Greg Sanders was dying.
All humans were, really, from the moment they were born. But he could feel the touch of death as a clock within his mind, every tick a call, a heartbeat closer to no heartbeats at all.
He was almost glad. Once, when he was young and the first of them had died, he had thought he would be afraid of death when it came to him. But time and loss and dying friends had made death almost like a friend itself.
He was the last left now. The last of their self-made family, the last of their team, the last of the fighters. The last.
Nick had been the first.
A convenience store. Two armed robbers. One young teller. One off-duty criminalist. Shots fired. Hostages pinned down.
Nick Stokes about to be a hero.
"You listen to me! I'll protect you. I promise. I'll protect you."
The teller is young, so very young and her pulse thunders against his hand. Too young. Nick will not let her die like this.
"It's okay. So am I. When I stand up, you run out to those waiting officers. You run and don't look back, whatever happens. You understand. Say you promise!"
Up he goes and gun aimed, guns swung around and aimed at him.
The shots are loud.
She doesn't look back.
Nick had all broken them all. Grissom had retreated further still into the shadows of himself. There was nothing left of him to hold Sara back and Sara left, breaking Greg's heart. He'd always known she would, but still, it had hurt.
And Nick hadn't been there with comforting beers and talk about all the fish in the sea.
Through it all, Catherine and Warrick had quietly lingered together, grieved together and managed to surprise everyone with a sudden marriage and baby. Evil tongues of Ecklie-wannabees had muttered about it not lasting, but it had. Greg had won fifty bucks from Hodges on that.
He'd spent it on beers and let the toasts be silent.
Little Kathleen Brown had even lured Grissom back to the world. And for a while, they had been happy, even without Nick, even without Sara. A sort of a family, the spines of a family.
"I'm tired, Warrick."
"I know, babe. You showed all those doctors wrong for so long. I love you."
"I love you too."
Slow breaths, waves crashing against the land, pushing forward, falling back. Pushing forward, falling back. In the waves, Lindsey with Kathleen, playing, smiling, laughing.
"I'm glad you took me out of the hospital and on this trip. It's beautiful here."
A nod from him, a caress from the wind.
"I think I'll just rest a while."
Her head is light in his lap, no burden at all. Never a burden at all.
"You sleep," he whispers. "You sleep now."
Beautiful, passionate Catherine, a ghost in the end, but still clinging on, Warrick still holding her. Fighting until the end. Strangely, it was not Warrick her death had broken. Warrick still had their child, had Lindsey, had the ghost of kisses past. Grissom had nothing.
At least, until she came back.
His office is a grave, dark and suffocating him. Nick's gave. Catherine's grave. His grave.
No surprise, but a brief moment of tenderness in his voice speaking her name. He cannot help it.
"I heard about Cath. I'm so sorry."
"Warrick told you?"
"You didn't have to come."
"Whatever else, Catherine and I shared death together. I had to come."
He nods, knowing. The pain screams now, echoing through every vein of his body. He can't breathe, can't live, can't look.
Her hand is soft on his shoulder.
"It's okay, Gil. You can cry. Let go. I'll hold on. I'll hold on."
He cries and her embrace is a womb returned.
Sara came back and broke Greg's heart again, but he wasn't angry. You could not help who you loved and wanted to help. Still, he had hoped.
There was no cake in the break room when Grissom left, but only because he didn't tell anyone he was leaving. Only Sara, and she left with him. Where they went, Greg never found out. But the postmarks on the packages carrying Kathleen's birthday gifts changed every year, a slow trek across the land. Perhaps they went where they wanted to.
Even at the end, they went together.
It is raining, like a constant bombardment, hard water on hard earth.
"You were always an inconsiderate supervisor, Grissom. Leaving the lab like that. I had to clean up your mess and your files for months. The paperwork…"
Ecklie pauses, regarding the two graves. Dying in sleep, dying together. He doesn't understand.
"The paperwork I managed," he says now. "Brown made a good supervisor. Well, I… I just thought you should know that. You know… One CSI to another."
A breath, a stream of water down his coat and to the grass growing. The entomologist and the loose cannon with a gun, ashes now in the earth.
No. Not loose cannon with a gun. Wrong weapon. Loose cannon with Grissom's heart. He still doesn't understand why Grissom let her wield it in the end. Not Grissom, ever in control. Why give that up?
"I hope she was worth it."
The rain thunders on and answers not.
Still breaking his heart, Sara. Still holding on to Grissom. Warrick had understood. It had taken a while for Greg to.
Love was not a fairytale, pink sunrise and ever after. It was a poison and a fight and still the most wonderful thing of all. Sara had loved Grissom and Grissom had loved Sara, even through hurt, separation and time.
Warrick had understood very well. He had never remarried.
And through it all, Brass had marched on, battered and grim, bearing all losses, doing his job, defying calls for early retirement.
Perhaps it had been inevitable.
"Hey, Warrick. Lindsey's coming?"
"Greg. Yeah. She got caught up in traffic. She'll be here any minute. She got praise from her supervising doctor last week, did I tell you?"
Only about a million times, Greg doesn't say.
"Catherine would be proud of her."
Brass would be proud too, Greg is certain.
A well-attended funeral for Jim Brass, this. One of their own. Fallen in the line of duty. Even the mayor coming.
And in the back, a silent blonde is looking at nothing at all, her body longing for the drugs she's vowed to fight, the drugs she always vows to fight.
"Oh, dad," she whispers.
Even then, the lab still went on. He was there and Warrick was there, watching the new recruits come and go, the lab ever-changing. Not much their lab anymore, even if Warrick was the boss and ran it like a tight ship, trying very hard to be Catherine and Grissom and Sara and Nick all in one. Trying very hard to endure forever.
Cars did not endure forever.
The garage is haunting, but Greg does not leave, even if he knows he should. He should not work the case of his boss's murder.
Yes. Murder. A drunk driver slamming into another car, causing it to crash and the driver to die. That is murder. Murderers are put to justice.
For Kathleen. For Lindsey. For Catherine. For Warrick.
"I'm gonna nail the guy who did this. I promise."
The wrecked car is silent, but the blood stains are screaming.
The guy had been shot evading an arrest by an almost-retired Vega. Greg had not grieved, nor felt guilty. He knew the trigger had been pulled for Warrick and that too was a sort of murder, but he could not make himself care.
He had known it was time to quit then.
His wife had been glad. They'd watched their children have children, watched life grind away at them all. Judy had slept into death, but he had not mourned too hard. She'd healed his heart and so he would never lose her and very soon, he would have no reason to mourn at all.
No reason at all.
He watches the rain on his window, tapping a call against the glass. His children have left. His doctor has left, ever persistent that he must eat.
Her hands are as soft as her mother's and he likes her touch. Doctor Lindsey Willows, beautiful even as she is aging.
She will grieve him. His children will grieve him. Kathleen will grieve for him, even if they have not spoken in years. He is sad for them, but knows grief is life, is still being human.
It is time now. He has fought long, endured and suffered and grieved and lived. The last now.
They had all been fighters. Nick, Catherine, Warrick, Grissom, Sara and him. But even fighters heed Valhalla's call, Papa Olaf had told him a lifetime ago.
New names and new religion, but the truth remains. Even fighters must heed death.
He watches the rain on his windows and smiles at the sound.