Brother to Dragons II

By Kat Reitz and Perryvic

Somehow he'd ended up being the lab's resident Millander expert, which was a little bit worrying. He was given as much time as Catherine could carve out of the schedule for him, but cases came in all the time and had to be dealt with. Even so, even with the leads starting to run into dead ends, he had brought up a pretty clear picture of what the deal was with the guy. The only thing he didn't know what how it connected with Grissom or with Lecter. He just had to find the right angle and then maybe the triangle would line up.

And that meant getting close to Sara and the other side of the triangle. Lecter.

Nick entered the office Sara had been using, finding her staring at the assorted photo's and papers with an intensity that was almost scary. But that pretty much was Sara described down to the ground.

He liked her. She was great to work with on a case, but she had that weird kind of intensity that Grissom had sometimes that worried them all. Well, it worried them about her and not about Grissom, because they all knew that Grissom was the one who always advised restrained sympathy towards victims. Who always advised not to get in too deep, to work the evidence and nothing more.

"Hey. Sara?" Nick knocked gently on the doorjamb, peering at her.

"Hey, Nick." Sara glanced up at him. "Just trying to get my head around all of this Lecter stuff. It's heavy going. Something I can do for you?"

"I thought maybe since we're working the same case in the end, we could share information and try to figure out what the connection is," Nick offered, stepping into the room. "How's all of that coming?"

"Slow. But I think I'm getting my head around it," Sara replied. "Sounds like a good idea. What've you got?" She leaned back looking at him expectantly.

"Well, I've got why he was killing the first victims, and he seems pretty set on justice and reenacting it," Nick murmured, moving to stand by the table. It was hard not to study the pictures, letters and drawings on

"Well Lecter, from the look of it, has a rare form of thought that one expert called pure sociopathy," Sara replied and bit at her lip. "Which means he has reasons for the way he acts but they just don't fit the definition of normal. He has a hatred of crudeness to the point of extreme violence, but he is rare in being able to control and delay his urge to kill or lash out. Millander is looking for justice then? As an agent of justice or trying to find it?"

"Both. Mostly as an agent, I'd say. Think 'avenging angel' in a fucked up way," Nick murmured. He wasn't looking at a picture of some guy who looked like his boss, a lot like his boss, younger, naked, with his stomach cut open and entrails hanging out. No, nope, he wasn't looking at that.

"Well then." Sara straightened up. "Lecter is pretty much the one that got away, isn't he? High profile and with a connection to Grissom. Once you start looking, it's not hard to work out that Lecter has never really let go of Grissom and there's a ready formed piece of bait. I don't know why he was interested in Grissom to start with, though."

"Who, Lecter or Millander?" Nick leaned over the table a little, looking at the pictures. "That's kind of easy to explain, right? Just look at these pictures Lecter drew, Sara."

"I was talking about Millander. Lecter I understand now," Sara replied. "He respects people with minds, and Gil proved he had one."

"There's a pattern Millander was following -- birthdays going backwards," Nick offered, stepping back a little. "August 17th. First victim was 1959, then 1958. So, he skipped a year to 1956 -- Grissom's birthdate. And Grissom said in his statement that Millander was doing it to bait Lecter."

"And it would. It really would bait him because he's almost literally put his mark on Grissom," Sara said point to a picture of an exposed area of abdomen that was in the process of healing. She tapped it thoughtfully. "Why would any of this have anything to do with Job, and why would Millander be provoking Lecter? Because he'll be on his way, no doubt about it."

"Well..." Nick looked at the picture, too, and then to Sara's intent expression. "It could have to do with that part about God and Satan. The whole thing started with a bet that Job wouldn't be a believer in God if his life wasn't good. And God pretty much said, 'Hell yes he will be'. So they both put Job through hell to test him."

"Well since I started looking at the scene as if it were some sort of code to Lecter things are coming together and that fits," Sara replied thoughtfully and tapped a picture illustration in front of her. "See this? This is the print of Blake's Red Dragon that was an obsession of Dollarhyde, the guy Lecter puppetted to get back at Grissom. Look at the position of the woman -- pretty similar to how Gil was spread-eagled. And it's about the innocent being pursued by evil, victimized. If that weren't enough, it's from the book of Revelations. It's the start point. It's the fact that the innocent suffer from injustice most of all. And the one Millander cut into Grissom Millander is a Red Dragon, but not the same one. It's different... if it relates to Job, it's the fact that the innocent make sacrifices to win out in the end. To be rewarded. "

To be rewarded. Nick didn't want to guess what Millander considered a reward. "So... assuming that Millander thinks he's God, the God of Job, a God who didn't seem much better than Satan. So this is some... victimization of an innocent to get a win against evil."

"And presumably a snark against Lecter, casting him in the role of the Devil," Sara added. "The FBI guys are looking for homage and it looks like that on the surface, but with what you've just said and the other evidence. The food is a direct reference to Lecter, but the pudding of fecal matter is... well basically saying he thinks Lecter is crudeness pretending to be something else. I'm not sure why he ate parts of himself though. That's just... weird."

"Maybe he was trying to frame Lecter for it." Nick shrugged his shoulders a little. "I mean. If Griss had died and hadn't been able to give a statement, and we found evidence that suggested two people there and that one of them had been eaten and shit out... We would've guessed that Millander was dead. Right?"

"That's a good point," Sara said slowly obviously thinking. "Lecter would have come whether Gil had lived or died. It was only luck that they got there in time. All the details culminate to be an insult to Lecter though, I'm sure of that. An insult and a challenge he couldn't ignore and still be him. The problem is I'm not sure what he might do when Lecter takes up the challenge. Any ideas?"

"Well, if you're a vigilante seeking justice, you kill the person you're trying to catch." That was kind of obvious to Nick, but Sara had clearly been over-thinking things for a while now.

"But how? I mean he went to a very elaborate way to set this all up," Sara frowned a little. "Is he just going to try and gun him down? Murder-suicide him?"

"Well, if he's smart, he'll try to get him somewhere, maybe lure him out somehow, and kill him fast. Lecter's pretty well known for turning psycho if he gets his back against a wall." Nick thought for a moment, trying to remember what he'd read during the initial investigation. "When he broke out initially, he wore a policeman's face over his own as a disguise. There's no limit to what he'd do for his continued freedom. He tried to kill Griss... Graham and they were pretty involved with each other, right? But anything for freedom. Millander has to know that, so he'd aim for whatever is safest for him."

"That's where we get stuck. How far is Millander willing to go to get what he wants? To get this Justice?" Sara asked shaking her head a little. "Grissom's stuck between them both, that's the worrying thing. He's the logical point of contact."

"Maybe Millander is waiting for Lecter to contact Grissom somehow, show himself that way. Maybe Grissom's the trap?"

Sara nodded slowly. "Bait. This could get messy, Nick, very messy."

That was an understatement and a half. Millander and Lecter facing off in Vegas? It was like a serial killer prize fight, and Nick didn't particularly want to be anywhere near the ring when the fight broke out. "So what next? I've run out of leads. Millander's next move depends on Lecter being seen, and unless he slips up or runs out of food wherever he's holed up..."

"I guess we're stuck unless there's some way of knowing what Millander is planning to do when Lecter gets here from all of this," Sara replied. "Because no matter what the FBI says, that's as far as it goes. I don't think Millander is turning into Lecter at all. Agent Crawford won't like that."

"Agent Crawford doesn't like much," Nick noted as he reached forwards to rifle quickly through the papers. "And Lecter doesn't like him. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't stop to make the guy an hors d'oevre."

"He hasn't done that so far," Sara mused and shrugged "On the other hand I'm not sure if he's had opportunity. So what do I say to Catherine and the Feds? Wait until Lecter turns up?"

"You say... yeah. And suggest that they heighten the APB for Millander so we can cut this off before it gets worse. He's going to stay in the Vegas area."

"You know..." Sara said thoughtfully. "They're both going to be after Gil. We want a heads up on them; I guess the FBI should be watching him."

"Watching Brass's house, you mean." Yeah, that was a good idea, because maybe they could nip the issue in the bud, get one or both of the killers before things got that bad.

"That's our only lead." Sara seemed a little prickly when he mentioned Brass, he noticed that. Jealous maybe? They all knew about Sara's feelings for Grissom. She was fairly obvious about it.

"Yeah, it is our only lead. That's the only thing we can be sure is going to happen, so... Let's suggest it to Catherine and see where the higher-ups take it from there?" The jealousy was almost palpable, and it didn't make sense to Nick. Brass was Brass. He was their boss, and he'd been a good one, and now he was a good homicide cop, even if he and Warrick hadn't ever gotten along. Except Sara didn't know him as anything other than the homicide detective.

She nodded and frowned. "I just hope we get them before they get to Grissom again. I don't know how he's able to come back from this, let alone worse. I think it'd finish him if something else happened."

"Why do you say that?" Nick hadn't exactly studied it to the same level of intensity that Sara had, and he'd only taken a glance over those notes, but Grissom was like a man made of steel. He could get through anything, or at least it seemed like he could.

"He's lost everything he had to Lecter, and now it's happened all over again with Millander," Sara said packing up the pictures and notes. "You do realize that only a few people survived Lecter and the other ones that did are completely insane? He had to give up his family because of Lecter, his job, everything. And then we have Millander who nearly kills him, rapes him and then puts him right back in the zone where he could lose everything else again? He must be on the edge. I hope Brass is looking after him."

Because she wanted to but wasn't being allowed to, Nick guessed. He handed over the letter that he'd been half looking at. "But think about it. Even through all of this, he's still writing letters to the guy. Lecter. That's..."

"... the only way he could keep him from coming after him," Sara said as if her opinion were the definitive version of events. "Lecter was willing to let him dangle on the hook as long as he knew he was dangling. If it looked like he'd make a break for it, he would have been back. And you just know the FBI would want him to keep it up. Lecter might just give a clue or get careless."

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure Crawford encouraged it," Nick agreed, watching as each piece of paper was carefully filed back into the right evidence bag.

"Well, that's his job," Sara said not looking at him as she put the items away. "To try and get Lecter back. He has to use what he can." It was a very cold, calculating way of looking at things.

"So you're okay with him using human beings that he's already done a lot to hurt to get a guy?" Nick looked sideways at Sara, not quite willing to believe that she'd said that. "What happened to victims coming first, huh?"

"Lecter isn't an ordinary murderer," she replied, glancing at him. "I've studied the files, Nick. He's got to be stopped, somehow, anyhow. I know, I never thought I'd say that, but then, I've never come across a killer like him. Its not okay to use people like that but if it's the only option, then it's one that has to be taken. Otherwise he'll just keep on killing."

"But he got the other agent Crawford was using to get him, didn't he? Griss is next and the end result is pretty predictable, isn't it, Sara? Would you be comfortable being a victim of his?"

"No, I wouldn't but I would want him stopped if I were," Sara replied. "And he didn't kill Agent Starling, he... subverted her. Brainwashed her, they think. Grissom is still the only one who's remotely free of him. That makes him a special case."

It made Nick worry that she could start thinking like that. Like the FBI and Crawford, and not see a problem with it.

"Which is a great reason to sacrifice him to the lions, right? Do you realize that if things were reversed he'd be doing everything in his power to keep you out of harm's way right now? Not just casually suggesting what you just did." It was a little unbelievable, that Sara would suggest that, would hint that Gil made Great bait.

"I don't want Grissom in harm's way," Sara replied raising her voice a little. "What I'm saying is that it is going to happen whether we want it to or not. I've studied the files, the history. That is what happens over and over. What I'm saying is that we should take advantage of it. Be ready for it, because we could lock Grissom on the other side of the moon and Lecter would get there, Nicky. Trust me on this, it's not speculation, it's a fact and Millander knows it, too!"

"I'm not saying it's not fact. I'm saying..." Nick wasn't sure what he was saying, except that she'd sounded creepily detached for a moment. "Never mind. Need help putting this stuff up?"

"Sure. Then we can go and talk to Catherine together. See if she's in a better mood," Sara replied still sounding a little sharp around the edges.

Yeah, a better mood than Sara was. Nick nodded, and tried not to look at the pictures that he was putting away. The hand-drawn sketches were the worst, and he couldn't imagine keeping things that fucked up and graphic in a box in his bedroom.

He didn't like to think of Grissom as vulnerable because since he had been CSI, the older man always had the answers. Or some ingenious idea about how to find the answers. If he said somebody had done well, they knew it wasn't just being said, it was real and the sort of approval worth its weight in gold.

The concept of him being vulnerable disturbed Nick and made him uncertain how to help except for working as hard as he could. It was weird, but the only thing he could think of to do. It was probably the thing that Gil was likely to appreciate the most, so Nick tried not to think too hard about the pictures, and tried to keep his mind on the case. Even if Grissom was the case. Things like that, keeping things like that, implied a certain amount of mental disturbance, a certain amount of brainwashing, too.

Maybe that hadn't crossed Sara's mind.

They put away the last of the evidence and Sara nodded. "Come on, let's see what our temporary boss has to say about our idea," she said, and Nick began to wonder for the first time if Sara was really thinking about going to the FBI. He'd laughed when Greg had mentioned it last time he was down in DNA because they had a healthy disdain for the superiority of the Feds, but the way she was acting? It was like Agent Crawford had done a little brainwashing of his own.

Or maybe it had to do with Grissom and Brass. She'd only been there three months, but it was pretty clear that she was there because Griss not only wanted Warrick to stay on the team, but because there'd been a little something going on between them. But who knew when, right? And it was probably frustrating when the object of said desires was staying with the male equivalent of a cock-block.


Nick shook his head at himself and followed her into the hallway.

Gil had a lot of reasons not to get close to someone. His apparent fear of intimacy had a very practical and visible root when his past came to light, and he liked to think it was less of a dysfunction than a necessary sacrifice, no matter what other people thought. However, having not really dated successfully for over a decade, having lost his family to the screwed up emotional situation, he did sometimes find that he was out of practice when it came to other people and relating to what they were doing emotionally.

He had no idea what Brass was doing at all. None of his behaviors seemed to follow any sort of logic. He could not for the life of him work out why he was putting up with him when every bit of experience Gil had told him that he should have been pushed out to fend for himself pretty early on.

He'd been out of the hospital for a week now. That was more time than he'd expected to have with Jim, let alone time spent actually resting. When he'd been notified by Covallo that he was given two weeks of mandatory rest before he was allowed to come back to the lab, Gil had wondered if someone had spiked the water. If it had been anyone else but him, it was procedure. But everyone knew that Gil didn't need that kind of time off.

He probably would've been able to recover faster if he'd been left in the lab instead of trying to work out why Jim was putting up with him. It couldn't have been easy -- in a week he'd punched Jim, kicked him a few times in his sleep, woken him up more times than Gil cared to count, had needed help standing up in the shower, and... The list went on and on, a list of things that Gil knew had frustrated Molly no end after he'd survived Lecter.

Jim on the other hand just... took it. He made bad jokes about his ability to punch. Even worse ones about him trying to get in the shower with him. When Gil was woken by a nightmare, he didn't get out of the bed and say he would have to sleep elsewhere, he just rolled closer and held him to a comforting warmth. And snored in his ear quietly -- even that was comforting in a strange way.

He made him food, talked in a laid back, easy way, made him watch TV, and all in all somehow even knowing that would have been a purgatory at another point in his life, it was actually quite pleasant.

He was relaxed, and it didn't make sense. Somewhere when he hadn't been looking, he'd managed to slot himself back together mostly, and that wasn't quite like the last time, either. Or maybe he hadn't had enough time to test himself.

After all, the challenges of finding what page he'd been on in one of Jim's books were decidedly less than trying to take care of Kevin while Molly was at work.

He'd been terrified that he would slip and do something to him, or freeze up at a critical moment. Looking back on it, it hadn't been the most relaxing of atmospheres to try and piece himself back together in.

Right now Jim was cooking something -- it surprised him that Jim could cook and pretty well, when he had to, though he admitted he didn't bother much for just one -- and holding some rambling conversation, half with him and half with himself as he was in the living room on the laptop. "... and there was Warrick, pissed as anything because Nick had put his body souped clothes right next to his going out gear and he had to cancel his date or end up smelling like death all night." Jim chuckled to himself as he chopped some more vegetables.

Gil felt a little bad about not helping, about not being useful, but the last time he'd tried to do more than sit at the kitchen table with a book in hand, watching Jim move around in the kitchenette, he'd been shooed unceremoniously out of the room. He didn't have to learn that lesson twice, so Gil sat and watched and listened. "I don't know why he didn't just throw them out."

"Lucky date clothes, Gil. You don't mess with them," Jim said with a half smile. "But I'm guessing you don't have lucky date clothes. Not that I do either, really." More chopping and then he threw the vegetables into a steamer.

Gil laid the book down on the table, open so he could save his place, and leaned on his elbows. "I have a shirt that I wear when I want to impress people, but I wouldn't call it lucky."

"Same principle, I guess. Is that the one Catherine bought you?" Jim asked looking up at him over the table.

"Got it in one. How'd you guess?" That had been the shirt that had sparked a particularly nasty argument with Eddie, actually, and Gil wondered how Catherine was faring through the still pending divorce.

"It's a nice shirt and Cath has good taste," Jim replied. "I always meant to ask, have you and she... you know... ever... ?"

"Ever... ?" Gil tilted his head a little, peering at Jim while he worked until the suggestion fit itself into Gil's brain on his own. Oh, ever done that. "No."

"You're both pretty close. I would have put odds on that coming off instead of the Sara thing," Jim replied with a half smirk. "Seeing as how I've got nothing in the way of options going on at all."

Sometimes Gil wondered if Jim was trying to bait him. He watched Jim for a minute, watched him scoop up chopped vegetables to dump them into a pan. Sometime, before Jim kicked him out on his ass, he'd have to show him that he was a fairly decent cook, too. "Nothing at all? I was pretty sure I was delirious when we had that conversation, but I didn't think I was that delirious."

"I like to give you the opportunity to change your mind, considering," Jim replied. "Considering until that night I hadn't really figured you for liking guys at all."

"I never would have guessed that you did, either," Gil countered. "I don't advertise either way. It's just that everyone assumes a man prefers women until proven otherwise."

"It's not like I was secretly repressing it or anything. I was happy being married for the first couple of years or so. Then I really got to know Janice and it went downhill from there," Jim replied as he bent to look in the oven. "I did my playing the field early. Discovered I was pretty happy with whatever fell in my lap, but you know how it is. You're taught to look straight so you do that out of habit more than anything."

He did know how that was. That was probably why gender wasn't a determining factor for Gil -- it narrowed his chances for no particular reason at all. "I'd actually had a boyfriend before I met Molly." And things had gone naturally sour there, a general incompatibility that Gil couldn't blame on anyone. "Do you mind if I ask what happened with Janice? You've told me bits and pieces..."

Jim shrugged a little. "She liked the fact I was a cop, then she hated it. She wanted stable and secure, then she hated it when she got it. In the end I kept turning to look the other way so much my neck was tied up in knots. And she just... there's a limit to my pride, you know? I had an affair more in retaliation than anything and she took that as the excuse. By then I think I was doing it to throw the doors open."

It sounded so much more bitter and acrimonious than any argument he and Molly ever had. There was the silent treatment, slammed doors, and then she'd sneak up behind him when he was smoking on the porch, and lay her head on his shoulder. Easy as that, enough to get either of them to apologize for whatever the hell it was. "I know that saying 'I'm sorry' right now doesn't mean a thing. But I wish you hadn't had to go through that to end up here."

Jim smiled a little. "Yeah. Thanks. It's Ellie that I regret. I don't regret anything else, but I regret what it did to her."

Of course he would. Jim didn't talk about Ellie much but he had a picture in his wallet. Most of the department didn't even know there was an Ellie. "When she's an adult, hopefully she'll understand what happened."

Jim shook his head. "I doubt it. Janice will have put the blame on me, I know that much. She doesn't think I know but... well, I found out and that was the beginning of the end. I never had a daughter, Gil. Not really. And I was so wounded by that I let it drive me away from the nearest thing... right up to Vegas."

"You never had a daughter?" Gil frowned for a moment, and of course reality followed shortly after the thought. "She wasn't yours."

"That's right. My best friend Mike, on the force." Jim shrugged again. "Who incidentally I turned in along with a load of other Jersey cops for playing dirty. But by then, there was nothing left there for me, you know?"

"And when there's nothing left, there's nothing to do but move on." Gil's mouth twitched a little as he looked down at the book he'd been reading. Jim called it shit, but it was something popular he'd picked up to keep himself busy while Gil had been spending most of his time sleeping. As far as crime novels went, Gil had read better in reports, but it was amusing to nitpick it in his head. "I ended up out here because this is where Jack helped me set up."

"Don't tell me that," Jim replied. "I don't need a reason to be grateful to Jack. I'll tell you something, in Jersey? He would have had a mysterious accident pretty quickly."

"It's a shame we weren't up a little further north instead of in Maryland." Gil rubbed at his temple. "I couldn't ever hurt Jack. I've just been tempted occasionally. It was my fault for agreeing to take the jobs."

"Like you really had a choice," Jim said poking a knife into his vegetables to see how long they needed. "Let me guess it was like a scene out of... one of those movies Archie always goes on about. Help us, Gil, you're our only hope! What are you meant to say to that? No? I'm taking time out from saving lives?"

"I was," Gil shrugged. "I was working as a coroner. I managed to dodge him at work, but he caught up with me at home. It was... he showed me pictures of the two families. When they were alive." Emotional manipulation, but Jack was good for a reason. That was what Jack did. "The deal was that he was going to protect me. I should have known better by then. But you can still be young and stupid at thirty."

"Yeah, look at Sanders," Jim grinned a little. "I still reckon that Crawford is lazy. From what I hear, our guys are managing to piece things together."

"How's that lazy?" Gil glanced up at Jim, watching that grin. He was glad that even if he was there being a problem, Jim could at least still smile. "He came in, stirred everyone up, and they're doing his work for him. That's creative."

"He never has to do it himself. Because he has a 'King Cobra' to take the chances for him," Jim replied. "You on the other hand, never ask something of one of your team that you wouldn't do or haven't done yourself."

"Neither would you." He'd always liked that about Jim. He didn't demand the impossible, just that things be done right the first time. Gil leaned his chin on one hand. "Did he explain why they called Will that?"

"Not in so many words." The way he looked at Gil asked for the explanation though. "You want to tell me?"

Jim should have guessed that if Gil were unwilling to explain, he wouldn't have brought it up. It was more reminiscing than he'd done in a long time, but sorting some of it out, explaining it to Jim, seemed to be some internal test that Gil was running. No matter what he threw at Jim, Jim didn't flinch. "They came up with it at Quantico after I took down my first serial case. I was a snake that took out other snakes. It was supposed to be a joke, but I know some of my colleagues meant it seriously. To them, I was their sociopath, their crazy who could catch the other crazies."

"You're not a sociopath, Gil," Jim said immediately. "There's a difference. You can tell the difference."

"I know that." He couldn't help but drum his fingers on the cover of the book a little. "Except that I failed the department's psych evaluation. Now, if you were on the other end of that evaluation, would you believe the test or the man who scored those results but insists that he's not a dangerous sociopath, just a creative thinker? It didn't bother me. Molly thought it was funny."

"Too much trust in bits of paper," Jim replied. "Besides... King Cobra? It's kinda dated isn't it? Sort of Miami Vice. Did you used to go in for stubble and linen suits?" He was faintly teasing as they talked. Gil noticed he did that a lot.

"Skinny ties, and I had a beard. There are pictures somewhere back in my town house if you want a real laugh." He sat back a little, watching Jim's smirk. "I'd bet money that you had the big sideburns, didn't you?"

"For a very short time, yeah, I did. But you look unbalanced when your hair starts to fly south," Jim replied. "A beard huh? I could see you with a beard."

"It made the weeks where I hardly had time to eat let alone think of shaving much easier to deal with." And he'd kept it even after that, but when he'd started out in Vegas, it had made sense to make a simple change to his appearance. Like it would really fool anyone.

Jim smiled and poked at the vegetables again. "Nearly done. Things haven't changed much there then, huh? I guess you were part of a rare breed then. I mean, you wrote the text book for forensic psychology. And forensic entomology. Just as well we have a lab of geeks, they were awed more than anything else."

"Then it doesn't take much. There are probably better forensic entomologists out there, ones who spend more time on research than I do. I know there are better forensic psychologists." Gil shifted to stand up, feeling a little restless. Maybe he could pour drinks or something

"That's a matter of opinion," Jim said evidently pleased at the state of the vegetable. "Okay, vegetables done and the chicken... You ready to eat?"

'Yeah. I was just going to ask if there's anything I could help you with," Gil offered, steadying himself just a little with the edge of the kitchen table.

"Could you set places? Unless you want to eat and watch TV?" Jim asked absently as he rather haphazardly drained the healthy vegetables. "You know, I'm losing weight cooking for you. You're making me eat right."

"Hey, that's a benefit for having me here, isn't it?" Getting the plates was easy, easy as remembering what cabinet they were in and pulling out the drawer that had the forks and knives.

"Yeah. Might put me in good shape for those pursuits of suspects huh? Can't wait for someone else to do it now. Have to admit, it gets the old adrenaline pumping, clearing a scene again," Jim said as he brought the pans over. It was very much a help yourself sort of affair.

Gil liked that, the weird casualness. He'd been known to cook something and eat it right at the sink standing up, so. At least he and Jim were bothering with plates. "Great. You'll have plenty of opportunity for that soon."

"Clearing scenes? Adrenaline?" The chicken was put on the tables, baked in some sort of ready made sauce Jim had opened up and then put in a few extras. Not too fancy, but better than a TV dinner. "Help yourself."

"Clearing scenes. You still have a week off, don't you?" Gil set plates down, and backtracked to get two glasses of water, moving carefully. That chunk of muscle that Millander had hacked out of his chest had changed his range of arm motion a little, and between that and the stitches, there was still a lot for Gil to get used to.

"Yeah. It's been pretty restful so far. Usually I don't do anything useful with my vacation time. Sometimes I try and visit Ellie but..." He shrugged. "Let's just say the less said about Christmas the better." He started spooning vegetables onto his plate the moment it arrived.

"Rough?" Gil guessed, reaching to put some of the chicken onto his own plate. "I send a card every year."

"I've had wisdom teeth extractions that are less painful," Jim commented taking some himself as he looked at Grissom. "You ever wish it could have been different?"

"Occasionally. But if I spend much time wondering how things could've been, I know I'll drive myself right up a wall again." Wondering what life would've been like if Molly hadn't left, what life would've been like if the Dollarhyde case hadn't happened at all, wondering what life would've been like if Lecter hadn't gutted him in the first place.

"Yeah. Very true." Jim went quiet a moment eating a mouthful and watching him. "You're doing pretty good, you know, Griss. Recovery-wise. I think Jack is a little surprised."

"I'm surprised." He broke part of the chicken into a small mouthful, and chewed carefully. "You've helped a lot."

"It's not like I've done much. We don't sit around dissecting everything," Jim answered as he finished a mouthful. "I probably break ten rules of dealing with victims every time I open my mouth. Nah, if things are working, you're the one making it work."

"I didn't know there were rules for dealing with victims. Wanna toss out a couple that you think you've broken?" Not exactly normal dinner talk, but the night before had been about weird places to find a body and worst excuses for a murder. Jim had won the last one with the 'he looked at me funny' excuse, but the body issue was still up in the air.

"Well calling you a victim is probably a no-no. I expect your self-esteem is irreparably damaged," Jim said not sounding that worried. "Getting into your bed. I'm pretty sure there are rules about that somewhere."

"Ah, the requirement that anyone who's been hurt be treated with kid gloves. Everyone should be issued with a roll of bubble wrap on the way out of the hospital, right?" Gil shook his head, and chewed on a piece of celery. "But you can't generalize like that, and I seem un-irreparably damaged."

"I'll take that as the good news," Jim nodded at him and smiled a little. "I probably should have told a doctor about the catatonic state, and possibly have concentrated on getting you to explore your feelings or something. Not that I'd know what to do if you did."

"Not that I'd know what to do if I did," Gil countered. He stuck his fork into the chicken again, making slow, steady headway on dinner.

"You can always try if you want. I'll just improvise or something," Jim said smiling a little. "Or change the subject. I'm good at that. Chicken okay?"

"The chicken is great. And better than take-out, which is my yardstick of edibility." It was his turn to tease back a little, watching Jim. He seemed comfortable and Gil still couldn't peg down why. Unless it was what they'd discussed, and that was a lot to go through for something that Jim said he wasn't sure about. "The subject change is also appreciated."

"Mr. Subtlety here," Jim replied. "It's pretty easy to do, it's just I don't normally bother for myself. I usually eat out with you guys or something. Get shown up by your healthy choices. Look good compared to the fry-ups Nick and Warrick have."

"For all the good that my healthy choices have done me," Gil mocked, patting his stomach. Bandages crinkled a little, or maybe that was the tape. He hadn't ever been thin, though -- solid and muscled was a way of life, something he'd been since he was a kid.

"Hey, who knows what you would have been like if you hadn't? Maybe much worse." Jim pointed out. "We're going to try avoiding any more of that just now. I think that would be a good idea. So... you got any ideas about what you want to do this week? You want me to get stuff for you now you're more mobile?"

"I want to test just how mobile I am without straining myself." Gil sat back a little, eating slower now, picking through the vegetables. They tasted good, but he could only eat so much at a time, and the chicken was better. "Any ideas?"

"Aside from walking around the house? We could take a drive out somewhere up to the desert if you wanted," Jim suggested. "Somewhere pretty flat at least."

"Okay. Let's do that tomorrow." Today was a lazier day, and the sun would be coming up soon. Catherine had muttered something about the two of them being the only guys who got time off and stuck to night shift hours.

"Sounds like a plan," Jim replied. "Anything else? Hey you want a drink?"

"This water's fine." And so was watching Jim ruminate over what to say next. A little quiet hadn't ever killed Gil, and he enjoyed it when it happened. Liked just to look around and take things in and think without thinking. Nothing deep, nothing coherent, and Jim was peering at him. Huh.

"If we're going out, you ought to have a gun handy, you know that right?" Jim said after a few moments contemplation.

"Why? So we can have an accidental shooting in the desert?" It seemed a little paranoid of Jim -- and why did he have to have a gun?

"You don't want to?" Jim asked. "A bit of protection and all that. That's why."

"Because you're worried about Lecter showing up," Gil filled in, gesturing with his fork as he talked. "Am I right?"

"Yeah. Or Millander. Of course I'm worried," Jim replied. "I'd be stupid not to worry."

"In this case, any advantage we have would come from numbers, not arming me." After all, he'd had a gun when Millander had gotten him for all the good it'd done him.

"You don't want to carry one, do you? Didn't we have this argument a few times when I was your boss?" Jim asked as he finished his food off.

"Three or five times," Gil agreed, taking another sip of water. "Would you feel better if I took one when we go out tomorrow?"

"Yeah, I think I probably would." Jim replied. "In case a coyote decide to jump on you if nothing else. Didn't we have a case with that once?"

"Yeah." That had been a messy one, a hiking couple who died of exsanguination from their wounds before help could arrive. "I'll carry a gun in case of wild animals, then. Four footed or otherwise."

"Good. I'll lend you my spare," Jim replied. "Want any dessert? I might have something somewhere." He sounded a bit dubious but he was making the effort.

"No, but thanks. I'm full." And for good measure he poked his fork at the plate again, pushing around a carrot he hadn't gotten to. "Do you want to put on a movie?"

"Yeah, we could. I'll let you choose. It's your turn," Jim replied pretty much throwing his used plates and pans in the sink. "I'll get to them tomorrow or something."

Gil stood up to set his own plates carefully on top of Jim's, turning on the water to rinse them a little. "If it turns into 'or something' you're going to attract cockroaches for me to look at. And while I appreciate the gesture, Jim..."

Jim smirked a little. "I wouldn't do it for anyone else," he said waiting for him to join him. Gil knew he wouldn't really let it build up that much. Jim's place was surprisingly neat and tidy even if he excused it as a form of preemptive laziness.

It was less cluttered than Gil's, a heavy reminder that a lot of his paper clutter could probably be shoved into a trash can without him looking through it and he wouldn't miss a thing of it.

Later. He could tackle that later. Maybe suggest to Jim that he come over with a can of wood polish and a maid's outfit and help Gil clean his place up. After three weeks of being relatively empty except for Nick going in to feed his bugs (and then Nick having taken Gil's bugs home with him because it was easier and made sense), the dust was going to be overwhelming.

"That's good to know." Gil wandered past the DVD rack Jim had, and only had to briefly contemplate what relatively bad movie he wanted to put in. "How about 'A Better Tomorrow'?"

"Sounds good. I'm just getting a beer -- you put it on. You want anything else? Because once I'm sitting down Gil, it takes a lot to move me," Brass warned him as he sidestepped to the fridge and pulled out a cold beer.

"No, I'm good." Gil managed to sit down, relaxing back. "Oh, wait -- pills."

"Stay there and start the movie, I'll get them," Jim said and disappeared for a minute while Gil used the remote to cue the movie. It was just... nice to be treated like this for once. Not to be the one having to make the effort, and to screw up. It was comforting and right and he smiled to himself as he heard Jim rustling around looking for his pills. He didn't have to do that.... but he did. That was one of the things that made it all so different.

It just seemed so easy, and it felt good to relax. Jim was back in fairly short order, dumping a small handful of pills into Gil's hand, and Gil checked it. Antibiotics, check, mild painkiller, check, something to keep the muscles of his abdomen from spasming while everything was still healing, check, and a Flintstones vitamin?

Gil cocked an eyebrow at Jim.

"It can't hurt right?" Jim said with a grin as he settled on the sofa next to him. "Don't want them to think I'm not taking good care of you."

Funny how Jim was so concerned about that. Gil took the glass of water he was presented with, swallowed half of it, and took the pills in quick succession. Except for the chewable vitamin, and Gil took care of that while he settled in again beside Jim on the sofa.

"You're doing a better job than it calls for."

Jim just looked at him a moment and half smiled as he rather deliberately put his arm around Gil's shoulders. "Always look for motive, Gil," he murmured even as he gestured for him to press play.

"As far as motives go, I've seen worse." It was easy to lean into Jim, easy just to do it without having to think, without expectations.

Easy for Gil just to press play and relax.

Jim had done the unthinkable.

He'd threatened it before, but he'd finally done it. He'd taken Gil's house key and he'd gone to Gil's apartment to get him more clothes since he was starting to move beyond living in pajamas and to bring back those talked-about photo albums.

It hadn't been as bad as he'd feared, but it was still worse than he remembered them looking. Old photographs held a certain aged quality no matter what, but Gil's collection of pictures didn't age in a dignified way.

There was no way that a picture of him at a boat party in small pink shorts, shirtless, with beer in hand, could ever be dignified.

He still wasn't entirely sure how he was going to talk Jim through them. He was kind of rehearsing excuses for half of the photographs when he realized quite suddenly he was nearly smiling over most of them. Usually it was like a physical pain to touch the albums and leaf through memories. But some of that had gone -- and maybe it was because they knew the secret.

However, he wished he'd had more warning for when Sara came by, even if Jim had said she had left a message saying she would. He might have hidden them altogether.

He might have... no, he would have taken the time to go up the steps and put them under Jim's bed. But he'd lost track of time and when the doorbell rang, he could only think enough to close the books and stack them quickly before he headed for the door. He didn't check in the peephole, which would've ticked off Jim, but he had grabbed the gun off the plant-stand, which was where Jim had left it for him.

Sara raised her hand to say hi and raised her eyebrows a little at the gun as he let her in.

"So I was on my way in, and thought I'd come and see how you were doing..." She was just launching into conversation. "Glad to see you're not taking any chances."

Gil held it up a little in vague gesture, and then put it back down on the table when he closed the door. "At Brass's insistence. It's good to see you."

"You're looking better than the last time I saw you," Sara replied taking a seat. "You seem to be moving around a lot more. That's got to be a relief."

Gil moved around the coffee table, sitting on the sofa with a comfortable amount of space between them. "It is. Everything seems to be healing up, thanks to some well-enforced rest. I could go back to work today, if I had to."

"You could?" Sara seemed to brighten a little. "Then I guess it would be okay if I talked out a few things with you? I've been working on the case and it's the first time I've gone so in-depth... ?" It was phrased as a request but was really a statement.

"Ask away." After all, he was the case. No matter what Jim said about keeping his distance, he couldn't. He was the case, the victim, the one with insight, the eyewitness, all in one package. Even if he hadn't thought about it. "Could I offer you some of Jim's coffee?"

"That would be good," Sara agreed absently. "So, I've been looking over the Lecter side of things? Nicky's been following the Millander leads and we think we've worked out what the staged evidence means, and how Lecter will react. To put it bluntly, Millander had to do something serious to something of Lecter's to get him to Vegas... And you had the connection with the both of them."

"I can't disagree," Gil told her as he stood up, heading for the kitchen. "Except that I had no connection to Millander as anything other than a CSI investigating a case that he came up as a possible suspect for."

"Well aside from the fact that Nicky researched his MO and every one of his victims had the same birthday as you in sequential years," Sara told him. "In fact, you and Millander were born on the same day, same year. So that would be why he started researching you. He probably was planning you as his next victim. Did you know he was pretty much reenacting his father's murder? It got thrown out because the physical evidence supported suicide over the eye witness report."

"No, I hadn't been told." It was more than they usually told victims, too, and Gil wasn't sure how he felt about that. Maybe he didn't want to know. Maybe Sara was assuming too much about his comfort level with the case, and the urge to tell her that he was sure that Millander's previous victims would feel better knowing the MO for their death was overwhelming. Gil worried his bottom lip a little, tongue playing with the stitches that hadn't fully dissolved, and pulled two mugs out of Jim's cabinet.

"So Nick's there thinking you got the closest so he's looking at something special or he's just escalating, but the motive is probably still justice. We're all pretty sure on that although Jack has some experts holding out on the homage angle," Sara continued, oblivious to his discomfort. "Having gone through the letters, we know he'll respond. Millander pretty much insulted him at every level."

"Yes, I know. I expect him to respond." By coming back, by reimposing his will, and it wouldn't take much. It could be as simple as him coming by to say hello, but they wouldn't understand that.

Sara smiled. "See, I knew you would see it. Once you tipped us off about the Job passages, it looked so obvious. The problem is we can't predict where Millander is now, though Nick's working on that pretty hard so it pretty much comes down to a waiting game."

"It does," he found himself agreeing, pouring soy-milk and adding a little sugar to each mug. The more time he took, the less eye contact he had to make with her. His own mug was going to have more soy than coffee. "And we won't see him coming."

"Jack says otherwise, but I've got to admit... having studied the files, I know what you're saying." It was a little worrying that Sara seemed to think she had all the answers with regard to Lecter because she had studied evidence. Gil knew nothing prepared anyone for the real thing when it came to someone like him. She'd only touched the edges of how he could think. The saner end of the psychotic rainbow. He'd gone deeper, deeper by far, and even at his limits he had known Lecter had more unpredictability in him than could be encompassed.

Part of keeping his footing was in a willingness not to reach out and try to guess what he was going to do. But Gil could see it, could envision Hannibal paying cash for a plane ticket at the terminal, flying overseas on a first class plane, putting a rental car on a fake credit card... He could see it, a dotted line on a map of the globe. "No, Sara, you don't know. There are files and then there's reality."

"But we have an idea of what he will do," Sara insisted. "That's got to give the FBI a shot at it. There's been a lot of research on Lecter since you encountered him, Grissom. Lots of people have gone over his courses of action. I think Jack stands a chance of getting him and his missing agent back."

"Which is why he's done so well catching him until now," Gil murmured, adding the coffee to the two mugs at last. "He's had time to get himself in order. He has money in cash, he has a Visa, and there's a good chance that he's not coming to the states alone."

Sara looked at him intently. "Maybe not, but if they're ready to catch him... then they won't miss it, will they? And it would be worth the risk to get him again."

"They'll miss it," Gil sighed. "And if they don't, there's going to be a bloodbath. He kills when cornered, unconnected to his normal MO. He doesn't relish it, but anything to survive."

"So you're saying they should let him get away?" Sara said taking the coffee. She sounded startled. "I would've thought you of all people would want him behind bars."

Gil shifted, and carefully sat down. "I would prefer him to be behind bars. Sara, have you seen pictures from the scene of his first escape? Has Jack showed that reality to you?"

"I've seen the pictures, read the reports. I know what he did." Sara sounded so certain of her conclusions. He had used to be that way, before reality hit him. It was dangerous. It led to the same mistakes over and over. "You know I've seen some pretty intense things, Gil."

"Have you been there, Sara? No. You're being too sure of yourself, and arrogance has no place in dealing with Hannibal." He sat back, sipped at his coffee a little, and tried not to look at the closed photo albums on the table. "He'll avoid a confrontation until he's decided what he wants to do about me."

"And then what?" Sara asked. "You think he'll go after you? That's a hell of a chance to take."

"He'll wait. Set up in a hotel room or an apartment. He's patient, and he'll move when there's no risk to him." Gil looked down into his mug, and looked up for a moment. "I wouldn't even be sure to term it 'going after'."

"But what if Millander provokes him? And how would Millander provoke him?" Sara asked intently. "He seems to have studied Lecter too."

With the added advantage of understanding the insanity from the inside out.

"There's studying and then there's understanding, Sara. He can understand Lecter because they think in similar terms. He understands him," Gil said a little more firmly than he'd meant to. "If Millander provokes him, then it's a territorial war. If Millander can be caught, we can stop all of this before it turns into anything. Hannibal won't kill me."

She looked almost disappointed t that. "That's what Nick was saying. He's pushing for the stake out resources to be allocated to some of his sites, but... they want Lecter."

"They'll miss the point and we'll have a bloodbath," Gil murmured, closing his eyes. "They always do. Flashy lights and a chance to put on a dog and pony show."

"You really haven't forgiven Jack, have you?" Sara asked sipping at her coffee. "I can understand why, but he was trying to protect you. He told me that."

"Of course he wouldn't tell you 'I fucked up' when he's trying to recruit you. Why don't you explain to me how he protected me, Sara? Go on." He took another sip of coffee. "This should be funny."

She looked at him. "It's not like you to sound so... bitter. You sure you're okay?"

He tilted his head a little, looking at her face. She seemed genuinely confused, and he wasn't sure what to say to her. What kind of answer was she expecting and how far from reality was that expectation? "I'm fine. But I can see you heading for the same pitfalls that I fell into, Sara, and you can do better than falling in with Jack."

"I never said I was going to really fall in with him, but I am good at putting things together, Griss, and I like doing it." She shrugged a little. "So tell me the pitfalls and maybe I can learn from your experience."

"You're already in them, Sara. You're approaching this like it's something in a textbook instead of someone who could and would reach out and choke the life out of you. You're thinking cut and dry, and what Jack wants to get you to do is think like one of them."

"I'm looking at the evidence -- that's what you taught me to do..." Sara replied which was a fair point. He had taught them that and it pained him to admit, there were some instances when it didn't work. Millander. Lecter... where the killer was too clever to make normal mistakes

"Which works fine for normal cases, Sara. This isn't a normal case. Think for a minute." He twisted to look at her better. "Millander is working on the premise that the evidence is wrong. They play with things like that, or have no regard for getting caught."

"But he must have some sense of avoiding capture -- considering he's done it so well."

Another trap, another pitfall. Gil knew a killer's behavior couldn't be interpreted from the standpoint of the sane. It mimicked what common sense said they should do, but critically for very different reasons. Sara was putting her judgment on his behaviors.

Now how to articulate it. Gil watched her face for a moment, and then murmured. "No, you're doing it wrong. You're approaching it like a sane human being. The reasons are different. Evidence isn't planted to avoid capture; it's planted as part of a game of wits. He doesn't avoid capture, he exists in a state where the possibility of capture is unthinkable because of a series of rituals that are part of every day life."

She frowned a little. "What do you mean? He's avoiding capture, that has to be planned."

She wasn't getting it and in having to explain it; Gil had to touch parts of his mind he had tried to cut off.

He had to explain, though, or else she was going to get into something that she didn't understand but thought she did. "No, it's not. Every morning, Hannibal goes to a cafe for breakfast. He sits down, orders something he likes, eats it. He wears gloves and before he leaves, he wipes the edge of his glass with a napkin that he takes with him. The locals think he's eccentric, but he tips well and no one cares that he takes the napkins. Eventually, they leave paper ones with his plate, and the tip stays the same. Is he avoiding capture by attending the same cafe every morning for breakfast for years on end? No. Does his wiping the glass help him? No. He exists, and he exists on terms that he's comfortable with, and anything that would aid his continued freedom which he is not comfortable with is not something that he'll do even though a sane person would suggest that he move around frequently."

"So you're saying he's evolved patterns of behavior?" Sara asked frowning slightly. "That happen to fit?"

It was a good way of putting it. Evolution of behaviors, not necessarily planned, more like... chaos theory. Order becoming apparent from chaos. It hit him like a train, that insight and he was there feeling how it worked, seeing how fragments of behavior accreted together to evolve to a successful predator. This was the Becoming Dollarhyde and Hannibal had talked about. The something new...

"They become something more," Gil went on, quiet and speaking the thoughts the moment they entered his head. "They transcend normal thought and their patterns maintain them until something or someone can break into that pattern. They hunt victims or select them carefully and wait for an opportune moment -- not to avoid being caught, but so that their greatest moment isn't interrupted, so that they don't lose what they were seeking. Could you imagine the frustration of being in the act of cutting someone open, of feeling their blood slide over your fingers, of orgasming while they breathe their last breaths, and then someone knocks on the door in the middle of it? Why risk having joy diluted because you acted too fast? Sometimes the waiting can be as exhilarating as the catch, and the longer, the more patient the wait, the better the end result."

She was staring at him as if he had changed in front of her. "I have to say I haven't imagined that, no."

And there was the problem. He had. He could taste it and he could climb inside those strange thoughts and break in when everyone else did not even see there was somewhere to get in side. A different form of evolution of thought akin to that which created Lecter, but instead had created empathic curiosity.

"Then how can you ever hope to predict what they're going to do?" Sara asked sounding concerned. It was just as well, because serial killers weren't like evidence cases. They usually became serial killers because some facet of their psychosis had them on a strategy of evasion, or cleaning evidence behind them and that made it very hard to track.

"You have to learn what drives them, get into their head, and think like them. I can tell you what Lecter is going to do, but I can't tell you when, because the concept of time doesn't matter in the way that he thinks. Care and preparation does. You understand the motivations, you understand the thoughts, and you understand what comes next and next and next." Gil stopped for a moment, and realized he was breathing a little harder than normal, too-animated, and held his breath for a moment before he took a sip of coffee to mask the heavy exhalation that brought him back together. "The evidence tells a story, it doesn't lead us to the killer unless they start to slip."

"Right." Sara seemed lost in thought a moment and then appeared to notice he was looking a little flushed. "You okay, Gil? We can stop talking if you want."

Except she'd already stirred up everything in his head, and he couldn't exactly put a full stop on it. Millander was biding his time, waiting for Lecter to reveal himself. And he wouldn't strike immediately -- if they were playing it out as a Game of Job, then there was going to be more punishment and suffering by proxy. Back and forth. Back and forth, and it was them, Sara and his friends who were going to die. Be hurt, caught in the crossfire of this great big sick puzzle.

"No, that's all right."

"Good, because I was wondering how you do that. Get to think like them," Sara asked slowly. "I'm doing my best but if what you say is true, I'm not going to get the answers in time."

"The answers don't matter right now, Sara. The only thing that matters is that Millander is caught before Hannibal arrives." Gil closed his eyes for a moment. "I am... or was an editecker. It's a type of photographic memory. It's not something you can learn."

"So I should throw in with Nicky then, see if we can run him down?" Sara asked sound a little annoyed by that. Not surprisingly if she as spent so much time on Lecter to be told she was never going to get it. Starling had gotten it, had gotten inside of his head and seen things from that way, had empathized with Lecter.

"That's what's going to save lives in this case, Sara." Gil rubbed at his eye, and then looked over at her. "Your life. Nick's life. All of you. Because Millander has set up a game of 'Create Job', and Hannibal won't be able to resist playing it to win back his territory. And that means attacking my friends, and if I had any locally, family. They're not going to fight it directly. They'll fight through the proxy of us."

"You in particular," Sara murmured. "There are things... in Job that could be fulfilled or have been? The ... losing family thing."

"We could make that assumption, then. I haven't had time to sit down and study Job to see where Hannibal or Millander might pick up." It wasn't really that he didn't have time, it was that he didn't want to make the time, that he didn't want to think or chase or hunt. But his mind was already gearing up for it again, now, the longer that Sara talked. And maybe it was Will coming out of a long winter's slumber, stretching and taking his place back from the piecemeal creature that had been moving his body for him.

Maybe it should've bothered Gil more that he thought that than it did.

"Well I've been reading some. Maybe it will mean more to you than it did to me." Sara looked at him again. "You never said you could do any of this before."

"I haven't done it in years. I don't do it any more. Not... actively." Not on purpose, he meant. Where was Jim? Why couldn't Jim start to unlock the front door to let himself in, and put an end to the conversation?

It was getting difficult and there was no grounding force there, no sense that it was all going to be okay that was so subtle he nearly missed it. "I guess it just seems weird after all the lectures on evidence and the holy trinity of crime scenes." Sara put her empty cup down.

"Evidence matters. Crime scenes... matter. Cases like Lecter and Millander are so few and far between, Sara. I used to spend months teaching between cases. It was slow going work. They're not... that technique doesn't apply to ninety-nine percent of what we do. Evidence does."

"I get it," Sara nodded even as there was the sound of fumbling at the door and Jim practically barged his way in with armfuls of groceries.

"Hey, Jim."

"Hey," Jim looked around at her voice and then directly at Gil, his expression shifting to a little concern as he did so. "You guys been having fun without me. huh?"

"No." He said it before he'd even finished thinking it, and gave Sara a glance that he hope seemed apologetic. "We were just discussing the case. And I managed to go through the photo album box and deemed them not yet ready for the fireplace."

"The photos, yeah. I want to look at those," Jim said. "Probably enough case talk for now, then, yeah. Anyone who wants to stop me breaking my back here would be welcome?"

Sara eventually took the hint. "Sure, Jim, here... where do you want it?"

"Over there on the table. I can pack it away easy enough." Brass wasn't giving her the option to talk about work anymore.

Brass wasn't letting her get away with it anymore, and Gil stood up, sipping at his coffee. He technically wasn't supposed to drink it yet, but there was more soy milk than coffee in his cup. Jim would forgive him. "Can I help?"

"You can help unpack, but no bending down," Jim ordered. "I mean it. Your stitches might be coming out in the next couple of days but there's no need to test them." He passed a bag to Sara to carry as he kicked the door shut.

"Fruit, huh?" Sara smirked at them both. "You have tofu or something, too."

"Don't knock the tofu," Jim mock growled.

"Healthy eating is going to be the death of him," Gil agreed, feeling a little of his good humor creeping up on him. He still felt stretched out and out of sorts, and he could only hope that that odd feeling wasn't a prelude to another fit of immobility. "Until he works that out, you can actually fry tofu."

"... you can fry it?" Jim stopped in his tracks. "Gil, you kept that quiet... Jesus, all the cholesterol I've wasted!"

Sara shook her head. "Look, I'm going to be heading in to work. You want me to pass on any messages?"

"Try to press the sheriff for a concentration of forces on finding Millander. He's not exactly a master of disguise, and if the net's wide enough, he should be catchable." And that could stop it. That could end it all, but Gil knew, Will knew, that it wouldn't work like that. Lecter was the bigger fish and the FBI did what they damn well wanted, common sense or no. They'd hardly ever listened to him most of the time, anyway.

"I'll talk to the boss. Catherine might be able to get them to listen," Sara said awkwardly patting at his arm in her version of a warm gesture of farewell. "I'm sure she'll let you know. Thanks for the advice, Gil."

"I'll send you his bill later," Jim quipped as he unpacked groceries with studied casualness.

"Goodbye, Sara. Don't let yourself get in too deep." He was holding what appeared to be 'natural' peanut butter when he said it, so Gil wasn't too sure about the effectiveness of his good wishes.

"I'll work on it," she said and raised her hand in a wave and let herself out.

As soon as the door closed, Jim almost immediately stopped unpacking and stepped over towards him. Close enough for him to hold on to, to reach into if he needed it. "Rough visit, huh?"

"That's one way of putting it," Gil murmured. The peanut butter didn't end up in the cabinet like Gil had meant it to; he managed to put it on the counter before his train of thought derailed itself, before Will-thoughts and Gil-worries mangled together, and Gil reached a hand out to clutch at Jim's arm before he leaned into him. "I think I have the scent again."

Smell yourself, Will.

Jim very easily and without any self-consciousness wrapped his arms around him. "I'd make a joke but I'm thinking you're serious. And this is serious."

"I don't want to understand it." Gil leaned into him, ducked his forehead down to press it against Jim's shoulder. Jim was a little shorter than him, but Gil was slouching and didn't care what it took to fold himself against the other man like that. "I explained it to Sara, and she looked at me..."

"Like you were something weird?" Jim murmured. "Which you are, but in a good way, and not because of this. It's okay, Gil, I get it, I know what you do and it's pretty much not that different than what you do with crime scenes. Or hadn't you realized that?"

He shook his head a little, concentrating on feeling Jim breath, on the faint shifts of muscle beneath his hands, beneath the fabric of Jim's shirt and jacket. "No." It wasn't the same. There was evidence and proof and meaning that held up in court, that made it possible for cases to reach court.

"No it isn't, or no you hadn't realized?" Jim replied. "No, wait, I know... you think I'm talking out my ass. It's true, I do that on occasion but when it comes to you Gil, I'm the expert. I'm not talking about crime scenes in general, I'm talking about what you do. It always amazes me, always did. You stand there and think your way into the scene. Sometimes you talk it out, sometimes you do it without talking and you just look in the right places, see the things that no one else looks for. You've got this thing that Will is a different person to Gil. You're wrong, you know that? They're both parts of the same person looked at from different angles."

"You don't know how I can think, Jim," Gil insisted. He didn't move, though. "If I said enough, you'd look at me like Sara did." Did Jim mean different angles or broken ones? He was working so hard to repress the Will-thoughts, wild things that were just there under the surface, urgings and suggestions and moods that he didn't want to deal with. Couldn't, because the few times he did let it slip everyone looked at him like he was crazy. Like he'd gone that little bit over whatever line they'd drawn for him that he couldn't figure out how to move.

"And if I told you everything I'd ever done you'd do the same. Try me," Jim said quietly. "Try this. I've probably got a bigger body count than Millander and Lecter put together. What does that make me?"

"Cop with good aim." Gil still wasn't going to lift his head, wasn't going to move until he got a cue from Jim that suggested otherwise. And he wasn't, he wasn't getting any of those cues. "Doubt you do."

"From before I became a cop. Try me, Gil. You've got to try it with someone, otherwise you're going to stay in pieces," Jim replied still holding him, moving his hands gently.

"I don't want to. I don't want to lose you." And he was scared of that, because Jim was his anchor. Jim was solid and there where Catherine asked questions and gave off a scent of vague offendedness, of suggestion that he didn't trust her. He trusted her, but she didn't understand. It was about keeping them, it wasn't about protecting himself.

It probably wasn't in the realms of normal sane logic.

"Gil, I'm going to ask you to trust me. You won't lose me. I'm difficult to get rid of." Jim replied. "I'm gonna ask you to do this for me okay? Tell me the stuff that it scares you that other people might find out."

"Everything?" He managed a laugh in the noise, and only lifted his head a little, turning his face against Jim's hair for a moment. Bland shampoo and aftershave, and it struck Gil as funny that despite Jim's age, he wasn't anywhere near as gray as Gil was. "I trust you. I just don't.... know where to start."

"So what did you tell Sara?" Jim asked steadily. "Start there maybe?"

"Can we do this sitting down?"

"I thought you'd never ask. C'mon," Jim murmured shifting enough to guide them to the couch. He didn't break contact. It was as if he knew that would be disastrous somehow.

It probably wouldn't have been. He probably would have been all right, but they made it to the couch and Gil sat down, still close to Jim, arms still around him. He could breathe and concentrate and he could trust Jim. And if he couldn't trust Jim, then what was the point? "All right... I was trying to explain to her that Hannibal wasn't thinking to evade the police. That serial killers tend not to make that a goal, that it's more that they refrain from being caught not out of fear but convenience." Which was simple, but Gil could feel the right threads of the net slipping a little the more he talked.

"So I tried to get her to understand, and she didn't, she didn't understand that it wasn't fear or forethought, it was about the, the inconvenience of having your pleasure interrupted. It was the frustration of being careless and having someone walk in on you or interrupt you just when the blood is on your hands, just when the prey is breathing their last breath and you can't think of anything but how good it feels and the orgasm that goes with that interaction -- and then a door opens when you're right there, just on the edge, and you have to stop and start all over again and it's not as satisfying as the long and careful hunt of your intended prey."

Jim nodded. "Yeah. Sniper fever. Had some guys who couldn't give it up. Started shooting their own targets because it was about the hunt as much as anything. Different rules. It happens in war too. Big things become small, small things big. They have to somehow to survive. Death is more of an inconvenience than someone stealing from your pack. It's a smaller thing."

"It passes," Gil agreed quietly. He still had his eyes closed, but he lifted his head to peer at Jim, shifting so he leaned into him differently. "You do understand."

"In a different way, but yeah. I do," Jim shrugged a little and he could feel him move. "Creeps up on you and at some point you wonder how you got to be so fucked up that you can see one of your buddies blown to shit and just absently get irritated that it means you have to carry his stuff. And later? It's like having a dead leg and when you least expect it. It comes alive again and it hurts like fuck to feel it. And you know no one is going to really understand because they don't know what it's like to lose who you thought you were so easily you never noticed it go."

"Sometimes it's easier to keep that dead leg... dead," Gil murmured, stretching a probably bad metaphor out of it. Jim understood. Not the technicality of it, but the language. The patterns if not the specifics. They were on the same page, and maybe that was why Jim hadn't been treating him strangely in all of that time. He shifted, sat back a little, and loosened his grip on Jim just a little.

"Difficult to walk though," Jim said. "And you don't always get to choose it. So, you've got a part of your mind that you've been keeping dead or numb and it's coming back to life huh? The bit of you that understands the criminal mind?"

"It's more than a 'bit'." He shifted against Jim again, and his mind drifted a little. They had to look like a sight, but Gil wasn't going to move yet. Two old not-quites, almost face to face, cheek to cheek. At least they weren't has-beens.

"I guess what I've been trying to say is that it's all you, Gil. You're not separate people or anything -- or you are, but only in the same way that you're not the same person that you were when you were younger." Jim mused a little. "Which is just as well, I was a prick when I was younger."

"I think it's a requirement to mellow with age. Maybe it kept us from getting ourselves killed." Or patterns of self protection had -- Gil couldn't be sure. He felt Jim shift and then murmured, "Jim? I think I have my knee in your hip."

"Really?" Jim moved enough so he was looking at him, leaning very close in his shifting. "Sorry about that, I..." Was very close to leaning in and kissing him, entirely by accident. Close enough for there to be that tug of attraction.

There was a perfect moment, a moment when he could have leaned forwards just a little bit. It would have been picture-perfect, movie perfect, but Gil couldn't move. He just looked back at Jim, and contemplated how much longer he had before he'd wasted the moment entirely.

Jim stayed there for a moment. "When you're ready, Gil," he murmured leaning back. "We don't just get one chance. You get old, you learn to wait for second, third and fourth chances. Or more."

It gave Gil the space to unfold his leg from where it had been not quite comfortably tucked under him. "I'm sorry. My brain was trying to come up with something witty and you completely distracted it."

"I do that." Jim said with a smile. "I have it on authority that it's damn annoying." He patted at the released leg. "But no one expects me to be anything but annoying."

"Jim..." Maybe he wasn't ready to fall back into their banter just yet, but his voice reached for chiding as he moved to sit beside Jim again. "You're not annoying."

"I have a list somewhere. Janice made it for me," the other man replied. "It's long. Long as all hell. I make a point of doing every single thing on that list as often as I can."

"Doesn't bother me," Gil shrugged. "The only time... that I think Molly was ever angry with me was when I decided that the dogs on the beach needed protection so no one got them. I spent a week building a shed for them to live in. She gave up on being angry when Kevin tried to talk her into air-conditioning it." He'd been just a baby, five years old, but he'd been smart and if they had AC then the dogs would want it, too, right?

"All things considered, I think you did better on the ex-wife and kid front," Jim said. He nodded to the photos. "That her?"

"Yeah." Somewhere in there the front cover had gotten knocked over, but Gil wasn't surprised. He'd let Jim walk him over to the sofa with his eyes closed.

Molly looked beautiful in the picture. He didn't have their wedding album because she'd taken it with her, but he had some snapshots from the impromptu honeymoon on the bay with friends. "She... was love at first sight."

"I can see why. I did that once." Jim looked at the picture. "It wasn't Janice. She's beautiful, and you must have been pretty young?"

"Nineteen. I..." Gil cleared his throat a little. He was sitting shoulder to shoulder with one of his best friends, who'd almost kissed him, discussing his ex-wife. There had to be a surreal-meter somewhere in the vicinity that was pegging. "Got her pregnant. We both panicked once she realized it, and I told my mother, and she suggested that I do what was very obvious to her. Marry Molly. We had a justice of the peace ceremony, and Molly made her own dress. I borrowed a friend's tuxedo." He looked at the picture contemplatively, and then leaned carefully forwards to lift up the whole album so they could sit without having to lean forwards. "She's still a seamstress."

Jim picked up the picture of him in pink shorts and raised a laconic eyebrow. "A tuxedo this ain't," he commented. "So... that makes Kevin what? Sanders's age?"

"Yes." Roughly. It was strange to think of him like that, but Gil hadn't seen him in anything but pictures. "He's a forensic anthropologist, actually."

"Kinda ironic that he's in the field as well. You ever seen him? To talk to since all this?" Jim asked looking at the pictures of a young boy getting progressively older snapshot by snapshot.

"No. The only contact I have is through letters to Molly. She did it to... keep him safe." From him, from everything he drew to them. Kevin needed a safe life to grow up in. "I never asked her what she told him, but he doesn't know who I am."

"Mmm. Know that feeling. But for different reasons," Jim agreed. "If we sort this out, it would be good if you got the chance to know him."

And while part of Gil wanted to reject that notion out right, Jim made sense. Jim made sense most of the time, when his temper was in check. Gil shifted, and this time he slid his arm over Jim's shoulders. "When we sort this out. Not if. Remember that death is just an inconvenience, and not something you plan for."

"Didn't I say that?" Jim asked. "You sound like you're feeling a little better. Does this mean I can ban visits from Sara?"

"Maybe," Gil murmured seriously. "You'll have to ban me from over thinking, too. Now." He paused, and watched Jim lingering over a photograph that had Jack in it. "Do you want to hear the bad narratives for these pictures?"

"Yeah. That's why I brought them over. That and so I could laugh at your dress sense," Jim said settling back. "Some of these are going to end up blown up and scattered all over the lab, you know that?"

He made a mock motion to yank the book back with his free hand. "Not the one with the shorts, Jim. Have a little mercy..."

"Definitely the one with the shorts. Gil. I'm sorry but evidence is evidence," Jim twitched the album away. "The public has a right to know, if only for their safety."

It felt so good to laugh. So good to laugh even though it made his chest ache, that Gil didn't mind if Jim really did plan to share that picture around. He could always get suitable revenge, and for the moment, trying to wrestle the album back was more interesting.

Jim was just teasing enough to distract him, and then asking enough to get him talking. And the real surprise was that somehow the talking part was easy. All the history, all the past and loss were suddenly easy to put into words. Not always easy to hear but one thing at a time. Words after silence was the first step.

One step at a time. Jim wouldn't let him get ahead of himself, wouldn't let him miss pieces or use bad glue while he put himself back together.

Gil could trust Jim.


Time off was supposed to be relaxing.

Gil knew this, rationally, and he knew that he was healing up better than he usually did, but it didn't make him feel any less overwhelmingly lazy for relaxing like that. He really couldn't remember the last time that he'd just laid in bed after waking up, book in hand, reading.

Sometime during his dozing state Jim had taken a call that had needed him to go in as a one off. There was a limited amount of time anybody could get an airplane to stay still for a murder investigation and they needed someone from homicide there.

Jim had tried to put it off, but after Gil had prodded at him for being stupid, he'd agreed to go. As Gil had pointed out, he was only going to sleep while he was there. And surprisingly he had, because he knew Jim would be coming back, and maybe he'd make something for Jim and surprise him and it would be good.

He probably wouldn't be back for a while yet, so he had time to finish his book.

Finish the book, and then cook, and if Jim tried to be thoughtful and stopped to get something on the way home, there was a refrigerator for a reason.

Gil could feel his mind start to wander, and he shifted, to stretch out on his back. Maybe he wouldn't finish the book.

There were faint tugs where his scars were healing but they'd gone and had the stitches removed before so he was still relishing the new freedom of movement without tugging at himself if he twisted.

He yawned and then froze a moment, aware of something. Not a noise as such, more an absence of noise. Like a deliberate conscious silence as if noises were being stifled. He was filled with a sudden fear of sitting up and looking as if that would make it real somehow. It was probably nerves.

Nerves did that to him when he concentrated too hard, and the more he tried not to concentrate, the worse it got. If he let it go on for more than an hour, then he'd end up all but twitching by the time that Jim came back. And while he had sedatives that had been offered to him slyly by his physician (apparently in lieu of therapy for what had happened to him), he hadn't had to use them. Gil didn't want to use them.

So, he had to get up and take a look around.

He sat up ready to twist to the side of the bed to get out when there was a faint flicker of movement that riveted his attention.

"Oh, please don't get up, Will. You're meant to be recuperating."

The voice was as smooth and compelling as he remembered, even as Lecter stepped out of the shadows carrying, of all things, a tray complete with breakfast things on it.

It should have shocked Gil. It should have, and maybe it did on some level. Possibly part of him paused, but the rest of him shifted, sitting up instead of rolling to his feet, watching Hannibal carefully. "I believe I was."

"So I hear." Lecter brought the tray over. "I thought the least I could do was make you breakfast in bed." He sat on the bed uncomfortably close, and looking at him with the piercing blue eyes that he remembered. He looked relaxed, tanned and totally in control. "I was shocked to hear the news, Will, truly shocked. I blame myself, of course. I've become lax in looking after you."

"While I... appreciate the sentiment, I've been doing all right." Gil sat up, watching Hannibal while he could almost feel the shift of power in the room. "You need to leave. They're looking for you."

"Mm, I know. I like to give your old friend Jack just a little hope to going on with. It gives him direction and purpose in an otherwise empty and drab existence," Lecter replied with a smile, and a gleam in his sharp blue eyes that were obviously colored contacts. "But he is just an aside. I want to know who it is who thinks they can lay hands on you and issue a crude clarion call of challenge to bring me here."

His expression was just like when they had held therapy sessions. Concerned and attentive. The fact he was holding a knife in his hand that was obvious now he had put down the tray seemed to be an aside.

Seemed to be something that Gil wasn't supposed to pay attention to. That Hannibal had a knife, that there was nowhere for him to move, no recourse to protect himself. "A small time serial killer. He's trying to lay a trap, and you're playing into it right now."

"Oh, I know that." Hannibal smiled. "Sometimes life gets a little too quiet, and besides my reputation would suffer if I let an upstart best me. Besides, I am intrigued. This small time serial killer is intelligent. Intelligent enough to take you, Will..." Lecter leaned forward a little, flicking his knife to snag and cut through the cloth of Grissom's t-shirt.

He held still, very still, holding his breath. Better to lose a t-shirt than to lose his life. "Hannibal..."

"Shhh, Will..." He flicked the knife again and ripped down so the scars could be seen on his chest. "You came to me willingly. I just want to see what he did." A finger traced over the shape of the still livid scars. "Hmm."

"He's an artist." Will said that, and Will was the one who was breathing very carefully, staying almost-calm as fingers traced down over his chest. Gil was temporarily on hold.

"Hence the efforts to imply crudity," Hannibal looked at him directly, his fingers still tracing over the scar lines possessively. "A dragon... hmm? But not one of revelation and with the eyes of an owl. Ah, he is casting you as Job, the afflicted pawn in the grasp of God and the Devil." He actually laughed a little at that, still watching him, leaning too close for comfort. "A simple but elegant message. A little overwrought and lacking in true instinctive feeling but interesting nonetheless, don't you think, Will?"

"Not really. I found the whole thing unappealing," Gil deadpanned. Calm. As long as he thought about being calm, he'd be calm. He could pretend that Lecter wasn't smiling at him like that.

"I'm sure you did. I thought the shit dessert was a little over done, but I suppose he was making a point," Hannibal said, he finger dipping lower over his abdomen. "I certainly got the message almost immediately. A shame, really, because I suspect we would have been compatible under other circumstances. Like we were, Will. Say what you like, but there are times when sleeping with a woman just isn't the same."

"You'd be disappointed by Millander's transgenderism if that's the problem," Gil murmured. Move it from him, back to Lecter's soon to be target.

He smiled at him as if he had performed a clever trick. "Best of both worlds then," he commented. "A personality at war with itself. That could be interesting. You've changed, Will. There was a time you would have been working this from a hospital bed."

"I've been prevented from doing that this time. But I still understand what's going on. The Job reference was an apt one, wasn't it? He did his research," Gil noted. It would have passed for normal calm conversation if his shirt hadn't just been cut open, if Lecter hadn't been leaning over him to trace fresh scars that were still scabbed here and there.

"Indeed. I believe he will pursue that reference through to the bitter end." Lecter smiled at him. "Killers tend to be a little entranced with their own cleverness. We worked on that together. It's the power that comes with life and death." He was leaning closer again. "You are not his, Will, you remember that."

"It had never crossed my mind that I was." Just like it hadn't passed through Lecter's mind that Gil wasn't in his own house, that he was staying with someone else. Maybe even with someone else, except every other place Gil looked had luggage with his stuff in it. It seemed very transient. "Are you entranced with your own cleverness? You don't have to prove anything to him."

Lecter smiled. "Good, Will. It took a little while for you to take that bait but you did. You haven't forgotten everything I taught you. You should know that I have no need to be entranced by myself. I need no self-aggrandizement. I am what others of my ilk hope to... become. I'm sure you understand." He sat back a little, removing his hand from Grissom's skin.

"I understand." Gil took the moment to sit up more, conveniently putting space between them. "Mimicry is just that. There is only one you."

"Correct. Whereas you? There are two of you at the moment. You should do something about that. Get some therapy perhaps..." Hannibal smiled with a gleam of white teeth. "You know, I could stoop to this Millander's level and 'mark my territory', but there are far less damaging ways to do that." He stood again. "I think I will leave you to your breakfast, Will. You need to keep your strength up."

He wasn't going to touch it, but he watched Hannibal stand, and he watched Lecter watching him. "I appreciate your concern."

"I'm sure you'll appreciate it a great deal more soon." Lecter turned and walked over to the top of the stairs. "Don't worry, I'll let myself out. That redhead of yours showed me exactly where you were. She looks tired, Will. She must have been distracted not to notice me following her. Pass on my compliments and I'll be seeing you again soon. Remember, Will, Job had faith in his God."

"I have faith in mine." Never mind that it wasn't Lecter. He could think whatever he liked. Gil could only concentrate on breathing in that moment. Catherine. He'd followed Catherine, probably from the department.

Hannibal smiled at him and disappeared down the stairs. Gil didn't hear the door go, or any obvious movement to show that he had left but he was frozen where he was. With a gift breakfast from a serial killer.

A gift breakfast that wasn't a breakfast. It was a message. The only meals he'd eaten with Lecter that had been safe were ones they'd worked on together. There would be a story or a warning, or part of a victim in that tray. Gil didn't want to move yet

He wasn't sure if he could. Hannibal had just strolled in as he had predicted, effortless in his ability to get where he wanted. To his bedroom. If Jim had been there... God. No, he'd probably wait until he knew he would be alone but if Jim had been there... well, he couldn't think of anyone who might annoy Lecter more than Brass.

It was that which spurred Gil to action, because he could imagine, vividly, Jim's body on the front lawn, maybe arranged behind the bushes, dead from moments after stepping out of the house. It was a horrifying thought, but it made Gil get to his feet, fumbling for the phone Jim kept on the bedside stand. The side that he slept on, which implied that he'd muscled into Jim's side of the bed.

He heard the phone ring after he'd fumbled for the speed dial and each ring felt like forever until there was a curt response of "Brass."

"Jim, you're still alive." There was a pause because Gil needed to gather his brains back together before he blurted anything else out that sounded spectacularly stupid. Of course he was still alive. He was there, wasn't he? Answering the phone.

"Uh, yeah. At least I was the last time I looked." Brass was automatically softening his tone, he could tell that. "Some reason why I shouldn't be? Or are you picking up on the fact that dealing with a plane full of witness makes me want to end it all?"

"No. I was just... worried. Uh..." Gil wandered a little with the phone, and shrugged out of his cut open t-shirt. Hannibal had nicked him a little, and he hadn't even noticed it at the time. Accidental, probably. "Lecter was just here."

"....What?!" Brass reacted predictably. "Are you okay? Is he still there? Shit, I'll get someone over there right now."

"Do that. He said he found me by following Catherine. The department needs to pull the parking lot surveillance tapes. He's changed his face a little, but not much."

"I'm coming back." Jim said that decisively. "Vega can take statements here. You okay? Did he do anything to you?"

"Not really." Just cut him, because by then, fuck, what did it matter? It was a cat-scratch among real knife wounds. "He wanted to see Millander's handy work. I'm fine, Jim. Just... be careful when you come in. He might still be outside. I don't know."

"Sit tight. We'll make sure the place is clear. I'll borrow Nick to process -- the others have to finish up this flight murder business," Jim replied. "Be there soon, Gil. As soon as I can."

He rang off, and Gil could imagine him creating havoc wherever he was to get things done fast, to get there faster.

Sit tight was actually fairly explicit for Gil, a general instruction for him to follow while he waited for them to arrive. He hung up the phone, and tried to reign in the feeling of being a little lost. The cut t-shirt ended up on the spot on the mattress where he'd been sitting, and it was easy to head to an open suitcase to grab another shirt to put on. Something dark.

The nagging feeling that Lecter might still be down there, still waiting worried him. What if he was going to announce his presence to Millander by killing someone? Jim maybe. Or... he'd followed Catherine. What if he was going after her? Or Nick, Warrick, Sara... anyone?

No, he had to think about this. Lecter had given him information in their conversation; he just had to think about it.

He just had to get his head together and calm down and breathe, and not give in to the Will-urges that stretched him between two equally unhelpful extremes, panic and trying to clear the house himself. Gil could imagine Will sitting down against the wall, cradling his head in hands, gun in one hand, and as satisfying as that would have been, as calming as that might've been, Gil wasn't going to. Couldn't let himself.

Lecter had said something about him being two personalities and he was damned if he was going to let himself be ruled by the useless parts of either. He was Will Graham and Gil Grissom. Will Graham could be rash and impulsive, prone to being overwhelmed by emotion. Gil Grissom was more logical, thought things through but sometimes didn't react enough on instinct. If he could just balance the two...

Lecter would expect him to react like Will. Will was who he knew, but he had changed since then and being Gil was a hard habit to break. No panicking, preserve the evidence in situ so no dramatic movements. He left the tray where it was untouched. He looked at the glass that appeared to be apple juice and frowned. They didn't have apple juice in the house. Jim had bought orange and pineapple, not apple and it was neither of those.

He sniffed at it cautiously and wrinkled his nose a little at the stench of urine. Great.

Just great.

He was going to leave all of that alone. There was bacon, but it didn't look like the turkey bacon Jim had, and there was a sick possibility that it was human. Everything else he could look at later. Let Nick or whoever Jim brought look at. There was probably a gun somewhere in the room, and he could take it with him while he went to see if there was anything out in the hallway.

Jim made sure there was a gun with him. It hadn't helped with Lecter being there, but a sudden lunge for a weapon would have triggered Hannibal in the same way that the fluttering of chickens in a hen house made a fox pounce until there was no more movement. There were reasons why freezing was a valid panic response after all. He reached for the gun in the drawer and padded slowly to the stairs, listening so hard it was like he was trying to visualize in some sort of sonar echo if there was anyone still down there.


Not false silence, but the silence before Jim's AC clicked on, the silence of a house that was devoid of everything but him.

The house was his.

Gil didn't lower the gun, and he carefully pushed open doorways as he walked.

Logical, he was logical. Hannibal came to alert them to his presence. He didn't want to kill him personally because he'd had his chance but he had implied he was willing to play the game Millander set up and to beat him at it.

The living room and kitchens was clear, the bathroom and guest bedroom.

Almost insolently obvious, a window at the back was flapping open, the glass part removed by professional means. Some sort of cutter which would have been silent and easy to do. Hannibal definitely wanted them to know he was here. He wanted the word to get out, to make it to Millander.

It would, too. And now Jim's house was going to be a crime-scene, which was a kind of intrusion that no one appreciated. Gil wasn't sure how he'd missed Lecter setting up 'breakfast', but he had, and he was sure that he'd be asked. And he couldn't lie and say he'd been in the guest bedroom, because he hadn't.

It was going to be pretty obvious to any CSI with half an eye that he'd been sleeping in Jim's bed and most of his CSI's had the full two. Catherine already knew of course. But he didn't really care about that. Not really.

He could hear sirens and the screech of cars pulling up too quickly. The cavalry arriving he had no doubt. Jesus, he hoped Jim would be there soon.

He headed towards the living room and the front door, waiting for a knock or a sign that he should open it. No sudden movements, he'd been in that position before.

They don't bother to knock. The door was forced open and there is a sudden baffling swarm of FBI and Vegas police pouring in, pushing into Jim's home and shouting at him to put down the weapon and spilling into every room like a tidal wave.

Gil set the gun down, clicked the safety into place, and dropped it on the floor, standing stock still while the people 'came in'. He was glad that he hadn't decided to stand behind the door, or else he would've been under it. If that happened, he could fully imagine his health insurance trying to drop him, because how else could one explain that many boot-print shaped injuries except as negligence and stupidity?

"Place is clear..." Announced one of the FBI agents and Gil had to suppress a groan when he saw Jack come in. Of all the people to be on quick response...

"He was here?" Jack said without preamble. "Lecter was here? When... how long ago?"

"About a minute before I called Captain Brass." Not 'Jim', but Brass, so at least the locals would know who he was talking about and whose house they were in. He concentrated on staying still, and wondering when Jack had rolled back into town. "Maybe less."

"Search the area -- carefully!" he addressed the agents waiting. "He could still be close. Move!"

Just like Jack to react like that. Lecter wouldn't be there, he'd know how they worked. The agents spilled out again leaving them in the house. "He hurt you?" Jack asked a little belatedly. "What did he do?"

"Talked, left a buffet of clues upstairs. There's a cup of urine that he tried to pass off as apple juice. I'm fine." It was easy to fall back a little, into Will, while he dealt calmly with Jack. Maybe he could work on cobbling together the two sides.

"What did he say, what was he sounding like he was going to do?" Jack pressed again wanting answers, any answers. "Threats?"

"He wants to play Millander's game. No threats. Lecter doesn't need to threaten me," Gil pointed out, looking past Jim and towards the knocked down door. "Can we get that put back up? This isn't my place."

"No, it's Captain Brass's, I believe," Jack replied. "I wondered where you had gone to hide out. And I thought he was lying when he told the nurses you were together. Never thought he would be your type, Will."

"I like smart people with good hearts. That's not a very explicit type, Jack." Gil kept looking at the door. "But, really. Can we get that put back up or is that going to have to wait until CSI shows up?"

"We'll get it put up. Looks like he came in the back window anyway," Jack said. He turned and looked as there were other movements outside and the sound of someone running up the steps.

"Gil?" Brass was there at the doorway.

Looking awkward and unsure of what to do, who to hit, maybe, but Gil stepped forward and over the knocked down door, away from Jack. "Jim -- I'm sorry about the door, the Feds didn't knock."

"Hell, I can get a new one out of them," Jim walked over barely noticing the state of the door. "What did he do to you? You okay?"

It looked all the world like he was just going to take hold of him there and then in front of the Feds and their own Vegas police.

Gil wouldn't have cared if he did. He stopped moving and let Jim head towards him, even as he shot Jack a glance. "I'm fine. He just showed up for breakfast and conversation. He wanted to see Millander's handiwork."

Jim did put his hand on his shoulder, only just stopping short of embracing him. Close enough that Grissom could feel the tug that meant he knew Jim would've under other circumstances. "That's a different shirt -- you sure you're okay?"

Nick was heading in behind them. "You ready for me in here?" He sounded relieved just to be able to see Grissom there, standing and seemingly unharmed.

"I'm fine. He just... cut my shirt off. I left it upstairs. There's a breakfast tray full of evidence. Nicky? Up the stairs, room at the end of the hall." It was all right that he swayed into Jim just a little. He'd done all right. He hadn't panicked and he hadn't freaked, and he hadn't yet reacted to Lecter being there.

"Gotcha," Nick nodded and headed upstairs, and Gil knew he would be processing the scene and he would do a good job. Nick always did a good job and Lecter had left things for him to find and...

Somehow Jim had put an arm around him and had him half sitting on the couch. "Stay with me Gil. You want me to do your statement? We can find a hotel or something tonight until they clear the house."

"Probably a good idea," he heard Jack saying. He'd drifted off for the part where Jim had somehow gotten him over to the sofa, but it hadn't seemed like he'd done it. "Since if he was in the kitchen we'll have to go over the place top to bottom. Why don't you get him outside? Fresh air used to help."

Jim looked a little like he didn't want to take any suggestion that Jack might make but he nodded. "C'mon, Gil, let's go outside a moment. Let them do what you usually do." He was drawn and lead gently away from the chaos that was going on.

There was still chaos outside, and Jim's neighbors were probably going to think they were all crazy. Gil could see people peeking out of the windows, probably wondering what all of the excitement was that late at night. It was dark outside except for the flashing of red and blue lights, and cool, which did help.

Jim took them to a spot which looked suspiciously like he knew no one could see it and then he did turn Gil into his arms properly. "You know, phoning me and telling me a serial killer has been to visit doesn't do much for my blood pressure," he murmured.

"Sorry." Gil leaned into him, and maybe he was shaking a little. Just maybe. It didn't matter, because he'd done all right. He'd done a good job and he hadn't freaked out and he hadn't... hadn't. Needed to stop thinking. "I thought you might appreciate it more than me calling 911 and you figuring it out when you came back."

"Damn right," Jim said and exhaled a breath that sounded shaky in itself. "Gil..." It was enough to get his attention and that in turn was enough for Jim to lean forward matter-of-factly and kiss him.

Not really the ideal first time, Gil decided. He was standing barefoot on the lawn in his pajamas with Jim, and it was cold outside, and he'd dropped Jim's spare gun on the floor back in the house, and his mind was still going and going when he wanted it to stop. When he wanted to, and finally did just lean into Jim, feeling the pressure of lips against his own before he tilted his head a little for better pressure, felt Jim's lips part a little.

It took a moment before the sensation of the kiss started to blank out the frantic tail-chasing in his mind. His attention narrowed and things like the barefoot aspect dissolved away as there was heat there, spreading from lip to lip, mouth to mouth. Somewhere in his life Brass had learned to kiss properly, giving enough, pressing enough, letting it unfurl without crushing the sensation with eagerness. Somewhere in the proceedings, the kiss took over.

Gil and all of the scattered bits of him were okay with that. When he pulled back finally, it was just to lean into Jim again, turning his face into Jim's hair. He strangely smelled like airline peanuts, and it made Gil want to smile. "Thanks. That was better than slapping me."

"Well y'know, it seemed like the thing..." Jim cleared his throat, seemingly at a loss now they had actually kissed. "Look, I'm going to take you to yours, pick up a few things from there then get us booked in somewhere. I'd say we'd stay at your place, but the press is still hanging around. Hopefully we can get in and out quick. I'll do your statement when we're somewhere safe."

It was obvious he was equating safe with 'in the company of me'.

"Are you allowed to take my statement?" Gil asked, knowing he still sounded a little disjointed.

"I will be." Jim said and it didn't look like he would take no for an answer no matter what protocol he trampled on. "C'mon, let's go to my car. It's cold out here and frankly, I want you as far away from the three ring circus as possible."

He was fine with that. Before media showed up and someone outside of their circle realized Gil Grissom was Will Graham fifteen years later. He didn't want any more pictures of him dazed or hurt making it into tabloids. "Okay."

It was easy to let Jim pull him back to his car. It was even easy to sit there while Jim jogged back up to the house, presumably to tell Jack what he was doing. It didn't take him long and Gil wondered if Jack was just as glad to see Brass out of the picture as Jim was to be away from him.


Jim got back in the car. "Okay, we're out of here," he said getting in and shutting the door. "Just talked to Catherine, and she's getting us into the Rampart. I'll go in when we make it to your place, okay? Just in case."

In case Lecter or Millander had figured that as a next move.

"It might be safer if there're two of us," Gil reasoned, leaning his head back against the headrest. He was really glad that Jim was driving. "When did you talk to Catherine?" Had he been gone that long?

"When I went inside. She called so I asked her where would be the best place to try for a free room and she said she'd talk to Sam and get us a place at the Rampart." Jim looked at him as he turned the ignition. "She was worried about you and I... told her to be careful. I haven't told her that she was the one Lecter was following, but Jack was talking about it so loud in the background she might have picked it up." He grimaced a little at that.

"Jack's just doing his job." And pissing people off. Jack could multitask better than Greg could that way. "It'll be all right, Jim."

"He's still an asshole though," Jim said with finality. "And I thought we'd beat this before he got here. I thought I'd be there if he came calling. I'm sorry, Gil, I really am."

"That Jack's an asshole?" It was all right that he dodged the question for a moment. "He's always been one. Some of us joked that he came out of the womb one." Non-sequitor, sure, but Jim had that moment where he seemed to be weighing whether to continue on that topic or help Gil back step his mind again, and it gave Gil the time he needed to come up with a more coherent answer. "No, don't worry. What did you think we'd... beat before he showed up? The case?"

"Nicky thought he had a lead on Millander. It hasn't dead ended yet so..." Jim sighed a little. "Bit late now. I've got a feeling things are gonna get a little wild. Maybe you should be in the lab or something, Gil. Not working the case or anything, but for protection. Or we can skip town... but from what I understand, that's not going to work, is it?"

"I'd feel better if everyone else skipped town." Gil looked over at Jim instead of the road, relaxing like that. "It's too late. Lecter wants to play the game."

"I would've thought the smart thing would be not to play the game set up by someone else. We're not talking a friendly chess competition here," Jim replied thoughtfully. "So Millander's set the board and Lecter's sat at the table. And what? Their playing on a chessboard of CSI and everyone involved in this?"

"Exactly. They'll play through the story of Job." Gil kept watching Jim, even though Jim's eyes were on the road. "He told me to have faith in my god."

Jim groaned. "Meaning him right? I swear, the moment I see the guy, I'm just going to shoot him." Jim looked worried in the lights from oncoming traffic. "So what's in Job? What are they likely to do? And when?"

"I can't remember. I haven't sat down and studied it, I only read over it cursorily," Gil murmured. He should've been able to do better than that. "Either I work the case or I don't. I can't do both. I can't start and just stop."

"Sorry. Sorry, Gil... I didn't mean to..." Jim sighed. "I guess we're all used to you having the answers as Will or Gil, huh? You don't have to, you're not working the case unless you're ready. I've made that clear to Crawford and then I just do the sort of thing he would do and try and get you answering questions! Last thing you need right now."

They weren't far from Grissom's place. It would be strange to see it after such a long time away, even if he wasn't going inside.

Two weeks away was a long time. "I'm used to having the answers. Maybe I should work it anyway."

Jim glanced at him. "Gil, I'm serious about this. You only work the case if you feel you can. I wasn't going to let Crawford push it when you were in hospital and nothing's changed now."

He pulled up outside Grissom's place and stopped the car. "Don't make a rash decision on this, Gil."

"And when something happens to all of you, would it be a rash decision then? Should I wait for it to be too late for one of you?" He didn't feel like he could work the case, but could he not work it?

"Gil, we know the risks, all of us. We're working on it. This is about them, not you okay?" Jim replied. "Anything that is going on is because of them. Last thing you need to do is accept responsibility for what they do."

"That would be a cold comfort at your funeral, Jim."

He shouldn't have said it, but Jim might as well start to understand the meaning of what they were going to do.

Jim looked at him. "I'd rather risk that than risk your mind," he said seriously.

Gil had a horrible suspicion that Jim actually meant that, which was just... staggering. Before, with Jack, it had been everyone else's lives that were important enough to sacrifice the battered psyche of Will Graham to try and save. The fact that someone might say no, his mind and well-being was more important, was very surprising.

"I wouldn't." He put Jim before that, he'd put any of his friends before that. Maybe some strangers. It was hard to gauge what triggered it and what didn't.

"Guess we're deadlocked then," Jim murmured. He unbuckled his seat belt. "You choose it, Gil, and I'm there with you, okay? If you don't, I'm still there with you. You think about it while I get a few things."

With that, he was out of the car, striding up to the house and he could see him reaching for his gun as he got the keys and went inside.

Tricky question. Could he do it again? Should he?

No, the should wasn't too negotiable. He had a family in Vegas now, people he had to protect now that Will had already been burned and learned the lesson about family first. Family first, or they were lost when he wasn't looking, and he didn't want to lose any of them. Permanently or otherwise.

Could he... yes. He just had to stop fighting it. It came to him naturally, along with everything else, and Jim would have to help him out there. 'Everything else' could run him ragged, and there had to be someone there to pull him back from the edge.

In a couple of weeks Jim seemed to have moved pretty effortlessly into that position -- he wasn't sure how exactly, but he was glad he was there. Because tonight he knew that if he went to pieces, there would be someone there holding him. If he had nightmares and lashed out, he'd take that, too, and if he wanted someone to understand how he got into people's heads, into that darkness, he was there for that too.

That was more than he'd ever dreamed he'd have ever again. The kiss was an unexpected bonus.


Cath knew more than she ever let on, Jim decided. The room that had been booked for them both had been one of the honeymoon suites, which he guessed had been Catherine's sense of humor. One bed, hot tub and better than average everything. Jim had made Grissom relax a little in the tub and having found that Catherine had wangled some way of Sam Braun picking up the tab, he'd insisted on splurging out on room service.

Currently they were half sitting, half lying on the bed surrounded by food -- healthy and unhealthy -- that they had been eating on and off for some time.

And somehow he was meant to put the fact that Hannibal Lecter had broken into his home and been close enough to touch Grissom's skin without anything or anyone stopping him into perspective.

The statement had been pretty difficult to take after all.

Grissom hadn't stopped him, but he understood that. He understood why Gil hadn't moved, had probably gone as still as a deer when a branch snapped. But still. How was he, Jim, just supposed to be okay with that? Like Gil didn't mind being the psycho's territory.

Gil was chewing on his pen a little as he looked over a notebook full of scribbles that he'd written down. It looked like brainstorming, but Jim was trying hard not to read over his shoulder. Yet. After the shower Gil had gone for the Bible in the dresser drawer. It was kinda incongruous of Vegas to still put one of them in every room, but hey.

No prizes for guessing what he was reading, or brainstorming. Job in all its verses. He guessed he should be reading it, too, but one of them needed to be rooted in sanity. If this counted as sanity.

He didn't want Gil to be doing this, it seemed too much like Crawford had finally won with his, 'Only Will can do this, only he can work it out'. Dammit, Sara, Nick, Warrick, Catherine, they'd been working it out. They'd done better than Crawford's own people.

And maybe Crawford had won out. It was hard to tell, and Gil had been insistent that Jim not tell the others he was working it just yet, that he was trying to figure it out. He insisted that he needed to know to ground himself and keep himself safe.

Jim wasn't buying it, but he could watch Gil. It seemed like Gil was submitting himself to supervision, stopping to nibble on food when Jim left the room.

There were reasons why he played the slow muscle for brains cop compared to Gil, and it was because he'd recognized in Gil the sort of mind that was rare almost from the moment he met him. Something bright and slightly breathtaking if a man wasn't the type to get competitive or jealous. Jim knew he wasn't. He had a different form of intelligence, and in his own way he'd been good at it considering he came from homicide to CSI. He'd adapted and twisted things at angles the other were a little too sheltered to think about.

Except for Gil. But what Gil was doing now wasn't something he could do. He understood it, but it took a talent to go beyond the normal extremes of human emotion. He could talk his way through a suspect's interrogation, making plausible futures from bits of evidence, but Millander and Lecter were too far out for him to chase.

He hated the fact that there was a little truth to what Jack had said. Not everyone could do what Will Graham had done. But in his head, that was all the more point not to break what the FBI had once had.

Gil needed not to be encouraged to do it, and Gil needed to be protected when he did it on his own terms. Gil shifted, and leaned back, lay on his back, head close to Jim's thigh. He held the notepad in his hands, exhaling slowly. "Jim?"

"Mmmhmm?" He automatically reached down to stroke at Gil's hair. It was funny how that habit had come out of nowhere. He couldn't even write it off as hair envy; it was more the feel of it over his fingers.

Gil's hair was close to going completely gray, and it shifted colors pretty often, often enough that Jim had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't the light, it was some kind of hair dye that Gil played with. He wasn't sure, but he figured he'd find out, since all the picture of Will Graham had shown him going gray then, when he was just a kid. But it was thick and a little wild and curly, felt good in his fingers. "Just need to take a break. And you need to call everyone at the lab and make sure they have fresh batteries in their smoke detectors."

"Sure. They're going to ask me why though, you know that?" Jim replied and stroked him again for a moment, just insanely grateful he was able to do that and Lecter hadn't left him half gutted on his stairs.

It was just his luck to start making progress with his life only to get the carpet pulled out from under him. He wasn't sure what was going on, or where it was going. But Gil wasn't saying no to those little things, and he seemed comfortable. "Fire is a factor. I just can't tell when. It depends on what roles they settle into as they both play god."

"I thought it was God versus the Devil, the big prizefight," Jim mused aloud. Fire, great. A bomb at the lab maybe? It was a possibility. He could do something about that. Was it just the lab that was at risk or each of them individually? He'd definitely look into sorting out his place.

"It's god versus the devil, through the actor of Job, his life, his family. And they both think that they're God." Gil closed his eyes, and paid the pad on his chest so Jim couldn't read it. "And my mother wonders why I don't believe in a god who tells me how to live my life."

"Yeah well, if I was looking for lessons from Job, I think I'd come away with the message that both sides play games and you're screwed no matter who's on your side." Jim said with a cynical smirk. "So you might as well do what you think is best." His fingers smoothed over Gil's forehead absently.

"I'm on my own side. I'm not supposed to be. Loose canon." Gil's eyes closed a little, lazy and stressed around the edges. "But bias helps no one."

He was probably meant to understand that, but he was too busy thinking of ways to keep them all safe. "Guess not," he replied vaguely, his fingers still rubbing gently. "You need to put it down and not think about it for a bit."

"It's in my head. Putting that down is harder than it seems," Gil murmured, turning his head into Jim's fingers for a moment. "That feels good. Thanks."

It wasn't even something he was giving much thought to but if Gil liked it...

"I used to drink to try and blot it out," he found himself saying conversationally. "Close to those weekly meetings once. Before Vegas."

"Yeah, I figured. Self-medicating," Gil murmured. Accepted it just like that, because hey, what was a little alcoholism and Jim having to monitor his drinking because of coming that close to the brink. "Never liked it much. Social drinking is all right."

"It's when you drink to hide something when it gets to be a problem." He wasn't entirely sure but there had been once or twice when he'd seen a certain look in Sidle that made him wonder. But nothing solid yet and he didn't cry wolf unless he'd seen the white of teeth snapping a lot closer than a suspicion. "Never been tempted in it, even with all this sort of stuff, then?"

It seemed a logical way to drown out voices in the head to him.

"No. Molly always stopped me. There's always been someone to stop me. Used to smoke like a chimney. I'll probably die of lung cancer in ten years and everyone but Jack will be surprised." Gil's mouth twitched a little. "You can light them off each other, you know? But I think you lose about an eighth getting it done."

Jim shook his head. "Nah, you won't," he murmured easily as if he could see the future. "I smoked when I was drafted, but it was probably dried shit in a bit of wax paper. It was just something to do then." Every moment then had been surreal in its own way.

"This was a need. I had them squirreled away in desks and lockers and car glove compartments, jackets, pockets... Jack used to carry a pack of his and a pack of mine." Gil tilted his head a little, and peered up at Jim. "Weren't the cigarettes given out to raise morale? Somehow I doubt it worked."

"Morale?" Jim smiled a little and shook his head. "We were all batshit crazy then. We were the ones that survived, so we had to be. Anyone logical, or with common sense got killed."

"Except you," Gil mused quietly. Jim wasn't sure where the conversation was going, but it seemed to be soothing Gil a little. That had to be good, right? Right.

"Nah, I'm firmly in the batshit crazy camp," Jim said, and half-smiled. "I remember once getting caught literally with my pants down. That'll give you a complex, bullets flying when you've got your underwear around your ankles. Mind you, it was tripping flat on my face that saved my life."

"And they didn't shoot it off." Gil was still watching him, and then he closed his eyes again and sighed quietly, an almost happy sigh. Puppies didn't sound that happy unless there was food involved. "Maybe crazy is the new sane."

Brass chuckled. "Yeah. You don't think some of the things people do and it isn't even illegal just a little bit crazy? We've seen enough weird uh... forms of personal enjoyment to make us look pretty damn dull. You wouldn't need CSI for my love life, you'd need a team of archeologists."

"Why?" Eyes still closed, Gil managed to seem intent even though his voice was slow and contemplative.

He stroked over the skin of his forehead again, slowly feeling the texture under his fingers tips. Frown lines smoothing out with each touch. "Because that's how little action I get. You and me. Last time. Unless I tamper with the dig site myself..." He smirked at the analogy.

"That's not bad. That was the last time that I... meant to do it." He frowned, but that was just more lines for Jim to smooth with his fingers, the pad of his thumb. "I've done the exciting. It's not."

"I wish I'd known you meant to do it," Jim said, closing his own eyes a moment. He could remember snippets of that night, impressions of really good sensation, of not wanting to stop and not having to. Of skin under his fingers and hair damped a little with perspiration.

"Yeah. Never said we weren't both screwups, Jim." Gil shifted his shoulders a little, and one hand drifted to rest on Jim's knee. "Never said we can't do it again, either."

"Something to look forward to," Jim murmured. "When you're ready, though. You got that? I can't ask you, Gil. I won't ask you. I'm not even going to try reading between the lines because I totally fucked up doing that last time. You want us to do anything, you just ask. Tell me what you think, because even that kiss earlier surprised the hell out of you."

"Jim, I don't even know how we got outside. Everything surprised the hell out of me," Gil smirked faintly, looking up at Jim. "I couldn't stop thinking."

"Neither could I. Just thinking of all the things I could've come home to," Jim replied looking down at him. "It was too damn easy for him."

Something passed over Gil's eyes for a moment, and then it was gone -- a shadow, something that Gil probably needed to explain but wouldn't. "And think about it. He's older than us. I'd have trouble getting through that window."

"He had the kit to do a silent break and entry, I saw that just from the window itself," Jim replied. "You okay?"

He just wished Gil would tell him anything he needed to get off his chest. Out of his head. He wasn't much good as a counselor or shrink but he could listen.

"Every time I try to stop thinking, my brain conjures up something new." But he seemed coherent, and he seemed to be with Jim, talking, so it wasn't that bad yet. "Distract me?"

"With what?" Jim asked. "I can't sing, I can't dance..." He grinned a little at that. "You want me to talk about something? What would you like?"

He was pretty much game for anything, and Gil seemed to like the idea a little. His eyes seemed a little less shadowed, and he finally laid the notebook aside, face-down on the mattress. His other hand was still on Jim's knee, head still close enough to Jim's thigh that it might as well have been in his lap. "Anything."

"Well give me a clue here," Jim replied. He wondered if he should succumb to the temptation to direct Gil to lying in his lap. "I've told you more about me than pretty much anyone knows."

"This is true. I don't know what to ask, though. I don't like to pry." Gil was still peering up at him, seemingly comfortable. "Anything. Something stupid or funny. Please."

"You don't like to pry huh?" Jim chuckled to himself and contented himself with stroking Gil's hair again. "Stupid... I've done some stupid things in my time." It was difficult to choose one.

"We all have. Just... Something mindless," Gil murmured. "I could come up with so many."

"I could come up with a few of yours, but I'm trying to think of something you might not have heard," Jim said. "Okay, this is going back a while, not long after I started in Homicide in Jersey you know? Being a cop was a good step for someone who comes back from Asia and it felt familiar enough that I settled right in. So we were on this case. Called in for a DB on Halloween -- yeah, there's always one. The call comes through for a grave yard so we're figuring its some sort of prank... yeah, yeah, DB in a cemetery adolescent humor you know? So they send me out with this guy called Leo -- and Leo thinks he's the coolest cop this side of the world you know? You can see where it's going -- some of the old hands doing the equivalent of a hazing. And I thought I knew it so I was playing it like every cool cop show you've ever seen."

Jim smiled and shook his head at the memory of himself. "I was a prize idiot but it made me look good. Because there was Leo jittering like crazy when we got there because it looks like the team of cops have been carried off or something. You wouldn't have fallen for it Gil, not enough evidence. Anyway, thinking I smelled a set up I suggested we spilt up and I was pretty confident the guys would go after Leo, you know? And I could join in the laughs and everything would be cool. So we split and I creep around the cemetery trying to get behind where the other department guys are hanging out, or where I think they are."

"And?" Gil pressed, still watching Jim. Like it was the best story ever and he'd never heard anything so interesting in his life. That was intense attention.

A little too intense, but hey, if it worked it worked.

"And I hear something that sounds a little like Leo losing his cool and I smirk a bit and I sneak forward and then I see this figure lying over one of the graves and I think... Oh right, here we go. Walked right into it. By now, I'm sure enough that I think I recognize the fake DB as Rollins, one of the guys who called it in. So I think right... I'll be cool, I'll go over act scared and then I'll bend down and give the guy a kiss on the forehead or something because he was a notorious homophobe and he'd freak and then the joke would be on him. So I follow according to plan rush over acting for an Oscar, bend down, lean in and kiss the guy... And then I realize the skin is cold, and..." Jim shuddered. "Dead. Really dead. I shrieked like a wuss, and if you want to know how I came to be freaked out by the touch of dead bodies it was then. And the joke backfired on all of us. Turned out that they had done exactly what I thought, but a little way over, a guy had chosen that night to commit suicide on his lovers' grave. And then I got to explain how it was my saliva got to be on the corpse. I think they allowed me to write it off as a panic attempted kiss of life."

Gil laughed quietly, smirking to himself. "I wondered about that, Jim. So they had planned to get you in a joke?"

"Oh yeah, shake up the rookies. That whole, 'you'll never believe what happens on the street' shit," Jim replied, pleased Gil had been mildly amused. "You name it the Jersey department did it all -- it was pretty slipshod back then. Forensics was basic at best. I worked my way in and then later? Took the whole damn place apart."

"Did that feel good?" Gil murmured quietly. There was something not entirely comfortable in his voice while he talked, in the way that he closed his eyes a little. "Taking them apart like that, knowing that they wouldn't get the new people quite the way they had you."

"No. I hated it. I hated myself, I hated them for making me do it to them," Jim looked down at him, stroking his hair again. "I knew there wouldn't be anything left there for me, but what could I do?"

"What you believe in," Gil sighed. He shifted finally, and scooted sideways a little, laying his head on Jim's thigh. "They still all thought you'd be satisfied from doing it, didn't they? They thought it was some kind of revenge. For Janice for... everything."

"Yeah, I guess some of them did. Mike was my partner. My best friend. I saved his life, he saved mine. We lived in each other's places and he did that. And yeah, they thought that was the reason. But it wasn't. If it had been about revenge then I would have done something else entirely. But..." Jim thought about it. How they had looked at him. "Something that didn't cost me everything, but I guess I never really had it, you know?"

"It doesn't seem that way when it goes away so easily." He could guess what Gil was thinking about -- his wife that had just left, the son he never saw. And Jim thought about Ellie when she was little, before she decided that she hated him.

"Not really a happy story, huh? Justice was done but personal stuff sucked," Jim replied soothing himself by stroking again. "You know what really pisses me off? I wasn't the one who killed Mike. I felt like I was cheated of something then."

"You were." Of murder? Maybe that was the edgy part of Gil talking, but then he went on, "You never confronted him, huh?"

"He knew I knew. But I never got to talk things out Jersey style," Jim replied. "With my fists. Because that would have fucked up the IA investigation and... all that."

"It would've made you feel better. Except for guilt about fighting with him just before he died." Gil shrugged a little and closed his eyes. "Lose-lose situation."

"Oh, I wouldn't have felt guilty," Jim said pretty sure he was telling the truth about that. "I really wouldn't. I'm different like that."

"Not that different. You're a soft touch beneath the hard-ass game. I like that. Both." Gil had his head on Jim's leg after all. "Most people don't see the mask games you play."

"I have a mask?" Jim asked out of habit as much as anything else. Of course he did. He knew he did. It was practically a job requirement.

He was still snarky and prone to deadpan without it, but there was him and then there was that extra layer that had to be there for protection's sake. Self preservation and all of that bullshit. "Yes." Yes, like Gil didn't have a mask or more layers than Jim had ever guessed, or problems balancing his self-imposed internal separations.

"I always fancied myself as the Lone Ranger," Jim mused absently. A slightly dirtier version though, with all the sharp edges of idealism worn off.

"Hi ho silver?" Gil chuckled quietly. "I used to love cowboy shows. Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger..."

Yeah, Jim had no idea where the conversation was going. Where Gil's end of it was going because he seemed sleepy and drifting.

"Roy Rogers, yeah... I remember that. Wasn't there some sort of club or something?" It was a long time ago but it had been going strong when he'd been a kid.

"Official member." Gil made a vague gesture to himself with the hand that wasn't on Jim's knee. "My mother said it was the most normal thing I ever did."

Jim chuckled. "You? A member? I'm trying to imagine that." A kid Grissom, running around with a cowboy hat. "I have this urge to see you in a cowboy hat now."

All this train of thought was nowhere near the dangerous thinking and patterns Gil was trying to avoid. It was probably the wrong thing to do -- maybe he should be getting in touch with his feelings or something but this seemed to be good. They were comfortable and partially at ease.

Jim had to admit that he needed that ease, needed just to relax for a few minutes. A few hours. And talking with Gil was better than watching him obsess over Bible verses and serial killers. Seeing Gil smile, stretched out almost comfortably on the bed. "We'd have to borrow it from Nicky."

"He owes me a favor, from last poker night," Jim replied. "You know Sanders is surprisingly good at poker? I think it's because you can't tell which of his many quirks is a tell. Warrick was pissed."

"Why haven't I ever played poker with the lab techs?" Gil cracked open an eye. "You're speaking to Warrick again?"

"Yeah. He screwed up, but it was my responsibility to stop that sort of thing," Jim replied. Holly Gribbs was always going to be there in his mind as a rebuke. He'd fucked up. He'd pushed too hard where he should have given slack, and been slack where he should have been tight. In short, he'd played the department like they'd been cops. And that had worked for a while but CSI were different to cops, way different. "Besides, he got his weakness screwed over by the judge. I figure there's no point trying to blame him for anything."

"He had the courage to not do what Judge Cohen wanted. And he's getting help." Gil kept that one eye on Jim, still talking. "It's not your fault. Any of us could have worked that scene."

"That's the worrying thing," Jim admitted. He remembered thinking about who he should assign. He thought the competition would push them on. Cops worked well in competition but CSI's were different. Rushing cut corners and... Holly was dead. "But we could all die a hundred ways every day. Sometimes it's the people dead of stupid accidents that get me the most. Because it's usually a really really stupid reason. Batteries in a smoke detector, a simple trip that breaks a neck, taking the wrong pill because you couldn't be bothered to turn on the light to see what you're swallowing..."

"Because they never saw it coming." Gil shifted, and his eyes skated past Jim to look at the ceiling. "Take us for example. The ceiling could collapse any second now, and we'd probably die when the furniture on the floor above us hit."

"I just love your optimism, Gil," Jim grinned a little and stole a sweet pastry thing from one of the many plate. He took a bite and offered it down to Gil, waving it in front of his nose. "Well if I have to go, at least I'm not on my own."

"Misery loves company?" Gil moved his free hand to take it from Jim. It was probably too sweet or too buttery or too something for Gil's stomach, but if Jim was already being a bad caretaker, hey. What was a little extra badness between friends?

"More a case wanting to be with you, I guess." Jim wondered how it was that love got less melodramatic and more sincere as he got older. Fuck. Angst tended to happen when people were younger and hadn't experienced enough to take risks. He knew how to take risks. Even the difficult ones involving emotions.

"You're not planning some sort of suicide love-pact with the ceiling on me, are you?" Gil sat up a little, and that was all right. Jim's leg was starting to ache, and Gil's back cracked when he sat up, before he scooted back to sit up against the headboard right beside Jim. "Because if you are, I think I deserve a warning."

"I swear I'll tell you should I decide it's not worth going on," Jim replied. "Besides, looking for death isn't something I much want to do. I'm thinking there's a few things left for us to do. As long as they don't all involve bugs."

Although bugs weren't that bad. He could tolerate them for the look Grissom got when they came up. He tried not to show it, but he couldn't help smiling when Gil got that look.

That look, right there, that was in Gil's eyes just then. A gleam, and then a grin, like Gil knew his hobby was strange and relished it. "You're just lucky that Nicky's been taking care of them. I'd bet money that my tarantulas miss me."

"I bet they're pining for you," Jim said. "I thought you told me you didn't have any venomous ones -- and then I see people running in fear from your office. You're letting people think you've got the nasties aren't you?"

If he was thinking about tarantulas he wasn't thinking about Lecter or Millander. That was his job. Making sure there was no way they could get to him, harm him. There was a war about to be declared and out of all of them, he knew what it was to be in a war zone. And he knew how to survive.

"No harm, no foul. They're perfectly harmless, but plenty of people are afraid of harmless insects and arachnids." Gil shifted, leaning into Jim, shoulder to shoulder. "What time is it?"

"About ten," Jim replied without bothering to look at his watch. "You want to sleep and maybe go in tonight?"

"Would they let me?" Gil tilted his head. There was sunlight creeping in through the curtains, but Jim had pulled them pretty tightly hours ago.

"Right now? Yeah. Not to go out on cases but to be there and brainstorm. Atwater is going to be having kittens and all sorts of other furry creatures with the news the shit has hit the fan."

Or been baked into a dessert.

"Huh. Then I guess I'll try to go in tonight. The lab's a safe enough place to be..." Or wasn't, but Gil probably meant that it was safe because he was familiar with it rather than any real logistical safeness involved. "I guess I should organize some of this."

"Not now. Gil." Jim said calmly and distracted him with more stroking. "We've just spent a nice relaxing period of time talking about nothing much in particular and I'm glad because you won't have those thoughts chasing around. And neither will I. That way, we might get some sleep tonight."

"Is this based on the concept that if I sleep well, you sleep well because I'm not kicking in my sleep?" Gil turned his head a little, leaning closer and closer, like he wanted to try for something.

"Pretty much," Jim drawled. He could just lean forward, he could just take advantage but he'd made a big deal about it being Grissom's choice so he had to be cool and calm.... wonder how he drifted that little bit closer.

It was soft to start, Gil leaning in to press mouth against mouth before he turned towards Jim better, an arm sliding over his shoulder. That was definitely Gil's choice, and if Jim didn't start reacting to that choice soon, Griss was going to get weirded out.

Fortunately, he wasn't going to angst the hell out of it. If Griss thought he was up to it, then he was and if he freaked midway, he wasn't going to get rejected. So he leaned forward into the kiss and... Wow, it was so much better when Gil wasn't actually half stunned with shock.

Gil knew how to move, knew how to lean into Jim so easily, his fingers sliding down along Jim's spine while he traced his tongue along Jim's lower lip for a second. Yeah, fuck, that was nice.

He could lose himself in that pretty easily, especially when there was that assurance there of knowing what they wanted and how to get it. Gil's lips were sweet from the pastry, and he gave himself enough room to suck at that bottom lip in response before moving in again, for a deeper, longer contact.

Gil was sort-of in control, and Jim was the one stuck between the headboard and Grissom, so he wasn't doing anything particularly wrong. Maybe just a little off track. Gil was the one kissing him, after all, and Gil was the one who groaned quietly when Jim sucked on his bottom lip, shifting to try to kiss Jim harder, firmer, sliding his tongue into Jim's mouth.

Jim really wished he hadn't thought that Sidle would've pissed herself to be him just then.

Mood killer, but not enough to stop him indulging in some really good slow sensuous kissing. They weren't old, they were in their prime. Both of them. Matured, sensuous, confident. Fuck, it was going to be hard to stop and he was damn sure Gil couldn't go all the way. Well, not unless they took detours.

Maybe he could steer Gil for a detour, except that Gil was leaning back just a little, more with his torso so he didn't have to stop kissing Jim, one hand sliding between them, pulling at Jim's neck tie. Well, hell that was just fine and he could put his hands on him, lightly. No resistance but he had to touch him, feel him there. Fuck, that was hot. Not to get his hopes up though, because it would stop before they got started. He felt the tie slip from around his neck, smooth and slick, and then Gil started to unbutton Jim's shirt one handed. That was a pretty deft motion, and Gil shifted to kneel over Jim. "Fuck..."

"Easy Gil... easy," Jim murmured in a moment free of lips. "I'm here, not going anywhere." Not in a million years. Nothing would get him moving from that spot. Fuck. He kissed what he could reach again, his neck, his face and lips again.

"Good," Gil murmured, kissing Jim again for a moment before he started to pull at the last buttons of his shirt. "Slow is fine."

When he was thinking about the night ahead, this wasn't what he thought about at all. He seemed to remember last time he might have been the more dominant of them both, difficult with the big memory gaps. But, this was... this was good. Being undressed, holding back. He had patience, sometimes. When it was worth it, and this was worth it. And it had been a long time.

"Hey, I'm an old guy. Fast is out of the question."

"Not always." Gil pushed his shirt open, palms sliding smoothly over Jim's chest, up over chest hair until his fingertips rested on Jim's collarbone. Maybe it wouldn't stop before they got started.

Jim raised his eyebrow and smiled. "Well, let's see fast then," he challenged. Maybe Grissom really wanted it. Maybe he was distracting himself. He was certainly succeeding in distracting him.

And so what if Jim broke some other cardinal rule of watching out for people? Wouldn't be the first time. Wouldn't be the last, and Gil, god knew why, trusted him as a friend. That was all that Jim needed to know, what with Gil kneeling over him, pushing his shirt off of his shoulders. "If someone knocks on the door, pretend we're dead."

"You keep moving this fast and that'll be true," Jim quipped back but he was unable to stop smiling. It felt good, being undressed and Gil looking at him like that. And if Gil was using him, then he was fine with that too. It wasn't going to give him major angst or pain. He would just stick to going where Gil was taking him and enjoy the ride. And sober as well.

It had been a while since the last time he'd had sex, it was even longer if he counted back to the last time he was sober. "I'm just trying to get your shirt off," Gil groaned, tilting his head down to kiss Jim's neck.

"Really? Let's see if I can help you there," Jim said, pulling and tugging at the material until it came off. Being on the streets again was starting to put a little more definition back into his body. It could be worse. He tentatively fingered Gil's buttons as he tilted his neck towards the kisses.

Okay, so Gil wasn't trying to stop him from taking his shirt off. That was a good start, and he'd definitely seen enough of Gil's physical state to be comfortable with the idea of shirtless Grissom even if it hadn't previously been in a sexual way. "Sure."

"Mmm." He smiled at the revealed skin, and leaned in to kiss it. It was all too easy to get into it, and just as easy to be irked that there were lines and strange ridges over his skin, things that Jim knew formed into a disturbing picture. He was going to have to not-think about it, because otherwise his half-erection was going to fail on him, and that would've been sad. He didn't have enough of them in company that he particularly wanted to waste one. He could pretend that the difference in touch were just minor things. He had scars too. Some with stories that he didn't particularly want to go into, if only because they were embarrassing or they involved him going right up to the line and sneaking over it when no one was looking. He could touch Gil's scars and not judge appearance as long as he didn't think and get angry.

That was pretty much asking for a miracle, but Gil leaned into him again, moving almost anxiously before he leaned back. "Jim..."

"Hmm?" Jim looked up directly into his eyes. "You want me to do something?"

Move, touch, kiss. It was a bit strange being the more passive one, but that didn't mean that he didn't like it.

Gil sat back on his knees, probably with his heels up against his ass, the insides of his thighs resting faintly against Jim's legs. "Are you... all right with this? I'm not really thinking clearly, but..."

"Gil, I'm not saying no, am I?" Jim said gently. He could stop Gill if he had to. "I told you, do what you are comfortable with and I'm there all the way. You want to stop, we stop. You want to go forward I'm up for it."

"Just that easy?" Like he didn't believe it, even though he was shrugging off his shirt as he asked that question. Now Jim could see Millander's handiwork in its uncovered glory, except for a few deeper parts of the damage that Gil still kept bandaged. There was a fresh nick on his chest, too, a straight line that caught Jim's eyes in with all of the other distracting lines.

He reached and touched it. "He did this. He did this last night?" He made it a question but he knew. The rest he knew about, it was in his head and a damn sight more pleasant to him than the memory of Gil carved and half butchered on that bed. Everything was relative in a way, and compared to some of the things he had seen, Gil was the epitome of beauty -- in a masculine wrong side of middle-aged way. He leaned forward and kissed the line slightly, as if that would help.

"I think I breathed when he wasn't expecting me to." Gil's fingers drifted up over Jim's shoulders, and he sighed a little when Jim kissed there. "You feel good."

"Good," Jim murmured. Hey, he might not work like Lecter or Millander but he had better ways of claiming territory. Do it right and no one lost out and Gil would be distracted. He could kiss every part of him if that would make some of their grip shake loose. He wanted to say, Yeah, Gil, this is mine, not theirs. There was the taste of faint antiseptic on the skin, but he could taste Gil underneath it all and it was easy to roam with his mouth and fingers.

It was easy to draw a groan out of him, and Gil's fingers lost a little of their insistent urge to do whatever it was that they'd been doing before Jim had started to reciprocate. Gil leaned back for a moment, before he leaned forwards again, towards Jim. "I think we should move... now, or I'll never be able to get your pants off."

"Well, I take it as a plus that you want my pants off," Jim murmured helping him to get his pants off. What the hell, they needed to get ready for bed anyway. He had to remember not to be too pushy about it. Hard to do, because as he'd been told before, Jim Brass was the definition of pushy.

Gil scooted back, and his fingers drifted to Jim's belt. There was something far from sparing and unsexual about unbuckling Jim's belt, because Gil's hands lingered even after the metal clinked a little, and then he slowly popped the top button.

"You know there is a time where you don't have to be so methodical about uncovering ... evidence," Jim quipped, feeling even more of a reaction at the tentative brushes and touches.

"And this is evidence of what, Jim?" Gil tilted his head to peer at Jim for a minute before he slid his fingers down to pull the zipper down. Maybe Jim wasn't imagining it that he could feel every tooth as it slid free.

"Evidence that I don't have a problem with this at all," Jim replied smirking just a little. Gil was a tease, he'd have to remember that.

"But is it firm evidence?" Gil paused for a moment, and pressed his fingers over the outline of Jim's half-hard dick where he'd slid it down his left pantleg. "Huh, seems to be."

Jim nearly choked on a laughing groan. "Gil... I can't believe. No, scratch that I can believe you just said that."

And he loved it, because that was the Gil Grissom he knew, the real thing and he was back and making bad puns even as they edged around sex.

"Yeah?" Gil shifted a little, balancing on his knees and one hand, the other hand sliding just inside of Jim's pants, feeling him over the fabric of his boxers. "Just consider yourself lucky I haven't put on gloves?"

Jim mock winced. "And if I said I liked you in latex?" he drawled back even as he could feel the tightening ache of his cock responding to that touch and movement.

"I'd have to think about whether I wanted to actually leave the hotel room to get some from a drug store. They wouldn't be as sterile as what we get at work, but..." Gil winked, and leaned on his knees for a moment before he started to pull at the waistband of Jim's pants to get them off.

"You know? I think I'll pass on that just this once..." Jim replied arching up enough to his pants moved down. He was more than ready to progress further even if he couldn't believe what was happening. "You need more help there?"

"I think I have it, but if you want to give me a hand..." Gil shifted to the side of him, and pulled his pants down to his thighs. Jim still had his boxers on but he was pretty sure they wasn't going to stay that way much longer.

Well that was just fine and good and as far as he was concerned, everything could come off. Immediately. God, it felt good. Someone else's hand there, touching and squeezing gently. He'd forgotten what that was like.

"I could give you two," he replied, tugging his clothes down

"Hands?" Gil knocked Jim's pants to the floor as soon as he had them off, and his own shirt joined the clothes on the floor instead of it lying on the bed.

"Oh yeah. You need help yourself?" Normally he would have just started undressing his partner and assumed it was all okay, but this was a different situation. There could still be a halt called. God he hoped it wouldn't be.

"Well, I still have two free hands, but I wouldn't say no to help." He was still kneeling, so that was going to take some creative moving.

Jim decided he could be creative up to a point. After all, he could make it a teasing gentle attempt at removing clothing. He reached and cupped a large hand over Gil's groin, gentle and not to pushy. At least not to start with.

Gil groaned, and leaned into Jim's hand, meeting the pressure. "Tease."

"How can you say that after how long you've spent unwrapping my package huh?" He took that as encouragement and stroked him through the material as there other hand fumbled with his pants.

"It's a nice package," Gil murmured, closing his eyes a little while Jim managed that. He got them unbuttoned and started to slide them down, except that he was going to have to move his hand.

Well, it was for the greater good. If all they managed was some mutual fondling, that was a mutual fondling up on where his love life had been for some time. He rubbed a little as he moved his hand, and kissed Gil when he had his eyes closed. Then he helped pull the pants down, even if it meant getting Gil to move just a little. There was that funny moment where Gil almost fell over in a fit of lost balance before he finally got his pants off, boxers gone with them, too. It sounded good to hear Gil laugh, before he leaned into Jim, fingers sliding to his hips. "Hi."

"Hi. You know, we appear to be naked?" Jim observed smiling at him. "Strange, huh? Two grown men, inexplicably naked... What do you think we should do?"

Gil shifted again, one hand sliding down to wrap loosely around Jim's dick. "I think I have a handle on a general direction we could take."

"Oh really?" Jim followed suit clasping him gently in return. "Am I following you close enough?"

"I think you have the hang of it." And then Jim had Gil shifting to lie close beside him, against him, so it was easier to kiss and touch at the same time, Gil's fingers stroking him only idly, like the contact was more important than the fondling.

He turned, leaning up on one elbow, his fingers drifting over Gil's cock softly. Before, in a drunken haze they had grappled with passion, and let it leave its marks over them both. This was more intimate, and intense. Catching a butterfly...

Gil would laugh if he knew he got poetical during sex.

"I have the hang of you." And how to stroke him just firm enough to tease and excite, and to kissed long enough to forget how to breathe. He could be in his twenties and learning how to do it right for the first time.

"Good." Gil's fingers slid along the underside of Jim's dick, pausing to slide his thumb over the flared head. "Yeah, just like that..."

Of course, age had perks, like a long time of knowing how best to touch himself, and trial and error of getting things right. And wrong, but he tended to forget about them and remember the successes. He knew the sensitive spots, the circular motion that would make sensation burn. Just as Gil made his own erection swell.

"Like this, too..." he murmured. Yeah, this was safe and good. Jerking each other off -- no harm in it.

No harm, and Gil seemed okay, better than okay, turning and twisting closer to Jim. He had deft fingers, and he didn't stop kissing Jim, barely giving Jim the space to get out words. "Mmh, good. Yeah..."

Somehow they had gotten close enough that they could nearly rub against each other, and Jim found himself tangling legs and trying to use his other arm to pull Gil closer. "Like that..." he murmured flexing his hips unconsciously.

He managed to get his leg over Gil's, and Gil slid a leg between his own legs, and they were that much closer, made it that much easier for their fingers to tangle, until Gil wrapped his fingers around both of them at once, giving a stroke.

"Uhhn..." His voice nearly disappeared. "Fuck, Gil. Do that again..." It had squeezed them flesh to flesh and rubbed them against the other. He kissed Gil harder, his noble thoughts of just riding this out eroding under the sensations.

He wasn't just going to ride it out. It felt too damn good, and Gil was actively liking it, actively making it better for them both, stroking them in a way that Jim knew wasn't his first time trying that trick. But the feeling of the other man's dick, a little shorter and a little wider than his own, rubbing up against his, underside to underside, made for the best masturbation he'd had in years. It was a different sensation, augmented by their tangling movement of bodies that kept on going without conscious thought. He was kissing Gil, and rocking against him, into that hand, and Gil was doing the same, bracing himself with his own grip.

Gil groaned against his mouth, almost made a pleading noise, hips rocking faster against Jim's, one hand clutching tight against Jim's back, the other pressing and stroking as fast as he could without losing any contact.

Jim found himself reaching to engulf his hand around Gil's and to join in the movement. Together they managed more of a complete pumping action and for a moment Jim was totally lost to the passion of it. His kisses were fervent and passionate, no heed to caution, his body pushing and rubbing against him feeling the edge of climax creeping up on him.

He liked that, and he knew he'd later reflect on how he still didn't feel he had to treat Gil like he was fragile, even after what happened, so it didn't even twinge in his mind when those last few thrusts turned rough and desperate. Because he could hear Gil groan, panting, muscles tensing before his fingers and hand faltered. "Jim, fuck, just..." Just something, but Gil was already coming.

It was hot and warm and slick and he was sliding, not just rubbing flesh to flesh, and it was surprising enough to bring him off as well, hard and fast in his thrusting movement. He had to stop himself from reaching round to grab Gil's ass, but he did hold him close to him, breathing heavily as he wound down his movements. "Fuck..."

He could feel Gil's breath against his neck, and he could feel Gil curling into him, catching his breath, too, moving closer even though they were both sticky. Gil's fingers, slick from being between them, slid up to grasp Jim's hip. "Yeah..."

"You know, I'll start suggesting we go to bed earlier if this is the result," Jim murmured, kissing him again. Fuck the mess between them, he'd get up in a minute and clean them both up.

"I could go for that." Gil dragged his hand up, seemingly content just to hold into Jim and kiss him a little. "In case you were wondering, that was consent."

"I'll make a note. When I can move," Jim replied smiling ridiculously. Life had some pretty good moments all in all. He'd just had sex like a teenager full of eager frantic unexpected movement balanced with the touch of experience. "It was unexpected."

"It felt good," Gil said, more like he was noticing it again than that he was pointing it out to Jim for any real purpose. "This is much better sober."

"Well, remembering it is a good start," Jim managed. He'd have to move in a little while. They would get cold and... He was supposed to be looking after Gil

He wasn't supposed to let Gil get cold. "This is a good start." A kiss was placed so very carefully against the side of his mouth. "Thanks."

"Well, tough job, you know?" Jim joked back. He moved a little. "You just stay there, I'm going to clean us up some more, and then we can get that sleep. Don't want you getting cold."

"I think there are plates still on the bed," Gil murmured, a rumble of noise that sounded like he'd be asleep when Jim came back. Yeah, that was good. He'd put the Bible and the notebook and everything else off of the bed, too. It was starting to get up towards eleven or noon by then, anyway, and those crazies could strike at any time. They needed to keep on top of their sleep.

He moved slowly, cleaning efficiently and even coming back and gently wiping Gil off as the other man dozed on the bed. He did it as quick as he could so he could return and get Gil into the bed with him. It involved a bit of steering of the semiconscious man to get him under the covers and he slipped in next to him with a relieved sigh. His gun was close, and so was Gil. There had been sex after a fashion, and expenses paid room service. Things had turned out okay.

It didn't make up for knowing that Lecter was in the city with them, but if Gil could sleep the apparent sleep of the innocent after his encounter, Jim figured he could give it a shot, too.

It was strange that he'd guessed Grissom was back in the office before he'd even known for sure that he was back. There had just been a feeling in the office; a familiar tension that he hadn't realized could go missing until a few days ago.

People were walking on eggshells, but it was something. Griss wasn't hiding out at Chez Brass anymore, but was in his own office when Nick came towards it.

It was good to have him there. Technically, he knew Grissom wasn't actually working, but he knew he'd want to know the results of his analysis. The Feds were running around playing the publicity game because word had leaked out somehow that Lecter was in town although that was the whole of the story so far. The media were going to shit themselves when it all came out, but they were keeping it under wraps.

Warrick was out with Sara, Catherine had ended up taking a double solo because he was needed in the lab. They'd be back soon enough and he'd promised to get some take-out in for all of them. The Sheriff had eyes and ears only for this case and he wasn't going to cut the investigation down now it had just fired up again.

It was just a matter of knocking on the door and waiting for Gil to get out of the chair and answer it or tell him that he could come in.


"Hey, Griss." Nick stepped inside looking at him. There were subtle differences to him, he could see that. He'd lost weight, and held himself differently. He felt a pang of worry that he might be different somehow, not the Grissom he knew.

"I thought you might want an update."

"I appreciate that." Gil had a coffee mug in hand, and papers strewn out over the desk. He gestured for Nick to close the door behind him, and Nick still couldn't shake that feeling that Gil was different than how he'd been at the hospital. "Why don't you sit down and catch me up on it?"

"You sure? Jim said not to push things if you were busy," Nick said, coming in and sitting anyway even as he put his files on the desk. He should have remembered to get himself coffee before he came in.

"Was Jim also growling when he gave that suggestion?" Gil let Nick be confused for a moment, and then he smiled. "He's been being my watchdog. I'm fine -- you're not pushing it, Nick. I genuinely need to know what's going on."

"Cool." Nick smiled a little. "I've done most of the processing -- went over Jim's house. Looks like he was wearing gloves when he came in the back window. Small marks consistent with someone climbing through but no trace and he used a glass cutter so there was no glass shatter. Looks like then, from some slight trace on the carpet that he went to the kitchen area and we've confirmed all the utensils were from Jim's kitchen. The food, if you can call it that he brought with him. The 'juice' was urine. Specifically female urine. FBI agent female urine."

"Clarice Starling," Gil filled in for Nick, and it made Nick want to grin a little. "Was there a message in that bottle of urine?"

"Only that she's pregnant," Nick dropped the bombshell -- Jack Crawford had nearly had an apoplexy when he'd looked over Greg's shoulder and seen the results come up. "I'm guessing that's some sort of message in itself. But there was a message in the bottom of the cereal bowl. It said 31:4."

"'Doth not he see my ways, and count all my steps?'," Gil quoted at him, the same tone he used when he quoted Shakespeare. "Book of Job. So he'd already put the pieces together before I quoted it to him. Nice to know. The message that she's pregnant is... pretty clear."

"Yeah. I'm thinking he's saying he'll be watching.... that he's waiting for Millander to make the next move." Nick cleared his throat. "Sara was better at the Lecter thing than I was. I was working on Millander."

"Sara was going at it from the wrong angle and wondering why she missed things." That was... not so much something that Nick expected to come out of Gil's mouth, but there it was. "Tell me what you managed with Millander?"

No pressure.

"Well, looks like she witnessed her father's murder as Pauline and her testimony was discounted in favor of physical evidence which supported suicide," Nick said after clearing his throat. "Look like he got an obsession with justice and testing that justice will be done properly. I think that's what he was doing before. Seeing if we would fall into the same trap, and I'm guessing that we were the first to pick up that it wasn't suicide. Specifically you were. His mother said after his father died, he tried to be more mannish. More aggressive. I'm thinking it was a power thing, you know? Being powerless and discounted as a female, and having the option to change that and be something else."

"What his mother probably didn't tell you was that he'd had the gender issues since he was a child. I'm sure she'd like to think there was a reason other than... Paul being Paul, naturally." Paul. Like he hadn't almost killed Grissom and raped him.

Like he was any other suspect.

He was sure he couldn't have done that. Not ever. "Yeah. Well, the warehouse thing? What his father used to do. The fingerprints belonged to Paul Millander senior -- another message that could lead to him. I'm thinking that if you caught him before he got any further, you won. And so did he. And then the rules changed. I think -- though it's not the popular FBI theory, Millander did everything he could to get Lecter here. He had to do something pretty spectacular to do that, because from what I understand, Vegas really isn't his sort of place, so he found the connection and sent a message through a crime scene. And then Lecter comes back and does the same. He wanted us to identify he was there. He deliberately left a fingerprint... just one, on the spoon. And the bacon... is coming back human. We're not sure who though. Greg is running it through Codis."

It had been a really busy night.

"I thought it was." Gil grimaced. "But the smell ends up about the same. It could've come from a funeral home, or it could be a cabdriver that pissed him off. It's hard to guess. I'd bet that it's back meat."

"Back meat?" Nick asked. How did Gil know this sort of stuff? He'd never really understood that. He hated to think that someone had gone to the trouble to kill someone to send messages at a crime scene.

"Lecter used to select pieces of his victims that were most... translatable to cooking. Liver, brain, kidneys, back meat," Gil rattled off, and took a sip of his coffee.

"Back bacon." Nick said and grimaced a little. "You see anything else in the scene that I missed? We ran everything but he knew what he was doing when it came to not leaving trace."

"I haven't had the photographs to look over," Gil murmured, sitting back in his chair. "And at the time, I... wasn't paying enough attention. He made it a quick trip, that's all I'm sure of, and he took everything he'd brought with him back out of the house again, but I gave him time to do that."

"Hell, I'm not sure I would've been able to move." He didn't say anything about the fact he'd processed Jim's bed as the scene and Grissom had been in it. He was trying to get his head around that. He hadn't thought either Griss or Jim was gay, and maybe he was making an assumption. "He's announcing he's here and ready to play, I guess. So we're in the game zone as Greg calls it."

"Except you can't save your play, and you can't reboot it." Gil's mouth twitched a little. "And unfortunately, we're the pieces. I want you to keep your eyes open, Nick. Anything could be a sign or a clue, or a signal."

"Gotcha." He looked at his watch. "Cath and the others are going to be back in soon. I'd said I'd pick up something for them. You want to get a bit of fresh air?"

It would be okay if they were together. It was leaving Grissom alone that was the problem, that's what Jim had said.

"Sure. I'm getting used to only having supervised outings." Gil leaned forwards for a moment, putting his hands on the desk before he stood up. "Was there anything else?"

"No. The scene was really clean, Griss. Even your clothes and the whole area. I went over it all. That's all we got. No trails in or out, just the evidence on the breakfast tray and some evidence of where he walked in the house." Nick felt like he was apologizing as if he should have found more. He felt like he was letting Grissom down by not coming up with more of an answer.

"He's been living on the lam for years. He's conscientiously careful." Gil was still holding himself strangely, but Nick could only guess that was from or left over from his injuries. Like his whole torso hurt and it would've been easier to curl in on himself than stand up straight and tall.

"Yeah, I get that," Nick replied. "You sure you want to come? I was gonna walk down a couple of blocks. We could drive."

"We can walk." And he said it like he was wondering just what Nick was implying. Okay, so trying to be thoughtful for Griss was a no-go.

Fine, he could pretend normal. As long as he didn't think too hard about the scene he had worked and the fact that sleep was pretty damn difficult for all of them who'd been in that upper room. Catherine, Warrick and himself. They were finding it hard, but Greg was being there. That was unexpected, but pretty cool, so there was something to distract him. Greg could distract a statue. "C'mon, they told me what they wanted. We can choose when we get there."

"That sounds fine. How's the lab been?" Maybe acting like that was Gil's way of coping. That and sleeping in Jim's bed. That wouldn't have been so weird, but Brass was only three months not-their boss.

"Stretched," Nick replied truthfully as he stood and they both headed to the locker room so he could get his jacket. "We're really pushing it without you. Griss."

"I'm sorry. I'm going to try to come back as soon as I can. Things are just... strange right now. I'm only back to look at this case and see if I can be of any use right now." He paused to grab his jacket, and then opened the door for Nick.

"Didn't mean it like that, Griss," Nick said as they headed off. "Just that you were missed." He smiled a little hesitantly as they made their way out.

"I know I am. At least, that's what everyone keeps telling me. But you won't be able to miss me if I come back to work, right?" Gil smiled back a little, and it was funny for him to even notice that Nick was trying.

"Right," he grinned a little and nodded as they reached the front doors. "When do you think that'll be. Griss? I mean, you're half back now."

"Once everything calms down. When this is over." So he didn't expect it to take any time at all? Or hardly any. He shrugged into his coat, and fell into step with Nick. "I'll probably take a day off after that, but I'm looking forwards to getting all of this behind me again."

"I don't blame you," Nick replied as he slowed his walk just a little as they hit the street. "Pretty stressful." That had to be the biggest understatement ever. He wanted to offer something. Support maybe, he wasn't sure, but more than just words. He wasn't sure how to, though. It was easier with most people, almost anyone, than it was with Grissom, because he didn't ever act like normal people. He was a mystery, and the why of it was starting to make a lot more sense to Nick. There had to be a way to reach out normally to a guy who wasn't.

"Yeah. Has, uh. Jack been causing any problems in the lab?"

Nick smiled a little. "He doesn't like me much, or Warrick. Catherine and him have shouting matches pretty much every time he gets in. Sara gets along with him."

He didn't understand why, after all that had happened. He could understand how it wasn't clear what they had done.

"Sara does. He's trying to get her to join the FBI," Gil murmured, voice losing a little of its warmth. "They're a lot alike in a lot of ways."

"Well, I think it's stupid to be taken in when the evidence is right there," Nick said as they walked. It wasn't far to their local Chinese place. Sometimes they ordered in, but if he went there and smiled at the girl who served them, they got extra. Nice reward for a short walk across a couple of blocks.

"Evidence of what? Better pay scale, better equipment, more excitement?" Gil slid his hands into his coat pocket. "You're looking at different evidence than Sara's looking at when it comes to Jack."

"I guess so," Nick said as they walked down the street. He hadn't thought of that; it just seemed obvious that if they screwed over a friend then working for them was a way to get screwed over yourself. He heard the rev of an engine behind them on the street and was about to ignore it when he remembered he was meant to be looking at anything and everything.

He glanced over his shoulder.

Just a truck, nothing to worry about. It had headlights going, and everything seemed normal. "But it's heartening to know that you're looking at the same evidence that I've been looking at." He stopped on the corner, and glanced up at the crosswalk light.

"Seem's pretty clear to me.," Nick admitted. They were clear to go and they both stepped out across the road. Only he could still hear that truck and the revs weren't slowing.

He turned and glanced again and the truck was there, too close, swerving to line up on Grissom a couple of steps ahead of him and he was going to be hit.

Nick didn't even think. He was bellowing Grissom's name at the top of his lungs and half jumping, half lunging forward to get him clear.

In slow motion, he saw himself push Gil clear even as the truck hit him in his jump midair and he bounced up onto the hood, against the windscreen before almost ricocheting off into the road. It was like he was dreaming because he was still awake but nothing was moving and there was no air in his lungs and he couldn't even tilt his head to look at the registration as it sped away.

Fuck he hurt.

"Nick! Jesus, Nick, hold on, Nicky..." Fingers against his pulse point, maybe the only clear sensation he could feel.

He couldn't help but think he should be unconscious instead of feeling a combination of numb fire up over his side and back. He'd forgotten how to breathe and things were getting gray around the edges until he inhaled deeply and a dam broke on pain making him nearly choke as it hit him all at once in a deluge of liquid fire.

"Just breathe, Nicky. Keep breathing, I'm getting you help." Help that would hopefully make the pain stop, because he'd gotten hit by a car, a truck, and it hadn't stopped. He was just lucky that he hadn't gotten flipped into its bed or worse. There'd been that one traffic accident with the motorcyclist whose head had been squished inside of his helmet.

Maybe... maybe... It hadn't stopped, it had been accelerating, it had been deliberate and Grissom was out in the road, out in the road with him inviting it back. It could be Lecter, it could be Millander ,and Gil should be running and hiding, getting away.

He'd seen a face, he'd seen it swerve to line up on Gil he had to... had to...

"Griss..." He wasn't sure if there was sound there or just a moment of his lips. "Griss..."

Except Gil didn't seem to notice the danger, stayed with him. Nick could hear the sound of Gil on his cell phone, and then a vehicle pulling up beside them. The sound of sirens, and the flash of lights against the outside of Nick's eyelids.

He forced his eyes open to look and see, to try and check that it wasn't that face wasn't Millander. Yes it had been him. A moment of light and closeness when he bounced up and eyes looking at him, calm and focused. He moved his leg, feeling it, but moving. No stabbing pain. Moved his hand to try and catch at Grissom and wondered how they had gotten there so quickly.

He clutched at Grissom, trying to move, to sit up. There were no leaking feelings, no jutting bones. Things blurred a little as he reached for him, to see if he was okay. He was solid, he had muscle. He'd been midair when he hit the car so he probably hadn't fractured his kneecaps. Maybe cracked ribs or his arm where he hit the hood and windscreen. They felt a little numb.


"Stay still. You could have spinal trauma, or..." Something. Gil said something, and Nick missed it because he could hear... Warrick?

"Jesus. Nick, stay still. Hey, man, we've got the ambulance coming for you, just from around the corner."

"M'okay..." Nick tried to speak with some success. "Millander. Was Millander. Steered and went for Griss..." There, that was most of his strength but someone had to know that they were all still standing somewhere a maniac could be turning around and heading back to get them.

Though he wasn't sure how long it had been since he was hit.

"I got down the license plate number," Gil told them both. "So just relax, Nicky. We'll get you out of here in a minute, and you're going to be all right."

Nick felt he'd done all he could and breathed out in a sigh. He shouldn't have asked Grissom to come with him. He shouldn't have put him in danger and fuck, it was starting to hurt and he was dizzy and he had to close his eyes.

Somewhere in that moment of time, the noises faded, everything faded, and he very slowly and gently passed out.

Catherine hated the fact they didn't know how bad Nick was yet. She hated the fact that Gil looked like he had personally driven him down, and that when he looked at her before they went out, she thought she had seen a hint of 'I told you so'.

It was one thing to know intellectually what might happen but much more shocking to experience. To know that Nick had saved Gil's life and could be losing his own.

Gil had remembered the registration but that had hardly been necessary when they had been called to the scene of a truck dump. Millander -- and she was sure the trace would confirm it was him -- must have driven a little way and then dumped it. He'd set a fire in the truckbed so it hadn't been long before it had been called in and she had taken Sara out there to work the scene. They had been uncharacteristically quiet out there on scene, absorbed in their thoughts and she looked at the bagged evidence they were bringing back in. "You got anything that needs to go in to Greg?"

"DNA?" Sara shrugged. "Nothing obvious. No food waste, no burnt skin, no hairs that I could salvage..." She seemed tired, resigned to what had happened. Like she'd seen it coming, or Gil had told her it was coming and she hadn't believed it.

"I've got some blood from the hood." Probably Nick's, but she didn't want to say that. "And a couple of hairs from the driver seat. You got the paper that was on the passenger side?"

Catherine sounded tired even to herself and a lot of it was from worrying so much.

She didn't know how to stop worrying. If she wasn't worrying about Gil, well, now she had Nick to add to the list of people to worry about. Nick didn't have a Jim Brass hanging over him.

"Yeah. It's bagged, and I want to look at the writing more carefully, but couldn't just then."

"Writing or numbers? There were numbers at Jim's place..." How the hell had Brass and Gil managed to deal with the worry of all of them being out all the time exposed to danger? It was not dissimilar to worrying about Lindsay. "Could be something to do with that reference."

"Numbers," Sara murmured, sitting back in Catherine's passenger seat, flipping the evidence bag around in her hands. "30:22."

"Sounds like we'll be looking that up in the Bible when we get to the lab. Unless you have the book of Job memorized?" She raised an eyebrow at Sara. If she'd been working with Gil, she would have been surprised if he hadn't quoted it off immediately.

"Unfortunately, I don't. Not yet, anyway." She managed a smile at Catherine. "But I can call Gil at the lab and see what he says it is."

"Yeah. Yeah that's an idea. I want to see if there's any news about Nick, too," Catherine replied. "The rest of the vehicle looked pretty standard. Impact marks, damage consistent. We can put it through a fine tooth comb when we have it back at CSI." She exhaled, shaking her head. Fuck. What was going to be next? Gil had said something about fire. Maybe they would try fire at the lab. They needed to give the place a going over. Look for any incendiary devices, look for anyone suspicious. It made sense to a point.

Sara pulled out her cell phone while Catherine pondered it, and she could hear Sara's side of the conversation.

"Griss? It's Sara. We've got a set of numbers from the scene here. '30:22'. Does that mean anything to you?"

Catherine would bet it did. She watched Sara a moment as she listened, wondering if Nick had been right about her looking to jump ship to the FBI. They all knew she had recommended against Warrick and that meant it was difficult to warm to her but...

She was damn good at the job. Different style, different angle, but good. She picked up what most people would miss, and in their world that was the edge they needed.

Just then, they needed any edge at all. There had to be some reason why Grissom had brought her in to run the IA, and Catherine suspected that he'd picked up on that edge, that he knew she was good. "Okay. So it is from the book of Job..."

"No surprises there then," Catherine said as they reached where they had parked. "What's the quote?"

"'Thou liftest me up to the wind; thou causest me to ride upon it, and dissolves my substance.' Or, as it translates to crazy land, I'll run you down with a car," Sara frowned.

"Great," Catherine said with heavy sarcasm. "Ask him if there's any news from the hospital?" If she was on the phone, she'd ask Gil how he was doing and try and stop him thinking it was his fault. He would, she knew that, and it wasn't. She was proud of Nick and she hoped to God Grissom acknowledged that, too. Nick lit up at Grissom's praise.

"Is there anything you know about Nick... ?" Another pause. Maybe Gil would visit Nick in the hospital and just firm up the fact that he was proud of Nick. Just say something, make sure he was all right.

But then, could he go to the hospital and be safe if there were two serial killers gunning for him? He'd been lucky. Nick had been lucky to be midair when he was hit -- it meant he hadn't pitched headfirst through the windscreen like a lot of hit and runs did. She waited anxiously as he undid the central locking on her car and opened the door. She willed Sara not to keep her waiting for good news.

"Okay? That's great to hear. Thanks, yeah. I'll pass it on." Good news, great to hear. Good, good. Sara closed her phone, and managed a smile at Catherine. "The doctors are going to keep him overnight."

"Only overnight? He's not too bad?" He'd been hit by a truck and Catherine had scraped up enough DB's after hit and runs to know it was usually messy, not 'okay'. Thank god. She felt a huge unknotting inside her stomach as if they had had a close shave.

"Bruised ribs on one side. One's fractured, and there's a small fracture on his arm. He doesn't seem concussed, but they want him under observation anyway," Sara told her while she got in.

"Jesus, he was lucky," Catherine said almost without thinking. "The truck looks like it's been totaled." The hood was completely buckled and distorted where Nick had bounced on it, the windscreen smashed and the frame of it twisted. Nick had a fair amount of mass to him and there had been a good speed to the vehicle when they'd collided.

"Before or after Millander set fire to it?" Sara arched an eyebrow, and gave Catherine a look.

"Before. Nicky made some hard impact points," Catherine replied. The both of them were staying professional and it was the last thing she wanted to do. But she had to or it would fall apart. "We've got to look into some protection for the lab. For Grissom."

"What kind of protection would be enough, Catherine?" Just the question that Catherine wished Sara hadn't asked, because she didn't have a ready answer to it

"I don't know, but considering we don't have any, something has got to be better than nothing," Catherine answered as they got in her car. "This is only the first day Lecter's been in town. I've got a feeling they aren't going to be patient."

"Maybe not by our standards. Griss... told me that time isn't an element that they consider." And by the way that Sara didn't immediately elaborate on it; Catherine could guess that she hadn't quite finished gasping whatever it was that Gil meant by that.

"Right. Well let's hope they're on a go-slow rather than fast-forward," Catherine replied. "The Sheriff is going to be all over this when we get back in. You mind taking the stuff down to Greg while I go kiss ass?"

"Oh, by all means. I'm not as good at the ass-kissing as you are, anyway." Sara winked, and reached to start sorting and organizing all of their pieces of evidence. The vehicle was still going to get towed to the garage, but they could handle that when it arrived.

"Thanks. I think," Catherine said dryly. She started the engine and pulled out. She just hoped Gil was okay and this hadn't been too much of a shock. She knew for a fact that Brass was going to be beside himself, but she was surprised to find that she was willing to trust him to deal with Gil. That was a surprising conclusion but an interesting one. If there was something good to come out of all this, maybe it might be to force two stubborn men to get off their asses and do something about their lives. Preferably together.

It might even work.

It had started.

It didn't start with a thunderclap, no, but Gil might have appreciated it more if it had. It started with an engine revving, and he hadn't heard it, hadn't heard Nick shout his name, though he could guess that he had. He'd felt the impact of a body against his, knocking him mostly out of the way. He'd been clipped with the side-view mirror on his shoulder, but that didn't matter when Nick had almost died.

Could have died.

He'd twisted in time to see him bounce on the road. And he had bounced before he'd splayed out unmoving and unseeing. He remember staring and not seeing Nick's chest moving just for a moment even as he instinctively looked at the truck speeding away and got the number.

The moment kept replaying over and over in his head. One moment normal conversation, the next.... Nick could have been killed with so many things he hadn't ever said to him. Like he was proud of him, that he did a good job and should follow his own way when he felt it was right.

None of that said but here he was back in the hospital, Jim coming to pick him up soon and take him home, or to the hotel. He wasn't sure where they were going, but he'd asked to come here and now he was here... he didn't know what to do or say.

That really would've seemed a little less pathetic if Nick hadn't been asleep, but Gil hadn't ever been one for talking to the sleeping. The dead. It was too close to home, or too close to something, and he didn't do it. He sat there, watching Nick and knowing that he'd probably come around out of exhaustion soon enough.

He could see bruises coming up on the younger man's face and he couldn't believe that they were going to let him out the next day. He'd had cracked ribs. They were fucking painful to start with and it was harder than it seemed. It meant the injured person couldn't bend, move right, do up their shoes. Even so, he knew Nick had been lucky.

He could be dead.

Nick was shifting a little, restless. Sure enough, he tried to move something he shouldn't have and that brought him awake. "Ow..."

If it had been anyone else, including Catherine -- especially Catherine -- they would have woken with a stream of invective.

But not Nick, and that made Gil wonder if it was a matter of his influences. If it was a matter of how he was raised, or just personality. "Hi, Nick."

"Hey, Griss," Nick looked at him a little blearily. "They got you in here, too? You get hurt much?"

He obviously had no sense of how long he'd been there.

"No, I'm all right." Gil reached to pat Nick's hand, avoiding the IV. "Thanks to you."

"Thanks to me?" Nick looked a bit puzzled. "Oh yeah. Yeah, I should've noticed the first time I looked. Missed it." He looked surprised at the contact on his hand and smiled a bit. "Least you're okay, right? No harm done."

"Except to you," Gil countered rationally. "I didn't even hear it coming, Nick. You saved my life."

Nick actually looked embarrassed at the statement. "Well... I...." He cleared his throat a little and tried a half smile. "Do I get a raise?"

"I thought you just got a raise?" Gil tsked slightly, and kept smiling at Nick. "That was above and beyond the call of duty, Nick."

"So that's a no?" Nick grinned again. "Guess I won't be doing it again then." He squeezed just a little with his hand to make sure Gil knew he was joking. Gil knew Nick would do it again and that was what worried him.

"Hopefully the opportunity won't present itself for you to get hit by a car again. You're too important to the team for that to happen to you. You're too important to all of us."

He was saying things he never thought he'd say, and from Nick's expression things he thought he never be hearing him say.

"Griss, anyone would have done it for you, you know that, right?" Nick said slowly. "I know you don't want us to, but I'm telling you I'm grateful I had the opportunity, you know?"

He knew, grasped it as a concept, and held it with the knowledge that he would've done it for Nick if he'd just been paying attention. "Nick. I really appreciate what you did. Just... I want you to concentrate on getting better and staying safe now. I was in the lab for a while looking over your notes, and you've really done a good job on this case."

It was painfully obvious how much that meant to the younger man. It was like watching someone win the lottery because he guessed Nick was a little too drugged up to control his expression. "Thanks. That's good. You don't think I missed anything? They weren't really interested in the Millander angle, so I was covering it myself and it's easier with more eyes looking at it."

"I don't think you missed anything, Nick. You caught all of the points that you could without meeting the man yourself." Gil watched Nick wince when he took a particularly deep breath in. "Which I wouldn't wish on anyone."

"We'll get him, Griss. And Lecter," Nick replied looking at him with a concerned expression. "We're gonna get this one. We're all pushing it. We stick together and we can beat both of them, right?"

"Maybe," Gil said, and only because he didn't want to take away all of their hope. "Or we can hope them get each other."

That would be a good outcome, as long as they didn't get anyone else in their convoluted enmity. Lecter was stupid to be doing this, why play a dangerous game? Aside from the thrill.

"Yeah, that would be a good result," Nick agreed, wincing a little as he shifted. "I'll be out of here tomorrow. Guess I'll be stuck in the lab with you for a while, huh?"

"That's not so bad. If no one tries to set the place on fire," Gil murmured trying to find the bright side when there really wasn't one.

"If that happens, you can carry me out the building, okay? No, wait, I'll take Greg and you can have Archie," Nick smiled at him again. "It's gonna be okay, Griss, really."

"Keep telling him that, Stokes, he might believe you in a few years," Jim's voice came from the doorway. "Nice work, Nick."

"I might believe you," Gil agreed, mouth twitching a little while he turned to peer at Jim as he came in. "Nick was just talking about throwing himself in front of a truck again. He might listen to you if you tell him it's a bad idea."

"Nick, it's an extreme sport taken too far," Jim reproached him dryly. "I thought we'd agreed not to take unnecessary risks? "

"How about necessary ones?" Nick asked looking up at him with a hopeful expression.

"Hell, I'm fine with those."

"I feel like the victim of an anti-sanity conspiracy." Gil mock-groaned that, watching the way that Nick's face lit up. "Nick, I want you to concentrate on being better. And you should probably try not to be alone for a while. Stick with Warrick or someone, because if you saw Millander's face, then Millander saw you."

"Yeah, well, hate to say it, Griss, but I don't think he was after me," Nick admitted. "Warrick says Greg is going to stay at my place, and he's going over to be with Catherine and they've invited Sara over, too."

That was good, because Gil wasn't going to invite Sara to stay with him and Jim, not unless Gil had a sudden inexplicable hankering to experience World War III in a hotel room. "Good. Just in case, Nick. You're all going to become targets as much as I am."

"I think everyone worked that one out," Nick said ruefully. "We'll look out for each other. And Brass is covering your back, right?"

Jim snorted. "Yeah. Got him covered."

Comfortably. In bed, no less, which made Gil have to press down a smile. "So don't worry. We're going to get this wrapped up as soon as we can, and with minimal FBI involvement."

"Great," Nick managed as a nurse headed into the room. He looked at them a bit ruefully. "Uh, I've got a feeling I might need some privacy for this, guys."

Jim half smiled. "C'mon, Gil, no one deserves to pee in a bedpan in front of his boss. You usually let them go into another room to do it."

Gil got to his feet, watching Nick for a moment. "We'll see you when you're out, Nick. There's an officer posted at the door, so you can rest easy."

As easily as someone could with fractured ribs.

Nick raised his hand in a farewell. "See you back at the lab," he managed as they left the room, and Brass shifted in closer to Gil.

"He's a good kid. Remind me to get him a Christmas present this year."

"They're all good. All of them," Gil murmured once they were out in the hallway. "I don't want anything to happen to them."

"Yeah, and they don't want anything to happen to you either," Jim replied quietly. "And they'll do something about it too. You gotta deal with that."

But he didn't want to. He'd rather have them not caring what happened to him rather than see Nick in a hospital bed because he'd saved his life.

There was no way to articulate it without getting into a circular argument, though. Yes, they cared, and he cared, so of course it made sense that they all cared, but Gil didn't understand why. And maybe he never would. "I'm dealing."

"Uh-huh." Jim didn't sound like he believed him. "Nick's gonna be okay, we've survived the first move. Now we have to try and intercept the second."

"It's Lecter's move. It's fire, and fire isn't his style." Gil's jaw tightened a little, and he reached in his mind to get to what the next step would be. Fire. Fire seemed logical, and he'd already said that. He hadn't expected the car, but he'd already been expecting the fire, so that was Lecter's move. He couldn't track Millander, just Lecter, and what they needed was both reasoned out. Lecter wouldn't attack him, he'd move against Lecter.

Lecter really did think he was Will's god.

"No, so maybe he'll make it into something that is." Jim shrugged. "We'll get the bomb squad in to look over the department. I mean, come on, that verse in Job fits after the event. Not sure if we could have predicted that to a hit and run."

"He wouldn't use a bomb. It's too... inelegant. Too imprecise. Too brutish." Gil caught eye contact with a man passing them in the hall, and he watched the man's eyes catch and then slide away. Fear. Instinctively avoiding someone with that mark of fear lingering on them. "Can we talk about this in the car?"

"Sure," Jim replied patting him gently on the shoulder. "It's gonna be okay though, Gil. They'll mess up and we'll have them."

Gil wasn't sure if Jim was trying to persuade him or himself.

Maybe both. Maybe both of them, and hell, they both needed it. Gil walked a little closer to Jim, and fell quiet, because what could he do? Agree? Argue? Gil wasn't sure.

They seemed to think they would just solve this. There was no solving it unless they second guessed them and were there when one or other of them was setting something up. He was pretty sure if they caught one or other of them it would be the same as losing the game. And Lecter had been playing too long to make 'slip-ups' or mistakes. Although playing like this might be a mistake on one level.

Vanity. Or protection, or perhaps he'd just grown bored. Gil wasn't sure, and he could only keep in step with Jim and keep thinking when he got into the passenger seat of Jim's car. Lecter was protecting him, in a sense, in a way, in the way that a god could do whatever they wanted but didn't want other gods or demons to influence them. God's punishment was just, god's wrath without failing, and the devil's was unconscionable.

But then he was also sure that Millander thought he was playing God rather than the devil. That complicated things. Made it difficult who to pick doing what because both would play the role of God. And what could be next? There was a lot of references to destruction and violence in Job as well as rather stinging parallels to adultery and affairs that mirrored events in his life. Millander couldn't have known about that, surely.

It wasn't in any of the books. It wasn't, and there were no Job references in anything Lecter had ever done. It just fit too well, the implications the... and how was Gil to know that Millander wouldn't try to replicate some of that somehow?

He was forcing Lecter out of a pattern and Lecter was at his most dangerous when he was unpredictable.

They were outside now and he couldn't help but notice Jim put an arm around him and was very cautious looking around. It was too soon for retaliation. They would be relying on news or other sources.

Lecter would strike once it hit the news, and it had just missed the Vegas news cycle. In the morning, the 6 a.m. news, it'd make that, and the locals already knew, but it was too late to air. Gil took comfort in that.

No doubt Lecter had some ideas, so he was thinking by the time they hit the next shift they would be facing the next onslaught.

"You okay, Gil?" Jim murmured quietly disturbing his train of thought.

"Thinking." They were at the car already, and he'd missed that. He needed to be observant, but he couldn't be, and that made him more of a liability than a use just then. Of all the times to wish he could just turn on Will Graham and off Gil Grissom, and just go with it. No hesitation.

"I could hear the cogs turning," Jim said as he opened the doors. "Lets get back to the Rampart, you need a break."

He needed Jim to stop him flying apart again.

And knowing that they couldn't do anything more just then, Gil caved in. He needed that strength, that quiet.

Before there was fire.

Gil was in the shower and Jim was trying to stop pacing. It was one thing to appear calm in front of Gil but they were going to head back in to the lab again and neither of them had slept that well. He was beginning to think leaving the country might be a good idea only he didn't trust either psycho not to follow them both. Nick had been nearly killed, he couldn't deny that and suddenly he couldn't help but think that this was way out of control. Fuck, maybe they should rethink this, only he didn't dare leave Gil alone.

Such was the state of his nerves he had a gun pulled the moment there was a knock at the door and approached it cautiously.


"Brass? It's Catherine." She didn't sound stressed, at least not more than she had in the past couple of weeks.

Safe enough then. He opened the door putting his gun back. "Hey, Cath. Grissom's having a shower." She was probably here to see him after all. "No news yet?"

"No news is good news." Catherine stepped in, and surprisingly enough, hugged him gently before she let him close the door. "We're waiting, and being careful. Warrick and Sara are on their way to the lab, and I was wondering if you two wanted a ride in."

"Sticking together is not a bad idea," Jim had to acknowledge. Cath looked tired, really tired and that was starting to worry him as well. He knew Gil had said things weren't her fault, but words tended not to be enough when it was that big a deal. "Nick coming in tomorrow?"

"He swears he is, and while I'm not sure it's a good idea..." Catherine shrugged as she moved to sit down in one of the chairs just inside of the room. "He can't hurt himself worse in the lab."

"Yeah, I guess. I'm working on that with Gil, too," Jim admitted sitting down as well "How was having Sara and Warrick over?"

"Interesting?" Catherine leaned to look towards the bedroom, and then back to Jim. "All she talked about was the case, and Gil. I think she's picked up on what's going on."

"On what?" Jim looked at her with his best innocent expression, though he was pretty sure he knew what Catherine was talking about.

"You know on what," Catherine murmured. "I think it's great. It's more than I ever wanted to think about your sex life in my life, but as long as someone isn't cowering in fear and panic..."

"It's not that kind of a sex life," Jim said raising an eyebrow at her. "I'm not making moves... it's just... picking up on a misunderstanding from a while back."

"I figured it was," Catherine filled in for him. "You picked up... pretty comfortably at the hospital." And why she was talking about that, Jim didn't know. Maybe it amused her. Maybe it distracted her, or maybe she just wanted to tease Gil a little, and Jim by relation.

"I'm a comfortable kinda guy," Jim said humoring her a little. "How're you doing, Cath?" Gil would be asking if he weren't in such a tailspin, so he guessed it was up to him.

"I'm... doing. I have no idea how someone can live like this, trying to keep one step ahead of it. Moving to Canada looks great right now."

"Well, I thought about that, a CSI commune up there, but you know... Nick might get mistaken for a Mountie or something or we might get snowed in and have to eat Sanders," Jim joked lightly. "And they might just follow us anyway. I'm better on my home turf."

"I just wonder if we're playing into their hands by letting things hit the news. Should we try to smother it instead? Get a lock down on the case, and let them play into a void?"

"Cath, we've got no hope in hell of smothering this," Jim said knowing it was true. "We'd end up with the press tripping over themselves, getting involved and Lecter has nothing holding him back from getting rid of a few of them. He got Dollarhyde to set light to one of them."

"I remember reading it." Catherine frowned a little, and peered towards the bathroom door. "Is he okay?"

"Gil? He feels responsible for Nicky," Jim admitted. No point hiding it, it was the truth. "He's worried what will happen to everyone else."

"But he's keeping it together?" Catherine was still watching the door, as if talking about Gil was enough to summon him. Jim wondered sometimes. "Crawford is just waiting for him to fall apart, because we're 'impeding his ability to work'."

"Gil knows what he can deal with," Jim said confident that it was true as long as someone was there to help him. Not that he was sure how he helped Gil, but he seemed to by just standing there. "He's doing what he can, and I just hope he doesn't push too hard. He's been through a hell of a lot."

"I just keep thinking that he was just assaulted by Millander. I still can't get that scene out of my head and he's carrying on like nothing happened because two crazies haven't given him the time to... heal. Whatever it is people do." And it'd catch up to Gil sometime, Jim figured. He'd be there when it did, when Gil stopped functioning from moment to moment. If he broke up again.

"Yeah. Don't worry, I'll be there. Not going anywhere if I can help it," Jim said as there was another knock at the door. Once again his gun was out and ready. "None of the others coming in after you?" he checked hastily.

Catherine shifted, and pulled her own gun out of her jacket, a motion that made Jim feel slightly proud. "No."

"Lets go rough up some hotel staff then," he said taking the lead. He wasn't going to tell her to stay put, because they needed to be ready right now. On guard enough to feel comfortable pulling a gun.

He went to the door and stood to one side. "Yeah who is it?"

"Flower delivery."

Catherine went to stand to the side that was behind the door, and made a 'yeah, right' sound.

Could be Millander could be Lecter. Maybe he could get the drop on one or other of them. Jim opened the door, his gun at hip level. Shooting a serial killer in the groin would be satisfying if he got the chance. "Flowers, hey? Who from?"

It wasn't either of them. It was some kid with spiky hair who could've been a visual friend of Sanders. "Uh, whoa dude. I don't get paid for robbery, and I don't have anything on me. I'm just from a flower shop."

"Which flower shop?" Catherine asked immediately even as Jim gave the flowers a visual once over. No mysterious wires, flashing lights or ticking sounds. In fact they looked a lot like a funeral spray. Great, just fucking great.

"Who're they addressed to?"

"A Paul Millander?" He eyed Jim like he was wondering if he was him. "I'm from Fleet florist down off of Main."

Jim exhaled a moment. Lecter's move or part of it. Looks like there wouldn't be a night of suspense after all. "Fine. Give it here then."

"Sure. Could I just--" the poor kid had probably wanted a tip, but with Jim's nerves, he got a door shut in his face, and Catherine locking the door before Jim could make the motion.

"Griss?" Catherine headed for the bathroom door, knocking lightly.

"Fucking funeral flowers," Jim muttered under his breath double checking them for any sort of trap. Looked like the note was the message. Great. He opened up the note carefully and sighed when he saw the telltale numbers "31:15. Great."

"What's happened?" The sound of running water stopped, and Jim could hear bare feet squeaking on tile.

"Lecter sent us funeral flowers."

He could imagine Gil's reaction to that. It was going through his own mind. Was it someone he had killed or someone he was intending to kill? Was it one of them? The only clue lay in those numbers and Jim was seriously considering taking a Bible with him everywhere now for reference purposes. "It says 31:15 Gil. Ring any bells?"

"I... hold on." He could hear Gil rustling around in there, probably drying off and pulling clothes on. "Catherine, that's you out there? Is everyone here?"

"Just Catherine, Gil, she dropped by on her way in," Jim called back. "Greg's with Nick, Sara and Warrick went in together."

"Okay." There was a pause, and a quiet thump. "Okay. Hold on..."

Catherine shook her head, and wandered away from the door a little. "He's never liked to quote when he's not face to face. Gil, just put a robe on, you'll catch a cold if you put your clothes on wet!"

Jim tried not to smirk a little as they waited for Gil to come out. "Steal one of the hotel ones, Gil." He knew Grissom would be wary about showing his chest or torso to Catherine, even though Catherine had seen him when it had just happened and from the sounds of it the image was still there in her head.

There was some noise of assent, and then the door cracked open. Gil was toweling his hair off, the belt tied tight around his waist from one of those hospital robes. "It has to do with wombs. 'Did not he that made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?' "

Catherine looked at them both. "Wild guess here, we're talking about a woman right? Wombs, uterus all that female plumbing?"

Jim shrugged a little. Did that mean he was after one of the females in the team? "It was addressed to Paul Millander, though, not to us."

"If it was addressed to us, I'd make the leap that he'd killed Paul," Gil offered, still rubbing through his hair with the towel. "As a message that he was going to continue the game solo. But since it was addressed to Millander, then... The message was for him."

"So not about one of us then?" Catherine asked. "Funeral flowers, cryptic messages about wombs..."

Jim considered it. "Talks about making in wombs. Millander's mother still alive?"

"Nick interviewed her with..." Gil trailed off, probably because he couldn't remember. And while that probably startled Catherine a little, Jim was getting used to that, to Gil missing things. Maybe that was how he fell apart, coped with everything that was going on. Jim couldn't be sure.

He was allowed a few moments to kick himself back into gear. "Maybe it's a question of whether she's alive now?" he asked. "And either way it might just draw Millander back to their house. It's the best lead we've had."

So it was a little cold, but he had some tough skin when it came to mayhem and murder.

Plus, it kinda seemed like the worst 'your momma' joke ever.

"Catherine, do you want to call ahead about that?" Gil murmured, turning to head into the bathroom.

"Yeah." Catherine looked at the exhibit A in the room. "Can we bag this and take it in or do we need to deal with it here?" she asked aloud. "I can get my kit from the car."

"Bag it," Gil decided. He fell so easily into the role of supervisor, even when he looked rattled and wet. "But get a bag from your kit. I think they reuse the garbage bags here in the hotel."

"Right. I'll be back in a minute and I'll call on the way down. See if we've got a 4-19 or if we need to put protection on Mrs. Millander," Catherine said as she headed out the door. "You guys get ready, I'll take you in afterwards."

Jim was already ready, but he could probably give Gil a hand in getting dressed and getting a kit together just in case. Gil was already back stepping towards the bathroom.

"Right. We'll do that."

He was abandoned on both sides, left looking at the flowers. They'd have to send someone to the flower shop, get a description. See if it was Millander or someone he paid to do it. Maybe drive around the neighborhood bribing people with burgers again. It got results and people would spill for a burger where you couldn't get them to spill for ten dollars or more. He'd learned that trick in Jersey.

"You want me to get anything up together for you?" he called out to Gil in the bathroom.

There was a moment of silence from the bathroom, and Gil cracked open the door. "A Bible, my pants, and a pack of smokes?"

"You're smoking?" Jim asked moving to get the other items. "I thought you'd given up." Maybe he was thinking of getting back in touch with his Will Graham side.

Jim wasn't sure what he wanted to think of that. "I had. I'll give it up again. I'm missing something, and I can't think."

"And smoking will get it back?" Jim asked as he picked up the book Gil had been using as a reference and then found his pants. "Here, your pants. Sure it's not those you're missing?"

"I don't know. I'm just... missing something." Gil reached through the door for his pants, but not in a saving his modesty way. More of a 'the air-conditioning in that room is cold without pants' way.

"Gil, I've got to point this out. You were seriously injured and attacked not that long ago and you had a couple of near misses in the last couple of days. I think I'd be a bit distracted too."

God only knew why Gil thought he had to be perfectly fixed immediately.

"I don't have time to be distracted. They're going to kill one of us, and I can't let that happen." There was a thread of strain in Gil's voice, and Jim could hear him pulling his pants on, see the motions a little. "You're not getting it. I can't just shut this off and I can't just let it fall apart on me. I have to figure this out."

Okay, not so good. "I do get that, I just don't want you thinking that everything that happens is your responsibility." He moved forward to push open the door carefully. "I'm here, okay? I may not be a whole lot of use but I'm here."

"I know." Gil's fingers faltered a little as he zipped up his fly, and started to buckle his belt. His hands were shaking. "I almost wish you weren't, and then you wouldn't be in the line of fire. You are. You think you're protecting me, but Lecter won't hurt me. Staying close is what's protecting you."

"Well, hey, great," Jim said reaching to rest a hand on his shoulder. "I'll stick close and pretend to protect you then, huh?"

Gil didn't smile. He reached his arm out, and hugged Jim tightly for just a minute. "God dammit."

"By the way, I think pretty much everyone knows about my own particular brand of close support," Jim murmured holding him close again. Gil obviously needed that more than he had ever hinted at in the past.

Gil managed a tired-sounding snort of a laugh. Yeah, like he cared, when half the lab already knew that he'd had sex with Lecter. Jim was twenty steps up from that, he hoped, so it wasn't like anyone they knew was going to have a problem with it

"C'mon," Jim said with his own smile as he heard Catherine come back in. "You know how impatient these redheads can get."

"I heard that Brass," came the warning voice from the outer room.

Jim smirked again and kissed Gil lightly. "See what I mean?"

Maybe he could get Gil around this without having to resort to smoking again. Who knew? They might be able to lie in wait for Millander if Lecter had been warning them. They just had to stay optimistic about this, no matter what the facts said.

That seemed to be enough to get Gil moving again. Jim wasn't sure how much Catherine had heard, or quite when she'd let herself back in, but it didn't matter. Gil was holding together, and they were probably, probably all still going to be alive.

He'd dragged Nick in and propped him up in one of the labs before heading down to his own lab to kick the ass of the backlog. It was a backlog that needed some heavy duty paced music to keep him moving, processing and pushing all the time without a break. It always worked doing it that way. It allowed him to keep the adrenaline going and the blood pumping and he'd just set off the last of overlap before he had his first visitor of the day.

Greg was pretty worried about everything that was going on. Nick really shouldn't have been in and he'd spent his off-time helping him out. The guy was black and blue with bruises and what with him and Grissom, things were way too personal.

Everything was way too personal.

After all, shouldn't a place associated with the sheriff's office, and thus the people who worked in it, be safe from everything except run of the mill gunfire? Weird enough everything that had happened to Grissom, who was moving around the office like a lurking ghost, but now Nick.

That just crossed a line for Greg.

Of course, it was a personal and somewhat secret line and one that he hardly ever acknowledged except when he was tripping over it by crossing it one way or another, but Nick had been hurt, and he was being stoic and a good house guest and could barely move for bruises.

Least he could do was make him a few drinks, bring him food, and make sure he was okay. And see if he could nail this Millander bastard Nick was obsessing over just like everyone else was obsessing over Lecter. Between the two of them they had turned CSI into a paranoid, over-focused twitchy mess. If he could pull anything to help that, he was there. Pipette at the ready.

Except that DNA wasn't doing them much good, and while he could keep on top of the other cases, he wasn't much good to the current one. Trace, now, he had more of a chance helping with trace, and lo and behold, he was qualified and pretty damn good at trace, too.

So, he was up to help them process that in double quick time and they hadn't disappointed. Nick had said something about there being a new murder -- Paul Millander's mother. That had been the big news yesterday and he was expecting to have the trace in waiting for him, but it must have been bagged and tagged in evidence or something. It gave him a chance to breathe and legitimately clear the rest of his cases.

No matter what the media thought, it wasn't the only case in Vegas. There were other dead people, other people with murdered families who'd want answers as soon as possible, and who weren't going to get them as fast as the lab usually managed.

But he was rocking and rolling, CODIS was burning through the data. He was so damn good at this he was flying.

Greg grinned as the last batch of print outs rattled out from the spectrometer.

He sat back contemplating grabbing a coffee. "I'm good," he murmured pulling the read out free with a flourish and giving it a look. He liked to guess if this piece of evidence was something important or whether it was just background. Nothing much this time.

But sometime, sometime soon, he'd look and boom, important stuff. Not that Grissom would call anything unimportant, because it all mattered. Every little bit, big and small... Never mind that Grissom had been hiding a lot of big things. Greg still wasn't sure what to think of it. That waffled between freak-out and wow.

Grissom had been Graham, Graham had been the top authority on serial killers and crime scene empathy and... All the stuff that Grissom dismissed. Which he understood, knowing some of the history, but there was all the other stuff like the fact that he'd slept with Lecter, Lecter trying to kill him, and his family and having to leave all that. Greg wanted to be able to say something to him, to try and... well he wasn't sure what he wanted to say but something that might make it better. But he was so good at saying something stupid when they were busy he'd ended up saying nothing.

He could just say something like, 'I know and it's cool... anything I can do?' but it sounded lame and he was just a lab tech, not one of the CSIs.

Hell, for all he knew, Grissom appreciated lack of comments the most. He'd always been secretive, and now he seemed like a ghost, with Captain Brass, bam, right there in the way all the time.

"Hey, Sanders?"

He looked up a little startled and smiled "Hey, Sara, you got a secret sense for when I've finished a batch or something?"

He flirted with Sara and she shot him down. It passed the time away and was better and less obvious than flirting with Nick or Warrick. He was equal opportunity when it came to flirting. And pretty much equal opportunity when it came to getting successful from it.

Or equally... lacking in opportunity? Equal not-opportunity, yeah.

"I might. So, you're in trace today? Nice. You want to tackle this batch, Speedy?"

"Would this be the evidence from the Mrs. Millander killing? Because I'm up for that," He said immediately looking at the containers and vial she had bagged. "So dayshift didn't touch them?"

"Covallo says no. We're on it, and dayshift is working a lot of our usual stuff until then. I guess because we're on TV less often than Ecklie." Sara offered them to him, sliding them onto the table. "I know it's a lot."

"I cleared my backlog for this," Greg said absently picking up a bag and peering at it. "So what's the word on it all? You worked that scene, right?" He absently sorted things into piles for priority of processing as he glanced up at her. He wanted to know -- he always wanted to know where what he did fitted in. It was so much more satisfying then an information dead end.

Maybe that was why the dayshift guys were such deadheads about their work. "Well, she was cut up like a Christmas turkey. Literally."

Greg grimaced. "Hope there wasn't any stuffing involved." It was a lame thing to say but he tended to blurt out the first thing that came into his head to cover his shock. Sara always looks so cool about it. "So I've got the usual in swabs, DNA stomach contents and hairs right?"

"Yeah. I don't know what you're going to find in the stomach contents. We're looking for fiber, anything that shows she was alive and tortured before she was killed. Because he did stuff her chest cavity with 'Pauline's' childhood dresses." Sara looked faintly sickened herself, so it was okay to be shocked. That made it okay.

"Wow." He looked at the bags on the table and decided the stomach contents must be in the big envelope with a box container that sloshed. The bag was a bit opaque so he couldn't see properly but he'd have a look at that first. "So this was Lecter getting back at Millander, right? Which makes it Millander's next move?"

And his last one had been nearly to kill Nick. Who knew what he would do in retaliation for his mother being killed?

"According to Grissom and common sense. Griss is in his office trying to predict what the next move might be, but translating Bible verses to sociopathy is a stretch even for him." Sara's voice dipped a little low when she said that last bit.

"Well, hey he used to be good at it, right? The best... so if it can be done... it will be," Greg replied looking at her. "I'm amazed he's back so soon, really. I mean, it's probably been really tough for him. The attack and then all the Lecter stuff stirred up."

She shrugged a little. "He seems all right with it. Brass has been keeping an eye on him since it happened." Sara looked thoughtful, though. Well, hey, maybe he'd given her some food for thought. "I'll leave you with the trace, all right?"

"Sure. Thanks for bringing it up." He turned his attention to the opaque bag with the stomach contents in as Sara turned to walk out. It felt pretty heavy, but maybe there was undigested food in it. That sometimes happened. He pulled the box out, not recognizing the evidence seal. And it seemed to be stuck to the opaque bag, so he pulled on it and...

Boom! There was a stinging pain all over his hands chest and face, Liquid splashed against him and a puff of white power billowed around his head. He'd thrown himself back but he was frozen for a moment as he tried to work out what had happened. There were slivers of plastic piercing through everything and...

Oh god. Oh fucking god. It had to be some sort of biological contaminant. Shaking, he tried to remember what to do and staggered over to.... hit the alarm and seal the doors.

"Greg!" Sara was just on the other side, and she had her hand on the door handle. "Greg, are you all right?!"

"No. Stay... stay away Sara. Get away from the door!" Greg shouted at her. He could see blood dribbling down the inside and outside of his latex gloves. Whatever was in there was in his blood stream and fast. He coughed as the powder drifted down. He hit the alarm. "Something in that batch of evidence was rigged. Or something... it exploded. There was powder and... Shit, Sara... DON'T even think about opening that door!"

"Greg, I..." Something. She something, but she started to back away, and yelled for help, even though it was already coming and the trace room was now akin to a zoo from all of the noise. It wasn't like the lab was a place where the sound of an explosion was going to be missed.

"Fuck." Greg looked at himself in the reflection from the glass, and then had to look down at his chest and face. He had to get whatever this stuff was off of him. As much as possible. Nearly panicking now he rushed over to the sink and tried pulling off his gloves. It was like pulling out a tree full of splinters and bits of the plastic pinged and bounced into the sink as he plunged his hands in and tried flushing the skin clean, and the blood. Least it wasn't acid.

And at least it was mostly on his hands. That was something, and the explosion hadn't been so bad. It was the puff of white powder that worried him more, and he tried to think of what it might be.

In the wake of the terrorism scares, he knew what it could be. Anthrax used a white powder to carry the spores. Or some sort of chemical, but if it were chemical he'd be feeling it immediately. In his lungs. He pulled off his lab coat frantically, then his t-shirt, ruthlessly pulling the bits out, leaving himself half naked and bloody.

Ricin? Could be. You could make Ricin at home. Great choices. Anthrax or Ricin. Or it could just be a scare tactic. If it was, it was working. He was scared shitless.

He really didn't want to die, and the more he picked at the pieces, the more his hands shook and god, fuck, he was scared, he didn't want to die just because he'd been trying to do his god-damned job and liking it. All he'd done was open an evidence bag; he shouldn't have ended up bleeding and trying to ignore everyone on the other side of the door.

He was as clean and scrubbed as he could get, still shaking, still terrified when he looked back up to see who was out there. He hadn't dared for fear he would crack and run out there, spread whatever it was around all of them. He didn't know what to say or do, but there stood Grissom, and Nick, Sara, Warrick, Catherine. All out there staring in...

"Hey." He raised a faintly bleeding hand to wave at them, not knowing what to do.

"Greg?" Grissom, leaning against the glass and enunciating clearly. He still had to shout a little to be heard through the glass. "The Hazmat team is coming, okay?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Thanks." He was not going to cry in front of them all. He was not going to freak out and fall to pieces. Okay he was going to freak out but he wasn't going to go to pieces. He looked around at the mess on the table and floor and saw a slip of paper there. It was laminated so hadn't been destroyed so he half put on some gloves -- one glove -- and picked it up. "There's a message," he said aloud looking up at Grissom and Nick. "It's got, 'Tell Lecter thanks, I was getting around to dealing with that bit of business,' and on the other side it says 30:30."

Maybe it was a verse that said "... and we shall scare the lab techs, but they will not be harmed.' The Bible needed a verse like that.

Gil didn't tell him what it was, though. He just frowned, and maybe there was a glimmer of wet in Gil's eyes. Greg wasn't sure, but it made him want to drop the stupid card. Grissom stepped back from the window for a moment, and his lips moved, saying something that Greg couldn't hear. Probably needed, definitely wanted to hear. Then he stepped up to the glass again. "Greg? Just put the card down. It's okay. Your wallet and everything is in your locker, right?"

What a weird question, but yeah.

"Yeah. It's all in there. Why?" He put the card down and moved closer to the door. "What is it? Do you know something?" He looked at the others. "Sara? Nicky?"

Nick opened his mouth, and he definitely looked near to tears now. "The verse says, 'My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat.'" Gil mouthed it along with Nick, but didn't say it aloud again.

And when he did speak, Greg wished he hadn't. "I think it's Anthrax, Greg."

Black necrotic sores, high fever, yeah. He looked down at his hands, as his treacherously good recall flooded him with facts. Cutaneous Anthrax not too bad 1% fatalities with treatment. Gastrointestinal up to sixty percent fatalities. Inhalation.... inhalation...

He swallowed a little. Four out of five died. But not contagious. Only by direct infection so just... him.

"Oh." He didn't have to see himself in the glass to know he'd gone white. "Anthrax. Okay."

He wanted out of the room so badly, from breathing in more and more of the stuff. "When will Hazmat be here?"

His voice was only wobbling a bit. He was proud of that.

"Soo--" Gil stopped, and leaned back for a moment before he leaned forwards to the glass again. "Now. You're going to be okay, Greg. We have to go now so they can seal the hall off to get to you. Nick's going to meet you at the hospital with your medical card, okay?" They'd probably be busy burning everything that was in the room, he guessed. Or however they got rid of Anthrax.

"Yeah. It's okay Griss. It'll be okay." He tried to smile at him even as he just sat down against the table before his legs folded up on him. He had a suspicion that decontamination was not going to be pleasant.

Then there were men in suits, full body hazmat suits herding the group of them deeper into the lab instead of outside. But they all went, and Nick watched Greg over his shoulder until they turned the corner.

He was alone for a moment and he desperately wanted to give in to the fear. He was shaking, desperately scared. Four out of five chances in a few days he'd be dead. It could have been him and anyone else. It was usually the CSIs who opened the bags. They usually did some themselves. Just because he volunteered... He volunteered. And Nick had looked scared for him. Maybe that meant something? Something to hold on for if he could.

He just sat there thinking until they were done putting up sterile areas, impromptu showers. Until they came in and stripped him off completely and hosed him down. Scrubbing him so every cut stung with industrial strength decontaminant. He didn't even speak when they took him in a specially sealed van away from CSI.

He didn't have anything left to say.

He was tired.

Under normal circumstances, it was time to cut, to stop, to go away for a few hours, get on a ride and just let the release come. But that wasn't happening, and the media had camped outside, and Greg had been almost killed, might still die, and...

And that explained why he was on the roof of the building. They had a nice flat roof, and he needed the fresh air or at least, that was what he'd told Catherine before he'd gotten up there.

What he was looking for was someone with a cigarette. Jim had evaded it and he understood why, but he was desperate to get the feel of Will back in his head because Will would know what Lecter would do in response. And they had to know because there would be public hysteria. Anthrax was like terrorism and all hell was breaking loose as it hit the news.

Nick had called, sounding choked. He'd said they were pretty sure it was Anthrax even though they were waiting for the cultures. Greg had lesions coming up on his arms and chest like big ugly bug bites. None of them had started with the black necrosis that he had immediately connected to the verse in his head, but they would. He was throwing up a lot and had a fever that was steadily climbing.

But he wasn't having respiratory problems. That was good. It was looking like he didn't have respiratory Anthrax after all. Not that the other forms were that much more survivable.

A little hope was better than no hope at all, and Gil would grasp onto what he could as long as there was the opportunity for it. Greg would survive. He had to keep telling himself that so he wouldn't think too long on it. Greg would survive and Nick was going to be all right, and none of them were leaving the lab anymore, simple as that. Sheriff Mobley's orders even if it was the first smart thing he'd said in years.

"Thought I'd find you up here." Jack. He'd arrived sometime after the crisis and been rushing around the lab. "That and I asked Catherine and she told me you were in the basement."

"Wouldn't be the first time that I'd camped out in an evidence locker." Gil didn't turn around. He could hear Jack tromping across the roof, could hear him walking through the roof dust, and wondered if he knew it was never going to come off of his clothes.

"No, it wouldn't. Anyway, in my vast experience of human behavior I headed up to the roof," Jack came over and leaned against the edge looking out over Vegas. "How's the kid?"

"They know it's Anthrax, but they don't think it's respiratory. The powder was probably a decoy to tell him what he was in for." Gil rolled his shoulders, and then turned to look at Jack. "Do you have a cigarette?"

"Yeah. Stopped carrying around a packet just for you, Will," Jack said handing him one of his. "Thought you'd given up."

"I had." He reached for it, and watched Jack pull one out for himself, watched him light it. "Sometimes I start up again. Today seemed like a good day for it."

Jack offered up the lighter to him. "It's a circus outside. Complete mayhem. The media is having a feeding frenzy -- no chance of Lecter not knowing about Millander's move. Shame about the kid, though. He did good work."

He felt the urge to thump Jack again. Sometimes the past tense was not appropriate

"Does. He does good work. He's one of our best techs." Gil breathed in, and could feel the spreading warmth in his lungs when the tip caught. Smoking was like riding a bicycle, something else Gil could take a little comfort in. He had a piece of the puzzle in his head waiting to place. There were too many parts of Job that could be relevant in the past. Things he had suspicions about. There were verses that would be apt if they hadn't already occurred before so he had to ask even though he had spent decades avoiding the answer he knew was probably there. "Hey, Jack? Molly cheated on me, didn't she? With Hannibal. I know she'd tell you if she did, and not me."

Jack looked a little uncomfortable and there was an answer of yes even before he said anything. "It's a long time ago, Will. You and Molly were having a rough time anyway and..." He shrugged a little. "Seemed like the last thing you needed to know."

"It was." He wasn't going to hold it against Jack, though. Couldn't, because he'd cheated on her, and she knew it. And she'd been everything to him, and... And he'd never been good at relationships. Gil took another inhalation. "It fits in the verses. After the blackened skin one. There's a swathe of verses that've happened."

"So, what, if they've happened then they're eliminated?" Jack seemed interested and it was strange how the smell and taste of the cigarette took him back all those years. He could feel himself drifting back, his thoughts marshaling up the way he wanted them to. Will had always been wounded; he knew how to be hurt better than Gil did. Knew how to carry on better when he was this way.

Will's life had always been falling apart on him. And Gil... Gil just hadn't had a life.

He exhaled through his nose, and took in another breath, nursing it a little faster than he wanted to. "As far as Lecter is concerned? Yes, and it's his move to make now. He had it over me, he had it over Molly, we were ruined, that leaves..."

What did that leave? Fire. That was the one neither had gone for and was written in Job like a goddamn invitation.

He was thinking like Will. He hadn't thought goddamn in a long time.

"What's the next move, Will? We might get there, we could get there in time. C'mon, the rest of us are just amateurs compared to you when it comes to Lecter," Jack was saying pouring on flattery like it was going out of fashion.

"Flattery, Jack." Gil took another breath, and closed his eyes. He didn't want to see Vegas, and he didn't want to see those reporters out there in the parking lot or their fucking news team vans. Carrion birds. What would the move entail? Tit for tat, oblique mirroring playing off of each other. Paul had mirrored Lecter's last efforts in attacking Gil's family by imperiling his current 'family' starting with Nick, then Lecter had struck back at Millander's family with the murder of his mother. Then Millander had hit at the family in Gil's 'home' and that meant the logical counter move was

"Fire. With Lecter acting as our deranged white knight... Family. Fire and family, Jack, shit, he's going to attack the Masons."

"Millander's family?" Jack straightened up. "Lecter's going there?"

As soon as he'd said it, he'd felt a rightness about it, the certainty he felt when he teetered right on the edge of Lecter's mindset. It nearly made him feel dizzy. The fire verse was finally claimed

'If mine heart have been deceived by a woman, or if I have laid wait at my neighbor's door, Then let my wife grind unto another, and let others bow down upon her. For this is an heinous crime; yea, it is an iniquity to be punished by the judges. For it is a fire that consumeth to destruction, and would root out all mine increase.'

It didn't just fit him , it fit Millander who had been a woman that deceived as well as committing adultery in his rape. And God, there was even the ironic twist of it being an iniquity to be punished by judges. The fiery destruction of house and home and any legacy was the punishment and he knew it would appeal to Lecter's warped sense of humor.

"Are you talking about now?"

"Yes, now!" Gil turned to head back towards the stairwell, and found himself breaking into a run. "Their police department needs to send someone out there right now, get them out of the house."

"Are you kidding? They've got the force out on the streets trying to stop panic. We'll have to go," Jack said. "Who can we get a hold of from here?"He ran after him, catching him up as they reached the door.

"I don't know -- Jim? Jim's out on the roads, with Warrick. They were heading out past..." Well, near enough to where Millander lived. Gil stopped, just outside of the door, and juggled his cigarette long enough to get his cell phone out. Why the hell was he running for a phone when he had a cell phone?

"Brass? If they're out there then call them, Will," Jack said as if that hadn't been the idea all along.

He was already pressing the speed dial and willing Jim to pick up.

"Brass," Jim answered sounding like they were driving.

Road noise had never sounded so good. "Jim? I need you to go to 372 Mulberry Drive. Out in Mulberry. Right now. It's the Millander's home, okay? I think Lecter is going to attack them. And if they're still there, get them out. I'm going to call the Mulberry town police, but I think you might be closer."

"Yeah... yeah we probably are. We were on our way back. Millander's home?" Jim seemed to take it in his stride. "We're on our way, Gil. I'll let you know what's happening."

"Thanks. Be careful." Gil hung up, and then shoved his phone to Jack. "You call the locals. They'll listen to you faster."

"You want to try and get there, too, or wait it out?" Jack asked even as he took the phone and started dialing numbers.

"Are you driving?" Windows cracked so they didn't smoke themselves out, but Gil was game. And Jack was going to jump on it.

"Hell, yeah. If we slip out the back, we might beat Brass to it," he said with a grin. "Come on, Will, let's do it."

Gil nodded, and started down the stairs. Jack'd catch up with him, and together they could get to Jack's vehicle out in the parking lot. They'd get there, they'd get close to there. And they'd do what they could.

The problem was that he had too much faith in Gil. Even as he floored it to get to that address to the point where Warrick was clutching at the seat to hold on, he didn't for a moment think that Gil could be wrong.

In fact, in his head, it was laughable. He realized as they ran a few lights that he couldn't think of a moment when at the crux of the matter if Gil had said something was the case, he had done anything except just went with it.

The worse thing was, as they turned in and headed up towards Millander's family home -- the Judge Mason family home, he could see the flicker of orange light behind the windows.

"He's already started it. 'Rick, you've got your gun, right?" He said urgently even as they pulled to a halt and he unbuckled himself and reached for his own.

Warrick had unbuckled his seat belt before they'd even stopped. "Shit, yes." And he had the door open before Jim put the car in park. Warrick was almost not-CSI, almost cop material if he didn't spend so much time looking for details.

"It moves, you shoot. Somehow I don't think the mother and kid will be moving," Jim said and they were out of the car. "We go in together."

Ordinarily they split up, but Lecter was more than capable of taking down someone on their own, and two might stand a chance. "We see if they're alive first, cover your mouth and keep low."

Teaching his grandmother to suck eggs there. The CSIs knew more about fire hazard than most. But he started running up to the house, smelling gas outside even as they approached.

Warrick shot Jim a glance, and shadowed him as Jim took the lead. No sense in calling a warning into the place before he kicked the door down, it wasn't as if, if there was anyone behind the door they'd be alive to hear him.

He checked the door for heat and then kicked it sharply, moving inside like he had done on numerous times in the past. It was a knack never lost once it was gained. The living room was smoky, and fire flickered in the corner. They wouldn't have long before the whole place was a death trap. He moved to check in the kitchen.

Open window again, and the tools of the trade were already there. "Jim?" Warrick bumped shoulders with him. "C'mon, we can't get the evidence and the people."

"I know, had to make sure they weren't down here. He has a thing for kitchens," Jim replied. That's what he had read between the lines. A lot of Lecter action had some of the crime going on in kitchens. "Stairs... Careful, he might still be in the house."

More than likely if the gear was still here and fire just set. They turned and headed up the stairs where the smoke was thicker and they could hear the crackle of flames.

Jim wanted to be cautious, but he also didn't want to be a corpse, so he moved at a fast jog, gun held out on front of him, knocking open doors as he went, peering in and then blowing past.

"Hey, hey -- got the kid on the floor in here -- keep going, look for his wife."

"Get the kid out, I'll find her," Jim replied and he was heading into flames now, the heat strong enough to make his skin feel like it was shriveling. He tried breathing through his sleeve, starting to get disorientated by the ever moving smoke that was sinking lower. He found a door and hoped to hell it wasn't the bathroom because he was right to the edge now and he'd have to go after this room or fry in the house.

He kicked the door, and moved into a blazing bedroom. Dimly he could see a woman lying loose limbed on the bed and ran and hopped over fire to her. He swung her onto his shoulder and grabbed a rag for his own mouth. Stinging drips of fire and floating embers touched him as he ran as fast as he could from the room, trying to remember the way out. He really hoped Warrick was out safe.

This was going on the list of stupidest things he'd ever done in his life. Like that needed to get any longer, and he hadn't ever been more glad to be at least a little strong, stocky and solid, as he was then.

That and Millander had married a lightweight. It made it easier for Jim when he thundered down the stairs, heading full stumbling, tripping tilt for the door.

He was out and gasping for fresh air even as his streaming eyes took in the detail. The lawn was on fire, Warrick and the kid were down and there was a man standing over him as if he was going to do something else and he pulled his gun and bellowed, "Lecter!" even as he tried to get a clear shot when carrying someone. Impossible. He fired anyway, hoping to get lucky.

It left him unbalanced, and there was a moment where he was sure he'd had his target, but he was losing his footing, and it was set the woman down on the grass or fall over on top of her, and he went with the setting down part of the plan.

And when he looked up, there wasn't a sign of anyone else there. The bastard was probably lurking in the bushes.

He jogged over to Warrick, half crouching down next to him while trying to scan for movement. He glanced down quickly, felt for a pulse and was relieved to find a good strong one there. Looked like Warrick had taken a hit to the back of the head when he had been leaning over. He felt around... yeah, there it was. A literal thumping headache in the making. Lump and the stickiness of blood. He tried not to cough as he scanned the bushes carefully. Had Hannibal gone? Was he still there?

Fuck, what was that?

There was a smell, and a sound -- not just burning, but something burning nearby. Great, more fire and now he was the only one up and moving. Great, that was outnumbered right there.

There were numbers burning on the lawn.

"God fucking dammit," he looked at the numbers, the fire making the wobbly numbers 31:12 like some flashy Hollywood effect. "Lecter, you bastard! Come out with your hands up!"

Not that he expected him to do that, but at least he could say if there was an inquiry he had asked for him to surrender.

He had to say it at least for the sake of his own self respect. Of course there was no answer, and of course he hadn't really been expecting it.

There wasn't time for him to waste waiting. He had to move the incapacitated people off of the lawn and towards the car, or towards safety. No point in pulling people out of a burning building when it was still burning too close for comfort.

The kid and Warrick were closest. He could move them down to the far end of the lawn. He hoped they were still alive, that they hadn't just rescued corpses. They had to win one back against these two maniacs.

Bending and lifting made them worse and the house was well ablaze now. Enough gas had been thrown everywhere that it was going up like a firework. When he ran back for the mother, it was nearly too hot to get any closer as windows cracked under heat and the house gasped out fresh flames with the new oxygen.

He started coughing and it was hard to lift and drag at the same time even as he went back for Warrick finally, finally hearing the sound of sirens coming their way. "C'mon, 'Rick, move your lazy ass. You're.. fuck... a lot heavier than those two..."

"Nhhn?" He twitched, and damn that was good, him moving, but there wasn't time for Warrick to regain his bearing because they had to get out of there now, yesterday. They needed to move, because those grass numbers were moving to pits of flame in the middle, starting to spread out towards them.

"Oh... crap. He had to get fucking fancy," Jim muttered and reached and lifted feeling muscles scream that lightweight wives and kids were pushing his luck but this was so far out the other side of his luck he might as well invest in traction for the next few months.

Nevertheless, Warrick was up and on his shoulder and the flames were... wow, just there all around him. Warrick reeked of gas and he had a horrible suspicion he'd interrupted Lecter pouring it all over him. Standing in the middle of fire, soaked in gasoline had to go down in his life as one of the stupidest situations he ever got into. That list was just getting longer and longer. Nothing for it, they had to go through.

Worst case scenario, there were blankets in the car and he could smother the flames on Warrick. He took one good, slightly fumy breath, and made a rush for it just when the fire trucks pulled up.

He was glad he had sparse hair anyway because he was sure he would have lost most of it. He protected his face and felt his eyebrows crisp and curl. And there was a whomp of a sound and he was on fire, Warrick was on fire and he dived for the ground to roll and beat the flames out even as the firemen ran up with proper blanket and practically smothered them both.

It was kinda nice under the fire blanket.

At least he wasn't on fire anymore, and hey, they were all alive, and Lecter hopefully hadn't killed anyone this time unless he'd given the Mason's some slow sedative poison.

He coughed a little and then decided emerging from under the fire blanket might be a good idea.

"You let me up now?" he asked the fireman who had been pinning him. Gil would have a fit if he saw him covered over like a corpse. Or Warrick. "How're the others?"

"We're looking over them now. Who're you, and what's going on?" The fireman stepped back a little, and offered Jim a hand up. "You probably have smoke inhalation."

"Captain Jim Brass..." He nearly said CSI and winced a little as he moved. "Homicide. That's CSI Warrick Brown and those other two were a couple of attempted murder victims. I think they've been drugged or something."

At least he hoped that stillness was drug induced. "Tell your men to be careful. You know the serial killer thing?"

The man looked startled but nodded.

"Yeah well, let's just say we interrupted one of them, okay?"

"Vegas PD?" the man pressed, getting Jim over towards the ambulance. They were probably short on masks.

"Yeah. Vegas. Look we were tipped off, okay? Were on our way back from another job." God, he ached, and he was sore. His paranoia had him checking the man over for ID automatically. "I expect some more of the Vegas guys to be here soon and the FBI."

"Great." And he seemed to genuinely mean it. "All right, can you sit right here? I need to get a mask."

He nodded, too tired suddenly to care anymore even as more and more flashing lights joined the throng outside. As long as they had got out, saved everyone. Narrow escapes all round. Maybe Gil would stay at the lab.

Nah. Who was he kidding?

Gil had sounded off when he'd called him, like he was headed somewhere or had just gotten somewhere. Gil waltzed into scenes that he shouldn't and he'd always done it, as long as Jim had been his boss.

It was just a matter of when. Apparently not before the fireman put an oxygen mask over his mouth.

That felt good. It cleared his head better than any drug and he sat back, looking at Warrick close next to him, stirring now with his own mask on.

"Warrick? You stopped playing sleeping beauty?"

"What hit me?" It sounded muffled, but it was definitely Warrick, sitting up a little even as the EMT tried to get him to sit back down.

"Well you know, you did your hero thing and then Lecter hit you over the back of the head," Jim said succinctly. "And then poured gas all over you and the kid."

"That's the last time I do a ride-along with you." That was almost a laugh. Almost.


"The cavalry rather belatedly arrive," Jim said with all the dignity he could muster. He lifted the mask a moment and called out, "Here!" before he started coughing and had to put it back on. He looked at his hands. Christ he was probably covered in soot, and crap. He settled for sticking up his hand and waving them over.

Jack Crawford pointed at him, and pulled at Gil's coat sleeve, and they started towards him. He was... not hallucinating the little glow of a cigarette tip in Gil's hand, except it was there and gone and Gil paused to crunch something out on the dirt.

Jack Crawford was a bad influence.

It wasn't like he needed any more smoke. "Hey, Gil," he said waving a little as they got closer. "Rick and I ran the errand. We think we did okay."

Gil didn't stop and say hi or interrogate him, like he was expecting. The EMT seemed surprised that Jim was suddenly engulfed in a bear hug, and Gil muttering, "Jesus, what did I tell you about staying safe?"

"I think I hung up before I reached that part of the conversation," Jim murmured and hugged him back. "Warrick's the one that had the close encounter -- I just turned out to be a lousy shot."

Jack leaned forward. "Lecter was here when you were?"

Jim twisted his head. "Yeah. Hit Warrick over the head when he came out with the kid. I saw him when I came out with the wife and fired at him. Missed though."

Jack was already turning away bellowing orders to get agents to spread out and cover the perimeter. Jim figured he was safely in Serial Killer obsession land.

"You okay?"

Gil pulled back just a little, one eyebrow cocked while he looked at Jim. "You're asking me if I'm okay? You..." And then he leaned back in again, and it was the funniest thing. Maybe it wasn't supposed to be, but it was so strange for Jim. "You're okay. Don't do that again."

Jim tried not to laugh as he patted Gil's back. "Well that's a relief . I'll make a point of it. Though maybe on special occasions if I have the urge I might just run into a back yard with a smoking barbecue in it. Just for old time's sake."

Gil made a noise, and just stood there, hugging Jim. A guy could get used to that, except for that pesky oxygen mask, and Warrick sitting there, probably staring.

"I'm okay, Gil," he murmured. "We're okay. We scored one back on them both, thanks to you. We're finally catching up with them."

"Not soon enough." Gil pulled back a little, and looked at Warrick, finally, then frowned. "You two smell like gasoline."

"Lecter took objection to Warrick's aftershave. Decided he needed a new one," Jim replied flippantly. "How's the head, 'Rick?"

"Sore. I meant it when I said I'm not doing another ride along with you." He didn't sound like he meant it, and he was shaking his head when he said it. "Hey, are the Masons okay?"

"Assuming it's a sedative and not a fatal poison, yeah I think they are," Jim said with relief. It was assuming a lot but Lecter had a history of drugging not poisoning. He had to hope he was staying true to form.

Gil would know. Gil eyed the ambulances that they were being loaded onto, and he finally took a step back from Jim like he'd just realized what he was doing. "He doesn't kill women and children. He had to construct a situation that they could conceivably get out of alive."

"Assuming two ruggedly handsome law enforcement types turned up," Jim replied taking the mask off. His chest felt a bit better. "Yeah well, we still managed it, and managed not to get torched ourselves by a narrow margin. I still think we should all stay at the lab until this is over. How much further can it escalate for god's sake?"

He wanted to ignore the way that Gil turned his eyes away. "The next logical one is 31:22, if this was the fire. 'Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone.' "

"Well that sounds like a whole load of fun," Jim said. "So we keep everyone under tabs, make sure Millander can't get in again. I still can't believe he managed to get in with that evidence. We'll have to get Nick back to the lab. He's too exposed out there with Sanders."

"Sanders is in a hospital, guarded. Nick being there raises Greg's chances of being safe," Gil reasoned quietly

"He's not likely to go after Greg, Gil, not with the Anthrax. But he might just go for Nick if he's the only one of us out on a limb." It seemed obvious to him.

Gil seemed hesitant to go for it, and he looked around agitatedly for a moment before he leaned on the little edge of ledge that was beside Jim. "He didn't inflict all of the injuries on one part of Job, did he? No, he spread the suffering around. He's getting us one by one."

"So... what? Those of us who haven't had a close encounter? Who's that now?" Did the fire count?

He wasn't sure. "Sara and Catherine?"

"If this counted for the both of you. I don't know. It'll get out to Millander, so he'll count it to the both of you. His move next." Gil folded his arms, looking like he was about to get lost in thought. "His mother's death delighted him. This will enrage him. This was the life genetics denied him, untouchable to outsiders."

"So maybe we score points for saving them? Maybe he'll back off." Jim suggested. It seemed a sensible idea to him but they were dealing with serial killers, so sensible was relative. "Look, maybe..."

He had a horrible suspicion. They were attacking each other's 'family' and when they ran out of options what next? Gil? Because Lecter was out of options already even if attempt had failed. Would that mean Millander would step things up?

Had to be. Things were coming to a head, which meant only one thing Jim could be sure of. They had to catch them soon.

And he didn't like the look on the face of the EMT who was coming back towards him. "Captain Brass, put that mask back on."

He put the mask back on, wondering if Gil had already reached that conclusion and whether he even preferred it to there being a risk to Sara or Catherine, or to stop Millander going back for seconds on Greg or Nicky. The best they could do was lock everyone down under guard and hope to god no one slipped up.

Gil reached behind his head, and adjusted the rubber band, and then repositioned himself, looking thoughtful. They'd go back to bunker mentality when the EMTs cleared him and Warrick.

He was meant to be working on some of the information on the case here at the hospital when Greg was being swabbed or, prodded and poked for what seemed like an eternity. He was finding it hard because he was watching Greg get sicker and sicker and waiting for these antibiotics to kick in and they just weren't doing anything.

It scared him. It scared him a lot even though he was allowed in now because Greg wasn't contagious, as long as he didn't make contact with any of the necrotic lesions, and they were all under wraps. Greg... wasn't doing so good. There was no hiding it. Four days from massive exposure and the disease was taking hold. He'd never seen anyone look so ill and still be breathing.

Greg probably mostly wasn't even coherent. And Nick couldn't blame him for sleeping and being passed out because hell, why would a guy want to be awake through that? Nick didn't want to be. Nick wished Greg weren't ill at all, wished that the nurses wouldn't give him funny looks like he was insane to even be there.

He just felt someone ought to be. Greg didn't have family here and when he'd been hurt he'd wondered what sort of hospitality Greg was going to give him when he offered and had been totally unprepared for how.... caring Greg had been. Totally blew him away.

Not what he expected at all. Least he could do was be there for him. He watched as Greg rolled his head uncomfortably towards him and was a little surprised to hear a faint. "Hey, Nick. You still here?"

"Yeah. How're you feeling?" He asked that every time Greg had a little spark of life. It was the only thing he could ever think to say.

"Like shit," Greg replied, his voice hoarse and barely above a whisper. "How'm I looking?"

"Blotchy," Nick told him honestly. "And well bandaged."

"New fashion," Greg replied trying to quirk a smile. "Latest thing. What've missed?"

It was difficult to know what he was remembering each time he came round. He wanted to pat him gently and reassure him but he couldn't even do that. He didn't want to press over one of his sores and make Greg hurt worse than he already was. "A lot. Everyone but me's been living in the lab."

"No one else hurt?"

He asked that every time, sometimes convinced that they were. For once his hair was sticking up for a real reason.

"Nah. We've been doing okay since the thing with Brass and Warrick and Millander's family." He left it vague in case Greg wanted to probe at it. He'd told Greg about it once already.

Greg frowned a little "The fire?" He sounded a bit vague but that was hopeful. "You're not at the lab."

"Nope. I'm here to watch out for you." He smiled at Greg, and tried to keep his eye contact.

Greg nearly managed a smile at that but it seemed like an effort to swallow. It faded off fast but he kept looking at him, almost desperately. "Nicky? I.... don't think I'm doing so good."

"Yeah, you are." And so what if he sounded a little desperate when he said it? Nick was allowed to feel sad and to try to keep smiling at Greg. "You're going to be okay, trust me. You've made it this long, and hey -- it's not respiratory."

Greg was quiet for a bit and then said. "I started throwing up blood today Nick... that's not a good thing." He was looking straight at him, and Nick was suddenly very afraid that Greg was giving up.

He slid his hand down, and checked Greg's fingers before he clutched at them. "Hey, you can't just give up, Greg. You have to hang in, okay? The nurse told me the antibiotics seemed to be starting to work."

"'m tired," he whispered back but clutched at his hand desperately in response. "I... guess, I thought I'd never say or do anything but..." Greg looked at him again, his eyes dark and wistful against the whiteness of his drained complexion. "I figure you won't hit me on my deathbed." He swallowed again before he finally forced out the words. "I kinda like you."

"I kinda figured. And you're not on your deathbed." Nick shifted his fingers a little, and swallowed as well. "And you're going to be okay, Greg. You are."

"Not going to hit me?" Greg asked after a pause which amounted to amazement.

He looked so worried about that when he had so much else to worry about.

It was kind of stupid, and Nick would've laughed under better circumstances. "Nope. I kinda like you, too, okay?"

Greg just blinked at him and then said in a tone that nearly sounded normal. "Man, I really must be delirious."

"Good delirious, then. I mean it, okay?" Nick squeezed his fingers gently. "I'd show you, but if I got too close to you right now, I think the nurses will throw me down and tie me up."

"Can we save that until I get better?" Greg managed sounding a lot more positive if not louder.

"Yeah. When you get better, okay? Just... you have to get better," Nick told him, watching Greg's tired face. He was starting to sound positive, even if he was mumbling a little. "Think about where you want to go out and what you want to do, Greg."

"Stay in with you...." Greg managed another faint smile even as his eyelids drooped again. Sweat was beading his forehead and he grimaced at some pain he was feeling. "Stay with you."

"Okay. Then think about bad movies you want to put in the DVD player." Even if Greg didn't answer, anything to keep his mind going

"Bet... bet you like westerns...." Greg at least sounded like he was fighting it now, more than he was only a few minutes before. Some of the monitors were making a few odd beeps which worried him. He'd gotten used to them at that level.

"Yeah. You ever seen Fistful of Dynamite?" Nick asked, leaning forwards. If they changed much more, he'd poke his head out to get a nurse.

"No. I...." He seemed to lose concentration midway and then said in a low urgent voice. "Nick I'm going to be sick."

And when he got sick it wasn't just a heave of stomach and that was it, it tended to go on for hours or until he passed out.

Nick dove for a bedpan to offer Greg, and because he knew that wasn't going to be enough for long, kept to his feet and headed for the door. "Hold on, I'll get you a doctor."

Even as he left he heard the sounds of Greg painfully retching and hated the thought of him being in so much pain. They wouldn't let him in if Greg was being sick, just in case he splashed stomach contents. No, Greg would be attended to by people in hazmat fashion which he saw them hurry to get in to and head off en masse to Greg's room.

That left him out here, waiting again. Technically working if he could find somewhere to plug in the laptop he'd brought with him, because he wasn't going to be able to sleep, not knowing what Greg was going through.

He'd try back in an hour or so, probably peer into the window, and get shooed off again. But Nick was all right with that, and he shouldered his bag to head off in search of an outlet.

Maybe he could make a little headway in the Millander case.

Everyone else was calling it the Lecter case. The news had been full of it and the channel stayed the same for more than five minutes it was there. Duel of Death, Serial Killer Standoff, headlines one after another. With every day that went by after the first four things happening in quick succession, the anxiety notched up. The police were getting around a hundred Lecter or Millander 'sightings' a day. It was almost worse than useless.

Here would do. He could check his mail, see if they had anything new back at the lab, and send updates of how Greg was getting on. Although saying 'he's really sick' might cover it.

That was probably about all that anyone needed to know. He settled into the straight backed chair, and cracked his knuckles once he'd balanced the laptop on his knees. There was a minute of juggling the case, the laptop, and the power adaptor, but Nick eventually got himself settled in.

He waited for it to power up, remembering that Grissom had nearly cried when he realized what the verse was and what the disease it described could be. He had. After the hazmat check, he'd gone to the rest room and just sat and tried not to, but somewhere it got the better of him. It could have been all of them. Instead it was Greg, Greg who'd managed to shut himself in, keep them safe and sit there knowing he was breathing in a deadly disease while they stood and watched.

Warrick had said he wasn't sure if he could have done that. Nick wasn't too sure that he would've either.

Mail. Maybe some answers would be in from all his database inquiries.

He had to do something instead of thinking about the fact that Greg was in there vomiting so hard that he ruptured capillaries and worse. Even if he survived, and Nick hoped that it was a strong if, he was going to be weak for a long time. Sick and tired for a long time, getting better. But that was so much better than dead.

All they needed to know was that the antibiotics were kicking in. Once they did, he would recover. He kept saying that.

He checked his mail absently and started to pay attention.

"Finally," he muttered aloud. The computer trail to Judge Mason's various associated properties and investments. He was looking for somewhere that he might be using as a base. There was the old warehouse and the flat. That was out. Judge Mason was a busy boy. A medical laboratory and pharmacy. No prizes for guessing how he had gotten hold of the resources to cultivate Anthrax then. Three flats scattered around the city and usually rented out. A boat repair shop out on one of the lakes. He might have a boat, that was a possibility. If he did, he might be moving around, hence no leads. And a house on the outskirts also run through a lettings agency. The man had property, that was for sure, and investments. Any one of those places could be a base although he liked the idea of a boat. It might just solve his disappearing act. Certainly would mean Lecter would have a hard time sneaking up on him.

He decided to note down his ideas and email them to the lab. See what Grissom thought.

Grissom would be awake and reading his email, awake and answering things. He didn't seem to sleep at all, and Catherine had mentioned on the phone to Nick that he'd taken up chain-smoking on the roof. Nick kinda wished he knew how to smoke so he could go chain-smoke on the roof.

It was kinda weird thinking of Grissom smoking. He'd practically have a fit if one of them did it anywhere near a crime scene.

It was better than thinking about Greg and maybe it would help. Greg wanted Millander and Lecter caught as much as any of them did.

Greg had more reason to want them caught. Nick just had trouble sitting straight for too long. Greg was... dying. Almost dying. Teetering on that edge so dangerously that Nick had to keep concentrating to make his mind veer off less.

He typed the mail, detailing everything he had uncovered and his suspicions. And then he... just wanted to see how Greg was again. Wanted to know if he was going to make it. Wanted to be able to say, 'And by the way things are looking better...

But when he took himself back there and looked into the ICU, it didn't look better at all. Greg was too still, and they were too busy putting in extra lines and needles with that worryingly fast urgent movement they had when things were going wrong.

He forgot about work and left the laptop to run down its battery as he stood and watched and hoped somehow by watching, things would change.

Jim was unaware that he was driving again.

It was a necessity, the way that Gil saw it, even though he hadn't technically been fully medically cleared for it. He'd been out in the field again and he hadn't been cleared for that, and being cleared wouldn't do him a whole lot of good or not cleared a whole lot of bad if they were all dead. If he was dead.

And Ecklie would've been dead if Gil'd had to head to the scene they were investigating in the car with him.

It was proving bad enough when they reached the first empty apartment and Ecklie was obviously very disgruntled about being drafted into the nightshift as well as all of a sudden being on the front-line like his team had been. They had all been living off the reflected danger from the Anthrax contamination with a sort of vicarious thrill, but now he was plunged right in with them and he wasn't happy at all.

It was providing Gil with some minor amusement and a great deal of irritation.

"Why are we doing two apartments? Brown and Brass are only doing one and you got Sidle and Willows at a house," Ecklie said as he snapped on his gloves. He looked at Gil and frowned. "You're smoking."

That was why he was standing outside of his car, but if Conrad wanted to play things slow and surprised, Gil could go with it. "I'm smoking," he confirmed, taking a slow drag. Two more and he'd be finished with it; he'd put his gloves on, and feel his way through the case. But not yet. "It's helping me think."

"Grissom, you are the most rabid nonsmoker I know," Ecklie said with clear distaste. "I remember what you did to that trainee a few years back who smoked even on the edges of a scene. It's practically a legend and here you are..." He looked at the screwed up box visible on the dashboard. "... chain-smoking. I'm starting to wonder if you should be back at all."

Gil took another slow drag, and then dropped the cigarette to the ground, and put it out on the asphalt with the toe of his shoe. "Conrad, you'd be in a mental institution if you were in my shoes right now."

"You're the one saying it, and if I were in your shoes? I'd be as far away from here as possible," Conrad said looking around at the building they were about to enter. "You reckon they've cleared the building? I hope they've done it properly."

"Just be glad that we're looking for Millander and not Lecter." Gil paused to pick up his kit, and then took another slow minute to pull his gloves on the proper way. "He'd probably take the top of your skull off."

"A serial killer is a serial killer. They're both disturbed and dangerous," Ecklie replied dismissively. "I suppose we should be glad we finally got a lead on this. Dayshift has been covering a lot of extra work while this has been going on." He gestured to himself. "I'm here because you need help, so let's get on with this."

As if Conrad was doing him a huge favor. He didn't even need to be there except that Jim was paranoid about him setting out on his own. And there was a quiet dark edge to Gil's thoughts that suggested maybe he was all right with being attacked again if Conrad could get a little collateral damage.

It wasn't a very healthy thought, but it was there and Gil couldn't quite shake it. He couldn't quite shake a lot of things, but he was going to try. "After you."

They had never been comfortable around each other. Ecklie was too much the politician, too good at playing the game like Jack had been for Gil to ever warm to him. The fact that he cut corners sometimes and made assumptions that weren't directly supported by evidence in itself was enough to earn him collateral damage.

But the place as they walked up to it didn't feel like it would be the place they were looking for. He was staring at it from the outside. The view from the apartment they identified was narrowed and blinkered. Millander or Lecter wouldn't like that. Not at all.

Lecter wouldn't, but this wasn't Lecter's place. Not wide and open, no scenic views. And Millander wouldn't go for it, either. He liked vast spaces, driving, warehouses, and it didn't work. It didn't fit, and Gil knew before they even entered the doorway that it was a waste of time. "Just a once over, Conrad. He hasn't been here."

"What, so smoking has given you second sight?" Ecklie replied. "Maybe I should have checked what you were smoking."

It was almost familiar and comforting in its own way. He could rely on Ecklie to always be Ecklie no matter what had happened to him.

"It's too narrow, and the windows are too small. Strategically, it's not going to cut it for Millander. He prefers more natural light, and more space. Do you want to bet money on how much dust is going to be on the furniture?"

"And maybe he chose it because he's second guessing you," Conrad countered. "Or because it's convenient for downtown Vegas. Who knows how his head is working? I haven't got time for bets. I would've thought you'd be discouraging that in your people."

Ah yes, the famous Ecklie Sidestep and Snark.

"After Warrick, you mean. Come out and say it, Conrad." Gil stepped in first, even though he'd suggested that Conrad go in first, and wasn't at all surprised by the amount of dust clinging to the furniture. The place hadn't been used in at least a year.

"All right. After Warrick. You should've fired him," Conrad said and his expression twisted as he saw Gil had been right. "You're sticking your neck out for someone who will let you down. I'll start prints at the door and work in, see if there's anything."

Gil didn't think that there would be, but he started cautiously forwards, watching the ground before he walked, making sure there wasn't anything in or near his path to stir. The only prints Ecklie would find were the previous tenant's. If that.

Still, it was a process of elimination. Nicky had done good work, even if he had been at the hospital, because Judge Mason and Paul Millander hid their investments very carefully. A normal look uncovered only the normal sort of bank accounts, nothing to justify the ability for him to work infrequently, to run that warehouse, to do all the things he had managed to do so effortlessly. Revenue coming in from properties would be good, and they'd discovered one of the apartments had recently been bought out by the tenants as a bargain for cash and that meant fairly recently Paul Millander had gotten a sizable cash influx, which meant he could go anywhere and buy anything with no trails leading to him.

The picture was coming together slowly, but this wasn't Millander's nest. He wondered if Nick had been right about there being a boat. Nothing was listed, but if he had just had a cash pay out on a property he could have bought one cash in hand.

Cash in hand meant untraceable, and there was an investment in that boat-repair firm, wasn't there? Gil peered around again, looking for anything useful, and tried to push down the itching urge to abandon the scene to go there instead.

"Gil? You working this scene or not?" Ecklie prompted even as he lightly dusted the door frame and switched. "Because it wasn't my idea to be here. We could easily head on back to the lab or apartment number two."

"Lift those prints and then let's leave. We're heading to the boating company he's invested in. This place isn't what we're looking for."

Conrad looked at him. "Sidle and Willows were meant to be doing that after the house, remember? What, you're having a premonition or something?"

No, but his phone was ringing in his pocket. A close second.

"It's not psychicness or whatever you're inferring -- it's thinking, Conrad. Just thinking," he snapped, reaching into his pocket to pull out his phone. "Grissom."

"Grissom, its Nick. Just been reading the papers and I saw a classified ad in there," Nick sounded worried "I'm not sure what it means. It says, 'A message from God,' and then it has 31:22, 33:23 and 33:24 and the 30: 23...."

"31:22, 33:23, 33:24, and 30:23," Gil repeated back. He stepped past Ecklie, heading for his Tahoe and the Bible that he'd stuck under the passenger seat. "Okay, I've got it. Was there anything else?"

"I got worried when I saw the mention of the house. I can't get Catherine or Sara. I spoke to Jim and Warrick, and now you, but I'm not getting anything to them." Nick definitely sounded worried. "I was calling to say Greg's had a rough night and they've kicked me out while they try another dose of a different antibiotic. They wouldn't have their phones off, would they?"

"No, they wouldn't," Gil murmured, reaching into his pocket for his keys. "Call Jim back and tell him that we have an emergency. I'm heading to the boat repair company."

"The boat repair... okay I'll tell him," Nick replied sounding even more worried. "You want me to do anything else, Griss?"

"Stay at the hospital? Keep trying to call Catherine." He'd call Jack himself, Gil decided as he slid the key in the lock and popped open his door. He reached over to the passenger side seat, ignoring the pulling in his chest while he started to fish for the Bible. "I'm going to let you go now, Nick."

" Just be careful, okay?"

Nick hung up, and he'd just walked out on Ecklie who obviously thought he'd completely lost it and was probably telling the Sheriff that even as he flicked to Job.

31:22. He knew that one. The one he had predicted; "Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone." That was the threat and he felt a stirring of panic that it might be Catherine or Sara. The others were unexpected.

33:23 and 33: 24 -- "If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness:

Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom."

He stopped a moment and reworded it in his head. "If you understand this message, bring yourself as a ransom to save the other from the pit."

Out of all the places if there was going to be a literal pit, it would be at the boat repair shop. Damn, he should have gone there first.

And the last? 30:23 "For I know that thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living." Millander was saying someone was going to die and this was the end of it. He wanted to bring himself to death.

Or Lecter. Gil couldn't be sure because self-preservation held no weight in the actions of serial killers -- because after all, if it had, they logically wouldn't have started down that path to begin with. Gil closed the book, left it on the passenger seat, and revved the engine while he thumbed through his missed calls list to pick out Jack's cell phone number.

Millander was going for the endgame scenario, he knew it. The advert was in the paper specifically so Lecter could find it, so he must have been expecting to make a move not long after the papers went out. And they'd obliged by sending people into the field, otherwise maybe he might have gone after them at the lab, or Nick or Greg at the hospital... or...

Jack's number was ringing and he was impatient to move.

"Crawford, FBI?"

"Jack, it's..." He had to stop for a moment, and finished lamely as he pulled out onto the road, "me. We've lost contact with CSI Willows and Sidle, and Stokes called. There's an ad in the newspaper that's a clear message to Lecter. I think Millander is at the property, the boat repair place."

"What the hell... ?" Jack was thrown, he could tell that. "It's happening now?"

He would get there before them, they were on the wrong side of Vegas, but Catherine and Sara were even closer. Jim was about the same distance away as he was. It might be over before they got there. Or it might be a hostage situation. Either way, there needed to be someone to pick up the pieces.

"It's happening now, Jack. Moment of opportunity. You want to put on a show of force, now would be the time to use it." And Jack could. Jack had been dragging agents around like hunting dogs for a couple of weeks now.

"You sure about the boat repair place? Scratch that. Okay, look wait for us okay? Wait for us to get there, don't go in alone!" Jack urged him.

"He's taken a hostage, Jack, and he's open to a showdown to the death with Lecter. If that hostage is one of my CSIs..." Gil couldn't think past that. He could just drive and peer at his GPS and keep driving.

"And if it's a trap and you stumble in there and give him a hostage? Come on, the option is way open, Will, think about this," Jack replied. "Wait, okay. We'll be there as quick as we can."

The question was going to be whether it was quick enough.

After the last emergency message from Gil, Jim had barely waited to close his phone before moving. He knew Nick had been landed with the call because Gil hadn't dared to call him himself. Damn right -- he would have nailed him to the ground because he knew what Gil was going to do. He wouldn't be thinking straight. He was just going to head right on over into whatever hell type trap had been set up without even blinking.

Jim hadn't even stopped to swear. He needed to know if the hostage taking was real so he sent Warrick to the house address.

Warrick would have gotten to the house, and he wasn't too far from the Boat repair shop now. He just needed to know ... he needed to know if Catherine and Sara were still alive and what had happened to their protectors. If they were alive or dead or what, because he didn't want there to be dead cops anymore than he wanted there to be dead CSIs, and Jim had to wonder how much longer Vegas was going to be bloodless. Relatively bloodless, since they still hadn't found where the 'back bacon' had come from.

He couldn't get there fast enough for his taste because Jim knew, just fucking knew that Gil was going to jump in with both feet. He'd apparently jumped through a glass window at some point with the Dollarhyde case. Gil plus Jack Crawford equaled a disconnect in Gil's survival instinct.

A threat to his team did the same. He had no doubt that Gil would have swapped places with Greg, or Nick, or Warrick and himself in an instant, like he would for Gil. Hopefully he'd have done it with a bit more self-preservation going on than Gil was demonstrating.

He reached for his glove compartment for his second gun. He'd need that. He'd stuff it in his sock if he didn't think Lecter would thing to look there. Back waistband was a lot more comfortable, he'd put it in when he got there.

He was only about two miles away from his destination when the phone went again, making him swear.

It took him a second to fish it out, and answer curtly with his name. "Brass."

"It's Warrick. Hey, I'm here at the house. We've got signs of a struggle. Sara's car is still here, Catherine's isn't, two sets of tire treads that peeled away and laid rubber."

"You think ..." Two sets of tire treads. "You think Catherine went after them?"

What was wrong with these CSIs? After this was over, he was getting them all in a room and teaching them that the detectives did one thing, they did the other. When it was safe.

He was going to blame that shit on Gil, because he'd never encouraged that kind of insanity. How hard was it to call the cops? Just once? "Maybe. I think the officers with them were lured off. I think they're coming back now."

"What part of, 'Whatever you do don't leave them alone,' didn't they understand?" Jim asked, managing not to swear too obviously. "Look, I'm nearly there. They'll be in a hurry now, word is out, so I'll try and stall them. If that's some of the cops, send them on over. Nick says the Feds are on their way but I think I'm going to be the first there... after maybe Catherine and Gil."

He could hear Warrick make a disbelieving noise, and then sigh. "Right, I'll do that. Good luck."

"Yeah, thanks." He'd need it. Couple of minutes away and he just hoped he was in time to stop Gil doing anything stupid. Or Catherine, because when it came to Gil, right now she was highly strung and under a lot of stress. Gil might not have seen it, but he had. She'd been pushing and pushing so hard, trying to make up for what she saw as her mistake that she was liable to risk anything.

He pulled up outside the address, coasting a little way on down the road before getting out, stuffing his extra gun in his waistband at the center of his back and then drawing his other gun and heading off as quietly as possible to the building.

It was a pretty seedy looking place, a shop front with a large working area that a glance showed him backed out to a jetty on the lake. There was a boat there he could just about see and he mentally awarded a point to Nicky. Good guess. Floating home base.

The only thing that looked out of place was the multitude of cars pulled up near the place. There was Gil's car, and there was a pretty unremarkable gray rental car, and there was a beaten up old Ford LT. No sign of Catherine's car yet.

That was either good news in that she hadn't arrived, or bad news in that they had been wrong and she was the hostage, or she and Sara were both hostages. Catherine's car could have been used a decoy....

He grimaced a little and headed toward to doorway that was a little ajar. Odds were, no one was watching it if there were so many people inside. Carefully he slipped inside listening to try and focus on where any of them were. He could hear the echoing sounds of Gil's voice saying... saying something.

Gil's voice sounded so calm, almost flat, but Jim heard it when it started to spike in tone.

"Put the knife down. Put the, put the knife down. God d--fuck! Hannibal. Hannibal, I don't remember God killing Job."

"In the end, God kills everyone, Will. Isn't that your point, Paul?"

It was the first time he'd heard Lecter's voice and it was at once smoothly charming and creepy as fuck.

"You kill him and you prove yourself unrighteous..."

That was Millander's voice and he sounded angry.

"Perhaps I am... a jealous god," Lecter almost purred and he was close enough, close enough to see them all. Gil, Lecter had Gil in a mockery of an intimate hold, knife blade flickering at his stomach level.

Millander was opposite them, pointing a gun at them both.

"I c-could shoot him now and he would be mine Lecter. I could shoot you..."

"But you don't want to, do you, P-Paul?", Lecter mocked him with a mimicry of the slight stutter. "No doubt you were aware that your stutter is a manifestation of internal conflict. Handy for me of course."

Jim just wanted to shoot the bastard. Only if he shot Lecter -- difficult from this distance, Millander could still kill Gil. If he shot Millander, Lecter could still kill him.

"Goddamn it, Gil," he murmured to himself, trying to get a little closer.

Gil had his hands out, off to the side in some pose of surrender. He looked like he was breathing a little hard, but Lecter was pressed close behind him, one arm looped from his shoulder across his chest. He wasn't exceedingly tall, but dead even with Gil, and that made getting a shot in hard.

"There are always sacrifices." Millander was aiming, lifting the gun. It was a high caliber, the kind that blew through walls and killed kids in drivebys. If he fired it as a head shot, there was no question that he could kill them both.

Oh fuck, no... He had to make a decision because he recognized that look in Millander's eyes. Death or glory look, famous last stand look. He broke cover yelling, "Drop your weapons!" It wasn't much but they both glanced for a moment, their attention on him in that moment of inattention, a sudden flurry of red hair from the other side of the tableau and there was Catherine diving at and wrestling with Lecter's knife arm.

Immediately, his options narrowed and he turned and fired at Millander twice before he heard gun fire from behind him -- Jesus, from behind him -- and he had to throw himself to the ground.

"Jesus Christ!" That's all they needed, someone else at the party. Who the hell was that?

There was more shooting, and a bullet pinged the wall near his head with a ricochet snap before sanity kicked in and Jim started to move. It wasn't safe ground if someone was behind you, and Jim damn well knew how to crawl fast. Still. Elbows and toes, and his chest was still killing him from playing at fireman with Warrick and the Masons, but it was insane when it was safer to be closer to the serial killers than away from them.

Gil was moving from what Jim could see, standing up despite the gun shots before he got close to the edge of the pit. "Grab my hand!"

What the hell was he doing? "Gil, get down!" he bellowed betraying his own location with the warning and having to dive off behind a partially built keel. Whoever it was behind him they were a good shot. Hopefully they would concentrate on him not on Gil. He fired randomly behind him, trying to see a shape or movement in the shadows and keep tabs on what was going on next to that pit.

Oh no, Millander was propping himself up and lifting his gun. Gil had his back to him only...

The shots rang out at the still struggling pair of Catherine and Lecter and Catherine went down and so did Lecter.

"Cath?!" He moved again staying low even as he heard another woman's voice screaming "No!"

Not Catherine. Not Sara.

So it was a woman trying to take him out. Take them all out, but he could hear her running towards them, could see a slim, muscled figure shove Catherine back from the mess, as Lecter rolled onto his back, groaning.

Agent Starling, the long-lost brainwashed protégé of Jack, Jim could guess. She had to have been brainwashed by the bastard to act like that, except Gil went still, too, where he was crouching near the pit, twisted to watch. Could've moved to attack and didn't.

He could see a hand scrabbling at the edge of the pit and figured they'd finally worked out where Sara was and he tried to get a clear shot at Agent Starling, abandoning cover to do it, but she saw what he was doing and made a lunge towards Gil that terrified him. He started running forwards, heedless of anything. They couldn't take Gil hostage, not again.

Even as he ran closer, he saw Sara's hand fumbling upwards, twisting Gil's gun still in the holster and firing it at the woman about to pounce on Gil from behind. She went down in silence and Jim stood there with his gun trained on the group.


Silence lasted until Gil jolted forwards a little, pulling his gun out of his holster like he didn't even care that Sara had just fired it for him. He knelt beside Lecter, and put a knee on his chest, the muzzle of Gil's gun pressing against the hollow of his throat. He was still breathing, and Gil leaned a little to check Starling's pulse.

And then the silence was only broken by the sounds of sirens.

"And now the Cavalry arrives," Jim said dryly moving forward to help Sara out of the pit, being careful of her dislocated shoulder. How she'd fired with that arm he didn't know. He warily moved past Gil to get to Catherine.

"She alive, Gil?" he asked of Starling, praying that Catherine was too. She'd been in the line of fire too long.

"Winged her. She should be all right." He was resting half of his body weight on Lecter's chest, and that gun wasn't moving. Gil's finger barely was touching the trigger. "Cath... ?"

"Looking," Jim replied and turned her over gently dreading what he might see. Right shoulder, blood everywhere and... Blood at her side. Knife. He looked at it more closely and grimaced. Slice rather than a stab then and not so deep. He checked her pulse and it was still strong. "She's alive. Gunshot and knife wound." He put some pressure on the shoulder wound and hoped Crawford and his merry men would turn up.

"Get her and Sara out of here first. I can't move." Technically he was right. Someone needed to guard the psychopaths, and Jim didn't think there were any dead bodies in that room yet. Lecter was more dangerous than Millander, at least in Gil's head. And maybe in reality. Jim just couldn't be sure.

"Sara, you can walk right?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, it was my shoulder he dislocated, not my leg," Sara said a little faintly.

"You mind coming over here and putting pressure on Catherine's shoulder while I check our second serial killer doesn't have his gun handy?" he asked with deceptive calm. "Just while the FBI works out the best way to do a dramatic entrance."

"Sure." Sara's arm looked twisted and definitely dislocated, and she was abnormally pale and drawn but she was still moving while Grissom kept Bonnie and Clyde in place. "Are we going to have to put our hands up? Because I don't think I can."

"Goddammit, Jack..." Gil muttered that, and then looked up and over to the door before he bellowed, a sharp bellow that Jim was pretty sure he hadn't heart Gil ever use before. "CRAWFORD! We've got them down! Do your goddamned job and get IN HERE!"

Jim moved over to Millander. He nodded to himself. Straight shot to the chest. He congratulated himself and had to wonder how exactly it was those eyes were open and moving, watching him as he patted him down for guns and took it off of him. "Looks like both of you lost your game, Millander," he murmured.

"... is not over..." Millander had a curious bubbling quality to his voice now. Punctured lungs had a tendency to do that.

Jim looked at him. "Yeah, yeah it is. And you know something, I don't think you're going to make it to trial are you? We both know that. And you deserve it."

"... sacrifices for justice..." He twisted his head to look at Gil still pinning Lecter down. ".... necessary. Sorry about Gil, though."

Jim nearly saw red. Sorry? SORRY? What sort of thing was that to say? He'd raped and mutilated Gil. Sorry was nothing, just a word.

"Just lie there and die, will you? Actions speak louder than words."

He wasn't sure if the man heard him, and he damn well wasn't going to pass on his 'deathbed' message. Sorry. Fuck, Gil hadn't even had time to deal with everything, Millander had probably killed Sanders, hit Nick with a truck -- and he was sorry?

All for justice. Maybe killing Lecter or getting him recaptured was justice for Millander. At any cost, apparently.

Jim could hear boots on the ground, footsteps coming towards them, and Jack at their lead. "Clear?"

"It's clear, Jack. They're down. Can you get them out of here before my CSI bleeds to death and Starling dies?" Nothing about acting before Millander or Lecter bled to death. No, he wouldn't be sorry if there was a bleed out there.

"Jesus, Will," Jack commented waving agents in who efficiently fanned out to secure Lecter and Millander, and start the process of getting Catherine, Agent Starling and Sara to medical care. "We've got it under control."

Jim also decided the next time Jack called Gil Will, he was going to punch him. He considered that he might just be having a little bit of a hostility backwash as he moved over to help Gil up. Under control... yeah, right.

"I told you to wait until I got here," Jack was saying to Gil. "You should've waited."

Gil stood up, knelt back and then leaned into Jim while he got his bearings. "Why? We got it done."

"But you could've... I mean... You could've been shot, killed." Jack stumbled through it, obviously not expecting the retort.

"But he didn't," Jim said and then looked at Gil. "You weren't, were you? I can't see any leaking holes..."

"That's a miracle, isn't it?" Gil grinned a little sharply for a moment. but his eyes were on the men who were quickly binding Lecter before they even tried to take him away.

"Sign of the apocalypse, I think," Jim replied. "Relax, Gil, they've got him. And Millander will be lucky to make it to the ambulance let alone to hospital." He rested his hand on Gil's shoulder almost dazed with amazement. They had made it through to the end of the ordeal and at this point in time they were all alive. Score one for the good guys.

"Sir? He keeps asking for... Grissom," one of the agents who was with Millander said a little hesitantly. "I think... he's... uh..."

Dying. It was obvious. Jack looked at Gil and Jim shook his head. "Don't even think about asking him to do anything, Jack."

Jack shrugged. "Up to him if he's always going to wonder what he wanted."

And Jack apparently knew Gil, because he pulled away from Jim, stepping past the agents hogtying Lecter, and past the agents who were with Millander. The best Jim could do was shadow him.

Gil knelt next to Millander even as the Agents were starting to lead Lecter away and Jim knelt with him, feeling a little like they were praying over a corpse. A soon to be corpse anyway. Millander was deathly white, and flecks of crimson bubbled at the corner of his mouth.

"... Grissom...." Millander's voice was a gurgling murmur now but his eyes were clear and looking at Gil, focused on him. "... you understand? Necessary to stop him. Last act of... Justice..."

"I understand. We've got him, got them both." Not that Jim was sure he understood, but Gil reached down to squeeze the man's hand. "It's over now. For both of you."

"... not quite over..." Paul half smiled and Jim just couldn't understand how Gil could hold the hand of the man that had tried to kill him and people he'd cared for. The man who had raped and nearly killed him. How could he do that?

"... another time, Gil, maybe... could've... I wish...." He coughed a little and fresh blood was there and he seemed to be listening, waiting. "You... know what he will do..."

The only way Jim could describe the look on Gil's face was a prairie dog sitting up and sudden alarm as realization dawned. "Jack, Jack! He's going to make a run for it!"

And then they heard the noise, someone screaming out in pain, one of Jack's agents.

Jim was about to jump up and run out -- damned if Lecter was going to get away again when he saw Millander's smile of blood and foam. He was reaching for Gil's hand even as the throbbing engine of a boat roared into life and started pulling away from the jetty outside. He gripped onto his hand with a strength born of fanaticism and said,

"Final move..." and squeezed his hands tight around Grissom's own.

Jim distinctly heard a click and then everyone heard and felt the massive explosion as the boat, obviously wired with explosives was destroyed in a vast fire ball.

"... Justice is Served..." Millander whispered with the last of his voice and breath and finally, finally closed his eyes.

They could feel the heat even as they stayed there, and Gil sat there in still shock, pulling his hand back. There was an electronic device, and Gil was staring at it.

Jim looked down as well. Detonator, small, compact, limited range but with enough to blow the boat. "Son of a bitch," Jim murmured under his breath. Millander had figured Lecter would escape all along. Planned for it even, by planting his boat there as a possible escape vehicle and booby trapping it. "He made the boat a final trap."

"Brilliant." Gil turned it over in his hand, and then looked down. "Jim? Let's get out of here. We're going to have to make statements and Catherine..."

"She had a strong pulse, Gil," Jim said. Stronger than Gil's had been when he and Catherine had found him. He hoped to God that Catherine made it. It was a damn stupid thing to do, but it had undoubtedly saved Gil's life, Sara's life. He could never have shot them both in time.

He hoped Sanders made it, too.

Gil was right, time to get out of here. "Yeah. We'll go to the hospital after, right?"

"Yeah." Gil offered the detonator over to Jack, after he reached into his pocket and wrapped it in a latex glove. "Get this into evidence. I don't envy your forensics people trying to sort this out."

"We'll take it," Jack said looking a bit stunned. "I think your people are a bit light on the ground right now."

Jim looked at him. It was the first time he had acknowledged that Gil had 'people', had a life that had gone on after switching names.

"C'mon, Gil, let's get some air."

"Sure." Quiet compliance and Gil started to walk off before Jim could catch up with him. He looked a little dazed, and the rising sunlight didn't seem to help him.

Jim was feeling pretty dazed himself, but he guessed it wasn't anything compared to how Gil might be feeling. Even the tension of the past couple of weeks unwinding suddenly made him lightheaded.

With Gil, it was the past couple of decades.

"You feeling okay?" he asked eventually slipping an arm around him.

"I'm not going to believe it until someone puts his teeth on my desk." Gil allowed the physical contact, and slid his own arm behind Jim's back.

"Well he was shot, and then hopefully blown up," Jim replied. "I'm thinking bouncing back from that might be a bit difficult." Impossible more like. He shook his head. "He could be gone, Gil. Really gone."

He didn't get an answer, and it made sense. Gil had been living with that for decades, the shadow of that threat and sometimes that threat right in his face. It would be hard to shake that after so long, and it had just happened. Maybe he was in shock.

"Millander's dead." At least he was pretty sure from the way they hadn't rushed to get him to medical aid. It was a miracle he'd lasted as long as he did. He'd have to deal with IA over that. "I.... I'm not sure what he was doing, but he planned everything to take Lecter out. I'm not sure if he succeeded or failed by dying too."

"He succeeded. He expected to die in it," Gil murmured. He was veering over towards his own SUV instead of Jim's car. "He was fatalistic before he left me to die."

"He seemed please you didn't, though," Jim said. "Although not half as pleased as I was. You know, it's not everyone who could hold the hand of the person who tried to kill them."

"His... motivations were in the right place. I don't know." Gil reached with his free hand into his pocket, fishing for his key. "He's dead now. It's over."

Jim was still concerned about how he was acting. It seemed a little disconnected. "So we get to go home after all the hoopla. Your place or mine?"

Or perhaps he wanted to be alone, or perhaps he didn't need him there any more. Or perhaps they'd end up staying at the hospital. Jim decided he was badly in need of a drink.

"Your place. Or I'll end up rummaging through old photographs until I fall asleep." Gil pulled his keys out, and handed them over to Jim. "I drove myself. If I'd been stuck relying on Ecklie I would have had to kill him."

"You... you were driving? Okay, okay, I get the point. Ecklie. Another murder," Jim smiled just pleased that this was over. "Have I said yet that I'm glad to see you alive? I know I'm thinking it, but I'm not sure if I've said it."

"I'm glad you're alive, too." He turned towards Jim again, arm still around him. "She could've shot you." Never mind the obvious that Gil had had a knife to his stomach.

"Yeah, but you know, I was the one hiding and firing from cover," he pointed out. True to start with. "I wasn't the one standing in the thick of it. How did you get to be like that anyway?"

"When I came in, Millander was threatening to shoot Sara. I offered myself... as a more interesting hostage in exchange for her safety."

"And that seemed like a good idea at the time?" Jim asked in a calm tone of voice. Of course it did. It always seemed like that to Gil. Why did he even ask?

"He was aiming at her head, Jim. It seemed like a great idea at the time." Gil's expression was tired, strained, and his mind was probably in ten billion places. And his eyes were tracking someone coming up behind them.

"Just this once I'll give you that," Jim murmured looking behind him to see who it was. "Jack. You know, I'm glad you finally got things together. Finished with the scene?"

"Yeah, well. Gave my guys the detonator. Willows is going to the nearest hospital, and Agent Starling is headed that way, too. Under heavy guard." He had the same strained, tired detachment that Gil had, like the comedown wasn't worth it for either of them. "We're gonna get a dive team out here to look for Lecter's body, and fire trucks are on their way to put it out before the boathouse catches fire. Hell of a mess, Will."

"Yeah. But you have Starling back."

A brainwashed agent he'd been willing to risk Gil's sanity over. Jim found himself curling his lip a little in an almost snarl. "Well great. And you know? I think it's time to stop this Will, Gil business. One or the other."

He didn't know why but it seemed important that they stopped tugging him in two directions. He turned to Gil. "Which do you prefer?"

For one too-long moment, Gil looked a little confused. Then his fingers shifted against Jim, spread out and finally seemed to relax. "Gil."

"I know. It's just... habit." Jack frowned a little at them both. "So, uh. We're going to map out the scene, and I'll send a couple of agents to pick you two up tomorrow for processing on your statements."

"We're going back to my place and then heading over to the hospital to see how Sara, Catherine, Greg and Nick are," Jim replied even as he turned Gil back towards the cars. "You think you can get someone to drive Grissom's car to the lab? I think I better drive us back."

"We're down just to us and Warrick still out of the hospital, aren't we?" Gil asked, sounding a little more together as he tossed his keys at Jack.

"Yeah. Keep him away from the cigarettes, okay? Molly might just make an effort to kill me if she found out I got him going again." Jack caught them smoothly, and he was actually addressing Jim in a semi-polite way.

"I'm hoping he can kick it as quick as he started up again," Jim replied starting to steer him away towards the car. "And that there's no need to do it any more." He considered he could invest in a neon sign saying 'Hands off!' for Gil, but it might just be too subtle for the FBI.

Nothing short of a shotgun might work. "Yeah. Go home and rest, okay? I'll go talk to the sheriff about what happened to the rest of your shift." Then Jack turned away, sauntered, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket.

"For once, I'm willing to let him get on with it," Jim said. "Lets go home, Gil, grab some coffee, maybe..." He shrugged. "Maybe rest for a couple of hours then we can go over and see how Cath is doing. She's tough. I'm surprised the bullets didn't bounce."

"She tackled him. I wish I'd had a better view," Gil murmured, walking with Jim towards his car. "I don't think I need any coffee. A shower, maybe. A quick nap."

"We'll do that," Jim promised. "Anything you want." He meant it. Suddenly the pressure was lifted. They had to avoid the press but Gil had his own inimitable style when it came to the media. He was just glad to have him alive, and in one piece.

"Let's go home."

He hadn't been able to sleep.

Gil wasn't sure if Jim had noticed or not, but it had been relaxing just to lie there, holding Jim while he slept, trying to put those thoughts out of his mind. Millander was dead. Lecter was possibly dead, and it was over. But nothing much changed, did it? He was still off kilter and it wasn't as if what had happened would turn back the hands of time. It wasn't going to. Catherine was still in the hospital, and Sara had been hurt and Greg was still possibly dying.

He felt strange. Almost dazed, just as he had since the fire-fight at the boat shop. He hadn't cared then if he had been hit, he just wanted to be able to save someone. He'd missed what Catherine had done and wished he'd seen it. Throwing herself in to fight Lecter, that was definitely Catherine all the way through and he just had this growing fear things couldn't possibly work out for them all.

Jim seemed to be telling him otherwise but it was hard to listen at the moment. Until he knew they were going to be okay, or... He didn't know. He stood while Jim quizzed them at the desk about Catherine.

There had to be some news, but it was a matter of whether they'd tell them or not, badges or otherwise. Eddie was still her medical contact, because Lindsey needed to know what was going on with her. Maybe they were there already.

Gil wasn't sure.

He was just sitting wondering if his brain was flying apart. He couldn't do that now. He concentrated on the feel of having Jim there, in his arms, solid and warm as only he could be. He had pushed Jim to sex and that had been good, but they hadn't done anything more since then except sleep.

And he'd felt sorry for Millander because he had understood him in far too many ways.

It had been easy to understand him, and he knew Jim didn't get it. But there was a link between perpetrators and victims, and as long as both were alive, it was hard to cut those ties of power. Gil knew that well, and understood what Millander had been trying to do. He was bait, and then it was all about luring Lecter in.

It was hard because he'd seen in his own way that Millander had been brilliant. Brilliant to go head to head with Lecter, to study him and understand both of them and use that. It was a waste.

Jim was heading back over. "She's been out of surgery for a couple of hours. Eddie's in there right now. You want to wait? You're down as an emergency contact, so they'll let you in but not me."

"We could wait," Gil offered, willing to play conciliatory. "Or we could see how Greg is. Or how Sara is. I might as well try to see how my team is."

"Up to you, Gil. Probably not the best idea to see Eddie and get into that mess," Jim acknowledged. "Sara is on a ward, and Sanders is in the ICU. Take your pick."

"Greg first." Nick would be haunting the ward, and maybe they could see Catherine after that. Sara... Sara was for last. Gil didn't know what to do with her, didn't know what to say, and didn't know what she was going to do.

Jim just nodded and he reached to help him up. "It's along here. I know this because I was spending a lot of time in there not that long ago," he quipped lightly glancing at Gil as they walked. "Sometimes I wonder if you realize how short a time ago it actually was."

"I know how short a time it was. Trust me, Jim. The eye he carved into my chest reminds me that on a regular basis, because the muscles hurt. I just." He paused and let Jim help him up, and straightened his clothes a little once he was standing. "Had to function. That's all that mattered."

"Yeah well, I'm hoping you'll give yourself a break soon. I saved vacation time for that," Jim replied as they went through a maze of corridors and into an elevator. "You've got to let yourself go at some point. I'm no shrink but... it comes out in other ways if you don't. I was pretty nasty with it for a while."

Gil leaned back against the elevator wall, looking down at his shoes for a moment. "I don't know how to let go, Jim. You'd think I could, but..." But he was already busy trying to find a fine balancing point between Gil and Will, trying to find a way to be himself again.

"Personally, I got really drunk," Jim said pragmatically. "We can try that at some point if you want." The doors open and they were heading into the ICU. "As long as there aren't people trying to make your head a playground for whatever mind games are going on."

"It's felt a little like that," Gil agreed quietly, almost smiling. "It didn't help that I was playing my own games just to keep up with them."

"No need for games any more," Jim promised as they rounded the corner and found Nick sitting out in a waiting area. He looked tired and anxious himself, still with lines of pain in his expression. "Well, there's one of your team."

"Nick?" Gil picked up his pace just a little, still walking beside Jim. Nick was at least recovering well. Gil waited for his barely CSI3 to respond.

"Grissom!" Nick looked incredibly relieved to see him. "I've been trying to find out what was going on but Warrick didn't know all the details and I couldn't get through to everyone. You okay?"

"I'm okay, Jim's okay. Catherine just came out of surgery for the bullet she took, and we're going to go see how Sara is after this. Millander did something to her shoulder. But it's over. Millander is dead and the FBI is trying to fish Lecter's remains out of the lake." So anxious, and Gil decided to trade information for information. "How's Greg doing?"

"Greg's been really rough," Nick said looking at him as if he could change that somehow. "They're in taking some more samples at the moment. Poor guy has had more blood taken out of him than you would believe possible."

Gil could tell Nick was more than just concerned. Nick couldn't hide his emotions if his life depended on it.

They were all there, right on his face, and Gil could only watch them flicker a little, obvious to him and probably anyone else who wanted to see. "Have they been able to make any headway?"

Nick shook his head. "Last night... he nearly...." He stopped talking for a moment and had to clear a tightened throat. "They were trying him on another dose of a different kind of antibiotics. That's what they're checking for now."

Nick looked like he was falling apart, and Gil was poor at giving comfort. He reached forwards to grip Nick's shoulder tightly, moving closer. Will was more comfortable with physicality, and... And he really needed to stop encouraging the divide in his own head. "He's strong, Nick. And they're doing their best for him."

"Mr. Stokes?" A doctor had approached them while they had been talking. "We've finished in there." He gave a slight smile. "It looks like the antibiotics are starting to take hold. There are some significant jumps in his blood results and he's... regained consciousness."

Nick just stared at the man as if he had been speaking a foreign language.

Gil let his hand fall to the side, and contented himself with giving Nick an encouraging smile. "See? I told you he was strong."

"That's good news, right?" Jim said just making the point. "He's going to make it?"

"Lets just say the odds are significantly better now than they were even a few hours ago and getting better all the time," the doctor replied. "He's going to be very weak for a bit and need a fair amount of recovery time, but the worst of this will be over in a week or so."

"He's really going to be okay?" Nick obviously couldn't believe it.

It wasn't a definite yes, but it was good enough for Gil to run with it and nod for Nick. "Seems like it, Nick. When they let you in to see him, pass on the good news."

Nick nodded, smiling suddenly before becoming serious again. "Catherine and Sara? Have you seen them yet? Can they have visitors?"

"We were just going to see them. Catherine and have visitors but Eddie was with her a few minutes ago, so... We were headed that way. Sara should be all right, too. She's in a room, not ICU." Gil was fairly sure he'd mentioned something like that before, but Nick was distracted. Nick had other things on his mind, and he understood that.

"Oh... Oh right." Nick looked over his shoulder. "You mind if I go back in? If he's awake. He'll be alone..."

Jim cleared his throat a little and glanced at Gil.

"Like I said, pass on the good news to him. It's over. I'm sure he'll appreciate it more when he's better, but it might help a little." If Gil hadn't already made a guess at it, Jim's throat-clearing would've answered the question for him. If there even had have been a question about what that look in Nick's eyes was. "Go on."

Nick smiled at him and headed off after the doctor, hurrying to keep up.

"Young love, huh?" Jim said twitching a smile as he glanced at Gil. "Hospitals have a lot to answer for. Young love and 'we're not old, we're in our prime' love."

"We are in our prime. We even managed not to get shot," Gil murmured while he turned to catch that twitching smile in the edge of his vision. "Let's go see if we can see Catherine now."

"I'd just like to say that I managed not to really get hurt at all and I am a front line cop." Jim said. "You know, I could pretend to be Catherine's uh... let's not go with father, shall we? Older brother."

"But I thought she was supposed to be my ex-wife." Gil paused, before they started to walk again. "Maybe that was why she divorced me."

"Shocking. You had a gay affair with her older brother?" Jim teased a little. "The one who got all the looks in the family?"

Gil knew he was trying to distract him. Jim was good at that., and he appreciated it more than Jim could guess. It got a laugh out of Gil, and he jostled Jim when they started to walk. "Better than having a gay affair with her father."

"Think of Jerry Springer opportunities," Jim countered. "Could make a fortune on talk shows." He was leading them back the way they came.

Since he seemed to know where he was going, Gil followed Jim. He didn't have to think, and he knew why Jim knew the way around the place. In less than the time it took most people, normal people given a good opportunity, to get over an incident like that, it had happened. And Jim had been there. And Gil was strolling around like nothing had happened because even after all of those years, Will didn't know how to let go and Gil didn't, either.

Didn't know how to do anything but drag himself together and carry on. Maybe Jim was wrong about him falling apart. "We could probably do that right now, Jim. Say the word, and the reporters I told off in the parking lot will fall on you like a pack of wolves."

"Threats, huh? Do that again and no more snuggling into my back when I'm sleeping." Jim paused. "You'll have to do it to my front. And you just made me use the word snuggling in public. I think I better hand in my badge."

Gil made a mock movement to take Jim's badge off of his jacket, but didn't actually touch it. "We'll have to find out what mature adults call it," Gil deadpanned. "We'll have to ask a mature adult first, of course."

"Well thank god we're going to see Catherine then," Jim said smiling at him again. "Mothers tend to know best. Even ex-wife younger sisters who think they're Wonder Woman or something."

He paused and Gil knew with a blinding flash of clarity that he was imagining Catherine in a Wonder Woman outfit. It was kind of hard not to. Even he was imagining it as Jim went quiet, and it was hard to keep talking, hard not to wonder along if Catherine ever went anywhere dressed as Wonder Woman for Halloween.

Hopefully, Eddie had gone home or gone for a cup of coffee because it was too late to turn around now.

"They may stop me," Jim muttered. "But we can try and get away with it. Say you're here to see her and I'm your partner. It might work." They presented themselves at the desk.

"If they stop you, I'll make it short," Gil promised just before the nurse turned around. "Hi, I'm here to see Catherine Willows -- my name is Gil Grissom, and this is my partner. We're both here to see her."

"Gil Grissom... I have down. Your partner?" The nurse looked up. "Oh yes! I remember Jim." She smiled. "You left us those chocolates when your partner..." She glanced back at Gil. "I'm sure it will be fine. What with you not being long out of hospital yourself. She's in room six."

"Thank you." Gil gave her a wide smile, and turned to head down the hallway, knowing Jim would be right at his side. Well, it worked, and it wasn't even that much of a lie. He and Jim were still muddling through things, but if they worked out that was what they both wanted, then Gil would be happy with it. And Jim didn't seem to think he'd screw it up anytime soon.

Jim seemed amazingly laid back about everything apart from wanting to shoot or hit people, which Gil could understand. He very rarely did. Well okay, Millander he had, he could be allowed that one.

They reached room six and Gil hesitated a moment. He wasn't sure what to say or do at the moment. He was awkward with normal things, let alone dealing with the niceties of thanking someone for maybe saving his life. He'd managed it with Nick so Catherine should be easier.

Should being the operative word and Gil decided to knock on the door before he actually opened it. Just in case Eddie was still in there, and mostly so he could have a little extra time to think. If she hadn't jumped Lecter, he wouldn't have been able to get away. Gil wasn't going to think too hard on the implication that Lecter had moved the knife when they'd gone over, or else Gil would've found himself impaled.

There was no male voice there and he heard something that sounded like 'Come in'. Jim seemed to think it was okay as he pushed the door open.

Gil wasn't sure how she managed it but Catherine seemed to look elegant even when lying in a hospital bed. She looked a little pale and obviously felt a little uncomfortable but she smiled when she saw him. "Hey, Gil."

"The doctors told us you were doing well enough that we could come see you." Gil started into the room, and let Jim close the door behind them. "Looks like we just missed Eddie."

"Wish I had," Catherine replied dryly. "At first I thought he was being nice, and you know, it's good to wake up and find him there. By the end of it he was trying to hit me up for money. I had to fake unconsciousness. Story of our married life in a nutshell." She had a slightly languid drawl to her voice. Probably drug induced.

It made Gil smile a little. People tended to talk more when they were drugged, and agree to things they otherwise might not. It figured that Eddie would try to turn that to his advantage. "At least he didn't get away with your checkbook. We just got good news about Greg. They think the new antibiotics are working."

"Hey, that's great!" Catherine mustered enthusiasm. "Looks like Nicky gets to have the closet door hit his ass on the way out then."

Jim stifled a snort next to him. "Don't ever change, Cath."

Gil's mouth curled into a faint smile as he moved closer, pulled out the one chair and then looked around for another so Jim could sit. "I don't think it was that. Crisis can change your priorities. And as long as they get their work done, and they're both alive, I don't care."

"Good because it would be hard to make a deal over it when you and Jim are heading into coupledom," Catherine replied looking directly at Brass.

"Hey, that just sort of happened," Jim replied. "Besides, Gil and I are in our prime. We worked it out."

"Sure you did." Catherine smiled a little. "Sara's okay, right? I missed the last part of what happened and Eddie wasn't interested in finding out for me."

"Sara's upstairs in a room and we were going to see her after we visited our intensive care patients," Gil said in a reasoned tone. "She was conscious when she got into the ambulance, though."

"Good." She seemed relieved. "He grabbed her at the house, I couldn't get a shot, not a clean shot and..." She stopped for a moment. "... and he dislocated her arm to get me to drop my gun. I would have taken the shot, Gil, if I'd had it, but he was going to kill her there and then, he said I would do as well instead of her and he picked up the gun and hit me with it. I must have been out five, ten minutes before I came round and went after them. He'd taken our phones and I knew where he was going..."

It was almost as if she was trying to explain so he wouldn't criticize her for what she did.

"Catherine. You did good, and you saved my life by getting there when you did. Everything worked out." He'd barely sat down before he started to say that

Catherine tilted her head a little. "That's it? No lectures on taking risks and what did I think I was doing?"

Jim sat next to him. "Nah. See, he was the one standing out there in the middle of a fire fight between two serial killers, one deranged FBI agent and one ruggedly handsome homicide detective."

"Jim's probably still working on a 'what do you think you were doing' speech that might be able to encompass all of the rules we've broken in the past week. And I'm not going to be the pot calling the kettle black. You missed a fast shootout, Catherine, once Agent Starling got involved."

"So was it her who shot me or Millander?" Catherine asked as if they were discussing a case. "I had my back to them at the time. Went straight through back to front, cracking my collar bone but going and hitting Lecter I think." She glanced at her shoulder. "I noticed the cut more."

"Millander," Gil told her. "Starling went down when Lecter did, just to try to help him. We're... mostly sure that he's dead."

"Mostly sure?" Catherine asked still looking at him amazed.

"Millander is dead. Lecter nearly escaped from the FBI -- again- and Millander was expecting it. His boat was out the front, Lecter took it and he had a detonator and blew it to pieces. Then Millander died after he said sorry to Gil," Jim summarized. "Sara shot Agent Starling with Grissom's gun."

Catherine looked at them both. "I'm feeling left out. I didn't shoot anyone."

"You got to jump on the back of a dangerous killer," Gil offered, eyeing her. "I didn't get to shoot anyone either, if we're keeping a tally."

"And that's because you are CSIs who should leave the shooting and things to us," Jim said patting Gil's hand a little theatrically.

Catherine raised an eyebrow. "I'm still amazed you didn't get hurt."

"It's a genuine fucking miracle, Cath," Jim said with utter seriousness. "I'm going to call the Pope collect when we get home."

Catherine couldn't help herself. Her lips twitched and then she started laughing, trying very hard to keep her shoulder still as she did so.

"But is there a patron saint for idiots who walk into gunfire? Or does that just default to 'lost causes', and St. Jude?" Gil grinned a little, over Catherine's laughing. He knew he made mistakes, and as long as he admitted to it... well, it made life easier for everyone.

"C'mere Gil. I've missed that smile," Catherine beckoned him over. "Give me a hug and tell me I'm forgiven for screwing up with you and Millander. I might believe it now I've done something about it."

Gil leaned in, and hugged her very gently, careful not to touch her shoulder. He was going to have to stop trying to count random physical contact, because somewhere along the way it had moved past the point of being numerable. "Catherine, you didn't screw anything up in the first place."

"Well I think I did, and you'd forgive anyone anything apart from maybe messing up a crime scene," Catherine murmured in his ear, hugging him back a bit weakly. "And though I value your opinion, Gil, my own tends to be the one that shouts the loudest."

"That's good. That's the one that matters most." It was hard not to keep smiling as he waited for her pressure to release a little so he could pull back. "There's nothing to forgive you for, Catherine. I mean that."

She did and lay back wincing. "Yeah, well you think on the fact that I was so scared of losing you that tackling the most notorious serial killer of our time without any sort of weapon seemed like a better option."

"I was thinking roughly the same thing, but I had a gun," Jim said a little smugly. "I call it planning."

"Deep forethought," Gil agreed, smiling still. "For both of you. I almost went in there armed with just a pack of cigarettes. But I left them in the car."

"Just as well," Catherine said seriously. "Those things could kill you, Gil."

It was such an incongruously funny thing that Gil wasn't surprised to hear Jim just start laughing helplessly.

"She's got you there, Gil."

"Since we've cut out two things that could kill me, I shouldn't play with an extra one, huh?" It was hard not to laugh a little, and he reached for Catherine's hand. "How about we cut a deal. I'll quit again if you rest a lot and get better."

"I can do that," Catherine said squeezing his hand. "And I've got an excuse for being like this -- good drugs. You guys? No excuse."

"Euphoria from the rush of a solved case?" Gil sat back a little, smiling back at her. "Cases. Life can go back to normal now."

"Well, when we all come off of sick leave, yeah," Catherine replied. "And you shouldn't have been back working anyway. Don't forget that."

"It doesn't change that I'm still back at work to stay," Gil countered glibly. It probably wasn't sane, but the lab needed to come back together. They needed to get work done again, and if he could work, and think again, maybe he could pull himself back together one piece faster.

"Don't push it," Catherine warned leaning back against her pillow. "Jim, talk some sense into him?"

Jim looked at Gil. "That might take some time, Cath."

She smiled a little. "The rest of your life right?"

He smiled back. "You got it."

If he didn't know better, there was a conspiracy against him, and the two of them were at the center of it. "Anything I can do for you until they let you out, Catherine?"

"Visit once in a while," Catherine replied. "If only to stop Eddie rifling my pockets for credit cards. I'll be okay, I'll be out of here soon enough."

She was looking tired though. She'd done a good job of pretending she wasn't that hurt, and that she was fine. Gil knew at least part of that pretending was to herself.

"I'll come visit and read you entomology books." He said that with a sly smile, just to see the look on her face. "We could start with aphids and move to bagworms."

She hit at him with her mobile arm. "Save that for Sara. We'll just gossip, and you can sneak food in -- that isn't bugs -- and all the things we did for you."

"Everything?" He glanced to Jim, and then winked when he looked back to Catherine. "Food we can do. And news."

"I'll make due." She shifted a bit uncomfortably. "Don't mess up the fact I caught up on your paperwork for you."

Jim raised his eyebrows. "Teacher's pet."

"Yeah, well welcome to the club, Jim," Catherine said. "I'm going to have to throw you guys out. I think my wake up pill is running out."

"That's our cue to leave. Keep resting, okay, Catherine? Hopefully the next time I talk to you at least one of the others will be out of the hospital." Probably Sara.

"Good. Put ourselves back together piece by piece," she said as Jim stood up and then leaned over and kissed her briefly.

"You take care, Cath. And thanks," he murmured. She nodded in response.

Gil didn't move to kiss her, but squeezed her hand again. "Thanks, Catherine. You really saved my life. So you should listen to yourself, because you more than made up for whatever you thought you did wrong."

She smiled then, a smile that was free and easy. "Thanks, Grissom. Think I might sleep for a week or so now. Got plenty to catch up on."

"C'mon, Gil," Jim murmured slipping a hand around him again. "Let's do our last visit. "

"You don't have to physically drag me there, Jim. I'm going. We'll see you, Catherine," Gil said, one last time, as Jim did pull him out the door.

Jim looked at him. "I've seen you get that look when you're trying a little too hard to stay focused. She'll be out of it in a matter of minutes," he said as they started walking.

"You've seen that look a lot recently. But I really don't need to drag me up to see Sara." After all, he knew what he'd be dealing with there. It was familiar ground. Disappointment after having seen something from the inside out. Hopefully she wouldn't want to go to the FBI.

"Well, she knows about us now so maybe the pressure is off," Jim replied. "On the other hand, you did just hand yourself over to certain death for her sake. Things like that can turn someone's head."

"I would have done it for any of them, Jim. They're my team, and they're..." Family. Even Sara. Except that if he tried to slot them into roles, he wouldn't be able to, but they mattered to him. "I'd put my neck on the line for any of them."

"And they've all proven they'd do it for you, too," Jim replied. "There's not many who could say that, I guess. Millander knew who to go after." He cleared his throat. "She thought you brought her to Vegas for something more, Gil. It hasn't been long enough for that hope to die. Hope is a pretty long lived thing sometimes."

"Is that jealousy I hear in your voice, Jim?" He was letting Jim lead again, following because it was easier. "I brought her because she was the best for the job. And we had an opening. She was a good student."

"I don't get jealous," Jim said calmly. "Of course, I'm also a compulsive liar."

"But a good one. I hadn't noticed that you were." Huh. Jim was jealous, and it was completely unfounded. "She's... she's Sara, Jim. She's a good investigator and I'm not supposed to start justifying myself until I've moved in with you, am I?"

Jim half smiled. "You don't ever have to justify yourself to me, Gil. I'm just feeling a little... overprotective. It makes me act like an idiot. I see me, in my prime, of course, but... yeah, and then there's Sara who's smart, young and pretty good looking and crazy about you. I've been pretty bad recently about telling you what you should and shouldn't be doing."

"You have?" He twisted a little and cocked an eyebrow at Jim. "How? Elaborate for me."

Jim shrugged. "Every day things. What you want to eat, how we're going somewhere. Telling you you can't drive. It used to drive Janice crazy."

Ah. So that was the problem.

"Actually, Jim, the doctor gave me a sheet that dictates what I can eat for about the next six months. I technically shouldn't be driving yet, but I'm going to continue driving too soon, just not with any frequency yet." He paused while they waited for the elevator doors to open. "You see it as nagging. And maybe it is. It's been a rough couple of weeks, and I'm lucky to have been functioning. Sometimes I need someone to pull my strings. Just don't get comfortable doing it, I'll take them back pretty soon."

Jim smiled a little. "I think I can live with that," he said. "I make a lousy puppet master." They stepped into the elevator heading up to the wards. "But I really want to go home and just... be with you. You didn't sleep earlier, did you?"

"Nope." Gil lifted his chin a little, peering over at Jim from the corner of his eye. "I needed quiet to get my head together. One day I might actually manage it."

"I promise I won't say a word tonight then," Jim said sounding serious. "This looks like her room."

"Do you want to come in... ?" Gil asked, eyeing Jim as he stepped towards the door a little.

"Do you want me to come in?" Jim asked holding back a little.

"It might be easier if you didn't." He only said that because Sara was hurt and Gil understood how she thought, how he thought. She'd act differently if there was an audience.

Just like he would.

"I won't take long."

Jim just nodded and turned to find the nearest chair, even as he knocked on the door and pushed it open.

Sara was sitting up in bed, her arm in a sling, disconsolately flicking through channels on her TV and she turned at the noise and smiled. "Hey, Grissom."

"Hi." He glanced over his shoulder for a moment, and then closed the door behind him. "I thought I should come up to see how you were doing."

"Well, my arm is still attached and now it's back in its socket, which is a lot more comfortable than the alternative," Sara replied. She was looking at him with a curiously intense expression. "So, I heard Lecter blew up?"

"Detonated when he tried to get on Millander's boat. Millander had anticipated the move, and had a detonator in his hand. I unwittingly helped him set it off." Unwittingly was a good word for it, since he'd been oddly enough just trying to ease a dying man's last few moments. Even after what the man had done to him in the first place.

The worse part was, he was more than a little suspicious that Millander might have been doing it all for him. But that was a thought he wasn't deliberately looking at.

Sara nodded. "Did I... did I kill Agent Starling?" she asked suddenly.

"No. She's actually in this building, under armed guard and pending transfer to a secure facility. Probably a mental ward." She needed to be there, because she needed help, and even if she never had her career back... She deserved a chance at life again. Possibly. Depending on what she'd aided Lecter in doing while they'd been together.

It was hard for Gil to judge a victim, and it wasn't his place.

Sara visibly relaxed and it occurred to him that Sara might not have ever fired a gun with intent before except at the range. "Good. I hope they can do something for her. With the pregnancy and everything." She lapsed into silence and it was just that hint of awkwardness he couldn't avoid.

"They're sure she won't lose it." It was the most he could add -- after all, that child's best hope for a normal life was to be adopted early so they didn't end up under the microscope as a psychopath's child. Nurture could easily overcome nature. "How're you feeling?"

"Like a maniac dislocated my arm and then threw me in a pit. And then my boss pulled me out," Sara said tilting her head a little. "How about you?"

"Like I haven't slept in a day or so, and smoked too much while I was awake." Honesty met honesty, and Gil knew it was the best he could offer.

"I used to smoke," Sara said almost randomly and it made Gil wonder how well she was dealing with all this. "For about a week when I was a student." She stopped a moment and looked at him for a disconcertingly long time. "So... you and Jim, huh?"

Part of him wanted to snark 'apparently'. He didn't get the point of making it a topic of conversation, but he never had. It simply was, one way or the other. So he gave a shrug. "Yeah."

"Wow." Sara looked at him. "Guess my track record still holds then. Falling for totally unavailable guys."

It probably would look that way, and it was somehow worse that she seemed so resigned to the fact. As if she was doomed to repeat that mistake over and over.

"Sara..." Gil pulled the chair out, and sat down, frowning a little as he looked at her. "I wouldn't call it a track record."

"Grissom, you're not the first. Unavailable or unsuitable, take your pick," Sara caught herself doing a shrug and wince. "Ow. That was stupid. It's okay -- it's a... thing. A thing I do."

"We could compare bad track records, Sara. I cheated on a very loving woman with a serial killer. I'm not exactly a catch. I'm insufficient in a lot of ways. Consider it a dodged bullet," he suggested gently.

"Grissom, you are the catch," Sara replied with a hint of teasing in her voice. "Looks like we're all going to have to go to Brass for fishing tips." She exhaled a little. "No, it's good. It's good to know where I stand, and good to know it's not specifically about me."

She sounded solid and positive about that, as if she was doing a good job convincing herself.

That was probably where she needed to start, because nothing that Gil said would matter if she didn't want to believe it. Same as with Catherine. "It's not about you, Sara. A... quite a few years ago, Jim and I... had an incident, a misunderstanding, and this was impetus for... us to work it out."

Sara nodded a little. "And I thought it was Catherine. Some CSI I am, huh? Sure you want me to stick around?"

"Yeah, I'm sure, Sara. Eddie thought Catherine was cheating with me, too. But Catherine is like a sister to me." He managed a smile at her, slight and a little tired. A sister who didn't tease him much about his copy of QVegas out in the bathroom.

"So you two have never..." Sara started and then held back. "Sorry. Forget I asked. I'm going to kill Sanders for telling me that...." She paused again and added. "If... If he makes it."

It was hard to kill the already dead. "He's starting to turn around. The doctors seemed optimistic when we stopped there earlier. Nick's visiting with him right now. It's going to take a while, but."

"That's great," Sara said and she did genuinely seem pleased. "The statistics for Anthrax are... pretty bad. I didn't like to say anything, but I'm guessing he already knew." Conversation with Sara could be like this, bursts of activity and then uncomfortable silence. "How's Catherine?"

"She's resting, but she also has a good prognosis. The wounds were clean and she can move a little better than I expected." But he tended not to move at all when he was injured, or as little as possible in the first day. Maybe it was the nature of the injury.

"I didn't know what Millander was going to do after she put down the gun. She just stood there and let him hit her," Sara said slightly amazement. "I think I might have... I don't know. And then she turned up at the boat place. I thought she was out of it you know?"

"Catherine? No, Catherine is never out of it." Gil couldn't help but smile a bit. "Trust me. Did I ever tell you that she worked a scene less than twenty-four hours after she had Lindsey? I'm not the only workaholic around here."

Sara smiled a bit at that. "And you recruit the best workaholics, too." She looked at him. "Things aren't going to be awkward now, are they? Now I've sort of come out and said everything?"

"No. I don't see any reason why they should be awkward, Sara. I... definitely won't hold bad taste in men against you," he joked quietly. "You're a good CSI, and I consider you a good friend. I know if I'd been in the pit, you would've done the same for me."

"Well, you're heavier so I might have had a few problems," Sara smiled at him again. "Glad to see you're getting your sense of humor back though. Hopefully everyone will be less on edge and I can actually get a decent night's sleep in my own bed."

"I think life can go back to normal now," Gil agreed hopefully. "Jack was going to talk to the sheriff, see if maybe he can give us a couple of night's leeway before we go back to catching up on our backlog. I think everyone is a little burnt out right now."

"I think it's the least we deserve. You realize we're all going to end up on the news. They've probably got the stock photos out as we speak," Sara said. "You know, the ones that are years out of date."

"At least yours is years out of date and not decades. I know what stock photo they're going to use of me." Will. Me and Will, and he was still working through that. And no matter what Jim hoped that was going to take a long time. But at least he was trying, now, and he hadn't been before.

"You should get a new one, I was watching some of the news. Found out things about the others I never knew ," Sara said. "Never knew Nick's family is all practically in Law enforcement. Or that Sanders was a free ride and ..."

"All you need to do is ask, Sara. Greg could talk about that for hours if you let him. And about the interesting things he saw in New York. Nick's father's a judge, his mother is a lawyer." Gil was purposefully avoiding the news, but he had his reasons for that. He knew these things already, little bits that he picked up from people.

"Well we didn't all get off on the right foot with my recommendation about Warrick," Sara replied. "I guess I'm just wondering where to go. I was seriously thinking about the FBI, you know that but... Catherine just stood there and put herself in total danger to stop me being killed. Greg slammed the door shut on me and stopped me from running back into that room. I can't just ignore that. I don't know if that's the sort of thing you could find anywhere else."

"That's trust and friendship, Sara. No matter what start you got off to, I think you've been accepted since then. The FBI... Jack wants you to join. And I think you've seen how he works."

"Yeah. Yeah. I mean he's an okay guy but..." Sara shook her head. "He kept pushing for you to be taking all the risks. That's not right."

"He did that to Agent Starling. He did it to everyone else he took under his wing. If you seriously want to go that route, Sara... Wait a few years. Vegas will be good for your resume, and he'll retire soon. No chance of him influencing your career from what you really want to do." It was just a counsel of caution, but Sara was still young, and she had so many bright years ahead of her, so much more research.

"I'd like to stay, I think," Sara replied. "Though with this case on our records, I think all of us are hot commodities." She smiled a little. "Especially you, Grissom. You got credit for saving the Mason wife and son, as well as alerting the authorities to the show down. Sorry, but I think your name has probably gone international."

"Again." Gil watched her faint, almost timid smile. "I don't think I'll bother changing my name again."

"We'd all get confused and just call you Grissom anyway," Sara replied. "It's gonna be weird over the next couple of weeks. Maybe when Greg gets out, and Catherine, we could all go out together or something."

"That sounds good. It's been a while since we did that. Jim was probably still the boss the last time the team did that. Is there anything you want me to bring you, since we'll be back later tonight or tomorrow?"

"Maybe something to read," Sara said. "Though I'll be out soon. They just want to check that there isn't more damage in the joint when the swelling has gone down."

"I wouldn't make any effort to get out early, after everything that's happened. And when you do get out, call one of us. You shouldn't have to take a taxi home." Hopefully her car wasn't a stick, or she wouldn't be driving at all for a couple of weeks while the joint was kept immobilized.

"I will, Grissom," Sara replied settling back. "You better go get some rest. You look like you need it."

"It might actually be restful sleep as long as I don't dream I'm at work." Gil took that as an invitation to leave, and stood up, pushing the chair back. "You rest, too, okay?"

She nodded. "If they let me get up any time, I'll go and visit our department," she said with a smile. "At least there are people here to talk to."

Grissom reckoned she was in for another surprise when it came to Greg and Nick. He wasn't exactly sure why he wasn't surprised himself. It might just be because at the moment he was more than a little emotionally numb.

Maybe later he'd register surprise. When he was at home. Trying to talk Jim into letting him eat popcorn or something. "Nick and Greg are down two floors, and Catherine's on the same floor, but probably not for too much longer. I think Warrick was spending time with his grandmother today, but he'll be around." Anyone sane would take time with their loved ones after he was almost badly burned. And when they'd been living in the lab, Warrick and a bottle of aloe were never far apart.

Jim had told him that Lecter had poured gas over Warrick, and when he jumped through the flames, it had ignited. Jim had a few minor burns here and there but he shrugged them off as not even as bad as cooking accidents. Warrick's had been worse and his hair had to be cut right back.

Sara nodded. "Okay Griss, thanks for stopping by." She looked like she meant it, too.

"Get better." He was headed for the door, trying to look like he wasn't making a break for it when there was a good chance that he was. He closed the door behind him, and immediately looked for Jim.

Jim was sitting, leaned back against the wall with his eyes closed until he heard the door click and then he opened them. "Done already?" he asked. "I didn't hear any raised voices."

"There wasn't any arguing. And I think she's going to stay in Vegas. Now that the air's been cleared a little." Or some equivalent to it. Gil was just sure that Sara understood that it wasn't personal.

"That's good news," Jim said getting up and stretching unobtrusively. "Now, how about we sneak out of here and head back to my place. And maybe get into bed and stay there?"

"Do you mean that honestly, or innuendo laden?" Gil waited for him to get his bearing, and then fell into place with Jim once they started down the hall.

"Possibly honestly at least to start with," Jim replied. "Although I'm always up for some innuendo." He smiled a little. "I just thought you could do with the quiet."

"I appreciate the opportunity for quiet. We could be quiet..." He turned his head a little, just to catch the look on Jim's face.

Jim was looking at him still, with that hint of concern still present. "I can do quiet. If quiet involves just holding on to each other. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me."

"The s-word, right?" It was enough to make Gil want to laugh again, but he just smirked a little while they headed for the elevator again. It was better to see what happened when they got home than it was to plan.

"You know I'm not meant to say that in public," Jim said gravely, but reached around his back to usher him into the elevator and let his hand linger there deliberately.

"It might make you look less manly," Gil deadpanned when he let Jim push the button for the floor that they'd parked on. "We'll come up with a better term for it. You have a thesaurus, right?"

"Somewhere. I think you had it out for the crossword puzzles," Jim said easily enough. "You want anything else to eat before we get to that point?"

"Why, do you want to stop somewhere? If you have an idea, I'm game." And if Jim wanted just to go home, then Gil was game.

"Not particularly," Jim answered. "I just thought I'd give you the option. To be honest, I'm pretty tired."

"Then we'll go home. I don't particularly want to media dodge anyway." Gil leaned back against the elevator door, taking a moment to steel himself in case there were any of them still lurking around in the parking garage. They'd been kicked out of the hospital, they couldn't be kicked out of the parking lot.

"I could clear the area for you," Jim teased just a little. "Like the crime scenes."

"It'll take too long. I think we can just rush them." He wasn't sure of that, but it was worth a try. The elevator doors opened, and there was nothing for them to do but head out to face the day.

"Just act natural..." Jim said and strode forward as if there weren't some media vans over in the corner of the parking lot with various film crews sitting around having coffee. They hadn't as yet been spotted.

As long as they walked calmly and right towards Jim's car, they'd be all right. And if Gil kept telling himself that, maybe the Easter bunny existed outside of a mall during Easter.

It wasn't far, but on the other hand it wasn't short enough. The moment one of them looked around it was like a tidal wave of reporters descending upon them and Jim sighed. "Should've known that was coming..."

"Mr. Grissom? Mr. Grissom! Can you give us a statement about what happened earlier on today?"

"Mr. Grissom! Is it true that both serial killers are dead? And that most of your team has been critically injured?"

"Mr. Grissom, did you trade yourself to the serial killers? An exchange of hostages?"

"I'm not making any statements. All questions should be deferred to the sheriff's office!" Gil held his hands up a little, and he started to try to walk faster. Eight cars down, Jim's car was just eight cars down.

They crowded close, almost literally surrounding them to the point of claustrophobia and they were brought to an halt as they clamored questions at him, camera lights in his face until Jim looked like he was going to lose his temper, and put and arm around him to shield him from some of it.

"You know what? You could cut us some slack here, guys..." he said to them. "We've had a hard day and a hard few weeks, and you should know better than to ask for details of a case until the evidence is in. Truth is, we can't tell you because with everything that was going on, we don't know all the answers. But I can tell you that CSI Catherine Willows is going to pull through despite being shot and stabbed in the incident, and CSI Sara Sidle should be out in a few days if she doesn't need further surgery on a shoulder injury. Try reporting the good news, huh? Now if you'll excuse us, and I'm asking you nicely to get out of our way, otherwise I might just give in to my irritable side... we both want to go home." Then he started moving with the sort of unstoppable momentum that clearly indicated if someone blocked him, he would be stomping all over them in no time flat.

Gil could follow in his wake, stepping into the spaces that Jim cleared for him. It was easy just to take that opening, and not say anything, even when he heard one reporter call out, "Will Graham!" Keep walking, and he only left Jim's shadow to move to the passenger side of the car.

Jim unlocked the car, coming in to shield Gil as he did so, seeing him in safely before he moved around, and literally walking at them until they were pushed out of the way. Then he got in and in silence turned on the ignition and slowly and steadily pulled away, making them all hop hastily to one side.

"Bastards." he muttered under his breath.

"They're right up there with lawyers." Gil closed his eyes, and pretended for one brief moment that the speed bump that jolted the vehicle was a reporter. Or at least a reporter's foot. "That'll take a few weeks to die down, unless some new interesting bloodbath crops up sooner."

"I really really want to be at home right now," Jim said. "This seems stupid but I have the biggest headache in the world and I would quite willingly run over a few reporters to get nearer to the painkillers."

"Does this mean I have the opportunity to make you relax instead of the other way around?" Gil didn't bother to open his eyes yet, but he could imagine the line between Jim's eyebrows.

"As the plan is to go home and go to bed, I don't think you'll need to do much," Jim replied, going a little too fast through Vegas. "Anyway, I'm sure Jack will throw plenty of Press Conferences their way, so we won't have to worry."

"He didn't used to do that. He'll probably have flow charts explaining it. Once upon a time, Jack was all tough cop and no bureaucracy. He was easier to stand then."

"I might have actually liked him then," Jim said after a pause. "But I guess I'm a little biased. I get that way when somebody exploits people I care for."

And while he could have focused on the exploitation comment, Gil concentrated on the 'people I care for' part of the sentence, letting that rattle warmly around in his brain for a moment. He liked it, the strange lack of effort, and the ease of just almost waking up in a relationship. No dating, no weirdness, no getting to know each other. "Mm."

"You know the more I think about it, I can be a bad tempered son of a bitch," Jim mused. "Maybe I should send him flowers to apologize. Something carnivorous maybe."

"And still alive. We could get him a healthy venus flytrap. There was this one guy on the internet who fed one of them bits of calluses, and they digested it admirably." Gil sat up a little straighter, and finally looked over at Jim. So he wasn't frowning as much as Gil had expected.

"I think he'd appreciate it," Jim said with a smirk curling at the edge of his mouth. "What were you doing reading about that sort of thing?"

"Not sleeping?" Gil suggested with a little amusement in his voice. Jim should have caught on by then that Gil didn't sleep unless he was exhausted, emotionally or physically, and even then he sometimes had nightmares. And there was no sense in explaining them to Jim. It wouldn't alleviate them.

"Well I guess I know where your vast knowledge of everything random comes from," Jim answered. He didn't say anything else but it was a clear message of 'I get it' under his response.

And that was good. "If insomnia strikes, I promise not to shake you awake if I read something interesting."

"I'm good at answering in my sleep," Jim replied even as he took the turn that meant they weren't far from home.

It was now Gil started to realize how tired all of them must be. Jim had been working and then dealing with all of this as well. He'd not been sleeping, working harder than he should. Catherine had dark circles under her eyes to match the bruising on her face. Nick had looked haggard and Sara was wound to the awkward heights of tension.

It was a natural state for Gil, though. He functioned like that, had for years and years, but he didn't like what it did to his friends. "If I didn't know better I'd think you were doing that now."

"You're probably right. I'm... too much 'in my prime' for all this," Jim said even as he pulled up outside his building. "Just don't stand between me and the Tylenol."

Gil waited for Jim to put the brake on, and popped the passenger door open once he'd turned the car off. "If you head straight for it, I'll grab you a glass of water."

"For that, you get to pick what side of the bed you want," Jim replied even as they both got out and he locked up. "If I'm going to feel like I've got a hangover, then I wish I'd drunk the beer to go with it."

"Does beer interact with Tylenol?" Gil asked, a little rhetorically while he followed Jim. He hadn't actually slept the night over in his own apartment in a while. The last time they'd been there had been to pick up clothes and things for him before they stayed at the hotel room.

"Probably," Jim answered as he opened the front door. "Guess I should be glad they cleaned up and left the place tidy. And restocked the fridge." He was already moving over towards the stairs. "You mind bringing it up? I'd appreciate it."

"Yeah. I'll meet you up there, Jim." It was hard to keep a little worry out of his voice, but it was stupid. If Jim were actually mentioning discomfort, it was probably profound. And it had probably started when Gil had been talking with Sara.

Jim seemed so laid back about things that it was hard to imagine him getting wound up or stressed by anything outside of the sort of situation they had been through. But he'd been calm through most of that. After all he hadn't actually hit Jack despite numerous threats. It seemed odd he would get most stressed when it came to facing emotional conflict.

Jim went up the stairs and he just caught a glimpse of him rubbing at his temples and the bridge of his nose as he went out of sight. Had he really been so worried about him and Sara?

Gil couldn't be sure, so he meandered around Jim's kitchen a little. Water, and a beer just for the hell of it, and he stopped in the bathroom on the way back to the bedroom to grab the tylenol in case Jim hadn't.

He found Jim lying on the bed with his eyes shut, half-undressed as if he'd given up halfway through and decided lying down was a good idea. The other man opened an eye. "You're a saint. As soon as I talk to the Vatican collect, anyway."

"You mentioned thanking the Pope for a miracle, too." Gil sat on the edge of the bed, and offered Jim the pills from his hand that was holding the water glass. "I brought you a beer just in case. I might need it, since I just realized that I haven't talked to my mother since this all started."

"I thought you were going to email her?" Jim asked taking the pills and water and knocking them back. "She'll have seen by now, Gil. Hard to miss."

"She's probably mailed me. I haven't checked it," Gil grimaced. "I should probably do that now or I'm not going to be able to sleep." He halfway offered Jim the beer, just in case.

"Take it. I'll stick with the hard stuff," Jim said looking at the water. "You want me, just call, okay?"

"I'll just crawl into bed with you," Gil told him seriously when he stood up. He hesitated, and then he reached to pull the blankets up over Jim a little better. "I'll get the blinds for you. "

"Thanks, Gil," Jim exhaled and closed his eyes again. "It's just a headache. Nothing much. You talk to your mom."

Well, mail. Well, read his mail and then respond and face that fact that he owed her at least a visit and a personal apology because he'd let it get that far.

Gil closed the blinds, and watched Jim for a minute, lying in bed so tired and vulnerable and hurt. It made Gil want to crawl into bed behind him again, to lend what little physical protection he could, which was just absurd. Jim was a grown man, and probably better in a fight than Gil was. But he could feel that warm protective urge, a tangible ball of emotion, a little strange comfort that he wasn't completely emotionally numb.

That was oddly important now, because he knew he would start questioning himself, wondering if he was damaged mentally and had no normal responses to trust in. This was something anyone would do and it was a spark of warmth in himself. Jim had a headache, scarcely the end of the world, but it was strange because for once he needed him, not Gil being the one constantly needing support. That was... something different from before. Something new and he wanted to hold on to it.

It was a little hope for normalcy, and Gil wanted that. He wanted that feeling of just being, without any worrying, of just being at ease. That was more important than who needed whom, but if there was a sense of balance, then everything else was easier.

Gil lingered for a little longer, and then he wandered downstairs to where Jim kept his laptop.

Somewhere in his mind he was starting to wonder if they had just made the decision to move in together. His place was comfortable, but he didn't have a huge emotional attachment to it. He was pretty sure that Jim didn't have a huge attachment to this place, especially after what happened. It might be a case of them finding somewhere new, somewhere bigger together.

For once that thought didn't worry him. Well, not too much.

He watched the laptop boot up. He could explain why he hadn't brought it up with his mother. Why he had refused to have her contacted as next of kin. Actually that was a lie. He did know. She would have come to visit him and immediately have become the biggest target in Lecter and Millander's game. Tit for tat. Lecter killed Millander's mother, the logical step would have been to attack his. Instead it was Greg and... He still felt a little strange and unsettled about it happening to Greg. It was meant to happen to one of his team, he was sure of that, but in intercepting that particular 'bullet', it had made Greg into one of their team, lab tech or not.

Greg had always tried to be one of them, spending more time with the CSIs than the other techs, and Gil now knew he'd be twice as hard pressed to cut Greg out of anything now. He was just going to have to get used to the fact that Greg was one of them, and possibly one with Nick. Time would tell there, and Gil hoped things worked out just for the sanctity of the working environment in the lab.

He wasn't sure if he would have found slipping into whatever it was he and Jim had fallen into would have been so easy if Jim had still been the boss. In fact, he knew it wouldn't. He had thought he'd known Jim pretty well, and he'd still been surprised. Jim had been able to fake blow ups of temper, he'd seen him do interrogation and realized that Jim was a master at assessing what was the right tactic to use.

Jack had thought Jim too stupid to last with Gil, and Jim was self-depreciating enough to let that slip past. But when it came down to it, he knew how and when to act and that was a form of intelligence most people didn't possess. When he looked back on what had happened, Jim had chosen without fail the right course in the instant of crisis. The one that saved the most lives, that got the right result. Now that was a talent Grissom thought he had to work hard at.

Except for what had happened with Holly, and that... that was an anomaly. He could see that Jim had just wanted her to be shadowing a long-term CSI, even if it was a punishment for Warrick. That it had ended that way...

Gil brought up the browser, and typed in the address to access his web mail. If he thought like that much longer he'd have a headache too.

When he logged in it was nearly enough to make him flinch. It was full of messages. Messages from friends, acquaintances that he'd given his mail address too -- filled with titles like, 'Heard what happened...', 'Saw the news...', 'Couldn't believe it...'

And sure enough, there were about a dozen from his mom, with progressively urgent looking titles. The last one entitled, 'For God's sake let me know if you are even alive!', indicated that when they did speak, he was probably going to get some very sarcastic comments.

He decided to click on that one first and just dive right in. It was better than looking at mails from colleagues and acquaintances who were worried or shocked by what had happened. After all, it was his life, his friend's life, not theirs.

'Gilbert, for God's sake, just call, write anything. I can't believe I'm seeing and hearing all this from the news. First that you were critically injured -- and I have no idea why on earth I wasn't contacted over that! -- and now that there was some sort of shoot out with that terrible man and they just say that there were injuries and deaths. Please, please just tell me you're okay. I think I understand that you were trying to protect me, like you were by changing your name to my maiden name. It was easy enough to do that with you but this... I'm terrified for you. I know what he did to you last time and then there is another as well?

Is it over? Can I come see you? Please answer, Gilbert.


He hit 'reply' without thinking, and it was only then that his fingers hesitated on the keys. Did he explain from the beginning, or just assume she knew, or? He didn't think he could explain torture to her without his hands starting to shake, strangely, while he didn't have any problem with it as spoken words.

Maybe that was the difference. His brain was wired differently from having signed for most of his life. Words were just words, insufficient, while motion and expression and hands...

I'm sorry that I haven't replied until now. I wanted you to be safe until this ended, and it's over now. It's finally over. Lecter is gone.

He hesitated again. It wasn't a lie, it was a truth. He didn't know if Lecter was dead for sure, and they were still looking for his remains. but every day that passed without them finding at least a chunk of the man was one more day that Gil suspected he was still alive and kicking.

But he was gone.

And Paul Millander is dead. I'm mostly all right, but some of my friends are a little worse for wear. I know I owe you an explanation, but I can't really give you one. Not a satisfying one. I'd rather have you alive and angry at me than dead because I couldn't protect you. A lot of my friends and coworkers were injured in what happened.

I'd like to see you, particularly now that things are quiet again. It's up to you whether you'd prefer to come out here or if you can wait until I get vacation leave and can get out there to California. The lab's more than a little backed up right now, and I'm still getting used to being the supervisor since Jim was moved back to homicide.

I love you.


It probably wasn't enough to placate her, but it was a start in the right direction. He knew he couldn't have done anything else and his head had been too full of conflict in himself to make him guilty over not contacting her. She would understand. Eventually.

He was considering ignoring the rest even as he sent that reply when one unusual title jumped out. "Hello Dad -- Message from Kevin."

That was... not supposed to happen. Gil looked at it, and the messages around it -- mostly concerned notes from colleagues, even a message from Dr. Bloom, but a few pieces of spam mail -- and quietly decided that if that was spam, he was going to have to find someone more computer savvy than him to hunt down the person who'd sent it.

So he could hit them. Repeatedly.

Gil looked at the subject line for a few more minutes, and then clicked on the touch pad to open it.

'Hi Dad,

I expect this is a big surprise right? I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing or not but I'm nearly thirty and even though Mom still thinks me as her little boy I'm not. It feels pretty strange calling someone else apart from my dad, Dad, but I think I can cope.

See, I only just put it together after watching the news. Mom didn't know that I knew Will Graham was my father. It was one of the reasons I did forensic anthropology and artistry -- we had some pretty spectacular fights over that, but my dad, Adam, said I would be safer than following him out onto the streets as a cop, which was my other option. I worked it all out when I was at college and I felt good that I had, but also angry that you had left me and Mom. A bit later on, I worked out that relationships weren't that cut and dried and I think I assumed you and Mom had broken up and had a really nasty divorce.

In a round about way, I'm sort of apologizing for thinking badly of you. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't obsessing over it, and it hasn't stopped me doing what I've wanted and being good at it, but it's always been something... unfinished.

I was following the news -- you'll laugh at this but I attended one of your lectures at a conference in L.A. and was so impressed I got some of your books. So I was interested in what had happened to Gil Grissom.

And then the news revealed that Gil Grissom was actually Will Graham and you'd been forced to change your name to protect your family.

To say I was struck dumb was an understatement. I sat at work staring into space for an hour. I walked around most of the day oblivious.

Mom and I talked a bit. She told me some more, and I got your email from her. I wasn't sure if I would use it, but I can't see how I could not. I'm not sure what I want to do with this, only that I want to say I'd like to know you somehow. If it's through email first, that's fine. If you don't want to talk, I understand that too. I just feel like I nearly lost the chance to ever know my dad, and was given a second chance to do so. I know it's going to be rough for a while, so no pressure.

Hope I might hear from you.

Your Son

He almost wished it had been a spam message and not an incomprehensible thing that he couldn't think of how to answer. Gil closed his eyes for a moment and rested his head back against the back of the sofa. Kevin had known him as dad, and his dad had been a cop and then left, and there'd been a shooting there in the house. But there had been no reason to link 'dad' to 'Will Graham' and if it hadn't been for the news, no chance that Gil Grissom would've been linked to Will Graham back to...

Gil's head hurt. Gil's head hurt and he didn't know where to start. Molly had mentioned Kevin's interest in Gil Graham, shit, Grissom's work to him, but he hadn't ever thought there was too much chance of being caught out. After all, a boy's fuzzy memories didn't stand up so well to the modern day, and he still probably wasn't what Kevin expected. He'd known Adam as a father for longer than he'd had Gil.

There was still a part of him that thought of him as young, as a kid. And then it was a case of readjusting his mental sights as he realized Sanders was younger and Nicky.... Nicky was about the same age as his son.

If anyone asked him if they were capable of dealing with something like this he would have said yes, they had the right to make their own decisions, but this was his son. Kevin. He'd been so young when they got married and had him. Too young, but he'd loved him and that had been the worst thing. Not that he and Molly had split, but that he'd had to give up Kevin to protect him.

He'd somehow managed to juggle Molly and Kevin and finishing up his degree, and starting a new job, and he'd carved hours out of the day to spend time with them, tried to lavish them with attention between stops and starts in cases. Maybe too much attention, but he'd wanted to make a point not to be his own father. Absentee to start with and then just... gone. Instead it had gone the other way, too-present to start with and then gone.

Gil wasn't sure that one was better than the other.

He read over the letter again, and then hit reply.


This was unexpected. I'd always expected that you'd put two and two together, since you were there when your mother shot Dollarhyde because my gun jammed. But I never expected you to find out that I hadn't just disappeared. I'm not sure what to say.

I didn't want to leave your mother. I didn't. She left me, but we'd come to an understanding that it was for your safety that she was doing it. Given everything that had happened, we both decided that you needed a stable life more than you needed me in your life. I've been in contact with Molly and Alan since they married, and they've kept me updated from afar about how you've been doing. I wouldn't call it a nasty divorce. I still love your mother. I'd do anything to protect her.

Things are still a little rough for me right now, but I'd like to get to know you again, Kevin. Your mother told me that you went to the forensics conference in London this year. How was it?

He hesitated for a moment. It was a start, a way to keep up conversation. Gil waffled over what to sign it, Will or Gil, and settled on 'your chronologically first dad'.

Then he hit send.

There it was. A sudden big step in his life made with the click of a button. But wasn't it what he had secretly wanted? That he'd felt cheated from knowing his son. The times he sat and looked at the photographs and wished he could just talk to his son.

And now it was safe, as safe as it could be to do that. Maybe Millander had given him something after all. Balancing the scales of justice that he hunted for so long.

He wasn't going to tell Jim that he thought that, just that his son had mailed him. And that his mother was pissed off, but he'd expected that. Gil scanned over the rest of the mail, and decided that all of them, even Dr. Bloom's mail, could wait until he woke up. Turning the computer off was as easy as closing the lid and setting it on the table, and Gil started towards the stairs.

His son had just mailed him, and that mixed in with everything else that was going on in him, making for another strange protective feeling.

He wasn't sure what he was feeling. He wasn't sure where it was going to go and maybe it would go wrong but, it was a chance he had never had before. It was also a reason to reconcile the Will Graham and Gil Grissom factions in his head. They didn't need to be separate any more. In fact, they needed to be the same person so he could acknowledge his past. It was like a switch being turned in his head, allowing himself let down barriers he had spent a long time holding up.

Suddenly he just wanted to be able to show someone that he cared. That he was able to feel and care.

He'd done it before, and then somewhere along the line, and he could pinpoint when, caring had become being apart from people and feeling was best expressed by not dealing with people that he could hurt

Gil hesitated for a moment just inside the bedroom door. Under a month, and he was already thinking stray thoughts like moving in. Or something akin to that. Sane people waited years, but then again, Molly had been the same way. It just happened and it was there and the short timeline didn't matter.

Jim was already asleep, or something close to it.

He was sprawled out with his eyes closed in the middle of the bed and Grissom smiled a little. He shouldn't wake him up. Jim had been up with him most of the time and working. But he wanted to tell someone.

It could wait.

He undressed hastily and contemplated which side of the bed to get in.

He had about the same space on either side, so it was more of a placing preference than anything. Gil moved to the right side, and pulled the sheets down before slipping in. He had to move Jim's arm, but that was easy.

"You know, I could lift that for you," Jim said after he'd very carefully moved the arm and lain down next to him. He'd cracked open an eye to look at him.

"I was planning on saving you the trouble." The mattress creaked a little when he shifted, settling in, the sound of old broken in box springs. "How's your head?"

"Tylenol is winning -- just," Jim replied. "How was the mail?"

"Gravely concerned. My mother is angry at me, and I expect she'll be inviting herself down for a visit very soon. And my son wrote me an email. Kevin apparently put two and two together with CNN's help. Or some news outlet." Gil shifted a little closer, and tugged at the pillow.

"Your son?" Jim opened his eyes and looked at him, before shifting closer back towards him. "Well there's something I wasn't expecting. You okay?"

"Yeah. He wants to get to know me. It wasn't a bad email, if that's what you're asking." Gil closed his own eyes, and finally started to relax. "I think I'm finally doing better than okay."

"Do I detect a hint of... happiness there?" Jim asked twisting a little to look at him. He paused a moment and then used the position to kiss him lightly. "Hmm?"

"You ask that as if I'm not the blood demanding insect eating overexcited evidence collector of the lab," Gil deadpanned. "Just one neat case, and you'll be sick of happy."

Jim chuckled a little. "I can stand being sick of that." He brushed at Gil's hair gently for no reason apart from the fact he wanted to and just looked at him for a long moment. "You know something? I think I could stand pretty much anything just to have you around."

"I think I could, too." Stand pretty much anything from Jim, not the other way around. He'd met Jim when he'd been hitting the bottle too hard, and he'd still liked him. Everything since then had been an improvement, nothing that Gil felt an urge to change or add to. He shifted, fingers sliding along Jim's sides. "Go to sleep. We can try deeper thoughts in the morning."

"Just make sure you sleep, too." Jim turned back on his side. "And as we're not in public, we can do the other s-word."

Gil shifted, taking the opportunity to slide his arm over Jim's waist, fingers pressing against the slight squish that covered muscles. If he kept his eyes open, he ended up looking right at Jim's bald spot. Yeah, they were in their prime all right.


"Sex is never something I like to rule out," Jim said and he could hear the smile even though he couldn't see it. "I was talking about... snuggling. That has got to be the most embarrassing word that exists."

"We could call it sleep's foreplay," Gil murmured, pressing his nose against the nape of Jim's neck.

"That has a much more masculine guy feel to it," Jim agreed. "Gimme some of that sleep foreplay Gil, oh, yeah."

He couldn't help but laugh, even as he laid his head down on the pillow. "Use that tone of voice again, and that headache is going to be the last thing on your mind."

"I'll save it for the morning then when I can do it a bit more justice," Jim sounded a little apologetic about that. "Something to look forward to hmm?"

"And here I was already looking forward to a good night's sleep." Jim had to guess that he was teasing, but if he wasn't sure, Gil could clear it up in the morning.

He could clear everything up in the morning.