All That I Am

By Kat Reitz and Perryvic

The door stuck, keeping him out in the too hot sun even after he'd unlocked the dead bolt. Gil had to shoulder it open, key in the bottom lock. He'd have to remember to use the WD-40 on the hinges when he woke up in too few hours. It felt good to close the door behind himself, to close out the stress and unbelievable twists of the past few hours. A case aborted by finding the key suspect dead was always a stressful thing. A case aborted because the key suspect had been murdered was stressful enough to make Gil leave a trail that marked his path from the living room to the bedroom.

Kit left by the sofa, shoes abandoned in the hallway, coat and baseball cap left piled in his chair at the kitchen table. Gil had to push open the bathroom door before he veered to go sleep. He always mindfully checked the 7-day pill container on the countertop to make sure his partner hadn't missed a day in their strange, sometimes ragged schedules. Once his teeth were brushed and he'd taken a piss, Gil left the bathroom and his belt and shirt. The sooner he crawled into bed, the sooner his back might unknot itself.

The bedroom door never stuck closed. It was always open, inviting Gil, beckoning him to wander into the blind-darkened space.

He leaned in, reached fingers down to stroke through Paul's rumpled, messed up black hair, and smiled to himself.

Gil Grissom was home, and it felt good after a day like that.

Paul stirred as he always did at his touch, no matter how soft. "...'nother double?" he murmured turning over towards him. "Your boss is working you too hard."

Gil could see, in the dim light from the door way, the faint smile on his lover's face at that wry pronouncement.

"Funny thing, that. The boss had the day off. He missed a hell of a case." Gil could relax, and he pulled back a little so he could slide his pants off as prelude to crawling into bed. It was good to hear Paul's sleepy voice. He'd been hearing it for years, and it usually made him wish he had enough energy to start something that late at night. Afternoon. Whatever it was.

"I'd complain about that, if I were you," Paul replied idly trailing his hand down his back. A smile was there in his voice. "Tell me about the interesting case? I'll only have to ask you at the beginning of shift anyway."

"A whole... five hours from now," Gil almost groaned. He stripped off, even though he knew that sex wasn't exactly on the menu. Paul's fingers were still on him, and he had moved over to his side of the bed to clear room for Gil rather than relaxing on the whole bed like he had been. "Our vigilante has struck again. Jason Kent was found hung in his apartment by his probation officer. The scene... matched the rest."

"Definitely not a copy cat or a real suicide? Kent, Kent... he was the principle suspect in the strangling -- girl victim right?"

The mattress squeaked when he laid down, stretching and looking at Paul's sleepy concerned expression. "Right. We found an incongruent hair on the scene, and Greg'll probably get to it tomorrow. The dayshift guy looked at me like I was insane for wanting it rushed."

"An incongruent hair? Not one of the planted ones?" Paul was more alert at that news. "That's great news."

"Maybe we'll get a break on this bastard. Skin-tag and all." After all, Paul had been haunted by those killings since shortly after he'd been chosen to replace Brass as head of the shift. Every time, someone that the evidence didn't quite prove guilty enough to press charges on ended up dead, hung. One of their own was going too far, and he'd been doing it for over two years. It made Gil uncomfortable to think that someone could be that warped in their pursuit of justice that the evidence was no longer enough.

He shifted, sliding a hand to rest at Paul's waist, clutching at familiar skin. "Good to be home."

"Mm." The other man's surprisingly muscular arms wrapped around him. "Get to sleep, Gil, these ones are rough on you. I know that. I won't shout if you come in a little late. Sanders won't have processed it first thing, that's for sure."

"Sanders probably has to process whatever his new hair color is first," he joked lamely. It was all right if he told bad jokes. Paul's weren't much better They were a good match in that regard, always had been. "I think I maxed out on overtime today, too. Papers are on your desk..." Gil tilted his head, pressed his mouth to Paul's lips while he nudged his knee between Paul's legs.

"God help the lab if you'd been picked supervisor instead of me," Paul replied easily in a teasing tone at odds with his stern demeanor. This was the side of him only he got to see. The private Paul Millander who could tease and smile and make a relationship work. "None of the overtime targets would be met."

"We'd all be dead from exhaustion," Gil agreed. He liked his Paul, the private one that the rest of their friends could only guess existed. The Paul that kept an intricate tropical fish tank in the living room, and offset Gil's lack of interior taste with his own very firm artistic sense. The Paul that kept a workroom and liked to play with edible paint on their days off, and didn't mind traipsing off to the body farm with Gil afterwards to record data. When they woke up, Gil knew Paul would tell him all about what he did on his day off, or he'd show him.

Everything about Paul was demonstrating much more than words.

"Just as well they picked me," Paul murmured, allowing that most intimate embrace. "Otherwise I'd never see you."

"And it's nice to do this, sleep like this." Face to face, arms and legs entwined, muscle against muscle. It was easier to forget the dead for a few hours in that easy embrace, to push back the need to piece together the evidence. "I owe you a blowjob in the morning. Prepayment for knowing I'll be irking you at work all day."

"The circle of life in microcosm," Paul murmured pressing soft lips to his own in a familiar kiss, meant to exchange the comfort of intimacy and not act as a prelude to passion. "Sleep. Now."

Now, but Gil could do that. Paul definitely wanted to get back to sleep himself, and Gil would have to get up at roughly the same time. They still went to work in separate cars. It made mismatching schedules and jumbled cases easier, far flung crime scenes closer somehow.

Paul's car always smelled like acrylic paints, anyway, and that was Gil's last clear thought before sleep pulled him under. It was so good to be home.

Gil missed the blow-job alarm call; he also missed Paul in the morning and their usual choreographed dual dressing ballet around their room where the both of them hopped into pants, mixed up their shirts and socks because even if they woke on time, they generally had something better to do aside from actually get dressed.

Even if it was naked breakfast.

Gil brushed his teeth and looked up at the scribbled note on the mirror.

'Forgot Rxs. Seeing Sheriff first thing -- can you pick up? We'll do another painting if you do?'

He hadn't signed it but he didn't need to. Grissom knew what prescriptions he was talking about, even if Paul's obsession with hiding it meant he never referred to them explicitly, not even in his own home.

Not that there was any hiding it from Gil. The first time he'd seen Paul naked he'd noted it mentally, and had decided it didn't matter, since it was a one night stand anyway.

Two miserable forensics convention attendees sulking down in the hotel bar on a night that marked a birthday for each of them. Gil had been nursing a scotch, and Paul had been two empty barstools over, drinking brandy. Somewhere between drinks two and four, the space between them had disappeared, and then they'd ended up back in Gil's hotel room, for the best drunken sex Gil had ever had up to that point. The other man had been pinned beneath him, moaning, fingers digging into Gil's back, clutching him so tight while Gil had fucked him, bare back sex when AIDs transmission risks at crime scenes had been one of the lectures they'd both attended the day before. That had been a hell of a scare for both of them, and they'd exchanged contact information in the morning. Just In Case.

Just In Case, for Gil, had turned into letters sent, and then phone calls, semi-regular professional and unprofessional contact, and then Paul had been headhunted to Vegas because his specialty -- forensic anthropology -- was as much of an asset to a lab as having one of the fifteen forensic entomologists in the country serving at the lab.

Gil had known it was love by then, and any genetic differences, scars, marks, medications, just didn't matter.

He still thought of that lecture with fondness. He'd gone as far to keep the notes from it, even though they were hopelessly out of date because from that moment of mutual paranoia, a thread and a twist of contact had been forged.

They had similar interests, similar ways of thinking but enough differences to spark the interest of the other. They met up at scattered conventions and, with more deference to the lecture notes, became serial one night-standers. No expectations, just a guilt free good time.

It had been the biggest shock of his life when Brass had introduced their new CSI and forensic anthropology specialist and Paul had walked in the room.

Gil spit, rinsed his mouth out from the tap, and took down the post-it note. He could get breakfast on the way out, or grab something from the break-room. Either way, it was time to hit the road.

For a while, they'd both been unsure. One night stands were one thing, but with Paul working there, there were expectations. There was seeing how they worked together, and Paul's own faint paranoia about his secret. Gil had been and still was the field officer, in charge of the CSIs and responsible only to the Nightshift supervisor, so technically outranking CSI three Paul Millander had worried Gil. Was it okay to... And then the impromptu dates had started.

Gil checked that Paul had fed the fish, and then turned off the lights behind him. He'd oil the door hinges tomorrow.

As it was, going across town would make him late, which would be cleared by Paul, of course. It wasn't like he didn't do extra overtime to make up for it.

He smirked slightly as he made sure he had everything he needed. He and Paul hadn't so much worked on a relationship as accidentally found that they were in one, with the same sort of startled reaction that someone would show on discovering that they had stumbled into quicksand. Not to put too fine a point on it, the pair of them had reacted as if that was the literal truth at the start. Neither of them rated their relationship capabilities very high, but the impromptu dates wouldn't stop. Lunch together during cases. Meeting up and talking about what they had been doing. Dragging Paul to his first roller coaster ride....

That always made him smile. He couldn't believe that Paul had never been.

It had been their forty-second birthday. Paul had done so many things in his life and he'd never ridden a roller coaster? The moment he'd admitted it to Gil, he had to have known he was doomed to ride many more at Gil's insistence.

And, other things. It had been after that that they'd started to sleep together again, mornings and evenings spent in each other's apartment, learning what the other's morning rituals were. Now they were shared rituals in shared space, except when Paul had meetings with the Sheriff or Covallo, or Gil worked too much overtime.

Hopefully he'd get the usual evening pharmacist, and the man wouldn't waste his time giving Gil funny looks. It always amused him to think that the pharmacists assumed he was the one who took the medications; the usual one knew better at least.

It was a small thing he could do for Paul, but those small things made a difference when he was as stressed as he was. The responsibility of being supervisor and doing the best he could for his team as well as getting justice served sometimes sent his partner into periods of depression. It was the small things that inevitably hauled him out. Gil couldn't blame him. There were times that it hit him as well.

It was always the small things that helped. There had been a case two months ago, spousal abuse, that had just gnawed at him. He'd snarled at Greg after he'd spent eight straight hours processing the scene, and then Paul had snuck up behind him in one of the evidence rooms. A few quiet moments, a couple of touches, and the cup of coffee Paul had carried into the evidence room quite against his own 'no food or drink' rule about those rooms, and Gil had felt a whole world of better.

In the morning, he'd make an effort to get off of work on time. He could take Paul to that quiet twenty-four hour diner that he liked, even if it took everything short of a kidnapping to arrange it. Paul, Gil decided while he started up his car, would appreciate that. And when they got home after that...

Well, there was no end of things that the pair of them could manage between them. They might not have the stamina or physicality that younger men had, but they had very inventive minds. Paul was brilliant, and Gil found himself proud of that by proxy, even as he had discovered that Paul would sing his praises of his entomological work. After so long on the outside of things, a ghost to the world, Paul made him feel substantial and connected.

Greg would run his samples first, he was sure of it. Greg had a case of hero-worship that irritated Paul to the point of jealousy on occasion even though he knew that Gil wasn't looking outside of their relationship. It was just obvious that the younger man was more interested in impressing Grissom specifically rather than the boss in general.

The best way to impress the boss, to impress Paul, was not to solely court Gil's attention. Innocent crush or hero worship, like the kind Nick had towards Gil to that very day would prickle at Paul, even as Gil would try and hide his smile and pretend not to notice. It made the younger CSIs fun to work with, the way they hung off of his every word and acted startled like they'd just won the slots when they got a case right for themselves.

Nick was one of the most memorable transfers to the lab. A CSI one from Dallas who'd been a cop before that and a volunteer paramedic before that. Despite all of that, despite the exposure to blood and death and crime, Nick had still had the feeling of a bright eyed and bushy-tailed dog when he'd arrived at Vegas, eager to do things right and get approval.

Nick had caught on pretty fast that 'weird' was what happened when you got out of bed in Vegas.

Warrick never gave quite that impression, being Las Vegas born and bred, but even so he remembered the friendly rivalry between him and Nick that seemed to have a wellspring deep in a growing friendship. And Catherine, Catherine's mentorship had been an intensely rewarding experience for them both. On the surface, they were very different people. Catherine, an ex-stripper who had pushed herself through school to get there, and himself, a product of academia and a long term immersion in CSI. But somehow not only had Catherine turned out to be as good a CSI as he had ever seen but she had turned into a friend.

She had, after all, always been the one that took him out for a drink and talked him through those first mysterious relationship problems, stopping him running away or floundering in that unexpected emotional quicksand.

And he'd been the one to step up and keep Eddie from crossing that dangerous line between arguing and abusing. He regretted even now the first and only time when he wasn't there and had made sure it was the last. Except that Eddie was dead, even if they were divorced, and Gil was bad at providing supposedly simple comforts for someone who was his closest friend. It didn't seem to worry Catherine at all.

Paul got along well with her, and with Jim. Mutual friends made life easier for them, even if Gil was sure that from time to time it had made life rougher on those friends.

Sara was in the latter category, even though she had known before she came that he was in a committed relationship. Perhaps she took it as a sign that there was a chance and was disappointed. Perhaps it wasn't fair to lead her into expectations, but his reasons to invite her to Vegas and recommend her to Paul as a transfer had genuinely been the reasons he meant.

She was one of the best CSIs he knew, and at the time, the only person qualified to come in and investigate what had happened with Holly's death. And then Paul had taken her suggestion to fire Warrick and had kept Warrick anyway after discussing things with him. Gil still wondered if Paul had a sixth sense of expectation, because very little time had passed between that decision and Warrick coming to Gil for advice about the Judge who wanted to tamper with evidence.

Twice the reason for Sara to be irked at them both; but she'd stayed in Vegas despite it.

Despite the unpredictable traffic, too. There were four cars ahead of him waiting to take a left hand turn into the pharmacy parking lot or pull a U-turn.

Gil was trying not to think too specifically about this particular case, to get his expectations up. The incongruous hair could be a plant as well, as had been all the others. The serial killer had to be in law enforcement, to know so thoroughly the processes that they went through. Every bit of evidence was planted or generic to the point of being useless. The items used to hang the victims were always local to the victims' houses, not brought in. There was only the slightest hint of a hypodermic and a mild sedative that could have easily been missed in the autopsy, making it seem a genuine suicide.

He wondered how many times it had been seen as a suicide before then. How many people the person had killed, or how many suspects of theirs had died under the same circumstances. But he was getting his hopes up about that hair, stupidly, and Gil couldn't help but smirk to himself as he finally dodged through traffic to get to the parking lot.

He wondered if it would turn out to be Fromansky after all. Brass might never forgive him for that. Evidence was evidence though, and if it was a cop gone rogue then it was all the more important to get them shut down quick.

He parked and got out, still considering. Fromansky fit the profile. Long term officer, knowing Crime scene protocol. Been in and out of IA, low tolerance for failure of due process... He'd discussed the hypothesis off the record with Paul once of twice since this serial had been striking down victims, but this last one spoke of escalation. The case on Jason Kent had not been closed, the evidence collected. The others had been clear cut and failed only by court proceedings or technicalities beyond their control.

This... was preemptive killing of the suspect, and that meant that their vigilante was becoming unhinged and sloppy. It was only a matter of time before they caught him, and Gil was looking forward to it. He wanted it to be over, wanted to know that they'd cut out of the system one of the worst examples of internal corruption.

The climb from beat and release to staging elaborate murder scenes had to be a sharp one.

Gil blinked as he walked into the brightly lit drug store, wandering towards the back while he fished in his wallet for cash to pay for them.

He was in luck. The usual pharmacist was on and didn't even raise an eyebrow at the hormone tablets and seemingly endless parade of pills Paul had to take to coax his body to stay aligned with his mind.

After all, the pharmacist had been on duty when the store had been robbed so a meth head could try to clear out the store's Sudafed. And he'd been there when Paul had introduced himself and asked what had happened, while Gil had gone to requisition the security tapes.

Gil smiled at the man while he waited for his change. That had been a nice easy case, with a dumb criminal who'd almost blown his hands off in an explosion that very night. He hadn't, which was good, because that always made fingerprinting messy.

He checked his watch as he accepted the prescription and his change; thirty minutes or so late in. CODIS could take a little longer than that to run through. He might even have chance to go over things with more detail with Paul, or catch up with how Nick was doing with the Jason Kent case, even though that had sprouted into a case all its own. Paul had to put him on the priority after one of the serial killer's victims had been a world renowned film star that they had dead to rights with evidence who looked to be getting off on popularity when the case came up in front of the jury.

Gil headed back to his Tahoe, ready to start off to the department.

It was going to be another long day, hopefully with a satisfying result

Gil always counted himself lucky to have a job that he loved. Too many of the people he came across in his work hated what they did, sometimes to the point of murder.

He on the other hand had believed himself content with just his work, up to the point where Paul came into his life. Then he felt himself lucky to have the best of both worlds. And he was good at what he did because he could twist and turn after answers that eluded even other talented CSIs. Sometimes the moment would just click in his head and he would know. Other times, like with this serial killer, they had to pick through and rely on luck and an eventual slip to allow him to get the final pieces of the puzzle.

He picked up the case files of the previous murder-suicides, and flicked through them as he headed absently towards Paul's office. He frowned as he reviewed the series of names. The victims were unconnected save for the fact that in a trial situation they were guilty according to the evidence, but escaped justice through technicalities.

Paul was still in with Atwater from the look through the window, and not happy. He caught Paul's eye briefly, long enough to smirk at him and give a cheery mocking wave that clearly told his partner, 'rather you than me' and then headed off towards the lab. Greg might have skipped his coffee and gone right into work this morning. Unlikely, but when he was this close he'd try anything.

He'd camp out in Greg's office and bear whatever bad music he was playing if it meant that he got an answer sooner. Greg got irked when the CSIs camped out in his office if he wasn't in an excited storytelling type of mood. He could understand why; the young lab-tech made everything look so easy and haphazard that people were fooled into believing that it was. Or, as he remembered doing when he'd first watched him work, he had been convinced he had to be sloppy and cutting corners to get things done so quickly. It had taken some prolonged observation to come to the conclusion that had been a surface judgment, like judging the younger man as a slacker due to his hair. Gil tucked the folder under his arm, and started down the hall to head for one of the two doors into the DNA lab.

"Griss, hey Grissom?" Nick stuck his head out of one of the lab doors as he went past halting his progress. "Just wanted to ask if we're closing off the Kent case or not? Seems like it's going nowhere, and maybe I could help out on the suicide-murder?"

"No," Gil cut in. "We're not closing that case. We still need to prove that Kent was the killer. I want you to stay on it. Take Warrick or Sara to do it with you."

"Gotcha," Nick nodded only looking a little disappointed. "I'll get on it. I'll take Warrick down to the autopsy, see if we can pick up anything relevant for that case." He gave Gil a half smile and disappeared back into the lab, leaving him unimpeded.

Nick wanted to work on the hot new case, the career case, so to speak. But Gil had to take it, and Nick had been working the Kent case with him -- just for the sake of continuity, Nick needed to work, finish, and close the Kent case before he moved on to another one. He'd do a good job on it, Gil knew, while he watched Greg working in his clear workspace. He started to twist around to look at something on the center table as if he had noticed something.

Gil took a step towards the lab when all hell broke loose.

The fume hood area just exploded, billowing up in a startling flash of flame, that then seemed to burst forth and engulf and hurl Greg up through the air and through the glass windows even as then with shocking suddenness the roar and force of the explosion was set free and swept over him in a rain of glass.

It was a full body punch.

It threw Gil for a loop, slammed him against the wall and took out his footing, and all Gil could do was stare into the slow motion hell that had become their lab, chemical laden smoke billowing up from the lab as secondary explosions of reagents and alcohols went off before the fire extinguishers set off.

Even as he looked across he saw Greg, sprawled out on a fresh bed of glass, just raise his head with a dazed expression of hurt shock and amazement and then lay his head down on a pillow of glass shards and close his eyes as if a long sleep beckoned.

He pressed a hand against the wall, and pushed himself up with it, shaking and coughing before he tried to stagger over towards Greg, trying to look around. Someone had to get Greg out of there, stop him from sleeping a long sleep. He had to get out of there. And where was Paul...?

"Griss?" Nick was moving towards him. "You okay... oh, shit! Greg..." He automatically steadied Grissom and shouted up the corridor with unusual force. "Call the paramedics!"

Gil started to reach for his phone, but with the water pouring down, Gil could only think that they needed to move Greg, except he could have had a spinal injury, and...

"Gil!" Paul's voice sounded frantic. "Oh my god... Stokes, see to Sanders. Fire crew and paramedics on the way -- check his pulse." Millander strode towards him, automatically dealing with the safety of his lab and using his knowledge of Nick's previous career to advantage. "Easy there, someone get Doc Robbins... Sara, get him up here. He can give our team the once over. If David is around, get him here too. Who else is injured?"

He very nearly ousted Nick out of the way to get hold of Gil. "You okay? Why the hell didn't you wait for me to finish with Atwater? There was no need for you to be here!"

Gil was a little dazed, and there was something clouding his vision, water or something in one eye that made him wince it closed and made the other eye try to close sympathetically. With Paul pulling at him, Gil started to move out of the daze. "Don't move him unless you can stabilize his back," Gil called over his shoulder, brain kicking in sluggishly and probably too late, since Nick was bending down, hair starting to turn towards soaked with the sprinklers still raining down on them.

"He's got a pulse!" Nick reported in a relieved voice as he held fingers to the injured mans neck. "Greg? Greggo? Can you hear me?"

Paul wiped at Grissom's forehead as he steered him out of the blast zone. "Oh my god. My God, Gil..." he murmured under his breath. "You're going to need stitches."

Probably, and after Paul had started to wipe at his forehead, Gil realized that it was blood in his eye. That wasn't supposed to be there, but the lab wasn't supposed to explode, either. "I think I'm okay..." Pretty okay, okay enough to pay attention to Paul's arm around his waist, fingers digging into his side, shaking. "Just trying to get the results, god, Fromansky's going to get away again, everything's up in..." Gil choked on his word, 'smoke', and started to cough.

"Fuck Fromansky... fuck the case," Paul seemed genuinely shaken as well, even as Doc Robbins hurried down towards them as the rest of the lab evacuated, finding use for those fire drills after all.

"Injuries?" he asked tersely, trying not to cough.

"Sanders. Gil is injured, but mobile and I'll get him out. We need to know if he can be moved, and Stokes is assessing him. I'll get Gil outside, and make sure the area is clear." Millander replied tersely. "Don't stay in long, Al, and make sure you and Stokes don't get smoke inhalation."

"Right." Doc Robbins crunched over the glass to where Nick was increasingly, frantically trying to get a response from Greg, the sprinklers and smoke making dirty tracks that looked like tears down his face.

"They're in good hands, Gil," Paul murmured glancing back briefly. "Come on, outside. You can walk right?"

"Sure." He'd gotten himself standing, and walking was just a matter of following Paul, putting one foot in front of the other. Hodges dodged past them both, and then stopped to pin the back doors in the open position by jamming it so the spring locked. Air the place out, that was a good idea.

Most of the lab was outside, and Paul felt like he was shaking more than he was as they made their way out. Every now and then Paul would shout out to encourage people to get out quickly, to leave everything and go.

Even so, it seemed like an eternity before they met the firemen heading in, and the paramedics.

The place was a blur of activity and noise. Gil wasn't sure if he hung on for his sake or Paul's sake, but he was reluctant to let go. It was easier to breathe outside, and Gil knew he could stay standing, too. He should probably help, or do... something. Go back and see how Greg was, go back and...

Paul's lips were moving, and there wasn't any sound but warped muffled siren noise.

"Sit down, Gil... Did you hear me? Sit... that's it, on the curb." Paul eased him down. "I've got to see to the lab... see how Sanders is. Understand?"

Gil gave a shaky nod, sitting on the concrete of the sidewalk. "I understand." At least he'd heard the last part, paying attention to it as Paul eased him to sit there, as Paul pulled back. Work, right, there were responsibilities for Paul to attend to. He'd catch up with him later, or... Something.

Paramedics were cleared to go inside and Paul went back in with them, even as another team descended upon him, spotting the rather obvious splash of scarlet against pale skin. The paramedic was talking to him but though he could hear him the words were not making sense. He tipped his head forwards, shifting so he could steady himself and breathe better, trying to wipe the dripping blood so it kept out of his eye. Scalp wounds did that, bled so they looked more serious than they were.

"...stitches. You have a few cuts, here let me ... just hold on, I need to get you to the back of the ambulance. Can you get up sir?"

He cleared his throat, and started to try to stand up. "Yes, I..." Could stand up, but it was always better to show than tell, always better to come up with something that held up in court. Evidence that he could get up was for him to get up. Hopefully someone would get Greg out of there.

"That's it..." He was supported and shown over to the back of an ambulance where he was allowed to sit and two paramedics worked on him, to patch him up hastily. Even as he stared into space, there was the flicker of movement and he could see Paul's tall figure pacing alongside a gurney, followed by Nick and Doc Robbins and Greg was brought slowly but steadily from the building.

Greg's lab coat was charred on the back and dark blooms of crimson stained the utilitarian light blue. It struck him as incongruous that Greg's hair looked just like it usually did.

Sticking up all over the place, bits of blond hair peeking out from sooty roots, or maybe it was just soot this time. Still alive, still treatable, breathing. Gil had almost been in there with him, if Nick hadn't stopped him, hadn't pulled him off to the side in his eagerness to work a hotter case than the one with a dead suspect.

Just a few feet from being in there himself.

The other lab technicians were clustered around, aimlessly just being there as if somehow that could help as they lifted Greg.

Just for a moment, Gil saw Greg's dark eyes open and seem to focus on him, of all the people there. He'd never seen that expression in the younger man's eyes before and it tugged at him somehow. Made him feel he should be standing there, telling him he would be okay, that it would stop hurting. It paralyzed him into a still silence, frozen by expectation.

It only lasted a moment before Greg's eye's closed again as he was jostled into the back of the ambulance.

Then the paramedic crossed between Gil and what he could see, and all he could see was the tight weave of a polyester cotton blend shirt, the sting of alcohol as his forehead was dabbed at.

"He's got a few deep cuts," he heard one of the paramedics say, and wondered who they were talking about.

"We'll take him and the other one with the hand cut in, get them treated." The paramedic moved towards him. "Mr. Grissom, I need you to come lie down here, in the back of the ambulance. We're just going to take you to the hospital okay?"

"Why...?" He started to move, glancing out to the parking lot to see what was going on out there. The Sheriff was coughing into a handkerchief. It would only be a matter of time until Covallo came in for the day, if he wasn't already having trouble finding a place to park in the lot that was lit only by the parking lot lights.

"Your injuries need attention there. You should be out in a couple of hours." He was persuaded to lie down even as Sara was loaded on board with him.

"I don't need the hospital. It's not that bad," she protested. "Just give me a dressing."

"Miss, I've already explained that I can't be sure that there might not be more glass in it. Now please lie down."

Workaholics, the both of them, though Gil had a feeling that maybe any of them would protest that much. Greg would have, if he hadn't been so seriously hurt. Gil laid his head down reluctantly, while the doors were closed behind the paramedic, and the last thing he saw outside of the ambulance was Paul, standing and looking as lost as the rest of the lab.

Going to the ER was a good way to lose three or four hours of anyone's life.

It had been almost eleven when everything had gone to hell, and it was one twenty when he finally got back there in a taxi, after he'd seen Sara off into a separate taxi and on her way home, prepaying her fare.

Technically, he should be following suit, but some of the shock had worn off and he wanted to see how Paul and the lab were doing. If he could help, and to let him know how Greg was.

He could at least serve properly as his position of field officer, update Paul and then, if he was sent home, he could drive his own SUV home and hopefully not kill anyone with disjointed driving. Gil couldn't quite get himself to be alarmed while he told the driver to keep the change, and walked towards the fully lit up building. There was still a fire truck in the parking lot, and a lot of cars had left -- the support staff had been sent home, he was willing to bet.

Skeleton crew at best. They would be cordoning off the affected areas and Day shift would come into some temporary accommodation. He tried to remember what had been damaged and it was mainly the DNA lab room. The other glass, once photographed, could be replaced. It was the point of impact that held the clues.

But Paul would be there, all the way through. His office was a logical place to start.

Untouched, too far from where it had happened, which meant it was a safe place for some kind of command center, just like Covallo's office would serve the same purpose. Gil walked, trying not to look at the DNA Lab, trying not to think about evidence lost and how many people had slipped through their hands from a freak accident.

"...yes, I do know how many active cases have slipped through our fingers as a result of this 'negligence' as you call it..." He could hear Paul's voice sharp and concerned. "I'm also concerned about my injured staff, and about discovering the cause of the explosion."

He slowed his pace, edging up to the door casually. One thousand one, one thousand two... He leaned into the doorway, seeing Covallo chiding Paul. "Sir? I have an update for you on Sanders."

"Excuse me," Paul didn't wait for permission, he just stepped over towards Gil. "Gil, you were discharged?"

If discharged meant that he's sweet-talked his way out of being kept for observation, and that his concussion seemed to be the very mild to nonexistent sort, yes. Gil glanced at the director for a moment, then nodded to Paul. "And then I waited for Sidle. I put her in a taxi. Sanders is in a clean room having the skin on his back debrided, but he's stable."

"That's good to hear," Paul replied nodded. "How bad is he? And you?"

"Third degree burns on his back and neck, second degree on his shoulders, the back of his arms, a few first degree spots. I'm... fine. I came back to see if I could help at all in preserving anything salvageable from the ongoing investigations."

Paul look at him a moment, and then back at Covallo. "I'm just going to brief Grissom. I want him to investigate the lab explosion as our most experienced CSI," he said. "We can continue this discussion later if you wish."

"We certainly will, Paul, and I will be looking over any findings with a fine tooth comb." Covallo was obviously in a scapegoating mood. Millander nodded curtly and indicated that Gil should follow him to somewhere more private.

Private ended up being an evidence room off of a side hallway, a temporarily vacant niche, at least until the dayshift people started to arrive in six hours. Gil went into the room first, quiet while he waited for Paul to follow him in to give him the update.

Paul shut the door behind him and then without any hint of self consciousness, wrapped his arms around Gil as if he believed he had been sure he wasn't going to see him again. "Gil..."

No one was likely to come in there, and Covallo was too busy looking for their failings to follow. Paul looked like he didn't care anyway. Gil leaned back against the edge of the evidence table, and slid his arms around Paul in turn, holding him tight. "It's okay, Paul. I wasn't really hurt. We'll put the cases back together..." He could see out the window, see that there wasn't anyone coming, so he closed his eyes, and tipped his head a little, cheek pressed against Paul's hair. It smelled like smoke.

"I keep thinking... you could have been in there, that shard of glass could have hit you through the eye, in the throat..." He actually shuddered. "You could be like Sanders and... I hate myself for this but I'm thanking god it's him, not you."

He exhaled, and moved a hand to rub at the base of Paul's neck. Gil didn't need to tell Paul the 'almost' of what had happened, didn't need to add to his stress by stating that things were almost worse. "Paul? It wasn't me. I'm okay. Fifteen stitches total. Remember the time I got myself in the leg with a rock that the lawnmower kicked up? That was twenty stitches, and we know that was nothing."

Paul shook his head. "I want you to find out what happened, how this happened, Gil," he said in a low voice. "Covallo is coming down on us hard. I suspect he'll be putting on pressure for a replacement supervisor."

"You're an excellent supervisor," Gil murmured. Paul still felt shaky, and he slouched like that when he was unsettled, until he didn't seem the little bit taller than Gil that he was. "This isn't your fault. I'll find out what happened..." He had to, because there was no way that the DNA from that hair from the Kent murder had survived. One case after another after another being terminated too short, a quick rocky track record, yes, that was enough to make Covallo cut and run, put a different supervisor in place. They were still the third best in the country.

"Brass got sidelined over Holly Gribbs. That could have easily been Sanders," Paul straightened up a little. "But you should still be at home."

"You know I'd just be at home, sitting on the sofa, watching the fish and waiting to hear what happened." Gil let him pull back, and slipped his hands to rest against Paul's belt. Catherine was coming down the hallway, looking for them, no doubt as the temporary emissary of Covallo's continuing wrath.

Paul glanced over his shoulder. "You and Willows then. And for god's sake, don't do all the bending. And under no circumstances will you pull a double."

"Can I hold you to the same restrictions? There can only be so many hours of yelling that the director and the sheriff can have in them. Think of it as a favor to them as much as for you, Paul."

"I'll be there, you can count on that," Paul said stepping back just as Catherine opened the door.

"Sorry to interrupt, but the Sheriff is asking for an update," she said looking at them both.

"I've got it," Millander replied and nodded. "Catherine, you and Gil are investigating the lab explosion. It takes priority at the moment. We have to reestablish credibility. Talk with Gil, I need to fend off the ravening hordes of bureaucracy."

"Good luck, Paul." Gil gave him a tight smile, falling back into professionalism. It was easy to switch between the two, simple as being mindful of himself. He was still leaning against the table, while Catherine entered the small evidence room, and Gil watched Paul straighten his shirt cuffs as he walked off down the hallway.

"So, what have I missed?"

"You've missed the biggest attempt at scapegoating I've ever heard in my life. Covallo picked up on 'procedural' issues and ran it to the end of the line. Like he did when we were pinning the evidence tail on the superstar donkey," Catherine replied sounding more than a little irked. "Sit down Gil, we can work out what we're doing without straining ourselves."

His mouth twitched up a little, and he patted the edge of the table he was leaning on. "I'm not straining myself. I'm thinking. We should probably start with general photos. Are the firemen done yet?"

"Pretty much yeah. Yellow tape was going up. How're Greg and Sara? And you, since I don't buy the strolling back into work act?" Catherine asked leaning against the table as well.

Of course she wouldn't buy it, that was what Catherine did. "Greg has... severe burns on his back and neck. I'm glad he had a few of us as a medical contact, otherwise we wouldn't know. Sara's back at home. I put her in a taxi. She seemed stunned." As if he wasn't and as if his only reason for coming back hadn't been to help Paul.

"Mm. I'll have to go in and see if he's okay. Or the both of us. He hasn't got any family here to look after him and there's nothing worse than being alone in a hospital. You look pretty dazed yourself," Catherine replied, sounding concerned. She reached a little to touch at the dressing on his head. "You sure you haven't got a concussion?"

"Not really. But I'm well enough to be on my feet, taking the positional photos, Catherine. The sooner we work out what caused the explosion..." The sooner they could go back to working on the cases that had been obscured by the explosion.

"Nick's still running with the Jason Kent thing. He had most of the evidence from that in his lab so it's still live. But we've lost the suicide-killer evidence." She didn't say sorry, because he knew that they all had cases disrupted, but that one had been one of the big ones that had touched all of them in the lab. "Warrick's helping out at the moment, but I think Paul will throw him at the next emergency that comes our way, and Sara if she's in tomorrow. You think she will be?"

She didn't have to ask about him. "She shouldn't be, but she probably will be. Her hand looked pretty bad." But she'd be there, she'd throw herself back into the case, whatever she was put on. They'd all work harder for a few days, and at the end of it, they'd hopefully catch back up to where they'd been before the explosion had happened.

As long as no one needed DNA evidence run.

"You ready to get going?" Catherine asked. "We ought to see Greg when he regains consciousness. He might have noticed something. You didn't see anything, did you?"

"I watched him start to turn towards the fume hood, and then everything exploded. It was something on that middle work table." Gil shifted away from the table, standing. "I'm going to get my camera out of my SUV, and I'll meet you there."

"Right." Catherine nodded. "I'll get the collecting kits. I'll see you there in a minute."

In a minute. However long it took Gil to start back to the parking lot, and wind his way through everything from the fire truck that was still out there to the TV camera crews that had been starting to set up to report on the Unexplained Events.

Immediately, some of the sharper reporters descended on him, recognizing him from previous crime scenes.

"Mr. Grissom! Mr. Grissom, can you give us a statement about what happened in the lab?"

"Mr. Grissom, is it true there has been a fatality as a result of the explosion?"

"Mr. Grissom, is it true that you're suspecting arson by a suspect seeking to destroy evidence on their case?"

"There were no fatalities from the explosion, and we're investigating the cause." He tossed that out, and hoped it was enough to get him a little respite while he veered for his vehicle. He'd never been happier to have left his kit in the back seat than he was that day.

"Mr. Grissom, how many cases were compromised by this explosion?" One of the more pushy reporters edged in. "Isn't it true that one of those cases is connected with the serial killer that killed Tom Haviland the day before he was likely to be acquitted?"

Gil hadn't expected them to follow him all the way out to his vehicle, but he still turned his back to them, keying it open. "I can't comment."

"Off the record? Come on, throw us a bone here..." the reporter cajoled. "It's not every day the CSI lab blows up, is it? There has to be something you can tell us?"

No answer was Gil's answer to that, while he reached around to unlock the back door, and then back stepped to pull the door open. He grabbed his kit, camera case, and then made sure that he'd locked the doors. Paul's prescriptions were in the glove compartment, twice secured.

They wouldn't get any answers out of him until he was sure of what was happening. There was nothing to do but push his way back inside and try and put the sense of detachment he felt at the moment to some use in finding out what had happened.

Arson was a possibility. It could just be an accident that so many sensitive cases had been hit hard by the explosion, or it could be design. How hard could it be to get in the lab and set something to explode?

Insanely hard, with people coming and going and always there, with the DNA lab as clear-glassed center stage to the scientific process.

And now it was glass shards and juts of metal and whatever else had been hurled out of Greg's workspace along with Greg. The explosion itself would tell them the story, the patterns that would form out of sooty ruin. It was like putting a puzzle back together after dumping a box of pieces out onto the floor. Daunting at first, but not insurmountable.

He tried to mentally piece things together in his head. How long it would be before Greg was even conscious, how long it would take to recover the lost ground. The back up systems were so frequent they wouldn't have lost much in the way of data... Paul would be doing run around, and he could focus.

Focus just on his job -- not the data, not the ground lost, but working that scene, and keeping track of the CSIs. One step at a time, and then the holistic situation would sink in. Catherine looked over at him as he got closer, and he half-held up his camera to her, silent communication of what he'd do for the investigation that night.

They didn't need to exchange much in the way of words; they never had after their close association, aside from the odd witticism or sharp speculation. She wouldn't make an issue of the fact she would be doing the bending, marking and tagging. It was just something they did to get the job done. That was what it was all about in the end.

He'd beat Paul home.

It didn't surprise Gil, not knowing the way that the Sheriff was probably tearing his hair out over it, and the way that Ecklie was probably complaining about the hassle it caused his team. Never mind that it was nightshift that had a member injured, and never mind that everything was a personal affront to Conrad Ecklie. He'd put the coffee pot on to drip, and had stretched out on the living room sofa, blinds half-pulled so he could doze in sunlight.

Gil had meant to think about what to get started for dinner.

Instead he had drowsed off and was brought to semiconsciousness by the sound of their door opening, and then closing, and the jangle of keys thrown on the side. He could almost feel the other man approach; there was just something distinctive about the way he moved and the sounds he made.

Strangely though, he sensed Paul pause and then he moved to the kitchen, as if not wanting to disturb Gil.

But Gil was creeping towards wakefulness, slow and steady. The coffee that Paul was making smelled good, raspberry flavored stuff that Jim has gotten him as a gag gift one birthday. It hadn't been half as bad as anyone had expected, and that was why Gil had kept buying it. Anything was better than the weak instant that he'd weaned Paul off of years before that he knew Paul still kept a jar of anyway. He made it, sometimes, when the mood struck.

Gil lifted his head, and twisted a little, watching his partner from the vantage point of the couch.

Paul was leaning, staring sightlessly into the coffee pot his expression dark and strangely hopeless. Gil hoped to god he wasn't about to hit one of his depressive zones. Dealing with everything on top of that would be unbearable for them both. Paul had a right to a black mood after everything, but it still hurt to see him to tense and aching over as simple an action as making a coffee.

It seemed to take a literal effort for Paul to draw himself upright and pour some out. Two cups, which meant he knew Gil was awake. He never missed a thing, not that he'd ever really caught him at.

"Hey." Simple greeting, while Gil swung his feet down so they rested on the wood floor. He'd at least tugged at his clothing, undone the collar of his shirt a couple of buttons more, slipped off his shoes before he'd laid down. Similar unwinding would help Paul. Paul had taken off his tie-tack somewhere between Gil going to and coming back from the hospital, but he was still wearing the tie itself.

Most men would have taken it off and tried to strangle Covallo with it.

"I thought you were awake," Paul replied. "Here... your coffee. I think maybe we should order something in tonight. I don't think I've got the energy to cook or go out."

"I could order pizza," Gil offered as he stood up, stretching a little. His neck cracked, and he made another motion, taking a deep breath and stretching his arms behind his back cracked probably every vertebra between his shoulder blades. It felt good to release a little tension.

"Pizza is about the level I can cope with," Paul murmured and sighed, as he finally loosened his own tie. "I see Willows stayed on to work the double?"

"She wanted to finish marking some of the exterior fragments that might be disturbed by dayshift. Just a couple of hours." Once he was in the kitchen, the simple act of reaching for the portable phone gave Gil an excuse to touch Paul, a sneaking way to start rubbing his shoulders. "Pizza Hut? Or Athens?"

"Athens," Paul replied, stiffening a little at the touch before he relaxed. "You know what I like. Though right now I think I'd even eat anchovies if they were put in front of me."

"And because you've had a long day, I'm not going to be so cruel." The number was easy enough to remember -- smart businesses probably knew that having a simple phone number, particularly if the last four numbers were all the same, made them much more likely to be called.

Patterns; humans were drawn to easy to follow patterns.

Gil rubbed at Paul's shoulder with his free hand while he dialed the number.

It was knotted to the point it felt like twisted steel. The strange thing was that Gil couldn't imagine that dealing with Atwater and Covallo had been on a stress level high enough to cause that reaction. Paul sometimes seemed to relish sparring with Atwater and at the same time politicking much more smoothly than Gil would have been able to do. He seemed to have the knack of recognizing manipulation in progress and could spot and head off an Ecklie gambit before it was even fully formed. Ecklie unsurprisingly hated that, and Gil by extension.

It wasn't the best sign; this sort of tension usually meant some sort of emotional turmoil. He'd felt it before when Paul had hit one of his worst lows not long after the death of Holly Gribbs, and becoming a supervisor.

Gil placed their usual order with Athens of an extra large pizza with pepperoni, sausage, and green peppers on half. There were always a few slices left over, and cold pizza made a surprisingly decent fast meal. Then he turned the phone off, and set it down so he could start to rub at Paul's shoulders with both hands. "Why don't we sit down, Paul? It's going to take half an hour, and you need to rest."

The other man huffed a laugh and looked over his shoulder at Gil, his blue eyes still startling even after all these years. "Coming from the man with a head injury?"

"Coming from the man with the head injury," Gil agreed, leaning in to kiss the edge of his jaw, just in front of his ear. Paul wasn't what... probably anyone would call handsome, by normal standards or classical ones, but his eyes were brilliantly blue, and his whole face lit up when he smiled or cracked a bad joke. It was a holistic attractiveness, as far as Gil was concerned. "I promise that all of my pictures were focused."

"You should be sitting down. In fact we both will. That's my final executive decision of the day," Paul replied, and Gil could feel that smile under his lips for a moment even as they pulled away. "It's been a long time since I hated my job, but I did today."

A tug, and Gil turned, pulling Paul back towards the sofa, keeping hands on him to try to keep Paul grounded and keep the creeping edge of depression at bay for a little while longer. "The lab blew up. That's a good reason to hate your job for a day."

"Accidents happen, but... what doesn't normally happen is the possibility that you got hurt," Paul said even as he sat. "Occupational hazard I guess, to realize how easily people can be killed by the simplest of things. You were hurt, Gil, and all I wanted to do was get you away from there, somewhere safe and stay with you and instead I had to be soothing and placating and kissing political ass."

He sounded genuinely strained by the whole thing, which wasn't like him. Paul usually dealt smoothly with officialdom. Gil knew that he was the one who had no patience with it all.

"You were doing that because you knew it wasn't serious, Paul. If I'd lost a limb or anything, we both know you would have told Atwater where to shove it and he would have been all right with it. But it wasn't serious." Gil sat behind Paul, tucking one leg under him so he could get as close as possible.

"But it could have been. It could have been over in moment and I can't help but feel responsible," Paul replied still looking down at his long, elegant hands as if there was an answer there somewhere. "I mean.... the lab should be safe, it's our sanctuary. There's risk in the field but..."

"It was a freak accident. The risk in the field is much greater, Paul, than any risk in the lab. Remember that convention I missed because I'd been shot?" Gil remembered the worried phone calls, too; he'd been supposed to present a paper on the development of slyphid beetles in relation to corpse degeneration and they had arranged to meet, but a bullet in the shoulder the day before had put a lid on that idea.

"I do. I remember any time you've been in danger." He shook his head. "I don't think you quite realize what it does to me. I know I have to deal with it, but there are times it feels... unbearable knowing I could have lost you."

It made sense, in light of Paul's personality type and everything else Gil knew. For the both of them, it was a little bit of a miracle that they were with anyone, let alone living together comfortably, in a working, functioning relationship. Gil pressed his thumbs on either side of Paul's spine at the base of his neck, rubbing before he leaned in to place a kiss there. "Everyone dies eventually. It's part of living. And so is enjoying it while you're still alive."

"Yes." Paul exhaled at that. "If it weren't for you... I don't think I could live just for my work anymore. Not after being with you."

"It's not as if I'm going anywhere, or that I'm planning to get in closer proximity to the next time something goes wrong in the lab." Easy for him to say, even though everyone's life was full of un-surety. Gil couldn't live with that kind of fear in him, so he simply didn't carry a fear of his own death. "I know that if you'd been hurt, I probably would have been snarling at everyone in the lab."

"Mm. How will they notice the difference?" Paul's tone turned purposefully light as he smiled.

"The difference between pushing the cart of FBI samples into the hallway and throwing them," Gil smiled to himself, playing along as he kept rubbing at Paul's shoulders.

His lover chuckled a little. "You shouldn't bully the techs. They're sensitive." He relaxed a little more at the touch of warm fingers. "How much detail did you get on Sanders?"

"His condition? Little. He was sedated. I'll try to swing by the hospital before shift tomorrow to see if he can give me a statement." Seeing Greg's back being debrided through the glass window had been shaking for him. Sanders was facing a long and uncomfortable road to recovery, and Gil just hoped for his sake that what happened wasn't Greg's fault.

"If his back was to the explosion it couldn't have been something that he spilled." Paul considered as he exhaled. "I wonder what he was working on? Volatiles could have a delayed ignition point but why would you have heat source near volatiles? He knows better than that."

It was funny that Paul relaxed while talking through the case. "He doesn't have any use for a heat source. He was working off to the side the whole time I was heading over there."

"Hmm. He was lucky. The amount of damage makes him lucky it wasn't worse."

"I wouldn't exactly call third degree burns 'lucky'." Gil's fingers slid down, working over Paul's shoulder blades. "But he's alive."

Paul groaned a little. "That's good Gil... and Sanders being alive, of course. The lab wouldn't be the same without him practically tripping over himself to impress you."

"I think he aspires to fieldwork. That's all." Gil pressed another kiss to the nape of Paul's neck, nudging down the collar of his lover's shirt. "You feel good."

"He aspires to you," Paul replied without rancor. "As does Sidle, and possibly Catherine, and occasionally I suspect Stokes and random assorted colleagues. It reminds me that I am a very fortunate man. Sometimes I'm not sure that I deserve you."

"Mm, if I weren't concussed I'd start to list off the reasons that you do." Gil slid his hands around, under Paul's arms, reaching around to start unbuttoning his shirt. "You're good for me."

"Are you sure about that?" Paul leaned into him, his tone not convincing in its attempts at flippancy.

Comments like that meant Paul was right on the verge of depression. Sometimes it was unavoidable and was to do with his medication fluctuations over time, but hopefully this time it was reaction.

It would rebound faster that way. "I'm sure." He kept unbuttoning Paul's shirt, fingers trailing over familiar muscles, running through chest hair. "You make it easier to be happy, Paul. You give me something to look forward to other than our work."

"Yes." He eventually relaxed enough to lean in for a kiss. It was soft and gentle, needing his comfort and presence very obviously.

Paul was easy that way. He responded well to touch (as long as he was letting Gil get away with it) and Gil's persistent case of foot in mouth disease tended to make him laugh more than it pissed him off. Kissing like that, with Gil's hands stroking down to Paul's stomach, while Paul twisted around to kiss him, was comfortable, easy. A slip of tongue against tongue, and Gil pulled back. "I think I've distracted myself from massaging your back."

"Somehow I'll accept the distraction. What do you say to an evening of sitting, watching a good movie, eating pizza and generally behaving as if we're in our twenties?" Paul murmured.

Gil leaned in to rest his chin on Paul's narrow shoulder. "I like that idea. Particularly since we've already been up all night. This was the wrong side of dawn in our college days. We might as well do everything else."

"Definitely," Paul said and wrapped his arms around him. "And tomorrow you can save my proverbial bacon by coming up with the answer to what happened at the lab."

That was nice, too, the way Paul turned around, easily embracing him to cover that he was starting to slyly unbutton Gil's shirt.

The best way to make up for a near death experience was definitely to go back to living again.

Catherine worked fast; even Gil had to admit that. She had logged most of the fragments, and was now starting on the time consuming task of mapping the dispersion. She was so intent that Gil had decided to let her carry on with the legwork and visit Greg alone in the vain hope he might be coherent.

So far, it wasn't looking hopeful. He'd been allowed into the room and Greg had yet to stir though he was assured that he would.

Gil was glad that he was patient, and it helped that he had half of Catherine's notes to review. She'd promised him that she'd gone home and had slept, but he wasn't quite sure if he wanted to believe that. From the bags under her eyes, it looked like she'd napped at the very most.

For once, he felt he had slept better than her, which had to be a first. She'd managed to salvage some of the evidence from a few of the cases, which were being passed over to Sara, Nick and Warrick to try and claw back the ground they had lost.

The critical hair for his Suicide-Murder case was not one of them.

Greg shifted a little on the bed, opening his eyes just a crack and exhaling as if waking up drained him of so much energy that he needed to sleep again. Gil didn't say anything. He just sat and waited, wanting to see if Greg was actually awake or just shifting sleepily in bed. The only noise was Greg shifting in the sheets, the squeak of the mattress.

"Hey..." Greg sounded like every syllable was costing him effort. "Grissom."

He nodded, just so Greg knew he could hear him. "The doctor told me that you're doing better than they expected."

"Well.... great," Greg managed that, his voice sounding thick and tired. "First visitor." He shifted again, the effort palpable.

"And unfortunately I'm here on official business." Gil's eyebrows went up as he kept watching Greg. "Do you remember what happened?"

"Mmm." Greg closed his eyes a moment, teetering on the edge of falling back to sleep. "I was doing tests, mixing chemicals....."

"For...?" Gil prompted as gently as he could.

Greg frowned, concentrating was obviously difficult, and his hand twitched out almost unconsciously, before realizing there was no one to hold on to him, just questions. "I... was multitasking. Doing the hair, because I wanted to have it done for you. When you came in."

It was a blatantly obvious cue for comforting, the only kind that Gil picked up on half the time. He shifted, reached out to loosely grasp Greg's fingers. Waking up in a hospital bed was a stressful thing; not having any visitors was worse. "Nicky held me up in the hallway. So, you were multitasking. And then...?"

"Have... have to give him a gift for that," Greg managed as he absorbed the new information and rallied to produce more. "Smelled something burning. Hot plastic. Burning. I turned to see and I saw you out of the corner of my eye... and..." His hand loosely gripped around Gil's, twitching at the memory. No doubt he was reliving the roar and shock of his world exploding around him.

"Then it exploded." Hot plastic. There'd been a photo pan in the wreckage -- a possible source? Gil let Greg grip, moved his fingers a little to let him know he was there. "Okay. Before that, did you work at all from that center table?"

Greg automatically went to shake his head and the grimace of pain was startling across his face. "No..." he managed in a soft voice. "I... don't think so.." He was silent a moment. "Did I... was it me?"

"We're not sure. I can't give you a definitive 'no', but... It seems likely that it wasn't you. You don't use a heat source." He said it not based on the evidence, so much as to make Greg feel better. Gil wanted Greg to feel better, even if he was acting on a whim.

"But it might have been," Greg managed, his words a little slurred. He exhaled again and the look in his eyes was lost and hopeless before he let them close. "I'm really tired."

"Go to sleep. No one expects you back at work for a while. You were pretty badly hurt," Gil told him. Permission to rest, if Greg needed it. Greg needed to sleep, Gil knew that with a certain amount of surety. "I'll try to visit you after shift. I know Nicky wants to see how you're doing."

Greg released his grip and frowned again. "Was going to tell you something... Trying to remember."

"Think on it, Greg," Gil urged, patting Greg's hand gently. "It's no rush. If it comes back to you, then that's good. If it doesn't, then that's all right, too."

"Was about the hair..." Greg frowned again and shifted. "It's gone. But... I remember that... it came up XX."

"Female," Gil murmured. "That's more than I knew before, Greg. Thank you."

Unless Fromansky had a sex change operation, or a female accomplice, then Gil had been barking up the wrong tree. He'd have to start over from scratch, because the evidence didn't fit the theory. And that shouldn't have been how it worked in the first place.

"Was something else... but." It was obvious Greg was struggling to even stay awake, let alone think. His eyelids drooped to the point where they looked nearly closed.

"Don't worry about it." Gil leaned forwards, and reached a hand to stroke Greg's temple gently. "Everything's going to be all right, Greg." XX. Female. They were looking at a woman inside the department, and Gil wasn't sure what to do with that angle.

He found it hard to reconcile the fact that it could be Sara, or Catherine in his head. Or one of their lab techs. There was Day shift as well or more someone in Jim's area. There were people, but all of them he knew and it would be hard to get his head around any of them being a serial killer.

Greg gave him one last unfocused look at that comforting touch and his released breath was very nearly a sigh as he let go and stopped fighting the drugs. He looked hurt in more ways than the physical, though that undoubtedly contributed to that rather disturbing sense of vulnerability and isolation.

Gil stayed there, watched him for a few more moments. XX. Not Catherine, because Catherine had been at the lab and then with him the whole time, working the case side by side with him for the serial killer duo. It was comforting to have evidence of that, even though his gut instinct kept insisting that no, never Catherine. She might have kicked Eddie in the balls a few times, but there was a long line between that and murder.

He couldn't be quite that sure about Sara and that was a telling comment about their relationship. If anyone asked he would say immediately that he trusted her, that she was trustworthy and a good CSI. But, if he privately contemplated if she was capable of murder he was aware of a hesitation before he said no.

Greg was asleep now, his hair mussed for real against the pillow and the after effects more visible than when he had been conscious in the pale skin and lines of pain. It tugged at him a little. Protective maybe, guilty, or compassionate, he wasn't sure. Greg wasn't even one of his CSIs, wasn't even under his responsibility the way that they were. But Gil still felt oddly responsible.

It took a while for him to get up and leave, knowing that he was going to have to let Catherine in on the information, knowing that Greg's story of what happened didn't add much. Even that clue was only a guideline. There wasn't anything that could take the killer to court. But, it was better than nothing. And cases had broken on less.

Though, he had to admit, not very often.

Even the simplest of cases could be fraught with depth. Something like a 'simple' suicide could have so much depth to it, while a crime as complicated as a murder could fall right into their hands, hair and skin cells and cops in just the right places handing them their suspect. It was hard to predict which cases would end which way, and because of that, no information could be discredited, even if it wasn't admissible in court.

Which was why Gil was going to have to tell Paul about the clue that wasn't, that changed Gil's whole profile. He was almost glad that he was already comfortable with the prospect of being wrong, even if he did turn new possibilities through his head the whole drive back to the lab.

He would admit to being wrong, but it wasn't something he necessarily relished. Though the statistics were heavily in favor of a serial killer being male, there was always that small percentage who were female.

Nick and Warrick were in the break room as he walked in, wearing a look that he had come to associate with a successful slam-dunk of an investigation.

"Hey, Griss," Nick called out. "How's Greg?"

Burned, low morale, tired, in pain and probably swinging towards depressed. "He's..." Gil veered to the break room a little, stopping in the doorway while he tried to pull the right words out of thin air. "Recovering. He's not very coherent, but I'm sure he'd appreciate visitors."

"I'll drop in after shift," Nick replied with a nod, glancing at Warrick. "And Cath said she would be around after."

"And I'll try and get in before the next one," Warrick added as he obviously calculated where and when he could go. "Especially now we've wrapped the case."

"Rewrapped," Nick added with a slow half-grin.

"Rewrapped?" Gil twitched an eyebrow at them both, keeping half of his attention on them as he sidestepped them both to get himself a cup of coffee to stick in his travel mug. Sealable, which was important in a lab that still smelled like smoke and the creeping start of mold from all of that water. "Keep talking, Nick."

"Yeah. Wasn't Jason Kent who was the murderer after all -- it was Micky D," Nick said with a pleased expression. "Hand spans..."

"And then he pretty much admitted it." Warrick added in. "Which is just as well considering the evidence we couldn't access."

"Hand spans?" Gil's eyebrows were crawling upwards even when he picked up the carafe. "You mean the bruises on her neck..." He was grasping for straws to follow Nick, but it clicked in his mind. "Matched the hand span of Micky D, but not Jason Kent. So which one of you measured the corpse?"

Warrick vaguely waved a hand. "That would be me. Nick got to talk Micky D into a hand span diagram and then with Brass, a confession. But not to a copycat for Jason Kent. That one is still at our serial killer's door. Guess they made a mistake this time."

"She did. She jumped the gun and got the wrong man." Gil looked over his shoulder at them, smugly taking in the look of shock on Warrick and Nick's face. "Greg remembered some of the results on the hair."

"The killer is a woman?" Nick asked, pausing mid sip of his coffee. "We've got a female serial killer?"

"The hair came back XX, and it was in the knot. Medium length brunette hair -- it's gone now, but this... is a start." Gil added sugar to his mug, watching Nick and Warrick still. "Boss come in yet?"

"Yeah," Nick nodded. "Think he's been in with Catherine a few times."

Warrick agreed and he leaned back again the table. "If the Sheriff stopped phoning him to see progress we might actually get some."

"The dangers of politics," Gil shrugged. "We need to give him a heads up on this. Will what you have in the... 'Micky D' case hold up in court?"

"Yeah. Along with the confession," Nick said still keeping the edge of his smile. "Is the serial back on? You need help? Warrick and I were just about to check in with the boss."

"Catherine and I need to close the issue of what happened in the DNA lab." He screwed closed the cap on his travel mug, walking back towards them and the door. "See if he has any other assignments for you, and if not, I want you to start reviewing the case in light of the fact that we've narrowed our suspects to forty eight percent of our population."

"We'll tell him," Warrick promised. "Cath has been working under pressure. She's a fair way along."

"I hope she actually went home." He felt bad enough for going home on time, but he did have sterile patches covering his stitches, and he was fairly sure that he had come back to work concussed the previous night.

Gil led the way into the hallway. If Paul hadn't given out assignment sheets yet, then it was time to hunt him out.

He could see him just leaving Catherine's lab and heading over towards his office, looking solemn and thoughtful. Their pleasant evening had only been a temporary fix, it seemed.

That was all right. Gil would keep trying to lay down fixes, temporary or otherwise, until they started to take in the long term. He walked casually down the hallway, half aware that Warrick and Nick were trailing after him, chatting. Some days he could palpably sense the cognitive dissonance that Warrick and Nick had with Gil calling Paul 'Boss'.

"Gil," Paul paused. "Get anything from Sanders?" He looked more drawn than usual.

"He recalled the smell of burning plastic, and the gender of our serial killer. The hair was XX." And Paul knew it shot down his Fromansky theory, unless it was a tag team, but it was more than they'd known from any of the rest of the cases. No prints, no cells, no DNA, no witnesses. He knew police code, he could fire a gun. Now that was amended to she knew police code and she could fire a gun.

"Female?" Paul hesitated and looked at Gil. "That's.... unusual. Burning plastic? An active heat source under the fume hood." That might fit with the developer pan fragments Catherine was talking about."

"I was just going to help her finish up the arrays for the fragments," Gil offered. "We can be sure of what it was by seeing what had a 360 degree explosion array. Nick and Warrick still managed to close the 'Micky D' case despite the explosion."

"I thought it was the Jason Kent Case?" Paul asked pausing a moment. "That's the way the evidence was going."

Gil turned, looking over his shoulder at them both. Nick looked so happy to have cracked the case, he ought to get the glory of laying it out for their supervisor. "Nicky, explain it. They did great work on this case, Paul."

"Sure," Nick replied. He was about to start when Paul gestured to them both.

"Come into my office, I want a full run down."

Gil smirked at them both. "If anyone needs me, I'll be working with Catherine." But they had a good handle on it, and Paul would be as impressed with the hand-span measuring as Gil had been. They hadn't dropped the case despite that most CSIs would have, would have stopped after the main suspect had been found killed.

Paul nodded and ushered the two other CSIs into his office, leaving Gil to catch up with Catherine.

Catherine had a rather frenetic edge to her movement as if she had way too much caffeine in her system and had been incredibly focused on one thing for far too long. He recognized it.

It was how he tended to work when he was caught up in a case. Gil lingered in the doorway, taking a sip of his coffee, and then cleared his throat.

"Need help, or have you moved past that?"

"I am beyond anything that remotely resembles sanity," Catherine replied, straightening up and pushing back her hair. "I was down harassing Hodges earlier."

He moved further into the burnt out space. "Why? And just how long have you been here, Catherine?"

"You don't have to sign the overtime Gil, so just take it as a bonus," Catherine replied, glancing over at him. "Developer pan showing signs of volatiles. I've been plotting the fragments from your pictures and the samples. What did you find out from Greg?"

"He remembers smelling burning plastic. And part of the results on the hair from the serial killer case, which I've already passed on to Paul. Other than that... he doesn't remember working from the center table, or using a heat source for any reason." Gil looked at the table she was working out, stickers and charts of fragments everywhere. "Here, let me help you plot the rest of them on the overlays. Leave me something to do."

"Well, there was a heat source on," Catherine replied in a definite tone. She reached for the table. "Look at exhibit A here." A damaged looking hot plate was passed towards him. "And look at the dial."

"Burned onto 'on'," Gil sighed, twisting it so he could see it better. "Under a closed fume hood. That could have set off any combustible under the hood."

"Exactly. Greg's burning plastic. The developer pan is the obvious culprit." Catherine picked up the plastic overlay sheets. "Only I'm not liking the look of this pattern."

"Looks like it was blown sideways," Gil murmured, reaching a hand out to hover over the red dots that she'd used on the transparency to mark the pieces of the pan that he'd photographed. "It could have just been close to catching fire, or overheated. It wasn't what exploded."

"Secondary, I reckon." Catherine looked at him. "There has to be another ignition point."

Gil pulled up a stool, and put his coffee mug off to the side where it wouldn't be harmful. "All right. Then I'll start to chart the green glass fragments if you'll take the half-melted plastic blobs."

"Hit me with your technical terms, Gil," Catherine said dryly. "Okay, let's work it. Those blobs are mine."

"Blob," Gil said while he started to organize the photos that were relevant to what he was doing, "is a perfectly technical term, Catherine. It means an indistinct, shapeless form."

"Uh-huh. I'd say you were full of crap Gil, but you'd probably give me a technical term for that as well," Catherine replied, stretching. "I looked for that hair, but it's fried. Along with Greg." She paused for a moment, and Gil listened in the silence. "Damn, I hate not having answers about what happened to him."

"This is why we're doing this," he reminded her. "It's all about answering questions. We have part of an answer to the question -- the heat source. But not a who, or a what, because something had to be flammable, or at least turned unstable with heat."

"A 180 degree array does not make a primary frag," Catherine muttered. "Okay. Enough whining, otherwise I'll be a hypocrite telling Lindsay off the next time I see her. Blobs it is."

Quiet fell over the workspace, while Gil fell into the patterns that it took to properly do tedious work like that, sorting, placing, making sure that the dots were laid according to the photographs and the markings and measurements that they'd made. Gil didn't even need much caffeine in his system to do it. He supposed that he was used to that sort of work, and it was as if a switch clicked on in his brain that made it easier.

Catherine on the other hand had been there too long to be smooth and easy, but she was at least silent for the best part of the time.

"What happens when Greg goes home? Is he likely to be well enough to be on his own?"

"He won't be released for a couple of weeks. Worst case scenario, we could set up some kind of 'checking in' shift to make sure he's doing all right," Gil told her without raising his head. "The doctor told me they'd done a skin graft."

"Damn it," Catherine murmured. "Maybe Nick or Warrick will stay over with him. He stayed at Nicky's after the stalker to help him out. Mind you, I bet it was a better incentive for Nick to get through it than anything the department counselor came up with."

"It could be a good idea. I'm sure Nick and Warrick will work it out for themselves." And Gil would make sure that something happened so that Greg wasn't left hanging without any support. That was part of his job, after all.

"O'Reilley case. No one at evidence to log it in, so it went under the fume hood," Catherine replied. She straightened up, a premonitionary look in her expression. "The green glass..."

"I haven't finished putting it all down yet," Gil murmured, glancing at his wrist watch. Two hours had passed in a flash. "But the array..."

Catherine looked over his shoulder at his dotted transparency, the comprehension dawning along with a still sort of horror in her voice. "360. The green glass is the primary frag."

He could hear the stunned silence that stretched out as she faced and acknowledge the conclusion he had realized at the same time. "I blew up the lab."

"Catherine..." But there it was, right on the sheet. The green glass was the primary frag, its contents having blown it to all corners of the room when they exploded. "What was in it?"

She shook her head. "We thought poison. And I thought... I thought I had put it away at the other end of the hood. I never put anything near the burn plate but... I must have." She had to sit down, pushing her hair back from her face. "I did this to Greg. Ruined the cases. "

And what should he say to her?

"It was an accident. A confluence of events. Someone left the hot plate on, we always put unchecked evidence under the fume hood when the evidence room is closed, it's official procedure..."

"But..." Catherine shook her head. "I could lose my job over this."

Yes, she could. She could lose her job, but if everyone had been following procedure... "Probably not," Gil noted, trying hard not to sound grim as he looked over to the bags of green glass shards that Catherine had bagged as evidence.

She almost visibly pulled herself together. "Better that than lose Greg," she replied almost under her breath and shook her head. "You want me to help finish up or should I report to Paul immediately?"

"I can report to him, Catherine, if you..." Didn't want to do it herself, though Gil was sure there was some bit of politics and responsibility that he was supposed to be aware of when he suggested that.

"No. It's okay. Well, it's not okay but if you go, he'll feel under pressure, and he's going to have to scapegoat this somehow, even if he doesn't want to." Catherine looked at him, her eyes hard and as shut down as he had ever seen them. "I'm not going to screw up your relationship by making things awkward with him. If I did this then I don't expect to get off scott free. Greg's in the hospital."

"It was an accident," Gil reiterated. "Someone left the hot plate on, and the evidence room wasn't open. It could have happened to any of us..."

"But it didn't. My evidence, next to a burn plate that was on, even accidentally," Catherine shook her head. "Maybe the procedure's at fault, but that won't matter a damn, Gil. I'll go tell him. I just... I just wish I remembered making the mistake."

Memory was a faulty thing, Gil wanted to tell her, but he didn't, couldn't say it. Something felt wrong about it, even while he nodded to her. "Just... be honest, don't offer yourself up on a platter. I'll finish up here."

"Thanks," Catherine replied as she turned towards the door, with a strong determined movement. "You have my number if you need to get hold of me."

That was an invitation as much as anything.

He watched her leave, head held high to her own professional 'execution', and then hunched his shoulders a little before he settled in to finish mapping the rest of the debris down on the transparency. What a mess. What a fucking mess. The Sheriff couldn't take down the whole department for this accident, could he? Covallo wouldn't, he hoped.

But from what Paul had said, Covallo was definitely after someone's head on a platter. If the Suicide-Murder Hangings hadn't had that high profile movie star as a victim, politics might have been less explosive. And maybe the consequences would be as well. He knew Catherine well enough to know that there was no punishment that anyone could dole out that would match what she would do to herself.

The only thing he could do was hope that the lab bore through the rough patch. They knew more about their serial killer than they had before, and it was a start that they'd managed that despite the explosion.

It was still going to be a very long shift.

"So, how many of these were stolen?" Gil asked, lifting up the bright purple feather trimmed teddy that the store-clerk had shoved into his latex-gloved hand to illustrate what the missing 'goods' were.

"Enough to give a fair size section of Vegas some very happy nights," Sara said with a faint smile. "In total..." She looked at her notes. "Over two hundred items, mainly boxed, but a few from the shop displays."

"So someone is planning on running an underground lingerie store, or perhaps they want to run one from the trunk of their car. Do we know who came into the store after the alarm went off...?" Gil glanced towards the crime-scene tape that surrounded the broken in front door. "And no camera, of course."

"I'm guessing that people don't like the idea of cameras in a lingerie shop," Sara replied with a twist of a smirk. "I can get some names on the rest of it."

She picked up a notepad, finding it hard to balance it on her bandaged left hand.

Sara shouldn't have been back at work already, shouldn't have come back just the day after, but he was there, too, and Gil supposed he wasn't in any position to criticize her. At least, not beyond his internal monologue of concern. "Get the names, then. I'll be in the stock room taking prints."

"Sure," Sara said easily and moved off to do just that even as he headed to the stock room.

Printing a room was almost therapeutic in nature. There was a pattern to it that was instinctive. His eyes immediately drifted to the principle spots and then it was a case of blushing it over with the dust and lifting it. And then repeat. And repeat.

People left a lot of prints, especially in stock rooms. It enabled him to think logically about what had happened. About Catherine's immediate five day suspension.

Catherine didn't cry in front of him, but behind the calm mask, he couldn't miss seeing her anger towards herself, her upset even though in general terms it was little more than a slap on the wrist.

It was far better than her losing her job, and Gil had been right. The powers that be liked Catherine. She was a good employee, a Vegas native, a strong woman within the force. They wanted to keep her there, she was good PR and bad PR if she was fired. And competent. Gil knew that if he'd done it, they might have hung him for it, and he would have been demoted to a normal CSI3.

Even so, he was willing to bet that it didn't make her feel much better. He'd told her that he would talk to Greg about what happened, even though she had been all for going from work to confess all. After all, he still had to officially close the case.

But then the robbery call had come in, and as with anything even remotely titillating, Paul recognized that it would be all over the news. Lingerie robbery would make a great filler story on the network, so answers before it hit the media were important. It wasn't going to be a complicated case.

It was a smarter type of smash and grab, but it was still essentially a smash and grab. He was going to have to mold the tool marks on the door, because Gil was sure that the thief still have the tool in question. It didn't seem like the work of a first time offender, so if he lifted a print, then they'd probably find a hit in AFIS. Possibly, it could even be an inside job by an employee.

"So you want some help or is this a form of Zen meditation?" Sara said from behind him.

"Zen meditation," Gil quipped over his shoulder, lifting another print. "Forty seven prints."

"Wow," Sara folded her arms. "Is this like a CSI version of a 'thousand paper cranes'? You have to lift a thousand perfect prints to get your heart's desire?"

The edges of his lips twitched up a little as he closed the print lift, satisfied with the quality of print that he'd just lifted. "Most scenes range from five to twenty prints, we work at least two scenes a week. If I assume an average of ten prints per scene, fifty weeks a year, I have a lot of heart's desire under my belt. Did you find anything?"

"Ex-employee dropped in earlier in the evening. Convenient hmm?" She smiled with the satisfaction that indicated she thought at least they had a trail. "Good looking, too. Some people seem to think that gives them the right to get away with anything. Sad thing is that it does work."

"Does it?" Gil looked over his shoulder at her, getting up from his careful kneeling crouch, not touching anything. There was a shelf where it seemed likely that someone would brace themselves, and Gil paused to dust that with powder, too. "Think we can get him to volunteer a print?"

"I have a pen that he definitely used to write a phone number down for one of the sales assistants," Sara shook her head. "Romance and Robbery."

It was an assumption but a fair one.

"We'll see," Gil murmured, bending for another print lift. He was going to have to sign more out from the storage room. "Going to fume it?"

"Yeah. I'll do it here," Sara replied and started to set up on an area that had been cleared and processed. "Warrick told me that you saw Greg right? Sounded pretty bad. I can't believe he managed to remember about that hair when he was doped up."

"It was probably the shock of the gender that he remembered most. A female serial killer is pretty notable." He opened the lift, and pressed it carefully over his dusted print. "He'll heal up well as long as he keeps resting."

"I wouldn't give you good odds on that," Sara replied as he handled the pen gently. "He doesn't strike me as the resting type. Shame. You might have got her otherwise."

Yes, if someone hadn't moved Catherine's green glass bottle over towards a turned on hot plate. Gil kept that speculation to himself as he lifted the print carefully and closed it, writing the location on the back. "We'll get her."

"If I were a serial killer, I think I'd cut my losses," Sara said absently. "You don't get breaks like that often."

"Would you? Or would it just make you more cocky?" Gil asked, glancing over at Sara. It was just a hypothetical, of course. Of course. But it still made Gil twinge, made his suspicions rise up.

"If the killer does have connections to law enforcement then they're bound to have heard about your find. It went around the departments like wildfire," Sara said. "They seem intelligent and focused. I guess that cocky is a possibility."

"We can hope. I'd like to see justice served in this case." He told her that while he stooped to close his kit and make sure that the bag full of print lifts was in some semblance of organization. "Our killer was already losing control."

"Yeah? The escalation?" Sarah had been fuming the pen and smiled as she saw a couple of near perfect prints which she could lift.

"Cockiness is the next step, though I wouldn't be surprised if she laid low for a few months." A click, and Gil stood again, taking the kit with him. "I'm going to mold the tool marks on the door."

"Well, and she got the vic wrong for the last killing," Sara replied frowning as she studied the effects of the fumette. "Gotcha." She smiled at the two prints and carefully lifted them. "I talked to Nick before we headed out. That's got to be an issue."

"For our killer's psychology?" Gil paused in the doorway, looking at Sara. It was always hard to get a fix on her thoughts, even if she seemed happy and open in that moment. "I'm sure it is."

"Yeah well, it's not like his... uh, her victims hadn't had some reason why they were picked. Murderers about to escape justice," she said, looking at him with a sharp assessing gaze. "So it makes sense that finding out that Jason Kent wasn't the murderer will hit her hard, even if the crimes he was jailed for probably warranted the attention. Which is maybe even more worrying. Past mistakes as a justification. How long before it's future stuff?"

"That's a good question. I guess that we'll see." He lingered for a moment, watching Sara, before he headed back out into the store. Those were good questions, and the phrase 'warranted the attention' twinged in his mind plucking at a strand of suspicion.

The robbery was going to be as straight forward as they believed, so it was not that which occupied Gil's thoughts by the time he got home. Everything in him rejected the possibility that Sara could be the Suicide Murderer; they had been close in the past even if that closeness had been doomed never to make contact in the long run.

He couldn't be that wrong about someone could he? So totally misjudge them that he didn't have an inkling that they could be capable of such things? If he was truthful, there had been cases where his instincts had not spoken up at all. It had been all about the evidence.

That was why he'd always trusted in the evidence. It couldn't lie or mislead the way that instinct could.

After all, he'd been wrong about Fromansky, where his gut had kept telling him that was the direction to go in, that he was their vigilante, when Gil couldn't have been more wrong excluding the possibility that Fromansky had a female assistant. He couldn't quite discount that possibility because stranger things had happened.

Even with the fast wrap-up of the robbery, and Sara volunteering cheerfully to finish the report, Gil still arrived back home tired, and a little late.

The scent as he walked in showed that Paul had arranged his favorite meal. That was something they usually did only on birthdays or anniversaries that Paul never seemed to forget. Paul had most likely ordered it from work and had it ready and waiting for him.

It was the man's equivalent of the romantic bunch of flowers, and frankly, far more appreciated and functional. Still, Gil wondered what Paul was planning, or planning to apologize for if he'd gone to the trouble of having ordered Veal scaloppini. He set his kit up against the wall, and peered around the corner into the kitchenette. "Paul?"

"I'm just getting the wine." Paul turned around and though he was smiling that expression was overlaying evidence of stress and tiredness.

"I noticed. It looks like you were busy while I was running late..." Gil could feel his eyebrows creasing. If Paul was trying despite being that tired and that stressed with the destruction of part of the lab... then Gil had obviously forgotten something important. Paul had always been a little firm about the significance of dates.

"I thought we should have a night just for ourselves," Paul replied as he fetched the glasses. "I haven't been able to shake the thought that I could have lost you and I feel the need to mark the occasion of not doing so."

Somehow that was meant to make sense.

In a way, it did make sense, but not in any distinct manner, so Gil frowned a little while he made sure that he'd followed that. "Paul, I'm... fine, really fine, and I know you're tired and the sheriff has been giving you hell."

"Indulge me, Gil. I'm not the best at expressing how I f...feel. I don't want to think about work, because I know I used that to avoid thinking about what happened to you." Paul offered him a glass. "You know talking makes things hard, but showing I can do."

That was a particular failure of human interaction that they shared, and sometimes Gil was as bad at showing as he was at saying. He could follow Paul's cues, though, familiar after so long -- a quiet evening wasn't about Gil as much as it was about Paul needing to make a warmer refuge of their home.

He shrugged out of his jacket, the one with 'Forensics' emblazoned across the back, and took the glass from Paul's hand, letting his fingers linger over Paul's. "I know how you feel, Paul. You show it in a hundred different ways every day."

"Sometimes it needs to be clearer." Paul murmured. "So... Sit, eat. Permit me to revel in your company."

"Revel?" Gil swirled the glass, and took a sip of the wine, enough to wet his lips, before he leaned in to kiss Paul before he did any such thing as sitting down and eating. "Only if you'll join me."

"Of course," Paul smiled back at him, his lips now wet with a taste of Gil's wine. "Let me serve the food and you can tell me the latest news."

"News like the pleasant report that Sara and I wrapped that robbery up in a box with a ribbon on top?" The chair squeaked over the tile floor when Gil pulled it out. Paul had done everything short of lighting candles.

"That's good news. A good ending for the media to pick up on. It shouldn't be what we have to think about, but it's what gets us the funding for your new toys at the end of the day." He served the veal, the fresh vegetables, hot and perfect, before he sat down.

"I still prefer the old ways of doing things. The first time you hand anyone a fumette is a priceless moment." Gil flicked his eyebrows a little, smiling when Paul finally scooted his chair in.

"Still the best way to get a print off of cardboard," Paul smiled back, the expression making his eyes bright at last. "Do you remember that case when you made up that special dust? The infamous Red Creeper?"

"Of course I do. It was the only thing I could get to stick to that wall that we knew he had to have put his hand on, and it's still the best thing I use for bathrooms." It wasn't exactly the greatest idea to fume a bathroom, though Gil had days where it was very tempting.

"You could market a line of forensic products," Paul replied starting his veal. "Just like you keep on at me to sell some of my artwork."

Gil was slower to cut into the meat, and he cut it all at once before spearing a piece with his fork. "Some day. And some day you could open your own art gallery, Paul. You know my mother thinks your work is genius."

"She can exhibit it after I die," Paul replied with apparent seriousness though he gave a slight smile. "Everyone knows you're only worth something after you die."

"Or if you're secretive, which means you could skip the dying part of the path to artistic fame." Gil paused for a moment, chewing, savoring the meat. Paul certainly knew his favorite foods well, and the sweet wine went well with it. "Unfortunately, I couldn't put off selling Red Creeper until after I die."

"Forensics is different," Paul agreed. "For all that it can be as much an art form as sketching."

He was watching him a lot, his eyes still bright as they seemed to memorize every line and movement Grissom made. It was probably the mention of art; he looked at him like that sometimes when he wanted to paint a portrait of him. There were a few around the house, and even more that Paul never got around to showing him.

He didn't press to see them all, either. Paul's art was a pressure release for him, as much as getting a pass at one of the local 'amusement parks' and riding one coaster for a few hours was for Gil. Paul kept a sketchpad underneath the bed, and a box of pencils, and when insomnia struck him, he drew. Gil never pried, because when Gil had trouble sleeping in the middle of the night, Paul didn't mind that Gil dragged out his laptop and read forensics journals until he could go back to sleep.

"When you start to use hot pink pencils, let me know."

Paul twitched a smile. "Now there's a thought. I've used blues before, but not hot pink. I think there's some rule against that."

"I think there should be, too. I like the work you do in blues. It's very lifelike." Gil shifted casually, stretched a leg out beneath the table and gently bumped Paul's.

He gained a gentle smile for his effort. "Eat your veal, Gil. I was planning on getting to that a little later." Paul smiled as he took a mouthful himself.

"Just testing the waters." Gil's mouth tugged as he just rested his leg there, fabric brushing fabric while he ate a few of the steamed vegetables.

"Well I'm glad you're in the mood because I intend to give you a night to remember," Paul replied easily. "It's all too easy for us to just sleep at the moment. But when was the last time we really... cut loose?"

"This is where I should say 'too long' instead of 'about five weeks, give or take a day', isn't it?" And it was easy to come home and pass out or just touch and relax a little before passing out. "It has an inverse relationship to our cumulative hours of overtime."

"Mmm. Like I said, sometimes things need to be spelled out." Paul replied. "And I'll enjoy every moment of it. That's why I got dinner ready so early."

"It's very good," Gil told him, watching Paul watch him. It had been unnerving in those first few days that they'd worked together, when they'd been circling each other and not sure what to do, but the intensity and how it hadn't faded fascinated Gil.

Paul lived every moment with intensity. There were times that Gil wondered what it might be like to live on the sort of edge that Paul evidently did. Paul felt things so sharply that sometimes it affected him physically. They had joked once that had be been born earlier he would have been the archetypal artist. Picasso, Van Gogh...

The sort to cut his ear off and mail it to impress an ex-girlfriend.

It made Gil glad that Paul hadn't been born in an earlier time, because he rather liked Paul with both ears stuck firmly to his head. "It's nice to come home and... this is nice. It's nice to have a home to come to, Paul. I don't think I say that often enough."

"Feeling sorry for myself on my birthday all those years ago was by far the best decision I've ever made," Paul murmured. "I can still see you sitting at that bar. Staring into your drink."

"Indulging in the usual 'what am I doing with my life' mope," Gil agreed. "I'd only skipped from job to job and degree to degree for a good ten years, and I half expected being CSI to wear on me, too."

"But it didn't. There was a time when I nearly went an alternative route, too," Paul replied. "But I realized the importance of what we do. Politicking and all."

"Better you than me, Paul. I'm... blind to the politics that Catherine insists that I should try to learn." Gil shook his head, eating slower now, bites between words, savoring the wine. "You're not."

"I'm adept at saying the right thing at the right time, that much is true," Paul half laughed. "But I'll admit you are the better criminalist. I feel... almost proud of that."

"That I'm a better criminalist, or that you're more adept at not getting yourself clotheslined by departmental politics?" Gil walked into things that seemed so obvious after Catherine chewed at him for it, that seemed so obvious after the fact, when the forest view cleared to show the individual trees.

"That you're the better criminalist," Paul repeated the compliment. "And if I were completely adept at not being clotheslined then I wouldn't have had Covallo in my office for the last couple of days."

"I think you still would have. Any scapegoat was going to serve, as long as he kept it covered that there wasn't any actual procedural lapses that lead to the accident. Catherine followed protocol to the letter, Paul, and Covallo knows it."

"Even so..." Paul said and trailed off. "It's hard sometimes. There are days when I feel like dealing with them how you do. That would afford me a great deal of amusement."

"You mean, dismissively? I've never been forgiven for clashing with the FBI," Gil reminded him. That had been a fiasco, and less than a year after Paul had been made supervisor.

"But it was you who closed the case, not them. In the end, it's the results that count," Paul answered. "The Sheriff shouldn't have taken you off that case. I needed you there, so I developed a convenient blind spot to your corruption of the lab." He shook his head, smiling. "Every single one of them sneaking around."

"They're a good team." Good friends, the closest thing Gil had to an extended family. He had a lot going for him in Vegas, a lot more than he'd ever had back in California. A job he loved, friends who'd go out on a limb for him, and a thoughtful partner, and he needed to remember that when everything felt like it was going wrong. "Even when they're ethically questionable."

"I prefer to think of it as a higher form of ethics." Paul said as he finished his meal. "One that's truer to the spirit of what we do rather than tolerating barriers."

"The people who plan our rules for us usually have no experience in the job. After all, that's why the police like to have representation in the higher levels, because they don't want a bureaucrat sitting behind a desk dictating their rules."

Paul sat back, smiling at him as he sipped his wine. "You realize of course that Conrad is half bureaucrat and half CSI and so he'll probably end up dictating national policy some day?"

"He's not a good CSI," Gil pointed out, gesturing with his glass. "So it's a depressing prospect. He overlooks things on cases."

"I know. I have to point that out to the Sheriff on occasion," Paul replied easily. "Just goes to show what judicious buttering up can accomplish."

"A lot?" It was still questionable whether it was for good or for bad. Gil speared a few last pieces of steamed zucchini, glancing to make sure that Paul was actually eating and not trying to distract him.

He had eaten, but lightly. He seemed more intent on drinking, which could be a good thing if he loosened up. "If you learned that skill, Gil, there would be no stopping you. But then I'd miss your way... I like you just how you are."

"That's a good thing," Gil mused, taking a sip of his own wine, "Since old dogs actually don't learn new tricks very well."

"You're not an old dog, Gil. Even if you do whine when I rub your belly."

Paul could still make Gil choke on a drink. "Low blow, Paul. We know what you do when I rub your stomach..."

"I can't help it if I'm ticklish," Paul replied with a low chuckle. "Should I check later if you still do that?"

"You could." Gil set his glass down, and shifted his leg against Paul's. "I think I also whine in bed if other things don't get rubbed. We could test that, too."

"After we've finished the veal," Paul reprimanded him with a smile. "I don't want you running out of energy halfway through. That would be disappointing."

"Then you should finish yours, too," Gil pointed out, "since I've seen how you've been eating at work."

"You know I don't have to eat much," Paul replied, nonetheless spearing another mouthful of food. "Though I would hate to waste it."

"It's very good," Gil made sure to reiterate. "I know that you don't have to eat much, but you eat less when you're stressed, and you can't argue with me and tell me that you haven't been stressed."

"As if I would dream of arguing with you," Paul replied just looking at him a moment. "I love the way you look when you get protective."

As if Paul ever really needed Gil to provide protection, but that knee jerk reaction was still there. He smirked a little, and started to chew on the last of the veal on his own plate. "You tend not to walk in where angels fear to tread too often."

"No, but that doesn't mean I don't feel it as in-intensely," Paul replied with a mild stutter. It was a sure sign his emotions were getting the better of him. "You do know that don't you?"

"I know." He reached his free hand across the table as soon as he'd set down his fork, and grasped Paul's hand.

The grip in return betrayed how serious Paul was underneath his light tone. It was almost the grip of a drowning man, just for a moment. "I'd g-give my life to stop something from happening to you. That's all I could think of when it happened. I knew what I would have done."

And Gil knew what Paul had done -- dragged Gil out of there when he'd been disoriented, made sure the lab was safe. If Gil had been in Greg's position, what Paul might have done ranged all the way out to telling Covallo and the Sheriff to go fuck themselves. Gil squeezed his fingers back, watching Paul. "You didn't have to do anything, because it wasn't that serious."

"Not this time. You can't protect me from my own thoughts, Gil," Paul said softly.

"I can still make an attempt," Gil offered. Paul was still toying with his fork with his other hand. "We can clean this up later, Paul. Why don't we..."

Paul nodded. "As long as you're finished?" he asked softly.

"I'm finished. The only thing I want right now is you." He gave a gentle tug with his hand, waiting for Paul to move.

"I see my cunning plan worked?" Paul got up easily, following that tugging movement. "I want you to tell me what you most want... because I want to show you what I can't say in words."

"What I most want...?" Gil had to puzzle over that for a moment, even as he headed towards the back of the house with Paul in tow. "Where to start."

"Anything," Paul pushed. "Anything at all. Take advantage of my strange reactions." He smiled again. "I'm being serious though."

But he didn't want to take advantage of any sense of vulnerability Paul had, and Gil didn't particularly want to stretch beyond what he and Paul were used to doing. "Mmm, but I'm still at a loss for what kind of anything to ask for. Tying you up is fun, but not what I'm in the mood for. Something slow."

"Then let me make love to every bit of you," Paul replied as they headed to the bedroom. "I can do that forever."

"Long enough to call in sick to work tomorrow?" Gil teased, voice falling low. He knew the way well enough not to trip over anything, and it gave him the license to pull Paul closer to him. It gave him the license to start unbuttoning Paul's shirt.

"The temptation is there, but..." Paul leaned forward and kissed him gently. "I thought I might drop in and see Greg before I made it to the lab. I'm his boss, and his family isn't here."

"I think he'd appreciate that." Hell, maybe Paul was finally starting to warm up to Greg a little. Gil couldn't be sure, and he wasn't going to think about it too hard, because kisses were warmly distracting. Just for a few minutes, just for a few hours, Gil wanted not to think about anything but him and Paul and touch.

"Come and lie down," Paul whispered. His long fingers, so skilled at drawing out the faces of the dead from clay and molding, were equally skilled at drawing desire from skin and removing clothes.

Gil always caught himself almost struggling to get Paul undressed, because somewhere in the midst of it, it would strike him that he was shirtless with his pants open and that Paul was almost finished with him, touches so easy and natural, guiding his motions. "My pleasure."

"You are so... beautiful," Paul murmured. It wasn't a word Gil ever thought of himself as being in any shape or form. But Paul's lips on his skin made it a truth even if it was one that existed only between the two of them.

Because it did exist between the two of them. Gil stretched back on their bed, while Paul pulled at his pants. He was still trying to get Paul's belt undone, kisses to his face and then his neck, distracting enough to make his fingers shake.

When he concentrated, he could feel the shape of words mouthed against his skin, blended from kisses back to words again. Two words and sometimes he felt he could hear the silent words through his skin but maybe that was just wishful thinking.

One thing was clear and that was the need. Perhaps he had underestimated the effect his near miss had on Paul.

He shouldn't have. Paul had confided to him that while the change of physical gender representation from female to male had been best for him, he hadn't ever expected to luck into any kind of relationship. Gil didn't even have that excuse for his poor track record up until Paul had happened, so it had been easy to soothe Paul's faint worries at the time.

But that didn't mean that they were gone. "I do, I will... anything..." He let his hand drift to Paul's neck, stroking over his shoulders.

He'd heard Paul murmur the words before, forgetting himself and letting the private pleas have sound. 'Love me... Save me...' He'd never really asked what he meant but he didn't really need to. The need shone through in the way he kissed or moved. In the way he begged on some nights, or commanded on others.

Paul had little in the way of a middle ground and from the way he kissed and moved he intended to consume Gil with passion.

It wasn't the same as being controlled or commanded, but it was just as overwhelming for Gil as the way that Paul could beg for something. Kisses brushing across his chest weren't a restraint, but it was a reward for staying relatively still, for letting Paul work his way over him like that.

His hands trailed over him, twining in his hair even as Paul stroked and kissed an ache for more to the surface. He knew how to do it after their long association. He knew how to remind him of the times when they had tried something that had brought unexpected pleasure. He knew how Gil liked to feel the pressure of teeth and then the softness of lips and tongue. Which spots on which muscles would send messages of trembling anticipation deeper inside of him.

Paul could play Gil like an artist, and all he wanted in return was to hear Gil, hear the moans and the sighs and feel the shivers and trembles of barely contained arousal, Gil's hard dick jutting up against Paul. Paul kissed over the upward curve over the bottom of his ribs, and Gil sighed, "Fuck, god that feels good..."

When Paul was like this, it could go on until he was dizzy and disorientated with wanting. He would smooth over his stomach, dip into every hint of depth and massage with warm fingers until every knot and tension unraveled.

"There's more to come," his lover murmured, his breath prickling on the kiss dampened skin before he began again.

"More?" Gil's voice sounded, felt a little hazy and dazed. Paul was avoiding his dick, and lavishing touch everywhere else, making Gil's fingers dig into his shoulders a little.

"Always more," Paul murmured. "Everything I have... and more than I can afford to give. You're ...beautiful. You want me and I need you. Where those two meet is the heart of beauty and truth..." He bent his head again and moaned against his skin, "Oh, God, Gil..."

A huff of air escaped him, and Gil shifted, drew one leg up so he could plant his foot flat against the mattress. "You feel so good, doing that. Don't stop."

"I won't." He worked his way around the muscles on his thigh. "You taste... wonderful. You taste..." More kisses, more touching, gentle and tender. "You taste like the only home I've ever had."

Gil almost wondered how someone could taste like home, but then he felt a gentle bite to the inside of his thigh, and the feeling and sight of Paul crouching at the end of the bed was almost too much for him. "Wonderful tease..."

"How many times do you think you can come tonight?" Paul said, looking up at him with glittering eyes. "Once? Twice? Three times?"

"Three times?" Gil laughed, a little bit of incredulity cracking into his voice as he laid his head back on the mattress. Another kiss against his skin, and he groaned. "You're serious."

"I think we can do it..." Paul murmured as chose that moment to kiss at Gil's erection. "Just imagine you're on that roller coaster Gil..."

"I get to ride the Millander Express?" Gil asked, shaky while his voice fell low. Paul's lips dragged just so over the head of his dick, lingering, smearing away the precome that had been beading at the head.

"If that's what you want..." His words were close enough to feel. "You know I can do it. You know I can keep going as long as it takes."

"Yeah..." Because the flexible implant that made Paul a picky shopper for pants made it possible for him to do that, for him to fuck Gil. And as much of a hassle as Gil knew it caused Paul sometimes, the other man felt more complete because he could function like a real man, he'd had a good surgeon and could make Gil's ass ache when he fucked him. "That's what I want, Paul."

"Then first you will get my... mouth." And he demonstrated that with a warm lick. "Then the finest product of the Vegas medical profession until you come again, and again. Hard, and then slowly, for as long as it takes...."

Gil stretched a little, lifting his hips up to Paul's teasing lips. For as long as it took to make him pass out from it, for as long as Paul could last, until they were both past exhaustion. "Fuck, yes, Paul."

"Then don't hold back..." Paul murmured and engulfed his cock in a hot skillful mouth so deeply it was startling, before he sucked at him using his considerable creativity to make the experience memorable.

It was almost always memorable for Gil, except those times where he had sex after taking his migraine medication. He didn't have to worry about being rough with Paul, because Paul liked physicality, liked it when Gil held onto his head, clutched at his shoulders, ran a thumb over his stretched lips while he sat up a little to watch what Paul was doing.

It was incredibly erotic to see him like that, mesmerizing in its sheer physicality and sensation. Paul's hair fell forward in loose waves, mussed and un-styled. He sucked, and his eyes invited the roughness as a counterpoint to the delicate symphony of sensation his tongue was creating around Gil's erection, as he started to move up and down.

No one back at work probably ever wanted to see that, but it made Gil grin to watch, the way Paul's head bobbed, up and down, until the press of tongue and an intentional skiff of teeth over his skin made him groan sharply, eyes closing for a moment as he pushed up again with the leverage of one foot on the floor. "Paul..."

A warm hand cupped his balls loosely giving them a light squeeze as Paul followed his more pressing need, and repeated the action again deliberately, coaxing movement out of his lover.

"Feel like a turkey baster," Gil groaned, laughing a little, because Paul knew he liked having his balls touched, squeezed, fondled.

Gil, if he was honest, liked everything, and his control was to the point where he just kept trying to get more, kept trying to move into whatever touch. There were fingers everywhere, stoking and squeezing as Paul sucked him in earnest towards a first climax.

It didn't take much longer, particularly once Paul slipped a finger back behind his balls, just rubbing at his perineum. Gil's hips twitched up again and again, Paul's cheeks hollow with faint suction for a moment before Gil couldn't get more than a stutter of thrust out because he was coming, right down his lover's throat.

He swallowed and then withdrew, licking his lips. "Good?" His expression told him he knew it was, even as he crawled up to sprawl over him, just for a moment or two. The sprawl was comfortable, the familiar way that limbs tangled and that Gil could easily fall asleep because of. Paul's hands drifted to his waist, while Gil leaned up a little to make the bodily sprawl more intimate with kisses.

Paul liked to let him feel the weight of him for just a little time. He entangled Gil with his limbs while they recuperated, but his hands never stopped stroking. When they did, it was a sure sign Paul was going to rest. But not tonight; they smoothed everywhere, claiming every inch of skin as his own.

"Turn over," Paul murmured in his ear, kissing it lightly. "I want you to be relaxed."

"Most of me is relaxed." It took effort to turn over with Paul laying on top of him, squirming lazy motion so he could lie on his stomach.

"Mm, I know... but a little oil, a little loosening of muscles everywhere and I can get so deep into you that I might just vanish completely," Paul murmured, his smile audible in his tone. Gil could feel him reaching for the drawer.

It was a pretty deep drawer, full of everything from lube to the alarm clock that somehow always found its way in there, to massage oil. Gil couldn't quite remember whose idea that had been, but it was a good idea, and the closest thing Gil could tolerate to cologne or any other body scent. While Paul dug into the drawer, Gil grabbed a pillow, and wrapped his arms around it, resting his chin on it. "That's the best thing I've heard all day."

"Make yourself comfortable," Paul murmured kissing at the back of your neck. "I want you to be so ready you'll come when I enter you and then I'll get another climax out of you." Paul could be insatiable sometimes, but tonight he was particularly intense. Not that Gil minded.

Gil knew that the intense focus was how Paul distracted himself. Art, work, Gil, each could serve the need of a distraction that... Gil sighed against the pillow, when the kiss at the back of his neck trailed down his spine. "So you're aiming for three?"

"Unless you think you can manage more?" Warmed oil trickled onto his back like blood spatter before Paul smoothed it all in, working every muscle.

"Maybe if I were twenty years younger." Three was probably going to put him right to sleep, or be painfully impossible, but Paul was going to try, and he was going to work Gil into it, starting with that massage to give him time to bounce back.

"Just for one night, pretend that you are. That we met back then and didn't waste any time," Paul murmured as his hands worked over him. "If we'd met at that bar and been fresh out of college. All night... Remember we almost didn't get anywhere because we couldn't decide who was going to top?"

"I won the coin toss," Gil groaned into the pillow. "I think I cheated at the coin toss, too, but you were too drunk notice."

Paul chuckled and his fingers dug deeper. "It's not I minded. Then it might have been a bit too much to hit you with all of my secret, even if you have a mind more open than the Nevada desert."

Gil grimaced for a moment when Paul's fingers worked into a sore spot just below his left shoulder blade. "Figured it out myself."

"I know. I felt like an idiot for trying to hide it. Like another CSI wouldn't spot it," Paul worked at him patiently. "Well, a CSI like you at least."

"Only knew because I'd run into all sorts of things in Vegas. People are like oysters..." Gil closed his eyes, determined to let all of himself relax.

"Oysters?" Paul murmured the question.

"Certain species of oyster can change gender. They start out life as male, but switch to female, back to male, back to female... It's interesting. Nick's been branching off into researching sea-life along with birds." Gil turned his head slightly, cheek resting on the pillow as he got himself comfortable.

Paul laughed. "I'm an oyster, but maybe one that never became one or the other," he mused. "Perhaps human oysters can't do that."

"Maybe not, but it still happens naturally. I knew that... even back then." Gil squirmed, half from the way that Paul's fingers were digging into his skin, and half from the feeling of his dick twitching to life. "Mmm."

"There's a fish, the blue-headed wrasse. It starts life female, then becomes a male to find a mate and finally... becomes female again before the end of its life," Paul mused, as he pressed deep into every sensitive muscle and worked his way down towards Gil's ass.

"Better analogy than my oyster one," Gil conceded. The feeling of fingers kneading the muscles of his ass was distracting enough to steal the words right out of his mouth.

"Perhaps Nick could help pioneer a branch of forensics involving birds, just as you have with insects," Paul said in a low voice.

"He's trying," Gil smiled against the pillow. "Good team. We have... a really good team, and that feels really good, right there."

"Right here?" Paul worked it more thoroughly for a moment. "Or are you sure you wouldn't prefer it right here?" His fingers probed somewhere much closer to his ass.

"There... There's good." His fingers bunched in the pillow while Paul explored.

"It gives me a lot of satisfaction to see you like this," Paul said softly as he probed ever closer and deeper. "Enjoying my touch, trusting me to bring you pleasure. When I think of who I could have become without you, that's what makes me so desperate not to let anything happen to you."

Part of Gil wanted to protest that, insist again that he was fine, but Gil understood what Paul was doing. "You do a good job of it," Gil murmured. "You keep a better eye on me than I can keep on myself."

"And in doing so, you make me... better than I ever thought I could be," Paul replied. "I don't want you to think that I take that for granted."

"I know you don't. You... Mmn." Paul's agile hands were on the roam again, sliding along the cleft of his ass. This time they dipped in to rub and tease at his puckered entrance. "Sometimes I don't say enough and I should. I really should. There are things I wish I had said, or done..."

No time like the present, but no reason to mourn the past, either. Gil would have said something, only Paul was playing with him, sliding two fingers in at once, and then pulling them back out, sliding them in again, teasing with his thumb. It didn't take much to make Gil relax.

Paul didn't seem to be in a hurry. He made encouraging sounds as he stroked and teased. He knew how to move for the slow burn, to push things so that Gil hovered on the very edge of things, vanishing deeper into a haze of sensation and pleasure. He would tease and stretch him and then lean and kiss his still oil damp back, and bury his lips in his hair.

He never stopped moving, easing himself into skin to skin contact as he reached deeper inside.

Gil could feel Paul's knuckles brushing his ass, two fingers all the way in, the tip of Paul's thumb stretching the ring of muscle just past comfort, before the invasion stopped, leaving Gil breathing hard, empty, and leaking pre-come against the mattress.

"You think... if I get inside of you... you can manage it?" Paul whispered in his ear. "I want you to have all of me."

"I can handle anything..." Gil turned his head a little, fingers loose in the pillow for a moment.

"Obviously, since we've managed to live together for so long," Paul murmured. There was a descent of warmth against him as Paul molded himself to his body and then pushed in to him slowly.

There were some advantages to his implants; his erection was as permanent as he liked and from his explanations, he felt the thrust and move in a different but no less stimulating way. There was no question that Paul liked it, just like there wasn't any question that Paul liked to have Gil's mouth on him. The only worry was the running joke that it might break, and that was mostly Paul's doing. And Paul was doing... Doing Gil, using the massage oil and a little lube to slide in slowly, laying down on top of Gil and making him spread his legs more to make the angle better for them, both. "Oh, fuck, that feels good..."

Perhaps it wasn't immediate, but when Paul did that, and found the right angle so he grazed over the prostate with long slow strokes it was never long before his body reacted predictably. With jolts of sensation filling him from the inside, there was little else he could do.

Lay there and groan, making encouraging moans for Paul before he tried to unwrap a hand from the pillow and touch Paul in turn. But the thrusts made his motions jerky, jolts of sensation already pushing him to the edge when he was too sensitive to start with.

"Let go for me, let go... come with me, come for me..." Paul was half whispering, half gasping as he nuzzled against his neck and then bit down on his shoulder as he thrust harder.

Biting was animalistic, but Gil liked the feel of it, the dull ache that stayed even after Paul eased the pressure. The harder thrusts and the bite conspired against Gil's dick, the sensation of Paul's hips hitting his ass too vivid. "Paul, I..." Fuck, fuck, it was hard to let go, harder still when it hurt to come again so soon, when the tightening sensation in his balls came with an ache.

He had little choice before Paul reached beneath them to warm and smooth him to come with him. "Is... too much..." Paul managed, but he didn't stop. Paul coaxed, and Gil lifted his hips to the hard thrusts, made it easier for Paul to stroke over sensitive skin, to bring him over the edge. Just a few strokes, familiar palm sliding slickly over his dick, and Gil shuddered when it hit, muscles tight, frozen except for a few jerky thrusts.

Gil was half aware that he groaned, and that he'd gotten up to leaning on his elbows.

Paul steadied and breathed. "Oh God.... Oh god... Gil."

Somewhere in there, Gil laughed heavily, head hanging down between his shoulders. He felt like an old panting dog, and he kept grinning to himself, because Paul's lips were still on his neck, kissing between gasps. "So good..."

"Let me just hold you." Arms wrapped around him, and moved them onto their sides, rather carefully. Paul was still in him, but seemingly in no hurry now. "I..." He seemed to be struggling to say something, but it disappeared into kisses rather than words.

Gil leaned up on an elbow a little. Paul's arms were wrapped around his waist loosely, fingers resting flat against Gil's stomach. A movement, Gil sliding his free hand down to clutch over top of Paul's while he caught his breath again, was followed by words. "I love you, too."

Paul buried his head in against the nape of Gil's neck. "H... How do you always know? How do you know what to say all the time? What I want to say?"

"Words aren't the only way to speak, or the best way." He couldn't see Paul, but he could feel him, could feel the motions of his hands, the way his muscles moved, and it felt good. It felt like being home, and it felt like being comfortable, and that was the best gift Paul could ever give Gil to prove what he felt. Just being there.

"I need to be able to say it," Paul replied softly. "Just once. Just... once." He kissed him again. "I'd do anything for you. I'd die to protect you and I can't seem to say three little words."

"They don't matter to me, Paul," Gil murmured. He shifted a little, moving while Paul settled into a more comfortable position, still in him, but not urgent or trying to move just yet. "I grew up and never heard them, but I saw them."

"Then I hope you will see them in every action I do," Paul murmured softly in his ear. "For you."

There was a faint tightness in his voice as if he was reining in a surge of emotion. Gil just lifted Paul's hand to his lips, and kissed the palm of his hand. Sometimes, words weren't adequate.

They had made the third time.


Gil had needed his sleep afterwards and had barely stirred when Paul had gotten up, kissed him and said thank you in his ear before heading out early. He couldn't have rushed even if he wanted to. It was true he wasn't as young as he used to be, and even in his youth he would have been very proud of a night like the one he had just spent with his lover.

If Paul's aim had been to convince him of his care and need for him, he had most definitely succeeded, even if there was a faint undercurrent of concern at the intensity and Paul's almost obsessively focused mood. But that was Paul. It always had been. It was part of what allowed him to sculpt the faces of the dead so clearly that he had been accused of being a medium by one relative. He never relied on the surface of things. He had to show, not say, he had to act rather than just think. Too much time to think twisted his thoughts inwards towards depression.

Gil had been his balance, and it was true, more often than not that he stabilized Paul rather than vice versa. But nights like that meant Gil always knew exactly where he stood, how much he meant. That he was the center of Paul's life, and that was a rather humbling prospect.

He'd kissed him back sleepily, tasting a little salt on his cheek that he guessed was sweat from the previous night and had slept on and gotten up at a more leisurely pace. From the looks of the place, Paul must have tidied and gone out early. He had been hoping to cross paths with him at the hospital, maybe squeeze in a quick coffee before whatever meeting it was that sent him in early. That looked unlikely.

For a moment he toyed with postponing his trip to see Greg to luxuriate in the bath, but he thought of the younger man who had no one except for them, and traded his time for a shower and set off to see him, ready to go on to work straight after.

After the ups and downs of the past couple of days, he was feeling much better. Paul's idea of devoting the after work hours to the two of them had been a wonderful one, and Gil felt like he had energy again to go back to doing what he did -- balancing Paul out, making sure that his CSIs were all in one piece. He'd have to call Catherine later, invite her out to lunch or dinner or something, make sure she was putting her 'days off' to good use by relaxing.

Gil parked in the parking garage, third floor, and made sure his Tahoe was locked before he turned to head into the building. Hopefully, Greg would be awake.

Maybe the worst of the drugs were balancing out in his system. He hoped so. He was secretly pleased that Paul had been to see Greg. It wasn't that he actively seemed to hate him, but the prickles of jealousy he saw for some of the others had seemed to find a direct target in the young DNA tech. To go and make a personal visit was something he knew was a favor to him, because he liked the younger man.

He made his way absently up to the third floor, wondering who else had been in. Catherine, probably, and Nick was a definite, though they'd probably visited after work instead of before. There was a good chance that Warrick had come by to just say hi to Greg. With Greg's family and probably most of his friends out in California, it was a good idea of they kept visiting him, kept letting him know that they'd still be there once he felt better.

Sara probably not. They had yet to hit it off properly and Sara tended to avoid hospitals as much as possible, which he could understand.

At least no one challenged him as he made it to Greg's room. The younger man was still lying stretched out on his side, propped up with pillows and looking to all intents and purposes, fast asleep. Gil closed the door quietly behind him, and started into the mostly dark room. The blinds were open, letting a little of nighttime Vegas slink into the room. He pulled a chair up, watching Greg sleep. Well, it was going to be a quick trip.

It didn't take long for Greg to realize at least on some subconscious level that there was someone there. He exhaled and blinked his eyes open. "Hey. Griss... Been there long?"

"Not too long." Just long enough to settle in the chair, long enough to take in the feeling of the hospital room. It was a little less antiseptic than it had been the night before. "Are you feeling better?"

Greg shifted a little wincing a little as he moved. "A little less drugged to the eyeballs, yeah. I've been pretty out of it."

"I can't blame you for sleeping after a trauma like that was inflicted on you," Gil drawled. He leaned forwards a little. "Catherine and I closed the lab case."

"You know what happened?" Greg made an effort to concentrate. "Paul was here earlier but he didn't say anything. Said it was yours to tell. I started to wonder if he was coming in to fire me or something. Thought I was having a nightmare when I woke up and saw him."

Gil could imagine that, Paul looming near the bed, his state of contemplative thought easily mistakable for something else. "He's had a rough couple of days thanks to Covallo. First, what happened in the lab wasn't your fault, Greg."

There was a long pause as Greg absorbed this. "You sure? Because Catherine was acting kind of weird around me. "

"Catherine was suspended by Covallo," Gil murmured quietly. "What... happened was because she followed our set procedure of putting unlogged evidence under the fume hood."

"Yeah. That's what the rules and regs say," Greg agreed although he looked none the wiser. "Why would she be suspended? I mean... Catherine doesn't... I mean she wouldn't..." He trailed off frowning slightly.

"It's a cover his ass move by Covallo. The Sheriff can go to the mayor and say, yes, we know what happened, and the responsible parties have been punished for it. I'll be happy if we change the procedure and put un-logged evidence somewhere else on the premises from now on." Gil tilted his head a little so that Greg didn't have to, to look at him straight on. He'd tug the dressing around his neck if he did.

"But... what was it that could have exploded like that?" Greg asked, blinking to focus his thoughts. "And Catherine never puts anything near the plate."

"It burned off in the fire, but trace has some samples that are backlogged. I'm afraid the extinguishers may have masked the original chemical content on the green glass. And Catherine agrees that she never put anything near the plate. So either she did, or someone moved it."

Greg nodded a little, wincing slightly at the injudicious movement. "I'm sorry about the lab, Grissom," he added, with a hint of apology. "And your case."

"Greg? This wasn't your fault at all. And what little you remembered has already been a great help to me." It was funny that even after he'd told Greg that it wasn't his fault, Greg still acted like it had been. Guilt worked like that.

"I know, but I was working on the hair, and... another ten minutes and I might have had a complete match," Greg replied as if he was compelled to make the full scope of his failure known.

"If the person's DNA was even in the system, Greg. Don't take it so hard. This wasn't because of anything you did, and... You're a good lab tech. You're passionate, but sometimes you have to put your own health before the lab. Right now is one of those times." He reached out to touch Greg's hand, just for a moment.

Greg glanced at him a little surprised and then as if he was recalling something through the haze of drugs. "Paul said I should concentrate on getting better. He was a bit... uh... I've never seen him like that."

Gil was almost afraid to ask, but curiosity pressed for it. "Like what?"

"We were talking about... about your case. I told him what I remembered, and he sorta got this strange look about him," Greg answered looking embarrassed and uncomfortable in a way that had nothing to do with pain. "I remembered the other thing I was trying to tell you as well, and he sorta stepped right over me and... he put his hand on my hair and neck a moment." Greg smiled nervously. "I mean, I don't think he's ever touched me before. And... he just looked at me a moment in silence, his hand just there and he eventually patted my hair and scribbled a note for you and left."

Hand on Greg's hair and neck? Gil knew he was frowning, but he couldn't quite stop the expression from settling on his face. "That... is a bit strange. What was the other thing?" And what note, but Gil didn't want to throw so many questions at Greg at once.

"I'd run a trace on the hair. It came up high in endogenous testosterone... which was weird," Greg said exhaling with obvious relief that Grissom wasn't disputing what he was saying. "I didn't think much of it until it came up XX."

Gil started to reply, but his breath caught in his throat for a moment. "Greg, where's the note Paul left?" The mental image of Paul standing over Greg, a hand on his neck, the other in his hair, lingered in his mind. XX. Endogenous hormones. XX. People took endogenous testosterone for... all sorts of things, but sex change operations was one of the most clear reasons.

There was an awkward gesture by Greg at cabinet beside him with his most mobile hand. "On there I think. I can't reach there. Something wrong?"

Something was very wrong, a deep sinking feeling that Gil couldn't shake off while he leaned to take the note from the cabinet. "Possibly."

Greg looked alarmed and tried to push himself up properly. "What does it say?"

Gil unfolded it, sitting back from Greg so he couldn't peek. It was brief and to the point in Paul's fluid handwriting.

~I have a lead on who it is. I can't let her hurt you or anyone else ever again. I'm sorry Gil, but it's something I have to do. This has to stop here, and sometimes you have to go to the source and end it where it began. No matter what, I am your Paul, always.~

Gil closed the note, and stood up. "Greg? I'm sorry, I have to leave now. Paul has a hunch, and..." And Gil was afraid of what he was going to find. He was going back to the source, and if Gil's own quiet hunch, the one he didn't want to give words to, didn't want to think through, was right, then... Then he knew where he could find Paul.

"That's okay... Go. I hope everything is okay," Greg said mirroring his concern and urgency. "Let me know what happens when you can."

"Sure." Gil gave Greg a faint wave, walking, rushing a little to the door. He would have been running if he hadn't thought that a nurse might see him and stop him for being suspicious.

Hands on neck and hair could mean a lot of things, from pushing someone down into the pillows to snapping their neck.

It was unlike him to touch without deliberate thought and icy fingers of dread had slipped into his stomach and gripped hard. Coincidence could happen but Greg wouldn't have known there was a coincidence to be looking at. None of them would have known.

And he couldn't be sure. He could be just blindly rushing to an embarrassing confrontation.

He could be completely wrong. Gil hadn't ever hoped so hard in his life for him to be wrong, for his gut instinct to be wrong. Paul... wouldn't, couldn't.

Paul wasn't the kind of person to do anything like that. He had fits of depression, sure, but that wasn't related to anything like killing. It just... wasn't possible, Gil's mind, and his memories insisted while he turned off the lock on his Tahoe, hearing it sound a beep at him as he came towards it in the parking lot. Paul had an easy smile that could put the gleam of the moon to shame when he was enjoying himself, and most days at work his dark sense of humor was the highlight of Gil's day.

This couldn't be real. That flash of a possibility had to be one too many cases messing with his thoughts.

Nevertheless, his hands shook as he unlocked his car and got in. His mind went absurdly blank for a moment as he sought for the memory of a certain address. He was gripped with a shock of sorts that made every action distant and surreal.

He knew it, but he also knew that Paul was estranged from his mother because of his gender identity issues. He could find his way there, and he had a GPS installed in his vehicle for a reason. Gil could get there.

Gil just didn't know if he really wanted to. If... If he was right, or wrong, or whatever was going on in his head, it wasn't going to be good. If Paul were...

And it shed a little light on Paul's desperation, the slight rub of oddness that he'd had that morning, wouldn't it?

If he started going there, then he would have to admit suspicions and it was one thing to see motives, suspects everywhere else, but different to see one in his own life.

Somehow, he got his vehicle going, backed out of the parking space. He had to be wrong, and then he could feel insane and have Paul laugh at him later for it, or get into a fight because how could Gil suspect that? He wanted either, for Paul to be angry or to laugh at him, because he wanted to be that kind of wrong.

He pulled out onto the street, blinking his eyes to clear his vision. Paul had been his lover, his anchor, his companion for so many years now, that it seemed impossible for his hunch to be right.

The trip across town had never felt so long. He felt strangely numb as if somehow in reading that note he had received news of an imminent disaster and was praying silently for it to be fine, not to happen. That the dread inside was his own paranoia and fears clamoring unnecessarily for attention.

He couldn't be that wrong, could he? He would hate himself for suspecting him, for having a mind trained to see the worst in people rather than the best.

Gil kept hoping, like a mantra as he drove, that he was wrong, that his over-trained mind had failed him, that it was wrong. That he wasn't going to find what he thought he was going to find as he coasted to a stop in front of the house that Paul had gone through childhood in.

It didn't help that Paul's car was parked in the drive.

There was a certain type of person who wouldn't open a door for fear of finding out what was on the other side. CSIs rarely had that problem and until the moment when he got out of the Tahoe and stood in front of the front door, Grissom had never really understood why people did that. Now he did.

It was habit more than anything that made him reach for his gloves even as he knocked on the door.

Just a habit, because if he was wrong and Paul honestly did have a hunch, then he didn't want to foul up the evidence. Gil snapped the gloves on, then reached for the doorknob.

He didn't have to, because the door swung open into the darkened house.

There was a certain aura to a place empty of life, and to someone who had been on more crime scenes than he could comfortably remember there was a certain feel to the presence of death as well. Immediately his senses started to register the subtle telltales that indicated that he had walked on to a crime scene. Metallic tinge in the air. A silence so profound it almost convinced him that he had been struck deaf in the blink of an eye.

The hallway was narrow, and Gil turned left first, peering first into what seemed to be a darkened dining room. There was a woman sitting at the table, and he could smell blood.

It was if all his fears were crystallized in that moment. He was stepping forward, carefully, instinctively avoiding everything to see what had happened. A gun lay on the floor as if dropped by her own hand, a bloodied mess where her stomach should be and a mini recorder next to her.

It didn't look like a murder.

He didn't want to touch it. Gil needed to leave, needed to walk out of the premises and call for backup, but he needed to find Paul first. He turned from the dead woman, looking around again.

"Paul? Paul, are you here...?"


He had to step forward because the quality of the light was such that it seemed that something was obstructing it.

He saw the spilled objects first, tumbled all over the floor. A massive mountain of things, cushions, chairs, footstool to give more height than he could imagine might be needed for anything. But not even that thought could stop him looking and finally seeing the moment when his dread met reality.

The possibility that he'd ever see that had always been unlikely in Gil's mind. But it was happening, and he was looking up, up from that spilled out pile, to Paul's hanging body. There was some kind of rope coming down from the rafter, and Paul's head was cocked down. Gil didn't have to see the rope digging into his throat to know what it had done to Paul's neck, possibly his spine. That was what hanging was supposed to take care of, but so often it was done wrong.

"Oh god..." It was really Paul.

One of his shoes had fallen off into the pile.

There was no possibility that he could be alive. He could see that from where he stood transfixed by the surreal effect of his world shattering around him. All the truths he had known that morning were somehow destroyed along with Paul's life.

He was dead. How could he be dead? How could they have gone from happiness only a few hours before to this?

Gil started to reach to touch him, and then stopped himself, still staring up at Paul's body. If he hadn't slept in, if he hadn't... Gil closed his eyes, and sat down on the floor after he reached for his cell phone with a shaking hand. Breathe. He had to breathe, and then call... someone.

He would have called Paul. In an emergency. He would have called him and asked what he thought. He would never get an answer again.

Everything seemed broken in his head. His own ability to think and reason stuttered and fell every time a thought realized the familiar ground had dropped away suddenly.

Catherine was off work, suspended. Gil swallowed, opened his phone, and when he opened his eyes to dial Brass's number, Gil couldn't, didn't look up. Paul was still hanging there, and Gil's useless instincts told him that he couldn't cut him down.

Paul was dead, hung like every other victim of their serial killer. Suicide -Murder, but where was the suicide and where the murder?

He didn't want to see his eyes. He didn't want to touch him and feel him dead when they had been so alive together.

Thank God Jim was on speed dial because he wasn't sure his fingers could punch buttons accurately.

He probably would have fucked it up, twice as badly because he was wearing gloves on his hands. It rang too many times, four times, five times, and all Gil could think of was that he could have done something to intervene. Thought it until a little voice piped up that Paul's hair would come up XX with those hormones in it, and wouldn't that explain everything? Because Paul would always be... his Paul. No matter what happened. Dead before anyone worked out that he might have been a murderer.

Might have been someone other than the person Gil knew.

Seven rings, and Jim picked up.

"Grissom, you have the damnedest knack of catching me when I can't get to the phone," Jim answered in a gruff tone. "This better be good. They've had me all over Vegas last couple of shifts."

"Paul's dead." Saying the words made Gil's voice crack a little, but once he started to talk, it kept coming. "He's hanging..."

There was a pause before Brass said. "Paul?" as if it could be anyone of a hundred different Pauls. He wished it was, he wished it was any other Paul than his Paul. "Our Paul? Fuck, Gil... hold on..." There was the sound of hasty rustling as if Brass was suddenly taking things a little more seriously. "Where are you?"

"I'm... I'm in his, it's his mother's house, it looks like she shot herself, I..." He shook his head, and with the motion, he caught sight of Paul's dangling feet again, and choked a little. "I don't understand it, and I can't, fuck, I can't remember the address, hold on..." He needed to get up to check, oh, god, he was an idiot.

"I'll get it from personnel. Gil, are inside with him? Them? If you are I want you to go outside...." Brass sounded like he was moving fast even as he spoke to him on the phone. "Do you remember what his mother's name is... was?"

"Isabelle. It's Isabelle." Was, but Gil didn't bother to correct himself, and started to try to get to his feet. "He, he left a note with Greg, that he'd had a hunch, and..."

Brass had a remarkable soothing voice for someone who could snap insinuations out at a suspect like a butcher hacking up raw meat. "Okay, okay... are you getting up? Hold on a minute." He could hear him calling somewhere else. Maybe using his police radio and it sounded like asking them for the address and back up.

"Yeah. I'm... getting up. I put on gloves, and I haven't touched anything, I just..." Panicked, and called Brass because Paul was hanging from the goddamned ceiling.


"We'll be there soon," Jim replied urgently, "Just hold on, Griss, go outside and sit down a minute, okay?"

"Sure. You have the address?" Gil tapped open the front door, and left it open, while he moved to sit down on the porch. "I can see it now."

"Tell me just to check. I'm on my way over. We'll get the team in." Jim reassured him, obviously wanting to keep him talking.

Gil didn't know what Jim thought would happen if he stopped talking. It wasn't as if Gil would pick up a murder weapon and off himself. Suicide was... the easy way out. The way to avoid answers like 'why', which Gil desperately wanted to ask. Paul... Paul had dug a comfortable niche into Gil's life, did something for him that work never did and now...

Now it didn't make sense. "Sure. The address is..." Gil peered up at the old numbers affixed to the wall, and read them off.

"Good. There's no other sign of an additional intruder is there?" Of course, it made sense that Jim had practically ordered him out. The scene hadn't been cleared and their first assumption might not be the correct one.

"Not... that I saw," Gil admitted. "The front door was open."

"Good. Wait until we get there to clear the place okay?" Jim was very obviously driving now, and from the sound of horns and sirens he wasn't holding anything back. "You doing okay there Gil? Keep talking. Who'd you want me to call in? You can't take the scene."

"I know. But we're down to... three?" Gil swallowed back a strained noise. "Jesus. Nick, Warrick if he can be spared." Not Sara.

"Okay. Nick and Warrick. I'm going to need you for statements Gil, okay?" He could hear the sirens if he listened carefully.

Breathe. He had to make a statement, sure, because he'd found the body. Bodies. But it was Paul, and Paul... Paul had kissed him goodbye that morning and meant it, and that realization had made it hard to breathe.

Paul had known he didn't have any more time to make up for 'regrets'.

"Gil?" Whether Brass had heard the change in his voice, he didn't know but he sounded more urgent in his attempts to keep him talking. "Come on, Grissom, stay with me here. Two minutes and I'll be there. Hold it together that long. I'll get Vega to clear the place okay? He knows not to disturb anything."

"Sure. I'm fine, Jim. Just... sitting here." Gil cleared his throat, and tried not to think about what had happened. "He was... in such a good mood yesterday after work..."

"He should have told someone where he was going," Brass replied even as the lights from his car swung into view. "Look, I'm hanging up. I'll be with you in a minute, okay Griss? Got it?"

"Yeah. I do." He closed his eyes, and hung up the phone. Paul had asked Gil specifically what he wanted to do, his favorite meal, all of those little touches that had spoken of love and familiarity, because Paul had known, Paul had planned.

He couldn't ever tell anyone that he had reason to think that Paul's 'murder' ... wasn't.

A thousand and one tiny hints, the CSI 'paper cranes' folded themselves in his mind to give him not his deepest desire, but his worst nightmare. And he couldn't be sure and he wasn't even sure that he ever could be definite about it.

Brass was running up the driveway towards him, Vega beating him to the door. "Gil. Stay there, we'll clear the scene and I'll be back okay?"

"Sure." It was hard not to sound strained, listless with the effort it was taking not to be emotional, not to just break down and cry right there because his lover, his closest friend, his... lucky shot at life was dead. Dead and he didn't know what was going on, except a handful of sick, sad suspicions.

And the funny, abrupt thought that he wanted to be there for Paul's autopsy, so that when Al ran across scars and remnants of parts that shouldn't have been there, he wouldn't be able to theorize, he'd know. Gil didn't want anyone laughing or joking over Paul. Paul wasn't a joke.

Somewhere between Brass and Vega going into the building and Brass and Vega coming out, Gil did start to cry. He had a hand up to his eyes, rubbing at his face, trying to stifle it.

"Vega, make the calls okay?" He could here Jim's voice oddly gentle behind him before Brass stepped round in front of him. "Gil. Gil, you with me?"

Jim reached for his wrist, taking it in his hand, Jim's hand more rough and calloused than his own. Fuck. Gil rubbed at his eyes again, and tried to pull it together. "Yeah. I'm fine. I'll be okay."

"Gil. Come on. Get up." Jim was quietly insistent, trying to pull him to his feet. "Let's just step around the corner a moment okay?"

He managed a jerk of a nod, and when Gil stood up, Jim pulled at him, got him moving away from the house, out of the way of officers and sirens.

There was a small pool of quiet around the corner, and Jim had let go of his hand and had his arm around his shoulders to guide him instead. It seemed strange to see this side of Brass -- the one who was so often the first on the scene of a death who had to deal with the shock and trauma. It was even stranger to experience it.

"Easy now, Griss. Look at me. Look at me, Gil..." He was insistent about that and Gil was surprised to see the glimmer or moisture in the homicide detective's eyes as well.

He wasn't sure how long he could look at Jim, not with his throat constricting and his eyes wet, noises choking a little in his throat. Because Paul had known it was going to happen, and he'd been too stupid to understand, or too blind, or too easily lost in pleasure to grasp why Paul had been indulging him, why he'd been saying and doing what he'd done.

Gil still wasn't sure how Paul killing himself said 'I love you', and he struggled with that as he kept looking at Brass, unable to say anything.

"It's best to let go of it, Gil, trust me," Brass said quietly. "It's okay, you don't have to worry. I know it hurts."

If they'd argued the whole morning before, maybe it would have been easier. Except they hadn't, and the day had been as thoughtfully planned as some of their anniversary-birthdays were. It had been good, and every little reason why he loved Paul, why he'd let Paul into his life was right there, at the fore of his mind still, weighing contrast to the possibility that Paul was their serial killer and that Gil had never known.

He choked a little more, struggling, before he lost the fight.

Gil didn't make much sound, partly because Brass was there and holding him unselfconsciously, tight enough that he could muffle his face against the other man's shoulder. Giving enough support that he didn't have to think about anything except for the sudden sensation of aching emptiness inside.

Paul was dead, and dead men didn't come back. Dead men didn't walk through the door of their house, over their half-fried from the heat lawn, didn't do anything. Didn't do any of the hundred things that Gil kept half expecting Paul to do. Walk up behind him and ask what was wrong, offer him quiet and a cup of coffee until he could calm down. Or tell him to get a hold of himself and get in there to work the scene. Any of it. Anything, and what Gil would give to be wrong.

Really wrong. For it not to have been Paul at all in that living room, for it to have been a trick of the shadows. For Paul to wander over and ask what the hell was going on. What he'd do for that to happen, what he'd give was beyond Gil's own grasp. He'd give anything.

The worst thing of all was that it didn't matter what he could and would do. There was nothing that was going to make this better. There was nothing that would make the pain go away. No amount of kindnesses would change the fact that he wasn't there or the feeling he should have stopped this somehow.

And there would be questions, prying, because that was how it worked. That was how it went, and they'd know , they'd know Paul's secret. Female to male and back to female again, and those fish -- what were they, again? -- did that, turned male to find a mate but turned female again at the end of their life span. Had Paul meant that, in the inquiries that would rise up after his death, or had he meant the killings, the XX hair?

Gil wouldn't ever know. He'd have to make his own answers, but for the moment he leaned into Jim and sobbed until there wasn't anything left but the hole.

Things like dignity and thought would have to wait. In the end right then he'd agree to everything Jim said or suggested, including the fact that he wasn't going to work, and he wasn't going to be alone after his statement.

Somewhere he ought to be grateful that he had friends like Catherine and Jim who would do that for him in the middle of the night, but right then he didn't care.

He didn't care about much of anything.

Five am, and Gil Grissom had to admit that he didn't think he'd ever faced a bleaker coming dawn than that one. He'd gotten jostled around the department while waiting and then after he'd given his statement he was sidelined, feeling aimless and distressed. He'd called David and had asked to be told when Paul's body came up for autopsy, said that he'd wanted to be there.

Al wasn't going to be pleased with Gil, but Gil couldn't care. He had too much on his mind, too many thoughts jumbled together, from the impractical 'what ifs' to wondering how he was going to manage funeral arrangements. He was going to have to call his mother, tell her what had happened when he got home, but it wasn't the kind of news he wanted to discuss through a TTY. He could send her an e-mail, and it might work better.

"Grissom?" David poked his head into the room where he was sitting, his expression worried and nervous. "We're starting off. Uh... Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Yes." After he'd given his primary statements, Jim had frog-marched him to the men's room, where Gil had finally thrown up, and then washed his face. It had actually helped to do that, to get rid of anything that could keep causing the sick feeling in his stomach. He stood up, moved to follow David.

He wondered what CSI was in there with Al.

Going into the domain of Doc Robbins always involved some form of ritual. Gowning and gloving up, making sure no contaminants were being brought in, served as a CSI version of priests gowning up to respect the dead.

He was right. Al had a look on his face as he looked up that indicated he thought this was a really bad idea even as he glanced at Nick who was standing beside him. "Gil. We're just about to start." He hesitated. "This isn't the best idea...."

Paul was lying there, cold on the mortuary table. Not even the faintest hint of his living presence was connected to that form. Cold death

"I need to be here." Gil said that even as he moved to stand out of the way, a few feet off to the side. He needed to be there, but he didn't need to be close, didn't need to see the way that the scalpel in Al's hand would make the y incision and the way the saw would open his chest cavity. Gil only needed to see the single line of bruising on Paul's neck.

He didn't miss the silent command from the older man to Nick who casually shifted to be a bit closer to him.

"Okay. We have... ligature marks consistent with the rope found around his neck. You've got the fibers Nick?"

The other CSI nodded.

"Initial assessment indicates signs of a broken neck, and little resistance in muscle tone. Absence of petechiae would make me suspect that the victim died almost instantaneously of a broken neck rather than prolonged asphyxiation." Doc Robbins spoke aloud to his recorder.

Good. Good, then it had been fast for Paul. Gil didn't have to imagine him kicking or struggling to breathe, didn't have to let his mind conjure up images of Paul trying to dig his fingers under the rope, scrabbling at it as it pulled tighter and tighter. He hadn't strangled to death, an odd relief for Gil's brain as he watched Nick peer at Paul's corpse. His neck, actually, the front of it, and Gil knew what Nick noticed was missing.

"Uh... Doc? This is a stupid question but where's his Adam's apple?" Nick asked sounding confused.

"Well, I was assuming it was crushed and forced back into the esophagus," Al replied peering closely, "but I can't see postmortem bruising there." He picked up a scalpel.

"He doesn't have one." Gil didn't quite want them cutting there, because part of him said that Paul's favorite suit wouldn't cover any marks they made there. It was a stupid thought, but as long as he tried to dwell on practical things, maybe he wouldn't drive himself right up a wall.

Doc Robbins looked at Gil. "He doesn't?" He paused, not pressing scalpel to dead skin just then. "Is there something you need to tell us Gil?"

How to say it? Gil wasn't quite sure because he'd just realized it, slowly and fully, the longer he'd known Paul. Eventually, when Paul had moved to Vegas, they'd started to talk about it on Paul's terms. It had been as if Paul had told Gil to begin with, rather than both of them acknowledging that Gil had been a good observer. "Paul was born Pauline."

"Whoa." Nick exhaled, looking at him and then to the naked body laid out on the table. "He was?"

"Well that certainly explains some of the scarring," Al replied, seeming to take it more in his stride. "The form of hanging was not the normal form used by suicide victims who generally die of heart stoppage due to pressure on the carotid artery, or asphyxiation. The ligature marks have the suspension point at the front which indicates this was in the style of a judicial hanging. It generally only works to snap the spinal column if it occurs from a substantial height. "

"There was a really big pile of stuff toppled over." Nick added in his soft voice, sneaking glances at Grissom whenever they spoke. "Would a drop of over four foot do it?"

Doc Robbins nodded slowly. "It's possible. Not the eight foot they use for executions, but... that's overkill anyway."

Nick still shot Gil a curious glance while Al moved to get the bone saw. Gil watched Nick put down his face shield, and Gil followed suit, even though he knew where Paul had been, and if blood spatter from his lover was something for him to be worried about then he was in worse shape than he'd already been in.

The next step of the autopsy process was something he had witnessed a thousand times, but never experienced in the same way as he did then. They were carving up his memories with every cut and removal. There was the heart that he could remember beating under his ear as he lay half sprawled over Paul's chest. The lungs that stirred each breath that he would feel on a sleepy Sunday morning against his neck. The liver that got Paul through his brief dalliances with drinking.

Watching it, understanding that was all humans were when they were dead, food for the insects, back to the ground, oddly eased away some of Gil's wilder 'what ifs', like that desperate hope that he'd been wrong and it hadn't been Paul up there, after all. Seeing Paul cut open, the sum of the parts so much less than the whole, made it sink in that Paul was dead, well and truly dead.

He zoned in and out, listening to but not really hearing the conversation that Nick and Doc Robbins were having.

"But his hands weren't tied behind his back so why didn't he resist?"

"Well, pending blood analysis, and stomach content analysis, I'd say much the same way as the other victims," Al replied, hunting around carefully having weighed the major organs and extracted the stomach contents. "The muscles look loose... makes precise time of death difficult to determine, but... ah... a hypodermic mark."

Nick nodded. "Like the others. We found one at the scene. Had Isabelle Millander's fingerprints all over it."

Gil wasn't going to be there for the look at stomach contents. There would be mostly digested veal, and human protein, if it wasn't broken down past the point of identification already.

He could see the conclusions they were drawing about what had happened, and Gil couldn't quite step in and say that he knew what was going on. Couldn't, because maybe he didn't. Maybe stress had skewed his perceptions so far out that he didn't know what was what anymore.

He'd always stressed that one followed the evidence not the theory. So far the evidence was clear. Sedative in the blood stream, same M.O. No valid surviving evidence to say anything but Isabelle Millander had been the killer and Paul had confronted her and been her last victim.

"Maybe he couldn't believe that she would do it to him?" Nick suggested, peeking another glance at Gil. "Uh... her."

"Definitely a her, but... with some congenital abnormalities by the looks of it." Doc Robbins looked at Grissom. "From birth?"

It took him a minute to find the words to do more than make an affirmative grunt. "They'd assumed it might cause problems, so they were told to... raise him as they saw fit. His given middle name was Paul." Him, his, because Paul wasn't a her, Paul was male. The genetics didn't matter.

"Things were very different then," Al replied in a gruff voice. "I don't think there's anything strange about this cause of death. He wasn't dead prior to his broken neck, all evidence is consistent with that. We'll run blood tests and examine the stomach contents for any anomalies but the cause of death was most definitely broken neck from hanging. His mother's was bleeding out from a stomach wound. I'd estimate the times of death to be nigh on simultaneous. We haven't yet measured it."

And they probably wouldn't be able to. Gil hesitated back a little, still watching Al's motions as he set his tools down. He had to close his eyes for a moment, just to gather himself, just to concentrate. The body on that cold metal table wasn't really Paul, just proof of Paul's death. Proof that nothing was ever going to be the same again.

"You got what you need Nick?" Al asked, still looking at Grissom.

"Man. Yeah... yeah I have. I never thought..." Nick cut himself off. "I'll take the samples to trace. Hodges said he'd put them at the top of the pile for one of our own."

That was good to hear, too, and Gil knew he should have been making his own verbal and physical indications that he was leaving, but he couldn't quite yet. The nerves that controlled his muscle movement must have been taking a coffee break, because all he could really do was look at Paul's face, the way the bland slackness of death changed his face.

Al walked around between him and the body, disrupting his view. "Gil, I really think it's time you went home," he said in his tone that brooked no argument. "You don't need to see any more."

It took him a moment to react, took Gil a moment to focus his eyes because trying to look through and past Al wouldn't work. "There isn't anything to go home to."

Al nodded, his stern worried expression softening. "I understand that, but you should be away from here. Jim said something about one of us being there with you?"

"Sure." Gil finally dropped his head, and swallowed, working his mouth to keep back the urge to cry again. He wasn't going to -- he shouldn't have had any tears left. He took a step back from Al, and took off the eye shield before he headed to the door. He was going to have to call a cab to get back home. His car was still parked out in front of Paul's mother's house.

"You okay, man?" Nick said in a low voice practically ushering him out of the morgue. "You need me to do anything for you?"

"Could you drop me off at the scene? I... need to get my car." It sounded lame and helpless, but he was going to have to get back there somehow. Had to get his car. He needed his car to... take care of things. Go home, and... Gil didn't know what he was expected to do when he got home. He couldn't sleep. He couldn't stop thinking about the evidence versus what he knew .

"Sure. I told Warrick I'd meet him back there at some point," Nick replied seemingly unable to take his eyes off of him, frowning faintly with concern. "You don't want me to take you back to your place?"

"No. I can drive." Gil stopped when Nick stopped, out in the side room to strip off the protective gear and stuff it into the bin.

Nick nodded, accepting that and seemed to be searching for words. "I'm really sorry, Griss," he said finally. "It's a terrible thing -- the whole lab is devastated by it. He was a wonderful, a good man."

But maybe not as wonderful as they all thought. As Gil thought. He rubbed at his eyes for a moment. "I know..." Gil exhaled a little, and then tacked on the almost requisite, "Thanks."

"Look, anything you need, seriously. I'm there, okay? You've got my number, right?" Nick said earnestly. "Night or day, just call. If you need a ride or somebody to get stuff for you, let me know and I'll help out where I can."

They were trying to help. They were trying to help, and Gil knew it, but he couldn't think, couldn't tell them the pathetic fact that since none of them could raise the dead, they were pretty useless to him. "Right." Gil reached for where he'd hung up his jacket. "I'll be out in the parking lot. Take your time with the trace, I... just need some air."

Maybe it was time to take up smoking again.

"I won't be long, Griss. Just dropping them off," Nick reassured. "I'll meet you outside."


Gil walked, a little aimless until he stepped out into the waning darkness of the early morning, and the comforting cold. As soon as the sun started to creep up, heat would rise, but for the moment a little cool air on his face was almost calming. He needed to calm down, needed to breathe and get it together, even if that consisted of wishing that he could knock out the lights that lit up their parking lot.

He felt like his thoughts were betraying him. On one level, he could feel the hurt, the loss and pain: grief as raw as open heart surgery conducted with a rusty hacksaw. On another level, nearly drowned out, there was a quiet answer to the whywhywhy that circled around and around in his head. He didn't want that answer. There would be no real evidence to support it and yet it was there in his thoughts. A traitorous betrayal of everything he had believed in.

For once, he knew he couldn't trust the evidence. He needed to think about what had started it, needed to think about Paul's mood-shifts for the past couple of days. The lab had blown up, but it wasn't that which had bothered him so much. It was that Gil had been hurt in the explosion. He'd kept going on and on about wanting to protect Gil, and Gil had brushed it off and said that Paul did his best, showed what he felt in the ways that mattered. And he had.

The thought of Paul standing over Greg with his hand on his neck was somehow locked in his imagination. Greg wasn't paranoid about Paul's distance. He always did try to avoid touching him...

And he needed to stop thinking about him in the present tense. The realization jarred at him unexpectedly every time a thought probed, like accidentally putting his hand on a wasp. It was shocking, the sharpness with which the pain and disbelief hit.

Paul was dead, and there wasn't anything to go home to but a house that was waiting for the other occupant. Paul's art, and Paul's fish, and Paul's medications, and Paul's favorite kind of coffee creamer, and Paul's side of the bed, and Paul's bad taste in movies. Gil leaned his head back against the brick, and closed his eyes while he waited.

Half of him wanted to return to the familiar and half of him dreaded doing anything at all that would remind him of what he had lost. If there hadn't have been that nagging question of 'why?' whispering under every thought he had a feeling he would have gone to a hotel just to avoid that emptiness. But any answers lay at home. Their home. A place where he had never turned his attention as an investigator before.

It didn't... belong that way. He didn't have to investigate at home, he could turn his mind off and just enjoy existing. He lived at home, he wrote and researched and laughed and loved and relaxed.


Gil heard it, shifted to stand upright and open his eyes again. "Finished up?"

"Until the results get in. This is where we miss having Greg here," Nick said, pausing a moment. "He could turn results around pretty damn quick." He tried a part smile. "You want me to stop and get you something to eat on the way?"

"No, I'm fine." He just wanted to get back to his car, and get back to his... to their empty house. Gil moved away from the wall, hoping Nick would take it as a cue to lead him to his SUV.

He did, and it was obvious that he wanted to say more but wasn't sure exactly what to say. It couldn't have been an easy topic to broach in any circumstances, particularly now that Paul was dead, presumably murdered. "Ah, Warrick and I... well, we decided not to noise it around about Paul being... genetically female."

Not that Gil thought their silence would last. All it would take was one slip, and the rumor mill would run wild. Gil didn't say anything until he was buckling himself into the passenger seat, until Nick's tension was almost palpable. He remembered when Nick had pieced it together that the two CSI 3s that he admired were partners, and not in the platonic police way, and the look on Nick's face. "I appreciate that. He... would have appreciated that."

"I guessed that from the fact that no one knew. Or was it just me?" Nick asked as he settled in to drive.

"No one knew. He preferred it that way." It was hard enough being male, feeling male, without someone undermining that on Paul by having knowledge of his actual genetics to hold up against him. "He had the operation when he was eighteen. There was... really very little difference."

"Really? Well I have to admit that I was fooled. Completely." Nick said as he steered for the main street.

Gil leaned his head back against the headrest. "It wasn't about fooling people, Nicky. Paul just wanted to live the life that he was chromosomally denied. I helped, where I could." Little things, distracting people when Paul had to go into the locker room or the men's room to change his clothes. It wasn't even something that took thought.

"Yeah. Yeah I guess not. It was a bit of a shock though. I mean, all of it. Not just that. I can't believe it."

"I... can't, either. It doesn't make sense." It probably wouldn't ever make sense, no matter how much he investigated, no matter how much he wracked his brain, Paul was dead, hung, and it didn't make sense. The surreality of finding Paul's body still clung to him.

"I guess, he worked it out because it was his mother?" Nick suggested. "I can understand the sort of ties that come with family."

"They were estranged." Gil had only met her once, and that had been by sheer happenstance on a street down by the strip. But he'd driven Paul there a couple of times, once to get some old molds that had belonged to Paul's father.

Paul had always spoken of his father in an idealized way. He'd never left the space in his head where he had been the center of his world, if only because he supported the choice that Paul felt most comfortable with. He had his father's talent for sculpture and had made that into a career, but he had never denied that losing him so traumatically had changed him inalterably.

"I can guess why. The room down the hall was still painted a shade of pink my middle sister loved when she was eight, full of girl stuff, and there was another seat at the dining room table. Not exactly stable. Prescription sedatives, too." Nick replied.

Paul had told him that evidence had won the case against those men, not his own testimony, and that was why he'd become a CSI. "I couldn't say." Wouldn't comment on stability, because none of them probably knew about Paul's fits of depression. Catherine did, Jim, but not Nick, not Warrick, not the CSIs that looked up to them.

"Yeah, well the evidence will tell the story. We'll do a good job for him," Nick said sounding uncomfortable. "He'll get our best. Things like that shouldn't change because he's... dead."

"No, they shouldn't." Even though Paul was dead. "I know you're going to do a good job with it, Nick. I'd... tell you to work it carefully, but I know you will. I'm probably not going to be at work for a couple of days..."

"You shouldn't be, Griss." Nick was more confident about that. "You'll need time to sort stuff out. Really."

Hadn't he just said that he wasn't going to be at work for a couple of days? "I know. I'll... have to get in touch with my mother. I don't know where to start." He had Paul's power of attorney, but Paul didn't need Gil approving medical treatment for him. He needed Gil to work out how to bury him. What to do now.

"Catherine will know," Nick replied. "I know she wants to help too. We all do."

They kept saying that but there was no help that could really make things better.

It made him want to hit something. It made him want to throttle Nick, but all he could do was rub at his forehead a little. "I appreciate it. But there isn't anything you can do. He's dead, and that, that can't be fixed, Nicky."

Nick flashed a glance at him and settled on looking at the road. "Sorry, man." He lapsed into silence then, obviously taking that as a sign that he should shut up.

It wasn't, but Gil couldn't think of anything else to say. He felt bone-tired, and the closest thing he'd felt to relief all day was when the house, that damn house, came into view, and he saw that his car was still there. It was a miracle that he didn't unbuckle his seat belt and get out before Nick had pulled to a stop, but somehow, Gil waited.

"Nicky, thanks."

"Least I could do, Griss. Sure you're okay to drive?" Nick still looked worried at him even as he unbuckled himself.

He managed it, and the popped the passenger side open. "Sure. I'm fine. I'll get home in one piece." Before Nick could protest, he got out and closed the car door, already digging into his pocket for his keys, hitting the button that unlocked his Tahoe with a greeting beep.

Getting home in one piece was all that Gil could promise.

There was so much of it that Gil had meant it when he'd choked out that he didn't know where to start. Paul's study seemed so organized with cluttered stacks of paper, sketchbooks, sculptures and molds. It smelled comfortably familiar, and for a long moment, Gil sat down on the corduroy sofa that was pushed up against the far wall.

He could remember that Paul had brought it from his own apartment, dingy and sunlight faded from terra cotta to tan, speckled with paint here and there. Paul had said that he liked to have furniture in that room that he could get a little messy. Paul had painted Gil on it many times, and painted him and painted on him, and it made Gil's chest tighten again.

He didn't know where to start.

He wasn't even sure what he was doing: looking for memories or answers. The 'why' in his head seemed louder now that he was alone and he surprised himself by hoping halfheartedly that the sudden clench in his chest might suddenly turn out to be a fatal heart attack so he just wouldn't have to deal with it. It was only a momentary thought, but it shocked him that he was capable of being that way despite how much he believed in life.

Aimlessly, Gil picked up a pile of papers that Paul had been working on and uncovered one of the stashes of his lover's private sketch book -- his night-thoughts and imagination that needed to be put on paper so it didn't live in his head any longer. Before, he would never have touched them. He wouldn't have thought about it. Curiosity wasn't as important as trust, and he trusted Paul implicitly, but now that Paul was dead... He couldn't quite just stick them in a box and hold a bonfire in the back yard. He needed to look, if not for answers, then to understand Paul a little. All he had was Paul's things, his sketches instead of his voice and his actions.

If he could find an answer, a certainty, he might be able to find a foundation to stand on.

He flicked, and there Paul was in every sketched line and captured face. Some were detailed to a point of hyper reality, some were fast and brilliant. These were ragged sharp with emotion that made them not just good but amazing. But he'd never shown anyone these, because no one could look at these pictures and think of the person who drew them as solid, controlled and precise. They were emotion painted on a page in pencil, ink, paint and soft charcoal.

There was his own sleeping face with a faint smile. There were rose petals on the pillow that seemed in the painting to be on the verge of stirring with his next breath. It held all the remembrances of that night condensed into that one image so vivid and bright he could almost feel him there. Feel the weight of his gaze.

Maybe he'd only imagined that Paul had slept beside him all night. Gil had woken up a few times over the years to find that Paul was sitting up in bed, sketching, and that his own arm was looped over Paul's lap and legs, head pillowed against his hip. The book should have been under the bed where it always was, so if it wasn't there, then Paul had wanted him to see it there in his study.

So there was premeditation. Of course there was premeditation.

He could have destroyed it but he chose not to. He flicked over another page, seeing an achingly simple but moving image of the two of them together. He could feel the tightness in his throat as he moved on.

Scenes, captured moments. His own half smile repeated in all its infinite variations from the sensuous to his boyish enthusiasm of discovery. They were light, bright and wonderful.

The pictures of Paul himself were darker, more plagued with shadows. Strange distortions lurked in the background and the face of a woman appeared half shadowed over and over, sometimes made of the shadows, sometimes just...there. Always there.

Paul, with 'Pauline' lingering in the background no matter what. Threatening, maybe, because Gil didn't think he was imagining the over-the-top hint of fangs on the woman with the bobbed haircut. He wished that Paul had talked to him, had gotten help, something. That maybe he'd broken Paul's trust but saved his life.

There was one picture that was compelling -- a self-portrait where Paul was battling the figure of the woman straight on, and there was a desperation in every angular line and shadow . It wasn't just a fight, there were hints on the edge of the page, nearly unseen of a familiar hand. The shape of his back. The message was clear. Motivation to fight, to control that conflict, was from him, like Gil, or parts of Gil, were trying to beckon Paul back from the edge of losing.

He closed the sketchbook for a moment, rubbed at his eyes again. He didn't want to cry and smear the pictures, didn't want to damage unsealed pencil and ink.

When he opened it again, he was surprised to see images one after another of the team. Warrick's easy look of self-confidence. Nick's sly smile. Sara, bright like diamond, her past a thunderstorm in her eyes. Catherine, fire and steel and...

A picture of his back and of Greg watching him. He'd never understood why Paul had been so certain and so jealous of Greg but if he had seen that look, it became clear. The younger mans eyes were of a deep, desperate slow need and love that he seemed to know he could never have but tormented himself by wanting.

Even if it wasn't an exact reenactment of the moment, if the look on Greg's face was how Paul had reinterpreted the moment, then...

Then, Gil's head hurt. He turned the page, trying to wrap his mind around the insecurities that Paul had been harboring.

If he had been expecting something as obvious as drawings of victims, he was disappointed. Or relieved. But the dichotomy and sense of struggle was obvious. So was a growing desperation, and a sense that his protection was failing.

The final picture was brutal, with none of the subtlety that the others had shown. Paul looking back at a sleeping Gil, while he was bleeding from innumerable wounds and preparing to leave. That it was his last chance was obvious in every pen stroke. That it was his only chance not to be destroyed completely burned in the rough lines.

Gil glanced at it, almost touching them, but the bleeding face wasn't Paul. Not one he could reach out and touch, that he could hold at night. He checked the page behind it just to see that there wasn't anything behind it, and then he looked at it for a moment more. Somehow, he'd failed Paul. He'd failed Paul, and worse, he couldn't articulate it to anyone without showing his own thoughts and suspicions, the hunch that the female hair was Paul's.

The burden was going to be something that he had to keep to himself. Another secret that Paul took to the grave with him, but of which he left Gil the ghosts. He closed the sketchbook, and looked desperately around the room for something, anything that was somehow... less. Less imposing, less full of foreboding that he'd missed until then.

He looked in a drawer and found a small box tucked behind papers, obviously well used from the marks on it. He didn't know what he was expecting to find but when he opened it, it was a collection of seemingly random items. Pebbles, a napkin, a pencil, a dried flower, the cork from a champagne bottle...

Nothing ominous, which hit Gil with relief, even as he puzzled over the contents for a moment before he sat back into Paul's desk chair. Pebbles, a napkin, a pencil...

The pencil was the first clue for Gil, as he turned it in his hand. He'd represented the police force at a college job fair once, years and years ago, and they were navy blue with gold departmental writing on it. Even though they were free, it had been a rainy day, or just a bad day for turnout, and he'd had a few left. Somewhere along the line, he must have loaned one to Paul, maybe at a conference, but Gil couldn't quite remember. The dried flower had been from something more recent, just a few years ago. Gil leaned back, contemplating it.

Not many people would have thought that a flower found at the body farm would have been romantic.

But that had been who they were together. The flower growing in a body farm, living and blooming surrounded by death and dissolution. Each one of those things had been an anchor. He could imagine Paul sitting here alone, taking out each one of those things and touching briefly the memory to ground himself. To give him strength.

Perhaps it was the last thing he had touched in the house, save for that last kiss.

He knew now why Paul's cheek had tasted of salt.

Gil put the flower down, set the box on the top of Paul's desk, and then closed his eyes. It was easy to do that, easy to sit back. Hard to know that the why was coming into shape, but it still didn't answer him as to why Paul had done it anyway if it had hurt him so much, hurt Paul so much to do.

All it meant was that only Gil would ever know.

Perhaps that was what he wanted. To finally trust him with all his secrets at the end of everything, the ones he couldn't even control himself.

He just wished he could have done this before, stopped this from happening.

The doorbell was ringing. It could have been ringing forever the way he was at the moment.

Even when the sound seeped into his senses -- past the silence of heavy thought, or the silence of failing hearing -- it took Gil a moment to get to his feet, to make his way down the hallway and to the front door to peer out of the peephole.

Catherine. Nick had said she was going to come over but somewhere he hadn't managed to connect that with anything coherent like an action in his own mind. But seeing her, he managed to get his hand on the doorknob, pulling it open to finally see her face to face. Face to face for the first time since Catherine had been taken off duty.

"Gil..." Catherine didn't hesitate about stepping forward to let herself in. "Nick told me what happened. Well, what he could. I had to wait for Lins to go to school, but I'm here now." She automatically reached to touch him, being a far more tactile person than he was normally. "How're you doing?"

He stayed hard, tired and stiff-muscled for a long moment, before the hand on his shoulder slid back a little and pulled him into a hug that Gil couldn't quite return. But he relaxed a little, digging for words. "Badly?"

"Well, there isn't any point in expecting anything else right now," Catherine replied hugging him tightly for a long time. "It's okay to have a hard time. If you said you weren't, I'd say you were lying. Everyone's worried about you. I'm worried about you. Losing Eddie... I guess it's not the same but it's close enough that I know enough about how to do things to help."

But Paul hadn't been killed. Paul had killed himself, taken his own life to stop things that none of them would believe that he'd done. Gil ducked his head a little, too drained to have tears well up for the moment. "I don't know what to do, where to start... He... just yesterday, it hasn't even been a full day now, we... he had dinner ready when I got in and... went out of his way to...."

"Sit down a minute, and keep talking. I'll get us a drink and something to eat," Catherine guided him carefully. "If it weren't for Lindsay and my mother, I think I would have forgotten to eaten completely after it happened with Ed. But you should eat something. He had dinner ready?"

"Paul isn't..." Gil grimaced as he let her steer him towards the kitchen and the kitchen table. "He w... wasn't doing very well after the lab explosion. Because he was worried that I'd been hurt on the job. It's just a few stitches, but he... was focused on it, and to try to make up for it, he... went out of his way to make yesterday something special. It just..."

"Made it more of a shock?" Catherine asked sympathetically. "I used to think arguing with Eddie before made it easier. But it hasn't." She exhaled. "What do you want to drink? Can you manage a sandwich or something?"

"I can try." He sat down, and tried not to take in the million things in even the kitchen that told him Paul was missing. There would be leftover veal in the fridge, and the cholesterol-helping margarine that Paul kept buying that Gil never told him he thought tasted like an aerosol spray. Coffee mugs of all kinds, including the 'paint and glaze it yourself' kind that Gil had made Paul do with him. Gil's looked far from artistic, but Paul's was a work of art that Gil snuck to work sometimes. The fridge magnets, and the calendar on the wall, and the clock that Gil never did remember to put new batteries in, that had been dead for three or four months now, and...

He got to his feet. "I should feed his fish."

"Feed the fish then," Catherine agreed as she vanished into the kitchen to turn on the coffee. She could be heard opening and closing cabinets, making herself at home. "There's some things we'll have to work out," she called out even as he faced the tank of fish watching them swim calmly and serenely round and round in circles. "Paperwork stuff. I couldn't believe how complicated and bureaucratic it is. And we all know how you are with paperwork..."

It was a faint attempt at lightening the mood.

Faint, because it failed, and it tightened a concentration of thoughts in his head. "There's going to be a lot of it. I keep our papers in a lock box in the closet." Gil reached for the can of fish food, and moved the lid off of their tank. It was just about time to clean it, so he'd do that in the morning. It would be something for him to do, at least. Paul had kept his reissued birth certificate, and his old one, his name-change documentation, his statement from his original surgeon about what had been done, so he would be able to get those key ID cards in the right gender. "I... could start cleaning through the medicine cabinet if you want to... help me figure out the paperwork."

"First we have coffee, and then we plan as we drink," Catherine said firmly as she pour the coffee out and made up some snacks. "Did Paul have a will?"

"He updated it last year. It was... straight forward." Gil watched the fish suck up food flakes for a moment, and then replaced the lid. His hands were shaking, but he still managed to do it. "He left his mother some of his father's molds. He left my mother some of his paintings. And everything else..." Gil shrugged, still watching the fish. "My will is pretty similar." Simple. It wasn't as if they had children or a wide family and a lot of wealth to distribute.

They'd just had each other, and a little family, and now Gil didn't even have Paul.

"Eddie never got around to it." Catherine grimaced. "Anything he had went to Lins, that's how I ended up dealing with it." If she heard the roughness in his voice she didn't comment just like he didn't comment on the strain he could hear in hers.

It helped a little, and Gil watched the fish bobbing around for a few more moments before he started to turn back to look at her. "I was... trying to sort through his 'studio' before you came here."

"Yeah? When I went through Eddie's things I bawled like a kid," Catherine admitted freely. "Of course I tried not to, because it would upset Lindsey, but I couldn't look at anything without remembering something. Generally the good times, not how he treated me like shit. I guess you can't turn off feeling in love with someone even when you know it was all wrong."

He sat back down at the kitchen table, rubbing at his face and trying to keep himself under control. "I wouldn't know." There hadn't been anything about loving Paul that had been wrong. He'd just... missed things, hadn't done things that he knew he should have retrospectively.

"You were lucky, Gil." She presented him with a sandwich and coffee, neither of which seemed appetizing. "Eat that and drink."

He almost mustered a smile, reaching for half of the sandwich, but the expression failed. "I... still can't wrap my mind around it."

"You won't be able to for a while," Catherine said flatly. "I had nowhere near the solid relationship that you guys did, and it still knocked me back suddenly. I just... couldn't deal with it. I had Lindsay to focus on and that helped."

It helped, but Gil didn't have... anything, except his work now. That was it, and Paul had kept him from falling into work entirely. Gil took a few bites of his sandwich, chewing the peanut butter and trying not to think for just a few minutes. "Not... really applicable."

"I'll think of something," Catherine replied and sat down opposite him. "Did ...did you ever talk about what you might want if either of you died?"

"There were things we never bothered to talk about. That... was one of them." He put the sandwich half down with a few bites missing from it, and sat back, picking up the coffee mug. "Paul had trouble with depression sometimes."

Catherine nodded. "I get it. You didn't want to turn his mind that way." She sipped her own coffee. "What do you want to do? I can set up the arrangements unless you want to do it. You just tell me."

"I..." He dropped his eyes a little, and shook his head. "I still have to send e-mail to my mother. I... need help sorting this out."

"Okay. Is there anyone else you need to tell? Paul's friends? Any other family?" Catherine asked instinctively gentling her voice.

"No other family. A few friends, but... I'll get his cell phone and get their numbers." That was almost an easy thing for him to decide to do, something mindless, except he'd be faced with their apologies. "Some colleagues. It was mostly... us. The department."

"Who pretty much already know. Do you want me to make the calls?" Catherine asked in a soft voice. "While you write to your mother?"

"Sure." He clutched at the coffee cup, slouching a little. He didn't want to do a thing, didn't want to move, didn't want to drink the coffee, didn't want to turn on his laptop, didn't want to do anything.

"You're not going to go through this alone, Gil," Catherine said slowly. "I know we can't make it better. No one can do that, but we can be here for you. Paul loved you."

"I know. He... had his own ways of saying it. I never had to question it." Gil managed one last sip of coffee, then set the cup down, glancing at Catherine's eyes. There had to some way to express the strained feeling that kept tripping him up. "It's... He could have waited. He could have called me, and... Or Jim, or someone for backup... He didn't hang himself, but he effectively did. I don't understand it."

"It's natural to feel angry at him. For leaving you alone," Catherine replied, nodding slightly. "Yeah, he could have. Should have. But it was his mother, and when it's family, you feel responsible."

Gil felt responsible, because he'd missed the pieces, because...

He decided to give up on getting Catherine to understand without somehow giving up the secret. There wasn't any way to hint, any way to explain it so that it wasn't some over-extrapolated 'a friend of a friend' that she'd be able to see clear through. "I know."

"I'll make the calls. You have a shower, a bath and then write to your mother," Catherine decided. "Tomorrow, we'll get the death registered and look over the will. I think maybe we should get somebody to deal with the paperwork. I'll deal with Paul's mother's arrangements -- well, putting together the basics until we can find anything that says otherwise. If there are no other relatives, then there won't be anyone to deal with her and despite everything, I don't think Paul would have wanted her to have a county burial."

Except that he'd killed her. Gil clenched his jaw a little, and scooted the chair back. He could nibble something off of the sandwich later. "Probably not. I don't think she had any surviving relatives."

"You don't need to worry about that. I think some of the others intend to come over after shift so I won't get in your hair too much."

"You're... not in my hair, Catherine," Gil murmured. "I'm just thinking of what I'm going to do with his things." He probably did need to wash himself off, and then contact his mother. Catherine was being responsible, thinking logically.

He could usually do that, but right now his thoughts were everywhere.

"I'll stay until Lins comes home, okay? Then I'll be back tomorrow same time. If you don't want to be alone, then one of us can stay over."

He hadn't quite gotten to his feet yet, but he watched Catherine. "While... I appreciate it, Catherine, I'm not sure why you're all arranging the equivalent of a suicide watch."

Catherine looked at him a moment, and her eyes turned a little blunt. "Are you thinking about that?"

Suddenly, it felt like a lot was explained. Gil looked at Catherine, didn't drop his eyes. "No. But something Jim said suggested that was what you were doing. I... I don't know what I'm going to do without Paul, but I know what he'd want me to do."

"I know. It's just..." Catherine shook her head. "We care Gil. And maybe this is the only way we can do something. Anything. I know it won't bring him back, and God, I wish it would. I know you wish that, too, but... we both know that. And I know that there'll be a moment when it hits and you'll need somebody here then."

"A moment when what hits? That he's dead?" Gil hesitated, then picked the coffee up again. "I was at the autopsy."

"There's seeing and there's believing," Catherine countered. "I remember... knowing. And understanding Eddie was gone. And feeling it too. But it was all disconnected. And there was one day a few days after when it just connected. The two parts. You were lucky it was on a day off. But then... if I'd been on my own, I don't know what I would have done. Even though logically I didn't want to."

Guilt twinged at him a little, funny and absurd at the same time. "I'm sorry. I didn't know. I'm not very good at helping people deal with personal loss, and I'm... at a loss right now. I keep trying to think of things I need to practically do."

"Griss, that was an example, not a sympathy plea. Practically is a good way to go, too." Catherine reached for his hand suddenly. "I don't want to lose you, too. I guess this is as much selfish as anything else."

Funny, that she did that, when Gil was sure that he'd had his fingers almost curled into a fist on top of the table. But it was easy to uncurl his fingers and to let her grasp his hand. "You're not going to lose me. I'll... manage. I know I have friends."

Catherine nodded. "You want time alone, just say. You need to know you haven't lost everything, even if it feels like that right now. But we'll do the practical... work on it."

"I... need to take a shower. And clean out the medicine cabinet. Today." Or else it would be right in his face every time he went in there to shave, shower, to do anything. That finally made him get to his feet, still holding onto Catherine's hand.

She leaned forward, giving him a peck of a kiss on his cheek. "Do that then, Gil, and I'll make the calls. I'll find the phone."

"Bedroom. He didn't take it with him to work last night." Gil rubbed at his face a little, and then pulled away to wander off down the hallway. There wasn't anything in the bedroom that Gil could think of that would give Paul's secret away, but despite it all, he still felt like he owed it to Paul to hide the things that could give it away. He'd seen Paul running empty bottles under the tap, scraping off the prescription label before he threw them out.

"I'll find it," Catherine reassured him, not following after him but heading towards their room. She would find it, he knew that. He was grateful that he didn't have to make those terribly awkward first phone calls.

Paul's friends were people Gil only knew in passing, and how to tell them... Gil couldn't handle that, and when he could get his head clear, he'd thank Catherine for doing it. Later. For now, he veered towards the bathroom, knowing what he had to do.

As long as he had a goal, then he was all right.

Without his friends, Gil didn't know what he'd do. What he would have done.

The funeral was the coming afternoon, and Gil didn't quite know how he was going to face it. He and Paul hadn't exactly been religious, but Catherine had reminded him that funerals gave closure to the friends as much as the family. So he'd made that contact himself, stopping by the Church where Father Powell held Mass. Gil had lingered just outside -- he'd already missed the Gospel and half of the homily, so he stood at the back, waiting, half listening and thinking.

The silence of the church had helped him, and so had Father Powell's agreement to speak. He remembered them both from the Jennings cases, the boy who'd taken his own life and the brother who'd confessed to Powell about committing the first crime and had ended up hung.

Paul would have appreciated the significance of having Father Powell speak, on justice and coming into a scene after the sin, after the crime. Gil was glad that he'd managed to get him on such short notice for a Friday afternoon funeral, and it had left him in an oddly up, drifting mood.

It was a contrast to the overwhelming evidence that Paul had built, the evidence that his friends laid out like a story that didn't match the things that Gil understood.

Personal things, unquantifiable things told him that it had been Paul. The pictures, Paul's behavior. Snippets of conversation from their last conversation together which in retrospect had glaring meaning.

That damn blue-headed wrasse, the comments about dying, about protecting, about how much the possibility of Gil being hurt had terrified him. It made more sense if he had been the one to set the blaze. Or part of him that had. The sense of desperation had been not of a killer about to be found out, but more of a weary soldier presented with one last mission they were sure they wouldn't come back from. A suicide-murder mission.

If it had been otherwise, he might have picked it up, but there was no one he could confess the ideas to, though he had toyed with going to confession.

It seemed like months had passed even though it only was a couple of days. There had been things to organize, to decide, to notify even if Catherine had done a lot of it. There were things he had to do himself. It had been a constant whirl and now there was a lull as everything had been set in motion and he had to wait for conclusions. That was why, of all things he could be doing, he was driving to visit Greg.

Every time he saw Catherine, there was something she was reminding him that he needed to do, and it was to the point that hearing her voice could almost put him into a state of anticipatory panic. Nick kept giving him slightly curious looks, and he kept telling Gil about the case. The case that Gil knew, understood was wrong.

After all, the confession had been scripted. It was in her words on the tape recorder, words he recognized as Paul having said.

The 'confession' was plausible enough. About how she had wanted to help her 'daughter' in the quest for justice. Correcting the mistakes of the judicial system and trusting in the evidence that had brought them justice in her husband's murder rather than in court process.

The bit he recognized in the end was the ending that seemed a little out of kilter with the rest of it, though it fitted with her expressed desire that by being caught by her son, they now deserved to join her husband, Paul's father, together. The words, "Sometimes the only way to show true love is to die for it. And I have known that love..." cut him to the core with a certainty that was a message to him.

Gil just wondered what Paul had done with the script he had to have made his mother read from. Was it hidden somewhere in the pile that he'd hung himself off of, or had he done something else with it?

He didn't know. Gil didn't know, and he couldn't ask them if they'd found a crumpled up piece of paper. It surprised him how uncomfortable he felt with them knowing Paul's secret, after years of knee-jerk covering. He wasn't sure if he wanted them to know more.

The problem was that there was enough doubt to take away everything apart from the feeling. There had been no sign of Paul's fingerprints on the gun, his mothers were the only one there and on the hypodermic. The sedative proved to be from a prescription she had and it matched the others. She'd been taking it or getting it for years apparently. There was even endogenous hormone in her blood as well as in Paul's. That was just... crazy.

He couldn't think how he had managed that unless it had been in something that got to the blood swiftly. It was possible.

Traces on the piled furniture showed it was mainly her who had piled it, but that could have been done under duress. The fact remained at the end of it that there was no clear evidence to point at Paul and plenty to implicate his mother.

The only thing that Gil could think of was that Paul had dosed her somehow, to finish covering his tracks.

Brilliant. He'd always known that Paul was brilliant enough to outsmart them all, that he thought way ahead of them. It was a knowledge that followed Gil when he went into the hospital.

The thing that prickled at him was a guilty compulsion to tell someone what he suspected and not have it put down to stress or reaction. There was genuine guilt there. If it was Paul, then the destruction of the lab was deliberate and Greg had nearly been the victim of attempted murder -- twice. Twice if he included the moment when Paul had visited him, and Greg had said the words that condemned him and would have lead to his arrest. Paul would have known then and there what it meant just as Gil had.

There was something in him that found the thought of Greg believing it was Catherine's neglect that caused him so much pain being just... wrong.

So, there was the choice of telling him, or not. One way or another. Or. Or just that Paul had shifted the glass. Accidentally. Gil could tell him that, tell him that Paul had confessed to Gil to accidentally moving it.

He wasn't sure if that was truth enough, but he needed to say something. It seemed like the only way he could release some of the pressure that was building inside of him. It was hard to imagine that Greg had only been in here only a little longer than Paul had been gone. Dead.

It was hard to think, hard to do things any way that wasn't mechanical, the easy steps of locking his car up, walking through the hospital, roaming casually until he could get up to the room where Greg was being kept. At least Paul hadn't killed Greg, small miracle that that was.

If he had, Gil guessed that his life would have been falling apart worse. The only person Paul had killed that was close to Gil was Paul himself, but if he'd started to lash out at the team...

Perhaps it had been that which had shocked Paul into such catastrophic action. Maybe it had been the only way to save the Paul that existed, to keep from losing himself to the encroaching unstable 'Pauline'. Maybe he had been so scared of not being himself any more. That had to be worse than dying. Losing himself and everything that he was while becoming a danger to everything he cared about.

Paul had loved, but maybe Pauline never had. It might have been a dichotomy that Paul had been struggling with, a dichotomy that Gil wished he had caught onto and helped repair.

Later. He'd kick himself for that more later, after he talked to Greg. Gil paused outside of Greg's hospital door, and pushed it slowly open.

Greg wasn't asleep this time, at least, though from the looks of him, he probably wished he was. He was propped up a little awkwardly on his side again and he had the TV on and was flicking through channels disconsolately.

Healing was a boring, tiring, frustrating process, so Gil leaned in for a moment. "Greg? Do you mind if I come in?"

The younger man almost visibly startled. "Grissom! Uh, sure. Come on in." He looked almost flustered. "I wasn't expecting to see you here. Not with Paul and everything."

Paul and everything. "I'd ask who told you, but it would probably be easier if I asked who hadn't told you. I... needed some fresh air." Away from the smothering quiet of the place that had once been a refuge, and now felt quite different.

"Everyone's pretty cut up about it," Greg said and then grimaced. "Sorry, I wasn't meant to say that, not to make things harder for you. Pull up a chair, Griss."

He did pull up a chair, an almost-smile pulling at his mouth as he settled down beside Greg's bed. "Don't apologize. I... Everyone's been helping, and I know they're affected. The nightshift is running understaffed and without a supervisor."

"Apparently they've been given someone named Sophia. Nick told me earlier," Greg said almost apologetically. He cleared his throat nervously. "I... I've been trying to think what to say to you. I mean I was the last one to see him, and I'm pretty sure it was something I said. If I'd just kept my mouth shut maybe... Anyway, that was why I wasn't expecting to see you."

"Because you thought I'd blame you?" Gil put that out as more of a statement than a question, leaving it out there for Greg as he seemed to squirm nervously despite that he was still physically limited in motion. "Greg. Paul would have gone no matter who told him that information."

"Well, I blame me." Greg looked at him. "I just... what you guys had was something special. It doesn't seem right that anything should come between that." He seemed to realize how he had said that and avoided Gil's eye and Gil was reminded suddenly of Paul's picture of the younger man watching him. With such hopeless, unrequited need in his eyes.

Gil didn't know what to do with that knowledge, couldn't. Couldn't think past going home and trying to find his good suit to wear to Paul's funeral -- and no one was asking him to think past the moment just yet. "Just death. You didn't h... kill him, Greg. You didn't put him into a situation where he didn't call for backup."

"I get that. I just... I don't know, Griss." He sighed and looked at him again. "This isn't really helpful in terms of helping you, is it? I should be asking how you are and if I can do anything. As long as it involves lying down on a hospital bed, I'm there for you."

"Everyone... has either been asking me how I am, which I think we all can guess is obvious, or if they can do anything, or looking at me like they expect me to kill myself." He got that last bit off in a dull laugh. "Catherine's been helping me, and I feel bad for benefiting from her suspension like this. The funeral is tomorrow afternoon."

"I'm sorry I'm going to miss it," Greg replied quietly. "They won't let me out until they're sure the grafts are taking. I know they're worried about you, but I don't think you're in danger of suicide, Griss. I can't see you ever doing anything like that."

"Then you've already helped me by saying that." Gil watched Greg's expressions, watched the guilt that was still playing over his face. It wasn't Greg's fault, not his fault for escaping death twice, and Gil couldn't say it. "They're trying to cope, and smothering me seems to be the easiest way to do it."

It was enough to get him a smile. "You're a strong guy, Griss, I'm sure you can stand the smothering." Greg smiled a little again before the expression faltered a little. "It's better than the alternative. Though being alone gives you time to think and really get to grips with stuff."

"I've had a harder time with the team prying into his life than I've had coming to terms with his death. I'll... handle it." The little moments where Gil wanted to ask Paul something, sleeping, wandering the house... and he wasn't sure that it would be any better at work.

"Yeah. You will." Out of all of them, Greg seemed to be the only one who had utter confidence in his ability to get through this without falling to pieces. In a strange way, that was what he needed. For someone to believe he could go on knowing what he knew had to be the truth. "And I know you've got Catherine and all, but I can listen. And talk crap. But you know, either if you need it. Or want it."

"You might regret that offer," Gil mused quietly. Greg was looking at it differently, and that helped as much as Catherine making him sign important documents and Jim's muted support. He owed him something for that and he took a deep breath as he made a decision. The only one he could make.

"There was something about the accident in the lab that Paul had told me about, Greg. I thought you might want to hear it from me..."