Title: Concrete Angels

Author: Michmak

Summary: Supposed to be a continuation of AFTERMATH, but ended up becoming a story without it. Cont. relationship established between N/S in AFTERMATH.

Disclaimers: I've repeatedly asked CBS to let me have Nick, but so far they are ignoring my requests. I don't own any of the other characters either.

For all the people who keep emailing me requesting more Nick / Sara stories from me. Just remember, at heart I really want Sara with Grissom. Because Nick is waiting for me. Maybe one of these days, I will write a third chapter for Aftermath.

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Sara found him on the roof. He was in his normal spot, back pressed against one of the walls enclosing the stairwell. He always came up here to think, or when he needed to clear his head after a particularly bad case.

They had caught a bad one the other day - the type of case that made his skin crawl and gave him nightmares long after it was over. He, Grissom and Sara had been called to a crime scene involving the supposed 'accidental' death of a young girl, but it had quickly become apparent the girl had been murdered. For one thing, the child was severely underweight, malnourished to the point of emaciation. For another, the mother had insisted the child was only five years old, but a cursory inspection of her mouth had shown that several adult teeth were already in place. David had estimated actual age to be closer to nine. Grissom had returned to the lab with David to view the autopsy, leaving him and Sara to process the crime scene.

The child had supposedly gotten caught by a string from her hooded sweatshirt on a rusty metal slide in the back yard and lynched herself, but Nick had been suspicious from the start. While Sara talked to Grissom and David before they left, Nick had wandered around the unkempt backyard, checking things out. There were no toys in the yard. Not one ball. Not one Barbie. Just the rusted old slide, which looked like it had been sitting there for decades, weeds tall around it.

Sara was snapping pictures when Nick walked into the now empty house. He had grabbed Brass and told him he was going inside, and Brass had nodded grimly. Checking the cupboards, Nick saw nothing even resembling what he would expect to find in the home of a small child - no sugary cereals, no fruit-roll-ups; no healthy after-school snacks that most kids hated but moms insisted on. The fridge was full of beer and cold pizza - no milk or juice to be seen. Stepping into the living room, he had been struck once again by the lack of child-related clutter. Walking down the hallway, he had checked out the bathroom and the bedrooms. One was being used as storage, and the other held only one bed.

Sara had followed him into the house, and had caught up with him in the bedroom.

"Where did she sleep?" She had asked quietly.

He hadn't responded. Instead, he had wandered out of the bedroom and back down the hallway, opening closets as he went, before stepping back outside and telling Brass what he had discovered - or rather, what he had not.

Sara called something from inside the house about collecting the sheets from the bed.

"I had to walk up four steps to get into the house," Nick had pointed out to Brass, "But this is only a one story house. There doesn't appear to be any basement. Do you think there's a cellar?"

* * * * *

Sara slid down the wall beside him, and he allowed himself to enjoy the heat of her slight body pressing into his side. Glancing at her sideways, he noticed the dark shadows under her eyes, the pallor of her already pale complexion, and grimaced. Everyone had taken this case to heart.

Sighing, he felt her hand fit into his, fingers cold and wrapping tightly against his own.

"You do okay?"

"Yeah. You?"

Sara shrugged, "As good as can be expected, all things considered. Grissom told me to get you and go home. He said he'll finish up the paperwork tomorrow. Catherine and Warrick left already."

Nick sighed again, rubbing his thumb absently across hers, before shifting to look at her more intently. "Can we go to the hospital first?"

"Yeah. I think that's a good idea."

* * * * *

"Brass - Sara! I found a trap door!" Nick had noticed some odd coloration on the linoleum tiles under the kitchen table. The owner of the house - the mother of the little girl Doc Robbins was currently examining in the morgue - had refused to say anything to them other than the fact said girl was accidentally dead.

Nick had moved the table out of the way, and was on his knees feeling around the slightly curled edges of the linoleum when he had realized it was a hidden door. Prying with his fingers as he called the others, he found the latch and slowly started lifting. The stench of urine and rot that escaped through the initial small crack had made him draw back in disgust and loosen his grip on the door, almost crushing his fingers in the process.

Shutting his eyes tightly and swallowing quickly to fight back the automatic gag reflex he had experienced, he turned his head sideways when he heard Sara breathing shallowly through her mouth.

"Christ," Brass had muttered, "What the hell is that smell?"

"I don't think I want to know," Sara had whispered, even as they both stepped forward and helped Nick get a better hold of the trap door, lifting it upward and opening it wide. Shining his maglite into the dark opening, Nick noted four rusted metal ladder rungs, much like one would find in a sewer, leading straight down roughly four and a half feet from the opening.

"Is anyone down there?" he had shouted, listening intently for a response. Looking at Sara grimly, he had reached for the first rung. "I'm going down."

* * * * *

Sara watched Nick covertly as he drove. He was running on pure adrenaline alone, having neither slept nor eaten anything in almost 36 hours. His hands were so tight around the steering wheel, it was a wonder he didn't snap it in half. In the silence of the front seat, Sara could hear his teeth grinding.

"Nick," she whispered softly, more to herself than to him, "oh Nick."

* * * * *

"What's down there?" Sara's voice had echoed hollowly down the narrow opening, startling him from his almost trance. He was standing in a shallow room, in a painful half crouch, his maglite beam barely making a mark in the pervasive darkness.

"It's like a cellar. I'm wondering if it might have been a bomb shelter at one point," he had responded. "It's not very deep - I can't straighten out. I need the bigger maglite - this beam is too thin."

"Okay," she had responded, "I'm coming down with it."

Hunching down, Nick moved forward a few feet, slowly allowing his eyes to adjust to the dark. The beam of the larger flashlight was welcome, as was Sara's presence behind him.

"It's a concrete hallway," she whispered.

"Yeah," he had replied. Shining the light along the floor, he noted with disgust the urine stains on the floor. Three feet away from where he and Sara crouched, the hallway ended and he could see a dark opening. Behind him, he heard Sara slide her gun from its holster. The closer they moved towards the opening, the more putrid and rank the smell became.

He could hear something dripping, and judged from the echo that the hallway actually opened into a slightly larger room.

"That little girl lived down here," he murmured. Stepping gingerly as they moved forward, he noted with some subconscious part of his mind that the concrete hallway ended abruptly with a step down into the darkened room.

* * * * *

The Children's Aid worker was still sitting in the waiting room where Nick and Sara had last seen her, hours ago. She looked up warily when she spotted Nick. "There's been no change."

"None at all?" Nick asked quietly.

The woman shook her head sadly, "I was going to call you later today. Your boss - Mr. Grissom - told me you were going home to get some rest after your shift."

"What about you?" Sara replied. "We're used to staying up all night, but I'm sure these aren't your normal hours."

The woman shrugged, "I couldn't leave."

Nick studied her intently, before nodding abruptly as if he'd just decided something. Sinking into an empty vinyl seat a few down from the social worker, he tried to smile at her.

"I'd like to apologize to you for yelling at you earlier," he began. "I know this isn't your fault. It's just so -" he stopped, at a loss for words, and looked at Sara for help.

"Agonizing," she supplied, "Frustrating. How does stuff like this happen?"

The social worker shrugged her shoulders and sighed, "Some kids just slip through the cracks. Sad as that is."

* * * * *

It had taken a few minutes before Nick actually realized that the small bundle of rags lying in the far corner of the cold room was actually another child. Biting back a vile curse, he had hollered down the narrow hallway past Sara, "Brass - we've got another kid down here."

He forgot about moving carefully as he quickly moved towards the child, trying to ignore the wet noises his shoes made as he walked through the feces and other rotted garbage covering the small room.

Reaching down, he quickly placed his fingers at the pulse point of the frail neck, not knowing whether to be relieved or not when he felt a thready pulse. He couldn't even tell if the child was a boy or a girl.

"I've got a pulse," he said to Sara. "Take the light - let's get this kid out of here."

* * * * *

The hospital was bustling to life. Nick woke first, ignoring the tightness in his back and the cramp in his neck as he shifted slightly to the left and gingerly settled Sara's head from his chest to the back of the seat.

Ms. Green, the social worker, slept uncomfortably a few feet away in her own cramped chair. Rubbing his hand across the back of his neck, trying to massage the cramps out on his own, he reached idly into his pocket and retrieved enough loose change to buy three strong coffees from the vending machine.

Walking to the nurses station, he tried to smile when the nurse sitting there looked at him, "I'm with the LVPD - Crime Lab. Has there been any change to Jane Doe, the little girl brought in last night?"

The nurse's eyes softened at his words, and she shook her head. "Dr. Moore's in there with her right now. Poor little thing."

"That's the doctor that admitted her, right? Can you tell him that Nick Stokes is in the waiting room with Sara Sidle? He knows us. And the Children's Aid worker, Ms. Green, is there too."

* * * * *

Nick had ridden with the child in the back of the ambulance to the hospital. Brass had quickly called Grissom when Nick and Sara had emerged from the cellar with the small child, informing him the crime scene was a lot larger - and the crime even more serious - than anyone had imagined.

Quickly shutting off the cellar and posting police officers to guard the area, Brass and Sara had followed the ambulance, sirens blaring, all the way to the hospital.

Inside the ambulance, an older EMT had worked frantically, trying to stabilize the pulse and get a blood pressure reading on the child. Sitting as unobtrusively as possible up near the top of the stretcher, by the child's head, Nick had gently rubbed his hand across the dirty forehead and through the snarled hair, the calluses on his palms catching on the brittle strands.

"Come on, princess, come on," the EMT muttered, as he slid an oxygen mask over her face and quickly inserted an IV needle into the fragile veins on the back of the bird-like hands. The tubing for the rehydrating drip looked more substantial to Nick than the girls' fingers.

Arriving at the hospital, Nick had climbed out of the back of the ambulance and smiled grimly at Sara and Brass as they quickly ran towards him. "It's a little girl."

* * * * *

Nick woke Sara up, handing her the still steaming coffee, before turning towards Ms. Green and nudging her gently. The two women were still half- asleep when Dr. Moore found them. His face was haggard and grim. Nick knew what the doctor was going to say before he even opened his mouth. "I was too late, wasn't I? She's not going to make it."

Sara stepped forward and squeezed Nick's hand tightly.

"We can't stop the break down of her body," Dr. Moore began. "That little girl -" he paused, "There's no brain activity. Her body is starved, and the electrolyte imbalance and dehydration was too much. All the life support is doing is prolonging her suffering. Do we know who she is yet?"

Ms. Green shut her eyes in anguish as she shook her head, "We have no idea."

"All we know is that her sister is already dead, and the woman who we've arrested for murder isn't their mother," Sara added, "There's no DNA match. Unless someone came forward or names have been found since we left the lab. I'll go call Brass."

* * * * *

Nick was holding the fragile hand of the little girl in his own as the EMTs rolled her quickly into the emergency room, followed by Brass and Sara. When a nurse would have made them step out into the waiting room, Brass had flashed his badge and she had grudgingly subsided.

A young doctor had come to her almost immediately, speaking quietly to the medics before checking her reflexes and her pupil dilation with a small pen light. Nick had noticed how dark and brown the girls pupils were. Her eyes were the same color as Sara's.

"You're the officers who found her?"

"Yes," Nick had replied, "We work for the crime lab. We were investigating the suspicious death of another child on the premises."

"Who's responsible for this child?"

"At the moment, we are," Brass had spoken up. "I'm Captain Jim Brass, and these are CSI's Nick Stokes and Sara Sidle. I called in Children's Aid on the drive here. They were going to send someone right over."

"Do you have a name for this child?"

"As of right now, she's Jane Doe # 2. Her mother is refusing to talk to us."

"Is she going to be all right, Doctor?" Nick asked.

"We need to run several tests, so I don't know. Her reflexes and pupils are non-reactive. That's not a good sign."

* * * * *

Ms. Green had finally left a little while ago. "I have to get some of this paperwork filed, and get an official order making this child a ward of the state," she had stated sadly. "Until we get that done, she'll be in limbo. We won't be able to legally turn off the life support."

Sara had gone back to the lab, summoned by an early morning page, more likely than not pertaining to the case.

"Grissom said to let you stay here. I won't be long."

"Page me if you get a name."

Dr. Moore had agreed to let Nick see the girl, and that short visitation had turned into three hours of sitting silently by her bedside, listening to the hiss of the oxygen mask and the steady blips of the heart monitor.

When the goodwill cart had come through an hour or so ago, pushed by an impossibly young candy-stripper, Nick had purchased a paddle brush, a small bottle of Pert 2 in 1 conditioning shampoo and some nail clippers.

One of the nurses had provided him with a basin of warm water, and Nick had gently washed the little girls hair several times until the shampoo rinsed away clean. With the large brush, he had painstakingly worked out the gnarls and knots section by section, and finished by washing her face and the exposed skin on her arms with a warm washcloth before gently cleaning and clipping her nails.

"There you go, angel," he had murmured as he took her tiny hand back into his warm grasp. "We'll find out who you are. Someone out there must be looking for you."

* * * * *

"Nick. We know who she is."

Sara's voice broke through his sleep, and Nick groggily lifted his head from the side of the bed where it had fallen. Sara's hand was on his shoulder. Behind her, Grissom stood studying the little girl intently.

"You've found her parents?"

"Just her mother. She's in the state penitentiary for manslaughter - killed her common-law husband, the girl's father. Says it was in self- defense. She gave her daughters to her cousin to look after for her while she was in jail, and the cousin passed them off to a family friend. Mirinda James. The lady who was claiming to be their mother."

"What's her name?"

"This is Kayla King. She's five. Her sister - her name was Shawna. She just turned 9 last week."

Nick turned back to look at the little girl. "Kayla."

"Her mother has agreed to sign her parental rights over to Children's Aid." It was Grissom who spoke now, voice infinitely sad. "Ms. Green will be here soon. They're going to turn off the life support."

"How long has her mother been in jail?"

"Two years so far."

"When did the cousin give the girls to Mirinda James?"

Grissom sighed, "As far as we can tell, about eight months ago."

* * * * *

Nick, Sara, Grissom and Brass, along with Ms. Green, were with Kayla when Dr. Moore turned off the life support. Nick had insisted on staying, saying firmly that no child should have to die alone. The others had concurred.

No one spoke, each lost deep in their own thoughts, as the steady rise and fall of the small chest slowly stilled, and the beeping on the heart monitor faded away. Nick gently stroked the little girl's forehead and smoothed her hair. "Fly away home, angel. Fly away home."

* * * * *

Nick had the next shift off. Physically, he was exhausted and needed the sleep. Emotionally, he was still reeling from the deaths of Shawn and little Kayla. He kept asking himself if they had been there, even a little earlier, would she still be alive?

He could still remember the silky feel of her hair after he had cleaned it, the fragile bones of her hand hanging limply in his own. He was sitting in the living room, watching George Foreman shilling the Foreman Fat Free Grill, when Sara came home.

"Did you get any sleep at all?" She smiled at him, trying to keep her tone light.

Nick shook his head, "Minds been spinning."

Grabbing the remote, Sara flipped the TV off and slid into the arm chair he was sitting in, wrapping her arms around his neck. "You can't blame yourself, you know. You did more for that little girl than anyone else probably did in the last couple of years."

"It doesn't help. She shouldn't have had to go through that. Her sister shouldn't have died. And who's going to take care of them now?" Nick's tone was hushed, and he allowed his head to drop and rest against the top of Sara's.

"Brass told me to tell you he talked the LVPD into donating the money for a proper burial for the girls. Mobley was against it, but Brass convinced him it was a good political move. He wanted to know if you wanted to choose the headstone."

Nick half-smiled, "He's sly like a fox. But that's good. I was going to talk to you about that. I can't stand the thought of them getting a pauper's burial."

His fingers had trailed up to her head, stroking absently through her hair. "I can't believe in this day and age that stuff like that can still happen. Two little girls can just disappear, and no one asks where they are. They go live with someone not even related, and they end up dead."

"Abuse happens every day, Nicky," Sara retorted softly. "You know that better than anyone."

Nick shook his head, "If anyone ever lifted a finger against my child, I would kill them. Adults should be responsible. Parents should take care of their children, not give them away."

Sara smiled, "You have a child hidden away somewhere I don't know about?"

Nick flushed slightly at her teasing, "You know what I mean."

"I do, Nick. Any kid lucky enough to call you Dad will have it made. You're a good man. Let's go to bed."

Nick kept his hands on Sara's waist as she slid off his lap and to her feet, "We've never really talked about this before. Children, I mean."

Sara turned into his loose embrace and ran a hand lovingly down his face, "We talk about Lyndsey all the time." She giggled at Nick's slightly annoyed look, "I'm just teasing."

"Sara - really. Have you ever thought about it? I mean, do you even want children?"

Sara rose slightly on her tiptoes and brushed her lips gently against his, smiling as she kissed him. "Only if they're yours, Nick."

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Author's Note:

If you've read AFTERMATH, you'll understand the N/S relationship in this story.

The title for this short story is stolen directly from the song Concrete Angel by Martina McBride. Very sad song. If you suspect a child is being abused, you know what to do. Don't ignore it.

Concrete Angel - Martina McBride

She walks to school with the lunch she packed

Nobody knows what she's holdin' back

Wearin' the same dress she wore yesterday

She hides the bruises with linen and lace

The teacher wonders but she doesn't ask

It's hard to see the pain behind the mask

Bearing the burden of a secret storm

Sometimes she wishes she was never born

Through the wind and the rain She stands hard as a stone

In a world that she can't rise above

But her dreams give her wings

And she flies to a place where she's loved

Concrete angel

Somebody cries in the middle of the night

The neighbors hear, but they turn out the lights

A fragile soul caught in the hands of fate

When morning comes it'll be too late

Through the wind and the rain

She stands hard as a stone

In a world that she can't rise above

But her dreams give her wings

And she flies to a place where she's loved

Concrete angel

A statue stands in a shaded place

An angel girl with an upturned face

A name is written on a polished rock

A broken heart that the world forgot

Through the wind and the rain

She stands hard as a stone

In a world that she can't rise above

But her dreams give her wings

And she flies to a place where she's loved

Concrete angel

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