And there, there overhead, there, there, hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark, the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,
There in the sudden blackness, the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing — nothing at all.
-- from The End of the World by Archibald MacLeish
Every morning, when the light breaks across the horizon, he will wake and he will walk. He'll count his footsteps as he goes, and for every hundred steps he'll send up a prayer of thanks. Maybe it'll be for his life, maybe it'll be for the others, but he'll walk, he'll count and he'll pray.
Does it still hurt? It won't be the question Greg is expecting, but it's the one he'll get.
He'll shrug, as much as he can, and try to give a reassuring smile. Sometimes. In places I can't feel.
The first thing to get used to will be the smell of soot, thick billowing clouds of smoke from endless pyres and bonfires. For a couple of nights, maybe a week, the fires will be uncontrollable, rageful. After that they'll be welcomed as harbingers of heat - a way to sanitise water supplies and surgical implements. A way to keep warm at night. The air will be thick and unclean. But he'll get used to it.
Lindsey Willows will have a harder time with it, and Doc Robbins, too, but they'll mostly keep to the morgue where it will take longer for the smoke to filter through. Greg won't be able to tell if there really is smog to worry about, or if the smell has is simply clinging to his nostrils, but the daytime heat will still be fairly oppressive so it will make sense to guess things are still burning. If Greg starts every morning walking and counting, Catherine will be doing the same: walking towards the larger wrecks and counting out the bodies. Soon there will be no more survivors, only corpses, and lungs aching from breathing in the dust.
Nick and Warrick will leave early in the day, too, and that everyone touches base at the lab will not surprise Greg, although Hodges will remark on it repeatedly. That is, once he gets back to his usual self. The first week will leave every one more fragile than before. But Nick and Warrick will leave together everyday after unearthing another pair of dust masks from storage. Sometimes the masks will come back intact and they'll use them again the next day, but mostly the men will return without them, discard them somewhere in the city, cracked and useless. Nick will develop scars around his mouth where the plastic will cut into his skin, leaving him red-faced and sore beneath his dirty stubble.
They'll leave early in the day, shovels in hand, masks hanging from their necks and one kit between the two of them, filled to the brim with medical supplies, anything that can be fashioned from the chemicals in the lab. They won't ask for company, normally nod their greetings to Greg as he comes in, but they'll stick close to each other, leaning on one another for support. Greg will almost feel jealousy, but won't acknowledge it. The time will never seem right.
The easiest thing to begin to operate will be the water supplies because the pumps in the desert will remain unaffected by the rampages. It'll be a small blessing because the electricity will be more difficult to engage. There will be no news but word of mouth, no telephone lines or cell phone operators. No internet. But there will be clean water and, eventually, light. There will be no shows, and yet still prostitution. The strip will be levelled, hollowed out, yet the city of sin will never lay dark, first for pyres and then for light all over the skyline when the generators finally come back online. It will take time, but the lights will burn on.
People will group in pairs out of instinct, and whilst some people will find themselves sliding from group to group, the patterns will be immediate and noticeable. Archie will take to keeping tabs on Hodges and Mandy, but once a day he'll wander through to find Greg. Certain subjects will be off-limits. For Archie those will be clean underwear, body counts and rations. For Greg they'll be coffee, body counts and family, though not necessarily in that order.
Archie will find him, usually when he comes back in from his morning walk, or just before he hunkers down to sleep, and he'll have food of some sort on hand. Even if Archie doesn't eventually mark the topic a no-go zone, Greg won't ask him where the food comes from. He'll just take it, and be grateful that there's anything at all. Unless, of course, Archie brings meat or eggs, and then Greg will leave him to it. (Archie will catch on after the third time, and will stick to packaged food.) Greg will wonder if he's the only one getting the food, and if he should maybe offer some of it to Lindsey and Catherine, but Archie will normally stick around to make sure he finishes whatever's been brought, so Greg's ideas of chivalry won't really get fulfilled.
Brass and Sofia will come in every night and report to Ecklie. Sure, it'll be the end of the world as they know it, but protocol and chain of command will lend familiarity to an unfamiliar fight. That won't stop Sofia from decking Ecklie one night, a move that'll find her awarded with a never-ending run of night shifts, but also a never-ending supply of alcohol. Typical, then, that she'll still be partnered with Brass, the one man in their team who'll still have to say no to a little liquor.
The two will wander in one night just as Warrick and Nick come back, nearly always bloodied in some way, and Sofia will pass over a couple of bottles that she'll have been toting with her in her bag. Nick will smile, use the alcohol to clean some of his cuts, but Warrick will shake his head. Whole damn world's gone to pot, and you've got Bud on tap. Brass will make a joke of some sort. This will be nothing new.
Sofia will have the local body counts, and she'll come in to talk to Catherine, sometimes just to have someone other than Brass to talk to though a lot of the time it's to confirm the numbers. When Catherine rolls her shoulders and straightens, that will be the signal that the meeting is over, and Sofia will head out for the late patrol. Considering they all once worked the graveyard shift, it should surprise Greg that people have reverted to daylight hours. But he won't envy Sofia's position; night will still be when the crazies come out to play.
Some mornings, just as Greg will be about to make his dawn-time stroll, he'll see Sofia as she comes back in. (Brass will take to covering her across the morning, just so that she can get some damn sleep.) She'll look up as he heads towards her and offer a small smile. Hey. You off out again? Greg will smile in reply, shrug his shoulders in answer. Sofia will nod.
Then they'll part ways.
The topic no-one will want to breach is what the hell Grissom spends his time doing. He'll leave the building after Sofia each night and come back sometime after midday. His office will be one of the few parts of the labs to be completely destroyed within the first few days of chaos. Between them, Brass, Catherine, Doc Robbins - and, on occasion Hodges, of all people - will try to intervene as he enters or departs the premises, but no-one will really be able to get him to talk about what he does in the city. Sometimes he'll return with dirt on his hands, a new tear in his shirt, and those will be the times that no-one says a word. Greg will watch him from afar, hand in pocket, pulling at a loose thread, spectating just like the old days. When Grissom turns tail and walks in the opposite direction, Greg will keen from the sense of abandonment.
Three months in, Warrick will storm back into the labs without Nick, though covered in dust and grime. Nick will return at his usual time, at his usual pace, face blackened with soot. The fires still burn in the city, now more to deal with the dead than any other reason. The heat becomes a second skin, itchy and unbearable. Greg will approach his friend quietly, a bottle of stale water proffered as a gesture of peace. Nick will ward him off anyway, then reconsider, and beckon him back.
Thanks, man. He'll take a long draught as though Greg has offered him something cool and refreshing. Greg will be glad the guy doesn't just up and walk off. He won't ask, but Nick will answer anyway, slumping against the wall and sliding down to meet the ground. We found Tina. Greg won't answer, won't have anything to say, but he'll put his head to the wall and close his eyes, pushing with his heels to increase the pressure on his skull, thinking maybe that if he can focus all his energies in one place, maybe he can wake himself up and find that it has all been a dream. His shoulder will ache, but he'll stand still, with Nick sitting by his feet, head in hands.
(When the chaos first breaks out, Greg and Sara will be at a crime scene. They're two of the first responders to the first building to go down, and they, like everyone else, will begin to pull away at the mountain of rubble, trying to unearth the injured and the trapped. The first forty-eight hours will be uniform: smoke, dust, soot, pain, blood and death. Sara will cling to Greg's hand as his eyes wander in shock; she'll yell over the roar of noise. Greg, Greg! Hey-- we have to stick together, okay? Greg will nod. They'll set off for the next site, and the one after that together, always narrowly missing the impact itself, yet ever close on hand. They'll clear eight sites and by the ninth Greg will realise, somewhat sickeningly, that they've established a rhythm. Later he'll ask Sara if that doesn't bother her and after a long pause, she'll sigh. I guess we just adapt. To anything, everything. They'll be taking shelter at a storage facility huddled away from the masses; it will be early in the morning, nearing four o'clock. Sara will cough violently, trying to clear her lungs. Her voice will never recover from the raspy quality it obtains. She'll ask him what he's thinking.
Looks like the end of the world, huh? he'll joke. Later he'll wish he hadn't.)
The initial plan will be to help as far as they can, and then touch base at the labs to see where everyone else is. They'll make it back in one piece, and Greg will be certain he's never seen Grissom so relieved. They won't see Catherine, but Nick will let them know that she and Warrick have gone to find Lindsey. The television sets scream static, the radio news reports will be confused and horrific before cutting out completely. Ecklie will pair people off, send them out to help, to lift the concrete with their hands and help in any way that they can. In the morning, Sara will make to move out, only to look to her side and see Greg there, too. They will step out together, just as before.
You know, I always figured the end of the world would involve, you know, chemical warfare. Robots. Hodges, naturally, will have a list of apocalyptic scenarios, and - naturally - he'll want to share them whilst people are sitting down to eat. They will eat in the morgue, a place that will eventually feel like home to Greg. He'll spend a good portion of his time there, keeping Lindsey company, playing chess with the Doc. The problem with sitting with Robbins too long is that eventually he'll want to ask if anyone's heard from Dave, and it will inevitably get awkward because of course, no-one has.
Food will be rationed strictly, even more so when the military sets up station at the city's perimeter bringing a quarantine into practice. They're trying to stop the cities from evacuating, Mandy will inform them, as though she has a secret news source. The city, sprawling though it may be, will feel tense and claustrophobic, and tempers will begin to flare. The danger zone will arrive. The debris will have stopped falling, but the riots will take their place. The streets will remain unsafe.
Zombie death-virus, maybe, Hodges will continue to drone; people will continue to ignore him. Lindsey will mime throwing her cutlery at him and Greg will laugh uncontrollably, even when Hodges seems offended. Nick and Warrick will salvage some meat from somewhere that looks vaguely edible, but Greg will forgo it anyway, sticking to the bread that Sofia brings in before heading out again with Brass. Archie will come over, offer a stick of gum. He'll roll his eyes in Hodges' direction, and Greg will laugh again, even when his shoulder protests.
Abruptly, Archie will stop smiling, and Greg will follow the direction of his gaze to see Sara leaning against the doorjamb. She'll be wearing the same tank top she was sporting at that last crime scene, but it'll have been cleaned a couple of times since then. She'll look bone tired, and a little too thin, and Greg will realise he's missed seeing her around. She'll look him in the eye, but she won't smile. Where's Grissom?
Catherine will answer - He just got in; he's on the south side. Where've you been, anyway? - but Sara won't look away from Greg.
Does it still hurt? Not the question he'll expect, and yet, the only one he'll get.
Early on, Sara will assign herself to one of the rotary patrols, getting food to the people in the relatively unscathed suburbs and fielding refugees to pubic buildings - schools, gymnasiums, sports stadiums. The early civilian groups will eventually be taken over by the military, but the goals will remain the same: help the population, fend them away from the hospitals and deal with the escalating body counts. Of everyone, Sara will be the least likely to stop in at the labs. Greg will see her once every few weeks, maybe watch as she washes her clothes, but she'll keep to herself or go and sit wherever it is that Grissom is holed up. Greg will about her in her absence, mostly from Sofia who sometimes sees her on the streets. Sofia will seem to go out of her way to let Greg know, and he'll appreciate it, whatever the woman's intentions. He'll rub his shoulder anxiously which will earn him a concerned look, but people won't like to mention it.
Once the military assumes full control, Greg expects Sara will show up again, maybe to help Catherine with the rebuilding teams, or Warrick and Nick, but instead she'll tag on with a few people from day shift and head out to the city limits where who knows what is going on. There's construction going on, big time, Mandy will opine, underground bunkers. They're getting ready to evacuate the populus. Greg won't believe her, but he'll entertain the possibility whilst trying to fall asleep. He'll wonder what Sara's doing, and if she knows it wasn't her fault. His arm will itch; he won't be able to reach to scratch it.
By the fifth month, things should be getting better, but they won't be. Frustrations will be high from the enforced quarantine and diminishing rations. News will remain ever scarce, with rumours being fuelled by growing fears of death. Desperate times will lead to ever desperate measures. Catherine, Warrick and Nick will stop aiding the recovery and clearance units, and start patrolling alongside Sofia and Brass. Grissom will come out of hiding, sitting down across from Robbins at his chess board. Mandy and Hodges will try to keep Lindsey occupied, and Archie will stay close to Greg; he'll be grateful for the company.
The first sign of trouble will be the shouts from up above, and for a moment Greg will wonder if the chaos has erupted again. When the yells are echoed by bullet-fire, the group will rush to their feet, Doc Robbins at Greg's side and Lindsey not far behind. Some of the day shift will be there, too, and Grissom will make them help him to barricade the doors. In the distance they will hear a mass of terrible noise, human noise, and then, late in the day, the low unmistakeable rumble of concrete crumbling from on high. Greg will close his eyes, knock his head repeatedly against the wall until Lindsey halts him, her small hand gripping tightly onto his.
Catherine and Nick will make it back first, hauling someone from the day shift between them; Warrick will be next, and then Brass. There will be no sign of Sofia, but Brass will assure Greg that she is fine, that she's working to control the crowds. Mandy will sit with the guy from day shift with the bullet in his leg, squeezing his hand periodically more out of reflex than a need to comfort. Whilst Robbins removes the bullet, Mandy will fire questions continuously. What's going on? What fell? Where's Detective Curtis? Has the military broken perimeter? What the hell was that noise? Her questions will go unanswered.
The following day, Greg will wake to see Sofia sitting against the wall by the door. There will be a deep gash on her forehead, but her eyes will be clear. She won't say anything, but Greg will know: there'll be no walking that morning. An hour later Grissom will collect the few remaining lab workers and divide them into groups of four, leading them out to once again amass and aid the injured. Archie will sidle out the door apologetically, shrugging his shoulders in a what-can-you-do fashion. Once the groups vacate the morgue, it will just be the four of them: the Doc, Lindsey, Sofia and Greg. She'll come to sit next to him, stretching her limbs awkwardly against her varied bruises. She'll answer any questions Greg has, but as it will turn out, he won't have that many.
Eventually she'll sigh. I didn't see her out there. Greg will nod in reply, unable to make eye contact. He didn't expect any different. He'll shift uncomfortably, trying to ease the itch in his arm, trying to ignore the growing ache in the muscle. After a while, he'll try to get up, waking Sofia from her light sleep. Seeing his discomfort, a look of sympathy will flash across her face before she stands to help him up. The effort will wind him.
Phantom pains? Sofia will ask, nodding towards his left side.
Greg will try to shrug, but the burning sensation will get to be too much, and he'll have to nod instead. Want— he'll have to stop, take a breath, start again. Want to take a walk?
Sofia will smile; Greg will try not to think of Sara. Sure. Sounds like an idea.
Archie will come back around six in the evening, and Sofia will get up to lead the night patrol, even though by this point Ecklie will have long forgotten her transgression. Archie will help him settle against the wall and then offer him a bar of candy, unearthed from who knows where. Greg will smile; Archie will catch his eye. There'll be a pause.
Mandy and Hodges will burst through the doors, talking over one another like always. Grissom will follow them, tired and older, now more than before. He'll see Greg by the far wall and nod in his direction. Greg will exhale nervously. Archie will leave the candy with him, then stand and leave the room.
Thirty-two hours into the second week, he'll be trying to move a group of refugees out of the shell formerly known as the ER and back into the city. From his vantage point, he'll be able to see Sara doing the same in the structurally unsound ambulance bay. I know, he'll hear her saying, ma'am, I understand that you need somewhere to stay but this is not the place. Greg will give a humourless smile; it's a conversation he anticipates having many more times that week.
Sara will finally convince the mother-of-three to vacate the premises and give a long sigh, hands on her hips as she straightens, leaning back ever-so-slightly. Her mouth will be covered with one of Catherine's many silk scarves, a small measure against the smoke-clogged air. Greg will be able to see the sweat on her skin; will feel his own cloying at his face, hands, chest, legs, irritating and unrelenting. He'll glance at his watch - midday. Time to move to the next zone.
The signs will be subtle, and if Sara wasn't so exhausted she would have noticed them herself. Greg would be faster if he, too, had managed to sleep the night before. The ground will shudder beneath them, shocking them to reality. Sara will open her eyes and look up even as Greg begins to sprint towards her. The roof of the ambulance will rock once, twice, and erupt just as Greg launches himself in Sara's direction. Their bodies will collide side-on, and Greg's momentum will force Sara aside. And then— blackness.
He'll experience rare flashes of semi-consciousness; he'll have fleeting recollections of pain, Sara's face, Doc Robbins and Catherine. When he wakes, two days will have passed, and he'll see Nick and Warrick leaving the room, Sara hovering in the corner. She won't make eye-contact with him; her left arm will be red and scarred. Her lips will be raw from constant gnawing. Greg will try to speak, but his throat will be too dry; Robbins will give him a sip or two of water and ask him how he feels. The question will make him think; the answer should be, About as bad as when the lab decided to blow up but will actually be panic-fuelled.
Greg won't be able to feel his left arm.
When the Doc confirms the worst, Greg won't immediately understand, and then the pain will hit again, and he'll balk from consciousness. The last thing he will see is Sara exiting the room, quick march.
Some time during the seventh month, Greg will be drifting into unconsciousness when Archie will come to wake him. Hey man, get up. Greg-- He'll resent the intrusion, and his muscles will protest when he tries to sit up, but it will be worth it. Archie will smile broadly - you're never going to believe this-- hey, man, seriously, get up - and put the sphere into Greg's hand. The texture will confuse him at first, and then he'll curse beneath his breath, cutting into the flesh with his thumb nail.
The scent of citrus will smell like the sweetest thing he's ever smelt, and the juice, though a little bitter, will slide welcomed past his lips. Archie's grin will be triumphant, but Greg won't care. Breaking into the orange, the slices collapse under the work of his thumb, and the juice will squeeze abundantly into his hand. Come on, man, share and share alike, Archie protests which is when Greg lifts his hand to his friend's mouth. Archie will wait only a beat then incline his head to eat from Greg's hand, and then they'll both be laughing, lips saccharine and moist.
Catherine will find them both the next morning with sticky mouths and fingers, the smell of oranges in their flesh. She'll consider leaning down to kiss them, if only for a taste, before shaking her head and leaving for another long day's work.
He'll wake, he'll walk, he'll find the first unoccupied payphone, and he'll try to call Papa and Nana Olaf. The first two weeks the lines will be dead; thereafter there'll only be the monotonous ring of a disconnected line. He won't stop, though. He'll wake, he'll walk, he'll pray and he'll call before turning heel and heading back to the lab. Back to what he knows.