?"

He didn't get a repeat of Gil's response, but a somewhat blank stare when Gil finally lifted his head. "I, uh -- thought you'd come here to uh... You said it wasn't working?"

He was holding on to him then almost as desperately as he had when Gil had found him, practically shaking with the sheer relief of just being there. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you think I didn't want us. I think I've moved beyond normal steps. Please Gil, I know it's not what we agreed but... can I...I mean is there some way I can be here? Say if you don't want that."

"We can do it this way." He kissed Greg, brief kisses, and murmured, "I'm sorry I thought you needed space."

"I do but no one said it had to be space on my own," Greg replied kissing him back. "I just, I just need you Gil, and it's like trying to be back before all this happened and ... that's like saying none of this happened, not even us. I... I can't do that. I need us. I need you."

And he wasn't entirely sure what he was saying or why he was so desperate in saying it.

"Okay. Okay. I understand, now." And maybe he did and maybe he didn't. Greg wasn't sure, but Gil shifted, held onto him tighter and it helped. "I'd like it if you'd stay."

That nearly made his legs go weak with relief and he exhaled and leaned onto Gil's shoulder content just to be there. Right up to the point he smoothed down Gil's back unconsciously and the wound up anxiety found a different outlet.

"Yeah. Yeah I said that and..." Greg paused. "That was a really stupid way to put it. Sorry, shit...uh... What I mean is it's not working giving me that space. I don't want that space, I don't need it, I need you. It's...just not right being there, it's like trying to go backwards not forwards and the more backwards I go the near it takes me to the box. I know it's the sensible thing to do but I'm not really the sort of guy that sensible applies to as a rule and it's lonely and I just sit there thinking why am I hear in this box when I could be out and with Gil or just there and everything feel okay..."

Eventually he had to stop for a breath.

"I'm sorry." Gil moved, closed the space between them, and that felt good. A hand on his shoulder, another hand moving to cup his chin, that felt good.

Gil just had the robe and boxers on and that was pretty, pretty distracting that Gil was wearing his robe, because silk and Grissom were a nice mix. "Now there's a signal I can't misinterpret," Gil murmured.

"We could just stick to body language," Greg murmured. "Because I'm thinking between my tendency to uh,you know, talk all around things and yours to... do whatever you do, I would've done better to show up at the door and do this..."

He kissed him then, full on and full of the urgency that had sent him there. That was much more like it.

And Gil kissing him back, pulling him closer. It felt good, right -- Gil wanted him, still, so maybe body language was a good idea until Greg got a better hold of himself.

Grissom's body language told Greg that Greg wasn't the only one who was horny and hard.

There was nothing particularly subtle about his need or the way he showed it. If Grissom hadn't have been the one with the most mass out of the two of them he would've been pounced onto the nearest couch. As it was Greg stopped thinking and started feeling. Started touching him over the silk of the robe and then beneath it, sliding fingers over skin, and under the slick feel of that material.

"I think you have the advantage..." Gil stepped back slightly, but his hands were on Greg's sides, pressing under the edge of his jeans. "Should we go to bed?"

"Definitely," Greg breathed out and then blinked. "But if you're tired, we could go to bed, to sleep sort of thing."

"Or a little of both. This... was worth waking up for." The edges of Gil's mouth came up in a smile, and he turned a little to walk side by side with Greg instead of dragging him forward every step of the way. "We'll work things out later."

"Great." Greg hadn't lost the need to be touched or held by Grissom and he hoped there was something more on the horizon. "I can't believe that you really thought I was saying it was over."

Gil's hands didn't falter as he started to unbuckle Greg's belt. "I, uh. If you anticipate the 'no' it hurts less."

"Never going to be a 'no' Griss, not with you," Greg replied even as he ditched his jacket, his top, dropping them wherever he could on the floor. "I never want to hurt you. I probably will considering I can't seem to talk straight but I'll never hurt you by leaving."

He shook off his rumpled clothes and let his pants slip while trying to grab a hold of Grissom again. He was ...addictive. Completely and utterly. First you were mesmerized by him, then enthralled and educated and then finally before he knew it, he could no more do without than he could learn to breathe water.

He'd rather breathe water than go without Grissom, than go without his humor at work and the sly smiles Greg was starting to get used to getting in a more personal setting.

It really didn't get more personal than pants on the floor, with Gil walking him backwards towards his bedroom.

He just hoped Grissom understood this. That it wasn't about him having to do what he wanted. It wasn't ever going to be a case of Gil just waiting for him to decide when it was over. He'd never even go looking for that point. He had everything he wanted here, pushing him with warm hands, feeling over his skin, moving him to the right place, to the bedroom.

It said a lot that this meant enough that he wasn't willing to try and lock away the memory of the box if it meant losing this.

"Easy, Greg," Gil murmured. He turned his head to kiss Greg's cheek, working back to his jaw as they entered Gil's bedroom. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Neither am I," Greg managed even as he closed his eyes and allowed himself to concentrate on the sensation of lips on his neck, on his throat and then his jaw. "God, Gil...I just ...yeah, there is good."

There made him want to make noises deep in his throat.

Gil slid his lips up beneath Greg's ear, alternating between kisses and bits and soft soft sucks, coaxing Greg to tilt his head backwards. "Good..."

If Gil kept doing that his legs would be giving out any moment. He didn't need much encouragement to let his head drop backwards, and now it was mainly Gil holding him up, touching him so gently as if he was afraid he might break and he didn't want him to think he was fragile. He loved the care but he could withstand passion now. "More..." he murmured aloud and repeated it in case Gil missed it. "More... please..."

Greg felt himself behind turned, and backed up against the bed, and then pushed back down against the mattress, Gil slipping the robe and his boxers off. "In a moment, you can have as much as you want."

Did he mean that? He'd been careful around him, so cautious of not pushing things too far and he'd reasoned that Gil either wasn't wanting that or he appeared to be more fucked up than he actually felt. He felt ready for things to go further - had wanted it from the very start, but Gil had held them back.

He lay back looking up at Gil moving over towards him and felt a shiver of anticipation. "I'm pretty greedy when it comes to wanting."

"How greedy is greedy?" Gil let his boxers fall to the floor, and it was like that first time in California, except slower and his knee wasn't killing him. Comfortable. Maybe Gil wasn't treating him quite so much like he was going to fall apart.

"Uh... everything?" Greg replied looking at him and admiring the fact that either Gil was pretty quick at getting ready, or he had been in the middle of a good dream when he woke him. "All of you. Any way you can think of."

Pretty much anything to do with Gil sounded like a wet dream fantasy to him at the moment.

And ten times better than being at home alone in the gnawing quiet. Gil was already hard, and whether it was the good dream or not or the kissing, Greg didn't care. He had Gil putting one knee on the mattress, leaning over Greg and moving over top of him to pick up where they'd left off.

Kissing was good, having Gil there was good because he could touch him and concentrate on the feel of skin under his fingertips. He smiled in between kisses as he mapped Gil's body and imagine a future of touching that skin, kneading at sore and tense muscles, of a time where he kissed an licked every inch of Gil until he came without even needing to be touched any further. A thousand and one hungry thoughts darted over the depths of emotion he felt for the man that he was probably never going to be able to express in words. It was best to try and articulate that in sounds and actions, drawing Gil closer with an insistent tug.

Closer until they were body against body again and Gil was kissing his mouth again, and then his jaw, one hand sliding down over Greg's chest to skim over his nipples teasingly.

It seemed Gil had memorized the areas on his body that made him squirm the most because he was barely able to stop from arching, moving and generally trying to get him to do something more than just hint at contact.

"Tease." he accused with a huff of breath. He tried to send a hand under and over Gil's chest to mimic what he was doing the best he could.

"Is that a request or a protest?" Gil tilted his head a little, shifting downwards to kiss at Greg's chest.

Greg chuckled a little hitching his breath half way through as Gil found one of those spots again. Half dazed with sensation, he found himself absently teasing back in a sympathetic rhythm with his fingers with whatever he could touch.

Just touching back, until Gil leaned down to kiss his left nipple, fingers tracing over Greg's ribs. That was better, exploring and not so much care as before, as if the scars didn't matter.

He didn't want them to matter, he just wanted them to provide feeling and sparks of arousal and warm moist lips just there made him groan in a low rumble of sound.


"Every time we do this, I find some new way you react. It's amazing," Gil whispered against his skin. Even that was erotic, lips moving against his chest, around his nipple, soft gusts of breath.

"You wait... until I do it to you..." Greg murmured back. "I'm... going to spend a... whole night kissing you like that." The drying breath made him tingle and go still. "Mmm."

"Promises, promises. We have time to get to that." For now, Gil was leaning on one elbow, the other hand sliding down to gently palm Greg's dick. It had to be an awkward position, but it felt amazing. It felt good, and that was all Greg wanted. For everything to feel good.

"And... and... doing that too. That feels... so good," he managed and closed his eyes a moment arching into that grip. Thank God he hadn't had injuries there - close but not there and the way his hands slid over him was intoxicating.

Gil wanted him. He wanted him an d he was half-ready to let Greg run away if he wanted to, but he wanted Greg anyway. A thumb slid over the head of his dick, and Gil moved his body, leaned the other way so he could kiss across Greg's chest to tease his other nipple.

"Okay. Okay, you know how to do that way too well," Greg admitted, his voice sounding a little higher than normal. He kept trying to look at Gil and then ending up flopping backwards helplessly. "Fuck..."

"Later." Gil's voice sounded like a promise, and he nipped gently at that nipple, thumb still playing with the head of Greg's cock, tracing his circumcision scar.

"Not... too much later?" Greg realized it sounded like he was begging already. He couldn't wait for that...finally. He was pretty much an equal opportunity guy when it came to sex. The fact it was happening at all was his preference as opposed to strict definitions of top or bottom. But he did have a fair few cherished fantasies of bottoming to Gil. He wanted to feel him inside of him and he was definitely going to be feeling it.

Gil was hard, dick bushing Greg's thigh, full and heavy.

"Not too much later." No questioning now, finally. Gil shifted, and started to kiss his way down Greg's body.

Greg's hands moved to Gil's shoulders, his hair and threaded his fingers through it teasing it into a mussed soft almost curls. He was also aware he was making some very odd soft whimpering noises that he couldn't stop from coming out of his mouth.

But that was okay. He could hear the quiet soft rumbles of noise, Gil's quiet moans as he stopped to kiss at Greg's stomach, fingers still playing with Greg's dick.

He was a quivering whimpering pile of limbs that refused to do anything he asked them to do because they were enjoying themselves so much. Scarcely the image of passionate stud he hoped to project, but frankly between image and reality he'd take the reality of Gil's lips, the slide of his fingers over the head of his cock, the gentle squeeze of his balls over any imagined projection of his self image.

Reality was better than fiction, anyway. Fiction didn't lift its head to smirk at him, and fiction didn't lean down, slide down, and kiss the head of his dick.

"Oh...now... that's just... that's..." Greg had a whole body quiver to that kiss. "Don't make me come...too early."

Gil lifted his head, and cocked an eyebrow at Greg. "You only think you're up for one?" It wasn't a tease, but a bizarrely honest question.

Greg paused. "Oh now, that's just... now you've said that you know I'm going to be having more than one. I didn't want to be too greedy..."

Or to tire Gil out when he'd woken him up out of much needed sleep. Or to be unfair.

"I didn't know someone could be greedy about that," Gil murmured. He tilted his head , and carefully licked the head of Greg's cock, fingers sliding down to stroke over and around Greg's balls.

"How about... insatiable...?" Greg closed his eyes and abandoned himself to the feeling. "How about we both give up work and just do this... all the time..."

"It might eventually chap," Gil warned with a quiet laugh. And maybe he needed to stop talking to Gil, because Gil answered him and that meant that he breathed over the wet lines that he was leaving, too much stimulation and not enough all at once.

"Gil." He groaned again. "I promise you at least a morning wake-up blowjob if you start doing something now... one every day for a week if you stop torturing me!"

Like that would be a hardship.

"Deal." Gil half-closed his eyes, and started to suck, just started to go after it, like Greg was a tube for siphoning gasoline.

He was pretty sure he nearly shrieked at that sudden contact - or gave a manly strangled cry of appreciation as he rewrote the noise in his own head. He didn't have time to steel himself, and almost immediately he felt the gathering tension of an orgasm gravitating to his balls, then making him move against Grissom's mouth until he was coming, and bright lights were crawling behind his closed eyelids.

It wasn't supposed to go that quickly. He wasn't supposed to go off that quickly, except Gil slid a hand over his stomach, petting him, and he didn't seem to care. There were a few last touches to his dick, and Gil turned his head to kiss Greg's thigh. "Mm."

It took him a few moments to get his breath back. "S..Sorry... wanted to hold on longer," he tried to explain. But how could he with Gil doing that to him? It was an impossibility.

Gil turned his head to the side and kissed Greg's dick again. "Why? It just means you'll get to do it again. Sooner."

"This feels a little...unfair to you," Greg replied feeling a warmth spread through him as much from that simple gesture as the blow job. "I want you to feel good too Griss, otherwise..."

Otherwise, why would Gil want to even be with him? He shrugged a little.

"We'll get to that," Gil murmured. He crouched up, and then stretched out along side of Greg, to -- ah, to kiss him, close and comfortable again.

Greg immediately turned in towards him, reaching and twining his arms and legs around him in a movement that felt natural now. "I'm serious... every time we do this I feel... I feel like you are taking care of me, and I really like that, but I want you to be getting something too."

Lips pressed against the edge of his mouth, the motion lazy. "I am getting something. I have you."

Greg smiled hesitantly. "I'm pretty sure that's not enough," he said softly. "Considering all the problems and stuff."

After the trouble he caused, the hang ups and trauma he'd brought to their nascent relationship, how could it be enough to warrant Gil wanted to keep a hold of him. He moved his hands slowly over Gil's skin, enjoying how it felt.

There was a shift, Gil's hands on Greg's body positioning themselves, and the Gil pulled Greg up on top of him like it was the easiest, most comfortable thing in the world.

"Problems and stuff. Do you want to elaborate that?"

He probably didn't, just in case Gil had somehow missed it, but...

"I'm not exactly the poster boy for stability. Or sanity. Or anything necessary for tolerating someone for sometime," Greg murmured. "But, I am pretty good at sex - but...uh, you keep beating me too that bit."

"Funny, that. Maybe my standards when I consider people are different than yours. I've found this beautiful, friendly, entertaining, intelligent man who's hit a rough patch that might have redefined him, but hasn't allowed it to ruin his core personality." Gil lifted a hand, and stroked his fingers over and through Greg's hair. "Which I've always found more attractive than anything."

Greg blinked a little and looked at him, unable to find any hint of sarcasm in his voice. It was like the first time he heard him say 'Very good Greg.' and he'd walked around with an inane smile for a week. And there it was, the inane smile summoned out of nowhere. "I thought I got on your nerves?"

"Sometimes. Sometimes I get on my nerves. Sometimes I don't like to be around people at all." The edges of GIl's mouth curled up, and he kissed Greg again. "You were loud, sometimes. I like that, but I react to it, too. I've been focused on making sure you were all right since it happened, Greg. It might take me a while to shift gears."

"I'll... try not to be loud," Greg whispered. "You always have made me nervous." He twitched a smile and returned the kiss. "Remember that?"

"I remember that. Are you nervous now?" He was laying on top of Gil. And Gil had just sucked his cock. And Gil had been visiting him every weekend in California, sleeping with him and taking him places and progressing their comfort level with each other. Gil was more concerned about Greg than he was about what he got out of things.

"No.Yes... Kinda." Greg replied honestly. "Worried I'm going to screw this up somehow, not going to be enough. not going to...be good enough for you. You could've had anyone Griss, I don't get why you decided on me."

"Because, I..." I something. Gil trailed off, and pressed another kiss to Greg's mouth. "I can't quite quantify it, Greg. You're everything I've ever looked for in another person, and I realized it when I wasn't looking."

"That's pretty much when these things crop up," Greg replied, feeling mellow and calm even as he drew shell shapes unconsciously on Gil's skin with trailing fingers. "I think I'm recovered now..."

And maybe that wasn't just a statement about the sex.

"Yes?" Gil shifted his hips up a little, fingers still stroking Greg's hair, over the back of his neck. "That's good to know. But if you un-recover, it's -- I'll still be here."

"I'm a pretty good listener too you know that?" Greg relaxed even more at that touch. "I don't want it to be all about me. I've watched you long enough to know that you… you expect everyone to give up on you. You assume that it's something about you. You think you're not good with people and that's not true. You are, you really are..." He wanted Gil to know that before they did anything else.

"How about if I believe you, you believe me?" Gil offered. He was watching Greg's eyes, studying his face. "If you catch me doing it, tell me."

"Okay, I think I can do that," Greg replied meeting his gaze steadily. Gil was the strong one, the one who had never given up, never broken in their whole ordeal as a team. He trusted him, still hoped when there had been no reason to even try to hope. "So do we get to get to you having fun now?"

"We just had more relationship talk than I've... ever done. I think we both deserve sex as a reward at this point." And the kissing started again, slow and easy, Gil's hands working their way down Greg's back.

"I'm more used to talking than you are," Greg murmured moving easily with Gil's body, used to how he touched and moved now.

He liked the way that Gil moved carefully. Greg wasn't sure whether it was him or just how Gil did it, very careful and conscientious of his partner. With enough time, he could break Gil of that. He could make him selfish and less altruistic about sex, and a little looser. And he could do more than just put up with Gil's darker sense of humor, and. And yeah. Yeah, he could make it work. If they both wanted it to work, and they talked when things got funny...

"Hold on. Before we -- I need to get lube. If, uh, that's.."

"Oh, yeah, that's a definite..." Greg reassured. "Lots of lube, lots of you..." He moved against him a little more.

He liked Gil be careful, but he wanted him to be carefree too, to feel able to ask for what he wanted instead of being the one giving all the time. Maybe this was what he wanted - he hoped so because he wanted it too.

"Okay. I need to get up to find it." Gil shifted a little, the prelude to squirming out from under Greg. "Shouldn't take long."

Greg liked the squirming but eventually pushed himself up and to the side so Gil could move. Considering he had not long had one climax, he was already feeling the stir of interest. He didn't think that this was going to be him lying there passive at all. "Good."

He propped himself up on his elbow watching the older man as he moved.

He liked the way that Gil walked, the way he moved. He wasn't self conscious about it, legs bowed and some soft spots, and Greg hoped that when he was the same age he'd be just as okay with himself. Gil disappeared out into the hallway, so, the bathroom, maybe?

Why bother keeping lube in the bedroom if it never got used there?

That made him wonder a little. How long had Gil not had any company? Because he didn't do one-nighters... well he assumed he didn't. He'd said it had been a while but where they talking months or years?

One thing he knew was that he wouldn't've made it this far without Gil. He'd leaned on him, on his connections more than a little to get his feet back under him again. And yeah, he was shaky and maybe in a literal and metaphorical sense there might always be a trace of a limp but he was up and ready to start moving. He wondered if Gil realized what an amazing thing he had done for him.

He could try and show him.

It was probably cheap of him to go for sex. It wasn't as if he owed it to Gil, and that sort of concept would probably make Gil unhappy, the thought that Greg was trying to do it to thank him. But It was more, part of a package deal. He was better and he felt better and he could do it because of Gil. He was okay because of Gil.

"Greg," Gil called from the bathroom, "if I tell you that I'm actually out of lube..."

"I'd tell you to go find something random that might work," Greg called out, feeling a prickle of worry. "Or I'll expire of unfulfilled sexual promises."

He was pretty sure Gil was joking... at least he hoped so,

"Expire, huh? That might be interesting to explain at an autopsy." Gil came back into the bedroom, carrying a tube of KY. Yeah, that was going to be perfect.

"Rule number one, we do not joke about the lack of lube," Greg replied solemnly. "It makes me a very sad Greg."

He was using a light almost joking tone, one that hadn't been in his repertoire for a while.

"It looks like it was a close call. I'll have to buy more." Gil wandered back towards the bed, and leaned down to distract Greg with kisses to start. "I want to fuck you."

"Yeah? That's good news as I pretty much want to be fucked by you." He grinned a little. "We're good at whispering these sentimental sweet nothings aren't we?"

Gil grinned, even if his cheeks were slowly flushing red. "It's not too forward of me, is it?" He stretched out beside Greg again, while he popped the cap on the lubricant.

"Griss, forward only counts if the other person is backing away from you. I'm not doing that. In fact, if you weren't being forward I might have to resort to throwing myself at you." He was grinning back, ridiculously happy. "If you knew how many pretty well-worn fantasies involve you getting very forward with me, you wouldn't be worried."

"But I can't have sex with you over one of the lab tables. Or my desk at work. So some of those fantasies are going to have to stay worn." Gil squeezed the lube onto his palm, and reached over to stroke Greg's dick, first, cold lube on warm skin.

"Ah!" Greg actually felt himself twitch at that before he became accustomed to the slick substance. "That's it, you're officially able to read minds."

"Everyone daydreams about sex at work." Gil paused, and then gave Greg's dick a slight squeeze, as it started to warm. "Or, I do."

"Now that I find interesting..." Greg tried to hook Gil forwards. "About everyone? I have to say I have a really overactive imagination."

"Not everyone. Just..." Gil cleared his throat a little, and leaned over Greg to kiss him again. "Some of the fantasies are more pervasive than others. How's your knee?"

"See that's the thing about endorphins and orgasms. I'm not feeling pain from it," Greg replied after kissing him back. "Are you really asking what I can handle? Because front or back is good. Even sideways."

"There's never been a subtle way to ask what someone prefers, but I was worried about your knee. Really." Really, and there was the edge of a smile against his mouth. "On your side could be very good."


h it could, it definitely could. He found himself nodding hopefully in agreement. "I don't need subtle. I prefer anything that feels good."

And the thought of it was interesting and new and not something he'd considered much although undoubtedly his porn library had introduced him to the concept at some point in the past.

And since Gil seemed to know what he was doing, Greg was game for it. "This will be good, and I won't feel guilty about your knee. Two things accomplished at once, mm?"

Gil pressed another kiss against his mouth. "Here, turn on your side."

He did so, easily enough, grateful that his leg would be supported somehow. "No, wait, am I meant to be facing you or away from you?" He asked after a moments thought.

"Away. Facing requires quite a bit more by way of acrobatics." And probably a vagina, because wow that would be a shitty angle for good sex. Unless they got really athletic.

Something to try for when he'd got a little more flexible and parts of his body didn't ache. He twisted, facing away, but managed to keep just about peering back over his shoulder. "I'll save the acrobatics for the chandelier sex."

"Where would we find an appropriate chandelier?" Gil kissed him again, lips lingering back to his neck, skirting over dead spots of sensation. "Looks like Little Greg is coming back to life."

"I dunno, may one of the big theme hotels?" Greg replied and was aware that yes, Little Greg was making a recovery. "He's a resilient little guy, he's good at miraculous recoveries."

"So are you." Gil pressed another kiss to the slightly long hair at the back of Greg's head. His fingers moved, slid away from Greg's dick and over his hip to -- oh finally.

This was going to be something he needed to remember. Gil was thorough. Very thorough and he liked to explore practically everywhere. And Jesus, he was applying that principle to his ass and it had been a long time since he'd done more than a blow and hand job club special combo.

This would be like his virginity growing back or something. That thought made him smile as he squirmed at the touch of fingers playing with his ass.

It had been way too long. Two fingers sliding and circling around the circular muscle, pressing and sliding in and out, just teasing him. "Tell me how that feels."

"You know it feels good," Greg replied, having to lean into the nearest pillow. "Fuck, I'd forgotten how good it can be... or maybe I never really knew."

Gil shifted, sliding one arm under Greg's body so he could press a hand against his stomach. And that was pretty close to his cock, when things came to it. "As long as it feels good now. You're tight. Maybe if I toy with it long enough it'll loosen up."

"Are you kidding?" Did he mind feeling his fingers like that, that closeness and all the sensation he could cope with. "Gil, that's just perfect."

And it was, with the burning sensation and movement back there, teasing and pressing in. "Just as well I'm going for a second round otherwise I'd last all of a few seconds."

"It makes it last longer. And I was stalling while I tried to wake up." Blowjobs as stalling? That was almost a beneficial procrastination.

"You did that to me and you weren't even fully conscious?" Greg asked, starting to find his mental focus starting to drift back to that feeling in ass, and Grissom's voice. It was a weird quirk, but he had a thing for voices and Grissom's had always had the ability to tug on things inside him. This gentle talking was as much of a turn on as any touching.

Not that one finger slowly sliding deeper and deeper into his ass wasn't a turn-on. It was. It was a pretty amazing turn-on, and the feeling of Gil's lips pressing against his neck. "You might have noticed that I'm a heavy sleeper."

"I did notice that particularly that morning when I woke up with you lying on me," Greg replied before making a low rumbling sound of pleasure. That had been a good way to wake up, and instead of feeling trapped, he'd felt safe which surprised him. He hadn't felt safe in a long time.

Gil was almost the epitome of safe. Not safe in a boring way, but a protective way that Greg liked. "Mm. I suppose that's a hint."

"I didn't say I minded it. It was... it was good," Greg murmured and found himself easing back just a little. Just a little movement to make that burning sensation spark even more.

To make it go better, a little faster. Gil slid that one finger in deeper, knuckles brushing against Greg's ass. Gil spread his fingers on Greg's stomach. "I'll remember that, too."

"I'm a quirky guy," Greg said pushing up against the splayed fingers of that hand. "And you are my favorite quirk."

"Favorite enough that you want me to stick around, apparently." Gil started to work a second slicked finger into Greg's ass, slowly, while he worked the first one in and out. Playing with him, if that was what Gil considered playing with, Greg couldn't wait until he got down to business.

"With you doing that I don't want you to go anywhere," he said and groaned just a little as he held his breath to ride out a new feeling. "I never want you going anywhere."

"Eventually we'll have to get out of bed. If I miss work, well, everyone will show up and I know Catherine has a key that she's not afraid to use." Gil curled the finger that was already in Greg, and the second one finally slipped in. Greg felt full, stretched and aching, and good at the same time. Gil was pressed right against his back, holding him close.

"Well there is the whole exhibitionism thing I wanted to try, "Greg said a little breathlessly. "God, Griss... I think I'm pretty ready. Really ready. Just... get your cock in there already!"

There was a pause, and the fingers held still before Gil pressed another kiss against the nape of Greg's neck. There was almost a touch of teeth in the kiss, and then Gil turned his fingers. "Are you sure?"

He wanted to babble yesyesyes at him as the twisting left him panting and the soft near bite aroused something visceral inside of him and he moaned again. "...please...."

Gil shifted, nudging a knee between Greg's legs. He was pulling his fingers out, too, leaving Greg feeling empty. "Here, slide your leg back. Over mine."

"Like... Like that?" He did so, thanking god he hadn't taken a spike in the hip or something like that. It was a good feeling, Gil so close, his leg nudging him apart.

"Just like that." Gil shifted, tilted his hips against Greg, slick cock sliding up the crack of his ass. No in, but just teasing for the moment. "Are you comfortable?"

"Very. I won't break Gil," he reassured the other man and then felt he had to add for the sake of honesty, "Not any more."

"Not any more." Gil's voice was a soft echo of his own statement, and he shifted his leg, moved to line the head of his cock up with Greg's ass. That was a fun pressure, teasing.

It was a promise and more than a promise. It had been what he had wanted, and something Gil cared enough about to hold back on until now, until there would be no more breaking.

"Yes... Gil, please... do you have some superhuman control?"

"Old age is better than a cockring. As long as the plumbing still works." He started to press in, taking his time. Maybe the slowness was as much Gil keeping his control as teasing Greg. Maybe that was it.

Either that or Gil was into some form of erotic torture he had never suspected. "I'll never... diss your age ever again... uhnn.." God, Gil felt big after the fingers. Stretching and feeling every moment.

Every movement , Gil's fingers moving restlessly over his stomach, down to curl fingers over his hip, so close to stroking his cock. It wasn't like Greg hadn't been fucked before, but there was something warm about the way Gil was doing it, still pressing kisses against his neck.

He felt it was more than just the pleasure, more than rush and hurry, racing towards climax. He had to think if he'd every experienced someone who seemed to care so much about doing it right for him, and he hadn't. He felt incredibly lucky just to be here and now. "Gil...." he found himself saying the name, not begging just saying it because he wanted to hear the name aloud and acknowledge who it was doing this.

"I'm here." Gil's voice was mellow, soothing, and he leaned up a little, over Greg to kiss at his jaw. He finished sliding in, and just held still for a moment before the slow rocking started.

And oh god, that was like a slice of heaven. Slow and inexorable and he had to hope that Gil was enjoying this as much as he was because feeling this good seemed somehow selfish. It was a dizzying, drifting pleasure that seemed endless and the fact he had come once already meant the slow burn was going to go higher and higher.

It was fantastic and he moved carefully and following the dictates of Gil's hands, his kisses and his cock as he did so. He melted into him, no hard and furious lines, just a merging of bodies on a mission of pleasure.

Slow and easy, enough to make Greg forget what he'd been doing just hours before, the panic and the fury and the unease he'd been suffering. But he was there now, in a place that felt like home because he wasn't alone. He was better than not-alone. Gil was behind him, fucking him, kissing him, murmuring soft words to him.

It was better than he'd ever let himself imagine and he should be just concentrating on the sex, but it was almost an emotional revelation, everything so bright against the backdrop of darkness he had experienced. Here and now he could think he was lucky. He could close his eyes and genuinely thank god for his good fortune. If he had been given a choice, the ordeal in the box gone and lose Gil, he would now walk willingly to that box. It was twenty four hours of hell, but this was a heaven that could last a lot longer. A lifetime if he played it right.

He was going to work to play it right. Gil cared and he was fun and he was everything that Greg wanted in life. Gil breathed his name, kissed beside his ear, and started to thrust harder, bringing Greg back to the moment. Fingers closed over his dick.

And oh, god he was going to die of pleasure at this rate. It wasn't just the intoxicating burning of compulsive need, making him move and whimper and gasp, it was the whole thing that had him whispering Gil's name like a mantra or some prayer. It was the fact that after years of not quite connecting, he was here an now finding that missing piece so certainly he could never have any doubt that this was it, the real thing, not just a maybe thing.

This was a real thing and they'd already experienced the up and down parts before the sex, no honeymoon period at all. But there was the click, the feeling that yeah, that was the right thing. Gil was the right one, stroking him off and moving faster, fucking him harder.

And somewhere, there were words spilling from his mouth, tumbling over themselves, telling him 'harder', more, begging him to let go, fragments of wonder that Gil could make him feel this way when he was so broken to everyone else. Eventually even that faded into a blur of movement and need and every breath was driving the both of them forward.

Almost there. Almost there, he just needed to go a little further, a little harder, a little faster, Gil's fingers faltering around his dick because he was coming in Greg's ass, thrusts turning stuttered.

That change in rhythm was enough to trigger it for him again. There was a roaring in his own ears that made his own cry out sound weak under the rush of noise there. He could feel Gil everywhere, himself everywhere and as they rode their own personal roller coaster to the end of the track, Greg felt himself lose all muscle tension, and become warm, utterly relaxed and so content that for a surreal moment he couldn't believe that he hadn't died in the box and this wasn't the heaven that existed for all good little trainee CSI's.

If it was, it was really really good. The best heavenly reward he'd ever thought he could get. Gil's sticky fingers pressed against his stomach, and he was pressing lazy kisses against Greg's shoulder, leg still between Greg's, dick still in Greg's ass. "You're wonderful."

"I'm wonderful? Jesus Gil..." He had to gulp air to get his breath,"... no one has ever... not like that... that was... incredible."

And Grissom was telling him he was wonderful? all he'd done was lie there and let Grissom do all the hard work.

But Grissom had apparently liked it. A lot, to say that to him. "You're wonderful."

"And you're mine," Greg said wanting that acknowledged. "Really mine, and if this is the reward..."

He didn't even say what he had been thinking. He didn't need to with Grissom still in him, still holding him. Maybe soon, he would do that to him, or something else that would make Gil sound that happy again.

"I'm happy to have you." Gil pressed another lazy, sleepy kiss against Greg, moving a little, starting to pull out. "We can shower later. You left shampoo and soap here, so..." So he could smell like his funky self instead of Gil's unscented type.

"I love you, I need you and that was fantastic," Greg mumbled. Some parts of him might ache, but they had been careful and it had been new and good as well. "And we can go in the shower together right?"

"It's going to be a tight fit, but I think we can manage it." Gil shifted, sliding his other arm loosely over Greg. "Is this all right?"

"It's better than alright," Greg said fervently. "Why the hell has anyone let you go? He didn't understand it, he never would because Grissom was caring, considerate, and more than he had a right to expect from any partner. He reached to pull the arm around him tight and himself tuck tight against him.

"Not everyone finds quirks endearing." Gil's voice was sleepy, and he was probably still tired. Definitely still tired. They could sleep, rest, and then work on what came next after some rest.

If it involved more sex that was all to the good. "Mmm I do. I think all of you is endearing," Greg replied letting his eyes close a little even as he murmured. "And Nicky and I are coming back. We're going to try it and we'll make it. We'll make it."

"You'll make it," Gil agreed softly. "Take your time, but you will." Fingers rubbed slowly over his stomach, and Gil shifted, got comfortable.

As comfortable as he was, and with an anchor-point supporting him in everything he had done and wanted to do, Greg could finally believe that. It wasn't that he thought it was going to be easy, but it certainly wasn't going to be as hard as trying to do it on his own and he wasn't going to let Nick do it alone either. He'd been lucky, he'd got Gil to help him, and Nick had him as a friends. And the both of them had everyone at the lab. He didn't expect to be able to walk into the lab as if nothing had happened, but they had survived, and they were going to get on with the process of living, not matter what had happened. Otherwise Gordon would've won. Nick had said it... they shouldn't take it with them. Maybe not, but in the end he'd take what parts of the experience led him to the here and now of Grissom holding him, relaxed and happy, and the sort of contentment he'd never thought possible.

It had been harder than anything had a right to be, but in the end they had done it. They had more than just survived. They'd started remembering how to live.

Greg smiled and when he dreamt, it was of sunlit seashells, no longer fragile or abandoned having survived a storm and colors showing brighter for the roughness of the cleansing ocean as he picked them up and held them in his hands as a gift that only one person would understand.

Nick had been right about trips in planes not being good things. But since he went back to the lab - correction, he and Nick had both gone back to the lab, there had been a backlog to move that took more than a couple of months to shift, and with them only just tentatively setting out into the field again, the only way to get to California for Vivian's exhibition was to fly.

Somehow, Vivian's exhibition had gone from something she had been planning to run in her own small gallery, to a full blown one , picked up by one of the most prestigious art Galleries in the area. And he owed so much to her that he had agreed immediately that he and Nick and Gil should be there.

He'd seen some of the work in the beginning stages. He'd even let her take his weird cathartic outpouring of a painting after he had revisited it and polished it up a little. She had his photographs, some of Nick's and in the time that he'd stayed there he had posed for her by himself, with Gil, with Nick and helped her out. In a lot of ways, he did want to see the finished product.

On the other hand he didn't really want to be wearing a suit and tie, and looking this smart even if Grissom looked fantastic as they drew up outside the venue.

"I hope we're not too late. Nick'll not be happy if we've left him standing there for too long," Greg commented feeling unaccountably nervous.

"You are aware that we're going to be viewing a show that half-way consists of naked paintings of you?" And other 'survivors' as Vivian had called it, reminding him of an episode of Oprah when he caught Catherine watching it in the break room. Women from a nearby shelter and their children. But knowing was one thing and seeing it was another.

"I'm hoping there's some of a naked Nick, because frankly no one will be looking at any of my pictures with him up on the wall," Greg replied looking at his rather fluffy hair and patting at it to get it to stay down. It didn't work

Gil reached over to try to tuck an errant wave behind his ear, and while it was a nice sentiment, it also didn't work. That brought a smile to Gil's mouth, though. "Didn't you tell me that you dated a supermodel once?"

"Did I say that it went well?" Greg replied. "Because it really didn't. Seriously. I'm not exactly classically good looking like our resident male models. I'm more of a character you know. I think your mom's work is amazing but she might've uh...backed the wrong thing painting me and all that. "

"Don't tell my mother that art is only allowed to be pretty or handsome. She might be deaf, but she can still make your ears burn." Gil signed the last bit, walking backwards for a few steps so he could be face to face with Greg. Greg quietly loved that, the silly moments that he saw a lot when Gil just smiled and talked.

"I value my ears," Greg replied. "All I can say is that at least it is down here, not in Vegas, otherwise the whole lab would be in. I'm not sure I could deal with Hodges having seen my naked ass."

He wasn't sure Hodges could've dealt with it either. He reached out and absently straightened Gil's tie a little. "And I so want some sort of sexual reward for not turning up in jeans and a t-shirt. Preferably from you."

"I'll agree to that. That also means you have all evening to think up a suitable reward." Gil let Greg catch up to him, and slid a hand to rest on Greg's back. Nick was standing outside of the building.

"Hey Nicky," Greg called out, not hurrying up the steps, not with Grissom touching him. Nick looked like he belonged on a film set dressed like that and he was looking more relaxed than he ever thought possible. "How was the scene with Warrick? Good one?"

They were still pairing him up, but he was out there. Greg knew he was on a very short leash though, with retraining and recovery. So far he'd only been out on larger group scenes.

"Good. Long -- I almost missed my flight, but we closed it. Detectives had the guy in when I left." Nick leaned in and gave Greg a hug, quick and tight, and then offered Gil his hand for a shake. "I didn't want to go in alone. Hey."

He liked the relationship he had with Nick now. It was close, like Nick had decided he needed another sibling, a younger brother and adopted him. They had a thing that was a bit like the thing Griss had with Catherine. Something more than friends but not less than a relationship. "I'm pretty much hoping they won't recognize me with my clothes on," Greg said as he watched Gil shake his hand awkwardly.

Sometimes it was like Gil didn't know what to do with the new Nick that felt comfortable and personable with the boss. As if that was somehow so much MORE to have to adjust to than living with Greg and fairly regular sex. "You think she isn't going to introduce the both of you?" Gil gave them a somewhat sympathetic smile. "Come on."

He allowed himself to be steered inside, and it was elegantly lit and huge. He hadn't expected the gallery to be this big. Gil was taking care of getting them past the door, and he just looked around. The place was full of people just... wearing clothes and jewelry that represented more than their combined annual salaries.

"Welcome to Oz..." he murmured under his breath, looking up and glancing the publicity posters that announced the exhibition. The title, Survival was eye-catching and unmissable.

Pretty simple and uncreative, Greg decided when Gil came back to them. Nick was staring. "It's like being at one of my father's society events. I bet there's champagne."

"Near corner, right wall," Gil supplied as he put a light hand on Greg's shoulder. "Which coincidentally is where my mother's standing."

"Can I go yet?" Greg asked quietly. "I feel like someone let me in by accident."

Nick at least had experience of things like this. He didn't - his family had never even bothered with this sort of thing. Maybe champagne would be a good idea. It would have to be as it seemed he was being herded that way whether he liked it or not.

Vivian was looking incredibly stylish, and every bit at home in such august company, but her attention focused on them immediately. "I'm glad you made it boys," she said immediately walking over to see them all. She hugged and kissed them all in succession. "No mysterious illnesses then Greg?" she teased a little.

"Gil... you weren't meant to tell her about that!" Greg blurted out. It had only been a random throwaway panic-stricken thought.

Gil's eyes were wide for a moment, and he looked between them. "I didn't tell her anything about that." And he looked like the suggestion startled him, so, so then he'd just given up the jig?

"It was probably etched on your face, Greg," Nick stepped up and excused with a smile. He made sure that she was looking at him when he talked. "Good to see you again, ma'am."

"And good to see you here too, especially you Greg." She smiled as she teased him. "Don't worry, often I think it would be a good idea to use the same excuse for myself. I admit, this has caused more of a stir than I anticipated. Hence the upgrading of venue. But I had enough work to do the theme justice, and there are a few of your own works here as well..." She smiled at them all. "Have champagne, please. This is a celebration. Particularly for all of you." He could almost feel Gil smiling beside him. "You're both alive. You not only survived the ordeal, but you've both coped with the changes that it's brought to your lives."

Greg was glad that Nick was looking at least as abashed as he was and Vivian was smiling at them all. "Yeah, well that goes for you as well," he said to Gil.

"Why don't you take a look at some of the pictures. I don't think any of you have seen them completed and framed," Vivian encouraged. "Then I'm sure there will be a lot of people who will want to meet you."

Which was just what Greg hoped wouldn't happen. Then again, he could probably ask Gil for anything once they got back to their hotel room and the nice-looking satin sheets they had. There was a good possibility that Gil didn't think Greg's idea of 'anything' could be as kinky as, well. It was going to be. "Great. Greg, uh... I'm not doing this without you."

"Nicky, I wouldn't let anything like that happen to you, and Gil's got us both covered. C'mon, let's take a look around." He grabbed a couple of glasses of champagne from a passing tray and passed one to Nick, as Gil had been designated the driver. Satin sheets, kink... he could get through the evening.

He could get through it. Gil's mom had let him freeload for four weeks, and had let Nick freeload for a week and a half, and having people to paint made her so happy. It wasn't her fault that apparently paintings of beat up guys and women were well received.

"If you want me to make myself scarce, I can," Gil offered. Scarce but probably standing in a corner watching them like a hawk'

Greg glanced at Nick. He was fine with it. It wasn't like Grissom hadn't seen all of it, been a part of all of it, but Nick might want to do this a bit more privately. "Nick?"

"No, I uh... We'll probably need to use you as a shield. You can start to tell people about insect life in Las Vegas while Greg and I make a run for it." He grinned, and took a gulp of the champagne. "Okay. I'm good."

Secretly Greg was relieved even as they headed out in a group. He leaned on Gil a hell of a lot, he knew he did. He kept trying to thank him for it, but Gil seemed to think he was crazy to even suggest that he wasn't getting a fair deal with him.

He saw programs, and even a cursory glance made him flinch just a little as it described the circumstances of the ordeal that lead to this study of 'Survival'. There it was, summarized into a few paragraphs, and if anyone though he was getting over it that easily, they were very wrong. Even so, it was necessary to prepare them for the first painting. It was larger than he remembered, or maybe Vivian had redone it, but it was him in his incarnation as a patchwork man. And somehow...in paint and pigment, everything was there. Every emotion, every bit of pain, sprawled out on that couch in the sunlight.

He had to look away quickly, because it had surprised him. It shouldn't have done, considering how much of an impact Vivian's other painting had had on him.

Beside him, Nick made exhaled in a soft sound that caught his attention. "Huh. That couldn't have been long before you came down to see me."

"Wasn't," Greg replied looking back at the picture. "Griss walked in on that particular posing session."

There were things in that picture he didn't recognize though. A sense of strength, a sense of beauty even among the evidence of injuries. Something rare and precious mixed in with all the other emotions. Greg never saw himself like that. Certainly not then. He'd thought himself irrevocably broken, but evidently Vivian had seen something different. "She's made me look too good. I didn't feel like that then..."

Gil leaned close, up near his ear, and whispered, 'You looked like that to me."

"Yeah, well you were looking at me through lust tinted spectacles," Greg replied. "Nick can tell you, I looked like crap."

"To me, sure," Nick teased. "But you know, Grissom loves insects, so..." Gil laughed a little, and Greg could feel Gil's fingers press against his back gently.

"No, you really looked like that."

"Up to the point where you came in, I shrieked like a girl and ran away," Greg said with a grin.

"God, I was severely f- uh...messed up then. That was when I didn't know. About the choosing."

And that, realizing that had helped a lot. That Gil wasn't just there for him because he was hurting but because he wanted him, needed him. Had called the cops and reported him as a missing person until he'd shown up, called. That had been a turning point, all of it. Gil nudged Greg gently, and pointed to a picture that more than a few people were gathered around. "I think that's you and Nick."

He turned an looked, as did Nick and found himself blinking in amazement. It was the pair of them together. He remember that Vivian had just told them to make themselves comfortable and talk or whatever and they'd started talking, and talking and..things had gotten a little difficult for Nick then. As near as he'd ever came to cracking on him and he remembered leaning over putting his arms around him like that and the pair of them hadn't said anything, just looked outside at the sunset together. And there is was, and it looked so private, so intense and bizarrely non-sexual but incredibly intimate that Greg nearly felt embarrassed looking at it and he was in it.

"She's...good. She's very good."

Nick nodded, and he seemed to be taking it in quietly. Greg couldn't guess what he was thinking as they stood on the outskirting edge of the group looking at the picture, but he could assume that it was pretty close to what he was thinking himself. Remembering.

"She is, isn't she?" A younger woman remarked that, twisting to look at the three of them, and she seemed to startle a little. "Oh! It's... You -- It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Oh hey, thanks," Greg said a little awkwardly and then felt obliged to say something to explain or excuse what was there. "We'd had a tough afternoon." He shrugged a little, looking to Gil and Nick for some help.

"The paintings were candids," Gil offered quietly. She peered at his face, and then gestured gently behind them. He twisted and looked over his shoulder, and that was strange enough that Greg turned to look, too.

It was a picture of him and Gil and it was one he would've happily sold his flat and contents, if he hadn't already been in the process of doing that, to own and keep for himself. Another snapshot of that time, another moment immortalized. They'd come back from that lazy afternoon at the little beach cabin and Vivian had asked them to pose. They'd both been a little sleepy still and they'd chosen to lie on the couch together and Greg remembered at some point he had drifted off, supremely happy just to be listening to Gil's heartbeat. The picture was of that, of Gil watching him sleep on him the focused on their heads and torso's in a pool of warm candlelight and the look on Gil's face...

He swallowed and looked at Gil a moment, reaching for his hands a little discretely. "You think we could get a copy of that one?"

"We probably could. I don't remember a candle," Gil murmured. He caught Greg's hand and squeezed his fingers gently. He remembered that happy state. He remembered that whole weekend, and ever one that had come after that. Gil had been happy, if worn out.

He was sure there was a lot of things that the art critics were seeing, that he wouldn't. He saw the feelings he had then and if he'd ever wondered how Vivian knew, and why she had essentially forced them to do more than sit and talk, he understood that now. If she had been watching Gil look like that at him, even once, even for a moment it made things between them pretty transparent.

Nick had gently patted him on the shoulder then. "Told you there wasn't much point keeping things secret," he said with a smile.

Greg nodded. "Well this art show is going to let most people know even if we didn't."

Because there was a different feel to it than the one with him and Nick. There was something sexual there, even in the innocence of them resting together.

Something different than just friendship, while Nick and he were broken companionship.

Gil squeezed his fingers again. "Unless they've all worked it out for themselves." He twisted a little to look at the picture that had Greg and Nick. Past that, down the hallway was what looked like a family painting, one Greg wanted to walk towards to look at better.

Besides, where they were they were attracting attention and it was a little too close for comfort. He headed off towards it, stopping to point out a couple of the framed enlarged photo's. "Aren't those ours?" he murmured, looking at the familiar seashells that was still, even now tucked away in his pocket. "I think you did that one of me."

Him standing looking at the ocean. It was a pretty sad picture actually because they'd had the discussion about whether he'd ever be able to surf again and he'd said no. Showed what he knew when a couple of days later he was teaching Nick body boarding. "You're not bad with that camera Nicky."

"It's weird to see photographs of mine that don't include crime scene tape, blood, rulers or dead bodies." Nick stopped there, lingering and peering at the picture.

"Or all of the above," Gil agreed, but he stayed at Greg's side, peering at the pictures, quietly taking it all in.

"Same here," Greg replied. "I think I like some of these. I might not make a traditionally good artist but I can take a decent photo. So can Nick." He gestured to one. "I like that one you did there. Of the two sets of footprints in the sand with the sun catching the water in them. "

It was weird how his and Nick's had a different feel to them as well.

Nick's photographs were random, things that caught his eye, just the same as Greg's were, but the composition of them were different. He tilted his camera, crouched down and didn't abuse his zoom lens the way Greg did. He circled whatever it was, looking for the best angle, while Greg just shot shot shot and hoped that one of the pictures hadn't blurred.

Sometimes he got lucky and there was more of an immediacy there, a sudden spark of emotion or something captured in the way the light fell. Nick though... yeah, he knew when he was beat. Nick was very good. Better than a lot of professionals, but then photography was something he did day after day, year on year in difficult conditions. He knew a few more tricks than the rookie.

"You might want to look into doing some things like that as your Christmas presents this year," Greg said to Nick as they moved on. "I reckon there's a few in your family who'd like that one of the footprints with that footprints poem thing."

Half of them were churchy enough to give it pride of place.

That made Nick smile, made him turn to shoot Greg a look. "Man, are you joking me? Most of them would, but they'd also think that I'd been replaced by a pod-person."

"Maybe we have," Greg replied with a shrug, turning to look at the poster sized picture of them all in Vivian's kitchen - including Vivian which meant she must have set the camera up and had it taking timed photos. It looked like a family scene. It was, Greg realized his family scene. God, yeah he remembered that. They'd had a mail package from the lab that Grissom had brought down. There were letters all over the table and there was Nick reading seriously and him smiling at what he was reading and Grissom offering him another envelope as Vivian was putting down coffee. Family and family.. right there, and out of sight but their thoughts with them in those letters.

He shook his head. "I never even noticed her taking that one."

"I don't think any of us did." Gil looked at the photograph, seemed to be studying it, and for a long moment, it was just the three of them standing there, appreciating that moment. The letters from home and how that had felt, little presents and things that said 'hey, we're thinking of you', compared to being back in Vegas, working again.

By now they were attracting a lot of attention, though people hung back a little bit, talking a little. It made Greg prickle a little like it had in Vegas. He and Nick, Cop in a Box, news at whenever... they didn't need that. He had enough of his injuries being splashed over the media. He didn't mind this so much because it didn't seem to make him look as vulnerable somehow. He'd felt like that but Vivian kept painting him strong.

It did surprise him to find his own picture there, and it looked a lot different framed and well lit. It still hit him every time he saw it. Vivian had said he had to keep it and he hadn't wanted to. Never wanted to with all that uncontrollable emotion just sitting there on the canvas waiting to ambush him. It wasn't gone, it probably never would go completely. It just surprised him to see so many people just standing there, looking at it as if they could see something there as well.

They probably saw different things. No, definitely saw different things. He could hear people talking about the Deeper Meaning of the painting and the layers of suffering expressed in the art and the lines, and that black meant despair and the box encapsulated....

Something. Greg didn't really care what they thought. Gil had shifted his arm, slipped it over Greg's shoulders. "And you said you weren't an artist."

"I'm not. I'm really not," Greg replied shaking his head. "That... what good does that picture do anyone? Aside from send me on a trip to Texas and to scare you that I'd lost it completely."

It was like having a flashback to that moment when he started unraveling. "God, I wish I could burn it. I don't feel like that any more. I don't want to feel like that."

"You're not going to," Gil whispered to him. "You're recovering. You're both recovering. Think of it as proof that you were there and that you're not any more."

"I know but..." Greg replied with a shrug. "It's just... disturbing I guess. Disturbing they are seeing it and I guess, thinking I put a lot of thought into it. I didn't. I just painted something because I needed to do something."

He looked at Nick and then away. "I think I prefer your mother's interpretation."

"She watched you paint it," Nick pointed out quietly. "Working out your pain. Trying to get it out of your head and on the paper."

"What matters is what you see when you look at it," Gil goaded quietly.

"I see someone totally lost and self absorbed when they shouldn't've been," Greg replied. He sighed a little. "It was stupid. I was stupid to even think any of that stuff, let alone believe it. "

Now it didn't seem as real as Gil being there, that he would always we there.

"Not stupid, Greg." Gil slipped his arm down, hand resting on the small of Greg's back. That was good. That brought his mind back around to later that evening, to being back in Vegas. To maybe shutting the door on that chapter of his life a little better.

He was pretty much moved in with Gil now, and they'd gotten to know each other better and the quirks were good things. He loved the way Gil's music shuffled Pink Floyd with Rachmaninov. He loved the way he would find Gil talking to his cockroaches and debating if one dogfood would get them in better racing trim than another. He loved the increasingly imaginative sex as Gil tested his boundaries, ready to stop at any time and never hitting anything that was a problem. He loved his smiles, all of them. The private, the smirk, the public and amused. He loved watching that breathtaking moment when Gil put things together in his head and it was like a flashbulb of comprehension.

"Well, not that stupid to end up with you," he replied.

Nick turned, and jostled Greg's shoulder with his own. "Hey, get a room. Do you want something else to drink?"

"Something to make me disappear?" Greg suggested. "Yeah okay, whatever's going." He was looking at the last of the main pictures, which were huge. One he recognized, it was the abstract of Gil. Flanking it was another abstract which was new and in the middle was something greater, that seemed to combine elements of them both.

It wasn't identifiable as Gil unless you knew, and Greg knew. Greg knew and wondered what the other abstract was, but it was interesting. Fascinating, and it reminded Greg a little of the painting that he'd done. The colors were vibrant, and the shapes were squared off and eye-catching.

Nick had disappeared to get him a drink, and Gil was standing there with him. Together, they made something else, something new and better. Neither of them ended up changing, but together they, they worked and functioned and it made life easier.

The painting swirled up in an almost awe inspiring pattern and there was a lot in there. darkness and light, color and texture. All things coming together in a mesmerizing dance. He was pretty sure Vivian had painted him and Gil made into the color and light her minds eye could see. And it was beautiful, incredible and somehow there was that sense of awe he quite often got when he woke up before Gil and realized he wasn't alone.

Vivian had spotted them there and was speaking with her hands to Gil, saying something he couldn't quite catch for all the lessons Gil gave him.

He could watch Gil sign back and follow most of his words. There was a 'Thank you' and a 'your fault' in there, and Gil was smiling. "Greg? My mother's happy for us. You. If you hadn't noticed."

Greg smiled at that. "Most parents don't put on an art exhibition to have to say that, but yeah, I noticed. And thank you. The paintings are ...beautiful."

It felt weird saying that about himself as a subject but he couldn't deny that they were. "Except mine. It just seems out of place in all these wonderful pieces of art."

"Art is how you choose to define it. Art does not have to be one way or another." She said it very precisely, and then leaned in to hug him gently. "I wish you both joy. And your friend, Nick."

Greg hugged her back. "Thanks. I owe you so much Vivian. For all of this. For Nick. For having a sexy son," he said grinning at Gil for a moment. "Not sure Nick and I would be back were we were without you."

"What you've given me cannot be counted, Greg. Thank you for letting me do what I could for you both." She smiled, and then leaned in to hug Gil, too. "Nick is over there talking with one of the women who I painted -- Elizabeth. Go, mingle. The other people in these paintings are here and I want you to enjoy yourself tonight."

"We will," he agreed with smile, even if he was thinking of a lot later back in the hotel room. They weren't the only ones in this show. There were others who had survived in different ways, different ordeals - abuse, domestic violence, bereavement and he thought it was great that Nick was making her smile, and she was making him smile right back.

He watched her step away from them both and he stepped in closer to Gil, his hand finding the other man's waist.

"You know, I'm glad we did come. Not that I wouldn't come but...yeah."

"I'm glad, too. Let's get you something to drink and look at the rest of the show. It's been too long since I've dragged someone through an art gallery." There was that smile -- he was probably going to make sure that Greg met people and talked and interacted even if he didn't want to do so himself.

But that was a good thing. Gil did protect him by keeping him isolated. He did it by gentle pushing him out there, little by little until he was doing his first trainee CSI on scene a long time sooner than anyone had ever guessed would be possible. He did it by giving what he needed even when it wasn't always what he wanted. By making choices, hard choices at the very start and never excusing what he had done, but accepting it.

With courage like that as an example, Greg knew he was going to make it. He had to. He loved him as much for that as he did for everything else he had done. What amazed him was that Gil thought he was the lucky one when he knew the truth. He'd still have nightmares, he'd still have things about fire and claustrophobia and he would never lose the marks on his body. But Gil would be there, Nick and all the others and he'd be for them too. There was nothing special about that, it was just the way he was. If other people saw something special in that, then they should look at everyone around him and realize he wasn't alone.

As Gil dragged him off to more bright smiles, champagne and a future of satin sheets and kissing all night, he touched the talisman sea shells in his pocket and grinned.

Finally he wasn't alone.