03 – Guilt or Grief

Grissom does more than a little soul searching when he is forced to contemplate whether or not to make public the gruesome discovery he made in Natalie’s cell.

Part of the Metamorphosis series. Follows “Stasis,” “The Rest is Silence” and  “Revisited: When Lady Heather Comes to Call,” and takes place during and after episode 907, “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda,”

circa late November 2008.

*******

An Abbreviated Exercise in Existentialism

Eight twenty-two.

It seems that the digital clock is stuck at 8:22.

For no matter how many times I check it, the numbers resolutely remain the same.

Eight twenty-two finds me in a nondescript parking lot, in front of what would be an equally nondescript building complex if not for the high rise of chain link fence topped by curls of razor wire. I am waiting,  still sitting in my car.

Waiting for the minutes to creep by until it is time for me to keep an appointment I am not exactly certain why I have agreed to make in the first place. 

More than eighteen months have passed since the last and only time I have spoken with Natalie Davis. Those eighteen months have been full of so many changes that I am not sure that it hasn’t been more like a whole lifetime ago. 

In the end, all those months in their passing have left me more bereft than I can remember. Bereft of you, of us, of myself. 

For I know I haven’t been myself lately. I haven’t been for a long time now. 

Who I have been, I am not sure, nor am I certain of whom I really am anymore. 

Heather’s recent reassurance of you are still you fails to ring true.   

But it is those words of Natalie’s that really cut me to the quick. 

I feel like I used to. Normal.

For the truth is, I don’t. I don’t feel like I used to. I don’t feel normal, no matter how much I may long for it and for that normality to return, for me to possess even a vague hint or semblance of it. 

As the days pass, it becomes harder and harder to keep on display that persona everyone expects from me. But as the real Gil Grissom behind the mask is not someone even I can quite face right now, I am rather loath to leave that pretense behind. 

Honestly, I don’t want to have to accept the overwhelming sense of finality that seems to hang over every act, every moment of every day. I don’t want to acknowledge how lost and alone I truly feel. I don’t want to live with the reality that more and more I find myself distracted and unable to focus to the point that dealing with the details has become problematic. I don’t want to constantly vacillate between numbness and listlessness. I don’t want the weariness and exhaustion to be my life. I don’t want to live in fear and in not knowing. I don’t want to keep replaying all the woulda, coulda, shouldas of my life in search of every mistake and misstep in some futile attempt to figure out some way to fix them. I don’t. 

But no matter what I do, I cannot seem to end the unquiet of my mind; I cannot seem to find stillness, peace, a moment, even just a single moment, to breathe, to be. 

I can barely concentrate long enough to get through a couple of pages in a book. The daily crosswords have become more like a chore than a distraction. I cannot even sit still long enough to watch TV. Or perhaps I just don’t have the patience for illusions at the moment. 

All I do know is that I want just one quiet moment to breathe and think, or at least attempt to, so that I can somehow collect myself before surrendering to what I have come to do. 

Yet another futile endeavor, or so it seems to prove, as I can neither seem to catch my breath, nor still the unending whirl of thoughts. 

So the pretense will have to do. 

I try to wipe the tiredness from my face, as last night, like most nights or afternoons, of late, had been made up of long stretches of sleeplessness punctuated not by intervals of actual rest, but of just more nightmares, the ones I cannot seem to shake. 

I find myself so often now, both awake and dreaming, in a place where there is nothing but locked doors and the sound of rain beating mercilessly down. My eyes itch with both the tears I know I still cannot let myself cry and the blowing sand. An almost gritty bitter taste fills my mouth and renders me unable to speak. No matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to get the dirt out from under my fingernails, in the same way I cannot seem to banish the memory and phantom of the blood on my hands that haunts me so often that I honestly wonder if my hands will ever be clean. Or if I  shall, like Lady Macbeth, ever be condemned to find the smell of it still upon them; where nothing, not even all the perfumes of Arabia, can sweeten them, or all the wash of time come and gone carry it away?

These same hands currently give me pause. For I find that for the first time in a long time, I am not so sure what to do with them. That question of what exactly I should do with my hands has troubled me ever since yesterday when she passed me in the hall and turned and gave me once again that look, the one that worries me even now. 

I am still trying to wrap my head around the uncanny and frankly discomforting notion that Natalie Davis may indeed know certain things about me that I neither know myself, nor realize that I am telling. 

It seems that I was expected. For there was no surprise on her face in that hearing room, only recognition and realization.

Somehow she knew. She knew even before I did that I would come.

I don’t know what precisely prompted me upon receiving the letter from the district attorney’s office about Natalie Davis’s transfer hearing to practically bolt from my office. It was happenstance that I had even read it in time, as it, not being a piece of correspondence related to a current investigation, had been relegated to the read later pile that over the last few months has become a much less daunting stack as I have been spending more, if not most, of my time behind my desk working, well, more like hiding, if truth be told. 

But the moment I opened that official notice and my eyes fell on her name, it flashed and flooded over me: the memories of those miniatures that were in some ways far more menacing than the crimes they depicted, of those rooms I had become so intimate with, the ones I had spent more time inhabiting than the real ones of my own life. 

The moment though that the thoughts of Natalie and her miniatures turn to you, I found I could not, cannot, divorce the model from the real; nor repress that image of you, the real you, the living and breathing and being you, trapped out in the driving rain out under that car. 

Strange as it may seem, there is some comfort at least in that as the moment I most imagine, and not that breathless one when we found you so still and silent under the blaring hot sun. That bruised and battered and broken you seemed so lifeless that I really did fear, think… 

Then before I even realized it, before I even knew what I was doing, let alone knew why, I found myself in my own car and on the way to the hearing, only to discover when I arrived that an overwhelming heaviness had settled upon me, so much so that each step forward became more an act of will than it already has been of late. The nearer and nearer I got, the certainty seemed to leave me all the more. 

It certainly hadn’t failed Natalie. I was barely seated, when she turned to look at me with the piercing sort of gaze of someone so sure and knowing. It was as if she knew in that one instant all of my secrets, that she really could see that something I have only just come to realize myself, and only with the utmost reticence: that my life as I know it, understand it, is gone. That no matter how hard I try to dissemble or pretend, there is no longer any peace, just pieces. That no matter what I do, I cannot seem to make them all fit, until I am left to wonder if perhaps it is just too late to solve this puzzle, to piece together all the fragments into something — someone — whole again. 

At this, I shiver in my seat. After having shut off the car and the heat almost ten minutes previously, most of the warmth has bled out through the windows. I am not sure why I feel the need to run the heat far more often these days, as November mornings in Vegas are not exactly known for their coolness. 

It is more the memory of that hint of a smile that played on Natalie’s lips than the actual temperature that chills me now.

Yes, with that grin, that almost involuntary and yet utterly unrepentant and almost self-satisfied tug at the corner of her mouth, the same cold descends, the one all too reminiscent of that breathless moment when I first realized it was a figure of you that she had positioned under that car. It is a numbness I have found that only your voice, your touch, your presence can ever seem to banish. 

So I have been cold for a long time now. Too long and I am weary of it. 

I am tired, so very tired. 

Eight-thirty. The time has come. 

And I wonder as I begin to go, is it guilt or grief that has really brought me here?

*******

By a Thread

You are wrong…

Those three words seem to hang in the air even after the sounds of Natalie’s footsteps are long gone. 

With a flash, I see meticulously scrawled upon the backs of items copied from the previous miniatures, the careful brush strokes that luminesce the hauntingly familiar phrase You were wrong

And I know something is wrong. But what, I am not sure. 

Until my eyes settle on what she wants me to find; what she’s left just as carefully out of place as what she has carefully hidden. 

The tile pops up easily, too easily. 

I know the wild, wide-eyed shock must be plain on my face. My breath catches in my throat as if I have been struck by a very real blow.  I can barely think, let alone breathe, in that moment of newfound heart-stopping horror. 

I almost drop it, this new miniature, although I feel more tempted to hurl it away, as if it were something scalding hot to the touch and yet at the same time, I feel that cold and clammy dread, that numbing paralysis. My hands begin to shake. The walls feel like they are closing in. The clang of doors being shut off in the distance make me feel like I am the one who has been left to be imprisoned here. 

Then there is nothing but the quiet. No footsteps, nothing but the mad rush of thoughts. 

Uncharacteristically, my first question is Why?

Why leave this? Why do this?

Is it some twisted call for help or something else? 

A test? A game?

And how long will it be before the symbolized becomes the symbol?

But before the sheer panic can set in, Natalie’s own words crash over me, People who do bad things need to be punished, and in them, I realize her real intent in all of this. She might be announcing herself as her own next victim, but I am once again her real target, just as I had been when she took you. 

Your miniature may have been set in a generic stretch of desert, but the car, the make, the model, the color, the damage, everything right down to the VIN number, told a far different story. She may have been saying that you could be anywhere, but she wanted me and me alone to know why.

Remember. That is what she wanted me to do. Remember that moment. And know that I know. I saw you. I know your secret. The one you think is so carefully kept but isn’t. 

And now she is telling me, too, that like then, she has made just as sure of it that she is not going to be the one ultimately responsible. That her death, like yours would have been, rests upon my head. That it will be my actions or inactions that would decide. 

At this, part of me really wants to rage and roar.

I should have learned to stop giving Natalie Davis the benefit of the doubt a long time ago. These past two days, she has been up to the same thing I was with her in that interrogation room all those months ago. She set the stage, told me exactly what she thought best for me to hear, played her part so very carefully. She played me like I tried to play her. 

Oh, yes, she wasn’t lying when she said she had changed. There is no question that she is no longer the timid, almost child-like woman who once sat there so shyly in front of me. No, that Natalie has been replaced by someone sure, insistent, confident, cool and collected. 

Indeed, revenge is most certainly a dish best served cold. 

How long had she been planning this? Plotted out exactly what she was going to say and do, the whole role she wanted to convey? 

People who do bad things deserve to be punished. You still need to be punished, that is what it seems she is trying to say. 

I want to reply Haven’t I been punished enough? Paid enough?

I shake my head to clear this thought away. 

A game. All of this has been just another game. Yet another one I realized far too late, I have no choice but to play. 

You have my life in your hands as judge, jury and executioner, the miniature seems to say. My life or my death, it is up to you. 

And I can let her live out her life happily or unhappily in prison or I can let her go through with it, let her die knowing that I had the knowledge and power to stop her. 

It’s brilliant. For no matter what I choose both the guilty Natalie and the guilty me are punished.

And I have to choose. I have to make a decision. For not making a choice would indeed be the same as if I willingly decided to conceal what I know and just as intentionally let her die.

So if I do nothing and she dies, she wins. If I choose to let her die, she wins. If I choose to save her, she still wins. 

Each and every time, I loose. 

While I do really believe that an eye for an eye just leaves the whole world even more blind than it already is, I have to confess that the temptation is very real. For at this moment, I am even more alone here than I was in that interrogation room with her. There is no one here to stop me. 

My fingers begin to close around the crudely wrought figure. It would be so easy to tug it free. A simple tug would be all that it would take. There wouldn’t be enough left behind for anyone to question. I could just simply slip the figure into my pocket and slip out of the room. 

No one would know. No one would have to know. 

After all, it was easy enough to get my pocketknife passed security. 

Easy.

So the question becomes Do you yield to your better angel or to your worser spirit?

Act or do nothing?

Honestly, I don’t know. 

******

Just Guilty

Once again, I am back in my car, feeling the sun beat through the glass, but even this fails to warm me. This time, however, I am not watching the clock. There is no need to now. 

What’s done is done and cannot be undone.

And I am but left to wonder that if Natalie was guilty, but not responsible, does that make me not guilty, but responsible?

For no matter how hard I may have tried to protest to the contrary in that hearing room, there had been nothing random in Natalie’s choice to take you, not like there had been when Walter Gordon took Nick. And it certainly wasn’t simply because we were coworkers, you and I. 

I knew that the moment I saw those photographs. 

That was when the full horror of just how long she must have been watching really hit me. She watched us, first me, and then you. Learned our habits, our means and methods, worked out our patterns, until she found just the right ones to best exploit. 

I suppose it was bound to have happened, for someone to have seen something, for we were frequently working together in those days, you and I. And somehow it was easy, perhaps all too easy, to forget that while I was with you, I wasn’t alone with you. That even the most innocent of things could give it and us away. 

I didn’t even think about it, that simple caress, not when I did it, not afterwards. 

It was just a simple act, a moment, a single moment barely longer than a breath that would turn out to change everything in ways I could never have imagined. 

When I think back on those months after I came back from Massachusetts and in particularly upon those days right after the murders in Green Valley, I remember most of all, that even if it was only for a little while (too short a time, far too short a time) that I had wanted nothing more than to show you what I couldn’t find the words to tell you. 

So I let my guard down when it was just the two of us on a case, allowed my personal life to bleed into the professional one, permitted those perfectly erected barriers to slip more and more. 

It had happened at the end of yet another long investigation, after hours of having to piece together what had really occurred there, only to have to face the conclusion that sometimes matters of life and death were purely arbitrary. I suppose that is why accidents sometimes seem to be far harder to deal with than premeditated crimes. Accidents have a capricious hollowness to them, a feeling of the fickle finger of fate that makes the resultant loss of life seem even more poignant and pointless, particularly when it is a case of human stupidity that has occasioned it. 

By the time we were wrapping things up, the sun and the heat and the exhaustion had begun to set in. Plus, you hadn’t really been sleeping well, if much at all. So, it had almost been instinctual, that one caress. One simply born out of the private intimacies we have shared, out of my desire to convey in some small way a measure of quiet comfort and care and some semblance of reassurance. 

The funny thing was that I wasn’t even supposed to be on that morning. I had been scheduled off, but came in to help partly because we were swamped as usual and partly because even if it was work, working a case with you seemed a better way to pass the time than at home alone with Hank.

Even now, I still wouldn’t take it back. Not even knowing what I know. I would not take back that moment, that touch. 

No, I am not sorry for what happened that day.

Sorry?

It is hard to believe Natalie’s claims of being sorry. She certainly isn’t sorry the way I am sorry. 

Besides, those three words I am sorry, don’t really offer any real comfort, do they?

What does it mean to be sorry anyway?

Heather once spoke of apologies as just words. I think I finally understand what she meant. 

How hollow those syllables feel; impotent. For no matter how well meant, they can’t change what has happened; they can’t undo what’s been done. 

So I wonder if being sorry is enough?

Is contrition enough to warrant forgiveness?

For I am sorry, Sara, I am.

For blame and guilt and responsibility for what’s happened — and not — they don’t just lie with Natalie, but more so with me. 

I became so wrapped up in all those little things that I missed the big signs. Got lost in them like I always seem to do. 

Those who don’t learn from their mistakes it seems really are condemned to repeat them.

It is true, too, what they say about the devil being in the details, and if Vegas has taught me anything over the years about Faustian bargains, it is that the devil always gets his due. 

They should have gone up on the fish board along with all the other unsolved cases, but I just couldn’t let those miniature killings go. I guess I thought that if I kept working on them, kept looking, didn’t stop, that I would find the one thing that would make it all make sense. And if I could just make it all make sense, then perhaps I could keep it from happening again. 

Something I have been doing all my life it seems, trying to make sense and order and meaning out of chaos. Even after all those years, I hadn’t realized how futile the endeavor really was. 

But here and now with no pretense to distance myself, with no kit in hand or gloves or science to separate me from the world, no method to keep the madness at bay, the futility feels all too real.

Then I had been so relieved, so thankful when you turned out to be alive, that I did not even pause to think for a moment that it was just the beginning of things rather than the end. 

I suppose that I treated those cases as something that never happened in some foolish hope that thinking so could make it so.

While we were both away, I had Warrick pack up all the minis and ship them off to evidence storage. I wanted them gone. Even the one I had made of my office. Yes, I had wanted them gone, gone far away so I didn’t have to ever look at them again, so they didn’t become some daily reminder of just how close my own obsessions had brought me to losing you, how they had probably cost me you in the end. 

I just wanted to be left alone. For you to be left alone. For us to be left alone. 

Ecklie had been bad enough. There had been no need to put you or I or us on public display. 

What would it have proved? What good would it have done?

Just like what good would it have done for you to be here now? 

For the first time, I feel the flush of relief that you aren’t here. That you are thousands of miles far, far away where Natalie can’t touch you or hurt you or cause anymore harm than she already has. 

But I didn’t need ADA Nichols or DA Monroe or Natalie’s constant invoking of your name to be aware of just how absent you really are. I already wake up in the bed we once shared to you gone and to the fact that the nightmares that once plagued me right after you returned from the hospital are now a reality.

Sara – 

Your name is the one I could not, cannot, seem to utter. Perhaps out of fear of what those two syllables would convey. 

I have to wonder if what I said to Natalie and there in that hearing room is how I really feel or if it is just how I think I should feel or what I think other people want, or what I want them, to hear. If they have been but the words I should say; the things I have done, merely what I should do. 

I am not sure that if I let myself feel what I really feel, that I could contain it, control it and not let it control me like it did in the interrogation room that day. 

Frustrated. Yes, I had been frustrated and frightened and furious then, not just at Natalie, but at myself, and what I had and could have done. 

Would I have really beaten your location out of her, if I could have? I wonder. 

Was it just frustration or fear?

Or guilt and grief then, too?

I suppose that in some ways, she succeeded, Natalie did, in completing that final miniature. You may not have died out there in the desert, but you are just as gone. 

The only person I ever really loved. Just like she wanted. 

Yet, I know that she is neither the only person, nor even the right person to blame. Although it would be so easy to say that it was all her fault, the way everything had managed to turn out. 

But wasn’t that precisely what she had done, Natalie? Blamed Dell’s suicide on someone else, on me, rather than accept her own culpability. 

No, I can’t blame her for my own choices — or lack thereof. 

Natalie may have been the catalyst for your leaving, but she wasn’t the cause. And like all catalysts in chemical reactions, it seems she was the only one who wasn’t used up or diminished by her role in what happened. 

Even if we were — you and I. 

******

Inside the Box

Tonight is one of those increasingly rare quiet nights where Vegas seems, at least for the moment, to be taking time out to catch its own breath. It is a night that finds me hold up in my office yet once again avidly trying to avoid everyone and everything. Something I seem to be doing more and more often these days. 

Lately, my own version of occupational therapy has lost some of its ability to keep my fears at bay.

For more than twenty-four years now, I have made a profession out of living my life on intimate terms with that which I fear the most. And that is not counting all the years before I got paid to do it, nor those times so long ago when I was just a boy who liked to dissect the dead things that washed up on the beach with the tides. It has taken me a long time to realize that I have done all of this in hopes of diminishing the power of that one fear over me. 

I remember once speaking about the job as having chosen me, as if fate had marked the path and way out for me on that one hot afternoon when everything as I knew it changed. But the truth is, that I have lived and breathed and dealt with death ever since then thinking that in doing so, it would somehow make it easier to face. 

I used science as a ways and means to control and filter the world, to categorize it all into ways and means that had order and sense to them, even an elegance of sorts. Ultimately, the practice of forensics as a science rather than just a manifestation of law enforcement, became yet another method of cataloging death in such a way that it could somehow make sense. One where you didn’t need to know the why. The what and how were more than enough, telling enough. 

So the science allowed for there to be this protective barrier between myself and the rest of the world, particularly between myself and the rest of humanity. The dead became bodies; living survivors, victims, as part of an every growing lexicon full of long Latin sounding words for some of the simplest of things. But then things, evidence, they were always knowable to some extent. People, in all their complex behaviors and psychologies, not so much. 

It was just easier that way.

So I spent my whole life trying to know everything, so that I didn’t have to ever deal with the why. I thought that if I could just work out the who and what and where and when and how, then the why didn’t really have to matter. 

These days, however, the whys seem to be what matter most. Natalie’s whys, your whys, my whys. 

Why Natalie felt she had to do all of this. Why you felt you couldn’t stay. And perhaps most of all, why I couldn’t just make that decision. 

I meant it, I did, when I said I wanted to know if people who are damaged can change

I want to know if it is possible, more for myself than anything, or anyone else. 

I want to know if I can change. If I can still be fixed and mended; become something more, instead of just something less. If I can step outside the box I have been living in for so long, move beyond my own whys and let go of life as I know it. 

But I don’t know. I don’t.

I want to believe that there is still hope, for me, for you, for us, for a future, for our future. 

I am trying to believe.

Part of me needs to believe. 

But I am afraid. Afraid I can’t. Afraid I don’t know how. Afraid that it is too late, like it was almost too late to have had that chance to freely love you in the first place. Like I was almost too late to find you in the desert. 

Sara, am I too late now? 

Though it isn’t the questions that really haunt me now, but the answer, the only answer my mind can make to any of this. 

I don’t know.

I just don’t know.

*******

Series Continued in The Readiness is All

*******

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