by Camilla Sandman

Disclaimer: Not mine, never was. CSI is CBS's and I merely borrow for a little while.

Rating: Soft PG

Author's Notes: You might call this a companion piece to "Yield", though they can be read independently of each other.


Time has lost meaning, its ebbs and flows so abrupt Catherine feels lost in a violent current. Maybe just minutes have passed, maybe whole eternities. Not that it matters. What matters is the silent heartbeat now, knowing Nick is alive, knowing the fight goes on, knowing her guilt will eventually fade.

The hospital feels strangely dark even in its brightness, as if no light is ever enough to lift the shadows fallen over her heart and mind. She feels tired and old and she knows nightmares are still waiting in her mind to make her feel even older.

Warrick's head is a warm presenece against her thigh and she allows herself to enjoy the feel, even knowing she's his boss and it's inappropriate and potentially dangerous. After this night, she will have to redefine danger anyway.

She knows she can lose one of her own any day. But she hadn't imagined it could have been in a slow torture such as this, walking across the abyss on a tightrope. Nick lived, she has to keep remembering before the darkness closes in on her. Nick lived.

Time ebbs and flows and she watches it, watches Greg begin to shiver as if in winter, watches Sara come in again from the outside, looking pale and teared and with Grissom's hand hovering on her shoulder as a shield against the world. Even Grissom looks slightly stunned now, as if he has finally taken in all that has happened.

The doctor comes out and they all watch him and it strikes her that they're all still afraid, all still balancing on the rope and fighting gravity. He can still die. They can all still fall.

But the doctor's words are bright and reassuring. Yes, he will live. Yes, he will recover. Yes, his parents are with him, the rest of them can come visit later in the day.

Greg lets out a loud breath and they all follow, as if they've only now started breathing and living again.

"I want to stay," Warrick mutters, but Grissom shakes his head.

"No. Take him home, Catherine."

She nods, too tired to wonder why she doesn't feel angry or defensive about deferring to Grissom. It doesn't matter today anyway. Nothing much does, except being alive.

The sun seems pale as they walk out, as if the long night have stolen of its heat and light. Perhaps if you pass through a night too many, a part of it clings on even into the day. Never look back - but that doesn't mean she cannot see the parts of the past living on in the present.

Warrick's coin toss is still living on in his mind, sometimes flickering across his face. Guilt. Bone-crushing, blood-thickening guilt. It echoes in her too. She could have played boss and given Warrick the trash run. But then she might have lost Warrick and the thought hurts more than the guilt and makes the guilt hurt all the more.

She drives him home in a Tahoe Grissom gives her the keys to, not much caring whose it is. It is a silent drive through the sunlight, even with all the noise of awakening Las Vegas. He has to speak sooner or later and she is waiting. Waiting for him to take back the words that will make her nightmares even worse.

He wouldn't have shot himself if it'd been him. She refuses to believe it.

But the silence endures all the way, until they pull up before Warrick's place and she sees the darkness streaming from his windows into the daylight.

"Thanks," he says quietly as he gets out. She follows, leaning against the door as he comes over and gives her arm a slight squeeze.

She tries to smile, but it feels more as a death grin, all teeth and no life. "You should get some sleep."

"Why sleep when awake is a nightmare on its own?" he mutters, something that sounds more Grissom than Warrick.

"Then call a buddy, a girlfriend, one of those kids you play basketball with and do something," she argues, but he shakes his head.

"My buddy is in hospital, the kids doesn't deserve to hang out with a moping adult and my girlfriend..." He doesn't look at her, but she feels how strongly he is trying not to. "My girlfriend I can't see anymore. She can't understand this and I don't want to make her. She'll demand to know. Better I let her go. She doesn't need someone who might've been dead now."

"Don't say that."

"It's the truth."

"No, it isn't. I know you," she says simply.

"You said that."

"Yes, but you didn't hear it."

He shakes his head. "All I can hear is a gunshot in my mind. Nick's, mine, I don't know."

"Hey! He lived. You're alive. Don't tell me you're supposed to be dead!" She slaps her hand against his chest and he looks surprised at the force of it. "Damnit Warrick, don't make me be afraid for you. Don't make me..."

He grabs her arms roughly and pulls her close and she looks into his stricken eyes before his lips descend on hers.

The kiss is all force and desperation and rush and she meets it with the same ferocity, knowing it's wrong and so many kinds of inappropriate and so very, very human. To want comfort in the dark, to want solace in an embrace. She presses herself against him, feeling his heartbeats echo against her skin, feeling her own beat travel through her blood. This is life. This is what they fight every day for, what Nick endured in the glass coffin for. Heartbeats. Just one more, always just one more.

They are fighters. And the day is another battleground, always and ever between what was and what will be.

And always the guilt that comes with that fight. Warrick's guilt, her guilt, everyone's guilt at being glad the grave is not for you. This is the survivor's guilt, the price all living must pay eventually.

"I know you," she whisperes again against his lips, and this time, he nods.