Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. All others belong to me, and if you want to play with them, you have to ask me first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
I actually know very little about coma states, so you may put down any errors to creative license. (grin) As for where Sara was, on vacation or assignment or if she had actually left--I leave that up to the reader.
Spoilers: all four seasons
He never noticed that he was under a spell.
Oh, he knew about the obvious one, the one she'd laid on him, but that was beyond her control and his, and just something that happened. He didn't even know if she realized what she'd done. No, that was the only binding he saw.
The spell he didn't see was the older one, the more insidious one, darker and deeper; the one that had twined roots into his soul. It hadn't been cast deliberately either, but it had been cast with selfishness, and the sort of malice that would probably have resulted in deliberation if the caster had realized what was going on. And as sometimes happens with the strongest magic, the victim didn't know it.
Catherine hadn't spent a lot of time in hospitals, overall, but as far as she was concerned almost any amount of time was too much. The second-to-last time had been a few years back, when Lindsey had fallen off the monkey bars at school and broken her wrist, but those interminable emergency-room waits weren't the same. At least with those, you had a reasonable expectation of actually getting out. Desert Palms had an X-ray machine right there, so they'd only been on the fringe of things, so to speak. The arcane complexities of intensive care and in-patient routines had, thankfully, remained obscure. The time before that had been Lindsey's birth.
The last time...Catherine had dropped by to give her friend the support he had never expected, and found him scared but no different than usual--his stalwart dignity holding up even through the hug he'd tentatively returned and his walk towards the operating room.
Though Catherine still wasn't sure he had realized that his hospital gown was open down the back.
The memory made her eyes crinkle with a breath of humor, but no more than that. She hated hospitals, and though patience was one of a good CSI's hallmarks, she hated vigils. But for friendship's sake, she was here. Here in a room that though quiet was far from silent; sitting by someone who by all rights should actually be asleep right then, with the sun high in the sky.
But not like this.
The limp fingers enclosed in hers were cool, which on some level was more frightening than anything else about the situation. She'd never known him to have cold hands, not even in the midnight of a desert winter.
Catherine sighed and tightened her grip a little, then glanced at her watch. Nick was due to relieve her in two hours, and while she didn't want to go--not while things hung in the balance--she also wanted to escape this sterile little world with its beeps and its smells and its pressure of urgency and waiting. Part of her--the part that had no patience for stupidity--was irritated at the entire situation. CSIs could encounter all kinds of hazards, from angry suspects to contaminants on the job. Some risks were more bizarre; hadn't she given Greg and Sara the scars to prove it, and would she ever be able to look at them without a pang of guilt somewhere underneath? But this--this was just dumb.
It could have been worse, in a way. He could have gone unnoticed for hours longer, for days; a man with a less regimented schedule, or less caring friends, might have died there on the cold floor. As it was, he'd lain there for a dangerously long time before unanswered pages and phone calls led them to knock on his door, then pound, then finally use the spare key she hadn't touched since he'd given it to her.
Changing a light bulb. Good grief.
His face had been grey, and while they'd seen blood pools countless times before, it was somehow more shocking when it was the blood of someone you knew. Anyone could have figured out the sequence--he'd climbed up on a stepstool to unscrew the bulb, which was still two turns from coming out of the socket, and had lost his balance and fallen, striking his head against his own counter. A man who had survived two serial killers, a desperate woman with a gun, an explosion, nearly getting hit by a car, and the rage of a madman, had been done in by gravity.
Normally Catherine despised the good-ol'-boyishness that still underlay the law enforcement network, though she wasn't above making it work for her when necessary. But when it was one of their own--well, it was good to see that priority take hold. Reassuring, to note the little extra speed the ambulance driver put on, the two-cruiser escort that appeared out of nowhere to make sure that they got to the hospital as quickly as possible. And then they whisked him away into surgery, and hours later the ebb of the medical tide washed him up on the scoured shores of the ICU.
Bruising spread over his face from his temple like a static stormcloud. A black eye was fading into visibility; an oxygen line was fixed beneath his nose. His hair was mussed, and she knew that below the bandage was a shaved space, and stitches. And won't that just annoy him no end when he wakes up.
When he wakes up.
Catherine uncrossed her legs and leaned her head on her free hand. Post-surgery cleanup tended to concentrate on essentials; a smear of blood darkened the edge of his beard near where his throat disappeared into the hospital gown.
"Come on, Gil," she murmured, unwilling to disturb whatever poor soul occupied the next curtained cubicle. "I know this is your sleep time, but this is getting ridiculous."
The doctor had encouraged talk, but her eyes had slid away from theirs, letting them know without words that she didn't really expect results. Blood loss, swelling, the peculiarities of trauma to the brain--she sounded like Doc Robbins, and that just made it worse, because it was far, far too easy to trade the white cloth for silver steel and the humming, stuffy surroundings for coolness and silence.
Robbins had been there too, leaning on his crutch, his eyes wider than normal and his face drawn with a worry that they seldom saw. He could only confirm the doctor's words. "Head injuries are funny things," he'd said. "We know so little about the brain.... He could be fine, or he could be...not fine."
"Come on," she said again, letting a little impatience infuse her voice, adding a little amusement. "Bugs, Gil. Three whole bodies' worth. And we're waiting on you."
It was a lie, of course. But Catherine had never had any qualms about lying for a good cause. When her words brought no result, not even a quiver in the endless, annoying pulse of the heart monitor, she leaned forward and pulled out her trump card, the one she'd been keeping until she was alone with him. "She's on her way," Catherine whispered. "She's coming."
And hoped that enough of him was left to listen.
He didn't understand it, why he behaved the way he did. It takes a certain amount of introspection to even notice one's own behavior, and while he was given to self-reflection from time to time, the whole subject was fraught with pain, and it's hard to notice one's own subconscious guiding one away from a realization that could hurt. The pain was old, yes, but it was still potent. Everyone carries themselves with them, all the days of one's life like an incredible set of nesting dolls or the spiral of a nautilus shell, and while some things, some experiences, vanish into the substrate of the memory, others remain. Sometimes they are polished with much handling; sometimes they are unseen, sending tendrils of habit into thought and emotion.
So the flinch away from involvement was reflex, not deliberate. The thick roots of the spell warned him that nothing lasted, that any small taste would be pulled away from him; that some flaw in him meant that no one would stay forever.
It always seemed to be night when these things began, even if now the sun was pouring down over her bug-speckled windshield and reddening the pale skin of her arms. Sara remembered a sleep-drenched phone call, and stumbling down the stairs to catch a cab to the airport, the icy air of a New England winter making the night more dreamlike rather than less. It had been a long and complicated flight back home, ending with a funeral on a rainy green hillside, but Sara had made it in time to bid her grandmother goodbye. This trip had the same urgency, the same uncertainty, and it too had begun with a nighttime phone call--though this time, she'd been nowhere near sleep.
There hadn't been any hesitation. In fact, she'd barely given Warrick time to tell her which hospital, what floor. And now the sun was very up, and her skin was burning, and there was no way she was going to stop even for three minutes to put on sunscreen. Which she didn't have, anyway.
Flying would have in theory been faster, but Sara had already spent eight hours on a plane just to reach the blasted continent, and another six would have made her scream, and anyway a flight back to Vegas would have meant layovers in at least two different cities first. Renting a car saved her sanity, at least. If not that of other drivers on the road. They--she--had wasted so much time; it had been almost a day before they'd been able to track her down.
Sometimes, it seemed like racing time was all she ever did.
In a sense, it felt like a stakeout--the long waits without the luxury of relaxation. Jim had long since removed his coat and hung it up, draping his tie over the hook carefully; eventually he would have to go back in to work, though being a captain did have its privileges, and one of them was being able to take a few hours off to sit with a sick friend.
One of the night shift would be in to relieve him eventually. Grissom's doctor had bowed to their determination and used the potential benefit of human contact with coma patients to get visiting hours waived, and they were taking it in shifts. The silent figure in the bed was never alone.
Nobody had squawked yet, though the lab director might eventually if Grissom didn't wake up. But this was still too new, and even though the night shift was already short a CSI, it was never a question that they would make time, one at a time, for this. Jim had heard that some of the day shift had quietly volunteered to pull a little overtime to help, and if Ecklie didn't like it, he had the grace to keep it to himself.
Jim had relieved Warrick at ten; the younger man's eyes had been red-rimmed, though his voice had been smooth as he'd laid Grissom's lax hand back down on the sheet and bid him goodbye. Now Jim wondered if there was anything left of the man within that battered skull, whether their words and touches were reaching him at all or whether they were spending their energies on an empty brain. Or, worse somehow, a severely damaged one. Jim knew very well that Grissom would far prefer the former to the latter.
Jim wasn't the hand-holding type--not with another guy, anyway--but when he could think of something to say...he'd done a lot of rambling tonight....he would occasionally reach over and pat the limp fingers. Of course, it hadn't always been just the two of them. A nurse had checked on them twice and a doctor once; Grissom's IV had been changed, and at one point a nurse had shooed Jim out of the cubicle so she could perform some medical service that Jim seriously didn't want to know about.
It was in the middle of one of his silences that Grissom sighed. It still brought Jim instantly aware, sharpening his drifting focus, even though Grissom had been doing that occasionally since the night before, and the doctor had told them that it really meant nothing more than Grissom's body adjusting its oxygen level. Still, Jim watched with sharp eyes for any indication of consciousness, and when it didn't come, he subsided back into his slump, disappointed. And a tiny bit relieved.
The trouble with him waking up, Jim thought with a full sense of irony, is that he might wake up...impaired. As long as he's out, there's hope. Paradoxical, but there. And one thing Jim knew well was the distinct pain of hope. Despair is a stillness, but it at least holds no what-ifs. Hope's fingers can be cruel.
Now he felt as though he were under a spell. He'd been tired for a long time; work had been especially stressful lately, what with that baffling rape case, and worry about Sara had only compounded things. But this was weariness like he'd never known. It weighed him down until movement and a body were memories so distant that they were all but lost, and he didn't want to remember. Not that he really did. Somewhere was life and light, he knew that, but he didn't really want them. He wanted to stay in the dark and rest. He couldn't remember a good reason to go back.
Nick had spent more time in hospitals than most people knew. He'd spent his high school summers doing grunt work at the big teaching hospital down the road from his parents' place, putting money by for his future, and he knew their ins and outs, their patterns and workings, the goings-on behind the scenes. He wasn't as familiar with this one, but he figured he could still find his way around if he had to.
He'd felt a little funny picking up Grissom's hand, the one not encumbered with an IV, but the strangeness had worn off. He'd spent his first shift here watching for any signs of movement, of awareness, but they hadn't come, and now he was just there. Because it was what was right.
He told Grissom all about the cases they were working, how Warrick had seen the link that Catherine hadn't, how Greg had nearly lost a whole trayful of samples but managed to catch them before they hit the floor in a wild display of gymnastics; how Jacqui was humming at her work, which was a clear sign that she was worried about Grissom, as she was silent when she was happy. When he ran out of lab news, Nick described the three drawings that Lindsey had made and hung on the cubicle wall--drawings that had moved beyond childish images and were showing promise of real talent--and the sunlight coming in the small window at the end of the room. He enumerated the flower arrangements that had crowded into the cubicle, the cards that Bobby had arranged with delicate precision on the cabinet next to the bed. He described the nurses and the doctor, took a gulp of water to ease his throat, and went on to tell Grissom about finding him on his kitchen floor, and what they'd done. None of the gory details, just the reactions.
"I've never seen Catherine look so small," he said, staring down at the hand he'd sandwiched between his own. "She looked just like a little china doll, she went so pale. Warrick looked like he'd lost something he couldn't afford to lose. And me--" he chuckled a little, sadly. "I can only take a guess as what I looked like; we were a little too busy for me to duck into the bathroom and have a peek. You'll just have to ask one of the others." Wake up and ask.
If the force of his thought had anything to do with it, Grissom would be walking out under his own power by that afternoon.
Sara had moved beyond impatience into a weird sort of vicious calm. Two cars had swept past her on the desolate interstate, leaving the tall woman standing next to her broken vehicle without a backward glance. Her cell was working--she had a tow on the way--but she was ready to cast a lifetime of warnings aside and climb into the next vehicle to stop if it would get her to Vegas faster, no matter who was driving it.
The third car--the first in over an hour--came zipping along as most did, driving too fast out here because the visibility was miles long and there was no one to see. It seemed to hesitate, as though the driver wasn't too sure about stopping, but then it coasted slowly to a halt just past Sara's steaming rental. She strode forward.
The woman looking back out the driver's-side window was probably twenty years Sara's senior, and a good six inches shorter, and she radiated calm. "Where are you going?" she asked.
Sara's experienced eyes took her in at a glance. Silver-threaded brown hair in a classic bob, a suit-jacket slung into the back seat next to an expensive but battered briefcase, a high-end rental car. The faintest hint of an old scar along her hairline. "Vegas."
The woman's smile warmed her grave eyes and lit her face. "Hop in."
It took Sara twenty seconds to grab her bag and slip a note under the windshield wiper for the tow; then they were on their way. "I'm Sara."
"Catherine," the older woman said easily, and Sara thought with an instant's amusement of the differences between this Catherine and the one she knew. "Are you a native of Las Vegas?"
Sara shook her head. "San Francisco. You?"
"New York. I'm here on business." Her sideways glance invited Sara to reciprocate, but Sara didn't feel like trying to explain. She expected Catherine to press, but instead the woman only nodded, and upped the speed a little.
One of the many things that most people didn't know about David was his serenity. It wasn't always his, of course; he could be as nervous as the next guy, and being shy didn't help. But on ground he felt he knew, David was calmness itself.
It had been his privilege, ninety-five minutes into his time at Grissom's bedside, to notice that the older man's eyes were open. It was he who had called for the doctor, his voice cracking a little; it was he who had called the others to tell them that change had finally taken place. And it was he who took control of the situation when their faces went blank with understanding and then dark with frustration, as the new round of neurological tests came back "inconclusive". It was he who herded them down to the hospital cafeteria for coffee that rivaled the lab's for sheer badness, who reined in their anger by pointing out that at least they had that much, though he dreaded as much as they the possible verdict of brain damage. And it was he who ended up back at the bedside when the tests were over and the night shift dispersed to puzzle over this new level of unconsciousness.
"You really need to wake up, Dr. Grissom," David told him softly. The expressionless eyes didn't flicker, only staring up at the ceiling, and nobody could tell if there was a mind behind them or if the signals were hopelessly scrambled. "They don't know what to do without you."
He was in a rather unique position among the night shift. His job wasn't affected by the CSI roster, and he wasn't a close personal friend of Grissom's like Robbins or Brass. In fact, he was a little in awe of the man. Yet here he was, taking his place in the circle, as much for those to whom he was close as for the supervising CSI himself. And in a sense he felt he was place-holding for someone who could not be here. He'd overheard Catherine talking to Robbins about Grissom's mother, about someone having to inform her if Grissom didn't make it; a little discreet eavesdropping, and David was good at it, told him that Mrs. Grissom was in a California nursing home in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Having lost his grandfather to the disease, David mentally took her place, holding it for her since she could not come.
Grissom's eyes were closed again, his period of possible awareness ended. His body would respond to stimuli, but he showed no signs of hearing those who spoke to him, of noticing those around him. The doctor said he was sleeping a lot of the time, but she couldn't tell what, if anything, was going on when he wasn't.
Air whispered past David's face, and he looked up to find that one last privilege was to be his. It was a bittersweet one, but he savored it as he always did. Part of serenity is accepting the way things are.
"We've been waiting for you," he said, rising.
This is so wrong. Sara slid into the chair that David had vacated, barely remembering his low-voiced update on Grissom's condition as he passed her on his way out. Her eyes were fixed on the motionless man in the bed. This is just not right.
Inane, she knew, but it was all her exhausted brain could say, over and over again. She'd seen Grissom in any number of moods, and seen him trying to hide most of them--often with great success--but she'd never seen him like this. Blank. It wasn't even like he was sleeping; it was as though his personality had gone into hiding.
Absently, she leaned over and stuck the stem of the plant she was carrying into one of the vases on the nearby cabinet. The big yellow flowers on it told her it was a species of yucca, and she'd broken it off on impulse while pacing near her broken-down car in the desert. Then she sat back and just looked at him. She was so tired, and even the long adrenaline feed of panic had worn off. And she just didn't know what to do.
Finally she sighed, and reached out to pick up Grissom's hand, half-expecting him to pull it away out of sheer surprise at her touch. The bruises on his face were turning yellow, and the bandage on his head was lighter than she'd expected. But his face was sunken, as though his vitality had drained away with his blood, and she could see where his beard was coming in on areas that he normally kept shaved. "Look at you, you're a mess," she said, trying to sound teasing, but her voice wavered and Sara bit her lip.
The tears were swelling in her throat, and she pushed them back. They were half exhaustion, anyway, and she wouldn't cry here. She wouldn't cry at all, not until she knew one way or the other. She would not.
"Grissom," she whispered, as though the sound of her voice would wake him.
Something was bothering him, disturbing his rest. Faint sounds came and went, and sometimes he remembered shapes moving past, but none of them had held him, not until now. This sound, this sense, was important. He couldn't remember why, but it was. Irritated, intrigued, he forced himself to pay attention.
Sounds and shapes. Nothing new. Pressure--the faintest pressure--and then something poured into him, something he had never experienced before and yet seemed not only familiar but exactly right. A warmth, a scent, a delicate taste, and he remembered he had skin to feel warmth and a nose and tongue. He wanted more of it--he felt almost frantic for it as it stopped. He wanted it back. Determination gripped him, and he struggled towards whatever it was that had given him the gift, ignoring the pull back into the dark, ignoring the whisper that told him it was beyond his reach. Something in him loosened as he strained.
Sara woke suddenly, not knowing why. At some point she'd put her arms down on the side of Grissom's bed, never letting go of his hand, and put her head on her arms, and that had been that--she was out. She looked blearily up at him, finding his eyes open and unfocused, and shivered a little. Seeing him like this was somehow worse than when his eyes were shut. According to David, his eyelids were the only thing on him that had moved so far. And the longer he stayed like this, the less chance there was for any recovery at all.
She swallowed, aching with exhaustion and grief and rage at life for doing this to him, but she pushed the emotions back down. Screaming at him, or at fate, would help no more than her one guilty indulgence earlier. Her tired mind drifted, returning to wonder why she had woken--she hadn't been dreaming, for once--
--And it happened again. The fingers in hers curled ever so slightly, the thumb brushing over the tender inside of her wrist. She sat up straight. "Grissom?!"
His blank eyes focused, and his head turned a fraction so they could fix on her. He blinked once, twice, and his brows twitched. Sara watched, unable to move.
"Grissom?" she ventured. "Can you hear me?" She knew she ought to call for the doctor, but she couldn't, not just yet. Not until she knew.
His eyes slid shut, and her heart quailed, but then they opened again, sharper this time. His hand tightened a little on hers, and his lips moved. No sound came forth, but unmistakable annoyance flashed across Grissom's face, and his free hand moved in towards his chest, only to drop back as though it were too heavy to move.
"Take it easy, Grissom, it's been four days," Sara said, not even trying to stop the smile. "It's about time you gave us a sign, though."
His eyebrows really arched this time, and she saw his tongue move against his lips, and realized that his mouth was probably dry as bone. "Hold on." She slid her hand free of his, and reached down. The ice in her soda cup was half-melted, but enough remained; she fished out a chip and slipped it gently between his lips.
The moisture seemed to wake Grissom further. He lifted his hand a little, and Sara, guessing, surrounded it with hers again; he relaxed, eyes closing for a moment. When he opened them again, they were clearer. He licked his lips, hesitated.
"You came back," he finally whispered.
The grief was vanishing, and it felt incredibly good. "So did you."
Magical things often happen in threes, Catherine knew; she'd read Lindsey enough fairy tales to remember that even if she hadn't already known it. But the real world is rarely so tidy. She watched Grissom stride down the lab corridor towards the end of his shift, his brisk lumpy pace showing no indication that he'd spent the better part of a week unconscious just a few months before. In fact, his energy level was higher now than it had been before the accident, though a scar showed red at his temple.
He stopped as he came abreast. "You about done?"
Catherine smiled up at him cheekily. "Turkeys are done, Gil, people are finished. Yep--heading out as soon as Warrick's through. He promised Lindsey breakfast out if she got an A in History."
"Bribery usually works," Grissom agreed, and she snorted.
"'Incentive' sounds better. Not staying late this morning?"
"Nope." He gave her a small wave and headed out. Catherine leaned against the wall and watched through the glass doors as he climbed into the small car drawn up at the curb, and a grin curved her lips as he leaned over to kiss the driver. Guess Sara's not staying late either.
Real life could be messy, Catherine mused, and happy endings were never guaranteed, but sometimes they happened anyway. She pushed off the wall in search of her own. Sometimes, two was plenty.
Note: the plant Sara found was Yucca harrimaniae ssp. gilbertiana, commonly known as the swordplant or Spanish bayonet.