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adventures in solitude

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sleeping for years, pick through what is left
through the pieces that fell and rose from the depth
from the rainwater well deep as a secret nobody knows

 

act one: night shift sucks when you're in love with your boss

-

It was the end of a long shift, and all he wanted was the results and some desperate sleep, passed out blissful unconscious on his bed. That was the reason he was even having a conversation with Mia at all - to stay awake - because otherwise he'd have (probably) realized how unprofessional it'd be to be talking about who in the lab was hot.

Mia, predictably, picked Warrick as cute, ducked her head. Greg sighed. People never took a chance on this game. Mostly to test her reaction, Greg replied with, "I think Grissom is hot."

Mia blinked, because while she'd heard Greg bragging about a threesome in college a few weeks ago, she probably assumed it was exaggerated, or a lie altogether. One of the best parts about having a sordid sex life and an innocent smile was throwing people off with it. "You," and Jacqui gulped. "What?"

"Grissom. He's the hottest," Greg declared again.

He turned to the machine humming behind them - how long would this take already? - and then Mia replied with, "Are you trying to freak me out?"

Eyebrow up. She was good. Greg stretched the pause out, but finally nodded. "Partly. It's true though. He's got that something--" and then Mia turned to the door of the lab.

Greg turned too, and saw Catherine in the doorway. He couldn't decide whether her look was amused, disgusted, or impatient, so Greg decided to ignore it. "Hi Catherine. Just waiting on results, and I'm onto your stuff."

"Ri-iight," she answered, patented Catherine. Uninterested then. Greg figured. "So who's got that some--" but Mia interrupted with,

"Oh, no, don't start him up again," and then Mia grabbed the results, gave them to Greg. The best part of his sordid sex life - well, second best to having it - was that look on people's faces.

Greg scanned the results - exactly what they were expecting, which was a pleasure in and of itself, finding out they were right. Catherine was still standing in the doorway. Greg was supposed to be running her results all night, but Nick had begged, so he was running a double shift, like usual. He waited. "Do I want to know?" she finally said.

"It's what Nick thought---"

"No," and that look was still on her face. She asked, "do I want to know what you were talking about?"

Greg's spine went stiff; he figured she was uninterested, but maybe he'd guessed wrong. Then he looked up at her, wide grin, and answered, "I'm going to make a deductive leap and say no, unless you've contemplated Grissom and sex."

Mia cringed, grabbed the results to give to Catherine, and walked away without even saying a word. Apparently, Catherine finally decided it was safe to come in, and raised an eyebrow. Greg shrugged; Catherine shook her head. "You scared her off, Greg."

"Mine is an inscrutable will," Greg replied. "So we have our trace. Do we have a suspect?"

"Nick," Catherine stressed, "may. I need to go back out to the scene."

"I'm done with Nick," Greg answered. He licked his lips, leaned back on his elbows on the counter. "I'm all yours again."

A ripple passed over her face, and Greg wondered, for a fleeting moment, whether his twenty-something was almost tempting, even to a beautiful woman like her, someone so out of his reach. "Are you sure you're up for it?" she asked him. "It's going to be rough."

Sometimes she'd show hints of interest, like now, which was intriguing enough for Greg to push it to the limit, just to see what the limit was. He never could predict what she'd respond to, and what would give her that look of disappointment. "I may surprise you," he answered easily, eyebrow raised; left it at that, left her to wonder.

She gave him a slow nod - Greg knew she was at least marginally impressed - then Catherine turned around. Over her shoulder, she called at him, "if you're coming with me then, come on." Greg followed her obediently, and if she only knew. She added without turning around, "And, no, I haven't really."

"Haven't what?"

She said, "thought about Grissom and sex."

Greg watched his feet as he stumbled, caught off guard. Mercifully, she didn't look at his face, because it'd be stiff, just like his spine when she first caught the conversation, like she walked in on a secret. Greg confided in the lab technicians, still felt he was on their side, but Catherine didn't have to know that. She'd probably think it was some kind of residual mistrust about the fire or something.

"Well," he said, and she said,

"relax, tiger," and let him off the hook as they got to the doors to the lab, for which he adored her. Catherine would push things until he stumbled, but usually she'd let it go after that.

He opened the door and ushered her through, finally saying, "mine is an inscrutable will, I guess."

-

Warrick came into the locker room at the end of shift, and clapped Greg on the back. That was probably a good sign that something wasn't good, or wasn't going to be good, or some permutation of bad. "So, supahfly," he started with, and Greg winced.

"Yeah?"

"Heard you were hitting on Catherine," Warrick said, and oh, because there was playfulness, sure, but also that bit of serious curiosity, of question. Warrick added, "because I wouldn't have thought you were really her type."

Greg was sure nothing good could come of the conversation, especially not with Warrick and Catherine's recent track record. Greg replied easily, "no, I didn't think so either, but a guy has to go for the impossible once and a while." He was reassured by how Warrick looked reassured. To think, Greg Sanders actual competition.

Warrick opened his locker, pulled his stuff out. Greg was waiting on nothing to go home, except he was still waiting in the lab, instead of going home. "Hey, didn't you used to have a life?" Warrick asked him, an eerie echo. "What are you still doing here?" Greg shrugged; Warrick closed his locker and said, "and what's this about Grissom's sex life, man? Field work burned you out already?"

And now this conversation was already making its way through the lab. From somewhere, Greg summoned a grin. "You know," Greg answered, "not that I have the time anymore, but a DNA tech all lonely in his lab has a very active imagination."

"Oh, dude," Warrick said, "just keep me out of it."

Greg closed his locker, bowed his head low while tying his sneakers on so Warrick couldn't see his face. "You asked, man. Next time if you don't want the all the dirty--"

and Warrick answered, "okay, already!" and then, "I'm outta here," and Greg succeeded in scaring him out of the conversation, scaring Warrick badly enough that he thankfully wouldn't see how Greg wasn't grinning anymore.

-

And speaking of competition--

Sara came up to him, carrying a plastic bag that could only spell 'digging through garbage' for the next four hours. At least it didn't smell like rotten anything, this time. "That for me?" Greg asked, but barreled on with, "of course that's for me."

"Seniority's a bitch, huh?" Sara said, slight grin, slight teasing grin.

Greg dared to touch her hand when he took the plastic from it. "You know," he told her, "keep bringing me gifts and I'm going to suspect courtship."

Sara shook her head, that grin still in place. "Oh, Greg," she said, long-suffering, "I like a bit of competition." A deliberate pause, and change in vocal tone, told him she wouldn't say anything if he chose to assume her next sentence had nothing to do with the first, when it really had everything. "It's for Grissom," she said.

Greg swallowed. Were they all just laughing now, entertained by the foot in his mouth? "Got it," he answered, dumping the shreds of paper - oh, wonderful - onto his workspace. "I'll let him know when I find something." He grabbed a likely tatter between thumb and index finger, and -- "Neither rain, nor sleet, or whatever, will stop me," he said, holding out the piece of a stamp.

"Greg," Sara said, but then she paused, and just said, "you're not the only one to find him attractive." Greg looked up. Sara added, "Just the only one patient enough."

Greg had never in his life been called patient before, but here he was, still working at technically a bottom-rung job when he'd been king of a lab, could have been teaching at Stanford, could have been working for six figures at a bio-research company. He'd been offered a bio-research position before coming to Vegas. Temporary, he'd told his mom, for the experience. To do something real. They still didn't know he wasn't just in the lab anymore.

Sara watched him carefully for a few moments, as he dug through scraps of paper. As she turned to leave, he blurted out, "Just--" and then, "he sent you?"

Greg didn't even know what he was asking, but Sara apparently did. She'd known Grissom, after all, for a lot longer than he had. Part of their problem. "Maybe," she said, grin back, "he was embarrassed."

-

Greg didn't think he could be more embarrassed. "Would you just!--" he said, frustrated, and then dropped his head. It wasn't Nick's fault that Greg suddenly and totally couldn't take a joke. "It's not that funny."

Nick looked painfully sympathetic, painfully comforting, and quite possibly was two seconds away from putting a hand on Greg's shoulder or something in some kind of gesture meant to help. Greg stepped away, just far enough so that Nick would have to move to touch him, just so he'd have a split-second's notice.

Nick raised an eyebrow, stayed where he was. The break room was painfully silent. Everything was painfully something, mostly painfully awkward. He loved being a CSI-in-training, being on the team, but this was why he dealt with the intense nerds in the lab when it came to his feelings. Nick said, "you're not that good at hiding your interest, are you?" as if somehow getting Greg to admit something would make him feel better.

This was why he was talking to Bobby and the others; they hadn't cared what he said, it had barely registered. That was why he told his secrets to the guys in the lab. "Look, Nick," Greg said, "this is just totally embarrassing right now, and I know you're trying to help but what you're really doing is just making it worse."

Nick took it in stride. "Well, man," he said, eyebrow raised, "you know where to find me."

Greg moved to clasp a hand on Nick's shoulder; Nick, who was taking this all in stride, especially since he seemed to perceive that this was serious, that Greg found his boss attractive. "I do, and thank you," Greg told him, "But I mean, what do you say?"

Archie had rolled his eyes; Bobby hadn't even heard the conversation, as focused as he was. Catherine had let him sweet-talk his way out of discussing it, Warrick was effectively scared off. Sara-- Sara. But Nick looked at him - all that painfully obvious sympathy - and seemed to get it. Especially when he didn't say anything else, let Greg past him to go back to work.

As long as Sara didn't encourage him to date the man Greg thought she was (had been?) interested in herself, or Catherine offered to let him come over - on any other night - Greg was going to call this shift a win. He went back to piecing strips of paper back together under a microscope, and almost let himself forget all about it. That was the first problem.

The second problem seemed to be that, while he'd sent Sara to drop the garbage off, Grissom seemed intent on getting progress reports every half-hour, and kept coming over to Greg's workstation to get them.

-

"No," Greg said, still hunched over the light-board.

Grissom stopped in the doorway, arms folded, gaze serene. "I haven't asked yet."

Greg pinched the bridge of his nose. There was a headache starting right above his right eye. There was a headache starting in that spot a lot, these days. The doctor, of which there were several in the office, would tell him it was a lack of sleep, so Greg was trying to grin and bear it. Mostly. Without looking up, he told Grissom, "I don't have a report yet, and nothing interesting enough to make it worth your while to come down here to find me."

Belatedly, Greg gulped, playing the words he'd snapped out over in his head; realized how pathetic they sounded in his own mind, hoped that Grissom dismissed them today, just like any other day. The man was a consummate professional, so he wouldn't offer any reassurance.

Grissom didn't answer, of course. Didn't move, just continued to stand in the doorway and stay in Greg's peripheral vision. It made Greg's headache worse, somehow. "I promise," Greg said, "I will page you or find you when I break the case. Or finish the report. Either way, you're number one on my speed-dial."

He finally looked up, right at Grissom, who was standing now, hands in his pockets, a foot inside the room. He stepped closer to the other side of the table, then, a slight tilt of the head. Grissom didn't have gloves on, but he picked up a sliver of the paper carefully, latex glove wrapped around two fingers. He studied it for a long moment, looked at Greg, who'd gone still, and studied Greg for a long moment too. Finally, Grissom said, "What do you think he used to shred it?"

Ah, the case. "If it was a paper shredder," Greg answered easily - because this was what he knew - "it was a cheap one. Tore the edges all to shit. Could be something like a blender, food processor."

"What have you pieced together?"

What had Greg pieced together? Nothing. No commendations for this job, he knew, and the likelihood of finding something dazzlingly brilliant was dwindling the smaller the pile of shreds got. Oh, Greg would finish, but his heart wasn't in it anymore. "Mostly old bills that we have digital copies of already. some receipts, decades old."

Grissom frowned, face crunched up, lips pursed. "Why keep things like that?"

Greg shrugged, tired and no closer to finding the evidence that suspect knew victim. "Why shred them?" he asked, rhetorically.

Glove back on the table, Grissom honestly shrugged. "Why do anything?" he asked Greg, and moved to leave.

-

Archie was working on -- something, for Nick. Greg didn't even care what it was. He was still being bumped back and forth between Catherine's case and Nick's case, when Grissom wasn't asking for favours. And really, it was fun in a kind of schizophrenic way, but after double-shifting all week Greg was starting to mix up suspect faces. At least they weren't asking him to interview people, just things, just evidence. This week he was grateful.

"What do you want?" Archie asked, without looking up from the screen. Greg couldn't believe he didn't wear glasses.

"Want a break?"

"Yes." Archie didn't look up still, and added, "but we can't always get what we want."

Greg sat down heavily, head in hands. "That's going to be in my head all night, now."

"Call a cop." Archie paused the video, finally swiveled to face Greg, head still in hands. Archie eyed him for a second, then asked, "do you really?"

"Want a break? Yes."

"No," Archie said, oddly, and then, "think Grissom is hot," and Greg thought the lab had got all the play from this conversation they were going to get, except apparently here he was back at the beginning, and people still found it just as entertaining.

Greg kept his head in his hands. He had another four hours before shift was over, and they were dedicated to -- Catherine? Catherine. Green fibers, red paint, and auto-vehicle databases, that was what he did know, that was what would occupy his time for the next three hours and fifty-six minutes. Someone would come to ask him about it, and whoever asked was whoever he was working for. It was good enough. He said to Archie, "why?"

"I dunno." Archie turned back to the screen, and started the tape playing. Right there was why Greg chose to tell techs things; they didn't even pretend to be interested in anything they weren't genuinely interested in, and they weren't ever interested in Greg's personal problems - "he didn't seem your type."

Greg raised an eyebrow. "My type?"

"Well, he's older, and you like that, but -- I'm not sure. You seem to really like dominating, confident--" and Archie shrugged. "Never mind. I guess that kind of is Grissom." Archie paused the tape again, turned back to face Greg. Greg met Archie's eyes; Archie's face cleared, suddenly. "Oh, Greg. Bad news, man."

Greg sighed, because he knew that and Archie knew that he knew that - even Nick, even Sara knew that - and he still had four hours to work this morning before he could go home to fall into bed. "It's not a big deal," he told Archie, because even if it kind of was, it was only kind of. Greg threw his hands up, shrugged, wry grin, added, "I'm getting the job done."

It wasn't a lie. Archie looked like he was going to make a joke - even opened his mouth with a quirky grin back - and then changed his mind. "I'd stop telling people, though," and then Archie said, "and if you see Nick, I think I've got something for him."

Greg stood, seeing the all-too-familiar signs of work absorption to the exclusion of all else on Archie's face. He wondered, fleetingly, if he had ever got so absorbed with processing quantities of samples that he completely ignored his co-workers. Probably. He probably still did. He didn't wonder, often, whether quantity won out over quality, because that kind of question was the beginning of the end.

Greg tried, once more, with, "I'm not saying anything, everyone else is--" but Archie was going through footage, frame by frame, and had already tuned him out. This was why he tended to spill his guts to the techs; it gave him the only piece of perspective he'd ever get, since they had a tendency to ignore him completely. Greg sighed, quietly, and muttered, "I'll page Nick."

-

this was what happened when you pulled two and a half shifts in a row:

"no, I wasn't just trying to scare Mia," Greg said, frustrated -- because no one seemed willing to believe that he was actually attracted to Grissom, damnit -- "I was serious."

It's not a big deal to admit it to people, and Greg had never been that good at hiding his interest anyway. The key was usually he didn't admit it quite so readily to the guy he's thinking about in the break room. Coffee number four, leg bouncing, Greg didn't even blink as he rattled it off. This was what happened when you worked two and a half shifts (the half was in the lab helping out swing shift with the backlog): you admitted to things that could get you fired, or at least demoted.

Greg, of course, realized what a monumental fuck-up it was saying something like that out loud, to Grissom of all people, who disapproved of people when they just went out for a drink with someone in case it affected work. Grissom, who guarded his feelings and personal life completely now that he was the boss; Grissom, who was still staring at him.

"I, uh," Greg started. "Sorry. I know you're not much one for--" and then Greg just stopped himself before he put any more of his foot in his mouth.

Grissom answered by taking the mug in Greg's hand, and carefully filling it with exactly the right amount of coffee. He then – as Greg watched, mesmerized with the thought of caffeine to sustain him through the last half of the third shift he'd worked in twenty-four hours – put in exactly the right amount of honey for nine in the morning. His leg stilled as Grissom came to sit beside him on the couch, and gravely handed him the cup back.

Grissom said, "are you done here yet?"

Greg stared at the coffee, at its murky depths, at the blissful alertness it might bring him for the second half of the triple. He took a delicate sip, and leaned his head back, muttered, "I think I'm in love."

Greg kept his eyes closed as Grissom put a hand gently on his shoulder; kept his eyes closed as Grissom took the cup away. Greg didn't even fight it. Grissom murmured, "you're done work for now, Greg," and guided him up off the couch and into the parking lot.

-

act two: night shift sucks if you're in love with the boss, even if he knows it

-

It was surprisingly easy to get Gil Grissom into bed, at least in the afternoon or evening before work. Grissom never came over after shift, but then nine times out of ten when Greg was yawning so much he could barely see straight and was seriously considering calling a cab and putting it on the lab's account, Grissom would still be in his office. Most times, he didn't even ask if Grissom wanted to come.

They never really went to Grissom's condo. Gil said it was so far away from the lab; Greg agreed easily, didn't know what to read into it, so tried to ignore it completely.

They had a few hours to kill one evening, and Greg was relaxing in Gil's bed, lax and easy. Gil was flipping throw some files, occasionally filling out something on one of the reports.

"god, this is good," Greg said, and stretched out, tried to stay in the moment instead of thinking about going into work. There was nothing he liked better than laying in bed with Gil, feeling Gil's arm on his waist. Gil rubbed his face, put down his work finally. He looked down at Greg, was smiling, and didn't answer. Greg added, "no, but, yeah," and it summed up the entire tableau so perfectly that he suddenly wanted to weep.

-

It'd be nice to say that he and Grissom had a better working relationship for having sex, but it wasn't true. Greg still felt like the third grade kid who had a crush on the teacher, even if once a week Greg took Gil to his place and they had – when all was said and done, pretty damned amazing – sex.

It stung a little, somehow, that Grissom wouldn't give him more credit, but Greg knew in his heart it wasn't going to happen.

-

"Did it hurt?"

Greg raised an eyebrow. Sara, leaning over his workstation, still had that inscrutable grin on her face, and it made Greg kind of nervous. He still wasn't sure whether she was angry, upset, disappointed, or pleased about him and Gil. "Did what hurt?" Greg asked, though he wasn't sure he wanted to find out what she was referring to.

She pointed to his chest, and when he stared blankly, Sara said, "the ring."

Ah. "Yes and no," he told her, and bent back over the microscope.

Greg figured that now she'd confirmed his nipple ring, she'd get bored and wander away, but instead, she sat down across from him, crossed her arms. This would be it, he figured, the first crime of passion inside the lab. Clearly this building was trying to kill him. "I'd think," Sara started to say, "that someone would have noticed before now."

"Noticed?"

She tilted her head. "The ring," she repeated. So far, no murder; maybe she was playing with him. Greg made a notation on the file - blue trace on yellow trace, and the rest of them would know what that meant already - "I mean, what else are you hiding under your clothes?"

Greg looked her in the face, and still she seemed mostly amused. "Third degree burn scars?" he said. "A tattoo that no, I'm not showing you."

Sara's face softened at the mention of scars. It was probably mean to cut her off with them, but it did cut her off. "I didn't--" and then she stopped. Sara, who maybe was a better match for Gil, since she was just as socially awkward. Greg made another notation, all about the blue stuff, whatever it was. Hodges would have to figure it out. "Grissom mentioned it to Catherine, is all. The ring, I mean."

And that was curious. "I got it a while ago," Greg told her. He fought the curious sensation of nausea building his stomach that revolved around Gil talking about him to anyone. "And yeah, it hurt, but after the first sharp pain it feels pretty good."

"Good?" Sara stood up, stretched. "I find that hard to believe."

Greg snorted. "I know," he said. She found it hard to believe that any kind of alternative lifestyle would make someone happy, and showed it every odd case they caught. "Some people like that kind of thing, I guess," he added, because he wasn't going to defend himself to Sara.

Sara disappeared, not before one last look behind her in that inscrutable amusement. She almost seemed - happy - about Gil talking about him. Even, possibly, about him and Gil, even though she couldn't possibly know. Greg knew that, as a forensic investigator rather than a profiler, he shouldn't be looking for motivations in her short conversations, in her double entendre. Greg should be sending these flakes to trace, and then filling out the rest of this report. Instead, he stared after Sara's back, and wondered at Gil's motivations, rather than Sara's; Gil's motivations and Gil's intentions, and how Greg would ever sort them out.

He spent the entire shift determined not to think about it, which meant that of course he spent all shift turning it over in his mind, and much like the blue trace that was 'undetermined', Greg had nothing.

-

Greg lay on his stomach eagerly; Gil leaned over him, and put one palm on his back gently, then started to prep. Greg let a little gasp out as he rubbed his palm over Greg's ass, slowly, carefully, and kept his other hand gripping Greg's hip. Gil's soft voice asked suddenly, "how long has it been?"

Fuck, what-- to know how easy it'd be for him, Greg's mind answered helpfully. That's why Gil was asking, and Greg was suddenly touched by the thought, and moaned as Gil dug his fingertips into his hip a little harder. "Uh-- couple of months?" He blinked, added, "not too long."

Gil was slicking him up, and he sighed, leaning back into the touch. Inexplicably, Gil was continuing the conversation - and why, when they were so-- "one-night stand?"

Just a little more, Gil's fingertip was-- the hand stilled, and Greg had to try to look behind him, try to see what Gil was doing. Greg bit his lip, trying to focus, since Gil clearly wanted an answer, though biting his lip only made things more-- "uh, yeah," Greg finally rasped out, "this guy I met at a bar?" Gil started moving again, *finally*, but Greg couldn't keep his mouth shut, and asked, "y--you?"

And how could Gil keep his voice so calm, even behind him? "I don't really--" and there was a little gasp, so at least he wasn't a robot -- "do one-nights."

It was Greg's turn to gasp, and he started pushing back against-- there was Gil, there-- but he couldn't help himself. "Why?"

He could hear Gil breathing heavily, finally, and Greg gave himself over to the sensation, fists bunching in Gil's sheets, eyes closed, Gil's fingers steadying his lower back and digging bruises into Greg's hip, and that slow burn made it oh, so much better. Gil didn't answer.

-

"why not?" Greg finally asked, laying in Gil's sheets, feeling sweaty and sated, legs sprawled out and one foot hanging off the mattress. The most decadent thing was laying, dirty, in bed.

Gil was laying beside him, resting against the headboard and reading some book. He barely looked disheveled, and that wasn't fair. Those glasses shouldn't have been hot either, but they were. "Why what?"

"Why don't you do one-night stands?"

Gil stilled. The only reason Greg noticed was due to his line of sight facing Gil's hand on the bedspread, that had just a moment before been tapping out a rhythm, and now was motionless. "I prefer not to."

"Keep things simple?" Greg asked, and stretched.

Gil turned to look down at him, at where Greg was lounging. His face was drawn. "People are always fascinated by things they don't understand."

"And?"

Greg couldn't believe how matter-of-fact Gil sounded, answering. "Once you understand someone like me, the interest tends to wane."

Greg swallowed; rolled over, stretched again, and casually put an arm around Gil's waist out of the way of his book. It wasn't any kind of answer to such a sad thing, not a decent one, and yet another example of how Greg had failed.

-

"so," Nick said.

"So what?"

Greg peered into the microscope, for one selfish minute wishing he was just dealing with the thirty-eight swabs from the case instead of collecting them; wished he was just the technician that could go home at the end of the day instead of staring through a blurry lens at evidence of people's cruelty. "So I heard," Nick said.

"Heard what?"

"About the two of you," Nick repeated slowly.

Greg recognised the tone of voice, it was the way Nick sounded when he wasn't sure if he was going to be pissed off or not, and was reserving judgment for what you said next. "Ah," Greg said. "That."

"Yeah, that."

Nick was trying to help, Greg knew it, but there was no way Nick could be Greg's friend and Grissom's employee at the same time. Even if it would have been nice to tell someone – anyone that cared – about how Gil didn't look at him when they had sex, and about how really, they weren't in a relationship, so when the inevitable happened he wouldn't even be able to say they'd broken up.

Nick looked at him expectantly, patiently, kindly. Greg shook his head. "Appreciate it, Nick, but you know Grissom."

"No I don't," Nick answered with a grin.

"Yeah," Greg said.

-

Hodges came up to him. "Your yellow and blue trace," he started with a flourish, "took me nearly two whole shifts to identify. It wasn't--"

but Greg tuned him out and read the file instead. Interesting. Paint and wax, waxy paint. "Thanks," Greg told him absently.

Hodges followed Greg down the hall, and suddenly said something that penetrated through Greg's preoccupation with waxy paint. "I'm surprised to admit," Hodges was saying, "that there's now something about you that impresses me: your taste."

"What?"

"His, on the other hand," Hodges continued as he held the door open to the trace lab, "is abysmal." Greg stared through the glass door, brow furrowed. He went back to work, finally, and tried not to hear Hodges' last comment echoing through the empty lab he was working in; tried not to hear it in everyone else's voice. It mostly worked.

-

One long twenty hour shift; one long fucking awful twenty hour shift that he just wanted to forget for eight hours in his bed. Right at the end, Nick had yelled about something because he was stressed and edgy over something else, and Greg hadn't yelled back because he could see the stress in Nick's bunched shoulders and circles under his eyes, but sometimes it sucked being the nice guy.

When he got home, there was a voicemail on his mobile that he just hadn't noticed - Gil's number on his missed call list. Greg couldn't even get up the energy to check the message, hoped that leaving it until he woke before shift would give him at least one good thing to look forward to next shift. Another twenty hour day, another stressed-out tension-filled work day, but Gil's message, at least, to start the night off right.

Falling into his bed, cell beside the bed like usual because technically he was always on-fucking-call, Greg did have the fleeting thought that perhaps the message would make tomorrow night worse. But he had to hope for better; there wasn't any other way to even get out of bed.

-

he listened to the message, and it made the night worse. It made the night worse, more confusing, and shit, and Greg went to work and focused on process, focused on intense activity. 'I'm not able to do this' apparently translated into Gil not even talking to Greg, and for once Greg just thanked god that Gil was more than willing to avoid him all night. Gil paired him with Catherine, who was sensitive enough to avoid the subject but insensitive enough not to bother asking what was wrong.

it was the first night of a long, painful week; greg suspected it was the first of many long and painful weeks.

-

"I'd like to transfer to days."

Greg kept his eyes on the paperweight on Gil's desk, some monstrosity that someone probably gave him in an ill-attempted play at humor; not on Gil's face. "Greg--" he started, tight, sad, soft, but Greg didn't look up, didn't risk the temptation. For whatever reasons he was actually asking, there were a lot of good reasons, too. Good personal reasons, good personal growth reasons, getting over it, moving on, doing what's best, doing what was necessary. After a moment of tight anguish, Greg looking at the metal portrayal of an ant holding down six months of paperwork, Gil's eyes staring at Greg's down-turned face, Gil said, "it may take a while to get a spot open."

Greg knew that meant he was as good as gone. Days would take him because he was still working relatively well, even if apparently he couldn't do anything else.

this was the good part of breaking up with Gil instead of someone else: he didn't push it. This was the bad part of breaking up with Gil, too: he didn't push it. So now Greg would be on days, and it would take weeks for him to get used to the change in hours, but he would, and he'd work double shifts to prove he could, and keep noise around him to stop from thinking about it.

Greg said, "thanks," and walked out, and Gil-- and Grissom let him, didn't even stand, and Greg didn't once think he would.

-

act 3: day shift sucks, even if it leaves more time to party

-

so then that became, for better or worse, the life of Greg Sanders.

-

His first day shift Greg remembered, oh, all too clearly, the way that in college he'd pull all-nighters studying desperately for some exam, going to the test and acing it, then out for lunch and surfing before crashing hard. His body used to love no sleep and frantic activity, used to be healthy and resilient and fucking awesome. Apparently growing older meant somewhere, somehow, that love had run out, at the very least been pushed down.

"More coffee?" Sofia asked, and Greg snapped up. Right. Work. Not staring off into space. He hadn't even heard Sofia come in. "More coffee," Sofia said again, and smiled. Greg knew his eyes were glazed, glassy, and so not all there. Sofia leaned against the counter, said, "You gonna be able to handle today's shift?"

Greg rubbed his eyes, massaged his whole face, and finally pressed his palms into his eyes to try and stop the slow ache beginning in them. He gulped more coffee - just the right temperature, finally - and answered, "I guess we'll see, right?"

"You're with me today, Greg," Sofia told him, and then, "so I think we can forgive your exhaustion today."

Greg smiled ruefully. At least he wasn't hung-over. "A morning person, I am not," he confessed, and rubbed his eyes again. He never was a morning person. He was a get drunk, put on mascara, and pick up goth women type of person; he was a drink beer, go surfing and make out with his surf buddies kind of person. He wasn't a morning person unless it was from the other side.

Sofia shook her head, not impressed. "You'll learn," she told him, and then, "you work nights long enough, it sinks in, but you'll learn."

Greg nodded. "I've been told I learn fast," he said.

"Really?" she asked. He wasn't sure whether she was skeptical or just unimpressed. Story of his professional life.

Greg looked at his cup suddenly, smile gone. Damn it. And while he was moaning in his head about the sun being out, his coffee had cooled down past the point where he liked to drink it, and reheated coffee was a sin. Maybe he'd try one of those caffeine drinks at lunch break, if he got a lunch break, if Sofia didn't push quite as hard as-- but he ruthlessly chopped off that line of thinking. "I'm not as sure anymore?" he told her, "but let's find out."

Sofia tilted her head, evaluating him, and finally said, "okay. I'll bring you up to speed on the case, and we'll get to work."

Work. Work and work and then hitting that goth club after work, or the water hardcore with a wave runner or something. Not enough time to get to any of the decent coves though, not between getting home and needing sleep, so a club open at four in the afternoon in the middle of the city would have to do instead. Somewhere in the city was open.

Greg followed Sofia out the door, listened to her fill him in on the robbery turned homicide. Ballistics had the bullet; they were following the trace and blood evidence. Standard, at least, standard enough. "You know what I loved about New York? What I love about Vegas?" Greg said, suddenly.

"What?"

"At any time of day or night, exactly what you want is open," he told her, and opened the door to the trace lab. "Ladies first," Greg said, but blandly, courteously, lack of intent plain. Revenge through better living, bigger living, and to show weakness in the lab, even to Sofia, would defeat the purpose. Greg was determined. There was a plan.

Sofia shook her head, small grin. She seemed indulgent enough, and indulgent was all he planned to go for at work anymore. This evening, the club, tonight, dancing. Just because nerds weren't interested in him didn't mean no one was. "That is true," Sofia answered. "I guess it could be part of the appeal, especially if you're used to nights."

Used to nights. Used to, comfortable with, loved, craved, needed-- Greg shrugged. He was used to working nights, but he adapted quickly enough, pushed through things to get to the other side. Revenge through better living. After all, after the explosion he forced himself to come back to the lab, forced it down and away and aside, and he hardly ever thought about it at work anymore. he hardly thought about it at all, and his hands hardly shook.

-

Sara came into the break room while he was massaging a bite-mark on his neck. She looked at him, and Greg considered hiding it for a second, but fuck it all, why should he, for one, and for two, it was none of Sara's business. He bent his head, stretched, feeling the lack of caffeine. Another downside of clubbing before a shift was not having any time for coffee before he got to work. Even with the restriction of not drinking twelve hours before a shift 'just in case' - and that was always said in his old supervisor's robotic voice - he still managed a late enough night to sleep in.

"Long night?" she asked, neutrally enough.

Greg didn't sigh, because that wasn't kosher, and it wasn't politic, and making an enemy of Sara was making an enemy of a viper, and he didn't have the energy to fight her off. "Mmm," he answered. "Caught up with a friend," he offered up, finally, since she wasn't going away. He wasn't going to elaborate on it any more than that, not on the costume, not on the dancing, not on the club, and not after, but she'd talked to him first so in the basic rules of office etiquette he was obligated to respond.

"Friend, huh?" she said. "Some friend," she added.

Greg refused to answer; it wasn't any of her goddamned business, and the ex he'd met up with wasn't going to be more office gossip, nor were the sharp edges he'd acquired. Sharp and jaded, sharp and impatient. Greg said, "I've gotta get in--" and he gestured to the office vaguely, a cutting gesture.

Sara frowned, either sad or pissed off, Greg didn't know or care. "You know," she said, moving out of the way, "I kinda thought we were friends." He couldn't stop himself from snorting, and kept putting on his lab coat. Friends. She probably didn't even know the meaning of the word, as socially inept as she was. "Fine," Sara said, coolly. "Message received."

It was just peachy. Greg went into the lab. His ex had left a mark, right in the same place that he used to get bit before. Maybe it was age, maybe it was the scar tissue that he'd barely missed, but the bite throbbed painfully all through Greg's shift. It was irritating; it was distracting. He was working an arson case, and the smell made him nauseous. He could see Sofia watching him out of the corner of her eye, and Greg knew she was waiting for him to freak out about the burn patterning on the victim, so Greg got right up in the body's face, professional and cool, analytical. A robot with no emotions.

Dave glanced at Sofia, but being shy, didn't comment. Sofia, being uninterested in his welfare, didn't comment either.

-

it was the last time Sara came to find him. Nick and Warrick, probably warned, didn't try. Whoever that said bonds got forged through the fear of death didn't know shit. Of course, they'd all experienced death alone; maybe it made a difference. Greg didn't care.

-

Archie called around three, asked if wanted to get a waffle, and Greg himself waffled and hemmed and hawwed, but finally said 'yes', because if he wasn't at least willing to have fun, there was no way he was going to prove that he still could.

At the diner - which was achingly close to Greg's apartment and which meant achingly far away from the lab - Archie was tired and pleased and talkative. "How's working with Sofia?" Archie asked, and Greg had a hickey from the night with the boys, and he'd have another hickey tomorrow, and Archie was the only one that wouldn't ask him about that, and so Greg had agreed to meet him.

"She's tough," Greg said, and speared a strawberry savagely. Modulated his voice; it wasn't Archie's fault. Kept his voice neutral. Archie would leave, with no interest in Greg past breakfast, with no caring about Greg past breakfast, but at least Greg went in knowing it. "But she's good. She at least keeps me out at scenes, beginning of shift, so."

So; and Greg wouldn't have thought Archie would have known or cared what that meant, but apparently he did, because Archie asked, "So you don't run into the graveyard shift at all?"

At all, well, not most nights. "Nah," Greg said, and swallowed. Didn't look happy about it, because everyone was neutral about him at best, Archie included. Didn't look sad about it, because everyone was neutral, at best. "I'm learning a lot, you know. Different styles, different techniques." Speared another strawberry, and kept his hands from shaking through sheer force of will. He was going out dancing again tonight before sleep, and heading into work. "A change is as good as a rest."

Archie was happy to carry the conversation, and as glad as Greg was to take the invitation to breakfast, he was doubly glad when Archie's phone went off and he had to leave. Neutral at best was nothing to be proud of, and this was his life, and he was going to get used to it, and going to harden himself, and if he was unhappy about the situation, well, that was just tough fucking shit.

-

It was always exciting to go out, always exciting to get himself into trouble. When Lance was in town, Greg convinced him to come to the daylight hours goth bar, and then to come while he got another tiny tattoo, on his wrist where people might see it if they looked hard enough.

It itched and burned while he went on shift, because he hadn't taken good enough care of it, and the bandage would have been visible if Greg hadn't worn long sleeves. It probably would have looked like he'd cut himself on purpose or something, and that was funny on so many levels that he was tempted to pull his cuffs up, leaning over Sofia at a body-dump in the desert. Sweat was getting into the bandage, too. Sofia didn't notice, Sofia didn't see, even when he pulled up his sleeves to blow on the irritated, painful skin.

At the lab before his shift ended, Hodges looked at his wrist, looked at Greg's face, and rolled his eyes. It was vindicating when Hodges said, "that black trace? Some kind of motor oil. It was a body dump, right?" and didn't even ask.

Greg changed, checked his messages, slammed his locker, and felt the buzzing in his head abate when he looked at the gauze on his wrist.

-

It turned out that two of the girls who worked in the office pushing around all the paperwork that the LVPD created, they liked his eyeliner. He took them out, got them drunk, and took them home. The taller one's name was Marilyn, and the short one's name was Sarah. Greg focused on the 'h' as he tied her wrists up carefully, her brown eyes wide, trusting, scared, excited. The sex was pretty good, but they were so grateful that he told them straight-up that it was a one-time thing.

"Oh," Sarah said. Marilyn looked disappointed, but Sarah seemed to understand. She asked, "can I make some coffee?"

Greg shrugged, grinned easily. "I'll buy you breakfast for coffee," he answered, because he wasn't interested in breaking in girls looking for a good time, looking for someone to teach them what was what, but he was polite. He'd broken in enough people over the years; Greg's obligations for mentoring in bed were fulfilled.

While Marilyn was filling the coffee pot, Sarah said, "Can I ask why you don't want to do it again?"

Giving him an out. Greg felt a tingle in his stomach, nausea from the drinking, nausea from everything. He should have eaten this evening before taking them out. At least he didn't work tomorrow. "I'm a good fling," he finally said, putting his shoes on, "but not a great long-term adventure. You wanna find someone else for that."

Greg focused on the laces in his sneakers, but out of the corner of his eye, he could see Sarah's face. Something in her look bothered him. It might have been sympathy. He decided to introduce her to some people he knew, because there were a couple of people who'd love to meet her, would be more than happy to be a long-term adventure.

He knotted, then re-knotted, his left shoe, took a breath, got his game-face back. Greg bounced up and grinned at them both. "I think I know someone you'd like to meet," he said to them. Marilyn raised an eyebrow; Sarah just looked at him, head tilted, and the gaze was so familiar, so patently unreadable, that his stomach roiled for a moment.

-

"All I'm saying is that I don't want to ever get that far, man," Greg heard Nick say, and then, "cause, really, Greg's kind of destroyed, you know?"

and then Warrick turned around and Greg nodded curtly, and stepped into Trace. Looked around for Hodges, because he actually had a reason for being here, and they probably did too, but he didn't want to assume anything. "Hodges around?" he asked, neutrally, and stared at the poster on the wall for some stupid band that Hodges liked and was probably prog-rock.

Nick and Warrick glanced at each other - at least Greg assumed they did, since he was focused on the poster. Nick finally offered up, "sorry, dunno. There's results for you on the bench, I think?"

Greg nodded, because if he was an asshole, at least he wouldn't be one vocally at work. "Thank you," he said, scooping up the folder, and then, "I gotta--" and he ducked out as if he were really swamped. People in the lab ducked out on each other all the time, so it could be construed as being a bitch, but only if they chose to take it that way, and that was out of his hands. He was a bitch, too, Greg'd decided recently, so that was also out of his hands.

In the hallway, he leaned against the wall and rubbed his eyes. The temptation to try and catch the cadence of Nick and Warrick's voices, the words, the phrases, all the things they obviously had to say, was nearly unbearable. But he took a breath, and walked away, and felt better for the denial of them, and worse for the empty feeling in his stomach. Such was life.

-

"Nick says you were a bit--" and Sofia waggled her hand in the air, to signify something.

Greg sighed. Sofia had done so well on the moratorium about discussing the graveyard shift, too. "I didn't say anything."

"Oh," she said, and dropped it.

-

He went dancing with some friends from college that came to Vegas for the weekend on a whim, and he even ended up flirting with this guy that offered to let him crash in his hotel room for the night rather than pay for a huge cab fare back to his apartment. It was all great, the kissing was great, the thinking-about-something-else was great, but the guy wasn't single, and Greg wasn't quite drunk enough to want to get his buddy from school in shit. he wished he were, but he wasn't.

Coming home to his apartment was a let-down, kind of a massive one, but it wasn't one that made him want to just stick his head in the oven. He didn't work tomorrow, at least, so the mopey hangover was going to be all by himself, which was also good, and really, Greg deserved a day of pain to make up for hitting on a practically-married guy.

That was the point, nearly throwing up in the toilet and generally feeling so physically ill that he didn't feel upset or down-- that was the point when Greg realized: drinking and dancing and feeling hollow on the inside by forcing desperate, painful, agonizing sensation on the outside wasn't working anymore. Realized that Vegas might have all those fetish clubs, and Lady Heather might have told him where to go since she was out of business, but he wouldn't bother going back.

Greg pulled himself into bed, and got a sharp implement. He pressed it against his leg - where no one would see - but it barely dented the skin before he sighed, and just put it down. It didn't work anyway, it didn't take the edge off - didn't make him feel - so why give a coroner something else to look at whenever it was that he kicked it.

-

act four: day shift sucks, and swing shift too

-

these days, Greg looked in the mirror and saw a stranger. He preferred to flirt with the new techs, the ones that only knew the vague stories and thought he was hot shit. Preferred the blank slate. "So," he said, and stared at the girl at the front counter.

She flushed, looked away, looked back at him in that way that all of them did-- and Greg wanted to roll his eyes. It was too easy, and he didn't want anything anyway, so he politely made his way into the office, and resolved not to flirt with anyone anymore.

Sofia commented on it. "You're quiet these days," she said.

Greg shrugged. "I have a bad habit of saying the right thing at the wrong time," he answered cryptically, and bent over the microscope. He realized, suddenly, that he'd been on days for two months now. Absence makes the heart forgetful, he thought bitterly, and made a notation on his report.

-

That afternoon, Greg found himself taking a five minute lunch break, skimming a journal article because bringing in reading material to avoid the fact that he didn't have any energy at work was always easier-- and Catherine came into the break room, and didn't seem intent on leaving.

"hey," Greg said, because he was pretty sure that was what you did when you saw someone you used to know, and didn't anymore. He didn't smile at her, went back to his book. Greg figured Catherine would say hi back, pour a cup of coffee, and walk out, or at the very least ignore him, but instead she poured a cup of coffee, and leaned against the counter. Greg felt her stare on the top of his head as he kept flipping through the journal, but didn't raise his head.

"Greg," Catherine started, seriously, and only Catherine could manage to make his voice sound like a saddened reprimand. Except not at all; Catherine was not at all the only person who could do that. Most people did that. Except, no, because no one talked to him, and he didn't know why she was even bothering, either. Greg looked up, finally, lips pursed. Catherine asked him, "are you really going to head full-tilt in the other direction forever?"

He knew she was trying to help. He stood up, and picked up his lunch. Time to get back to work. "I'm committed," he said, and tried to add a crooked smile, to show there weren't any hard feelings. He could have stuck around to find out if the smile worked, if he'd really convinced her, but the whole point was that he shouldn't want to know, it ruined the whole point. He added, "I've gotta get back to work," and left.

-

He stopped bringing in reading material to the office after that; stopped taking lunch.

-

The problem with not 'partying and then getting to work by seven' anymore was that Greg had a lot more time to think at work, a lot more restless, pent-up energy, where before he'd typically just been hung-over or exhausted. He found himself joking with Sofia, and she actually started joking back; he went out to lunch with one of the other rookies a couple of times, and found himself enjoying bits and pieces of his day. That was when Greg got really concerned, because each piece that he fooled himself into being happy meant the rest of the day was twice as bad. Forgetting what people were really like would only bite you in the ass.

"Greg?" Sofia waved a hand in front of his face. "Are you with us?"

He blinked, once, but said, "yeah. I think we're looking for a dual-coloured car," and caught himself as he started to say something else. He didn't want to feel easy in her company. He didn't want to feel easy in anyone's company, least of all at work where you couldn't up and leave. Labs blew up, people were kidnapped, people got bored of your company, you started acting like yourself and people stared at you like you were psychotic. It was tiring.

"Greg, are you all right?"

This was the problem with not being hung-over at work a lot - the physically-sick feeling kept him from thinking too much. Now, he had all the faculties to interact with people. But Sofia was asking because making sure he was all right would help his work ethic, keep a good team together, would be beneficial to cases. That was pretty effective at putting him back on edge. "I'm good," he told her, and knew she'd leave it alone, because she always did.

-

"You paged?"

It was easy not to get attached to Hodges - Hodges, who grated on everyone's nerves, who had no social skills, whom Greg felt a strange affectionate for, simply because he would never really be a friend. "I have--" Hodges said with a flourish, "your results."

 

Greg looked at the sheet, then up. "And it adds up to?"

Hodges looked mildly disappointed, as if Greg weren't appreciating the effort he'd gone through in order to be nice about it. "Simple talcum powder," he replied, and then, "you know what people get up to with talcum powder?"

"Yes, I do," Greg said absently. "Did you have to look it up?"

Hodges looked more disappointed, but then perked up. "Oh, you've been out in the field most of the last two days, so I bet you haven't heard yet?"

"What?" Greg didn't care, no matter what it could be.

"About Sara?" Greg didn't look up, and Hodges - determined to get a rise out of Greg some way in this conversation, Greg was sure - added, "she's transferred back to L.A."

Greg didn't look up. "Hodges?" he replied.

"Yes?"

Greg didn't say 'go fuck yourself,' because in his own, strange, socially deficient way, Greg knew Hodges was trying to help. He thought the news would be welcome, or at least satisfying, in a petty way, to know. All Greg knew was that he was going to have to pull a double shift now, to stop the buzzing in his brains and his ears, to stop relentless thoughts from stirring his grey matter into dust. Maybe they'd be shorthanded in DNA, and he could process leftovers for swing shift, just to keep busy.

"What?" Hodges said, and Greg said,

"just don't talk to me about stuff other than cases right now, okay?" and he hadn't meant for it to come out like that, because it wasn't really Hodges' fault. It was just, usually the trace analyst for mornings was some twenty-three year old keener who only wanted to talk about surfing, as if Greg weren't thirty years old. But Hodges should have been safe enough, and that was why he came into the lab in the first place; Hodges shouldn't have been someone that reminded him of where he wasn't. He was making day shift work, days and swings, except for this.

He left, on the heels of some grumbling about brainiac CSIs that didn't remember their roots, and Greg wanted to laugh until he cried, because he'd pried his roots up pretty thoroughly recently, and snapped off both ends.

-

"Greg. How are you?"

the question was so obviously rote that Greg answered just as rote, "Fine," even though he really didn't want to be having this conversation. He didn't ask how Grissom was, however, because he didn't care anymore. "I heard you're one down on graves again," Greg blurted, and then he immediately regretted not calling it 'nights'. Despite all the other reasons, it must have been hard working night shift these days for all of them with Sara gone. There were always too many overtime hours in the day, even without a CSI gone, but he didn't care so he shouldn't have mentioned it.

The sun was shining dimly through the blinds - it was just one more difference about getting used to not working nights, being used to seeing open blinds at the lab. The dawn sun was shining through the blinds, and Greg was just coming on-shift and Grissom was obviously not done yet, and still Grissom had sought him out despite the ten hours he'd already worked. Greg didn't want to have this conversation but for some reason Grissom did. Grissom answered, "we'll find someone to pick up Sara's cases," and he didn't even sound unhappy about it, and Greg said so. "I'm not," Grissom told him, and then, "she had a good offer, she was happy for it. It was better than we could give her."

The unspoken 'than I could' hung in the air, even as a supervisor. "I guess shifts change up," Greg replied. He had no idea what he was supposed to be saying, because he hadn't hardly spoken to Grissom in months, and nothing so-- so personal, not while Grissom looked so sad.

"They do," Grissom said, and moved a half-step closer. That was dangerous territory for Greg, who didn't want to hear anything else on the topic, but couldn't seem to leave. "It-- Sara made a good choice, I think," Grissom added, quietly. "She left for good reasons. I couldn't teach her anything else." He paused. "But I feel like-- I shouldn't have let you transfer, Greg."

And this was fucking ridiculous. "Look, Gil--" and that hadn't meant to come out, but there was nothing for it now-- "I don't, I mean, just because I can't learn as much from days as I could from you guys, it's not why I transferred." Greg hung his head. This shift was going to suck major ass, like he didn't have enough to worry about with the case and the other rookie that wanted him dead this week for knowing more about it. And he was covering on swing as well.

Greg knew, with rising clarity, that Gil had sought him out at work so that the conversation could be strictly controlled and was methodical enough for Gil's intense fear of expression. Greg said, "I didn't leave graves because you weren't a good boss," and fuck it if calling it graves was morbid and said it out loud how it haunted them all.

"I didn't mean because of that," Gil said quietly. Greg was left sitting on the bench in the empty locker room, feeling strung out and old, and trying to decide whether he was angrier at Gil for coming to talk to him at the beginning of his shift, or at himself for - after all this time - still partly believing him.

He took a breath, closed his eyes, opened them, and mentally prepared himself for quietly getting through his day. Looked up, and, and Gil was still standing in the doorway, another half-step closer, as if he was fighting against himself. His hands were folded in front of him, and the blinds were still closed.

-

"I don't want to have this conversation, Gil--" but there he was again. He'd managed to get up the courage to corner Greg in the parking lot, this time, at least. Whatever. No mercy, that was Greg's motto, no mercy for anyone-- "I can barely look at you anymore."

"Why?"

Gil's voice was even and steady, as if nothing rattled him, and Greg was back to being angry, sad, roiling inside. He should have moved to New York when they offered last month. "Because I--" and Greg stopped, sighed, leaned against his car, and gave up on not crying at work. He was empty and stuffed with straw, with cotton. If they did an autopsy, they'd find padding, not blood and tissue and muscle.

Greg took a breath. "Because I used to think you were the best at everything, and now all I can see is a middle-aged guy who can't even bring himself to talk to his ex without the barrier of work to hide behind," Greg snapped. It was cruel, but he was done, and he could always call New York back; would, as soon as Gil left.

Gil closed his eyes, a little smile on his face. Greg didn't need this, but then Gil answered, "you're right," and, "I know that, that I'm closed-off. But no one except you ever just asked."

Greg laughed, short, sad. He twisted the grocery bag he was holding up in his hands, felt the plastic handles cut into his knuckles. He asked, "what?"

Gil moved over to lean against Greg's car, beside Greg. He stared at their shoes, and so did Greg, and Gil told him, "you casually ask all the things no one else ever did."

"I really wanted to impress you," Greg said. It should have been embarrassing to confess, but Greg was done, and his hands were shaking thinking about Gil, and disappointment, and fires, and unlocked doors, and guns, and all of it was worse, and none of it was better. No one was really better. Greg added, "guess I just kept fucking that up."

"No one was ever as determined to be themselves as you were," Gil replied. Greg glanced up, startled, trying to see if it was a joke, but Gil was serious. "To be so chaotic, all of the time. That impressed me."

"I thought you hated it," Greg said. "All that punk in the lab."

"I didn't like the music," Gil admitted.

Well, no one did. "I don't even know who I am anymore," Greg said, and shrugged. "what I need. what I want. it's all gone, like-- ash. or something."

"When?" Gil asked, and Greg knew he wasn't asking if it were him, but Greg answered anyway,

"not us. Not mostly. I think it was the fire. nick." greg sighed again, added, "everything. something." He scuffed his sneaker against the pavement, leaving dirt on his shoe instead of rubber on the parking lot. Wasn't that just the way life went. "I should have taken the job in New York," Greg blurted out, suddenly. He shouldn't have told Gil, since technically Gil had no say in his job anymore, and no say in his personal life either, except it was months, and Gil was still the one he wanted to prove himself to, and all he ever did was look stupider in comparison, not even able to stick to the plan to get over him, and Gil must have known it.

"It sounds like," Gil told him quietly, "you don't even know what's going on inside yourself." Gil continued to stare down at the pavement, somehow paralyzed, unable to move closer, unable to move away. Typically Greg had no troubles with it, but today he was the same, a statue. "So how could I-- I couldn't ask for, when you--" Gil started, then stopped. He tried again, with a quote that Greg would recognize. "Perhaps it was Helen's way of falling in love--a curious way to Margaret. Helen forgot people. They were husks that had enclosed her emotion."

"Forster," Greg said, and shook his head, because all of it was true, and none of it was better. "Yeah," Greg said thickly, and "I'm sorry," to which Gil shook his head, and "I'm gonna go," to which Gil's mouth twisted, and he finally nodded.

-

act five: night shift sucks; it is what it is.

-

Greg moved to new york because no one gets a fairy tale ending. He called Sara, the first night on the east coast, and she answered with a distracted, "hello?"

"Why'd you leave?" he asked, with no greeting. He wasn't going to pretend that he was calling to find out how she was, that he was interested in their rekindled friendship. It was six in the morning in New York, and it was three in the morning in Los Angeles, and apparently they were still working midnights, which should have meant something but instead it just meant a rising sun through hundred-storey skyscrapers instead of million dollar hotels.

"Hang on--" and she murmured something to someone, hand over the phone. Greg could picture her, standing out in the desert somewhere, except she'd have a better tan, and different hair, because nothing ever stays the same. "I left because I could get a better position, and LA is my home," she told him. "What about you?"

"What?"

Sara said, "Why'd you leave? Grissom says you didn't even consider the Vegas or SFPD offer."

Greg swallowed. He shrugged, then felt extremely ridiculous as she couldn't see him do it. He said, "I like to look forward, not back."

Sara hung up the phone, clearly dissatisfied. truth be told, greg wasn't that happy himself.